It's kind of a blessing that I have a knack for turning in articles a little late in addition to not embracing the concept of getting your takes out to the table while they're still sizzling like a plate of fajitas. I had almost finished my article about the Alex Morse shenanigans when new information dropped, which means I had to tackle a whole new angle on the subject, which honestly makes it even better.
For those of you not terribly up to speed on election races in a state you don't live in, Alex Morse, mayor of Holyoke, Mass., is running for Congress. The seat he's running for been a safe Democratic district for literally Morse's entire life. He's the left-wing challenger from a left-wing town in New England who lectures on left-wing politics at the local university. Yeah, who cares, right? A blue district might get bluer, stop the presses, we've got national headlines happening here.
Well, we do now.
Earlier this month, the College Democrats of Massachusetts, an organization where most people are probably named Kennedy, alleged that Morse had used his position as faculty at UMass Amherst "for romantic or sexual gain." OK. Now we have something exciting, a sex scandal. We love sex scandals, don't we folks. The lewder the details the better. OK, maybe not ones involving pedophiles, kinda don't want the details on that one. However, Morse was accused of contacting students, 18 years old and up, on Tinder and Grindr. Oh, yeah, that's an important detail; Morse is gay. Well, this ended up becoming a big thing on the social media, of course, because we've replaced cat videos and pictures of our food with ceaseless intractable debates over everything. By the way, Bridget, that video of your cat eating nonorganic salami? Really problematic.
Three major topics spawned out of this: college faculty having inappropriate relationships with their students, the issues of age differences, and the newest one to come out of it is that apparently Morse was set up by the UMass Amherst chapter of the College Democrats. Boy, oh boy, do we have something to talk about now!
Let's tackle the easiest one first. Faculty at a university should never become sexually or romantically involved with a student. Period. Easy.
Faculty at a university are in a position to affect the academic success of a student, which can affect that person's entire future. Even if that student is not in the same field and will never have a class under them, the internal politics of higher education will always favor the faculty member, especially if they have tenure. Universities do not want a scandal and do not want drama, so they will do everything they can to cover up issues as varied as substance abuse, crime, and sexual assault because it affects their reputation and therefore attendance and funding. They will gladly throw a student under the bus if it means they don't have to settle a lawsuit or do damage control for their public image. Senior management in business should never sleep with the secretarial pool. Elected officials should never sleep with the interns. It's an abuse of power.
Speaking of power...
People were outraged about the age differences. Morse, who is the ancient and decrepit age of 31, was hitting on men who were substantially younger than him. I say "men," because in the United States 18-year-old males can vote, join the military, and be tried as adults. They're not kids. I know that many people very into discussions of sexual power dynamics feel that 18-year-olds are too immature to have relationships with older people, but let's be kind of realistic here. We don't like men having relationships with younger people. Women and younger people? That's a whole genre of porn. One of the most popular ones at that. Women are actually seen as empowered if they hit on younger guys and are successful, but a man? That man is a predator.
Hey, don't get mad at me, I'm just saying the quiet part out loud.
A lot of left-wing progressive types came to Morse's defense, talking about how these accusations and attempts to derail his campaign were homophobic. We'll put a pin in the politics angle, but as for the "it's homophobic" defense? Eh ... that one is tricky and complicated. If American culture has an obsession with youth and exploiting it to sexually appeal to people, presenting it as the ideal, gay culture snorted a crushed-up Adderall in the bathroom and hit the dance floor with it. It's long been joked that 30 is "gay death," because gay male culture has long been obsessed with youth and youthful vigor. Yes, this has been exploited by some to abuse younger gay men and boys, and has led to an uncomfortable obsession with "daddies," but hey, again, I'm just giving a very room-temperature take here. I mean, no LGBTQ+ magazines are running photo spreads of gay men in their late 30s and early 40s sunning themselves at the beach, are they?
Yeah, that's right, editor boss-man, I said it.
Morse was hitting on younger gay men because ... well, that's just a normal thing gay men do. Scandalous? Yeah, only if you're not a gay man. That said, gay men, y'all need to have a talk about that. Y'all got a lot to unpack here.
Coming back around to the pin, back in May, I made the call that sex scandals were going to become even bigger tools of political attack campaigns. And boy, was I right. It turns out that it was just that Morse was hitting on younger guys, it's that younger guys were catfishing him. Members of the UMass Amherst College Democrats basically fished Morse along to get him to say things that could be used for blackmail. The person whose chat logs were leaked to the left-leaning news site The Intercept had hoped to be able to exploit the scandal into an internship to launch a career in political staff work. Other members of the group have alleged an anti-Morse bias. Morse, mind you, is a left-wing challenger who during his time as mayor was an independent, but affiliated himself with the Democratic Party in his bid for the congressional seat. He has been endorsed by numerous left-wing groups and is of course challenging a man many would call an "establishment" Democrat.
To that, all I can say to Morse and his many left-wing supporters: Welcome to the party. We have blackmail footage playing in the back room, the cocktail napkins are all printouts of emails and chat logs, and we're doing a group decoupage with photographs secretly taken through high-powered camera lenses. Some of those pundits, terminally online, and journalist types acting shocked and horrified that people would be using this as an exploitative scandal to derail Morse's campaign were the same ones who, the same day a sexual assault accusation against Joe Biden came out, immediately demanded he step down without an investigation and give the crown to Bernie Sanders. Don't get mad at the game when you're on defense, buddy.
Morse shouldn't have been hooking up with students at the university he was employed at (and is no longer). Yeah, the university has not rehired him. Morse has begun his apology tour with his mea culpas, his "I've learned and will grow from this," and is due for a major donation to a charity. Yet Morse was doing what is actually pretty common in gay male culture, which I'm going to leave to someone else to address. We have a set of rules about what age gaps are OK and which are not, at what age the gaps matter more than others, and how the genders of those involved matter; it would all confuse a Byzantine courtier. I find the rules weird and arbitrary, but they don't really affect me because if we're being blunt, older trans women are probably the least sexualized demographic out there. Which is something I'll talk about later. The biggest takeaway from all of this is that as LGBTQ+ people become increasingly integrated into the greater fabric of American society, there are going to be moments like these where society has to learn, or invent on the fly, a whole new set of cultural norms and values.
And figure out how to rage for two solid weeks about them on Twitter.
Amanda Kerri is an Oklahoma-based writer and comedian, a regular contributor to The Advocate, and a former board member for Oklahoma City Pride. Follow her on Twitter @Amanda_Kerri.