A conflicted personality-disappointed dreamer, frustrated activist, unrestrained zealot and embittered outsider-emerges from within the words of Christopher N Kendall’s by turns intriguing and aggravating study, Gay Male Pornography: An Issue of Sex Discrimination.
The dreamer desires a social revolution: nothing less than the demise of patriarchy.
And while gay liberation politics could play a key role in that revolution, the frustrated activist believes gays have made a disastrously wrong choice by kneeling at the altar of a false idol-pornography.
The zealot, naturally, rants about porn’s countless evils.
The embittered outsider, lastly, yearns to be an integral member of a vibrant community. But the community treats him like a pariah (for his porn-critical views) and a non-entity (for his apparent failure to meet its standards of masculinity).
Given that personality’s complexity, it’s no surprise to encounter a wildly uneven book in which astute analysis and over-the-top rhetoric can appear on the same page.
Kendall’s study is legalistic, a response to the porn-is-harmless-and-necessary experts who’ve testified for Little Sister’s.
More broadly-as his introduction “What Went Wrong with Gay Male Liberation?” makes plain-he addresses the failings and wrongheaded attitudes of a community that embraces porno with such gusto.
Kendall’s entire argument must be seen through his worldview.
For him, patriarchy is humanity’s worst enemy. The hierarchy it imposes validates men/masculinity; in order to do so it needs to handicap its feminine opposite-and hence our long history of downtrodden and victimized women.
Within this murderous system, gay men are considered feminine and so silenced, ostracized and oppressed (when not killed, bullied or beaten).
Kendall’s vision brings to mind the image of turtle hatchlings from nature films: by the time they reach the sea, the population has been decimated. Moreover (and unlike turtles), gays who survive to adulthood are hunted down or else prone to addiction, violent behaviour, suicide and high-risk (or degrading) sex.
Enter gay pornography, the false panacea.
Kendall contends that by worshipping hyper-masculine tops and subtly devaluing passive feminized bottoms, porn teaches gay men that their sole means to success is imitation of this model of manhood.
And in seeking to become “Rambo Stryker” such men actively collude with the very same patriarchal system that has harmed and killed women and gay men for millennia.
Kendall’s disdain for the patriarchy is limitless and seems to taint his perception to such a degree that a reader comes to mistrust the acuity of his analysis.
If my assessment seems unfair, just consider Kendall’s vision of a night out. A guy might drop by some bars. But, no, like porno these places remind “gay men that they fail to meet the expectations of an image-conscious scene obsessed with muscle and beauty.”
Or maybe he might go cruising: “Cruising, objectifying others or waiting to be objectified, relies heavily on the type of role play and model of behaviour offered in gay pornography. Specifically, gay men in bars cease to be people…and if they fail to meet the sexual standard, they simply cease to exist.”
Since these supposed facts are merely Kendall’s personal observations, I feel confident stating that he and I apparently operate in different universes. His facts do not correspond to mine: my nights out never look like that.
Kendall’s troubling fondness for such breathtaking generalizations is especially glaring because it’s conjoined with suspect research.
He claims, for instance, that indifference to domestic abuse is endemic to the gay community. And that the “belief that pornography is the only way to educate and validate an ignorant and self-loathing mass of gay men longing to be sexually active” is “rampant in our community.”
He refers to no study to support these alleged facts.
Similarly, when he repeatedly states that domestic abuse is the third largest health problem facing US gay men-inspiring visions of rape and violence lurking behind every third door-he utilizes one source. Such weak scholarship does nothing to convince the skeptical reader.
Still, Kendall does raise valid concerns about porn’s exclusionary macho-favouring aesthetic and the implications of its restrictive ideology.
And when he asserts that the “challenge for all gay men is to create those safe spaces in which all of us can flourish-politically, sexually, and otherwise,” it’s hard to disagree with him.
Yet for a utopian dreamer, his statements often have a scary puritanical edge: “Whether violent or non-violent, any presentation of gender that sexualizes hierarchy risks solidifying those social biases that result in discrimination and the harms, both violent and non-violent, of inequality.”
The “any” here is noteworthy. It’s implied in Kendall’s stance that any representations of gender disparity that supports the patriarchal status quo-whether a Britney Spears video or an episode of I Love Lucy-is hazardous because we see them, internalize them and then reproduce the “harm” they encourage in our everyday lives.
The ultimate gated community, his highly policed utopian ideal also has a prison’s architecture.