Sex, Misogyny, and My Blog Stats

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I am not religious about checking my site meter or my blog stats, particularly when I’m not blogging much, and lately I haven’t been. But I generally try to check them once a week or so, just because.

About a year ago I noticed that there was a lot of traffic to my blog from some site called Real Adult Sex. This totally freaked me out, for so many reasons. First of all, I figured it was a porn site, and I didn’t want to visit it, because (believe it or not) I’ve never consumed internet porn and sort of wanted to keep it that way, plus I have heard that a lot of porn sites infect your computer with all sorts of nasty spyware and so forth. Secondly, I couldn’t imagine why a site devoted to “real adult sex” would be linking to mine, because although I write a lot about sex, I write about things like how it sometimes sucks and how I used to be a prude (and sort of still am--hence the fact that I’ve never visited an internet porn site). I didn’t see why that would appeal to the readers of a site discussing real adult sex.

Then traffic from that site dropped off--though it didn’t go away completely--and I just quit worrying about it. Recently, however, it picked up again, and I thought, all right, I don’t care if it is a porn site; I have to know what’s going on. So I followed the links back.

And it’s not porn. (At least I wouldn’t consider it a porn site, though some people might, because it’s got photos of human bodies without a lot of clothes on.) It’s a blog about sex, written by a straight guy who uses the name Figleaf and takes feminism seriously. He refers to himself as both “a libertine prude” and “a prudish libertine,” which are each a label I think I could apply to myself, so I can see why he might find my stuff worth noticing from time to time. His blog is actually pretty great, and I feel stupid and sad that I missed out on reading it for a year because I was overly cautious about sex, in all the ways my church taught me to be. The most recent link to my blog has to do with cheese and why it’s a nice thing to lick off a body. (Just one more thing I’m really glad to know about--it sounds way better than the chocolate sauce or whipped cream business--but don’t see myself doing any time soon, ‘cause I’m feeling more prudish than libertine these days.)

I added Figleaf to my blog roll, though I had to think about where to include him, because I don’t have a section for sex. I almost went with feminism, because as I say Figleaf writes about feminism and critiques patriarchy, but decided in the end on "not so easily classified" which is not accurate, because the blog is quite easily classified; it just doesn't fit into the classifications I use. (There's a lesson there.)

The other thing showing up a lot lately in my blog stats are a score of google searches for “Ben Christensen misogynist.” Longtime readers will remember Ben--the gay man who married a straight woman in a Mormon temple wedding, wrote a really uninformed and poorly reasoned essay about doing so (which was published in Dialogue), and likes to google himself so he can see all the unpleasant things people say about him and then get angry and indignant and bothered, which led him to my blog, since I had pointed out both the dubious nature of his choices as well as the inadequacy of his defense of them.

Anyway, I’m not sure what’s up with the 20 “Ben Christensen misogynist” searches these days--probably has something to do with the fact that the most recent issue of Sunstone includes an essay based on the paper I presented at the 2006 symposium as part of the panel I organized on marriages between straight women and gay men. The essay appears in an issue foregrounding women’s voices; if you’re interested in Mormon women, you should check it out.

I’m pretty happy with my essay, which is the longest piece in the issue. There’s one subtle thing about it I wonder if anyone will notice unless it's pointed out to them: I tried to include references to lesbian experience wherever possible (which wasn’t so often because the essay is, after all, on relationships between straight women and gay men) and to privilege them whenever I mention them, writing, for instance, “lesbians and straight women” or “lesbians and gay men” or “gay women and men,” etc, so that lesbians always come first. I did this because the more I examine the issue of homosexuality and Mormonism, the more I notice how lesbians and their concerns are excluded from most discussions of the topic--so often it’s as if lesbians don’t even exist, or if they do, their experiences and concerns don’t matter as much as those of gay men. I wanted to show that although I was not focusing on the concerns of lesbians, I was at least aware of their existence and advocate for their rights.

I’m also fairly satisfied with the critique I offer of Christensen’s position, which I purposely kept pretty restrained. I talked to the editor quite a bit about how lousy and misogynist Christensen’s essay was, and how remarkable it was that the editors and respondents at Dialogue didn’t see this. I worried that some folks at Dialogue would be upset by the fact that I also take them to task ever so briefly for not seeing how truly reactionary, conservative and unenlightened Christensen’s essay is, but the folks at Sunstone pointed out to me that Dialogue published it, and they needed to take their lumps.

Anyway, for those of you who are here because you want to know why I applied the title misogynist to Ben Christensen, well, here are a few of the primary reasons:

1. He is so thoroughly the beneficiary of patriarchy that he can’t even recognize where his privilege begins. He can’t see, for instance, as I pointed out in yesterday’s post, that his decision to court a straight woman proceeded from the very beginning from a position of power and privilege.

2. In his essay, he shows that he is concerned only with the ways that hetereonormativity and its attendant customs and practices have hurt him, even though the primary victims of heteronormativity are women.

3. In his comments on my blog, he reveals that he is so indifferent to and ignorant of the impact of patriarchy in the lives of women that he believes, as he states explicitly, he is above it and can define his relationships with women entirely on his own, despite a list of the ways he chafes at how society defines and restricts him as a gay man.

4. As I discuss in my essay, he felt entitled to expect the support of women and feminists for his positions and arguments, just because, even though he never stopped to think about the ramifications for women of his positions and arguments. Seriously: would women’s lives be better if even more gay men decide to court and marry straight women, asking them to agree to lifelong fidelity in a marriage that forecloses the possibility of true erotic attachment, just so the guys can be dads the heteronormative way and "fulfill heavenly father’s plan," which is what Christensen’s argument boils down to? (Why not just let gay men marry and adopt, so they can be dads in a way that has far less impact on women, and makes them happier in the first place?) And is someone who expects the support of women and feminists but never stops to ask a question like that, a friend or a foe of the feminist cause and women in general (however decent or not he might be to individual women)?

5. He doesn’t bother to learn about the context.

6. In other words, he advocates for the continued privileges of men, at the expense of the well-being of women, and he does so from a position of ignorance and entitlement.

Anyway, my thanks to Figleaf for the links, and to Ben, well, I hope you get whatever you want most, because as I mentioned yesterday, I don’t know what to wish for you: that you never fall madly in love and so find it easier to stay in the marriage you committed to (even though you can admit in your writing some of the ways in which it is deficient), or that you do fall in passionately, madly in love but end up dealing with divorce. I want the world to be a place that makes it easier for you to be happy, provided your happiness doesn't come at the expense of someone else's full humanity--actually, that's what I want for everyone. I just wish you were able to want the same for women--but for you to want that, you'd have to renounce the position you took in "Getting Out/Staying In," and I doubt you're ready to do that.

6 Comments

The reason you've been getting that particular phrase googled so much is that Ben recently posted about you and your Sunstone article (about which he had almost all good things to say) and talked about your previous posts about him. He told readers that if they wanted to read what you had written and what he had said in response they should google that phrase.

I read his article for Dialogue, and although I don't remember it very well, I think he has - if not totally, at least partially - renounced his position. He left the church and he and his wife separated, but after a while they both agreed that they wanted to give it another try. He is still out of the church, though.

You got Googled because of this post.

I've met Ben and I have read your blog (and am in sync with its general geist). It surprises me that you and Mr. C. are sometimes at loggerheads, given what I know about you both.

Hi Holly,

Sorry about any consternation my URL caused. I originally linked to your post titled "Three Rules for Before You Get Involved with Them, Two Rules for After Or, Why I Am Not a Swinger," which I still feel was incredibly thoughtful. And not so much because I agreed with you 100% (though I am substantially in agreement) but because you represented a consistent, coherent, and highly practical set of guidelines for yourself, and left it for others to decide whether they did or didn't want to follow it.

What I really need to apologize for, though, is failing to comment sooner. I've read you posts faithfully and appreciate your perspective quite a lot.

Finally, thanks for the links and your very kind words. I'm not just flattered I'm honored.

Take care,

figleaf

Hi Figleaf--thanks for commenting. I really am glad you have found my blog and thus introduced me to yours, and I welcome your input at any time.

Of course I feel vindicated that a week after posting the entry you link to, MHH, Ben actually read my Sunstone article and was forced to admit that A) it is “well-written and really quite interesting” and B) my critique of his position is “perfectly valid.”

Still, I won’t provide a link to Ben’s blog or that post, because it has been my policy all along to focus on the texts one would come across if one was interested in the phenomenon of gay men courting and marrying straight women, which I am, as opposed to the blogs and so forth one would read if one was interested in Ben Christensen as an individual, which I am not, a distinction surely lost on him in part because of his self-professed narcissism. This has never been about him personally, except insofar as he made it personal, by showing up on my blog and leaving nasty comments, or by continuing to post nasty things about me long after he first found my critiques of him. I have never commented on his blog and I intend to keep it that way--it’s his space and he can say what he wants there. But I also won’t remove links to him someone else puts on my blog.

I find it remarkable that even as he praises my essay for its thoughtful framing of issues he cares about, he retains enough of his “narcissism” to miss a central point: He writes that most of my essay “focuses on gay men,” although actually most of the essay focuses on straight women--and the ways patriarchy (even gay patriarchy) affects them. The subtitle is “Straight Women, Gay Men, and Mormonism.” (If it were primarily about gay men, I wouldn’t include a section on the way girl-on-girl action is used to titillate straight men.)

I find it not the least bit remarkable, based on what I have seen of his powers of observation, his analytical skills, or his honesty, that he misrepresents both his actions and mine. Here’s what really happened--and the posts and comments on my blog support this.

Ben sat down to google himself one day. Because both his first and last name are fairly common, and because he is by no means the best-known Ben Christensen in the world, he had to add other terms (Salt Lake Tribune, “Getting Out/Staying In,” mixed orientation marriages, etc) to find references that were really about him. Thus he ended up at an entry that does not even mention him by name, that instead provides my reaction to an article in the SL Tribune discussing, in fairly positive terms, marriages between gay Mormon men and straight Mormon women.

Well! Ben left an indignant, hurt, nasty comment informing me that I didn’t know anything about him, and assuming that I hadn’t read any of his writing. And then he googled himself again, and found an entry critiquing his essay, left a few glib comments and then concluded, “Well, it looks like I have ended up refuting your points, even though I said I wasn't going to. “

Yeah, right. As I replied, “You've responded to a few of my points, but you're overreaching by far if you believe you've actually refuted any criticism I offered.”

He also found a second post on his essay, which he didn’t mention; when I mentioned it, he responded, “I did find that one after I commented, but it didn't offend me enough to comment again. :)”

So it’s simply not true that my blog entries about him constituted vitriol-laden personal attacks on his character, and if he’s honest, he’ll admits this. He writes that I am

perfectly capable of critiquing my writing without attacking my character, as she has shown in this latest essay. Had she done so on her blog, I would not have been so “flummoxed and outraged,” as she pretty accurately sums up how I felt upon finding her blog last year.

But I DID provide on my blog critiques of his writing that did not involve attacks on his character, and this is supported by the fact that long passages on my blog are repeated verbatim in the essay he finds “well-written, really quite interesting and perfectly valid.”

His nasty attack on me, which he says was justified “in the context of her vehemence,” includes a defense of selfish behavior as “narcissist” rather than “misogynist." I’ve written a blog entry about that narcissism, though in it I refrain from mentioning his name, the title of his essay or the title of the journal that published his essay, so that it will be less likely to turn up in a google search on him. But it’s not like his narcissism is news to anyone who has really paid attention to his writing; in the exchange on the SL Trib post, I told him, “There also remains the fact that your writing reveals a profound and repugnant selfishness.”

Yeah. It took him a year to figure out that it could all be OK if he’d just rephrase “profound and repugnant selfishness” as “narcissism.”

Gee. Why would I be at loggerheads with someone like that?

But I do want to respond to a couple of the things he accuses me of.

With his characteristic careless misstatement and narcissistic overstatement, Ben writes that the real reason he was so upset by my critiques of his writing is that I “was attacking one of the most important people to [him] and attempting to strip her of what makes her who she is,” meaning his wife. Which is bullshit. I say as little as possible about his wife. Because Ben’s essay discusses her so little, I followed his lead.

I do write, in a post that focuses on Steven Fales rather than on Ben Christensen, that “Mormon women are stupidly hopeful and will do all kinds of things to achieve a ‘happy marriage’ with a ‘good man,’ whatever those things mean.” Let me explicate this a little: Steven Fales married Emily Pearson, whose parents divorced because her father was gay. (Her parents’ marriage is discussed in her mother’s memoir about it, Good-bye, I Love You. Fales told Emily before the wedding that he was gay, and even though Pearson watched her parents’ marriage crumble and her father die of AIDS, she still went ahead and married Steven. She has written a very eloquent essay, “Irreconcilable Differences,” about her marriage and her parents’ marriage, in which she states

People ask me if I knew that Steven was gay before we got married. I cannot tell you how much I wish I could say no.... We were both clueless, had enormous baggage, and, until we were actually in itl, didn’t believe everyone who had told us how hard marriage was. But it was hard. It was terribly hard.... The only really honest way to describe our six-and-a-half year marriage is simply to say that it was horrible... My wish is that the day will come when society and religions will stop colluding to create marriages (and families) that are either doomed to fail from the beginning or continue to create enormous, unnecessary pain for everyone involved.

You can listen to a really interesting Sunstone podcast with Emily here.

I don’t think my statement is out of line in that context. But Ben perceives that as a personal attack on his wife and claims that I am “suggesting that only a stupid cow brainwashed by religion would marry a gay man.”

So let me make explicit what I’m saying, so he doesn’t have to worry about what I’m suggesting: I’m saying that ONLY A STUPID WOMAN WHO HAS BEEN BRAINWASHED BY RELIGION WOULD MARRY A MAN SHE KNOWS IS GAY AND EXPECT TO HAVE A “NORMAL” MARRIAGE, INCLUDING A REWARDING SEX LIFE AND LIFE-LONG FIDELITY, WITH HIM. So Ben, if it ever comes up again, please quote me directly, and please leave out the “cow” part. That I disavow. I never called his wife or anyone else a cow in this discussion. And I can also acknowledge that straight women might, with quite realistic expectations, marry gay men for reasons like financial security, companionship, whatever. But the idea that it’s stupid for straight women to marry gay men and think they’ll end up with a truly satisfying life-long marriage that includes a good sex life--that I stand by.

And I believe that the real problem for Ben, if he would admit it, is not that he thinks that or cares that I think that, it’s that he knows that most of the world thinks that. He knows that most people in the world, when they learn about his marriage, feel a pity for him and his wife they are too polite to express. That has to be hard.

I speak for Christensen’s wife only once, at the culmination of this exchange:

Holly: Ben, you courted a woman under false pretenses!

Ben: And if that woman has a problem with how I entered our relationship, she is fully capable of taking it up with me. She doesn't need you to defend her, O Great Protectress of Ignorant, stupidly hopeful Mormon Women. [Though, as he later admits, “the causes Holly fights for are good ones.”]

Holly: Some day, she will. As will your children.

And Ben, once again demonstrating that characteristic careless misstatement and narcissistic overstatement, writes, “And as sure as you seem that sooner or later she will decide she hates me for dating her for two weeks before telling her I was gay, keep in mind that you know next to nothing about her.”

Yeah. Like saying, “I actually have a problem with how you pursued our relationship” necessarily equates “I have decided I hate you.”

And the claim that he "[dated] her for two weeks before telling her [he] was gay" is quite disingenuous. In his essay, he writes that after his epiphany that he was not "excluded from Heavenly Father's desire for his children to marry and have families,"

I thought of a sister missionary who had been in my district for eight months and was coming home soon. I really admired her intelligence and her love of reading, and her complete disregard for whether people thought she was cool or not. She seemed like the type of [the type of, not the one] person I'd like to marry. So I planned it all out. I'd email her when she got home, and we'd build a friendship while she was in Maryland. Then she'd come out to BYU and we'd start dating and then we'd get engaged and then we'd get married.

I think more than anything I liked this plan because it seemed like a Normal Mormon Guy type of thing to do (or at least a Normal BYU Student type of thing--it's hard to distinguish after being in Utah Valley for so long).

To my surprise, the following months happened exactly as I'd planned. This is quite disturbing, now that I think about it.(emphasis added)

I'll say it's disturbing! He writes that he likes this plan because it seems like a normal guy thing to do, not because it means he'll get to spend his life with Jessie. How flattering is that? But we're supposed to respect him, somehow. Given how premeditated it all was, I think my response to him was mild:

I never said she'd hate you; I asserted that she'd "take up with you" your decision to court her even though you're gay. I don't hate my gay ex; I love him quite devotedly. But there was a time when we had to hash out exactly what happened in our courtship and engagement--and I knew from the beginning that he was gay. [I knew in the “witness from the Holy Ghost” way, not in the “he told me, ‘I’m gay’” way. He insisted he WASN’T gay. I just knew he was.] Furthermore, even if I don't know Jessie, I know a HELL of a lot of women who dated and/or were engaged to and/or married gay men, and they all go through the same thing as well, after they split up.

I'm sorry, Ben, but I really do have a pretty clear sense of what's in store for you, especially now that you've given up wearing the special underwear.

I don’t know what to say about the fact that he and his wife separated and reconciled, especially now that I also know his wife is applying to PhD programs; it’s hard not to speculate about how much economic concerns factor in to their getting back together. When I was working on the essay, someone at Sunstone told me about how they’d split and then decided to give it another go. I responded, “Well, whatever; I’m not really interested in him personally.” I hope the reconciliation goes well, but frankly, I’ll be surprised if they stay together a day past their last day in grad school.

In closing, I will quote in full a comment by anon on this discussion of MOMs (mixed orientation marriages) on Sunstone blog:

I am in the process of divorce from a gay LDS husband. We were married for 13 years, about 10 of them quite miserable for both of us. I did not know of his orientation before our marriage, because he was counseled by a bishop not to tell me, and assured that a temple marriage would “cure” him. I am (for obvious reasons) unable to approach the level of objectivity that would allow useful generalizations from my experience. However, one facet of my experience that I’d like to add into the discussion is the overwhelming focus of church leaders on helping gay men, and the relative neglect of both lesbians and straight wives. I believe this is an unconscious artifact of the patriarchal structure of the church, rather than a bias based in misogyny. The effect, however, can be devastating for women–my husband has had extensive meetings with bishops, stake presidencies, etc., all focused on helping him stay “chaste” (i.e. not sexually active with men) and active in the church, but also, of course, demonstrating his leaders’ care and concern for him. Except when I have asked to be included in such meetings, I have never been invited, nor has any bishop (we’ve worked with about 7 in our peripatetic married life) made any attempt at pastoral outreach to me. The need to save a righteous priesthood holder, combined with the social discomfort of dealing with a married woman about whose sex life one has too much information (!), means that, at least in my case and I suspect in many others, women are isolated from the church support networks that can help gay men manage the conflicts of staying in the church. (emphasis added.)

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This page contains a single entry by Holly published on October 31, 2007 7:43 AM.

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