Guest Blogger

Rocks: Has the Push for Civil Equality Killed the Quest for Sexual Freedom?

Filed By Guest Blogger | March 23, 2009 12:30 PM | comments

Filed in: The Movement

Editors' Note: Guest blogger David Phillips is a poly Leather shaman, kink evangelist, and Queermen's health advocate living in Arlington, VA. A survivor of relationship abuse, David co-founded the Rainbow Response Coalition, addressing intimate partner violence among LGBTQ people in Metro DC.

Thumbnail image for David Phillips.jpgA longtime friend, another Gay man, began channeling The Church Lady after reading my recent piece on LGBT intimate partner violence: "Leather shaman??!! Kink evangelist??!! Why do you always have to talk about that s--t??!! Why do you need to even mention what gets your rocks off??!!" My response was a fast and furious "WTF??!!," as I ended the conversation.

Meditating on his reaction, though, led me to question why contemporary Queer life and LGBT activists continue to marginalize our own who live, lust, and love - sweaty, mind-bending eros love - differently from the mainstream.

What does it say about our acceptance of diversity in sexualities when people who have been Out for decades and/or are employed in "The Movement" refer to anything but "vanilla" sex as "all that s--t"? When the journeys, struggles, and choices of transfolk to be whom they have become are denigrated, their identities incorrectly described, their protections booted off the ENDA island and their physical beings attacked? When honesty about open relationships and polyamory, versus a "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" model of "monogamy" or true sexual exclusivity, is not welcome? It suggests to me that sexual freedom has, indeed, been sacrificed at the altar of LGBT equality.

Sadly, as communities united by our divergence from the dominant heterosexist, binary-gender paradigm, we are largely alienated from rejoicing in what gets us off sexually, except in the fantasy worlds of porn and online cruising or the occasional detour through a Leather run. Over three decades, HIV/AIDS has altered our perspectives of sex as life-affirming and celebratory. Moreover, addictions and a phobic society have damaged our capacities for joy and intimacy.

More recently and most troubling, the quest for equality under the law has gone silent on championing control over our own bodies by focusing on a romantic love, though our most vociferous opponents will always attack us for whom we f--k. Internalizing a prim view of sexuality in the LGBT movement--for instance, a HRC lawyer on American University's 3/19 post-Prop 8 panel baiting the Church of Latter Day Saints with "its [supposed] 'Big Love' problem"--fails to advance the cause of sexual freedom and securing an individual's right to self-determination regarding the choice of partners and erotic experience, while attempting to assimilate Queer lives into heterocentric models of relationship.

Don't get me wrong: Consensual adult same-sex partners merit the same rights, responsibilities, and privileges as opposite-sex couples, but not at the expense of demonizing those whose chosen families do not conform to a binary model.

As for being asked to remain silent on being different, I'm reminded vividly of the struggle against The Closet, self-doubt, and self-censorship which I experienced for over a decade of youth. My first boyfriend and I engaged in erotic power exchanges starting when I was 8 years old.

Buzz and I were knowledgeable beyond our years, recognizing that people throughout history had done these things. BDSM and fetish interests just weren't what the majority found "normal," like being attracted to a member of the same sex; so, it was labeled "deviant" or "perverse."

During college, I waded into the local Gay men's Leather scene, then retreated as friends and mentors began to die. Still, members of the Houston Leather community literally saved my life 25 years ago and nurtured me as I spoke as an Out Queerman for the first time. [OMG! Six times I typed "fist" ] Now, If I did not revel in my interest in the body-mind-spirit integration and transcendent connections to be found through a variety of sexual experience, I believe that as in Luke 19:40 "the rocks themselves would cry out," if only from the pent-up pressure in my loins.

My candor may offend the delicate or fearful, and that's too bad. Openness about sexuality and eroticism also lights a way of acceptance for others with an interest in alternative sexual experience (ASE) to safely actualize their fantasies and to de-compartmentalize their lives. A good one-third of adults have done "that s--t" and enjoyed it, and one-third of them get off on it regularly. Failing to acknowledge and embrace this diversity of experience and arousal is as confining to those destined to do "What It Is That We Do (WIITWD)" as would be growing up with one model for being human.

Human rights include rights to not only sexual privacy, but also to sexual autonomy, sexual integrity, the safety of the sexual body, and sexual pleasure. For the sake of our collective integrity, our demands for social justice must include, now and forever, all of these sexual freedoms, and our language to describe the sex we have must be honest and unflinching.

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John Shields John Shields | March 24, 2009 12:08 PM

Great article. In the quest for LGBT rights, as a community we somehow thought getting the Q out of the equation would make the LGBT community more "appetizing" to the world. Wrong.

If the saying "That which does not kill us makes us stronger" holds, then the corollary surely does also: "Killing our uniquely queer sexual and spiritual selves damages our ability to express our differences, as well as our causes."

Here's to getting our Queer back~!

Once bitten | March 28, 2009 11:52 PM

I too have noted the gradual re-closeting of sexual freedom in this post-AIDS, marriage-centric time. I suppose that part of the issue is that those of us who, through much blood, sweat, and tears, reached a point beyond self-acceptance and actually entered a stage of sex-positivity are few and far between.

So, so many died and the attitude of the survivors seems to be "We weren't fooling around with multiple partners so we lived. Those who weren't monogamous died. Therefore promiscuity was proven wrong and deadly." Well, not quite. Many of my friends who died were in supposed monogamous relationships and some of us who were quite promiscuous have lived, HIV/AIDS-free for lo, these 30 years.

I'm not comfortable with the assimilation since my whole coming out journey was about rejecting heterosexual norms in all areas of my life, including physical, spiritual, and relational. My experiences tell me we are many indeed but the younger generation seems to have inherited a sex=shame mentality at some level and it is dominant now.

Where is our (the sexually free) place in today's movement? Thanks for bringing this up -- it is an important conversation that needs to be ongoing.