Saving Private Ryan

Illinois senatorial candidate Jack Ryan, a conservative Republican, ended his campaign after the records from his 2000 divorce from actress Jeri Ryan were unsealed by a California judge, revealing supposedly sordid details. According to a statement by Jeri Ryan filed in court in connection with custody proceedings, while they were married, Jack took her to sex clubs in New York, New Orleans, and Paris. At said clubs, Jack wanted to have sex with her or have her "perform a sexual act on him" while others watched, and she refused. At the Paris club, where he brought her without telling her where they were going, Ms. Ryan testified, "people were having sex everywhere. I cried. I was physically ill."

Perhaps one of the saddest revelations is that sex clubs make Jeri Ryan cry (or maybe it's just going with Jack that brings tears to her eyes). The actress, and especially the character she played on Star Trek Voyager, Seven of Nine, has legions of pervy fans and websites devoted to her. In fact, Seven of Nine is one of the most popular subjects of sexy fan fiction (romance and erotica by fans that involve characters from TV, movies, and books; see and its queer incarnation, known as slash. In her fans' minds, Jeri/Seven of Nine (who are often blurred into one) is the ultimate sexual adventurer. Ironically, as a woman trumps her cyborg character and reality eclipses political spin, kinkster Seven of Nine is revealed to be squeaky-clean Jeri, and conservative Jack! Ryan (as his posters call him) is outed as swingin' Jack.

Jeri Ryan's story points to a common problem of couple sexual incompatibility, but it goes beyond that: Her husband tricked and coerced her into going places she didn't want to, both literally and figuratively. Jack Ryan still stands by his statement that her allegations aren't true, while attempting to spin the story in all sorts of ways. He's a victim of the media. He didn't break any laws. He was not unfaithful. He just wanted to have sex with his wife (I feel your pain on that point, dude). As he said on 20/20, "We've had people elected to office who have done things that are much worse than that." Yeah, Jack, but they're Democrats.

One of the problems is that Mr. Ryan ran on the morality ticket, pushing traditional (read "hetero and nuclear") family values and dissing not only gay marriage, but same-sex civil unions and registries. He set himself up as the perfect family man, and ultimately looked like a hypocrite. Now he whines about being violated by the media and wanting his right to privacy, especially when it concerns his sexual relationship. Yet he supports legislation to deny other people rights based on sexual orientation (which, in his rhetoric, he mistakenly refers to as "sexual behavior"). Let's get it straight, Mr. Ryan: People criticized and abandoned you based on your sexual behavior in the context of a committed relationship. Hmmm, could the universe be trying to tell you something? Can you spell karma?

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I'm glad that his hypocrisy was revealed to the public and he must now sit with the contradiction between the personal and the political. But as happy as I am that one less anti-gay, pro-Bush candidate is running for the Senate, I don't think the records should have been unsealed. Divorce can be ugly, and both parties had good reason to point fingers at the other or even lie. They were both pissed off, and they each wanted custody of their son. He was already planning a political career that he knew he needed to protect. In the end, we don't know what truly happened, and it should not be part of a political campaign.

I'm troubled that what brought Ryan down was his sex life. A person's alternative sexual identity or practices should not matter at all when it comes to running for office. In the 20/20 interview, he clung to his ordinary-guy stance: "We need more people going to Washington who want to engage in marital relations with their wives. I think that's a good thing for this country, not a bad thing." We agree on that, Mr. Ryan, but the media coverage, your Republican Party, and maybe the American public say something different.

In an otherwise coherent argument, foreign- policy blogger Juan Cole says Ryan "clearly had some sort of sex addiction at the time, which he may have kicked by now, and addictions compel people to do things they would not otherwise do." Of course, because you have to be compulsive to go to a sex club! When will the American public stop deluding itself about what constitutes normal, appropriate, married sex and what doesn't? Our individual and collective sexual desires, fantasies, and relationships are not as vanilla as the right wing wants us to believe. Jack Ryan is not the only man in America interested in public sex or exhibitionism. And he's got plenty of company when it comes to folks who venture beyond missionary, monogamous sex.

Here's how I'd like to evaluate candidates based on their sexual activities. If they're swingers, then they've confronted their own insecurities and learned to let go of possessiveness, therefore they'll be better able to make compromises when writing legislation. Is he into cross-dressing? Good, he's not oppressed by gender norms, so hopefully he'll be a better advocate for women's issues. Rumors say she likes s/m? She's probably practiced her negotiation skills a lot, and that will come in handy on the Hill. Into dominance and submission? They can see the inherent power dynamics present in society. Their love of anal sex tells me they've got a great ability to think outside the box—that could be useful in politics. And if he likes when his wife straps on a dildo and fucks him in the butt, then we've found a highly evolved man who's ahead of his time.

But when will the time come when a candidate's sex life just won't matter anymore? When the discovery of intimate information like this will be met with "You've got to dig up something more incriminating to oust this guy." Like stealing an election, lying to the American public about weapons of mass destruction, killing innocent civilians, and putting troops in harm's way without justification. Oh, wait. That guy's still running.

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