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    There is a light that never goes out

    Joanne Jacobs applies her usual deadpan to Duke’s new policy on campus sex, which she describes thus:

    A person seen as “powerful”—such as a varsity athlete—may “create an unintentional atmosphere of coercion,” the policy states. For the “powerful,” it’s not just that “no” means no and silence means no. “Yes” means no too.

    In addition, sex with someone who’s been drinking—not like that ever happens—is considered a form of rape because the policy considers any level of intoxication makes a student unable to consent to sex.

    The document itself is as coruscatingly stupid as you’d expect. It never ceases to amaze me how brain-dead college administrators are about student drunkenness:

    The use of alcohol or other drugs can have unintended consequences. Alcohol or other drugs can lower inhibitions and create an atmosphere of confusion over whether consent is freely and effectively given. The perspective of a reasonable person will be the basis for determining whether one should have known about the impact of the use of alcohol or drugs on another’s ability to give consent. Being intoxicated or high is never an excuse for sexual misconduct.

    Note the way the lowering of inhibitions is assumed to be an unintended consequence of drinking. After all, no college student would ever drink purposefully to get over feeling like a slut for wanting sex, feeling like a pervert for wanting homosexual sex, or feeling like a loser for wanting sex with someone who acts like a jerk once the clothes are back on. You might argue that students with such inhibitions should heed them rather than using alcohol to surmount them, but it’s hard to argue that they’re doing something they haven’t been in a position to consent to.

    There are, naturally, helpful scenarios of sexual misconduct given, with a careful distribution of sexual orientations to show that everyone is at least hypothetically a potential sexual assailant. The actual events don’t ring particularly false, but the prissy, desiccated way we’re supposed to interpret them does. Naturally, I’m going to homo home in on the gay guys:

    Andrew and Felix have been flirting with each other all night at a party. Around 12:30 a.m., Felix excuses himself to find a bathroom. Andrew notices Felix slurring his speech. Andrew wonders if Felix went to the bathroom to vomit. When Felix returns, the two begin flirting more heavily and move to a couch. As the conversation continues, the two become more relaxed and more physically affectionate. Andrew soon suggests they go back to his room, and Felix agrees. As they walk down the stairs, Andrew notices that Felix looks unstable and offers his arm for support and balance. When they get back to his room, Andrew leads Felix to the bed and they begin to become intimate. Felix becomes increasingly passive and appears disoriented. Andrew soon begins to have sexual intercourse with him. The next morning, Felix thinks they had sex but cannot piece together the events leading up to it. This is a violation of the Sexual Misconduct Policy. Felix was clearly under the influence of alcohol and thus unable to freely consent to engage in sexual activity with Andrew. Although Andrew may not have known how much alcohol Felix had consumed, he saw indicators from which a reasonable person would conclude that Felix was intoxicated, and therefore unable to give consent. Andrew in no way obtained consent from Felix.

    Okay, fine. But that omits a lot of the story that would explain how they ended up having sex. For example:

    Andrew and Felix have been flirting with each other all night at a party. Felix has pretty much accepted that he’s gay, but whenever he’s attracted to a guy and thinks about doing something about it, the things his parents used to say around the dinner table about homosexuals start echoing in his head, and he gets rattled and feels like he’s stirring things up that he may not be able to handle. The attention from Andrew is making him feel terrific—attractive and interesting—but Felix isn’t sure what he’s supposed to do next. Andrew can hold his liquor pretty well, and Felix doesn’t want to look like a lightweight, so he’s trying to keep up even though he knows he’s already had enough.

    Andrew is going berserk. He almost never hits it off with a guy this quickly. And Felix has no idea how cute he is—the slightly sheepish manner, the shrug, the offhand smile. When he leans forward, there’s this place where the back of his neck comes out of his T-shirt collar that Andrew wants to bury his face in. Felix seems to be getting really drunk, but Andrew, though he keeps good motor control, knows that he himself is probably no longer thinking as clearly as he feels he is. Around 12:30 a.m., Felix excuses himself to find a bathroom. Andrew notices Felix slurring his speech. Andrew wonders if Felix went to the bathroom to vomit.

    When Felix returns, the two begin flirting more heavily and move to a couch. As the conversation continues, the two become more relaxed and more physically affectionate. Felix doesn’t taste like vomit when Andrew kisses him, so maybe he’s okay after all? Felix feels and smells a little sweat-damp beneath his T-shirt, and Andrew is beside himself.

    Felix would never have been able to initiate that kiss, but he likes it. He’s dimly aware that his senses of touch and taste aren’t working right, but he really wants Andrew to like him and be attracted to him. He’s afraid that he’s going to look like a dork if he tells Andrew he needs to go home now but would like to see him again when he’s more sober, so he keeps responding as enthusiastically as he can while Andrew makes out with him.

    Andrew soon suggests they go back to his room, and Felix agrees. As they walk down the stairs, Andrew notices that Felix looks unstable and offers his arm for support and balance. Andrew stumbles a few times along the way, and Felix giggles, a little relieved that Andrew’s also more drunk than he’d thought. When they get back to his room, Andrew leads Felix to the bed and they begin to become intimate. Felix is fighting hard to stay awake and perform well so that Andrew isn’t disappointed. Andrew actually asks once whether he’s okay, and Felix makes a huge effort to enunciate a clear “Yeah, I’m fine.” Felix becomes increasingly passive and appears disoriented. Andrew soon begins to have sexual intercourse with him. He’s keyed up, and Felix is responsive enough to keep his arms around him and to get off. The next morning, Felix thinks they had sex but cannot piece together the events leading up to it. He feels like hell: not only is he a failure at being straight, but he apparently can’t even be a faggot without screwing it up. Andrew probably thinks he’s a loser.

    Andrew doesn’t, in fact, think Felix is a loser; he wonders whether Felix wasn’t as attracted to him as he thought, since he had to get so drunk before he would make out with him. Felix miscalculated, trying to distance himself from his desire for Andrew while indulging it at the same time. Andrew might have just taken Felix to home if they’d left the party earlier, but by the time they got up to go, he was too keyed up and horny to think of it. Although Andrew may not have known how much alcohol Felix had consumed, he saw indicators from which a reasonable person would conclude that Felix was intoxicated, and therefore unable to give consent. Andrew in no way obtained consent from Felix. But Felix kept drinking past his own limitations; Andrew never put a funnel into his mouth and poured vodka down it. And his own faculties of reason weren’t all operating, either.

    How is it helpful, at this point, for some Student Life lackwit to wade in and tell Felix he’s a victim and Andrew he’s a perpetrator of sexual misconduct? And in general, how is it helpful to assume that in most drunken couplings it’s the bigger, hornier, more sober party who was the one doing all the “manipulating”? No one who’s ever watched men and women flirt could possibly buy that for a moment. I don’t think it does anyone (except ambitious Student Life lackeys) any good to plant the idea in undergrads’ heads that every bad sexual experience is “misconduct,” in which mustache-twirling offenders can be clearly separated from ravaged victims. Or that there’s some mystical “coercive” power inherent in high status in the social hierarchy. This is supposed to be preparing kids to handle grown-up life?

    17 Responses to “There is a light that never goes out”

    1. Julie says:

      First, neither of those scenarios is realistic, because Steel Magnolias taught me that all gay men are named Mark, Rick, or Steve, and if it came from the mouth of Dolly Parton, then it must be true. So, “Andrew and Felix”? No way.

      This kind of thing really bothers me, although I hadn’t thought of it from a same-sex perspective before (what you say about Felix makes sense, though). It bothers me because inevitably the woman (in a hetero coupling, anyway) is the victim, despite the fact that in so many cases either a) the man was just as drunk as she or b) she really could easily have said no when she said yes and just walked away or c) both. Women cannot be both equal to men and also be morally less responsible than men. Women cannot be both equal to men and also the constant victims of them. (It isn’t that women are never victims of specific crimes, of course, but anyone can be a victim of a specific and actual crime). If you want equality, then you have to accept moral agency along with it. Even if it means you have to admit that it was a bad move to agree to sleep with that lunkhead who is unfortunately still in your bed this morning.

    2. Leslie says:

      This sickens but does not surprise me. I have a master’s in theology from Duke (1992) and would have been utterly miserable those two years had the subject matter and the lectures not been so intellectually engaging. Everything else on campus was such a serious parody, yet no one was ever laughing.

    3. Leslie says:

      Oh and one more thing; in either scenario—Sean, I love your prose!—has a harm been done? Even if both young men feel yuck about it, was any real harm done? Maybe I’m just way offbase, but this is the kind of thing I went looking for when I was in college (yes, way back when). I am so Camille Paglia on this issue.

    4. Sean says:

      There are way too many layers of irritating-ness to this whole thing to explicate (especially since it takes me five paragraphs to make a point), but I think one of the most obvious is something you’re both driving at: the idea that whoever holds the more obvious social-hierarchy sort of power in a relationship is necessarily oppressing whoever holds less. In the emotional realm, manipulativeness can be just as potent as ordering someone around. Trying to jigger things so that you can have sex without feeling like a slut afterward is probably the oldest maneuver in human history. The second oldest (by approximately eight hours) is feeling like a slut the next morning and deciding that, really, the more you think about it, that nasty cad forced himself on you.

      I understand that colleges are in a bind. It’s all very well to say that parents should read their kids the riot act about what they’re growing into once puberty hits. But what should happen isn’t always what does happen. For the foreseeable future, Duke and similar places are going to spend autumns welcoming kids who’ve been brought up to feel entitled to feel cherished, competent, and secure all the time. Then they’re going to have their first bad sex, feel used, stupid, and vulnerable, and look for someone to blame.

      Leslie, I entered college in 1991, and Penn had a sex-policy orientation event that probably wasn’t all that different from Duke’s. In other words, it was the most useless hour of my life. I understand that universities don’t want to get into the personal-morality business, but surely the best approach would be to say, “Look, we want you to study hard and to enjoy trying new things. But you have to understand that sexuality is a part of your life that we can only do so much to help you understand. Even if you learn all there is to know about biology, endocrinology, psychology, art, poetry, anthropology, and religious studies, you will add it all up and still have a mess of feelings to deal with that your academic training can’t reach. The police are available if you need to report a crime; student health has counselors available if you need them; major religious organizations are represented on campus. But as far as we’re concerned as an institution, your emotional development is your lookout, and you need to steel yourself for the possibility that you’re going to make a few mistakes and have to learn from them.” But then there would be thirty bureaucrats out of a job.

      And Julie, far be it from me to contradict the august Dolly, but the number of Michaels and Roberts in my address book suggests that we pretty much just fall along the same generational lines as the other 95% of the population. Well, that and gay guys almost always go by “Richard” and “Stephen” rather than “Rick” or “Steve.” :)

    5. Julie says:

      Hmmm…well, then, do gay men at least all have track lighting? Dolly can’t be all wrong. :)

    6. Sean says:

      Dolly is, indeed, right about nearly everything. I’m not sure all of us have track lighting—Steel Magnolias was twenty years ago, and there are more advanced solutions to your adjustable-lighting needs now—but it’s probably a very safe bet that if there’s only one house on the block with track lighting, it’s occupied by Richard and his roommate Stephen, each of whom is handsome, well-dressed, and successful but not married, to the complete bewilderment of the rest of the neighborhood.

    7. Julie says:

      You know, now I’m thinking about it, was it Olympia Dukakis who actually delivers that line? Was it really 20 years ago? It was, it was Olympia Dukakis. It was also really 20 years ago, although I’ve seen it, um, several times since then. Sheesh. First deportment, now this. I am so ashamed.

    8. Sean says:

      It’s okay—one nice thing about blogs is that they’re unbuttoned and it’s understood that you’re thinking as you go. :)

      It probably was Olympia Dukakis. The only lines I remember are “There is no such thing as natural beauty” and “I’ve just been in a bad mood for the last twenty years,” though I could be misquoting the latter.

    9. Sarah says:

      Okay, first I have to second Julie. All through the little story I kept thinking “FELIX? That poor child. His parents named him after a cartoon cat. Gay or straight, he’s a pretty messed up puppy, I bet. He wears cat ears on the weekends. Maybe he attends sf cons in cat costume. OMG — I think I’ve met him!”

      Which in no way detracted from your prose with the sad result that I now want to read the rest of Felix and Andrew’s story. Will Felix get up the nerve to talk to Andrew and explain it wasn’t him? Will Andrew understand? Will they end up together sans alcohol, for a great — ahem — finalle? Or will they get killed by a tsunami?

      Ahem. Taking the straight tract,the first time I read about the woman not “giving fully informed consent” was shortly after I got married, so… around 86? And the thing was more preposterous. It was supposedly “Date rape” if the guy TALKED you into sex. This is bad insanity. The article (Charlotte Observer, I think) made it sound like no woman could resist superior masculine reasoning and talk. I thought “Oh, great, we’re all the way back to the victorian age.” I have since encountered more of the same stupidity. My boys are both advised to get a contract in writing, in triplicate, and possibly sealed with blood BEFORE having sex with anyone. No, seriously.

    10. Sean says:

      Sarah, I think, though I’m not entirely sure, that Felix is a reasonably common name for Latino and Chicano men. And kids who are entering college now probably don’t remember the Purina Cat Chow commercials, which I think ended when I was in high school. :)

      I haven’t given much thought to what happened to them later, but as an old friend of mine likes to say, “Two gay guys who want to get together will always find a way.”

      As far as the straight stuff goes, yes, “verbal coercion” is what they were calling that when I was in college—not threats as a reasonable person would recognize them, but coaxing and cajoling.

      Maybe I’m marking myself as a total dog here, but when I read this crap, I always have to wonder how these people can not understand how much…fun…seduction is, for both seducer and seduced. Of course, sometimes it’s not fun afterward, but that doesn’t mean the seducer was some kind of assailant. If you’re the sort of person who can’t figure out a way to turn down a honey-tongued man who wants to get you into bed, God help you if you ever blunder into an infomercial or wander onto a used-car lot.

    11. Veeshir says:

      How do you figure out the victim if both are drunk?
      How can only one be the victim if both are drunk?

    12. Julie says:

      “If you’re the sort of person who can’t figure out a way to turn down a honey-tongued man who wants to get you into bed, God help you if you ever blunder into an infomercial or wander onto a used-car lot.”

      That’s going to be making me laugh all day long. So true.

      I’ve been the seduced and the seducer, and while I think personally the latter is more fun than the former, I frequently make my husband coax and cajole JUST BECAUSE I CAN, and it is fun.

      Veeshir is apparently stubbornly refusing to recognize that victims are victims when they say they are, provided they are members of a victim class. No logic can override that.

    13. Sean says:

      Veeshir, I was going to rib you good-naturedly as Julie did in her comment above, but actually—scarily enough—I know how your question would be answered by the powers that be at a university, because I remember the sexual awareness segment of my own freshman orientation nineteen years ago. (I think I mentioned this in responding to Leslie above.)

      The patter, delivered chirpily by the facilitators—and OMG, not to put too fine a point on it, the one who led my group was the biggest ditz I’ve ever encountered in my life—was that drunkenness is not an equalizer, because the social-power differentials remain. Just in case the point hadn’t been made, there was a jokey-but-not-really question on the front of the little booklet we got as a reference:

      “No” means
      (A) “No”
      (B) “Yes”
      (C) Give her more beer

      I may have gotten the order or wording wrong, but that was basically it…with the idea plainly being that, where college drinking was concerned, men were the dispensers and women the dispensees, as if they were walking Dixie cups that needed to take care lest they be passively overfilled. Naturally, my group of friends (ladies and gents) made “Give her MORE BEER!” a running sardonic joke for all four years of college, and I suspect we weren’t alone. The whole thing cried out for parody.

      Julie, as someone who’s also been seduced and seducer, I can agree heartily, from both sides, that it’s always hotter when you make him work for it. Who wants an EZ-OPEN lover?

    14. Veeshir says:

      I knew the answer, that was more of a sardonic comment on the state of our culture.

      I get drunk and horny, she gets drunk and horny, we do what drunk, horny people do.
      Then I’m the bad guy even though she “enjoyed” it as much as I did.
      My first year of college was at Siena in upstate NY in 1981. The drinking age was 18, every function had at least kegs. Rubgy games particular were drunken affairs.

      Each wing of the biggest male dorm (Plasman) had a specialty drink for a certain holiday (Halloween, President’s Day, Groundhog Day, Thursday, etc.) that involved grain alcohol and Hi-C or Hawaiian punch or something.

      Needless to say, lots of people got drunk, horny and laid. I shudder to think what it would have been like if PC had ruled the way it seems to now.

    15. Sean says:

      Veeshir, I hope it came through that I did actually know that you understood exactly what you were talking about. :) My response was just playing around. (Or rather, the content was serious, but the I-will-now-enlighten-you tone was playing around.)

      I don’t think these people can seriously expect to keep kids from getting drunk, horny, and laid. I suspect they’re after two things: (1) CYA capability in the event that there’s a ruckus over a particularly lurid encounter that wouldn’t qualify as rape under the law and (2) pushing their Foucault-lite idea that every interaction among people reproduces explicable social power relationships.

    16. Ed says:

      I liked the way you slipped in a Japanese touch by noting the erotic quality of the nape of the neck. Enjoy your blog, thanks

    17. Sean says:

      Thanks for reading, Ed. :) Yes, the Japanese really perfected the art of swathing the body in layer upon layer of stuff, then going wild with desire over the three square inches of flesh that were actually visible, didn’t they?

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