I'm back from Chicago, speaking at the annual conference of the ALA--American Library Association. 20,000 librarians under one roof--totally inspiring.
In addition to their deeper-funded and better-staffed cousins from the big cities, they came from towns I'd never heard of, in states I'd never been in: like Clarksdale, Mississippi; Rock Springs, Wyoming; and Keene, New Hampshire.
as they were, they all had this in common:
* They support reading;
* They support access to information;
* They're under pressure from dozens of directions to restrict that access;
* They're concerned about the sexual themes, words, and pictures in the books they acquire and circulate.
New York Librarian Lynn Biederman presented the results of her survey of 500 librarians. On the one hand, most said sexual themes can be valuable to young readers. On the other, many are concerned about how sexual themes affect young readers. Librarians don't want young people to get inaccurate information, to get too frightened, or to think casual sex is problem-free. Another concern is that some books for young people are gratuitously arousing--a concern that many parents share.
Novelist Laura Ruby (Play Me, Good Girls) told of the piles of heart-wrenching and grateful emails from her young readers. I was delighted to address librarians' concerns as a clinician and educator. What does science say about sexual themes hurting young people? (Kids are very safe). What do teens need to know about sex that they rarely get at school or at home? (Plenty). What do adults wish they had learned about sex as kids? (Also plenty).
The thing I said that apparently moved the audience most?
The two most important questions to teens are: "Who am I? Am I normal?"
In a healthy person, investigating and answering these questions must involve sexuality. And that sometimes involves arousal. Life is titillating. Teens have their radar up for eroticism; we can't possibly eliminate it.
I was also the guest of ALA's Intellectual Freedom Roundtable, which gave me a full 2-hour slot. Over 300 people packed the room, with dozens camping on the floor. Both the volunteers and the staff enthusiastically supported the goal of my talk. If I were the kind of person who referred to "my peeps," I'd say that about these dedicated, quietly powerful professionals.
The Sexual Disaster Industry (which I describe in my current book) is working overtime in America's 15,000 public libraries.
They're instilling a fear of perverts in libraries--claiming that kids are in danger of seeing the pornography and child pornography supposedly being watched on almost every library computer terminal. America's libraries are open 30 million hours per year--with only a few actual complaints about this.
Demands that books be hidden from minors or banned altogether continue, totalling hundreds every year. Common reasons include sexual words or themes, disrespect for religion, portraying homosexuality in non-negative ways, and an interest in the "occult."
There's even a group planning to burn a book. CCLU--the Christian Civil Liberties Union--has requested permission to "burn at the stake" a copy of Francesca Lia Block's Baby Be-Bop. The group is also suing for $120,000 in damages, claiming the book has damaged the emotional health of several individuals.
Ironically, the book tells the story of a teenager struggling with his homosexuality and an attack by a homophobic gang. Risking their jobs and physical safety, local librarians have been resisting complaints about the book for months. It reminds me of Freud's letter in 1933 about the public burning of his books in Berlin by the Nazis:
progress we are making. In the Middle Ages they would have burned me. Now they
are content with burning my books."
The drawing below is a vintage 1895 bicycle advertising poster, featuring a nude nymph flying alongside a winged bike. The ad appeared at the height of the European bicycle craze, which liberated women to leave the house without petticoats, chaperone, or horse-and-carriage for the first time.
Hahn Family Wines bottles its Cabernet with the famous ad as its label.
The State of Alabama has now criminalized the sale of wine in these bottles, citing the law against alcohol advertising featuring "any person(s) posed in an immodest or sensuous manner."
Some say that censorship is a slippery slope. But the slope isn't slippery: those who censor run as fast as they can to attack life wherever they see it. That's why we have to identify and resist censorship in 'all its forms, even when we don't want the specific right being challenged (I'm a Chardonnay guy, myself). We don't defend this label (or South Park or disgusting stories about violent sex), we defend the right to create, buy, sell, or see this label (and various other creations).
For centuries, lawmakers around the world have seized the power to criminalize immodesty, sensuousness, immorality, indecency, decadence, lewdness, licentiousness, eroticism, depravity, debauchery, and (ahem) crimes against nature.
These subjective states are impossible to define, easy to label, and a wonderful target for anyone uncomfortable with their own sexuality. They're a great way to attack anyone with a shred of life in their bodies or souls. It's absolutely impossible to defend oneself against such a vague-yet-fundamental attack.
It's easy to pick on the little minds in Alabama who fear, hate, and ultimately try to destroy what this 110-year-old drawing represents. But that erotophobic culture thrives in every American state: In California, where a hotel was prevented from hosting a swingers' convention; in Wisconsin, where attempts were made to publicly burn a children's book; in Kansas, where a doctor was murdered for aborting fetuses; in Pennsylvania, where people were jailed for making adult movies; in Iowa, where the government has closed strip clubs; in Florida, where seniors are now prohibited from acting in porn films.
I don't care where you live: when it comes to sexual expression, we all live in Alabama.
Of course, Alabama is also the state that criminalizes the sale of sex toys. Its lawmakers are clearly obsessed with sex. Too bad they don't care as much for education. This guarantees that Alabama will stay Alabama--where sexuality is feared more than ignorance.
A whole lot of Conservative bigshots wrote a letter last week to Attorney General Eric Holder.
They lied and lied and lied about pornography, then asked to meet with Holder as soon as possible so they could tell him how to rewrite Justice Department policies in response to these lies.
Here are some of their specific lies:
* "Pornography addiction is now common among men, women, and even many children."
Even among therapists who believe in "pornography addiction," virtually no one believes that it is common among women or children.
cable TV, and satellite companies are making tremendous profits by offering illegal,
Adult pornography is legal in the U.S. unless a jury judges it obscene. There is nothing in American hotels or on the air that a jury has ruled illegal.
* "Since the advent of the internet,
illegal pornography has flooded . . . schools."
Commercial use of the internet began 20 years ago. No one alleged ANY internet pornography in schools until a year ago, when sexting began. Kids taking and emailing pics of themselves is not what most people think of as "pornography," and it's hardly "flooding" our schools--less than 1% of American schools have documented a single incident.
* "The results have been devastating
Since the explosion of internet pornography in 2001, the rates of divorce, child molestation, suicide, and sexual assault in the U.S. have gone down.
So when do pornography producers and consumers
get OUR meeting with the Attorney General? When do we get to tell Holder that:
* We don't want him to prosecute producers or consumers of adult pornography;
* Most people use this product safely;
* We recall plenty of social problems (including rape, incest, divorce, and suicide) in America before the internet, cable TV, and hotel room pornography;
* Sexting doesn't really damage anyone--unless they're arrested and punished.
Unfortunately, America's cult of secrecy around sexuality undermines the democratic process around sexual issues. Most people who use porn (or strip clubs or tranny bars) aren't willing to publicly go to bat for them--and so public policy is left in the hands of people who hate, fear, or misunderstand sex and sexual behavior.
Further, reasonable people who simply dislike porn rarely understand the importance to them of keeping it legal. They don't appreciate that the laws that keep porn available also make Comedy Central, intense video games, vibrator stores, and "Desperate Housewives"legal.
One searches the Alliance Defense Fund letter's 300+ signers in vain for psychologists, sociologists, or sexologists. The signatories are primarily self-described "morality leaders," "reformed sex addicts," "religious leaders," and "family advocates," joined by 100 lawyers.
Everyone knows that pornography is big business--and so is fighting pornography. Keeping that fight going is worth hundreds of millions of dollars to the individuals who signed the ADF letter and the corporations they run.
It's hard to get someone to be reasonable--or democratic--when their income depends on them being unreasonable and undemocratic.
Attorney General Holder, if you're going to meet with these anti-porn, lying, totalitarian-minded citizens, perhaps you'd also consider meeting with a few of the 50,000,000 people who look at porn every month, as well as a few actual experts in the fields of sexuality and social science. We're ready to meet with you any time, any place, to discuss the sexual behavior of actual Americans--and how that fits in with American policies of law and justice.