Category Archives: community-building

A Valentine for Gene Nichol

So maybe this isn’t your typical Valentine’s Day post. This is in reaction to the letter Gene Nichol addressed to the College of William and Mary community yesterday announcing his resignation as President of the college. It was a love letter, of the sort that comes at the end of a sudden and painful breakup. (Mimi alerted me to it. I found it published by the campus paper, DogStreetJournal.com, but it’s widely Google-able. Here is the transcript and audio of a passionate statement he gave to supporters. Video is available here.)Gene Nichol at a rally after his resignation

Nichol resigned after being informed that his contract would not be renewed. The nonrenewal seems to be largely because of controversy regarding four important decisions he made.

I really can’t speak to the quality of his presidency overall. I wish I could, though, because based on recent coverage of his decisions I have a feeling I’d have really supported him. His own statements indicate a love of free speech, open society, diversity, and opportunity that are at the heart of what we support here on Sex in the Public Square.

I’ve excerpted some passages from his Letter to the Community, but I encourage you to go read the whole thing. Here is a passage regarding one “free speech” decision, which was over the Sex Workers Art Show, a traveling exhibitwe’ve supported here in the Square (we wrote about the controversy here), and one “separation of church and state” decision which had to do with the location of a cross on public university property:

First, as is widely known, I altered the way a Christian cross was displayed in a public facility, on a public university campus, in a chapel used regularly for secular College events — both voluntary and mandatory — in order to help Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, and other religious minorities feel more meaningfully included as members of our broad community. The decision was likely required by any effective notion of separation of church and state. And it was certainly motivated by the desire to extend the College’s welcome more generously to all. We are charged, as state actors, to respect and accommodate all religions, and to endorse none. The decision did no more.

Second, I have refused, now on two occasions, to ban from the campus a program funded by our student-fee-based, and student-governed, speaker series. To stop the production because I found it offensive, or unappealing, would have violated both the First Amendment and the traditions of openness and inquiry that sustain great universities. It would have been a knowing, intentional denial of the constitutional rights of our students. It is perhaps worth recalling that my very first act as president of the College was to swear on oath not to do so.

Then, not a sex or speech related decision, but one that is dear to me for different reasons:

Third, in my early months here, recognizing that we likely had fewer poor, or Pell eligible, students than any public university in America, and that our record was getting worse, I introduced an aggressive Gateway scholarship program for Virginians demonstrating the strongest financial need. Under its terms, resident students from families earning $40,000 a year or less have 100% of their need met, without loans. Gateway has increased our Pell eligible students by 20% in the past two years.

I teach at a community college. This was a choice of mine based on a feeling of commitment to low income students and to the notion that higher education should be accessible to everyone who wants it. Nichol’s work to make a prestigious liberal arts college accessible should be applauded. The fact that such a decision comes with institutional challenges is a given. I’m sure the college community was able to rise to those challenges.

Finally, in an ironic twist, Nichol tells us:

I add only that, on Sunday, the Board of Visitors offered both my wife and me substantial economic incentives if we would agree “not to characterize [the non-renewal decision] as based on ideological grounds” or make any other statement about my departure without their approval. Some members may have intended this as a gesture of generosity to ease my transition. But the stipulation of censorship made it seem like something else entirely. We, of course, rejected the offer. It would have required that I make statements I believe to be untrue and that I believe most would find non-credible. I’ve said before that the values of the College are not for sale. Neither are ours.

Free speech. Paid speech. It really does make a difference.

Listen to Nichol’s statements to his supporters and you hear even more of his love.

I understand that love can lead us into dangerous places. People do terrible things, sometimes, in the name of love. Not having been at William and Mary I really can’t know what the day-to-day feel of the Nichol presidency was like. Was he like the abusive partner who sometimes does beautiful things just to keep you off your guard? I suppose that is possible, but it doesn’t seem to be the case. In fact, it seems to be the “beautiful things” that were the controversial ones; those things that had to do with free speech, diversity and opportunity, and a balance between church and state, those are what the fight was over.

At a time when intellectual freedom is being attacked all over the place — just check the Free Exchange On Campus blog if you don’t already know this — people like President Nichol are to be admired and supported for their willingness to defend that freedom.

In an age when college education is both increasingly necessary and increasingly unaffordable, his decisions about opportunity are to be admired.

And in a media climate where it can be impossible to tell the sponsor from the source, the fact that he didn’t take their money to spin the story their way makes me all the more impressed.

I <heart> sexual freedom.

I <heart> academic freedom.

I <heart> openness, diversity and opportunity.

And this Valentine’s Day I <heart> Gene Nichol.

This post is also published on SexInThePublicSquare.org — its like this blog but with a whole lot more going on. Join us there!

Sex In The Public Square

activism + community + information

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Filed under censorship, community-building, culture, Education, News and politics, public discourse, sex work, Valentine's Day

Where have I been and where am I going?

I just noticed it’s been one month since my last post here. It has never happened before that a whole month has elapsed between posts. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t been writing in the past month. I haven’t been writing much, it’s true, but if you check out Sex In The Public Square dot Org you’ll see that there’s been a lot more activity there than here. Please consider switching your readers, links, or favorites over to http://sexinthepublicsquare.org because that site is updated much more frequently. If you’re really really attached to my blogging, you can link to http://sexinthepublicsquare.org/ElizabethsBlog if you want the page that has only my writing on it. (Please explore the whole site, though. It’s much more interesting than anything I could put together on my own.)

Where else have I been? I finished my first semester back in the classroom (what an adjustment!), spent two separate weekends at union conferences (union work being another of my passions), and just got back from a trip to Georgia to see family.

Where am I going? Next semester is going to be a busy one! I’ll be speaking at:

Eastern Sociological Society annual meeting in New York City (Feb. 23rd)

South by Southwest Interactive in Austin, TX (Mar. 8)

Sex 2.0 in Atlanta (April 12)

At SXSW I’ll be leading a conversation with Lux Nightmare about using “web 2.0” technology to help deconstruct what she has called the “pink ghetto” and others have called “NSFW” — the stigmatization of sexual content whether it be educational or entertaining in nature, and the further stigmatizing of those who produce it. At ESS and Sex 2.0 I’ll be speaking about the important project of creating a “sex commons,” a project well underway. The “sex commons” is an space where independent information about sex, sexuality, sexual health, and communities can be collected, updated and archived. You can see by blogs alone that this sex commons is growing. I’ll be talking about the challenges of maintaining such a commons and safeguarding the quality of the information it contains.

I’m excited about all of these conferences, but I’m especially excited about Sex 2.0 because it is an independent grass-roots conference of people interested in the intersection of sexuality, feminism and social media, and it is being organized by the unstoppable Amber Rhea. Some of my favorite sex-and-society writers and podcasters will be there. Audacia Ray of Waking Vixen, Naked on the Internet, and The Bi Apple, Viviane of The Sex Carnival, Rachel Kramer Bussel, erotica editor extraordinaire and excellent writer of fiction and nonfiction, Ren of Renegade Evolution, Melissa Gira of Bound, not Gagged, Sexerati and The Future of Sex, Minx of Polyamory Weekly, and lots of other amazing folks will be there, and will be talking to each other face-to-face.

Sex 2.0Because it is an independent grass-roots conference, though, it could use some grassroots support. If you have a couple of dollars to donate via PayPal I wholeheartedly encourage you to do so. (I did!) It’s fast, it’s easy, it’s secure, and you can donate as much or as little as you like. Even a couple dollars helps. To support Sex 2.0 click here to go to the conference’s home page and click the “Help make it happen” button on the upper right hand side of the page.

Why does it matter? Because those of us who are dedicated to working on the construction of what I call the sex commons (independent space containing info on sexuality of all sorts) rarely get to meet each other face to face and work on the issues we all care about together. Amber’s insight in bringing us to Atlanta is sharp. She understands that the work we do online is important and that we need moments together in person to push that work forward. You can help defray the cost of renting the space where we’ll meet, and providing modest travel scholarships to those who would otherwise not be able to attend.

To find out more you can go to the Sex 2.0 Google Group, Facebook page, MySpace page, or to its pages in Eventful or Upcoming.

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Filed under Advocacy, Info, and Activism, community-building, feminism, pink ghetto, public discourse, sex, Sex 2.0, sex work, sexuality, technology, Travel

NCSF Survey on discrimination and sexual diversity

Just a very short post to request that you take a few minutes out of your day to take the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom’s survey on violence and discrimination against sexual minorities.

From the first page of the survey:

Please help us by taking a moment to fill out this survey even if you have not been a victim of discrimination or violence. We are tracking demographics of our community and we also need to know the types of crimes, discrimination, harassment and abuses of authority that occur based on sexual expression or the perceived association with BDSM-Leather-Fetish groups.

This is an anonymous survey being distributed to the BDSM-Leather-Fetish communities throughout the world. We do not ask for your name, address or any other identifying information and all responses made on this website are fully encrypted. Any questions that require a response are marked with an asterisk.

You may contact the authors of this survey by emailing surveybdsm@gmail.com, or by writing to us at: Survey of Violence and Discrimination, 875 Sixth Avenue Suite 1705, New York, NY 10001.

Thank you for helping us raise the level of awareness of this important issue to our community. By completing this survey you are not only helping us to better understand ourselves, but you are helping in the fight for sexual freedom and sexual equality for all sexual minorities.

The National Coalition for Sexual Freedom is a leader in the national effort to protect freedom of sexual expression and end discrimination against those who participate in BDSM, polyamory, and other forms of sexuality that challenge this society’s sex norms. The more good information they have the better able they are to do that work. The survey only takes a short time.

By the way, this is National Coming Out Day. What better day to reveal, even anonymously, a bit about the impact your own kinks have had on other aspects of your life?

Click here to take the survey.

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Filed under community-building, culture, discrimination, heterosexism, nonmonogamy, public discourse, research, sex, sex and health, sex and the law

Viviane212’s Flickr Photos of the SitPS “Coming Out” Party

These photos are just a sampling from Viviane212’s Flickr set. Thanks Viviane!


Me, with co-founder Chris Hall and Rachel Kramer Bussel
Audacia Ray, Lux Nightmare and Rachel Kramer Bussel
Audacia Ray, Lux Nightmare and Rachel Kramer Bussel
Ignacio Rivera explaining the section of
Ignacio Rivera explaining the sections he is about to perform from his one-person show “Dancer”
Michele Capozzi, director of Pornology, with Miss Veronica Vera, dean of Miss Vera's Finishing School for Boys who want to be Girls

Michele Capozzi , director of Pornology, with Miss Veronica Vera, dean of Miss Vera’s Finishing School for Boys who want to be Girls


Elizabeth Wood and her mom Judy at the SitPS party
Me and my mom, Judy. I’m so happy to have a mom who would come to this party!

All photos courtesy of Viviane, of The Sex Carnival.com


You can see other comments on the Sex in the Public Square “Coming Out”/Launch Party at SexInThePublicSquare.Org.

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Filed under Audacia Ray, Chris Hall, community-building, Elizabeth Wood, Ignacio Rivera, Lux Nightmare, Michele Capozzi, public discourse, Rachel Kramer Bussel, Rapture Cafe, sex, Sex in the Public Square, Veronica Vera

Sex in the Public Square Launch Party!

Join us to celebrate the launch of SexInThePublicSquare.org!

August 17, 2007
7-10 PM
Rapture Cafe
200 Avenue A between 12 St. and 13 St.
Manhattan, NY
United States
See map: Google Maps

Sex in the Public Square.org is dedicated to expanding the space for public discussion of sexuality. Blending the techniques of blogging and social networking (think Blogger meets MySpace — but all open source!), Sex in the Public Square.org is a space on the Internet where members can explore which parts of sex are private, which parts are public, and what happens when private and public collide. We believe that sexuality is a fundamental component of human life, and that by excluding it from “polite conversation,” we lose an important element of democratic participation.

With forums, blogs, reviews, resource lists, calls for action, and a nationwide calendar of events dedicated to sexualities of all genders, colors, and persuasions and with thousands of visitors and new contributors joining each week, we’re ready to celebrate our “birth” and we want you to join us!


Help Keep Sex Out Of The Closet!

Readings and performances by:

Audacia Ray

Rachel Kramer Bussel

Lux Nightmare

and more!

Plus screenings of film clips from Cinekink and some old sex ed films too!

Click here to check out Rapture Cafe.

And check back here for updates on the festivities!

The party is free and all are welcome. Invite your friends. And we hope you’ll help us support Rapture by enjoying their coffees, teas, and bar offerings.

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Filed under Audacia Ray, community-building, culture, Education, feminism, Gender, public discourse, sex, sex and the law, sex education, sexual orientation, sexuality

SexInThePublicSquare.org

I’m holding my breath. I’ve got my hands over my eyes and am peeking out between my fingers. I can hardly believe it’s time, but it is: SexInThePublicSquare.org is ready for visitors! 

This is the “expanded” public square I told you to watch out for three weeks ago. The idea came as a result of my looking back over nearly a year of blogging here and realizing that there is a community of people that have grown around this blog, and that we needed more space. Specifically, I wanted more space for readers and commenters and visitors to talk about the sex-related issues that matter to them even when those issues are ones that I don’t think to raise, or don’t know a lot about. I noticed that many of my readers – and you all come from such a wide range of places! – don’t write about sex anywhere else. I wanted to create an open space for people who don’t have their own places to talk about sex. And I wanted a place where I could do more reading and listening!  I especially wanted a space where activism on the kinds of issues we discuss would be easier to organize. You’ll see that on the left sidebar of our new public square is an easy “Speak Out!” section that will link you immediately to your local media outlets or your representatives in local, state and federal government!

So, please drop by the new public square. The sidewalks are new, there are plenty of places to can sit and chat, or just watch what goes on. There may not be shops but there are lots of spaces for exchanging ideas! And there is also lots of room to build, so come on in and have at it! 

If you want to stroll through the square and just browse its resources feel free. Silent readers are always welcome. We put our ideas out there because we know you are there. If you want to be more active, become a member or regular contributor in the community and help us build the space! (Membership requires nothing other than a username and an email address.) 

There are some kinds of building we could especially use help with: 

We’ve got a great calendar, but I’m very NYC/San Francisco centered and there is a whole lot of space — within and outside the US that I can’t cover. If you know of interesting sex-related lectures, readings, events create a profile, become a participant, and add them to the calendar! (or use the contact form to let us know about them.) 

We’ve got a great place for collecting links to important resources — they’re sort of the signposts of our public square — and we need more of them! We want to collect links to agencies, organizations, blogs, news sources, anything that will help people sort out the complications of sexuality in their lives and in their worlds. 

We’ve got a great place for book reviews (and we can do music and film too, I’m sure) so share what you know! If you are an author who would like your work reviewed, let us know how to find it. If you’re a reader or viewer with suggestions for reviews, we want to know that too. If you want to actually write reviews, all the better. You’ll have a place to put your work! 

If you hang out a while and decide you want to be a regular contributor and have a sexuality-related blog in the square just let me know using the contact form on the site. 

One of the central pieces of the new site is the Forums space. There are lots of forums there to get us started, but there is room for an infinite number. If you don’t see what you’re looking for, please drop a note. There’s a contact form on the site. Otherwise, jump on in to anything that looks interesting! 

This blog will remain here, where you’ve come to find it for the past year, so don’t worry about that, though I may start truncating the posts here and redirect to the new site for the full posts and discussion.  (I’d love feedback on that, by the way, since I haven’t made up my mind yet.) The content of this blog is currently being syndicated on the new site, so you can read it there, but right now you’d have to come here to comment. 

The most exciting thing about the new site is the opportunity to get to know each other better. Members of the new site can have profiles and can participate in many more ways. I’m hoping we really do begin to build a smart, open, as-public-as-possible-given-private-ownership-of-phone-wires, space for the discussion of all aspects of sexuality in our personal and public lives. 

So please take walk over and say hello. We’re at http://sexinthepublicsquare.org and we can’t wait to see you! 

Oh, who is this “we” I keep talking about? My co-founders are Chris Hall of Literate Perversions and Tom Joaquin of The Free Lance. Chris and I have been working closely together over the past couple of months to create the site. Tom has jumped in to offer some advice and will, I hope, be an active participant in shaping the site. Invaluable assistance has been provided by Jade and Andale of Playful Bent. Encouragement from Robert Lawrence has been incredibly important. And JanieBelle of U Dream of Janie and Lyle Hallowell have both been a fantastic early testers of the site.  The gorgeous header image was created by Jolene Collins whose work I am extremely proud to display. My partner, who blogs as Tugster, remains more a spectator than a participant, though his support is invaluable. But if you read both of us and you’d like to see him be a more active participant, surf on over to his blog and let him know.

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Filed under activism, community-building, culture, sex, sexuality

Expanding the Public Square…

More to do and more space to do it in!

I started this blog as a way to write about ideas that didn’t easily fit into a different project I’ve been working on. That was nearly a year ago now, and Sex in the Public Square has quickly become much more than what I’d intended. Rather than remaining a container for distractions from my work, it has become an integral part of my work.

Sex in the Public Square is one piece of a large and beautifully decentralized attempt at building more rational and productive spaces for talking about sex. As the wise and perceptive bloggers at the newly-born Sex Calumny point out, “It’s not that people aren’t talking about sex. It’s just that sex is so often discussed in unproductive ways: euphemisms, commandments, myths, norms.” So I was happy, a year ago, to join other writers who use their blogs to expand the space available for productive discussions of sex, whether at the personal, community or cultural level. (My side bar is full of links to these amazing people so I’m not going to name them all here!)

And as I wrote yesterday, expanding the space for productive and honest discussion of sex and sexuality is essential to the health of our society and our communities — reducing unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections — just as it is essential to our own individual sexual fulfillment or happiness. After all, it’s hard to get what you want if you can’t communicate about it!

For those reasons, but just as importantly because I have been so encouraged by some of the conversations that have taken place here, I’ve decided it is time to expand my corner of the public square. I’m teaming up with Chris Hall of Literate Perversions, Tom Joaquin of The Free Lance, and others to create SexInThePublicSquare.org. (If you want to join in keep reading then drop me a note! And don’t try the URL just yet; it’ll just point you back here. We’re nearly ready to take down the scaffolding and put away the drop clothes, but not quite! Soon, though. I’ll tell you when.)

We’ve laid out our mission like this:

We believe that sexuality is a key component of human life, and that it cannot be excluded from “polite conversation” without losing an important element of democratic participation. We seek to expand the space available for discussions of all aspects of sexuality, and to build communities where respect and inclusion are the norm. We also believe that talk about sex needn’t always be “serious” in order to be “appropriate” and we welcome playful conversations that focus on the fun of sex as well as serious conversations that focus on things like policy, safety, and identity.

The new site will be collaborative, with varying levels of access depending on the interest level of the member. There will be many different ways to participate. And just as here, unregistered visitors will be able to read and comment on everything.)

A public square is a place of intersections, of interactions, of communication and recreation, of political and expressive space, and mostly, of community building. SexInThePublicSquare.org will be basically blog-like in format, thus easy to navigate and easy to keep up with, but will have features and capabilities that a typical blog doesn’t have, and that begin to add more of that “public square” feel. In addition to the kinds of blog entries you’re used to reading here (which will still be here, by the way, but will also be there), it will have:

  • Forums where readers and members can talk about all kinds of sex-related stuff regardless of what I’m blogging about at the moment.
  • “Take Action” space that makes it easy to contact the media or your elected officials when an issue motivates you to act. (Let’s put sex back into politics — in a helpful way!)
  • Reviews of sex-related books, films, music or web sites. It will have links to blogs, agencies, foundations and other resources.
  • Listings of interesting sex-related events — lectures, demonstrations, rallies, readings — that we know about or that are contributed by readers.
  • Links to sex-related research, advocacy groups and blogs.

My question to you, the readers of Sex in the Public Square on WordPress, is this:

What else should it have?

It was you, after all, who inspired me to think about expanding this space. It was the conversations in the comments of this blog, most of which were carried on by people who do not usually blog about sex in their own spaces, that made me think it would be wonderful to have an expanded space for people of all sorts to come and participate in discussions about sex.

Think about it, and then email me using the contact form above or leave your comments here. And if you’re really curious and think you want to contribute to the shaping of the site, send a note saying so and I’ll see about showing it to you at its temporary “in development” address.

It’s true that there isn’t any space on the Internet that’s truly public, but we’re about to open up a space that is as close to public as we can without buying a phone company.

Stay tuned!

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Filed under activism, community-building, culture, Education, public discourse, sex

Wage equality is a queer issue, too!

Yesterday I posted about Equal Pay Day, and the discussion was one that assumed heterosexual marriage as a foundation. But issues of wage inequality, and economic issues in general, are queer issues, too, and the gender wage gap is an interesting one.

Women typically earn less than men, so female-headed households are more likely to struggle financially than are male-headed households. In fact, 29% of families with female householders are officially poor. For female-headed households with children under 18, this jumps to 38%, and for female-headed households with young children (under five), the percentage that are officially poor is even higher: 47%.

How does this have anything to do with sexuality? For one thing, women are more likely than men to have low incomes, and female-headed households are more likely to be poor, so women in same sex partnerships are more likely to struggle than are their male counterparts, and women living alone are in even worse shape.

Remember the big push for marriage-supportive policies during the 1996 Welfare Reform and again during Bush’s “Faith-based initiatives” agenda? It seems that the Bush administration, especially, believes that if people would just “do the right thing” and get married (and stay married), we’d have a lot less poverty. And the data appear to support that conclusion on the surface. Only 5% of married-couple families are officially poor, and if you look only at married couple families with children, the percentage only jumps to 7%. Quite different from the situation of single mothers, for example.

But there is a correlation/causation problem here: it isn’t marriage as a state of being that makes a difference. Marriage makes a difference because of the way that it is defined and the way it is treated by the state. Married couple families are less likely to be poor and more likely to have higher incomes in part because they are by definition going to have a man’s income to add to the ledger, and they are quite possibly going to have two incomes to add together. And then there are the many rights and benefits that married couple families are given. Lesbian couples, women or men living alone, or not having the privileges of marriage, are not going to have the same chances.

Making income and poverty politically a “queer issue” is not necessarily easy. For one thing, once it’s seen as an issue for queer folk, it has the potential to divide gay men from lesbians. In fact, single straight women and lesbians have more in common, and even married-couple families have more common ground with lesbian couples on this issue than would gay male couples. (This is not to suggest that there is no poverty among gay men, or that gay men raising children don’t face many of the same challenges that opposite-sex couples or lesbians raising children will face, but just to point out that where wages and occupations are concerned, gay men tend to benefit by being men.)

There is another reason to consider income and poverty from the perspective of sexuality: people have more sexual agency when they are not constrained by poverty. Women and men make choices about whether or not to begin or end sexual relationships in part based on economic factors. They are more or less free to leave abusive relationships depending on economic options. They are more or less free to remain single. Constrained income options are also among the reasons some people perform sex work. And then, of course, people who have to work multiple jobs or take on lots of extra hours to make a living are less likely to have the time and energy to sustain a satisfying sex life in the first place.

Wage equity is an important step toward gender equality, but also an important step toward equality for queer folk. But there are a lot of other steps that need to be taken as well.

One of the most important things I think we need to do is to de-emphasize marriage as the basic ‘family’ structure, and a focusing on households. Policies that took households, instead of marriages, into account would help single moms, cohabiting lovers, polyamorous people, communal households, same-sex couples, and would level the playing field dramatically. But that would mean lending tacit social approval to people who have sexual and intimate relationships that challenge the dominant heteronormative model wherein marriage rules.

This is why I have mixed feelings about the same-sex marriage agenda. As long as marriage is the only family form that is given privileges, of course I want people to have access to it regardless of the gender of their partners, but as long as we keep marriage at the center of our definition of “legal family,” we will have to continue to deny recognition and rights to all those people who choose other forms of intimate commitment and interdependence.

Economic justice and social justice need to be considered together. Economic issues are queer issues. The politics of sexuality and the economics of family life are inseparable when it comes to social change.

~~~~~~~~

Here are some links to a couple of organizations that frame economic justice issues as queer issues:

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Filed under community-building, culture, Family, feminism, Gender, inequality, marriage, News and politics, polyamory, Same-Sex Marriage, sexuality

Segregating Sex

“As long as we equate sex with dirt, weakness, and guilt, a powerful weapon exists for demagogues who not only flatter supporters that they are disciplining their own erotic instincts correctly, but also advertise the values they profess as essential to living a good life.” – Jay Gertzman, “There has been no sexual revolution,” p. 315 in Russ Kick’s Everything You Know About Sex is Wrong, The Disinformation Company, 2006

I’m still thinking about the discussions we’ve been having about what is “mature” and about what people should be protected from stumbling across accidentally. There is no question that most of the “what” here is sex, or sexually explicit, or erotic material. That made me think back to the Jay Gertzman quote, above.

By making sexually explicit or erotic material the stuff from which we protect people – or to be more clear, the stuff we segregate into a separate space so that people don’t come across it accidentally, we continue to link sex with “dirt, weakness and guilt,” which Gertzman warns us against. We could add all kinds of things to the list of “dirt, weakness and guilt.” We could add “shame,” “secrecy,” “fear,” “embarrassment,” and perhaps other things as well, but “dirt, weakness and guilt,” seem to form the foundation for all those other things.

Of course there are people who don’t want to come across sexual material. But why should we cater uniquely to those people and not, say, to people who would rather not accidentally come across movie reviews, or blogs about gaming, or blogs about gambling, or blogs about politics? Why segregate sex?

It is true that the values of our dominant culture in the US assume sex to be something reserved for private spaces, something that is supposed to be shared only between partners in long term loving committed relationships. But our own dominant culture is riddled with examples of where that is not the case. One only need to look at advertising to see that. Yet that is really just an aside.

It is true that our dominant culture values assert that sex should be private. But that, as Gertzman claims, supports a dangerous ideology, so why should the public sphere of ideas be governed by that? Isn’t the public square or the public sphere the place where we are supposed to have the most open exchange of ideas, where we test ourselves and our worldviews against others and where we persuade others to change their minds, or where we change our own minds in the face of persuasive arguments?

Separating sexually explicit material out from the rest makes it seem equated with “danger,” “dirt,” “guilt,” and “shame,” and contributes to its usefulness as a weapon – a weapon that is useful for instilling fear into anyone who wants to be ‘respected’ by neighbors, co-workers, families, or bosses, and who has ideas that deviate from the dominant sexual script. For that matter, it is a tool that is useful for cowing anyone, because it becomes a source for accusations that are nearly impossible to refute. Remember how sex was used to keep blacks down? Whites just had to assert that black male sexuality was dangerous to white women. No proof necessary.

As long as sex is segregated from all other kinds of material, we will continue to let it be a tool for exploitation, oppression, discrimination, fear, and hate. The danger of sex is not in sex itself, but in the hiding of sex and the shaming of sex.

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Filed under censorship, community-building, Homophobia, life, Personal Reflections, public discourse, sex, sexuality

“Protection,” “freedom,” “community” and control

A quick update to my previous post: Dr.Mike left a comment directing readers to Mark’s post from last August, which raises many more question than answers. (This is actually, I believe, the same post that is mentioned several times in the forum I linked to earlier. The link given in that forum does not work any longer. The one above does.) Check that out and let’s discuss!

Meanwhile, I’m prompted to think about the overarching question of how much we ought to be protected from in terms of public discourse. Up front let me acknowledge that while the blogosphere might *feel* like a completely public space, it is actually a complex conglomeration of privately-owned spaces that blend together and feel more public than they really are. So, I acknowledge that WordPress.com, and Automattic, the hosting service, has a right to set the rules for conversation as it likes, and I agreed to the Terms of Service (and even got the treat) when I signed up.

So here’s my first question: Given the quasi-public space we have here in the blogosphere, or at least in our own corner of it at WordPress.com, how much ought we be protected from content we might not like? And, given the wide range of content people might not like, how should we decide which are “bad” enough that people need to be protected from accidental contact with them, and which are not so bad?

And, then another question: If protection is deemed necessary, what level of protection should be offered? For example, there is a little arrow at the top right of my WordPress screen that will take me to some randomly chosen “next” blog. I usually find this uninteresting, so I don’t usually click on that button. But let’s say I did. Am I not, by clicking on it, acknowledging my willingness to be exposed to something I am not expecting? I can protect myself by not clicking on that button in the first place. Or, should I expect that any randomly selected blog will be a reasonably bland and unlikely-to-be-offensive bunch of writing? Since it’s random, perhaps erring on the side of caution is worthwhile, given the incredibly wide range of users that WordPress generates. There are so many ways for WordPress users to judge the content of what they’re about to see before seeing in “in full” that this “next” button seems to be the only way to be truly randomly exposed to something you don’t want to see.

Even if we agree that sexually-explicit material is something that some people should be protected from seeing, (and I, for one, would not tend to agree), certainly we would also agree that people who are looking for it don’t need that protection. If I’m a person who writes erotic blog posts, and I want to do some tag surfing to see who else is writing about similar material, why should I be “protected” from seeing the kind of material for which I’m looking? In the tag surfing module I actually have to enter the tags indicating the kinds of posts I want to browse. Likewise if I purposefully browse the “sex” tag page, why should I be “protected” from posts about sex? Isn’t it counterproductive if I’m kept from seeing them? Doesn’t it do a disservice to WordPress blog readers by getting in the way of a free exchange of ideas among people interested in the same topic?

Would it be more effective to encourage WordPress bloggers to use tags that do identify their content as “mature” and then show those only on the tag pages for those “mature”-content tags? People would know where to look, bloggers would take responsibility for their content, and we would come to a solution that might make most members of the community happier than they currently are. Remember, the current system relies largely on unhappy users, by waiting for them to be randomly offended. (You wouldn’t be flagging something you were looking for, would you?) Essentially this system depends on exposing people to things they don’t think are appropriate and then waiting for them to complain. And it results in a very uneven blocking of material from certain parts of the WordPress site. Thus it is neither very effective nor very efficient.

What is the answer? I don’t know. We don’t even all agree on the question! But I do know that what is happening now seems arbitrary and over-reaching, and while I agree WordPress has the “right” to do it, I also think they are not achieving their own goals — providing a community for bloggers, and “protecting” bloggers from material they find offensive — as well as they might if they had a more nuanced and rational policy.

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Filed under censorship, community-building, culture, Personal Reflections, Political Obscenity, public discourse, sex, sexuality