Thursday, January 1, 2015

Nobody Cares About Your Sexuality

Sexuality matters. How could it not?

Indeed, sexual orientation and sexual preferences define a great deal of modern life. In the majority of the world, sexuality is coded deeply into legal and cultural practices. Sexuality determines who you may marry. Often a consequence of marriage law but not always, sexuality will determine one's taxes, immigration status, health insurance and the mechanics of death.

Law aside, one's sexuality determines one's place in a culture. Products, messages and services are often built upon assumptions about sexuality. If outside the "norm", everything from ad campaigns to dating services will not care much about your existence. More importantly, sexuality determines how well you may relate to another's experiences and this plays a large role in which social circles one is included in. All the seemingly boring details, from Facebook profile pictures (hint: they're always from a wedding) to conversations at at baby shower are impacted by sexual orientation. The sum of these changes is considerable.

Luckily for us, a world is being built where sexuality does not matter all that much. Arguments about same-sex marriage continue and extremely judgmental societies exist, but the trend is set. Of all the world's problems, it is hard to imagine that a decade from now the world will be concerned with someone not being a heterosexual. Heterosexuality, long the champion of the unplanned pregnancy, may actually be viewed as a liability.

Now, to witness a culture shift from a different vantage point, let's move to a topic unrelated to same-sex attraction.

Let's talk about an ongoing news story in Canada.

Jian Ghomeshi is a former CBC radio host that was about as popular as one can get while hosting a CBC radio show. Ghomeshi has a major in political science and minor in history and women's studies and has interviewed a great number of people - even feminist icon Gloria Steinem.

All this made it rather shocking when Ghomeshi was accused of sexual assault. Even more strange was how many came to learn of the allegations - Ghomeshi's own Facebook page.

Ghomeshi posted: (emphasis added)

Dear everyone,
I am writing today because I want you to be the first to know some news.
This has been the hardest time of my life. I am reeling from the loss of my father. I am in deep personal pain and worried about my mom. And now my world has been rocked by so much more.
Today, I was fired from the CBC.
For almost 8 years I have been the host of a show I co-created on CBC called Q. It has been my pride and joy. My fantastic team on Q are super-talented and have helped build something beautiful.
I have always operated on the principle of doing my best to maintain a dignity and a commitment to openness and truth, both on and off the air. I have conducted major interviews, supported Canadian talent, and spoken out loudly in my audio essays about ideas, issues, and my love for this country. All of that is available for anyone to hear or watch. I have known, of course, that not everyone always agrees with my opinions or my style, but I’ve never been anything but honest. I have doggedly defended the CBC and embraced public broadcasting. This is a brand I’ve been honoured to help grow.
All this has now changed.
Today I was fired from the company where I’ve been working for almost 14 years – stripped from my show, barred from the building and separated from my colleagues. I was given the choice to walk away quietly and to publicly suggest that this was my decision. But I am not going to do that. Because that would be untrue. Because I’ve been fired. And because I’ve done nothing wrong.
I’ve been fired from the CBC because of the risk of my private sex life being made public as a result of a campaign of false allegations pursued by a jilted ex girlfriend and a freelance writer.
As friends and family of mine, you are owed the truth.
I have commenced legal proceedings against the CBC, what’s important to me is that you know what happened and why.
Forgive me if what follows may be shocking to some.
I have always been interested in a variety of activities in the bedroom but I only participate in sexual practices that are mutually agreed upon, consensual, and exciting for both partners.
About two years ago I started seeing a woman in her late 20s. Our relationship was affectionate, casual and passionate. We saw each other on and off over the period of a year and began engaging in adventurous forms of sex that included role-play, dominance and submission. We discussed our interests at length before engaging in rough sex (forms of BDSM). We talked about using safe words and regularly checked in with each other about our comfort levels. She encouraged our role-play and often was the initiator. We joked about our relations being like a mild form of Fifty Shades of Grey or a story from Lynn Coady’s Giller-Prize winning book last year. I don’t wish to get into any more detail because it is truly not anyone’s business what two consenting adults do. I have never discussed my private life before. Sexual preferences are a human right.
Despite a strong connection between us it became clear to me that our on-and-off dating was unlikely to grow into a larger relationship and I ended things in the beginning of this year. She was upset by this and sent me messages indicating her disappointment that I would not commit to more, and her anger that I was seeing others.
After this, in the early spring there began a campaign of harassment, vengeance and demonization against me that would lead to months of anxiety.
It came to light that a woman had begun anonymously reaching out to people that I had dated (via Facebook) to tell them she had been a victim of abusive relations with me. In other words, someone was reframing what had been an ongoing consensual relationship as something nefarious. I learned – through one of my friends who got in contact with this person – that someone had rifled through my phone on one occasion and taken down the names of any woman I had seemed to have been dating in recent years. This person had begun methodically contacting them to try to build a story against me. Increasingly, female friends and ex-girlfriends of mine told me about these attempts to smear me.
Someone also began colluding with a freelance writer who was known not to be a fan of mine and, together, they set out to try to find corroborators to build a case to defame me. She found some sympathetic ears by painting herself as a victim and turned this into a campaign. The writer boldly started contacting my friends, acquaintances and even work colleagues – all of whom came to me to tell me this was happening and all of whom recognized it as a trumped up way to attack me and undermine my reputation. Everyone contacted would ask the same question, if I had engaged in non-consensual behavior why was the place to address this the media?
The writer tried to peddle the story and, at one point, a major Canadian media publication did due diligence but never printed a story. One assumes they recognized these attempts to recast my sexual behaviour were fabrications. Still, the spectre of mud being flung onto the Internet where online outrage can demonize someone before facts can refute false allegations has been what I’ve had to live with.
And this leads us to today and this moment. I’ve lived with the threat that this stuff would be thrown out there to defame me. And I would sue. But it would do the reputational damage to me it was intended to do (the ex has even tried to contact me to say that she now wishes to refute any of these categorically untrue allegations). But with me bringing it to light, in the coming days you will prospectively hear about how I engage in all kinds of unsavoury aggressive acts in the bedroom. And the implication may be made that this happens non-consensually. And that will be a lie. But it will be salacious gossip in a world driven by a hunger for “scandal”. And there will be those who choose to believe it and to hate me or to laugh at me. And there will be an attempt to pile on. And there will be the claim that there are a few women involved (those who colluded with my ex) in an attempt to show a “pattern of behaviour”. And it will be based in lies but damage will be done. But I am telling you this story in the hopes that the truth will, finally, conquer all.
I have been open with the CBC about this since these categorically untrue allegations ramped up. I have never believed it was anyone’s business what I do in my private affairs but I wanted my bosses to be aware that this attempt to smear me was out there. CBC has been part of the team of friends and lawyers assembled to deal with this for months. On Thursday I voluntarily showed evidence that everything I have done has been consensual. I did this in good faith and because I know, as I have always known, that I have nothing to hide. This when the CBC decided to fire me.
CBC execs confirmed that the information provided showed that there was consent. In fact, they later said to me and my team that there is no question in their minds that there has always been consent. They said they’re not concerned about the legal side. But then they said that this type of sexual behavior was unbecoming of a prominent host on the CBC. They said that I was being dismissed for “the risk of the perception that may come from a story that could come out.” To recap, I am being fired in my prime from the show I love and built and threw myself into for years because of what I do in my private life.
Let me be the first to say that my tastes in the bedroom may not be palatable to some folks. They may be strange, enticing, weird, normal, or outright offensive to others. We all have our secret life. But that is my private life. That is my personal life. And no one, and certainly no employer, should have dominion over what people do consensually in their private life.
And so, with no formal allegations, no formal complaints, no complaints, not one, to the HR department at the CBC (they told us they’d done a thorough check and were satisfied), and no charges, I have lost my job based on a campaign of vengeance. Two weeks after the death of my beautiful father I have been fired from the CBC because of what I do in my private life.
I have loved the CBC. The Q team are the best group of people in the land. My colleagues and producers and on-air talent at the CBC are unparalleled in being some of the best in the business. I have always tried to be a good soldier and do a good job for my country. I am still in shock. But I am telling this story to you so the truth is heard. And to bring an end to the nightmare.

After this came out, a number of other women came forward with similar stories to tell about Ghomeshi. Ghomeshi has since deleted his Facebook page and Twitter account.

Guilt or innocence aside - the details are now before a court - Ghomeshi's defense speaks volumes about how sexual preferences are treated today.

Ghomeshi's message may be tailored to a specific audience - that is, liberal minded Canadians. The proliferation of the letter U, the references to the sacred bedroom of the nation and even the word "dominion". Ghomeshi either needs his message to resonate with his listeners or his worldview is such that he actually views himself as a crucial part of the Canadian landscape.

The message that is understandable beyond Canada's borders is that a 47 year old man is defending himself by stating that he gets off by putting women half his age in a chokehold. In addition, these women have not been "romantically" involved with him for a very long time and are said to actually enjoy the experience.

This is peculiar. This is not a rumor about heartthrob actor or singer being gay. This is not another politician merely having an affair. This may even be more scandalous than a pastor being a meth user.

Ghomeshi is stating that there was consent while accepting that nothing much about the situation would have appeared that way. As accepting as modern society may be at times, BDSM is not yet typical conversation at dinner parties. Nobody is in a hurry to have many sadomasochist friends.

What does it mean when "Yes, I beat her and she loved it!" is a defense? Of course, the "traditional" view of the family has always been in favor of the occasional wife beating, but there was no open acceptance of either party being sexually aroused during the punishment. The idea that this is could be something consenting adults do for fun is rather taboo.

Society may be inching towards absolute indifference towards sexual preferences. As long as some parameters of consent are present, nobody cares about your sexuality. If we've created a culture that could possibly find whips and blood an everyday choice, then practically everything adults could with one another is absolutely mundane.

Within this it's important to point out that sexuality and gender are related but separate issues. Gender expression always accompanies us and should be respected by others, while sexuality in many contexts must remain private as a matter of respect for others.

One related concern may be that of biphobia. Conquering biphobia seems to be positioned as a logical next step after homophobia finally ends. People are mistrustful of same-sex attraction and also mistrustful of bisexual attraction.

Yet maybe this is the natural order of things. Conservatives were wrong and are wrong to say that one man and one woman is "natural". Far more natural than attraction to the opposite sex is attraction to oneself.

Nobody cares about your sexuality.

The things people care about, in order:

  1. If they are into you
  2. If you are into them in the way they want you to be
  3. Any issue that could possibly interfere with #1 and #2

Advertising a sexual preference, such as a same sex attraction, BDSM, or whatever else, puts at risk another's ability to service that desire. Nobody wants an itemized list of things that arouse you, unless there is a good chance that there is significant overlap in desires.

People are always going to mistrust a sexual preference that does not point directly at them. People will only respect desires not in their favor insofar as one is able to suppress them. People desire to be valued more than they desire diversity in others.

If sexual preference is built to be a large part of one's identity, witnessing disappointment will be a large part of life as one is continually invalidating the narcissistic tendencies of others. Nobody wants to know that you're into all the attributes that they do not have. More comfortable a conversation would be speaking about television or the weather.

Are you a bisexual BDSM fan looking for a polyamorous relationship? Fantastic, just do not put that on a business card. Also, if you wish to maintain a relationship with someone not into all of the above, then perhaps use every opportunity to be quiet about those aspects of your sexuality. If that cannot be done, then move on unless you're interested in the dangerous game of sowing jealousy as a strategy to reap affection.

Men like Ghomeshi do the world a strange favor when they show that heterosexuality is not a monolith. Despite how feminism may discuss it, the "male gaze" is not entirely uniform. There is not a singular flavor of "straight man" that is manipulating how we see the world. Immaculate supermodels may fetch a lot of attention from straight men, but we may expect the variation in fantasy to be more complex than the stereotypical view of the straight man.

This warrants discussion, but let's not pretend that anyone is particularly interested in what you're into. The default assumption ought to be that everyone is going to mildly irritated to listen to your preferences - not because we're all a bunch of Bible/Quran/Torah lovers, but because we're all big on ourselves and our own preferences.

Forcefully proclaiming to not be into Beyoncé or One Direction takes a lot of courage. Hopefully we can ensure discussions of sexual preference are not as toxic as talking about the Video Music Awards while accepting that not everyone is going to fully appreciate your perspective.

As for Ghomeshi, he's eating some humble pie.

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