A blow for posterity
August 9, 2007 5:30 PM
Bob Allen, a state representative in Florida, was arrested last month in a public lavatory for allegedly offering an undercover policeman $20 if he would allow the politician to give him a blow job. That's right. He was apparently offering to pay the policeman to perform a service that men often pay to have performed on them. But that's almost the cleverest thing he seems to have done that afternoon.
Mr Allen is a married Republican with a child, who was considered by one gay group to be the most homophobic politician in the state, based on his voting record (he also had an approval rating of 92% from the Christian coalition, and he had sponsored a (failed) law called the "sexual predator elimination act").
Strangely enough, he has refused to resign either from his political post or from his job as co-chairman of Senator John McCain's presidential campaign in Florida. So far, the story is pretty much what any reader of Carl Hiaasen would expect of Titusville, the small city near Cape Canaveral where Mr Allen attempted to arrange a briefless encounter.
What lifts the story above the common rut of scandal is his excuse, made in a taped statement later released by the police. It was beyond just stupid. There had been plenty of stupid leading up to it, starting with his supposed decision to proposition Officer Danny Kavanaugh in a public lavatory.
After the two men had apparently come to a financial agreement and walked over to his car, Officer Kavanaugh lifted his shirt (so says the Orlando Sentinel) to reveal the police badge clipped to his belt and identified himself. At this point, Mr Allen redoubled his stupidity by asking if it would help matters to know that he was a politician. But it was when he got back to the station and started to explain himself on tape that his stupidity ascended to really historic levels.
He had panicked, he explained to the police, because he suddenly realised he was the only white man in the park and feared he was "about to become a statistic". So, naturally, he went up to the nearest large black man, who happened to be Officer Kavanaugh, and offered him money and sexual services. This is the excuse for which his name deserves to ring down the ages.
It's not clear from the context, but I presume he offered this justification to a white policeman after being arrested by a black man. He must have believed, on some level, that fear of large black men was so widespread and so natural that his excuse would strike someone - even himself - as a satisfying explanation. He did also bring up his position as the Police Union's 2007 lawmaker of the year. That didn't help him either.
It's not just the racism of his excuse that makes it so memorable. (Incidentally, the arrest took place in the middle of the afternoon, in broad daylight.) It is the implicit idea that the way to placate a large black man is to get down on your knees in front of him and set to work. And then, in case your technique was inadequate, offer him $20 as well. The link between homosexuality and violent power relationships is where the really strange and thought-provoking part of the story lies.
The idea that homosexual relationships, or at least acts, between men, express a power relationship, in which one party is exalted, and the other degraded seems to lie behind an awful lot of visceral homophobia. There's obviously some truth in it. A mob of boys at my public school sodomised with a broomstick a child who was (thank god) even less popular than I was. The only lust in that was the lust to humiliate. One hears that this sort of thing goes on in American prisons, too, though they charge lower fees.
If these acts are understood to express a relationship of dominance, it would explain why they are both so widespread and so heavily tabooed in societies where there is a surplus of sex-starved young men. The shameful thing, then, is not to be gay, but to be a victim, a submissive loser who will never get a woman; still, the two terms come to be defined as the same thing. When Bob Allen drove into the park, he was just gay in the 1980s sense: he wanted sex with men. But when he blamed the whole thing on blacks, he was gay in the schoolyard sense as well: weak, disgusting - and, let's not forget - Republican.
If convicted, he may face a sentence of up to year in jail, thanks to the firm line that the state of Florida takes against immorality. He had done his bit for that, too: according to AP, he has sponsored six separate bills increasing the penalties for illicit sex this year alone.