It won’t be news to readers of this column that we face a well-organized and highly funded right-wing assault on the human rights of gay Americans. But in the heat of our own battles, we may sometimes forget that this assault is only one front in a war on the sexual liberties of all Americans. In an important new book, America’s War on Sex, sex therapist and pubic policy analyst Marty Klein documents and analyzes this war.
He shows that a key weapon in its arsenal is what he calls the Sexual Disaster Industry, a propaganda machine which “involves federal and local government, conservative religion, so-called morality organizations, right-wing think tanks, victim-parade daytime talk show like Montel and Maury, and news programs looking for a bump (‘Isn’t it awful the way people go to strip clubs? Film at 11!’) Honorable mention goes to the psychotherapy profession (current motto ‘You’re sure you were never molested?’) and to the nighttime adrenalin-rush crime shows like CSI.” The SDI has two goals: “1) to inspire us to fear sex, and 2) to provide society with excuses to restrict sexual expression.”
In the SDI narrative of sex-as-danger “…our country is filled with pedophiles and date rapists, pornography drives people to destroy their marriages and to commit violence and perversion; sexual entertainment damages communities; sex education seduces children into having sex; premarital sex leads to promiscuity, ruining lives; and abortion leads to breast cancer, sterility, and crippling guilt.” The latest SDI product, of course, is the “threat” of gay marriage, which, if legalized, will mean “straights won’t marry anymore, people will demand the right to marry animals or their own children, no one will have kids anymore, children will no longer aspire to couple, too many children will be raised (poorly) by gay parents” and so on and on.
The propaganda of the SDI effectively undermines the rights of consenting adults to their private sexual choices, because when people are scared into believing that that some private behavior leads to disastrous public consequences, it then seems prudent and reasonable that “public safety” trumps privacy rights.
This propaganda machine also creates dangerous “sexual minorities” which threaten us all. Klein shows that the social construct of “sexual minority” is essentially identical to the construct of “ethnic minority” which has been used to demonize immigrants, Jews, African Americans, “Orientals,” Mexicans, Quakers, Mormons and Catholics,” among others. Some of the “characteristics” which both kinds of minorities share include: “a homogeneous group; less than adult, perhaps even less than human; not ‘normal’; proselytizing or seducing ‘normal’ people; dangerous and therefore needing to be controlled; practitioners of secret, exotic rituals; impulsive and/or compulsive.”
Once the public is convinced of the existence of these dangerous Others, the full weight of the law can be brought down on them. So, for instance, cities and counties across the country spent over $50 million in 2005 to harass adult clubs and bookstores; straight adults have been denied custody of their own children because they enjoy consensual s/m; it has become essentially illegal to tell school children the truth about sex; and a systematic campaign is underway against such enemies of decency as Planned Parenthood, “internet porn addicts,” “abortionists,” and their allies in amorality, the ACLU and the “secular progressives.”
Ironically, though, the largest sexual “minority” in the country is actually the American people. He writes: “W]ho are the consumers of the cultural products the Religious Right constantly criticizes? Who do they think is watching Desperate Housewives, going to see Maid in Manhattan, buying Cosmopolitan, and downloading Janet Jackson’s half-second nipple?” Who are the 50 million Americans consuming porn? “When the Right complains that hotels are making a fortune selling in-room porn, who do they think stays in those hotel rooms in Topeka, Provo, and Memphis?” As Ted Haggart’s downfall shows, the Christian Right’s power depends on the fear and denial of one’s own sexuality. “So when the Religious Right hyperventilates, sputters, rages, and prophesies doom…they’re talking about themselves, but blaming a ‘them’ People who feel powerless are cheering this war on ‘them’ although it’s ultimately a war on themselves. But people who feel powerless and ashamed of their own sexuality can’t possibly stand up for themselves in this battle.”
And that’s where we come in. When we fight for gay marriage and adoption rights, or against the “don’t ask/don’t tell” policy, we aren’t fighting for “special rights,” but for the freedoms of all Americans. And, while we don’t seek special rights, we do have special power, because, to the degree that we’ve accepted and embraced our own sexuality, we’re no longer afraid. That means we aren’t susceptible to shame, or to the manipulation and intimidation which prevents so many Americans from perceiving their self-interests or defending their own liberty.
In addition to his six books, Marty Klein writes and publishes an electronic monthly, Sexual Intelligence ( www.SexualIntelligence.org ) which exposes and challenges the threats to our sexual rights. He’s a powerful ally in our struggles. Check him out.