On Unavoidable Messy Representation & The Closet

Photo of Lady Justice by Dev Kulshrestha, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license

A little while back, a judge in the US was caught and fired for engaging in sexwork. Specifically, he made gay porn – and the booting overlapped with a period where he was critical of anti-trans bigotry by a city councilor. On the other hand, as the case came out on social media, people were quick to fret his advertised sex work engaged in implications he mixed his work with his sexuality. In reaction to that, even people who were generally leftist and might even otherwise be inclined to stand with a sexworker were quick to point out it showed poor judgment, even if he described his framing as kayfabe. 

The choices of Mr. Locke were relatively benign in the spectrum of things, basically sexualizing himself in his role.. Nonetheless, he will have his career ruined as firmly as if he had committed some crime of violence. A few moonbats like myself will mourn in vicarious humiliation and he will get some media footnotes alongside his tabloid dragging, but nobody will effectively petition or protect him in any way that will get him his job back. That chapter of his life is effectively over.

My position on this was pretty clear: I want my judges to be sexworkers, past or present. 

Neither do I stop there. I want teachers in schools, my doctors, my politicians and my bureaucrats- unexcludingly everyone who has power, care and influence in the world I must interact with to be free to have a sexual self that can be known, on their terms, and expressed commercially or otherwise.

I want a world where it is safe to be everything all at once, and where there is no closet, just a personal preference around disclosure that is assumed to contain such multitudes that to exit it is as benign a coming out as selecting if you want onions on your burger or not.

And yet, even in kinky and progressive circles, in criticism of him, one of the things brought up was the poor judgment he displayed in his individual case. While having a distinctly powerful role, it was argued, we want to be measured and to make determinations with unassailable gravitas. In some criticism, it wasn’t necessarily that he was a sexworker it was the two were commingled, overlapping and a little too out. A little too much open to the risk he was somehow allowing his sexuality to give him divided attention or something with a soupçon of predatory, elevated from ambiguous self fetishization to being akin to a doctor masturbating next to their unconscious patient.

I think this is not fair. However, while I think anyone who considers themselves anti-sexwork probably isn’t worth trying to address given my starting position, I want to touch on the implicit problem of the closet we ask of Mr. Locke. 

That’s the oddly persistent argument for progressive spaces, where deviance is fine, but only as long as it is prior or private. This is, regrettably, an extension of the tension of progressive movements around sexuality and what is too overt. It’s summer, so of course we are looking down the barrel of the annual Kink in Pride Discourse. But, in this case I think I want to point out how you can’t have your cake and eat it too. You cannot have your queer un-conservative representation and have it tidy.

On Having (Juris)Prudence 

Objectively, you can definitely argue his behavior was high risk, if he wished to avoid negative experiences like getting fired. It is an easy, but also accurate criticism to make that literally, in balancing the outcomes the judge showed poor judgment if his primary goal was to stay a judge and further trans rights (in an incremental fashion, that leveraged that power). He did not maintain the idea that he was an avatar or the Law itself, unassailable and uninfluenced. He told a politician to eat a dick while maintaining an easily-tied-to-him OnlyFans.

The Law (or Justice), for all she is depicted as a busty well armed lady in a blindfold, is not supposed to have an erection under their robe. Neither lawyer, paralegal, court clerk nor judge can be horny, not even the stenographer madly typing away. They are to perform ancient rituals (do you swear or affirm?) in old garb and carefully chosen architecture and paraphernalia. Jurisprudence is prude, particular and prickly. 

Wolfgang Sauber, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Nevermind that Prudence, herself the less known but traditionally paired statue to Justice, has a mirror held almost similar to Vanity.

She regards herself unflinchingly, and that is behind her, considering herself in the image of the whole. It is broadly understood that to have appetites in excess is to be corrupted. The bar societies, alone, do their work to elevate the profession, jealously guarding their standards in conduct. They even have their own internal courts, to punish above and beyond the laws of conduct common citizens must be held to. This is largely a good thing on many aspects- law, as a profession, gets to have power to harm people both accidentally and on purpose. You don’t want lawyers mismanaging trusts, or taking bribes. Judging is likewise better done seriously, with care and without self enlargement.

But the trouble is that that pesky “sexless” avatar thing and the attached gravitas has a skew. The law is disproportionately straight/cis/white/male/abled/rich etc… and, if you are the sort of person who reads obscure leftwing sex blogs, you know everyone else who isn’t those things has their motives and self read through a different lense. 

Those ponderous, swinging scales on which we are all placed do not rise and fall objectively in determining if we are perceived as credible, skilled or who is or isn’t sexualized. There is no real blindfold in Justices, no true, objective “Rule of Law”. Rather, judgements are made in a place of infinite complexity, towards ideals, but also by necessity, in maintaining their own authority to further uphold the authority of the whole legal system.

Right now, as part of this, we are selecting for people in law who A) do their best in imitation of what we hold to be the unsexualized and rational B) they can’t question the existing power systems *too* much because everyone is nudging laws according to interpretation of other laws, and the legacy of precedent. The Brits even still have their people wearing little gentlemen’s wigs, regardless of gender, and the more serious it gets, the more likely everyone is flapping about in old timey, boxy (male) robes.

Of course, the side effect of the judiciary being held to this standard is part of the noted bias of conservatism in the profession. And whoops, I should probably mention lawyers are also over represented per capita as elected politicians in other roles. That’s another job where boy don’t you know it, non-conformity from that straight-white-cis-you-get-the-point ideal is also gonna make it really hard to get and stay there. And in both cases a “mistake”, like our poor judge made, is much more likely to get smacked, and inversely it will be much easier to make a “mistake”. 

(Side note for the straight white cis etc… dudes reading this and weeping you are the devil: nah, honestly you know how fragile masculinity is. Chances are if I took a metaphorical chisel and magnifying glass to your identity, a little chipping away and we’d just find you were actually much more complicated than being The Man. Just, someone looked at the approximate appearance of you at birth and yeeted you into a specific mold. Then if you tried to climb out before your perceived facade hardened they smacked you back in. And, even if you are exactly what it says on the tin, the point of understanding the concept of privilege was not to determine you were first against the wall when the revolution happens.)

Ok, so why are actively sexworker judges in counter to that? Like, we probably shouldn’t dismantle the idea of law or some of the bedrock constancy of the system. But, we can observe where something is arbitrary and largely serving bullshit standards that is perpetuating a problem. And more than that, I think we can’t take the big swing Mr. Locke took at anti-transness, his willingness to be a visibly out gay man, or his sexwork all out of context of each other. 

All of these are imprudent, if your primary goal was to stay a judge. It was already harder for him to get there as a gay man, he was already under more scrutiny for that reason, and he also had both more overlap with non-normative sexual behaviour, and alliance with the trans part of the queer community. His profession already turns a baleful eye towards criticism of power.

The reality is a gay sexworker is just much more likely to be a trans ally in a meaningful way. He is already more willing to take that bullet, even though most of the time such actions pass through one’s body to no useful effect other than one’s own destruction as well. The lack of closet makes it all the more challenging not to be a bystander.

(But) I want a Dyke for President

My goal and preference is not to have the people in power be as close to the template of those who are already there as possible. Instead, a quote:

“I want a dyke for president. I want a person with AIDS for president and I want a fag for vice president and I want someone with no health insurance and I want someone who grew up in a place where the earth is so saturated with toxic waste that they didn’t have a choice about getting leukemia. I want a president that had an abortion at sixteen and I want a candidate who isn’t the lesser of two evils and I want a president who lost their last lover to AIDS, who still sees that in their eyes every time they lay down to rest, who held their lover in their arms and knew they were dying. I want a president with no air-conditioning, a president who has stood in line at the clinic, at the DMV, at the welfare office, and has been unemployed and laid off and sexually harassed and gaybashed and deported. I want someone who has spent the night in the tombs and had a cross burned on their lawn and survived rape. I want someone who has been in love and been hurt, who respects sex, who has made mistakes and learned from them. I want a Black woman for president. I want someone with bad teeth and an attitude, someone who has eaten that nasty hospital food, someone who crossdresses and has done drugs and been in therapy. I want someone who has committed civil disobedience. And I want to know why this isn’t possible. I want to know why we started learning somewhere down the line that a president is always a clown. Always a john and never a hooker. Always a boss and never a worker. Always a liar, always a thief, and never caught.”

-Zoe Leonard

God save us from 99% of Upworthy bait spoken word/slam poetry, but this particular piece gets the point across. We know who gets it in their crooked teeth, and who gets to stay in (the) office. And we know how that uncrossable line twists everything around it.

Being a messy, marginalized other is a paradox that it incentivizes oneself to activism, but also that it can be used to eliminate your ability to effectively get things done. There is the trauma of being the thing and then there is the trauma of trying to stop being traumatized. If you can’t pass, you are necessarily stuck making a statement purely by remaining alive in public.

For example, to be trans is both to be more likely to be forced into the survival side of sexwork by barriers to other employment, to be sexualized, and to be persecuted for sexwork even if you don’t do it. It is not lost on me that our martyr du jour is also from the state that only recently got rid of its anti-walking-while-trans law. Woof. There’s layers. 

As a successful lawyer/judge and a queer person, Mr. Locke exists in two worlds. Id there was choice, it was that he chose the world of the vulnerable over his power. Maybe that demonstrates faulty reasoning or poor impulse control. Maybe it was a gamble, maybe he really thought he could have both. But maybe even then, it is harder for the otherized not to be *messy* in the first place, and that is not lacking judgment just to be a contradiction to other people. 

Maybe a messy dude made good, for once. And maybe he was only ever out as he was, as everything he could not be, because the closet was actually impossible for him. Maybe in the mirror of his Prudence, where he saw himself, it actually required him to speak out, as he did.

If he were tidy, he would be another Democrat voting centre-left, floating along in the upper-middle class. He would feel his anxiety for his right to live along with all the other queers, but stay happily employed in a relatively blue state. He would be a minority for his queerness, but in his space of power, not for his whiteness, income, education, nor gender.

Messy folk are the edges and beyond. We like to think we are the vanguard, but for every Marsha P. Johnson who is canonized (largely) after her death, for the most part the more sexualized, seedy, criminalized, or racialized part of humanity go to our respective or intersectional graves as at best a bundle of extra traumas from trying. Under the collective gaze of everyone else, we are more often cringe, not courageous. But we do so because every moment we are alive in the open is often because the alternative is worse or impossible.

The messes defy the closet, the messes are dysmorphic, defiant or sometimes dying, so they have no choice. If they win, then the next thing you know the ensuing generations explode with more of whatever that category of mess was, but now more tidy. The ones who closeted this generation are here the next, suddenly, in numbers. 

The austistics who cannot mask enough reveal the ones who, in masking were not actually “cured”. If the swish non-conformists slither out of the latest round of bashing, another “passing” man doesn’t waste two people’s time in a straight marriage. It can be cumulative as well. Gay marriage frees same gender attracted trans people from an inability to get taken seriously and supported, the provision of protections for the dysmorphic free us to realize gender euphoria might actually be just as important.

And yet, ultimately, every fucking time we get lucky and make good, crack a ceiling or a barrier, bring down a bad law, an abuser or an abusive policy, big or small, pry the Overton window open another inch, the messes still do not end up in charge. A little victory never completely redefine things, a radical never gets what they want. Messy becomes the battlegrounds, but not the house of power. The bathhouse raids might get pushed back (this time) but the promiscuity they house remains shamed. The sluts walk in outlandish outfits to push back on our victimization, but they don’t wear those clothes into courtrooms, into law classes, under robes.

Generally messy with an impact has a hard stop, a single issue you might get lucky to platform. Then it ends you, or again, if you are lucky, they leave it out of your later biography, to make your successes stand out better. The messy rep gets sanitized, purified, handled or dropped. 

Thus, the result of this inability to be broadly messy, an assimilationist approach happens to the marginalized who do want to participate in change on their behalf.  This, of course, contributes to the cycle of disappointment, when those of us who succeed are not allowed to be radical, and those that are radical about one thing must be purified of all else. The messier, far left tear at the middle left, fearing not irrationally, those who get closer to the ideal of power are not as likely to consider us as just as worthy. They might. They might simply drift away from the mess they can be leave, also not irrationally. But, if they do, they no longer see the mess in their prudent mirror. Likely I overlook much, myself.

If you cannot be a sexworker AND a judge, what does it say then, for sluts like myself when we are on the stand? What does it say, when those former lawyers turned politicians make laws, and my own motivations and behaviors are either alien to them or, almost worse, represent an imprudence they keep locked away in their closet and thus they cannot empathize with the flagrancy of others and feel they paid a price in its repression I did not? It wouldn’t have been painless for them. Cleaning your messes never is, even if there is less to start. 

An old quip cleverly observes that the law, in its infinite wisdom, bans both rich and poor alike from sleeping under bridges. Likewise, while there are straight cis male sexworkers, the statistics tilt such that who do you think is more likely to have the dubious pleasure of being persecuted for sexwork, on average? If you ask a profession not to be sexworkers (past or present), who do think that is more likely to be a meaningful barrier to?

If you want queer judges and woman judges, you assume the risk of judges becoming closer to sexwork. They even used to use that risk to deny women the vote, the argument being the “not-nice” woman who wanted it to bring in pro-sexwork politicians. These oppressors weren’t wrong. We contain a population that very well might, at least more do than the prior voting base. 

And if you want a tragedy, consider also, among the manifold in the process who fired Mr. Locke, what number of them did not consume porn? Who among the many across the political spectrum tutting, do not have their secrets: images, video, stories, spooled out by artists who touch them in their most vulnerable places, but who for the most part they would rather see kept away from anywhere they might have a messy voice?

By pure economics, there are more clients than sex workers, and yet we somehow end up denying the closet more to the latter than the former. Not even the courtesy none-of-your-business closet people also get by default, a mixed blessing passing privilege closet. If, perchance, Mr. Locke was an avid subscriber to a dozen or two OnlyFans, the consequences on him would not be so dire. We’re he a so-called hobbyist, honestly, maybe a doot on the wrist, less if he pled sex addiction and deferred to counselling. But sexworker? No. Too far.

Of course, there are very compassionate, fair people from immense privilege, motivated entirely by an unassailable desire for the best things, working for Equity and Equality; Pleasure  and Freedom; Safety and Resilience. There are my near kin and peers in experience, or who are more marginalized than me, who are fascist dingdongs who would at once burn down the world and place us all in prison. And yet, while there is no perfect alliance, a system that prevents myself as being weighed without imposing my arbitrary failures to be the (tidy) ideal has values baked into it that uphold the ideal before my own value and survival. 

Myself Reflected

It is a blog, so the lense things are cobsidered through is mine. You may see I add myself to the story. I do so not to say I am a particularly effective or admirable person, to equivocate with people I know to have suffered more than I, or who carry more than me.

It’s just the comparison is all too easy to wince along with. Too easy to see myself lighting all things on fire to be myself. To burn alive to stay alive, and to grieve where I am unable to do so as much from the consequences of my burning.

I am a mess. I’m often sick, traumatized and all my experiences and interaction are filtered through a double barrel of neurodivergence. My sexuality is perverse, but also requires so many qualifiers to define it that I spend a good part of my time feeling I don’t even fit into the very communities I try to dedicate myself to. I am on the literal lunatic fringe, vulgar and monomaniacal about sexuality even as it’s pretty evident I am an asexual spectrum poster girl. I have made and released sexual images and videos of me, outed myself seven ways to Sunday. I tilt at windmills aggressively, and have made some pretty appalling mistakes and reached some profoundly wrong conclusions.

A mess. A queer mess at that, sprawled in front of a closet as much as in it. Not the right kind of queer. Not the right kind of autistic. Not the right kind of pervert. The wrong kind of mad (is there a right kind?).

And of course, there’s another bit to articulate. One of the things I am very anxious about, and struggle with, is the problem that if I am the sort of person who will let it all hang out I know this has value, but also that the sort of person (myself) becomes a barrier to acceptance, in so much that I am not broadly relatable. I am going to have contrarian opinions. I am going to get so upset about a comparatively obscure activist getting completely crushed by his own conflicting choices, I will spend several hours throwing out an essay.

For me, in Prudence’s mirror, I see the contradiction. I can see why a man who could be a judge gambled it, not just on the more self evidently admirable goal of standing up for trans people, but to make erotic art and share it. Not just porn, but excessively self disclosing porn. Porn that acknowledged he didn’t ever put aside the whole self, and indeed could not. I can understand why he needed both. 

Go on, say what you think!

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