Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Nonmonogamy in France (But Not for Long)

I know there are people out there who are very concerned with the legal rights of poly people, who want to legalize plural marriage and get existing laws to recognize that a person can have more than one domestic partner. I've never felt the need to be one of those people. I feel like a drama queen pretending that poly people face hostility and institutionalized discrimination on the same level as, say, gay people. Most poly people have one domestic partner or they have no domestic partner -- in other words, their either functionally coupled or functionally single. Either way, the existing laws work fine for them. Only a minority try to have more than one domestic partner. They're the ones all the activists in the community are working for.

All too often, when a story comes along that should really be a wake-up call, we dismiss it. Laws used to target nonmongamous people are usually used against the polygamous marriages of Mormons and Muslims.

Today, I happened on the story of Liès Hebbadj, a French restaurant owner born in Algeria. He lives in Nantes and has four partners. While he's maintaining that he has multiple unmarried partners, French authorities are accusing him of practicing plural marriage, and Brice Hortefeux, prefect of the Loire-Atlantique region, wants to strip Mr. Hebbadj of his French citizenship because of it.

From Le Monde, a French national newspaper (my translation):
According to the Minister of the Interior, the man, who was born in Algiers, has four wives and each one receives Single Parent Aid—offenses, the minister days, for which he deserves to be stripped of his French citizenship which he obtained through marriage in 1999. Liès Hebbadj admits having “mistresses.” “If you can be stripped of your French citizenship for having mistresses then a lot of Frenchmen could be. Mistresses are not forbidden by Islam. Maybe they are by Christianity, but not by France, as far as I know,” he has told the press. (…)

[Hebbadj], 30, is not described as an extremist by local authorities. He had a halal butcher shop in the south of Nantes and is the president of a Muslim cultural association in Rezé, in the Nantes suburbs. He is only officially married to one of his partners.

None of the offenses alleged by Brice Hortefeux are punishable by loss of citizenship. But the cancellation of his naturalization could be obtained, with the permission of the Council of State, if the man was already officially married at the time of his marriage in 1999 and therefore obtained his citizenship “through lying and fraud.”

I briefly lived in Nantes a few years ago, so I think I had better start by deflating a few images you might have of France. First of all, France has a reputation of being a country of sexual libertines where anything goes. This is not true. It looked that way to US government book censors in the 19th century and to American expatriates in the 1930s, but the United States has made great strides since then, whereas France has not. France doesn’t have sex-positive movements to the same extent as the US today. Sexual subcultures remain mostly underground. In the US, gays and lesbians led the way for everybody else by making sure their existence was in everyone’s face. In France today, tolerance for gays does not extend to offering marriage rights. Just a few days ago the openly gay mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delano, said that the French gay rights movement movement is going through “a sad period of silent regression,” pointing out a laundry list of recent homophobic crimes. In the most heinous, a middle aged gay couple from Couy, a small village in the Loire valley, was buried alive last year. Polyamory, BDSM and other subcultures are not nearly as visible. Sexuality in general seems to be surrounded by uniquely French flavor of erotic mystique which interferes with any attempt to confront it in an objective and realistic way.

Secondly, France also has the reputation for being less racist than the United States. Again, I’m sure it seemed that way to African American expatriots coming out of Jim Crow in the 1950s but that doesn’t make it true today. The French have historically had a very strong sense of their national identity. As long as immigrants assimilated to that identity, race wasn’t a big problem in France. In recent years France has seen an influx of Muslim immigrants of North Africa who have the radical notion that they would like to hang on to some of their own culture, perhaps even integrate parts of their culture into French society. This has provoked a radical backlash from the far right Front National political party. President Sarkozy’s UMP party is also concerned with this issue. Sarkozy has created the Ministry of Immigration, Integration and National Identity -- its name alone should give you an idea of its goals. Even the French left is on board with the most famous discriminatory measure, the headscarf ban in French schools. I’ve heard Socialists defend the ban by saying that schools should be secular institutions. However, although the ban technically covers any religious expression, it is not enforced when Christian children wear small crosses around their necks. For all of the left’s arguments that the veil is a tool of misogyny, it is undeniable that these laws curtail the freedom of an unwanted minority group to express itself in a way that goes against the beliefs of the majority in French society. For some French racists, the fact that Muslim girls are now forced to attend separate Islamic private schools to get around the public school law is a feature of the law rather than a flaw -- just as the French seem unconcerned by the fact that the law President Sarkozy has just proposed against wearing full-body veils in public will keep conservative Muslim women confined to their homes, as if France were run by the Taliban.

Now back to Mr. Hebbadj. This guy is going to get royally screwed. He’s transgressing against France’s “national identity” in two different ways: he’s a Muslim and his marriage doesn’t follow the state-sanctioned, monogamous model. Notice the catch-22 of the French argument: the French government will only recognize Mr. Hebbadj’s marriage to one person, yet they refuse to pay a single parent child support credit to Mr. Hebbadj’s four wives because they aren’t really single.

Worst of all, Mr. Hebbadj is probably not going to have any support from anyone in the French sex-positive community, such as it is -- nor would he in the American one. The polyamorous and open relationship crowds aren’t comfortable with forms of polygamy in less sex-positive forms. They don’t see that there’s a connection between their right to run their love lives the way they see fit and other people’s right to run their love lives the way they want. They don’t see that the same people who want to protect society from people like Mr. Hebbadj want to protect it from people like them. Even though very little information is currently available in the press about Mr. Hebbadj and his partners, the sex-positive poly people assume the four women made the decision to marry Mr. Hebbadj because of some kind of oppression, even though if a white woman made a similar decision they would believe she was exercising her freedom. Those people are making the same argument for the headscarf ban: that Muslim women don’t have enough experience with freedom to exercise their freedom of choice without being exploited, so they should be denied freedom of choice in some areas for their own good. It is undeniable that exploitation occurs in some cases, but taking away their right to choose isn’t the way to fight it.

I've already written in support of Mormon polygamy, but the truth is that polygamy in a religious context is an uncomfortable gray area for me. It is for many polyamorous people. As a group, we're mostly sex-positive and humanist. Though we have every reason to be more tolerant, our bias against religions that practice polygamy is the same as the bias against it in the monogamous culture that surrounds us. We imagine that there are always exploitations and consent problems in a religious polygamous marriage (but not a religious monogamous marriage). But the truth is that, especially in the western world where such things are not the norm, people who choose nonmonogamy in a religious context deserve to have their decision respected just as much as people who choose nonmonogamy in any other context. And when the laws of supposedly liberal western nations are used against these people, we should be very, very afraid.

UPDATE 4/29: I finally found an English version of this story, which you can read here. Via @polyamorie

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Moral Indignation, by H. L. Mencken

The loud, preposterous moral crusades that so endlessly rock the republic -- against the rum demon, against Sunday baseball, against Sunday moving-pictures, against dancing, against fornication, against the cigarette, against all things sinful and charming -- these astounding Methodist jehads offer fat clinical material to the student of mobocracy. In the long run, nearly all of them must succeed, for the mob is eternally virtuous, and the only thing necessary to get it in favor of some new and super-oppressive law is to convince it that that law will be distasteful to the minority that it envies and hates. (...) The hardworking householder who, on some bitter evening, glances over the Sunday Evening Post for a square and honest look at his wife is envious of those gaudy drummers who go gallivanting about the country with scarlet girls; hence the Mann Act. If these deviltries were equally open to all men, and all men were equally capable of appreciating them, their unpopularity would tend to wither.

-from Damn! A Book of Calumny (1918), public domain

The most amazing thing about reading H. L. Mencken is that, if there weren't occasional references to historical events, you would completely forget that his criticism of American society is nearly a century old. The main theme of his career was to mock and excoriate the small-minded idiots who attack art, literature, science and harmless fun in the name of morality, virtue and religion -- to do so viciously but without ever sacrificing humor. Reading him today is at once remarkable and depressing; remarkable because he sees so clearly into the heart of the American character that his criticism transcends his era, and depressing because we're still fighting the same battles today that he was then. I wish he was still around to help us.

I'll leave you with one more quote from the same book:
It is argued against certain books, by virtuosi of moral alarm, that they depict vice as attractive. This recalls the king who hanged a judge for deciding that an archbishop was a mammal.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Green Porno Is Back!!!!!

It's too good to be true. Isabella Rossellini has made a follow-up to Green Porno called Seduce Me. She covered the bees in Green Porno, so Seduce Me touches on the birds and other non-mammals -- with Isabella in all of the bizarre animal costumes you could ever want. Also, a lot of beefy arms. You can watch the "first season" by following the link. It features three minute segments about cuttlefish, ducks, snakes, salmon and bedbugs and it's as wonderful and weird as ever!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Bravo, Mr. President

The New York Times reports:

President Obama on Thursday ordered his health secretary to issue new rules aimed at granting hospital visiting rights to same-sex partners.

The White House announced the rule changes, which will also make it easier for gay men and lesbians to make medical decisions on behalf of their partners, in a memorandum released Thursday night. In it, the president said the new rules would affect any hospital that participates in Medicare or Medicaid, the government programs to cover the elderly and the poor.

“Every day, all across America, patients are denied the kindness and caring of a loved one at their sides,” Mr. Obama said in the memorandum, adding that the rules could also help widows and widowers who rely on friends and members of religious orders who care for one another. But he says gay men and lesbians are “uniquely affected” because they are often barred from visiting partners with whom they have spent decades.

I like Obama but he has been less than a full-throated supporter of gay rights. (That's right, I said "full-throated," deal with it.) He may be making a tiny incremental move like this one because he hopes to tap some gay money for the midterms. But whatever his reasons this is great news.

Nerd Sex at "In the Flesh" Reading

Tonight I went to the In the Flesh Reading Series where Rachel Kramer Bussel's topic of the month was nerd sex, a topic after my own heart. A lot of the readings were rather off topic although still good.

The two stories that stood out most to me, however, were also the two nerdiest. Mike Albo read a story set in the fantasy world of pornographic spam e-mails. Mike prefaced his story by saying he does nothing but stare at his computer and masturbate all day and then read an extremely witty and hilarious piece where buxom fantasy sluts who write in broken English hit on the reader, go on about their affairs with butterflies and the Nike logo and then transform into desperate bored gay men or sex-starved Midwest housewives.

Emerald closed the evening with the only actual erotica story of the evening -- that is to say, the only one with an explicit sex scene. In it, the protagonist takes her broken laptop to the Apple Store Genius Bar, meets three beautiful computer geeks who she invites into the back alley, one at a time, to fuck her while the others fix her computer. The story is apparently in Best Women's Erotica 2010 and was so hot that I'm planning on picking up a copy just so I can read the whole thing.

All in all, it was an even more fun time than usual -- nerdy sex stories warm my comic-loving, sci-fi watching, little Trekkie heart. Here's hoping Rachel comes back the the topic with more actually nerdy material. Nerds rule most every sex subculture, so you know there's gotta be some great material!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Vault - Breaking Upwards

Breaking Upward (2010)
directed by Daryl Wein
written by Peter Duchan and Zoe Lister Jones
starring: Zoe Lister Jones, Daryl Wein

I went into Breaking Upwards with a misapprehension which I admit is going to color this review: I thought it was a movie about polyamory. I could be excused for making this mistake. The film’s trailer shows the central couple questioning monogamy, talking about seeing other people, discussing the terms of seeing other people, going on dates, cruising Greenwich Village hipsters at a Greenwich Village hipster party together, and dealing with jealousy over interacting with other people. It has gotten some attention in the poly blogosphere, which is how I heard about it.

But Breaking Upwards definitely isn’t a film about polyamory. It is a film about Zoe and Daryl, a young, Jewish, artistic couple that live in Greenwich Village. They love each other but the passion is gone. However, they are so co-dependent that neither one can take the blow of instant separation so they concoct a novel scheme of progressive separation. They begin by spending three days a week apart from each other, then tentatively begin seeing other people. They quickly start to notice other people and let them into their lives, causing a number of conflicting feelings. Daryl helps Zoe hit on a man at a party but is jealous about her casual sex with an actor. When he sleeps with his writer boss and a new acquaintance, Zoe asks not to be given the details.

Their arrangement perplexes their parents. Daryl’s mother is left out of the loop (leading to some destructive prying) but Daryl’s father seems to quietly understand what his son is going through. We get the feeling from certain remarks Daryl makes about his parents’ marriage that his dad understands what it means to love someone but not be in love with her anymore but the filmmakers never follow up so I couldn’t tell if Daryl’s insights were real or if he was too young to understand his parents yet. Zoe’s mother is much more free-spirited. She has dabbled in polyamory and takes the young couple to a meeting of middle aged poly people. The parents were the best part of the whole film, because they added some wisdom, perspective and humor to Zoe and Daryl’s melodrama.

Zoe and Daryl briefly flirt with the idea of maintaining their open relationship. He even considers turning down a career opportunity that requires him to move to Vancouver to stay with her. But his mother forces them to ask themselves if this kind of relationship can last. I’d answer yes, but the movie says no as if it’s a foregone conclusion. They don’t want a complicated open relationship that requires them to confront their feelings for each other and fly in the face of Daryl’s mother’s expectations, they choose to avoid all that drama and end it… in the middle of a Passover Seder with their families and friends looking on and participating in the recriminations. Well, so much for avoiding all that drama. Daryl decides to move to Vancouver after all and as the taxi arrives to take him to the airport he sees Zoe across the street crying and smiling and waving to him. Meaning they are no hard feelings? I’m not quite sure. It was a weird scene.

I saw the movie with my partner Annabelle River. The two of us laughed very loud at a moment in the movie when Zoe and Daryl are seen reading Fear of Flying, by Erica Jong. Annabelle liked that book while I couldn’t even finish it, and my problem with this movie was exactly the same as my problem with the book. I found it very difficult to sympathize with these people as they floundered in a problem of their own creation as if it was something that had just happened to them. Occasionally the film delivered a poignant and touching moment where I really connected with Zoe and Daryl but more often their interactions with each other and others were cold and ambiguous. I couldn’t tell why the filmmakers had included many of the scenes or what they thought I would get out of watching them. Furthermore, all of the secondary partners that Zoe and Daryl interact with were poorly developed, mere plot devices, as if making them more than clichés (a pretty girl next door, a horn dog who bolts after sex, etc.) would bring up questions the filmmakers didn’t want to address. For that matter, Zoe and Daryl don’t have much going on in their characters. I can’t think of a single thing I learned about either one the doesn’t have to do with their relationship, their jobs (he’s an aspiring writer, she’s an aspiring actress) and the fact they’re Jewish. The parents were developed much better and I suspect that had more to do with good acting than good writing.

So to sum up, Breaking Upwards is well made and feature some great actors. It has some nice moments and some beautiful footage of Greenwich Village at its most charming. Despite this, the characterization and story are mostly a yawn. The film poses some interesting questions about alternative ways to set up relationships and then ignores them. If the filmmakers had been interested in exploring the answers, their film would have been much more interesting.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Well, That's... Interesting... ????

Wii Fit Injury Turns Woman Into a Sex Addict

I just followed a Slog link to this article on Yahoo! news. And I have absolutely nothing to say about it. Nothing insightful, nothing mocking, nothing funny. It sounds fake to me. But it's geeky sex, so here it is! Enjoy... I guess...

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Stacks - Scalped #36

Scalped #36: "A Fine Action of an Honorable Catholic Spaniard"
written by Jason Aaron
illustrated by Davide Furnò
DC Comics/Vertigo, 2010

You may not be familiar with Scalped. It certainly hasn't done anything before now would warrant mentioning it on a blog like this. It's a crime comic book that follows the adventures and misadventures of a number of Native American cops and robbers on a Lakota reservation is South Dakota, a reservation haunted by violent years of government repressionand civil rights activism in the 1970s. (For a brief history lesson, click here.)

Scalped has been compared to The Sopranos, except with Indians instead of mafiosos. So far the series has focused on the undercover FBI agent and general badass Dashiell Bad Horse. He is trying to take down corrupt tribal elder and casino owner Lincoln Red Crow -- and discovering things are not as morally black and white as he assumed. The series also features an ensemble cast from all walks of reservation life, many of whom it has only begun to explore 36 issues in.

One of these is Shunka. He's Red Crow's trusted right-hand man, doer of the dirty work. He's part hitman, part consigliere, always in the background, the only man on the reservation who might be a bigger badass than Bad Horse. Writer Jason Aaron hasn't developed the character beyond that. Issue #36 opens with Shunka breaking and entering, holding a man at gunpoint, threatening to kill him -- then embracing him and fucking his brains out. Shunka is gay, and deep in the closet.

The issue explores homosexuality and homophobia among modern American Indians. Shunka's lover Joseph Crane tells him that Indians traditionally respected gay and transgender people, whom some tribes dubbed Two-Spirits, but that in modern times they have assimilated the homophobic attitudes of the white rural communities surrounding their reservations. In the story, Crane is a tribal leader in a neighboring state who embarrassed the wrong people by coming out. Shunka is there to help intimidate him into silence but it doesn't work and Joseph Crane ends up murdered. Shunka's first reaction is to shrug and leave town, but he has started to fall for Crane. The issue ends with Shunka deciding to unleash his own brand of justice on the men who murdered Crane.

Since Scalped is frequently compared to The Sopranos, people are going to want to compare Shunka to Vito Spatafore, the closeted mobster who is outed and eventually killed on that series. But the comparison doesn't do Scalped justice. Jason Aaron is giving us a much more interesting portrayal of homophobia in gangland. Vito Spatafore's story always rubbed me the wrong way -- the moment he was outed is he suddenly becomes every gay cliché in the book, as if now that he's out he's reverting to type. One moment he's a mob enforcer, the next he's going to BDSM clubs in full leather gear, running away to a small town in Massachusetts to hang around in antique shops and live in domestic bliss with a tough but sensitive biker. Shunka, by contrast, remains the same person after we learn he's gay. Before, he was a violent badass that we didn't really like. That hasn't changed -- although, romantics that we are, we're rooting for him to get justice for his murdered lover.

That's the reason why Scalped is handling its gay story better than The Sopranos did -- no stereotypes. Shunka is a criminal and a murderer. He doesn't go running to the antique shop when we find out he's gay. He stays true to form and gets ready for a blood bath, gay stereotypes be damned. This story is not being played for laughs. It is deadly serious.

The story concludes in Scalped #37, on sale on April 28.