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.

Death Salon LA: A Recap

death salon skullIf you know me well, you know I like me some creepy things. I used to park myself in front of the Discovery Health Channel, watch Disney’s So Weird as a kid, and browse websites for tales of the supernatural. During my gawth intellectual phase, I listened to Cradle of Filth, googled all the fancy words and characters in their lyrics (e.g. Gilles de Rais, Erzulie, Lillith, Faust, Walpurgis, and so on), and ended up writing a term paper about Elizabeth “The Blood Countess” Bathory. I even thought I wanted to become a forensic scientist of some sort once I graduated high-school.

Instead, I ended up going to Brown University and concentrating on gender and sexuality studies, but the passion for these issues lived on. Nowadays, this interest in the “creepy and dark” manifests more obviously in things like my love of the TV series Hannibal, unique earrings (e.g. baby doll arms, a bobcat’s jawbones), and the history of medicine. I’m still entranced by mortality, rituals, bodies, and how we deal with all of these, so it must have come as no surprise to my friends and colleagues when they heard I was attending Death Salon LA.

After avidly consuming tons of posts from The Order of the Good Death website (finding it via the founder’s Ask a Mortician series on YouTube), I heard about this event and promptly freaked out with joy. I immediately told one of my colleagues (the inimitable Megan Andelloux, or “Oh Megan”) who shares my fascination with these topics. After some deliberation because our schedules were pretty packed, we booked our trips from Rhode Island to Los Angeles and got ready for a weekend full of intellectual stimulation.

In just one day at Death Salon LA, I learned about demonic semen transfer systems, the mortification of female saints, cadaver saponification, decorated Bolivian and Peruvian skulls that are said to be miraculous, the mummified Capuchin hanging wall friars in Palermo, the democratization of images via post-mortem photography, anthropomorphic taxidermy, anatomical Venuses, St. Bartholomew’s flayed skin that he held as a sash, death cabarets in 20th century Europe, and more.

The experience was wonderful and illuminating, and it balanced subjects so there would be something for everyone. Still, there was definitely a big emphasis on gender and sexuality, which I obviously really appreciated, and the interdisciplinary, multimedia approach catered to a variety of knowledge levels. I’m terribly excited to see where it goes from here, and though I probably can’t go next year (it’s in Europe in 2014), I’m looking forward to it in 2015 when it comes to Cleveland.

As a demonstration of my obsession with documentation, and as a means to share information with those who couldn’t attend this year, I tweeted up a storm while I was there, and upon returning to RI, crafted a recap of the media bits I nabbed in LA. You can check out the 2 days’ worth of relevant images, tweets, and pieces I corralled:

You can also see the version posted on the official Death Salon website. I was sadly unable to attend all the events, so I wasn’t able to recap the Atlas Obscura trip to a local cemetery or the Death Salon LA Soirée with death-themed food and drinks. I’ll leave you all to dig up those resources, no pun intended.

When “Going East” Is Code for “CHERRY BLOSSOM RACISM”

A friend posted this article about the recent launch of the “Go East” Victoria’s Secret line on their Facebook page, and a comment exchange ensued between some folks, myself included. I thought some points that were raised deserved a response (and a public one at that, not caught up in the FB privacy settings). I’ve paraphrased and bolded them here + added some responses.

  • How is this racist? A geisha is a sexual figure in East Asia already. 
This line isn’t just sexualizing the geisha—the entire LINE is all about “sexy exotic Asian-ness,” and it’s all predicated on a commodified, simplified, and inauthentic view of “exotic asian culture.” For the purposes of Victoria’s Secret, “going east” means “let’s put some cherry blossoms and red on some lingerie and make our models wear chopsticks in their hair and OH OH don’t forget the kimono!” Of course it brings in the geisha as one of the lingerie styles because that’s one of the easiest things to sexualize here in the U.S., since so many people are familiar with the concept. Speaking of which, most of us have a pretty simplified and misinformed idea about what being a geisha entails anyway, and the level of education and training geishas got/get as well as the diversity of their actions/professions is not something a lot of people know about. Most folks just think “yeah, a geisha, a Japanese prostitute with the white face and stuff, like in Mulan or something.”
  • Sexual fantasy doesn’t indicate personally racist/bigoted beliefs. Wanting to dress like a geisha doesn’t make someone a racist.
Sexual attitudes and desires don’t happen inside of a magic bubble. We all have the responsibility to ask ourselves why we like what we do instead of just saying “AH WELL I JUST LIKE STUFF WHO KNOWS WHY.” Just as we adopt racist, sexist, etc.-ist beliefs in other areas of our lives, we adopt them in our sexual life and sexuality too. It’s our responsibility to interrogate what we want and how that intersects with the world around us. It’s like saying “yeah I only date white people, I dunno, I just find them more attractive.” Beauty is not this magically 100% objective thing–it’s very conditioned by our upbringing and cultural surroundings, and if those have racism embedded into them, you betcha your ideas of beauty will also have racism embedded unless you actively work to fight that and deconstruct it as much as possible.
And even if someone doesn’t want to dress like a geisha due to “explicitly racist” reasons, it involves a degree of subconscious entitlement to do so–that “yes, I can wear this, because I can do whatever I want, I have access to these pieces of this culture and I don’t have to think about the context or the impact of this choice.” It’s that dismissiveness, that disregard, that idea that all things are possible/accessible and OK because “I’m not actually a racist.” Racism isn’t just lynchings and cross-burning and denying people jobs; it’s way more complicated and pervasive than that.
  • Taking this line down and not carrying foreign-oriented lines of lingerie = just as offensive as carrying them.
There’s a difference between carrying a line catered to a particular community and appropriating that community’s culture. There’s also a difference between actually trying to provide positive and accurate representation of a culture for that culture (or even for society) and doing something simplified to purely make profit and create the newest fashion collection. Here, the intent as well as the outcome are important. Furthermore, no, these things are not “equally offensive.”
Of course, product advertising and these sexy lingerie things are never going to fully capture the entire history of whatever they’re symbolizing/hinting at, but when it’s done along already tense axes, where there have been lots of struggles between those who are creating the products and those who they are “depicting,” it’s a problem. Why? Because it’s once again a reiteration of the same power dynamics. In a climate where there are still a lot of anti-Asian feelings (check out this website for example!), it’s just one more way in which U.S. culture, especially non-asian/specifically-white U.S. culture, asserts that it can take whatever it wants from these cultures for its own purposes, demonize the fuck out of those same cultures, and not be held accountable.

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! 🙂

Notes on Fetishizing People

I’ve recently been part of some conversations about attraction where the following questions/ideas have come up–“am I a chaser? am I fetishizing a community if I’m attracted to its members? is this terrible? is this something I need to think further about? can’t I just say I like XYZ and have it be that, with no ulterior motive? we all have fetishes [here on Fetlife] and some of those things are actions or body parts or people, or IDs…”

There’s a difference between
(a) liking a person’s appearance/body and appreciating it sexually/aesthetically 
and (b) placing value solely or primarily on that person’s body/appearance/identity category.
In (b), the person’s story, their life, their individuality is not of primary concern. It is less important than the “hot” identity that makes a person want them. This is also tied to someone having particular ideas about that identity (enter stereotypes!), which increase the desire and do not depend on reality, but on a fictional set of ideas and narratives about a person’s identity.

There are things we might find hot, but we should still interrogate those desires a bit more closely because so often they’re deeply entwined with racist, misogynistic, [insert ID]-st shit and they deserve a closer look. Really analyzing our desires, I think, can also serve to clarify them better for ourselves as well as for potential partners. For example, liking transwomen can be a thing for many reasons–it could be something about the history of transness, or the presumed/assumed anatomy, or it can be about finding someone similar/likewise trans*, or it’s an assumed attitude, the list goes on. What are you attracted to within the demographics you say you like? Are you attracted to women? To masculinity? To femininity? To genderqueerness? To men? To people with lots of hair regardless of what’s in their pants? The list can go on…

Personally, it can be tough for me to interact with people that I know fetishize some aspect of me. Random example–people who love “BBW” (Big Beautiful Women)! Personally, if I were approached by a self-identified “BBW fetishist” I’d probably give them some major side-eye because my experiences seeing that community deal with its attraction to fat bodies has been pretty sketchy in parts, and pretty objectifying. Ditto to someone who loves “Latin@s.” I’d question their motives, their interests, and their desires. I’d ask myself what about me are they stereotyping? Why is my Latinidad important to them? Is it something they wanna celebrate with me or is it something they want to keep out of sight and out of mind (and thus is easy to do because I don’t have an accent and am light-skinned)?

I think stuff like this can happen with any ID “category” (even things like…”gamer”), but it’s just exceptionally complicated and potentially hurtful to people when it’s around identity categories that put that person through shit and other people use to oppress them. Being a person of color or being queer or being fat are not “neutral identities”–they are loaded one that have been previously (and currently!) deployed to control people.

Finally, this conversation this also relates to (but is not the same as) being attracted to someone for how they are perceived and not how they actually identify, or ignoring a piece of someone’s ID because they can “pass” as something else that’s less “problematic.” For example, someone only/primarily being attracted to folks who appear/”act” white, regardless of actual cultural/racial/ethnic background, or someone being attracted to trans* folks that can pass as cis for whatever reason.

Re: The White Elephant in the Room

This is my response (edited from my Tumblr version of it) to Black Girl Dangerous/Mia McKenzie’s post about The White Elephant in the Room. (Please go read that first!)

When “woman of color” includes Latin@s of all stripes, then yes, I am a woman of color.

When “woman of color” is just shorthand for “African or African American,” then no, I am not a woman of color and would never claim to be. (And I mention this because many spaces I found, especially initially, were for WOC and QWOC but only had African American folks in them—no other groups were represented/part of those spaces).
When “woman of color” includes people born in the Caribbean and Latin-America, whose culture and upbringing and politics were not those of white U.S. Americans, whose heritage includes slaves and indigenous folks and colonizers all wrapped up in one, whose native tongue isn’t English, who don’t have the privilege of NOT thinking about their race/ethnicity/culture, then yes, I am a woman of color.
When “woman of color” means that I’m oppressed based on my skin color, then no, I am not a woman of color and would never claim to be. (The kind of shit I get for my skin color is not oppression, and now that I’m living in the U.S., is even less of a talking point.)
Though it’s not the same thing (obviously), I feel there are important parallels to sexuality and gender here, the feelings from folks who are “visibly” queer in one or both of those arenas vis-a-vis those who can “pass.” The important thing is for those who can “pass” as a dominant group to ACKNOWLEDGE their (our!) privilege, use it for the best (cross-reference that video I posted a while ago about using white-privilege), and help speak for our communities, but be aware that we should also help to centralize folks of the most marginalized positions instead of just repeatedly highlighting the same voices who are “most palatable” to dominant groups. It means being aware of WHY we have privilege and HOW we have privilege, and striving to do something about it instead of going “oh well, I can’t help my privilege!” or “it’s so HARD to be privileged!” It means not being content when something that claims to represent queer folks really is just “cisgender/normatively-gendered white-looking queer people” or feeling all self-satisfied when we work for the inclusion of POC in white spaces and all the POC are suspiciously white-looking. It means we need to try harder and step back more sometimes, and it means our identities are never at rest.
At the same time, for ALL of us, it also means knowing that there are people within and behind all those long laundry lists of identities, and that identities can be painful and joyful and help us build communities but also keep us out of communities that once felt or should have felt like home. It means knowing there will be rage and sadness and hope and laughter and that we need to have at least a little understanding and compassion in our hearts, but that our feelings are valid and don’t need to be 24/7 crafted into tasteful, polite little snippets.
For someone who can pass as white (though I am usually on a mission to make it clear who and what I am), I don’t get harassed on the basis of my skin color on the street. For someone who can pass as heterosexual (if I try/when I have male partners/etc.), I can go without getting harassed for my choice of partner.  These are things that make my life easier. A lot of POC and a lot of queer folks and a lot of people at those intersections don’t have those privileges, and so I need to own them very clearly. Heck, on a more “superficial level,” I can purchase makeup and not wonder about how it will look on my skin because the models on the ads have the same skin-tone as I do. I can listen to love songs and not have to *always* switch pronouns and genders around. I can watch movies and see people that look like me on the surface. On both life-or-death as well as day-to-day levels, I have a ton of privileges that make my interactions with the world similar to those of a white, cis, hetero person. Still–that doesn’t suddenly make me a white, cis, hetero person, and it doesn’t erase all the ways in which my identities as a Latin@, queer, genderqueer/fluid/hotmess do affect my day-to-day experiences in ways that clearly align with those/my communities.
If we’re building community based on our culture and background and queerness, it’s not okay to be told “oh wait, you’re not queer enough, please leave” or “you’re not enough of a minority, this isn’t for you” or “whatever, even though your heritage is X you look like Y so let me erase your entire experience.” It DOES mean people can tell me to shut the fuck up if I’m speaking about an experience that’s not mine though, for sure, and it means that we might all be POC/queer/whatever, but that our intersecting identities make it so that all our experiences aren’t the same, and that we can’t hold hands and pretend that we all experience the same level of oppression. We need to learn to build our communities, as complex as they may be, and also learn to stand in solidarity with those that are different from us, be they part of certain spaces we inhabit or be they complete outsiders.



And re: the OP, relating to that last point about light-skinned privilege vs. white privilege—what would “visibly POC” mean? Very curly hair? Slanted eyes? A wider nose…? Or…? I also ask because the idea of separating “white skin” from “light skin”doesn’t make sense to me unless we’re saying that using the language of “light” vs. “dark” poses dark skin as its “default” and so you can have a “dark black/brown” skin tone or a “light black/brown” skin tone and beyond that, it’s just “white skin.”

Racist + Sexist “Adult Novelties”

Trigger-warning for gross sexist, racist language and glorification of non-consent.

Those of you who know me know I *love* talking about sex toys. Not only do I find them personally stimulating (har har har), I’m also just fascinated by how they have evolved, how technological developments have impacted their growth/design, and the ways in which people and the media conceptualize them. I’m fortunate enough to have attended some “novelty expos” in the past for work and I’ve seen a wide array of products. Some have blown my mind with their stylish marketing and innovative designs, but I’ve also had the misfortune of encountering some REALLY horrible toys (read: unsafe materials, terrible packaging, offensive marketing, and more). I wanted to highlight 2 particular companies producing some pretty egregious toys.

Why?

  • Because I want to hold toys and companies to higher standards and share what I know with the people who read this blog
  • Because consumers deserve to find good resources for their sex toys and know which companies are fucked up
  • Because there are some damaging and oppressive stereotypes and ideas being bandied about, and the sex toy industry usually gets a “free pass” because people think sexuality is some magical arena where politics and kindness don’t apply
  • Because we need to acknowledge the pervasive sexism and racism in our fields and see how these things connect to our daily lives

BUT FIRST: some background. Pipedreams and Nasstoys (the ones I discuss here) are part of what’s known in the industry as “The Big Five” (Doc Johnson, Cal Exotics, and Topco being the other three in the club). These are the companies that churn out toys like nobody’s business–the “giants” in the industry. There’s no real sense of “coherent” brand identity to the average consumer because these huge companies have a lot of toys under their belt and a wide array of different lines. Unlike smaller independent stores and companies, these organizations are faceless and commercial (not inherently a bad thing, but it’s not a positive thing for me personally). They also put their profits before their consumers, as evidenced by their practices and the stuff I mention in this post.

Disclaimer: I own a glass Pipedreams toy because I was asked to review it years ago. While the line has a TON of products, and some of them are actually nice, I don’t support them as a brand.

 

Pipedreams

When I went to the ANME Founders Show, I was introduced to the Pipedreams Extreme Toyz line. My immediate thought was a big WTF. They have toys like Flip a Sista Over and Junk in Tha Trunk. If the names and the “cum in her ghetto booty” slogan slapped across the package of the latter aren’t enough to get you riled up, here’s the copy that goes along with these ridiculously offensive toys:

Fuck her first in her tight mocha twat, then Flip A Sista Over and bust a nut in her booty! This handheld honey is the answer to every man’s chocolate fantasies…a sweet black pussy on one end and a big ol’ bubble butt on the other, with nothing getting in the way of you filling her with cum! 

If you love thick black asses, this sista’s got enough Junk in tha Trunk to satisfy your cravings! Fuck her first in her phat booty, then stick it in her snatch and bust a nut in her tight mocha twat! This bubble butt beauty is the answer to every man’s chocolate fantasies…two big round ass cheeks to slap and pound on top, with a sweet black pussy spread eagle underneath! 

Flip her over, insert the vibrating bullet underneath, and enjoy thrilling vibrations in her coochie and ass. When you’re finished, cum inside either hole and never worry about knocking her up!

Where…would I even begin criticizing this? Jesus.
This one also creeps me out due to the way it fetishizes virginity, and while I’m down with most fetishes and fantasies, the problematic thing about this toy and its accompanying text/ideology is that for many people this “virgin ideal” leads to a lot of slut-shaming  (among other things). Similarly, there’s the misogyny and idealization of youth in this other toy, which bears the lovely slogan “I’m young, dumb, and want your CUM!” And while I’m actually a fan of consensual face-fucking, the images for this toy are just downright creepy. They hit super close to home re: the dehumanization of women in day-to-day experiences, and the copy is also atrocious and reeking of rape culture:

She’s all yours to enjoy and there are no rules! Best of all, she never says no to a good time because she always has her mouth full! 

Watch her eyes roll back into her head, then gag her with a taste of your man meat!  If your girl never deep throated you before, now is your chance to enjoy the thrill! (…) She won’t gag or choke, and there’s no annoying teeth to get in the way or bite.  When you’re about to cum, don’t worry about pulling out–blow a fat load right in her mouth and let her swallow!

At the expo I attended, they also had a “shemale” torso (Note: this was their offensive language, not mine–or it was something else but along these lines, like tranny or hermaphrodite)–headless with a huge penis and huge breasts, though I haven’t seen that one being sold…

 

Nasstoys

They have an entire “Latin” section. Don’t even get me started on the packaging. The fact that they have “se habla español” on their company page makes me think that perhaps these folks are in part, men of color? I’m not sure, though! Either way, it’s fucked up.

Their “Isabella Pussy” is described as “super realista pussy” that’s “siempre lista / always ready,” so we once again see gendered language and the idea of constant sexual availability, but this time with racialized connotations to boot. The other model is “Maria,” and I could see that stupid name coming from ten miles away.

The one that is most unnerving to me, though, is the one called “My First Pregnant Latina ‘Knocked Up’ Pussy.” With the history of seeing women, especially women of color, as baby-making machines; with the history of  colonial rape; with the widely-held racist notions/images that Latin@s are “welfare queens” and “promiscuous” and all have a billion babies and get pregnant at 12…this kind of shit does not sit well with me.

BUT WAIT, they also have a racially unmarket one (read: a white one). The difference is that the “Latina” toy is slightly darker and the model on the front has dark hair and a more “Latina-looking” face (which…is another post entirely) vs. the white model who is pale and blonde. *facepalm*

I’m focusing on the things that strike me the hardest as a Latin@ female, but never fear, they also have some delightfully racist dolls that target other groups, like the Mai Li Asian Love Doll, the Geisha masturbating sleeve, and the Asian Geisha Love Doll.
Men aren’t left behind entirely in this racist circus, though, since when it comes to the “lifelike dongs,” there’s a section just for those, and there are Latin, Black, and ones without an adjective which are, you guessed it, the white ones. Because white is normal, once more. Anyway. The “super realistic dongs” are all faux-clever (read: actually just racist and lazy) plays on words that insidiously dehumanize actual Latin men (little pistol, top stud, big bull, wild bull, little bull, and more). And this banner below I think can just speak for itself (especially the “ALL American” part):

 

Again, I know these toys are selling a fantasy and a product, but we need to see how our daily lives connect to this, and how the daily lives of women and people of color are affected and mirrored by these toys and the attitudes toward them. It’s not “just a toy” or “just a fantasy.” These are all created and reflected by the society in which we live, and we can’t afford to just ignore sex (and art, too, for that matter) because it’s some special snowflake (which it’s not).We need to think about what messages these toys send and why people buy them. We need to be critical consumers and media-viewers/makers.
If you want to buy fabulous toys from reputable sources, though, check out the stores in the Progressive Pleasure Club.

 

Dear White Friends, Lovers, Strangers

No, I don’t hate you as a person because you’re White.

I hate the structural inequalities that put White people at an advantage. I hate the legacy of racism in the U.S. and in Puerto Rico. I hate that people of color can’t try to create a safe space for themselves without some White people commenting on how that’s “reverse racism” and “discrimination.” I hate that when people of color talk about race and inequality, many White people respond defensively, negatively, and/or with guilt that then makes them focus on their “feeling bad” and impairs them from seeing the realities we’re bringing up. I hate that many respond with “well, we’re not ALL like that” because I already know you’re not all “like that”–“like that” being overtly discriminatory and horribly racist, but most of you to some degree still perpetuate racism even if in small ways.

I don’t need your guilt or anger; I need your support and your allyship in action.

I don’t need you to hate other White people, but to call them (and yourself) out when something racist happens. I need you to stand up for people of color even when there are none in the room. I need you to examine your privilege and see how it affords you certain things that are not accessible (or easily accessible) to people of color. I need you to look at the history of how racial difference was constructed in the United States and understand the context of race.

I need you to LISTEN.

I do NOT need you to feel guilty, but I understand if you do. I can understand if you feel bad, uncomfortable, awkward, or anything in that realm, but those feelings are a byproduct of examining privilege and usually they can even be part of the process of becoming an ally.

No one said this would be easy, and we must not confuse safety with comfort.

Testimony Around Reproductive Health and Abortion Bills in RI

On Wednesday, I went to the RI Statehouse to testify because there was a hearing for a group of bills around reproductive health. I’d gone last year and found it important to go once again and have my voice heard. Being part of the political process in a room with passionate people (even if they’re not all in my camp) is invigorating and bizarre, especially stuck up in a balcony…but anyway. More on my feelings, thoughts, and observations about the process later. I wanted to capture my testimony (which I wrote as I waited to speak) and share it with y’all.
(BEFORE PROCEEDING: Look at the bills and their text! Check them out here.)
The following is my testimony:
My name is Aida Manduley and I’m here in support of bills 7754 and 7041, and in opposition to the rest of the ones on the docket.

Before I discuss my support of those 2 bills, I want to address what previous speakers have mentioned around intent <Note: For context, this was directed at the legislator who proposed the bill around mandatory ultrasounds and “informed consent.” She kept talking about her intent this and her intent that, how we were “misinterpreting” her intent and blah blah blah>. In making major political decisions, we need to look at context, intent, AND effect…and ultimately, effect trumps intent. Even “well-meaning” legislation can have unintended effects, and THESE effects are what can create barriers to care, misinformation, and unnecessary political interference with personal, medical decisions.

As someone who works at a domestic violence agency, as someone trained in dealing with sexual assault and crisis assistance, as a sexuality educator, and as a woman, I have personal as well as professional experience in what these bills would mean to women across Rhode Island.

In regards to bill 7754, this is a bill to keep our youth SAFE. This isn’t a bill to take parents out of the equation, but to give pregnant teens bodily autonomy–to give them the option to, through contact with trained professionals and authorities, make personal decisions about their future and care. 

In my work, I educate, and encourage parent-child conversations around these issues, but must admit that these conversations are NOT always possible, and not always safe. I’ve encountered minors who are NOT supported by their families, who regardless of their own wishes, would be forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term if this bill did not pass. I’ve encountered young women abused by their own families (emotionally, physically, and sexually), for whom it is not safe to require parental consent for an abortion, for whom it is even re-traumatizing to event attempt to do so.

I’ve served and counseled young women, scared and pregnant, some already with children, who are in abusive relationships where condom negotiation isn’t possible, whose families don’t know about their relationships or who are even buddy-buddy with the abusers–women who are already experiencing health disparities and barriers to care…am I supposed to tell them I must repeat the patterns of their abusers? Am I supposed to tell them our legislators have decided that they ultimately have NO choice about what happens to their bodies? Please consider what I have said, as someone who has both personal and professional experience with these issues, and support bills 7754 and 7041.

Hate Crimes Bill Passes in RI House (53 to 15)

As someone who has gone to the Statehouse in support of this bill, its House passage makes me happy!

MERI has just issued the following press release:


Statement from Marriage Equality Rhode Island on House passage of hate crimes reporting legislation


PROVIDENCE – Marriage Equality Rhode Island Campaign Director Ray Sullivan issued the following statement today after the House of Representatives passed legislation to include gender identity and expression as part of the hate crimes reporting law: “On behalf of the tens of thousands of equality supporters across Rhode Island, we commend and thank Rep. Edith Ajello and those state representatives who voted in favor of including gender identity and expression in the hate crimes reporting law. 


While there is much more that our state must do to stop violence and hate crimes of any nature, this is an important first step in protecting a group of citizens that for too long have been unjustly targeted and in some cases maliciously attacked for no other reason than being who they are. 


It is critically important that these crimes be reported and tracked, and we look forward to working with members of the General Assembly to make sure such crimes are appropriately prosecuted and that the perpetrators are punished to the fullest extent of the law. 


We urge the Senate to quickly take up this bill and send it to Gov. Chafee for his signature.