Monday, May 08, 2006

Sex and Politics: A Sex-Positive Inquiry

Under the title of "XXX Political Campaign," rod 2.0 beta reports:
"London's sole gay, black councillor loses his seat in a bizaare political campaign that focused on an XXX M4M personal ad. Charles Anglin, the former Liberal Democratic councillor in Lambeth, south London (think: London Eye) says he was a victim of homophobia and hypocrisy.

In late March, the tabloid South London Press led with revelations about Councillor Anglin's profile on Gaydar. The article claimed that Anglin has "posed naked on a website, handling his private parts and revealing his sexual fantasies". The article also said that the councillor "has boasted of his sexual prowess on the website and revealed he gets an erotic kick wrestling other men."

Anglin never denied the Gaydar profile:"This is my private life and I don't see what the fuss is about." But his nude personal ad became the focus of the election. In the words of one opponent: "Posing naked on a website is surprising conduct for an elected representative." As much as we love a good wrestling match, alas, we'd have to agree."

"Patrick S" comments: This is a great story. True, its his personal business but if you're elected to office, you have to be discreet. Just because he's gay doesn't make it any diffrent. We wouldn't want a straight male or female politician posting an xxx personal ad.

Larry D. Lyons II responds:
I disagree. How many sex scandals need to hit the press before we realize that the problem is not that an ever-growing group of people in the public eye do nasty things, but that the public requires and vigilantly enforces the asexuality of its political figures? To be clear: LarryLy would sooner take issue with folks who aim to sweep the dirty dirty spectre of sexuality under the rug and out of the public eye than endorse the censure of those folks who bravely resist the sublimation and vilification of their sexual identity.

The question:
Why wouldn't we want a politician posting a "risque" personal ad?

Is it the ad?
What might it be about a politican's desire for affection or love or sex that renders them less capable or qualified to do their job? Why does this glimpse into the fullness of their humanity make "us" uncomfortable? Does the desire to be desired signify a vulnerability that we'd like to believe ceases to exist once one is elected to office? Does the visibility of a politician's quest for companionship remind us that elected officials can never be the superhuman eunuchs that "we" so need them to be? Are we resistant to these pseudo-icons being humanized to the point that we might actaully see in them those things which we [have been taught to] despise within ourselves (i.e. a desire for validation, a sexual apetite)? I don't want to psychologize irresponsibly here... but I am interested in the hypocrisy that refuses politicians access to the means of connecting to one another that the rest of us enjoy.

Is it the nudity?
Is there something particularly offensive or dangerous about the nudity of a politician? What aspect of our conditioning makes it harder to trust the prudence of someone we've seen naked? What narratives about sexuality and the body lead us to believe that it is inappropriate for someone in a position of power to exhibit some agency in the formation of their sexual identity? How has this stigmatization of the nude and/or sexualized body proven problematic in the past?

There are a million thoughts swirling about in my head:
Are we learning anything from the lessons we've been getting about the consequences of repressing sexuality from the Catholic church (and its altar boys)?

Arnold Schwarzenegger was nothing if not sexualized before he became Governor of California. But if i recall correctly, people had more of a problem with him being an actor than with him being a sexual being. Luckily for Arnie, he'd (ostensibly) tamed his infamous libido and gotten married before he made his bid for governor... because it seems that being young and openly single presents a particular type of danger.

But Anglin doesn't enjoy the luxury of being white, married, straight, conservative or ashamed. So, if Patrick is correct, the public does not permit even its straight politicos to decide for themselves what is appropriate and what is not. It would be outlandish, then, to expect that a black gay single man who's confortable in his skin might be evaluated solely on the basis of his qualifications and acumen rather than all-too salacious information about his prowess.

For me, it boils down to this: there are significant penalties designated for a black gay man who exhibits his body on the internet (particularly for the puposes of finding companionship or sex). For obvious reasons, this is an disqueting reality for your boy LarryLy.


Anonymous kristen said...

i agree with you larry. it seems that most american society can only tolerate a person's sexuality if it is directed into the cumpolsory heterosexual relationship of marriage and kids. we do not want to see them as sexual beings because sex, in this oh so xtian nation, is only to good so long as it is procreative.

i also question the latent racism and homophobia of people that would look at this black gay man and condemn him for expressing his sexuality and ask us to 'ignore' the affairs of JFK, Clinton, and any other well known politician whose sex life is well known but not discussed openly. are people only supposed to be celibate if they're single or have sex to procreate in marriage only? our society is moving further and further backward into victorian ideals of sexuality and sexual expression and it is not a good thing.

4:05 PM  
Blogger Andre L. said...

oh, he's cute! gaydar. hmm.. i gotta get on that before my inaugural trip to england. rassle 'em up baby..

you know i would be upset about this, but my thinking is this... Councillor Anglin ain't upset himself. he know how wack workin in the gubment had been for him. how difficult it'd been for him to bring home the bacon for the people. i'm one of the most sex positive ppl up in this bitch ..hell.. i am positive! but on the real there can't be too many constituencies out there who would knowingly elect a nudist rasslin faggot.. OKAY, so yeah he gives a bit of his freaky side away with the soul patch... oh my god, i aM moving to South London 2nite! my main man needs some comfort! but joe voter had no idea about this... i say he called 'em on it!

A man of principles who didn't want to be The man no more.

mmph mmph mmph. Nice.

9:19 PM  
Blogger Charles X said...

He HAD to know this was this was coming, rather.

Your points were very convincing...I have to admit at first I was about to agree with the person who said that if it was a straight politician the same reaction would have been wrought...however you pulled me in a different direction, and at the same time making me think why I hadn't thought of it sooner. Brilliance

8:01 AM  
Blogger 4GOTTEN1 said...

I agree with you on this one.
Because he is a gay black man with real desires he is chastised. As long as he gets the job done should it matter that he likes to hook up with random guys for sex or anything else. As long as he is not doing anything illegal why should we care. Why are peoples personal lives made public when they have done nothing wrong.

1:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

All right, let me post for the other side.

I think your point is naive, Larry. In the first place, I don't think it is at all absurd that people who do very public work in a representative capacity (i.e., that man literally represented--stood in the place of--the constituency that elected him) at least maintain a public demeanor of -- what to call it?-- "judiciousness." What I mean by that is (at least seeming) not to engage in the extremes of human (sexual) behavior. And though it may not seem so in our tiny subculture, graphic pictures ass-out on the internet, calling for strangers to perform very specified sexual acts upon you, is NOT judicious behavior. That's just for starters.

The much more serious issue to my mind is the one of boundaries / authority/ accountability. Some day quite soon, Larry, you may find yourself in a position of authority and needing to cultivate among those working under, above and with you respect for your responsibility and professionalism. That respect, that aura of competence that allows a leader to effectively move group where it needs to go, has a certain magical alchemy that can easily be upset. I am imagining (as a teacher) a student pulling out in class a print out of my hypothetical hyper-graphic A4A webpage: "So, professor, what about THIS ...?" The magic has been broken--irreparably. Whether you think that's right or wrong is quite frankly beside the point: that's human nature. And again, as a teacher (or a politician) how would one deal with the boundary issues if that hypothetical printout was proffered by a student or subordinate with an inappropriate infatuation? A quagmire, a mess; better never even to have created the possibility of such a situation in the first place: "judiciousness".

Kai in NYC

8:48 AM  
Blogger Charles X said...

Damn, Gina! Call me John Kerry on this one, cause im flippin and floppin.


1:26 PM  
Blogger Larry D. Lyons II said...

I'm surprised at you Kai. You're usually so thoughtful.

Perhaps you've mis-read me. The question I'm asking remains: WHY wouldn't we want a politician posting a "risque" personal ad?

What you're addressing is the pragmatics of what one can expect in a Puritanical Judeo-Christian society that stigmatizes sex and the body. We already know that being sex-positive or exhibitionist will invariably bring social penalties and hamper any attempt to take public office. Duh. That's a given.

The question here is WHY? What is it about the display of the body within the context of the search for companionship that mars one's accountability and acumen? Why is a sexual identity such a dangerous thing for an elected official?

On what basis can anyone say that the exhibition of nude body is an "extreme of human (sexual behavior", and who does it serve for us to be conditioned to fear and loathe these extremes?

The rubric of "judicious" does little to advance a conversation about how our society has institutionalized the demonization of the search for love/sex and the display of one's body. If the question is "why is it inappropriate", the response "because it's not professional" doesn't get us very far.

About the hypothetical situation you presented:
I indeed HAVE found myself in positions of authority, and I don't find it to be nearly as dramatic or "irreparable" a situation as you present.

For example, for the last few years, I've taught writing and composition courses for a pre-college program at Rutgers. I shuddered at the thought of my students accessing the fairly risque photos of me available here on my blog and elsewhere on the net (Adam4Adam included). However, I've made a conscious decision to be whole person. Like Councillor Anglin, I'm am wholly unwilling to sublimate the expression of ANY aspect of my personhood out of a fear that it might become fodder for another's attempt to discredit my work or to besmirch my reputation.

So, I say to my students: Yes, that's me. I get an erotic kick wrestling other men. I have sexual fantasies that I am willing to divulge. I have genitalia and I have photographs of me handling my genitalia. Yes, I have a sexual identity. Will I engage you about it any further? No. The prevailing standards of "professionalism" (and the prude, self-hating Puritanical values it masks) prevent it. Will I stop exercising agency in the sexual or romantic spheres of my life? Not so much.

No quagmire. No mess. Some initial discomfort, perhaps, but little else.

And let's be clear. I'm not asking everyone (or anyone) to take up my sex-positive banner. I'm only challenging people to go beyond the painfully predictable scripting around what is "appropriate" or "judicious" to inquire how it is we've come to refuse certain members of our society the ability to make decisions about how and with whom they share their body, their fantasies and their affection.

3:06 PM  
Blogger Bernie said...

I agree with Kai and believe he did answer your question Larry.

We elect politicians to office to solve OUR problems. We do not want or need them to be full human beings. Inherent in "public service" is that they will "serve the public" i.e. give constituents what they want. Keep the streets safe, give us good schools, clean drinking water and affordable taxes and we're all happy. We, the electorate, don't need them to be anything more than our servant.

Concern for their personal needs then, is not part of the discussion. We don't care, nor do we want "our public servants" to start putting their own needs first. And, we don't want them using the influence of their position to derive personal benefits. That's a conflict of interest that can lead to corruption.

A politician advertising for sex? He's either a likely candidate for someone's blackmail scheme or will wind up trying to use public money to hire his trade (can you say Jim McGreevey?).

Discretion in one's personal life is what we want and expect from our elected officials.

8:07 PM  
Blogger Clay said...

this doesnt surprise - i think it is silly and there are obviously more things to worry about then politicians having sex ... pretty sad

10:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

He got what he deserve. When you put your self in the political/service light to serve the public, you are bound to public scrutiny. His personal life is not his own any longer if you want to serve in a political office that is intended to service the wider society.

12:45 AM  
Blogger Z said...

Why wouldn't we want a politician posting a "risque" personal ad?

I imagine it would make us focus on ourselves. Politicians are not elected to represent the sexual and oddly enough sensible (sarcasm) side of society. Isn’t this the reason politcians have entertainers to perform at their functions, to represent a “down-to-earth” view of who they are. When elected, or even in the running you are supposed to be – straight, honest, religious (spiritual is pushing it), married (or in the making of), and for the hopeful intelligent. Do we receive all of these from politicians? Heck no. Some variations of…yes. Unfortunately, a politician posting a risque ad would lower him/her to some kind of normalcy – god forbid.

9:33 AM  
Blogger Larry D. Lyons II said...

Actually, Bernie, neither of you have addressed my question.

With your statements "We elect politicians to office to solve OUR problems. We do not want or need them to be full human beings." I was sure that you were highlighting the utter ridiculousness of the public's unrealistic desire for elected officials to be asexual superhuman drones. If fact, your whole comment reads as a satire of the public's naivite... But your last sentence leaves me wondering... do you really BELIEVE what you've said? (Please, say it aint so! lol)

"We, the electorate, don't need them to be anything more than our servant."
If you're only interested in my public service, you can protect your precious puritanical sensibilities by resisting your impulse to sensationalize the details of my sexual proclivities. Surely, the best way to keep the public from being offended by the dirty dirty spectre of my sexuality is to quell the media firestorm that erupts each time you stumble across an expression of my humanity. Said simply, if you don't want to see, stop looking.

"We don't care, nor do we want "our public servants" to start putting their own needs first."
So, it's a question of priorities, then? If so, what evidence is there that Anglin put his needs "first"? What about this situation suggests that Anglin allowed his sexuality to take precedence over his political work prior to the outing of his ad?

"And, we don't want them using the influence of their position to derive personal benefits. That's a conflict of interest that can lead to corruption."
Is such a "conflict of interest" more likely to occur when someone is comfortable expressing their sexuality or when someone is UNcomfortable expressing their sexuality? If there is ANY relationship between one's attitudes about sex and the likelihood of their engaging in corruption (of which, BTW, I'm far from convinced), recent headlines suggest that the relationship is the exact opposite of what you suggest.

"A politician advertising for sex? He's either a likely candidate for someone's blackmail scheme or will wind up trying to use public money to hire his trade (can you say Jim McGreevey?). "
1. You can not blackmail someone who is upfront about their sexuality and its expression. So, the point you make here SUPPORTS the assertion that the public would be best served to stop forcing the sublimation of politicans' sexual identities.
2. Bernie, do you see a connection between McGreevy's pre-outing ethos of sexual expression and disclosure and his succeptibility to nepotism? If so, please make it clear for the rest of us... 'cause right now, I can't imagine what would make you believe that someone who is upfront about their sexuality is any more likely than anyone else to "public money to hire his trade". Surely, the Bush dynasty's espousal of a puritanical sexual ethic hasn't done a damned thing to prevent the awarding of government positions and contracts to their cronies and compatriots (Can you say Haliburton?).

4:09 PM  
Blogger dugla said...

I'm with you Larry. After reading some of the comments though, I can see the road to disillusion is a long one. I acutally understand why so many of us can't help but judge everyone and everything on these redundant terms. The goal is to get people to be more tolerant and far less judgmental.

4:19 PM  
Blogger Sangroncito said...

I want my elected representives to be living, breathing, sexual, feeling beings.
Look what happened to President Clinton over a private blow job.
He was impeached because of it. But Bush, whose lies have cost lives and endangered our country, has been untouched (no pun intended).

6:12 PM  
Blogger Bernie said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

9:42 PM  
Blogger Bernie said...

Larry, as the son of the first Black person in the country ever elected to office in a city-wide school board election, and as someone who served as a public relations officer for TWO New York State government agencies during the Cuomo administration, and who was later a campaign manager for a city council candidate in Brooklyn during the 2001 elections, I can tell you from FIRST HAND EXPERIENCE that the voting public couldn't give a damn about the personal needs of their elected officials or civil servants. They are there to SERVE and do the public’s bidding or they will most assuredly be turned out of office during the next election. One’s “humanity” may get them elected, but once in office you are expected to be pragmatic, professional, and solely dedicated to your constituents. That is the reality of political life. Frankly, I think yours is a naïve perspective born of an environment where you get to safely debate rhetorical questions all day without worrying about the real life consequences.

"Oh, poor lonely, horny politician. You have a healthy libido? You want some companionship? Tough shit! Fix the potholes!"

That's the REAL political world Larry in a nutshell.

9:58 PM  
Blogger Larry D. Lyons II said...

"the voting public couldn't give a damn about the personal needs of their elected officials or civil servants"

-the voyeuristic fascination with the details of Anglin's personal life suggest otherwise.

"They are there to SERVE and do the public’s bidding or they will most assuredly be turned out of office during the next election."

-I'll ask again: Is there any evidence that Anglin failed to "SERVE and do the public’s bidding"?

"I think yours is a naïve perspective born of an environment where you get to safely debate rhetorical questions all day without worrying about the real life consequences."

That's an interesting (and indeed telling) characterization of the academy. Needless to say, the degree to which my personal academic pursuits (which confront gender, sexuality, race and class) can be said to be "safe" in an institution built upon its mysogyny, homophobia, racism and classism is open for debate. And, it also goes without saying that I exist in a number of spaces simultaneously -- none of which enjoy the luxury of being insulated from "the reality of political life". But what remains interesting is the question of how "rhetorical" this issue is for those of us who do language for a living (and for those of us who do not)... for the journalists and editors that shape the way we read these stories, for example, this is a pragmatic question indeed.

i make no apologies for the space that i occupy vis-a-vis the academy. the work i do and its deep investments in "real life consequences" speak for themselves. i also acknowledge that there exist boundless quantities of "real worlds". in some of those worlds, the value of sexuality and considerations of its place in our society are just as important as potholes.

11:17 PM  
Blogger Rod said...

One little news item on Rod 2.0 has turned into a critique of normative versus theoretical sexual politics.

Larry, my thoughts are already known on this one. It's a question of discretion and it has very little if anything to do with options. A black, good looking, successful and upper middle class London professional has more social options than you admit. His only options are not nude personal ads. Personally, I don't have profiles at any of those sites and do just fine. Sure, I could make a XXX personal ad to increase my options, but, that's not what I want right now.

A personal ad featuring nudity and sexual fantasies is simply not appropriate in public/political life. It opens you to a wealth of problems--blackmail, embarassment for him or his party (which happened), voter backlash, etc.

Like Bernie, I grew up in a political- and civic-minded family and you learn these values early in life. Bernie has a very good point. We elect representatives to handle the public business .. and most people do not care about what you do in the bedroom as long as they don't have to hear or read about it. It speaks volumes about character; that's why McGreevey and Clinton had problems, because they were not discreet. Certainly no argument that middle aged white men have few options but to freak the interns, right?

It's also disingenous to bring race and sexuality into the story. Anglin is black and gay and represented a heavily gay/liberal area, much like Chelsea or the UWS. (The London Eye is in his district.) He wasn't in the London equivalent of Rego Park, Queens. So it's not like he was leading a sheltered existence. Plus, this was a hook-up ad, not MySpace.

You do make an excellent point about Arnold. And Arnold has famously posed for nude pictures.(Which he wants us to forget, lol.) However, the major difference ... Arnold is straight, and, the public is more forgiving about highly sexualized straight men and women than gay men and lesbians. Doesn't make it right, but it is what it is. If we as gay men want to be elected to offices and work in the "system", we have to play by the rules already in place. They won't cut us any slack and they shouldn't. Anglin's poor judgment cost him and his party that seat; it hurt a lot more people than him, because, he didn't think larger than himself.

Okay, I've abused your bandwidth enough. I'll link to your post on Friday. Now time for me to update my MySpace.

11:53 PM  
Blogger Charles X said...

Loving the debate. over here. I don't have much to add to this, because everyone's said their share so eloquently and I am still unsure.

Your thoughts are requested over on my blog again, Sir Larry.

10:54 AM  
Blogger dugla said...

I know where I stand. We have Ideals and we have reality. Our reality, as discussed by Bernie and Rod, is a bleek one that needs revision. Yet people still seem to acquiesce to these hypocritical and stifling notions of how society must function.

"we have to play by the rules already in place. They won't cut us any slack and they shouldn't"

What if this was what black leaders thought 100 years ago when civil rights was still a number one priority? This attitude is certainly part of the reason marginalized peoples' progression continues at a snail's pace.

Most, if not all successful politicians-especially black politicians- obtained degrees and have been otherwise educated to the point that they are conditioned to believe that this conservative mindset trumps all other opinions and ideas. Fine, but if politicians help define the rules that govern our lives, are we free?

Bottom line is this is reality but it needs to change 'cause it ain't right!

12:05 PM  
Blogger Larry D. Lyons II said...

i love you dugla.
love you, love you, love you.

why? because what has frightened me most about this conversation has not been the details of the story itself, but the refusal of folks (a couple of whom I happen to enjoy and admire) to see how their acquiescence to “the hypocritical and stifling notions” of how society much function” serves to perpetuate the stigmatizations of sex and the body that historically have been used to delegitimize, vilify and dehumanize many groups in American society, black gay men not the least amongst them.

further, this imagined divide between the “real” and the “theoretical” speaks volumes about the counterproductive anti-intellectualism in our community and its role in obliterating the possibility of any significant social/political reform. This brand of resistance to critical thought [codified as “pragmatism” or “realism”] damns us to repeat history ad infinitum.

2:43 PM  
Blogger Larry D. Lyons II said...

rod: while i value your comments, you needn't spend any additional energy re-iterating the status quo. it's a given.

a more fruitful use of time might be addressing the contradiction that inheres the following statements:

“It's also disingenous to bring race and sexuality into the story.”

“However, the major difference ... Arnold is straight, and, the public is more forgiving about highly sexualized straight men and women than gay men and lesbians”

and add me as a friend on MySpace, nigga! =)

2:46 PM  
Anonymous mr. wigglesworth said...


i'd have to agree with larry on the public's fascination with the private lives of politicians. i hear the arguments from rod and bernie about civic life and its discontents as it relates to one's personal life, but i kindly disagree.

discretion plays a small role in the matter. in fact, and i'm sure you'll agree with me on this bernie, given your lengthy experience in the political game: campaign dollars are mostly spent on overhead and intelligence. as political operatives, most do their best to try and dig up dirt on the competition.

beyond the rhetorical questions that may or may not dog you, bernie, there is a more potent issue at hand, here: the benchmark of morality that you and others represent, and herald, is what maintains the disconnect between the (potentially) engaged public and the goings on of our governments. the idea that politics is this impersonal game that does not factor in some very real world implications (sex, sexuality, class, gender) turns people off. we should be beyond that. as a matter of fact, the majority of us are-- its why they don't vote.

but, that's only our fault. some of us should speak a little louder when folks like you aim to (or remain silent when others do) unseat a candidate because of a profile that YOU may already have or have had. because he has sex. with other men. who may be black.

as liberal as central london may be (and i'm from there), the councilor stood alone in often having to defend his SEXUALITY and not his profile. we're still scary to many people, especially when we look for sex. we're all the more monstrous, in my opinion, when we deride someone who is an excellent civic servant because he is a sexually active gay black man.

2:59 PM  
Blogger MadProfessah said...

Interesting conversation! I disagree with rod and Bernie and agree with Larry.

I would like to associate myself with the reamrks of mr. wigglesworth and larry lyons.

I do agree with Bernie (and also know from experience) that constituents really don't care about politicians--they really just want their potholes fixed! But I disagree with Bernie that this utilitarian focus means that politicians must practice some Victorian form of self-abnegation.

5:09 PM  
Blogger Professor Kim said...

I want to jump in here to say a few things. First of all, I'm currently in the Academy, but I've been in the business world as well, and I graduated from the "upsouth" institution through which Larry is currently matriculating, so I can empathize with many of the perspectives articulated here.

That said, I have to side with Rod and Bernie on this one, for a few reasons:

1. Any person who chooses to run for elective office has to be willing to trade off some of his or her privacy. If you don't want your business in your opponents' opposition ad, stay out of politics.

2. I think your point about Clinton is a little disingenuous. People did get upset about his private adulterous affair, as he knew they would. That's why he lied about it. That's also why Kennedy kept his affairs secret.

3. This is a bit of a tangent, but I couldn't help but react as a parent to the stories you linked to in this part of your original post:

"How many sex scandals need to hit the press before we realize that the problem is not that an ever-growing group of people in the public eye do nasty things, but that the public requires and vigilantly enforces the asexuality of its political figures?"
Each story was about a public figure soliciting sex from a minor. I'm sorry. I'm a parent. I don't care if you spend every weekend at a swingers' resort if everyone involved is a consenting adult. That's none of my business. But trying to seduce teenagers is another story. Go after a kid, and your behind deserves to fry like pork roll in a greasy skillet.

4. Should you be able to be your whole self as you perform your public duty? To a degree. If Keith Boykin ever really ran for president, he should be able to campaign with his partner just as a straight politician would. He should be able to refer to their lives together in the same way. But no, I don't need to know how he gets his freak on, any more than I want to know what W does for kicks (gag). That doesn't deprive anyone of agency. It just removea a distraction.

Finally, I'm not conditioned to doubt "prudence of someone [I]'ve seen naked," so I can't respond to your question. For example, I love Carla Williams' mude self-portraits, and I have no trouble seeing her has a mature and intelligent person. Her book on the Black Female Body is in my house, within plain reach of my son, who is a minor.

If she were to run for public office, though, I don't want to wade through stories about her public nudity to figure out whether I believe she can be an effective political leader. And if she ever did run for office, I'm sure she knows that she would have to be prepared to talk about why she did that work.


1:47 PM  
Blogger dugla said...

if i'm not mistaken, the question is why? why? why? on the topic of the discretion of politicians, Anglin was reckless-to say the very least. And i'm sure everyone can agree on that, but this was not the intended discussion. Larry, i'm sure you intended to discuss the state of politics(thanks for trying-lol) but for some reason the dialog can't move far beyond sensational stories. ironic yet typical when discussing politics with politicians :)

6:14 PM  
Blogger Keguro said...

I spent some time this semester trying to teach about what I termed historical hubris and complicity, concepts that are not new, but that I need to re-learn all the time. Forgive the long (and pedagogical) comment that follows.

I have been thinking about historical hubris in relation to my take on queer and racial politics, and, more specifically, my sense that others before me didn't get it quite right. My sense of my predecessors' inadequacies is fueled, in part, by my own academic anxieties (Bloom was partially right), but also a misrecognition of my own historical position. It is also spurred, in part, by certain risks I am willing to take in an academic environment, sheltered from some (but not all) the political realities I claim to describe and engage. Is there, as Bernie and Kai claim, something hopelessly naive to my work and approach? Well, yes, of course there is. Do we young(er) so-called radicals mistake hard-won lessons as marks of outworn conservativism or conservative cynicism? Well, yes. But this is the nature of ongoing engagement and conversation, something we have not been very good at fostering.

Put otherwise, Bernie, Kai, and Rod suggest something about the nature of institutions that we would do well to learn: be it politics or the academy, such spaces function within a conservative mandate that requires a certain strategy. Teaching a queer class while naked might say something about my politics. It would also get me fired. One must be strategic.

Strategy, in turn, must be linked to something we prefer not to discuss: complicity. It's been a long-standing discussion in radical movements whether access to centers of power necessarily produces complicity. It is a burden that we who claim to be engaged in progressive circles must bear. Can we only enter certain circles of power dressed in a power tie? Can we only engage in certain actions by having access to centers of power? One answer is no, of course not. One can choose--and many have--to stand outside and heckle or raise hell or critique from an elsewhere. Others may not have the option to choose, but that is another matter.

Thinking complicity comes with a certain amount of mourning: one might not seem as radical as one thought. One might seem petty. One dons khaki pants with a certain amount of regret. Take the examples for what they are. But one also realizes that engaging institutions is a delicate process with rules that one might bend, but not stretch too far. And, it is here that one mourns, even as one forges on.

To the point, in reading Bernie and Rod and Kai, my first instinct was to dismiss the caution they offered, to claim they did not understand the radical aims of a truly sex-positive politics. It was an easy mistake. I want to agree with Larry that we must think about a sex-positive politics. But I am not so convinced that such thinking--and the acting that follows--is as uncomplicated as we would imagine.

Anglin's case says less to me about the vulnerability of black gay men in politics--though it might--and more about the relation of something we term politics to sex. Is the institution known as politics necessarily the best to fight a sex-positive battle? I'm not sure. I am wary of how centers of power co-opt and stretch complicity.

Do we need our politicians to be sexually explicit? I have no answer. I do know it's not a yes or no question. I do believe the "why" that began this conversation is important and needs to be worked out. I also know--if I know anything--that the question is historical, a product of our particular time and place, a question that might--and probably will--elicit a different answer in the next 50-100 years.

If we are to think about complicity and strategy, then we must also abandon a certain political naivete which claims anything goes. And, here, to use an older word, we must think about sacrifice, a word less popular in my generation, but familiar to veterans in other struggles. I often think that young(er) radicals and thinkers misunderstand the demands of politics, forget the need for sacrifice. What must one give up to engage? We might deride black respectability--that vague amorphous thing that some of us try to challenge--but we cannot deny its usefulness in providing certain forms of access to power.

We cannot map this discussion as simply being for or against sex, or for or against radical politics, or a sign of generational conflict, though it may be all three. It seems more useful to turn to the demands of politics and how we might engage them.

3:04 PM  

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