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Ask & Tell, An Exercise

September 20, 2011

Today marks the end of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in the US Military. This hideous rule enabled us to honor men who kill men, but not who love men. It is, in many ways, the perfect symbol of ignorant bigotry that continues to allow our fear of the unknown to divide us as a people when we should be united by our shared humanity. This is a good day.

This got me to thinking about what the opposite of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell would be. Obviously, it would be Ask & Tell.  This strikes me as an interesting prospect. What if we could all turn to the person next to us and ask them what it was about their sexuality that they were afraid to let other people know. What if we could safely inquire about the consensual intimacy of people we know and respect? Or of perfect strangers. What would we learn and what would happen as a result? Would the bigotry begin to fade away?

  • What if the person who you’ve been happily working with for the last several years told you that they were in a polyamorous relationship. Would you think more harshly about them, or less harshly about polyamory?
  • What if your sibling, to whom you have always been close, told you they were into being tied up and spanked? Would you close your heart to your sibling or open your mind to bondage?
  • What if the paramedic who just saved that kid who was hit by a car told you he liked to dress as a woman? Would you dismiss the heroic act you just witnessed, or dismiss the bias you previously held against cross-dressing?
  • What if the politician who has restored funding to public education and reduced crime finally admitted that she’s in a loving relationship with another woman and trying to adopt a child? Would you forget her commitment to community and family, or forget the narrow definition you once held of what a family is?

This matters. It matters greatly. When we dismiss people entirely based on one small fragment of their personality, we literally truncate them and ask them to be less than they are. Moreover, we give them permission to do the same to us. We create shame in places where it needn’t be, and fear where there should be room to grow. Indeed, wearing at dress at night didn’t impact the paramedic’s ability to save a life. And it didn’t impact your ability to live your life.

But living in a closet does. We have mostly started letting gay people out of the closet we kept them in, but what about the rest of human sexuality? It’s still in the closet.

So, do it. Or at least imagine doing it. Look at your co-worker and ask yourself how his private life, that has nothing to do with you, would lessen his contribution to the work you do, or the times you share. If he is into bondage, will you respect him less? Will it impact your life?

Or her, what if she has both a husband and a wife? Is her work any less important? Is she any less kind, generous, interesting and valuable?

Imagine you are on the front lines of the war in Afghanistan and someone you have served with, for years, in the harshest conditions you can imagine, were next to you. You guys have been to hell and back and have a bond that few of us will ever understand. You watch him die before your eyes, and it tears part of your soul out. Will that change when his husband comes to mourn over his grave? Or will you wish he had felt he could trust you enough not to just save your life, but to share his?

I am working on writing a TEDx talk about sexual shame, and this is an interesting angle to me. If you would be comfortable sharing your thoughts, anonymously, here, I’d appreciate it. What is the cost of this sexual shame? Why do we hang on to it? What really matters? What would your life be like if you were free of it?

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. September 20, 2011 11:55 am

    I applaud you for bringing attention and shining a light on this most important and little understood issue. I would like to think that all people of all persuasions could and would feel free to live their lives without shame and be seen and accepted for the person(s) that they are and the contribution that they make to society as individuals. Unfortunately, this is not the case. I would take an uneducated guess that even some of those now falling under the “now can tell” umbrella won’t. We have a reputation as a mean narrow-minded non-accepting society unwilling to see people for who they are, rather choosing to judge them for what they are. But, this move, your move is, at least a move…a step in a forward thinking direction to chip away at the stone, piece by piece, person by person – get people to maybe think about it. That’s a start. I will gladly “get this out” as you asked by putting it on my on my page and maybe some others that read it will do the same.

  2. Anonymous permalink
    September 20, 2011 12:59 pm

    Excellent thank you cant wait for the TED talk let us know as soon as thats done so we can rock iot out there also

  3. September 20, 2011 7:04 pm

    I have to believe that it is in the closeting & stigma associated or found in the boudoirs, bedrooms, board rooms & basements that pushes some into truly unhealthy & unhappy choices. To move thru life without fear of discovery, without shame or embarrassment would be the ideal. Nobody really colors inside the lines always. . . and we should be judged by how well we love. Nothing else . Not who, not how many, not with or without velvet & bondage. Just how well.

  4. Guest permalink
    September 22, 2011 1:28 pm

    Thanks for this post and for bringing up sexual shame in a way that’s not exclusive to members of a “minority” community. I’ve had a lot sexual shame in my life but as a straight white-guy there’s been an additional layer of guilt for feeling it’s wrong to feel sexual shame. Talk about messed up?! So, it’s been with a lot of therapy and commitment to personal growth that I’ve unshamed myself by realizing that I’m not like my philandering sperm donor who didn’t stick around, nor am I like my alcoholic step-father who retreated into a bottle. I’m not like all those men who wronged my mom, even though she insisted to an 8 year-old me that I was. Having lived with all that and yet still managed to make something good out of my life, I feel like I have some idea of what DADT imposed on people and I’m so glad they can finally get out from under it. Thank you again, Alyssa, and I can’t wait to see your TEDx talk.

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