Monday, November 21, 2011

On Time

The task was to write a personal time-line. In such a task I imagine many will provide pivotal moments, moments that had time in the background, as a date, but where time ne'er took center stage. Time is always with us, yet time is rarely thought about extensively it would seem. For me, time is center stage and any one who has asked me for the time knows that I don't wear a watch. Time binds and the watch band binds me too close to it. Time does a lot of things. Time flies and time is lost. Time is money so don't waste my time. Time is of the essence, yet one should take your time. Queer time (QST) is about 15 minutes behind schedule, along with Color People Time (CPT). Those of us who might fall in such categories are allotted time to be late. We take our time and perhaps waste your time.

It seems odd to write a personal time-line as it seems to tame the unruliness that is time, past time - history. The very image of a time-line, to me, asks that time be straightened out, made into a proper story that is linear, that follows one thing after another. However, to give such a time-line requires a line be broken, many lines perhaps, as I give an account of my "I" to individuals who I do not entirely know - crossing lines of intimacy, professionalism, and propriety. We were asked to make a personal time-line, a rather strange request and one that many may feel is a "waste of time". Time cannot refrain from rearing its clockface as we take time to make a timeline about the time of our lives. We take time out of our personal time-line to narrate the line of time we have been on - rather strange indeed - and all most likely narrowed down to a tiny moment in time since there are so many of us with time to share.

Time is of the essence though as my time to narrate is limited...I don't want to "waste" your time or take too much of your time because to do so would make me seem inconsiderate with your time and well, time is money. Yet, narrate I must to look like I am participating in the time of this meeting and being a team-player.

I keep messing up though as I begin to narrate this personal time-line. I cannot understand what person I am meant to be here in the space and time of work. There are rules in place that seem to limit what "personal" can be. Non-fraternization clauses make it nearly impossible to be "personal" with managers, yet here in the professional space and time I am asked to narrate the personal. This makes me feel like I should "sterilize" the personal for this space steeped in worries about harassment, propriety, and maintaining "professional" boundaries. One person's personal is another person's harassing statement. And since this is an "at-will" employer, any time one of us can lose our jobs making it seem necessary to mind our "p's" and "q's". Since I like spending time here, the task of narrating my time in the face of such complexities is rather overwhelming.

Perhaps I am over-thinking this. Making it out to be more serious than it is supposed to be. I don't think so though as I think giving an account of our lives, even mundane, seemingly comical things, expose us in ways we cannot predict bringing us into the politics of representation. The personal is political, yet the time here does not seem to be political. Yet, the task at hand is political, how do "I" tell about my time in such a way that "you" will see me in a particular light that makes our "time" together on the floor, enjoyable. Do I narrate the time of my education - the most time-consuming aspect of my life? Do I narrate mundane details like when I wet my pants in the 2nd grade to get a laugh, to make peeing your pants not seem shameful? Do I talk about the sexy time I have had with men whose names I can't remember, to push the boundaries and provide an alternative to the story of engagement and marriage others have told? Are any of these times proper to talk about this time? Or have I merely wasted your time with my own curious fascination with time, telling you little about my personal time-line except between the lines or in questions that may or may not expose me to your glazed over eyes?

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Becoming in Glee: The Problem of Outing

I've written about Glee before. I have a love-hate relationship to the show. Sometimes I really love it and find it rather enjoyable while other times I hate it for its constant move to the normal. It is overall a corporatization of multiculturalism, but as such it speaks more than it dare admit. Difference is all the rage and difference these days pays. Not all difference of course, some difference is simply inappropriate to show, at least in any positive light. We, of course, glimpse this at moments in Glee particularly when the gay issue emerges. From the episode "never been kissed" to "the first time," representation of gay desire sets off a firestorm from the socially conservative and religious right.

This season (the 3rd season) has been particularly disappointing. However, with the episodes "The First Time" and "Mash-Off" I was reminded how provocative the show can be. Now, don't get me wrong, Glee is not a provocative show but it has moments that touch on the provocative. In "The First Time" we may not get to see the students lose their virginity on screen as the camera shows us only feet mingling and a little kissing before panning to the burning fire - forcing us to imagine the "fire" in the loins of these youth as they embark on their first "sexual" encounter. Overall, it was a rather sweet episode, filled with the typical anxiety and fears of losing one's virginity. It illustrated the similarities between the "hetero" couple and the "homo" couple as they decide to wait, then decide to experience this momentous moment with one another.

But, I don't care to write about that episode. While it was one of the first TV shows I can remember that showed gay teens deciding to lose their virginity, I want to focus on "Mash-Off". It is in this episode that Santana is rather violently outed by Finn. Finn in his attempt to strike at Santana because of her own mean ways attributes this meanness to her being a closeted lesbian. This is nothing new. The psychological attribution of "lashing out" is often seen as a defense mechanism against accepting one's sexuality - namely homosexuality.  As Finn exposes Santana in the hallways we are confronted with Santana face-to-face. We see, we think, the shame in her eyes as her "secret" is exposed.

While we might read this scene as exposing Santana's closetedness (outing her, have you), I want to read it slightly differently. I am not concerned with the obsession with "accepting one's homosexuality" and more interested in the process of "becoming a homosexual" - this of course reminiscent of Michel Foucault's own engagement with homosexuality, particularly in his interview entitled "Friendship as a way of Life". As he says there "we have to work at becoming homosexuals and not be obstinate in recognizing that we are" (136). Working with Foucault, I read the look in Santana's eyes as a look of loss. It was not a loss of her closeted identity, but the loss of having the space and time to invent herself. She became via Finn sedimented in her identity. Now, as we see play out in the episode, she becomes defined as a "lesbian". She did not seek to be obstinate in recognizing she is a lesbian, rather throughout the show she has been working on becoming  something as she navigated the terrain of high school life, love, friendship, and loss.

In the moment of her outing, she is not ashamed of that project of becoming. She is, I think, horrified that she has to, as it seems many "gays" must, be reigned in by the project of the closet. She must become intelligible as a subject and that requires an identification with the given identity categories (e.g., gay, straight, lesbian, bisexual). Her anger cannot be attributed to the normative drives of identity politics (i.e., that one should be "out" and "proud) or the homophobia that is seen as keeping people in the closet (i.e., fear of ostracism). Rather, her anger is attributed to her inability to "accept" who she is, to embrace her being a "lesbian".  Her anger is a personal issue according to Finn's psychological assessment. It, her anger, is not seen as an issue of the limiting ways in which she can imagine her life. Her account, an account she is not able to give, is foreclosed by the normative ways in which we allow "identities" to be claimed, particularly in high schools. We see here that it becomes the job of the straight white male, threatened by the woman's sharp tongue, to bring her back into line, even if the crooked lesbian line. It is far more dangerous to allow her to be unintelligible and for her sharp tongue to reveal that which is does explicitly rather than an hidden closetedness THAN it is for her to occupy the position of the lesbian. A position that then becomes utilized in a political campaign ad for one of Sue's rivals. The "lesbian" is by no means a "safe" identity to inhabit BUT it is more intelligible, something people can grasp onto, than the position of unknown that Santana inhabited before her outing.

As the episode ends this becomes even more visible. We see Santana's emotional struggle as she sings in the mash-up of Adele. She croons with her fellow ladies "rumour has it"putting to song the rumours that are now, in her paranoid mind spreading about her while she also sings "don't forget me, I beg". We might ask who it is she is singing to. Does she sing to her now negated self that worked or was working at becoming "homosexual", who must now become and struggle with the labels imposed on her by the outside and in doing so able to find love - perhaps in Brittany - but recognizing that such love is always, in part, a fantasy of the love she could have had if the world were different. She was, of course, in love with Brittany already but that love changes when it become defined by the outside - seen perhaps in her asking to hold Brittany's hand while simultaneously covering it up. She wants Brittany's love but it is a love she does not was limited by the normative gaze of the public.

The episode ends as she confronts Finn, paranoia full force, slapping him for what has become of her - a pawn in the political game that would have never recognized her before until she was, with his outing, made intelligible within the political sphere. She is a lesbian. A lesbian promoted to co-captain of the Cherrios and now disparaged for an identity she refused to take on entirely. Her refusal is not one of shame, but one of inventiveness as she refuses to go quietly into the state of lesbian-hood but prefers to struggle to invent new ways of relating to the other.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Hoarders and the Crisis in Capitalism

I really enjoy what some call "trash" tv. Some people upon hearing this look at me quite strangely. They wonder how someone with my education - I have a Ph.D. - could enjoy such pedantic, ridiculousness. I usually look back at them strangely, confused about how they could not enjoy trash tv. I imagine a part of such strange looks is the on-going struggles between "high" and "low" art where having a "higher" education than most of the world opens me up to understanding and appreciating "high" art and in doing so, leaving the vestiges of "low" art behind for the masses. Fortunately, I do not buy into the mystification that surrounds "high" art and therefore feel no need to posture like I get something most people cannot.

Now, don't get me wrong. I do enjoy what is called "high" art. I can watch foreign and independent films like any other and appreciate their differences from the "hollywood" cinema of today. I can even talk about them rather intelligently, much to the disdain of some of my friends who find such films mind-blowingly boring...which is usually the point. However, my heart lies with trashy tv and other forms of low art. There are perhaps two main reasons for this.

The first, I was raised in rural Iowa where there was not a lot of access to "high art". The closest thing we got to an independent or foreign film was Chocolat with Juliette Binoche, Dame Judi Dench, and Johnny Depp. Instead, I grew up on shows like Roseanne where I actually saw my own existence played out, except my parents were divorced and half of the family - my father's - are not working class. I more than often didn't get along with that side of the family and they more often than not pitied me for being from a "broken home". Broken as it may have been, it taught me the joys of trash. Perhaps, I realize later in life, it is trash that the masses have to embrace to illuminate alternatives to the capitalist American dream?

The second reason I enjoy trash is because of my most important idols is the Pope of Trash. I know, I know, I was raised Catholic and we are not meant to idolize, but I can't help it. At least I am idolizing someone with a nickname that include "pope"? Any way, John Waters is my idol for being the Pope of Trash, of showing me how to survive on the margins of respectibility or would it be the center of unrespectability? Either way, the Pope of Trash and his cinema have perverted my sensibilities to appreciate the innane, the perverse, the trashtatic revelry of queerness. Now, I might be able to sometime later be able to more carefully disintricate John Water's "trash" with contemporary corporate trash, but for now...I want to focus on one particular show that is often literally about trash, trash that has been hoarded, but in being hoarded illuminates the corporate trash that needs to be taken out.

Hoarders is that show that you really don't necessarily want to watch, but that you cannot turn off. I think for some such a show is watched to make one feel better about one's life. See honey, that is a real hoarder, I am not that bad. If anything, I am simply a fake hoarder. For others, such a show might be watched to reinforce stereotypes about various populations that are shown - often people from rural America. See honey rural American is filled with lazy people who do not know how to live a civilized life. And for others, not much thought is probably put into why such a show is watched, other than to pass the time. Some people's struggles are other people's entertainment.

I want to think about Hoarders in terms of how it exposes corporate hoarding. And this is what I think Hoarders is doing. Hoarders emerges at a time of incredible disparity between the rich and the poor - its first episode aired in August 2009 in the midst of the economic crisis. As a "documentary series" it focuses almost exclusively on the poor or middle class. Hoarding - or amassing a ton of "shit" - is pathologized as something that needs to be cured. Interventions are planned and the psychological problems of those hoarders are laid bare for all the viewing world to see. The vulnerabilities of an already vulnerable population are further exposed. Yet, such a move to focus attention on the plight of the poor grappling with daily survival takes away attention on the larger dare I say systemic issue of hoarding that has gotten the global economy in a tizzy.

You see, I think hoarding is ok if you are hoarding wealth. Well, I don't actually think hoarding wealth is ethical because of the ways it inhibits the possibility of inter-class relations. But, I do think we allow hoarding wealth because that is just a "part" of the capitalist system that goes unchecked. We might look to MTV Cribs for socially sanctioned hoarding, but even the celebrity culture of wealth usually pales in comparison to the wealthiest of the wealthy. Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, hedge fund managers, Wall Street moguls, and corporate CEOs have spent years hoarding their wealth so much that the disparity between the rich and the poor is forever widening. See "Plutocracy Reborn" for a number of charts that nicely lays out the economic argument historically. And with the political scene in Washington such disparity seems more likely to be protected than challenged and (scary word) redistributed.

It seems to me then that when thinking about Hoarders we should focus less on what we see on the show, but on what the show is not showing us. There has been an explicit choice to focus on the hoarding of the common person and their "mental illness". And many an anti-psychiatric theorist from Eric Fromm to Michel Foucault have shown the use of mental illness diagnoses as a method to discipline the masses. And this seems to allow for those whose hoarding is not simply an "individual" problem as shown in the series BUT whose hoarding has had dramatic consequences for society to continue to hoard with no humiliation involved. We do not humiliate the wealthy who have for all intensive purposes wrecked the global economy. We do not create a show about their excessive lives filled with cars, houses, trips, clothes, and more. Well, I take that back, we do create shows about such things - think the Real Housewives series on Bravo and Logo's The A-List, but such shows focus on the frivolity of women or gay men. They reinforce the stereotypes of such populations allowing some to express anger at such extreme examples of wealth when many are struggling to pay bills. Yet, the Real Housewives of any city and the gay men of New York are not the problems although they are implicated. Those behind the scenes, those where such wealth has been hoarded to fund such projects are part of the elite that have hoarded and whose hoarding is inevitably a big piece of the problem. And the show Hoarding inevitably exposes this in its unconscious.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

On Homophobic Jokes and Weiners

I was mildly disturbed recently when Tracy Morgan went on a comedic rant targeting the gays. The coverage of this rant, of course, did not call it a comedic rant but rather a “homophobic” one. And in doing so, a shit-storm emerged with many comedians and celebrities coming out to denounce his “offensive” jokes. Only a few came out in defense of Tracy and in doing so often became targets themselves of the backlash against homophobia. Roland Martin of CNN was the first I saw challenged for defending Tracy and once that happened I stopped paying attention.

I do not want to denounce Morgan’s “rant” nor necessarily defend it. Jokes are quite tricky – they sometimes work and sometimes fall flat on their face. I imagine Tracy would say these jokes fell and fell hard, despite him saying he is an equal opportunity jokester – no one or thing is off-limits. I appreciate such a sentiment mainly because I am a lover of inappropriate humor and trashy comments. What is interesting to me is the contradictions that emerge around jokes deemed particularly offensive versus rather hysterical. Morgan’s jokes did not seem to be anything out of the ordinary as far as jokes go about issues related to homosexuality. Joking about bullying – saying gays should stop being such pussies worried about “bullying” OR how he would kill his son if he were gay (the ultimate form of bullying) – is not statement meant to be taken literally. It’s a statement that is meant to be taken comedically to expose insecurities, contradictions, or to bring such an issue into the spotlight. The reality, if such a thing exists, is that many parents have an issue when a child “comes out” which is actually pretty funny once you think about it…NOT when someone is experiencing it. That is rather difficult and never enjoyable.

Bullying is a joke but the joke is not on those who bully or are bullied. There is nothing funny about individuals being violated, particularly it would seem when those being violated are not quite considered fully human but rather “children” in need of protection. The joke is rather on the inability and complexity of responses to bullying. Responding to bullying and bullies using the same logic does not actually disrupt bullying or challenge it. It simply maintains bullying but through the figure of the adult authority. Bullying becomes justified if those who are seen as or think themselves as being the moral compass are the ones doing it. This is itself shown in the responses to Morgan’s rant. Morgan becomes bullied by those who are “better” or “less hateful” than he is considered to be. This all in the hope that such bullying will stop Morgan’s hateful speech. Bullying by those in power becomes an issue of policing – policing the speech and the jokes that can be said and laughed at OR that become viewed as homophobic (or sexist, racist, xenophobic). There is no attempt to pay attention to what might be going on in uttering such jokes. Rather, there is an attempt to limit the ways such utterances can be understood.

This attempt to limit is perhaps one of the bases of bullying. Bullying seeks to limit some other from being recognized, from being a speaking subject, from being fully human. And bullying is a practice that goes back to the beginning. If we go with the Christian story of origin, God bullied Adam and Eve into not eating the apple (limiting their world view) and Eve fought back, eating the apple (breaking the limit) and bullying Adam into following her move (limiting his choice). It is perhaps these inaugural scenes of bullying and the responses to bullying that might allow one to argue that the human is constituted through this scene of bullying. And the issue central to this scene is knowledge. Who controls or has access to knowledge. God in all “God’s” glory decided that as creator he/she/ze would have access to knowledge setting up a system of inequality. God has knowledge, Human does not. Eve realized though that she was equal to God – a subject who could create and speak – and ate that which was forbidden to deconstruct this system of inequality. In order to maintain this equality she bullied Adam into joining her not allowing herself to have that which is forbidden and Adam remaining in the dar. And ever since this moment of wrestling for equality, the issue of equality related to knowledge has provoked millennia of fights.

Bullying then is comedic because it is one way we might see the human constituted as a subject. While we might wish we became a subject in a less “violent” way, we in fact become a subject through this wrestling, this bullying for something – God bullied for power, Eve bullied for equality. It would seem then that what Morgan’s joke exposes from my reading is that gays are in fact not pussies for confronting bullying, rather they are pussies who in struggling for equality (a contested term for sure) disrupt and make the social order much more complex that many can handle…unless allowed to handle it through the joke.

Speaking of jokes, there have been a lot of wiener jokes and puns in the news. I suppose I should say Weiner jokes since they are about a proper noun – namely Anthony Weiner – but they are also about Weiner’s wiener making spelling rather complicated because one really needs to know which wiener or Weiner one is writing about. The jokes are, it would seem, simultaneously about Weiner the person and his wiener making me realize that we cannot easily separate the person, usually represented by his mind from his body represented by his grey underwear clad wiener. I find this whole wiener-gate rather absurd which is great because the world is really just one absurdity after another. This is not to say that nothing matters, but that everything matters arbitrarily and thinking it absurd allows, at least me, to see things for what they are worth.

Yes, I am probably more astute than most and the world would be a better place if it followed my lead – a joke of course. But, if I was Wiener and sent a wiener picture, which I probably have in recent weeks to model myself off of yet another politician, I wouldn’t deny it. I would like Kanye West did own it and move on. Well, I wouldn’t totally move on, I would scour the blogs to see what people are saying about my picture – its artistic quality, etc. – and leave anonymous comments to sway people’s opinion in any particular direction. I believe in manipulation.

But, that’s beside the point. What Wiener-gate made me think about was not so much the new era of sexy-texting and the strange power dynamics (aren’t all power dynamics strange) that we are currently trying to theorize. No, what I have been thinking about is why such men are called pigs. Time magazine’s May 30th issue was entitled “Sex, Lies Arrogance: What Makes Powerful Men Act Like Pigs?” First things first, I don’t think it is nice to make pigs out to seem dirty. They cannot help that farmers and corporations put them into pens that 1) are not air conditioned and 2) do not allow them to primp themselves. I think pigs are pretty tasty and wieners too so I take offense to pigs being positioned as dirty.

Now, in popular parlance, all men are pigs not just one’s in power…although I imagine particular feminists would say all men have power (the joys of patriarchy) while I imagine other feminists would complicate such a notion since “men” as a category is, well, much too complex to reduce to swine. My interest here though is why are men considered pigs and women often considered cows? What is the gendered nature of this farm-animal comparison? Are men considered pigs because hot dogs are often made out of pork and hot dogs resemble an appendage that for many is a defining characteristic of “man” – namely the wiener? Are men pigs because one way of talking about sex is “porking”? Men use their wiener (made of pork) to “pork” some other? If so, why are women considered cows? Is heterosexual porking a strange zoological experiment seeking to produce a new type of species? Is homosexuality then more natural than heterosexuality because it actually occurs between members of the same species? I am not sure…

However, why is being a cow less demeaning than being a pig in some regards? I mean if you call a woman a cow, you will be slapped as you probably should be – unless it is a joke than it is perfectly fine unless you hurt her feelings which is probably also funny. Any how, if men who are powerful are pigs for sending sexy pictures will we one day call women who send sexy pictures cows? If Nancy Pelosi, Sarah Palin, or Hilary Clinton sent a naked picture would we call any of them a cow for doing so? Would Time have an issue called “Sex, Lies Arrogance: What Makes Powerful Women Cows” or since there is nothing sexy about cows would we call them sluts and move away from our farm-yard analogies? Would we say that these women had a “beef” with all the attention man-parts were getting and sought to udderly disrupt such images with some lady-parts? I am not sure but I hope in the near future female politicians will free themselves and start sexy-texting so we have some equality in sex scandals so that we can actually deal with the double standards that exist around representations of men and women…

Speaking of representations. Recently I read a piece that talked about gay men and a new cookbook coming out that relies on the image that gay men are skinny (we are).

Friday, March 4, 2011

Teaching Sex: A Lesson at Northwestern University

Controversy has emerged at Northwestern University after Prof. Michael Baily during an after-class lecture invited 4 members of the Chicago BDSM community to discuss “kink” which included an impromptu live sex-act demonstration. Initially, Northwestern supported the demonstration, but amid the growing outrage (from parents, alum, and Evanston community members) the university has decided to open an investigation to, as Northwestern President Schapiro stated “investigate fully the specifics of this incident, and also clarify what constitutes appropriate pedagogy, both in this instance and in the future.” (Chicago Sun Times).

Initially the university’s support for Baily’s after-class demonstration was defended using academic freedom and the importance to be able to teach controversial topics. Alan K Cubbage, vice president for University Relations noted “Northwestern University faculty members engage in teaching and research on a wide variety of topics, some of them controversial and at the leading edge of their respective disciplines. The University supports the efforts of its faculty to further the advancement of knowledge” (Sun-Times). Baily’s syllabus for the course itself notes that the course is "skewed toward controversial and unusual aspects of sexuality." But, with potential bad press and loss of monies, the tune has changed - including numerous other critics - with the President of Northwestern saying he is “‘troubled and disappointed’ by the live sex toy demonstration in a campus auditorium last week, and that it was not in keeping with Northwestern's mission.”

Lance Gravelee, who teaches a human sexuality course at the University of Florida believes that Baily went to far stating “this case is so far on the other side of the line that it doesn’t strike me as difficult to figure that out” and that as a professor he “can’t imagine doing something like this in a classroom”. Gravelee has discussed the issue of female orgasm (one of the topics during the after-class demonstration) noting “you can do that and stop well short of bringing it into the classroom" and as such "they would have a hard time convincing me that this was an appropriate way to challenge misconceptions." Misconceptions it seem can be addressed by simply discussing them, but to illustrate the existence of and experience of a female orgasm is out of the question. Human sexuality, as an academic pursuit is, it would seem, purely a mind game, about acquiring knowledge and overcoming misconceptions without any attention to the physical or material complexity and experience of the body.

It is the body that is the problem in this case. To illustrate, with a real-life woman, particular sexual practices that bring about pleasure and orgasm is seen as one Evanston parent wrote a sign of “low-class depravity” - never mind that the female participant fully consented to and expressed her own enjoyment of exhibitionism. But the body is not always the problem in higher education - there are all kind of embodied demonstrations that take place on a university campus, from rock climbing to scuba diving. Rarely are there any controversies surrounding such demonstrations and actions. And it would be absurd, I think, to say it is perfectly fine to teach rock climbing or scuba diving by talking about how to do them without, at the minimum seeing demonstrations about proper techniques.

Sexual technique is, of course, a much more loaded conversation. Deirdre McCloskey, a UIC professor who has criticized Bailey in the past, said “he aims for shock over substance” (Chicago Sun Times). Such a view, while understandable, fails to grapple with why a demonstration of proper and alternative sexual techniques is not considered “substantive.” Is the female orgasm not an important and substantive topic that should be more engaged and thought about, especially in an age where women’s rights are being challenged on the floors of Congress? A Northwestern parent, Lynn Simmons thinks not, writing the demonstration “does not fall under the umbrella of education. It's demeaning to women. I just thought it was completely, completely out of line." (ABC Local). Now, I respect differing opinions, but I am not sure how a demonstration that was fully consensual and illustrating, through its very performance, a particular sexual fetish is demeaning to women? I find it actually, in this context, quite liberating and educational to see that women can 1) orgasm and 2) have control over how their body is pleasured by their partner(s) in non-normative ways.

This is not to say that women do not experience a disproportionate amount of sexual violence, but to note that it is important to recognize moments when female sexuality (and I would argue male sexuality via her partner’s pleasure in the demonstration) is shown as a positive and important aspect to a fulfilling life. As Jim Marcus, one of the presenters noted, "Everyone in the room consented to be there. Everyone on stage consented to do what they were doing. No one got hurt. Everything was done in safe, sane and consensual way," with such a demonstration providing an education (ABC News).

It is, no doubt, though shocking, to hear about a sex demonstration at a university. While everyone knows students have sex on campus, god forbid a university campus (consisting almost entirely of those who have reached the age of consent) actually teach a plethora of ways to get your rocks off. So, McCloskey is correct in stating this is “shocking” because we prefer sex to be the unspoken and are shocked when it is not. As CBS News reports:

Bill Yarber, a researcher at Indiana University's Kinsey Institute and author of the widely used textbook "Human Sexuality: Diversity in Contemporary America," said he's never heard of a naked woman being brought to orgasm in front of a class of students. "There's certain boundaries of things, I think, that are acceptable and that would certainly be pushing that," (CBS News)

And Bailey’s decision to allow this demonstration does in fact push the boundaries, but is that not the purpose of the academy - to push the boundaries of thought and pedagogy? Is this demonstration a rather explicit example of an erotic pedagogy?

In a time where sex education is abysmal, rates of HIV are on the rise in particular populations, notably youth, and the population lacks the access and ability to discuss the complexity of sex and sexuality it would seem the university is, at least, one place a part of the population might receive some “real” training in sexual technique. And it is for this reason, I found the statements from students to be quite illuminating and quite different than those of the “adults” aforementioned. Students who attended recognized the educational value of the demonstration. As Natalie Houchins said "We all learned some things. We learned about kinky sex culture, reasons they do it. We learned how these instruments work." And Sarah Lowe said she “was not disturbed by it,” but was “glad that it took place in an auditorium, rather than a smaller classroom, which would have been too close and awkward.” (Both from Sun-Times) Lowe further said

I was basically interested to see how it works. There wasn't anybody who was angry or expressed disgust. They asked questions about the lives of the presenters. It was very informational, I feel, about the sexual diversity that exists.

Not all students stayed for the demonstration. "For me, I'm glad I didn't see it. It was a little too explicit for me, and if I were in the class, if I would have stayed for the demonstration, I probably would have left. I know a couple of my friends did get up and leave," said Diana Lorenzini (ABC News). No where in this student’s view was the demonstration inappropriate or uneducational, rather it was not up her alley - to explicit.

Perhaps the students, who are themselves adults, in this after-class demonstration have something to teach those older adults about the value of an education. Perhaps their open-mindedness and general curiosity demands that the shock and awe around sexuality is outdated and in need of makeover. Or, that while such a demonstration might be too explicit for some, is still an important educational opportunity to be afforded those who are interested. Perhaps sex demonstrations, just like rock-climbing and scuba diving, deserve a place in the classroom to help students see the diversity of sexual possibilities and how to perform such possibilities in a safe and consensual manner. And, like those less “shocking” activities, perhaps such demonstrations for the time being, remain an “add-on” to the curriculum which is better than nothing.

We often hear stories emerging out of college campuses that involve sexual assault and violation. We can look at cases at Notre Dame, Drake University, Dickinson College and most likely any and all universities. Often such cases, while provoking outrage, fail to adequately address the issue of sexual assault. As Shirra Tarrant on Ms Magazine Blog writes there is significant silence around sexual assault on campuses and “sexual assault breeds in the Petri dish of silence.” Silence, in general, contributes to misconceptions, fears, shame, and potential harm around issues of sexuality. Not only should sexual assault be discussed and addressed, but so to should alternative, safe, and consensual sexual practices that allow all parties involved to experience pleasure and further learn how to live pleasureable, joyous lives.


Kara Spak (3 March 2011). Northwestern University defends after-class live sex demonstration. Chicago Sun Times. Accessed at:

Barry Leibowitz (3 March 2011). Northwestern Sex Toy Demo: Univ. Kids get explicit lesson in human sexuality. CBS News accessed at: (

Stacey Baca & Eric Horng (3 March 2011). Participants call NU sex demo ‘educational’ ABC News accessed at:

Shirra Tarrant (8 Dec. 2010). Silence and Sexual Assaults on College Campuses. Ms Magazine Blog. Accessed at: