Many people seem to be scared that we are living in the age of what President Trump’s counselor Kellyanne Conway dubbed alternative facts. An age when fact is subjective and each person works from a different baseline set of information depending on their political leanings, race or gender. My friends on Twitter decry this new Orwellian hell – a hell that certain demographics in the U.S. have been coping with for decades.
“Only gay men have HIV.”
“Interracial couples make bad parents.”
“LGBT people are more prone to pedophelia.”
Alternative facts have always existed under the guise of pseudoscience, racism and a plethora of other paltry-minded ideologies. This fudging of the facts accumulates around areas of difference, either real or perceived. Sexuality is particularly prone to this campaign of misinformation because even in 2017, many of us feel uncomfortable discussing it. As a result, normal aspects of our health and happiness are resigned to whispers. The truth wavers like the air over asphalt on a hot day. The real people at the center of these experiences are drowned out by the harmful myths that swirl around them like scum in slack water. Who can forget Rep. Todd Akin’s infamous comment “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down”? Or the assumption, all too common in dorm rooms and downtown houses, that if a woman doesn’t climax during sex she must be frigid – she has failed somehow. These beliefs have no basis in scientific fact. They are alternatives, authored and disseminated with an agenda.
Our human relationship with difference is complex. We fear it, because it signals a departure from our family, our clan, our people, and yet we need that difference. On the most basic level, genetic variety is necessary to ensure a healthy population. Yet rather than understand, we often condemn. Rather than accept, we often fetishize. In sex, as much as politics, the powerful assert their own narrative and try to bend others into conformity. Sex is, after all, political.
Difference rears its head in the bedroom and the marble halls of government. It causes anxiety and anger wherever it appears – and luckily, it thrives in journalism.
Because whether the subject of the article is sex or politics, journalism isn’t obligated to provide you with something you agree with.
When I read over the articles in this issue, I wasn’t struck by all the things I disagreed with. I didn’t feel compelled to dwell on the choices I would have made differently. I was struck by how beautiful we are. Yes, we. People, in all their multiplicity. In all our unfolding confusion and creativity, exuding life and gulping it down like fresh air, We the People are beautiful. Sex too is beautiful, and it deserves a conversation of substance and rigor. Sex is a story so universal that it demands to be shared.
The best defense in the face of the growing authoritarianism in the U.S. is the continued vigor of the press. In just the past few weeks, the efforts of journalists resulted in the resignation of Trump’s National Security Adviser. In the public arena, journalism still has a vital role to play. The facts may be continuously shifting, but journalism is all about hitting moving targets. It is an act of essaying – an earnest and fearless attempt at the whole truth, even while conscious of falling short.
In the public sphere as well as the private, journalists must interrogate the alternatives and resist the pressure to conform to a script. Wherever alternative facts venture, so must journalism – whether that’s the bedroom or the White House.
*This article first appeared in the February 2017 issue of the Yard.