(originally posted at my News & Record blog The Lex Files, which is no longer available)
It’s the dark night of the soul here at The Lex Files — literally. It’s not quite 4:30 a.m. as I type this after having been rousted from my bed by kids and shoulder pain. And if you can’t be honest with yourself at 4:30 in the morning, when can you? As the late, great Winston-Salem rock band The Right Profile put it in “God’s Little Acre,” at this time of night, you don’t just see the truth, you see it double.
Which brings me to the double life of U.S. Rep. Edward Schrock, who, according to The Washington Post, has ended his efforts to win a third term in Congress after the Web site blogACTIVE claimed Aug. 19 that Schrock, whose district includes televangelist Pat Robertson’s Regent University and nine military facilities, is gay.
Schrock is married, with kids. He has a 92% favorable rating from the Christian Coalition (or did; the page has been taken down), second only to House Speaker Dennis Hastert. He is a co-sponsor of the Federal Marriage Amendment and has voted against bills that would bar employment discrimination against gay people.
But he also, blogACTIVE claims, uses a gay personal-ads telephone service to meet male partners for sex. That’s a double life to exceed that of Roger Dimmesdale, the minister and secret lover of Hester Prynne in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter.
Now, I’m not against secrets, on a personal level (government’s a different matter). They make us more interesting. Even the bad ones can make us better people, if they are mistakes internally acknowledged and learned from and if any harm they have caused to others can somehow be remedied.
But when a secret forces a person to live life as a massive betrayal of who he/she really is, not much good is going to come from it, for that person and those to whom he/she matters. Just ask Ed Schrock’s wife and kids, who are undoubtedly undergoing some serious heartache right now whatever the family’s ultimate fate might turn out to be. For that matter, just ask his constituents, who, if they really want a representative with a 92% rating from the Christian Coalition, are constitutionally entitled to one and no doubt would prefer one who lives the values he professes.
And yet, for all the damage such secrets do, there is something about our society that frequently forces us, to a greater or lesser degree, to keep them secret, to betray our very essence. This is not a completely bad thing; to the extent that society forces some simple decency onto otherwise irredeemable sociopaths, via deterrence or incarceration, we’re all better off. But we pay an incalculable cost, in economic inefficiency and existential misery, for many of our secrets. For everyone who is utterly fulfilled in both professional and personal lives — and most days, I’m blessed to count myself in this group — there are many who will never achieve the condition because they fear the cost of doing what it would take to do so would be too high. They include the guy who denies his inner rock guitarist to run the family manufacturing concern, the woman who marries a man she doesn’t quite love and has kids she doesn’t quite adore, simply because she thinks that’s expected of her and that she must do what is expected.
We say that in America you can be anything you want to be, and legally that’s pretty much true. But there’s an unwritten, unspoken web of strictures and expectations that limit many of us, and if most of these situations are nowhere near as spectacular as soon-to-be-former Congressman Ed Schrock’s, they’re every bit as painful.