In Defense of Zack Rosen

Freedom to Marry is a non-profit that works to “win” the fight for marriage equality across the nation. By this they do not mean dismantling the institution of marriage because it creates a privileged class of coupled people, who get tax incentives and visitors from non-blood relative in hospitals. They mean to spread marriage to gay men and lesbians. A conservative cause, but a cause none-the-less. (I might critique marriage and liberal politics later – as for now I will move onto the current situation.)

Freedom to Marry had a contest to grant three scholarships to attend Netroots Nation, a conference aimed at discussing how technology can be used to change politics. DC’s own Zack Rosen entered the contest and was one of the finalist. Rosen plans to use this opportunity to make connections and enhance his website The New Gay. Ten finalists… three spots… how to win? Well, Zack promises to post a picture of himself naked if he wins.

He won and posted nude photos. He wrote in his post:

“1. Gay men’s bodies aren’t shameful things.
2. Gay sex is natural and pretty damn fun.
3. No one ever won equal rights by keeping their oppressors comfortable.”

Of course, people are upset. Enter Zack Ford, one of the other winners and his blog post.

After detailing Rosen’s tactics, Ford comments, “he knew lots of gay men would do anything to see an erect penis, he offered an erect penis, and he got the votes.” I think this is a bit facile. Rosen’s tactics are not built off of the depravity of gay men, as Ford would have us believe. Instead his tactics were creative, interesting, and innocent. The naked body is not something sacred. I think Rosen is putting sexuality and politics together in an interesting way. We often separate the two to the point that it becomes scandalous when politicians have sex and the gay movement’s been desexualized. Instead of showing us some lame image of some white guy in a tie, he showed us his nude body with a paper-plate in front of his cock.  Why should I not take someone who I’ve seen naked seriously? Gay men, such as myself, did not vote for Rosen because of the potential to see his cock (the internet is full of cock and no offense to Rosen, but cock’s look pretty much the same). I voted for Zack because he offers an alternative viewpoint and is not afraid of using queer politics. He offered an image of someone who wanted to get married that did not scream “assimilation.”

Next Ford writes, “More importantly, I think what he did was disrespectful to the other finalists, disrespectful to the organizations funding the scholarship, and disrespectful to the cause for marriage equality.” How? Does nudity offend these people? Yes, Rosen tactic’s work different, but he used an angle to spread a message. He got me, a guy who does not care about marriage to go to a website for same-sex marriage. Mission accomplished?

Ford then brings up the “ick factor.” The ick factor is heterosexist culture’s inability to digest the fact that GLBT folk have sex. He argues that we should avoid playing into the ick factor because it will diminish our ability to gain same-sex marriage. Is this the only cause? I’d like to think that changing the minds of heterosexists is much more important than gaining tax incentives or being more privileged than single people. The grossness of our sex is why we are abject. I teach and have students who freak out when two men kiss in a film. Same-sex marriage will not change this. People will still be gay bashed for holding hands. I’d rather confront people with the ick factor than pretend marriage will make people think that same-sex and transgender desire is not gross.

In the end, Ford makes a long and quite puritanical rant against promiscuity. Who is his ally in this crusade against promiscuity? A “teabagger.” Not the best of allies in the fight for rights. Ford is making the argument that Andrew Sullivan makes in Virtually Normal. Sullivan argues gay men are normal and that straight culture will accept us and validate us, once we show them how normal we are. This is assimilation. The price of being “normal” is rejecting people from the GLBT community who are not straight-acting, not monogamous, differently abled, transgender, transsexual, bisexual, economically disadvantaged, and/or a racial/ethnic minority.

This represents what I cannot stand about the GL movement. The prize is marriage. Only Marriage. Nothing else matters. The ends justify the means.

I’ll end with a quote from someone I usually disagree with, but she makes a point that extends into the current state of GLBT politics.

“Feminism is dying here because so many women who say they are feminists are collaborators and cowards”- Andrea Dworkin


Filed under queer

16 responses to “In Defense of Zack Rosen

  1. Haha, well, Michael, you are right. We do differ when it comes to politics, but I appreciate you writing about this and keeping the discussion going.

    I think there’s a balance we need to find between owning our unique identities and integrating with the rest of society. My assumption has always been that everybody sees the need for that balance, but some just draw the line at a different place. There may, of course, be those who simply do not care about integrating, and that’s fine for them too, I guess.

    I draw it a little bit closer to integration. It’s important to me to help others understand how they’ve been miseducated about the GL community. The woman from the airport was not my ally, but we were able to have a respectful conversation. She might never change, but because I met her where she was, she was able to learn and understand things in a new way. That, I think is the key.

    I don’t think what Rosen did was offensive, nor do I think letting yourself be seen naked takes away from your ability to be taken seriously. I honestly don’t. I just struggle to see how offering to show your cock furthers marriage equality. (Maybe I don’t understand “queer politics.”) I also abhor the fact that a magazine like The Advocate would encourage people to focus on a guy stripping while ignoring the advocacy work others were simultaneously doing.

    Thanks again for your thoughts.

    • At least we can agree that we dislike The Advocate. A starting point? I recommend The Trouble With Normal to understand the queer opposition to same-sex marriage. I realize you are probably busy. If you want, I can send you a summary. I have one lying around somewhere.

  2. I have a question…

    If Rosen was engaging in queer politics, that would suggest that he similarly opposes same-sex marriage. If that’s the case, do you think it’s appropriate for him to vie to get a scholarship from an organization working, by name, to support same-sex marriage?

    • I should rephrase. He was using a queer tactic perhaps by refusing politics as usual. Queer politics is not really prescriptive, but most queer scholarship has been against same-sex marriage because it does not critique power structures or inequalities, but asks to be a part of them. Most argue that the state should not have a role in the regulation of love or sex and that marriage as an institution is more about control and privilege.
      I am not one to argue for the sake of appropriateness. I do not like being the moral police; we have enough of those. Did Rosen get us to engage in a dialogue that we would have not otherwise had about serious issues (such as the role of sexuality in the gay and lesbian movement and what is and is not legitimate according to norms)? Yes. So he got us to stop and question. That’s appropriate for all activists. Disruption and complication are important.

      • I don’t know, Michael. That sounds like quite a stretch to defend a guy for showing his cock. I mean, he did it for his OWN gain. If he’d have done it as like a fundraiser or some sort of get-out-the-message or get-out-the-vote, I probably wouldn’t have thought twice about it, you know?

        He traded his dick for a scholarship that was supposed to be about blogging. It’s anything but classy, and I just don’t buy this nonsense that it was some profound political tactic.

      • His own gain, which is to support his website, which provides the DC area and numerous other cities news about alternative scenes. You promoted yourself for your own gain and he did too. Promoting oneself is not the issue.

        I don’t understand the difference between the campaign, the message, or the vote. How would it have been more “appropriate” in your eyes?

        I am not saying that Rosen did anything groundbreaking, I am saying for a moment he got us to talk about issues, made some people uncomfortable (which is a good thing), and had people think about what they believe in.

        You do not buy this “nonsense” because you have a different moral stance. Other people do not have the same ethical stance; this needs to be recognized. He did not cheat. He did not disrespect anyone. His actions offended you. Just like me kissing my boyfriend on the street offends some homophobes. It’s a different set of ethics.

  3. I do have a different moral sense. That’s fair. But he did not offend me, and I have never used that word.

    The contest was organized by Freedom to Marry and specifically had to do with marriage equality. The scholarship is to Netroots Nation, which specifically has to do with blogging and activism.

    He offered a pornographic image of himself to get votes. That’s not marriage equality. That’s not activism. It’s prostitution.

    Now, I don’t think prostitution is necessarily a bad thing. My point is simply that his actions did NOT reflect the spirit of the contest in any way.

    And for the record, I got us talking about the issues. Zack Rosen got us talking about his cock; I got us talking about the issues.

    • Rosen has written about marriage equality. He constantly writes and posts items in support of marriage equality on his website. I should know, I read The New Gay quite regularly.

      Acvitism. To get people involved. He got people involved. He however got people involved in an alternative way. He blogged about his cock twice; this blogging was connected to gaining the ability to better serve his community. Your version of activism is a bit narrow. Just because someone choosing an alternative path should not negate their work.

      It is not prostitution. That is an incorrect use of the word. Even if it was, should prostitutes be banned from the contest? Do prostitutes not deserve the right to fight for marriage “equality?” Rosen talked about the issues before you did. He explained his stance and caused me to think about the current gay and lesbian movement and their tactics. I only read about your blog after I read his.

      You blogging is not marriage equality either. It is working towards marriage “equality.” He is working towards marriage equality. He chose a different path and this needs to be okay so that the gay and lesbian movement does not because the monovocal movement that it is becoming or already is.

  4. Prostitution is the exchange of a sex act (like showing your erect cock) for some kind of monetary gain (like votes for a scholarship).

    Rosen wrote, “If we trade sex for rights, we are not fully free,” and yet that seems to be exactly what he did. I’m not trying to hide his cock or prevent him from showing it off, I’m trying to discourage the selling of sex to advance our movement.

    It was an unfair advantage over the other contestants who were trying to market their activism and not their body parts.

    • Your definition of a sex act and mine are different. I saw him nude and do not believe that we’ve had sex. I also do not believe it was pornography. To me it seemed more like a performance. This is how I interpreted it from my subject position. Others may see it as different, but I didn’t think it was pornography at all.

      He is not trading sex for rights. You misread that quote. Read it again. He is asking for sexuality and rights at the same time. That we should not privilege one over the other. He does not want (according to what I’ve read- I do not know him personally) an asexual gay and lesbian movement.

      It was not an unfair advantage, everyone has body parts.

  5. Pornography: Sexually explicit pictures, writing, or other material whose primary purpose is to cause sexual arousal; the presentation or production of this material.

    What is the point of a site like Fleshbot?

    “So do it for me, do it for dick, do it for naked pictures of non-famous people.” –ZDR

    Everybody has body parts, but it was a blogging scholarship contest, not a beauty pageant.

    • You do realize that you sound like John Ashcroft, right? Your stance is extremely conservative, which makes sense this the current gay and lesbian movement is extremely conservative; the focus is on marriage and military- this is not liberation, but the rhetoric of the George W. Bush administration. Instead of begging for inclusion, how about a critical analysis of our culture and the homophobia, sexism, classism, racism, and imperialism within it.

      He blogged about body parts…

  6. It’s fair that you disagree. It is, however, a frustrating discourse when you ignore the points I’ve made in my comments.

    You say I’m “begging for inclusion.” I’m just demanding that I get what I want. I don’t need something MORE than what others have, and I’m not trying to hold that back. I just want what I want, as you want what you want.

    I’m eager to resist the -isms you listed, but I don’t come from the radical perspective you or Zack do. I can’t. I’m not part of an alternative community in a big city with a large gay population; I’m just out there trying to do education and advocacy for the folks who have no outlet and can’t even come out.

    There is NO WAY I could have shown my cock. None. To do so would have been to sacrifice all of my career potential as an educator. That is the reality of the world we live in. Is that what should really be expected of me if I want to advocate on behalf of gays and lesbians (or to have their support in doing so)?

    What I want isn’t perfect for you, and that’s fine. I think you’d at least agree that what I want is better than what any of us has got.

    • I did reply to your points. I think you are misusing pornography in an offensive manner.

      You can fight -isms where ever you are, but you are not. You are fighting for gay marriage. I’ve met people from the woods of West Virginia and Kentucky who are more “radical” than me. Place doesn’t determine politics.

      I think same-sex marriage has the potential to kill the gay and lesbian movement, just as the right to vote significantly harmed the women’s movement. It took decades to start a new movement because people thought that the vote was the whole purpose of the movement. Just as the gay and lesbian movement thinks marriage is the end goal. So, I disagree with you same-sex marriage will convince a generation that the GLBTQ movement is over. Same-sex marriage will tell a generation of GLBTQ youth that marriage and monogamy is the end goal and the only or normal way to live. The gay and lesbian movement never thinks about the ramifications of its action or looks for alternatives. They look to be just like heterosexuals.

  7. Scott

    I’ve read Zack Ford’s blog post along with the comments there, plus everything here, and I just don’t understand this – Ford has made it PLAIN and CLEAR why he was upset: the competition was based on blogging. The contestants’ nomination was based on blogging. Rosen tantalized the masses with a dick shot to get votes, which isn’t about blogging.

    I can’t tell you how many comments I’ve read in which Ford responded with this simple explanation – a dick pic is not a blog post – yet everyone keeps twisting it and turning it. A DICK PIC IS NOT A BLOG POST.

    • Scott,

      Well of course a picture is not a blog post. Just as an apple is not fruit salad. But a picture can be part of a blog post. And an apple can be part of a fruit salad. Perez Hilton’s blog is actually mostly built around pictures. So is Perez not a blogger? If he blogged about it, then it is in fact a blog entry. No twisting. No turning. It’s a blog entry.

      I understand Ford’s arguments very clearly. I just disagree.

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