The Week in Sex: How can one week share World AIDS Day press and censorship at the National Portrait Gallery?; New Rights for Transgendered Athletes and Is Barbie's "Video Girl" a Tool for Child Pornographers this holiday season?


Censorship at the National Portrait Gallery

In the week where every media outlet published content for World AIDS Day, it is incredible that the National Portrait Gallery, part of the Smithsonian, has removed content from the current exhibition Hide/Seek, which focuses on same sex love. After pressure from the Catholic league and various conservative groups, a piece titled "A Fire in My Belly" by David Wojnarowicz, a gay artist who died from AIDS-related illness in 1992, made to honor the passing of Peter Hujar, an artist-colleague and lover of Wojnarowicz who had died of AIDS complications in 1987, was removed without consultation with the curators due to a 11 second clip of ants crawling on a crucifix. Wojnarowicz is said to have used this images, part of a larger 30 minute film, to speak to the suffering of his dead friend and lover. Many believe the attacks have less to due with this particular clip, but rather the overarching narrative of the exhibition.

The following are excerpts from Jonathan Katz, co-curator of Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture:

I curated, with David C. Ward of the National Portrait Gallery, the groundbreaking exhibition Hide/Seek.  Sadly, I was not consulted when the Smithsonian elected to censor a work by David Wojnarowicz, and then redoubled that insult by referring to “AIDS victims” in their statement—employing the very victimizing locution Wojnarowicz fought with his dying breath to oppose. (Ward was "consulted" but his objections were ignored.) An exhibition explicitly intended to finally, in 2010, break a 21-year-old blacklist against the representation of same sex desire in America’s major museums now, ironically, finds itself in the same boat. In 1989, Senator Jesse Helms demonized Robert Mapplethorpe’s sexuality, and by extension, his art, and with little effort pulled a cowering art world to its knees. His weapon was threatening to disrupt the already pitiful Federal support for the arts. And once again, that same weapon is being brandished and once again we cower.  When will it be time for the decent majority of Americans stand against a far-Right fringe that sees censorship as a replacement for dialog and debate? There are larger principles at work, and generations hence will judge our actions today.

This is a culture war we did not seek out, nor start. But appeasing tyranny has never worked and can never work, for tyranny wants only obedience, and blind obedience is antithetical to what this nation stands for; we were, as a people, born in protest to tyranny.  Were the men and women whose portraits grace the National Portrait Gallery able to take a stand, I have little doubt they would line up behind the separation of Church and State, enshrined in our Constitution, that this incident calls so painfully into question. Furthermore, they would readily agree that America’s core value, also enshrined in our Constitution, is our freedom of speech.  With this as our defining principle, it stands to reason we will disagree, but our disagreements are healthy, even necessary to achieving a genuine democracy. We should be promoting this national conversation, not killing it. Art in general, and this kind of art in particular, is precisely a spur to conversation and to thought--something all civil society should support and celebrate. But when the Smithsonian, under pressure to be sure,  starts bowing to its censors, it abrogates its charge as our National museum. But let's also not lose sight of the fact that the National Portrait Gallery alone had the courage to defy a shameful silence that every other institution in the US upheld. We can not and should not leave them hanging.  Where are our democratic  Representatives when we most need them to be battling this naked power grab by a resurgent Right? Please write your Senators and Congressional Representatives and urge them to stand against Boehner, Cantor and their calls for a police state. We must nip this in the bud lest 2010 become the 80s all over again.

Over a century and half ago, Walt Whitman wrote, in support of precisely the core values currently under threat:

Unscrew the locks from the doors! Unscrew the doors themselves from their jambs!

Whoever degrades another degrades me, And whatever is done or said returns at last to me….

Through me forbidden voices, Voices of sexes and lusts, voices veil'd and I remove the veil, Voices indecent by me clarified and transfigur'd.

We sought to remove a veil and in opposing that move, our enemies have damaged our democracy once again. I pray it is not another 21 years before someone else tries to remove that veil again. I am sad for us all.


Jonathan D. Katz (Director of the Visual Studies Doctoral Program, University of Buffalo)

To learn more about the censorship:

To support Hide/Seek:

New Rights for Transgendered Athletes

This week the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) no longer has a "female at birth" distinction for members. This change is part of a larger questioning and evaluation of sports gender distinctions and inclusivity practices, propelled by the recent lawsuit by
male-to-female trans golfer Lana Lawless. Not particular to golf, similar issues have been raised in women's basketball, with the premiere of a  transgender female-to-male player for George Washington University last month and a debate regarding the sex of South African Caster Semenya's, despite her being cleared for competition after intense international scrutiny.

However it is important to point out that every community shares a diversity of opinions. In a question and answer dialogue by journalist Tracy Clark-Flort and Kate Bornstein, a trans woman and author of Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women, and the Rest of Us, the following question was raised:


Renee Richards, a male-to-female tennis player who successfully campaigned in the late '70s to compete in the U.S. Open, has more recently argued that athletes like herself should not be allowed to compete against women. What do you make of that?

As with any gendered world, the transgender world is not monolithic. All men are not the same and do not have the same opinions. So, of course, there's gonna be trans people who will argue lots of different ways.

Also this week, Justus Eisfeld, a former student at the University of Amsterdam has won a battle to be granted an updated  diploma, which will recognize Eisfeld's new name and gender status following gender reassignment surgery. University law had formally banned the issuing of replacement diplomas, which was perceived as discriminatory. Prior to this, Eisfeld was given a document in 2008 indicating that he has graduated, rather than an official diploma.

To learn more about transgender politics and sports:

To learn more about Justus Eisfeld's struggle:

Barbie "Video Girl" Concerns

This holiday season a new Barbie has been released, which has video capabilities, able to capture 30 minutes of content with the camera installed in Barbie's necklace. The FBI has added "Video Girl" to a list of red flag items, which could possibly be used to film child pornography. While there is no record of "Video Girl" being used in this capacity, it has already been broadcast by outlets such as abcnews, which will only contribute to growing fears surrounding this recently released holiday toy.

To learn more about the concerns over the new video Barbie: