Mark Foley, the former congressman from Florida who resigned in 2006 after it was revealed he was hitting on male teenage pages at the Capitol, gave his first interview in two years. After reading it and hearing excerpts, I sincerely wish he had kept his silence.
In an interview with The Associated Press’ Brian Skoloff, Foley spoke of his “extraordinarily stupid” and “profoundly regrettable” behavior and acknowledged a drinking problem that caused his life to spiral out of control.
“There was never anywhere in those conversations where someone said, ‘Stop,’ or ‘I’m not enjoying this,’ or ‘This is inappropriate’ … but again, I’m the adult here, I’m the congressman,” Foley said. “The fact is I allowed it to happen. That’s where my responsibility lies.”
If he had stopped right there, I would have been okay with it. After all, he’s admitted to his fault and he’s done his rehab for his alcoholism. But no; he had to make an attempt to justify his behavior, clinging to the thin reed that hitting on a seventeen year old boy is somehow acceptable because “he’s months away from being a man,” and he got his tail all puffed up when he was accused of being a pedophile, pulling out the clinical definition pedophilia — sex with a prepubescent — and saying with passionate high dudgeon, “I’m not one of those.”
Wrong. Whatever the dictionary or legal definition of pedophilia is or regardless of the age of consent, hitting on a teenager when you’re both three times his age and in a position of power over him is just wrong no matter how you try to parse it or justify it. If Mr. Foley was a teacher he’d have been fired and prosecuted, and if he was an employer, he could have been sued for sexual harassment. Not only that, it just feeds the stereotype of gay men being nothing but predators out there trying to “convert” boys over to homosexuality.
Mr. Foley blames his behavior on his addiction, his molestation as a child by a priest, and his inability to be openly gay as he grew up. I have no doubt that he is struggling, but one of the first things you learn in recovery from addiction is not to use it as your universal excuse for all your sins. You take responsibility for them, you atone for them, you make amends, and you work as hard as you can to never do it again. You don’t make excuses. Second, someone else’s sin doesn’t become your justification for your own. What that anonymous priest may have done to Mr. Foley is horrible, no doubt, but again, it’s not a rationalization to turn around and visit it on some kid forty-five years later.
I understand what he’s talking about when he says that being unable to be openly gay in our society is harmful. Kids pretty much figure out their sexual orientation by the time they’re teenagers — at least I did — just in time to face the world of dating and the social expectations of going to the prom or the spring dance or just Friday night date night with the socially acceptable partner. Gays and lesbians, however, don’t get the opportunity to do those sorts of things with the person of their true choice; they have to fake it, and by the time they’re old enough to either come out of the closet or not worry about being hazed for having a date with a same-sex partner, it’s too late. They’ve lost that chance to learn how to be comfortable with their sexuality and their social skills at the time when conformity and peer acceptance is paramount. This means that they have a lot of maturing to do when they should be well along with their lives. It’s a challenge, but it’s not an excuse for inappropriate or destructive behavior, and for Mr. Foley to haul it out as one of his justifications means that he still has a lot of growing up to do, and in the meantime, he’s not doing the rest of us in the LGBTQ community any favors.
I honestly do wish Mr. Foley well in his recovery. But it’s clear from this interview that he’s not done with it yet and he has a long way to go. As for his future, I hope he and his partner can find peace and quiet — especially the quiet part.