Northern Territory Sports Minister Nathan Barrett resigned his portfolio last week after the Northern Territory News revealed he’d sent two videos of himself masturbating “with his left hand” (this detail seems to have captured the NT News collective imagination for reasons I can’t fathom) in his bathroom at home while simultaneously filming the events and sending the videos via Facebook to a female constituent with whom he’d had an online relationship for several months.
One of Barrett’s mates later remarked on Facebook, apparently without any sense of irony, that the man is “very tech savvy.”
There is, in my opinion, no moral value at all attached to the consensual exchange of intimate images and it’s nobody’s business what two people consensually undertake.
The problems for Barrett are that he’s married, and has campaigned on the strength of his “family values” and his “deep commitment to his local church.” The woman involved states that although they’d developed a close online relationship, she did not invite videos of him masturbating. She also states that he’d promised her a job, though he denies this.
Obviously Barrett has some significant problems, and has committed himself to “counselling” in order to help him work through them. He’s also apologised to his boss, constituents, wife, family, and the woman with whom he formed an “inappropriate relationship.”
He deserves some respect for fully owning his behaviour, without minimisation, excuses and self-justification. It takes some courage to do that, and it’s not something we often see in such situations where the demon drink is frequently invoked as an explanation, or the serious impact of the behaviour is flat-out denied.
The figure of the outwardly moral and committed family man with a secret sexual life is a cliché, and like all clichés, it reveals much about the warped and hypocritical nature of our “values.” Frequently, the most important consideration is maintaining the appearance of morality while concealing the transgression. The transgression itself is not as bad as others finding out about it. This has been the position of the churches, for example, in the matter of child sexual abuse, as well as the attitude of many families in which abuse of children is perpetrated.
The ideal of the morally intact family dominates the more common reality of the morally compromised family in which everyone involved agrees, consciously or otherwise, to live the lie.
Betraying a spouse is emotional, psychological and mental abuse. Spouses who live in relationships in which there is infidelity are living in an abusive relationship. It’s abusive to subject someone you claim to love to such pain, shock, trauma and stress as is caused by betrayal. When it’s done serially, it’s similar to the cycle of physical violence: discovery of betrayal, regret expressed, promises to never repeat, reconciliation and honeymoon period, then return to betrayal. Both parties are living a toxic life in a regressive relationship in which one enables the other to continue the abuse by continuing to “forgive.”
But hey. As long as no one knows and we’re looking ideal, who cares?
Perhaps nobody does care, however, problems arise when such situations are held up as those to which we should all aspire. When Barrett became the current public face of treachery and betrayal he exposed the fragile moral high ground of heterosexual monogamous marriage. He crapped all over its presumed sanctity. He confronted us with an unfortunate truth, which is that these circumstances are far from uncommon, and people lie about them all the time while continuing to promote heterosexual and monogamous family values as the aspirational ideal.
We should actually thank him, and everyone like him, for inadvertently pointing out that the emperor has fewer clothes than he thinks.