Thursday, July 16, 2009

In which I disagree with a luminary.

A big brouhaha has been going through the leather world and for the first time in a very long time, I feel compelled to comment.

Chuck Renslow, President of IML, has declared that nothing will be allowed in the vendor mart that tends to promote or advocate barebacking, i.e., bareback porn.

For this Mr. Renslow has been widely and loudly lauded. The sycophants of political correctness are shouting a loud "AMEN" at the sermon. So caught up are they in self-righteousness that they don't see the insidious destruction of a fundamental principle of democracy and a turn to the dark side of conservatism.

To begin the discussion, I refer you to a Merriam-Webster's definition. Liberalism is: (c) a political philosophy based on belief in progress, the essential goodness of the human race, and the autonomy of the individual and standing for the protection of political and civil liberties; specifically: such a philosophy that considers government as a crucial instrument for amelioration of social inequities (as those involving race, gender, or class).

Queers and liberals are usually outraged when conservative Christians attempt to ban books with "gay themes" in order to protect their children from making what they believe is an unhealthy choice. We call this censorship--a constraint on civil liberties and freedom of expression--something we usually abhor.

The situation is somewhat different with STIs and HIV, of course, as the consequences of the choice to bareback are more scientifically concrete and less about culture. But the idea behind the comparison is the same--one group is deciding what is best for others to read, see, or know.

This edict that bareback porn will not be allowed at IML is an admission of defeat. The powers that be have failed to educate the community at large into making the healthier choice. Having failed to persuade, despite piles of money and decades of work, the freedom to choose is now taken away.

This action is not progressive or liberal, it is the essence of conservatism. By stooping to censorship, we have become what we most decry. We have violated a principle to which we expect others to adhere.

Yes, sometimes the results of the principle of free speech are hard to swallow. Sometimes the consequences are sickness and death. The principle of freedom of expression--our civil liberties--were bought with the lives and blood of thousands. It's an American principle, generally believed to be worth dying for.

I have heard the argument that IML is a private event and can set whatever policy they choose, which is true. However, in his letter, Mr. Renslow says, "We believe that it is our duty to inform and educate." In other words, he's using his position to influence the public and set public policy. IML cannot state its intent to influence the public and then retreat behind the defense that it is a private event. This is not an invitation-only party held in a basement, and pretending that it is in order to escape criticism and the scrutiny aimed at public policy setters is a specious and ineffective tactic.

With all that said, I know that this cannot have been an easy decision. I understand why it was made. I, too, want my brothers and sisters in leather to live long and healthy lives.

But while this policy may be for the best, it should not be lauded. This decision should be mourned as the sad last resort, and understood for what it really is: an admission that sometimes the conservative approach is necessary in order to achieve the greater good.

All leatherfolk lost some freedom today. I hope the upside is worth the sacrifice.


N. said...

I'm afraid I have to disagree with you here. This is not censorship because IML is not the government and the issue doesn't fall under the usual liberal/conservative divide. It could even be argued that not taking this action would be hypocrisy. If they work on educating the leather community about safer sex and yet still allow the sale of bareback porn, they could rightfully be accused of profiteering and hypocrisy.

Personally, I'm quite disturbed at how much bareback porn has become mainstream (in as much as porn is mainstream). For a while, the NYC Eagle was playing nothing but bareback porn on its TV screens and I found that quite disturbing. It sends a subliminal message that barebacking is fine, and and that creates a real danger that someone hooking up after a night at the Eagle, slightly drunk, would make the wrong decision when the fucking starts.

I think bareback porn should be treated similar to smoking. It shouldn't be outlawed (that would be censorship and pointless), but it should be made clear that it's not generally acceptable. This can be accomplished by having bars only play safer sex porn, as well as events like IML and Folsom St. Fair not allowing its sale on their premises. This should not be mandated by the government, but rather a community effort.

Unsafe sex among gays (especially the younger crowd) is on the rise. The community really does need to do something to try to stem the tide.

riot said...

I absolutely agree that something needs to be done. But I do not agree that we should sacrifice our core values of freedom of speech and expression in order to do something. This amounts to trading liberty for health, which is not acceptable to me. There are other things to be done, short of violating these principles.

It is not the Eagle's responsibility, or any other organizations, to ensure that people make the healthiest sex choices. At the end of the day, the responsibility lies with the individual.

Don't get me started on the negative effect of alcohol on the gay and leather communities. I find it far more hypocritical for IML to accept huge corporate beer and liquor sponsorships while advocating for safer sex--being drunk is a much more obvious and severe impediment of good judgment than seeing a video that anyone with a brain knows is fantasy!

Your theoretical drunk person hooking up at the Eagle has a lot more to fear from their decision to have sex while drunk than they do from the purported subliminal messages seen on the (barely viewable--I've squinted at them more times than I can count) TV screens.

And lastly, a big component of the Eagle's popularity is because it has a huge roof where people can smoke. We are taxing the hell out of cigarettes and spending millions on educating the public about their dangers, but we haven't banned them. That comparison works against your argument, not for it.