Puritanism - n. The deep-seated fear that someone, somewhere is enjoying themselves.
A couple of seasons ago, the television show ER depicted a man in a possum suit masturbating with a cat puppet.
Hmmm. Perhaps I need to include some backstory here.
In this episode of ER, the character of Kerry Weaver (played by Laura Innes) treated two young men who were at what's known as a furry convention. Furries, for those who have something better to do than search the Web for every idiosyncratic hobby or interest, are people who enjoy dressing up (to some extent) as creatures or were-creatures (partially human, partially animal). Furries are usually considered to be a subset of the sci-fi/fantasy/comic fan subset (an excessively broad generalization, I know, but good enough for this purpose). Anyway, back to ER. The two furries, a possum and a kangaroo, were in full plush body suits. The kangaroo attacked the possum because the possum carried his social behavior (referred to in this case as "skritching," i.e. mock grooming) into sexual behavior by reaching into the kangaroo's pouch, to get at, you know, the kangaroo's "joey" (snicker), at which point the kangaroo popped him one in the snoot. I seem to remember something about the kangaroo winding up with a bite on the hand, courtesy of the possum. Upon Kerry asking the kangaroo what happened, he explained that he wasn't into sex "in fur". Picture him lying on a gurney, saying to her that unlike the possum, "I'm not into the weird stuff." Fast forward to nearly the end of the episode. Kerry has met the host of her favorite children's show when she was growing up, who is an irascible old lady (played superbly by Eileen Brennan, if memory serves) with ovarian cancer. Kerry's nice, Eileen does her "old lady in Altantic City sans slot machine" routine, and finally tells her who she is and gives her the Mr. Whiskers (beloved character on said TV show) hand puppet, and trundles off to die in the street, we presume. A few minutes later, Kerry can't find Mr. Whiskers until she finds it . . . uh . . . in flagrante with a certain possum. In the words of Television Without Pity's Wing Chun "Emmy-winning drama, folks. Among the highest-rated shows on television for seven years. Guy jerking off with a hand puppet. Words fail me."
This storyline was completely ludicrous, by which I mean par for the course for the past several seasons of ER. The thing is that the whole furry issue was at one time an ongoing argument amongst the fan folk, particularly on the Internet. You see, the dichotomy between "furries who like to have sex 'in fur'" and "furries who don't like to have sex 'in fur'" is vast, if you can believe the various sites on the Internet. In particular, the BurnedFur site, an anti-fur-sex site, portrays the divide as being an division between wholesome fun-loving costumed characters who like to entertain at children's hospital and sex-crazed predatory perverts who will rape anyone wearing a pair of pointed ears. While I overstate somewhat, the BurnedFur site is quite vocal in their criticism of what they call "furverts".
Essentially, what the BurnedFurs are saying is that they feel that by engaging in fursex, and more importantly discussing such things on websites and newsgroups will only cause non-furries to conclude that all furries are into fursex, thus marginalizing furries and inflicting a major stigma onto self-avowed furries. The BurnedFurs then go on to relate stories of furries who lost jobs, families, and relationships because of this stigma.
The biggest problem here is that by shrilly decrying all of those from whom you wish to disassociate yourself, calling them perverts, and claiming that they are "ruining" what would otherwise be a wholesome good time for everyone, with moonbeams and rainbows and and puppies all around, you wind up associating your identity with the very thing you're trying to distance yourself from. (All of those points were originally covered by various pro-fur-sex and significantly less uptight anti-fur-sex writers.)
Update: The Burned Fur site has lapsed and the domain name is now, surprise, surprise, a porn site (albeit a mainstream porn site). Irony is a bitch, innit? The link above connects to an archive of the Burned Fur site, which I visit whenever I feel like my own website is a too-narrowly-focused, inconsequential waste of time. It makes me feel much better.
I will point out that my complaint regarding the ER episode is based not in distaste for the representation of sex. It was just plain STUPID; it played sexual deviance for laughs; and it burned screen time that would have been put to better use if it had consisted solely of footage of a dog eating peanut butter with no audio.
A few years ago, a leather club of my acquaintance considered inserting language into their Club Constitution which would make having sex in public while wearing Club Colors (a leather vest with the club insignia on the back) a punishable offense. Readers unfamiliar with the club-based subset of the Leather Community should understand that public or semi-public sex (in bars or at parties held during weekend events) is relatively common among some members of some Leather Clubs. Generally, it's considered somewhat tacky to have sex while wearing one's colors for a couple of reasons. First, a reputation that it's members are horny sumbitches who'll fall to their knees at the drop of a fly zipper is something that many clubs don't want to cultivate. Second, no club really wants a photograph to appear in a local newspaper showing someone wearing club colors being led away in handcuffs over a caption reading "Public indecency arrest." Finally, many clubs are oriented very strongly toward HIV and AIDS prevention, which is rather negated by a member engaging in unsafe (or at least questionable) sexual practices in public.
That having been said, there were some major problems regarding the amendment. The wording was a problem because no one could properly express what they wanted to forbid. The phrase "lewd act" was proposed originally, but was rejected because no one could define "lewd" to anyone's satisfaction. Everyone avoided actually using the word "sex" because of an unspoken sentiment that including that in the club's constitution would kind of cheapen the whole thing. Also, a significant number of members were opposed to the notion that sex in colors was inherently bad. Several members mentioned that they were more concerned about other things that had been historically done by members in colorsdrug use, wildly antisocial behavior, property damagewhich they felt damaged the reputation of the club much more than sexual behavior.
Due to the clubs inability to come to anything approaching consensus on this issue, the amendment was removed from the proposed revisions prior to a vote. Inappropriate sexual behavior, drug use, and other behaviors which damaged the reputation of the club would be handled under the standard disciplinary rules already in place.
What do these stories have in common? Essentially, I refer here to two instances where person has modified the completely acceptable sentiment, "I do not like _____ing and I will not ____" into "____ing is inherently bad, and no one should ____," a statement which brings to mind goose-stepping brownshirts and Kristallnacht. (Wow, only a thousand words in and I've already worked in a comparison to the Nazis.)
"Oh wow," you say. "People don't want other people to have sex in public. Let me go call CNN." My point here is that people are taking other people with whom they have something in common (other leatherfolk, other queerfolk, other furries, Hell, other human beings) and looking down on them as if they are no better than flashers or obscene phone callers.
The most interesting thing to me is how people respond when they themselves are caught engaging in a socially unpopular sexual manner. As everyone knows by now, in 1998, George Michael was arrested for lewd behavior in a public restroom. He was spankin' it, okay? In his first interview after the arrest (after cancelling with Dateline NBC (a wise move, in my opinion—talking with Maria Shriver about masturbation sounds like a particularly weird circle of hell to me)), Michael said "I don't feel any shame. I feel stupid and I feel reckless and weak for having allowed my sexuality to be exposed this way."
That, Ladies and Gentlemen, is a classy way of handling that situation. He followed that up a couple of years later with a video for the song "Outside" which featured same- and opposite-gender couples having sex in public, a public restroom turning into a disco (complete with solid gold urinals), and two male cops tongue-wrestling. Funny, provocative, and filled with man-on-man uniform action. I love you, George Michael.
"Birds Do It, Bees Do It, Country Stars Among the Trees Do It"
Contrast this behavior with that of Ty Herndon. In 1995, Herndon was arrested for drug possession and, more importantly, indecent exposure to a undercover male police officer in Forth Worth, Texas. He whipped it out, got arrested, and then the officer found the drugs in his wallet. Herndon pled down to a lesser drug-related charge and the indecent exposure charge was dropped. Soon after, Herndon responded with what was the most popular celebrity excuse prior to the discovery of "dehydration", DRUGS. Drugs made Herndon wave at a man in a cruisy park, lead him into a secluded area, sit down on a log, whip his genitals out, and start masturbating.
Question, does anyone know what drugs those were, because I've got a few straight acquaintances that I'd like to dose.
See. George Michael, though showing slightly bad judgement (although, who am I to cast aspersions ::whistles innocently::), wound up brave, proud, and, above all, honest. Honest about his sexuality; honest about his natural (and "unnatural", heheheh) urges; honest about sex. Ty Herndon was just lucky he had all that meth on him. (By the way: "The indecent exposure charge continues to be 'the toughest part' of the scandal, says Herndon, whose marriage has not quelled rumors that he's gay." ::snort:: Keep on tryin', Ty.)
Listen, I understand about not wanting to see people having sex....
OK, acutally, I don't understand that at all. Moving on...
Nice Repression; Wanna Fuck?
You see, my impression is that the neo-Puritan urge is based on one of two ideologies. First, "Sex (particularly gay sex) is bad, and thus it must be done where no one can see it, so that it's badness only affects/infects those poor benighted souls who engage in such a filthy habit." The scary thing is that I suspect this is a notion held by a lot of people, even those in the Queer and Leather Communities. I don't bandy about phrases like "internalized homophobia " without a very good reason, and I think this qualifies. As a group, queer folk (particularly queer leather folk) have gotten so used to developing a public image that references our sexual orientation without actually addressing it, that we've developed our own sex-phobic attitudes. Any hint that inside our leatherclad chest beats the heart of a raving sex maniac who would like nothing better than to drop to our knees and noisily pleasure the person standing next to us right now is summarily quashed because such urges are at odds with the "Eagle Scout in cowhide" image that we constantly try to reinforce. (No, I'm not dissing Eagle Scouts. Sit down, Mr. Gallagher!)
The second ideology is, in the words of Helen Lovejoy "Won't somebody PLEASE think of the children!"
"Blah blah blah, traumatized, blah blah blah, put parents into an uncomfortable position, meow meow love meow meow friends." (Sorry, that's from my next article "The Wisdom of Henrietta Pussycat"). While I agree that children are not equipped to deal with sex, when was the last time you took a child to the San Francisco Eagle? Hell when was the last time anyone under the age of eighteen was even in the SoMa District? (That joke's funnier if you live in the Bay Area). Protect your own damn children, do what you must to keep perverts with screwed up schedules out of public parks during the day, and leave me and my fifty closest acquaintances to our back rooms! Thank you.
The point is that everywhere you look, puritanism will eventually rear its ugly head, and it depends on more sexually liberal people being shamed into keeping quiet when someone attempts to quash even the vaguest hint of sexuality, for whatever reasons they espouse: protecting the children, not offending anyone, preventing "the community" from being perceived as a bunch of perverts. The only way puritanism can be halted is by calmly and clearly expressing your disagreement with its base message: "Sex is Bad." The queer and kink communities have spent years establishing the notion of "No one can tell consenting adults what they may and may not do in bed." This is the next frontier, and it's pretty similar to the last one.
Oooooh. Sex Links
Furries and Plushies
http://www.claws-and-paws.com/furry/burned_furs.php - Anti-Burned Fur writings. Well thought out arguments for what is arguably a ridiculous topic.
http://www.furnation.com - Mainstream furries. Stop snickering!
http://www.furnation.com/busterwilde/ - Because this may be my only chance to link to my favorite comic about a gay werewolf.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/world/newsid_75000/75904.stm - Short BBC report immediately following the arrest. Contains George Michael's real name, which look like a more complex version of a "Buster Hyman" joke.
http://www.eonline.com/News/Items/0,1,3847,00.html - About the "Outside" video (includes proof that George Michael shouldn't have a Caesar cut)
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/446721.stm - Poow widdle powice officew got his feewings hurt (to the tune of $10 million)
http://www.qrd.org/qrd/world/wockner/quote.unquote/043-07.12.95 - (Bless you, Rex Wockner!)
http://www.canoe.ca/JamMusicArtistsH/herndon_ty.html - revisionism is the soul of ass-covering
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