What Can You Say In America?

This post is about freedom of speech in America, so I went with a naked woman and an American flag. Because, I can.

by David Wraith

What do I have in common with Tristan Taormino – Wait! Stop listing things. You didn’t let me finish. What do I have in common with Tristan Taormino and Bristol Palin? Ah ha! That’s a tougher question. I’ll give you a hint. The answer has nothing to do with anal sex. At least, I don’t think so, but then, how much do I really know about Bristol Palin? The correct answer is: we were all invited and subsequently uninvited to talk about sex on college campuses.

Here’s another one. What do SEX+STL co-founder Kendra Holliday and a conservative Christian named Tommy have in common? Aside from both living in St. Louis, they were both fired from their jobs for things they said on Twitter. In Kendra’s case it was for making sex positive comments, in Tommy’s case, it was for sex negative comments.

(Editor’s Note: At his request, Tommy’s last name and Twitter screen name have been deleted.)

I assume if you follow this blog, you are familiar with Kendra’s situation (if not, you can read about it here). I also assume that you are not familiar with Tommy. Full disclosure, I played a minor role in his getting fired from his job.

Tommy was an employee of the hotel that hosted last year’s Spanksgiving, a BDSM convention put on by Stl3, the same organization responsible for Beat Me in St. Louis. Tommy tweeted, “The group stl3 is at the hotel this weekend. They have sex and beat each other.” And he hash tagged it: “#spanksgiving #disgusting #nasty #fatties.” I have to admit, of all the things he said, I took the most offense at “fatties,” as if the disgusting, nastiness of BDSM would be more palatable if it were all being done by thin people. I retweeted his post and it caught the eyes of Stl3 who took it to the hotel’s management. According to Tommy’s twitter stream, he was sent on leave without pay and subsequently fired. His tweets are now protected. For the record, it was never my intention to get anybody fired.

What many of these cases have in common is that they reside at the intersection of morality and commerce. Do I think that a major hotel fired an employee because they are so committed to open and honest sexuality and positive body image? No. I think that Stl3 represented a significant amount of revenue and the hotel was willing to fire and employee to protect it. Do I think that the decision to fire Kendra was purely motivated by fear that association with her would cost her employers financially? No more that I buy the excuse provided by Oregon State University that they refused to fund a visit by Tristan Taormino because paying a pornographer to speak was a poor use of tax payer dollars. At the intersection of morality and commerce we impose our morals on financial decisions and use finances to justify moral decisions. We fear the financial consequences of not playing by the rules of a sex negative culture.

So, I say all this to say what? Freedom of speech is not freedom from consequences? Have I just spilled 500 plus words to say was Ice-T said in eight: Freedom of Speech, Just Watch What You Say.

You tell 'em, Ice.

I have made a commitment to be open and honest about sex in general and my sex life specifically. To talk about the things that others can’t in order to make it easier for them. Yet with every blog post, status update and tweet, I worry. Will the sex positive culture I’m trying to help create pay dividends by the next time I’m looking for a job? Or will the things I put out there will come back to haunt me. Only time will tell, but I’m willing to take that risk… for you. You’re welcome.

13 Responses to “What Can You Say In America?

  • This post rocked my world, David. And not because I was in it. Seriously, this needs to be read on NPR. Spoken word. Podcast.

  • Ick. As distasteful as Mr Peterson’s comments were, the fact that STl3 took it to the hotel management and he got fired seems hypocritical, unhelpful and possibly illegal (http://finance.yahoo.com/news/Feds-settle-case-of-woman-apf-2327309167.html?x=0&.v=4)

    Instead of educating and changing this man’s narrow mind, it’s almost certainly made him more polarized and fired up against kinksters. I also think it’s very shaky ground to hail one kind of freedom of speech (i.e. Kendra’s) and yet condemn another person’s (Peterson’s) because surely we’re ALL entitled to our own opinion. I found Peterson’s comments deeply offensive, but I have not seen eye-to-eye with many of Kendra’s tweets, one of which I found body-negative and somewhat personally offensive. So I’m a little worried about the double standard.

    I really don’t think any organization can hail themselves as postive – ‘sex postive’ or otherwise – if their first recall when somebody says something they disagree with is to use their financial clout to get that person fired. Shameful.

    I realize that you certainly didn’t intend anybody to get fired when you retweeted what that employee wrote; but I do think it reflects badly on STl3 because it’s apparent they only believe in a person’s freedom of expression as long as they agree with it.

  • I agree with the spirit of the post, and would hasten to add this.

    What this comes down to, is private property and the right to be free of any coercion using that property as the owner sees fit. Private property starts “with our body”, and if we believe in the principal of non-aggression, no trespass, then it matters not what one says as long as it keeps with that principal. Morality to me, seems to be an externalization of internal principles. Enforcing morality is coercion.

    Unfortunately, the concept of the “public good”, has obliterated this idea.

    Jay

  • Peel their caps back!!

  • @Roland

    I followed the link you provided– I’d like to point out that there are legal differences between the incident described in this post and the incident linked that make for a poor comparison.

    The court reached the decision they did because the company’s policy barring discussion of the company by employees online, or making disparaging remarks about management, violated “longstanding legal protections that allow workers to discuss wages, hours and working conditions with co-workers…”

    There is a legal line between criticizing management and making disparaging remarks about customers. I don’t think there’s much precedent for allowing the latter, but I don’t have a wide knowledge base, so it’s possible. Missouri is an “at will” employment state, so an employer has the prerogative to cut anyone who’s harming their business loose at any time. I’m not sure if your sentence was implying this, as the phrasing is a little vague, but it’s not at all illegal for STL3 to have brought the information to the hotel management.

  • Unlegion – I don’t disagree. But just because STL3 COULD use the information to get somebody fired, it doesn’t mean they SHOULD.

    I wrote about it more extensively on my own blog, if anybody’s interested. Not to whore myself out on SEX+STL, so apoogies David, but I don’t want to rehash it all.

    http://champagneandbenzedrine.blogspot.com/2011/02/stupid-twitterers-beware-wrarth-of-stl3.html

  • My ‘scene’ name is Jsin. I am the elected Chairperson of the Management Committee of STL3 as well as the Chairperson of STL3 Special Events.  Upon reading the original article and the subsequent responses, I was saddened because it clearly indicates that there is little regard for ascertaining the facts prior to publishing an article and those in our community that would vilify a group or individual based upon a story that lacks facts.
     
    Therefore, I called David on the phone today to ask him why he did not contact me prior to publishing this article. His answer surprised me for someone that I thought to be fair and unbiased. His response was, “I did not speak to anyone at all about this”.  In fact, David informed me that all attempts to obtain a statement from the individual that published the offending twitters were denied.  Therefore, neither ‘side’ was contacted to verify the accuracy of this ‘story’.  This clearly demonstrates how a single individual or an entire organization can so easily be accused or condemned based upon third party hearsay, innuendo, gossip and rumors.
     
    After further conversation, David asked me about the facts. I explained that I was the primary contact person for hotel management and staff where the event took place. As such, I was responsible for any issues regarding the event as it pertained to event attendees and the hotel property, guest and employees. Therefore, David asked me to post a response to this blog article and provide readers with the facts of what occurred on the evening in question.
     
    As David mentioned, it was his own twitter repost that brought the twitters to my attention on the evening of the event back in mid-November. David also stated that he felt somewhat responsible for Twit’s dismissal of employment from the hotel. However, that is not the case.
     
    To protect the privacy of the offending individual, I shall henceforth refer to him as “Twit”

    Fact 1: Twit was not an employee of the hotel. He was a contracted valet by the city to park hotel guest cars in the city owned parking garage nearby.
     
    Fact 2: Once alerted to the tweets, I went directly to the hotel desk manager and informed them. At that point, nobody knew who was responsible or if the individual was even in the hotel. I returned to the event to resume my duties and left the matter in the hands of very competent hotel management.
     
    Fact 3: Hotel management searched twitter and eventually discovered that the individual was “Twit”. They located Twit and instructed him to stop tweeting about the event in the hotel.
     
    Fact 4: I was contacted by hotel management and informed that they located the individual responsible for the tweets and instructed him to stop.  I was also told that they have had other issues with Twit in the past.
     
    Fact 5: As a result of the public tweets, several intoxicated individuals from the local area came to the hotel and caused a disturbance in the hotel lobby and an embarrassment to the hotel. Security recorded one that screamed, “We want to go upstairs and fuck men”. Another was reported to scream, “We want to go beat people, too”.  Another disturbance was reported on the floor where the event was held. They all had to be physically escorted out of the building by hotel security.
     
    Fact 6: Sometime after hotel management had spoken with Twit, a contracted valet, it was discovered that he posted additional tweets about the event.  At this time, hotel management requested that he leave hotel premises. He was notified by his actual employer (the valet company) that he would be reassigned.
     
    Fact 7: At no time did I, or any member of STL3 or any attendee of the event request or suggest that any action be taken against Twit – other than to ask him to stop tweeting about our private event in the hotel. I was not even made aware of Twit’s identity until after he was asked to leave by the hotel management.
     
    Fact 8: I was later notified that Twit was terminated by his employer – the valet contracting company after he had refused to stop his twittering about our private event when told to do so by his employer as well.
     
    STL3, its members and everyone that attends our private events expect; and are entitled to; a certain degree of privacy.  In fact, every guest of a hotel is entitled to privacy. Nonetheless, nobody sought to have Twit “fired from his position just weeks before Christmas”.  Twit’s own self indulgent religious rantings regarding our chosen private activities were his own undoing. So was his decision to blatantly disobey his own employer.
     
    STL3 is a proud organization with hundreds of members in the local community. STL3 has been sponsoring events for fifteen years. The event referenced in this article was attended by several hundred people. Therefore, I strongly urge anyone when blogging to make a better attempt to contact all the parties actually involved in any incident before publishing any article about it.  
     
    I also urge readers to recognize and question any story or article that is obviously based upon third party hearsay. Competent readers should expect and insist that information be substantiated and verified prior to vilifying the accused.
     
    Jsin
    Chairman STL3
    Event Chairman STL3

  • I want to thank everyone who has taken the time to respond to this post. I will not address the responses directly, but let the original post (which I stand by) speak for itself.

    I take full responsibility for anything I write and publish on this blog. I do not, however, take responsibility for the opinions of other expressed in the comments section or on other blogs in response to my writing.

    If anyone finds any factual errors in my original post, I welcome them to point them out either publicly or privately, and I will correct them for the record.

  • In view of the sentiments in the comments, I can see why Jsin felt he had to speak up about STL3′s role in Twit’s firing. (Good nickname, btw.)

    It seems clear to me, though, that David’s original account did not say that STL3 had demanded his firing. In fact, his point did not hinge on *who* had demanded that Twit be fired.

    If I read him correctly, David is saying simply that we can speak freely but we cannot speak free-of-consequences. Even those who are sex-negative cannot.

    In fact, Jsin’s description of Twit’s actions — and the consequences suffered by the hotel, such as those local drunks in their lobby — offers a very good addition to David’s summary of the *business* reasons why the hotel’s management would want the sex-negative Twit off their property.

    So I think that David’s basic point — be free if you wish, but be aware of consequences — remains.

    And I’m glad that Jsin was able to set the record straight on the mistakes that some of the commenters made when they read details of that anecdote.

  • David…. very intriguing insight.

    Therefore, neither ‘side’ was contacted to verify the accuracy of this ‘story’. This clearly demonstrates how a single individual or an entire organization can so easily be accused or condemned based upon third party hearsay, innuendo, gossip and rumors.

    But unfortunately, all have been finding out from a retail leather store in south county to a retail store on South grand, to a Munch across the river, and many long time friends, and new acquaintances.
    perhaps this is what is written and said by what I feel is a honest and respected(byMe) individual that convinced Myself and mine to attend a spectacular event. With the mention of new things and changes.
    Alas maybe the STL3 members failed to get that memo.
    Thank you Jsin for pointing that out to your members again here.

    Sincerely,
    SatansMaster
    The Clan of the Barbarian
    The Facility

  • I was originally not going to reply to this post, but after comments have been made I’ve felt the need to correct things being said.

    1. Not long after the initial tweet was posted, it was deleted from twitter. It probably was not even up for more than 4 or 5 hours.

    2. I was not contacted by anyone from the hotel or parking company until the following day, which was a Saturday. I was out of state at the time.

    3. There were no previous issues with me by my employer. I was on the best shift, given more hours than anyone, always called first for over time, and was one of only two people to recently be given a pay raise. So any comments about my performance in a negative way are completely false.

    4. “Fact 5″ takes liberties, insinuating that my single tweet, that never gave location, stirred up public reaction to a comment that had since been deleted. This is the first time I have even heard anything about that sort of thing even happening. For the record there were other tweets made, not by myself, about the event that weekend.

    5. No additional tweets were made about the event by myself. To say that I did was complete fabrication. Also My twitter immediately went on private.

    6. I was never asked to “leave the premises” as I stated before I was not even in the state when the issue arose.

    7. “Fact 8″ is complete fabrication. This was not true at all.

    8. Nothing religious was brought up on the initial tweet.

    9. Before my tweet, members of the group had made negative religious rants to me while I was assisting them before I left that weekend. Even though I was deeply offended I did not reply to their statements.

    JSin, for someone who wants to get the facts right, you got a lot of facts wrong.

  • Yes, nice answer but again, two sides to every story. I was there also.

    Hope you have a great life

    Jsin

  • Now that is more like it.