Wednesday, September 22, 2010

My Sexy Thought Experiment

My last post about the U of NM controversy was reposted to The Rumpus, and has gotten a good amount of attention and comments -- both for and against my argument.

The back and forth is healthy, I think, and in one case even led me to revise a portion of my argument. The best discussions are those that lead to change, and change in the direction of greater truth and fairness is always welcome.

But reading everyone's speculations about what happened and their opinions about what is the morally acceptable response has got my mind wandering off onto a thought experiment...

WHAT IF instead of a woman working as a phone dominatrix, the professor at the center of this controversy were simply a gay man, and very out about it?

I believe this is an apt comparison because in both cases the behavior is sexual, legal, and disapproved of by some.

What if the accusations claimed that this professor was talking about his homosexuality in the classroom?
What if the accusations claimed that this professor had taken a paying position at a sexy-minded organization for gay men?

What if the accusations claimed that this professor was posing with one or two male graduate students for that organization's website in ways that simulated sexual contact?

What if the accusations claimed that this professor's students had complained about him talking in class about being gay?

What if the accusations claimed that this professor had a student who felt "pressured" to be gay too, and who had, as a result, experimented with gay sex, only to decide afterwards that he did not like it, and that this student in particular was making complaints?

What if, after these accusations were brought, the gay professor apologized, had the photos taken down from the website, and ceased all contact with that organization for gay men?

What if, after the professor took those actions, members of his department insisted on punishing him further? 

What if the university, perceiving that the department was attempting to punish this professor further, determined that this could lead to them being sued, and intervened to stop the department from doing so?

What if members of that department, angry to be stymied in their quest to punish the professor further, quit in protest, and sued the university?

Now, to me, the most unjust part of the above scenario is that the professor had to quit his paying position with the organization for gay men. It seems to me that it should be his right.

In this scenario, it is probably best that the photos simulating sex with students be taken down, to avoid the appearance of impropriety.

Looked at through this lens, it seems pretty small-minded and petty for any students to complain, and it seems appalling that the department would seek to punish the gay professor simply for being open and out about his sexuality, and taking a paying position that exploited that part of his private life.

Looked at this way, it seems likely that the student who experimented is not a reliable source, and has personal emotional reasons to lash out and accuse.

When the story is laid out like this, it's pretty clear that the university had to stop the department before they did something discriminatory -- something that could get them and the entire university sued.

I think the vast difference of opinion in this case has a lot to do with how we view someone who works as a phone dominatrix: if we view her as a person, a human being, who lives her life just a little different from average, but whose lifestyle is perfectly fine and acceptable and her own business, then we probably conclude that she should not have posed with the students, but her apology and her taking down the pictures is certainly an adequate remedy to the situation. If, on the other hand, we view her as some sort of inhuman, immoral abomination who is, by virtue of existing, a danger to others... well, if we view her that way we are being prejudiced and ignorant, every bit as much as if we were saying it about a gay man.

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