True Love Revision

An interview with TLR reveals incompatibility between the group’s purpose and ideology

A Proportional Response

I approached my interview with Rachel Wagley, co-president of True Love Revolution, as an opportunity to rethink my perspective on TLR’s platform. Time allowing, I also hoped to track down the Harvard students whose “casual, liberationist sentiments toward sex, sexuality, and relationships” the group denounces. (For purely journalistic purposes, of course.) Unfortunately, the discussion fell short in both respects.

TLR describes itself as a student group whose mission is not only to “promot[e] abstinence,” but also to “focus...on objective truth, virtues, self-respect, the strength of morality, and upholding the community.” As an officer in the group, Wagley has ventured far outside her comfort zone, from Radcliffe Union of Students meetings at the Women’s Center (gasp!) to hour-long debates about abstinence, feminism, and homosexuality with editorial columnists. As little as she seemed to enjoy our chat, she stressed the importance of this type of outreach. “I of all people love passionate opinions on either side of the aisle. My only problem is people who are totally apathetic,” she claimed.

Luckily for Wagley, I am nothing if not passionate.

The core of TLR’s views is a condemnation of moral relativism, particularly with regard to sexual morality. “Really what’s been TLR’s mission from the beginning is a front against relativism in culture, and a front against the idea that there is no objective right and there is no objective wrong,” Wagley said.

On an individual level, this means proselytizing, presuming to know what type of behavior would make Harvard students happiest. In a post warning about the dangers of oral sex, for example, TLR’s blog interrogates its audience. “Do women feel better if a guy dumps her if she ‘only had oral sex’ with him? Isn’t that as emotionally damaging as if she had had ‘real’ sex with him?” I find this argument hard to swallow. While being dumped is less enjoyable than spending a Saturday night in Stillman (not that I would know), the underlying assumption is that engaging in sexual activity places a woman in a vulnerable and subservient position. When I argued that, while some women approach sex from this angle, others view the act as empowering, Wagley at first resisted and then changed the subject. “I do not think that legitimizes the hookup culture, because people can do it unemotionally. Because I think that [it] actually hurts people.”

How so? Funny you should ask. Wagley blamed what she termed “hook-up culture” for everything from high divorce rates to suicide, as I sat across from her silently having a seizure. At a particularly low point, she blamed promiscuity for sexual assault. “We’ve made sex so immensely available to men, so when you’re in a precarious position, the reason men don’t...respect women anymore...is because we’ve treated sex as a recreational activity that doesn’t mean anything.” The connections were shaky at best. The only statistics presented came from the conservative Heritage Foundation, relied upon self-reported measures of happiness, and ignored direction of causality and confounding variables like religion.

When asked to rely on ideological arguments instead of personal anecdotes or surveys, Wagley seemed incapable of doing so without reverting to inconsistent or illogical claims. She described TLR’s views as being in line with mainstream Americans’ but later claimed that the organization has been persecuted and stigmatized. She presented “sexual surrender” to one’s partner as a crucial part of the institution of marriage but acknowledged that sexual desire should not be a motivating factor in the decision to wed. And, in a particularly puzzling and drawn-out exercise, she asserted that traditional marriage, between a man and a woman, was “the best” way to live, but claimed not to believe that it was “better” than homosexual marriage.

So what’s TLR to do? Wagley was fond of comparing TLR to institutions like Queer Student Alliance, claiming that both groups promote alternative lifestyles. But there is a crucial difference—the QSA doesn’t demand that everyone become gay. One organization promotes tolerance; the other argues that its lifestyle is superior and should be adopted by others, who as it stands are objectifying themselves and their sexual partners, sullying the institution of marriage, and making rape socially acceptable. TLR ought to scale back its mission and become a forum where abstinent students can find comfort and support. But when it comes to a group that simultaneously cites arguments while questioning their relevance—and advocates for one lifestyle while refusing to address the perceived flaws of others—apathy is preferable to ignorant intolerance.

Silpa Kovvali ’10 is a computer science concentrator in Eliot House. Her column appears on alternate Wednesdays.

Tags