Dissed by feminist Michele Landsberg

My anti-censorship pals and I are all arguing over who gets to be the “aging wannabe groovy radicals.”

Michele Landsberg, in her Jan 16 column in the Toronto Star (Pornography Debate Distorts Reality), called anyone and everyone who has ever criticized the Supreme Court Of Canada’s Butler pornography decision, and who has ever suggested that censorship is bad for gay men and lesbians, as either “rebellious young libertarians or aging wannabe groovy radicals.”

I’m not sure which I am.

But Landsberg takes me to task by name for criticizing the arguments of Equality Now – the radical feminist, pro-censorship group intervening in the Little Sister’s Supreme Court case.

According to Landsberg, those of us concerned about the impact of censorship on marginalized sexual communities, including gay men and lesbians, are “mischievious” and “uninformed.”

She says that those of us concerned with the impact of the Butler decision on homo sexual expression are “hopelessly wrong.”

To set the record straight, Landsberg writes that Butler has only been used against gay men and lesbians twice.

Let’s see who’s hopelessly wrong here.

Yes, there were the two cases involving Toronto’s Glad Day Bookshop – one prosecuting the lesbian mag Bad Attitude, and the other, an appeal of a Canada Customs detention of a bunch of gay male porn. The state won both.

But this is not the end of the Butlerian legacy.

There’s my favorite case – known as R v 931536 Ontario – in which obscenity charges were brought against eight primarily straight videos. Only one was found to be obscene. And guess what? It was the one that had the lesbian sex in it.

The court went some distance to say that the lesbian sex itself was unobjectionable. It was that the women were forced to have lesbian sex that made it degrading and dehumanizing. The fact that the same women were forced to have straight sex did not make the videos obscene.

Of course, there’s also the ongoing legacy of Canada Customs. The department has finally dropped the anal sex prohibition. But the record in the Little Sister’s case documents hundreds of seizures of gay and lesbian sexually explicit material on the basis that these materials are “degrading and dehumanizing.”

Then there’s the way in which Butler has been hijacked into the indecency law. The Supreme Court has held that the same test – degrading and dehumanizing – applies to charges of indecent performances and indecent acts.

Not surprisingly, the law of indecency is being used against gay men. Remington’s was just found guilty of indecent performances since, in the Ontario Court, Provincial Division judge’s view, Sperm Attack Mondays were degrading and dehumanizing.

Then there’s is the ongoing brouhaha over The Bijou, where cops continue to be obsessed with indecent acts between consenting gay men.

The Butler case continues to cast a long shadow over sexual expression. It’s too bad that Landsberg didn’t look a little harder – because it’s not hard to find.


But then, that’s probably not what she wanted to find.

So, she dug up a spokesperson for Canada Customs who was prepared to say that practices were changed after the Butler decision, and everyone is now much more tolerant to gay and lesbian representations.

Funny that, since that is precisely what the upcoming Little Sister’s case is about, and the practices of Canada Customs are being challenged as unconstitutional.

For Landsberg, apparently, it is still impossible to be a feminist and a civil libertarian.

There is only one legitimate feminist position – not surprisingly, it’s hers. Anyone else who dares to criticize pro-censorship feminism is accused of engaging in nothing more than “a rant

against feminists.”

This misses the point that anti-censorship feminists have been trying to make for years: that there is more than one feminist perspective on pornography, censorship and sex. Indeed, it misses

the point of the sex wars entirely – that feminists have been bitterly divided on the question of sexual expression.

I might accuse a pro-censorship feminist of being wrong (okay, I do it all the time), but I would never accuse her of not being a feminist.

In my feminist universe, there is room for dissent and political difference. But then, I believe in freedom of expression.

I believe that Landsberg is entitled to her views – however under-researched or misinformed. I just wish that she wouldn’t say that I am not entitled to mine.


Ex Xtra features editor Rachel Giese is back in the pages of the Toronto Star. After a brief sabbatical, her weekly column has returned to the Opinion pages of the Thursday Star.

Giese, now the executive director of the Inside Out Lesbian And Gay Film And Video Festival, makes a point of tackling gay and lesbian issues regularly.

Avery Haines was fired from CTV NewsNet; she screwed up a take, then made a joke which was accidentally broadcast. “I kind of like the little stuttering thing,” she said. “It’s like equal opportunity, right? We’ve got a stuttering newscaster. We’ve got the black, we’ve got the Asian, we’ve got the woman. I could be a lesbian, folk-dancing, black woman stutterer…. In a wheelchair… with gimping, rubber legs. Yeah, really, I’d have a successful career, let me tell you.”

The incident has been used to slag employment equity.

The Toronto Sun put a transgendered cop on its Jan 13 cover. The text read: ‘Most of my colleagues were very supportive when they found out’: Cop’s retirement party was coming-out party.

A Toronto Police officer for 28 years, Const Peter Cousens arrived at “his” retirement bash dressed as a woman. She’s now living in Ottawa as Cynthia Cousens with lover Sylvia Durand, whose sex-change was paid for by the military last year. – staff

Brenda Cossman

Brenda Cossman is a professor of law at the University of Toronto, the author of Sexual Citizens: The Legal and Cultural Regulation of Sex and Belonging (Stanford University Press) and a former board member of Pink Triangle Press, Xtra’s publisher.

Keep Reading

Job discrimination against trans and non-binary people is alive and well

OPINION: A study reveals that we have a long way to go to reach workplace equality for trans and non-binary people

The new generation of gay Conservative sellouts

OPINION: Melissa Lantsman’s and Eric Duncan’s refusals to call out their party’s transphobia is a betrayal of the LGBTQ2S+ community

Over 300 anti-LGBTQ2S+ bills have been introduced this year. This doesn’t mean we should panic

OPINION: While it’s important to watch out for threats, not all threats are created equally. Some of these bills will die a natural death

Xtra’s top LGBTQ2S+ stories of the year

The best and brightest—even most bewildering—stories from a back catalogue brimming with insight