12 Ways To Celebrate Trans Day of Visibility Year Round

If you didn’t know, today is Trans Day of Visibility, started in 2010 by Rachel Crandall and now spearheaded by Trans Student Educational Resources. Unlike Trans Day of Remembrance, a day of mourning, this is a date for celebration, recognition, and honoring. 

The Theme For This YeaR’s TranS day of VisibilitY:

trans day of visibility

 

We need more than representation, more than just people seeing and recognizing trans faces. Show your support for trans people of all stripes year round. Think of how you can be an advocate for trans rights in the day-to-day, especially in alliance with trans folks experiencing the intersections of White supremacy, misogyny, ableism, classism, and other forms of systematic discrimination. How can you interrupt when people misgender your friends, lovers, colleagues, family-members? How can you educate yourself and others about gender identity and expression? How can you support trans people around you in concrete ways? And though this list is, in many ways, written for a cisgender audience, a bunch of the things here also apply in cross-trans-identity solidarity and celebration. So regardless of your identities, I invite you to keep reading.
 

Here are Twelve Ways You Can Start To work on This:

1. Uplift trans-focused organizations like Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement, Casa Ruby LGBT Community Center, The Audre Lorde Project, the Transgender Law Center, the TransLatin@ Coalition, the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, the TransWomen of Color Collective, and many more (including this excellent list of trans Native and two-spirit organizations).

2. Practice using pronouns beyond she/her/hers and he/him/his with this fantastic website. If you’re wondering what you say when you ignore people’s pronouns and don’t respect people’s identities, this comic and this infographic explain it perfectly.

3. Read amazing articles centered on trans experiences and stories, and particularly those written by trans women. I’ve linked to the exceptional work from Autostraddle here, and I also post a bunch of trans-related stuff on my personal Tumblr which you can peek at here.

4. Fight the slew of “bathroom bills” and related legislation that seeks to dehumanize, hurt, endanger, and systematically disadvantage trans people. You can find a recent list of them here. If you live in the following states, there are some bills you should be paying attention to: Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, South Carolina, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Tennessee, Washington.

5. Remember LGBTQ history and commit it to memory. Learn the names of Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, Storme Delarverie, Raymond Castro, Sylvia Rivera, Marsha P. Johnson, and so many more trailblazing trans people.

6. Support trans people in ways that acknowledge value and experience beyond the label of trans. In other words, if you only care about trans people and talk about trans people in the context of trans-ness, you’re doin’ it wrong. Trans people are rappers, nurse practitionersfilmmakers, attorneys, activists, porn performerspoets, doulas, researchers,  multimedia artists, legislators, schoolteachers, performers, indie game developersnews reporters, authors, mixed martial artistsNavy SEALstattoo artists, sex educators, storytellers, and more. Being trans is part of being a whole complex human with varied identities and experiences, not the totality of what someone is or can offer the world!

7. Buy educational resources like Scenarios USA’s amazing curricula on Black femmes titled “What’s the REAL DEAL about Love and Solidarity?” written by Bianca Laureano, The Gender Book, and The Teaching Transgender Toolkit by Eli R Green and Luca Maurer. These can help you educate yourself and others! You can also consider donating them to local school, libraries, or community centers.

8. Share resources about trans and trans-related identities in other languages and from non-Anglo-U.S.-centric perspectives. I compiled a bunch of resources for Spanish-language trans information, for example.

9. Observe Trans Day of Remembrance, Trans Day of Visibility, Trans Day of Resilience, and other relevant dates and celebrations.

10. Interrupt instances of transphobia, cissexism, and cisnormativity. When people are actively misgendered, when LGBT events don’t actually include trans people, when trans women’s voices are overshadowed (including by trans men), when discussions of police brutality don’t include trans people, when people in positions of power refuse to use someone’s pronouns, when people randomly ask trans folks invasive questions, when trans people are stereotyped in casual conversation, when someone’s trans identity is the butt of a joke, the list goes on. Take action.

11. Soak in the amazing creative work featuring trans people and/or made by trans people. Here are some places you can start: DARKMATTER‘s poetry, the amazing children’s books by Flamingo Rampant Press, “To Survive on This Shore” which focuses on older transgender and gender-variant adults, Micah Banzant’s art for #TransLiberationTuesday, the Trans Day of Resilience Art Project by varied artists, a collaboration between Liz Andrade and Dani Weber on the latter’s “Journey to Femme Power” as a genderqueer person, “Vírgenes de la puerta” showcasing trans women in Peru, the GLAAD trans microaggressions photo project, the “Assigned Male” webcomic,  and so many more I can’t even list them all here.

12. Move beyond thinking of trans people as all being “people born in the wrong body who just want to be like cisgender men and women.” The trans umbrella is way more varied than that. Learn about nonbinary trans people (including the varied celebrities who have described being nonbinary in some way) as well as those fitting other labels within and adjacent to the more “well-known” understandings of transness, such as genderqueer.

David Bowie: Time to Mourn or Call Out?

Every other week, I co-lead an all-gender process and support group. Last night, one of our topics of discussion was, of course, David Bowie. Some of the people in the room felt displaced, distraught by his death. In this intergenerational space we held those who grew up knowing David Bowie was a big deal already as well as those who grew up along with David Bowie and saw his career take off. In this space, we shared stories of the personal meanings of his life as well as the confusing feelings left in his wake as some of us discovered information about his abuses and problematic behaviors. Yesterday, all throughout social media, I saw countless stories shared of how David Bowie’s music touched a million queer and trans people of varying races, ages, and countries. I have seen my newsfeed inundated with people’s shock and memories, with the ways in which he inspired them in ways they did not even know until he passed, with the ways he changed music, science fiction, and gender.

And yesterday is also when I found out about the rape allegations against him (that were cleared by a jury, but I also know that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen) and the facts of his statutory rape of a 14/15-year-old. And so my feed has also been ripe with explosive anger as well as nuanced discomfort, frustration, and exhaustion.

David Bowie and J. C. in Labyrinth Stanley Bielecki Movie Collection / Getty Images

David Bowie and J. C. in Labyrinth Stanley Bielecki Movie Collection / Getty Images

So what am I, a gender/queer Latinx, supposed to feel and do about this cultural icon? As someone who has worked for years on preventing and dealing with sexual assault and abuse? As someone who teaches on consent and believes in the incredible power and knowledge of youth as well as the incredible vulnerability of the teen years? As someone who sees White stars get a pass for things that celebrities of color get crucified for? As someone who works with many people feeling intense things about David Bowie’s death? As someone who grew up watching Labyrinth way more than should’ve been allowed but still did not feel the connection to Bowie that so many others do?

And how should others feel? The survivors of sexual abuse and assault hearing the streams of praise for someone accused of rape? The queer and trans kids of yesteryear for whom David Bowie’s music became a lifeline, became a hope when they considered suicide? The people living at that intersection? I don’t ask this because I have the ultimate answers or get off on telling others what to do (I mean, maybe, but that’s another story), but because we need to have the discussion and figure out where we stand and what that means.

Help: Feelings Are Hard and Complicated!

Our reluctance to have an honest and open conversation about the flaws of celebrities we love stems from a simple fact: we see ourselves in them. If your favorite smart, talented, successful celebrity can be classist, sexist or racist then what does that say about you? Well, it says that you can be classist, sexist, racist, homophobic, or transphobic.

But you can and you are at least some of these things sometimes. So am I. Own it. Learn from it. It’s not an attack, it’s the truth. Nobody is a perfect example of civil rights virtue. If you aren’t screwing up, you aren’t trying.

– Ijeoma Oluo

For those who are not mourning David Bowie: We can and must critique deplorable actions regardless of who is committing them. We must also acknowledge space for people’s grief, and respect the very real pain felt by people when in mourning. This does not mean erase people’s problematic, terrifying, horrible, disgusting, whatever actions. It means respect the fact that many people are feeling sadness. Bowie is dead; the people we should hold in kindness are those that feel the loss. It does not mean we have to mourn, erect banners, engage in commentary that doesn’t feel authentic to us. It does not mean we shouldn’t feel our feelings and get enraged at the ways the media perpetuate rape culture and gloss over issues we care about. It does mean we should allow for space to exist where people who are sad and hurt can congregate and feel their feelings. It means we should find those who are in a similar spot as us and vent our rage at this situation and David Bowie’s actions but not at the expense of those who are mourning.

Are we critiquing Bowie or his fans? Are we centering the cultural object or the person? Are we critiquing the abuses he committed or the fact that people can have big, complex feelings about it and are mourning his death? Are we critiquing how certain stars get so much praise upon their death and get their sins wiped away, but certain stars don’t? Are we critiquing how, due to ignorance and White supremacy, many mourn the loss of a White star and ignore the losses of countless people of color at the hands of police brutality? Are we critiquing people’s sadness to get cool points for not feeling anything? Are we assuming people can’t feel multiple things at once?

We must think about our audience and the impact of our words on our communities. We must think about the intersections and how we highlight or erase them. We must ask ourselves why we are raising our voice and in service of what.

hunky-dory-sessions david bowie

For those who are mourning David Bowie: We have a right to time and space to grieve, to heal, to reminisce, to do whatever we have to do to feel whole. And we must not use our grief as a way to silence survivors of sexual abuse, even if we are survivors ourselves. We must remember that we do not have to immediately engage in a discussion of the problematic aspects of David Bowie with strangers (or even friends) if it feels too raw. We eventually must, however, engage with these and incorporate them into our understanding of Bowie because he was an icon but also a person. We should allow space for the pain of those who have experienced abuse and been repeatedly silenced, especially because so many have been abused by people like Bowie, by people in positions like his and with followings like his, and people have looked the other way “because they have done so much good for the community.” It means we should find those who are in a similar spot as us and air out our feelings in ways that feel helpful but not at the expense of acknowledging rape culture and abuse.

Are we conflating our mourning of Bowie the person with Bowie-what-the-icon-and-the-music-meant-to-us (and thus really mourning a piece of ourselves and our world)? Are we mourning in a way that erases all wrongdoing and promotes Bowie as a perfect cyborg of queer and trans visibility? Are we ignoring the impact of race, age, and money in these discussions? Are we mourning in a public forum and keeping eerily silent about the ways in which David Bowie abused his power? Are we mourning for David Bowie and ridiculing or ignoring the mourning for countless lives lost in places like Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq?

We must think about our audience and the impact of our words on our communities. We must think about the intersections and how we highlight or erase them. We must ask ourselves why we are raising our voice and in service of what.

OUR FAV IS PROBLEMATIC (#SorryNotSorry, David Bowie)

We tend to hold the people of whom we are fans to the same moral standards we hold friends, often expecting them to echo our politics or sensibilities in the same way that their art, whatever it may be, speaks to us. By definition, fame requires those on the outside looking in to rely on imagination to prop up celebrity narratives; the public’s glimpses into the lives and personalities of the famous are so mediated that though we think we know, we have no idea. Fame encourages us to fill in the blank spaces around these people with what we want to see, with what reaffirms our pre-existing assumptions. It’s no surprise, then, that when it comes to art we like, and to the artists who make it, we expect to see reflections of ourselves in them, even on the simplest of levels.

– Rawiya Kameir

Understanding that “our faves are problematic“is not a carte-blanche to excuse people from their wrongdoing because “everyone is problematic” (and trust me, there are a lot of examples/receipts showing that most of the people we like have shoved their foot in their mouth pretty deeply). We still have a matter of degrees and impact. And we must also remember that a mentality of “kill all people who do anything wrong ever” won’t get us anywhere in the long run. We can both remember and forgive as a people. We can hold folks accountable and keep them with us. We can remember, not forgive, and still move forward. We have options.

David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust

Most of us know of Bowie as an icon, as a rocker, an artist, an actor, a pioneer—a larger than life concept—rather than Bowie as a living, breathing individual. We have to contend with the fact that the human Bowie (not the persona he crafted or what he meant to us or what his music did for our souls and survival) abused his power and privilege.

It can be difficult and scary and destabilizing to hold the reality of loving someone and/or thinking they’ve done amazing things with the realities of those same people doing horrible things, but that’s how the world is. This is what intersectionality is all about—about understanding the ways our intersecting identities make up our privileges and oppressions, about the complex ways in which our experiences and pieces form our whole.

Just like the queer and trans people who aren’t survivors of sexual abuse/assault should acknowledge the pain coming from survivors, straight and cisgender survivors should acknowledge the pain coming from queer and trans people. And those at the intersections—the queer and trans survivors—who feel confused as hell and torn (or staunchly on one side of the fence!) need our holding too. In discussing David Bowie’s death, we need to eliminate the transphobia, homophobia, and rape culture apologism in many of these conversations. These are all toxic forces that hurt our world.

We should not simply dismiss David Bowie’s artistic legacy and the impact he had on many AND we should not dismiss the allegations of rape and the realities of how he had sex with a 14/15-year old when he was a powerful and revered adult.

We must also listen to the people who interacted with Bowie instead of putting words in their mouth while also recognizing that there are larger forces at play—that just because someone does not feel victimized, it does not mean David Bowie did not take actions that were predatory and could have victimized someone else in the same situation. We can say “it was the 70’s!” and “things were different back then with all the free-flowing drugs!” or whatever to give context, but not to justify abuse and harmful behaviors. Some of us may feel puzzlement, disbelief, discomfort, and a lot of other emotions toward Lori M.’s account of her relationships with David Bowie and Jimmy Page, but we must understand that it is her story and not ours. Just because some of us would have felt or acted differently does not erase her reality and her truth. And we must also pay attention to what this narrative does in the public sphere.

Marginalized people and experiences are usually not neatly categorized and picture-perfect for the consumption of social movements. And when they ARE, or seem to be, something fishy is probably going on.

Older David Bowie

Moving Through & Beyond “KILL ALL RAPISTS”

A carceral, punishment-based justice system where we value an eye for an eye will not save us. It may feel good in the moment and scratch that “revenge” itch, but it will not save us. Booting “bad people” off the island will leave us with an empty island. What will save us is compassion, understanding, accountability, transformation, and restoration of justice. This is not easy, but it is what we must do. And it is not SIMPLE, but it is what we must strive for if we truly want to live in a different, better world. It does not mean we ignore bad things or ~*~magically forgive people and hug them even when they threaten our existence~*~ (more on this in a second).

As far as David Bowie and his work, each of us has to figure out how these things connect in our lives. Some people may swear off his music, some will not. Some people may feel revulsion when they seem him in movies they used to love, some may not. We can figure out how we as a society may honor the great work and things he put out in the world while not erasing his wrongdoing. Bowie is neither the first nor the last celebrity we’ll have to think about in these ways. We better start practicing these trains of thought if we weren’t doing so already (and many of us have been thinking about this for a while, especially in POC communities).

It’s easy for me to have compassion for people I like and see eye-to-eye with, for people who haven’t harmed me. Seeing those people as valuable humans who have worth, who deserve kindness and safety and care from the world and from me personally – that’s easy. Extending the same compassion and open-heartedness to everyone – to the people that have hurt me, to the people I disagree with about everything, to the people who would never listen to me or extend any care or empathy or understanding to me, to the people who don’t think I deserve humanity or kindness or safety – that takes a little more doing. Giving that kind of love is hard and painful.

Now, to be realistic about this, having compassion for people that have harmed me or that mean me harm doesn’t mean I need to allow them to be near me. It doesn’t mean I need to put my own safety at risk. And it also doesn’t mean that this compassion can’t genuinely coexist with real and powerful rage. But my hurt and my rage don’t obviate a person’s right to exist, to feel compassion, to be loved.

– Andy Izenson

As for me? I feel as Andy does. I choose to come to this from a perspective of radical love. Not always and not easily, but with intention and complexity and imperfection.

http://subtlecluster.tumblr.com/post/134001552016/this-radical-love-fosters-community-and-emerges

Orgasm Justice: Are You Entitled To Climax?

Header image source: Getty Images / Mic

If you’re a woman and listen to Nicki Minaj and Amy Schumer, sounds like you should be! But is there more to the story? Read on to find out. My colleague Rachel Kramer Bussel wrote a piece on orgasmic parity and interviewed me for it, where she explained the impetus for the article:

Recently, both Nicki Minaj and Amy Schumer have come out swinging for “orgasm equality”—namely, that when a woman has sex, especially with a man, she is entitled to an orgasm. Minaj declared in Cosmopolitan’s July issue, “I demand that I climax. I think women should demand that.” Schumer told Glamour in the August 2015 issue, “Don’t not have an orgasm. Make sure he knows that you’re entitled to an orgasm.”

It’s a great article that raises many valuable points, including how some people use orgasm as a bargaining chip or power-play tool, and I’m so glad I was able to contribute to it. Alas, as often happens,  I had way more to say than could fit in someone else’s article, and so here’s an expansion on my thoughts, beyond what got used.

Orgasms: What Do The Numbers Say?

orgasm gap

Jessica Valenti, in an article defending “orgasm equality” and Nicki’s words, gave us the scoop:

According to the Kinsey Institute, while 85% of men believe that their partners had an orgasm during their last sexual experience, only 64% of women report actually having one. And the Cosmopolitan’s Female Orgasm Survey this year shows that only 57% of women climax regularly with a partner. Those numbers change a bit depending on who women are having sex with though – a 2014 study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine showed that lesbians had a nearly 75% orgasm rate.

Men across the sexuality spectrum, however, all reported around an 85% orgasm rate, and another study shows that 75% of men report always having an orgasm during sex. Every. Single. Time.

Nicki And Amy’s Rx For Orgasm: Too Prescriptive?

I bristle at most definitive statements about how people should exist in the world. Whenever I hear “always” or “never,” it sends up red flags in my brain because those words usually erase a lot of nuance and variability of human experience, and often go hand in hand with oppressive ideas. I can’t help but eye-roll when people, especially professionals and/or media darlings who have big platforms, use prescriptive language about how people should be having sex  or perpetuate the assumption that everyone WANTS to be having sex in the first place. Still: that doesn’t mean Minaj or Schumer’s comments are entirely off the mark or unimportant.

I believe that Nicki Minaj is speaking from a place of seeing societal orgasm disparities and trying to resolve them in her own life, then, at its core, giving advice to others to not put up with inconsiderate partners [particularly men] who demand orgasm but do not reciprocate. That’s the key message I think people should take away from her comments. I see her speaking from a place of empowering women, even if she isn’t doing it in the most nuanced or inclusive way, and suspect that’s also because she wasn’t giving a manifesto on the matter, but instead briefly commenting on it. The people criticizing her for being “demanding” or “not caring about the man’s feelings” are missing the point AND also contributing to harshly judging the words of women of color, and especially Black women, who are already culturally presented as “loud and angry” for even existing.

Honestly, I care less about if Nicki self-identifies as a feminist or somehow embodies “perfect feminism” for all [coughrespectabilitypoliticscough] and more about what she says and does, and what we can learn from her that supports our personal visions of feminism—and there is a LOT there to work with. As scholars, educators, sexuality professionals,  activists, whatever: our work shouldn’t be to undercut Minaj, but instead further nuance her statements and get at their roots rather than a superficial understanding, especially if we want to reach the people she’s talking to.

Similarly, Schumer speaks about body positivity, being deserving of love regardless of size, introducing partners to the marvels of the human clitoris, and not letting dudes get away with just ignoring her pleasure. But her entitlement isn’t exactly the same as Nicki’s stance that women demand orgasms, and Schumer’s feminism often lacks a critical race analysis  that Minaj consistently brings to the table. In fact, Schumer has shoved her foot deep in her mouth around racial matters various times and excused some of her actions by holding steadfast to her “feminist” label. Is Nicki perfect? Of course not. But as far as I know she’s not pretending that her feminist cred exempts her from messing up.

amy-schumer-race

Entitlement: Revolutionary, Oppressive, Or Both?

The idea of ensuring women’s pleasure without an underhanded agenda is a radical idea, period. Even the heading for the Cosmo article where Nicki was interviewed—that calls her demands for orgasm “high maintenance”—shows why such demands can be revolutionary in a society that teaches women to be servile; the idea of women putting their pleasure at the forefront and on equal footing to men’s is seen as “too much.”

Especially for women of color, and particularly Black women, that message is key in a society that also exploits our sexuality and makes us objects much more than subjects. Heck, this also connects to age and ensuring that sexually active young women learn how to achieve or at least communicate about orgasms from early on instead of wasting precious years of sexual encounters being too timid, uneducated, unempowered, or whatever to navigate those waters. [That said, I’m not saying it’s young women’s fault that society does a terrible job with sex education or empowering us.]

From a feminist standpoint, demanding orgasms makes sense. “We’re here, we’re horny, and we want to come!” But which women are doing the demanding and which women are prevented from doing so?

In a White supremacist society that hypersexualizes women of color and gives more overall bargaining power to White women regardless of how sexual they are assumed to be, Schumer’s call to be entitled comes from both her body-positive feminism as well as her Whiteness. For both Nicki and Amy, this also intersects with their able-bodied-ness. For women with physical disabilities, who are often desexualized entirely or fetishized by select groups of the population, being entitled to climax with partners intersects with a host of other issues, including mobility concerns and worries about not being able to even enter a partner’s house if it’s not accessible. [Check out the work of Robin Wilson-Beattie with SexAbled, Bethany Stevens with Crip Confessions, and Shanna K. (as well as her peer-reviewed papers) if you’re curious about that!] For Millenials [shout out to my generation!] who are already billed as “spoiled brats” or “lazy and entitled” people who “haven’t paid their dues yet,” demanding better sexual encounters also operates at an interesting crossroads of identities, including age.

So while there can certainly be strength in entitlement, as well as the ensuing action when things aren’t up to snuff, we must not ignore the structural barriers to being able to demand orgasms and the reasons why some people find it waaaaaaay easier to be entitled than others. In short: if we truly want life, liberty, and orgasms for all [who want them], we need to do a lot of social justice work, not just generic sex ed and feminist action.

Is Orgasm Equality Where It’s At?

As was mentioned by other sexuality professionals in the Bussel article, people’s understandings vary in regards to how orgasms happen in the first place, who is responsible for whose orgasms, the value of orgasms vs. the overall sexual journey, and if one can ever truly “give” someone an orgasm or if a better word is “facilitate.” Because of that variability, I don’t really care to focus on the “should you be entitled?” question once I have your attention. I’ll even let you in on a little secret: I actually don’t believe in orgasm equality. I think it misses the mark.

What do I advocate for instead? I believe in striving for pleasure equity and orgasm justice: pleasure, including but not limited to orgasms, for those who want them in the amounts they desire. It’s about giving people autonomy to figure out what they want from sex, the space to communicate it, and the resources to work toward it, not forcing people to have sex to fit someone else’s standards. It’s not about EQUALITY, which means SAMENESS; it’s about FAIRNESS. This graphic that has made the rounds in activist circles explains it perfectly:

equity-vs-equality

During sex, if orgasms are desired, I see them as the product of collaborative effort unless negotiated otherwise. I believe in sexy times where the goals are negotiated among its participants, whether that’s one or twenty one. Is the goal overall pleasure? Is the goal orgasm specifically? Is the goal stress-reduction before a big event, building intimacy, making a baby, making money, something else? Whatever it is, it can’t just be unilaterally decided.  Each person should measure their sexual satisfaction based on their reasons for having sex in any given instance, and goals can be multi-faceted and complex.

Reproductive Health and Teenage Pregnancy: Tips for Providers

Curious about updates to standards around contraception, reproductive health and teenage pregnancy care, and safer sex for adolescents? Here are my livetweeted notes + some slides from a webinar overviewing key evidence-based practices which streamline reproductive health and teenage pregnancy services for adolescents. The webinar also gave data on what teens need and what kind of behaviors they’re engaging in. Though aimed at medical providers, I think the session produced nuggets of information for all kinds of folks!

The Time is Now:
Adolescent Friendly Reproductive Health Care Webinar

Speakers:

Erica Gibson, M.D., & Judy Lipshutz, MSW, RN, NYPATH
Heilbrunn Dept. of Population & Family Health, Columbia University

Topics that were covered include:

Quick Start Contraceptive Initiation
Emergency Contraception
Pregnancy Testing
Long-Acting Reversible Contraceptives (LARCS)
Expedited Partner Therapy (EPT)
STI Treatment

Did you know?

  • In 2013, the Youth Risk Behavior Survey said that over 60% of HS students reported using a condom at their last sexual encounter.
  • The average sexually active teen waits 14 months before seeking reproductive/sexual health services, and the catalyst is usually the desire for a pregnancy test.
  • The types of emergency contraception  in the U.S. include Levonorgestrel pills (e.g. Plan B), the copper IUD (e.g. ParaGard), & ulipristal acetate pills (e.g. ella).
  • In July 2014, the The European Medicines Association issued the following statement: “emergency contraceptives can continue to be used to prevent unintended pregnancy in women of any weight or body mass index (BMI). The available data are limited and not robust enough to support with certainty the conclusion of decreased contraceptive effect with increased body weight /BMI.”

 

The Neverending Story (A.K.A. The Ballad of Margaret Brooks and The CSPH)

I love open letters, especially humorous ones like those I used to read back when I was 13 years old and were aimed at celebrities like Tom Felton (who played Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter series—don’t judge me). Coming in close second, my other favorite types of open letters are those that shed light on things that had previously been hidden in the shadows.

Today, an open letter went out—from Erin Basler-Francis, one of our champs at The Center for Sexual Pleasure & Health, to Margaret Brooks. (This is not the first time she gets an open letter like this, though the one I wrote years ago was much shorter and crankier). You should click over and read it, stat. Here’s some context:

The CSPH has faced a fair amount of adversity since its inception in 2009. Members of the Citizens Against Trafficking (an anti-rights, sex work abolitionist group) continue to harass staff and supporters of The Center, particularly regarding our outreach on college campuses. These bullies use both overt and hidden tactics in an attempt to delegitimize the importance of conversations about sexuality, pleasure, sex work, and sexual rights.

Most recently, Dr. Margaret Landman Brooks, director of the Economics Department at Bridgewater State University, sent a series of emails to the provost of Vanderbilt University using a series of red herring, slippery slope, and equivocation arguments as well as ad hominem attacks in an attempt to convince the school that it would be legally liable for sexual assaults that occurred on campus after the Study Sex College Tour workshop, “Brilliant in Bed.” While not the only protestation, Dr. Margaret Landman Brooks decision to use rhetoric causally linking pleasure focused sexuality education to sexual assault on campus is both inaccurate and insidious. 

We at The CSPH have chosen to address this issue publicly because the tactics used by Dr. Margaret Landman Brooks in this case are irresponsible and dangerous when the context of the climate at Vanderbilt University, as well as the current conversations around sexual assault, BDSM, and Intimate Partner Violence.

While part of me kind of wants to commend Margaret Brooks for her passion, it’s terribly saddening that it manifests in the ways it does and I cannot in good conscience do so. We shouldn’t stand for the bullying of youth, and we should also not stand for the bullying of adults at the hands of other adults. Obviously, if you’re working toward social justice and not ruffling feathers, you’re not making big enough waves (to, uh, mix some metaphors there), but man—the repercussions aren’t pretty, and we need to change that.

boston snow

Pictured here: the Snowpocalypse that’s as cold as the attitude from Donna Hughes.

It’s not like we haven’t reached out to Ms. Brooks, either. We’ve personally invited her and her crew to our events, and extended olive branches in the spirit of dialogue both online and in person, and none of them have been acknowledged or even accepted. In fact, we’ve been pretty straightforward and transparent in all our dealings. To her credit, I guess, she DID shake my hand once? This is when I was trying to show her I was a real person and not some nameless undergrad she could just bully without having to ever face. That is more than I can say for Donna Hughes (a professor of Women’s Studies at the University of Rhode Island—how appropriate, right?), who very much did not shake my hand when I greeted her and gave me a cold shoulder of Boston weather proportions. It was pretty epic. But I digress.

Margaret Brooks is the same person who (along with Donna Hughes and Melanie Shapiro) tried to get a slew of events (including KFAPVD) I organized at Brown University canceled while I was an undergraduate. This is the cohort that misrepresented SO many things about the work the Sexual Health Education & Empowerment Council (SHEEC) at Brown and The CSPH were doing. This is the person that sent countless emails to Brown’s administration (including the President) warning them of the “dangers” of these events, blatantly spread inaccurate/misleading information, and wrote bulletins claiming that we were to blame for a spike in young RI men contracting HIV. This is one of the people that made my time at Brown tough for a while, and made me have to watch my back really carefully.

On some level, I’m glad it started early so I could protect myself before things got too serious, and I’m very fortunate to consistently work in spaces that respect my endeavors and where I can be open about who I am and what I do, but many people aren’t as fortunate

This is the person that sent my personal Twitter account to professors and deans before it was something I shared as publicly as I do now. This is the same person that sent critique-laden, alarmist emails to my supervisors at Sojourner House—about my personal life and affiliations to organizations that believe in kink/BDSM education and reproductive justice—trying to possibly get me fired, and definitely trying to put me in hot water and endanger a health fair I was coordinating. Fortunately, I was out about my identities at Sojourner House, because if I hadn’t been, she would have outed me to the director and my supervisor, as well as other colleagues. That is not okay.

I am eternally grateful to all the professors, deans, staff, friends, and colleagues who were and have been supportive, understanding and wonderful throughout all this and its multiple iterations. You know who you are. Thank you for believing in me and in sexuality education. While Brown is a deeply flawed institution, certainly, I am incredibly proud that they institutionally backed up my right to hold the events I did, and supported my health and dignity during that process. I firmly believe I didn’t bear a bigger burden while I was an undergrad because I was still a student and thus not as “fair game” as professionals in the working world.

You know who was the fairest game of them all, and the original target? Megan Andelloux—one of the best and most hardworking educators in the field today. megan andellouxMargaret Brooks is the person that time and time again contacts places where Megan Andelloux and her close friends/colleagues present with scare tactics in efforts to squash their/our attempts at education. This bullying not only harms the institutions and their populations who are sometimes deprived of accurate sexuality education, but it takes a huge emotional toll on honest, hardworking sexuality educators and advocates who are trying to make the world a better, more sexually literate place. The case with Vanderbilt is not the first time this happens.

This is the cohort of people that tried to stop The CSPH from opening back in 2009/2010. The same cohort of people that have accused my colleagues of pedophilia because they believe in giving kids accurate sexuality information and answering their questions at whatever age they start asking them. This is the cohort that, under the guise of “academic” and/or “professional” writing used blatant inaccuracies and decontextualizations (not to mention shoddy record-keeping and citations) to “make points” about how, basically, we are The Worst.

As far as ethics and academic integrity, I would expect better from a Brown alumna/Economics professor and a Women’s Studies professor.

This needs to stop, and we need people to listen. We will keep doing the work we do because we believe in it, and these things are not going to stop us, but we are not made of steel. We are committed to bringing these issues to light, but remember—all this takes a toll. How are you helping break down this misinformation? How are you supporting the victims of bullying and stalking and professional attacks? If you’re not already, imagine having to watch your back constantly for people like this. Where will they be next? What professional gig will they try to wreck soon? What kind of misinformation will they try to spread? This is why we need to speak up and support each other.

50 Shades of WTF: A Livetweeting Experience (Book 1 of Fifty Shades of Grey Trilogy)

Love it or hate it, the ridiculously popular Fifty Shades trilogy has spread like wildfire so it’s crucial that we take a closer look at what this story is actually about. (I know I’m about a million years late in writing about this, but with the movies coming out, it finally felt like the right time.) Take the plunge with me and look forward to word-counts, memes, alternate universe versions of the story, and actual tips. Read my Storify [here]. This is just one piece in a larger series of posts I’m writing as a lead-up to Valentine’s day, so get ready for more!

50 shades doge

That Time My Uber Driver Spent The Entire Ride Hitting On Me (A.K.A. On Challenging the Urge to Minimize Predatory Behavior)

670px-Say-No-to-Sexual-Harassment-in-the-Workplace-Step-3Public transportation in Boston is infinitely better than in Providence, but that doesn’t mean it’s perfect, or that getting from Point A to B doesn’t sometimes take 1 hour when it could take 10 minutes by independent car. Fortunately, there are private-driver services to fill in the gap (for those who can afford it), especially if you don’t own a car or, like me, don’t even have a license. In short, you download one of the apps and request a ride, then someone comes to nab you and you can track their trajectory on your phone. Easy peasy. No cash needs to be exchanged because you enter your Paypal or card information into your phone.

I started out by trying Lyft in Providence and was charmed with their super friendly service. Now I regularly use services like Lyft or Uber to cut my transportation time or get me places public transportation doesn’t easily access. But this post isn’t about the wonders of getting to and from places. This post is about sexually predatory behavior, customer service that didn’t suck, and how victimized people often have an urge to minimize the actions taken toward them.

(So trigger-warning for descriptions of sexual harassment)

Update 7/8/15: TO BE CLEAR, I’m not trying to say Uber is a great company here. Their RESPONSE to me was really stellar, but there is a LOT wrong with Uber as a business. They have a bad track record of ignoring activists and denying sexual assault allegations, they have some senior executives that spout tons of sexist statements, and let’s not even get into their business model. As more information about those things has surfaced, I have worked to wean myself off supporting them.

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SFS14 Workshop Recap: “Beyond Yes Means Yes: The Law, Activism, and Practice of Consent”

Two-people-talking-logoMissed the Sexual Freedom Summit by @WoodhullSFA this past weekend? Fear not! I’ll be recapping some of the sessions I attended. First up: “Beyond Yes Means Yes: The Law, Activism, and Practice of Consent” by Andy Izenson (@andyeyeballs).

Overall, I want to commend Andy for a wonderful session. He managed to strike a good balance between hilariously personable and serious, all while providing useful information and having us directly practice some of the concepts through engaging activities (AND giving space to not participate for those who hate activities and/or may be triggered by ones specific around consent). I’m a pretty harsh critic when it comes to judging presentations, and I had a lovely time.

While I don’t think everyone left the session with the same delicious taste in their mouth (especially not the cisgender white man who probably felt attacked when he mentioned that a way for people, and particularly women, to stay safe was to do things like “not go into the dorm room of college guys if they’re drunk,” and there was a palpable sense of rage in the room), I’d venture to say 95% of folks felt good about the workshop. Curious to hear more? Check out the workshop description to start:

This workshop will take participants through an understanding of the current state of and conflicts around sexual consent in the law, within activist communities, and in their own practices. After last year’s workshop focused solely on personal practice, this workshop zooms out to take a wider view of what it means to commit to fighting rape culture on multiple fronts. Participants will have opportunities to learn and practice positive consent strategies in their interpersonal interactions, and takeaways enabling them to empower the members of their own activist subcommunities to speak up and connect against abuse and assault. The session’s goals are to allow participants to experience consensual empowerment in a safe environment and learn strategies for spreading that empowerment throughout their own work.

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Mayhem Around the World: A Roundup

Inspired by a Tumblr post, I decided to expand and succinctly contextualize some of the mayhem going around in the world right now. The following is a corrected and much expanded version of this postworld globe

Brazil: Massive Nation-Wide protests and riots caused by, among other factors, monetary focus on the World Cup and Olympics instead of the well-being of the populace. Government happily destroys important monuments and displaces indigenous folks from their homes to make way for things like parking lots.

Russia: Government creates laws against “the propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations” (the vote is 436 to ZERO), people protest (and get abused by anti-gay individuals), and the Human Rights Watch reports that anti-gay violence spiked once the bill started getting considered in January.The law imposes significant fines of up to $31,000 for providing information about the LGBT community to minors, holding gay pride events, speaking in defense of gay rights, or equating gay and heterosexual relationships” (source). Also, the Duma approved a law that criminalizes blasphemy with a 3-year prison term for anyone who organizes an activity or stages a performance that aims to “offend religious sensibilities” (on the heels of the whole Pussy Riot debacle, in “which three members of the feminist performance art group Pussy Riot were tried and two of them sentenced to two years in a penal colony for staging a profane performance in an empty church that hurt no one and caused no material damage”).

Venezuela: Massive protests and riots caused by elections that put Maduro in the presidential seat by a narrow margin and people claim it was due to fraud (here’s another source, too). However, after the recount, the National Electoral Council still says the results of the audit corroborated Maduro’s win (CNE). Either way, it is a way closer race than some people expected and sounds like the government might be shifting for future elections.

Greece: Trans* people and sex workers are being rounded up in internment camps, and the health minister has condoned forced HIV tests conducted by the police. Some of the folks who have been detained and found to be HIV+ have had personal identifiable information (including names and photos) published in the media “to protect public health.” And this isn’t counting the many innocent individuals that have been jailed for being “presumed prostitutes.”

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The awesome TX Senator Leticia Van De Putte who also participated in the filibuster and uttered the now-famous line she’s printed on her shirt.

United States: Republicans in Texas aim to pass draconian abortion law (SB5), give media incorrect information about its passing after a 13-hr filibuster, and change online records to fake time of voting, despite the bill being voted on after a deadline and being protested by both the people and a state Senator. (TL;DR: SB5 didn’t pass, but a special session has been convened and further actions will happen after the holiday weekend). Protests at the senate growing, and law enforcement called in. Also, and  even MORE importantly, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 has been gutted and states that used discriminatory practices to bar poor people, immigrants, and people of color from voting no longer have the same restrictions placed on them re: changing voting rules. People will have to prove claims of discrimination AFTER the fact. Less than a few days after the gutting (and in some, after less than 24 hours), several states changed their voting regulations without needing to clear it with any higher authority. Finally, on the LGBT front, tons of reports of anti-gay violence are coming out, and my eye is on New York City (check out the NY Anti-Violence Project’s reports and blog section for more details.)

Australia: Julia Gillard is dumped as prime minister and leader of the Australian Labor Party, while previous Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is reinstated.

Turkey: Protests escalate as people fight back against state-violence (including violence against the press) and “Erdoğan’s increasingly assertive Islamist administration,” sparked by protests against the redevelopment of Istanbul’s Gezi Park. The government violently cracks down on the dissent, detaining even the medics who were trying to treat the protester’s injuries.

What else is going on, folks? This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it’s a place to start.

When Sex-Positive Icons Fuck Up

On the heels of a discussion I was having during the training for our CSPH interns yesterday (all about radical feminism, sex-positivity, liberal feminism, and the hot mess among all those camps), I thought it’d be appropriate to finally post this. This is a good example of what some folks critique about sex-positive icons, or even just liberal feminist people–that many ignore the intersections, that they advocate for the rights of some but ignore others, that they are so caught up in all the radical possibilities of pleasure, that they ignore when sexuality can be painful and problematic and perpetuating oppression on other axes.

So, the following excerpt comes from the blog of Bianca Laureano (here). Apparently Annie Sprinkle, a big sex-positive icon who’s done a lot around sex-work especially, said the following:

Annie Sprinkle Thanks for reviving this ‘ancient’ image! When I made this image, for me it was about HONORING the art of India. I have always adored everything from India. Especially the music and art. When I began to study and practice Tantra, is when I made this image. I was so enthusiastic! I think i had past life in India, so really, maybe I’m not even appropriating as I might have been Indian. That said, I do agree that this is “appropriation.” In retrospect, I didn’t know a thing about “appropriation.” Now I am educated about it and am more sensitive. Thankfully I had some nice people explain it to me in ways I could hear it, after being attacked and judged on a college campus about 18 years ago! This image was made in 1989 or 90. It is not a new image. I think when we see people being “inappropriate” we need to be nice about it, and educate. Not attack. In most cases. Not all. Still, in the end, I do love the image, and think that when looked at with SEX POSITIVE EYES it is a beautiful image. An honoring image. xxx
I also feel that nothing is really new. That we are all appropriating all the time, and borrowing from many cultures. Especially in the multicultural mix of the new millennium. I like the idea of utilizing all kinds of culture and adding to it. Like collage. Taking things and making them over again in new ways. That appeals to me. When art is good, it provokes responses, and is controversial. At least my favorite art is. That’s why I love Phillip Huang. He gets a rise out of people! Love you Phillip. Love you Counterpulse! Love you everyone! Saturday at 11:42am

Gosh, this conversation is really turning me on! I haven’t been this controversial in a while. I’m really taking pleasure from it. Thanks everyone. Although I do apologize if something I did in 1989 offended anyone. But then… there was 1973, 1974, 1975… Oy vey. Saturday at 9:28pm
Thanks Cx Tiara Transience. Live and learn. You are right that that the anger against racism is totally justified. However, I was saying that I learn better when people explain things nicely to me rather than put me on the defensive. Then I just want to fight or flight and not listen. And Beth Stephens, i LOVE YOU. Yesterday at 1:54pm

(Also, why is appropriation in quotations…? Appropriation is appropriation, no need to air quote it. Anyway.) Of course–a lot of white people appropriate things of other cultures in hopes of “honoring them” or “showing how awesome they are and how much they like it,” but it’s still appropriation and it’s still a big problem (and some are just ignorant or flat-out racist fucks that aren’t trying to honor ANYONE but themselves). It ignores the legacies of inequality and the ways in which white people consumed, regulated, and spat out people of color’s cultures. It perpetuates the idea that white people get to be the arbiters of culture and arbiters of what’s important and valued, and that what POC have to offer is merely for consumption. There’s a difference between appreciation and appropriation.

(This is the picture in question)

Of course, not all people of color will react in the same ways. A lot of us don’t see eye to eye on racism issues, and a lot of folks are actually pretty convinced racism isn’t such a problem anymore (especially in the age of Obama), just like many women think sexism isn’t a thing anymore…y’know, ’cause now we can vote and go work and stuff. This is often due to other identities/privileges people hold (read: it’s easier to think racism’s gone if you’re a POC with a lot of money), and/or due to internalized issues around race and privilege. For an example of this, and how even POC can trivialize POC concerns, check out Philip Huang’s video doing an “interpretive/dramatic reading” of the issues some POC raised around this. Yeeeeeeeeeeah.

But onto the actual Annie Sprinkle comments (which have now been deleted).

I’m glad she sees that her work was appropriative, but the rest of her post kind of messes it up for me. The part about how she might not even be appropriating because she may have been Indian in a past life is a huge copout and pretty perturbing. When she says “Thankfully I had some nice people explain it to me in ways I could hear it, after being attacked and judged on a college campus about 18 years ago!” puts the blame on “those mean people who judged and attacked” 18 years ago. Of course people will generally listen more when folks approach things nicely, but not everyone can and/or should speak nicely about these issues, and the onus is on the folks who have transgressed to listen and see what they are being confronted with. That doesn’t mean being a doormat, for sure, but it means centralizing the issue and the concerns, NOT the feelings about being called out. Too many critical conversations get shut down because the people being called out prioritize their feelings over the issues and the fucked up things they did. 

Furthermore, the part about Still, in the end, I do love the image, and think that when looked at with SEX POSITIVE EYES it is a beautiful image. An honoring image. xxx” really negates a lot of what is said earlier. It’s like saying “yes, this is fucked up, BUT REALLY if you look at it in the end with ~*SEX POSITIVE EYES*~ you can appreciate it.” Well no, we can’t all appreciate it even if we’re sex-positive because we don’t have the luxury or privilege of “taking off” the lenses that look at racism and appropriation…and we shouldn’t, because what we need to be doing is calling people out for doing racist and appropriative things, not just staying silent about it.

The comments about how “nothing is really new” and we are all “appropriating all the time, and borrowing from many cultures,” especially in this climate of multiculturalism, really once again shows a disregard (and/or ignorance) to the histories of appropriation. And no, it’s not like cultures aren’t mixing and should never mix, but that we need to acknowledge the power dynamics that keep getting recycled over and over and how those show up in our society. On the art note, too, art can be avant-garde and controversial and provocative without needing to be racist. Art can depict and critique and discuss racism WITHOUT HAVING TO FALL INTO RACISM AND APPROPRIATION. (Cross-reference the Diana Joy blackface debacle in RI and my creation of the Keep It Checked Tumblr).

So why is this such a big deal?

Because it’s one of those big “sex-poz” icons who a lot of people look up to. Because this stuff happens at all levels, and pretty constantly. Because even the fact that Annie Sprinkle is taking this somewhat in stride and like “wow, this is getting controversial, that’s awesome” when POC are mostly just feeling shitty and upset speaks volumes. Because we need to remind people that just because someone is an amazing activist in one sphere, it doesn’t make them immune to doing other messed up stuff, or marginalizing other communities. Because for those of us who DO identify as sex-positive and feminists *AND* people of color, we need to speak up and elevate the field when we can. We need to hold the icons and each other accountable for our actions, even if they took place years ago, and we need to all keep learning and growing.
For those of us who are comfortable calling people out (even if not all the time), I encourage us to keep doing it. For those of us who get called out, we need to keep listening. And we ALL need to remember that activism and work in social spheres is complex and should be nuanced, not oversimplified. We need many lenses and many voices to make some radical change.

Doing something that gets a call-out doesn’t negate other good work people have done (as in Annie’s case), as if retroactively this entire person’s career were tainted by a problematic image/statement. What it DOES mean, though, is that a critical light must be shed on their past/present/future work, and that we need to understand how their views may have affected (and may continue to affect) their work.  Also, so I can leave y’all with some action items and actual tools, check out this awesome PDF that talks about common racist attitudes and behaviors that indicate a detour or wrong turn into white guilt, denial, or defensiveness. “Each is followed by a statement that is a reality check and consequence for harboring such attitudes.” Super useful. Please share widely! 🙂