Sacred Disorder | Cliff Bostock's blog – 'Finally, I came to regard as sacred the disorder of my mind' (Rimbaud)

Police harassment of gays: blaming the reporter and the victim

Ever since sodomy became legal, the police have had to dream up new harassment charges against gay men who dare to behave sexually outside the home. The New York police have been hard at work seducing gay men in video stores, then offering them money for sex and then, whether they accept the money or not, arresting them for prostitution.

Duncan Osbourne of Gay City News has the full story here. The article is linked by Joe My God.

What I found most interesting about Duncan’s report is the response of readers on both sites. While most of course object to the police action, there are the usual few who (a) question whether Duncan has reported the story in full detail (i.e. truthfully) and (b) blame the victims for even considering hooking up in a video store.

Duncan responds on Joe My God by inviting the doubters to check out the police report for themselves. He also points to the absurdity of the accusation that, for example, European visitors staying at the Astor on the Park Hotel entered a video store in order to make $20 by having anal sex.

A familiar story…

For the years I wrote a biweekly gay column here in Atlanta, I heard the same kind of thing constantly from a readers: “If gay men act out in public, they deserve to be arrested.” I always pointed out that the 1986 Supreme Court ruling in Bowers v. Hardwick authorized the police to arrest a man for sodomy in his own home. Arresting someone for sodomy authorizes something quite different from arresting him for public indecency or disorderly conduct.

I suspect the police are using the prostitution charge since there’s not even anything like public indecency involved in these encounters. Moreover, the definition of public space remains inexact, to say the least. For many gay men, any sexual behavior outside the the home, in a gym sauna or even in a video booth, is wrong. When you ask exactly what’s wrong with it, you usually hear something about the behavior making all gay men “look bad.” You know, like the leather guys and drag queens in Pride parades.

What it’s really about of course is closeting sexual expression, which still causes many people a great deal of shame and embarrassment. But can you really call sex between two men in a video booth as public as sex by a straight couple on Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras? Nobody’s generalizing about straight people on the basis of the latter very common sight. In fact, nobody’s generalizing about heterosexuality on the basis of prostitution. You do know most prostitutes and their customers are straight, right?

Internalized what?

So these objections by gay men are really about their internal experience. I don’t like that expression, “internalized homophobia,” since I’m not sure it’s possible to go through the coming-out process in our culture without having to come to grips, painfully, with a very real double standard. The anger and judgment during this stage of coming out is unpleasant to be around, to say the least, but usually transitional.

I’ve repeatedly had the experience of people who read my gay column 10 years ago tell me that, now, they completely agree with both my indifference to so-called public sex and my refusal to believe we must serve as public relations reps for one another.

But we are never far from the reanimation of shame. The behavior of the New York police is steeply rooted in the power dynamics of humiliation. Indeed, it has a homoerotic undertone. The police know very well that most of the men are going to plead guilty to a lesser charge and, at the meta-level, they re-assert the authority of heterosexual men while engaging in psychological frottage with other men. It’s a tedious but ancient game.

(Illustration: Public domain from Wikimedia. A knight and his squire are burned together at the stake on sodomy charges. From an illustration dated 1482.)

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