Bronwyn Drainie has long been a gifted writer on the arts scene, but I think I would discourage any further attempts at social satire ("Sometimes, defending freedom of speech stinks," November 30). For one thing, a satirist must understand irony, and it's clear that Ms Drainie sees none in her complaint that the work of the Ryerson School of Journalism has ground to a halt, over the past two weeks, because it has been the object of scrutiny by working journalists. An episode that could be an object lesson in the ways of the media (and many students have told me they value it for being exactly that) is obviously getting in the way of Ms Drainie's department meetings. Or lesson plans. Or lunch dates. Or whatever.
It is apparently a terrible thing when real life intrudes on a journalism teacher. Having inadvertently provoked that may be the one thing for which I will never be forgiven.
Ms Drainie attempts another satirical mode -- the reversal of facts for comic effect, but that strategy requires a deftness of touch that she just doesn't have. I would caution her, in fact, to practise a little more at home before she tries this out in public again. It is not funny, and very clumsy, to write that I have taught my students that it is all right to lie, or that I have betrayed them. On the contrary, I have consistently told the truth about my public and my private life, and I am in the pillory for doing so. The most Drainie can offer as evidence of a lie is an apparent contradiction between what I've written and what I said to an interviewer after I'd endured almost 2 weeks of intense and exhausting media scrutiny. In the case referred to, I may have misunderstood the question. She may have misunderstood my answer. She may have misquoted me. In any case, she has not been ethical enough as a journalist to call me and try to clarify the situation and verify the facts.
Ms Drainie does come close to high comedy twice, and I suppose that's not bad for a beginner (I don't include the charming, if all-too-easy, punning in "a fruitless debate, all centred on him"). It's laughable for her to suggest that I've orchestrated the last few weeks as a kind of media blitz for some upcoming book or article. I brought none of this to the press. But when it appeared, I would not shrink from defending myself. And Ms Drainie knows as well as I that, if one wants publicity, there are easier ways of getting it than by enduring two weeks of harassment, hate mail, death threats, and hate calls that now number in the hundreds.
Her one true comic flight comes, though, when she links my name with decency. I think it humorous because I'm sure that Ms Drainie must feel as I do -- that decency is the preserve of pinch-penny moralists. I want none of it. If I'd been a decent man before 1969 I would have led a life of chastity, since gay sex was illegal. If I'd been a decent man throughout the 1970s I would have shut up about being gay -- it was not a topic, then, for decent society. If I were a decent man I would not defend the rights of sex trade workers -- which I did long before I became one myself. If I were a decent man I would not continue to celebrate bathhouse sex, park sex and washroom sex as the great social gifts they are. If I were a decent man I would not continue chowing down on the endless stream of suburban married men who form the bulk of my clientele -- and giving them, by the by, a rather simple pleasure for which they seem pathetically grateful.
Since Ms Drainie has expressed her concern for the travails of the Ryerson Journalism Department, let me express mine. It must be difficult discovering that your instructor in media ethics is doing the most embarrassingly unethical things in public ("you wrote a whole column about the man without actually speaking to him? Not even the Toronto Sun's Heather Bird did that"), but I do urge you to give her every chance to explain herself. If she can't, consider the following: I fully expect to be back teaching freelance magazine writing in January. But when Drainie vacates the ethics chair, I'm putting my name forward. She has clearly infected the department with the virus of decency, and my first task will be to disinfect it.
Decency is the ethics of cowards. It has no place in a journalism department.
[Return to Chronology / RB / 17/5/97]