This is my last post responding to “From Disgust to Humanity: Sexual Orientation and Constitutional Law” by Martha Nussbaum, and some people will be grateful since the subject makes them feel a little disgusting for even reading about such matters -- as well as vulnerable. It’s the vulnerability I want to address. Nussbaum’s last chapters are about sex shows defined as a court case about women dancing nude. She speaks of Justice Richard Posner carefully reviewing the history and uses of such dances through the ages and defending nudity as a necessary part of the meaning when describing eroticism. Later she considers whether such businesses can be considered a nuisance, possibly a danger to the surrounding community.
She does not consider the male sex worker or the vulnerability of sex workers, which is simply addressed by the law in terms of assault and murder. Female sex workers are targets of obsessive rage and disgust-prompted gaze-aversion by nice people that allows the workers to be attacked and killed with impunity. I don’t think it would be hard to find police cases where exotic dancers emerging from their place of work are attacked with acid, knives, guns. The novel and movie “In the Cut” outline the sort of obsessed control freaks who try to destroy women. Yet the former mayor of Great Falls, owner of a bar just outside of the city’s zoning restrictions (restrictions imposed because of worries about danger and nuisance to neighborhoods) hired exotic dancers and was convicted of “allowing” prostitution in a secluded back room. This went on for a long time until the mayor’s DUI convictions piled up enough to provoke authorities. (Arguably, DUI presents more danger to the public than exotic dancers or even prostitutes.)
As Tim often says, “you probably won’t believe this,” but decades ago a local rancher took me across the Canadian border to a nude dancing establishment in Lethbridge, which has always been a notorious “sin town.” I thought we were going to the movies. It’s about the same distance from here as Great Falls is. The two dancers (it was afternoon so things were a little quiet) were at opposite extremes on just about every measure. One was a very young girl, just beginning, awkward and insecure. Her farmboy/boyfriend/pimp sat at the edge of the stage and coached her. The other dancer was a muscular dark-eyed woman with bright red hair (not natural) whose dance was gymnastic and gynecological. She was in total contempt of her audience, spoke taunts, and glowered in particular specifically at ME. (Sometimes when you’re curious to know about something, you find out a lot more than you bargained for. )
That first girl was about as vulnerable as a human being can be, skinny (the rancher remarked, “that little girl needs feeding!” as though she were a calf), pale, goose-bumped, poorly made up, bad haircut, homemade costume, callow young “boyfriend” who could not have protected her. I suspect the tough redhead had a gun and could use it. But there would be no danger to the community in this place because its viability depended upon secrecy. It was in a warehouse district, unmarked, and large alert men leaned against the walls with folded arms, watching the clientele. I went back some years later, found the building, and saw when I circled the block that the back entrance was protected by a high brick maze (probably bullet-proof) that allowed cars to pull in so that the distance to cross when entering was very short and unseen. Of course, such an arrangement -- which would protect emerging women -- was also convenient for taking in drugs -- or drugged women. Use your imagination.
Men can also be prostitutes. But women’s vulnerability is shared by boys. Small children are, of course, vulnerable to everything and adults must take responsibility for their safety. Across the planet trafficking in small children of both sexes is common. We’re told that in some places when they are no longer useful, maybe infected with HIV, they are simply taken into the woods and shot.
I’m thinking of Tim’s adolescent boys, sometimes legally adult, depending on the country. Self-supporting, they are under the same economic sword as women, which is one kind of vulnerability. Smaller and less developed than they will someday be, they are vulnerable to violence. (Think Mathew Shepard.) Not experienced enough to have awareness, strategy, and a portfolio of possible resources, they can be deceived or overpowered. Spared the contempt some men have for women, they are nevertheless hated for being “pansies,” “nancys,” -- or should I say, “marys.” A further vulnerability is simply being invisible, their existence denied and ignored by the larger culture, even though in hard times it is boys who are thrown out of their homes or who leave voluntarily, runaways.
I’m aware of my own vulnerability for even being associated with Tim Barrus or writing about these subjects. It is my age, isolation in an orderly small town, and education that makes me able to talk about it in ways I could not when I lived in the city. Even as a clerical person in a city bureaucracy, I felt I had to keep bear spray in my desk because of the raging people who sometimes came to the counter over nuisance issues. And yet Portland is or was known to have chickenhawks who included local politicians. (The mayor of Portland was caught shtupping his underaged baby sitter. Female.)
This failure of awareness (both ignorance and suppressed knowledge) leads to inconsistent laws and enforcement, which undermine the integrity of the police and courts, and fail to protect all citizens and youngsters. Tim and the boys often stage workshops on how to keep safe: partly practicalities like tying safe bondage knots, partly safeguards like taking another boy to the location to watch from nearby, maybe by carrying a tiny “smart phone.” HIV-AIDS is not the only hazard. Men pay to beat boys and get carried away. The core group of Cinematheque had already discovered that pay-per-view cyber-sex was safer in the immediate situation, but could create a known public image that put them at risk from stalkers who wanted to “own” them or destroy them. Thus, masks. In the past Tim had also worked with female prostitutes to improve their safety and, indeed, much of what he taught came FROM them and their sorry experiences. He himself had been raped.
Law makers are often liberal white people who simply don’t have enough raw and rough experience. Considering whether pasties and g-strings will incite disorder if they are left off is a far cry from trying to protect sex workers. Underlying disgust distorts reality and encourages denial. Someone needs to bridge the gap in consciousness. But it’s very easy to use disgust to shut up any reports.