Monday, October 20, 2014
The Case for Pornography
I bring this topic up with some reluctance. Speaking with such frankness makes me inclined to pick my words carefully, cautiously. I have to thread a needle delicately, to make my arguments air-tight and to have the labels and causes I've attached to myself over time line up neatly. Talking about pornography in any form is a loaded discourse that can easily cause division and raised voices.
I begin, as I have many times before, with my own story. Starting at the age of 11 or 12, my father introduced me to pornography. That sentence sounds horribly violating, but I assure you it was not. In fact, it was quite harmless. To him, I was participating in a rite of passage ritual long held by men. This is still how I see it today.
At first, he rented movies from the local video store that were termed erotic thrillers but were really barely concealed softcore pornography. Next, he purchased a copy of Playboy for my benefit, though he disguised this from my mother, who was likely to disapprove. His form of subterfuge was to conceal the issue between two sets of folded towels, then hand them over to me.
I swiftly took over from there, recognizing with time that there was an entire galaxy of images and videos awaiting. Since then, I've drifted away from the glossy, commercial stuff, insisting upon amateur content full of people who look like regular folks, because they are. I don't mean to sound that I'm patting myself on the back, because I think this progression is quite normal. In those days, with my testosterone ramped up, it didn't take much. In some ways, I miss those days because fantasy alone was more than enough.
When I became a feminist, I grew aware of the sex-positive/sex-negative debate that caused a great schism in the years before my birth. I cast my lot almost immediately with the sex-positive crowd, who gave rise to the notion that overt sexuality could be empowering, rather than victimizing. It is my opinion that ethics can exist within the naked form, while I acknowledge that certain genres, studios, and fetishes frequently reinforce sexist and even misanthropic stereotypes.
When I finally came to terms with my sexual orientation, a gay couple who were substantially older than me gave me access to their own modest library. It was an education of a sort I would have never received from my father or any other family member. I learned the vocabulary words, the lingo, and saw demonstrated before me a more-or-less accurate rendering of the truth. But even then I saw fantasies of control and dominance, which bordered on consensual and nonconsenual.
This struggle was uniquely my own. It is still consigned a little to the shadows, to be brought up in certain contexts among certain people inclined to understand. The heterosexual milieu was eager to teach me its secrets, but the homosexual part of me was entirely self-taught. There is money to be made in an endless procession of pretty faces, beautiful bodies, and entirely counterfeit lesbians. But where a minority view is concerned, capitalism is not quite as vociferous, though it may be soon, depending on how quickly queer identity is accepted as something beyond novelty or basic tolerance.
When I see overtly gay displays of affection or sexuality in commercials or on broadcast television, we will have reached a new height. But when that day arrives, we must guard against the link between making money and a very fundamental source of exploitation. I happen to believe that ethical capitalism is a contradiction in terms, but we can at least hold it accountable for its numerous flaws. This is what we do already.
Pornography has always been a release and a source of pleasure to me. I've been intelligent enough and informed enough to separate fantasy from reality. Whether other people are capable of the same is difficult to say. There's a lowest common denominator aspect to pornography and I wonder if others put as much effort into self-scrutiny as I do. And if they do not, can we successfully intervene with our own best intentions?
I see an awful lot of tap-dancing out there, when this subject is raised. On-one-hand, but on-another-hand. One of the most essential parts to us is our sexuality. In centuries past, we've sought to put the topic under strictest control, to shame and blame those who do not conform and to restrict altogether. We are less that way now, but the debate has not stopped. I know many young parents who panic at the notion that their child might be exposed to adult content and be unable to responsibly process the knowledge.
My father did not, and I think his was the appropriate response. He made his mistakes in other areas, but he was a reliable and factual source of sex education. In time-honored fashion, we spent many hours driving in cars for otherwise unnecessary trips. I asked questions freely and he provided answers. I doubt I will ever have a child of my own, but if I did, I would follow his example.