Chalking as crucial expression

C–k, p—y, f–k. . . all vulgar terms not to be used in polite conversation, right? Indeed, not even to be read in this paper. How about penis, vagina, intercourse: synonyms to the first three? Are they okay to use? The politicalization of language and sex is something that the Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, Transgender Union (BGLTU) ran into headlong during its annual chalking this year. Who originally made the decisions on which words are considered acceptable to society? I would argue that words cannot be obscene. Images may perhaps be, but, in my mind anyway, not words.

Many people were confused by these “bathroom wall” comments, going so far as to say they had nothing to do with queer issues. Some claimed that saying, for example, things like “I love my c–k” has nothing to do with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) politics. After all, every man loves that particular part of his anatomy, right? Well, not necessarily. I wonder if the remark would have been as offensive had it read “I hate my c–k,” as could easily have been the case had there been a male-to-female trans person chalking. Then it becomes very much a political statement. But if that’s okay to say, why not the opposite? The fact is, many gay men grew up hating that particular part of their anatomy because of their feelings of same-sex attraction. Therefore, being able to say that you love it becomes an affirming part of who you are.

What about, “Do you like anal sex as much as I do?” Even heterosexuals engage in anal sex, so does that have anything to do with LGBT politics? Well, yes. It’s a part of naming the acts that many feel define a homosexual and drawing attention to the fact that what we do is not altogether different from what heterosexuals do. Even further, it dares to name acts that are still illegal in many parts of the United States, including Massachusetts. That, in itself, makes it political speech.

Currently, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), there are 16 states that still retain sodomy laws. Alabama, Florida, Idaho (the worst sentence with 5 years to life in prison), Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Utah, Virginia, Massachusetts (a sentence of 20 years in prison) and Michigan all have sodomy statutes that include both heterosexual acts of sodomy as well as same-sex sodomy. How sodomy is defined varies from state to state, but a general definition that is most often used is “anal or oral copulation.” Think about what that means. Four states, (Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas) have sodomy statutes that pertain only to same-sex coupling. So, other than these last four, the law pertains to both heterosexuals and homosexuals. Seems fair, right? Wrong. How the law is enforced is dramatically different. The only modern instances where sodomy laws are enforced in heterosexual situations is when the sexual act is forced, not consensual. This is not the case with homosexuals. The famous Bowers vs. Hardwick (1986) case in Georgia, in which the Supreme Court of the United States affirmed the right of states to create these laws, was a situation in which a gay male couple was in the privacy of the home, engaged in consensual sex. Georgia struck down its own sodomy law in 1998. A bit late for Hardwick.

We have heard arguments from the LGBT Community that homosexuality and bisexuality have nothing to do with sex and everything to do with whom we love. But let’s face it. . . all men love other men, and all women love other women; it’s the sexual component that we engage in that creates the rub for society. Society has used shame as a tool to keep homosexuality and bisexuality in the closet. We hear, “we don’t care what you do in bed, just keep it there.” True? Hardly. If it were, there would not be sodomy laws. We would be allowed to marry the individual we love. We would be able to serve in the military. We would be able to adopt children and keep our own biological children. Obviously, what we do in bed, even when we keep it to ourselves, is very much in the minds of politicians and those who choose to oppress us, as poor Michael Hardwick from Georgia found out. In a state that still retains sodomy laws, every day that my partner and I share our bodies, we are making a political statement. That is not our intent. Our intent is to simply express our love for each other, but the choice of whether or not we are making a political statement is taken away from us. Whether we intend it or not, our choice in being affectionate in public causes people to imagine our actions in bed. It’s not our immediate act that disgusts, but it’s what may come next, what goes on behind “closed doors.” Again, the choice of our intent is taken away from us.

In daring to name the acts that are a part of “the love that dare not speak its name,” The BGLTU was attempting to end that silence. Let’s face it – students hear much worse on Friday and Saturday nights than what was written on the sidewalks that Wednesday. The fact that many people did not realize that the “offending” remarks were part of the BGLTU’s annual chalking simply shows that what we do in bed differs little from what heterosexuals do in bed. Perhaps that is part of the point in naming the acts. Since it is not so very different, it becomes obvious then that it’s with whom we engage in these acts that makes all the difference. When we are taught by society to be ashamed of what we feel , just naming what we feel becomes a political act as well as a part of rebuilding our self-esteem. It begins the psychological healing, the purging of the shame.

When it comes to sex, though, naming the problem is in itself taboo in American culture, as Jocelyn Elders, former Surgeon General under President Clinton, discovered. A culture of silence surrounding sex is unhealthy. It leads to a very dangerous atmosphere where a rape or sexual assault becomes a “bad hook-up.” It leads to an environment where “abstinence only” education becomes increasingly the norm and we can’t talk about contraception or condoms. It creates a situation where AIDS in the United States is still, even in 2002, considered a “gay disease” in many, if not most, circles. If that were not the case, we would have fewer people concerned about pregnancy when the condom broke and more concerned about HIV.

Erasing “offending” remarks only further silences and shames gays, lesbians, bisexuals and trans people and adds to the chilling effect that helps perpetuate the silence surrounding sex in general in the culture here at Williams and in American culture. Therefore, many of us, in order to exist safely, learn to keep silent. We keep silent about who we are. We keep silent about what we do in bed. And if and when we do render up the courage to speak out, we can count on being silenced by others.