2 Dec 2017

On Sexual Shame and Damian Green

I've just written a book about, amongst other things, how frighteningly easy it remains to ruin a public figure's reputation by alleging, well, pretty much anything to do with sex in connection with them. The allegations don't even have to involve illegal activities, they just need to have a faint whiff of sex about them, and that's pretty much all the scandal-hungry British media needs to go apeshit with the story. That is exactly what I believe is going on with the current Damian Green furore, and I'm so disappointed that no one in the left or right wing British media has been sensible enough to say this. Why can no one else see that this is a NON-STORY, borne out of nothing other than an antiquated attitude towards adult sexuality and a far-too-easily stirred shaming mob?

If you think that the 21st century media are all open-minded and groovy, and would never use sex as a cheap pretext to rake a public figure over the coals like they did in the age of Profumo, consider the 21st century case of Simon Walsh. In 2012, this talented young legal professional lost his job as an aide to the Mayor of London and had his private life as a gay man dragged through the courts and press--doing permanent damage to his reputation, employability and I'd imagine mental health--for simply receiving an email with five images depicting urethral sounding and fisting in them.

Now, neither of those acts may be your cup of tea, but they are entirely legal to do, and as the jury in R v Walsh quickly concluded, they're not illegal to look at (despite the best attempts by the misguided 2008 Extreme Pornography law amendment to make recording or watching consensual kinky and gay activity a crime). It's important to note that neither is the vast majority of pornography watched by consenting adults in the UK.  It's merely images and videos of sexual activity between adults; nothing more, nothing less. It's not anything to fear.

Yet a Member of Parliament is fighting to clear his name over an even less extreme allegation than the ones Simon Walsh was fighting; simply, that he had LEGAL pornography on his work computer.

Why is this being treated as news?
Seriously, I really want to hear someone give a credible explanation for why an Adult doing a Legal Adult thing on a work computer--when adults regularly misuse their work computers to spend all day on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and send each other cat memes and videos of raccoons washing mobile phones--is a story. Even before smartphones meant everyone now spends their workday glued to apps, I saw some audacious two-fingers-to-productivity behaviour in offices; one guy used to go into the loos and have a nap for an hour, the woman sat opposite me openly used the office phone to sort out her mortgage, and the guy who sat behind me was forever tapping me on the shoulder to show me videos of fat people passing out on rollercoasters. Is it really news that an adult might use their office computer for something other than work? And can any of us claim we're not guilty of doing the same?

Sorry folks, but if you've watched the above video on your work computer, you have no right to judge Damian Green

Am I expected to believe that we hold Members of Parliament to a higher moral standard than the rest of us? In which case, the only thing at issue is the MP doing something inappropriate in his workplace--note, STILL NOT ILLEGAL--and deserves no more attention than the average questionable shenanigans that our MPs get up to. Personally, I'm more interested in the fact that my local MPs racked up millions of pounds in travel expenses in the course of a couple of years. Because that's yours and my money going up the spout because an entitled politician refuses to struggle on public transport with the rest of us Great Unwashed and so spunks public money on taxis and First Class tickets for nothing other than their own comfort.

Having lived with the British press and legal system for 34 years I'm not surprised at the way Green's story has unfolded, but I am dismayed that this sort of shit is still happening in twenty-fucking-seventeen. Are we not long past the point of getting our knickers in a twist when an adult man is found to look at masturbation material? Because we really bloody should be. It is unconscionable that our dominant media is still so hell-bent on shaming consensual, legal expressions of adult sexuality, and boxing people into a corner that they feel they have no option other than to deny the whole thing.

One thing I found when researching my forthcoming book To Deprave and Corrupt is that thousands of British people plead guilty to charges of possessing Extreme Pornography each year--not because they necessarily deem the charges accurate, but because they know that going to trial will entail so much ruinous publicity that they would rather throw money at the problem and hope it goes away quietly. I can understand that; even as an author of a book on kink who is pretty upfront about what I get up to behind closed doors, I'd still think twice about having my fetishes read aloud in open court in front of my family, especially when I know how, if you want to discredit someone, making public their "alternative" sexual preferences is the quickest way to do it.

I'm no fan of Max Mosely, but I do approve of the fact he pushed back against the prurient hypocrisy of the British tabloid media--one that is happy to publish soft porn as long as it's aimed at the male gaze and is heteronormative, non-kinky and sells papers, but which condemns a man for enjoying bossy women shaving his backside and spanking him. Their attitude was depressingly transparent: How DARE Mosely have a sexual preference that grossed out straight male newspaper editors, and how DARE he use his own money to pay adult women to act out this entirely legal, actually pretty mild, sexual fantasy?!

Of course, the News of the Wank tried to make out that their concern was over Mosely's private party being possibly Nazi-themed, but I don't believe for one second that was their actual motivation for dragging him over the coals so publicly. Faux-concern over fascist imagery in Mosely's kink play was just another grenade for them to lob; what they were really banking on was the power of sexual shame being so great that Mosely wouldn't fight back. Wonderfully, the NOTW was left with major egg on their face when Mosely denied the Nazi-theme charges, sued for libel and--cue Nelson-from-the-Simpson's HA HA!--won massive damages.

This is the crux of the current scandal, though; people will try to sidestep the fact that all Damian Green is really being accused of is inappropriate workplace conduct by pushing the "It's not the porn, it's the fact he LIED about it!" line. Again, I just don't buy that explanation. If Damian Green was accused of nicking a few hole-punches from the parliamentary offices, I doubt it would even make the local news, let alone the national papers or the BBC. Even though that would ACTUALLY BE THEFT, AN ILLEGAL ACTION. That's because it would lack the failsafe component that propels a story straight on to the front page. Which is sex, closely accompanied by the notion that looking at wanking material is morally degenerate, something that must be excused or explained away or acknowledged with a sombre face and a promise to go to Porn Addicts Anonymous (don't even get me started on how shoddily constructed a concept porn addiction is--suffice to say I do not accept its existence has been proven). The thought that releasing endorphins, lowering your blood pressure and feeling less tense/randy is actually beneficial to adult physical and mental health is never even considered, even though we all know it's true!

Damian Green would be a brave man indeed to stand up and say "Yep, I did it, I had thousands of porn images on my computer," because of a climate where adults remain incapable of admitting that most of us have active sex drives. Which in 2017, is bloody RIDICULOUS. It also elides legal pornography with the darker types of image, such as those of child sex abuse, animal abuse and non-simulated sexual or physical violence. This is no accident, especially when the term "child pornography" is still used by so many media outlets. I know that "Non-consensual images of child sex abuse" is a bit unwieldy, but unless we get really strict about the language we use here, we run the risk of placing images of child rape in the same category as images of consensual adult sex. The two do NOT go together. Yet no one is pointing this out.

So, I'll stand up and say it. I don't care what Green had on his computer as long as it did not depict or entail the abuse of an adult, child or animal. As far as all the news reports go, none of the images met this criteria. Therefore this is a non-story, and I can't help but think the fascination with it merely draws the public's attention away from things we could be getting angry about: the constant quiet dismantling of the NHS, the explosion in homelessness and food bank use, the fact my severely disabled friend has just had her weekly care hours cut by another 2 even though her condition is no better, shit like that. Stuff that actually AFFECTS British taxpayers, y'know?


No comments: