Friday, December 27, 2002

Whipping the Post

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #198, December 27, 2002)

The leather community can be rightfully proud of the fact that one of our most respected members, Jack McGeorge, is serving in Iraq as one of the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) weapons inspectors on the team headed by Dr. Hans Blix. McGeorge is a take-charge, get-it-done kind of guy: co-founder and past president of Black Rose, a Washington, D.C.-area pansexual SM group; a founding officer of the Leather Leadership Conference (LLC); former board chairman of the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom (NCSF); and a frequent presenter of SM-related workshops. Cheers to McGeorge for being willing to serve humanity by undertaking such a strenuous and delicate task. (We will now sing a chorus of “We’re Everywhere.”)

Certainly, McGeorge was not chosen for the UNMOVIC team because of his contributions to the leather community (those qualifications will be discussed later), but he almost lost his spot on the UNMOVIC team because of those contributions. Yes, we’re everywhere, and thanks to a recent media circus started by The Washington Post and picked up by other media outlets, the whole world knows it whether or not it was any business of theirs.

The Post’s story started like this: “The United Nations launched perhaps its most important weapons inspections ever yesterday with a team that includes a 53-year-old Virginia man with no specialized scientific degree and a leadership role in sadomasochistic sex clubs.” The Post felt the story was important enough (sensational enough?) to put on Page One of the Thanksgiving Day (Nov. 28, 2002) edition.

The story tried to raise several concerns about the weapons inspection process, among them charges that the current weapons inspection team lacks experience and qualification, and that inspectors with more experience and qualifications were passed over for political reasons. But approximately half the article focused on McGeorge, singling him out and either making his qualifications for the job seem weak or sensationalizing his leather/SM activities.

The article noted that McGeorge said he would tender his resignation to Blix if the Post printed a story about him: “I have been very upfront with people in the past about what I do, and it has never prevented me from getting a job or doing service. I am who I am. I am not ashamed of who I am—not one bit. But I cannot allow my actions, as they may be perceived by others, to damage an organization which has done nothing to deserve that damage.”

On Saturday, November 30—this time on page A18—the Post ran a follow-up story: “Inspector’s Resignation Rejected by U.N.’s Blix.” In the story Dr. Blix’s spokesman Ewen Buchanan was quoted as saying, “We are not aware of any grounds for his resignation, and Dr. Blix has not taken up his offer” to resign. This was followed by an entire paragraph detailing, yet again, McGeorge’s SM activities.

A subsequent paragraph reported that “Hua Jiang, deputy spokeswoman for U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, was asked yesterday by reporters if McGeorge’s role as a leader in sadomasochistic sex clubs could be offensive to Muslims during the diplomatically sensitive mission in Iraq.” Her reply was that all the inspectors had been given training, including awareness of and sensitivity to “the local culture and religion.” The rest of the second story again raised issues and doubts about the inspection team’s composition and training.

Other media outlets also jumped on this golden opportunity to sensationalize and denigrate both the leather/SM community and the UNMOVIC inspections. The New York Daily News gleefully noted that “Harvey John (Jack) McGeorge also lacks a specialized university degree—although he was once honored with a ‘doctor of S&M arts and letters’ from ‘Leather University.’ ” The New York Post headlined its article “Saddamasochist” and noted “While it was unclear whether his experience in dominance and submission might be useful in probing Saddam’s arsenal, his group’s website listed a number of salty approaches for ‘coming on to the person you want to know.’ ” It called McGeorge “chubby” and his private life “peculiar.”

The same publication’s opinion columnist John Podhoretz likened the UNMOVIC team to the “Keystone Kops” and referred to Dr. Blix and the team as “Inspector Clouseau and his merry S&M band.” Even Pravda got into the act, saying “For inspectors like McGeorge all weapons of mass destruction boil down to a leather strap . . .” (Hmmm—now what is that supposed to mean? Maybe it loses something in the translation.)

CNN called on syndicated sex columnist Dan Savage (“Savage Love”) to explain SM to its viewers; Savage was able to impart some good information about safety, trust and negotiation before the interview degenerated into a discussion of other fetishes culminating in “people attracted to stuffed animals. Plushophiles, they’re called.”

The Washington Post got letters. On December 7, on page A23, a letter from Andrew R. Carruthers stated what should have been obvious to James V. Grimaldi, the writer of the original story, but evidently wasn’t: “. . . I cannot see a single iota of relevance in the decision to trumpet McGeorge’s sexual proclivities, no matter how distasteful they may seem, in such an article, let alone at the top of a Page One column.”

In another letter, Harvey Zar wrote: “I don’t see what Jack McGeorge’s interest in sadomasochistic sex has to do with his qualifications to be a weapons inspector . . . your paper never showed how this affected his professional performance. If McGeorge had been gay or a Scientologist, your paper likely would not have considered these private behaviors as appropriate criticisms of his background. Apparently, the United Nations doesn’t consider McGeorge’s private life as affecting its mission, either.”

Zar’s letter recalled “the last time Washington was obsessed with sexual conduct. While President Clinton claimed sex wasn’t sex and members of Congress pleaded ‘youthful indiscretion,’ al Qaeda was planning its attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.” He concluded: “We have more important matters at hand than the private conduct of consenting adults.”

On December 8, on page B06, Washington Post ombudsman Michael Getler wrote:

A few dozen readers complained that McGeorge’s sexual activities and associations are irrelevant to his job performance and saw the story as an effort to discredit him because of those activities. “If Mr. McGeorge is unqualified, due to lack of experience or qualifications, then that is another matter. But to try to use his private life as an excuse for the article is reprehensible,” wrote one reader, reflecting a fairly common view. Eric Umansky, a media writer for the online magazine Slate, called it “gratuitous and sleazy. The Post should apologize . . . and get 40 lashes.”

Getler went on to note that for many reasons this story was not up to the Post’s usual journalistic standards.

McGeorge is a former Marine and Secret Service munitions specialist who since 1983 has been a security consultant in the field of chemical and biological weapons. According to the New York Daily News, “he has appeared many times on TV as an explosives expert, analyzing the Cole, Oklahoma City and Africa embassy bombings.” UNMOVIC spokesman Buchanan was quoted in the original Post article as saying “I believe that Mr. McGeorge is technically very competent. He knows his subject, which is weapons.” McGeorge himself was quoted in the same article: “I was a military ordnance explosive disposal specialist. I was very well trained on chemical and biological agents.”

A take-charge, get-it-done kind of guy with those professional credentials seems like exactly the type of person one would want as a weapons inspector in Iraq.

Friday, December 13, 2002

The Man in the Uniform

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #197, December 13, 2002)

I didn’t remember how I had gotten there, but I found myself in the waiting area of a large and very grand transportation terminal of some sort. I was sitting on a bench that was surprisingly comfortable, waiting for—I knew not what. I was dressed in my best leathers—boots, pants, shirt, vest and jacket, with my hat on the bench by my side—and, unusual for me, all the leather had been polished and shined to a fare-thee-well.

The crowd in the terminal was a random mix of people, but no one else who was waiting was wearing any leather at all—and I gradually became aware that the leather I was wearing was a source of amusement for some of my fellow travelers and a source of consternation for others. I overheard a man sitting across from me whisper somewhat too loudly to the woman next to him, “How did somebody like him get on this flight?” From the expression on my face he must have realized that I had overheard him; this caused him first to glare at me and then to quickly look away. Another man, a few seats away, also overheard him but didn’t bother whispering as he said to the woman sitting next to him, “Yeah, when did they start letting perverts into heaven?” She laughed and replied, “If they let people like that in, are we really sure we want to be there?”

I’m not sure which was more startling: the dawning of the realization that I was dead, or the fact that even here in the afterlife I was an object of disapproval and derision because I happened to be wearing leather.

As I was pondering this state of affairs, a man in a uniform walked up to the man who hadn’t bothered to whisper and asked, “Is there a problem here, sir?” The man pointed at me and said belligerently, “Yeah, there’s a problem—that guy over there! I’m not going to spend eternity with someone of his ilk!”

The man in the uniform smiled patiently and asked, “What ilk would that be, sir?”

At this point the man who had whispered joined the fray, but he was no longer whispering: “You know very well what he’s talking about! First, he’s obviously queer, and second, he’s one of those queers who think it’s fun to beat each other up! And he’s probably into all kinds of other immoral, weird, disgusting, filthy, vile—”

The man in the uniform interrupted him by asking, “If you can tell just by looking at him that he’s such an evil person, how do you think he got on the same flight as you?” The woman who was with the other man said, “That’s what we mean—we think there must have been some kind of mistake!”

The man in the uniform, realizing that he was dealing with more than one passenger with an objection, started addressing them all as he said, “There has been no mistake. I take it you all consider yourself Christians, am I correct?” Many heads nodded. “I thought so. Would you have the same objection if a follower of, say, Buddhism were sitting in your midst?” No one responded. “Is it right that someone should not be allowed on this flight just because you object to him? You realize, I’m sure, that there are many people in the world who hate people like you, who are convinced that all Christians are evil. They hate the Christian infidels so much that they believe they will achieve spiritual glory by killing them. If they objected to your presence on this flight, would that mean you should not be allowed to go?”

By this time I was wondering if I should just get up and leave, but suddenly the man in the uniform looked directly at me. It was almost as if he knew what I was thinking, and somehow his look communicated to me the message that I should stay, that everything would be all right. He continued speaking to the crowd: “Everyone who is waiting here has traveled their own path to get here. Some of you trod an easy path, while others of you had a more difficult journey. Yet all the paths have led in the end to the same destination. Although the spiritual path this man trod was different from yours, it was no less valid and no less effective for teaching him the things he needed to learn in his lifetime.”

I was surprised that the man in the uniform knew so much about me and my life. But he seemed to be explaining it perfectly, better than I could have explained it had I been called upon to defend myself.

He continued: “This man was part of a community that was and is much misunderstood in the world. The form of love they practice is often radical and not for the timid. But it most certainly is love! And if their methods are extreme, so too is the degree of love, learning, compassion, understanding and enlightenment they can achieve and experience. The disciplines he followed during his life allowed him to transcend barriers and taste a spiritual ecstasy that few others have tasted. He was ready for such ecstasy—he yearned for it—and therefore the means to achieve it were granted him.

“All that he experienced on his journey as part of that community has brought him here, one flight away from eternity. And he deserves as much as anyone here to make that flight.” Then, scanning the crowd, he continued, “If anyone here is not ready to get on the flight with this man, perhaps they’re not ready to make the flight at all.”

The air was tense, and it seemed to me that many in the crowd had not liked what they had just heard. But the man in the uniform didn’t seem to be bothered. He looked at his watch and then addressed me: “It’s just about time. Are you ready?”

Before I could answer the room suddenly grew blazingly bright, and the air was filled with what sounded at first like a chorus of angels—but which turned out to be only a Bach chorale, played through the shrill speaker of my clock radio.

*With apologies to C.S. Lewis.