Friday, January 21, 2011

Porn. The scarlet P

Last Fall, student organizers at Oregon State University approached author, educator and award winning pornographer, Tristan Taormino to provide a keynote presentation at a conference called Modern Sex: Privilege, Communication, and Culture Conference.

Choosing Tristan to speak at this conference makes sense. She is one of the leading sex educators in the country. She has spoken at multiple colleges and universities, including Yale and Harvard. She wrote a column in the Village Voice for ten years. She has won multiple AVN Awards and Feminist Porn Awards. She is smart, insightful and well connected. She is able to discuss sex and sexuality from multiple perspectives - especially those related to how we communicate about sex.

This week, after tickets to the event had been purchased, and while her contract was going through the final signing process, she was disinvited from the event. The explanation was as follows:

Organizers of the upcoming Modern Sex Conference at OSU recently sought approval to bring in a speaker for that event by presenting a partial description of the speaker in question as a writer and sex advice columnist. However, as arrangements were being made to complete the contract for the speaker, it became clear to those providing taxpayer funding for the conference that the speaker, in fact, is also a self-described pornographer with a significant online business in video pornography and related material. A decision was made by Student Affairs leadership that using public funds to cover a speaking fee and travel expenses for the speaker constituted an inappropriate use of those funds, and the speaker’s appearance was thus cancelled.

Travel costs already incurred by the speaker in preparation for her appearance at the university will be reimbursed.


The statement isn't exactly correct - the approval process was started last fall. And, although I have no idea what the students at OSU wrote on their forms, Tristan has never hidden the part of her job that includes pornography. Its part and parcel of what she does.

So what is this really about?

OSU has a right to decide how to spend their money. That's part of how they exercise free speech. As a public institution, they have to answer for how they spend their money, not just to a board, but to the legislature. This conference is being paid for with general funds. In other words, with tax payer money. Frequently, this issue is avoided when controversial speakers are brought to campus by paying for these speakers with student fee funds. This money belongs to the students and is not allocated to the institution from the legislature. When I have taught at public universities, it was these funds which were used to pay me.

Paying for things with student money, makes it easier. But why is it necessary? Would a public insititution balk at bringing in an anti-pornography activist and paying for that person with public money? I doubt it.

What is it about someone participating in pornography that causes an administration to back off?

It's fear.

Right now, our politicians are living in fear. Creating it. Selling it. Manipulating it.

State budgets are tight all across the country. And it is extremely possible that a state legislature would use something like this as an excuse to slash the university budget.

The actions of the university are understandable. But they are not excusable.

As an institution of higher learning it is the responsibility of the administration to provide it's students with access to multiple perspectives. Especially perspectives that may be controversial. Listening to people with whom one disagrees, working to understand different perspectives is a critical part of a good, solid education. Learning how to listen to an argument, compare it to your own experiences, academic knowledge and personal values and synthesize a well thought out opinion is how we become active, useful members of a democratic society. Stifling debate or access to opinion is the death knell of a healthy culture.

How is one to have a legitimate and comprehensive discussion about sex and communication in the United States without including some discussion of pornography? Like it or not, it's part of the fabric of our sexuality. And it's legal.

And why was it ok to include the author of "The Ultimate Guide to Anal Sex for Women", but not the director of "The Expert Guide to Fellatio". Why does the act of putting something on HD change who someone is? It's non-sensical.

OSUs decision to exclude Tristan Taormino from their campus is to the detriment of their community and to their academic credentials. I sincerely hope that they find some back bone and revisit their decision.


2 comments:

Scott said...

It's sad to have ANY censorship in this world. Can't we as individuals decide what we want to see or not see?
There are far too few people with far too much power in our country.
The funny thing is, it's always conservatives bucking these kinds of events, when behind closed doors they are kinkier than anyone. I'm not sure why that is, but if you spent much time on any "swingers" web site, it's mainly conservatives. Funny, and sad.
Freedom is our MOST precious right, and we should do anything it takes to preserve it.

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