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November 16, 2004

Comments

Anne

No, I don't think you overreacted. The use of the word "perverted" twice struck me badly even before I read your commentary on it. I cannot imagine how damaging it might be to a member of the GL community.

I suspect any letter I wrote to the newspaper would not have been as temperate.

jenell

How does your Christian faith inform your understanding of sexual practices? Leaving discussions of same-sex sex aside, I understand Christianity as advocating sex as a human, intimate, meaningful act intended for committed relationships. Glory hole sex is about anonymous, physical encounters in public - it is about using another person for your physical satisfaction without relationship, commitment, or even knowing the person's name. Now, I don't like the word 'perverse' and I rarely use it, but this form of sex seems, at the very least, to be less than what God intended sex to be. What do you think? (I also realize that a public newspaper at a secular school is not the place for evaluating the morality of sexual practices - I'm referring more to your commentary than to the newspaper article).

JM

I don't think you overreacted at all, and I agree with Anne WRT the "temperate" comment. Good job Hugo, I say.

La Lubu

I think you were right on point with this; it's an easy enough job to condemn vandalism without resorting to the 'pervert' tag; use of that particular term just diverts attention away from the vandalism and makes the author appear as a priggish schoolmaster.

Anyway, this is the first time I've heard of 'glory holes' on school property; is this a common thing in men's rooms? And aren't glory holes also a way for men who identify as 'straight' to enjoy gay sex without having to admit it?

Troy

The use of 'perverted' twice is what makes the article not just moralistic but homophobic-seeming. The author's intent might not have been such, but the word is loaded.

John

I think you are wrong, and that kind of thing is perverted. It's hardly a loving and committed relationship, is it? Anonymous toilet sex, no matter who does it, is sex bent out of its proper shape. Hence, it's perverted. Would you have objected to the adjective when applied to heterosexual sex done in that manner?

Amanda

Jenell, just because you don't approve of slurs like "pervert" doesn't mean that you incorporate glory holes into your own behavior.

Hugo

Jenell, I am comfortable saying that glory holes "fall short of the mark." Is it behavior I think is ideal? Of course not. Is it some sense even "perverse"? In my opinion, yes. But indeed, such moral descriptions have no place in a college paper designed to serve a campus filled with folks who hold widely differing positions on sexual morality. Furthermore, the word "pervert" is worlds apart from "perverse". The latter is a term for behavior, the former a term traditionally used to smear an entire class of human beings.

John, I would have objected, but not so strenuously. Heterosexuals are not a group with a long history of discrimination; pervert is not a term used to slander them. Thus its power to wound is considerably less.

Xrlq

There is nothing bigoted about calling a spade a spade, a fetish a fetish, or a perverted sexual practice perverted. That the word "pervert" has been used by some improperly in the past does not invalidate its correct use here. Ab abusu ad usum non valet consequentia.

Your statement that any moral judgements "have no place in a college paper designed to serve a campus filled with folks who hold widely differing positions on sexual morality" borders on fascism. That idea itself has no place on a college campus, which should place a high value on the free exchange of ideas, not the suppression of certain politically incorrect ones.

Joe G.

To Xrlq,

Of course colleges should be places of free exchange of ideas, although I've known folks on both sides of the spectrum who do their best to define that as narrowly as possible.

OTH, Hugo was referring to an article. I could see an Op-Ed piece using such language. But, then again, in an environment that encourages the free exchange of ideas, the writer(s) should be prepared for a lot of free expression back (I'm not referring to name calling, smear campaigns, but genuine dissent over the use of a word that has been used to legally discriminate against a particular group within our culture.)

Anonymous

i think the "ms. kitty gives advice" column is more disgusting. the very fact that ppl even write to him/her for advice is mind boggling. i hope at night that ms.kitty herself is actually making up the questions, because some of the questions that ppl ask are just way out there and saddening. oh and ms.kittys advices? dont even make me start on it!

zuzu

I agree with Joe. A news article should steer clear of value judgments like that; that's the place of the Op-Ed page.

"Glory hole" is also a term used in glassblowing; it's the small furnace used to work the glass and keep it hot. Not somewhere you'd want to stick your penis.

Erica

seems to me like you throw around the word "intolerant" like others do "pervert". Is tolerance your highest virtue? If so, what is that based on? Aren't others entitled to their opinions without your trying to censor them? Free speech only for the tolerant. nice.

Amanda

Did I miss something? Did Hugo bring down the hammer of censorship on them? Does he have that power?

Anyway, I have to admit, I agree with XRLQ now that I think about it. I toss the word "pervert" around freely on my own blog, applying it liberally to those who advocate abstinence-only education, laws against sodomy, laws banning gay marriage and all other assorted conservative positions that show way more interest in what your neighbor is doing in bed than is really proper.

Hugo

Erica, "tolerance" is a much maligned virtue. Would you be "tolerant" of a newspaper article that defamed black men with racial epithets? Tolerance means adopting a language that allows all of us to feel valued and accepted.

Those who are morally opposed to homosexuality are allowed to hold on to those feelings -- but the public expression of those feelings don't belong in an article on vandalism, any more than racism belongs in an article on the all-black basketball team. Again, I'm not defending the behavior, rather condemning the language used to describe it.

Amanda, there is a difference between us!Not calling ANYONE a pervert gives me, perhaps, a little more moral legitimacy to preach against its use!

Amanda

Hmmm....do I get a pass because I use the term to subvert its traditional meaning?

Hugo

Well, I am happy to dispense a "pass", Amanda. Still, I think we have to take care with how our words may be interpreted by others who are unaware of our intent to subvert.

I'm careful to say that using the word perverted in the newspaper language is "employing the language of bigotry." I am not prepared to declare the writer to be a bigot himself.

John Sloas

Hugo—with respect, I think you overreacted. I personally don’t use or appreciate language like “fag” or “pervert”—I regret the fact that “Christians” have used such rhetoric to put homosexuals in their place. I also appreciate the historical context of the word “pervert”. But having sex (hetro or homo) in a PUBLIC space is not just “consensual sex behavior”—it subjects other unsuspecting people to sexual behavior (either by encountering the act or the mess it may leave). What people do in private is their business but a public bathroom is not a private place. I guess we all should be more careful when using a public bathroom. Just some quick thoughts—peace.

Hugo

Sure, John, but again, the use of the word "pervert" is inflammatory. The question is not whether folks should be having sex in public bathrooms -- I think we are all in agreement that that is unacceptable. The question is, what words are we going to use to describe that behavior?

The problem with the word "perverted" is that no attempt is made to distinguish the public nature of the act (which is the problem) and the homosexual nature of the act (which is not). Remaining silent while that distinction is ignored is to be consent to the acceptable use of the term "pervert."

With respect, civilized folks should no more use the word "pervert" to describe same-sex behavior than they would use the word "unnatural" to describe inter-racial dating practices.

thad

Hugo, I confess that, to me, your distinction between perverse and pervert seems to split hairs a bit, at least in this context. You appear slightly less uncomfortable with the former to the end that it typically describes a behavior while the latter usually serves as an offensive personal label. My confusion lies in the fact that, in the original article, the word perverted is used as a direct modifier in both instances, once actually for the word “behavior” and once for the phrase "form of vandalism." In both cases, while the word-form contains a “-t” rather than an “-se,” it seems to be used as a descriptor for behavior (in a way that the word perverse is easily interchangeable in both sentences) rather than as a direct personal label. I don’t deny the implication that the performer of the behavior might, indeed, be considered a pervert by the writer, but you have suggested that the concept of perverse (or perverted) behavior is more palatable than the labeling of someone a pervert. It just seems like an awfully confusing distinction in light of the actual wording of the article and your response to it.

That said, I’m curious about your conviction that, while the behavior involved might indeed be perverse (not because of its homoerotic nature, but because it is at some level lewd, degrading, and, by the way, illegal), such a statement “has no place in a college paper…”

First, let me acknowledge that the article in question falls short of the mark by almost any journalistic standard (and not just in its use of questionable verbiage). That, however, is symptomatic of a college newspaper with inexperienced and poorly trained staffers – a phenomenon on campuses across the country, as I’m sure you know. With those shortcomings noted, I’m not sure the intent of the writer can so easily be discerned as homophobic or hateful. Perhaps he’s just not a very good writer and doesn’t quite understand the distinction between opinion and news pieces. In that case, it seems a different approach and tone might be more appropriate in response.

My greater curiosity, however, is about your view of public discourse about something like gloryholes in the men’s room on a city college campus. Does the community have the right—and maybe the responsibility—to make certain distinctions about what is and what isn’t appropriate sexual behavior in public? Not only is the vandalism itself illegal, but the subsequent sexual acts are illegal, no matter the gender or orientation of the participants. A husband and wife could sneak into the men’s room for a quick thrill through the stall wall and, technically, be arrested for it (at least in every jurisdiction I’m aware of).

While I think there’s a place for a conversation about professionalism and sensitivity in the choice of language in a news story, I’m wondering if it’s really so outrageous that, at some point, we might assume (and express) as a community that vandalism for the sake of illegal, anonymous public sex acts (again, regardless of gender or orientation) is perverse without implying that homosexuals (or people who enjoy oral sex) are perverts. If it is not, what criteria do we use to determine when we may and when we may not, collectively, identify certain behavior as perverse? It does not seem like sexual tyranny to me to publicly agree that two folks performing high risk sex on one another in the stall next to where we all sit, stand, and wash our hands is, well, not okay. Is perverse (or perverted) too strong a word? Perhaps to some, but I’m not so sure it is, especially in the even that it is used to describe this sort of behavior and not to categorically condemn homosexuals as perverts. Frankly, I know homosexuals who would describe oral sex through holes in the wall in public bathrooms as utterly perverse, and who would express great anger with those who encourage and participate in such acts for propogating the public perception that the homosexual community is abnormally perverted. Surely it doesn’t make us hateful bigots to have a collective sense of what is and what is not acceptable public behavior on a college campus. (This, again, should not be read as a defense of the article in question, but rather a question precipitated by the responses here to the article.)

To be fair, I know that’s not exactly your point, but I found your comments subsequent to your original post a bit confusing to this end. I suppose your closing comment in the original post (“Even if one were to defend the article by …”) addresses some of my argument. Even so, I would suggest that your letter to the editor clearly assumes an agenda of bigotry on the part of the writer. While your post allows for the possibility that he was simply addressing the behavior without making a judgment on sexual orientation, your public response seems to lack that grace (“He…wittingly or no, chose one of the ugliest of slurs to attack the gay and lesbian community.”) Perhaps he didn’t choose to attack and, perhaps as you allow in your post (“I don't know if many hetero folks truly understand the power of the word pervert), he unwittingly employed an adjective whose noun form has a deep, dark history for homosexuals (again, I'd note that the word is used to describe behavior and not to explicitly label anyone or any group a pervert or perverts).

I'm not defending Flores per se (I have no idea what his motives were), but I am wondering if it's any more fair or reasonable to assume the worst based on selective experience than it is to assume the best based on the actual syntax of what is (and isn't) communicated. That possibility does not delegitimize your desire to respond publicly, but it might invite a different sort of response; one that might educate and more effectively communicate with those ignorant of the repercussions of certain language for certain communities.

Frankly, as a writer, I confess that it is increasingly difficult to navigate and engage the world in written word. Words which have, for thousands of years, had reasonable meaning and power, are, with differing degrees of consensus and explanation, declared off limits. I am not unsympathetic to the persecution suffered by the homosexual community, but, like others here, I'm also inclined to resist the categorical dismissal of language based on its abuses in selected contexts. Without making judgment on any particular cause, community, or code, it is impossible to successfully communicate without occasionally and inadvertently pissing someone off (short of completely neutering one’s sense of style or purpose). That does not excuse willful ignorance or insensitivity, but I hope it might invite the same sort of grace and patience with the offenders that the offended expect for themselves.

Hugo

What a thoughtful response, Thad. I admit that I posted in anger, as I could not see how the intent of Flores could be construed as anything other than outright bigotry.

College papers --including our own -- have policies that require that journalists practice sensitivity towards ethnic and religious minorities. The op-ed pages are excluded from those strictures. GIven the history of the word --which a college journalist may be excused for not knowing -- it is possible that no offense was meant.

I've appreciated the comments immensely. But since most of the commenters are not gay men, it is a bit difficult for us (self included) to assess the degree of offense caused by this piece. The two gay men I've talked to on campus were quietly furious, but resigned to that sort of language -- I am interested to see what sort of response other GLBTQ folk might have.

Xrlq

Who cares what other gays think? Unless they happen to be individuals who engage in anonymous sex through glory holes, Flores wasn't talking about them, anyway.

joe

so hugo, are you saying the majority should conform their language to the preferred syntax of a minority/ marginalized people?

thad was generous. but, you were clearly mistaken. do you live in a glass house?

Hugo

I do indeed live in a glass house, and anyone who reads my blog knows I do my utmost to refrain from throwing stones. My academic work, my faith, and my own life experience have made me especially sympathetic to the plight of marginalized groups.

XRLQ, Flores may not have been talking about all gay folks -- or he may have been. The ambiguity of his sentence structure makes it impossible to tell what he meant. My objection is to EVER using the word pervert, in any context, do describe any homosexual act -- not because all acts are worthy of defense, but because the word "perverse" has such an ugly history that it cannot be used without wounding folks.

Hugo

Let me also say, I haven't been so stunned by reaction to one of my posts since I posted about Amy Richards months ago.

Reading the responses here has struck me that I may be more profoundly out of touch than I had previously imagined. Frankly, it's disheartening.

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