Discover more from How to Save Democracy, and other stories
A Tale of Two Sex Scandals
I hate to bring this to your attention if you weren’t already aware, but I swear it is necessary to my point. Congresswoman Lauren Boebert of Colorado, one of the most well known faces of the Far Right and a key ringleader in the rise in anti-queer bigotry, was caught on camera groping her date while he fondled her breasts in a theater during a performance of the musical Beetlejuice. She was also caught vaping into a pregnant woman’s face and was eventually removed from the theater due to her disruptive behavior. She has since apologized for the vaping and her disruptive behavior, but hasn’t mentioned the sex acts.
Boebert, a famously sycophantic Trump ally, has routinely accused those on the left of “grooming children” by including queer-inclusive education materials in schools. Her twitter feed is littered with homophobic and transphobic rhetoric, and has routinely pushed for transphobic legislation. So it is particularly galling that not only was she caught performing sex acts in the midst of an unconsenting audience. And while I won’t assert that Lauren Boebert was grooming the children in the Beetlejuice audience, I will point out that once again someone on the Right has been caught doing exactly what they accuse queer people of doing all the time: sexualizing public spaces.
Grooming accusations from the right are not new, but are a particularly pernicious and insidious part of anti-queer bigotry. The Right’s commitment to educational gag orders like the Don’t Say Gay law in Florida, and to book banning, which has focused on taking books out of schools and the youth sections of libraries, is focused on the dangerous and completely false idea that queerness is inherently predatory and that exposure to queerness is inherently sexualizing. Lauren Boebert and her ilk would have us believe that a straight teacher talking about her husband is innocent, but a queer teacher talking about her wife is sexualized because they have a vested interest in repressing ways of being that defy the rigid gender roles and sexual identities that they believe empower them. They want us to believe that to read a children’s book with queer characters, or to let children explore their gender identity by wearing different clothes or going by different pronouns, or to host a drag queen story hour is more inherently sexualizing and predatory than Lauren Boebert’s lewd behavior.
Sex is a fundamental part of the human experience. As a species it’s the main way we reproduce, and for many it’s an enjoyable way to experience another person. It is also, as with most things humans do, fraught with contradictions, violence, and uncertainty. In our extraordinarily puritanical and patriarchal society, driven by a rise in conservative Christianity in the past century and a commitment to rigid power dynamics, sex is also cloaked in darkness, something we are obsessed with and unable or unwilling to talk about. Something for which men are celebrated and women are punished; something that is deviant when queer people do it but normal when straight people do it; something that can be used to assert dominance, and control over others, but also a way of celebrating and empowering yourself.
After the #MeToo movement exposed the sheer volume of sexual violence in our society, we were long overdue a reckoning with a culture where victims of sexual violence were terrified to come forward, unable to get redress from our justice system, and were often further violated and demeaned by the process. Instead we got an aggressive moral panic against queer people daring to exist, and a backlash against women.
Which brings us to sex scandal number two.
Just before Lauren Boebert’s behavior was exposed, the Washington Post reported that Democratic candidate for the Virginia House of Delegates, Susanna Gibson, used the website Chaturbate to perform sex acts with her husband for a live online audience. While, as the post reports, it’s not clear when this streaming took place, the videos were recorded without Susanna Gibson’s consent and hosted on a different website that was not password protected and was not of her choosing. The Post was alerted to these videos by a Republican operative whose anonymity they are protecting for some reason.
As Lyz Lenz put it in her newsletter,, “That’s right, breaking news, folks, a woman fucked.”
In case the differences between Susanna Gibson and Lauren Boebert weren’t abundantly clear, let me elucidate. Gibson has consensual sex with her husband on a streaming platform where people show up specifically to watch sex acts. She is an adult, the people watching were adults, and everyone made the specific, consensual choice to be there. The theater audience around Lauren Boebert, however, did not. Boebert is perfectly within her rights to have sex in front of other people if she wants to, as long as those people want to as well. She is not perfectly within her rights to spend years accusing queer people of sexualizing public spaces because we have the audacity to exist and then turn around and literally sexualize a public space with children in it.
The goal here is not to incite further moral panic around Lauren Boebert’s actions, but rather to highlight the contradictions between her rhetoric and those actions and shine a light on the hypocrisy that undergirds her politics. And perhaps to contrast it with the dichotomy of empowerment and punishment interwoven into Susanna Gibson’s story - the empowerment to have sex when and how and with whom she choses, and the punishment she faces for that choice.
Gibson is running for office in Virginia, the last state in the south with abortion access. She’s running against a candidate who plans to support a 15-week abortion ban, and whose website touts the desire to “protect parental involvement” in education, a Youngkin-esque watchword for banning the teaching of real history and keeping queerness out of education materials. There has been very little reporting on this man’s views on abortion, queer rights, or anything else for that matter. Most of the stories that come up when you google him focus on Gibson daring to have sex, as though this is the most important factor in this race. As though this, rather than either candidate’s views on environmental policy, education, health care, or gun rights, is what will impact Virginians the most.
We’ve so deeply complicated sex, and so intertwined it in our politics, that any discussion of it feels uncomfortable at best. It’s fundamentally wrapped up in our desire to control women, to exert power and control over difference, our attitudes toward race and gender and class, our religion and ideology, the macro of our politics and the micro of our relationships. It can be immensely enjoyable and immensely hurtful and a million other things in between. It is certainly much too large a subject for a single newsletter. And in both the case of Lauren Boebert and the case of Susanna Gibson, I know a lot more about them than I want or need to. But the difference is between what they chose to tell us and how, and how those actions fit into the larger story they want to tell about our society, our politics, and our culture. Lauren Boebert wants rigid control and subjugation for us and unfettered freedom for herself regardless. Susanna Gibson wants the same autonomy and empowerment in our policy that she has in her own life. I know which one I’m going with.
Susanna Gibson’s race is critical to helping Democrats take back the House of Delegates in November. If you’d like to donate to or volunteer in her campaign, you can do so here.