Loving My Job Doesn’t Mean You Get to Exploit Me (Or “Why My Time & Work Ain’t Free”)

Illustration by http://melaniegillman.com/

Illustration by http://melaniegillman.com/

“DWYL” & The Intersection of Capitalism/Sexism

Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life!” –a glimmering promise of joyous labor that’s fun 24/7 and somehow secretly “not work.” Miya Tokomitsu thinks the “intoxicating warmth” of that line’s promise must be critiqued:

“Who, exactly, benefits from making work feel like nonwork?” “Why should workers feel as if they aren’t working when they are?” In masking the very exploitative mechanisms of labor that it fuels, DWYL is, in fact, the most perfect ideological tool of capitalism. If we acknowledged all of our work as work, we could set appropriate limits for it, demanding fair compensation and humane schedules that allow for family and leisure time.

This idea of “not-work work” creates a cycle that enables many employers to exploit their employees (especially in nonprofits doing social services/justice-related things) because they rely on the workers’ “love of their jobs” or “passion for social change” to offer low wages, never give raises, demand outcomes incongruous to the hours being paid, and more. As someone who works “doing what she loves,” but is frustrated by the ideas that “if you love it, it’s not work, and thus you shouldn’t charge for it,” I cannot stress enough how timely and important this article is.

Tokomitsu drives the point home even further, explaining how this disproportionately affects women and is embedded in sexist notions of labor and “whose job it is” to do certain activities:

Yet another damaging consequence of DWYL is how ruthlessly it works to extract female labor for little or no compensation. Women comprise the majority of the low-wage or unpaid workforce; as care workers, adjunct faculty, and unpaid interns, they outnumber men. What unites all of this work, whether performed by GEDs or Ph.D.s, is the belief that wages shouldn’t be the primary motivation for doing it. Women are supposed to do work because they are natural nurturers and are eager to please; after all, they’ve been doing uncompensated child care, elder care, and housework since time immemorial. And talking money is unladylike anyway.

“Come On, Anyone Can Do That!”

When people think “pffft, anyone can do that” about fields like art, caregiving, and education, they erase the level of preparation many people have to get to actually do those things well. Yes, there are things “anyone can do” to an extent, but the results/quality will vary widely. This often happens because people think they understand a field and assume they can do just as good of a job (which is often untrue). This happens to me with sexuality education all the time.

While I fully support popular education methods, community skill-shares, and decentralizing power (especially in fields that get increasingly professionalized at the expense of including the affected communities in their own healing/work), those strategies fulfill a very specific need. Sex education, particularly in school settings, is not just something you can wake up one morning and do with the same level of knowledge, grace, and skill as someone who has invested a lot of time and resources into their preparation.

Social media is another prime example of this issue. Many people are ON social media and think that automatically gives them “expertise” to do high-level social media management and content strategy. Yeah, no. Just being able to boil some pasta and mix it with cheese doesn’t make you a chef either.

Like the image at the top of this post points out, though, these kinds of attitudes are are RARELY directed at medicine, chemistry, and pretty much any STEM field (which BTW are male-dominated, surprise!) because society places those bodies of knowledge on a pedestal and presumes (or knows) they take a great deal of technical knowledge. Especially in regard to STEM fields (since some people don’t even want to touch those areas with a 10-foot pole out of fear), even relatively simple tasks are seen as impressive because of that fear and ignorance. Not to say chemistry is a piece of cake or that neurosurgery is just like teaching a room full of students, but that we must acknowledge the complexity and nuance of fields that are socially considered “soft” and are also often associated with women.

On The Other Side Of Sex Education Programming

By the time I graduated from Brown University in 2011, I had a slew of campus event organizing experience. As the chair of various groups, I coordinated a large number of events to promote wider dialogue and education around sexuality issues. My set of tasks included being the liaison with outside speakers and negotiating prices to bring them to campus. Looking back on it, I realize how underpaid some of the speakers were.

In fact, sometimes I actively haggled prices down so I could make the events more attractive to the funding boards and so we could put on more events. Part of that was just because of the way certain groups and events got funded and my desire to do as many educational activities as possible, but I also think that it’s related to not fully grasping the type of work and hours that can (and often do) go into delivering a stellar college workshop or lecture. Now that I’m on the presenting, rather than the college organizing, end and I also work for a small organization that does training/education on sexuality, I have a more informed perspective about these issues.

When your eyes widen at the prospect of a speaker asking for $2,000-$5,000 for a presentation, think about that for a second. When you hire consultants and freelancers, they often have to charge more per hour and per project than organizations because you are hiring them sporadically instead of putting them in a long-term, stable position with benefits they can rely on. When independent sex educators are pricing their work, they have to think about things like:

  • their past/present/future professional development and education
  • having to (often) pay for their own healthcare and insurance(s)
  • time spent preparing their outlines and materials (which can involve a great deal of research)
  • expenses related to travel (food in new places, places to stay, transportation itself, time spent away from home-base, etc.)
  • expenses to make the presentation worthwhile (e.g. purchasing new PowerPoint or Keynote themes, buying props, mailing items to the presentation location, paying for extra bags on airplanes, etc.)
  • fees taken by booking agencies if they don’t handle all their bookings/gig logistics

On top of that, educators doing the college circuit have to think strategically about where they speak and how much they charge so it can be sustainable. Student organizers often want to bring in other speakers too, and schools aren’t often willing to pay someone to come annually & speak to the “same” student body, so educators can’t always count on that money being stable from year to year. Think about all the other offers that might be competing for attention, too! Especially if someone is in really high demand, they’re not going to take 20 low-paying gigs instead of 20 high-paying ones, so they will prioritize the things that make sense and/or money.

Please note: this doesn’t apply to everyone 100%—there are people who consider themselves sex educators with little education and grounding in the field beyond personal experience (I’m not saying you need a degree in sexual health to be able to speak about these topics, but that some people think that taking one class in college or one workshop somehow makes them An Expert in All Things Sex). Not every sex educator reads through medical journals, uses fancy slideshows, spends hours preparing for their presentation, or combs their work for racial diversity and inclusive language. There are also people with stable income who just do sex ed on the side every so often and don’t have to deal with some of the things above.

What’s more, there are also people out there who “drive down the market” in other ways—who shamelessly spread misinformation, steal workshop titles and materials from other sexuality professionals, and actively try to lasso work away from people who already have it by saying “Hey, I can do what [insert name of presenter usually does XYZ] does but for way cheaper!”  TL;DR: Some people will charge “a lot” for a presentation and it will not have been worth it and it will not be backing up any of the things I said above.

That being said, you know what the reality is, spoken from the event-organizing end? If you are amazing at what you do, many places will find a way to pay you. If you command a decent price-tag and aren’t wishy-washy (note: being flexible isn’t the same as being wishy-washy), many places will respect that and just get you the money. When I had speakers who haggled with me, we haggled. If there were speakers I really wanted who had a firm price tag, I just bit the bullet and dealt with it (or didn’t bring them in because we just didn’t have the money at a given time).

But It’s Not That Simple!

I don’t want to place the blame on educators and speakers for “undervaluing themselves” as if there were no other relevant factors here. I also don’t mean to imply that there’s some magical level playing ground where all sex educators get equal opportunities. Outside from a passion for sexuality issues, a love of teaching, and an imperative to give back to their communities, some educators shift their prices down because they’re not in a financial position to decline, and/or because they’re just starting out and don’t have enough professional experience or clout to ask for more. The advice of “just decline events that don’t pay you what you’re worth, stop underselling yourself, you’re hurting the field” is busted (plus it’s classist, racist, and homophobic in its assumptions and implications).

For folks who are part of minority groups, this is can be especially tricky. For example, due to things like racism and homophobia, many LGBTQ/POC speakers are:

  • offered less money from the get-go
  • are passed over in favor of white/straight folks, all other qualifications being equal
  • get trapped into offering their work at a lower rate so it will even be CONSIDERED (this also affects people tackling “unpopular” or “niche” subjects such as, say, the intersection of sex and disability)

So often we even have to fight and make special deals/packages to get certain topics addressed because they aren’t seen as pressing by the dominant group (e.g. discussions of LGBTQ people in the domestic violence sphere). It’s seen as our duty, or perhaps as our “privilege,” to be able to educate and train organizations on things like being sensitive to gender and sexuality minorities, when it should be recognized as valuable work as well as a social justice imperative.

LGBTQ/POC speakers often get shoved between a rock and a hard place—we either do the work for less than we’re worth or it just doesn’t get done. We either compromise ourselves and our livelihood for our communities and visibility of certain issues or they remain invisible and silenced. Add all this to the fact that many LGBTQ/POC folks are already battling with impostor syndrome due to lack of positive media representation and messed up social messages about the value of our work, and is at all surprising why this problem exists? This needs to change.

Not The First (Or Only) One To Say It

I’m not the first one to say some of these things. In fact, Jill McDevitt just posted about how she gets asked to do her work for free or “for exposure.” Hanne Blank has written about how “Jesus doesn’t pay her rent” (in reference to a deacon’s ignorant comments about her work as a professional singer) and there’s even a depressing/amusing Twitter account devoted to highlighting this kind of cycle, particularly in the art world.

My friend Chihiro also wrote about this and shed some light on the costs behind artwork:

Don’t ask your art friends to draw something for you for free. If we give you a gift it’s because we are generous and like you; it’s not an invitation for free art requests.
Don’t try to haggle too much, because when we price our work we have to factor in materials fee and hours we spent. If you’re skeptical, just ask us to break down the prices because we will happily do so. You may be surprised to learn a single sheet of archival drawing paper can be $13. Or that it takes well over an hour to build a frame, stretch canvas onto it, and prime the surface (gesso, sand, gesso, sand, gesso, sand… Yes this is all before a painting can even begin!) Some quality oil paints are $35 a tube (that’s not even the most outrageous price either.) If an artist requires a studio, that should be factored in too. You’re not just paying for a pretty image. Pretty images don’t come from thin air. Time, space, materials, skills, inspiration… remember what you’re paying for and maybe think of the money you spend on other things. (…)
If you can’t pay them at least offer an exchange or services. A lot of us are trained with over a decade of expensive schooling too, just like doctors!

In Conclusion, Don’t Expect My Time & Work for Free

It’s not that I’ve paid all my dues or that I’m done doing work for pro-bono. I will always strive for sliding scales, for accessibility, and for working with/for my communities. I will always understand fledgling organizations, niche topics, and the #strugglebus. However, I’m pretty damn good at what I do, and I’ve put (and continue to put) lots of money and tons of effort towards my [continuing] education and expertise. Just like you wouldn’t expect a doctor to do surgery on you for free, don’t just expect my work for free. Sometimes I WILL give it for free and volunteer my time, but it’s not something anyone can or should demand. As Hanne so eloquently put it:

[When] artists, myself included, make our work available for free, as I do in this blog, we do it consciously knowing that we are giving it away.  That’s our right as artists.

Just like your neighbor has the right to give you some of hir homegrown tomatoes — the ones sie nurtured and watered and weeded in the hot sun — if sie so chooses, just like a lawyer has the right to work pro bono for a cause sie wishes to support, just like a bricklayer can spend hir day off building a wall for Habitat for Humanity if sie desires, an artist has the right to give others access to some (or even all) of hir work for free.

No artist, however, has an obligation to give others access to hir work for free.

I strive to balance paid and unpaid projects in a way that makes sense for me and leaves me feeling good about paying it forward and leveraging my areas of privilege for the greater good. This means, though, that I do have to say no to certain projects and even have to turn away friends because there’s just not enough time in the day to Do All The Things for Everyone Who Asks. I love helping people and teaching, but please consider the requests you make and how (in)appropriate they are. If you’re asking that I take an hour or two to teach you about a topic, or counsel you about your relationship that’s in shambles, or read your manuscript for something—don’t be surprised/hurt if I say no or tell you I’d have to do it for a fee/barter. (Seriously, don’t underestimate the magic of bartering. I’m all about that.)

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! 🙂

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.”

My 7th Grade Class Helped Me Define My Relationships

I remember learning about elements and electron-shell diagrams in my 7th grade science class. Who would’ve thought that that same model I saw on the whiteboard would be the key to explaining what the heck I was doing with my relationships years later?


Please scroll to the bottom for a 2016 update/note!


Fluorine has 2 electrons on
the first shell and 7 on the
second shell.

Unless you count a torrid online romance with a guy from Canada when I was 14, at the age of 19 I’d never been in a relationship. All my knowledge of the mechanics of sex and intimacy were purely theoretical, and then I suddenly launched into something with a married polyamorous man with a Ph.D who was almost 10 years my senior. Oh, and did I mention he also had another girlfriend in addition to his wife? Though precocious and definitely interested in alternative sexuality since before high-school, nothing had prepared me for this relationship model.

So I did what any self-respecting nerd would do: I researched! I devoured everything I could find online about non-monogamy (and polyamory especially), spending hours upon hours reading personal accounts, advice columns, informational websites, and research papers. I had to unlearn a lot of things and reprogram my brain to understand this new model of relationship. In that process, I had to interrogate the metaphors I used to describe my love-life, what visual representations I used to talk about significant others, and what kind of language in general I used to describe my intimacy and the people involved.

Enter: SCIENCE!

If “Lithium” actually just meant
“Aida,” this diagram would say that
I have 2 primaries and 1 secondary!

With increased hands-on experience (wink wink, nudge nudge) in non-monogamous living came more “opportunities” to describe my situation, both to potential partners and the general public.

One of the hurdles in explaining my relationship configuration was discussing how I could have two super important partners at the same time. I’m a pretty visual person, and non-monogamy sometimes necessitates a lot of diagramming, so I needed something I could draw for people. At some point along the way, my brain cycled back to my 7th grade science class and the electron-shell diagrams seemed to resonate.

So how does this work for me (and how might it work for you)? Read on, look at the Lithium diagram to the right, and keep the following in mind:

  • The big, red circle is the nucleus (made up of protons and neutrons), and that is the self (me!)
  • The little gray circles are electrons, and those are other people
  • The shells/rings are levels of commitment/closeness

1: There can be more than one electron/person on each shell (which goes against the ideas of “only one soulmate” in the monogamy model and against the “only one primary” notion in some polyamorous communities). The electrons don’t occupy the same exact space on the shell (read: the electrons are not on top of each other, ), but they ARE on the same shell, so it embodies how multiple primary partners are on the same general level of importance but are still fulfilling in different aspects.

2: Up to a certain point, the further a shell is from the nucleus, the higher the maximum number of electrons allowed on it. (For example: the first shell can hold a max. of 2 electrons, the second shell can hold a max. of 8, and the third shell can hold a max. of 18.) In relationship-talk, that means that I have a maximum number of people that I can pay attention to at a given time on a given rung, and I could have bigger numbers of lower-investment relationships than higher-investment relationships*. The maximum of two on the innermost shell is also probably accurate; I don’t think I could ever handle more than 2 primaries!

3 (not tied to the shell diagram, but just general atomic knowledge I wanted to include)While the electrons affect the charge of an atom, an element is identified by the number of protons in the nucleus. This jives well with the idea that while relationships might change me (and, heh, make me more positive or negative), I’m my own person and I have a recognizable identity outside of whomever I am partners with at a particular time.

4: Finally, just because a shell has a maximum number of electron spots available, it doesn’t mean  I HAVE to try to get that shell full of electrons or that bed full of people just because I can.

*Still, the model isn’t perfect. Number of partners on each “commitment rung” don’t have to follow the “filling” patterns of atoms. For example, in Real Science, each shell can only hold a particular maximum number of electrons (2, 8, 18, 32 for the first four shells) and shells get filled from the inside out, so I wouldn’t have an element/relationship with 2 electrons/people on the first shell, 4 in the second, and then 9 in the third. In my love life, however, I could totally have 5 casual partners and no primary, or perhaps I could have 2 primaries, 1 secondary, and 12 tertiaries. And actually, according to the Madelung Energy Ordering Rule, there are certain atoms who have “partially-filled” outer rings, so straying from the 2, 8, 18, 32 pattern is possible, but not the rule by any means.


07/30/16 — Edited to add: How I personally arrange my relationships and what words I use for them has changed considerably throughout the years! It’s important to clarify that the way I describe relationship arrangements here follows (or can follow) a fairly hierarchical model (though different from the “only one primary” idea, and without the problematic “only primaries matter” mentality). This electron shell model is useful for some but certainly not exhaustive, and there are tons of layers of nuance we can/should layer on top of it. This shell model can help with broad explanations and debunking some common misconceptions, but it doesn’t say anything about kinds of commitment, what names and partnerships in these “relationship rungs” look like, or anything like that. Intimacy and commitment are rarely so easily categorizable, so please keep that in mind when perusing. For some food for thought on polyamory, hierarchy, and more, check this and this out.

Privilege, Blackface, and the Burden of Education

(This post is coming as a result of a debate on a listserv of which I’m a member)
The first reaction to a claim of “that’s racist” or “that’s fucked up” or anything in that vein should not be kneejerk defensiveness + “I AM NOT RACIST” + “LOOK AT ALL MY MINORITY FRIENDS.” In instances where someone is calling us out, we need to listen before trying to defend ourselves
No, blackface is not an homage, even if the wearer intended it as such. Blackface and any other cultural appropriation can be deeply offensive, even under the guise or art and political commentary. Have any of you heard the “We’re a culture, not a costume” poster campaign? If not, you should check it out. A poster on Autostraddle summed it up pretty well:  “The problem with racially insensitive Halloween costumes: While people who dress up as racial stereotypes might be able to take the disguise off the day after Halloween, people who are minorities can’t. And the resonance of everything from a geisha to a terrorist stereotype persists long after the end of October.”
Another interesting discussion? This video from The View. It’s interesting because two folks “of the group being discussed” don’t agree on the matter.
My takeaway points?
  • Just because some folks in a minority group are not offended does not mean that the action is suddenly okay or shouldn’t be construed as offensive to other members of that community. In this case, just because Whoopi was fine with it doesn’t discount (and shouldn’t minimize) the point that the other person was making.
  • People can be very aware and sensitive around some issues, but entirely clueless about others. Also, let’s remember that just because someone makes fucked up OR super intelligent statements doesn’t mean they are fucked up OR super intelligent across the board. For example, in the Halloween video I was totally on board with the speaker opposing Whoopi, but in this video, I’m totally on board with Whoopi and her defense of Sasha Grey.
  • Being ignorant about an action’s cultural baggage and the stereotypes that come along with it is UNDERSTANDABLE when folks come from a position of privilege where they have never had to think about that baggage. HOWEVER, that doesn’t mean the ignorance is OKAY or that it should be allowed to continue and be perpetuated. *This is an important distinction.*
  • At the same time, people with privileges shouldn’t just expect that people from oppressed groups educate them one-on-one and on-demand. This is what happens a lot, though, and it’s exhausting as fuck. For a person who’s asking to be informed about privilege, it’s just one question; for the person getting asked, it’s sometimes a constant stream of “please educate me.” And EVEN if the people come with great intentions, they need to understand that minority groups don’t have all the time/energy to educate every single person. There needs to be empathy on both sides, of course, but we need to understand how these things work so we can see where the anger comes from. There are many resources out there at our disposal. Let’s use them. Let’s also not be *afraid* to ask our friends who are part of minority groups to help us learn, but let’s understand their potential reluctance/rejection and not take it “personally.”
  • Aside from the issues around education, folks in minority communities DAILY have to deal with the systems that fuck them over. Not trying to paint this as “woe is me I’m so oppressed,” but honestly–we need to think about all the daily stressors people face around their social positions and identities so we can be more compassionate and try to understand where they’re coming from. 
Finally, here are some more resources:

Reverse Racism DOES NOT EXIST

REASON 1: 
If you ascribe to the simplest and broadest definition of racism, which means “discrimination on the basis of race,” THERE IS NO WAY FOR IT TO GO IN “REVERSE.” Racism doesn’t mean “hating on minorities”–it means “hating on ANYONE because of their race.” Thus, “reverse racism” is a ridiculous concept/idea because any instance of racial discrimination would just be racism.

REASON 2: 
If you ascribe to the definition of racism as institutionalized discrimination/oppression, “reverse racism” (which again, is a term that does NOT MAKE SENSE ANYWAY, AHHHH) doesn’t exist. Discriminatory actions can be perpetrated by anyone, but racism needs the institutional backing. Racism is not a one-off moment of discrimination; it is a cycle, a web of power and structures that affirm one group’s dominance over another. Racism has deep roots and a wide reach.

At the end of the day, a discriminatory action can stay encased in that moment where it happened, or it can reverberate throughout a person’s life and be repeated over and over.

Of course, racism and discrimination don’t play out in the same ways in every person’s life because their other circumstances and identities affect their experiences. Still, the point is that if you can leave your moment of experiencing racialized discrimination relatively unscathed and without having great odds that it will be repeated, it was PROBABLY NOT RACISM. If you leave that moment and go back to a place where you are inherently valued more because of your race, where systems in place privilege you, IT WAS NOT RACISM because you live in a society that has the scales tipped in your favor on the axis of race.

Dieta Mediterránea Review (with some spoilers)

I realize I never posted this. Oops. Rectifying that right now!
(This is from Sunday, Aug. 30th, 2009.)
—-

I just got back from watching Dieta Mediterránea with my family (read: mom, dad, maternal grandmother). Going into it, I thought this movie was about a woman torn between two men…but, to my surprise, that was not the case. Sofía is a fierce, willful (sometimes to the point of being very stubborn and even immature) lady with a passionate love of cooking and a bit of wanderlust who is NOT about to make a choice between her long-time boyfriend and this guy she has always been kind of attracted to (a love/hate kind of thing). So she doesn’t!

“Whut? A triad? In a mainstreamy Spanish movie? Fo’ REAL?! ONE THAT WORKS?”

Well. It’s not without its hitches, but there are significantly less problems and resistance than I thought there would be (which seems sweet, but too idealistic). And yes. This group wants the triad model and all people participate–it’s not a V. Well, it kind of is because the female protagonist IS the axis around which the men revolve, but the men DO relate to each other as well.

I was kind of uncomfortable watching it, though, for various reasons:

  • I was with my FAMILY. I couldn’t cheer as enthusiastically as I wanted. I couldn’t say “this is kind of what one of my ideal romantic futures would look like.” I couldn’t fully let me guard down to “un-blank” my face and really enjoy the sex scenes, or the moments of intimacy in general. I couldn’t help but grin widely during a lot of parts, though (just not the sex). Having been awake for almost 24 hours (and now pushing 26, yay!), I was a little cracked out, and add to that the adrenaline of watching a movie where the main characters form a triad, there’s a closeted gay dad, and men TOUCH each other in the triad and KISS each other? And I’m watching this WITH MY FAMILY and only my mom and grandmother know how RELEVANT this is, and they don’t even know the FULL story about how relevant it is to me? It was intense.
  • I was in a movie-theater full of people, all watching a movie that mirrored bits of my life and ideology. I felt judged. Not actively, of course, but…whenever people laughed at certain things, I felt like it was more personal than it “really” was. I felt really sad when people groaned at the gay dad–I knew they were groaning, not because he was cheating on his wife over and over, but because it was with younger men. My dad was one of the most audible groaners and I swear it hurt me to witness that. The groaning or laughing whenever any homosexual activity went on? Yes, I laughed a few times, out of sheer surprise, but not disgust or “hahaha, they’re GAY, ahahahaha.” I was also on edge–I was half-expecting to hear someone shout something derisive, or something about how they were all depraved. It didn’t happen, but I expected it to, and while the expectation is kind of realistic, that’s still really unfortunate (that I expected it at all, I mean). I was also nervous that I’d hear snide comments about the movie and the characters as I left the theater; I didn’t really want to deal with that. I can deal with straightforward shit that’s directed at me; those are easy to brush off. For some reason, though, the people who make comments in front of me degrading shit I love or believe in because they don’t know I love or believe in them? Those upset me.

https://i1.wp.com/farm4.static.flickr.com/3230/2677123765_5ef65609a5_o.jpg?w=620
YES. I met Paco, the one on the right. 🙂
The other one (Alfonso Bassave) is my favorite, though.
His nose…is so. good. I just want to nom it.

https://i0.wp.com/farm4.static.flickr.com/3079/2677124023_423e880c81_o.jpg?w=620
What. an adorable. smile. (the older man = ???)

https://i0.wp.com/www.fotogramas.es/var/ezflow_site/storage/images/peliculas/dieta-mediterranea/de-fogones-y-hombres/2620012-1-esl-ES/De-fogones-y-hombres_noticia_main.jpg?w=620
And some eyecandy–what a beautiful sight to behold. 🙂

Watch the trailer here!

KinkForAll Providence

If you’re sex-positive,

sex-curious,
&/or just plain sexy,

you should consider attending a KinkForAll.

What IS a KFA, you ask? To steal from the official website:

KinkForAll is an ad-hoc informational unconference on sexuality for anyone and everyone.

KinkForAll draws participants from an astounding range of sexuality-related communities. Anyone with the desire to learn or with something to contribute is welcome and invited to participate.

KinkForAll is an intense event with discussions, presentations, and interaction from all participants. There are no spectators, only participants. To attend, you must give a presentation or help out in some other way.

KinkForAll is an entirely free, open to the public event.

KinkForAll events aim to support participants face-to-face and to create shared knowledge with lasting benefit to humanity.

KinkForAll is inspired by and based upon the BarCamp community and unconference model.

————

I first got involved with KFA last autumn. I heard about KinkForAll (more specifically KFA Boston) from a friend and planned on attending. When the event last-minute lost its venue, I began actively working on helping make it happen and securing a venue at Brown. In the end, thanks to the efforts of many fantastic folk, we wound up keeping it in MA and holding it at Boston University. It was a rewarding, informational, and super fun experience, and I definitely wanted one to happen in Providence. So, we present to you KinkforAll Providence, happening February 6th at Brown University! 🙂

We’re currently in the early planning stages, but there is already groundwork laid out thanks to previous conferences and the clock is ticking. I highly encourage ANY and ALL of you to get involved, even if it’s in a small way. Every little bit helps, and THAT’S how these KFAs happen–thanks to the collective efforts of many people. So start clicking on links and exploring. I hope you’ll join us there. 🙂 If you have any questions, let me know. I’d be happy to answer them or direct you to the folks who can.

When ECON-speak fails, try Pokemon analogies

If you don’t know what the hell is going on with the economy and only know that it’s kinda majorly fucked, read on. (This article is resposted from HERE)

——

Economist Kevin Nguyen explains the country’s economic woes to his younger sister, using Pokémon as an analogy. Seriously.

The following is an actual conversation I had with my younger sister, Olivia. She likes to draw, play World of Warcraft, and now, she’s the only fourteen-year-old girl who understands the U.S. economic crisis.

Kevin: Have you been following the news?

Olivia: Yeah, I don’t really get it.

Kevin: Imagine that I let you borrow $50, but in exchange for my generosity, you promise to pay me back the $50 with an extra $10 in interest. To make sure you pay me back, I take your Charizard Pokémon card as collateral.

Olivia: Kevin, I don’t play Pokémon anymore.

Kevin: I’m getting to that. Let’s say that the Charizard is worth $50, so in case you decide to not return my money, at least I’ll have something that’s worth what I loaned out.

Olivia: Okay.

Kevin: But one day, people realize that Pokémon is stupid and everyone decides that the cards are overvalued. That’s right—everybody turned twelve on the same day! Now your Charizard is only worth, say, $25.

Olivia: Uh-huh.

Kevin: At the same time, you’re having trouble paying back the $60 you owe me. So what would you rather do: try and pay me back the $60 or just default and give me your $25 Charizard?

Olivia: I’d give you the Charizard.

Kevin: Exactly. Who wouldn’t? Now, the bank—I mean me—has lost $25 when I expected to make $10. What’s the lesson here?

Olivia: Pokémon is dumb.

Kevin: True, but keep going.

Olivia: That Pokémon cards might be worth less later than they are now?

Kevin: Close. You just can’t rely on them appreciating in value forever. There’s one other good lesson in this analogy.

Olivia: That you shouldn’t lend me money?

Kevin: A-ha, exactly right! You’re fourteen and have no source of income. What would convince me to lend you money if I’m not sure you can pay it back?

Olivia: Because you could’ve taken my $50 Charizard. So you could have either made $10 or gotten something worth what you gave me. If people didn’t realize Pokémon was dumb, then there was no way for you to lose anything.

Kevin: Now, instead of a loan of $50, imagine that it’s hundreds of thousands of dollars; then instead of a Pokémon card, it’s your house. The U.S.’s prosperity was built on the idea that real estate/Pokémon would never go down. Multiply this wishful thinking by thousands of people in America and you can see the scale of our problem.

Since you couldn’t pay me back, I can’t pay my bills and I can’t loan out any more money. Our country is dependent on the ability to borrow money.

Olivia: That doesn’t make any sense. If I borrow money from you, I’m going to spend it.

Kevin: Well, the idea is that you’ll spend it in a way that will make you more money in the future—like college or starting a business.

Olivia: Oh, okay. I have a question for you: did you use the Pokémon example because you think I’m a nerd?

Kevin: I just wanted to make it easy for you to understand.

Olivia: Fine. But stop telling people I play World of Warcraft. I’m totally over that.

Kevin: Don’t worry, Olivia. I used to be into way nerdier things. Have you heard of Magic: The Gathering?

Olivia: What the hell is that?

———–

A friend of mine said this was only half the picture, so I told him to take a crack at explaining it using the same analogy. This is what he came up with:

After loaning the $50 to his little sister and taking the Pokemon card as collateral, Kevin makes ten similar $50 loans to his sister’s friends, who each give him another Pokemon card as collateral. So, now he’s got $600 owed to him by ten different people, and an expected profit of $100. Kevin would like to make more Pokemon Read Moreloans, but he doesn’t have the cash available to do it.

Kevin’s solution is to go to Lyndsey. Lyndsey offers to buy Kevin’s right to collect the Pokemon loans from him for $550 — so that Kevin reduces his profit from $100 to $50, but now has the cash in hand to make more Pokemon loans. Lyndsey is betting that because Kevin has exercised good judgment as a lender and the Pokemon cards are expected to hold their value, she is pretty much assured of a $50 profit…

Meanwhile, Kevin continues to make Pokemon loans, and Lyndsey continues to buy up those loans from him in ten-loan packages. Now that he doesn’t have to bear the risk of the borrowers failing to pay him back, however, Kevin starts giving Pokemon loans to ANYONE. Random 12-year olds walk in off the street and ask him for loans, he hands out Read Morethe money, and then quickly turns around to sell the loans to Lyndsey.

Meanwhile, Lyndsey’s loan-buying strategy becomes popular. All of her friends start buying up Pokemon loans as well.

By the time that Lyndsey realizes that these borrowers are far riskier than she’d thought, Pokemons have been devalued. She is forced to shut down her loan securitization business, files for bankruptcy, and defaults on all of her debts to various other friends. But all of those other friends have made the same risky decisions, though, this causes a domino effect of ever-worsening unpaid debts within her entire social circle.