Takes on News of the Day

Published in: May-June 2011 issue.


Smooth Operator  The human penis is a marvel to behold if you’re an evolutionary biologist, a repository of unique features the origins of which are a mystery. For example, the bulb or “head” is a feature not found in any other species, and its function has yet to be ascertained. Another feature that separates us from the other great apes is the smoothness of the human penis. Our closest relative, the chimpanzee, like many other species, has a penis studded with small, hard spikes or spines. Scientists have now found the exact DNA sequence that humans are lacking that cause other primates to possess these spikes. Their function is not known, but one theory is that they serve to remove the sperm of male competitors who got there first, as it were, while their disappearance in humans signaled the onset of a more monogamous sexual arrangement. Maybe so. But the shedding of abrasive spikes might just have other benefits for both the male and female of the species, especially for a species that seems to attach as much importance to sex as does our own. Let’s say you’re a proto-woman looking for a mate—or just a trick, for that matter. Who are you likely to choose to have sex with? Meanwhile, the sexual opportunities for the proto-man with the smoothest penis should be obvious—and not only to the female population. He would have been a popular guy with at least a subset of the other males. And maybe this was the real secret to his survival in a world where you needed all the allies you could get; who can say?

A Preacher’s Bullhorn  The scenario is a familiar one—certainly to readers of this column—but they keep coming up with new twists. “They” are the fundamentalist ministers and politicians who rail against homosexuality until, one day, they’re caught visiting a male escort or soliciting sex with a page. This time the perp is one Reverend Grant Storms, a New Orleans institution known for his bullhorn protests of “Southern Decadence,” an annual gay event in the French Quarter. Well, old Rev. Storms was arrested earlier this year for masturbating in public. Okay, who hasn’t done that? What gives the reverend’s story special heft is the fact that he was parked in a van next to the carousel and playground at Lafreniere Park, where two mothers caught him in flagrante. The police report noted that he was in the driver’s seat with the window down, “looking at the playground area that contained children playing, with his zipper down.” Whether he’ll show up at this year’s Southern Decadence remains to be seen. Local merchants have tried in the past to get a restraining order against Storms; next time they’ll have more than his bullhorn to complain about.

On Location  Many viewers of The King’s Speech, the Oscars’ Best Picture of 2010, were struck by the strangely mottled walls of the speech therapist’s office, which showed what looked like centuries of peeling paint and wallpaper. A somewhat smaller number of viewers may have dimly King's Speechrecognized these walls from somewhere else… another movie perhaps? Turns out, the same location, which happens to be at 33 Portland Place in London, was used in the filming of a gay porn film called UK Naked Men. The rooms are owned by Lord Edward Davenport, whose website describes him as “one of Britain’s most flamboyant entrepreneurs.” Davenport was initially hired to refurbish the flat but apparently never got around to it, perhaps because he recognized its potential as a backdrop for private oral sessions.

A Sign of the Times  For the first time in its 125-year history, The Harvard Law Review has elected a gay student to be its president. The election of second-year law student Mitchell Reich is a landmark in GLBT history and more evidence that barriers are falling. More important, we all know that being elected to this particular position is a steppingstone to the presidency of the United States.

Follow-up on the news:  A feature article in these pages (Sept.-Oct. 2010) detailed an upcoming Supreme Court case involving the infamous Phelps family of Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas, who were being sued by the family of a fallen war hero for picketing the soldier’s funeral. The case was argued last October, and earlier this year the Court decided, 8 to 1, in favor of Westboro on free speech grounds. Given the Phelpses’ penchant for picketing gay funerals with signs that say “God Hates Fags,” some GLBT people were disappointed by the decision. And yet, slippery slopes being what they are, the Court’s ruling was the proper one, protecting the right of some future picketer to carry a sign at Fred Phelps’ funeral that reads, say, “God Loves Sodomy.”

And the Lord Taketh Away  But then, having won in court, ah, the Phelpses suffered a major blow when “anonymous,” the band of hackers who “take down” the websites of the truly objectionable, did a number on Westboro’s site. The great thing about anonymous is how they issue their pronouncements in the voice of an angry god—only in this case a liberal god—directly addressing the target of their wrath. Here’s part of their warning to Phelps: “We, the collective super-consciousness known as anonymous—the Voice of Free Speech & the Advocate of the People—have long heard you issue your venomous statements of hatred, and we have witnessed your flagrant and absurd displays of inimitable bigotry and intolerant fanaticism. … [W]e have hitherto allowed you to continue preaching your benighted gospel of hatred and your theatrical exhibitions of, not only your fascist views, but your utter lack of Christ-like attributes. … Anonymous cannot abide this behavior any longer. We will target your public Websites, and the propaganda & detestable doctrine that you promote will be eradicated; the damage incurred will be irreversible, and neither your institution nor your congregation will ever be able to fully recover.” Thus spake anonymous, the unnamable one, the Old Testament God, now transformed into a god of free speech and moderation—but not averse to smiting the hypocrites where they blog.