Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Private Affairs

U.S. Senator David Vitter (R-LA), a key ally to GOP Presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani, has admitted his link to a D.C. "madam", who ran an "escort service" frequented by many of the city's high and mighty. Vitter apologized for his "serious sin" and remarked:
"Out of respect for my family, I will keep my discussion of the matter there -- with God and them. But I certainly offer my deep and sincere apologies to all I have disappointed and let down in any way."

Certainly, I feel terrible that a man's marriage and personal life is about to be dragged into the public sphere as so much political football. These concerns are private, and should stay between Vitter and his family.

What's that you say? Vitter voted for the Federal Marriage Amendment? Twice? Oh dear. I guess he thinks that marriage is something that deserves to be a public issue and political football. Well then. Game on.

In the same vein, Ann Althouse notes that:
I hate seeing people publicly humiliated for the sexual things they do in private. But the government is criminally prosecuting a woman, Deborah Jeane Palfrey, for what it says was a prostitution ring. These are federal charges, and the senator, David Vitter, has some responsibility for the laws that make this prosecution possible.

Palfrey can't say God has forgiven her and walk free. In fact, Vitter's statement hurts Palfrey because it strongly implies that Palfrey was doing what she's accused of. Vitter's confession -- intended to move us to mercy -- links him to criminal activity, but only she is facing criminal punishment.

Shouldn't the expiation of Vitter's sins wait until he has introduced a bill that would create a federal right to engage in the business of prostitution? It's not a matter to be resolved within the realm of church and family as long as Palfrey is being prosecuted.

LGM and Matt Yglesias make similar comments.


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

I only wish that experiencing this type of intense personal shame over a private sexual affair would move people like Vitter to re-evaluate their sexual politics. Sexual shame is a potent force in American life, and it is directed by champions of traditional models of sexual activity at people who deviate from those models in order to induce conformity. For Vitter, he will offer is public apology and return to his constructed world of propriety. But for people whose status as sexual deviant is not so easily muted, the shame associated with their sex lives becomes a permanent point of personal struggle. For example, In "The Velvet Rage", Alan Downs argues that shame and the avoidance of shame are the defining features of gay male psychology in a heterosexist society. It would be fortuitous if people like Vitter, once given a taste of the intense power of shame, would renounce the use of shame as a political weapon. But as you said, the fact that Vitter seems unlikely to do that makes "game on" an appealing response. Its just disconcerting to see the cultural left wield the weapons of their oppressors with so much finesse.

PG said...


While sex is, or at least ought to be, private (and indeed I consider this privacy to be an argument against legalizing prostitution; I'm doubtful that sex belongs in the marketplace, but I'm also aware that the oldest profession needs legal protection so its members are not abused), marriage is inherently not private -- now more than ever.

By getting married instead of just shacking up, I demand legal recognition of my relationship. In the old days, shacking up without marriage was a criminal offense that was enforced. Fornication still is a misdemeanor on the books in several states such as Virginia, enforcement tends to be solely for instances where a more serious crime cannot be proved; for example, a prosecutor with a weak rape case where the defendant claims consent can include a fornication charge to which the defendant obviously has admitted already.

If my marriage goes wrong -- for example, if I am abused within it -- I do not want others to say, "Marriage is private, let's not get the police involved." Historically, "marriage is private" is an argument deployed by men who are shitty husbands, or such men's apologists. Vitter seems exactly this type. (Unless he and his wife have an open marriage, or that she OKed his visiting prostitutes because she no longer wants to have sex with him but wants to keep the marriage going, in which case there's no reason for him to have been apologizing for it.)


I don't think we should eradicate the social shame associated with patronizing a prostitute. A person who has to pay someone to fulfill his or her sexual needs is necessarily an object of pity or contempt in the eyes of those who either can obtain unpaid partners, be satisfied with masturbation, or abstain from sex. I don't mean that such people ought to be shunned; given the statistical prevalence of the sex industry (I'm including lap dancers and happy-ending masseuses), there probably are few of us who do not have a friend or significant other who has patronized such an establishment. But I'm don't want to make being a strip club or whorehouse customer something for which people should stop feeling shame.

I am mildly supportive of gay pride activities, though also somewhat agreeing with Dan Savage that gay people in tolerant areas should begin to move beyond Pride as a rallying concept given that they are unlikely to be shamed. But I would not support a sex industry customer pride parade.

If Vitter had responded to the investigation by saying, "Well, whores are much better in bed than my wife is," such honesty would allow him to avoid being a hypocrite, but it's hardly the sort of thing one wants to encourage, either. There is a point at which "me being me" should be socially unacceptable, even if it is legally permissible. If Vitter feels the need to get off with a woman he had to pay to be there, perhaps that should be legal and regulated, but I see no reason it should be celebrated.

Anonymous said...


I think your perhaps being too dismissive of the sex industry issue. I agree with you to the extent that I don't see a need for "I Sleep With Prostitutes Pride Parade." But I don't see why the only alternative is to view all patrons of the sex industry as social malignancies. Where I do see an issue is the shame fixated to employment in the sex industry. There is no reason why a person who makes their living that way should be an object of scorn or derision. Understanding their clientèle - people with perfectly healthy and normal sex needs, not freaks and strangers - would take a lot of the stigma away from their lives. In that sense, shaming industry customers is directly linked to the shaming of industry workers. I also think such a view can counter the myth that everyone who works in the sex industry is exploited and has no other option. Certainly that is true of many, but for those people the stories of which socioeconomic structures pushed and pulled them into the industry should be front and center, not our puritan outrage that some people accept money for sex acts. In the end I don't see you making an argument beyond "some things are just shameful." What Vitter did was wrong because he betrayed a bond of trust that he had with his wife, not because he did it with specifically. If, hypothetically, a man like Vitter had arranged with his wife that he would occasionally sleep with a prostitute and they were both fine with that, I don't see why they ought to be ashamed of that decision. Nor do I gather an explanation of that from your reply.

This last bit is tangential, but I'll mention it since you raised the issue. To say that gay men are unlikely to experience shame simply because they live in largely tolerant metropolitan areas is ignorant. It doesn't account for the psychological effects of shame, which linger even once a supportive community is found. It, and this even more troublesome, doesn't account for the fact that even well-meaning and generally non-homophobic liberals can have pings of homophobia, make judgments, and generally employ everything from implicitly heterosexist rhetoric to unconscious looks that convey disgust or scorn. That hurts, and it marks homosexuals out as others, re-establishing their position as abject and deviant within the "mainstream" social system. To that extent, I don't see what productive gains are made by telling gay men they need to move beyond positive assertions of their identities (as though gay pride events were somehow impeding other more overtly political efforts, rather than providing grounds for establishing community and networking?)

Anonymous said...

..they chose new gods then was war in the gates.. awake awake deborah utter a song.. the Lord gave you dominion over the mighty.. curse you bitterly the inhabitants thereof who came not to the help of justice against the mighty.. they divided the prey, to every man a damsel or two.. let all thine enemies perish o Lord and the land rest forty years..

Deborah Palfrey deserves the Pemberton Award for Clean Governance.
Palfrey list is like the Black Book of 1918.
That trial of the Century is deleted from all books, cursed be reporters.
The list there had 47000 names.
The list here has 46000 phone bills.
The listed are not womenizers, machos or ordinary sinners.
They are power brokers gay lutheran shock and awe agitators of all wars and all panics.
These wretches are one dirty cover to the real pimps deep underground.
A curse on the kingpins, Justice Charles Darling then and Judge Adolph Kessler now.

Noel Pemberton-Billing
Trial of the Century 1918