The War on Sex
Duke University Press
497 pages, with index.
This is an illuminating, often disturbing book, handling some extremely touchy subjects especially now in our brazenly benighted Age of Donald Trump. Basically it says that your “private” life and any approach to it can now destroy you. No matter who you are or where you are. And if you are a person of no privilege, meaning outside the corporate structure that controls the country—meaning most black, brown, other skinned, or chronically poor people—then it’s as easy as slipping on the streets of New York after a February ice storm to end up, for any infraction of America’s tightening sexual mores, within the teeth of its prison-industry complex.
Jeff Sessions, Trump’s racist, half-brain-dead head of Justice, wants to make this privatized prison hell even more darkly “privatized,” therefore further outside any kind of democratic, rational intervention into its brutality.
Some basic concepts Halperin and Hoppe and their team of mostly academics want to present: First, the approaching tsunami of America’s war on sexuality and gender is gathering full steam in front of us. The compiling and enforcing of sexual offender registries is terrifying. Four year olds can get on these permanent lists—if some kid pulls down the pants of another in a playground, he/she can be brought up as an offender especially if there happens to be a mandated reporter hanging around. There are now close to a million names on these registries nationally. Each represents a history that can range from sadistic perpetrators to a large number of people who were absolutely innocent and still condemned by Law, Inc. as guilty. The prison terms for sexual offenses are horrifying: you can get a longer sentence for some forms of offense, which can even include public urination in a dark place, than you can for far more serious crimes—much longer. And, even on release, it will be impossible to make a living since so many professions (teaching, clinical medicine, department store work, etc.) are off limits.
Homophobia, gynophobia, and racism are never invisible aspects of this war. Gays and lesbians are treated like the devil’s playmates, and are often isolated by the increasingly corporatized lgbt movement which wants to present a squeaky-clean, happily-married-guy-next-door version of gay life. In many areas, the fear of “sexual pathology” has led many gay activists to put their own efforts behind out-for-blood sexual conservatives. These activists have entered a diabolical bargain that says, “If you remove gay men as the targets of police busts in bars, we will not protest the entrapment and even phony arrest of men as pedophiles; or at secluded areas near rest stops; or for “public” sex in private places (which is almost totally homophobic: straights don’t get arrested for this, even though they’ve been doing it in parks and parking lots for millennia); or the sex registries themselves.
A good example is Willy Campbell, who is still serving a 35-year sentence in Texas for spitting on a police officer. Campbell is HIV+ —saliva has been proven not to contain HIV—but in 2008 a Dallas jury convicted him of harming this officer “with a deadly weapon”—his spit—and meted this sentence because the jury associated saliva with “gay sex.”
In Texas, Campbell would have received a lighter sentence for manslaughter, with a better chance at parole. Also scary: Turning prisons into “treatment facilities” for offenders who can be “committed” indefinitely to them—no parole whatsoever—at the tax payers’ expense and to the gleeful enrichment of the private prison industry.
Minnesota, long seen as a “liberal” state, leads the country in this punishment, holding 715 people, overwhelmingly men, in these maximum security treatment centers. No offenders at all have been released from this state’s program of endless incarceration since 1994.
There are no boundaries and safe places. Your computer or smart phone can be used against you, as Buffalo, NY, artist Lawrence Brose learned when he was swept up in an FBI dragnet accusing him of downloading child porn on his work computer which he shared with other people. The Brose case, which made national headlines, is not in this book. That bothered me, but other things in the book also did.
For one, it is annoyingly academic, filled with jargon (try getting through: “forms of synoptic responsibilization today increasingly tend toward vigilantism”) which means hitting a larger audience with it is going to be hard. You also have to wade through David Halperin’s “Introduction” which with footnotes takes up 61 pages, much of it needless since he recaps later articles that don’t need it. There is also repetition, from entry to entry, about how bad the registries are, the prison terms, and the almost solid non-intervention on the part of the national lgbt movement toward gay men and lesbians entrapped in this muck.
(One light in this storm: the National Center for Reason and Justice, which fights the witch hunts and lies surrounding so many cases involving minors.)
But what bothered me more was that there was no deeper analysis of why this war on sex is gaining traction. To me it seems only too obvious that as our country, and much of the world, becomes absolutely corporatized, so that we now have no division between a private life and a corporate working one, any disruptive incursion into the “working world”—which now encompasses everything—becomes intolerable.
A large number of Americans have virtually no intimate life outside work and church, and neither of these institutions will tolerate sexual or private nonconformity in any form. Being a regular company guy, a cog in the wheel, is mandatory, because the truth is you can’t wander outside the wheel. Anything outside it is too threatening to be overlooked. Trump et al want a world of competitive hard-workers to make him and his buddies even more super-rich. And no matter how kinky and screwed up they may be in their luxury fortified towers, this group, now at the helm of the country, will not suffer one moment of anyone else’s life to be allowed “off the books” and even for a second, private only to themselves.
Award-winning writer and gender-rights pioneer, Perry Brass has published 19 books, including poetry, novels, short fiction, science fiction, and bestselling advice books (How to Survive Your Own Gay Life, The Manly Art of Seduction, The Manly Pursuit of Desire and Love). A member of New York’s radical Gay Liberation Front, in 1972, with two friends, he co-founded the Gay Men’s Health Project Clinic, the first clinic specifically for gay men on the East Coast, still operating as the Callen-Lorde Community Health Center. He is a founding coordinator of the Rainbow Book Fair, the largest lgbt book event in the US, which this year will be taking place on Saturday, April 27, 2017, at John Jay College. For more info: www.rainbowbookfair.org.