Many journalists have contacted me about Jerry Falwell Jr.’s spectacular, tabloid-quality fall. Last week the theme of the inquiries was “This hypocrite railed against non-marital sex while he himself was doing it!” Then it was “This hypocrite railed against mere pre-marital sex while he was into kinky stuff!”
Today’s questions were all some version of “Why would someone do a bunch of unconventional sexual stuff and then condemn even the slightest variation in everyone else’s sex life?”
The answer is: Falwell is Everyone, struggling with the same thing most of us struggle with. In that he deserves sympathy.
Of course, Falwell is unusual: he’s had way more political power than most of us. Like his father, he used that power to make millions of people as miserable as he could—simply because he disapproved of their sexuality. In this regard I celebrate his downfall.
But his struggle is quite common: he’s apparently into sexual stuff that the dominant culture (and his own stated values) condemns. He’s trying to make his way in a world that cruelly divides sexuality into normal and abnormal, acceptable and unacceptable (an unforgiving world that, of course, he helped maintain for decades).
And that’s what most of us are struggling with: the contrast between cultural standards of normal sex and our own sexuality. Our fantasies about such-and-such. Our preferences about this or that. Our curiosity about…shhh.
Different people are afraid of different aspects of sexuality. This person believes his interest in oral sex makes him a pervert. That person fears her desire to be on top during intercourse means she’s not a real woman. The couple over there love their blindfold and spanking games, but worry this means they aren’t good Jews.
And the guy who likes to watch the pool boy thrill his wife…who’s he gonna talk to about his weekend? Or, for that matter, his insecurities? How often does he beg God’s forgiveness—and does he believe he receives it?
How does someone running a training institute for young celibate Christians while cuddling his wife’s secretary deal with his isolation, his shame, his pleasure?
That contrast—between who we’re supposed to be, and who we are—that, unfortunately, is the modern “civilized” human condition. It’s as common as water. The suffering is common. The hiding is common. The fear of exposure is common. And when the content is sex, the whole psycho-cultural enterprise is amped way up. “Normality Anxiety,” I called it in my 1988 book Your Sexual Secrets.
And so in that regard, Falwell is just like the rest of us.
You may not be into threesomes, or mate-sharing, or voyeurism. But you do know that in America, there’s such a thing as sexual feelings, desires, and behavior that aren’t “normal.” We all know that that might include our own. Most of us contend with this struggle in the privacy of our own heads. But because Falwell has used his political power to damage others’ sexuality, his private struggle is of public interest. And our sympathy for his very human struggle is drowned by our disgust at his hypocrisy and malice.
Every week for the last 39 years I’ve sat with people afraid that they’re not sexually normal. That’s a painful part of my job.
Especially as I generally don’t reassure people that they are normal. I don’t want to validate the worldview that there’s normal and abnormal sexuality. Because even if I tell people “Oh, that fantasy/desire/behavior? Don’t worry, that’s normal,” I confirm the existence of abnormal sexuality. That’s the last thing I want to do. Instead, I invite people to wrestle with their fear, rather than temporarily taking it away with reassurance.
I can tell you this: worrying that your sexuality isn’t normal is normal. Feeling so guilty about your sexuality that you try to control others’ sexuality? That’s immoral.
If you liked this, you’ll enjoy my article at www.MartyKlein.com/topless-busted-at-home/