The internet has long been a place where we’re free to indulge our seediest desires, a playground where letting your freak flag fly isn’t just acceptable, but practically expected. But as that space has become a more and more integral part of our daily lives, it’s also become increasingly common for some of those private explorations and enjoyments to wind up in the public eye. There was the time Newsweek reporter Kurt Eichenwald tweeted out a photo that revealed he’d been browsing tentacle porn, for example, or the time Talking Points Memo’s Josh Marshall accidentally shared a link from Pornhub, or the time Ted Cruz’s Twitter account liked a tweet containing incest porn.
And now, in the most direct instance of explicit content taking over our political conversation, Virginia Democrat Leslie Cockburn, a candidate for the House of Representatives, has brought her opponent’s interest in Bigfoot erotica into her campaign rhetoric. On Sunday evening, Cockburn tweeted out a screencap of one of Denver Riggleman’s Instagram posts, noting that his erotic interests were “not what we need on Capitol Hill.”
Predictably, Cockburn’s tweet quickly went viral, inspiring “Bigfoot” to trend on Twitter and the online commentariat to offer up opinions (and more often, jokes) about what we should all be taking from this story. Some agreed with Cockburn, taking it upon themselves to ridicule Riggleman for his interest in XXX cryptid content. Others argued that Cockburn’s tweet amounted to “kink-shaming,” an unsavory practice of mocking someone for their unusual erotic interests. Still others pushed back against the kink-shaming charge, arguing that even if that were the case, it was wholly acceptable to mock Riggleman — who’d campaigned alongside white supremacists — for his outré taste in pornography.
But the problem with all of these arguments — the problem with Bigfootgate, period — is that Riggleman’s sexual proclivities have nothing to do with his ability to effectively serve as a member of the House of Representatives. And the more we focus the conversation on the salacious details of what a candidate indulges in privately, the more we shift the discussion away from the issues that actually impact constituents’ lives — like, for instance, Riggleman’s willingness to hit the campaign trail with avowed white nationalists.
We live in a puritanical society that frowns upon open discussions of sexuality
It’s not particularly shocking that Riggleman’s sexual interest in cryptids has generated so much interest. We live in a puritanical society where open discussions of sexuality are generally frowned upon, an attitude that promotes ignorance about the diversity and complexity of the human sexual experience. And although our sensibilities have relaxed in recent years, we’re still collectively operating under the assumption that “normal” people have “normal” sex, and that an interest in activities outside of what’s considered broadly acceptable is an indication of some hidden, deviant character trait. Many of us still assume that exploring rape or incest porn indicates a desire to engage in those activities IRL, that an enjoyment of eroticized cartoon characters reveals an unresolved childhood issue, and that being into Bigfoot’s boner means that, well, you’re a bestial freak who deserves to be mocked.
But — and this shouldn’t have to be said, but here we are — human sexuality is far too complex to be reduced to this kind of oversimplified character assessment. Most of us don’t get to choose or control whatever happens to turn us on, and there are plenty of perfectly normal, fine upstanding citizens whose sexual tastes run to the bizarre and taboo. So long as everyone involved in a sexual scenario is a consenting adult (or an entirely fictional character), it shouldn’t be anyone else’s business what those consenting adults are getting up to. (Although it’s certainly worth saying something if someone engages in nonconsensual or abusive behavior, as has been the case with various politicians felled by the #MeToo movement.) No one, no matter how kinky, deserves to be mocked for whatever out-of-the-ordinary thing excites them, and none of them deserve to have their qualification for public office determined by whether they adhere to whatever erotic palate is currently considered “normal.”
We’re sending the message that the kind of smut you’re into is as important as your policy platform
By making a candidate’s sexual interests a part of the campaign rhetoric, we’re sending the message that the kind of smut you’re into is as important as your policy platform. And that message is problematic. It discourages talented people from even considering running for office because they don’t want their careers tanked by an accidental glimpse into their erotic psyche. It equates being aroused by something weird with noxious policy platforms that seek to oppress and disenfranchise people. Worst of all, it distracts from meaningful discussions of candidates’ actual merits and qualifications — in the specific case of Riggleman, it turns the conversation away from his truly monstrous affinity for normalizing white supremacy, a trend that is growing more widely acceptable in American political discourse by the day.
Cockburn may feel that there’s no place on Capitol Hill for sexy yetis, but I couldn’t disagree more. The halls of government should be more than welcoming to people who are into bondage, people who are polyamorous, people who love puppy play and suspension and latex and leather and piercing, and yes, people who are interested in exploring Bigfoot’s sex life. What it shouldn’t be open to is purity tests about the consensual sexual activities and interests that politicians pursue in their personal lives. Well, that and white supremacy.