Archive for February, 2011

Love to Self-Love

Oh look! Bianca’s back and she’s talking about one of her favorite topics, masturbation.

In an effort to assess what other topics I should cover with my with my blogging, I posed this question: if you could name one sex-related thing you wish the internet had better information on, what would it be? What people mentioned (and then seconded and thirded via facebook) was that there isn’t nearly enough information out there about female self-image and masturbation- which is truly terrible because it’s such an important issue to women everywhere and a healthy part of everyone’s life.

I’ve talked obliquely about both subjects before in posts like Big Blond and Beautiful (where we saw that even Playboy models get their thighs slimmed, their busts enlarged, and their tummy tucked by editors to create an impossibly perfect female) and Argentina and an Orgasm Machine (where I talked about the need for a machine whose end goal is to learn how females orgasm in order to “teach” non-orgasmic women is a symptom of a culture where women are incredibly removed from their own bodies).

Moreover though, I’d like to talk about how those two ideas- body image and masturbation- intersect. We’ve been told a million times over in health class, by parents, by friends, and in PSAs so numerous they make our heads spin, that the media’s idea of a normal female’s body is completely distorted and unreasonable, that we should not judge ourselves based on that model. That discussion is old hat. But what our teachers and parents and friends haven’t told us is that our model of what the perfect girl “does” is equally skewed.

Put bluntly, the perfect girl is the one who gets to have sex. She’s the one who is attractive enough to be unabashedly sexual- posing in Abercrombie and Fitch ads without a shirt, splashing in the waves in her string bikini, and fucking as much as she feels like. And the other girls? The ones who have some curves, who don’t wear makeup or straighten their hair, who don’t go tanning every weekend to get that sun-bronzed look- they get nothing. And besides the obvious fact that regarding sex itself, THIS IS TOTAL BULLSHIT, this vicious anti-sexualization of the “non-perfect girl” spills over into other areas of sexuality that all women have a right to- including (you guessed it)…masturbation.

Accordingly, non-perfect girls (meaning ALL girls, because no one matches the media standard out there, and you’d be hard pressed to find a woman who will assert that she hasn’t had body issues at some point) are made to feel guilty about masturbating. Masturbation isn’t something that normal girls do.

This of course exists in sharp dichotomy to the way masturbation is portrayed for guys. In the movies, a woman masturbating earns the movie an automatic R-rating, which there are hundreds of PG-13 movies which focus (perhaps even excessively) on male masturbation. In movies like American Pie, male masturbation is made the object of humor, associated with geeks and nerds who “can’t get laid” on their own and resort to masturbation as a last resort.
Clearly, both sexes have had their issues with this most natural of human impulses. But I think the biggest crime associated with masturbation is the guilt complex that comes with these negative associations. Now I’m not one to defend anything that comes out of Gossip Girl Taylor Momsen’s mouth, but the media fervor that arose out of her comment that her vibrator “was her best friend” is the ugliest example yet of how society has vilified a (dare I say normal?) girl’s sexuality.
“But shock it did. PopCrunch lamented that her comment was”Wrongtown USA!” because “this child is 16,” and Hollywood Life pronounced her “out of control.” … Momsen may not be the role model I’d prefer my tween daughters to emulate, but the collective horror over her reference to self-pleasure speaks volumes about how taboo the subject still is. And frankly, if I’d had a vibrator at 16, high school would have sucked a lot less.”

AGREED. It’s truly absurd that such a simple comment- and probably one of the more polite that has ever come out of Momsen’s mouth- should cause such outrage from the media. But it is indicative of just how scared we are of talking about our teenage daughters’ sexuality. We can’t even accept a healthy practice like masturbation without raising an uproar in the blogosphere about sexual morality and the “innocence” of youth. (Funny how that standard only applies to women though, isn’t it?)
So the question remains, what IS important to know about female body issue and sexuality that we can un-shroud from the maelstrom of hate surrounding it?

1. Basic anatomy. Scarleteen is still the best source out there for down-to-earth information about teen sexuality- so check out With Pleasure: A View of Whole Sexual Anatomy for Every Body to find out how all of us are built, and how our minds and hormones are as much a part of our sexual response as anything between our legs
2. Self-image. Women masturbate. Crazy stuff. One of the most useful exercises you can do to promote the idea of positive sexual self-image is to think about the women you know and admire and think about the fact that they masturbate. Think that’s creepy? That’s part of the problem. If we can’t conceptualize the simple idea that other women masturbate, we can’t begin to be comfortable about doing it ourselves. But if women we know and respect- our mother, sisters, friends, teachers- masturbate, then why in the world shouldn’t we.
3. Deal with yourself and your hang-ups. You know what? Just stop reading what I’m writing and go look at Scarleteen. Go. Go do it now. Start here.

A healthy, holistic view of your own sexuality (and not just the gay-straight, kink-vanilla dichotomies we’ve rehashed) is crucial to fulfilling sexual relationships- both with others and with yourself!- down the line. Don’t let the media’s bastardization make something wonderfully practical and stress-releasing like masturbation into a devil. As I’ve said before, own your body. Embrace your sexual self, and don’t let anyone make you feel bad about it.

Also, if you’re interested- this is just a funny little article about masturbation and how the bible has been misinterpreted to vilify the practice even more.  So sad.

Stay cool, queer kids.


The Only Sex Blog in Kenya

One of things study abroad does quite bluntly is to put your life into perspective: living in another country, playing by other people’s rules, figuring out a system for dealing with a whole new way of life. And studying abroad in Kenya is no picnic.

I’m very happy for my experiences here and the assumptions about poverty, development, and Africa in general that I’m being forced to confront. But there are aspects of my life at home which are very difficult to reconcile with the life I’m living here- and most of them converge around this blog.

A huge part of my identity stems from my sexuality, my sexual expression, and the way I express my academic and personal interest in a sex-positive life. That encompasses a lot. Everything from my relationship, to my blogging, to the way I talk and relate to others. In the US, it’s not unusual for me to interject into a conversation about how mine or another person’s viewpoint reflects gender or sexual privilege. I wave the flag of my queer sexuality proudly as an explanation of how I view the world and the way people interact with one another. I bring up gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender issues and relate them to my own experiences, hash out political developments and the significance behind court rulings and newspaper articles. And finally, I bring my observations here, for feedback and debate with you.

In Kenya, this part of my life doesn’t exist. I am not queer, I’m not a sex blogger, I’m not…anything. I have been told time and again by my program director, a Nairobi resident of 9 years, that Kenya does not have the climate for a gay rights movement, that this is not my battle to fight, and that it’s best not to make waves. This is hard advice to swallow. Why? Not simply because I love being queer and talking about it, but because this is the silencing I’ve heard so many times before- all through the history of the LGBT movement and into today.

Why should gay marriage be an issue? We need to fix the economy first, win the war first, end poverty and homelessness first. One injustice is not an excuse to ignore another (in fact, this is a true logical fallacy, which I’m going to refer to as the “more pressing issue” fallacy, because I don’t have my high school Honors Argument notes with me in Kenya).
This is a problem for me, as person who is at the crossroads of deciding where her life will go and where her true passions lie. In Kenya, my identity as a queer blog writer is not valued. I dare say it isn’t valued anywhere in Africa. In the US, I have opportunities to express my identity, affirm my loving relationship, and do what I feel I’m actually good at: talk about sex! But is that reason enough to give up on the academic and social endeavors of development work which I have devoted myself to for the last 3 years?

I don’t honestly know. I haven’t made up my mind, and perhaps it’s not my decision to make. But this I do know- if I do work in development work, there are elements of my identity that I know must be part of the conversation:

• Sexual citizenship
If you aren’t familiar with sexual citizenship, there’s a brilliant article here from the now sadly defunct site, Carnal Nation. Sexual citizenship is crucial to the way I conduct my life- it is about acknowledging myself and others as sexual people and refusing to judge others by their sexual decisions, however unusual. It is also about helping to disseminate information, much in the way I do through this blog: in conversation, through workshops, and writing. Even if it is not in person, I want to continue to be a part of the discussion of sexual rights and sexual affirmation.

• My queer identity
I need to have a community around me with whom I can disclose my queerness- it may be a group of three or four fellow aid workers, it may be other LGBT activists in the area I work, or it may be with fellow “othered” populations in the world- people like BDSM enthusiasts, feminists, sex workers, and polyamorous couples who have been excluded from the world of sexual privilege and can welcome another stranger.

• This blog
I make a dedication here and now that as long as I have fingers to type with and something to say about sexuality (and I trust it will be a long time before the world runs out of things for me to comment on), I will continue to write this blog. It is the culmination of my identity as a sex-positive person, and I feel its importance reverberate in my bones. It has grounded me during my time here in Kenya, given me something to retain perspective through, and to help me remember what I value. I don’t want it to fade away.

And for those of you starved for reading material, this paper by my Sex, Gender, and Culture professor Harjant Gill, which talks about the queer diaspora community and his interpretation of their struggles through film, is a great read. Yes, it looks like something you’d get for class, which makes sense, because he’s a PhD student. But it’s also an incredibly well-written insight into the part of the queer community I can’t even touch with my experience; queer diaspora members suffer alienation from their home communities and often the juggling of two separate identities which are very difficult to reconcile with one another. While I can’t speak to those struggles, I feel their relevance to my own life as I navigate my own small version of diaspora here in Kenya. I understand the reverse of these feelings, trying to find my place in a new culture while maintaining both my queerness and my identity as an American. If you have time, I highly recommend you read his article, if not for the parallels to your life, then for an appreciation of what many queer individuals go through trying to find their own space in our community.

Sex Resources

I originally started this blog as a way to provide resources for LGBT youth and to help sift through the derth of information available on the internet about the confusing issues surrounding sex and sexuality. As the scope of the blog expanded, I realized there was just as much to say about sex-positivity for people of all orientations and viewpoints, AND that I actually had a lot to say personally about some of the more “contentious” topics in the world of sexuality. Today, I’m returning to the root of my goals with this blog, and simply offering a few sites that have significant resources available regarding questions I probably haven’t answered in the course of my blogging.

A great place to start for LGBT resources is Sex, , which boasts a very comprehensive list of organizations which work on LGBT issues. Some of them I’ve mentioned before, like PFLAG, Campus Climate, and the It Gets Better Project, but there are also many demographic-specific sites worth looking at, such as the Deaf Queer Foundation, Prism Comics (which supports LGBT comics), and Trans Youth Family Allies (I highly recommend this site- their resources for educators are OUTSTANDING). Take a look and see if anything resonates with you. Many of these organizations have centers or offices in multiple major cities, so it can be a good way to reach out to the community, and they also have brochures, newsletters, and packets which are great educational materials.

Second on my list is Pucker Written by sex educator, public speaker, and blogger Tristan Taormino, most of the site is about her speaking tours and personal work in blogging, podcasting and the like. The link above, however, is a comprehensive list of resources related to everything from BDSM to Swinging to Trans Issues. If you have a question about a specific sex-positive community, this list has the appropriate source, I guarantee it.

Finally, Felice Newman (who is actually listed as in the LGB section of Pucker Up) has a great website here which talks about sex and healthy sexuality as whole, including how to be a good lover, how to negotiate sexual differences with a partner, as well as a compact list of smaller articles under the Whole Lesbian Sex header, which talk about women’s sexuality and what it means to have sex on your own terms. They’re funny, easy-to-read, and thought-provoking, so this is a brilliant place to start if you’re looking to explore what sexuality means to you personally.

Let me know what you think! And expect a heavy article sometime soon about being a sex blogger, life plans, and Africa crises.

Stay cool, queer kids.

The other day, I went to a counter-rally which was protesting a Westboro Baptist Church protest. For those who are not familiar with WBC, they are a family led by Fred Phelps who regularly advocate absolutely horrifying ideas about God. According to Wikipedia , they usually protest about 6 times a day at locations around the country. Essentially, anything bad that happens anywhere is considered to be God’s judgment for “letting” gays live openly and act as citizens—they protest at soldiers’ funerals (with signs like “Thank God for IEDs” and “Thank God for 9/11”) and the Holocaust Museum (“Rabbis rape kids”), for example.

Horrifically, they even decided to protest at the funeral of the 9 year-old girl who was killed at the Tucson, Arizona shooting of Sen. Giffords. Thankfully, Arizona quickly passed restrictions on protests at funerals (which is currently being challenged in court), and the WBC was persuaded by some DJs not to protest in exchange for getting their message out on the radio.

Many people are understandably upset with the WBC and its message of hate, and at many of its protests, angry passerbys and numerous counter-protesters have confronted the WBC protestors. But is it a good idea?

Here’s what the WBC spokesperson Sherly Phelps-Roger said to about counter-protests:

“Tee hee! We LOVE THEM! When you are delivering a message to people, it makes it easier to deliver the message when people see the signs. So counter protesters have an opportunity to ask questions, and engage in discussion.”

Was my going to the protest appropriate? Or did it just help the WBC get their message out there? Here’s how I saw it:

1. The WBC was going to be there, and was going to get the media attention regardless of what we did in response.

Due to their inflammatory rhetoric, the WBC gets noticed wherever they go, so a counter-protest is unlikely to bring the spotlight to them anymore than they already would anyway. What’s a more positive headline, though? “Westboro Baptist Church protests at campus” or “Fighting hate with blackout poetry”?

2. An organized counter-rally is better than unorganized anger.

One of the most common responses to the WBC is yelling. I understand yelling: these are despicable people, doing despicable things. However, what benefit does yelling actually have, besides making yourself feel better? Phelps-Roger also told that:

“We have gone into many places and they send their children out like attack dogs. At this hour, the nation is clear that when we go out, the mob comes out.”

In other words, they like the upset, angry, and untrained counter-protestors who simply spew vitriol at the WBC, making the WBC look almost reasonable in contrast. With an organized, calm counter-protest, a lot of the anger and upset can be channeled into a far more positive outlet, which certainly will not change the WBC protestors’ minds but is still a worthwhile demonstration of support for everything WBC vilifies.

Am I right, though? Did our counter-rally actually doing anything worthwhile, or did we just play right into the hands of the WBC? And here’s the biggest question: did we simply legitimize the WBC?

That is what I am most afraid of: that somehow, by my actions, I actually aided and abetted the WBC’s hate campaign. However, that brings me to the most important reason I went to the counter-rally:

3. It is never ok to stay quiet when hate is being perpetuated.

Certainly, it does not seem that the WBC will persuade many people with their sheer hate, but they are simply one small part of a much larger problem. Standing up to them is easy: they generally are repulsive to even those who might agree with their basic anti-gay rhetoric.

Standing up to the more subtle kinds of hate is hard: a gay slur used in casual conversation (“dude, you’re such a…”—if you’re under 25, you filled in the blank automatically, I’m sure), a derogative comment about how something is “so gay,” and so forth.

That is the real challenge for a decent person: to force yourself not to just let those little things slide.

-The Girlfriend

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