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Porn: It's Here, It's Queer, Get Used to It.

Let's talk about gay porn. 

Last week, in a small town in upstate New York, students at the Corning Community College held a series of talks about sexual health and sex-positivity called Sex Week. Featured among the talks were rape crisis counselors, Planned Parenthood reproductive rights advocates, and sex toy demonstrations.

Equal, the college's LGBTQ student group, had invited their own speaker. His name is Connor Habib. He is a university educator, an author, a columnist, and a theorist. He is also a porn actor. 

                                                                            This guy.

                                                                           This guy.

Just before Habib was scheduled to speak, members of Equal were contacted by school president Katherine Douglas, who informed them that the talk was canceled. Even though Equal went through all of the proper administrative channels to get Habib to speak, Ms. Douglas was apparently unaware that Habib was a professor who became  a porn star, rather than the other way around. The thought of someone who was continually acting in porn rather than in porn at some point in their distant (and i'm sure, in her eyes, sordid) past would be too "controversial". She continually asserted to the members of Equal that "porn and LGBT rights cannot and should not become entwined", and that she would not allow such a nefarious entwinement on "her" campus.

Later, when students tried to hold the talk at an off-campus location, they were told that even if the event was off-campus, no Corning students were to attend. Brian Griewank (President of Equal) was singled out and cornered in an office by the Dean of Student Development, Donald Heins. Heins told Griewank that he was not allowed to speak to the press, nor was he allowed to help Connor Habib in any way. In what Griewank described as an "absolutely intimidating conversation", the Dean told him that this issue is "bigger than you and bigger than Equal."

Okay, Douglas. Take a knee.

 

                           Wow. Your ignorance is already exhausting me.

                          Wow. Your ignorance is already exhausting me.

Let's just start with the basics.

I know you feel like you're big LGBTQ ally/advocate on campus. You recently spearheaded the opening of a  Center for Diversity and Inclusion (could you possibly be more vague with that name, by the way?) Good job. You've officially (kind of) caught up with the recent trend of having basic student advocacy on college campuses. P.S., it would be helpful to not group advocacy for all sexual, racial, and cultural minority students under one moniker, but whatever. It's a start.

 When the center opened, you promised that you would help the school walk the walk as well as talk the talk when it comes to social justice and equality. So please, try and explain this to me: how is it that not even a month later, you tell the only LGBTQ advocacy group on campus that they don't actually want what they want, and that you know what's best for them in terms of queer rights and empowerment? Clearly, the group saw that there was something missing in the Sex Week programming, and they sought a speaker to represent what they felt was underrepresented. The fact that you felt that your aversion to porn was more important than the issues queer students feel are important to them really speaks wonders about how little you--and others like you-- really understand about sex positivity and advocacy. 

The way you see it, you'll allow condoms and the pill and talk about rape prevention (all very important stuff, snark-free.) You'll even let people bring their dildos out in public. Very progressive, really. Pat on the back for you, friend.  

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You were even willing to allow an ex-porn star to come talk on campus...so long as he had seen the errors of his ways and stopped doing other dudes on camera. But once you found out he was an ACTIVE (read: unrepentant) porn actor, you immediately got the privileged heebie-jeebies and saw fit to "educate" your students on what LGBTQ rights really  are. 

Listen. I know you might not like porn. I know you might not watch porn. I know you might take issue with all sorts of things about porn. Those are totally legitimate viewpoints, and you're entitled to them.

HOWEVER, other people like porn. Lots of other people. Odds are, most of the people you know have watched porn at some point, whether or not they "like" it ideologically. Whats more, you don't have to like porn to talk to a porn star. He isn't going to run on stage and have gay sex on camera for money, or even tell anybody else to. Habib (like  many other professional porn actors) happens to be an incredibly articulate, thoughtful human being. Like you, he is an academic. I would expect that you--as an educator and a supposed advocate for equality--would think the appropriate response to something you don't agree with is thoughtful dialogue. Even if you were too opposed to porn to engage that way, you could have excused yourself from the talk. 

Instead, you decided that no one was allowed to talk to the porn star, because you were so "concerned" that LGBTQ students would confuse their own rights with porn rights. You allowed your employee to intimidate a queer student and invalidate his beliefs. But you know what? He was right about one thing. This is  bigger than just once incident. This is a systemic ideological problem, of which you are only a symptom. 

                                              Doesn't feel too good, does it?

                                             Doesn't feel too good, does it?

This is an issue of people claiming to advocate for sex positivity and then continuing the incredibly sex-negative behavior of stigmatizing and shaming sex workers. These are adult human beings who have made a decision to make a career for themselves in the sex industry. Are some folks disenfranchised by the sex industry? Sure. But that is largely because of a) economic inequalities, b) draconian laws, or c) the predation of bad individuals (which occurs in every industry)...ALL THREE OF WHICH are reinforced by the refusal of many supposed advocates to support sex workers as individuals with agency.

Had she done her research, Douglas would have realized that Habib went into porn because he felt that there was a huge absence of real sexuality and spirituality in the academic world. He has stated that he is more fulfilled in sex work than he ever was in academia. He also openly acknowledged that he understands peoples' concerns about sex work, and wants to open a dialogue about them. Who would be a more perfect candidate to really hash out whatever issues Douglas felt she had with porn than him? 

In any case, regardless of what she may or may not have gotten out of Habib's talk, her queer students (as well as their interested allies) wanted to hear Habib speak, for their own reasons but also perhaps for reason that many LGBTQ people support queer porn.

In his amazing response, Habib talks about his experiences being gay in the small-town where he grew up (much like the small town of Corning): 

"I watched, right through my adolescence into adulthood and early college years, while straight people paired off and experienced sex. They were able to engage with a basic aspect of human life that seemed unavailable and distant to me. Unlike today, there was no discussion about gay marriage, nor were there many gay characters on TV. But even if there had been, neither would have rounded out my experience as a man with homosexual feelings because so many of those feelings were — unsurprisingly for a young man — sexual. Gay sex was a lonely venture. It wasn't easy to find, and was only mentioned in slurs and the butt of jokes. "Cocksucker" and "butt fucker" were insults; stand-ins for "faggot."

Whether I bought it from the adult video store or, later, downloaded it, gay porn helped me encounter positive images of gay men enjoying the act of sex. Gay porn was a window into gay sexuality that was free of shame and guilt, and revealed a different world where sex wasn't a lonely prospect, confined to the shadows or just my imagination."

As a man of Middle-Eastern descent, Habib also spoke about the significance of pornography in cultures where being gay is criminalized and/or punishable by violence or death. He has received emails and letters from hundreds of men from Middle Eastern countries expressing gratitude for giving them a positive portrayal of men having sex with men. 

"When a gay man lives somewhere where his identity is threatened, it's clear how sex - including pornography - and sexuality are intertwined. His sexual imagination, which is criminalized, matches the sexual images of gay pornography (which are also criminalized). Since acting out his imagination through sex would be to risk his life, the access to the images is safer. The images, created by gay men wherever it's legal to create them, provide empowerment and diminish alienation."                                         

It's really as simple as that. If you are going to be real with advocacy for LGBTQ rights, and not just real where it suits your delicate sensibilities, you will realize that SEX and SEXUALITY (which, yes, includes porn) are already intertwined, regardless of what a certain college president might think. 

Despite her attempts to ban him, Habib will be speaking at 5:30 this evening (Thursday, March 21st) at the Southeast Steuben County Public Library. Ironically, his original talk wasn't even supposed to be about pornography (he was going to just talk about sex and culture more broadly.) However, in light of what went down, his talk will now be focused on "Sex, Sexuality, Pornography, and Culture." So, because of her ignorance, Douglas now has a big, gay porno talk on her front door. 

                     Sometimes the world is awesome. 

                    Sometimes the world is awesome. 

In summation, thank the lord there are people out there who will advocate properly in the face of bigotry and ignorance.  

                  Porn, PORN FOR EVERYBODY!

                 Porn, PORN FOR EVERYBODY!