by John Dentinger


I criticized the notion that one has the right to prevent private discrimination, while noting "l happen to be a member of a group which still suffers not only discrimination, but physical assault and murder for no reason other than membership in this group. I happen to be gay.... I know that, as a member of a hated minority, I would be a fool to take a match to the First Amendment. I look at the gay periodical in England which was successfully prosecuted under an archaic blasphemy law. I have no doubt that, in a regime of book burning, this gay publication" -- here I handed them copies of it -- "which has published three of my political opinion pieces, would be the next to feel the flames."

"And suppose the Supreme Court does pass its benediction on this outrage [the ordinance], as it has on many before it. Then it is the First Amendment which will have been violated. It is Liberty which will have been raped. And, ladies and gentlemen, the pretense that Liberty enjoys being raped, is the greatest obscenity of all."

* * *

While the city's hearings continued, our county extortion dollars were at work as well. The Los Angeles County Commission on the Status of Women discussed the ordinance, took testimony from aspiring book burners, and proposed an ordinance which just happened to be the Dworkin-MacKinnon model ordinance, with "County of Los Angeles" substituted for "[PLACE]". All this received minimal publicity.

I called the office of the County Board of Supervisors several times to find out when the county hearings would be held, and had asked the clerk to notify me -- which seemed only fair, since the county-paid Women's Commission would see to it that proponents were informed well in advance. On February 25, 1985, strictly by chance, I discovered that the supervisors would hold a hearing on the matter the next morning. I called down and said that I would like to speak. How long could I speak? Maybe five minutes, maybe longer. It was not easy both to prepare a speech (of indefinite length) and at the same time to find other speakers who could take the morning off work. Wendy McElroy, an individualist-feminist scholar, joined me. I wore a three-piece suit, and Wendy wore her "feminist drag": jeans and a sweater.

Before the meeting began, my hand was shaken by a gregarious older man who seemed to be high on Est or Toastmasters or drugs. It developed that he was a communist. Not just any old communist, but one who -- according to him -- had been offered the position of mayor of Los Angeles. He had turned it down, evidently having bigger fish to fry. Eventually I got rid of him, but it occurred to me that the supervisors did not have that option. They were stuck with this gentleman, and others like him. It was a marriage made in heaven. Upon election, supervisors acceded to enormous power in one of the most important counties in the country, but they had to pay the price, however small, of putting up with testimony at public hearings.

And why not? Those testifying are not likely to change a politician's mind, such as it is. The hearings are a charade, a circus. Those who pay the ringmasters' salaries are given access to the circus. The board of supervisors meeting began with a pledge of allegiance to the flag, and with a minister pronouncing a benediction upon government.

When the anti-pornography ordinance came up on the agenda, ceiling floodlights came on, news cameramen stirred themselves and turned on their lights and cameras.

The action began with several proponents from the County Commission on Women. One declared, in boiler-plate I was to hear again and again on this subject, "This is not an issue of the often-abused First Amendment; it is a recognition of the rarely-used 14th Amendment, which guarantees civil rights to all citizens."

Catharine MacKinnon was there to tout her ordinance. It happened that UCLA Law school had, for reasons surpassing understanding, hired her as a visiting professor. Thus she was in Los Angeles, the heart of enemy territory. If she could get her ordinance pushed through in Sophisticated City, in Media Heaven, there would be no stopping her.

One of the supervisors asked MacKinnon how her ordinance differed from the Indianapolis one which had been stricken as unconstitutional. Her response was characteristically evasive. She said it differed greatly. [Actually, the big difference was that the prior ordinance allowed a woman to file a complaint with a commission which would investigate and perhaps sue; the proposed one would allow a woman to sue directly, a matter which could have no bearing on the constitutionality of the ordinance. MacKinnon also managed to avoid using the pronoun "she" in reference to the judge who had stricken down her feminist baby as unconstitutional.]

The real media attractions, however, were The Feminist Attorney and The Guilt-Ridden Director. The Feminist Attorney, Gloria Allred sat before the board next to some young blond woman, who never uttered a word, but rather sat there as an ideological Charlie McCarthy to Allred's Edgar Bergen. The young woman, according to Allred, was a "victim of pornography," who was "afraid to speak" or even identify herself, but whose tongue would be miraculously unbound by the passage of this ordinance. She also delivered much of the same boilerplate as in her L.A. Times op-ed piece, speaking for well over ten minutes.

The Guilt-Ridden Director Peter Bogdanovich rambled for about five minutes, saying nothing except that Dorothy Stratten's death was caused by pornography.

There were only two speakers against the ordinance: Wendy and myself.

Wendy stressed the issue of consent. "Magazines such as Penthouse, which has been banned from crossing the Canadian border because its contents were judged debasing to women, deal with their models entirely through contracts, fees, and release forms. The Penthouse photographer does not carry a camera in one hand and a gun in the other.... 'A woman's body, a woman's right' applies not only to the abortion issue which made it popular, but to any peaceful activity a woman chooses to engage in....

" Feminists claim that women who pose for pornography or who sell or consume it are coerced into doing so ... by being victims of cultural attitudes which so degrade women that they are left with no choice but to buckle under to the demands of society and/or men.... Presumably feminists wish us to believe that their arguments are based on facts and reason. Somehow they have risen above the culture in which they were raised and they have seen the truth.

"In the l9th century, women fought and fought hard to become legally the equal of men: to own land, to make binding contracts, and to have legal control of their own bodies." But under the proposed ordinance, a woman "is granted the protection of no longer being taken seriously when she signs a contract."

As to "studies" linking pornography and rape, she noted, "Thelma McCormack was commissioned by the Canadian government to study pornography's link with rape and her research did not `support any connection whatever between pornography and sexual aggression.' Her report, Making Sense of Pornography, was dis- missed and quickly followed up by another one conducted by a man who established a clear link."

When Wendy was finished, there was only one question, from right-wing religiot Mike Antonovich: "Who's paying you?" The thought that some people act on principle had apparently never crossed his mind. Wendy explained that she had no connection with the pornography business, and that the only remuneration she had seen was when the ACLU paid her plane fare to Madison, Wisconsin, for a debate on the subject.

I presented many of the same arguments which I had given to the City Council committee -- including the reference to my being gay, a nice point to rub in to Supervisors Hahn and Antonovich, who are religious bigots and who were the only two on the five man board who were pushing the ordinance.

I held up for their delectation "the July, 1980 issue of Hustler, published by Larry Flynt and his wife, Althea. As an aside, I note that Althea's personal lawyer is Gloria Allred. As noted on the cover, this issue contains an interview with then Libertarian presidential candidate Ed Clark, as did a roughly contemporaneous issue of Penthouse. To help suppress Hustler, Penthouse, or Playboy, is to help squelch political ideas....

Then I quoted from a passage from a popular novel, which clearly violated the proposed ordinance: "'[S)he knew ... that the triumph was his ... that her defiance was submission, that the purpose of all her violent strength was only to make his victory the greater -- he was holding her body against his, as if stressing his wish to let her know that she was now only a tool for the satisfaction of his desire -- and his victory, she knew, was her wish to let him reduce her to that.' "

This got their attention. I continued:

"The book is Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand. It is one of the most scathing indictments ever penned against insolent, tyranni cal government squelching real rights in the name of pseudo rights. Once again, suppressing `pornography' suppresses political speech.

"Economist Thomas Sowell, who happens to be black, notes: `Civil rights are not protected ... by the growing practice of calling every issue raised by `spokesmen' for minority, female, elderly, or other groups, `civil rights' issues. The right to vote is a civil right. The right to win is not. Everything desirable is not a civil right....'

"The enshrining of the pseudo-right of anti-discrimination has, by a moral Gresham's law, driven out genuine rights. Equality before the law has been jettisoned by `civil rights' advocates in favor of equality of condition, achieved by special privileges -- for women, for blacks, for the elderly ... for groups. This although discrimination is based on groupthink.

"lf some erotic materials inspire in some men ideas repugnant to some women, then the law should allow the latter group the `civil right' to control all would-be readers' minds via censorship.

" `Civil rights' crusaders have not been willing to do the hard work involved in social change, the persuasion and the acquiring of economically meaningful skills and attitudes which Prof. Sowell recommends. Instead they have indulged themselves with the short-circuit of government coercion. They have put a penny in the moral fusebox and some of them are now astounded that the resulting fire is burning books.

"Civil libertarians have finally cornered themselves into a choice between group rights and the First Amendment. The head of the Southern California ACLU still wants it both ways. She testified, `if I thought there was any way to craft an ordinance to prohibit ... only that kind of speech, I would support it.'

"Effecting social change is never easy. It is facilitated not by undermining the free speech which makes peaceful change possible, but rather by recognizing the nature of rights. It is not the group which thinks or speaks or needs the First Amendment. It is the individual.

"l hope this inspires respect for the individual and rejection of censorship, but then, I cannot cause you to change your mind. The choice, gentle people, is yours."

There were no questions.

Hahn and Antonovich urged immediate passage of the ordinance, but the other three supervisors voted to send it to county counsel for a legal opinion. There would be another public hearing before final action was taken.

The press coverage was revealing -- less of the news itself than of the mores of journalism and the attitudes of the news outlets in question. The L.A. Times, which is basically the voice of the Los Angeles power structure and hence very statist quo oriented, ran an article called "County to Explore Adoption of Tough Pornography Law." The Herald-Examiner's article was headed, "County's lawyers to review porn law." In the Times' fifteen-inch story, one had to read two-thirds of the way through to find a reference to the Constitution. The Herald's subhead was, "Constitutionality is questioned."

In the Times, opposition was mentioned only in the last paragraph. "But the board also heard from Libertarian Party activist Wendy McElroy...." The implication is that she was there alone, and only as some sort of ideologue. (Wendy was not then or ever a member of the Libertarian Party. Indeed, she was and is an outspoken critic of that institution.) The Herald correctly described Wendy as a "feminist author," and quoted her: "As a victim of rape ... which such ordinances are meant to curtail or prevent, I won't use the usual arguments. Instead I want to focus on the fundamental issue -- the right of women to pose for, to sell, and to consume pornography." The Times used much flatter, more transitional sentences in quoting Wendy: she "said the ordinance infringes on the rights of women to control their own bodies. She also said it suggests that women `need to be protected from the consequences of their own actions.... This is not a step forward for women.' " The Times could have used a more stirring quote, since Wendy and I had handed out to reporters dozens of copies of our speeches.

Readers of the Times article probably inferred that the ACLU had actually had a representative there; "Shortly after the vote, the legal director of the Los Angeles chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union vowed to file a lawsuit challenging the ordinance if it is adopted." Although Hoffman said that the reporter had interviewed him for an hour, none of his ideas or arguments appeared, just the obligatory, "We're going to sue."

The Los Angeles Daily Journal, a paper with a much smaller circulation (and primarily read by lawyers) was fairer and more accurate than either of the larger papers, going so far as to note that two people, both of them writers, had spoken against the ordinance.

Television coverage was pretty bad. The local ABC affiliate began the segment with a background frame saying, "CHILD PORNOGRAPHY," which was inaccurate. They focussed on Allred and Bogdanovich; during the time they showed Wendy speaking, their announcer talked over what she was saying. Clearly intellectual sophistication was not the proper ammo for a wide-bore medium like this. We would have to be more telegenic in the future.

Friday of that week, the Herald-Examiner ran my op-ed piece on the subject, paired with a pro-ordinance piece by Betty Rosenstein, the immediate past president of the Los Angeles County Commission for Women. Italics and exclamation points riddled her piece like a shower of pepper on a slice of old baloney:

"Pornography is sex discrimination!... Sexual abuse in the home, discrimination at school, harassment on the streets, pay inequities at work, will never be eliminated until pornography is controlled, for pornography itself is a source of these problems!... The [ordinance] is not a declaration of censorship; it is a declaration of civil rights!" [Italics original.)


Some weeks later, I went with my lover, Gary Meade, to a meeting of Lawyers for Human Rights, a gay lawyers' group which was to be addressed by Catharine MacKinnon. We ran into Dr. Betty Brooks, a leader of the Feminist Anti-Censorship Taskforce (FACT) of Los Angeles. A band of right-wing religiots had driven Dr. Brooks out of a teaching position at California State University at Long Beach when it was claimed that her woman's studies course teaching materials were "pornographic."

Our speaker arrived as the three of us were talking. Catharine MacKinnon looked the total inverse of the porcine Andrea Dworkin: her hair pulled severely back from her forehead; her body almost anorexically thin, as if the sensuality even of food would light up the "tilt" signs; her outfit severe, a sort of "schoolmarm's dress for success" look. Since Betty Brooks knew her, the four of us sat down for dinner together. MacKinnon sat between Dr. Brooks and me. So that she would know she was having dinner with the devil, as it were, I reminded her that she had seen me before, at the county hearings, where she had sat with Gloria Allred during my testimony, whilst I was commenting on Althea Flynt's selection of attorneys.

Just as a conversational opener, I commented that if she were looking for a zingy legal issue, how about educational malpractice? Certainly there were precedents to be made there. She did not warm to the subject. Perhaps she supposed it might apply to professors of constitutional law whose ordinances ran afoul of the First Amendment -- though heaven knows why she might read that into my innocent comment.

So, ineluctably, we wound up discussing what she cannot seem to get off her mind: pornography. I told her that a great deal of gay male pornography depicted rape, but that real-life gay male rape was apparently non-existent. Why no connection? She said she thought there was a great deal of gay male rape. It was just unreported.

I also said that the claim of Linda Marciano (alias Linda Lovelace) to have been coerced into making the movie "Deep Throat," was -- like Stacy Keach's conversion to born-again anti-drug use after his cocaine bust -- simply a little too self-interested to be automatically credible. MacKinnon disagreed.

Betty Brooks, as a joke, suggested to MacKinnon that instead of all these debates, maybe they should just settle the issue by some sort of athletic competition. Gary couldn't resist suggesting, "How about female mud wrestling?" MacKinnon exchanged her customary public "We are not amused" face for her special occasion, industrial lemon-squeezer, "We are really not amused" face. There is something irresistibly funny about telling jokes to the humor-blind, the true punch line being the elicitation of the unknowingly helpless display, like a descented skunk lifting its tail, of the "We are not amused" face. MacKinnon even proceeded pedantically inform us that "Female mud wrestling is not a sport, but a show put on for the sexual gratification of men."

She noted that she could tell just what sort of pornography a man reads just by the way he related to her. "Oh?" I said, "l subscribe to Playboy." It only worked for heterosexual men, she said. Betty Brooks whispered to MacKinnon that perhaps she'd better not relate that theory to the group at large.

MacKinnon had no explanation of why -- given the awesome, zombifying powers of pornography -- my monthly perusal of feminine pulchritude did not seduce me into heterosexuality, nor of why homosexual pornography did not seem to win any converts, either.

As MacKinnon rose from the table, she told me, "I'm not looking for a zingy legal issue." Others at the table were amazed at the way my innocent comment had splintered under her skin, festering through the whole meal, incubating this snappy come-back. Betty Brooks sort of apologized for her, saying, "She doesn't have much of a sense of humor about this." We had noticed.

As MacKinnon began to address the group of lawyers and their guests, I was reminded of a line from a Tennessee Williams play: "There's a powerful odor of mendacity in here." "Our law is a civil law," she said. "It does not allow the police to go grab anything." But who enforces injunctions? The tooth fairy?

Gay liberation, she said, affirms male dominance, by "affirming that men get to fuck anything they want: animal, vegetable, mineral, old, young, male, or female." Even the actions of gay women affirm the male-dominant notion "that sexual access to women shall be available." There it is: no sex of any kind is Politically Correct.

The strong odor of this was that she hated gay men because they, by rejecting women as sex objects, allowed her no moral hook on which to hang a guilt trip, and forced her into the embarrassment of even more tortured reasoning than usual. The audience, fairly polite up to this point, began expressing incredulity. "Bullshit," said a man at a nearby table.

She said that gay men, too, were dragooned into pornography. One of them, she claimed, "called us, said, 'I'm being victimized, I'm being tortured, I'm being abused to make this pornography, by men, and this is my only five minutes, and I'm just calling you because I want to know your address so I can send you the pornography of me so that if I ever get away maybe someone will believe me.' He sent the pornography, he's being whipped, all the things are being done that is done in pornography, to him, he's bleeding...."

Now, let's stop and think for a minute. She's asking us to believe a scenario like this at Porno Headquarters: this poor brutalized kid escapes for a moment from the evil filmmaker Cecil B. de Sade, slips away to a phone, and the first number he calls is not family or friends or police, but -- Catharine MacKinnon. He got the number from Cecil's Rolodex. And then, since stamps and an envelope and a film canister and a mailbox are just lying about, he ships her a copy of his latest epic, "Love Among the Bruises."

How, this side of Thorazine, could MacKinnon expect anyone to believe this tale? Pornography stands with Drugs as one of today's two secular Devils, scapegoats on which one can blame the ills of society and the misdeeds of oneself: "Don't punish me: pornography/drugs/the devil made me do it!" MacKinnon's story is reminiscent of Janet Cooke's Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post story, "8 Year-Old Heroin Addict Lives for a Fix," which was revealed as a fabrication.

On the other hand, there is the possibility that MacKinnon actually did receive such a phone call, and such a pornographic film or tape -- compliments of some astute practical joker, who knew that she would open wide and take it all, hook, line, and sinker, for the same reason that the Washington Post and the Pulitzer Prize jury bought Janet Cooke's fabrication: because it fit perfectly into her True Belief pattern.

During the question period, I asked, "Are you saying you have a right to have men's attitudes be a certain way?"

She replied, "I think that the harm involves both attitudes and behaviors.... It's all one thing.... Sometimes I get the image that people think what happens in their head, it's like the stork brought it, or something."

One's ideas are the conscious or unconscious product of one's intercourse with the world, and MacKinnon asserts the right to abort the progeny of that intercourse if it is not to her liking. And why not? All intercourse, social or sexual, is coerced: "It is questionable that women do freely choose to do a whole lot of things that women do...."

Thus she can say: "What would have happened if pictures were taken at Auschwitz ... and then marketed...? Why is this different from pornography?" The former, she says, is recognized as an atrocity; in the latter, the people are not considered real, "because they are women."

"I also will tell you my simple and personal conviction: that if Hitler had discovered sex, there would not be a Jew alive in Europe."

There it is. Sex is more than just rape. Sex Is Death. MegaDeath, in fact. Most of us would imagine the opposite, if anything; that the carnal would have distracted Hitler from the carnage; but to MacKinnon, the two are inextricably intertwined, which makes the very evolution of our species something of a miracle.

As for those who guard their liberty..."This `freedom first, justice later' approach to sexual liberation," she said, "is premised on the subordination of women as a class.... The better priorities are: equality first, justice first -- and then we will say what we mean by freedom." No need to say what you mean by freedom, Catharine. Orwell said it quite nicely in 1984.


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