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For Anyone That Has Ever Dealt With Censorship

October 7, 2009

I ordered a copy of Betty Dodson’s Sex for One: The Joy of Selfloving on Ebay the other day, because I couldn’t find ONE copy of it in the entire city of Montreal. I received it in my mailbox yesterday, and read the first few chapters before going to bed last night. I will probably be talking about this book and about Betty Dodson in the next few weeks, but today I just wanted to share an excerpt with you from the Foreword of the second edition,  which was published in 1995. 

Being a public spokesperson for masturbation wasn’t always an erotic bowl of cherries. Aware of treading on dangerous ground, I was always mindful of the defenders of the status quo. Most of the attacks on me were in the form of name-calling that was meant to degrade me personally or to demean my words and art. The first label hurled at me was “pornographer.” I was angry and hurt. How could anyone find my beautiful classical nudes pornographic? But I soon learned that the name-calling was at the heart of censorship. The real issue at stake was freedom to think, freedom to fantasize, freedom to imagine the unimaginable – in short, the freedom to be creative. My healing began when I stopped defending myself and embraced the label. “Yes, I’m a feminist pornographer who believes in artistic freedom.” Next came the pejorative hiss, “Lesbian!” which was supposed to intimidate me back into passive female conformity. “Yes, I’m a lesbian who loves both women and men.” When the ultimate degradation of “Whore!” was hurled at me, I welcomed that label, too. “Yes, I’m a whore, a sacred prostitute, an ancient temple priestess who serves the goddess of love and abundance.” Taking on the labels allowed me to claim my personal power, and to stand my ground.  

Reclaiming hateful words has long since been a means to reclaim the power that the word was intended to destroy in the first place, and I’m not necessarily advocating that as a means to toughen yourself up against any kind of personal attack. That tends to be a touchy subject that lends itself to individual preference or at least a decision that should stem from the person who was being attacked in the first place, but I do think there is something to be said about reexamining the words that are thrown your way in an insulting manner. A word that is meant to hurt you is often an insult only to the person who is trying to censor you.

Let’s look at the words that were used to censor Betty Dobson:

  • Pornographer: one who produces pornography 
  • Pornography: the depiction of erotic behavior intended to cause sexual excitement  
  • Lesbian: a woman who is a homosexual 
  • Whore: a prostitute, a promiscuous woman 

If you discount the pejorative connotations that our society has imparted on these words, there is nothing inherently insulting about them. Pornography is a word often used to debase any form of sexual representation, but eroticism and sexual excitement are at the very base of any sexual activity and who is going to start debating the merits of sex? The only way in which being called a lesbian is hurtful is if the person saying it is full of hate, and the hurt that you feel is not because of what it means to be queer, but because the word is used as a weapon. Whore is actually the only word here that is still problematic, because even it’s definition has negative connotations. Personally, I don’t have any moral objection to prostitution, so that aspect doesn’t really bother me (I mean besides the fact that prostitutes are treated like shit in our society but that’s really a discussion for another time), but what it comes down to is trying to demean women by constantly questioning and repressing their sexuality and frankly there’s no need to give them the f-ing pleasure. 

Look, I’m not naive, I ‘m aware that that is a simple deconstruction and that words carry with them crazy amounts of baggage, but what I’m talking about here is a personal kind of protection against hate and Betty Dodson is a glowing example of what it means to stand your ground, in the face of oppression,  with peace and love in mind. 

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