The fall of 2007; I move to San Francisco and a relationship that immediately crumbles to pieces. My ex-girlfriend takes me around town to look at apartments while watching my pale face with a worried expression. We see underground flats with barking dogs as neighbors and something that was more a corner than a real room at a stoned chef’s place. Things were not good. Suddenly I receive an answer on the presentation of myself that I had posted on Craigslist. A man writes that he has a room to rent. I go and meet him and find a luxury apartment in a giant red art deco house down town. He is well dressed when I meet him and it is only later that I find out that the bow tie he is wearing is a tribute to one of the most influential sex researchers ever; Alfred Kinsey.
This past week I staged a one person strike against my current employer. When I was not on the barricade (my office chair) crafting political slogans (emailing my supervisors) I got the time to see the 2004 movie Kinsey which is based on this sex researchers’ career.
The movie, where Liam Neeson plays Kinsey (brilliantly I might add), portrays a man with a deep faith in science and the research process and an equally deep mistrust for the conservative society of 1950s United States. Kinsey began his academic career as a lauded researcher of wasps although he became disgruntled by the small impact this research had. He eventually began studying human sexuality, kicking off a media frenzy with his sexual orientation measure in his book ‘Sexual Behavior In the Human Male’ (published in 1948). The book illustrated the sexual habits of Americans that deeply contrasted the conservative ideals at the time; especially showcasing that homosexuality was far more prevalent than what had previously been known.
Kinsey the movie is a traditional exposé of a very nontraditional man, the story is linear and his research is effectively set against a society which at the time struggled with accepting the secular and purely physical nature of sexuality that Kinsey laid out. His study revoked many misconceptions that today seem shocking; in one example a young couple tells Kinsey that they have learned that oral sex can lead to pregnancy.
I ended up spending over four months with the man dressed in a bow tie in San Francisco before I decided to cut my losses and return to Europe. He turned out to be a man very interested in sexuality and took pride in talking about his gay lifestyle in a way that at first made me blush but eventually lead to some of the most meaningful conversations of my adult life. He shared many traits with Kinsey, such as the contempt for the ultra-conservative streams in contemporary American society and the repressive consequences it has on individuals who in some way feel different from the norm. Fortunately he also had a deep sympathy for other peoples well-being, something that Kinsey in his quest to decouple sex from all else (love is a black hole that we know nothing about, he explains in the movie when someone challenges the idea of separating sex and love) often compromised.
No matter one’s own stand point in these issues Kinsey is a movie well worth watching as it exposes the battles and his unwavering belief in the scientific process that pushed him on despite his critiques: it is refreshing to see in an age of unsubstantiated opinions and simplified headlines. It also reignited my interest for the topic, perhaps a call to my former landlord is in order.