Slinging Porn

Commentary: Stonewall Baby

By Will O'Bryan
Published on February 7, 2008, 12:00am | Comments

D.C. made headlines recently with one of those stories that people like to use to mock the inefficiencies of government. On Jan. 23, the city announced that a few District employees had spent much time looking at pornography on the city's dime. And though the firings, I presume, were part of an effort to improve city services, what will remain long after these fired folks have found new employment -- one hopes -- is the notion that government workers are somehow less efficient than their counterparts in the private sector.

While that bothers me in a sort of general way, as I've met many wonderfully dedicated bureaucrats over the years, what really sticks in my craw is the porn angle.

WTOP reported that at the Jan. 23 press conference announcing the firings, D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles commented, ''It's outrageous that people should access hard-core pornography, but to do it on government time....'' The terminated employees were apparently looking at loads and loads of the stuff while at work. What bothers me still, however, is that while we Washingtonians live with the highest HIV-infection rate in the county -- an infection rate fueled, many say, by stigma -- pornography (and therefore sexuality) is being singled out as ''more egregious,'' according to Nickles, than other so-called vices.

Considering that Mayor Adrian Fenty issued a mayoral proclamation -- the first in a decade -- recognizing the 2008 Mid-Atlantic Leather Weekend, it would be hard to argue that his is a prudish administration. Yet, these firings feel dangerously targeted. As people in Washington lead the country in HIV infections and leaders in the fight point to stigma as one of HIV's staunchest allies, I'm anxious about the subtext to these highly publicized porn firings.

Sure, it's unprofessional for an employee of any entity to use a large amount of his or her workday looking at porn. (Unless that's part of some lucky person's job.) But it's just as great a drag on the economy if that employee is spending the same amount of time on looking at linens. Using my own values, I would say someone looking at ''extreme cage fighting'' is offensive. But parity is an even stronger value for me, meaning I find it offensive that one legal vice would be publicly paraded as worse than another.

Rather than criticize Nickles for his attitude or Fenty for seeming to back it, I'd rather put my own ass on the line, almost literally. Since the underlying topic here is stigma and my belief that singling out porn perpetuates it to the District's detriment, I'll offer what I can to provide counterpoint.

I'm going to tell you about my sling. Actually, it's my partner's sling. It was a Valentine's Day gift three years ago. It was a premeditated purchase at Mid-Atlantic Leather Weekend, meaning I'd even phoned ahead to Atlanta-based Fort Troff to make sure the particular model I had my eye on would be on offer at their MAL booth.

After making the January purchase, I had to keep it hidden till Valentine's Day. Hauling it home wasn't easy, but there were harder steps to come. I got the whole contraption set up without much trouble, save for all the Styrofoam packing beads. Then, just to throw around a few rose petals and strip down to boots.

There we were, me in my birthday suit and clunky boots, and the sling in all its glory -- and the clock ticking down to my partner arriving home. Falling back into a sling for the first time should've been easy, but I'm a fairly nervous person so I had a moment's hesitation. I managed.

Next step was the stirrups: harder than I thought. While I managed to maneuver myself just so to get the first booted foot into stirrup No. 1, I was having an I Love Lucy-esque time managing No. 2, rocking for momentum, trying to avoid a leg cramp. My efforts were interrupted by my partner coming home, a floor below.

''Don't come up!''

''Why not?'' he yelled back, responding that he needed to pee. And there was no way for him to get to the bathroom without ruining the surprise. I demanded more time, but it was pointless. Try as I might, my novice attempt in the sling didn't go quite as well as I had hoped. He came upstairs, eyes wide as he saw his gift and me with one leg up, one leg down. But once he peed and managed to assist, it turned out to be a fantastic gift.

And while I do mind sharing this story -- as I have some dignity and my mother will likely read this -- it's the only meager offering that comes to mind to counter misplaced stigma.

To have sex, to look at sex, to talk about sex is not bad. To make it seem so is.

Will O'Bryan, Metro Weekly's managing editor, was born as the Stonewall Riots ended, making him a Stonewall Baby. He can be reached at

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