Before I report on “Kinsey”, first things first: two of my blog posts have been listed in the most recent Feminist Carnival of Sexual Freedom and Autonomy. This Carnival was hosted by Sugarbutch Chronicles — check it out for at least a day’s worth of awesome sex-positive reading!
Now, let’s get down to brass tacks ….
The Sex+++ documentary film series premiere was last night! We showed the documentary “Kinsey” (2005), courtesy of The American Experience. I was completely thrilled by how well it went. We were reduced to standing room only during the film, and about 30 people stuck around for the discussion. Awesome!
Firstly, I am so lucky to be working with such great people. Sponsors Early to Bed, Women and Children First and Jane Addams Hull-House Museum all deserve yet another thank-you. Also, radical arts educator Lisa has been the best partner I could have imagined in this endeavor — and our unexpected amazing volunteer, Kim, deserves a big round of applause for all her help!
Secondly, I am so pleased that we were able to screen such a great documentary! Alfred Kinsey was a remarkable figure, and I felt both moved and inspired. I’ve read a lot of reviews that said that the documentary gave a nuanced portrait of Kinsey’s life — one that described his accomplishments fairly and also didn’t miss his flaws — and having seen the film, I totally agree.
And thirdly, the discussion was great. It was a bit loose, and we skipped around a lot of generally sex-positive topics without delving too deeply — I thought it was just what we needed to set the tone for the series. I was happy to talk with people I knew personally, as well as people I’ve previously encountered only through the blogosphere (Aspasia, I’m looking at you), but there were so many people I’ve never met — and that’s so cool!
There were a lot of BDSMers in attendance, at least at the discussion. It wasn’t all kinksters by any means, but there were a lot of us, and I worry that the discussion slanted a bit towards BDSM as a result. This partly has to do with my own resources — as someone who is involved in the BDSM community, I obviously have a better idea of how to promote it there than elsewhere. Additionally, members of the BDSM scene are more likely to know me personally and are therefore more likely to attend at my invitation.
I really did my best to contact non-BDSM people; for instance, I called every Unitarian church, gender studies professor, and AIDS nonprofit I could find in Chicago, and I invited them all. I sought out women’s centers and free speech groups. I had coffee with Serpent of the Sex Workers Outreach Project, and got her advice on contacting sex workers. I also contacted a number of LGBTQ organizations, polyamory folks, swingers, and one furry listhost. And we posted fliers advertising the series all over Chicago. I will continue to try reaching out to everyone — I sincerely hope that the next groups are more diverse, and I ask that everyone invite all their friends, no matter how they might identify sexually! (They’re even welcome if they’re :gasp: straight, monogamous, vanilla, and “mainstream”. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — there ain’t nothing wrong with vanilla, it’s delicious!)
There were some great critiques of the documentary that came up in the discussion. My favorite was this: this documentary about Alfred Kinsey himself treated alternative sexuality in some pretty weird ways. Why is this film, of all films, still marginalizing some kinds of sex?
I introduced this subject by mentioning how the film described masochism (as a BDSMer, this was the first issue to leap out at me). The film implied that Kinsey’s masochistic experiences were fueled largely by depression, an idea that is at best problematic and at worst outright wrong. (If you’re interested in reading something by my favorite blogger ever, I recommend Trinity’s post on BDSM and self-harm.) The film also used an extremely harsh image of a straight razor during the voice-over describing Kinsey’s masochistic experiences. Yes, there are tons of people in the BDSM scene who play with razors, and that’s fine — but I personally would not choose a scary, gleaming, sterile razor to represent BDSM to a wide audience.
After I pointed that out, there were a couple of smart comments about the way the film dealt with other sexualities. One woman noted that the movie didn’t deal very well with consensual non-monogamy. Kinsey had a non-monogamous relationship with his wife, and although there was nothing overt, I think the documentary still managed to imply that there was something unequal and unhealthy about the couple’s relationship without going into it very deeply. On the bright side, though, Kinsey’s love for his wife — and her love for him — were both strongly emphasized.
Although the film was pretty good about homosexuality, there were a few weird moments nonetheless. This may partly be because of Kinsey’s own ideas about that, though. For instance, Kinsey was remembered as saying in his early sexuality lectures that homosexual women were “like men”. Obviously, not all gay women are like men. It’s unclear whether Kinsey continued to believe this throughout his life. It’s also unclear whether the documentary makers believed it.
Another topic I’m glad we covered in the discussion group was how issues of race and feminism, especially sex-positive feminism, intersect. The sex-positive movement is undeniably dominated by whites; I think it’s important to acknowledge that, and to talk about ways we can try to deal with it. I’ve made a definite effort to obtain films that incorporate race. Since the film list is not 100% finalized, I can’t guarantee how many of those documentaries we’ll actually screen, but here’s hoping! “The Aggressives”, for instance, has been confirmed — it’s a 2005 movie about a particular idea of butch lesbianism, and I understand that all the women covered in the film are women of color. (As a side note, I’ve also tried to incorporate other groups you wouldn’t “normally” find in the sex-positive movement. For instance, I’m hoping that we’ll be able to screen “Equality U”, which is about gay Christians and their activism at Christian colleges.)
For those who want to read more about sex-positivism and race, I recommend this blog post by Mighty Quare Dewd (it’s long, and complicated, and some points take a while to be made — but it deals with a lot of issues and it’s worth the effort). Thanks for the reference to Amber Rhea’s Sex-Positive Reference List.
There’s a lot more I could say, but let’s cut me off here for now. I’d love to hear from other attendees — feel free to leave a comment on this post or email me!
Our February 10th documentary will be Daryl Wein’s “Sex Positive”! Starting in the 1970s, “Sex Positive” “unflinchingly tracks the progress of gay activist Richard Berkowitz as he went from cocky S&M hustler, to angry AIDS activist, to broken but proud harbinger of a message too volatile, scary and true to be heard” (Frameline). The screening is courtesy of Regent Releasing. See you there!