From now until at least the midterm elections in November, we’ll be featuring essays from powerful cultural voices alongside one simple thing, chosen by the author, that you can do to take action against the paralyzing apoplexy of the daily news. Maybe it’ll be an organization that deserves your donation; maybe it’ll be an issue that deserves greater awareness. Whatever it is, our aim is to remind you, and ourselves, of the big and small things we can do to work toward justice and change.
Big League Repression
by Jeremy Philip Galen
In his prepared remarks at last week’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings, Judge Brett Kavanaugh gave a retrospective account of the pride he took in his sexual abstinence. “For me and the girls who I was friends with,” he said, “that lack of major rampant sexual activity in high school was a matter of faith and respect and caution.”
Anyone who has been indoctrinated with religious or moralistic views about sex — specifically its prohibition until marriage, but also subtler teachings that condone specific forms of intercourse and condemn others — knows exactly what I’m about to say: young Brett was probably sexually repressed. Sexual repression is very, very dangerous. If we believe the accusations against the judge (and we should, all of them), then in addition to the urgent things we must do — listen to victims, pressure swing senators not to confirm Kavanaugh, do everything we can to increase voter turnout in the midterm elections next month — we have an additional set of tasks.
We must reckon more actively with the proscription of desire by moralizing discourse. We must see it as the mechanism for control that it has always been. We must liberate future generations from these toxic conflicts between morality and natural desire that undoubtedly contribute to the kind of violence to which Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and so many other women have been unnecessarily subjected.
To start with, we need to put an end to the terrifyingly Manichean view, stated in Kavanaugh’s testimony, that there are only two extreme forms of sexuality on offer for teens: the “rampant” kind — whatever that is! — and none at all. We need to accept and teach that there is a universe within reach where teenagers, like the well-adjusted adults they can become, respect the expression of their own desires and manage them in complete respect for the desires of their sexual partners.
The formula whereby children are taught first to have contempt for their sexuality, and then to use the disinhibiting and anxiolytic effects of alcohol to facilitate its expression, is evil. A healthy society will construe such kinds of repressive indoctrination as a form of child abuse. The psychological harm it inflicts is genuine and the violence it breeds is intolerable.
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Jeremy Philip Galen lives in San Francisco.