THE BODY POLITIC November 1986, No. 132. Chris Bearchell

p. 5.


Sex panic hides real issues

With the recent seizure of $10,000 worth of books, magazines and greetings cards destined for Glad Day Bookshop in Toronto, Canada Customs has virtually prohibited the importation of lesbian and gay male material.

North American society is in the midst of hysteria about all kinds of sexual matters. Generated by politicians and the media, it is manifested in the panic over AIDS, the crack-down on prostitution, the US Supreme Court decision on sodomy, the arrests of doctors from the Morgenthaler Abortion Clinics. But this anti-sex hysteria is perhaps most visible in the anti-porn movement — from the bizarre machinations of the Meese Commission in the US to the frighteningly broad definitions of pornography introduced in the House of Commons' last session, to the Customs' guideline that prohibits depictions of anal sex. We can be certain that when the House turns its attention to revised anti-porn proposals, these will also prove to be fundamentally erotophobic.

Such issues and policy decisions are meant to capture headlines and votes. It's a tired, old political trick: scapegoating minorities to distracts the electorate's attention from glaring social problems. The Tories and the Reaganites are, unfortunately, able to get away with it, in part because they have exploited some of those problems for their own purposes. In particular, they have used concern about systemic sexism and violence (most of which is poverty-related) to divert some feminists and others into a pro-censorship position. These feminists' genuine concern for women's safety is used to foster the ignorance and fear of sexuality at the root of women's lack of control over both our bodies and our political destinies.

When the feminist movement entered into the pornography debate, there were many who believed that creating alternative sexual imagery was the only constructive option. Out of that conviction grew many lesbian projects — the first alternative we have had to the commercial, male appropriation of our sexuality. Their organizers warned that a pro-censorship feminism would be used as ideological justification to attack those most vulnerable — sexual minorities, and people willing to get their hands dirty trying to present alternative visions of sexuality.

Now the magazines Bad Attitude and On Our Backs and the lesbian-made videos from Blush Productions are repeatedly banned by Customs. One of our worst fears is being realized — not since the prosecution of The Well of Loneliness has the might of the state been so deliberately marshalled to prevent lesbians from communicating with one another about our lives and our sexualities.

Lesbians as well as gay men must support such groups as the Canadian Committee Against Customs Censorship, which is helping to unite the many groups and individuals committed to sexual freedom and to the struggle to defend freedom of expression. Our community cannot afford to ignore either attacks on our sexual representations or the general backlash of which they are a part. Begin with a petition in support of Glad Day and circulate it among your friends or co-workers. Or contact CCACC for more information, or to get involved. Many Canadians have expressed their disapproval of the Tory sex-police. There are more opportunities to organize resistance than we sometimes fear.

– Chris Bearchell,
for the collective