A commentary and resource on Law and Sexuality by Professor Chris Ashford and guests
There’s been more than a touch of Captain Oates about my recent blogging. Apart from the occasional ‘circular’, I’ve not blogged any thoughts for a while. An epic illness was followed by an absolutely mental start to the term. It’s been utterly brilliant, exciting, fun and and flippin tiring – squeezing out the time to think, reflect and blog.
Anyway, the ‘worst’ seems to have passed and I need to crack on with various writing projects which are all behind (long-time readers will know it was ever thus), and I also want to get back to the ‘fun’ of blogging. I’d like to begin that process by going a little bit off topic (how very me).
I’ve been struck through contacts and twitter buzz by how much Universities seem to now be addressing social media. Classes are put on for students on how to use social media – principally Facebook and Twitter – ‘correctly’. A growing number of HE managers are joining Facebook – and with one or two notable, and impressive exceptions , generally follow the corporate style of Tweeting: ‘Going to this wonderful event today, all was wonderful…’. A bomb could go off at the venue and it would be tweeted as ‘Bit of a breeze in the venue – perfect air conditioning on this rather wonderfully warm day’.
Personality, and more so any ‘controversy’ is erased, replaced by a perpetually optimistic, smiling automaton. The tweets that make these individuals human – stuck in traffic, acoustics at venue hopeless etc are conspicuously absent. The accounts, and the individuals represented by them seem dull and fake. It’s the resulting concept of authenticity that fascinates me.
Many of you will know that I’ve long been a champion of Twitter. It genuinely excites me for the transformative possibilities it offers, but I’ve noticed that with growing success – particularly in the last twelve months – has come a recalibration of how it is used. More than one academic colleague (at institutions other than my own) has commented that their own use has been restricted, or at least monitored for ‘appropriateness’. Each of these individuals was an openly gay academic.
Numerous friends and academics have speculated whether I too will need to revise some of my flippant tweets, the occasional drunken innuendo, and frequent rudery mixed in with tweets about law, sexuality, politics and those all important episodes of Strictly Come Dancing, particularly in light of a very different management team, and the loss of those who have supported me in being an ‘outrider’ on this stuff.
Others – particularly legal scholars – comment that “you can get away with it” – the idea being that I’m curiously privileged in this space – as an out ‘gay’ man, a queer theorist, a scholar on sexuality, I can be rude. I can observe if someone is cute or attractive in a way that a straight male academic couldn’t make the same observations about a straight female. I think there’s a lot of mileage in this argument – the ‘norms’ of an openly sexualised male culture are applied, and the de-sexed heterosexual culture similarly applied. With an evolving homonormative discourse, this too might change – and renders these simple acts curious acts of resistance – thus re-securing them as oddly privileged.
One of the exciting, really compelling, game-changing, paradigm-shifting, epic-defining traits of Twitter is to blend together our various performances. The ideas of Goffman and Butler are scattered in the wind as identities conflict. We are sexual, domestic, the worker, the player, the socialising, happy, sad, grumpy; and through this complex pattern of information, we are also a little more true. A little more authentic. For a period, Twitter – and many users ‘got it’, blending the fact they were a lawyer, with an interest in science fiction, or in naked young men. Sometimes both.
Yet increasingly, there seems a reaction of ‘we don’t want to know that’. I am once more separated into Chris ‘the academic’, Chris who tweets on Strictly Come Dancing, Chris who tweets about law and sexuality scholarship and on we go.
I find such separations not only a failure to seize the exciting possibility to come to a more authentic understanding of who we all are, but I find it next-to impossible for academics. My vision of academia – the public intellectual – is one in which an academic doesn’t cease working. We are perpetually working, thinking, contributing, researching and teaching. It’s not a 9-5 job. Work and play are often over-lapping and occupying a complex relationship. This corporate teaching about ‘appropriateness’ is – it seems to me – fundamentally incompatible with any meaningful academic identity.
So, I shall continue talking and joking, sharing and discovering with sex workers, students, barebackers, bug chasers, safer sex campaigners, porn makers, anti-porn campaigners, politicians on the left, the right, the centre, and of non of the above. I’ll continue to engage with the feminists of all shades, the lawyers, the students, the academics, and the people – particularly the people – who resist being bound by narrow singular labels; and I’ll tell people when I disagree, and I’ll get the tone wrong sometimes. Sometimes I’ll upset people. Sometimes, I’ll make people laugh, I’ll entertain and I might even educate. Always, I’ll strive to simply be me – complex, human, flawed – me.
That’s all good and well you might say, but would I really advise a student seeking employment with a Magic Circle firm, that they should be ‘open’, and strive for the authenticity I describe above? Here you have me. In an ideal world, we would all be open, and strive for a similar authenticity. However, and as we are frequently told, it is not an ideal world. We continue to operate in a world whereby we all know certain drugs are regularly used by elites such as those in the legal profession elites, and we know the tales of excess – of one kind or another. That such excess – known as it is – during ones time as a student could be crippling is rather puzzling. It is not therefore about behaviour, but the outward projection, our performance if you will, that matters.
My voice however is not a dominant one, and is certainly not one which is winning this debate. Slowly, but surely, the great hope of Twitter – with all the exciting possibilities it offered – not least for our understanding of sexuality, is being strangled to death like a clipped bird at a pheasant shoot.