What Can You Say In America?
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.
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.
David Wraith is a writer, filmmaker and activist. His website is davidwraith.com