Friday, February 2, 2007

Gavin, You Horndog

Poor old horndog Gavin Newsom. They’ve really got him twirling. Am I glad I’m not in his Size 12s at the moment.

Let me not hide my bias. I love the man. Not in the carnal sense of all those supporters of his lining up to say they’d Hoover him under his desk any day of the week, scandal be damned (I no longer have the knees for that). But as a hero. He recognized the longing of so many gay people to have their partnerships taken seriously and went way out on a limb when he used his office to make waves in the culture war over marriage. For that he’ll have my undying gratitude, and unless he makes more bad moves like this one, my loyalty as well.

So there’s where I’m coming from. Maybe you want not to give any credence to what I say because I can’t come at this story objectively, but I hope you will hear me out.

The objective facts of the story seem to be these: Soon after Gavin Newsom divorced his wife, Kimberly Guilfoyle, about a year and a half ago, he and his then secretary, Ruby Rippey-Tourk, hopped into the sack a couple times. And kept it a secret from her husband, Alex Tourk, Gavin’s close friend, campaign manager, political advisor, and deputy chief-of-staff. The couple have a two-year old child. Rippey-Tourk, it turns out, has a substance abuse problem. Apparently she is in AA or some other program which shares AA’s guidelines which suggest coming clean to all those in your life you have wronged as part of the recovery process. Although the cheating was momentary and appears not to have continued, she told her husband what happened. He resigned and the story leaked out.

This morning’s Chronicle has the story splashed over the front page and several inside pages. Some argue this is big news only in San Francisco, but because of recent remarks by the religious right about Nancy Pelosi’s “San Francisco values,” you just know the right is going to make more than hay out of this scandal.

Democrats, by and large, are expressing sympathy with Newsom. Dianne Feinstein, one of his strongest supporters, made a very sympathetic plea for understanding, saying she knows how hard a divorce can be on a man. She knows this from personal experience, she says.

Most people seem to be saying that the disappointment they feel stems not from knowing who he does in bed, but from the betrayal of a friendship. That’s where I came down in my first reaction.

Another group of folk want to dismiss the story out of hand. Arianna Huffington says in her blog this morning that she is fed up with this very sick fascination with people’s sex lives, wishing we could not be so easily distracted from the war and other crucial issues by tabloid journalism and our lust for dirt. Normally, I agree whole-heartedly that what other people do with their naughty parts should not distract us from serious issues, but since this story is now out and about, I can’t help but consider what a remarkable example this is of our ability to shoot ourselves in the foot. How easily we can fail ourselves.

People talk about being let down. About the importance of setting a moral standard. About stupidity.

All of these are real issues. It is astonishing how often such sex scandals keep popping up. Televangelists and politicians seem never to learn from experience, never to quite understand the consequences of living in the public eye.

But I have a slightly different take on the whole thing.

If you look between the lines and stop talking about the world as it ought to be, about duty and responsibility and judgment and setting an example, all of which are terribly important things, and look at how you live in your own body as a member of the human race, you see something different from the role you play as a public figure.

Here’s this man whose marriage has fallen apart. He’s young and virile and how hard is it to imagine he sees the failure of his marriage as a failure with larger implications. Even if it’s all the other guy’s fault; you picked him (her, in this case) and what does that say about your judgment? How many people come to divorce without serious self-doubts. And here’s this beautiful woman he works with. She shares his excitement about political life and is drawn to his charisma. She forms a bond with the man which she shares with her husband. For some reason she has fallen into drug or alcohol dependency and loses the power to think clearly, although cause and effect are not clear here. The two find themselves in circumstances where crossing the line into greater intimacy is overwhelming. Bad move. Tsk tsk. But how empty life would be if you didn’t play with fire at least once?

Go ahead and lecture me on the importance of willing the head to control the groin. I wouldn’t think of arguing with you. I would just ask you to think clearly about how much easier the task gets when your sex drive diminishes and you have had the life experience required to reflect on acting responsibility so you don’t hurt the vulnerable people around you.

Some people manage this when still quite young, but most of us have to bumble our way through a number of relationship disasters before we understand how the power of sexual desire is not something easily mastered by reason.

God knows what Ruby felt about the slip. She didn’t maintain the sexual relationship, and the word “affair” being bandied about is not appropriate. She obviously still loves her husband, the fact that this all took place when their child was a few months old notwithstanding. All three of the characters in this drama are, from all reports, much admired people. Alex seems to have not an enemy in the world. Ruby, (ignore, please, that her name sails dangerously close to the world of pornography), now works for Benefit Magazine, and has no shortage of admirers for her many talents. Gavin’s work with the homeless and other charitable efforts suggest he has a heart a mile wide.

OK, so the guy’s a horndog. He screwed up bigtime. Shot himself in the foot politically and hurt his friends, disappointed his family, and dropped quite a few notches from his hero perch.

My heart goes out to Alex. Wonder what hurts him more, the weakness of his wife or the betrayal by his friend and hero. Wonder if he and Gavin have what it takes to repair the friendship. I hope Ruby can pull herself together; hope she doesn’t weaken at the suggestion this fessing up was self-centered and she continues to regain her integrity; hope their marriage gets stronger for the challenge to it.

And Gavin? He’s not yet 40 years old, about the age Malcolm X was when he went to Mecca for the first time and realized how he had been duped by the American Black Muslim movement. We all need time to grow and stop being stupid. This may be the end of Gavin Newsom’s career. It may also be part of the fire that forges the steel of a more mature man of character and integrity.

Don’t write this guy off just yet.

February 2, 2007

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