M: A Rebuttal

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

The Daily Gazette received the following message in response to my last column:

As a Swarthmore student’s parent, I think that your sophomoric column today about masturbating that was obviously written to “shock” people was immature and just stupid.

Who cares about your sexual exploits or fantasies? Save it for your friends. We are NOT your friends. We don’t care!

The gazette in the past had more columns and news articles that required actual thought and even investigative reporting. Have the students there sunk so low to have to publish love letters to Margaret Cho and then another time describe buttocks? Is this the best you can do for morning news?

If so, then please cease operation of this useless piece of journalism and go back to classes.

We understand that young people explore their sexuality but please do it on your own time.

Thank you.

The writer of this letter and I have a misunderstanding, and while my guess is that either their1 critical reading skills have gone rusty or they didn’t read past the title of the column at all, I’m willing to entertain the possibility that it was my failure as a writer that led them to believe I was trying to “shock” them. To be clear: I wasn’t. I’m not opposed to shock, or to anyone being shocked by my column. Shock is a natural reaction to anything outside your comfort zone, and that’s good – if it makes you reevaluate the boundaries of that zone and how they were set. What I am opposed to is letting your shock tell you that the thing you’re confronting is not good or not proper and therefore not worth thinking about, and if you think I’m “obviously” writing to produce that reaction, you’re wrong.

We live in a fucked-up, sex-negative culture that does its best to make us feel bad about the things we do, the things we don’t do, and the things we only dream of doing. It’s damaging. If my writing is a “useless piece of journalism,” it’s not because there’s no work to be done in exposing and dismantling the forces that perpetuate this climate, but because it’s a drop in the bucket compared to the power of those forces which tell me not to love myself, not to love my partner, not to do what feels right for us.

Here’s a piece of investigative reporting for you: I went to the annual Sager genderfuck party last Saturday, a party that is meant to celebrate the unique forms of community and social life queer people have forged for ourselves in the face of a culture that doesn’t approve of sex and really doesn’t approve of our kind(s). This year’s party didn’t seem to celebrate anything but booze and boobs, and the only inhibitions I saw lowered were the ones that usually keep people from letting their misogyny and homophobia off the leash in public.

There were men outside the venues yelling, “Don’t go in there! There are guys making out!” Several of my friends – male and female – were touched inappropriately and without their consent by strangers. The atmosphere was uncomfortable to the point of feeling unsafe. That’s the report; you can draw your own conclusions. Mine are that misogyny and homophobia are just two elements of the same persistent negativity that surrounds our bodies and our sexuality and makes it necessary to go out of our way to learn how to feel good about them, often after years of feeling terrible. Sex-positivity is about consent, not promiscuity; knowledge, not ignorance; pleasure rather than shame; and the creation of a space where all choices are respected.

To the writer of the letter: If you really “understand that young people explore their sexuality,” why are you so shocked that I masturbate and make mistakes and am willing to talk about it? And are you implying, by that same statement, that older people don’t explore their sexuality? I hope I’m still exploring when I’m your age. Furthermore, I’m pretty sure I did do my exploring on my own time – and I encourage you to do the same.

1I’m using the gender-neutral plural to refer to the writer of this letter, whose gender I don’t know.

The Phoenix