Most gay people I know rarely think twice about their sexual freedom. We speak freely about our sex lives in restaurants and cafés. We read about sex and look at sexy pictures in our newspapers and magazines. We purchase porn and sexy books and art in local stores. We hang out in sexy bars and clubs. And, of course, we have sex – at home, in lush, verdant parks in summer or in steamy bathhouses, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Sometimes we even need a break from sex, like the nice heterosexual people in those beer ads.
It’s so much a part of our culture and our communities that most of us go about it with a certain nonchalance, thinking it common and not out of place, and without consideration of legal risks.
Sex is an integrated part of our lives. And yet, when I read the recent Supreme Court decision on the Little Sister’s case, I feel like I am living on another planet.
In general, the courts have been supportive of freedom of expression and minority rights issues so much so that rightwing and religious nuts have repeatedly accused the justices of being crypto-activists for deviance and moral corruption. And the gay community has looked to the courts for support in recent years, as judges have time and again forced chicken-shit politicians to stop discriminating against us.
But when it comes to sex, it’s clear that the justices need therapy.
In the recent decision, the justices reinforce the Butler decision, affirming that a depiction of “non-violent degradation of an ostensibly willing slave” is dehumanizing, harmful – and illegal. Huh? All their theory about the importance of protecting minority or unpopular expression goes out the window where sex is concerned. They just don’t get it.
Ditto for the Toronto police. As Xtra has exposed in recent editions (thanks to the research of criminologist Mariana Valverde), police are misusing liquor laws to enforce their own morality. Recent raids of gay establishments have resulted in charges of disorderly conduct where gay men and lesbians have been nude or having nooky in the presence of alcohol.
Most of us haven’t personally experienced such interference in purchasing a sexy book or getting laid at a bathhouse. But our community is rightly shifting our focus from relationship equality issues to concerns of sexual freedom.
I applaud the efforts of people like Brent Hawkes, who show the world that gay men and lesbians are capable of loving each other. There are many people out there who don’t believe it and, I must confess, this community can be so bitchy I sometimes doubt it myself. Brent’s current marriage campaign is an important public awareness exercise.
But it’s time for us to engage in more public discussion of our sexual selves. The new year brings important local court fights in the Barn and Pussy Palace cases, and in Glad Day’s fight against the Ontario Film Review Board.
A recent big ticket fundraiser for the Pussy Palace girls revealed a noteworthy cross-section of community support. Grungy community activists are collaborating with media types and bigwig political animals in the Alliance, Conservative, Liberal and NDP camps. It’s precisely the kind of coalition that promises the possibility for change.
But as the Little Sister’s decision reveals, the courts are not always our friends. As Gareth Kirkby points out in his story elsewhere on the site, it’s time for us to start making demands on our politicians. Jean Chrétien has made it clear he wants to leave a social legacy in his next term as prime minister. Let’s make him include the legal reform of sex laws as part of that legacy. And on a local level, let’s lobby our friends on city council to prevent the police from wasting further resources on nudity and consensual sex.
We’ve moved towards equality in the more respectable fight for relationship recognition. But equality is not just about getting our teeth fixed on our same-sex partner’s benefits plan. We will be equal when we are not criminals in the everday expression of our sexuality.
David Walberg is Editor-in-chief for Xtra.