Posts Tagged ‘activism’

Why Lesbian Erotica is Valuable Activism

December 10, 2013  |  essays  |  2 Comments

ble14I’m reading some erotica—along with Jen Cross, Carol Queen, Amy Butcher, Xan West, M’kali-Hashiki, Cheryl Dunye, BD Swain, & Jiz Lee—to celebrate the release of Best Lesbian Erotica 2014 this Thursday night. (Details here and here and here.) I’m so excited to have helped curate an amazing lineup, and I am now sacrificing all the luck I have to get a good audience to show up. If you’re in the area, come!

I’ve been thinking about “lesbian erotica” lately, how edgy it is, how valuable it is. There’s a bit of controversy around this particular publication of Best Lesbian Erotica, and while I have a lot of thoughts about that article, I still have a lot of my own feelings about how important lesbian erotica is, and how it helps on the process of building one’s some people’s identities. (“One” here meaning someone FAAB who tends to prefer to sleep with other FAAB people, at least at some point in their life.) [ UPDATE: Katherine commented, "So, why don’t you feel that lesbian erotica is important to building the identity of trans-feminine spectrum lesbians?" And of course that's a valid point. I'm sorry to have excluded trans women from that statement, and that was an oversight on my part. I was trying to be specific, and ended up being TOO specific. It doesn't really matter who "one" is in that sentence above, all that matters is that some people use lesbian erotica to develop their own identities, and that's my point. It is valid for all kinds of genders and orientations, and I never meant to leave anyone out. I'll try not to write so hastily in the future, and be more careful. See my comment for a bit more of my thoughts. ]

I realized I wrote about my own experience with it, and why I think queer smut (“lesbian erotica”) is valuable activism, in my introduction to the 2012 Best Lesbian Erotica anthology, so I figured I’d share it with you here.

See you Thursday night, right?

Introduction to Best Lesbian Erotica 2012

I know what I want.

I knew exactly what I was looking for when I read the submitted stories for this anthology: dirty, smutty, smart about gender, smart about power, packed full of sex with the bare necessary descriptions of setting and context, and, oh yeah, good writing. It doesn’t have to be dirty in my personal favorite ways—with sultry accoutrements and costuming like stockings and strappy sandals, or with strap-ons and lots of fucking, or with blow jobs and dirty talk. I like stories where the characters are so turned on and lusty that I feel it too, even if it is not my particular kink or pleasure. I like stories with unique descriptions and rolling prose and insatiable narrators and rising and falling action. I like stories where I want to recreate the action for myself, when I am inspired by the delicious positions and settings and words.

Yes, and the words, let’s not forget the words. That’s what these kinds of books are all about, really. If you wanted a quick, easy turn on, you could load up any of dozens of queer porn sites—there is no shortage of real, good queer porn out there these days. But for some of us that is too crass, and a well-done turn of phrase gets us swooning and biting our lips and rubbing our thighs together even more than a dirty video.

I didn’t always know what I wanted. When I was coming out in the late 1990s, though there was a serious lack of queer porn in the video stores, there were plenty of people paving the landscape for what would become the blossoming queer porn of the 2000s. Diana Cage, On Our Backs magazine, Good Vibrations, (Toys in) Babeland, Annie Sprinkle, Susie Bright—and, of course, Tristan Taormino. It was Tristan’s 1998 Best Lesbian Erotica anthology that for me clicked something into place, something I could no longer pretend wasn’t there. I would hide the book in the back of the shelves at the bookstore where I worked so it wouldn’t get purchased, and I’d sandwich it between two others and sneak it into the stock room to read when it was slow. I wore creases into the spine with Toni Amato’s story “Ridin’ Bitch” and Karlyn Lotney’s story “Clash of the Titans.” I was genuinely confused as to why I liked these stories so much. What was this affect they had on me? Why did I love them so much? What did it all mean?

I began to find other books, short stories, and essays that helped move my budding baby dykery along: Nothing But the Girl—oh, swoon. That essay by Anastasia Higgenbotham in Listen Up: Voices From the Next Feminist Generation. Cunt by Inga Muscio. Breathless by Kitty Tsui. And the Herotica series, which was erotica for women before Rachel Kramer Bussel’s prolific erotica editing career.

I bought one of the Herotica books at a little indy bookstore—now gone—on Capitol Hill in Seattle when I visited one summer, before moving there. But it proved to be too threatening to my boyfriend who, enraged some night after yet another argument about my sexuality, stabbed that book and two other lesbian erotica books with the wide-handled screwdriver which I’d used to masturbate since I was a teenager.

These books are filled with three powerful things: 1. women, who are 2. empowered, 3. about their sexuality (which, by the way, does not involve men). Even the books themselves are threatening.

These books of lesbian erotica are not fluff. They are not nothing. They are not frivolous or useless.

For queers coming out and into our own, they are a path.

Fast forward a few years and I’ve managed to snag myself a lesbian bed death relationship, going out of my mind with desire and disconnection. I stopped writing, because the only thing that I was writing was how miserable I felt, how much I wanted out of that relationship—a reality I wasn’t ready to face. I decided that to work off my sexual energy, I would either go to the gym or I would write erotica. Well, I ended up writing a lot of erotica, rediscovering this tool of self-awareness and self-creation that had led me to smut in the first place, and I began writing myself back into my own life, back into the things that I hold most important: connection, touch, release, holding, witness, play.

My first published smut story was in Best Lesbian Erotica 2006. Between the time I wrote it and the time the book came out, I was beginning to end the bed death relationship, in no small part because I’d reminded myself of the value of the erotic, of my own inner erotic world, of erotic words. Between the time I wrote it and the time it came out, I started Sugarbutch Chronicles, which has carried me through these last five plus years, often being my sanctuary, support circle, best friend, and confidant.

Writing these stories, for me, has not been frivolous. They have not been nothing. They are not fluff or useless.

For me, they were a path back to myself when I got lost.

When I was lost, I had no idea what I wanted, aside from the basic daily survivals: work. Eat. Pay bills. Sleep. Shower. But when I wrote, when I connected with my own desire, I felt a little piece of me bloom and become in a bigger way. I felt more like myself.

I turned again to the great books of smut to help me find myself, to help me find a way back to a partner, a lover, a one night stand—hell, even an hour with a Hitachi was sometimes enough. The Leather Daddy and the Femme. Mr. Benson. Switch Hitters: Gay Men Write Lesbian Erotica and Lesbians Write Gay Male Erotica. Back to Basics: Butch/Femme Erotica. Doing It For Daddy. And Best Lesbian Erotica, always Best Lesbian Erotica. I still eagerly buy it every year to see what the guest editor’s tastes are, to see what the new trends are, to read the emerging new writers, to get my rocks off.

I rediscovered what I wanted through reading smut and writing it. Through carving myself a path in connection with a lineage of sex positive dykes and sex radicals and queer kinksters and feminist perverts.

After six years of writing and publishing erotica, I am thrilled to be a guest editor for the series which sparked me into queerness in 1998, thrilled to be choosing stories for the same series that published my very first piece, “The Plow Pose,” in 2006, which helped spark me back to myself. It is so exciting to be contributing to this queer smut hotbed that Cleis Press has helped nurture all these years, and I’m so glad to continue to be part of it in new ways.

I know what I want, now. And lesbian erotica, or as I prefer to call it, queer smut, has helped me not only visualize what is possible, but create a path toward getting what I want.

The stories in tis book reflect my taste, my favorites, my personal hot spots, certainly, but also the best-written stories from a large pile of well-written stories by some of my favorite authors, like Kiki DeLovely and Xan West and Rachel Kramer Bussel. There are some less-well known writers in here whose work you may not be familiar with, yet, but who will leave an impression on you, writers like Anne Grip and Amy Butcher. I found dozens of moments of signposts, signals directing me toward myself, words illuminating my own meridians of ache. With each story, with each act of lust, with each dirty command or submissive plea, I rediscovered my own want.

I hope you find some of what you want within these pages, too.

You can still pick up print copies of Best Lesbian Erotica 2012 via your local queer feminist independent bookstore, or, if you must, through Amazon.

And: Come see me & Jen Cross, Carol Queen, Amy Butcher, Xan West, M’kali-Hashiki, Cheryl Dunye, BD Swain, & Jiz Lee read smut from Best Lesbian Erotica 2014 this Thursday night, 12/12, in San Francisco at the Center for Sex & Culture. $20 at the door includes a copy of the book! Details here.

BUTCH Voices Community Conversations in San Francisco & Boston

December 12, 2012  |  miscellany  |  No Comments

Community Conversation in San Francisco

BUTCH Voices presents our first Community Conversations event happening on December 15th, co-sponsored by the Queer Resource Center at City College San Francisco.
Capacity is limited to 60 attendees. So RSVP today. No cost to attend.

RSVP with your name and contact information via email: [email protected]

Saturday, December 15, 2012
10am-3pm
at City College of San Francisco
50 Phelan Avenue
Co-sponsored by BUTCH Voices & City College’s Queer Resource Center

Schedule:
10:00am -10:30am Welcome
10:30am – 12:00pm Session 1
12:00pm -1:00pm Lunch on your own
1:00pm – 2:30pm Session 2
2:30pm-3:00pm Wrap up

Community Conversation in Boston

BUTCH Voices presents our Community Conversations event happening on Saturday, February 16th, co-sponsored by ButchBoi Life and Boston University’s Queer Activists Collective.

Capacity is limited to 50 attendees, so RSVP today. No cost to attend.

RSVP with your name and contact information via email with Boston in the subject line to: [email protected]

Location:
Center for Gender, Sexuality and Activism at Boston University
775 Commonwealth Ave
Boston, MA 02215
Date: February 16th
Time: 9am – 5pm

*Accessibility information for the Center for Gender, Sexuality, and Activism *

For handicap accessibility, there is an elevator down to the basement of the student union where the Center is located.

Public transit and parking:
The nearest T stop (the Boston transit system) is BU Central on the B branch of the green line. Parking is available on the street, but all other lots require permits, so it can be tough to find a spot.

About the Community Conversations

Folks have enjoyed our regional and national conferences and asked for more BUTCH Voices events in their towns. We’re looking to help make those happen where we can. In our ‘off time’ from producing our National Conference, we’re holding Community Conversations in various cities across the United States and Canada.

While our regional and and national conferences are open to all, these Community Conversations are specific to folks who identify as butch, stud, and other masculine of center identities – in order to hold space for each other and foster ways to connect and build community. As always, as an organization we do not make the distinction as to who fits those identities, we leave that up for individuals to decide for themselves.
Topics will be generated by the individuals and groups who attend. We expect regional differences to affect which subjects, philosophies, and concerns each group will focus on. Our goal is to have 20-50 people attend each Community Conversation gathering, and we hope to encourage dialog, connection, and networking as we gear up for next year’s 2013 BUTCH Voices National Conference.

In conjunction with the Community Conversations we are also producing fundraisers for BUTCH Voices. Funds will be split between local organizers to assist their attendance at the National BUTCH Voices conference and with BUTCH Voices National.

We are currently working on Community Conversations and fundraising events in, though not limited to, the following cities: San Francisco, Seattle, New York City, Portland OR, Boston, Atlanta, and Dallas. As cities and dates become available we will announce them here on the BUTCH Voices website, and get the word to you just as soon as we can. Be sure to sign up for our updates and e-newsletters to stay in the know about all things BUTCH Voices here. www.BUTCHVoices.com

If you are interested in being involved in hosting, fundraising, or coordinating a Community Conversation in your city, contact BUTCH Voices outreach at [email protected].

Also! Save the Date – BUTCH Voices 2013 National Conference – August 15-18 in Oakland, CA. Registration and calls for submissions and performers coming soon

Go See Decadent Acts in New York City

April 16, 2010  |  miscellany  |  No Comments

In honor of President Obama’s newly announced policy on hospital visitation rights for gay and lesbian couples, I’m encouraging you to go see a play, Decadent Acts, here in New York City, set in the 1980s and facing precisely this issue.

The Washington Post reports, “Officials said Obama had been moved by the story of a lesbian couple in Florida, Janice Langbehn and Lisa Pond, who were kept apart when Pond collapsed of a cerebral aneurysm in February 2007, dying hours later at a hospital without her partner and children by her side. Obama called Langbehn on Thursday evening from Air Force One as he flew to Miami, White House officials said.”

I remember that. I’m glad she got an apology, and acknowledgement, though of course that won’t really provide much solace after losing her partner of eighteen years. Still, that is a great example of something personal becoming political, with the tragic story being capable of moving people to action.

Perhaps someday plays like Decadent Acts will be artifacts, things that the next generation studies when they learn about the history of oppression, instead of current policies and struggles.

I hope you can make it to see it while it’s playing.


Decadent Acts
Written and Directed by Ashley Marinaccio
April 22nd, 23rd, 24th and 25th at 8:00pm
April 24th and 25th at 2:00 pm
Theater: Beckmann Theatre @ American Theater Of Actors
Address: 314 West 54th Street, 2nd floor, New York, NY 10019

Set in late 1980s New York City, Decadent Acts chronicles the story of a lesbian couple struggling against legislated discrimination. When television personality Farah White falls fatally ill, her partner, professor Jolene Shatila, along with their daughter Nicole, are faced with unexpected challenges that will change their lives forever. From child custody laws, to hospital visitation rights, Decadent Acts spotlights the harsh reality of discriminatory regulations against same-sex partners, plunging emotional and political depths with grace and searing honesty. At a time when the push for full equality is finally building real momentum across the country, this play couldn’t be timelier.

Cost:$18 General/$15 Valid Student ID
Buy Tickets Online or Call: SmartTix at 212-868-4444

Following Up: What’s Next? Queer Activism in the South

April 9, 2010  |  essays  |  6 Comments

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: [email protected], 662-862-2159 ext. 14
Itawamba Agricultural High School principal Trae Wiygul: [email protected], 662-862-3104

And a few more things:

So What’s Next?: McMillen’s Fake Prom

April 7, 2010  |  essays  |  14 Comments

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.

You’ve probably already heard this. Jesse James had a nice post on it, Dorothy Snarker posted something too.

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?

Visions of Sexual Freedom

December 7, 2009  |  miscellany  |  10 Comments

Need a fabulous gift this holiday season? Don’t know what to get your (least) favorite boss or your Grandma? Well! Here ya go: the New York City Sex Blogger 2010 Calendar: Visions of Sexual Freedom.

You’re welcome.

This year’s calendar features 16 bloggers, including myself, Audacia Ray, Calico Lane, Abiola Abrams, Jamye Waxman, Rachel Kramer Bussel, Melissa Gira Grant, Elizabeth Wood, and plenty of other hot pinups, and benefits Sex Work Awareness, a fantastic non-profit organization that puts on the annual Speak Up! media training workshop.

This year, I was photographed with Audacia Ray by Amanda Morgan and featured in April – which has my birthday, Sugarbutch’s inception date, and Dacia’s birthday.

ss_cal
Me, my photo in this year’s calendar with Audacia Ray (photographed by Amanda Morgan), and Kristen (and her amazing princess dress) at the Sex Blogger Calendar Party in New York City. Photo by Nick McGlynn (thanks!), more photos from him in this set.

The theme for this calendar was “SEXUAL FREEDOM,” and while Dacia and I were discussing what to do, we both were inspired to feature something very New York-y, since New York has been a big part of sexual awakening for both of us. I moved here almost five years ago now, and my sex life and sexuality has changed significantly since I did.

We talked about iconic photographs and couples that we could imitate or reproduce, and eventually settled on the famous shot of the sailor kissing the nurse in Times Square. Amanda was totally game for it (though she insisted that we shoot early in the day so we’d have the best light), I hunted down a sailor suit, Dacia queered up her nurse outfit, and voila, there’s the shot.

Vj_day_kissThe original photograph, V-J Day in Times Square by Alfred Eisenstaedt, was taken just after the radio announcement that World War II was over – that the US had “Victory over Japan” – on August 14, 1945. This is a significant time period particularly for queers in the US, as World War II brought people massively congregating in coastal cities like New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. For the first time in US history, more people lived in urban environments than in rural environments, and suddenly, queers were finding dozens, hundreds of others like us. This led to those sudden “oh my god I’m not alone” revelation moments, the increasing recognition of the systematic marginalization of us because of our sexuality, and, ultimately, activist organization and the birth of the gay rights movement!

Post-WWII and the subsequent activist movements – like the second wave of feminism – also gave rise to all sorts of new sexual activism, which is absolutely the root of the work I do today. Safe sex, STI information, sexual health, sexual choice, sexual advocacy, sexual agency, ability to have control over how many children we have and how far apart they are, birth control, knowledge, BDSM skills, gender theory, power theory … all of that is built upon earlier movements. And all of those movements, and their intersections, allowed me a significant study of gender and sexuality that has lead me here, to Sugarbutch, and to the 2010 New York City Sex Blogger Calendar.

I bet you can think of a couple people on your holiday list who have been nice enough to get a gift like this calendar, hmmmm?

All proceeds from the calendar, don’t forget, go to Sex Work Awareness which puts on the annual Speak Up! media training workshop. Help support the efforts of this wonderful and much-needed organization through the purchase of a calendar!

Calendars ship upon order and cost $20 a piece plus $3.25 for shipping. And – as a special holiday bonus – through the holiday season, when you buy the 2010 Sex Blogger Calendar you will also get a free MP4 download of the 25 minute director’s cut of Audacia Ray’s film Dacia’s Love Machine, which debuted last year in Berlin. (Link to download will be provided on checkout.)

World AIDS Day: Safer Sex, History, and Interconnectivity

December 1, 2009  |  essays  |  3 Comments

To be honest, I don’t use Sugarbutch often enough as a platform (ahem soapbox) to preach about safer sex practices, and I should. It is fucking important. Since I came of age in the ’90s, pretty much after the Lesbian Sex Wars and the AIDS crisis of the 1980s, the people in the queer and kinky and sex-positive community I came into pretty much see safer sex as a given, which is what I learned early on in my process of coming to my sexuality. I am unapologetic about my use of safer sex practices, and while some folks I know have that pang of “oh crap I have to put a damper on the mood and go get my gloves and condoms,” I think that’s just part of the fucking.

I do get occasional comments about my stories on Sugarbutch and how the characters do not use condoms or other barriers. There are a couple reasons for that (in my head) but ultimately, whatever excuses I have for it are kind of futile. It doesn’t really matter if I understand it – the point is, I need to be modeling safer sex, so I will make a commitment to do so.

HIV and AIDS are obviously just one small part of what safer sex means. Honestly I’ll have to do some particular research if I want to make a whole safer sex post – I think in a nutshell it means a) use condoms, dams, and gloves and b) talk to your partners about their sexual history and c) get tested.

It also means, however, sexualizing the act of using barriers. Condoms are still seen as ugly, stifling feeling, and inconvenient – and if we can remake that sexy, more people will practice safer sex. I don’t particularly know how to do this, but I do know that in my own sex life, adding condoms into the process of strapping on a cock feels very gendered in a really hot way, and I have sexualized that act quite a bit. I have more to say on this, but until I get my own thoughts together, think about it: how would it look to sexualize safer sex practices in your sex life? How could you model safer sex in better ways?

If others have suggestions on important things to tell readers about safer sex, please let me know in the comments.

But: back to World AIDS Day. That would be today, December 1st.

wad
more World AIDS Day materials for download

Started on 1st December 1988, World AIDS Day is about raising money, increasing awareness, fighting prejudice and improving education. The World AIDS Day theme for 2009 is ‘Universal Access and Human Rights’. World AIDS Day is important in reminding people that HIV has not gone away, and that there are many things still to be done. According to UNAIDS estimates, there are now 33.4 million people living with HIV, including 2.1 million children. During 2008 some 2.7 million people became newly infected with the virus and an estimated 2 million people died from AIDS. Around half of all people who become infected with HIV do so before they are 25 and are killed by AIDS before they are 35. The vast majority of people with HIV and AIDS live in lower- and middle-income countries. But HIV today is a threat to men, women and children on all continents around the world. – World AIDS Day text from avert.org

I don’t really consider myself an AIDS activist, not specifically. Indirectly, though, yes – through safer sex advocacy, and through my ever-evolving knowledge of gay history – but I haven’t been heavily involved in a lot of direct AIDS activism.

When I think of AIDS, I always think of the history – specifically, the gay history, the ways that in the US, AIDS has been associated with gay men since the early 1980s. In fact, the first name for the disease, in 1982, before anybody knew what it was, it was called the “gay cancer” and then GRID – “gay related immune deficiency.” That turns my stomach, even now.

I identify more as the child of the AIDS activist movements rather than part of it myself; the activism has significantly declined since the 1990s, probably because the treatments have become more and more effective and the stigmatization around AIDS has lessened.

I often feel a really specific loss when thinking about this epidemic and the direct effects in the GBLT communities. The estimated number of men who have died from AIDS by contracting it through male-to-male sexual contact is more than 22,000 (according to avert.org’s transmission stats).

The LGBT communities lost thousands of people.

I remember meeting some older gay guy in college who was a guest speaker at one of my queer classes. He came in with a photograph of a big group of gay guys at a retreat weekend they’d been on, horsing around and cooking and having a great time being with each other. He said, of all of these guys, I am the only one left. I am the only one who made it beyond 1992. There is no reason it should’ve been me – I was no more or less careful than any of them. But for whatever reason, here I am. They are all gone.

And the absence was so tangible, in his voice, in his stories. He pointed them out, one at a time: this one was in grad school to be a social worker, this one worked with kids, these two were a couple who dreamed of adopting a baby, this one was an amazing writer, this one a pianist. There was so much talent, so much activism, so much potential, lost.

When I think of AIDS, I think of that history. I think of that scar left on the LGBTQ communities that I have inherited. I think of how scared some young queers are of sex, having been brought up on all this knowledge of disease and death. I think of some of my mentors, whose eyes still get glossy with tears when they talk about some of their dearest mentors, lost to this disease.

And now, in the 2000s, AIDS is portrayed pretty differently: a lot of the focus is on Africa and the rate of infection over there, and the rate of apathy over here. This is partly where this topic gets huge and nearly incomprehensible to me (like the difference between five hundred million and five billion dollars. I know there is a difference, I can do the math, but I can’t actually comprehend those amounts in worth and money):

Two-thirds of all people infected with HIV live in sub-Saharan Africa, although this region contains little more than 10% of the world’s population. During 2008 alone, an estimated 1.4 million adults and children died as a result of AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa. Since the beginning of the epidemic more than 15 million Africans have died from AIDS. (source)

Sometimes it seems like this is so far removed from me, but because of globalization and our increasing interconnectivity, and because of the injustices of a system which turned a blind eye to thousands of GBLT deaths, I still know I am connected to it.

I still wish I knew more about what to do about it. It feels like such a big, huge thing, and all I can do is scream into the void and pretend like my voice will do something. Ya know?

It seems like all that anybody’s doing in the US these days are those various (RED) campaigns – I think Starbucks has one, and The Gap, and somewhere I read today said Nike is selling red shoelaces – and I feel kinda torn about the way corporations do that. I think on the one hand, raising awareness, and using an already established brand to get information exposed to all sorts of people, is good, and raising more money is good. I feel like it’s not “real” activism, though, and not very effective, and often thinly veiled attempts to get more sales (because really, these are capitalistic corporations who honor the bottom line of making more money, no matter what their occasional campaigns to help humanity might be). So, I’m skeptical, but I suppose any money at the issue is good, and any awareness raised is good.

Alright, </soapbox>. Thanks for reading.

A few notable links I’ve run across today, also relating to World AIDS Day:

Scarleteen: Help Lift Sex Ed to a Higher Plane

November 17, 2009  |  essays  |  1 Comment

stfund09_160I’ve written about the sex education network Scarleteen before, calling for support and donations to help keep this invaluable resource going strong.

I’ve been following Scarleteen and the work of its Executive Director, Heather Corinna, since probably around 1997 or ’98, and have been enamored especially of her photography and her work on her site femmerotic.com. Seems she’s not doing quite as much photography these days as she used to, though perhaps that’s partially because she’s working full-time AND running Scarleteen. (Yeah, sounds like something I would do, I know.)

Scarleteen’s had a big year – it’s now part of The Center for Sex and Culture out of San Francisco. But it still needs support, by which I mean DONATIONS.

littlesxCorinna also released her book S.E.X. in 2007 – “the in-depth and inclusive sexuality guide! Covering everything from STIs to sexual orientation, body image to birth control, masturbation to misogyny, the anatomy of the clitoris to considering cohabitation, and written for you whether you’re male, female or genderqueer; straight, gay or somewhere in between, this is THE everything-you-need, comprehensive, progressive sexuality handbook to get you through high school, college and the rest of your life.” Donate more than $75 and get a copy of the book.

Please consider passing on $5, $10, $100, $500 to this fantastic resource. You can also follow Scarleteen’s blog to keep up with some of the discussion.

More information about the site and its activism follows.

You probably know Scarleteen has been the premier online sexuality resource for young people worldwide since 1998. We have consistently provided free inclusive, comprehensive and positive sex education, information and support to millions for longer than anyone else online. We built the online model for teen and young adult sex education and have remained online for nearly eleven years to sustain, refine and expand it.

What you might not know is that Scarleteen is the highest ranked online young adult sexuality resource but also the least funded and that the youth who need us most are also the least able to donate. You might not know that we have done all we have with a budget lower than the median annual household income in the U.S. You might not know we have provided the services we have to millions without any federal, state or local funding and that we are fully independent media which depends on public support to survive and grow.

You also might not know Scarleteen is primarily funded by people who care deeply about teens having this kind of vital and valuable service; individuals like you who want better for young people than what they get in schools, on the street or from initiatives whose aim is to intentionally use fearmongering, bias and misinformation about sexuality to try to scare or intimidate young people into serving their own personal, political or religious agendas.

To try and reach our goal, we’re asking supporters to consider a donation of $100 or greater. If that isn’t possible for you, whatever you give will still help and will still be strongly appreciated. To donate now (or to view or link to the rest of this email online), click here. If you’d first like more information on why we’re setting the goal we are, what Scarleteen has done in the last year and during the whole of our tenure, our plans for 2010, and what the scoop is with our budget and expenses, keep reading.

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National Coming Out Day & Matthew Shepard

October 12, 2009  |  essays  |  2 Comments

October is my favorite month – I’m going to state it officially for the record. It’s got some significant gay activist dates, like October 11th (in the US – apparently it’s the 12th in the UK), which is National Coming Out Day, and the whole thing is LGBT History Month. And October 12th is the anniversary of Matthew Shepard‘s death.

And this year, I’m sure you’ve heard, was the National Equality March on Washington, and news about its success has been streaming through my reader all day.

Last year, on National Coming Out Day, I wrote about where I was when Matthew died (in the same city as he was, actually) and shared the poem I wrote about it years later.

I still think coming out is one of the very most important things we can do, as queers, as dykes, as butches and femmes, as andro genderqueer gendernonconforming gender rebels, as trans folks, as kinksters. Coming out claims the space we rightfully stand on, and says we accept who we are, and if you don’t, that’s your goddamn problem. Coming out is visibility, and completely overrides whatever the lesbian uniform currently is.

Whoever you are, I urge you to come out to just one more person this week, this month, this year. Come out as whatever particular identity you happen to be. Come out in support of gay rights, come out by calling your coworker on their homophobic jokes. Come out and claim your space.

I ran across this clip of Judy Shepard visiting The Ellen Show last week, on October 9, 2009. She talks about Matthew’s death, her own subsequent activism, what a hate crime is, and the amazing news of the US House of Representatives expanding the Hate Crime definition on October 8th (I know, I don’t usually report on current events, but this is important and relevant to the October Activism).

PS, check out Ellen’s short hair! It just keeps getting shorter! I would love to talk to her someday about her gender and how it’s evolving – has she always been butch, and now that she has some solid fame and notariety she finally feels comfortable expressing herself? Is it Portia’s influence? Is she a reflection of the current culture? (Seems like she always has had very timely hair.) I’m curious, I’d love to hear what she says about it. And I just love that she’s doing more gay activism through her show than she ever has.

Poll: What do you think about labels?

May 12, 2009  |  essays  |  37 Comments

You might want to vote in the poll before you read me yammer on about my own thoughts on labels and identity, so I don’t unfairly influence your answers.

[poll=3]

I realize this is a very non-scientific poll, somewhat limited to the visitors of this site, and therefore not a very good sample of the queer communities’ attitudes toward labels … but hey, you gotta use what you got, right? And this is what I got.

So please, leave comments with more explanations (or feedback on why my poll sucks) about your relationship to labels, and read my own thoughts about labels and identity below.

In pursuing this work of identity, specifically gender and sexual identity, one of the first and deepest and most difficult things I come across is the concept of labels.

I see questions about these things all the time: why do we have to label ourselves? Why is the lesbian community so into labels? Why can’t we move beyond labels? What good are labels? Why do I have to conform to someone else’s idea of what I am or am not? Why can’t I just be me?

One of my “gender rules” (something I’m working on, hopefully more on that in the next few weeks) is that everyone is the expert of their own gender, and so thus to always respect however another person feels about their gender. So if you want to reject labels, and that is the way you feel most like yourself, most liberated, most outside of this confining system of gender, then I say go for it and more power to you.

That’s not the case for me, though, not really. I find a lot of liberation inside of the labels – I don’t feel restricted by them, I feel more free to be more myself than I was before.

So I find this curious. I don’t want to be prostelytizing about how everyone needs labels, and I don’t assume that what works for me works for everyone – or anyone – else. But I do know it works for me, and as I’m developing my own gender theories, I’m struggling a bit to explain why.

There is a perception, espeically of the lesbian communities I think, that lesbians are really into labels. From the outside, a lot of words are thrown around connected to lesbianism and queer women, like butch and femme, dyke, homo, queer, bisexual, I actually think the dominant attitude in lesbian communities is very anti-label, very much a rejection of gender identity and sexual identity words. It seems to me that the heat of the community – the visible folks, the young and activist-oriented – are embracing the word “queer” very strongly, which is a much more inclusive term than many of the others, a huge umbrella under which bi, poly, trans, gay, kinky, genderqueer, non-conforming, et cetera, all can come together and find a place.

What I’m saying is, I think it’s interesting that from the outside, this community appears overly obsessed with labels, but once you get inside of it, there are a lot of ways that the dominant discourse discourages labels and micro-identity development.

But when I started thinking through that, I wondered: maybe that is just true for me and not necessarily a truth about the community as a whole. Perhaps that’s just unique to my experience (and, to be fair, the experience of many other butches and femmes, as I’ve heard stories of gender identity development from many of us and they are similar) and perhaps the dominant community thinks something else. But, I thought, it’s not like there is a study I can turn to about what percentage of queers embrace labels!

And, gee, if I can’t use my blog for research like this, then what the heck is it good for?

I hope the options give a wide enough range of your relationship to the concept of “labels” that one of them fits pretty well for you. If it doesn’t, please do leave a comment and tell me, more specifically, what you think about labels, identity, and you personally.