When Blog Topix Collide: Gavin Newsom, Porno Politics, and Ethical Sluthood

February 2, 2007

The Chron’s editorial page today features San Francisco’s two biggest sex issues of the week, and their juxtaposition has our young mayor ass-deep, as my dear dead old dad Max Queen used to say, in alligators. (Max had a “drain the swamp” tagline, but that now belongs to Nancy Pelosi; I won’t belabor it.) I’ve been meaning to write about both issues, and now that they are contextualizing each other harder than two French feminists in a dark alley, I guess I’ll tackle both at once. I mean, of course, the controversy over Kink.com’s purchase of SF’s historic Armory building (the handsome, dungeonesque relic at 14th and Mission), and this week’s dramatic revelation that Newsom had an affair with Ruby Rippey-Tourk, a staffer married to his friend and campaign manager.
SF Armory, photo from Noehill.com
That this latter situation is not one of those consensual threeways with which some of us liven up our weekends seems pretty clear by Alex Tourk’s action upon the affair’s revelation — he abruptly quit — and Newsom’s somber, “sorry”-filled response response to the press. (Though always-priceless Bad Reporter Don Asmussen had a field day with that notion in this morning’s cartoon.) Irritating letters to the editor are already blaming the kerfluffle on “San Francisco Values” — these kneejerk folks sure do like a buzz-phrase, from Bush to Limbaugh on down to opinionated people in San Rafael — but give me a freakin’ break: this guy is the first mayor of a major American city to have an affair? Can you say “Rudy Giuliani“? And THAT guy’s a presidential candidate. In fact, last I heard, he was the Republican’s front runner.

But as Newsom’s response to the Kink.com move to the Armory shows, the edgiest, friskiest San Francisco sex values aren’t shared by everyone in SF, including the mayor. Because Newsom behaved essentially like any shamed adulterer who had decided to try to do the right thing. In his political (and perhaps personal) shoes it WAS right — and, probably not coincidentally, it puts him on message with the more conservative side of the Kink.com controversy.

SF Porn Palace aka Kink.com's Peter Acworth in San Francisco's 7x7 magazine SF Major Gavin Newsom, photo from PlanetOut.com/

Predictably, NIMBYs around the Armory are upset that a porn company is moving into the neighborhood. “There are children here!” they squeal — yeah, children who right now have to step over the drugged-out and vomiting waste particles who sully the Armory’s front, side, and back steps. But Newsom stepped into the discussion just days before his extra-curricular, nonconsensual triad hit the news, and the effect is to make it clear that, in spite of his groundbreaking gay marriage activism of a couple of years past, the mayor doesn’t subscribe to any crazy sex-radical ideas.

Now the danger for the Kink.com (Link NSFW; contains nudity) folks, who just want to get on with developing the building (which, incidentally, is the most fortress-like joint around, with no place at all for curious kiddies to peer in trying to get a glimpse of something salacious), is that Newsom’s controversial week could lead him to fight sex with sex. He and his advisors are already concerned that his actions on gay marriage stuck his neck way too far out for non-San Francicans to vote for him in any run for higher office, and this might be his chance (even as he is being humbled before the press) to prove he’s not *really* a sex maniac. Hey, any powerful and handsome young guy undergoing a stressful divorce might have done the same, and arguably most of ‘em have. And to etch a deeper line between “normal” sexual hi-jinks and ones that are beyond the pale, he’s willing to try to throw Kink.com’s otherwise completely legal Armory deal under the bus.

Here’s the irony of it all: Kink.com is a porn company that draws heavily from the community. Not all its staff are lifestyle BDSM players, but many certainly are; I was even brought in as a consultant once to help clarify kinky sexual practices to those staffers who didn’t understand them. Lots are even Mission District residents! The same people Mission NIMBYs, a.k.a. concerned citizens, are fretting about already shop right next to them at Mission Street markets and taquerias. As porn producers, the Kink.com folks contribute to the community in mostly-intangible ways, because there is no true advocacy voice made up of porn consumers — certainly not one that represents those consumers’ true numbers, their values, their reasons for wanting porn in their lives. Does it answer their questions? Make them feel they’re not alone? Keep ‘em off the streets? Sexologists think all of these are reasons porn plays an important role in some of our lives, but these aren’t really treated as a positive element in the debate. They should be, though, and the fact that much of the content created by this (and a notable few other companies) is informed by the practices and values of the BDSM world is really notable.

The Ethical Slut
What are those values? They boil down to negotiation and consent. This is what kink, and at its best kinky porn, can offer ordinary folks: the grounding wisdom of a community that understands how important it is that participants actually want to do what they’re doing. It’s the worldview that allowed local authors and kink community luminaries Dossie Easton (also a psychotherapist) and Janet Hardy to pen The Ethical Slut: a book I’d very much like to send Mayor Newsom right now, though I wouldn’t want him to take it wrong. The San Francisco value he has not seemed to buy into in his current trouble is the one that states that sexual adventure and exploration is good as long as it’s *consensual* and doesn’t unduly hurt people — in other words, there’s a way to do what he did that wouldn’t have caused his constituency to doubt his judgement and maturity, and it probably would have helped to preserve his privacy too.

Look, this man is one of the most popular mayors in San Francisco’s history. He’s certainly not the first one to be embroiled in scandal, and he won’t be the last. Half his constituents would probably be happy to have sex with him. In spite of the scrutiny he must live under, there are plenty of ways Gavin Newsom can be a thoroughly modern mayor and an ethical guy, whether or not he’s a slut, and I, for one, hope he finds that path for his own sake as much as for the future of a big porn palace at the Armory.

2 Responses to “When Blog Topix Collide: Gavin Newsom, Porno Politics, and Ethical Sluthood”

  1. cynthia lloyd Says:

    I’m surprised that sf doesn’t realize what a jewel they have in kink.com.
    The corner at 14th and mission has been dark and scary for years.
    It’s a surprise to me that in this town,in this age, anyone is still equating an interest in pornography
    with a lack of moral values.
    I know it may be hard for some to see beyond their own interpretation of the imagery,
    but if they read the language of kink.com’s sites I am confident
    that you too will feel the respect,care,and integrity truly contained within.

  2. John Ullman Says:

    The most disgusting and unforgivable aspect of the Newsome scandal is that in the entire tawdry list of his innamorati, there is not a single guy. Or is Robert just not kissing and telling?


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