Saturday, April 8, 2017

On Redefining the Rules of Morality

Geov Parrish has written a personal essay about Ed Murray that asks why many gay men of the 61-year-old mayor's generation don't seem eager to condemn his alleged crimes. This isn't a question of whether Murray is guilty or innocent. This is a question of whether Murray's behavior was defensible or not. I think, as Parrish thinks, that it's pretty much a given that having sex with a 15-year-old prostitute who is desperately trying to feed his drug habit is morally reprehensible. I guess an arch-libertarian willing to question our laws in regards to age of consent and prostitution might say it should be legal, even if it is morally reprehensible. I will come out and make the boldly controversial statement that having sex with a 15-year-old prostitute is wrong and should remain illegal.

Parrish makes a point that gay men of Murray's generation lived by a different moral code, one that placed special emphasis on the ideal of the mature gay man initiating the younger gay man through sex into gay adulthood. Parrish doesn't have much in the way of statistics to make his point, but he does note NAMBLA's place at the borders of the gay mainstream all the way up to the '90s. He could have mentioned the legendary gay activist Harry Hay who died fifteen years ago and would have turned 105 yesterday, who remained an advocate for pedophilia to the end of his life. I do have older gay male friends who have spoken favorably about the rights for 10-year-olds to make their own decisions as far as their sex lives are concerned. And two writers I admire, Edmund White, in his book States of Desire, and Samuel Delany, in this interview, defend pedophilia. I am cool with Hilton Als's fond memories of his relationship at age 16 with an older man, as I am with many former teenagers I have known who did have happy, short-term relationships with older men, relationships which, in fact, do fit the Symposium ideal. But I imagine they, like me, would come out against exploiting a 15-year-old prostitute who is desperately trying to feed his drug habit.

Parrish spends the essay coming to terms with his own past as a prostitute working his way through college, having sex with men who were delusional, who believed they were part of the initiation tradition. And in the end, he places Murray's alleged crimes in the context of the AIDS epidemic, noting that many of the prostitutes with whom Murray may have had sex did not live long. This is another reason why, among other reasons, I come out against exploiting 15-year-old prostitutes who are desperately trying to feed their drug habits.

Having sex with 15-year-old prostitutes who are trying to feed their drug habits may be the most naked, evil form of capitalism I can think of, an early form, before the brutality of capitalism's excesses became hidden. The 15-year-old is after all providing a service to his customer, who is paying for congress with a human being he would never otherwise be able to touch, and the 15-year-old needs the money to feed a sickness. Any adult who makes this transaction needs to do what he can to convince himself that he is doing something right, and so he uses the rhetoric that somehow marries the lofty ideals of the Ancient Greeks -- which does have legitimacy in other contexts -- with a modern civil-rights movement -- which does have legitimacy in other contexts -- and now he's Socrates Luther King, Jr.

The best gift gay culture gave to America was an example of what it meant to question the basic moral and social codes of sex and relationships. If you are happily raising a kid out of wedlock, remain happily single at age 50 enjoying the companionship of friends, openly declare your geriatrophilia or your foot fetishes or your open relationships and open marriages, advocate for (adult and consensual) sex work, or if you declare yourself asexual with no embarrassment, you may have the gay-rights movement to thank. I still think gay culture offers an example for what intergenerational relationships can and should be. It also provides the examples of what intergenerational relationships must not be and of the kind of people who deserve to be hated, the kind of people whom marginalization and oppression did not ennoble.

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