September 19, 1996, No. 81
Honour our childrenBeing called as a parent to comment in the arrest of Clinton Elementary principal William Bennest on charges related to child pornography is a difficult matter. One parent's reaction is visceral, a simple response: she felt sickened.
To respond as a parent almost presupposes an emotional response, demanding a perspective that issues from a standpoint firmly founded on a deeply emotional bond, that of mother and child. My own view is refracted by the complexities of my identity, not only as a mother, but a lesbian who spent years working in the sex trade as both a youth and an adult, a political person of colour and a feminist. I am myself a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and currently work in the gay community. My views are informed by the social relations inherent in all of those.
I speak from the margins on an issue that raises controversy from all sides. Sexual libertarians argue for the liberation of a natural, but repressed sexuality from all social, legal and moral restrictions. As gays and lesbians, we are a sex-based grouping that contravenes the heterosexist hegemony. Social and state censorship have participated in maintaining our sexualities in a subordinate position and so in resistance we are drawn toward this argument of sexual freedom.
"Honouring our lusts" strikes a chord of sexual liberation, but how far can we honour them? In a world where we are all equal, oppression and exploitation could not exist. But, let's face it, we live in a world founded on oppression, a structured capitalist and patriarchal hierarchy with all its support systems in place, working to maintain itself. It is these inequalities that set us up for exploitation whether heterosexist, gender-based or based on age, race, class or ability.
Feminists have done much to bring forward the issue of power in an effort to address violence against women in relation to the sex industry and the manufacture of hetero pornography. Unfortunately, their calls for state regulation of the sexism and violence in porn have been co-opted by conservatives to provide moral legitimacy for their own campaign against sexual explicitness without due regard to the power relations involved.
Gay porn does not reproduce women's sexual and gender subordination as hetero porn does. Not all prostitutes are victimized. There are many professional sex trade workers who operate from a position of power, deciding when , with whom and on what terms they will be sexual.
We cannot simply struggle for the unfettered liberation of sexual desires, disregarding power relations. Nor can I buy into the concept of an essentially violent, predatory male sexuality. There's no politically correct hierarchy of sexual behavior. We must struggle for the power to affirm a diversity of sexualities; to define, to represent, and to celebrate our different consensual sexual desires where difference is not marked by disadvantage.
I will not deny my child his sexuality. He is a sexual being with which I am intimately involved in his care and development. Sexual arousal, simple sensuality or merely physiological response? As eary as a few weeks old, he showed indications of a physiologically-based erotic potentiality, one not yet socially constructed.
I honour my child's sexuality, simply and thus far undefined, by nuturing his open and joyful discovery and leaving all possibilities open. As it unfolds in remarkable ways and at his own pace, I am aware of his relative lack of power as a child in our society. I work at providing the tools he will need to maintain his self-integrity.
As for William Bennest, he has proved himself exemplary in his public life as principal, and is well respected in his private life as a member of the gay community. Criminal or victim? Only critical examination will tell.
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