In Adam Foulds’ short story, The Rules Are the Rules, Peter’s closet homosexuality is the most obvious instance of a character being in the closet. His character steamrolls his way through the story, showing the challenges of being a closeted Catholic priest. Throughout the story, we see Peter struggling internally with his secret and his relationship with God. However, what if Peter’s case was not the only expression of closeted homosexuality in the story? If a closer look is taken, one could find many instances of the characters struggling with their sexuality and being in the closet throughout the short story.
However, in order to explore these other characters, studying Peter’s struggle is essential to understanding the other characters’ secrets. As the main character, Peter’s inner turmoil is the most prevalent. Foulds illustrates him struggling with his sexual orientation by putting a special emphasis on his job as a Catholic priest. This job has shoved him so far in the closet that his sexuality has become something that he rarely, if ever indulges in other than his strained relationship with Steve. His church is described as “homely, not beautiful, heavy, and earbu=est and suburban” (Foulds 205).
One might assume, that as a gay priest, this type of church would make him feel most at home. However, this is not the case. Peter describes his dream church as “medieval, something with the ghost of its Catholic past hovering just under the whitewash, something with a hint of the monastic, maybe a preserved anchorite’s cell” (205). This revelation is interesting because it suggests Peter sees his religion and sexuality as two separate pieces of his identity, and the more classic the church, the closer to God he will feel, and the more likely he will be able to hide who he truly is deep down.
This set-in-his-ways behavior shines through in more than just the type of church he prefers. In fact, Peter attaches most of his identity to his relationship with God. In doing so, he is able to completely deny who he is to everyone he knows, and hide parts of himself away from even his lover, Steve. Even something as simple as his outfit choice controls his closeted behavior. On page 203, Foulds says that Peter “[puts] on black jeans and a black top. Even when he wasn’t working, that’s what he would put on,” this uggests that Peter’s need to fit in and be normal and keep the facade of a straight male puts so much pressure on him that he cannot even get out of his uniform when he is home. This idea of keeping a uniform transfers over when he is in sermon. Even something as simple as his voice creates a lull for Peter to fall into in order to hide his true self: Peter had honestly tried for a while not to have a church voice, but it proved impossible. His normal voice wouldn’t carry.
To be audible and dignified he needed that slow ceremonial sound. He heard himself go into it at the beginning of the liturgy and it ran like a machine. He could let it function, could feel the motions of his mouth, whole up behind his eyes he looked around and thought. (206) This trick allows for Peter to run through his sermon in a productive way, inspiring his audience, but it is clear that his heart is not in it. He does everything he can in order to make his congregation believe that he is just like them.
He is able to turn off who he really is and allow the priest aspect of his personality take over, turning him into an almost robot-like man, spitting the sermon out at his congregants and allowing himself to keep up his lie about who he is inside: a closeted man, tortured by his job, religion, relationship, and the judgment of the people he is supposed to provide spiritual guidance to. Peter, though the main character is not the only character in the story who is affected by the closet. Peter’s boyfriend, Steve, though he seems to be out and proud by all accounts of the story, is still tortured by Peter’s closeted lifestyle.
Throughout the story, Foulds provides many examples of just how strained and unhealthy their relationship is. Most of these scenes illustrate Peter sitting alone in their home, thinking of Steve, “perfumed and pristine, sitting on the Tube or already at a bar chatting to someone” (203), or wondering “when he would feel the bed sing under Steve’s satisfied weight – alcohol in his bloodstream, semen in his belly – if he would feel it or whether by then he’d be too far gone” (204). These scenes provided textual evidence that the two may not be as well matched as they’d like to believe they are.
Based on the textual evidence, Steve seems to be a much more freed spirit than Peter. He drinks and goes out partying while Peter stays home preparing sermons, or doing youth groups with his church. The scene where Peter wakes up with Steve’s arm wrapped around him do not make it seem as though this is a rare occurrence, and Steve is hardly mentioned without the context of him going out to party or leaving Peter alone. Steve seems to have a constraint of his own closet as well. He is in an extreme denial with his age. He goes out almost every night, but Peter thinks Steve “[reminds] him of his grandfather.
It was the length and flatness of his back, perhaps stiffening now with middle age” (207). This suggests that Steve is a little too old to be going out and drinking as much as he does. Later, Steve alludes to his own age during his conversation with Peter about his night: “Did you have a good time, though? ” “No. Did you? ” “Not really. Awful, actually. Place is full, everywhere’s full of just children really. ”(216) This shows that Steve might be starting to come to terms with his age, even if he is not anywhere close to being able to accept it. In the final scene of the story, Steve comes home from his usual night of drinking and partying.
However, this time, he’s clearly upset. “’What’s wrong? ’ Steve sighed. He wiped the side of his face as though clearing tears. ‘I’m old,’ he said. ‘I’m too old,’” (218) this is the first real emotion Steve shows throughout the piece, and it has to do with him growing older. Not once in the story does he notice the turmoil that his boyfriend is in. Even after he’s left Peter alone all night, he doesn’t realize the damage he’s caused by not being there for him. His own personal age-closet has confined him to thinking only of himself, which makes for an unhealthy relationship no matter who is involved.
Peter and Steve are the two most obvious characters affected by the closet, but there are two other very important characters in the story that could possibly also be linked to the woes of being confined to a secret. When Rob and Cassie are introduced into the story, they seem to be simply another device to add to Peter’s miseries of preforming his priestly duties while confined to his homosexual restraints, but as the characters become more prevalent in the story, there becomes a bigger question of what their role in the story actually is.
The first clue that there might be more to Rob and Cassie than meets the eye comes on page 206 when Foulds describes Rob saying, “His fingers were short and heavy, his grip tight. A builder, maybe. His head was set low over high, muscular shoulders. A small gold stud, caught by the sun, shone in one earlobe. ” Overall, this description does not do much for readers other than offering a visualization of what Rob looks like. However, there is one detail that sticks out. The earring in one of Rob’s ear is a stereotype of gay men. This, of course, is hardly proof of one character’s sexuality.
Later, it becomes painfully clear that neither Cassie nor Rob are interested in going to church. Foulds describes them looking “like children awaiting the end of a magic trick that never arrived. Every week they sat like that until they were released into the real world of air and cars and food and TV” (209). It is clear that they are only really interested in the christening of their daughter, and not much else that has to do with the church. Still, more proof of Rob’s possible sexuality comes when Peter takes a sneaky glance at Rob’s crotch.
Rob’s response to this is troubling because he “[catches] Peter’s eye for a hot moment and [confuses] Peter by giving him and inappropriate encouraging nod” (209), showing that he is at least partially interested in Peter. The evidence to suggest that Rob could possibly be gay, at least bisexual is there. However, Cassie is a bit harder to place. Is she just the unsuspecting expecting mother, or is she a part of a bigger plot and secret than Peter’s? The evidence against Cassie is a bit more in the details, and could be missed if one was not looking for it.
On page 207, Peter is discussing his new congregates with Steve: “Think you’d like him, actually. Terribly butch. ” “Is she now? ” Again, the term “butch” often being used to describe lesbians, suggests that maybe Rob and Cassie are both in the closet. This reference is obscure at best, but when partnered with the before mentioned quote on page 209, the chance that Cassie might be in the closet herself, becomes a bit more likely. More evidence comes during the ceremony for Harriet Sarah. During the ceremony, the godparents are brought up.
Their reactions to the ceremony are quite telling. “They smirked at having to repeat that they rejected the Devil” (216) this suggests that they are the types of people that the Catholic Church would obviously object to being godparents. What if the reason the church would object is because this whole arrangement is based off a lie? Is it possible that the baby is Cassie and the female godparent’s and that Rob is the sperm donor? Or possibly, the baby is Rob and the male godparent’s, and Cassie is simply the surrogate.
Rob and Cassie are two of the most interesting characters in the story simply because Foulds reveals so little about them and their lives together. It is possible that the closet in this story goes deeper than just one character. The evidence is there, and the possibility that Rob and Cassie could each be hiding in a closet of their own in order to bring Harriet Sarah up in a Catholic environment becomes greater the deeper one looks into this story. The closet is obviously a huge part of this story. The main character is shown not only struggling with the secret of his sexuality, but even allowing it to control him.
His lover struggles with a similar type of constraint in dealing with being as old as he is. Rob and Cassie have plenty of evidence stacked against them in possibility of being in the closet to the church in order to provide the best life for their child. The closest is most closely associated with sexuality, and while that type of closet is what is most obvious about this story, the idea of having a secret that controls your life as each of these characters do, proves that there is more to being in the closet than just being gay or a lesbian.