Friday, February 16, 2007

# Posted 11:08 AM by Patrick Belton  

OPEN THREAD: The decision of British NBA player John Amaechi to become public with his sexual orientation (c.f. 'Times, Man is Gay? Who cares?'), and the eloquent retort of Tim Hardaway (which included such subtle gems of political argument as 'You know, I hate gay people, so I let it be known. ... It shouldn't be in the world or in the United States') has actually left me thinking about the locker room puzzle.

It's raised often as canard, but the general point, put fairly and stripped of noxious rhetoric, doesn't to me have a straightforward answer. Namely, in spaces in our society where public nudity is permitted (the locker room), given that these spaces are generally constructed with a heterosexual presumption in mind (to remove the sexual element as much as possible from the act of changing, presumptively on grounds of comfort of those changing while in a state of vulnerability), does the acceptance of gays, qua gays into the public sphere invalidate this approach, and to what extent? We are also very much talking, I think, about an Anglosphere response: Spartans of both sexes exercised unclad, while the coeducational aspect of the Scandinavian and Germanic sauna is generally taken there to be uncontroversial. In these spaces, heterosexual attraction is not taken to be a problem, so one can presume the naked body (regardless of its orientation) there to be desexualised.

The sexualisation of nudity to the exclusion of other aspects, by the by, is as best I can tell an outgrowth of the nineteenth century. For the Athenians, it would be an overstatement to say they went nude in public or in combat, but nudity could confer an element of the heroic or the stately, the curiously formal (dining in symposium, as opposed to lesser occasions), or of defeat. For Shakespeare, its principal connotation is probably insanity (Lear on the heath). Perhaps it is the rise of standards of living in the industrial revolution that make it less obvious a naked person is suffering from mental illness or poverty, and raise its associations with the sexual act. Naked on the High Street, I would be taken more as a pervert, than as a pauper or victor over my latest bit of writing.

Asked but not answered. Thoughts warmly welcome.


(8) opinions -- Add your opinion

There's been a chap cycling naked around Cambridge (England) lately. My wife saw him. "How old is he?" I asked. "Dunno", she said, "I didn't look at his face."
I'm not quite sure what your question is, but whether gays are accepted in the public square or not, they are always going to be in locker rooms, and always have been since their first gym classes in school. Do some straight men actually think that no gay man has ever seen them naked?
A man named "Hardaway" shouldn't be making fun of others' sexual orientation.
I think the question's apparent - sex-separate changing rooms presume heterosexuality, if such presumption now morally flawed, then what consequences for the antecedent. Given the alternatives are unworkable, ugly or funny (eradication of public changing spaces altogether, or reworking of the scheme to incorporate a hetero/gay dimension), it might be an area where Burkean preference for the status quo and existing institutions is as best we can do. But no harm done calling attention to the assumptions behind the institutions, either.
As a straight woman and former middle-school student, I'd say the worst fear in a changing room is that others would see me, find me unattractive, and judge me harshly on that basis. Compared to that, being found sexually attractive would be a relief.

Thank you for the comment, but "morally flawed?" Objectively flawed, perhaps.
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I take your point. As it happens, I probably would be inclined to come down more on the side of 'morally' than 'objectively', but that's a personal stance and it seems to me the argument stands up equally well with 'objectively'.
Miss Butler has nothing to worry about.
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