monthly column from author/activist
David Steinberg

Comes Naturally #131

No Apologies: The Story of Jack McGeorge

There are times, even as the world seems to be getting crazier every day, when something comes out the way it should. When something sex-related, out there in the sex-crazy world, comes out the way it should. When the forces of sensibility, honesty, and good-hearted life triumph, for once, over the forces of hysteria, fear, misinformation, and impossibility. A little sexual sanity goes a long way these days toward keeping open the doors of hope for a positive sexual future. At least it does for me. That's why I was so encouraged by the story of Jack McGeorge.

Maybe you caught a glimpse of this story as it flew quickly through the news media. Maybe you missed it. It was a sex scandal that came and went in about a week, a sex scandal that just didn't take root, which is what makes it so encouraging.

Over Thanksgiving weekend, The Washington Post ran what it felt was an exposé about Jack McGeorge, a munitions analyst for the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) in Iraq. The Post had discovered that McGeorge was a rather significant player -- a leader, really -- in the s/m community, both in Washington, D.C., where he lives, and nationally. It wasn't difficult for The Post to make this discovery because McGeorge has never tried to hide his sexual interests and tastes. When The Post ran a web search on him, his s/m activities popped up all over the place.

McGeorge is a founder of Black Rose, a well-known and respected support, education, and social group in Washington for adults interested in "the many different expressions of power in love and play in the context of caring relationships." He was also an officer of the Leather Leadership Conference, an organization dedicated to "strengthening the SM/Leather/Fetish community through the development of the leadership skills of community members," and a former Chairman of the Board of the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom (NCSF), the leading group working nationally to fight discrimination against people involved in s/m activities, and the growing harassment nationwide of s/m clubs and organizations.

When confronted by The Washington Post about his involvement with s/m, McGeorge was open, matter-of-fact, and unapologetic about his sexual preferences. "I have been very upfront with people in the past about what I do," he said, "and it has never prevented me from getting a job or doing service. I am who I am. I am not ashamed of who I am -- not one bit."

Nevertheless, to defend the work of the U.N. weapons inspectors in Iraq, McGeorge offered his resignation to Chief Inspector Hans Blix. "I cannot allow my actions, as they may be perceived by others, to damage an organization which has done nothing to deserve that damage," he explained.

Blix, a sensible native of Sweden, where sexual preferences do not raise the same kind of hackles they do in the U.S., immediately and categorically rejected McGeorge's offer to resign, pointing out that his sexual activities had nothing to do with his competence. "We believe that Mr. McGeorge is a highly qualified and competent technical expert," Blix spokesman Ewen Buchanan said flatly. "We are not aware of any grounds for his resignation, and Dr. Blix has not taken up his offer."

Running into a stone wall from Blix on the horrible sexual pervert angle, reporters tried to press the issue from a different tack. Expressing sudden concern for the sexual sensitivity of Iraqis, they questioned whether McGeorge's involvement with s/m might be offensive to Iraqi Muslims and therefore interfere with his work.

But Hua Jiang, spokeswoman for U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, would not take the bait. She simply noted blandly that all weapons inspectors were required to be "aware of the local culture and religion." Being into s/m, she implied, was no more likely to be a cross-cultural problem than any number of other issues. It wasn't as if Jack McGeorge was going to run around the streets of Baghdad dressed in a leather harness. End of story.

Sex treated as a normal part of life, as no Big Deal. Sexual diversity as a simple fact of life, unrelated to aptitude or job performance. A man's unapologetic honesty about his sexual tastes rewarded by uncompromising support from his highly visible employer. How refreshing!

Hans Blix could care less that Jack McGeorge is into s/m big time. Kofi Annan could care less that McGeorge is into s/m big time. Apparently, Saddam Hussein could care less that McGeorge is into s/m big time. Maybe it's only people in the U.S. -- some people in the U.S. -- who have trouble understanding that a person into kinky sex could do a difficult, sensitive job with complete competence.

Of course, officially shrugged shoulders notwithstanding, there were more than a few papers that ran the story as a sex scandal anyway. "UN Sets a Sadist to Catch Saddam," proclaimed The Statesman in India. "Lurid Past Bared in UN Mission," echoed the New Zealand Herald. "UN's House of Pain," sang the New York Post. "UN Expert Ran Sex Ring," proclaimed the Glasgow Sunday Mail, ignoring reality entirely.

Even the progressive, hip, online magazine, Salon, couldn't resist the bait. Substituting cool acceptance for horror and disdain, Salon titled its piece "A Taste of the Whip for Saddam," and suggested playfully that McGeorge's involvement with s/m would actually be an asset to the inspections team because it will "help him distinguish between fantasy and reality."

Some commentators went so far as to draw analogies between the pain aspects of s/m play and the torture techniques of Saddam Hussein. Timothy Noah, writing in Slate magazine ("Pleasure, Pain, and Saddam Hussein: A Meditation on Recreational Violence"), finds disturbing parallels between some s/m practices (he cites suspension from the ceiling, for example) and torture techniques of Saddam Hussein chronicled in a recent British Foreign Office report.

Noah acknowledges that "it goes without saying that adults should be allowed to engage in whatever sexual activities they desire, provided all parties consent," but when the desired sexual activity is "torture," Noah asks, doesn't that "fuzz up" the whole notion of consent? "When happiness requires misery," he concludes (imagining somehow that people who choose s/m are choosing to be miserable), "tolerance will only get you so far."

Other commentators, like Joseph Farah in the conservative Christian newsletter WorldNetDaily ("A Weapons Inspector with a Fetish"), railed about McGeorge from a different perspective -- as an embarrassment in what is apparently an ongoing Christian Crusade to win the world's hearts and minds away from Islam. "Can you imagine the potential propaganda coup this creates for the Islamist world?" Farah asks in alarm. "Can you imagine the many ways McGeorge's 'private life' could be used by Iraq for its own purposes?"

(Despite Farah's hysteria, there has been no public outcry from Saddam Hussein or anyone else in "the Islamist world" about Jack McGeorge's supposedly perverse sexuality. "Iraqi officials... have always claimed that American members of the [UN inspection] team may not be what they seem," the Islamic news service commented wryly. They criticized Western media, rather than McGeorge, for what they called "a campaign to discredit the UN weapons inspections mission to Iraq.")

While some people will undoubtedly see Jack McGeorge as evidence that the world of order and human decency is falling apart at the seams, the flap about "the weapons inspector with a fetish" ironically also seems to be offering new information about the leather/fetish/sm community to a generally misinformed world-at-large. Anyone vaguely curious about s/m who has read even the boilerplate newswire stories about McGeorge has been alerted to the excellent s/m information available from organizations like Black Rose and the Leather Leadership Conference. Anyone who had been harassed about their involvement in s/m has learned that they can contact NCSF for help.

Joseph Farah's column in WorldNetDaily even posted links to a fine assortment of s/m websites, presumably to show his readers just how heinous the Inspector with a Fetish was. But anyone who follows Farah's links to The Eulenspiegel Society, the Leather Leadership Conference, and Leather University, is treated to an unbiased, informative glimpse of the s/m subculture speaking in its own terms. As they say in advertising, this is the kind of publicity you can't buy.

Clicking on the WorldNetDaily link to The TES Weekly, for example, one finds an enthusiastic review of a discussion of switching led by McGeorge. "An accomplished and always-engaging speaker," admires Lisa V., "Jack discussed his beginnings in the scene, when he identified primarily as a bottom [submissive], and how he and his relationships have evolved over time, such that today he finds himself most usually taking on a dominant role."

Another story in the same TES newsletter admires McGeorge's "carefully planned knifeplay workshop," noting that "lecture worked hand in hand with demonstration to show the basic principles of using blades sensually on one's bottom. Jack opened with a point-by-point lecture on techniques and recommended knife safety. He pointed out the various philosophical implications and psychological effects of knife play -- reminding his audience that... the most elaborate blade is merely a tool to get into the head of one's bottom."

Now, even if you're not into knife play, this doesn't exactly sound like a bunch of pathological maniacs carving each other up willy-nilly, does it? Some people, maybe even some of WorldNetDaily's presumably conservative readers, might actually find this information a bit intriguing. More than a few people come enthusiastically into s/m from strictly conservative religious backgrounds.

The WorldNetDaily link to one of McGeorge's personal websites reveals that in addition to being an s/m enthusiast and educator, McGeorge is also a serious sex researcher. We learn that preliminary data from his research questionnaire on "Dominance, Submission, and Service" was presented last November at the annual convention of the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality, the largest organization of professional sexologists in the U.S.

The "About Me" section of this site displays what can only be described as an adorable photograph of a smiling, unpretentious, good-neighbor type -- about as far from stereotypical notions of the dark pervert as you could possibly get. "I'm a 51 year old dominant heterosexual male with libertarian leanings who should exercise more," McGeorge explains with obvious good cheer, "blessed with a wonderful family. Alex, Lisa, and Laura are the lights of my life." Anyone who looks at his picture is going to have a hard time thinking of McGeorge as a demon.

Indeed, the whole attempt to smear McGeorge with his involvement in s/m, and to conflate consensual s/m with political torture, has drawn a wave of outraged responses from readers of both mainstream and alternative journals, demonstrating an impressive popular understanding of the pleasure-seeking and consensual bases of s/m play.

"Private sexual fantasies such as S&M are not on a par with Saddam Hussein torturing poor souls via fake executions," notes one reader of Slate. "[Hussein's] torture victims... in no way 'consent' to their torture. Furthermore, it is REAL torture... not play acting or pain that some people desire because they get satisfaction from it."

"I cannot see a single iota of relevance in the decision to trumpet McGeorge's sexual proclivities, no matter how distasteful they may seem," writes Andrew Carruthers to The Washington Post. "Were it not for the fairness and professionalism of Hans Blix, your paper's stunning editorial misjudgment might have cost McGeorge his job."

"The Post should apologize... and get 40 lashes," agrees Eric Umansky.

Even The Post's own ombudsman, Michael Getler, took the paper to task, albeit not around the issue of consensuality in s/m. "I did not find this [story] up to the usual standard," he said. "It seemed thin and rushed concerning its main premise -- that the overall quality of the inspection team is suspect.... There are 100 inspectors, and McGeorge is the only one this story focused on."

A number of progressive commentators went one step further, pointedly contrasting harmless consensual s/m play with the violence perpetrated on the world by autocrats like Saddam Hussein, terrorists like Osama bin Laden, and war trumpeters like George Bush.

"[McGeorge] is not the kind of sado-masochist that would, say, rule a Middle Eastern country through torture and mass murder," notes Dave Mulcahey in In These Times. "There's a difference, you know."

"The United States should take a tip from the S&M playbook and be submissive for once," suggests Dylan Swizzler in Planet Out. "It could stand to learn a trick or two."

The pacifist website was even more outspoken. "Whatever one might think of McGeorge's sex life," they note, "at least he has the decency to carry out his S&M fantasies in private, with consenting adults, unlike the Washington warmongers... who would inflict their sadistic impulses on entire nations."

Maybe there's been enough media focus on s/m over the last decade or so that the truth is beginning to seep into the bones of collective American consciousness -- that enjoying pain is not the same as getting beaten up on the street, that consensuality is the defining difference between empowerment and abuse, that the sexual activities one person would avoid at all cost can be the basis of blissful ecstasy for someone else, that all the hype about s/m being something that only sick, miserable people would ever want is just that: uninformed hype.

Maybe people are just getting tired of folks screaming because someone does sex in a way that's different from someone else. The McGeorge saga certainly suggests that it's possible to respond to a media sex-scandal feeding frenzy by simply acknowledging one's true sexuality, openly and without apology, and then saying, "So what's wrong with that?" Weren't you aching for Bill Clinton to do just that when confronted with the whole Monica Lewinsky uproar?

Jack McGeorge may not be a perfect angel, but he's got my vote as sex hero of the month. He stood up for himself, stood up for sex, stood up for unconventional sex, stood up for sexual honesty, and came out free and clear. Maybe other people in similar circumstances will have the courage to follow his example.

This article first appeared in Spectator magazine. If you'd like to receive Comes Naturally and other writing by David Steinberg regularly via email (free and confidential), send your name and email address to David at Past columns are available at the Society for Human Sexuality's "David Steinberg Archives." Two books edited by David -- Erotic by Nature: A Celebration of Life, of Love, and of Our Wonderful Bodies, and The Erotic Impulse: Honoring the Sensual Self -- are available from him by mail order.