Category Archives: 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

“Do it ourselves” Abortion Reduction Policy

Atul Gawande had a very clear, concise, mostly very smart and only partially problematic op-ed in yesterday’s New York Times about how to reduce the number of abortions in the US (TimesSelect registration required). He started out by dispelling some of the myths we have about who has abortions and why. For example, on the upsetting side, roughly half of pregnancies are unintended, and four in 10 unintended pregnancies end in abortion. On the optimistic side, teens are getting the message about contraception:

“Pregnancies at age 15 to 17 are down 35 percent since 1995, according to federal data; one-fourth of the drop is from delaying sex, and three-fourths is from increased use of contraceptives. Today, just 7 percent of abortions occur in minors.”

and

“Forty-five percent of abortions occur in adults ages 18 to 24; 48 percent occur after age 25. Most are in women who have already had a child. The kids are all right. We are the issue.”

Consistent and correct use of contraception appears to be the biggest problem:

“92 percent of abortions occur in women who said they used birth control. Six in 10 used contraception the month they got pregnant. The others reported that they had used birth control previously but, for one reason or another, not that month. (Many, for example, say they didn’t expect to have sex.)

Gawande then asserts that the “trouble appears to be blindness to how easy it is to get pregnant and what it takes to make birth control really work.” I would disagree: the trouble is not blindness to how easy it is to get pregnant. It is wishful thinking of the “it won’t happen to me” variety, and a difficulty accepting one’s own likelihood of having sex. It is also fear of the stigma attached to being willing to have sex without a committed relationship. Another problem is the difficulty women have with requiring their male partners to use condoms, and the difficulty some men have using them. Then there is the forgetting of the many ways to have sex that can’t result in pregnancy in the first place! Lets get more creative with our hands and our mouths and the rest of our bodies! Lets buy sex toys. (Wow, did I actually just recommend a consumer-based solution to a problem? Yikes!)

Gawande is right, though, that the number of unwanted pregnancies in the United States — and thus the number of abortions — could be dramatically reduced if we were a more sexually honest and open society. If we — men and women — were honest with ourselves and with each other about the situations in which we are willing to have sex, and about the degree to which we do not want to be responsible for a child, I think we would have an easier time consistently and correctly using contraception. Imagine….

…if we were more honest with ourselves about how the contraception we do use makes us feel, and more willing to talk to each other about our contraceptive methods, we would be better able to find the methods that would work best for us.

…if we were more willing to admit that we simply won’t stop having sex just because we aren’t ready, able or interested in raising children.

…if we could acknowledge sexual pleasure as a basic human right and not a privilege for the middle and upper classes.

Then perhaps we would — as a society — realize our moral imperative to improve access to contraception and safer sex education and supplies for those who need them.

Gawande believes that politics precludes government from helping to create that society and that ultimately we need a “do it yourself” approach. I’m not willing to let government or the politicians who control it off the hook quite so quickly, but I agree that there is much we can change about this society if we “do it ourselves.” And among the things we can change through grassroots community-based activism is, in fact, the government.

Among the things the government could do better, or do at all:

  • Offer incentives for research and development of long-lasting contraceptives that have fewer risks and side effects.
  • Provide contraceptives free, and without any burdensome monitoring, to women and men who want them.
  • Require that sex education programs offer clear, accurate information about the effectiveness of contraceptives and about their correct use.
  • Support programs that help parents learn how to talk to their kids about sex.

But Gawande is right that, absent some sea change in what we as individuals and communities demand of our government, these things are not going to happen quickly. We need to take up the lead of organizations like Planned Parenthood which already offer workshops on how to talk about sex, and start branching out in our communities and among our friends to “do it ourselves.” Imagine if we each had at least one conversation a week with someone about the right to sexual pleasure, or he right to sex without fear of pregnancy or disease.

Try it out. Start with yourself and make a list that honestly accounts for the ways you like to have sex, the people you like to have it with, and your own risks of pregnancy. (Yes, this applies to men too. Women don’t get pregnant on their own!) Any unpleasant surprises on your list? If so, acknowledge them and make a plan to reduce your risks. Then, be courageous: share your list with someone. And share this post. Next week try a conversation with someone else. Ask someone how they feel about the right to have sex because it feels good. Discuss whether we should take a punitive attitude toward sex for pleasure.

And stay tuned here. This blog has been part of my attempt to create more open space for reasonable and productive conversations about sex. But you’ve inspired me to do more, and I’ve decided to expand the public square:

Coming soon to a computer near you: SexInThePublicSquare.org!

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Filed under abortion, activism, culture, EC, emergency contraception, Family, feminism, Health, inequality, pro-choice, public discourse, reproductive freedom, sex, sex and health, sexuality

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

Time Corrects Medically Inaccurate Statement!

Online activism works, and works quickly!

I’ll join the women of Feministing in congratulating all who wrote to Time to ask them to correct the medically inaccurate description of emergency contraception (EC) as “abortion-inducing.” Two days ago I excerpted the problematic section of the Time article, and below I reproduce the corrected version. Note that the adjective preceding “contraceptive pills” is now “emergency” and not “abortion-inducing.”

Underground abortions are one of the leading causes of maternal mortality in Chile. Although Chile has one of South America’s strictest anti-abortion codes, it’s estimated to have twice as many abortions each year (200,000) as Canada — a country with twice Chile’s population. (Abortion is legal in Canada.) As a result, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, a socialist, late last year sanctioned the free distribution of emergency “morning-after” contraception pills at government-run hospitals. (Emphasis mine.)

In explaining the correction, this statement now follows the article on their web site:

The original version of this story inaccurately described morning-after pills being distributed free by Chilean President Michelle Bachelet as “abortion-inducing.” Though pro-life advocates claim the pills effect a kind of abortion by preventing a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus in the first 72 hours after unprotected sex, the pills are more accurately considered an emergency contraception by the medical community since they technically prevent a pregnancy from occurring in the first place.

I’d encourage you to write again to Time and thank them for correcting their error. Medically accurate information is incredibly important. In addition, as the anti-choice folks will tell you, the way an issue is framed makes an enormous difference in how people think about it. It is important that Time was willing to step in and clarify the difference between the anti-choice position on EC and the medically accurate description of how it works.

So, a big Thank You to Time Magazine for doing the right thing.

And THANK YOU to all of you who wrote!

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Filed under abortion, activism, EC, Education, emergency contraception, feminism, Health, News and politics, pro-choice, public discourse, sex, sex and health, sex and the law, sexuality

Time Magazine inaccurately claims Emergency Contraception induces abortion

Please email them and request that they issue a correction ASAP

 

In this Time Magazine article about the pro-choice movement in Mexico, and about anti-abortion politics in Latin America more generally, the author describes Emergency Contraception as “abortion inducing.”

Underground abortions are one of the leading causes of maternal mortality in Chile. Although Chile has one of South America’s strictest anti-abortion codes, it’s estimated to have twice as many abortions each year (200,000) as Canada — a country with twice Chile’s population. (Abortion is legal in Canada.) As a result, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, a socialist, late last year sanctioned the free distribution of abortion-inducing “morning-after” contraception pills at government-run hospitals. (Emphasis mine.)

This is a major problem. Not only is it inaccurate, but to describe emergency contraception as an abortion-inducing pill is to greatly reduce its chances of acceptance by people who oppose abortion, and increase the stigma attached to its use.

 

Click here and then on the author’s name (small print, left side, just below the title) to send an email to the editor! Ask them to issue a correction ASAP

Thanks to Feministing for the alert!)

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Filed under abortion, activism, EC, emergency contraception, feminism, Health, News and politics, public discourse, sex and health, sex and the law, sexuality

March 20 is “Back Up Your Birth Control” Day!



“Back Up your Birth Control with EC” is a campaign that aims to get Emergency Contraception (EC) into the hands of women before they need it. EC more effective if taken as soon as possible after unprotected sex or birth control failure, so it’s important to have some on hand before a crisis happens. This is especially true given the difficulties women in some parts of the country have had in getting it. It’s also true for women under 18 who can’t buy it over the counter in most places.

Here are two important web sites with info about EC:

This oneis especially for teens.

This one is for the rest of us.

(Both sites have a listing for the 24-hour emergency hotline – 1-888-NOT-2-Late, and both link to the EC “Not-2-Late Web Site for those who cannot buy EC over the counter in their communities. You can also buy EC online at Drugstore.com.)

There are a couple of very important things to know about EC (often referred to by one of its brand names, Plan B). First, is not the same as the abortion pill RU486. It is important to know that because EC works before pregnancy occurs. It is essentially a very high dose of regular birth control pills, it needs to be taken within a few days of unprotected sex if it is going to be effective at all, and is most effective if taken right away.

Second, it is not as effective as condoms or birth control pills so of course you want to be using those regularly and correctly. EC is for emergencies.

I blogged about my own experience buying EC over the counter back in November and I will repeat part of that message here: If you are a sexually active woman and you do not want to be pregnant, you definitely want to have some EC on hand in case you need it. You do not want to be in the midst of an crisis and then discover that it is hard to get hold of the pill that you need. You want it now, before you need it.

You could find yourself in need EC for any number of reasons, none of which you’re likely to have intended. So, since today is “Back up your birth control day,” add an item to your to-do list: buy yourself a dose of EC.

In fact, if you have enough money to do so, buy a couple of extra doses. You might be able to help a sister in need some day.

And here’s another important thing you can do: Tell a friend or two about EC. It might surprise you how many people don’t know that it exists, or don’t know how to get it. Considering how important it is to maintaining our sexual and reproductive freedom, we need to make sure everyone knows about it and knows how to get it!

Lastly, I’d love to know your stories: Did you try to buy some? Did you have any trouble? Was it easy to get? How did you feel when you bought it? Did you have a conversation about EC with a friend? What was it like? Leave any stories you’d like to share in the comments section of this post.

(If you’ve commented before your comments will be posted immediately. If you have not commented on this blog before, your comments will be held for moderation. Because of a family crisis I will be out of town again and may not be able to moderate comments quickly. Don’t interpret this as lack of interest or approval on my part!)

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Filed under activism, EC, Education, emergency contraception, feminism, pro-choice, public discourse, reproductive freedom, sex, sex and health, sexuality

Our kids are born sexual. Now what do we do?

My mother says I don’t write enough about positive things in this blog, and she’s right. So I’ve decided to start a book review section where I’ll tell you about books I think help to create a healthy and open sexual environment. This is a great moment to begin, because I just read a fantastic book about kids and sex.

The book is called Everything you never wanted your kids to know about sex (but were afraid they’d ask: The secrets to surviving your child’s sexual development from birth to the teens by Justin Richardson and Mark Schuster, published by Three Rivers Press (2004) and I think the title says a lot, but not enough. For one thing, the book is clearly intended to not only to help parents survive their child’s sexual development, but to help the child survive the parents’ anxiety about his or her sexual development. In that way it teaches parents how to help shape their children’s sexuality in healthy ways. For another thing, it acknowledges the fear that parents often have about dealing with their kids and sex, and yet I think for many parents the issue is the “afraid they’ll ask” not the “never wanted them to know” part. I think a lot of parents want their kids to figure it out without having to talk about “it.” This book helps parents figure out how to talk about “it.”

One reason I like the book so much is that it starts out with an important-but-difficult-to-accept reality: talking to kids about sex isn’t going to make them sexual. Kids are already sexual. They lead into this with a short bit about observing a male fetus on an ultrasound and pointing out that it has an erection: sexual arousal occurs even before birth. Sexual response is biological. It is shaped, structured, and channeled by culture and socialization, but it is at its base a biological reality and it exists in babies just as it exists in adults.

Richardson and Schuster, both doctors with very down-to-earth attitudes (a psychiatrist and a pediatrician/public health specialist both with very impressive resumes), take on subjects like childhood sexual development, kids and sex play, masturbation, the Internet, discussions about abstinence, safer sex practices. And in all these areas their main focus is on open discussion, accurate information, and remaining calm. They explain that their approach to sexual development is based on putting children’s health first and they define health in a very comprehensive way:

Our definition of health includes physical health, by which we mean the absence of sexually transmitted disease and unintended pregnancy, and safety from sexual abuse and violence; and emotional health, by which we mean the ability to take pleasure in sex, the freedom of mind to make choices about love and sex, the possession of a meaningful value system to guide those choices, and the presence of strong self esteem. (p. 9-10)

They do all this with great humor and an sensitivity to the real strain, concern, and fear that parents really feel around these matters. I discovered this book while browsing for parenting section of Books-a-Million with my sister, a mother of two young boys. We were so engaged by the book that we sat on the floor in the aisle and read out loud to each other. We read the section about what to do when your kid walks in on you when you’re having sex. One reason I’m telling you about this book: one real life scenario used as a model by the authors involved a same-sex couple — two men — and the authors presented this without comment on the sexual orientation of the couple. Instead, their focus was on the quality of the reaction that “Jack and Simon” had in the moment:

We still marvel at the composure of Jack and Simon. When their four-year-old boy walked in on them having sex, Jack managed calmly to say, “Oh, you found us doing the special thing that people in love do when they want to make each other feel good; now, which of us do you want to put you back to bed?” (p. 103)

They point out that the most important thing is not to hide, not to ignore it, to try an explanation that is simple and clear, like “When you came in we were having sex. It’s a way that grown ups like us show that they love each othe. Do you understand?” They recommend answering any questions that the child has, and then reminding the child to knock if the door is closed. In other words, they recommend treating it without alarm, as an everyday act, and moving on. (An example of the humor they bring to the book. They end that section with the remark, “You can now tuck your little one into bed, go back to your room, and perform CPR on your partner.”

Another reason I’d encourage you to take a look at this book is because of its strength in addressing questions about kids, sex, and the Internet. First, they point out that if your child or your teen is online in any interactive forum, there is a chance that she will be approached for sex. You can’t prevent this. What you can do is prepare your kid for it when it does happen. Richardson and Schuster recommend telling young Internet users that they’re safe as long as they don’t respond to such requests and don’t give out any personal information about themselves to people they don’t know. Teach them how to block senders of unwanted IMs and to let you know about the incident. (Then, when they do talk to you, don’t freak out, but calmly discuss it with them to get the details, and, I’d presume, to support them for having done the right things!) Second, Richardson and Schuster talk about the near-inevitable event that your child surfs to a porn site or some other site containing explicitly sexual content. They discuss the benefits and drawbacks of web browser filters and again focus on being open with your kids about sex so that they’re willing to talk to you about what they see.

There are lots of good reasons to check out this book. I can’t mention them all now but I’m sure I’ll be referring back to the book in future posts.

I encourage you to check out the website for the book. You can read selections from the book, read more about the authors, and ask questions, too.

It takes guts to talk to kids about sex. In this time of moral panic about kids and sex, though, it is as important as ever that adults step up to the plate early and create a healthy environment for their kids’ developing sexualities. This is truly the best way to protect them from harm.

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Filed under book reviews, culture, Education, Family, life, moral panic, public discourse, sex, sex and health, sexuality, sexuality and age

Susie Bright Brings Sense to the “Not Safe For Work” Pink Ghetto Bizarreness that is our culture

I have never once made a post that is really nothing more than a pointer to another blogger’s post, but this one, by Susie Bright, is so relevant to the discussions we’ve been having here, and is so well done, that I am simply tipping my hat to her and asking that you go read her piece and then come back here and discuss it with me.

It makes me wonder why we, at WordPress.com, are even discussing the issue of “mature” tagging when publications like The New Yorker or the New York Times publish sexually explicit material regularly without being labeled “mature” or “not safe for work.”

It makes me wonder why we are so ready to accept self-censorship and self-ghettoization.

It makes me wonder where my head was when I suggested that we should ask for a separate set “adult” tag pages.

Read her piece. Now. It’s long, so if you’re short on time read the first half (though I bet once you start you won’t stop).

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Filed under censorship, culture, moral panic, sex, sex and the law, sexuality

“Don’t ask, don’t tell” is a hateful policy and must be undone

First of all, a big thanks to Tom Joaquin, guest contributor, for his excellent post on General Pace’s disgraceful comments. Such moments of bigotry and immorality on the part of public figures need to be pointed out. There is often too little public outrage about such important issues.

I want to add some of my own thoughts to Tom’s. And I’d preface them the way Tom ended his: I don’t support the war in Iraq. I don’t support war as a solution to international conflict in general. I do, though, believe that the institutions of this society need to be arranged according to principles of equality and social justice. If we are to have a military, it must be on that does not depend on bigotry and hatred and discrimination. All must have an equal chance to serve.

It often surprises me that, given our society’s blatant and persistent discrimination against gays and lesbians, that they want to serve in the military in the first place. But it is naive of me to wonder about that. Gays and lesbians, despite being targets of discrimination, despite increasing antagonism toward them, are just as likely to feel called to defend their country as anyone else is. In addition, the military has become, for many poorer and working class young people, a route to college in a society that makes higher education increasingly unaffordable. For those reasons, it is extremely important to change the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that currently forces them into the closet and reinforces homophobia, heterosexism, and hatred.

The “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy is hateful in a number of ways.

First, it says “sure, you can serve, and you can offer your life, but only if you hide who you are.” This is a policy that contributes to homophobia and heterosexism while still accepting the sacrifices made by gays and lesbians. It’s like saying “come, serve in a system that hates you and will not acknowledge you, but will happily take your life.”

Second, it says “discrimination against gays is okay, while discrimination against other groups is not.” The military has been one of the best institutions at providing equal opportunity regardless of race or ethnicity. We went from a segregated military to an integrated one relatively quickly, and now the military – and I don’t say this enthusiastically by any means – is one of the most reliable (and dangerous) ways for young men and women of color to get training, get access to college, and to move up the economic ladder. Racism is no longer systematically tolerated in the military. But gay and lesbian soldiers are subjected to institutional closeting and to individual harassment and abuse because of a system that is based on homophobia and heterosexism. (It is interesting, and probably connected to this, that the military has done a better job at integrating racially and ethnically than it has done at integrating genders. While women are technically allowed to do nearly all the same jobs that men in the military can do, they are quite often targets of individual violence and harassment. That connection is perhaps best explored in another post.)

Third, it says “we’re so invested in our homophobia and heterosexism that we’ll put our military at risk in order to reinforce our biases.” I remember my shock when I read a story back in 2002 about linguists being dismissed from the Army because they were gay. This was at a time when, as a nation, we were focused on the problems our Military Intelligence units were facing because of their lack of linguists fluent in the languages of “the war on terror.” Recent articles describing the shortages in mid-level officers, and the difficulties that the branches of the military are having in recruiting enough soldiers to fight our misguided wars also point to the risk that the military puts itself in when it excludes groups who want to serve. It is shocking to think that we are willing to put our national defense, and our soldiers’ lives at risk in order to maintain our systematic discrimination against gays and lesbians.

Fourth, it insults our allies, who nearly universally allow gays and lesbians to serve without question. It would seem to be evidence of a lack of confidence in their militaries when we say that we think our own military would be weakened if we did what they’ve been doing for many years.

There are those who would say that “as a country we’re just not ready yet” for gays in the military. They might even say that to allow gays to serve would be to create conflict among troops who need instead to have great trust in each other. They might try to argue that it is wrong to “force” people to accept gays and lesbians because some religious traditions say that homosexuality is a sin. To those people I would say this: Religion has been used to justify horrors in the past, and we have learned from those incidents. Mainstream Christians wouldn’t think of using the Bible to justify slavery today even though that might have been a common strategy not so long ago. We were not ready for racial integration when Brown v. Board of education was decided but we got ready in a hurry, at least in some institutions. We still aren’t an integrated society, but we’ve made some progress, and the military in particular has done better than most sectors of society. They can do the same in this case. We should not cater to individuals’ discomfort, bias, or hatred in our social policies. We should create policies that work at undermining those biases, not policies that support them.

I echo Tom’s call to write to your representatives in the House and Senate, and to write to local papers (click here for some advice if you need help getting started), and to write to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Pace, himself.

Joint Chiefs of Staff, Chairman
9999 Joint Chiefs of Staff, Pentagon
Room 4E873
Washington, DC 20318
Fax: (703) 697-8758

Feel free to use any part of this post, non-commercially and with attribution, in your efforts.

Onward!

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Filed under culture, Don't ask don't tell, Gays in the military, Homophobia, News and politics, sex, sex and the law, sexual orientation, sexuality

March 8 is Blog Against Sexism Day

In January we blogged for choice. Tomorrow we can blog against sexism.

Blog Against Sexism Day

Click on the image for more info!

Update: Of course it is also International Women’s Day.

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Filed under Blog Against Sexism, culture, Family, feminism, Gender, News and politics, public discourse, sexism, sexuality