BAIG: The anatomy of the kiss-in

When I entered the talk entitled “The Person as a Gift” by Providence College professor Anthony Esolen last night, I was aware of two things. Esolen had written a 10-part manifesto decrying homosexuality, and I had been sent an email detailing a “kiss-in” demonstration to disrupt Esolen’s lecture.

I had a preconceived notion that True Love Week’s organizers had made a serious mistake in inviting a guest whose past writings were more akin to a Directed Studies philosophy paper than serious scholarship. On one hand, I respected the intellectual courage of True Love Week’s members to invite a guest with such unpopular beliefs; on the other, I was concerned that they failed to recognize that Esolen’s talk about sexual culture might reflect his homophobic views.

Esolen’s speech, however, was exactly what I expected. His argument was primarily aesthetic — often confusing the beautiful with the good. He claimed that reducing love to the science of body parts and appetites had completely written mysteries out of the picture.

He constantly referred to the beauty of the mystery between the two sexes and how this gap in understanding drives desire for the other sex and justifies it. However, this argument is based on the assumption that there are universal male and female experiences and not human experiences. A man understands another man on a different level from a woman, who possesses the knowledge of childbearing.

However, most of the students in WLH 116 did not intend to examine Esolen’s ideas rigorously. Bijan Aboutorabi ’13, one of the event’s organizers, invited those who could not demonstrate intellectual tolerance to leave before the start of the talk.

About 10 minutes later, most of the audience stood up for the demonstration, kissed each other and promptly left. Stragglers laughed, made snide comments and also headed out the door. Esolen laughed, referring to the demonstrators as “kids, such kids.” He exploited the spectacle to reinforce his argument — sexuality was on exhibit as a power play. As I sat there, watching the majority of the audience leave, I had a sinking feeling in my stomach. The impolite spectacle did not make me any more sympathetic to the talk; nor did the lackluster talk make me any more sympathetic to the spectacle. His audience called his capability to speak about sexuality into question. At the same time, the demonstrators had no seriousness in purpose; the kiss-in was an effort to defeat Esolen’s arguments not in a discursive manner but through visceral exhibitionism. It made no argument but this: We think you’re wrong, and we don’t like what you have to say.

There was no engagement between Esolen and the demonstrators. It seemed clear that Esolen had excluded homosexuals from his conception of a proper sexual culture, and the demonstrators had dismissed the possibility that Esolen could make any argument that was worth listening to.

I respected the demonstrators’ point of view — even agreed with it — but they made no effort to engage seriously with the guest on why he was wrong. Perhaps the demonstrators believed that a line had been crossed — a line that separated things that could be discussed civilly and those that could not. I understand that it would be nearly impossible for anyone to take seriously a speaker with hateful views.

The demonstrators did not believe they had anything to prove. The most powerful act of the night, by far, was by a gentleman who stayed for the duration of the talk and asked a serious question: “Could there exist mystery within the sexes?” This sort of engagement — and not the demonstration — pushed Esolen to answer in a way that revealed his arguments to be truly ill-founded.

As students of philosophy, we can only present beliefs that we have some conviction are true, and at times, those beliefs can be so unwavering that we are unable to conceive of a view that could be any different. Discussion is meant to facilitate the search for truth. At the talk, the demonstrators were unwilling to hear what Esolen had to say, and Esolen had already dismissed them as unable to understand his views. But if we have already concluded that we know the truth, why search at all?

Minhal Baig is a senior in Trumbull College. Contact her at minhal.baig@yale.edu.

Comments

  • RexMottram08

    Esolen was right.

    • Standards

      About what? He barely presented a coherent argument to be right about.

  • bowwow

    Oh please, Minnie. Let us not pretend that a man who equates being gay with incest, bestiality, and necrophilia is scholar with ideas that can be “seriously engaged.” These students gave him far more respect that he deserves.

    • RexMottram08

      Explain how sodomy is different from incest, bestiality and necrophilia.

      • 909909

        Let’s see: a dead body can’t consent to have sex with you. An animal can’t consent to have sex with you. Incest, if contraception fails, could have dire consequences by creating unhealthy offspring; it is also often subject to power-imbalanced relationship (if neither of these is the case, I see nothing extremely objectionable about it). A same-sex partner, as long as he or she is over the age of consent, can consent to have sex with you in mutually satisfying fashion.

        • RexMottram08

          Exactly the point I wanted you to make.

          You make a claim on health but the health hazards of gay sex show that doesn’t really matter to you.

          Consent is the only standard by which you judge sexual acts.

          I join Professor Esolen in arguing that there are greater considerations that consent-alone.

          • yalengineer

            I join 909909 in arguing that there are greater considerations than making direct comparisons to incest, bestiality, and necrophilia.

          • RexMottram08

            He (and I) aren’t making “direct comparisions to incest, bestiality and necrophilia.” The comparison is made indirectly. Of course there is a substantive difference between copulating with a corpse and homosexual activity. But those who argue for a morally relative position on sexuality have NOT managed to advance a coherent limit on sexual acts. If consent is their only standard, their position is quite abhorrent (and shallow).

    • minhalbaig

      If it was not clear, I was making a greater statement about how we treat the search for truth–as if we, as students, already possess it, and have no business actually pursuing it. Yes, he was a speaker with hateful views and I agree that UBYC should have exercised better judgment in their selection. At the same time, his talk was going to happen whether or not the demonstration took place; this was a given. The demonstration was symbolic but ultimately useless; people such as Esolen will exist whether or not students protest. However, if we want a world with fewer people who hold the kinds of beliefs that he does, we need to actually spend time trying to understand their views and changing them.

      • RexMottram08

        Hateful?

        How is it hateful to study the nature and purpose of human sexuality and conclude that some acts are not proper?

        You rightly object to bestiality, pedophilia, necrophilia. (or maybe you don’t!) I simply add homosexual acts to that list. It’s entirely consistent with traditional views on human sexuality. Views that were once accepted by the entire University.

        • Athanasius

          You are not engaging with the substance at hand. If you want to talk about the author’s argument (and in doing so, contribute to the engagement she calls for), please start now.

          • RexMottram08

            She called Professor Esolen (a highly regarded academic, better studied in the classics than many Yale profs) “hateful.” I rightly responded.

        • ShaveTheWhales

          Wow. Okay. “Views that were once accepted by the entire University.” This makes it okay? This is your argument. Consistency?

          • RexMottram08

            No, the appeal to the University’s tradition is not to prove the truth of my and Prof. Esolen’s position. It shows that it is possible for a civilized university to hold a mature discussion on these issues without childish “kiss-ins.”

  • kokoro

    For years Esolen has placed homosexuality on the same level as necrophilia, bestiality, and pedophilia. Knowing this, I attended the protest with no expectation of changing any of his opinions. While I cannot speak for the other students in attendance, my participation in the protest was mostly directed at the organizers of the event. While I do not agree with all of their views on chastity, I respect their right to hold such opinions. This does not, however, excuse them for sponsoring such a hateful speaker. I protested this event just as I would protest an event that invited a speaker with an outspoken history of racism or chauvinism.

  • River_Tam

    I am generally dismissive of all attempts to philosophize about sex and love (that goes for Plato’s Symposium too, all you DSers). They generally come across as overwrought, and rarely start from any concrete set of axioms.

    So reading this op-ed is a bit like watching a slap fight between four year-old girls.

  • croncor

    Maybe there’s a difference between a species of sexual activity and the people who perform it, meaning that it’s possible to decry homosexuality without hating (or fearing) its practitioners.

  • Pingback: Boy sex