The Need For the Sexual “Other”

It seems like most human beings need an “Other” through which they demonize aspects of sexuality they fear, obsess about, or feel guilty about.

That Other may be considered slightly less than fully human; more or less out of control; immoral, uncaring about the consequences of his/her/its actions; dangerous, either in its coercive power or (just as often) its seductive power; ultimately, Not Like Us.

For much of history that Other has been homosexuality. But at various times, the Sexual Other has been Too-Sexual Woman; Masturbating Child; Adulterer; Perverted Child Molester; Pornographer; Compulsive Rapist (recently updated to Campus Rapist and Internet Predator); even the Drug Dealer whose goal is/was to get you so high that you couldn’t resist doing sexual things you shouldn’t.

As The Homosexual has gained respectability—as he/she has become more like “us” (even getting married and shopping at Ikea)—the Sex Addict and Porn Addict have become an Other. They can’t be trusted with sex—they use it for the wrong reasons (to escape from their cares, to feel young or attractive or desired), mocking “real” or “adult” sex (attached, monogamous, non-kinky). We’re even told their sex/porn activity makes their brains different! That’s as Other as you can get.

The latest Sexual Other, of course, is TransPerson. He/She/It/Them is so different from “us” that “we” don’t even know what to call him/her/it/them. And apparently we are so disoriented by these alien people that the deepest question we can ask about them, the most important policy issue they inspire is…WHAT BATHROOM WILL THEY USE?

Indeed, America is different from other countries when it comes to public bathrooms. For starters, we don’t have a fraction of the public bathrooms that Europe, Canada, Australia, and Japan have. Even if you’re in downtown America, surrounded by bars and restaurants, you have to apologize or even lie in order to walk in off the street and use their bathroom. You know you’ve done it: “My wife is pregnant, we need the bathroom;” “My kid’s diabetic, we need the bathroom;” “The FBI has declared our house a crime scene, we need the bathroom.”

In civilized countries, you don’t need to obfuscate or prevaricate for the privilege to urinate. Public toilets are everywhere, and toilets in places serving the public are open to, um, the public.

There are always demands to limit the rights of Sexual Others—to limit their ability to hurt everyone else (or themselves). Because they’re seen as Different, however, the way this is done typically ranges from tragic to comic.

We withhold accurate information (including words, for heavens sake!) from teens to prevent them from being sexual, which hasn’t worked since the beginning of time (does the lack of information prevent you from doing what you want?). We withhold civil rights from gay people (and used to actively punish them) to discourage homosexuality, which hasn’t worked since the beginning of time. The federal government now demands that unwanted sexual jokes on campus be investigated by the university—a cruise missile aimed at a flea—which undermines male-female empathy rather than promote it.

Yes, on campus, Heterosexual Male is the Other. Especially if he’s stupid or naïve enough to have sex with a woman who’s been drinking. Now that unwanted kissing and non-physical, non-coercive pressure to have sex are enough to get someone thrown out of college and labelled a sexual wrongdoer for life (forget about grad school, forget about scholarships, forget about internships), people will believe anything about Heterosexual Male. Even the President will believe that 1 in 5 college women is sexually assaulted, higher than the rate in the hellish Congo civil wars or the barbaric wars that tore apart Yugoslavia 20 years ago.

As the father of two college-bound daughters, the President should have checked how the researchers came to their conclusion. It’s pretty simple—they didn’t ask women if they’d been sexually assaulted, they asked them to check a list of experiences, and the RESEARCHERS decided which constituted “sexual assault.” Like unwanted kissing. Like insistent pressure to have sex. As unpleasant as these experiences are, would you call them sexual assault?

Any group can find itself marginalized, demonized, and persecuted for its sexual practices or beliefs. You can have your legal medication withheld from you; your hospital visiting privileges limited; your physician forced to recite (under pain of prosecution) “facts” s/he knows to be false; you can be forced to endure such recitations, or even forced to endure an unnecessary vaginal ultrasound probe as the price of getting a legal abortion. You can have your private place of sexual recreation closed down as (an unproven) public health hazard. You can have your group’s medical problems deemed insufficiently “normal” to warrant a place in physician training (“if you’d use your butt only for what it was intended, you wouldn’t be in the Emergency Room right now”).

You could even find people who want to be the U.S. President, the leader of the Free World, demanding laws determining which bathroom you can use. Because one in five women who use a public bathroom are sexually assaulted, you know. I read it on the Internet.

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