Writing and Thinking Amidst Hostile Intentions
followed by the fact that the Phoenix and its "popular columnist Michael Bronski" are "leading advocates of pedophilia in Massachusetts."
Well, I thought after I regained some sense of calm, at least they think I'm a "popular columnist." But the unease and the sense of foreboding increased when later that morning my editor at the Phoenix called to warn me that Fox 25 - noted for their tabloid, and increasingly homophobic news coverage - had called looking for my phone number. The Massachusetts News had, apparently, sent a press release (with all the same quotes and information) to all of the print and electronic media in the state. This was not what I needed in he middle of an already busy week.
It wasn't that I was worried about being accused of "advocating pedophilia" - whatever that would mean, "pedophilia being a sexual desire not an activity - and the quotes from my article were, of course, completely wrenched out of context. I had written about the controversy surrounding the Calvin Klein advertising campaign for designer underwear for kids -- featuring 5 year olds in undies - that was launched two months ago to a storm of protests from right-wing Christian Coalition type Donald Wildmon claiming that ad campaign was an inducement to child sexual abuse. My point was that his cries of "child abuse" were actually a, not very coded, cover for his real agenda: attacking homosexuals and gay rights.
The Massachusetts News leaflet quotes one of my final points - that as a culture we needed to "discuss the lives and needs of children honestly and openly - including a recognition of their sexuality, freedom, and autonomy" as "proof" that I advocate unlimited sex between adults and children. Ironically, this was, in itself, a replay of exactly what I had critiqued: easy homophobia under the guise of "protecting" children.
Luckily the story received little media attention. The Massachusetts News, published by a 71 year old right wing, retired lawyer J. Edward Pawlick from his home in Sherborn, MA., a small suburban town north-west of Boston has little credibility with the mainstream news right now. He received some attention two months ago when he sent out a 28 page anti-gay booklet to the 4,000 residents of his home town, but most the of mainstream media outlets now write him off as a crackpot. But despite this the incident worries me.
First of all, the Newton leaflet was a response to the organizing of a Gay and Straight Alliance for parents of children in the town's schools. For a liberal suburb like Newton this is not very controversial, but the public discourse around children and sexuality is so charged that material like Pawlick's newsletter could seriously hold up a project such as this for months and play upon preexisting rifts within the school board, as well as parent's groups. The people who loose here are students who live in gay or lesbian households (and are libel to take shit for it from other students) and openly gay and lesbian students in the high school who need all the public support they can get.
And on a more personal level it has heightened my awareness of how dangerous it can feel to publicly discuss controversial topics. It is true that complicated ideas - and what political ideas are not complicated when discussed in any sort of depth - are increasingly difficult in a world used to no-think sound bites and easy, knee-jerk analysis that reaffirm complacency and status-quo. And this has, in turn, promoted an atmosphere in which attacks on controversial opinions or beliefs - by it the importance of children's sexuality of children or a critique of U.S. foreign policy in Iraq - can short-circuit open discussion. After I heard about the TV Fox 25 inquiry into my original Phoenix piece I quickly ran through, in my head, a catalogue of articles I had written over the past years that would look much different when displayed on tabloid TV or press: having sex in men's rooms, the intimate details of my lover of 20 years dying of AIDS, my attacks on the mainstream gay movement's support for the military, my complicated relationship to my mother's recent death because of her inability to deal with my sexuality. I regret writing none of this, nor would it want it mentioned on a tabloid television news show. "Up Next: Man Accused of Promoting Sexual Abuse of School Children Admits to Not Loving His Mother Enough and Having Sexual Fantasies About His Dying Boyfriend's Doctor. Film at 11:00"
But I also know that once you write something and it is published you have little control over it. Obviously, the solution is not to stop writing, or thinking, or arguing. But the immediate fear I felt at being told that Fox TV wanted to talk to me was real. I want to have control over what I say and how it is presented. It would be idiotic to think that the complicated reality of childhood sexuality and the pervasive fear that all homosexuals are child molesters is going to be discussed with fairness, sensitivity and honesty on television news. And ironically the very mass appeal of such venues that prohibit such honest discussions are the very ones that would bring important issues to a wide audience.
Right now the whole episode has made be hyper-aware of everything that I write. I can't worry too much about it or I'll stop saying what I want to say. I can only try to write as clearly and accurately as I can - which I should do anyway - in hopes of limiting misinterpretation. But The Massachusetts News -- with its rabid anti-gay agenda -- was not misinterpreting my words - they were distorting them to make a political point, and that I cannot control.