Cis is not a slur.

Hello, my lovelies, come sit at my feet and let me impart unto you some wisdom.

Cis is not a slur. I say this as a cis person. And a gay person. And a woman. It’s not.

A slur is defined as the following:

slur

See right there where it says that it is likely to insult them or damage their reputation? That’s what a slur is. Now, being insulted is a pretty broad thing. I can be insulted by the way that someone looks at me. But the key to any good insult, when it is a verbal insult, which is when words like cis get used, is in what, exactly, you are being insulted for.

When someone spits the word cis at you in a conversation, what they are likely expressing is their ire at your privilege. And, while that might sting, it doesn’t do much more than sting. Cis, after all, is a term meant to define a group of people who conform with the norm regarding gender expression and physical appearance.

cis

But cis is not a slur in the same way that cracker is not a slur. Having it flung at you can get you upset. But, at it’s root, it’s just a mean word. It is devoid of any threat to your person or reputation. It is neutered.

Now the second part of the definition of slur as a noun is where the real action is. A slur is something that can damage a person’s reputation. In order to demonstrate how this can be done, I’m going to use the gay community as an example. In order to avoid shitty language, I’m going to make up a slur for gay people that doesn’t exist for the purposes of this example. Our new made up slur is “floof.”

When someone uses a word like floof as a slur against a gay person, the moment in which that word is used becomes pregnant with all kinds of possibilities and meanings for the person being targeted:

  1. They may be beaten up or sexually assaulted.
  2. They may be outed to someone who can make their lives difficult, as being gay is not a protected status under hate crime legislation everywhere (yet). They can be evicted from their homes or lose their jobs.
  3. In addition to imminent threats that are brought to bear upon the person having this word flung at them, the word carries with it centuries of oppression enacted upon they gay community. Demeaning words such as floof do not exist in a vacuum. They have been used intentionally for a long time and they carry a history of oppression.

When you hurl a slur at someone, you are effecting their reputation. When that slur is a word directed at someone’s sexuality, that can do serious damage to them internally, over time, as well as externally and immediately.

The fact of the matter is that you cannot make a slur out of a word that expresses a group’s privilege. Slurs are designed to punch down. When they are used by a member of a privileged group against a member of a less privileged group, they do serious damage. When they are directed from one member of an oppressed group to another, they are being owned by that group. Which is why I can call myself a dyke or why white people can’t use the “n” word. And when they are used by a member of an oppressed group against a privileged group, they are virtually devoid of any impact.

Something to think about when you hear the word cis being used in a derogatory fashion is where that comes from. It comes, more often than not, from a place of anger and pain. That anger is the anger of a community of people who are constantly overlooked and undervalued by people who pass unharassed through society. Who don’t have to deal with uncomfortable questions being asked by strangers about their genitals in public places. Who can go into bathrooms without being asked if they’re lost. Who don’t face very specific forms of gendered violence in their everyday lives.

So while it may suck to have someone fling a mean word at you from time to time, cis isn’t a slur. And honestly? Cis people should consider themselves lucky that it isn’t. Because having to endure the types of hadrship that non-cisgendered people have endured in order to make the words used against them a slur? That doesn’t sound like fun to me.

TL;DR Being cisgendered is a privilege. Acting like you are being persecuted by being identified as what you are is ridiculous.


Featured image taken from Shutterstock.

Advertisements

On Vouching for Bastards

A few weeks ago I was at a party. While there, I settled into a deep conversation with a young woman I had just met about her dating history. She told me that she was in therapy and that her previous partners had been varying levels of abusive, with the latest one (who we’ll call Brad) being a drug addict that had, among other things, stolen thousands of dollars from her in order to purchase pills. She told me she was struggling with issues of worthiness. And that the whole thing was really hard. I listened. I commiserated. I affirmed that she was, in fact, worthy. And that I thought it was really great that she was going to therapy and also being open about it.

Later in the evening, I heard Brad’s name cross the name of another member of the group. The man in question was saying how Brad was super cool and they had a lot of fun together.

I interjected, “Brad? Her Brad?”

“Yea,” partygoer guy said. “He’s a really cool guy.”

“I’m sorry, are you aware of his history? That he’s a drug addict who steals from the people who love him?”

“Well yea,” he said, looking sheepish. “But he’s super fun to be around, this one time-”

“No. I don’t want to hear about how fun he is. Why the fuck would you endorse him as the sort of person that one should hang out and have fun with if you know what he’s done in the past?”

He blubbered, then, and said that he understood what I was saying and that he probably shouldn’t do that. I told him that no, he shouldn’t. And then continued with my evening.

Then another guy at the party started going on and on about Brad. I confronted him, too, this time with Brad’s ex in tow. His response to my queries?

“Well, he’s not that bad. He always looks me in the eye when I shake his hand.”

My actual response in the moment was something along the lines of: “That’s not exactly the litmus test of whether or not someone is a decent person, though.” He eventually acceded to my and her joint points and moved on.

But what I wanted to say was this:

OH! He looks you in the EYES, does he? Well then that turns everything on it’s head. Forget his history of drug abuse and stealing from his girlfriend. Forget all of that. He must be a good guy if he can look you in the face. A warm handshake means that all the well-meaning, intelligent women in your life should feel right as rain going on a date with him. Forget that he’s also emotionally abusive and manipulative. He knows how to interact with another human being, so all’s well!

I bit my tongue on that rant, for obvious reasons.

A few days after the party, I sat down with my brother for birthday drinks after seeing a play and brought up all of the above.

“Why, in male culture, is it OK for men to vouch for bastards? Why do they act like they’re nice guys when they’re not?” I asked him.

“Well,” he responded, “would you have called our uncle a nice guy?”

Our uncle was a heroin addict who also stole from family and friends to support his habit.

“No.” I said. “I wouldn’t. Because calling him a nice guy tells the people around me that they should trust him, and I don’t want anyone to trust him. Vouching for someone by asserting their niceness is basically putting the seal of approval onto the idea of friendship with that person.”

We talked about it for a while after that. My uncle and Brad and the way that society seems to call people nice as if that means anything at all. Nice has become this word that we all just toss around to mean that we like people or that they’re OK to hang out with or that they make a good key lime pie or whatever.

But nice means something. When you say that someone is a nice person what you’re saying is that you vouch for them. You think that the person you’re talking to should spend time with them or buy them a beer. But if you know that person is problematic, why would you give another person the idea that trusting them is a sound notion?

I’m not saying that you should spend all of your time running around extolling the horrible minutiae of the personalities of everyone you don’t like to everyone you meet. That would make you look like a dick. But maybe don’t act like someone’s cool to be around when they’re not. And maybe don’t be afraid to tell people that someone might be problematic. If someone asks your opinion about another person who find problematic, you could just say:

I won’t speak more on this without being asked, but I would be careful with Brad if I were you, based on what I know of his history.

That way you can warn the person off without going into terrible detail, but still leaves them room to take or leave your advice. Honestly, I tend to err on the side of being super direct when people ask me what I think of someone. I’ll usually just say that I don’t like them very much. There’s nothing wrong with saying you don’t like a person. If the person talking to you trusts your judgment, they can go ahead and ask for more details. If they don’t, no harm done!

I think the important thing when it comes to dealing with people whose behavior is problematic is that you don’t have to be seen as the type of person who likes and gets along with everyone. In fact, it may be better to be seen as the type of person who tells it like it is, when push comes to shove.

You can’t take the sky from me: Harassment edition

So immediately after I got that horrible phone call on Monday, I called public safety and got someone to come and take a statement from me. Once we realized that the person calling was from inside my university, my HR rep got involved and hooked me up with someone in the Office of Equality and Diversity here on campus.

My meeting was this morning. It’s gorgeous outside, if you haven’t noticed, so I grabbed my coffee and headed over, enjoying the sights and sounds of the bustling campus. I left my headphones in my desk, true to my promise to myself to live my life unfettered by blockades meant to keep the world at bay.

Walking into the building for my Equality and Diversity meeting, a man from Dannon Water was coming out with a large cart full of empty water bottles. I held the door for him, joking when he thanked me that I didn’t have nearly as much on my hands as he did. He laughed. His smile was wide and white in his face. A handsome guy. Mid-20s. The sort of person that I usually avoid locking eyes with because I am afraid of what comes next.

I patted myself on the back internally for being brave enough to interact with him and breezed by.

As I passed him I heard him grunt and say “Damn, girl.” Immediately I felt cold rage rise up in me. I wasn’t hot. Wasn’t ashamed. I was furious on a level that could not be contained. As the door closed behind me I spun to see him still staring at the area where my ass was a moment before.

I opened the door again.

“Are you fucking serious right now?” I said, eyes burning into his face.

He blustered and stuttered. “Uh, um, I, uh… I was looking at my phone!” Outrage and shame and disbelief played on his face. He knew he was caught. And he could not believe that I had pinned him so quickly. Could not believe that I was calling him out to his face.

I said, “No you weren’t, now get in your damn truck.” And I slammed the door behind me.

I am living out loud, assholes. Watch out.

This body is not for you.

On Monday afternoon my work phone rang, as it is wont to do. I answered it.

“Good afternoon, College of Engineering.”

A man’s voice answered.

“I just have to ask you a question.”

My stomach sank a little at the tone in his voice. I have had these interactions so many times before that I feel like I respond to cues that I could not possibly articulate to you. I knew, in my gut, that he was about to be disgusting.

“Sure!” I said, trying to maintain my chipper phone demeanor. “How can I help you?”

“I just need to know what color your panties are so I can jerk off.”

My face and neck were suddenly hot and crawling with shame. I snarled “go fuck yourself” into the phone line and hung up.


 

Friends, I am so tired.

When I walked home from work on Monday I felt so strange. I had my headphones in. No music playing, as usual. Just a condom against the world. A prophylactic to allow me to ignore people when it suited me. When men yelled things at me from cars or “mhm’d” their way past me on the street.

I listened to the muffled sounds of the world around me through the plug of my headphones. I could barely make out the sounds of birds in the trees at the park. The sound of my own footsteps seemed so far away.

I felt so fucking sad in that moment. Here I was, muting the world around me just so that I could create a barrier against harassment.

I took my headphones out.

I listened to the unfettered sound of the world around me and smiled.


I spend so much time trying to protect myself from harassment. Sometimes, in the summer, when it is too hot to cover my body entirely in cloth, I will stay inside until I have an escort. Other times I will wrap myself in jeans rather than a short skirt in order to avoid the possibility of leers and comments.

I refuse to wear sexy clothing when I am going to be taking public transportation.

At work, when people say weird or inappropriate things, I freeze.

I refuse to be this person any longer. I refuse to act as though I am afraid.

I have taken my headphones off.

I will wear my short skirts whenever I please.

And everyone at work had better be prepared for me to go full-on feminist killjoy on them when they tell me I should smile, or call me “sweetheart.”

I am officially done muting the beauty of the world around me and curating my behaviors in order to make it so that these jerks do not see the chinks in my armor.

I’ve had enough.

On flibanserin: The story of how low desire is stigmatized.

The FDA has approved drug flibanserin for use combating women’s low sex drive. At first, this seems almost like a victory for women’s sexual health. After all, Viagra and drugs like it have been around for a long time. However, there have been serious concerns raised by the drug across the board.

The first glaring issue lies with the name that has been ascribed to it. “Female Viagra.” Flibanserin does not do what Viagra does for men. Viagra lets you get your dick hard. Flibanserin is actually an anti-depressant that is designed to treat women’s brains in order to help them enjoy sex. Specifically, it treats hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD), also referred to as inhibited sexual desire (ISD). And honestly, I have to wonder why they did not go ahead and create a drug that has a more immediate sexual effect. Maybe something to help women who have gone through menopause to self-lubricate, for example?

But the real problem for me lies in the diagnosis of HSDD in itself. Millions of women are diagnosed with it every year in this country. HSDD is defined by the University of Maryland Medical Center as:

…a low level of sexual interest. A person with ISD will not start, or respond to their partner’s desire for, sexual activity.

ISD can be primary (in which the person has never felt much sexual desire or interest), or secondary (in which the person used to feel sexual desire, but no longer does).

ISD can also relate to the partner (the person with ISD is interested in other people, but not his or her partner), or it can be general ( the person with ISD isn’t sexually interested in anyone). In the extreme form of sexual aversion, the person not only lacks sexual desire, but may find sex repulsive.

So I have a problem with this on a couple of levels.

First of all, if someone has a low level of sexual desire, it’s not necessarily a problem that needs to be fixed. Just like some people sweat more than others or don’t like loud music in the mornings, some people just aren’t focused on or interested in sexual activity.

The fact that HSDD is included in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder) stigmatizes low sex drive and makes it seem as though people who don’t want to have as much sex as others are somehow dysfunctional. They’re not. And treating them as if they are perpetuates the myth of their stigma in their intimate sexual relationships and can lead to all kinds of issues inter-personally as well as within themselves.

Honestly, it seems to me that, by stigmatizing low sex drive, we are making it so that people perceive themselves as somehow not good enough for their partners, which leads to them seeking psychological help rather than accepting that they might not necessarily ever have a high sex drive and looking for a partner who doesn’t demand copious amounts of sex from them.

The cherry on top of this suck sunday? The side effects. Viagra’s side effects are, for the most part fairly minor, including such things as dizziness, headache, flushing, or stomach upset, the side-effects of flibanserin include low blood pressure, nausea, and fainting. And, unlike Viagra, which is taken only when needed, flibanserin is, at it’s root, an anti-depressant and must be taken daily.

So thanks, FDA, for pretending that you actually give a fuck about research into the sexual health of women. It’s clear that you don’t. I hope that no one takes this drug and it winds up banished to the annuls of history like the shitty, exploitative, damaging product that it truly is.

To Catch a Sociopath

I’ve resisted doing a couple of things in public for a while. The first of which is talking about my own struggles with emotionally abusive partners. And the second of which is being open in writing about my relationship with the leather community. I’m doing a little bit of both of those things here.

Of course, it takes seeing my friends dealing with a problem in order to spur me into action.

So there’s this guy, Wes Fenza. He runs a blog called Living Within Reason. I met him once, at a bar, back when I was in a terrible poly relationship that I’ll talk more about later. He struck me, at the time, as the type of guy who keeps a harem around him at all times in order to make himself look cool. Our only interaction occurred when he put his arm around me and I threatened to remove it.

Years later, it turns out that he dated a few someones that I now know. And that he’s way worse than just some guy who keeps a bunch of women around him. He fancies himself a leader within the poly community and gives classes and instruction on consent while acting in his personal relationships like your typically abusive narcissistic sociopath. Needless to say, I’ve had a problem with him as a person for a while, from afar.

On Friday he published a blog that I just couldn’t let slide, both from the perspective of a person involved in the leather community and from the perspective of a person who believes in consent in relationships. That said, I’m going to break down his arguments here to expose them for the serious problem that they are.


My friend Rose, writing at her brand new blog Our Better Natures, makes an excellent point about the use of rules in relationships:

For these types of situations, I think that an idea from the kink and power exchange community is useful.  For any healthy power exchange, even while playing with consensual nonconsent, there is an overarching level at which someone can always opt out.  I suggest that we look at all rules and agreements as a form of role playing in this vein.  With healthy power exchange, ideally, the power dynamics are explicitly negotiated with necessary safe words in place.  Rules and agreements need to be negotiated in much the same way.  Rules and agreements are their own type of role playing because we can never fully and truly give up our ability to make decisions, set boundaries, or leave the relationship and also still maintain healthy consent.  If we take the view on consent outlined above, then there truly can be no inherent level at which anyone owes anyone else intimacy or control over their choices and emotional states.

When Rose talks about “these types of situations,” she is talking about a situation in a poly relationship wherein a woman in a long term relationship with one person decides to have a child with another person. It’s a complex situation that you can read about at her blog, but it’s not the main thrust of this so I’m not going to try to explain it. Suffice it to say that Rose comes to this conclusion re: consent.

And I think her conclusions are valid. If I make an agreement with someone inside of a relationship, that agreement is only valid for as long as it exists between us. If we have a discussion and I decide to dissolve that agreement, we enter into a new phase of our relationship. It’s not that hard to figure out. The fact is that no human is static, and the things that we agree to this week or this month might be untenable at a later date for any number of reasons.

This is a great point, and I think consensual power exchange is a great lens through which to view rulemaking in relationships. I’ve written before about how rules are a way that we psychologically manipulate our future selves into making the correct choices when we don’t trust our future selves to do so.

And here’s the first moment when Wes loses me, in the first point that he makes by himself.

If you are making an agreement with another person that you do not think you can reasonably fulfill in the future, then why are you making it? The only way to honestly make a commitment to a rule or agreement with another person is to make it with the expectation that you can fulfill it. To use a BDSM example, I would never make an agreement with my partner to allow her to sleep with someone else. Because that is not a circumstance I could see myself continually agreeing to. But I will gladly abide by other rules in our relationship that I can see myself adhering to on a continuing basis, so I agree to them.

Agreeing to adhere to a rule that you have no intention of continuing to respect is not a precept of the BDSM lifestyle, and shouldn’t be a part of any type of adult consensual relationship.

When we involve another person in the rulemaking (that is, we make a promise or agreement to another person), we implicitly give them the authority to demand compliance with that promise. In essence, it’s a form of consensual power exchange whereby we voluntarily give up a bit of our freedom to another person or persons.

And here Wes misses the point again.

First of all, when you make an agreement with someone, you are giving them “the authority to demand compliance with that promise.” That’s not implicit. That’s explicit. That’s what a promise IS, at it’s very root. And again, if you can’t make that promise in a continuous and ongoing fashion and still be happy with your relationship with that person, you shouldn’t be making that promise. And if that promise is a cornerstone of your relationship with someone and you can’t see yourself sticking with it? You shouldn’t be in that relationship.

Moreover, making agreements with another person regarding the rules of a relationship shouldn’t be seen as giving up power and freedom to that person. That makes promises and agreements seem as though they are a burden. And most promises shouldn’t be. Most promises should be things that you freely give to another person in order to ensure their and your continued happiness.

People should not feel the need to yoke themselves into things that make them uncomfortable or unhappy. That said, if you feel as though you are losing some essential part of yourself or your freedom by making promises and agreements with your partner, then, again, maybe that person isn’t the person for you.

One of the most important concepts in any consensual power exchange relationship, be it a five-minute scene or a thirty-year relationship, is that consent must be ongoing and can be revoked at any time. This is an uncontroversial idea in BDSM communities, where the norm is to always have a safeword which will immediately end the scene as soon as any party want to opt out. In longer-term consensual power exchange relationships, all parties stress that the details of any power exchange agreement are entirely voluntary and open to revocation free from coercive pressure.

Yes. This is the the first thing that Wes has said that I have agreed with.

Relationship rules or agreements ought to be treated the same way. Ideally, all parties would be clear that anyone was free to unilaterally cancel any agreement at any time free from guilt, shame, or obligation.

And now he’s lost me again. So let’s talk about consent and safewords for a second here.

Consent and safewords are part of my relationship. I use them to make sure that boundaries are not crossed that would damage my trust in my partner or physically harm me. Using a safeword in the moment is not a condemnation of my partner, nor is it something for which they should feel guilty. It’s simply a signal that I have reached a point where I feel I have had enough and need to stop what I am doing.

The idea that you should be able to “unilaterally cancel any agreement at any time free from guilt, shame, or obligation” is, if you’ll pardon my coarse language, fucking sociopathic at it’s very core.

  1. Me safewording during a scene is not me cancelling my agreement. It is me holding my partner to the agreement that we both signed on for.
  2. While me safewording is not cancelling an agreement, my partner choosing to do something outside of what we have agreed on in the scene very much is cancelling our agreement. For example, if I say explicitly that I am not interested in a specific type of play and she does it anyway, she has broken our explicit agreement. And I have every right to be angry with her. And she should feel guilty and obligated to me to repair the damage that she has done, if possible.
  3. Just the idea that you should be able to break your promises without any consequences alone is dysfunctional in the extreme.

Looking back on what Mr. Fenza thinks is the premise for making promises, it is clear that he is looking for a way to back out of his agreements with his partners without being held to account for doing so. He is looking for this because, when he makes a promise to someone, he has no intention of continuing to consent to the promise he made in the future, he’s just trying to trick himself into maybe being a decent guy. Which is hard to do when you are clearly a manipulative cad.

I just said this, but I’m going to say it again for emphasis: Safewording and breaking your promises to another person are not the same fucking thing. Safewording is a way to make sure that both partners abide by what they have promised. And if you break your word to another person, they have a right to be upset with you.

Sadly, people often view terminating an agreement as a hostile act or a betrayal.

Because, very frequently, it is.

Look, people change. We all know that. And sometimes it is necessary for relationships to end. But Mr. Fenza is clearly looking for an out here for the fact that he makes a habit of making promises and agreements that he has very little expectation of keeping in the future.

While the BDSM community is nearly united in support of the idea that power exchange can be revoked without penalty, the poly community lags far behind on this idea. It is remarkably commonplace to see people pressured, shamed, and coerced into abiding by agreements that no longer work for them.

No one should have to be pressured, shamed, and coerced into abiding by agreements that no longer work for them. That is terrible. But, again, Mr. Fenza is clearly making agreements that he has no intention of abiding by in the future, and that in itself is more likely his problem, rather than simply growing into a different person for whom his previous obligations no longer make sense.

As I’ve written before, sometimes terminating an agreement can result in the other party ending the relationship, and that is to be expected. The same principle that says any party can terminate an agreement at any time also mandates that any party is free to end the relationship at any time. The same principle applies in all consensual power exchange relationships.

Of course you are free to end a relationship at any time. Duh. But you cannot expect that the other person(s) in that relationship are somehow magically going to be totally happy with you as a result. People are allowed their emotions. And if you have made promises to the people you are in relationships with, you can reasonably expect that they are going to be upset at the dissipation of those promises. And you have to deal with that fact.

So next time someone wishes to renegotiate or terminate an agreement, let’s take a lesson from the BDSM community and recognize that it is always their right to do so, and allow them a space free of shame, obligation, or guilt.

I want to know what this magical world of Fenza’s looks like wherein there is not shame, obligation, or guilt over terminating an agreement. We’ve already established that his safeword comparison is not valid. Because that’s holding someone to an agreement, not breaking one.

When you break a promise to someone or end a relationship, you may have obligations to them regardless of the dissolution of that promise or relationship. If you own property or have a child together, for instance. You may travel in the same social circles still. Or any other number of things. You can’t just dump your agreements with people and then move on with impunity and expect them not to hold you to the things that you said. Or to not be mad at or upset with you when you don’t.

Fenza’s whole blog entry reads like the desperate plea of a man who wants people to give him everything while he gives them nothing. And it’s couched in so much jargon and rhetoric that I didn’t even realize just how bad and troubling his ideas were until I read closely every line and saw clearly the sickening narcissism and self-involvement that it took to write it.

If you read more of his stuff, you can see more of the same. When you realize that this blog and these types of ideas are coming from someone that has had numerous people in the poly community here in Philadelphia come forward and report him for abuse, Wes becomes more than just a jerk with bad ideas. He becomes a dangerous jerk with bad ideas who is using feminist jargon and BDSM precepts incorrectly in order to cloak a seriously problematic core concept that holds the consent of his partners in contempt and allows him to raise up as some kind of virtue his inability to make a genuine promise and stick to it in his relationships.

His response to being called out on these things in the past has been shockingly tone deaf and manipulative, so I don’t doubt that I will hear from His Royal Highness at some point after this blog is published. Unlike many of his former partners, though, I don’t have any real reason to care about his feelings and I can’t be manipulated. That said, I promise to publish in full any response he gives me with all kinds of delightful commentary for you to enjoy.

I firmly believe that, if we do not expose the monsters in our midst, we are complicit in their monstrous acts.

Rocket Cat Cafe’s Nudity Nonchalance

On Friday a friend of mine was at the Rocket Cat Cafe down in Northern Liberties in Philadelphia. While she was there, she was accosted by local nudist Tom Dimitriou, also known as Tommy D Naked Man. Needless to say she was shocked by the appearance of a man’s naked genitals next to her face while he offered her a flier for the Philly Naked Bike Ride. She got up and gave the guy an earful. You can read her account of what happened in an article she wrote for The Frisky, but she also commented on Rocket Cat’s Yelp page about it.

11822351_395852690609042_4271121925184196395_n

The response of Rocket Cat owner Karen Breeze was to post this nonpology to their Facebook page.

Untitled

The fact that Breeze tried to turn their “apology” into a message promoting the event that they think somehow excuses this behavior is the first really big problem with this message. The second problem is that the owner tries to make it sound as though PNBR’s body positivity movement is in any way helped by jumping people in their regular day with a naked person. Weird thing about people, they don’t like having unsolicited dick waved in their face when they are having coffee. It’s a consent thing.

Of course, eventually the Breeze reached out to the Philly Naked Bike Ride and asked them for their support. They sent the following:

11800481_10152871575931150_5446400251872957627_nI hate to tell Breeze this, but PNBR’s response does not really help her out at all. All it does is show that PNBR was not aware of the type of promotion that Tommy D was doing and that they would never have allowed that type of promotion to go on, had they known about it.

That doesn’t mean that Breeze is somehow off the hook. Or that she has the support of PNBR in any way. PNBR has flat out asked that Tommy D not be involved with any of their promotional affairs in future. That is likely because they recognize that Tommy D is not a good representative if you are trying to get people to like or feel comfortable around you as an organization.

It also doesn’t help the case of Breeze or Rocket Cat that she has gone through her pages and deleted all the negative comments associated with this incident. Or that she has blocked supporters of Sarah (such as yours truly) from commenting.

I have to say, Breeze made made a lot of mistakes in this whole debacle. Nonetheleast of which was the use of Tommy D as an advocate of body positivity.

Which brings me to my next point. I have met Tommy D before. At an event called the Erotic Literary Salon here in Philadelphia. Of course, when you have a sex positive event, you get all kinds coming out for it. And Tommy D was one of the people who came out that gave me the willies. He was too touchy. Too leery. And he talked constantly about what a thrill it was to be seen naked by people on the street. The whole thing made me really uncomfortable, so I avoided him. He really seemed to be communicating all the time that his true thrill in being seen naked was that other people would see it, whether or not they consented to seeing him naked was never discussed. Tommy D’s view on consent is pretty amazing, honestly. He said in an article in Philadelphia Magazine on Monday that:

“I had permission from the owner. I figured that’s good enough. This thing about consent is an affront to our civil liberties. If someone gives you permission to be naked at their venue, and you don’t like it, then leave.” Likewise, he brushed off concerns that children at the café saw him naked. “That business about nudity hurting children is a lot of baloney,” he said.

Now, I’ve been to clothing optional places before. They are usually very well sign posted as such to the people patronizing them. You don’t just walk into a place and get surprised by how naked everyone is. Sometimes you even have to sign a waiver. Like it or not, public nudity is illegal in most places. And just because a person who owns a venue tells you that you can be naked, that doesn’t mean that they have the legal right to.

After I read that, I sent the article to the Salon organizer with a note saying that she might be interested in Tommy D’s views of consent. Her response was to tell me that the story was a “slippery slope” because he “had consent” from Breeze to be there.

Untitled s 1

Except the owner of an establishment cannot consent on behalf of her patrons. If she had put up signage, I would agree that she had the right to shuck off responsibility for people being upset. But she did not.

Her next point was that “people freak out when it comes to nudity” and that, if they don’t like it, they can remove themselves.

Untitled s 2

But that isn’t really relevant here. Again, a store owner cannot consent on behalf of the people in her store to a thing. And taking responsibility for what you want to be exposed to is all well and good when you can predict what you are going to be exposed to. But spotting naked scrotum isn’t something you really expect at a coffee shop that isn’t located on a nudist resort.

And honestly, if this were any other type of behavior, I doubt that people would find it defensible. If Tommy D had entered the store and just wantonly started punching people, for example, no one would tell the patrons to “take responsibility for what they are exposed to” and “just leave.” So many of the people responding to this story are seeing what he did as some kind of act of sexual freedom and body positivity. But it’s not. As Sarah Gray said in her Frisky article:

An act isn’t “body positive” or “sex positive” just because you say so. In a country where a sexual assault happens every 107 seconds and 98% of rapists are never jailed, you don’t get to complain when women respond with alarm to a sudden scrotum in the face.

As if all of his behavior wasn’t gross enough, Tommy D also upped the ante yesterday. He found Sarah’s phone number, called her up, said “This is Tommy. Freedom will win.” and then hung up the phone. So, you know, add stalking and harassment to his list of attributes right after thinking that consent is just a thing that fucks with his ability to do whatever he wants. He totally deserves the defense of all of these people all over Rocket Cat’s page. Except not.

#FreeTheNipple and Instagram’s Woman Problem

When you search #FreeTheNipple on Instagram, the results range from people actively protesting the ban on nipples by Instagram to requests for women to DM Instagram users to request photos of their dicks in return. But the most common images and videos attached to the hashtag are hardcore pornography.

To that I have this to say: What the fuck, Instagram?

If you want your platform to be some paragon of clothed virtue, but you let porn propagate on your site without stopping it, what I’m seeing is that you really only have a problem with women’s bodies when they are put on display in certain ways. Chiefly, when they are put on display by women in a context that does not involve someone else overtly deriving sexual pleasure from viewing the image.

Let me tell you a little story.

I grew up a girl. Not a particularly sexy or beautiful girl. But a girl. I didn’t bloom early or anything. I actually bloomed late.

That said, I got harassed on the street fairly often as a young adult. And I noticed something important. When I traveled by myself or with other young and femme-presenting people, I received a lot of harassment and unwanted attention from the men around me. When I traveled with masculine-presenting people, the harassment all but vanished.

That’s how I learned that I was safer when men perceived me as being controlled by another man.

When I would date, the men who I would date never wanted to hear about my relationships with other men. They were very keen to learn what my relationships with women were like. For them, my sex with other men was not entertaining. But my interactions with women were. I always refused to tell them anything. But they were very interested in taking control of my past sexual interactions with women.

That’s how I learned that my sex was something that the men I dated would always want to claim and control.

When I was an adult, the men I knew would go to strip clubs sometimes. I would listen to the way that they talked about strippers, how they would slag them off as diseased or slutty. It was as if, because these women were not willing to or interested in fucking them, the men watching them had to take them down a peg.

That is how I learned that the bodies of women put on display by women are bodies covered in shame by society as a means of disempowering them.

As an adult, I still get harassed. It still only seems to happen when I am alone or in the company of other femme-presenting women.

When I look at Instagram and see the way that they treat the bodies of women, I see every nasty and negative thing that I have ever learned about my body and my place in society reinforced. Instagram has a woman problem that I don’t really see changing anytime soon. And I’m not sure whether I will continue to keep up an account there. It’s something I have to think about. I feel like, with all of this, I should just leave that space completely. But I also feel like I should fight back somehow rather than just throwing in the towel. My personal account has not had any problems because I don’t post anything that would show my nipples. And my other account is pet poems, so I am really at a loss as to what I should do to help with this issue other than to send a message to Instagram, which I hope they will receive.

Instagram, you really need to get your shit together or you are going to see a mass exodus of users like me who are tired of watching women’s bodies be policed by you. This shit is not OK.

Black Lives Matter: Sandra Bland

It seems as if I wake up every day to the sound of another name. Like a gunshot. They ring out over social media.

This week it was Sandra Bland.

I didn’t know who she was last month. Last year. She wasn’t a friend. Wasn’t someone I knew. But I knew her story as soon as the hashtag popped up on Twitter.

#WhatHappenedToSandraBland.

I already knew what happened. A moment of digging into a link posted by a friend yielded the details.

She was 28 years old. Younger than me. But she was vocal like me. Specifically, she was vocal about police abuse. Like me.

The difference between the two of us was that Sandra was a black woman. And there are consequences for being a vocal black woman that there are not on the table for me as a vocal white woman.

They found Sandra dead in her cell in police custody on July 13th.

The initiated a federal investigation on the 16th. They thought she might have been murdered.

Then they released the dashcam footage yesterday. And it did not come anywhere close to exonerating the police. I will not share the video here. You can go and look for it. I watched it once and I will never watch it again.

A summary, though, for those of you who want to avoid watching it.

In the video, officer Brian Encinia pulls her over. After a brief exchange, he tells her to put out her cigarette. She refuses. He asks her to step out of the car. When she refuses, they argue for a minute until he tells her to get out of the car again and threatens to “light her up” with his taser. Then he moves to arrest her on the sidewalk, out of view of the dashcam. There is some kind of physical altercation on the sidewalk, out of view, and Sandra is arrested.

Far from exonerating the officers, this video was troubling to it’s very core. She was being pulled over for failing to signal a lane change. She is not required to put out her cigarette during a traffic stop. There was no reason for the officer to have her exit the vehicle. And the sound of the scuffle off where the cameras can’t see was disturbing in the extreme.

Today, the latest news is that the video appears to have been edited. Which just makes everything worse. It’s clear that the footage has been doctored within the week that has passed since Sandra’s death. In the video, the footage appears to have been looped and edited several times, with cars appearing and disappearing and people walking out of the frame multiple times.

I just… the thing that keeps getting to me about all of the deaths and abuse that we have been seeing is the brazen way that they are perpetrated.

It’s obvious that Sandra’s death was wrongful with even a cursory glance at the facts. It’s obvious that she did not need to be arrested. It’s obvious that the officer’s behavior was out of line. It’s obvious that the video was doctored.

And yet, as with all of these cases, I hold out no hope that Sandra’s killers will see justice done. At most, they will get fired or something. They won’t stand trial for her murder. They won’t suffer for the way that she suffered.

It’s horrible to feel the truth of that. The immunity that police enjoy in these cases. Because really, every time this happens, it erodes my faith in the justice system a little more. It takes away from the ability of people of color in this country to feel safe in their own neighborhoods. It erodes the ability of good cops to do their jobs safely.

The more this happens, the more we lose. I just wish someone in government would wake up and see that and do something.

Radical Issues: An Interlude

This morning I read Rebecca Solnit’s “letter to my dismal allies on the US left.” So much in it resonated deeply with me. In it, she said:

Maybe it’s part of our country’s puritan heritage, of demonstrating one’s own purity and superiority rather than focusing on fixing problems or being compassionate. Maybe it comes from people who grew up in the mainstream and felt like the kid who pointed out that the emperor had no clothes, that there were naked lies, hypocrisies and corruptions in the system…

When you’re a hammer everything looks like a nail, but that’s not a good reason to continue to pound down anything in the vicinity. Consider what needs to be raised up as well. Consider our powers, our victories, our possibilities; ask yourself just what you’re contributing, what kind of story you’re telling, and what kind you want to be telling.

So often I feel like we spend so much time as feminists and activists pointing out the nudity of our leaders and the systems that they put in place that we cannot enjoy our victories even for a moment.

A prime example for me came in the form of the SCOTUS decision on Friday regarding marriage equality in the US. You have to have known that it happened. The internet has been awash in rainbows ever since.

Anyway, about halfway through my day on Friday I noticed a vocal minority starting to talk about how there is a lot more work to do and how we need to turn our eyes to the future.

They’re not wrong.

But I couldn’t help the frustration that welled up in me. Can’t we just have ONE DAY? I thought. Can’t we just celebrate this culmination of so much blood, sweat and tears and then think about the rest of What Must Be Done tomorrow?

One of my biggest issues with being involved in social justice as a feminist is this constant nitpicking at everything that happens. I know that there are larger issues at stake. I know that we are not done fighting. I know that things are getting better in small increments that appear big when they suddenly have a cover story in the New York Times.

But sometimes I just want to celebrate without delving into the minutia of complications that suck the joy right out of a victory. Sometimes I just want to say “Hey, isn’t it great that SCOTUS ruled in favor of marriage equality?” and have people respond with “Yes” rather than “Yes, but…”

I’m not an idiot. I don’t live with my head in the sand. I recognize the irony of Facebook plastering everyone’s profile pictures with rainbows while still not allowing trans folks to use their actual names on their profiles. I’m aware that the right to get married to my girlfriend does not mean that, in certain states, we can’t still be fired or evicted based on our relationship.

I know that. I know all of that and more. But it’s fucking exhausting to be reminded of it even at the height of something wonderful happening.

As Solnit said:

There is idealism somewhere under this pile of bile, the pernicious idealism that wants the world to be perfect and is disgruntled that it isn’t – and that it never will be. That’s why the perfect is the enemy of the good. Because, really, people, part of how we are going to thrive in this imperfect moment is through élan, esprit de corps, fierce hope and generous hearts.

We all want to live in a perfect world. We want to see things change for the better. But I think that being constantly on edge and constantly picking at people about the problems is not necessarily as healthy for ourselves or our causes as we would like it to be. When we are delivered a solid win like the one we had on Friday, I think it’s OK to let go and celebrate the victory for the moment and set the inevitable problems aside to analyze later.