I have marched in two Pride Parades. Both times, I marched with the group of people who are skilled enough with that most iconic symbol of sadomasochistic sex to make some serious noise: the single tail whip. I remember the experiences vividly. Pride day is a good day.
I raise my arm, swing the whip, and out comes a force so sure and strong that it breaks the sound barrier. It’s hard to forget walking in the middle of New York City’s Fifth Avenue, surrounded with 25 to 50 feet of empty street on all sides, cracking whips above my head so loudly that the sonic booms bounce off the skyscrapers and echo back at me. It’s one of the most self-empowering memories I have: “I am not afraid to be seen here,” I thought to myself.
In both parades, I was one of the few bottoms who marched, wielding a whip. In both parades, I walked shirtless, showing marks acquired in scenes the night before. I turned heads.
I don’t show, or even get, marks like the ones I had during NYC Pride 2005 and 2007 often but, having had them, and having the opportunity to march with the whip-cracking contingent, I thought it important to be visibly proud of them.
In New York City, the Pride Parade on Fifth Avenue crosses directly in front of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. It’s there where most protesters—and a number of photographers—choose to gather. Both years when I marched, the protesters were a small and rather calm-looking group of people who seemed almost more interested in getting a front row seat for the parade than in, y’know, protesting anything. Perhaps that was because it was, after all, New York City.
But I have heard stories, both on the news and from friends, of less civil behavior.
According to the 2008 Hate Crimes Survey conducted by Human Rights First, an international human rights watchdog group:
Available data indicates that violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity bias is a significant portion of violent hate crimes overall and are characterized by levels of physical violence that in some cases exceed those present in other hate crimes.
According to the 2003 World Legal Survey conducted by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA), consensual homosexual sex was illegal in 77 countries. Public Agenda, a US-based, non-partisan, non-profit research organization, republished this data in early 2009, but a few months later the ILGA released a report entitled 2009 Report on State-sponsored Homophobia that lists 80 countries where homosexuality is illegal, of which 5 list any homosexual act (presumably regardless of consent) as punishable by the death penalty.
If the Anti-Homosexuality Bill in Uganda is passed, that number will go up. Again.
I am supremely fortunate to live in America today. Whether because of my self-identification as a bisexual man, a sadomasochist, an atheist, or any number of other possible labels, if I lived in any of dozens upon dozens of other countries around the world, I would be a criminal merely for existing.
I am not a criminal. But, even in America, I am a target. Why? I think it is because I have marched in two Pride Parades and I have come away from them with this conviction: I am not afraid to be seen here. Neither the choice I made, nor the repercussions of it, have been easy for me.
As many of you are no doubt aware by now, over the course of the last week I have been shocked into reluctant action by vicious insinuations of criminal behavior written by Donna M. Hughes and Margaret (Barber) Brooks likening me and the work I do supporting community-based sexuality education initiatives like KinkForAll to organized human trafficking and child sex slavery. The awful, frightening (and no doubt frightened) ignorance that these two university professors displayed shook me to my very core.
I have had to seek legal counsel because Donna M. Hughes’ and Margaret Brooks’ carefully crafted “bulletin,” a 6-page personal assault laced with corrosive language, has already incited several bloggers to name me a pedophile and sexual predator, which are unquestionably defamatory statements. I am continuing to explore all possible legal avenues for defense and protection, both for myself and those I work with. I want to thank everyone who has written to me, whether privately or publicly—but especially publicly—offering support, encouragement, and resources.
Many of you have described admiration for my rational responses to the unwarranted attacks by Donna M. Hughes, Margaret Brooks, and their mob. I want you to know that I am not totally unafraid or magically equanimous—how could I be? I feel terrorized by these people! That’s why I had no choice but respond the way I did: any action other than an attempt to allay fear, both my own and theirs, would cause more fear. And I will not succumb to the same sorts of fears plaguing those who attack me.
No matter what the outcome of these current tribulations, I am not going to be the hero in this story. You are. I have always and will continue to always stand for the rights of all individuals to live free, sexually knowledgeable and well-educated lives. What I am writing today is not unique or surprising. It is expected of me, and it is old news. Heroes do not make old, predictable news.
What is new, what is unexpected, what is heroic is how you will respond. What will you do in your day-to-day lives to make the world a place where all people, regardless of race, creed, or age, are empowered to stand up against abuse, intimidation, and coercion? Will you speak up against the next street harasser you see shouting lewdly at women walking by him? Will you break the cycle of corporal punishment by talking to an aunt who wants to hit her child? Will you stand beside your gay, trans, intersex, or genderqueer friends when others ridicule them? Will you elect government officials who care more about your physical health in this life than your moral well-being in the afterlife?
Those are heroic acts you can take and all of them are deviant; heroism is not the adherence to conformity but the courage to deviate from it; unity cannot be achieved through homogeneity but diversity; bravery is not the absence of fear but the ability to stand tall in spite of it, for what the fear-mongers and the fearful surely know is that fear and intimidation have the power to halt action. When people like Donna M. Hughes and Margaret Brooks use fear tactics to incite moral panic, whether it was about interracial marriage in the 1930’s, about homophobia in the 1950’s, or about sex education more recently, ask yourself if they are really fighting to change the status quo, or fighting to keep it.
Today, I need to stand taller, to speak louder, and be stronger than ever before. I am not afraid to be different, to showcase our differences, or to support others’ rights to be, to live, to learn, and to love differently from me. By being visibly proud of my differences I am fighting against stigmas that people would try to intimidate me with.
I thank Donna M. Hughes and Margaret Brooks for showing me the importance of standing up and loudly proclaiming who I am: a middle-school drop out, a diagnosed bipolar person, a sexually submissive man, and a sexuality education community tool-builder. Ladies, you may think these things discredit me but you are wrong. They give me a perspective you cannot have. I can only hope that you find it in yourself to respect it in me.
[E]veryone has a world where they express the depth of their self, whether it’s in their mind or they can also bring their body. Many people wonder or fear if their secret world is too strange or embarrassing to reveal. […] I am reaching right for the part of you that knows that you need to acknowledge and reveal yourself. I am here to help you create a space in your mind where you know that it’s safe to have this kind of freedom with yourself, and to share yourself and what you’re feeling with a loving witness. Not just safe but inevitable.
With that in mind, Donna M. Hughes and Margaret Brooks, my invitation to a discussion still stands. Show me that you are not afraid. Show me that you care about encouraging the kind of education the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says we all have a fundamental human right to: education that promotes peace and understanding among all people.
Be the unexpected heroes our children and our children’s children need you to be. Yes you can.
Please believe in me. I believe in you.