Tag Archives: sexuality

The Unforgiving Minute

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Laurie Penny | Longreads | November 2017 | 12 minutes (3,175 words)

“I’m sick of being asked to suffer so a man can grow.”

– Alexandra Petri

“Everyone. Fucking. Knew.”

– Scott Rosenberg

This is actually happening.

The so-called “revelations” about endemic male sexual aggression in Hollywood, in the media, in politics, in the tech world, and in communities large and small have not stopped, despite every conceivable effort to dismiss, discredit, shame, and belittle the survivors coming forward to demand a different world. The most uncomfortable revelation is the fact that none of this, really, was that revelatory.

A great many people knew. Maybe they didn’t know all of it, but they knew enough to feel tainted by a complicity that hobbled their compassion.

It turns out that this isn’t about individual monsters. It never was. This is about structural violence, about a culture that decided long ago that women’s agency and dignity were worth sacrificing to protect the reputation of powerful men and the institutions that enabled their entitlement. Everyone, including the “good guys,” knew it was happening. We just didn’t think it was all that wrong. At least, not wrong enough to make a fuss about, because the people groping their callous, violent way through life knew they’d get away with it, and most of the men around them were permitted the luxury of ignorance.

Except that now that seems to be changing. Now, Old Dinosaurs are wondering how to negotiate with an oncoming asteroid. Current or former Stupid Young Men are in a state of panic about their imminent introduction to the concept of “consequences,” leading to the question: what, precisely, is the age when men are expected to take responsibility for their behavior?

The answer, with any luck, is “The Digital One.”

Very few men seem sure what to do in this situation. I have been asked, repeatedly, what men and boys ought to be doing now. How should we behave differently? How guilty should we be feeling? What do women actually want?

Good. You’re finally asking. I suspect that if more of you had asked that question earlier, if you’d asked it often, and if you’d paid attention to the answers, we wouldn’t have to have this conversation — which nobody wants to be having — right now. It’s a shame, honestly, that it had to come to this. But here we are, and here we’re going to stay while powerful scumbags all over the world take a break from public life to spend more time with the police, and while people who’ve nursed private hurts for years start putting the puzzle pieces together until they recognize the shape of injustice.

I’m sorry; you’re new here. The notion that women’s agency and dignity might be more important than men’s right to act like grabby children whenever they want may feel like uncharted territory, but some of us have lived here all along. You don’t know your way around, and the whole place seems full of hidden terrors, and you’re tired and scared and being here makes you feel ignorant and powerless. You haven’t learned the language — they didn’t offer it at your school — and you wish you knew how to ask basic questions, like where is the nearest station, and how much is that sandwich, and do you know the name of a good defense lawyer? You wish you knew how to translate simple ideas, like: I’m hungry, and I’m lonely, and my entire life I’ve let my fear of women’s rejection control my behavior and that fear seemed so overwhelming that it didn’t matter who got hurt as long as I didn’t have to feel it and everyone else seemed to agree and now I don’t know who to be or how to act, or I think there’s a train leaving soon and I might need to be on it. Read more…

The Horizon of Desire

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Laurie Penny | Longreads | September 2017 | 15 minutes (4,185 words)

“Man fucks woman. Man: subject. Woman: object.”

 —The Fall, Episode 3, “Insolence and Wine”

The first thing you need to understand about consent is that consent is not, strictly speaking, a thing. Not in the same way that teleportation isn’t a thing. Consent is not a thing because it is not an item, nor a possession. Consent is not an object you can hold in your hand. It is not a gift that can be given and then rudely requisitioned. Consent is a state of being. Giving someone your consent — sexually, politically, socially — is a little like giving them your attention. It’s a continuous process. It’s an interaction between two human creatures. I believe that a great many men and boys don’t understand this. I believe that lack of understanding is causing unspeakable trauma for women, men, and everyone else who is sick of how much human sexuality still hurts.

We need to talk about what consent really means, and why it matters more, not less, at a time when women’s fundamental rights to bodily autonomy are under attack across the planet, and the Hog-Emperor of Rape Culture is squatting in the White House making your neighborhood pervert look placid. We still get consent all wrong, and we have to try to get it a bit less wrong, for all our sakes.

To explain all this, I’m going to have to tell you some stories. They’re true stories, and some of them are rude stories, and I’m telling you now because the rest of this ride might get uncomfortable and I want you to have something to look forward to.

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I Was a 9-Year-Old Playboy Bunny

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Shannon Lell | Longreads | September 2017 | 9 minutes (2,345 words)

 

My first sex partner was a homemade three-foot-tall Raggedy Ann doll lovingly stitched together by a distant relative. She wore a tangled mess of red yarn hair sewn in loops around her head like a halo. A cornflower-blue smock hugged her stuffed body in all the right places. Her undergarments were bloomers made of white fabric with eyelets and lace at the bottom. When stripped naked she was smooth, supple, alabaster cotton. She had adorable black button eyes and a sewn-on smile: permanently enthusiastic. I may have preferred Raggedy Andy — it’s hard to tell when you’re 8 — but he belonged to my big sister. I was left to love the one I was with. Full disclosure: At some point I did have a tryst with Andy. But under his denim overalls, confusingly, he and Ann were anatomically identical. Like many girls who played with dolls, this would prove to be my first disappointing encounter with male genitals.

I shared a room with my sister until I was 14. That’s when my parents could afford a bigger house. For 12 years our family of five — parents, sister, brother, and me, the youngest — lived in a modest three-bedroom home in a cookie-cutter neighborhood on a street called Serene. Our family was the median of every statistic: middle class, middle America, moderately educated, mildly religious.

Before my parents could afford to give us our own beds, and during my late-night love sessions with Ann, I took to sleeping on the floor for privacy. It felt like the right thing to do. And besides, my sister was always brooding for a fight.

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Scarred by a Rubber Doll

Row of life-like dolls in Japan
Human Cloning in Japan by Danny Choo via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The original piece is a lot to digest. It’s a delicate look at Japanese men who claim they’ve found true love with life-like dolls. But there’s a back story, too. On CorrespondentAlastair Himmer and Tokyo photo chief Behrouz Mehri talk about how they were affected by their work on this story.

You don’t expect to be emotionally scarred by a lifestyle story — and certainly not by a rubber doll. It seemed like such a good idea at the time: write a story that takes a look at the lives of Japanese men and their silicone lovers. I’m AFP’s lifestyle and sports correspondent in Japan and if this wasn’t a lifestyle story, I don’t know what was. I admit that I have previously had odd experiences doing my job. I once ran off the set of a porn shoot. But that was child’s play compared to sex dolls.

But poor Behrouz. He hadn’t been exposed to something like that before. I feel awful about what I did to the Tokyo photo chief. But you have to understand my perspective. It took me nine months to set up this story. You don’t just approach someone on the street and ask them “Can we photograph you and your sex doll.” You make contacts, you get to know the people, you develop trust. I didn’t want to blow all those efforts with some hackneyed, tabloid-style guffaw at Japanese men who go on dates with lifesize dummies. So when Behrouz asked me to ask one of the men, Senji Nakajima, if he could spend the night at his place for the story, I spat coffee all over my shirt. But I asked and Senji agreed and Behrouz went.

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Finding Her True Self: Queer and Muslim

Photo by edenpictures via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

When young international student Lamya H arrives in Manhattan, she not only finds the city she’s come to know from books and media, she finds a place to explore her sexuality in a way that surprises even her. In the Los Angeles Review of Books, Lamya H recounts how she started to embrace her true self and all the challenges it would create.

It has been a wonderful night. “Queer Muslim Show and Tell,” a brilliant idea by my friend, where we’ve all shared something we’re passionate about. Things that we didn’t know about each other: my friend who is a serious academic reads us the poetry that she writes in her free time; another friend brings a comic book collection to show us; another talks about the anti-violence project she’s starting up at her mosque.

It has taken me a while to find these people, this group of queer Muslims who will spend a Saturday night sharing parts of themselves. It has taken me years dragging myself to lesbian bars and pride and dance parties and all that this city has to offer, these places where my Muslimness, my brownness feel acutely out of place. These places where, once, a white lesbian once petted my hijab like I was an exotic creature, where this other time, a Moroccan bouncer looked me up and down and said, “What are you doing here, sister?”

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Protect that Underwear Zone: Abstinence Only Sex Education

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The chatter continued for a while; then Whittle flipped to another photo of two smiling white teenagers. Next to the picture was the phrase “sexual abstinence” and its definition: “saving sexual activity for a committed marriage relationship.” Boals told the kids, “We define ‘sexual activity’ as when the underwear zone of another person comes into contact with any part of your body.” The students would often be asked to recite this definition at the beginning and end of each class.

Data shows that abstinence-only sex education doesn’t work, but it’s still a common practice in American public schools. On Mother Jones, Becca Andrews tags along with an abstinence-only sex education teaching tour — and reflects on her own education, ten years earlier.

I don’t regret abstaining in high school, but the fear I picked up along the way hasn’t been easy to shake. I’d believed that sperm could swim through the holes in condoms and impregnate anyone stupid enough to rely on them. It appeared to me that there was no good way to have sex until you wanted a baby, and I didn’t understand what changed once you were married, if birth control wasn’t protection enough. Surely the Pill can’t tell if you wear a wedding band.

When I did start having sex in my early 20s, even though I loved the man I was with, part of me felt disgusted with my body and overwhelmed by the experience. I couldn’t figure out what I liked because I grew up hearing that I wasn’t supposed to like any of it. I felt paralyzing shame at a basic expression of love.

Seems like an effective method to create more handmaids.

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Cultural Conflicts, Embodied: On Being Transgender, and Unsure

I don’t know that I’ll ever cross over the threshold into a true or authentic self, that I’ll ever pass as male or feel like a singular entity, rather than split. Being in a female body, being dismissed, patronized and emotionally abused in the ways women so often are, has shaped my understanding of human beings, of the ways we interact and exert control. I don’t want to become what I hate, to embody the monstrousness latent in masculinity, growing an extra layer of tissue separating me from my emotions and impairing my compassion for others in the process. I don’t want to be anything like my father.

A trans man I’ve become friends with describes his psychological state before starting testosterone, the inner chaos that rendered him absent from his own life, and the peace hormones brought him, a newfound balance due even more to neurochemical recalibration than bodily changes. I measure my vanity, my horror at the thought of being lonely and unwanted, against my health, my ability to participate in the world. I don’t know that I’ll ever stop hesitating in the wings, too shy of my own spirit, too afraid and unsure of whether I want to be seen for all of who I am.

Jason Phoebe Rusch, in Entropy, takes readers through an experience of being transgender that’s different from most of the narratives the media focuses on — different and difficult, with conflicting desires and fears that physical transition won’t solve.

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The Lives of Nuns, Part 2: A Reading List

As part of my New Year’s Resolutions, I’ve vowed to read the hundreds of books I already own. Last night, I started and finished Kicking the Habit: A Lesbian Nun Story by Jeanne Córdova, which I received last year courtesy of a giveaway from Danika Ellis, a book blogger who runs The Lesbrary. Córdova’s 1990 memoir is compulsively readable—I couldn’t put it down. She writes about her decision to join the convent fresh out of high school, her growing unease regarding church politics, her deep friendships with her fellow postulants and secular students alike, and, eventually, her decision to leave the novitiate. Córdova is well-known for her 2011 memoir, When We Were Outlaws: A Memoir of Love and Revolution, which describes her political work and LGBTQ community organizing in the 1970s. She was a force for good in the West Coast queer community. She edited a lesbian magazine, created an LGBTQ business directory, and even organized the Gay and Lesbian caucus to the Democratic Party. Sadly, Córdova died a little more than a year ago. I wish I could have met her.

In the two years since I compiled the first installation of “The Lives of Nuns,” Autostraddle wrote about queer nuns in history, Racked shadowed (fake) nuns growing marijuana, and The Huffington Post reported on a nun’s murder and the students who want the truth. Those stories and more are included below. Seclude yourself and read. Read more…

There Once Was a Dildo in Nantucket

Photo: Doug Butchy (CC BY 2.0)

Nineteenth-century Nantucket brings to mind whaling ships, harsh weather, and austere morality. So when a Victorian-era dildo was found in the chimney of an old Quaker home, back in 1979, it quickly became the subject of local lore.

In an essay at Literary Hub, Ben Shattuck traces the provenance of this unlikely sex toy (called a “he’s-at-home” by Nantucketers). Along the way, he also reflects on the tricky art of reconstructing intimate histories, and the ways that the objects we leave behind define us:

Mattie died at seventy-eight, in 1928, from a stroke. She had chronic myocarditis, an inflamed heart. At some point in the thirty years since James had passed, it seems, she’d gathered what she had left of him and stuffed it up the chimney, along with her dildo. All of it was small enough to fit on a damper ledge, and later inside a pink dress box. James and Mattie didn’t get to curate what they left behind, didn’t get to clean up.

Often, in death, you exit in a rush, with your things scattered about, your life exposed, your desk drawers a mess. That will be the case for all of us — leaving behind more than what we’ve accounted for. The valuables and debris of your life reach equal status at death. They are simply everything that’s left behind. Everything that was once yours. You will have thought of money, jewelry, maybe car or house, but you will not have thought of your toothbrush, your old slippers, letters from your first girlfriend you could never bring yourself to throw away, a favorite book, your child’s baby teeth. These items will be found, puzzled over, and either tossed out or kept in the back of a drawer to follow the next generation and maybe the one after that. There will also be those items you always intended to throw out but which your death will have safeguarded. I recently found in my great-grandmother’s correspondences a few letters from the secretary of state talking about the kiss they’d shared in her bedroom (she was sixteen at the time). Burn this letter, he’d written in red ink on the top of each one she saved.

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Love, Identity, and Genderqueer Family Making

Illustration by Kjell Reigstad

Maggie Nelson | The Argonauts | Graywolf Press | May 2015 | 17 minutes (4,137 words)

Published to great acclaim earlier this year, The Argonauts blends memoir and critical theory to explore the meaning and limitations of language, love, and gender. At its center is a romance: the story of the author’s relationship with artist Harry Dodge. This story, which includes the author’s account of falling in love with Dodge, who is fluidly gendered, as well as her journey to and through a pregnancy, offers a firsthand account of the complexities and joys of (queer) family-making. 

A note: In the print edition of The Argonauts, attributions for otherwise unattributed text appear in the margins in grayscale. We’ve tried to recreate those marginal citations here. However, due to the limitations of digital formatting, if you are viewing this excerpt on a mobile device the citations may appear directly above the quotations, as opposed to alongside them.

***

October, 2007. The Santa Ana winds are shredding the bark of the eucalyptus trees in long white stripes. A friend and I risk the widowmakers by having lunch outside, during which she suggests I tattoo the words HARD TO GET across my knuckles, as a reminder of this pose’s possible fruits. Instead the words I love you come tumbling out of my mouth in an incantation the first time you fuck me in the ass, my face smashed against the cement floor of your dank and charming bachelor pad. You had Molloy by your bedside and a stack of cocks in a shadowy unused shower stall. Does it get any better? What’s your pleasure? you asked, then stuck around for an answer.

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