3 min

Two hits & a miss

Can a sex video do more damage to society than actual sex?

What’s astonished me is that the biggest news stories to hit Toronto’s queer community in the past couple of years – the Pussy Palace police scandal, the Glad Day Bookshop challenge of the Ontario Film Review Board and the whole same-sex union thing – all hang together so perfectly to focus public attention on queer sex.

Forget the economy, terrorism and Mel Lastman’s notable absence of brain, fate is saying. Deal with the homos. Deal with relationships, sex and sexual expression.

You might not be as excited or incensed as I am because all three issues involve the law – and most practical homos stopped worrying about the law long ago, preferring instead to worry about not getting caught. All three cases are about legal stuff catching up (or not catching up) with how all Canadians, and especially homo Canadians, live.

The latest development on the same-sex marriage front is the Law Commission Of Canada report, which went public last week, on recognizing and supporting close personal adult relationships. The report’s title, Beyond Conjugality, is the clearest indicator on when the law should apply to who we have sex with: Mostly it shouldn’t.

While governments and pundits debate whether to treat homosexual couples differently than heterosexual couples, the commission grabs the rug and flips everything into the air: Why treat sexual relationships any different from non-sexual relationships? Can’t the support of friends, siblings and care workers (to name a few examples) create an interdependence that equals or surpasses the support of somebody you’re boinking?

Though the matter of raising children is certainly important, the commission recognizes that child-rearing and coupling-up are not the same thing. Regulations should be applied to relationships only when it’s absolutely necessary – and in many cases only when people in a relationship request that attention, like for social benefits, sick leave and visitation rights.

Though there is much to praise in Ontario Court Judge Peter Hryn’s Pussy Palace decision (too bad his ruling isn’t binding on other courts), my favourite bit is how broadly he defined the right to privacy and sexual expression of the two charged women, Rachel Aitcheson and JP Hornick.

A chief fear in this case was that Hryn would say something like: You bathhouse organizers were running a business where the patrons were (contrary to umpteen laws) naked, having sex and drinking in public, so your privacy isn’t an issue. That’s the standard police line, one they used when they bullied the city’s gay bars to shut down their backrooms in the mid-1990s.

Instead, Hryn decided that the 350 Pussy Palace patrons were “guests” of the Toronto Women’s Bathhouse Committee. Though the male cops didn’t see Hornick and Aitcheson naked, their privacy was violated because the privacy of their guests was. The choice of the women to be naked or partly naked trumped the choice of the Toronto Police Service to send in male officers for a look-see.

In a sense, all 350 patrons and organizers were bound together by their sexual explorations. Their consensual sexual activity created the conditions necessary for privacy, despite the “public” and commercial nature of the event.

While the Law Commission wants the government to get out of the business of defining sexual relationships, Hryn’s ruling suggests that sexual relationships – particularly among 350 horny Pussy Palace patrons – increase our right to privacy, our freedom to be left in peace, at least in the case of naked lesbians caught in the humiliating gaze of visiting male police officers.

Set against the promising tales of the Pussy Palace verdict and the Law Commission recommendations, the story of Glad Day Bookshop versus The Ontario Film Review Board seems especially sad. The board says the store needs to pay lots of money for an approval sticker before they can sell a video, a process that allows the board to censor the video.

With the growing consensus that sexual desires should be respected and not saddled with unnecessary regulation, it’s puzzling why a video record of sex comes under strict control. Can a sex video do more damage to society than actual sex? Obviously, no. Which is why the venerable bookstore is appealing their case. It’s obvious that the OFRB goes too far in controlling what Ontarians see, cutting it off far shorter than what Ontarians might actually do.

That Glad Day has to pay the legal expenses of appeal to argue this obvious point is a pathetic reminder that the people who govern us lag far behind where they should be.

*Paul Gallant is Xtra’s features editor and acting news editor.