My brief with Wayne Sturge

“Sturge’s other briefs,” TV6’s chyron read. What a fortnight of headlines for sexy pictures.

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Darryl Smith’s taunting innuendo on his fellow MP’s masculinity has elicited considerable national headshaking in social media and the press. Yet reporting her “revenge porn” case against cricketer Lendl Simmons, filed nine months ago, the media still can’t resist using Therese Ho’s surname the way MP Darryl Smith used the first name of Barry Padarath’s constituency.

In his landmark, eloquent, $150,000 judgment in her favour, Justice Frank Seepersad upheld the principle that even when you participate in creating and sharing graphic images of yourself, when those you’ve shared them with disseminate them further with harmful intent, they are liable for damages. Many agree with his decision. Some criticise the judge (who suspended moral ambivalence about many sexual practices in the case, but clearly found Simmons’ attitude his partner was just a piece of tail offensive), alleging his notion of the plaintiff’s vulnerability upholds patriarchy over feminism.

What’s consistent about responses to Padarath, Ho and Nikitha Cornwall, though, is public opinion that it’s wrong when people, who are vulnerable to being shamed, are. That’s why women’s rights maven Hazel Brown was accused of slutshaming Cornwall, whose nude pictures appeared online after taking her phone for repair at Bad Robot-Movietowne.

A frustrated Brown said women need to take greater responsibility for protecting themselves. Opposition Senator Wayne Sturge got little sympathy from anyone as a playful photograph of him taken at home among friends circulated—shirt pulled above his big belly, pants unzipped in a V revealing the Superman logo on the underwear beneath. Online comments lacked some of the contempt previously aimed at Reema Carmona’s midsection, but likewise expressed censure and the sense this was conduct unbecoming. “Crass, pointless, shallow and stomach-turning” was Mr. Live Wire’s.

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I have one set of issues with Wayne Sturge. My biggest is his irresponsibility as a member of the bar in rushing onto television with Hema Ramkissoon to contradict an article I’d coaxed the media into reporting in the face of a seeming failure of government to educate us the Children Act increased the age of consent for penetrative sex to 18 in May. Sturge admitted to me he’d read the Children Act the night before the appearance. He missed that it repealed sections of the Sexual Offences Act he cited on air. That arrogance becomes a disciplinary matter only if he fails to make good efforts to remedy his recklessness. I’ve urged him to, but am not aware he has. I’m hoping he still will.

His Superman picture? Absolutely not my brief! Indeed, it substantially humanises someone who troubles me for so many other reasons. And not only because I have a weakness for big boys.

Some of Sturge’s targeting was opportunistic PNM partisanship. In Jamaica, pictures of beauty queen Lisa Hanna donning a bikini after becoming a government minister triggered questions about fitness for office. But a heaping dose of the performance of distaste over Sturge is about fatness. Had a similar image of Faris-Al-Rawi-de-gyal-dem-Ferrari circulated, the UNC would seek a field day, but Mr. Live Wire’s stomach might instead clench with jealousy. MP Padarath can’t express himself on his first day in Parliament without being shamed. Senator Sturge can’t show the body he lives in without being shamed. Ironically—for being a similar size to Darryl Smith.

Showing off fat bodies counters cultural shaming of difference—just as men like Barry Padarath occupying high office does. The outpouring of shaming, not of Padarath, but his bullies, is a cause for hopeful celebration of what our plural nation can become. In making these links, I’m not minimising the striking importance of the response to the young MP’s homophobic mocking that united much of the nation, and I’m sure surprised Colm Imbert and the PNM that the centre on these issues is no longer where they thought it lay. One of the wonderful sequels to the episode, in fact, was when Newsday journalist Andre Bagoo named himself “as a gay man” in a column in response. It makes things less lonely for me.

Pictures of Sturge, Ho and Cornwall, Padarath’s behaviour and Bagoo’s “coming out” beg the question (like the antifeminist critique of Justice Seepersad) of what about being fat or sexual or not hypermasculine or gay ought to be shameful at all? Why should putting an image of a fat senator or a woman in a sexual act into the public domain or a man’s comparison to a woman do harm to anyone?

Why should it be an issue for a journalist, a parliamentarian, a businesswoman to matter-of-factly share his or her sexual orientation? Bagoo’s action challenges others to follow suit. Such visibility would probably go further in mitigating homophobic bullying than any launch or ultimatum.

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