An Electronic Newsletter
Written and published by Marty Klein, Ph.D.
Issue #31 -- September 2002
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1. Gays Getting Their Share of Kitsch
It's a major story about what looks like a minor thing: newspapers are starting to include gay couples in their weekly lifecycle announcements.
Donald Wildmon and his American Family Association are, of course, outraged. But at least this time he has it exactly right: he says it's "another sign that society is giving in to the demands of homosexuals to be put on equal footing with heterosexuals in all areas of life." Although he did leave out one thing--millions of non-gays are also demanding that homosexuals have equality.
The New York Times also got it right when they announced their new policy:
In making this change, we acknowledge the news worthiness of a growing and visible trend in society toward public celebrations of commitment by gay and lesbian couples--celebrations important to many of our readers, their families and their friends. We recognize that society remains divided about the legal and religious definition of marriage, and our news columns will remain impartial in that debate, reporting fully on all points of view.
As gays struggle to gain the rights most Americans take for granted, they continue to illuminate the structure of everyday life. Both gay activists and anti-gay activists understand the symbolic importance of these structures. Remember when women were "girls," and people pooh-poohed the importance of changing that? Twenty-five years later "girls" sounds grating on the ears. The words "woman" and "girl" now both remind us of how we do or don't relate to female adults.
Still, other than a few squares, or debutantes' mothers, who wants to be listed in those hokey "wedding/commitment announcements" anyway?
People who can't.
So do gays want special rights, or merely equal rights? It's simple--if you think they don't deserve them, they look like special rights. If you think that gays and straights are, in civic terms, more similar than different, then of course they're equal rights. That's how women, blacks, Jews, and the handicapped were able to claim theirs. Our similarities as citizens render our racial, ethnic, and other personal characteristics irrelevant in the public sphere.
As is the case with heterosexual weddings, only some gay commitment ceremonies will be noted in the Times. The criteria for inclusion will remain "the news worthiness and accomplishments of the couples and their families." Most of us still won't make it, gay or straight.
What other effete, East Coast liberal Jewish news outlet has announced
a similar change in policy? The Wichita Eagle. As Donald Wildmon
knows, it's places like Kansas, not New York, that make social change official.
2. (Falsely?) Accused Priests Fight Back
It was absolutely predictable, this next turn of the screw. Some Catholic priests are not only denying allegations of abuse, they're suing people they say have falsely accused them. Claiming innocence, priests in Tulsa, Oklahoma City, St. Louis and Cleveland have taken their accusers to court. Interestingly, none of these priests have been accused of misconduct by anyone else, church officials say.
Anti-abuse crusaders are calling this an aggressive scare tactic: "People are going to see that if you come forward and allege that a priest abused you, instead of getting pastoral assistance, you're going to get slapped with a lawsuit,'' says Sylvia Demarest, a Dallas lawyer who has represented many plaintiffs alleging clergy misconduct.
No one knows exactly what went on in tens of thousands of small rooms 10, 20, even 30 years ago. We do know that some priests sexually exploited some children. Some of those kids were scarred for life, while others walked away without a scratch. We'll never know the ratio of one to the other, for two reasons: because we don't know what percentage of the first are finally coming forward, and because none of the latter are coming forward. Although people who were sexually exploited complain about not being heard or believed when they do speak up, imagine the reception awaiting someone who says "Yes, I was molested by a priest, but life went on and I'm fine."
The fact that priests are publicly talking about false accusations is, or should be, oddly comforting. For one thing, it reminds us that this is a human drama, not some scripted movie or preordained Greek tragedy unfolding inexorably. And if it's a human drama, we know that some people will exploit the pain, fear, and anger around them. They'll lie. There are bottom-feeders at every disaster.
Allegations of false accusations provide additional symmetry with other forms of sexual exploitation. It took two decades for the public to educate itself and acknowledge the fact of wide-scale childhood sexual abuse. At the beginning, naive (or politicized) psychologists and police experts told us children never lie about abuse--but we now know that children do lie about it. Some are confused, some are angry, some are prompted by an adult. And adults falsely claim children were abused, too, during custody disputes, failing marriages, and moral or spiritual breakdowns. Sometimes, of course, the accused lie, too. We rely on our judicial system to discover the truth.
Police tell us that more than half of all reports of abuse prove false.
People have been falsely accusing non-priests of sex abuse for decades.
Shouldn't we expect that some people will now falsely accuse priests? And
assuming they do, can we put aside our righteous anger and thirst for revenge
to discern and protect these innocent priests--the way we'd want
to be protected if we were falsely accused of something horrendous?
3. Sexual Rights vs. Privacy Rights
One of your worst enemies has just lost a primary, and will be booted from Congress in November. Representative Bob Barr (R-GA) sponsored the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act (despite his multiple divorces and extra-marital affair), and his website brags that he "has long been one of the most pro-life Members of Congress" (even though he paid for his second wife's abortion in 1986).
At the same time, the ACLU applauds both his devotion to electronic privacy, and his criticism of the invasive, coercive federal legislation passed after September 11.
It's hard to find clear divisions and simple choices in politics, and citizens often find themselves supporting the lesser of two evils. We may like a zoning policy that makes the streets safer, but hate that it prevents an expansion of public transit; we may vote for someone who's sane about national defense, but deeply regret her punitive position on marijuana use.
We need to take our sexual rights more seriously as we calculate these political equations. Increasingly, these sexual rights compete with--and are sacrificed for--other public policy objectives. Think, for example, of health insurance companies offering lower premiums--and refusing to cover contraception. Or "safe kids" school programs that deny there are any positive aspects of sexuality. Or laws that criminalize photos of real children being sexually exploited--which also criminalize all meaningful research on child pornography.
Historically, Americans have taken our sexual rights for granted, either because we didn't think we deserved them, didn't realize we were vulnerable, or thought we could simply ignore the lack of them. But women and men went to jail only 40 years ago for buying condoms or having abortions. People are being arrested today for writing dirty stories in their diaries. Parents are losing their children when neighbors tell police that mom gets aroused from breast-feeding, or that mom and dad aren't monogamous.
Our society is so frightened about sex, it considers these poor souls just collateral damage in the war to feel safer.
And that's what it seems like--collateral damage--until you can't have an abortion, you end up in jail, or your child is taken from you.
Treat your political rights regarding sexuality as if they're as precious
as your rights to travel freely and to criticize elected officials. And
pray that you never suffer the loss of them.
4. Exhibitionists & Voyeurs, Unite!
There's a new nighttime game in Newcastle, the famous coal-mining town north of London. Called "dogging," it involves couples parked in lover's lanes who flash their headlights to attract voyeurs who want to watch them have sex.
Talk about your win-win.
Predictably, some Brits condemn the game, variously saying it's immoral or dangerous. In America, all parties to the game could be arrested, as both voyeurism and exhibitionism are illegal, even when no one complains. Presumably, the rationale for this is that such people could force their predilection on non-consenting "victims" and hurt them (although this rarely happens). Beyond that, though, I think the real social crime of voyeurs and exhibitionists is that they admit that they like to watch or be watched--desires that are absolutely common, but which no one is supposed to admit. As a result, society claims the right to call such people perverts, which gives communities the right to stigmatize, control, and even arrest such people.
Exhibitionism and voyeurism are erotic arenas in which adults are not allowed to consent--the same way minors, parishioners, patients, and drunks aren't allowed to consent to sex. And all because the showing and watching involve sex. American society allows you to control the private use of your hand--unless it's on a penis or vulva. Then it becomes an accessory to a lewd act, and you lose the right to consent or control it.
Consensual showing and looking are, by definition, victimless crimes. But victimless crimes do have victims: those who are prevented from or punished for doing them.
In America, it's OK to be an exhibitionist if you feed the capitalist
machine and do it with a $500 low-cut dress. Then you're a consumer. If
you seize the power to do it yourself without buying anything, however,
you're a pervert. It's another example of how sexual restrictions and economics
are intertwined. Capitalism, by definition is erotic--it's where sex and
money are in bed together.
5. Banned Books Week
Once again, the anti-democratic forces of this country require the holding of Banned Books Week, which will be September 21–28.
We observe this event each year (issues #8, 19). This year, we focus on that modern and timeless figure, Mark Twain. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and Eve's Diary were all banned in Twain's lifetime.
On March 17, 1885, newspapers across the country reported that the public library in America's cradle of liberty, Concord, Massachusetts, had banned The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn for "being more suited to the slums than to intelligent, respectable people." The next day, the Hartford Courant described this as a favorable development:
The public library committee of Concord, Mass., has given Mark Twain's new book, "Huckleberry Finn," a wide advertisement by refusing to allow it to be put on their shelves. The result will be that people in Concord will buy the book instead of drawing it from the library, and those who do will smile not only at the book but at the idea that it is not for respectable people.
Twain agreed with the assessment, and that day wrote his publisher, saying the library had "given us a rattling tip-top puff which will go into every paper in the country," sardonically predicting "that will sell 25,000 copies for us sure."
Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer were removed from the Children's Department of the the Brooklyn Public Library in 1905. Unhappy about the ban, librarian Asa Don Dickinson wrote to Twain and received the following satirical reply.
I am greatly troubled by what you say. I wrote Tom Sawyer & Huck Finn for adults exclusively, & it always distresses me when I find that boys & girls have been allowed access to them. The mind that becomes soiled in youth can never again be washed clean. I know this by my own experience, & to this day I cherish an unappeasable bitterness against the unfaithful guardians of my young life, who not only permitted but compelled me to read an unexpurgated Bible before I was 15 years old. None can do that and ever draw a clean, sweet breath again this side of the grave.
Most honestly do I wish that I could say a softening word or two in defense of Huck's character since you wish it, but really, in my opinion, it is no better than those of Solomon, David, & the rest of the sacred brotherhood. If there is an unexpurgated [Bible] in the Children's Department, won't you please remove Tom & Huck from that questionable companionship?
What terrorist could possibly undermine the American way of life more
than those who censor, ban, or burn our books?
6. New Book!
You'll notice in the calendar below some unusual entries--bookstore events at which I will discuss my new book. Beyond Orgasm: Dare to be Honest About the Sex You Really Want will be published across the country on October 1. To see more about it, click here.
If you'd like to set up a bookreading or booksigning in your community, just contact me at Klein@SexEd.org.
To advance order "Beyond Orgasm" from Amazon.com, Click Here.
You may quote anything herein, with the
"Reprinted from Sexual Intelligence, copyright © Marty Klein, Ph.D. (www.SexEd.org)."