Yesterday I wrote about the sentencing of a Florida woman on charges of indecent exposure and disorderly conduct because she was caught having sex with a man in a public place, and about the media coverage surrounding that case. One thing I commented on was the sexism and agism in the headlines. Today I googled the name of the man in the case, David Bobilya, and found that his sentencing occurred a full month earlier, on July 2, and that he was also sentenced to 180 days in jail. This was apparently only newsworthy in the eyes of Villages-News.com.
The Villages-News.com coverage of the case has been straightforward, and without the kind of sexism or agism that I commented on yesterday. They’ve printed no fewer than six stories, none of them particularly titillating, trivializing or sensationalistic. (Start with this one and then just read the related posts at the bottom to follow the coverage.) I suppose this makes sense. Villages-News.com is the local news source for the retirement community itself. We should expect that they’d take their own residents seriously.
Today on Villages-News.com I learned that Peggy Klemm’s children are reaching out to the public to raise money for their mom’s legal expenses. Good for them. Not only have their parents already spent about $20,000 on legal fees, but Klemm also has to pay probation fees, fines, and $50 for each day she is incarcerated. Steven Klemm, the oldest of Peggy’s children, is leading the fundraising effort, and has written a lovely portrait of his mother on a web site where supporters can make donations. They are seeking to raise $7,500, and have raised a little over $3,000 already. An update on that site informs us that in addition to the financial costs of incarceration, Peggy Klemm is suffering costs to her health as well. She has acquired a MRSA infection during her first month in jail, and has untreated wounds that need attention. They kids are also worried their father’s ability to get by during their mom’s incarceration. According to a statement by the oldest of the Klemm siblings, Frank Klemm lost his leg to cancer 25 years ago, and has been cared for by his wife ever since. I’m not sure what his daily care needs are, or how easily he gets around the community, but the situation this family finds itself in speaks to one of the gendered injustices associated with the incarceration of women: they are often primary caregivers for children, partners, or aging parents. When they are gone, so is the care they provided.
In the Villages-News.com article about the fundraising effort, journalist Meta Minton quotes Steven Klemm as saying “As a child, this is a position you never expect to find yourself in with your parents.” I’m not sure exactly which part of the situation he meant, but it’s an interesting statement on a number of levels. Adult children do not expect to confront their parents’ sexuality in general. Sexual interactions are presumed to be private, and the dominant sex ed message young people get in the US is to keep those interactions within committed, monogamous relationships. The sex Peggy Klemm and David Bobilya had violated each of those dominant culture rules. Teenagers more likely to be associated with public intoxication and alcohol-fueled public sexual encounters. Parents might sit up at night hoping that their young adult kids don’t get arrested while out partying, but that is probably not as common fear for middle-aged kids of aging parents. Maybe that’s what Steven Klemm was talking about.
Whatever part of the situation Klemm meant, it certainly true that adult children are going to increasingly need to confront their parents’ sexuality, and that there is little preparation for helping us do so. Parents encounter health concerns, caregiver relationships, and institutional policies all of which can limit or affect their sexual expression. When my own mother discovered her sexuality in her early 60s, we were able to talk about it relatively easily because I have made a career of thinking, talking, and writing about sex. But that’s hardly the typical experience. I’m looking forward to my Woodhull Sexual Freedom Summit workshop with Paul DelPonte, Commissioner on Aging for Maryland’s Montgomery County. Whether we have aging parents, or we are aging parents, “My Father, Yes. My Mother, NEVER!” will open up space for important conversations about sex that need to spread if we are going to affirm sexual freedom as a fundamental human right for all.