COMES NATURALLY #140
Spectator Magazine -- September 19, 2003
Copyright © 2003 David Steinberg
BITS AND PIECES: SEXUAL SIGNS OF THE TIMES
Sexual signs of the times show up just about every day. Stories that are hardly major news, but that cast a little light on the grand collage we could call American Sexual Culture -- that huge umbrella no one can quite see, but everyone wants to measure themselves against.
The stories pour in from any number of sources -- reading the papers, emails from friends, postings on listserves, notes from Comes Naturally subscribers and from other people in the sex-curious network. Sometimes they're humorous, sometimes upsetting, sometimes inspiring, in the way of thousands of unacclaimed every-day heroes -- people who stand up for their sexual rights and preferences, even when it means taking a risk, emotional or otherwise.
I gather the stories in a file folder that grows increasingly heavy, week after week, where it sits at the back of my desk -- fodder, I think hopefully, for future columns.
Here are a few samples from that file. Nothing earth-shaking, really. But collectively they may just have something to say about where we are and where we're going with sex and sex-related issues in these uncertain times.
New scanning technology for passengers passing through airport security may well test how far people are willing to go in the name of protection against potential terrorist attacks. The Transportation Security Administration is testing a new "backscatter" system that scatters X-rays to detect plastic weapons and explosive materials invisible to devices currently used at airport security gates.
The backscatter system, however, also has the effect of projecting naked black-and-white images of each passenger it scans. Backscatter X-rays are reflected by skin and, more darkly, by dense material like metal or plastic, but not by fabrics. Instead of seeing inside the luggage of the person in front of you as you pass through airport security, you'll see inside their clothes. We used to wonder what Superman saw when he looked at Lois Lane with his X-ray vision. With backscatter, every airport security guard would get to play Superman.
Susan Hallowell, director of TSA's security lab, admits that submitting to backscattering "basically makes you look fat and naked." On the other hand, she notes, it adds a protection against someone smuggling plastic explosives onto a plane.
Backscatter generators cost something between $100,000 and $200,000 per unit. They use small amounts of radiation, about the same as standing in the sun. But is the American General Public ready be seen naked by other passengers and security guards in the name of air travel safety? Maybe they are. Maybe personal modesty is a small price to play for security in the post-9/11 world. Maybe this is the historic moment that naturists have long been dreaming of, when people will finally realize that there's nothing shameful about the naked human body.
TSA is not so sure. This is America, after all, not Old Europe. They're trying to develop technology that will recognize and blur certain "private" (and certainly unnamed) parts of the body -- kind of an electronic fig leaf.
Reports that there has been an upsurge in applications among young men, gay, straight, and bi, for security checker positions at airports could not be confirmed. Nor could reports be confirmed that terrorists are working frantically to develop ways of disguising explosive devices as body piercings.
As the New World Order of trading self-revelation for the privilege of flying settles into the collective consciousness, less extensive invasions of the personal privacy of air travel passengers are becoming increasingly common and increasingly accepted as routine. Checked baggage is now routinely opened and inspected, and claims against airlines for theft of articles from luggage has reached levels unheard of in pre-9/11 days. How does this affect the sex lives of air travelers? Are people choosing to leave their sex toys, videos, and other entertainments at home when they fly, lest their personal articles be inspected, questioned, fondled, and possibly retained by airport personnel? What equipment do people bring or leave home when they fly to large s/m gatherings like the annual Black Rose Leather Retreat in Washington, D.C.? What does happen to people with genital body piercings when they go through airport security?
Most air travelers seem to be putting up with the increased presence of Big Brother with a shrug and a sigh. Not so Renee Koutsouradis. Koutsouradis is suing Delta Air Lines for being, she says, publicly humiliated when she was whisked out of a Delta flight from Dallas-Forth Worth airport and questioned about a sex toy she had packed in one of her bags.
Koutsouradis's flight was about to take off when her name was called over the plane's loudspeaker. A security agent informed her that something was vibrating in one of her checked bags. She explained that it was just a vibrator, but the agent insisted that she accompany him to where her bag had been laid out on the tarmac alongside the plane. She says he then made her open the bag, take out the vibrator, and hold it up for all to see -- other passengers in the plane, baggage handlers, and security inspectors alike. She says Delta employees "began laughing hysterically" and made a number of "obnoxious and sexually harassing comments."
Koutsouradis was neither amused nor intimidated by the incident. She is suing Delta for negligence, intentional infliction of distress, and gender discrimination.
Renee Koutsouradis has an ally and fellow spirit in Tamie Dragone of Salina, Kansas, who is also refusing to accept that intrusions into personal lives are just part and parcel of everyday life in 21st century America. Dragone is suing her local Wal-Mart Supercenter for humiliating her and invading her family's privacy by turning a series of innocent photos of her 3-year-old daughter in to Salina police. The photos are of Dragone's daughter playing in a backyard swimming pool and lying around naked on the living room floor.
Dragone says she and her children were detained at the Wal-Mart store for 45 minutes while she was questioned by police officers about the photos. She was eventually allowed to leave, but not to keep her photos. No criminal charges were filed against her.
"There was nothing inappropriate about [the photos]," Dragone told the Salina Journal. "This was a child being a child. They totally invaded my privacy and made me feel like a criminal."
"This is about the most humiliating experience I've ever been through," she added. "I've shopped [at that store] on a regular basis, two or three times a week, for the last couple of years. There are employees there who know me by my face."
Dragone is seeking $75,000 in actual damages, and unspecified punitive damages as well.
Edward Law, a quadriplegic who uses an electric wheelchair, is not afraid to insist that he have the same sexual rights and opportunities as anyone else, including the right to have a lap dance in relative privacy.
Law has sued the Wildside Adult Sports Cabaret in West Palm Beach, Florida, because, he says, the areas in the club for private lap dances are not wheelchair accessible. The manager of the club argues that Law has other areas in the club where he can have a lap dance, but Law's lawyer, Anthony J. Brady, Jr., says that "forcing Mr. Law to endure a lap dance in the open would be the equivalent of requiring him to go to the bathroom in public," according to The New York Times. "It's really about freedom," Brady told the Times. "Separate but equal is not good enough."
Mark Foley, the Republican who represents West Palm Beach in Congress, is far from sympathetic to his constituent's sexual outspokenness. Foley dismissed as "silly" the idea that the Americans with Disabilities Act be used to insure that people with disabilities can have sex on an equal basis with people who are not disabled -- at least as far as lap dances are concerned. Foley did not specify exactly which sexual desires he thought were legitimate for people with disabilities to pursue.
Kathleen Faye Ball, a woman with muscular dystrophy, is also insisting that her sexual rights not be restricted to the monogamous straight and narrow. Ball is suing Club Jacaranda, a Melbourne, Australia swingers club, after she was told not to return because she uses a wheelchair. When told she would not be welcome at future club parties, Ball refused to leave and demanded a written guarantee that she could participate in future sex parties, just like all the other paying customers. She was eventually removed from the club by police.
Ball says that Club Jacaranda was "horrified" when she showed up at their swingers party in a wheelchair and that they tried to make her stay in a corner away from other people. When she said she intended to come back for more, she was told to stay away. As a result of her treatment, Ball says, she suffered a panic attack and felt "completely demoralized, ugly, asexualized, and dehumanized."
"This is a political stand for the rights of all people with disabilities," says Ball. "We have the right to access goods and services within the sex industry under the same terms and conditions as any other person. We are not freaks and we are not perpetual children. We have exactly the same feelings, urges, needs and desires as anyone else."
When 17-year-old Mary Loeffler posted a life-size painting of herself in a red dress with her left breast exposed outside the Wheeling (Illinois) High School cafeteria, school administrators told her she had to take the painting down.
Loeffler, a senior art student who will be attending Chicago Art Institute this Fall, responded by reposting the painting the next day, this time with the bare breast covered by a patch of fluorescent green construction paper. Loeffler, dressed all in black, wore a matching patch of bright green construction paper over her own left breast as well. Dozens of other students wore bright green patches over their breasts in support of Loeffler. A number of boys put bright green patches over their crotches as well.
"Censoring me was a ridiculous act," Loeffler explained to the Chicago Tribune, "so I countered with an equally ridiculous act."
Some 40 students demonstrated their support for Loeffler in front of the school, carrying signs that read "Wheeling Censors Art." Principal Dottie Sievert put up with the protests (as long as students stayed off the grass, out of the street, and didn't miss any classes), but stood by her refusal to allow the bare breast to be shown at the school. "It may be a wonderful picture," Sievert said, "but it is not appropriate for a school."
"I thought people here were more honest and accepting," Loeffler told a Tribune reporter. "Obviously they aren't."
A strip club in Western Pennsylvania is offering drive-through shows for customers who don't want to get out of their cars in pursuit of sexual entertainment. Customers drive up to a window at the back of the Climax Gentlemen's Club in Delmont, where they show proof that they're over 18 and pay $5 per minute. Then they pull forward to a second window where they watch a nude dancer for as long as they've paid for. Most customers pay for just a few minutes, though some have paid as much as $100 for a 20-minute show.
The drive-through set-up has become popular with couples, groups of women, and college students -- people who may not want to spend $15 or $20 for admission to the club, or who feel more comfortable in their cars than in the group environment of a strip club. And, of course, there's more privacy in a car than in a club -- an advantage to couples and singles alike.
[This column was originally published in Spectator Magazine (see www.spectator.net). Three books by David Steinberg -- "Photo Sex," "Erotic by Nature: A Celebration of Life, of Love, and of Our Wonderful Bodies," and "The Erotic Impulse: Honoring the Sensual Self," are available from David by mail order at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you would like to receive Comes Naturally columns, and other writing by David Steinberg, regularly via email, send your name and email address to David at email@example.com. Columns are sent as blind carbon copies, meaning that no one will have access to your name or email address.]
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