Friday, May 12, 2006

Marriage, Family, Sex: Fantasy vs. Reality

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #286, May 12, 2006)

Sexual fantasy can be pleasurable. Fantasy applied to politics and public policy is disastrous.

PHOTO: Matt Foreman delivering this speech at LLC X.

Matt Foreman, Executive Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF), recently gave the closing keynote address at Leather Leadership Conference X in New York City. Foreman started by comparing some right-wing fantasies about marriage, families and sexuality with contemporary reality. He talked about the negative consequences of having public policy determined by these fantasies. He analyzed how the GLBT community unwittingly helped create this situation. Finally, he suggested what we can do about it now.

Fantasy: Marriage is “until death do us part.” Reality: 43% of all first marriages end within 15 years, and the rate goes up to 52% for women under 45.

Fantasy: Adultery is an aberration. Reality: According to two recent studies, 69% of those surveyed knew of husbands who had committed adultery; 60% knew of adulterous wives.

Fantasy: People who enjoy so-called kinky sex and porn are a small, twisted minority. Reality: An ABC News poll found 60% of sexually-active Americans say they have had sex outdoors or in a public place; 30% say they and their partner have watched sexually explicit videos; 20% have looked at porn websites; nearly one-third of all single men have been involved in three-ways.

Fantasy: Sex with a “prostitute” is extreme fringe behavior. Reality: 30% of single men 30 years or older have paid for sex.

These fantasies, rather than reality, are driving public policy —with profoundly harmful consequences.

Millions of tax dollars have been taken away from HIV and sex education programs that have been proven to work. That money has instead been spent on “abstinence-only” programs. Evidence is growing that participants in these programs are more likely both to engage in unsafe sex and to become accidentally pregnant.

Another example: A new vaccine offers almost 100% protection against the human papilloma virus (HPV) that causes cervical cancer in 10,000 U.S. women each year, killing 4,000. Yet the FDA might not approve it because of pressure from the Christian right, which believes the vaccine promotes promiscuity. Foreman noted this should give us some sense of how people would react if we ever got an HIV vaccine.

How did we get to this sorry state? While mentioning this country’s puritanical heritage and the disproportionate influence of right-wing “Christians” on public discourse, Foreman focused on his analysis of how the LGBT community unwittingly helped to create the situation.

Our community’s modern struggle started as the “gay liberation” movement. Calling ourselves “gay” connoted that we were and are complete human beings—more than just sex acts, which is the image that “homosexual” conjures up.

At our founding we were part of a larger social justice/sexual freedom/social change movement. But we quickly became a movement focusing on specific rights—the right to be free from job and housing discrimination, to be protected from hate crimes, to be able to adopt, and now to marry.

But in focusing on specific rights, we sanitized our lives. We took the “sex” out of homosexual and stopped advancing ourselves as complete human beings. We reduced our movement to seeking specific equal rights, not complete equality based on shared humanity.

And, since we were focusing predominantly on gay-specific rights, we inadvertently isolated ourselves from other communities and causes such as immigrants’ rights and reproductive, racial and economic justice.

The advent of HIV/AIDS meant that the very essence of gay liberation—sexual freedom—was portrayed as killing us. Our opponents and many in our own community saw and still see sex as the culprit, not a virus. Not only did we stop celebrating sexual freedom, we ran away from it.

Disconnecting our sexual lives from the rest of our lives for political purposes has led us to some fantasies of our own. Fantasy: If “those people” (meaning leather people, butch dykes and drag queens) would just go away, society would finally accept us. Reality, according to Foreman: “It doesn’t matter how much you emulate straight society. Our opponents don’t care whether you’re a good gay or a bad gay—they hate you because of who you have sex with, pure and simple.

“And they certainly don’t care if the sex you’re having is vanilla or kinky. It’s all the same to them.”

What can we do about this? Foreman suggested three ways to turn the tide:

1. We need to push a change in society around sex and to break down the facade, and all the ugly laws, policies and hypocrisy that come with it.

2. We must consistently and vigorously call out the sexual hypocrisy of our opponents. “The more those most responsible for propping up the facade are exposed, the quicker it will fall.”

3. Most importantly, we need to come out for sexual freedom in our daily lives. Foreman concluded his speech by saying, “This does not, as some people fear, mean that we need to talk about specific acts or scenes. Rather, it’s talking about our lives in a genuine and honest way. Because if we can’t, if we don’t, believe me—no one else will.”

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