SL Letter of the Day: Schooling Your Instructor
by Dan Savage
on Fri, Jan 18, 2013 at 12:32 PM
I am currently taking an intro to social justice class at my college. One of our weekly assignments is to pick two social justice heroes, or whom we find to be social justice heroes. You were on my list. I mentioned that in my early realization of my white male heterosexual privilege, I found you and your article "Savage Love" to be an educational opportunity. I went on to reference a bit of your wiki biography, and also the impact of the "It Gets Better" Project.
After turning this in, I got this response from my instructor:
"Just as an FYI, there are those of us who do not believe Savage’s column is a good source of information. In fact, I urge young people to eschew much of the 'advice' he gives in this column. I remember reading a column wherein he advised a young man who found child porn on his father’s computer to not be too quick to pass judgment. Savage said that it was possible to be attracted to child porn without doing anything 'wrong.' This is abhorrent to me and many other people who are incest survivors ourselves, or have worked with incest survivors. This is not the only piece of bad, potentially dangerous advice he has given. He has also been guilty of bullying, most recently when he called a group of high school students 'pansy-asses' for walking out of his lecture. While I really appreciate the 'It Gets Better' project, I speak out vehemently against his column."
I haven't changed my opinion on how I view your column, though I was wondering how you would reply to some of these viewpoints. I am actually hoping to quote your reply in another assignment. I realize I risk alienating my instructor with this inquiry, and potentially damaging my GPA.
My somewhat epic response to Jason—and his to mine, and someone else's to his and mine, and his to ours, and Jason's final grade—after the jump.
Do you have a link—does your instructor have a link—to the column where I supposedly told someone not to freak out about his dad looking at child porn? I don't recall writing that. I've written hundreds of columns, and I've written a few about child porn and pedophiles, but I don't recall writing the column your instructor describes. I'm against child porn—its production, its consumption. But maybe I did say something like that once. Maybe I messed up. Sometimes I do. But I'd like a link, please, if your instructor can provide one.
I ask for a link because a lot of people make bullshit claims about things I've allegedly written but can't, when challenged, point to a column where I said what they're condemning me for saying. Here's an example.
As for the "pansy-assed" remark, here are two links for you. Feel free to share them with your instructor. Link one, link two. It strikes me as odd that your “social justice” instructor sides with rightwing Christians—with people like Brian Brown and Tony Perkins—in describing my remarks at that high school journalism conference as "bullying." The Economist, hardly a left wing rag, said it was not. And please read Amanda Marcotte at Slate unpacking what the right was really up to when they attacked me for pointing out the bullshit in the bible. (And after reading Marcotte: does it strike you as odd that your “intro to social justice” instructor is giving the haters an assist in declaring the Bible, the justification for so much social injustice, to be off limits to criticism?)
Circling back to child porn and pedophiles…
There's a movement to make a distinction between pedophiles and child molesters. Look up James Cantor's work. People don't choose to be pedophiles and most pedophiles never offend. If we want to protect children, we should provide non-offending pedophiles with the counseling and support they need to resist offending and provide pedophiles who have offended—and have gone to prison—with the counseling and support they need to never offend again.
Your instructor is right about one thing: I do make a distinction between people who are "attracted to child porn" and people have have done something "wrong." Creating or possessing kiddie porn is a crime and I support the prosecution of child pornographers and the consumers of child porn who fuel demand for child porn. But we want to make a clear distinction between people who are attracted to child porn—or to children—and people who have acted on those attractions, i.e. people who have consumed child porn or sexually assaulted children. By making that distinction—and by providing counseling and support to pedophiles who have not offended—the research shows that we can keep pedophiles from offending. Making a clear distinction between pedophiles and child molesters protects children. Anyone interested in actually protecting children from sexual abuse and not just feeling morally superior to pedophiles—which isn't setting the bar too terribly high, is it?—should support efforts to make this distinction.
And your instructor is dishonestly and manipulatively conflating incest and child porn and pedophiles and child molesters—and playing the victim card while doing so—all in an effort to prevent you from thinking critically about the assertions your instructor is making. (Because if you were to do that—if you were to challenge your instructor once the victim card has been played—then you risk further traumatizing your instructor, right?)
This movement isn't about sympathizing with child molesters or people who have raped their relatives or "normalizing pedophilia" or telling people that they shouldn't be concerned about child porn. This is about understanding that being attracted to children is a curse, not a choice, and that a pedophile who is getting counseling and support is much less likely to harm a child. (I'm CC’ing James Cantor on this email, in case he'd like to weigh in. Hi, James!)
Your instructor is misrepresenting my position on a very sensitive subject and that… well, that’s pretty deeply shitty of your instructor, don’t you think? Not very social-justicey if you ask me. There are a lot of “social justice” types out there who dislike my column. My day typically begins with a bowl of cereal and a quick read though the morning's emails. Some days half the emails are from rightwing Christian haters calling me a dangerously radical sex maniac out to destroy the family sloshing and the other half are from “social justice” types calling me a gay, white, cis-gendered, hetero-normative stealth-conservative with a secret plan to force all queers to get married, have babies, and punch sex workers.
So, yeah, your instructor doesn't like me or my column—and that’s your instructor’s prerogative. The feeling is mutual: so you can tell your instructor, from me, and only if you really want to mess up your GPA, that I think your instructor is behaving like a manipulative and dishonest piece of shit.—Dan
I apologize for not clarifying in my email to you. I wasn't able to find this article in which you supported child molestation. Rather than have a back-and-forth argument about what you did or did not say without any proof, I thought of writing you because it goes right to the source. I could really care less about my GPA. It’s just a number.
You blew my mind with your reply! The articles of course were great sources of information. Secondly I cannot stress how amazing your differential of one who has an internal like for incest or child porn and sympathizing for molesters and rapists is. It’s true that society aims judgment far to fast against those who haven't committed a crime, and that more focus should be placed on assisting them. We can't help those who need help if we pass judgment and write them off.
I thought write to you would be a long shot. Instead you replied right away.—Jason Morris
Personally (and feel free to pass it on to Jason), I would have reported the whole incident and fear of reprisal to the prof's department chair and licensing board. Scholars have a duty to keep their personal politics and unresolved personal issues out of the classroom. After such a report, the prof would have a very difficult time justifying a low grade upon any appeal from Jason. Such a strategy would work best, of course, if the complaint were entered before assignment number two.)
If I were feeling particularly bitchy, I'd point out to the prof that if someone twenty years ago tried helping nascent pedophiles the way we want to now, then maybe s/he wouldn't have been a victim of incest in the first place.—James Cantor
Dan & James: Seriously thank you for all of your great feedback, and input. The information will come of great use for myself, and who knows hopefully help my professor. I can't thank you enough for your time in responding, and also for the work that you do.—Jason Morris
Jason tells me that he shared my response with his instructor, his instructor had an open mind, and that he got an "A" in the class.