No Limits: Necessary Danger in Male Porn

by Paul Morris
presented at the World Pornography Conference
Los Angeles, CA
Summer 1998

I’m a pornographer. Part of the job is trying to stay in touch with what’s going on in sex. One of the things I do regularly is to interview men who define their lives according to sexual practices. Recently I’ve been focusing on men who self-identity as “bottoms” who submit to the dominance of other men. Here’s a fragment from an interview with a 35 year-old man who calls himself a total bottom, who is exclusively submissive. He’s connected with “Gainers and Encouragers”, a national group of men exploring the sexual connections between submission and obesity. I asked how large he hopes to become. He currently weighs around 200 pounds. “Frankly,” he responded,

I’m considering five-hundred to six-hundred pounds. There’s something very sensual about being fed by another man. Something very nurturing and sexual. And there’s something incredibly erotic for me about the idea of eating a lot, eating with the idea that I am getting fatter. And I like on occasion to eat very large amounts of food. Enough for five or six meals. Getting myself stuffed to the point that literally I cannot eat another bite: there is simply no more room left. Being force-fed is very tender, very slow love-making. In the end I can’t move. I can’t respond. I’m absolutely immobilized. A point of negotiation with a top is whether to move into and beyond that weight where the bottom literally can’t move on his own, where he’s absolutely and permanently dependent on the top to take care of him. He becomes an extravagant possession, not a man but a thing to be owned.”

Another man I interviewed is a successful businessman, remarkably intelligent and well-educated. Also a “total bottom”, he talked about diminishing his mental capacity for sexual reasons:

“If I could seriously diminish my intelligence I would do it. I’ve had very serious conversations about this in the past several weeks. By letting someone reduce your mental capacity–through drugs or surgery or brainwashing–you’re giving over a tremendous amount of responsibility to someone else. And he is willing to take it. This is love, I think. That’s what this is all about: I’m searching for a new type of love. It would involve my mental incapacitation. And physical mutilation. The grafting of a ten-inch cow tongue flap of flesh into my mouth. Having my nose modified so it’s a snout. I would be unacceptable in public, except that I wouldn’t know that I’m unacceptable in public. I’ve found a place where they actually do tongue-grafts.”

Later, the same man continued:

“We had just been going at it for hours, my mouth and his sloppy butt-hole so connected that they made up one perfect sexual organ, one connected thing, this big wet sloppy organ. It was continual orgasm, for over an hour at one point. A little machine, one organ coming together there. A pleasure level far above what I had always thought of as orgasm. So that I thought my body or my mind would just blow up. And he [the top] turns around in the middle of it and leans down over me and pukes all over me. We’d never talked about it. And I threw myself back on the floor, threw my arms back on the floor and collapsed and cried out “Thank you! Thank you! I love you!” And he looked down at me and said “I did it because I love you.”

These two examples may seem extreme. And in some ways they are. But I’ve been conducting interviews steadily over the last four years and find that while these men are somewhat extreme, they and the things they are exploring are not exceptional or isolated. They represent two particular points on a very broad spectrum of an exploration of possible ways to interconnect serious sexual practice and everyday life.

In order to consider the meaning and the role of pornography in this context of sexual experimentation, I think it’s helpful to hold in mind several generalizable characteristics of the American character. It’s important to recognize that sex and porn are immutably informed by the basic behavioral rules that determine how we, as Americans, perform in every other aspect of our lives. There are traditional and unchanging elements in the American character that impact directly on the development of porn and our sexual culture.

One such element is a love of adventure, of danger and of violence. This probably needs no elaboration: it’s celebrated nightly on the evening news, and in every movie theater in the country.

Secondly, we distrust the intellectual overview and the logical conclusions that derive from it. Ours is a “hands-on” culture: “hands-on know-how” is more believable and real to us than elegant and coherent theory. We are pragmatic, first-person, step-by-step experimentalists by whom academic analyses are distrusted. Unless, of course, they’re seen on Jerry Springer.

Third, we have a nearly religious trust that we will triumph, that we as Americans are “chosen” and that in the end some lucky stroke will rescue us. The Cavalry, constantly morphing to suit the times, lives deep in our hearts.

So: American men are fond of adventure and are reckless. American men privilege experience over intellect. American men will be rescued or will rescue themselves. American men are lucky, chosen, correct in their gutlevel impulses.

These character elements are instrumental in determining our day-to-day behavior. Whether or not the beliefs they embody are true isn’t important in this context: they are believed at a level where national character finds individual expression. And they inform the current surge of experimentalism and risk-taking vitality in sexual practice.

Because we are living in a cultural and historical moment in which such basic concepts as identity and subjectivity are necessarily undergoing reconceptualizing, there is a concomitantly even greater need for and dependence on inventiveness and choice. We are creating ourselves, as Americans, with the attitudes I listed above, in a context of post-modern refraction, a time of de-centeredness and destabilized subjectivity.

In part due to alienation from the larger processes of the politicization of gay life in America, unapologetically specific and often “extreme” sexual behaviors in the gay or queer male world are becoming more important as elements in the building of personal identity. That is, as homosexual men become alienated from the political program of the movement, as one mode of experiencing personal meaning and engagement evanesces, they enter into a more fundamental, individualistic and physical relationship with the social and sexual spheres.

But what does porn have to do with this? And what about the dangers of life today? I think it’s a job of porn to reflect the experience and the character of the people who watch it. Since danger and risk are so much a part of the sexual experience, it’s necessary that dangerous activities be represented, and that the danger be at least occasionally real and shocking. Danger and death, not surprisingly, have always been themes in male porn: rituals or rites of passage that threaten one’s identity, sanity or life are found in Wakefield Poole’s “Bijou” or Michael Zen’s “Falconhead”. Mutual suicide, vampirism and necrophilia in the work of Brad Braverman. Snuff, bashings, drugs and radical submission in Christopher Rage’s work. Through the last several decades of male porn, the models are often escaping from the law, falling in love while hiding out or in jail, getting caught while committing burglary and getting lavishly fucked as a “punishment”. Christopher Rage, in his unpublished autobiography, wrote that at the heart of his experience of sex from the age of nine on was the fact that “it threatens everything. Cruising, letting a stranger know you want him, is hot because you know you can lose, you can get arrested, injured, killed.” This knowledge informed his work.

But in the last ten to fifteen years, representation of dangerous or even just unusual practices have all but disappeared and porn has been dominated by a nearly universal acceptance of broad strictures that allow not only for very little danger, but also set stringent limits on the types of acts that can be depicted and the types of people who will be allowed to perform. And today, while gay sex is in the midst of a second 1970s, porn is mired in the strict conformity and conservativism of a new 1950s.

In his paper “Pornography, Ethnography, and the Discourse of Power” Bill Nichols, a professor of film studies at S.F. State, has written about the documentary or ethnographic function of porn. He writes that “If truth stands as a cultural ideal or myth within a larger ideological system that attaches it to matters of power and control, it also stands in close proximity to documentary.” He also states that “Both (ethnography and pornography] rely on a documentary impulse, a guarantee that we will behold ‘the thing itself,’ caught in the indexical grain of sound and image.” This “documentary impulse” is the basis for a representational meeting point for the recognition of truth and the utilization of depicted truth in the functioning of power and the control of desire. Porn depicts sexual practice, and a uniformity of sex in porn is indicative of submission of the subculture to larger power. The careful porn of the gay mainstream allows a strictly policed repertory of acts and styles that represent not who we are but what we seem to believe we should be. Among other things, this can’t make for a productive relationship with power. Danger, accident and specificity in porn insofar as they are honestly depicted (i.e. documentary), enhance the possibility of a more complex, demanding and therefore productive relationship with power.

“Documentary truth” stands as a central element not only, as Nichols points out, in the representation and recognition of reality, but also in the constitution of social and individual identity. We not only see ourselves in ethnographic or pornographic documentation, we also build ourselves from what we see and believe. It is our sexual self represented for us. At issue, then, is whether these images constitute a valuable rendering or a restraining caricature. And this depends in part on whether we link porn to the function of directed education (i.e. control) or accurate representation.

This is a central element in the social contract that enables and sustains porn. It must excite, yes. And it must be commercially viable. But in addition to the necessity of commercial viability, it must also accurately point toward–be indexical to–“the thing itself.” But who defines the nature of “the thing itself”? What is our sexual nature? In this case, the thing itself is the range of complex and specific knowledge and communion that is available for experience between or among men through sexual connection, a broad territory that is being created and explored by men such as those I quoted earlier. The representation not only of the truth but also of the complexity of the truth–the tangled and individual realities of practice and identity–is a responsibility of porn, the sexually indexical documentary genre.

While all porn participates in and benefits from the accepted sense that there’s an element of the “documentary impulse” at work in it, not all porn producers are equally concerned with the issues this brings up. I’m reminded of the recent non-porn movie “Krippendorf’s Tribe” in which an unethical academic, in danger of losing his funding, fakes documentary videos of a bogus tribe. Because the tribe–the invented faux-culture–is created by a single man it becomes a meaningless but fascinating caricature, a conglomerate of rituals, costumes and signs that are indexical not to anthropological truth but to Krippendorf’s hyperreal fantasy.

This hyperreality, while entertaining and exciting is dangerous when taken as representative of anything other than disconnected fantasy. If Krippendorf were “real”, an actual academic at an actual University, his work would be seen as scandalous and irresponsible. In porn, when the same sort of duplicity occurs, there is no censuring.

In a Titan or a Falcon fantasy there is very little truth-content, very little that can be associated even distantly with documenting anything other than an unreal world. These videos, for the most part, are about sex in exactly the way that Krippendorf’s studies are about serious Anthro, or Bruce Webber’s photographs are about male sensuality. All three (Titan, Krippendorf, Webber) are primarily about exclusion, inaccessibility, the delineation not of true or real worlds but in each case of a single man’s manufactured fantasy of a world that has many of the signs of reality but is in fact able to function because it is perfectly unattainable yet terribly attractive. In these cases, the erotic connection is primarily masochistic and teaches the observer that eros is something only those in the inaccessible worlds can experience fully.

This is an odd and unfortunate dovetailing of the nearly universal gay confusion of masochism with eros on the one hand and on the other hand the response of a new generation of porn makers to the safe-sex imperative. The positing of sex and eros as things that occur in hyperreal worlds removes them from the mess of viruses, germs, test-results, imperfections and real intimacy (physical or emotional). Sexworlds like those of Falcon and Titan are arid paradises that are inhabited by unexcited actors who move through tableaux that call for replications of sex. The “safety” that is enabled through the creation of other worlds for perfect sex is a safety of relative lifelessness for the viewer. I don’t know how a video that enhances disconnection and a masochistic relationship to eros can be called safe.

Let me talk about barebacking. As you know, barebacking is fucking without a rubber. The term itself, with its horsey allusion, links to the same American mythic construct that, say, the Marlboro man is meant to connect with and exploit. The difference is that it wasn’t an advertising agency that made the link but the general population of gay men. Gay men who bareback are called “bug chasers” or “bug-friendly”. They are also called “gift givers”, with a virus being the “gift”.

In interviewing gay men, I have found that barebacking is far more generally practiced (and tacitly accepted) than I had suspected. It is in a sense an element of a new closet: it is one of those things that gay men don’t usually discuss even among themselves. Yet I would estimate that more than fifty percent of the men I have spoken with engage in bareback sex with strangers regularly. Some perhaps once a month. Many on a weekly or daily basis. Some love it because it is raunchy. Some love it because it is a sign of unlimited intimacy. Some men who fuck without a condom are wild and compulsive. Others are balanced, healthy.

In San Francisco there are weekly parties in homes and rented play spaces; bars, clubs and organizations enable and support barebacking among large numbers of men. There are on-line encouragement groups for barebackers around the world–including groups specifically for those most trusting and optimistic of men, HIV-negative barebackers. There are at least three porn production companies that specialize in barebacking scenes, mine being one of them.

I had coffee a few days ago with a young man who calmly and cheerfully told me about his Wednesday night: he had snorted a bump of crystal, gone to a sex-bar South of Market, and been fucked by so many men that, as he put it, “I lost count at 20 of the hot loads that I took up my ass.” He fucked there until the bar closed, at which point he walked to a nearby sex club, Mack, with cum dripping down his pants legs. At the sex club he was fucked by a half-dozen other men. I asked him why he was doing this. He responded, “My diagnosis was a wake-up call. My life is limited. I want to be happy.”

In no sense does this young man feel unusual when you speak with him. He is not rabid, not crazed, not stupid. He is level-headed, quite brilliant and works at a high level in the Gap organization, making a great deal more than I do. Yet in the context of the larger culture–and certainly in the context of the medical/epidemiological culture–this is irresponsible behavior, a fact argued with intelligent futility by Gabriel Rotello.

In the context of a sexually-based American male sub-culture, however, “unsafe sex” is not only insane, it is also essential. For a subculture to be sustained, there must be those who engage in central and defining activities with little regard for anything else, including life itself. In a sense, not only the nature but also the coherence of the subculture is determined and maintained by passionate devotees who serve a contextually heroic purpose in their relationship with danger, death and communion.

At the heart of every culture is a set of experiences which members hold not only to be worth practicing, but also necessary to maintain and transmit to those who follow. In the case of a sexual subculture, one often has only one way to do this: by embodying the traditions. Within the complex system of beliefs and practices of an American male sexual subculture, there can be little that is more defining than the communion and connections that are made possible through these central practices. The everyday identity evanesces and the individual becomes an agent through which a darker and more fragile tradition is enabled to continue. Irresponsibility to the everyday persona and to the general culture is necessary for allegiance to the sexual subculture, and this allegiance takes the gay male directly to the hot and central point where what is at stake isn’t the survival of the individual, but the survival of the practices and patterns which are the discoveries and properties of the subculture. In this context, danger is allegiance to hard-won knowledge.

This is a nexus, a heart of our problem: the subculture and the virus require the same processes for transmission. In such a situation, how does one balance the struggle between the needs of the survival of the body and the needs within the body for the survival of traditions, truths and practices? This is a problem that pornography not only documents but also defines.

One way this manifests is in the equation today of spunk with truth and death. The viscous fluid jetting from all the cocks on screen is at once the documentary proof that Bill Nichols speaks of, the documentary evidence that we are watching “the thing itself”; and at the same time it is a lethal agent, the sign of being in harm’s way. In a sense, all other elements of porn today have become ancillary to this central factor: the moment of greatest excitement and commitment, the moment of communion, is also the moment of greatest physical jeopardy.

In the 80s, porn culture turned to straight men and bisexual scenes in order to move away from this vertiginous point–the ejaculatory consummation–while still maintaining the rote and perfunctory porn genre mechanics. We watched beautiful straight men, shaved to look more innocent and healthy (i.e. too young and too straight to have been infected) engaging in the mechanics of sex with none of the damning heat of passion that might lead one to slip up and either ingest semen or take it up the ass. These men didn’t like semen, didn’t live for it. Medieval European alchemists believed that it was the passionate heat of the mutual orgasm that was as responsible for fertilization as the semen. It was the passing into the womb of the quinta essentia. Straight–“gay for pay”–porn actors were in no danger of losing their essence in their porn sex, no matter how much sperm they squandered safely on the backs or bellies of their passive partners. There was no passion involved. And the lack of passion in itself seemed to remove the action one step away from danger. This quality of industrial dispassion acted then and continues to act as a behavioral condom: if one fucks with dispassion, there is little point in taking the risk that fluid exchange entails. This has become an implicit message in much porn, again equating gay sex with disconnection.

In the 90s, maverick video producers reintroduced semen worship and the lust for ingestion as an element in their sex scenes. In “Diamond Stud”(1992), for instance, young men keep their mouths wide open as their partners ejaculate onto their faces. These videos were remarkable for the fact that the viewer was sure that he was watching gay men having sex not only for money, but also for the passion and hunger of it. For the most part, however, the style of the late 80’s had become too successfully commodified for most companies to risk change. Although efforts were also made to code saliva as a substitute for semen, using it to denote passion, spit has associations of its own. Spitting into another man’s mouth isn’t the same as coming in his mouth.


Let me jump here, and bring in for comparison another American physically-based male subculture–skateboarding–and compare elements of their representative videos. The following are several simple points of similarity between the two:

1) Both skateboard videos and gay pornography emphasize the contextualization of the creative and erotic act in everyday life.

I experienced a nice coincidence that illustrated this. I interviewed a couple of young skateboarders several months ago. They told me that they came up with some of their best tricks on the way to the local 7-11 a few blocks away. That night I happened to watch a male porn video in which the central character met his first trick on the way to a convenience store. This is more than simply playing with the word “trick”. In both cases, the practices that are peculiar to the subculture occur in the context of everyday life and are given a heightened meaning through the contrasting uses of these public spaces. They take place within but apart from the mainstream world.

2) The videos in both cases connect isolated members to the subculture. They show the viewers what people are doing, how these things are done and what they mean.

3) Both focus on places or situations in which the denizens of the subculture predominate and the conditions for their optimal functioning are readily available. These are videos that tacitly imply that “We are everywhere”.

4) Both represent acts that are essential to the subculture because they are on the edge, because they are dangerous and illegal. Some skateboard and skateboard video company names I’ve encountered are Death, Danger, Watch Me Masturbate, Skull, Numbskull, Boner, Gloryhole.

In a remarkable skateboard video called “Radioactive Throwup”, boarders not only skate, they also juggle while they skate over and off the roofs of houses. In many skateboard videos, unpleasant encounters with cops are shown, and risks are taken that are exhilarating, beautiful and irresponsible.

Let me footnote this–taking myself further afield–with a story about surfing, a sport that is obviously related in many ways to skateboarding. I spend a good deal of time in Santa Cruz and around the Monterey Bay and have many friends who surf and skateboard. As you know, the Monterey Bay is a favored habitat for Great White sharks. A few years ago, a young surfer was killed by a Great White, literally bitten in half. The next day–the very next day–I watched young friends of mine surfing in the same spot. When I talked with them about this, about risk and fear, they said that this is what often makes it best. This was the point of surfing: to experience not only of the proximity of danger and death, but also to feel a kind of species humility in being shunted down to a low point in the food chain, animals again. It’s a practice of exploring the wilder animal self in the restrictive context of a neurotic society. That the price of admission includes the real possibility of death serves to point out the seriousness of their commitment as well as the ultimate expendableness of what they experience as self. Danger is the boundary that demarcates their cultural territory.

There was recently a controversy in the world of skateboarding videos. The controversy was due to the fact that larger companies such as Transworld had been making skateboarding videos that were slicker, more expensive and more polished than most. Many skateboard videos are made by the boarders themselves. The Transworld videos, in contrast, were designed not only to represent the practices of the culture and sport, but also to promote the sport to novices in order to encourage the purchase of merchandise being sold by sponsoring companies. In these videos, the “best” skateboarders (a term which rankles the sensibility of the street skater) performed extraordinarily difficult tricks. And they did them beautifully, perfectly.

I was fortunate enough to be “on set” for the shooting of one of the Transworld videos. The location was an outdoor staircase near the gym at UC Irvine. One boy was to ride down the banister of the staircase. He did the trick over and over. I counted fifteen tries. He got it right two or three times. He got it perfect once. By the end of the shoot he was bloody. The perfect take was the only one that made it into the video, with no blood in evidence.

This sanitizing of the performance of the trick epitomizes commercial duplicity and irresponsibility. These videos sell well across the country. Newbie boarders try incredibly difficult tricks and are seriously injured. Important information–information about desire and danger–is being excised. The problem wasn’t the dangerousness of the tricks. The problem was the way in which they were depicted, a basic dishonesty that is linked to the needs of merchandising.

The corporate skateboard video producers are presenting an image of skateboarding that is more saleable to the general public because it is buffered from the dangers the sport actually entails. The producers carefully remove images of either physical mishap or conflict with the law. These videos lead to a misunderstanding by the viewer of the nature not only of the “sport”, but also of the culture that has developed about the sport. They also set the idea that only “special” or especially talented young men skate–young men such as those chosen for the videos, young men who seem able to perform the impossible trick perfectly in a single try. This allows the creation of a competitive elite among skateboarders which in turn enables the development of a lucrative system of sponsored competitions, sponsorship of marketable skaters and intracultural celebrity.

I think of male porn videos that are currently being made by companies like Falcon. There is a parallel elite world that has developed, that of the “porn stars”, and there is a parallel irresponsibility in not accurately representing the world that makes the porn videos possible. The viewer is never told, for instance, that Caverject is used by the models during production. Caverject is a drug that is injected directly into the cocks of the models, insuring perfect hard-ons for hours–with or without sexual excitement. Several studios include money in their video budgets for supplies of Caverject and/or Viagra (often for men in their late teens or early 20’s). Other companies place the responsibility on the models by stipulating in their contract that an erection must be maintained during the hours of the shoot or the model will not be paid in full.

The world of slick porn is a stylized and damaged representation of the drive men feel to experience physical communion. The connections among the men are represented as being so purely sexualized and hot that there is, in the simplicity of acts and images and in the directness of the drive to satisfaction, a sterility that has become in itself a trademark, if not a stigma, of several of the larger companies. The videos are constructs of pure and impossible sexual energy, carefully directed and edited, into which the director ultimately inserts a nearly invisible but definitely present nod to political responsibility: a condom. Never has an object been so physically actual yet so representational ly unreal. It is as if a surfing video might show a surfer catching a perfect wave in the Monterey Bay, but at various crucial moments would edit in close-up shots of a shot-gun in his hand for any possible sharks. It’s not only dishonest, but more importantly, it misses the point. And in both cases editing toward a commodifiable safety is a betrayal of the population that is supporting the making of the videos.

This style of porn is an irresponsible representation of crucial information about who we are, and why we do what we do. Condoms in this context–a context of stylized and commercially driven political correctness–actually say little about safe sex or personal responsibility. They become instead the final sign for the absolute unavailability to the viewer of the communion and connection that the entire well-practiced language of the video had promised. It’s as though we are being punished for our impunity in watching these “hot” men in their “hot” videos by the stupidly inevitable intrusion of the rubber which seems to remind the viewer that he is too spineless to be trusted to decide on his own what constitutes adequate responsibility for his own body. These beautiful men must be called upon–quashing their stylized passion–to act at the critical moment of their intimacy as teachers and good influences for us. The audiences are either trained to a docile acquiescence, or, if they are of a different dispositional cast, they are moved to anger at the duplicity. I have met more than one man who cited frustration with such nearly universal imagery as having been a factor in their decision to bareback.

In a recent issue of Adult Video News, a gay editor wrote that he feared that barebacking in gay porn was probably an inevitability. In an editorial entitled “The Bareback Nightmare Wakes Up in the Porn World”, Mickey Skee writes that he’s “had this nightmare before: what if they stopped using condoms in gay porn?”. He goes on to write “the porn world is a fragile ecosystem. It only takes one company, one video, one director to make it crumble.”

The entire editorial is wrong-headed and full of misinformation. Rather than an editorial called “The Bareback Nightmare Wakes Up in the Porn World”, I would have preferred one called “Barebacking May Wake Up the Porn World from a Nightmare of Dishonesty.” The porn world is far from a “fragile ecosystem”: it is a robust and flexible industry. And while Skee’s attitude toward barebacking in porn–wary and frightened yet wearily resigned–seems at first to be reasonable and responsible, it’s my sense that it’s focusing on the issue in a perfectly counterproductive way.

The editors of Adult Video News are misreading the structure of the current sexual world as badly as the makers of slick porn are misrepresenting it. They are both locked in to the merchandising of particular and formulaic representations of male connection as being somehow quintessential. These acts, portrayed by this type of man, shot in this setting with these camera angles: this is enough. This is Sex. Worse, the industry presents the porn world as being separate from rather than integrated with the everyday world. Just as Bruce Webber created a make-believe world inhabited by pretty look-but-don’t-touch models, porn makers populate their world with “pornstars” who are chosen and groomed to be caricatures of sexually driven men. By setting up an impossible discontinuity between the porn world and the world of the viewer, they create the possibility of commercially exploiting the basic hunger we all feel for connection with ones own sexual culture.

Unlike mainstream porn, the sexual renaissance I spoke of at the beginning of this paper is not organized in its development according to “safe” or “unsafe”. Nor is it organized according to the needs or dictates of the law or the market. It is organized by passion and need in the real world. Safety and risk are weighed and negotiated as an integral element of each individual’s path of personal exploration. Porn, however, continues to work along the lines of an erotic that is defined on the one hand by an abstracted concentration of barren sexual energy and on the other by frustration and fear, by the perceived political and commercial necessity of a denial of the nature of sexual experience and a privileging of medical and social terror over the deep necessities of the life-experience of the individual.

It’s perhaps sad but it’s true: we cannot be trained not to do things because they are unsafe. We smoke, we drink, we eat wrong, we drive faster than we should, we leap from airplanes, we bungee jump, we skateboard, we have sex. It isn’t that we must do these things, it’s just that they must be done.

This is one of Gabriel Rotello’s errors: in our world, safety cannot be mandated, particularly where the passions at the heart of our identities are concerned. As a people, we do believe in miracles. We are optimistic and irrational. We believe that we can be saved if we will just be ourselves. We smoke, drink, fuck and play because this is what we are and this is what we do. It is this depth, this complexity and this eloquent and tragic irrationality that porn has the responsibility to represent and represent accurately and honestly. That is its job. An avoidance of unsafeness doesn’t work as an anti-AlDS strategy, and it has been bastardized by the slicker elements of porn in ways that have only exacerbated the problem, promoting not a culture of sex and sexuality, but a perfectly tantalizing world of vapid heat and “sexiness”.

Let me close with three brief and tentative suggestions regarding porn today.

First, a conceptual reframing of the situation would be helpful. The problem must not be defined–particularly in porn-according to a posited need to restrain male sexuality and the male sexual impulse. This will never work, and has already caused terrific damage. By defining practices as “safe” or “unsafe,” we force the creation of a dichotomy that-again particularly in porn– inevitably magnifies the allure of danger. Disastrously, erotic specificity and creativity become the provenance of recklessness when everything is divided and categorized according to these two labels that derive from a context of terror. The process of developing and fulfilling one’s sexual and erotic individuality is seen too easily as a relinquishment of the bounds of good sense, an unequivocal lapse into “unsafeness”. What greater error could we be making than representing the totality of queer sexual experience through an equation that places all sexual acts on one side and “safe/unsafe” or “good/bad” on the other? This can only result in a representational semiotic of physical communion that derives not from strength, curiosity or exuberance but from fear, disconnection, prurience and ultimately greed.

Secondly, all acts of queer sex should be represented on screen with equal honesty. The entire spectrum of behavior from innocent to depraved, from life-affirming to death-enhancing should be available for the viewers.

And third, in order to develop porn toward a greater eloquence and inclusivity–and toward possibilities more creative than worn-out concepts like “safe” and “unsafe” have allowed–the practice of porn should veer away from the directed film and toward the more straightforward and generous practice of real documentation. Rather than fulfilling the career-based, industry-bound vision of porn directors who aspire to make “meaningful film,” pornmakers might turn with honest curiosity to the wider community of their queer peers, investigating with a less ambitious eye the explorations and inventions that are sprouting like wildflowers everywhere. As long as we have an industry dominated by porn directors who want to make “films”, directors who are intent on promulgating either a commercial or philosophical point, porn will continue to function in a crabbed and politicized discourse that disables the possibility of direct documentary honesty. How can those who work and prosper in the world of sex today have any job more important and timely than the accurate, detailed and truthful depiction of this creative world, a world of men who are risking life itself in pursuit of the possibility of cultural survival and personal happiness?

Platform of the 1993 March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay, and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation

The March on Washington took place April 25, 1993
Washington, D.C.

Action Statement Preamble to the Platform

The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender movement recognizes that our quest
for social justice fundamentally links us to the struggles against racism
and sexism, class bias, economic injustice and religious intolerance. We
must realize if one of us is oppressed we all are oppressed. The diversity of
our movement requires and compels us to stand in opposition to all forms of
oppression that diminish the quality of life for all people. We will be
vigilant in our determination to rid our movement and our society of all forms
of oppression and exploitation, so that all of us can develop to our full
human potential without regard to race, religion, sexual orientation,
identification, identity, gender and gender expression, ability, age or class.


1. We demand passage of a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender civil
rights bill and an end to discrimination by state and federal governments
including the military; repeal of all sodomy laws and other laws that
criminalize private sexual expression between consenting adults.
2. We demand massive increase in funding for AIDS education, research,
and patient care; universal access to health care including alternative
therapies; and an end to sexism in medical research and health care.
3. We demand legislation to prevent discrimination against Lesbians,
Gays, Bisexuals and Transgendered people in the areas of family diver-
sity, custody, adoption and foster care and that the definition of family
includes the full diversity of all family structures.
4. We demand full and equal inclusion of Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and
Transgendered people in the educational system, and inclusion of Les-
bian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender studies in multicultural curricula.
5. We demand the right to reproductive freedom and choice, to control
our own bodies, and an end to sexist discrimination.
6. We demand an end to racial and ethnic discrimination in all forms.
7. We demand an end to discrimination and violent oppression based on
actual or perceived sexual orientation, identification, race, religion, iden-
tity, sex and gender expression, disability, age, class, AIDS/HIV infection.

Platform Demands and Related Items

1. We demand passage of a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender civil
rights bill and an end to discrimination by state and federal governments
including the military; repeal of all sodomy laws and others laws that
criminalize private sexual expression between consenting adults.
  • Passage of “The Civil Rights Amendment Act of 1991” (HR 1430 & S574).
    Repeal of Department of Defense directive 1332.14.
  • Repeal of laws prohibiting sodomy, cross-gender expression (dress codes) or
    non-coercive sexual
    behavior between consenting adults.
  • Amendment of the Code of Federal Regulations to recognize same-sex
  • Passage of the Equal Rights Amendment
  • Implementation of, funding for and enforcement of the Americans with
    Disabilities Act of 1991.
  • Passage and implementation of graduated age-of-consent laws.
2. We demand massive increase in funding for AIDS education, research,
and patient care; universal access to health care including alternative
therapies; and an end to seism in medical research and health care.
  • The provision of responsive, appropriate health care for people with
    disabilities, deaf and hard of hearing people.
  • Revision of the Centers for Disease Control definition of AIDS to include
    infections particular to women.
  • Implementation of the recommendation-of the National AIDS Comrnission
  • A massive increase in funding for AIDS education, research and care–money for
    AIDS, not for war.
    This money should come from the defense budget, not existing social services.
  • An increase in funding and research to provide an independent study of
    HIV infection in women, People of Color, Bisexuals, Heterosexuals, children,
    and women to women transmission.
  • Access to anonymous testing for HIV.
  • No mandatory HIV testing.
  • A cure for AIDS.
  • The development and legalization of a national needle exchange program.
  • Free substance abuse treatment on demand.
  • The redefinition of sexual reassignment surgeries as medical, not cosmetic,
  • The provision of appropriate medical treatment for all transgendered people in
    prisons and hospitals.
  • An increase in funding and research for chronic illness, including breast
    ovarian, and other cancers particular to women.
  • The right of all people with chronic illness, including HIV/AIDS, to choices
    in medical treatment as well as the right to end such treatment.
3. We demand legislation to prevent discrimination against Lesbians,
Gays, Bisexuals, and Transgendered people in the areas of family di-
versity, custody, adoption and foster care and that the definition of
family includes the full diversity of all family structures.
  • The recognition and legal protection of whole range of family structures.
  • An end to abuse and exploitation of and discrimination against youth.
  • An end to abuse and exploitation of and discrimination against older/old people.
  • Full implementation of the recommendations contained in the report of the
    Health and Human Services Task Force on Youth Suicide.
  • Recognition of domestic partnerships.
  • Legalization of same sex marriages.
4. We demand full and equal inclusion of Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and
Transgendered people in the educational system, and inclusion of Les-
bian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender studies in multicultural curricula.
  • Culturally inclusive Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Studies program;
    and information on abortion, AIDS/HIV, childcare and sexuality at all levels
    of education.
  • Establishment of campus offices and programs to address Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual
    and Transgender students special needs.
  • The ban of all discriminatory ROTC programs and recruiters from learning
  • An end to discrimination at all levels of education.
5. We demand the right to reproductive freedom and choice, to control our
own bodies, and an end to sexist discrimination.
  • The right to control our bodies.
  • Unrestricted, safe and affordable alternative insemination.
  • An end to sterilization abuse.
  • That access to safe and affordable abortion and contraception be available to
    all people on demand, without restriction and regardless of age.
  • That access to unbiased and complete information about the full range of
    reproductive options be available to all people, regardless of age.
6. We demand an end to racial and ethnic discrimination in all forms.
  • Support for non-racist policies and affirmative action.
  • An end to institutionalized racism.
  • Equal economic opportunity and an end to poverty.
  • Full reproductive rights, improvement of prenatal services, availability of
    alternative insemination for Lesbians and Bisexual women of color.
  • Repeal all ‘English Only’ laws and restore and enforce bilingual education.
  • Repeal all discriminatory immigration laws based on race and HIV status.
  • A commitment to ending racism, including internalized racism, sexism and all
    forms of religious and ethnic oppression in our communities and in this country.
  • An end to the genocide of all the indigenous peoples and their cultures
  • Restoration of the self-determination of all indigenous people of the world.
7. We demand an end to discrimination and violent oppresion based on
actual or perceived sexual orientation/identification, race, religion,
identity, sex and gender expression, disability, age, class, AIDS/HIV infection.
  • An end to anti-Semitism.
  • An end to sexist oppression.
  • An end to discrimination against people with disabilities, deaf and hard of
    hearing people.
  • An end to discrimination based on sexual orientation in all programs of the Boy Scouts of America.
  • An end to economic injustice in this country and internationally.
  • An end to discrimination against prisoners with HIV/AIDS.
  • An end to discrimination against people with HIV/AIDS, and those perceived as
    having HIV/AIDS.
  • An end to consideration of gender dysphoria as a psychiatric disorder.
  • An end to hate crimes including police brutality, rape and bashing.
    An end to censorship.

Speech to the March on Washington

by Urvashi Vaid
April 25, 1993
March on Washington

Hello lesbian and gay Americans. I am proud to stand before you as a lesbian today. With hearts full of love and the abiding faith in justice, we have come to Washington to speak to America. We have come to speak the truth of our lives and silence the liars. We have come to challenge the cowardly Congress to end its paralysis and exercise moral leadership. We have come to defend our honor and win our equality. But most of all we have come in peace and with courage to say, “America, this day marks the end from exile of the gay and lesbian people. We are banished no more. We wander the wilderness of despair no more. We are afraid no more. For on this day, with love in our hearts, we have come out, and we have come out across America to build a bridge of understanding, a bridge of progress, a bridge as solid as steel, a bridge to a land where no one suffers prejudice because of their sexual orientation, their race, their gender, their religion, or their human difference.”

I have been asked by the March organizers to speak in five minutes about the far right, the far right which threatens the construction of that bridge. The extreme right which has targeted everyone of you and me for extinction. The supremacist right which seeks to redefine the very meaning of democracy. Language itself fails in this task, my friends, for to call our opponents “The Right,” states a profound untruth. They are wrong – they are wrong morally, they are wrong spiritually, and they are wrong politically.

The Christian supremacists are wrong spiritually when they demonize us. They are wrong when they reduce the complexity and beauty of our spirit into a freak show. They are wrong spiritually, because, if we are the untouchables of America — if we are the untouchables — then we are, as Mahatma Gandhi said, children of God. And as God’s children we know that the gods of our understanding, the gods of goodness and love and righteousness, march right here with us today.

The supremacists who lead the anti-gay crusade are wrong morally. They are wrong because justice is moral, and prejudice is evil; because truth is moral and the lie of the closet is the real sin; because the claim of morality is a subtle sort of subterfuge, a stratagem which hides the real aim which is much more secular. Christian supremacist leaders like Bill Bennett and Pat Robertson, Lou Sheldon and Pat Buchanan, supremacists like Phyllis Schlafley, Ralph Reid, Bill Bristol, R.J., Rushoodie — the supremacists don’t care about morality, they care about power. They care about social control. And their goal, my friends, is the reconstruction of American Democracy into American Theocracy.

We who are gathered here today must prove the religious right wrong politically and we can do it. That is our challenge. You know they have made us into the communists of the nineties. And they say they have declared cultural war against us. It’s war all right. It’s a war about values. On one side are the values that everyone here stands for. Do you know what those values are? Traditional American values of democracy and pluralism. On the other side are those who want to turn the Christian church in government, those whose value is monotheism.

We believe in democracy, in many voices co-existing in peace, and people of all faiths living together in harmony under a common civil framework known as the United States Constitution. Our opponents believe in monotheism. One way, theirs. One god, theirs. One law, the Old Testament. One nation supreme, the Christian Right one. Let’s name it. Democracy battles theism in Oregon, in Colorado, in Florida, in Maine, in Arizona, in Michigan, in Ohio, in Idaho, in Washington, in Montana, in every state where , my brothers and sisters, are leading the fight to oppose the Right and to defend the United States Constitution. We won the anti-gay measure in Oregon, but today 33 counties — 33 counties and municipalities face local versions of that ordinance today. The fight has just begun. We lost the big fight in Colorado, but, thanks to the hard work of all the people of Colorado, the Boycott Colorado movement is working and we are strong. And we are going to win our freedom there eventually.

To defeat the Right politically, my friends, is our challenge when we leave this March. How can we do it? We’ve got to march from Washington into action at home. I challenge everyone of you, straight or gay, who can hear my voice, to join the national gay and lesbian movement. I challenge you to join NGLTF to fight the Right. We have got to match the power of the Christian supremacists, member for member, vote for vote, dollar for dollar. I challenge each of you, not just buy a T-shirt, but get involved in your movement. Get involved! Volunteer! Volunteer! Every local organization in this country needs you. Every clinic, every hotline, every youth program needs you, needs your time and your love.

And I also challenge our straight liberal allies, liberals and libertarians, independent and conservative, republican or radical. I challenge and invite you to open your eyes and embrace us without fear. The gay rights movement is not a party. It is not lifestyle. It is not a hair style. It is not a fad or a fringe or a sickness. It is not about sin or salvation. The gay rights movement is an integral part of the American promise of freedom.

We, you and I, each of us, we are the descendants of a proud tradition of people asserting our dignity. It is fitting that the Holocaust Museum was dedicated the same weekend as this March, for not only were gay people persecuted by the Nazi state, but gay people are indebted to the struggle of the Jewish people against bigotry and intolerance. It is fitting that the NAACP marches with us, that feminist leaders march with us, because we are indebted to those movements.

When all of us who believe in freedom and diversity see this gathering, we see beauty and power. When our enemies see this gathering, they see the millennium. Perhaps the Right is right about something. We call for the end of the world as we know it. We call for the end of racism and sexism and bigotry as we know it. For the end of violence and discrimination and homophobia as we know it. For the end of sexism as we know it. We stand for freedom as we have yet to know it, and we will not be denied.

Speech to the March on Washington

by Lani Ka’ahumanu
Washington, D.C.
April 25, 1993
Lani is co-founder of the Bay Area Bisexual Network

Aloha, my name is Lani Ka’ahumanu,
and it ain’t over til the bisexual speaks…

I am a token, and a symbol.
Today there is no difference.
I am the token out bisexual asked to speak, and
I am a symbol of how powerful the bisexual pride movement is
and how far we have come.

I came here in 1979
for the March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights

I returned in 1987
for the March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights

I stand here today
on the stage
of the 1993 March on Washington
for Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual
Equal Rights and Liberation.

In 1987 I wrote an article on bisexuality
for the Civil Disobedience Handbook
titled, “Are we visible yet?”

Bisexual activists
organized on the local, regional and national levels
to make this March a reality.

Are bisexuals visible yet?
Are bisexuals organized yet?
Are bisexuals accountable yet?

You bet your sweet ass we are!

Bisexuals are here,
and we’re queer.

Bisexual pride
speaks to the truth
of behavior and identity.

No simple either/or divisions
fluid – ambiguous – subversive
bisexual pride challenges both
the heterosexual and the homosexual assumption.

Society is based
on the denial of diversity,
on the denial of complexity.

Like multiculturalism,
mixed heritage and bi-racial relationships,
both the bisexual and transgender movements
expose and politicize the middle ground.

Each show there is no separation,
that each and everyone of us
is part of a fluid social, sexual and gender dynamic.

Each signals a change, a fundamental change
in the way our society is organized.

Remember today.

Remember we are family,
and like a large extended family,
we don’t always agree, don’t always see eye to eye.

However, as a family under attack
we must recognize the importance of what
each and every one of us brings to our movement.

There is strength in our numbers and diversity.
We are every race, class, culture, age, ability,
religion, gender identity and sexual orientation.

Our visibility is a sign of revolt.

Recognition of bisexual orientation and transgender issues
presents a challenge to assumptions
not previously explored
within the politics
of gay liberation.

What will it take
for the gayristocracy to realize
that bisexual, lesbian, transgender, and gay people
are in this together,
and together
we can and will
move the agenda forward.

But this will not happen
until public recognition
of our common issues is made,
and a sincere effort to confront
biphobia and transphobia is made
by the established gay and lesbian leadership
in this country.

The broader movement for our civil rights and liberation
is being held back.

Who gains when we ostracize whole parts of our family?
Who gains from exclusionary politics?

Certainly not us…

Being treated as if I am less oppressed than thou
is not only insulting,
it feeds right in to the hands
of the right wing fundamentalists
who see all of us as queer.

What is the difficulty
in seeing how my struggle
as a mixed race bisexual woman of color
is intimately related to the bigger struggle
for lesbian and gay rights
the rights of people of color and
the rights of all women?

What is the problem?

This is not a competition.

I will not play by rules
that pit me against any oppressed group.

Has the gayristocracy
bought so far in to the either/or structure,
invested so much in being
the opposite of heterosexual
that they cannot remove themselves
that they can’t imagine being free
of the whole oppressive heterosexist system
that keeps us all down?

Bisexual, gay, lesbian, and transgender people
who are out of the closet,
who are not passing
for anything other than who and what we are
all have our necks and our lives on the line.

All our visibility is a sign of revolt.

Bisexuals are here to challenge the bigots
who have denied lesbian, gay and bisexual people
basic civil rights in Colorado.

Yes, Amendment 2 includes bisexual orientation.

Yes, the religious right recognizes bisexuals
as a threat to “so called” family values.

Bisexuals are here to protest
the military ban against lesbians, gays and bisexuals.

Yes, the Department of Defense defines bisexuals separately
as a reason to be dishonorably discharged.

And yes, out bisexuals are not allowed
to be foster or adoptive parents,

And yes, we lose our jobs, our children, get beaten and killed
for loving women and for loving men.

Bisexuals are queer, just as queer as queer can be.

Each of us here today
represents many people
who could not make the trip.

Our civil rights and liberation movement
has reached critical mass.

Remember today.

Remember that we are more powerful
than all the hate, ignorance and violence
directed at us.

Remember what a profound difference
our visibility makes
upon the world in which we live.

The momentum of this day
can carry us
well into the 21st century
if we come out where ever and when ever we can.

Remember assimilation is a lie.
It is spiritual erasure.

I want to challenge those lesbian and gay leaders
who have come out to me privately over the years
as bisexual to take the next step, come out now.

What is the sexual liberation movement about
if not about the freedom to love whom we choose?

I want to encourage bisexuals
in the lesbian, gay and heterosexual communities
to come out now.

Remember there is nothing wrong with love.
Defend the freedom to express it.

Our visibility is a sign of revolt.
We cannot be stopped. We are everywhere.
We are bisexual, lesbian, gay and transgender people.

We will not rest
until we are all free;

We will not rest
until our basic human rights
are protected under federal law;

We will not rest
until our relationships and families
are not just tolerated
but recognized, respected and valued;

We will not rest
until we have a national health care system;

We will not rest
until there are cures for AIDS and cancer.

We deserve nothing less.

Remember we have every right
to be in the world
exactly as we are.

Celebrate that simply and fiercely.

I love you.

Mahalo and aloha.

How I spent my Two Week Vacation Being a Token Bisexual

by Lani Ka’ahumanu
This is a reflection on the 1993 March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay, and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation.
It was published in Anything That Moves

So there I was in the 1993 March on Washington media office in Washington DC six days before the big event working the phones and lending a bisexual presence. The five phones rang non-stop, “March on Washington media office. Hello my name is Lani.” The publisher of a small local DC paper called. He wanted to do a story paralleling the Martin Luther King March and this one. He wanted to make the connections clear so his community would come and join the march. “It’s the same for all of us,” he said, “basic civil rights.” “Yep, that’s right,” I said, “30 years later we have the same dream.” There were two to four of us at any one point fielding questions from local, national and international television and radio stations, the print media, as well as reporters of all stripes wanting interviews, press passes and faxing us their credentials. The NAACP and the White House called a few times too.

The pace was fast and furious, the mood was campy and cooperative, the setting was cramped, lacking air and windows. There was a sense of history being made. The Today Show, Good Morning America, Tokyo Television, Italian TV, the New York Times, Miami Herald Tribune, LA Times, SF Examiner, USA TODAY, and the Village Voice to name just a few who called. Everyone was looking for an angle on this civil rights march. This was not being covered as a parade or celebration. The tone was more serious.

A national gay writer who was working for a big city paper was interested in interviewing one of the speakers. “Well guess what,” I said, “I just happen to be on the main stage.” “Perfect.” he said. So I tell him I’m the token bisexual speaker and the last one of the day. He laughs when I tell him the name of my speech, “It ain’t over til the bisexual speaks.” And is hooked by the Farajaje-Jones term “gayristocracy.” He asks great questions, we talked and then there was a long pause. “This is really interesting. Maybe I should do a story for the Village Voice on bisexuality.” He asks for my home number and there is another long silence. Then says, “Well, I’d like to talk with you sometime. I’ve been having sex with all my lesbian friends and I don’t know who to talk to about it.” I encouraged him to call.

Everyday that week as new people arrived someone would introduce me as Lani Ka’ahumanu the bisexual speaker. I wasn’t being “shown off” exactly but sometimes the tokenism grated my nerves. Being the only visible one of anything is taxing and isolating. By the end of each day I wanted good ol’ bisexual company. Thank goodness there were so many bisexuals around and a BiNET USA meeting and a National Conference on Bisexuality and dance on Saturday. I was well nourished.

By the time Sunday arrived I was ready. I had worked hard and thought about this day for two months. When I pictured myself talking in front of TV cameras and a million people I rode the adrenaline rushes like a surfer catches a wave. My biggest and most surprising breakthrough came while working on my speech. I cranked up some “writing” music — Simon and Garfunkel’s Concert in Central Park. As I went to my desk thinking about being on stage the speakers filled my office with thousands of people cheering and clapping at the Central Park Concert. At that moment I experienced a level of terror that made my body shiver. I stopped in my tracks and began to cry. I cried for a very long time and then started laughing. What a perfect way to get over the fear of being in front of so many people! I played the crowd noise over and over until the adrenaline subsided.

I thought about the first National Bisexual Conference in 1990. How we applauded loudly when BiPOL’s Autumn Courtney proclaimed the nineties as the “decade of the bisexual.” The vision of our bisexual community and movement becoming a viable and respected player at the larger queer community table was within our reach. Who would have guessed that we would have secured national recognition less than two years later? But there we were in January, 1992, demanding that bisexual rights be recognized in the title of the 1993 March on Washington. Our time had definitely arrived. Many of us took leadership positions on the national, regional, and local levels for organizing the March.

A quiet sense of pride filled me the morning of April 25th. We made it. There we were in the front of the March carrying the banner, performing on the morning stage, and marching loud, proud and visible with almost every group. And there we were over 1,000 strong in the bisexual contingent! And there we were visible on the gigantic trinitron screens projecting the afternoon stage activities with the “1993 March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation” title emblazoned across the top. And yes, there we were on the afternoon stage.

I say “we” were on the afternoon stage because we were. I did not feel alone up there for a minute. I can’t quite explain it, but you all were with me. For the entire day I felt I was speaking for more than myself. There was a definite sense of bistory in the making as I networked and challenged the biphobia, and reminded forgetful MCs and speakers that it was the lesbian gay and bisexual March on Wahsington, and appreciated those who said bisexual through out their speeches. I was very conscious of wanting to represent “us” as best as one person possibly could. Whenever I felt intimidated I just remembered how many strong and proud bisexual people I have had the opportunity of meeting here in the USA and in Europe in the last few years. I also knew there were thousands of bisexuals out there marching in huge numbers making a different kind of statement to the world. I felt proud and honored to be representing the bisexual community and movement and didn’t want to waste a moment of the precious time spent backstage. Loraine Hutchins with her bisexual pride t-shirt flashing stood out in this crowd. We consulted, commiserated and strategized all afternoon about how best to use the time accessing the media and the lesbian and gay leaders who were backstage. We worked that crowd for all it was worth.

Because unscheduled speakers were given time throughout the day, the stage ran an hour late. As the last speaker of the day my 5:30 p.m. slot came up around 6:45 p.m. Quite honestly by the end of the day I was emotionally exhausted and bruised from the general lack of respect, the tokenism, the invisibility of bisexual people and our issues and the division(ary) speeches given by many if not most of the lesbian and gay leaders. I was in no mood to be told 10 minutes before I was to go on that time was running out and the park service was threatening to turn off the sound at 7 p.m. One of the Co-Chairs told me that they were asking everyone to shorten their time to two minutes in order to get everyone who was scheduled onto the stage.

Something inside of me snapped when I heard this. I have always been willing to compromise, see both sides of an issue, build alliances, work things out. I have never been a very pushy, or disruptive in-your-face type of an activist/organizer. But honey did I turn a corner that day! I made it crystal clear that if there hadn’t been blatant biphobia coming from the stage, as well as from behind the stage all day, and if everyone would have done their homework and remembered that it was indeed the lesbian, gay and bisexual March on Washington, and if I wasn’t the only bisexual speaker out of the 18 chosen I would consider it in a heartbeat. After all I had been a producer and I understood the situation they were in, however editing my speech to two minutes was completely out of the question. A very brief discussion ensued regarding quality and quantity which I felt was ridiculous when we were talking five minutes vs. two minutes. In the end I agreed to look over my speech and edit, but not to two minutes. I knew my speech was a little more than five minutes so it seemed only fair to do this. As I walked out of the trailer the look on my face was not lost on Nadine Smith one of the other Co-Chairs who had been a consistent bisexual ally. She asked what had happened. I told her the situation. Her immediate reply was, “That isn’t right. Let me see what I can do.” A sense of injustice filled me with a focused fierceness in way I had never experienced before in my life. I would not be stopped, period. Loraine and Dannielle [my daughter] and Katherin came over to see what was wrong. “How dare they pull this on us!,” I said.

Less than a minute later someone said, “You’re on.” I hadn’t looked over my speech to begin the edit, but it didn’t matter. This was it. I felt strong and clear and angry as I walked through the security check points before the long ascent to the stage. “Lani Ka’ahumanu?” “Yes,” I said, “Lani Ka’ahumanu.” With each step my determination grew stronger. “Lani Ka’ahumanu?” “Lani Ka’ahumanu.” With each step I was filled with a powerful sense of love for bisexual people, for our courage and bravery, for the visible and viable bisexual community we have built, and for the strong bisexual pride movement we have organized. Oh no, I did not feel alone up there at all.

By the time I got to the top of the stairs and walked to edge of the backstage I was over it. Nothing was going to stop me, nothing, not even the stage co-producer Robin Tyler who literally got on her knees and asked me to make my speech two minutes. (What a lost photo opportunity!) I looked around and unexpectedly saw two familiar and friendly faces. Robin and I went over the two sentence introduction I had written earlier in the day. I had to edit one out. She liked one, but I wanted the other because it was more radical. It mentioned I had been a housewife and activist in the 60s, a public lesbian mother in the 70s and an out of the closet bisexual since 1980.

The very instant the group Menage finished singing, I walked to the podium as Robin introduced me. What a moment, there were hundreds of thousands of people as far as I could see to the Washington Monument and television cameras too numerous to count set up on a platform. I took a deep breath and said… [Read the speech here]

Remarks by the President to the Empire State Pride Gala

by Bill Clinton
Sheraton New York Hotel and Tower
New York, New York
October 7, 1999

9:56 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much for your energy and your enthusiasm, your passion and your wonderful welcome. I want to begin by thanking Jeff, who has been a wonderful friend and advisor, a prodder and supporter to me. And I thank him so much. (Applause.)

Thank you, Kate Callivan, for your work tonight. Thank you, Matt Forman, for your leadership of Empire State Pride. (Applause.) And thank you, Chuck Schumer, for running and winning and for all you have done to make this a better state and a better country. (Applause.)

I’d also like to thank two other members of the Congress who are here, Congressman Jerry Nadler and Congressman Anthony Weiner, for the work they do for you. Thank you. (Applause.) I’d like to thank my longtime friend, the New York public advocate, Mark Green, who is here, for his steadfast support of your agenda. Thank you, Mark. (Applause.)

I understand the borough President of Manhattan is here, Virginia Fields. Thank you, Virginia. We’re glad to have you. (Applause.) There are members of the State Assembly and members of the City Council here. Emily Gish (phonetic), the Vice President of the State Democratic Party, is here. I thank her. (Applause.) And we’ve got all these great people from the administration — a lot of them stood up, but I want to mention their names — the two highest ranking openly gay and lesbian appointees in the House, Sean Maloney and Karen Tramontano — (applause) — my good friend, Richard Soccarides, who is leaving — (applause) — Fred Hochberg, the Deputy Administrator of SBA — (applause) — and two former appointees, Roberta Eichenberg and Ginny Apuzzo are here. I thank them for what they did. (Applause.)

I’d also like to thank Marsha Scott, who was my first liaison to the gay and lesbian community this year. (Applause.) And the head of our anti-HIV and AIDS efforts, Sandy Thurman, who’s done a wonderful job this year. I thank her for being here. (Applause.)

Let me begin by saying something I need to say a lot in the time I have left as President: thank you. (Applause.) Thank you for the support, the guidance, and the urging you have given to the Vice President and me, and to our administration and our families. Thank you for the example you have set. Thank you for helping Chuck Schumer to get elected. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to learn and grow, and do our jobs better, and serve all Americans better.

Jeff said that, you know, last year the Vice President came, and this year Chuck and I are here. And you’re looking for a speaker. I think, you know, you ought to invite a woman to speak next year. (Applause.) And if you want, I have a suggestion. (Laughter.)

Actually I talked, as chance would have it, to both the Vice President and to Hillary this afternoon — (laughter) — not so I could tell you that I did, either. (Laughter.) But they asked me what I was doing — there’s a lot more attention on what they’re doing than what I’m doing now, but they did ask me what I was doing, which was nice, that someone, somewhere in America still cared what I was doing. (Laughter and applause.) So when I told them what I was doing, they said to give you their best wishes, and they wish they were here. (Laughter.)

Jeff mentioned that seven years ago, when I first ran for President, I said I had a vision for America and you were a part of it. I met with a group of activists from your community here in early 1992, and in California in late 1991. And I began to try to listen and to learn and to understand why so many of these issues have presented such big problems for America.

One couple came through to see me earlier tonight, two men; one was from Australia, the other from New Zealand and they said that as a couple, they hadn’t the same immigration rights coming into America as they did in either Canada or New Zealand. I don’t think that’s right; I think that ought to be changed. (Applause.)

But I think the first thing I want to say to you — I want to talk more about this, but I’m obviously giving a lot of thought these days to what happens to America over the long run. We enter a new century, we enter a new millennium, the way we work and live and relate to each other and relate to people around the world is changing in profound and speedy ways. It’s almost difficult to grasp. More of it is good than bad.

But we all have to be much more open to each other if we want this to work. We’ve got to learn to listen as well as to talk. We’ve got to learn to feel as well as to think. We have to learn as we’re all told we should do from childhood, to stand in the other person’s shoes. We have done what we could to make the future one of equal opportunity and equal responsibility and equal membership in our American community, whether it is in fighting to pass the hate crimes law or the employment nondiscrimination act or to invest more in research, prevention and treatment for HIV patients.

I would like to take just a few moments tonight to try to put all the things you care about into a larger context of where America is and where I hope America will go. When I started running for President, I did so because I thought the country was in trouble and without direction and growing more divided. First, economically. Unemployment was too high, job growth was too low, incomes were stagnant, inequality was increasing. And there was a sense of literal despair about it in many places.

I worried about social division. You remember, we had a riot in Los Angeles. But everywhere, there was this quiet sense of unease. And every campaign, it seemed to me, was yet another example of how we could sort of carve up the electorate and make one group resent another, and hope that your group was a larger group of resenters than the other group. And it seemed to me that that was a bad way to run a country.

And it wasn’t just anti-lesbian and gay, it was tensions between the races, tensions between immigrants and citizens. And it built on this whole pattern of thought that had accumulated in Washington over decades that everything had to be divided into hostile camps. You couldn’t be pro-labor if you were pro-business, and vice versa. You couldn’t be pro-economic growth and be in favor of improving the environment. You couldn’t be pro-work and pro-family. We had to have these divided views. You couldn’t have an urban policy if your really cared about what was going on on the farm.

You know, we don’t think like that. None of us do, instinctively. We always try to think of how we can live an integrated life, and how our minds will think in an integrated way that pulls things together and moves things forward. But everything about our politics was about how to pit us against one another.

And since we all wake up every morning — I know maybe none of you do, but some days I wake up on the wrong side of the bed, in a foul humor. (Laughter.) I’m sure you don’t ever do that, but I do sometimes. (Laughter.) And it has occurred to me really that every one of us has this little scale inside, you know. On one side there’s the light forces and the other side there’s the dark forces in our psyche and our makeup and the way we look at the world. And every day we wake up and the scale is a little bit tilted one way or the other. And life is a big struggle to try to keep things in proper balance.

You don’t want to have so much light that you’re just a fool for whatever comes along. But if the scale tips dark even a little bit, things turn badly for people and those with whom they come in contact. And it can happen for communities and for a whole country.

So, anyway, when I ran I thought maybe I could change the way we think about politics. And if we do, maybe we can change what we do and how we do it.

And, you know, there’s an old adage that the Lord never gives you more than you can handle, but I have been severely tested in this resolve. (Laughter and applause.) But most days, you know, it’s been kind of fun, but bewildering. (Laughter.)

So anyway, we came up — Al Gore and I — (applause.) Well, for whatever reason — and the American people took a chance on me and Al Gore in 1992. And we got the Democrats together, and we tried to reach out to the Republicans. And usually they said no; sometimes they said — a few of them would say yes.

But we said, look, let’s take a different direction — on the economy, on crime, on welfare, on the environment. Let’s try to think of a way to integrate the things that we want to achieve, and build a creative tension so we could move the country forward. And let’s try to build a country where everybody has a place. And we just made an argument in 1992. It was just an argument. You — no one could know for sure whether it would work.

You know, I’m rethinking my position about wanting everybody to have a cell phone in this country. (Laughter and applause.) He’s a good guy, don’t worry about it. (Applause.)

But anyway, so we made this argument, you know, and you guys took a chance. And New York really stood behind us, gave us a chance to serve.

But it’s not an argument anymore. Those of you who’ve been with us six and a half years, when you go out to discuss citizenship and issues, and the future, say, look, whatever you want to say about that crowd, there are certain things that you can’t dispute. We now have the lowest unemployment rate in 29 years; the lowest welfare rolls in 32 years; the lowest crime rates in 26 years; the lowest poverty rates in 20 years; the first back-to-back surpluses in 42 years; the longest peacetime expansion in history; and 19.5 million new jobs. You can’t argue; that happened. (Applause.)

And every time — (applause) — every time — (applause) — every time we did something that tried to reconcile our economic objectives with our other objectives — whether it was family and medical leave or vetoing the first two welfare bills because they didn’t have guaranteed food and medicine coverage for poor children and enough money for child care, or trying to clean up the air and the water, or saying that the system we had for taking care of little kids and immunizing them — we were nuts and we were determined to reach 90 percent immunization, which we did, by the way. All of these things — people would say — or, raising the minimum wage, or you name it. That was always going to be something that would hurt the economy. It turned out that that was wrong, that putting things together made all of our efforts reinforce one another.

I feel even more strongly about that when it comes to putting people together. One of the things I’ve spent an enormous amount of time doing in the last two years is trying to make sure America is Y2K ready. I’ve even got these little things that look like beanie babies that are Y2K bugs I have around just to remind me that we don’t want there to be one.

You know, to most people, that’s about adjusting a computer. But if you think about it, there is a lot more than mechanics involved in being ready for the new millennium, and a lot more than economics involved in being a successful country.

When I signed the executive order to prohibit discrimination in the federal work force based on sexual orientation, I thought I was helping us to come together. (Applause.) I think ENDA will help us to come together.

I think the fact that we have gay and lesbian Americans, like Jim Hormel and over 200 other openly gay and lesbian people serving in appointed positions in our government throughout the administration, doing normal jobs — (applause) — I got so tickled when you were reading — you know, if you look at our people and what they do, they do real jobs. They’re out there showing up. And every time they come in contact with somebody, they destroy another stereotype. They rob people of another attack. (Applause.)

You know, when we were in that awful battle that I waged and didn’t win over the military service issue, there was a national survey run which showed that the most significant factor tilting people in favor of the so-called gays in the military policy was whether they consciously were aware that they had known a gay person. And those who said they were consciously aware that they had a personal relationship, contact with a gay person were two to one in favor of the policy. (Applause.)

Now, I say that because I believe that our whole society is like all of us are individually. We’ve got these scales always tilting back and forth between the forces of hope and the forces of fear. And what people do not know, they more easily fear. What they fear, they can easily hate. And what they hate, they quickly dehumanize. And it is a slippery slope.

So I say to you, this hate crimes legislation is important. People say, well, you know, the killers of James Byrd got the death penalty in Texas, and maybe you don’t need it. But we do need it, because there are 8,000 reported hate crimes in 1997 alone — about one an hour. And people need to focus on it.

When those kids got shot at the Jewish Community Center school, and then that Filipino postal worker got murdered, and then the former basketball coach at Northwestern, and the young Korean Christian walking out of his church got shot in the heartland of Illinois and Indiana. And all of those things happened. And all of you know that we are now observing the one-year anniversary of the death of young Matthew Shepard, and I want to say I am honored beyond words that his mother, Judy, is with us tonight. And I’d like to ask her to stand. (Applause.)

I thanked her tonight before I came out for her continuing work. And she looked at me and she said, I’m just a mom. (Applause.) But when I was in Los Angeles last week, speaking to the ANGLE group, a young person came up to me and said that I had given her more legitimacy and sense of security and self-worth than she had gotten in her own family.

And I said to this child — I want you to know, because this is the point I’m trying to make; I’m not bragging on me, here, I’m here to make this point about our country — I said, you’ve got to be patient with them; they’re afraid. You’ve got to stay with them; they’re scared.

And it is amazing to me — I have spent so much time as President, on the one hand trying to maximize your access to the wonders of the modern world — you know, we’re hooking up all the classrooms to the Internet; we got this E-rate, so that the poor schools can reach across the digital divide, and all the kids can work computers in every classroom in America; we have passed the Telecommunications Act, and we’ve got over 300,000 new high-tech jobs just in a couple of years; and we’re trying to invest in a new generation Internet; and we’re about to break the human genome code, and when we do that, when mothers bring their children home from the hospital after giving birth, they’ll have little genetic maps that may — some people believe literally may help to raise life expectancy for children born early in the next century to as much as 100 years.

And, you know, it’s all so exciting. But it is profoundly sobering to consider that at the time of greatest technological change in all of human history, we are most bedeviled at home and around the world by the most primitive of human failings — the fear of the other. (Applause.)

Think about what I have done as your President, how much time I’ve spent trying to help the nation heal up from all these school shootings, or what happened in Oklahoma City, and the hate crimes I mentioned. And then think about the parallels we have — they’re all individual instances; I recognize that. But think about the parallels in terms of the failings of the human heart and mind with the ongoing problems in the Middle East, in the Balkans, in Bosnia and Kosovo, in Northern Ireland, in the tribal slaughters of Rwanda and other places in Africa — where people really can’t believe they matter unless they have somebody to look down on that they can dehumanize and justify killing. So that’s how their life counts — when we ought to be trying to tell people that they should be excited by the differences between people, secure in the knowledge that our common humanity is more important than all the differences that we have. (Applause.)

And somehow we have to do this. And words alone won’t do it. And laws are important, but laws alone won’t do it, either. And we’ve got to go out and confront our neighbors, including our own families. We’ve got to ask people to listen as well as to talk. And we have to help people to get beyond their fears.

You know, when I go and give speeches to political groups, I tell them that I want America to continue to change, that I myself would not vote for anyone who ran for President saying, vote for me, I’ll do just what Bill Clinton did, he did a good job — because things are changing. And I talk about meeting the challenge of the aging of America and reforming Social Security and Medicare, and meeting the challenge of the children of America, the largest and most diverse group ever, and giving them all a world-class education, and meeting the challenge of a 21st century economy by putting a human face on globalization and trade by investing in the markets of America that had been left behind in the poor areas. By giving everybody access to the Internet so we can fully bridge the divide, and by paying the country’s debt off.

I talk about these things. I talk about meeting the challenge of global warming. And it’s mostly modern stuff looking to the future, and it’s all profoundly important. But if you look at the journey of a country to find its true spirit, the most important thing is that we try to be one America that is a force for the common humanity of the world.

It was, I think, a very human feeling that led the Congress finally to work with us to dramatically increase funding for all elements of the AIDS fight, so that now we have continued reductions in AIDS-related deaths and a commitment to genuinely find a cure and a vaccine. I think it was a human thing. We’ve still got a long way to go. You know we do.

And we pick our targets when we, as a country, when we’re defensive. I was outraged this week when the first African American ever to serve on the State Supreme Court of Missouri was voted down after having been handily voted out of the judicial committee of the Senate with the Republicans voting for him; they voted him down on the floor of the Senate by misrepresenting his record on capital punishment so that the Republican senator from the home state would have an issue to run against the Governor on relating to commuting the sentences to life without parole for those who murdered other people.

So who cares about the symbolism of the first African American judge ever on the Missouri Supreme Court. You know, not many people, African Americans, are going to vote for this guy anyway. Throw him to the wolves. Destroy his career. Distort his record. Who cares? I need a political issue. And we all have to be afraid of that, of objectifying others for short-term gain.

On the other hand, look at the number of people who are in the government, in all forms of our economic and social life. There’s a reason the President is here, besides my heart. It is the right thing to do, and you have been heard. You have been heard. You have been heard. (Applause.)

There is a reason — there is a reason the Senator is here. There is a reason Al Gore came here last year, apart from his passionate conviction about the moral propriety of being here, and the right thing to do. We now know that because you are willing to work and speak and stand, we can move the body politic in the right direction.

People are fundamentally good, but they’re paralyzed when they’re scared. And in spite of all these issues that I go around advocating, that I passionately believe in, if I were told that I was going to have to leave this old world in 72 hours and I could just do one thing for America — and that was it, and I just had to pick one thing, I would try to leave one America. Because if we were together; if we were willing to have all of our differences be differences of opinion, and not to be afraid of one another, and never to dehumanize one another, we would be not only a better country here, our influence for good abroad would be exponentially greater even than it is today. And we would have a chance — (applause) — we would have a chance to give our children the millennium that they deserve.

So I say again, the most important thing I want to say to you is thank you. I’m proud of what we’ve done together. I wish we could have done better. I hope we can do more.

But never forget, you deserve most of the credit. And you will get more as you fight harder, but also as you are human to people who do not see you. (Applause.) You must — you’ve got to believe in this great country, that this is fundamentally a good country; that Alexis de Tocqueville was right when he said America is great because America is good.

But you know, we’ve done a lot of things that were pretty lousy, starting with slavery, as Thomas Jefferson said. So we all are always in the process of learning to be better; of learning how our attitudes and our actions are in conflict with what we believe. Life is a constant struggle, therefore, for true integrity, for integrating your mind and your body and your spirit. And so is the life of a nation.

I am indebted to you because I happened to be President, and to seek this job, at a time when you were raising these issues, and you gave me a chance to make a contribution. You made me a better President; you made me a better person.

Don’t give up, and don’t you ever turn dark. Don’t do it. We can still make the America of our dreams.

Thank you, and God bless you. (Applause.)

END 10:53 P.M. EDT

Statement on the Failure of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act

by Bill Clinton
June 24, 1999


Today, Members of the House and Senate will re-introduce, on a bipartisan basis, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (“ENDA”). This important civil rights legislation would extend basic employment discrimination protections to gay and lesbian Americans. I strongly support this bill, and we will work hard for its passage.

Americans instinctively believe in fairness. They believe that individuals should not be denied a job on the basis of something that has no relationship to their ability to perform their work. Yet most Americans don’t know that men and women in 39 states of this nation may be fired from their jobs solely because of their sexual orientation, even when it has no bearing on their job performance. Sadly, as Congressional hearings have documented, this kind of job discrimination is not rare.

Those who face job discrimination based on sexual orientation usually have no legal recourse, in either our state or federal courts. This is wrong. Last year, I issued an executive order making permanent a long-standing federal policy against discrimination based on sexual orientation in the civilian federal workplace. I hope that Congress will make that policy a national one by passing this important legislation.

I applaud the bipartisan efforts of Senators Jeffords, Kennedy, and Lieberman and Congressmen Shays and Frank to make the Employment Non-Discrimination Act the law. ENDA failed to win passage by only one vote when the Senate last considered it. My Administration will continue to work for its passage until it becomes law.