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November 16, 2004

Comments

joe

"If you lived in a "glass house" it would be very easy for other people to hurt you by throwing stones at you."

www.goenglish.com

you are overly sensitive, maybe to a fault

Amanda

I'm chiming in with Hugo that the use of the word "pervert", in this case, is a homophobic slur, all my jokes aside. When considering whether or not an ambigious statement is a slur, I find it useful to imagine if it could be used in a similiar situation but applied to the dominant group. Would this writer have described the common, if rude, heterosexual act of having sex in the stacks at the library as "perverted" or "perverse"? Not likely. The homosexuality, and not the inappropriateness, of the behavior is the issue.

You see this same problem in anti-gay interpretations of the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, where the "sin" of homosexuality is elevated over what seems to me to be the most horrifying aspect of the story--the demand that foreigners be turned over to an angry mob for gang rape.

Xrlq

Hugo, there is no ambiguity here. You have simply created one by giving the word "pervert" a meaning that it doesn't have. It is not now, nor has it ever been, a synonym for gay. Yes, there are some people who think gayness is a form of sexual perversion. There are also people who think gayness is immoral, but that doesn't mean that "immoral" is a derogatory term for "gay," and it certainly doesn't mean that a truly immoral person should be spared the word "immoral" simply because he also happens to be gay.

Boys who look up women's skirts are perverts. Gag t-shirts read "I'm With Pervert," and even come with paired-up T-shirts reading "Pervert" with a vertical arrow. They are universally interpreted as "my boyfriend is / I am a horny, oversexed heterosexual," not "I think my boyfriend is gay / yup, I'm gay all right." The worst SNL character I've seen in years, "Merv the Perv," was not cast as a gay man, but as a straight male gynecologist who enjoyed his profession a little too much. And any oversexed male student who stuck his conley into a "glory hole" that led to the women's bathroom would rightly be called a pervert as well.

I see no reason to cut gay perverts any more slack than one would/should give to their straight counterparts.

Erica

Hugo,
Sorry about the disheartening.

"Tolerance means adopting a language that allows all of us to feel valued and accepted."

First I want to say that I think it is clear that you class "those who morally oppose homosexuality" with those who are racist. Your analogy suggests as much and is offensive without being overt. Or am I reading too much into it?

We as human beings make judgements, which is, as well, a much maligned word. Judgement is inherent to decision making. We all make decisions. It seems to me that you have decided to make tolerance the rule of your speech and, presumably, conduct. You however seem well-positioned to do so since you have no moral qualms about homosexuality. I wonder if your sensibilites would have been offended if GLBTQers sounded off, in the paper, how glad they are about a change of law that would allow them to marry? Clearly they would be showing a degree of non-acceptance of the opposing view that they not be allowed to marry. My belabored point is that tolerance is intolerant of intolerance. How can it be our guide for behavior? And, this is a sincere question. I do want to know. . .not just making a point. . .Erica

Amy

It seems to me that there are a number of questions here that are being confused.

Issue #1. Was the use of the word "pervert" in the article poorly chosen? Yes, because it's ambiguous as to whether it refers to homosexual behavior in general (in which case it would be offensive) or to the act of public sex in the bathroom (in which the label could correctly apply).

Issue #2. Should we as readers of the article care about the wording used in the article? Yes, because the words used, poorly-chosen or not, do send a message. This is the first lesson that anyone who has ever written seriously knows. Because "pervert" in this case is ambiguous, I would guess that a number of people who read it applied it to the homosexual part rather than the public sex part of the connotation (as Hugo himself did). This *does* negatively and incorrectly affect what people think of homosexuals, and should not be part of a non-editorial part of a newspaper. I use "should" in a descriptive rather than normative sense here, because....

Issue #3. What is the best action to take in order to lessen the overall amount of harm? Hugo chose to write a letter to the editor, which could have a number of "good" outcomes: (a) it will alert the writer of the article and the editors of the paper of a potentially offensive, inappropriate usage; (b) it may make people more aware of the power of language, and hopefully turn them into better writers; and (c) it may cause debate of the sort we see in this comments section, which could be a good thing.

However, the negatives are strong as well, even if you agree with #1 and #2 above: (a) I'm not sure how much change could really happen; the idea of purely "objective" reporting is a myth, since we all have biases and backgrounds that we bring to every situation. This doesn't mean we shouldn't try to stamp out the most egregious examples of blatant prejudice, but it might mean we need to get a thicker skin (and I say this as a gay person myself). A consequence of the desire to avoid offending anyone is writing mindless pablum or taking no stand at all, neither of which is salutory for productive civil discourse.

Also, there's another large negative: (b) letters like Hugo's may be easily misconstrued. Too often they are taken as requests for overt censorship rather than requests for self-censorship or more consideration (which is how I'm reading his). More importantly, they are too often used to argue either for a political-correctness-inspired curtailment of freedom of speech, or else to demonize liberals (or gays, or whatever group) by arguing that such curtailment is what that group really wants. Because of the danger of such a misconstrual, actually sending the letter could be counterproductive to the actual goals involved in writing it. How? By causing further alienation, partisan bickering, and unwillingness of reasonable people to recognize or consider legitimate views that might have been accepted if presented where the offense was more obvious.

So... I don't know. I admire and appreciate your willingness to speak up on this, Hugo, but I don't think I would have done the same myself.

erica

no one asks the qay/lesbian community to "self-censor" or to be "more considerate" of those who oppose their sexuality. That would be heinous. Can you imagine? How is this different from suggesting that those who do morally oppose homosexuality to do so? Is this just asking them to internalize "overt sensorship" or face the dreaded "intolerant" label?

zuzu

A hundred years ago, I was a college journalist and then a professional journalist. Looking back on my college work, I probably used a lot of sloppy language that was probably loaded. It was harder to do that on a professional paper with experienced editors. Still, "perverted" was not a word I could imagine either my student or my professional editors letting me get away with without challenging me on what I meant. It's just so overtly opinionated a word.

The veneer of "objectivism" is just a veneer, but I can tell you, reporters at my paper had a contest to see who could get the most offensive word into the paper while still appearing objective. I thought I'd won it when I reviewed a 2 Live Crew show and phoned in a story reporting -- in an attempt to convey just what was so shocking about their music -- that a lot of their lyrics were about cunnilingus and fellatio. Unfortunately, the editor had rewritten my story to reflect the "family newspaper" values.

yami

The homophobic subtext of the article comes from more than just the word "perverted". The glory holes are at the end of a list of "yuck factor" examples - they are specifically deemed more appalling than defecating on a drinking fountain or leaving a used condom on a door handle.

"Hi, your sexual desire is more disgusting than smearing poop on a public drinking fountain!" - in what universe is this supposed to be a socially acceptable thing to say?

So no, Hugo, I don't think you were overreacting at all.

Michelle

I'm stunned. I agree with Xrlq. I think that so much can be read into words that they lose their meaning, rather than becoming more meaningful or powerful. The purpose of language is to be understood, and some things are just referred to as perverted. I happen to think this behavior is. I don't see why it has to have any further implications.

IT

HelLO? Hugo is totally right to react as he did . to Xriq and Michelle, you are not gay, or you would realize that "Pervert" has a long history as a synonym for "gay" and is frequently used in a hurtful, vile way. Any gay man or woman has heard the sneer, the word as a whispered hiss with the shiver of violence behind it. You can simply look at your partner with love on the street and you hear it. "Pervert!" (no doubt said by a "loving Christian"). And until you get safely home iwth the doors locked, you think of gay-bashing are afraid.

It is a loaded word, and, its use in this article is ambiguous as to whether it refers to the act of public sex, or the act of gay sex. Given the history of the word, it is clearly aimed at a distasteful act that is gay, and can be easily interpreted as including gay sex in general.

Indeed, as one commenter said, this would not have been said if this were talking about a meeting place for straight coupling, however anonymous or distasteful.

Thank you Hugo, for standing up to the dangerous power of words. Your point of view is particularly meaningful because you are a straight ally.

By the way, as for a more Christian response to homosexuality, does anyone read the Washington post?

IT

Oops, that link didn't come through...

http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A48197-2004Nov13?language=printer

Lynn Gazis-Sax

On the one hand, I can understand why there's a contingent defending the word "perverted" here, because I have the same "yuck" reaction to glory holes (not to gay sex - I'm bi). Anonymity to the point of not even being able to see the stranger you're having sex with, combined with being in public where anyone can walk in on you - what's to like?

But, that said, I really have to agree with Hugo here. Xrlq says that Hugo's creating ambiguity where there is none, and overlooking the fact that "pervert" gets applied to straight people, too. I say that Xrlq is overlooking a major difference in the uses of "pervert" he cites and the way it gets used with gay people. "Pervert" is applied to a sexually aggressive straight man with a wink and a smirk (and those gag T-shirts are a prime example). "Pervert" is applied to a gay man (sexually aggressive or not) with venom and disgust. And in that way it gets used all the time to single out gay misbehavior while giving similar straight misbehavior a pass. If you want to criticize public restroom sex, there are plenty of less loaded words to use, ones without that particular history.

Also, I do agree with yami that putting shit in a public drinking fountain is worse than glory holes. In the case of the shit in the drinking fountains, the offense to others is the actual goal of the act.

Finally, this article at Ex-Gay Watch may be of interest: http://www.exgaywatch.com/xgw/2003/12/collaboration_c.html ("Collaboration Cuts Park Cruising By Utah Gays & Ex-gays").

Lynn Gazis-Sax

One more point.

no one asks the qay/lesbian community to "self-censor" or to be "more considerate" of those who oppose their sexuality.

Wrong. People do ask just that, all the time. What's more, even now, many people think, and will say, that being "more considerate" of those who oppose their sexuality means not doing the normal things, with their partners, that straight people do all the time.

IT

yes, Lynn is right. Look at how some right wing conservative Christian complained vociferously that Mary Cheney was flaunting her homosexuality simple by standing next to her father... WITH HER PARNTER! Just by the physical act of BEING. How "offensive" is that!!

Imagine what it is like not to be able tosimply hold hands, or mention in th eworkplace that you went out this weekend (in case a gendered pronoun slips out) or to reach over and brush off a lapel ... we have to self censor all the time because the price for NOT doing so can be job loss, or violence.

Try walking a mile in my moccassins.

Erica

The point about self-censoring is mine, and I achnowledge that both IT and Lynn have points concerning the reality of teh gay/lesbian experience today. Thanks. I just sense that self-censorship is problematic for both sides.

IT

Erica, it doesn't seem to me that most people opposed to homosexuality are "self-censoring", at least not in most of this country.

And, being labeled as "intolerant" is a lot different as a consequence than being fired or being beaten up.

I think that keeping a negative opinion to yourself is more of a social grace. It's like being kind enough not to tell your distant cousin whom you see once a year that you loathe her boorish husband. It doesn't affect you, so what is to be gained by being vocal about it?

I think as a social grace, this sort of self-censorship is different in kind from being unable to mention that you are married, or have a family, or put your partner on your company's Human Resources forms as an emergency contact.

And then there are the people at work who want to set you up with someone of the opposite sex....

alsafi

I laughed out loud when I read the comment about how homosexuals "don't have to self-censor." My entire life is censored--my partner becomes "my roommate" (turning a loving, 10-year relationship into... nothing, really). I can't talk about my weekends, my holidays, my joys, or my heartaches with the people I see the most. If my partner is sick, I'm expected to be at work just like every other day; if we're fighting, I can't explain to my family or my coworkers why I'm stressed or unhappy without risking the added stress of them blowing up or me having to find a new job. Yeah, sure, no censoring going on, because no one has any problem with gay people... as long as we act straight, and never bring up anything that makes it clear that we're not.

Erica

To start, let me say that some of the perspectives I am vocalizing are not ones I subscribe to. I am not for social censorship. I think that it has been misconstrued that I am.
Okay, in response to some other comments: I acknowledge that, due to social pressures, people like Alsafi feel they edit all the time, and sympathize. I wouldn't wnat to be a reason he did that.

IT's comment that self-censoring about homosexuality, should one be opposed to it, is equal to a social grace, because "it doesn't affect you", seems as out of touch with the feelings of those who oppose homosexuality as my comment was about gays not being self-censored. Society is a space we all inhabit, and those oppose homosexuality do so, overwhelmingly, precisely because they feel it does affect them, and their families. I would also like to point out that what is a social grace at the office or family function does not necessarily translate as such to a school newspaper, etc. Where one chooses to hold one's tongue is still an exercised freedom. Hugo called for an apology for an 0pinion (he interpreted) felt was inappropriately shared. Unless he would have called for the same thing had the oppposite opinion been shared, I still see a quandry.
Though the consequence of being labeled "intolerant" may not be equal in severity to losing one's job or being beaten up, it aims stifle through social pressure the opposing position and is therefore somewhat hypocritical in sentiment and function to the essence of tolerance.
Peace,
Erica

Amanda

Man, the poor homophobic Christians sure are picked on by gays, aren't they? How do they manage?

XRLQ, "pervert" may not by synonymous with "gay", but for people who "oppose", i.e. are frightened of, homosexuality, "gay" is synonymous with "pervert". I could draw a Venn diagram if you'd like.

As for the anonymous bathroom sex, I think a little context is necessary here. There would not be such a problem with anonymous bathroom sex between men if being gay were accepted and celebrated like being straight is. The obvious advantage of not seeing your partner is that your partner can't out you after the fact if they don't know who you are.

IT

Erica wrote:
Society is a space we all inhabit, and those oppose homosexuality do so, overwhelmingly, precisely because they feel it does affect them, and their families.

I'm sorry, but I really have a hard time understanding how my same-sex family, (my tax-paying, PTA-member, soccer-moms, church-attending family that lacks the 1049 rights and protections associated with civil marriage) has ANY effect on your family.

Any more than your attendance of a Church of your choice (however misguided I may personally view its theology), or a cousin's choice to marry a boor (to go back to a previous example) has any effect on mine.

As long as you don't interfere with my family and its rights, I won't interfere with yours.

But in a pluralist, tolerant, and secular society, which is what America is, you don't get to sentence me to the closet becuase you don't like the mere idea of me being gay, any more than I get to sentence you to change denominations to because I don't like certain forms of right wing Christianity.

This is not a Taliban theocracy (at least, not yet). We have to get along, with mutual respect, and humanity.

And for the record, given where this trhead started, I don't approve of anonymous sex whether straight or gay. I don't blame the article for reporting concern. The point is whether the article was outraged about glory holes becuase of the GAY aspect, or about sex in general. The use of the word "pervert" suggests the former. It strikes me that most of those opposed to homosexuality think that anonymous glory holes define homosexual relationships. That's like saying that Desperate Housewives defines marriage.

That's why it's important for us to be out, so they can see that we are just the same, want the same things for our kids, and are no threat at all.

Erica

I'm thinking it would be better for me to drop this thread, not because I amoffended, but because it seems that, in stating my concerns about equal speech and expression for both homosexuals and those who oppose, it is being construed that I am one who "fears" homosexuality, wants people "sentenced to a closet" and may be one of those "homophobic" Christians. I am not any of those things. i am senstive to labels be they "pervert" or "intolerant" or any of their cohorts, and I don't want anybody forcibly silenced.
Erica

Hugo

Erica, I think you've done a fine job of explaining your position. I don't agree, mind you -- but I don't see that you've taken the stance of an intolerant bigot, either.

I was once a "First Amendment Zealot"; I've become less fiery over the years. I do think that calling someone "intolerant" is different than calling someone a "pervert" -- while the former seems based on a moral stance, the latter is based upon someone's behavior that derives from their very identity. Gay men have yet to be seen swinging baseball bats at the heads of conservative Christians, yelling "Intolerant Homophobe"; gay men have been bashed by those who have yelled "pervert". The difference is substantial, and affects how we must respond to uses of these words in public.

Michelle

IT--don't be so quick to make assumptions. I'm bi, if one has to put a label on it, and I have heard the word "pervert" in the context that you mention. Shoot, I'm from East Texas, where the nearest gay bar was blown up, literally. Glad I wasn't in it at the time.

I've been in heterosexual relationships for years, but I know during the years when I was with other women, if someone used the word "pervert", I pretty much had the attitude of "fuck 'em, they are so ignorant." Yeah, it happens.

In my mind, there is a difference between name-calling and labeling a behavior. Many behaviors, both gay and straight, are perverted. Who has not heard of this word to refer to prostitution, for example? ie: "Only pervs visit prostitutes." It's around in the straight community too. Believe me, if someone could invent a way for guys and girls to do that same anonymous activity in public bathrooms (yeah, yukky), they would be called perverts. The girls more so than the guys of course, so I will allow that the word can be loaded.

Also, I believe one can be gay without taking a victim stance. We all have our crosses to carry. Fight for what you believe, but why choose an oppressed affect?

Jaynita Ann Isabelle Carney

Dear Hugo,

I am both appalled and saddened by your reaction and response to the Courier. I am a student at PCC and a Past Prez of the United Rainbow Allince and I would like to know what gives you the right to speak for me? I was NOT offended by Micah's use of the word perveted as he never states in his story that it is used for a male to male relashionship.

My dear Hugo have you never seen the movie "Porky's"? They have a glory hole which is used for male perversion against FEMALES. So where did you read that it is a "gay" thing? Perhapes you read way to deep into a simple article condemning vandalism on PCC's campus.

And P.S. Ask Miss Kitty Kicks ASS!

Hugo

Jaynita, what part of this wasn't clear in Flores' commentary:

"While one male utilizes the peephole, a willing participant in the next stall performs oral favors"

Explain, please, how the use of the phrase "one male" could allow for the possibility that the willing participant in the next stall is female? The "one" is a dead give-away.

I confess it has been years since I've seen Porky's, so I happily defer to your expertise in 80s teen-exploitation features.

Also, my copy of the Courier indicates that a Jaynita Carney is the web editor for the paper. I question your decision to leave that salient fact out of your comment, my dear.

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