Earlier this month, legislators in two states in the US, Kansas and Arkansas, set the clock of progress in equality rolling backwards by passing laws that once more make it legal to discriminate against the LGBT community. In Kansas, this philosophical and socio-political regression was instigated by State Governor Sam Brownback, when he issued an executive order that would allow state employers to discriminate against employees based on their sexuality. In Arkansas, the Republican-controlled chamber voted 57 to 20 in favor of implementing legislation to prohibit the use of anti-discrimination policies for LGBT people.
So, what do these actions tell us? Well, apart from the obvious – that Brownback and his Arkansas brethren are a massive bunch of assholes – they tell us that sexuality is still very much on the frontlines of the battle to control the individual human will, an idea that has been on my mind ever since a conversation I had with A.V. Flox nailed it to the front of my consciousness.
Clearly, there are plenty of ways that governing (and non-governing) ideologies with delusions of hegemonic grandeur attempt to subsume the individual; there’s the censorship of art and culture, controlling the narrative a society has to describe itself; and of course there’s the denegation of freedom of speech, which is intimately associated with the move to crush all aspects of freedom of human expression, the ultimate goal of which is to leave society with no mechanism to communicate other than that sanctioned by its rulers, nipping dissent in the bud and ensuring the continuation of the imposed status quo.
But there’s something special about sex, isn’t there? Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that sexuality can be construed as the most private expression of the self, as close to a physical representation of freedom of thought and character as there is. Control sexuality, must think the dictator-en-potencia, and you control everything; own a person’s sexuality, and you own the person.
If anybody thinks that dictating the sexual narrative as a means of social control is just the deluded stuff of paranoid dystopian fantasy, then do yourself a favor, and talk to almost any woman. In just January of this year, the US House passed a bill tightening restrictions on abortion. Here we are at the beginning of the 21st Century and a major governing, legislative body in an apparently modern democratic society still thinks it has the right to tell a woman what she can and can’t do with her body.
Sure, that particular example is more biological gender fascism than it is gender identity fascism, but it is no less unacceptable. The key word is identity. We define ourselves in many ways – the music we like, the books we read, the clothes we wear, our politics and our philosophy and all the rest – but, arguably more than all other things, we self-identify through our sexuality. And it is precisely that – our ability to self-identify – which becomes the target. A true dictatorship cannot allow its citizens to do as they please, to choose who and what they are. You are what the hegemony dictates; anything else is a direct threat; anything else leads to sedition.
What happens when a woman freely admits to enjoying sex? Okay, perhaps not as much as might have happened 70 years ago or so, but still plenty enough to be embarrassing to a supposedly civilized society. When a man shouts about his exploits – as long as those exploits are hetero-normative – then he is a stud, a hero; a manly man; a model to which all men should aspire. A woman, though, is a slut; the kind of woman you just can’t trust, morally loose and unreliable; not mother material (the role she has been so kindly assigned by biology, and one rigidly backed up by culture). More than that, though, a woman who freely embraces her sexuality – her right to choose who she sleeps with, when she sleeps with them, and how she sleeps with them – that woman is a threat. She is a threat to the patriarchal system that has ‘kept women in their place’ for hundreds of years. A woman who controls herself represents a man who has lost control. A woman in control of her own sexuality, her own sexual destiny, can no longer be classified as somebody’s property.
Female emancipation was a challenge to established male domination. What luck then, for the ruling patriarchs, to allow women the vote, to offer them a wage (though not an equal one), and all the other ‘perks’ of living, but also to keep their sexuality tied to their virtue, to keep a woman’s sexuality tied to her worth, so that any sexual activity that fell outside of the norms set down for her by men would see her shamed or ostracized. That attitude is far from gone. Even mainstream pop culture’s apparent ‘embrace’ of LGBT, until recently, was one couched in the male narrative, which is why we got used to seeing plenty of gay men on TV, but not so many gay women. This is changing, but it is interesting to note how the guys could still be guys because heterosexual men could still at least harbor the backward notion that a preponderance of homosexual men meant ‘more totty for the real fellas’ (more property to be shared out); a shaky fantasy that crumbled completely in the face of an actual lesbian relationship – the ultimate expression of a manly man’s essentially non-essential nature.
Then we have organized religion’s stance on sexuality – which has pretty much bled through the millennia to inform a great deal of the modern socio-political stance on sexuality, mainly thanks to a great many people refusing to evolve any further than their simplistic, blinkered superstitious belief in a capricious and prudish giant magic sky pixie (or variation thereof); a being of such apparent infinite power that it can create an entire universe, yet, incredibly, so squeamishly sensitive about nookie that the wrong sexy bits of a comparatively tiny and insignificant creature in the wrong sockets are enough to send it into paroxysms of incoherent rage.
Organized religion gets particularly upset at the LGBT community, though it is much, much worse in some places than it is in others (woe betide a gay man living in Egypt, where ‘chronic homosexuals’ are imprisoned after being subjected to anal examinations that officials claim prove sexual aberration). Before organized religion came along, I find it easy to imagine people fucking absolutely everything and anything without a care in the world. Then along comes some maniac – probably driven crazy by the fact that in the midst of all this carnal abandon, he isn’t getting any of it – and tells everyone he has the ear of God and that from now on, certain sexual activities are to be punished.
I used to wonder if the whole problem of gay love for organized religion was the pretty severe block it put on going forth and multiplying. It must be quite hard to fight a holy war if you don’t have the numbers on your side. For that, you need a whole bunch of brainwashed babies to grow up believing your version of the creation myth. Same sex coupling is generally not so good at baby production. And maybe that did have something to do with it, but at the core, it was all about two things: limiting pleasure and increasing misery, to make life after death more attractive than actual living; and making sure people knew who was boss, reminding them constantly, in fact, that there was such a thing as a boss.
Sex is freedom. It is the shaking off of all the cultural and rational baggage of everyday existence. Think about how you feel at the moment of climax, how that orgasm transforms you into an entity that is at once both physical and beyond physical, a glimpse into the wider pool outside of your skin. That’s dangerous stuff to someone who wants to control your existence; who wants to govern your nature. What’s the point of cultural hegemony if those whose lives you rule over can simply go home and fuck themselves free? It’ll put ideas in their heads, so much better to denounce certain acts and desires, and to build up a society of fear and disgust around them; to introduce shame and judgment; to back up body control with thought control.
Heaven forbid you ever remember where you come from. It might give you notions about where you think you’d like to be heading.
Denying a person the right to freely express their sexuality is denying them the right to be who they really are. It is oppression, plain and simple. In a society that calls itself free, there can be no greater crime against the individual will.