The Washington Post, where “democracy dies in darkness” most days, published a fascinating op-ed a week ago called “Yes, kink belongs at Pride. And I want my kids to see it.” The author, Lauren Rowello, is a former prostitute and self-identifies as “gendervague.” (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) She brought her pre-teen children, including a toddler, to a Philadelphia Pride parade and had them march in it along with her and her trans wife. [Ethics Foul! Her children were too young to meaningfully consent to being used as props this way, which is what Rowello was doing.] She tells us,
“When our children grew tired of marching, we plopped onto a nearby curb. Just as we got settled, our elementary-schooler pointed in the direction of oncoming floats, raising an eyebrow at a bare-chested man in dark sunglasses whose black suspenders clipped into a leather thong. The man paused to be spanked playfully by a partner with a flog. “What are they doing?” my curious kid asked as our toddler cheered them on. The pair was the first of a few dozen kinksters who danced down the street, laughing together as they twirled their whips and batons, some leading companions by leashes. At the time, my children were too young to understand the nuance of the situation, but I told them the truth: That these folks were members of our community celebrating who they are and what they like to do.”
“Kink embodies the freedom that Pride stands for,” Rowello proselytizes, “reminding attendees to unapologetically take up space as an act of resistance and celebration — refusing to bend to social pressure that asks us to be presentable.”
But society, and community ethics, ask us all to be “presentable.” Public displays of kinkiness show disrespect for everyone watching and basic manners. What ‘resistance” is there in a gay pride parade today, unless it’s the demonstration of the unethical principle, “Since you don’t respect us, we won’t respect you”? Rowello is teaching her children that complete social chaos and deliberate defiance of social norms is not just tolerable but desirable. Hippies in the lamentable Sixties called this ” letting it all hang” out, which sometimes they did literally. I thought most cognizant Americans figured out the flaw in that approach. Guess not.
Here’s Rowello’s justification for exposing her children to adult sexual fetishes:
“Anti-kink advocates tend to manipulate language about safety and privacy by asserting that attendees are nonconsensually exposed to overt displays of sexuality. The most outrageous claim is that innocent bystanders are forced to participate in kink simply by sharing space with the kink community, as if the presence of kink at Pride is a perverse exhibition that kinksters pursue for their own gratification. But kinksters at Pride are not engaged in sex acts — and we cannot confuse their self-expression with obscenity. Co-opting the language of sexual autonomy only serves to bury that truth and muddies the seriousness of other conversations about consent. If this all sounds familiar, it’s because anti-kink rhetoric echoes the same socialized disgust people have projected onto other queer people when they claim that our love is not appropriate for public spaces. It’s a sentiment that tolerates queerness only if it stays within parameters — offering the kind of acceptance that comes with a catch. The middle-aged, White men who I grew up with said they were “fine” with gay people as long as they wouldn’t be subjected to PDA — as long as all signs of queer love could be outwardly erased. Queer people’s freedom to be themselves is, according to this logic, contingent on non-queer people’s freedom from exposure to it.”
This is actually the best part of her essay. Anyone who goes to a Pride parade is consenting to the narcissistic and deliberately shocking behavior that is likely to occur there, because that’s what gay pride parades have always featured. It is also a false argument that watching any legal activity is “participating in it” or even enabling and approving it. I might argue the point about whether sado-masochism and dominance stunts are “sex acts,” but she is also right that public mores that forbid gay couples from holding hands in public are prejudicial. Yet it is still inappropriate for a gay couple to engage in open and obvious open mouth kissing and groping in public, because the same is true of heterosexual couples.
Get a room.
But then she writes,
“Respectability politics demand that queer people assimilate as much as possible into cis- and heteronormativity, hewing to mainstream cultural standards. Members of the queer community have internalized those norms to the point that we judge ourselves by them, and then criticize and ostracize others if they don’t uphold them, too.”
The attacks on the U.S. having a mainstream culture, which began in earnest during the Carter years and have accelerated to fatal speed of late, is a suicidal assualt. (This is what is going on in the recent Ethics Alarms post about recent scholarship holding that society opposing cruelty to animals is “racist.”) Nations, indeed all groups and institutions, need strong cultures. They evolve and adjust, but insisting that everyone is free to devise one’s personal standards for interacting with society is proven folly. Furthermore, criticizing those who violate reasonable social norms is how cultures continue to exist.
The Post received some criticism of its decision to publish this weird piece. One wrote,
“A lot of fetishes are rooted in childhood exposure to a stimulus that gets accidentally conditioned to be associated with pleasure and then reinforced over time by continual exposure. Kids exposed to kinks in their formative years are certainly more likely to develop them themselves- and yes, you can be a healthy person and have kinks, but those tend to be folks who have discovered them later in life. With children there is a risk of paraphilic disorder, where the kink becomes so intense that the person can’t connect intimately with others because they only get pleasure from their kink, or become pathologically addicted to their fetish to the point of distress, self harm, financial or legal troubles. When someone goes down this path at a very young age, it could become deeply ingrained in their psyche like this. I had little boundaries and supervision growing up, and I am speaking from personal experience here. I still can’t connect intimately with other human beings and it’s driven me to be suicidal at times and put me in multiple dangerously abusive relationships. I’m 28 and still don’t even know what my orientation is because all I have is my disorder. I’ve been in therapy for it for many years and am still in recovery. I wouldn’t wish this on anyone.”
Another saw the op-ed and the conduct it endorsed as harmful to the gay community:
“We in the gay community fought for years to dissuade people of the notion that we were somehow dangerous to children. Articles like this put us back decades; we will have to deal with the fallout, while straight couples like this one can just identify their way out of it and go on their way.
“Why on earth did the Post publish this trash?“
And that’s the question. What’s going on here? Is the Post simply exposing its readers to points of view outside of the mainstream for their enlightenment and perspective? That’s what newspapers ought to do, but then the Post’s rival, The New York Times, apologized for publishing an op-ed by a Republican Senator that its staff found insufficiently in tune with progressive narratives. Is the Post more open-minded than the Times? (I doubt it.) Maybe the Post, steeped as it is in radical Left doctrine, published the op-ed because it seems self-evidently reasonable as the Post’s journalists’ favorite party champions a brave new world where children decide what gender they want to be and undergo surgery to achieve their goals. Or could it possibly be that the reason this over-the-moon advocacy for public “kink” being inflicted on the young was to let defenders of the current culture know just how extreme the enemies of that culture can be?
Your Ethics Quiz of the Day will probably force you to decide what motivation drove the Post, unless you believe that it was irresponsible to give a megaphone to this woman under any rationale. Here’s the question: