In addition to teaching workshops and traveling everywhere, one of my other major jobs recently has been working as the Media Chair on the board of BUTCH Voices, gearing up for the 2013 national conference. It’s starting to pick up—we’ve got a lot of stuff going on, and there will just be more between here & the conference.
Most notably, the BUTCH Voices website has a facelift!
Doesn’t it look great? I wish I’d taken a full-screen screenshot of the old website, it looks so different. I’m now the web editor there, and still looking for folks to work with me on the Media Team. I’m really excited about the conference and this is a unique opportunity to work behind the scenes to make it happen, and gain some experience and expertise in the web and media fields.
Media Team (Reports to the Media Chair)
Benefits include: cultivating butch community, discounted entrance into the BUTCH Voices 2013 National Conference in August, service to your community, volunteer time, media experience of all kinds (social media, web content management, print media), working directly with Sinclair, and more!
You should be: masculine of center identified, trans-positive, coming from an anti-oppression framework; have some time to volunteer, self-motivated, able to work on tight deadlines, have a reliable computer & internet access where you can stay in touch at least on a weekly basis.
Tasks include, but aren’t limited to:
- Responsible for completing tasks relating to the website, social media (Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, etc), newsletter
- Design components for print and web using BUTCH Voices branding standard colors, fonts, and logos
- Respond promptly and keep in contact
- Available for last-minute tasks and able to complete assignments within 24-48 hours
- Timely and efficient, hard working, able to take direction and ask for clarification, able to work in a team environment digitally from a home office
- Reliable internet access, computer access; some HTML skills, WordPress, CMS, text editing, Photoshop, and graphic design skills are a plus
- Keen eye for detail
Interested? Contact me, email@example.com, with your resume and a few brief paragraphs about why you’d like the job and what you can offer. I’m excited to get this team going, to practice my management skills, and to make the BUTCH Voices 2013 conference excellent.
Unless you’re up on the sexual assault news from random neighborhoods in the New York City area, you probably don’t know about this, but there have been more than a dozen sexual assaults and attempted assaults in my neighborhood and nearby in the past few months. Safe Slope.org has some info about what’s going on—I don’t know a ton of the details without looking them up again, though they have been covered on many of the big blogs, like Brokelyn and Gothamist.
I first heard about it not through the media or through word of mouth, but by seeing signs up at stores around my apartment, with things like, “WARNING! Sexual Assaults Are Happening In This Neighborhood. Protect Yourself.” And then messy things started happening, like the police told women who were walking in those neighborhoods in short skirts that they shouldn’t wear things like that.
I know. I know. I don’t even know what to say about that. And I probably don’t have to, because you probably know just what is wrong about it. I do too, it’s just that my anger and frustration bubbles up and makes me go “ARGH!” instead of having articulate things to say.
Slut Walk NYC happened shortly after that, and there were some speak outs in my neighborhood, but none of which I ended up attending, mostly because of timing and not because of my lack of interest. (I can’t do it all.) I hope this was spoken of frequently at those events.
Lately, more “Protect Yourself From Sexual Assault” posters have been showing up in this neighborhood as businesses, self-defense classes, and community organizers start creating protection and help around these assaults.
While I understand that these “Protect Yourself!” tactics are because we, the majority of us, feel helpless when faced with stories of assault, and what we can do is attempt to defend ourselves, since we have no control over what the perpetrators do—I still think things like that perpetuate rape culture. They teach us that we, the potential victims, need to be the ones who are on guard. We don’t do that with other types of crime, and sexual assault is about more than sex, it’s about power, and there is so much sexism, slut-shaming, and control of women’s bodies wrapped up in this one thing. It’s hard to even begin to untangle it all.
I walked past one outside of my gym a few days ago and had the urge to create a counter-poster, one that says something like this:
Ten rape prevention tips:
1. Don’t put drugs in women’s drinks.
2. When you see a woman walking by herself, leave her alone.
3. If you pull over to help a woman whose car has broken down, remember not to rape her.
4. If you are in an elevator and a woman gets in, don’t rape her.
5. When you encounter a woman who is asleep, the safest course of action is to not rape her.
6. Never creep into a woman’s home through an unlocked door or window, or spring out at her from between parked cars, or rape her.
7. Remember, people go to the laundry room to do their laundry. Do not attempt to molest someone who is alone in a laundry room.
8. Use the Buddy System! If it is inconvenient for you to stop yourself from raping women, ask a trusted friend to accompany you at all times.
9. Carry a rape whistle. If you find that you are about to rape someone, blow the whistle until someone comes to stop you.
10. Don’t forget: Honesty is the best policy. When asking a woman out on a date, don’t pretend that you are interested in her as a person; tell her straight up that you expect to be raping her later. If you don’t communicate your intentions, the woman may take it as a sign that you do not plan to rape her.
That’s reprinted from the blog Can You Relate … I’m not sure this is the original source of these, since this post is from May of this year and I’m pretty sure I saw a list just like this make the rounds a few years back, but it seems to be frequently referenced.
I know it’s not the answer. But I’m not sure what else I can create time to contribute to this current issue that is happening in my neighborhood, that scares me and my girlfriend when we walk home after dark (and it is getting darker earlier and earlier). Kristen and I keep talking about it, and often our conclusion is, we just have to put this out of our minds, because if we thought about it, we’d go nuts with worry. And that is a lousy way to live.
There are various groups doing good things, organizing bike escorts, safe walks home, dog patrols. Thank you, all of you who are doing that. I’m not doing much, but at least I can throw a post up here, tell you that I’ve been thinking about it, and ponder my own place in the healing of this huge cultural and societal wound.
So this month, Scarleteen has had a Fund Raiser and Blog Carnival coordinated by AAG going ’round the sex blogs. Dozens of writers and bloggers and sex-positive forward thinking folks took part, just take a look at the list here
You probably already know about Scarleteen. I certainly mention that site frequently here. Here’s the description:
Scarleteen has been the premier online sexuality resource for young people worldwide since 1998, and has the longest tenure of any sex education resource for young people online. We have consistently provided free, inclusive, comprehensive and positive sex education, information and one-on-one support to millions, and have never shied away from discussing sexuality as more than merely posing potential risks, but as posing potential benefits, something rarely seen in young adult sex education. We built the online model for teen and young adult sex education and have never stopped working hard to sustain, refine and expand it.
Sometimes I feel like I’m preaching to the choir when I say that teen sex education is important, and that beyond that reliable information about sex available for anyone and everyone on the internet is also important. I go there frequently when I need to look up the details of STIs, for example. It’s a great resource for all kinds of things, and the testimonials from teens and folks who have been users and contributors to the site for years are very moving. They have a whole community, people talking to each other and taking care of each other and sending love and information to each other honestly and openly. That kind of interaction and information is invaluable.
In 2009 and 2010, Scarleteen has had around 1 million overall hits to the site each day from an average of 25,000 unique users daily. And you know, I don’t think it’s that much of a stretch to say that sites like this, with frank and real and honest and non-judgmental resources about sexuality, kink, sexual orientation, gender identity, and relationships, can and have had real impact on the complicated and sometimes life-threatening teenage years of folks with marginalized genders and sexualities. Sex education saves lives, at best, and absolutely changes lives.
Scarleteen is very undersupported financially. We always need more financial support and I would very much appreciate having yours. I think we do a fantastic, important job, think we have for many years, and I intend to do all I can for us to keep doing that job for many more to come so we can remain a place young people know they can come back to, and don’t have to worry about passing in the night when a media or cultural tide shifts. I think Scarleteen and all that happens at Scarleteen is very worthy of being supported and sustained. To make that happen, we need more than just my own stubborn and dogged commitment and that of our volunteers: it also takes some dollars. (Quoted from Heather’s post on Scarleteen.)
Thanks to some generous donors, up to $2,000 in donations will now be matched for donations made from today until Saturday the 20th. If you’ve got an extra few bucks, now’s the time to toss ‘em toward an organization that does some important work.
I’m completely femme and work in a very straight environment. A few of my co-workers know that I’m gay, but I haven’t come out to all of them, and I’ve been at this work place for a year. I don’t usually hide my sexuality, but it’s been extremely hard for me to relax at this workplace. I hate that, and my partner is somewhat hurt that I haven’t been open about it and talked about her. I want to be able to do so, and I want to be strong in myself and come out with it. Any ideas on how to do it? The longer I wait the more awkward it is.—Tuesday, from tuesdayateleven.blogspot.com
It’s been months since you wrote this, so this might be an outdated question at this point—have you changed things? Did you start slipping your partner into conversation more frequently? Did you out-right come out? Did you let it leak to the office gossip?
Telling your co-workers things about your personal life can be tricky, especially since you’ve already been there for a year and you still haven’t said anything, because now, when the reveal happens, it will seem out of place. So how do you start bridging this gap between yourself and your co-workers, such that you can reveal more personal things? Maybe it’s time to have a happy hour after work, or host a weekend event, if you’re comfortable doing those things. Maybe it’s time to invite someone out to lunch and open up a little about your lives.
You don’t have to start with, “By the way, I’m gay,” you might want to start with the more impersonal. In The Art of Civilized Conversation, Margaret Shepherd says that conversations start with facts, then to opinions, then on to feelings. There are a lot of facts you can gather about each other that I bet you don’t have, if you’ve avoided any discussion of your partner so far. Where do you live? Where did you go to school? Where did you grow up? What’s your family like? Why did you move to where you are now? What do you do in your spare time, what are your hobbies?
I think it’s also in that book that she says the way people deepen with each other is to start revealing little things about themselves in the conversation, and then guaging the reaction of the other to see if it’s safe to continue revealing.
My mom always used to say, “Find common ground, then elevate the discussion.” See if finding some common ground about other topics makes you feel more comfortable talking about more personal things. Ask questions of them, too—as you find out more about them, you might feel more safe revealing things about yourself.
I kind of hate to say this, so I’ll tack it on at the end here, but it also could be that you are dealing with a little bit of internalized sexism, and some complicated feelings about your own femme in/visibility. I don’t know you, so this could be happening a teeny tiny bit or a ton or not at all, but I figured it’s worth throwing out there because I spent the last few paragraphs on one direction, but it might not have anything to do with that. You might be a very open, revealing person in the workplace, but have this particular snag when it comes to your own sexual orientation visibility. That’s a complicated thing to work with, as a femme who can, if she chooses, “pass” for a straight girl in the larger hetero world. There are many ways that femmes construct identity which are not strictly through visual markers, however, and articulating that identity—namely through speech and communication—is a big one. It might be a hurdle to examine and investigate in yourself a little more.
What say you all? Do you have more advice for this person in coming out at work? Are you out at work?
I’m working on a longer essay about the recent teen gay suicides but meanwhile, here’s some more headlines and information about things that are coming in. Read them. Ponder what you can do.
- October 1st: 19-Year-Old Gay College Student Raymond Chase Commits Suicide. “Raymond Chase was a person who liked Harry Potter and Rugrats and was a member of the popular facebook group “I cant spell “bananas” without singing hollaback girl.” He’s not number five in a week of suicides, he’s a unique special person with friends and family who are devastated by his loss. He’s a gay college kid who sure seems happy but not that day, or maybe he’d never been, and something happened or something had always happened and he couldn’t do it. His facebook bio is short and simple: “I like to laugh, I like to have fun, and I’m gay.””
I count number 6, actually, but many articles I see are reporting 5. Beautiful writing from Autostraddle, definitely read this one.
- September 27th: Ohio’s Tyler Wilson, 11, Gets Arm Broken By Classmate For Being a Cheerleader: “Tyler Wilson, an 11-year-old sixth grader in Findlay, Ohio had his arm broken Aug. 31 by a footballer-playing classmate at Glenwood Middle School after he and another boy began fighting with Tyler and calling him a sissy. How come? Because he joined a cheerleading squad.” The two boys responsible are now facing assault charges.
- On Velvetpark: Judy Shepard: We Must All Protect Youth from Suicide: “Our young people deserve better than to go to schools where they are treated this way. We have to make schools a safe place for our youth to prepare for their futures, not be confronted with threats, intimidation or routine disrespect. … Quite simply, we are calling one more time for all Americans to stand up and speak out against taunting, invasion of privacy, violence and discrimination against these youth by their peers, and asking everyone in a position of authority in their schools and communities to step forward and provide safe spaces and support services for LGBT youth or those who are simply targeted for discrimination because others assume they are gay. There can never be enough love and acceptance for these young people as they seek to live openly as their true selves and find their role in society.”
- September 30th: On The Stranger’s Slog: Why Are So Many Gay Kids Killing Themselves? Maybe it has something to do with shit like this: “La Crosse police are investigating accusations the reigning Riverfest commodore shoved a 14-year-old girl carrying a gay pride flag just before Saturday’s Maple Leaf parade.”
- what are you doing right now to make the world safer for gay/queer/trans youth? if the answer is nothing, change that today.—dora
September 30th: Ellen’s statement about it on her show: “Things will get easier. Minds will change. And you should be alive to see it.”
Anderson Cooper smacks down the assistant Attorney General of Michigan for harassing and stalking the openly gay president of the the University of Michigan: “I looked up the definition of ‘cyber bully,’ and that fits what you’re doing. Do you consider yourself a cyber bully?” “Do you consider yourself a bigot? Merriam-Webster defines bigot as … ” “Are you aware that your boss thinks you’re immature?” Wow, sometimes I just adore Cooper. It’s so clear that the other guy has no ability for logic or consistency or integrity in his speech or life … what a sad, sad way to live. At least this is a little bit uplifting.
More soon. Lots of thoughts rolling around in my head about what we can do, what I can do, what needs to happen, what must change. Meanwhile, I’m in Portland for Butch Voices, and trying to keep my shit together.
- September 9th: Billy Lucas, 15, in Indiana, killled himself over anti-gay bullying.
- September 13th: Cody Barker, 17, in Wisconsin, killed himself over anti-gay bullying.
- September 18th: Seth Walsh, 13, in California, hanged himself over to anti-gay bullying, then spent ten days on life support before being pronounced dead on September 28th.
- September 23rd: Asher Brown, 13, in Houston, TX, killed himself over to anti-gay bullying.
- September 29th: Tyler Clementi, 18, of Ridgewood, NJ is presumed dead after jumping from the George Washington Bridge after being humiliated online for his sexual orientation.
That’s five. Five people, five boys, who could have grown up to be part of our world, part of our community, part of gay activism, or who could have, at the very least, grown up. Five boys since school started less than a month ago.
This isn’t new, of course. That’s On July 9th, Justin Aaberg, 15, in Minnesota killed himself over to anti-gay bullying. His mom is attempting some activism in dealing with her grief, but clearly we need more.
Whatever we’ve been doing isn’t working well enough yet, because this keeps happening.
I don’t really know what to say about it, I’m just moved by these stories rolling in, and Kristen, a former middle school teacher, has been upset about it all day, and we’ve been thinking.
Here’s some resources I found, places working on specifically this issue.. If you’ve got money to throw their way, and if you’re moved and shocked and outraged and sad like I am, I’m sure they would not mind your support.
- I’m From Driftwood: true stories by gay people from all over
- The Trevor Project: help prevent teen suicide by promoting mental health and positive self-esteem. Nationwide 24/7 online chat or phone hotline 866-488-7386 for gay youth.
- The brilliant book, Hello, Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide for Teens, Freaks, and Other Outlaws by Kate Bornstein (aka Auntie Kate). Read it, if you haven’t. Give it to a teacher you know. Send it to your high school’s librarian. Put it in the hands of those who need it. See also hellocruelworld.net and #stayalive.
- Dan Savage and his partner Terry have launched the It Gets Better project, which is a fancy way to say they have a YouTube channel asking for video submissions to gay youth telling them that it gets better. I know things don’t just magically “get better,” and that there are many, many factors keeping people oppressed, but it is so important that kids hear that life goes on, gets better, changes, that there is support out there for us. Below is Dan & Terry’s kickoff video.
What else? What can we do? What are you doing?
The Woodhull Freedom Foundation is hosting the first annual National Sexual Freedom Day today, and along with in person events in Washington, DC, there is a blog carnival you can participate in if you feel inspired to write about sexual rights and freedom.
The questions are: What does sexual freedom as a human right mean to you? and What legislative or social changes would you like to see to promote sexual freedom?
There are very few things we humans have in common. Our cultures clash, we speak different languages, we hold opposing values, we worship contradictory gods—but all of us have a body. All of us have a body with similar patterns, something vaguely person-shaped, with variable configurations of skin and size and style, with varying degrees of stamina and strength. We don’t all like to do the same things with our bodies, but we are all born, and we all die. We all experience the world through the confines of this corporeal flesh, these five senses, these minds, this aging process, these fascinating ways that our various systems—digestive, nervous, circulatory, respiratory, reproductive, endocrine—constantly work to maintain.
What we do with our bodies while we are here, while we have this lifetime to explore this world, is our choice. It is, in fact, our defining choice; what makes our lives truly ours.
The details are as variable as there are people on this planet—our genders, our sexualities, fashion tastes, what we do for work, what we do for fun, what sensations are enjoyable, how our senses function, what pleases our eyes or ears or mouths or fingertips. But that’s the fun part, isn’t it? That’s the part we get to make up as we go along, that’s the part that we get to change as frequently as we like, that’s the part we get to constantly be curious about and explore, every morning when we wake.
Some of us discovered young that we are sexual beings. That when we come, we tap in to energy beyond ourselves, we release through our muscles in ways that are inaccessible otherwise, we feel connected to ourselves, our lovers, the world around us.
The tantric belief is that this fire, this energy that we tap into when we are sexual is life itself, is life force itself, is not just sexual energy, but all energy. Sure, there are plenty of other ways to tap into that life force than to have sex—but for some of us, sex is the most fun, the most rewarding, the most liberating exploration or hobby that we can have.
Remember Dedee in the 1998 film The Opposite of Sex: “It was clever of God or evolution or whatever to hook the survival of the species to [sex], because we’re gonna screw around.” Screwing around is hardwired in these bodies of ours, especially when our hormones get going. That’s what our bodies crave, want, desire. I’m beginning to think that using sex to sell all that advertising isn’t solely as nasty or manipulative as the feminist theory says it is. Yes, this culture uses sex to sell irrelevant things, but there’s something else underneath that: everything really is about sex.
And for some of us, for me, for example, when I’m not having it, I think about it constantly. I want to know where it’ll happen next, who it will be with. I obsess, I write, I think. I crave the release that my body and mind goes through when relating to another person—another body—that way. I crave someone who is particularly aligned to my orientation so that we can fit together like puzzle pieces and start lifting each other up, taking each other higher, pushing each other’s boundaries, making it safe to do things and explore things that we haven’t otherwise done before, or perhaps that we have, but want to do again.
That’s where the body comes in: when we can strip away all of the crap that culture shoves on us about sex, all of the conflicting messages, all of the virgin/whore dichotomies, all of the macho masculinity size-king bullshit, all of the shame and guilt for our desires, we can start listening to our bodies, really listening, to what bubbles up from inside. What would feel good right now? Full body rope bondage? A Whartenberg wheel? Melting wax dripped all over your back? A really good, hard fucking, just taking your body, using it, with disregard to your pleasure? Impulsive, public displays of affection? Kissing, and more kissing, and more kissing?
What does your body crave?
I think most of us can barely answer this question honestly. Most of us would have to dig through too many layers of shame and symbols and bravado and performance to get down to what we are really craving, what we really desire, what our bodies are truly asking for.
To be able to get down to that craving, then to articulate that craving, then to have someone we could safely confide in about that craving, then to actually play with that craving—that is sexual freedom.
It could be as simple as knowing that my body is asking for a glass of water, or knowing that it’s time to rest, or it could be as complex as a type of relationship, or the physical location on the planet where I build my home. There are dozens of things related to our inabilities to listen to our bodies deepest desires, and yet so much of what keeps us from that skill is sexual shame.
What change would I like to see come of this? I would like to see people listening to their bodies. There is no way to put that through legislation, exactly. Perhaps there are more round-about ways, and for that I admire politicians who are capable of speaking the languages of government and instating laws of protection and celebration.
But the rest of us …
I think we need to keep listening, way down deep, letting desires bubble up, and practice speaking them aloud, or at least saying them to ourselves, writing them down. I want to see us all making choices which honor our unique experiences and move our bodies down the paths of our lives with less violence, less shame, less fear, less confusion, less suffering. I want to see us celebrating the deep knowing of who we are, where we’ve come from, where we’re going, who we are walking the paths with. I want to see us learn from BDSM groups and teachings about body safety, playing safely, teachings like Safe Sane Consensual or Risk Aware Consensual Kink. I want to see us learn from feminist theory about the sexualization of little girls and the commodification of women and the belittling of the power of our sexualities. I want to see us learn from trans and genderqueer communities about what is “real” and what is constructed, and keep unraveling what it means to be a human being in this world.
There has been much change in the past ten years since I’ve been heavily involved in sexual activism and studying my own culture, trying to explain the reasons so many of us are so messed up about our bodies and about our sexualities. I know there’s more change to come, and I believe this work, organizing National Sexual Freedom Day or writing online about sex and gender or exploring some new toys to enhance your own sexual play or becoming curious about your own body’s inner desires all comes down to the tiniest of moments, the tiniest of changes, in listing to oneself, and taking one’s inner wishes seriously.
What say you, folks? What does sexual freedom as a human right mean to you?
Most of the time, I exist in a pretty happy little liberal sex-positive bubble, and I don’t quite understand what the big deal is. “You’re brave,” people tell me. Yeah, sure, it takes some guts and shamelessness to put my sex life out in public, and more so to put my emotional life out in (password-protected) public, but generally, I don’t feel the wall I’m coming up against.
Sometimes, though, I feel it hard.
If you run in the same blog circles that I do, or if you follow me on Twitter, or if you’ve been following my Google Reader shared items, you probably know about the accusations made by Donna M. Hughes and Margaret Brooks against the KinkForAll conferences in general and maymay in particular. I’ve shared many of maymay’s posts, re-tweeted many of his links and comments, and have generally just been sitting here staring at my screen with my jaw dropped, feeling like a bowling ball got dropped into my stomach.
Oh. Right. Standing up for sex education, sexuality rights, and sexual freedom can be fucking scary. There’s a reason why we have to stand up for it, and work for it: because it doesn’t exist en mass, because it only exists in small pockets, and because there is an entire system out there trying to keep it shame-based and repressed.
It’s not like this is the first time I’ve had this revelation. It keeps happening, over and over, yet somehow it surprises me every time.
This past March, for example, I attended KinkForAll Providence in Rhode Island at Brown University, and I heard the entire story of how Megan Andelloux’s Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health was barred from opening and kept in bureaucratic red tape for nearly a year. Megan told the entire story of how she fought and what happened, and how she finally did open the Center (which is beautiful and so much fun, by the way, I highly highly encourage you to stop by if you’re ever in the area), which again gave me that bowling-ball-in-my-stomach feeling.
I won’t recount the story here, I couldn’t tell it like she can anyway. Go watch the video, it’s worth it, seriously.
I’m so glad she opened the Center. I’m thrilled to hear the stories of how it’s working, who she’s been helping, how she’s been an open and honest resource for sexuality education. It made me so nervous to hear her story, to witness the amount of power someone in opposition of sexuality education could possibly wield, and to see, yet again, that it is a radical thing to promote happy, healthy sexuality.
God, that just makes me so angry.
I have no idea what an adequate response on my part could be. I feel a little paralyzed, to be honest. I know I should feel the fear and do it anyway but I can’t help but thinking, I was at KinkForAll Providence. In fact, I just had a workshop at Brown University last week! I could be targeted, too. And that is fucking frightening.
Maymay has been writing amazingly beautiful, transparent posts about this topic, and I highly encourage you to read them if you haven’t already. Or re-read them, if you have. I am incredibly inspired by his transparency, and his ability to summarize something clearly and consistently. Did you see the ways he broke down Donna M. Hughes and Margaret Brooks’ concerns over the KinkForAll unconferences?
He’s been encouraging everyone to stand against stigma and others, like Essin’ Em, have written lovely pieces in response. I’ve had a piece of my own brewing for weeks now, but sometimes I can’t quite get past the fear involved in putting Donna M. Hughes and Margaret Brooks’ names on my own site—it seems like an invitation to be on their hit list, doesn’t it? What if they come after me next?
I’m trying to be honest there, but I know it sounds pretty selfish. And to take it one step farther, to attack Megan and maymay—and Aida, who chairs The Sexuality Health Education and Empowerment Council (SHEEC) at Brown and is doing fantastic work up there!—and our beautiful, important community of educators and healers, is to attack me. I have already been attacked. Is there more they could do? Probably. Is that scary? Absolutely.
But will I let it stop me? No.
I guess my point is just, this work is hard. There are real consequences, in this conservative culture that can incite sex panic at any given moment, and what used to be a happy little PG project suddenly is misconstrued as the equivalent of child pornography and abuse. I want this work to be safer. I want it to be totally acceptable for sexuality educators to open a center, or for educators to host and (un)organize conferences around sexuality and the intersection with the rest of life. I want everyone to know how their bodies and parts and pleasure works. I want us all to have access to the kind of information we are curious to know about. Seems like a pie-in-the-sky dream sometimes, but instances like these attacks and accusations solidify my goals and purposes all the more. It continues to prove that we need this, this culture needs this, these people need this, and it can be transformative in beautiful, blossoming ways.
Fast forward to this week, and I now hear that Aida has invited Donna M. Hughes and Margaret Brooks to come to a panel at Brown University on Sex Panic! When Educators Are Censors. Here’s the information about the panel below. If you’re anywhere near Rhode Island, I highly encourage the travel, it’s going to be worth it. (I really want to be there, I’m trying to move some things around, I already have an obligation that day.)
Sex Panic!: When Educators Are Censors
a panel and Q&A session moderated by Brown Professor of History and Brazilian Studies Jim N. Green, author of Beyond Carnival: Male Homosexuality in Twentieth-Century Brazil
Free and open to the public!
Tuesday, May 4th @ 6:00 pm
in Smith-Buonanno Hall, Room 106
95 Cushing Street, Providence, RI 02906
This event is co-sponsored by: SHEEC and QCC
Aida Manduley: SHEEC Chairperson
Megan Andelloux: Certified sexologist and sex educator
Reid Mihalko: Brown alum and presenter on sex and relationships
Meitar Moscovitz: Community organizer and technology professional
Ricky Gresh: Senior director for Student Engagement at Brown University
What would you do if your organization were criticized for following through with its mission statement? What if you were publicly denigrated, misrepresented, and harassed for your work? What if educators themselves were trying to hamper your attempts at education? Finally, who should have a say in a college student’s sex education?
Read Aida’s direct letter to Donna M. Hughes and Margaret Brooks, inviting them to the panel, and take a look at maymay’s mention of the upcoming panel, too.
I feel like this is so important. I don’t really know what my own path of sexuality education or sex writing looks like, I don’t know where this Sugarbutch job will take me, but I do plan to keep doing it. When panic like this comes up, when accusations and attacks are made, I want to be part of a community that can rally around each other, stand strong, and fight back if necessary. I want to be a part of that protection, to continue to protect my own work and the important work of those around me.
Because I know just how badly we need this work, and this is just further sign of how much work there is, still, to do.
After hearing about the fake prom that Constance McMillen was sent to last week, I ranted a bit about what was next in that string of activsm. Many readers had fantastic comments and I want to highlight a couple here:
AllysonIvy said: “What can we do? Join in the movement that’s already happening. Work to get non-discrimination laws passed. ENDA would change so much on the federal level. My state (Tennessee) not only excludes LGBT people from protection against housing and employment discrimination, but has a Democratic candidate for governor who supports an adoption ban. We need federal protection, and we can all work for that. 150,000 people marched on Washington in October. Arrests were made recently when activists protested both DADT and ENDA in Washington. They were speaking up. We speak up in order to make a change. … We need to pay attention to her, sure.. but we also need to pay attention to DADT, DOMA, and ENDA. We need to pay attention to the fact that a man in Oklahoma who was denied the right to have a license plate that says “I’m Gay” was found dead a few weeks ago after having reported threats against his life. We need to pay attention to the fight for gay marriage in all states, not just California. … Southern queers are an amazing bunch. I can say with experience that we are strong as hell. We are strong as hell, and we fight hard. I welcome everyone to join us.”
Sarah quotes Izzy Pellegrine on Feministing: “My name is Izzy Pellegrine and I’m a founding member of the Mississippi Safe Schools Coalition, a group that has been working for two years to promote LGBT student rights in MS. MSSC has been working with Constance for months to help organize her fellow students and educate members of her community. We’re hosting our annual Second Chance Prom in her city and opening it up to all young people in the state. (And this is no seven person event!!) Check us out at www.mssafeschools.org”
ayellowdog said: “we MUST be aggressive with the government – especially at the federal level. We must make sure that the government is not allowed to forget that there is a huge portion of the citizenry of this country that is not being treated equally and thus is always at risk. We must demand to have it made clear that the 14th amendment includes us too. Legislation for the protection of our rights is crucial, obviously, and we should all work in whatever way we can to make it happen as comprehensively and quickly as possible. However, we will never be able to legislate the opinions of others. Opinions must be swayed, nudged, gradually overcome by the opinion-holders themselves. And this kind of change can only occur if we are strong enough to live among those who think they fear and hate us, usually because they don’t know any better, to befriend them in spite of themselves, to share a common world with them, highlighting for them our common ground. Our (legitimate) defensive outrage at how we are allowed to be treated should be directed towards our elected officials. Everyone else should receive a genuine offer of friendship and goodwill.”
EliDeep recommended GetEqual (on Twitter at @getequal): “GetEqual was founded by Kip Williams and Robin McGehee, who both grew up in the South. Kip’s from Knoxville, and Robin is from Mississippi. I first heard Robin speak at the National Equality March in October. Her speech was the most touching to me because she told all us Southern queers that we weren’t forgotten. Often, the gay community writes off the South as a lost cause, and tells us to just move to more gay friendly places. This is NOT a solution.”
You can still contact the school superintendent and high school principal:
Itawamba County Schools Superintendent Teresa McNeece: firstname.lastname@example.org, 662-862-2159 ext. 14
Itawamba Agricultural High School principal Trae Wiygul: email@example.com, 662-862-3104
And a few more things:
- Donate to the ACLU LGBT Project
- Let Constance Take Her Girlfriend to Prom Facebook Page
- Sign the HRC petition to say I Stand With Constance McMillen
While I was kind of slow to follow the story, mostly because I thought, okay, wrong-doing that has made national news, clearly everybody else is going to jump in and take care of this and I don’t really have to, I’m kind of outraged by the recent update on Constance McMillan’s fight to go to her high school prom. She was told there was a prom, showed up with her date, where there were only 7 students, and some faculty and teachers. The location and time of the “real” prom, privately held, was kept from her.
I can kind of comprehend that that happened. I mean we’re talking about a school district, a small town, a state, which denied her access to the prom in the first place because of her sexuality and gender expression (with her request to wear a tux). I am not too surprised that they would hold another prom, that students—her peers and classmates and (supposedly?) friends—and parents would deliberately deny her access.
What I can’t comprehend is the shock of it all. Because when something like this happens, the experience of realizing reality isn’t quite what you expected it to be is what is shocking.
She won her court case. She was told there would be a (private) prom she could attend. She walked in, expecting that to be the case (at least, from what I can tell in the statements released so far, she expected that), only to find that she had been cast out, ostracized, again. That is such a shock for a person to sustain.
It’s like losing your job or having someone break up with you—you might think, yeah, we weren’t really that good together, but just the act of NOT SEEING IT COMING can make you feel nutso, and that reality somehow didn’t line up with your expectations is enough to make you lose your mind, just for a few minutes. But the recovery from that momentary loss can really be difficult. Because hey, if you didn’t see THAT coming, what else won’t you see coming? What else is going to just blindside you completely unexpectedly? And of course there’s no way to prepare for that kind of thing, but the mind doesn’t really comprehend that, only that if it happened once, we can learn from it, and prepare, in case it does happen again.
Here’s my question, now, though: what the hell can we do about this? What is the piece of adequate activism here? My first thought is that they MUST be doing something illegal, they must be crossing some line or committing some act of discrimination, because HELLO, they so clearly are.
But they threw a “prom.” Teachers and school administrators showed up at it, so it was a “real” event. That all the other students went somewhere else doesn’t have any legal ramification, somehow, right?
Because it is TOTALLY LEGAL to hold a separate prom. It is totally legal for people to hold private parties and not invite certain people, regardless of whether it is due to their gender identity, sexual orientation, race or ethnicity, or if you just simply don’t like that person. This is, in my understanding, how many of the segregated proms still exist and operate in the South: because they are private. And of course these events are products of a culture that makes it normal to have a segregated prom.
Okay, so: if the students were all making a fuss about this, if the students were saying, “we don’t want two proms, of COURSE this really outta-sight gay lady is included, we all want to go to the same prom, yay differences!” then perhaps we would have one prom, yeah? But the students aren’t really going to do that when it is their parents who are throwing the separate prom in the first place. The kids of those parents are probably elite, privileged, and have, to some degree or another, grown up with discrimination in the water, in the air they breathe. They are probably not very likely to stand up and support Constance.
So what next?
No I mean really, what the hell can we do about this, given that technically, TECHNICALLY, somehow, even though it is so fucking obvious that it is blatant discrimination here, technically it seems to me that they have done nothing wrong. Technically they “threw” a “prom” and invited McMillen, and therefore did what they were told. And given that the students are blaming McMillen (I have heard about that terrible Facebook group, blaming her for ruining their “best high school memories,” nevermind that a) those for whom prom is their “best high school memory” are those who are the ones running the school, in a privileged, elite, and often very hierarchical system that discriminates and puts down others, and b) usually, those for whom prom is the best thing that ever happened to them end up stuck in their own home town, with kids and mortgages and dead-end jobs instead of attending colleges. Not always, of course, but often), they are not going to stand up for her.
So what next? How does the queer community rally around her? This is the time when Kristen and others I’ve been talking to all say, Constance, GET OUT. Leave your teeny little narrow-minded town, like we all did, come to the liberal havens, come to the gay meccas, come find your people. You got handed a nice fat check on the Ellen show and now can go to college wherever you want. Or you could harness this opportunity and make a documentary out of your hardship and ride on this ten minutes of fame all the way to a job in the gay-for-pay queer nonprofit world.
If I had her address I would say that we should all send loving letters of support, signed, your queer family, the one that awaits you and already embraces you. And while it might be comforting to Constance to know that there are people who support her, what about the other students (who will be voting adults soon enough), what about their parents, what about the school officials, what about the school board? What about the town who is blaming her for such an OUTRAGEOUS attempt at doing something like dancing with her loved one at a school dance oh mah gawd what is she thinking!
Is there anything anyone can do about the homophobia that is so clearly deeply embedded in them all already? Aren’t there more options than her just up and leaving?
This is where the question of education comes in. How on earth can one—or, more accurately, can this movement of queer activism—possibly continue to chip away at bigotry and hatred and homophobia? Is it actually possible to reach people, to help change their minds?
Generally, activists say no. Activists aim at that same populace as politicians: the Movable Middle, who could kind of be swayed either way, depending on the day or what they had for breakfast or what was on Oprah yesterday.
Thus this is the part where I vow to continue to do the kind of activism I do, and where I continue to encourage the kind of activism you do, in whatever way you participate in the queer community, even if it’s just by being out and keeping your private life private. Perhaps especially then. Perhaps it really will trickle down, that the general culture will disgrace and shame homophobia such that, at least, it can no longer be done openly, and there will be consequences.
On the good days, I believe we’re already there, or at least got quite a good map and we’re in a nice easy stretch of open road. But on days like this, with news like this, my jaw just drops a little, and I wonder what can we do? What can I do?