Trying To Make It Go Away


Trying to Make It Go Away, that 1928 novel about a female “invert” (either a dyke or a transman in current terms), Stephen is born into a spotlessly “normal” (heterosexual) world. In the backstory of her life, Stephen’s father falls in love with Stephen’s mother, the fair Anna, because she is “all chastity.” Yet chastity, as a lack of sexual experience, is a strictly negative quality. Even when chastity is equated with “faithfulness” (lack of sexual experience outside of marriage), it doesn’t guarantee mutual love or loyalty. Anyone could be kept “chaste” by being confined.

A woman who has been kept under house arrest all her life, first by her parents to preserve her “purity,” then by her husband to preserve his rights of ownership, might well hate her jailers with a depth that would surprise them if she could express it openly. And a young man who has been “protected” from knowledge of sex and of women’s bodies might well fear and despise what he doesn’t understand. Compare the theory that “porn” leads directly to violence with the evidence that ignorance is an excellent breeding-grounds for it.

“Hate” literature, as the expression of ideas about a target population intended to arouse hatred against it/them, also flourishes best in a context of ignorance and passivity. In her books on bullying among the young, and genocide as adult bullying carried to the ultimate extreme, Barbara Coloroso defines three players in the drama: the bully (or bullies), the bullied, and the bystanders. Even in a schoolyard scenario, the bystanders are likely to be the largest group and the one with the most power.

Bystanders have the power to intervene before the bullying can progress beyond a first attack. An audience of informed bystanders, many of whom have personal relationships with members of targeted “minorities,” is not likely to be influenced by “hate” literature. Bystanders like that would be more likely to relegate racist myths to a museum or a reference book of bizarre and irrational beliefs than to join “hate” groups united by ignorance .

Myths about the Other (some group of people defined as “abnormal”) blend very well with myths about sex. Allow me to introduce my next piece of evidence. A former high school classmate of mine reappeared in my life when both of us were in our twenties. Since high school, she had been converted to some intensely fundamentalist Christian sect by her fiance. On learning that I was still single, she thought I should be warned about the Greek community in our town. (She mentioned that she came from decent German stock.) She was working as a dentist’s assistant, and she told me she had many Greek patients with rotten teeth and infected gums. Why? Because of their sex lives!

I was fascinated. She seemed to think I knew what she meant. I didn’t, and I wanted to know which sex practices could lead to such problems. My “friend” was indignant. She certainly wasn’t going to spell it out for me! I knew about oral sex, but I couldn’t be sure that was the unspeakable elephant in the room.

Since then, I’ve often tried to imagine a big fat Greek sex life which could possibly lead to infections of the mouth (and cavities! caused by sperm as sweet as baklava?) in the absence of simple precautions—or good medical care. My imagination has probably gone far beyond what my self-appointed guardian angel wanted me to believe.

And there you have an example of “hate” speech and censorship combined. Comments about the awful, disgusting practices of Group X are usually expected to be taken on faith, theoretically because a detailed explanation would harm the listener in some way, but actually because the hater is too ignorant and irrational to make a convincing case. A public dissection of such comments without an anesthetic seems to me to be the best cure.

Bad Ideas and righteous efforts to make them disappear actually seem to me to be two sides of the same counterfeit coin. And like the proverbial bad penny, Bad Ideas (however defined) keep turning up until they are either accepted or laughed to scorn.

Until censorship itself is banned all over the world (and I’m not holding my breath until then), I seem to have a growing career as a chronicler of doomed efforts to control what can be said, written, shown or performed. I’ll probably keep going until the Thought Police catch up with me.

Jean Roberta
April 2010

“Sex Is All Metaphors” © 2010 Jean Roberta. All rights reserved. Content may not be copied or used in whole or part without written permission from the author.

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