We can't allow genuine cases of abuse to be conflated with prudish sexual moralism.
The mass disclosures of sexual harassment and assault which followed the Harvey Weinstein scandal have now found their way outside the arts and into Westminster. Last week, rumours spread that a list of sexually inappropriate MPs was going to be published, collated by a secret group of angry female Tory staff. Names of certain MPs began to leak over the weekend, with Mark Garnier admitting to calling his PA "sugar tits" and making her buy him sex toys. The Sun published a redacted version, while yesterday the full, unredacted list began circulating on Twitter, shared by an anonymous account.
A few of the allegations correspond with known facts. Many more are unsubstantiated. Some are truly appalling – the man accused of impregnating a researcher and then compelling her to have an abortion stands out. Others are less specific – "asked female researcher to do odd things", for instance. But what really disturbed me, far more than the ambiguity, were the many accusations that amount to no more than blatant homophobia.
Several of the acts, which are presented alongside serious violations of consent, are simply homosexual sex. One man is accused of enjoying sex with men while wearing women's perfume. Another of taking his personal trainer to the cinema and to hotel rooms. Other accusations are simply harmless sexual kinks which took place between consenting adults.
The inclusion of consensual gay sex undermines the other, very serious allegations of MPs habitually assaulting their staff. It is perverse that a movement which was created to empower and defend women is being used to these ends. To try and out someone, or shame them for being gay, has literally nothing to do with sexual assault. It is nothing more than hateful moral tyranny attaching itself to a fashionable cause. It makes me furious that this document might ruin someone's life just because they're gay, under the name of sexual progress.
One man's entry simply reads "affair". Personally, I couldn't care less if a politician or anyone else has a consensual affair. I don't believe it's in the public interest to reveal them. But even those who do must agree it's outrageous to place that offence on the same scale as sexual assault.
The men named who have never violated anyone do not deserve to be fired or shamed in the media. This document is homophobic, and it is also unbearably moralistic about any non-normative sexual behaviour. It uses the word "fornicated" to describe two adults having sex with each other.
There is precedent for this moral hysteria, for this desire to use a genuine sexual crisis to attack those considered deviant. The Day-Care Sex-Abuse hysteria of the 1980s and 90s in America resulted in the persecution of young male kindergarten teachers who were gay. The hysteria sprang from some genuine cases of abuse and a growing public consciousness about propriety around children. But these concerns were soon seized upon by those who used them to attack people who had personal sexual habits they found disturbing. Bernard Baran, a young gay teacher, was arrested in 1984 and only exonerated in 2009, his case appallingly riddled with homophobia. A similar case in New Zealand – that of Peter Ellis, who was also gay – was so hysterical it put off a generation of men in that country from becoming schoolteachers.
We can see how wrong it is to allow gay men to be inherently associated with sexual crimes on an interpersonal level (which Kevin Spacey did not help this week, with his disgraceful apology). But it is also doing a dangerous disservice to the current project of airing sexual improprieties. We simply cannot afford to conflate sexual harassment with what might be broadly understood as sexual decadence.
This is precisely what we should be working against, because it works against us. Roman Polanski's peers defended him as an enigmatic, European, sexually decadent libertine. The commission of his paedophilic rape was likened to bacchanalian excess. Weinstein wrote a since-unpublished op-ed in his defence. This same logic is being employed now, in the wake of Weinstein's alleged crimes and #MeToo.
Dinosaurs in the arts and media particularly will be eager to portray feminists, and this latest wave of resistance, as emblematic of prudishness above all else. You can see this when they rhetorically ponder whether colleagues will be allowed to have drinks together any more, whether a male boss can even have an innocent conversation with his female employee. It is imperative that we do everything in our power to argue against this. That's why this dossier is so dispiriting – it undermines the legitimacy of our demand not to be assaulted and harassed by muddying it with a general 1950s authoritarian view of sexual behaviour.
"I love sex, all kinds of it – but I hate to be sexually assaulted, harassed and objectified. Why is this difficult to understand?"
We have to push back on this, to not allow ourselves to be associated with this kind of calling out. We have to make clear that our problem is not with private, consensual sex between adults. You can make an absolute claim to autonomy over your own body while also being as debauched as the day is long.
I love sex, all kinds of it, the kinds conservative tabloids would look down on me for loving – but I hate to be sexually assaulted, harassed and objectified. Why is this difficult to understand? My hatred of sexual oppression has no bearing on my right to enjoy whatever sort of depraved sex I choose to.
Personally, I long for the day when a video of an MP being pissed on for their sexual gratification will be no big deal. I long for the day that all our harmless perversions are as un-embarrassing and accepted as the fact that we have sex at all. Affairs and kinks aren't what we need to be speaking about. It's all the hands still wandering up skirts uninvited, the doors softly clicked shut, the threats and coercions and blackmail and pleading; these invasions which still go un-commented upon, un-punished, disbelieved – these are what we must be concerned with. And these are what we must never allow to be conflated with consensual sex.