Sunday Share: Sexual Freedom Day

Thursday was Sexual Freedom Day sponsored by The Woodhull Freedom Foundation. I totally missed the ball on blogging in a timely fashion, though plenty of other bloggers posted some great commentaries (check out Sugarbutch, Sexuality Happens, Naked Confusion, and this list for some of what other people had to say). Then watch this video.

Then, join in on the Sunday Share. What does sexual freedom mean to you? Where do you feel you, or we, need more freedom?

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I’ll go first. Sexual freedom, to me, means the ability to participate in sexual behaviors that I want to participate in, with the partners I wish to be involved with, in a consensual manner. It means the choice to do what you want in bed.

I think freedom is needed in sexual education. Abstinence only doesn’t work. We should know that by now. We need the freedom to teach young people what they need, and want, to know. Also, I think the queer community as a whole needs to be more free when it comes to talking about safer sex. And I think we need to be more free to talk about kink and BDSM.

Sunday Share: Missing from Academia

As I prepare to go back to school, consider ideas for my thesis, and develop lesson plans for the course I am TAing, I’m inevitably considering the world of academia. Not that long ago, if you’d have told me I would aspire towards a career in academia, I would have laughed in your face. Now, I’m pretty fucking excited.

That’s not to say there aren’t things I want to change. Indeed, there are so many things I want to change.

That brings me to this week’s Sunday Share. What do you wish was different in our higher education system? What topics would you like to see enter the realm of academia?

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I’ll go first.

I wish our higher ed system put more emphasis on exploration and research at the lower levels. I feel like I spent too much of my undergraduate career regurgitating information, and now I’m expected to suddenly do independent research.

I wish their was more acceptance for diversity. As a TA, I’ll make sure to ask my students what names and gender pronouns they prefer, and then address them as they wish to be addressed. I want to foster an atmosphere of respect for everyone, whoever they are.

I wish there was more research on health issues, especially as they relate to transgendered people and, to a lesser extent, women. I think the health field is doing a better job at researching women’s issues or with female subjects, but that there is still a long way to come. Additionally, I wish “pop culture” was considered a more respectable area of study in Women’s Studies, Sociology, and the like.

Brainstorming

With graduate school orientation complete, my brain is swirling with ideas. It’s too early on a Saturday morning, I was up too late last night, and I can’t stop thinking. When all else fails, sometimes you have to get your thoughts out on paper (or as it may be in this digital age- get your thoughts out on the interwebs). And thus, I present some possible thesis and/or paper brainstorms. I’m not really looking for commentary on any of this, as I’m in the brainstorming stage. However, if you can think of any good resources on any of these topics, I’d love if you’d send them my way.

1) Body image of female gymnasts, not only at the elite level, but at the recreational, pre-competitive, compulsory, optional, and collegiate level. What do gymnasts think about their bodies? How do they compare themselves with other gymnasts, other athletes, and their peers in general? In what ways do they worry about their bodies? In what ways are they empowered by their bodies? Is there a standardized measure of body image that I can use to compare gymnasts with the larger female population? How does this compare with the representation of women gymnasts in the media (both “insider accounts” and popular media- like Make It Or Break It and youth fiction). While we are at it, how do gymnasts thoughts on their bodies differ from what coaches and/or parents expect

Challenges: human subjects approval, sample size, statistics.

2) The peformance of gender roles in the circus. Compare historical roles in traveling circuses to those in modern circus arts, a la Cirque du Soliel. Strong men v. graceful aerial artists. Was this intentional or coincedental? Did/Does this reflect society or shape society, or both? How does this clear deliniation of gender roles among circus artists compare with the bearded women and such of the traveling sideshows? What was the appeal of each? The beautiful and the grotesque?

Possible resources: Janet Davis (UT Austin) “The Circus Age: Culture and Society under the American Big Top” 2002, John Kasson, Peta Tait “Circus Bodies: Cultural Identity in Aerial Performance” 2005.

Consideration: UT Austin American Studies PhD? Someone in NC is doing work on this too.

3) Representation of transgender or non-“gender-conforming” individuals in popular media. It’s hard to think of trans- characters in mainstream media, but when they exist how are they shown? More interested in fictional characters than reality shows and talk shows.

Examples of the top of my head: Ru Paul’s Drag Race, Moira/Max from The L Word (is The L Word over-analyzed already?), Transamerica, Degrassi, Boys Don’t Cry. Do these representations reinforce stereotypes or show a range of expierences?

Possible resource: GLAAD

4) The discourse over “butch flight.”

Ah, maybe I can go back to sleep now.

Hump Day Happiness #10

It’s been forever since I did one of these. My apologies. It’s not that I haven’t been happy, but that I have been too busy and too happy to share with you. But without further ado, here are some things that may bring mid-week joy.

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I love kids. I love the brutal honesty of kids. And I love how sometimes kids have things better figured out than adults. If you’re anything like me, the blog most “In which I’m renamed by some kid” on “Can I help you, sir?” will bring a smile to your face.

Best part, “You’re not, like, a regular girl. You look like you’d want a cool name instead of a pretty one.”

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I’m never a fan of lunatic, homophobic protesters, so I almost feel bad for even featuring this picture. On the other hand, as justlikejessejames blogged, it’s a sign of the times.

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As reported on RNW (Radio Netherlands Worldwide), Dutch textbooks will soon feature same-sex couples. While Dutch schoolchildren learn about homosexuality in subjects like biology and history, same-sex couples will now be featured in the background of other school materials, just like people of different ethnicities or ability levels. Thus a math text might feature a same-sex couple shopping for groceries. I know I would have loved to see that ever in a school textbook.

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Sometimes A Softer World is just funny:

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Finally, my best friend recently made me an amazing CD entitled “Gender is Fun.” As I embark on the journey that is a graduate degree in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, I’ll need that reminder.

This song has been stuck in my head, not only for its catchy tune, but also its honest truth. “God Bless Ye Femmy Lesbians” by The Kinsey Sicks:

The pop-up-video thing is sorta amusing, but I think the song on its own is more amusing.

Sunday Share: Everything you always to know about sex (but were afraid to ask)

At a recent garage sale, I picked up the book Everything you always wanted to know about sex (but where afraid to ask) by David M. Reuben. While I have since learned that an “updated” edition was published in 1999, this copy bore the original 1969 copyright.

I excitedly showed it to my mother. “Look what I found,” I said, “This is going to be awesome.”

She picked it up, flipped to the front cover, and laughed,  “My mom and step-dad had this on the bookshelf. My sisters and I would steal it and look things up.”

I expected some major differences. After all, this book was written in the pre-AIDS era. It was published the year of the Stonewall Riots. Sodomy laws were still on the books in every state except Illinois. It was before Roe v. Wade. The pill had been on the market for less than a decade.

In some ways, I was impressed. Reuben said that sex was three different experiences: a means f  procreation, a means of expressing love, and fun. Throughout the text, he encouraged sex for pleasure as a natural part of the human experience.  He argued that there was nothing wrong with the elderly having sex, and that it might, indeed, be beneficial. In some ways he was incredibly progressive, for example, suggesting that prostitution be legalized and monitored. He called modern sex education a joke and called for sex ed that included information not only on the physiology of procreation, but the physiology of orgasm. He viewed masturbation as a normal part of life, saying the only problem with masturbation  is our shame in it. Furthermore, he adamantly supported the availability of medical abortions and a strong supporter of a variety of birth control methods. Indeed, he even predicted the future, saying:

“What is needed is a retrospective method of conception control. In Japan, where birth control pills are not available, legal abortion fulfills that need. Modern chemistry is struggling to come up with a better way. The ideal drug is a morning-after pill. Taken anytime up to a week or so after intercourse, it would prevent the implantation in the uterus of the fertilized egg. With seven days to think of over, reason might prevail, parents might be a little happier, the children who are born might be loved a little more, and the world might be a little less crowded.”

But that is where my positive review ends. Even for being written forty years ago, some of the information is quite offensive and biased, not to mention downright wrong. I dog-eared the corners of the pages that hit a nerve. Probably half of the book is marked.

The male-bias is un-ending, the anti-women comments are rampant, and all homosexuals are promiscuous, danger-seekers who want to be women.

A few favorite bits:

“If the woman finds that achiving orgasm is only a matter of finding the “right” penis, she may decide to do something about it. The common name for this is nymphomania. The woman, unaware of the real nature of her problem, goes from man to man, cocktail party to cocktail party, looking for “real satisfaction.”

“Homosexuals thrive on danger. It almost seems part of their sexual ritual.”

“There is even a subcategory of homosexual know as the “S and M.” This is the one type of gay guy the others fear. Rarely will any homosexual knowingly pick up an “S and M. (“S and M” ? What does that mean?) Technically, sadist and masochist. Literally, trouble. These who combine homosexuality with sadistic and masochistic aberrations are among the cruelest people who walk this earth.”

I could go on with racist, sexist, and homophobic remarks from the book, but I will stop.

While I have not purchased the updated edition, and likely will not, I did browse through it on Google Books. While there is far more accurate and updated information on some topics, like abortion and STDs, the homophobic and sexist language remains. Clearly free speech is free speech, and a book can be biased against homosexuality. From an academic perspective, the 1969 text and the changes that have and have not been made say a lot about our society.

And so, this brings me to my Sunday Share. This book was a huge hit in its time. According to the all-reliable Wikipedia, it was the most popular non-fiction book of its era. For those of us in our 20s now, our parents would have been older children or teens when this book came out. How do you think the sex education your parents grew up with differed from the sex education that you received? How does this help explain, or complicate, the differences in you and your parents sexual  attitudes?

Note: The Sunday Share is a new idea of mine. I want to hear your thoughts, and this is to encourage you to share, whoever and wherever you are. Share publicly, share anonymously, or share under a fake name. I don’t care. Just share.

Danzy Senna on Identity Politics

I’ve already talked about the book To Be Real a few times. One of my favorite essays was the introductory piece by Danzy Senna, also titled “To Be Real.” In it, she talks about trying to find an “authentic” identity to maker her real. She explored the search for a “neat culture box.”

She writes:

“I was left with only questions. To Be or Not to Be: black, Negro, African-American, feminist, femme, mulatto, quadroon, lesbian, straight, bisexual, lipstick, butch bottom, femme top, vegetarian, carnivore? These political identities let me into the maze of American identity politics, and hopefully out the other side.”

I’ve been trying for months to come up with something clever to say about this essay I very much enjoyed. I’ve been searching for some intelligent discourse on the appeal and danger of identity politics. Something about how we are always more than we seem. How we each exist at the sum of all of our identities. Something about how making the boxes too small pushes others out.

I’ve been thinking about this more today, 9 years after the September 11, 2001. With a lunatic threatening to burn Korans and American up in arms over the place of Muslims in American society, it seems more important than ever to remember that people are more than symbols, or labels, or movements.

Needless to say, I still haven’t formed my coherent thoughts. Instead, I will just share the concluding part of her essay.

“…it is not my “half-breed” lipstick-carrying feminist muddle that is too complicated, but identity politics which are too simplistic, stuck in the realm of the body, not the realm of belief and action. I have become suspicious of kente clothe and womyn symbols, the sale and mass consumption of cultural artifacts. My yearning to be real has led me in circles, to red herrings called identity, those visible signifiers of liberation that can be bought and sold as easily as any other object. Breaking free of identity politics has not resulted in political apathy, but rather it has given me an awareness of the complexity and ambiguity of the world we have inherited- and the very real power relations we must transform.”

Word Search: He/She/Ze, Boyfriend/Girlfriend/???

One of my friends, Lo, is dating someone who prefers gender neutral pronouns. That is simple enough. She will say, “Ze called me this morning” or “I need to call zir back.”

Lo was talking about her relationship and I noted that she kept using the term “my boyfriend.” I asked her why, and she admitted that she didn’t know what else to use.

We discovered a language problem.

In a relationship where one person identifies as something other than male or female, “boyfriend” or “girlfriend” do not work. We decided that the terms “partner” and “significant other” seem too formal and imply a degree of longevity or commitment that might not be there. Omitting the gender and simply referring to them as “friend” denies the shared relationship. “Special friend” sounds ridiculous.

And so, we are posing a question. What terminology exists to acknowledge a relationship with someone who identifies as genderqueer or otherwise outside of the binary? Is there a good word to say “Ze is my ____”? If not, let’s make one up. What would you suggest?

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