When Did Gays Become the Morality Police?

The modern LGBT rights movement has been veering toward conservatism for some time, evidenced by its primary and overarching mission to finally achieve Marriage Equality.

With that particular battle more or less won, a civil rights movement which once championed our right to sexual liberation and a declaration of our right to be "different," to exist outside the confines of the morally and socially oppressive boxes constructed by a puritanical society, essentially withered into a call for assimilation into perhaps one of the oldest and primary institutions of patriarchy and heteronormativity.

This isn't to suggest that marriage equality isn't an important step toward fully comprehensive legal rights legislation, only to point out the change in tone of a movement from defiantly counter-cultural to insistent equivalency.

The intersection of this new model for LGBT rights and the ongoing social and cultural policing of bodies, sex and behavior seems to have, in some ways, given rise to a new morality in LGBT communities that completely ignores what made us the target of ridicule, hatred and persecution in the first place: that being our sexual identities. Sex shaming is nothing new, and many world cultures, and certainly American culture, infused by moralistic and puritanical religious doctrine, place all types of rules, restrictions, values and measurements on what is and is not acceptable.

Promiscuity, probably the most common of vilified behaviors, is regularly regarded not as an individual's command of their own sexual agency but instead an expression of their lack of self respect or sense of self worth, as something pitiable and damning. Likewise sex work, commonly regarded as the world's "oldest profession," is a shameful and exploitative act. The context in which these acts occur is rarely part of the larger discussion which value judges sex behavior; instead blanket generalizations of "right" and "wrong" rule the discourse.

The recent raid and shutdown of Rentboy.com has brought issues of sex work and sexual agency yet again to the forefront of our cultural conversation, and the level of vitriol lobbied at sex workers has been staggering, and from the LGBT community, particularly disturbing. After all, while there is much exploitative and non-consensual sex work going on in the world and even in this country, this was not the case here.

Regardless of any particular individual's life trajectory, traumatic or otherwise, which led them to advertise on Rentboy.com offering escort services, these were activities engaged in by legally aged, consenting adults. Common observations trending on social media include referring to sex workers and their choice to monetize their own bodies as "disgusting," calls for them to "get a real job," and so on and so forth. That many of these assertions come from young LGBTs, many of them people of color, demonstrates how little education and understanding around these issues exists even within our own communities.

Likewise, social and cultural attitudes toward non-traditional relationships (i.e., ones that don't echo structures of heteronormativity) among many young LGBTs are often disdainful. Non-monogamous, polyamorous and other relationship structures that don't follow a culturally familiar model are invalidated. Instead of reveling in the opportunity to redefine and restructure romantic and sexual relationships, identities and behaviors, there seems to be a cultural backlash longing for access to a normative life that is just as much a falsity for heterosexuals as it would be for LGBTs.

The Ashley Madison hack, as well as countless outings of conservative figureheads who champion "family values" as nothing more than liars at best and deviant sexual predators at worst, have exposed just how much these ideas of morality in the spheres of sex behavior and marriage are socially constructed dogma, often utilized for amassing political or social clout and certainly not rooted in anything innate or "natural."

While there are certainly many genuine instances of true monogamous love and commitment, the idea that somehow that relationship model exists hierarchically above all others is an illusion, and LGBTs certainly gain nothing tangible socially or politically by upholding, defending and preserving it. If anything, by shaming and looking down on our fellow LGBT brothers and sisters, we align ourselves with powers that seek to strip us of our civil rights and criminalize our existence. Instead of seeking to normalize and assimilate, the next wave of LGBT movements should once again champion our differences and the right to exercise agency over our bodies, minds and behaviors as we see fit.