Category Archives: Travel

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

Pepper Schwartz joins us on SexInThePublicSquare.Org

Come, talk about sex and older women with Pepper Schwartz!

Pepper SchwartzStarting this weekend, Pepper Schwartz will join us on SexInThePublicSquare.org for a discussion of her new book, Prime: Adventures and Advice on Sex and Love in the Sensual Years.

Please join us!

Jeffrey Rosenfeld reviewed the book for us here. We’d especially love to hear from people who have read the book, but all are welcome.

Dr. Pepper Schwartz is a noted sociologist specializing in sexuality. She has written over 40 academic research articles, and also many accessible books on sex and relationships including, including The Great Sex Weekend and Everything You Know About Sex and Love is Wrong, along other books aimed at helping people keep their sexual relationships interesting and vibrant. She has also written Ten Talks Parents Must Have With Their Children About Sex and Character and 201 Question to Ask Your Kids / 201 Questions to Ask Your Parents, books that help parents talk about sex with their kids, Pepper Schwartz has dedicated her career to opening up sexuality as a realm of sociological study, but also to making that study useful and accessible to the public. In Prime, she does something academic-types rarely do under their own names: she reveals much about her own sex life, using her own experience as a prompt to offer advice to herself and to other women experiencing the dating and relationship-building world in their 50s.

This conversation marks the beginning of a new feature for us at SexInThePublicSquare.org. We’re initiating a series of conversations with authors of the books we review, and we’re thrilled that Pepper Schwartz has agreed to kick off the series for us.

The conversation will take place in the comments section of Jeff Rosenfeld’s review. When we start, I’ll put a direct link to the conversation on the sidebar of the site so you can get there quickly!

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Filed under culture, Gender, public discourse, sex, sexuality, sexuality and age, Travel

This Blog “Not Safe for Thruway”

The New York State Thruway has put wireless Internet access into all their rest areas. This came in handy recently when my partner and I had to go back to his childhood home to be with his family as his father was dying. There was — until just a few days ago — no Internet access at his parents’ home, and so we went in search of WiFi spots when we could.

The Thruway WiFi was very useful when, on our drive up to his family’s home, we were called and asked to send an e-mail to family in the Netherlands with the day’s update on his father’s condition. It was useful when we were on our way to pick up one of Will’s nephews from the airport in Rochester and, while stopped at a rest area for a cup of coffee, we got a call saying his flight had been delayed. We stayed at the rest area for a while checking email, and checking blogs. And that’s when I discovered that this blog is “NSFT” (Not Safe for the Thruway). I was happily clicking through email messages and found some comments in need of moderation. When I clicked on the link to the comment moderation page, I got the following message:

“This site has been blocked due to content.”

I tried again. After all, the content on this blog is not obscene. Sure, the words “sex” and “public” are in the title, but it contains no very explicit material. Again I saw:

“This site has been blocked due to content.”

I was baffled. I tried some sites that I know are much more explicit (note: if explicit writing or naked pictures bother you, don’t follow these links). I tried Chelsea Girl’s Pretty Dumb Things, one of my favorite sites for smart explicit writing about sex. Her current post was about having anal sex with her boyfriend. (This is something she writes about with some frequency, great style, explicit detail, and much intensity.)

I tried Deviant Delyte’s DeviantsLair for photos that outraged a small but vocal number of community members in her small Oklahoma town, and ultimately resulted in her husband (the chief of police) and other town officials resigning their positions.

Hoping to find out more about the filtering software I picked up the Thruway Authority’s brochure promoting their WiFi service. Not much help. All it said was:

“The Authority reserves the right to filter content that may be inappropriate for the general viewing public at a (Thruway) Travel Plaza.”

Could the content on Sex in the Public Square be more “inappropriate for the general viewing public at a (Thruway) Travel Plaza” than the content on DeviantsLair or Pretty Dumb Things? I can’t imagine so. I’m sure this is the result of filtering software that casts a very wide net with very large holes. It apparently filters key words in site names and URLs rather than screening the words on the page.

Let me put aside for a moment my perennial complaint that fast food — ubiquitous at (Thruway) Travel Plazas — is more harmful to the general public than is sexually explicit material. We can debate what is or is not “inappropriate for the general viewing public at a (Thruway) Travel Plaza,” and we can debate whether or not public utilities ought to be filtering at all, but I cannot dispute that I agreed to the filtering when I accepted the terms of service. Still, if they’re asserting this as a “right,” I’d say they are not exercising their right very effectively.

In any case, we moved on. I found that I had unfettered access to my blog at the local Subway sub shop. I am not a fast-food fan, as you might have guessed by my statement above, but they had free WiFi and, better yet, did not filter sites. I was able to check in on my blog, and was happy to see a new comment or two and saddened that I did not have time to write any new posts.

Another place that had wireless access was the Valvoline Instant Oil Change spot we dropped in to on our way to the hospital one morning. (If you are getting a sense by now that I am rather dependent on my Internet connectivity, you are perceiving the situation accurately!) I checked my email (all four accounts!) and then tried to check my blog. No luck! Turns out the VIOC used a filtering software and this blog was blocked as “Pornography.” I hope their oil filters are more effective than their web content filters. There is nothing pornographic on this blog, though it has the words “sex” and “public” in the title and in the URL. Interestingly, just as at the (Thruway) Travel Plaza, I checked a few erotica blogs I read and none were blocked.

I’m especially interested in this because I have in the past recommended parental controls on web browsers as a way of helping parents keep their children from seeing material that they — the parents — don’t want them — the children — to see. I’ve known, abstractly, that these “parental controls” and filters have weaknesses, but I hadn’t realized quite how weak they could be.

I’m very interested in your stories about using such filters or blocks or parental controls. Have you found them useful? Have you found that they screen out too much? Please tell me about your experiences in the comments section below.

Oh, and by the way, I sent an email to the Thruway’s customer service department asking about their filtering software and its settings. I’ll let you know what I find out!

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Filed under censorship, culture, moral panic, public discourse, sex, Travel

Back from Oakland — and there is a “there” there

It is 10:00 Monday night, October 30th. In one hour I’ll have been back on the ground in New York for an entire week. It seems like I got off the plane at JFK, blinked, and a whole week has passed. I’ve had a difficult time adjusting to being back in New York. I love living in New York. This isn’t going to be an anti-NYC rant. But while I was in Oakland I had the time to relax and reconnect with myself — my whole self — in a way that I haven’t been able to do in a long time. In fact, in preparing to spend a week with Wendy, my close friend in Oakland, I realized that one thing I miss about the time in our lives when we lived in the same state was the way that my life was so much more clearly integrated then. So I went to her with a project and the project was to reintegrate my mind and my life. To remember how to stop privileging one part of my identity — the professional part — over all the other parts. It worked beautifully in Oakland, of course, but has been harder to maintain here, where that part lives. In Oakland there were friends and other people who had connections to other parts of my identity and experience — the sexual parts, the contemplative parts, the meditative parts, the political parts, the communitarian parts — and who did not have any immediate connection to my professional life, so it was easy to let that professional part of me recede a bit into the wallpaper and let the other parts of me step out onto the floor. Now, back in New York, I want to find room for all those parts of me to be active and visible. I suspect blog entries in the future will explore this working toward greater integration.

Meanwhile, my time in the Bay Area was not spent only meditating on inner harmony. My first four days were spent at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association. It was a great conference, and my favorite session was led by Lisa Duggan of NYU‘s American Studies program. The session was called “Queer Victories” and featured one of the smartest people I’ve ever heard speak: Anna Marie Smith of Cornell University’s Government department. (She had an agenda very much in keeping with Queers for Economic Justice.)

Then I moved on to my friend’s house and discovered that there was much more to Oakland than the area around the major hotels and Jack London Square. Oakland is a great place to spend some time. It’s a different place than it must have been when Gertrude Stein said “there is no there, there.” It’s got interesting neighborhoods, shops, restaurants, and on Lake Merrit, which is a fantastic walking place, it’s even got pelicans! pelican on lake merritt And it is very easy to get in and out of San Francisco using public transportation. The ferry is cheap –5:50 each way, and the ride is wonderful. The BART is cheaper, and easy to navigate. If you’ve never been to Oakland, do give it a try.

If you go to Oakland, I recommend Arizmendi, a co-op owned bakery/pizza place (locations in San Francisco, Oakland and Emeryville), a walk around Lake Merritt, and, in Jack London Square I recommend taking in the view of the container port Port of Oakland, Sunset Container Ship Loading , and then having a drink at Heinold’s First and Last Chance Saloon heinolds first and last chance saloon (Heinold paid for part of Jack London’s college tuition, and London did some of his writing at the bar there), and the treat yourself to dinner at Il Pescatore. There are fantastic farmers’ markets in Oakland, and a lot of interesting political activity as well.

In San Francisco, you have to see the Women’s Building in the Mission. It hosts all kinds of advocacy, support and information resources for women (topics range from immigration help to education support to day care resources to BDSM lectures and workshops). The outside is painted with spectacular murals. Women's Building It isn’t far from Good Vibrations — a company I have known via their mail order business for years. It has recently ended it’s existence as a co-op and has become a profit-sharing corporation, but the feel of the store is exactly as one would imagine it to be if one knew it’s web site and mail order business: clean, bright, well organized and uncluttered store with relaxed, helpful and relatively informed staff. It’s homier than Babeland here in NYC and larger than Grand Opening, which had been favorite sex toy store in Boston, but has recently closed, and a Good Vibes outlet opened in its place. Also in the Mission is Modern Times, a collectively owned bookstore, and repository of all manner of printed work from radical political tracts to well-used copies of Dante’s Divine Comedy.

Also in San Francisco I had a wonderful dinner with my friend Wendy, Carol Queen, her incredibly warm, sweet, and sexy partner Robert Lawrence, and a new friend of theirs whose privacy I won’t intrude on by naming. I hadn’t seen Carol or Robert in seven years and in the intervening time a mutual friend had caused a great deal of trouble that I very much wanted to talk to them about. It was helpful to hear their sense of the whole matter. I also learned about the new space the Center for Sex and Culture is about to move into — or about the two spaces they are considering — and I can’t wait to get back out there in the Spring and see how the new place is doing. Carol and Robert are amazing people. Chris Hall calls them parent figures to the kinky community in the Bay Area and I think that practically speaking he’s right. But they’re so much sexier and friendlier than parent figures!

While thinking about sex-related spaces in transition (Good Vibes from co-op to profit sharing, CSC from one location to another) I also got to learn a bit more about the troubles at the Lusty Lady. They are struggling to find a balance between democratic process and power trips and to survive as a co-op and the outcome of that struggle is not clear. I wish them the best and hope that they can make the democratic, worker-owned peep show thrive!

I returned to NYC to disturbing news and to good news:

The Foley scandal emails were originally posted on the Internet by a staffer at Human Rights Campaign. That story broke just after I returned. It hasn’t gotten a great deal of attention, and HRC fired the employee as soon as they discovered what he’d done, but I can’t imagine that the revelation does much good for the cause of gay rights on any level.

New Jersey’s highest court didn’t rule that marriage was constitutionally available to same sex couples, but did at least rule that the legislature had to find some way to create equity between same sex and opposite sex couples. (For the ruling itself, in PDF form, click here.) This is something, but not enough. And really, marriage isn’t enough either. As Anne Marie Smith pointed out during her wonderful presentation at the ASA, to focus on marriage — especially when focusing on the sharing of benefits like health insurance and retirement benefits — is to ignore the needs of many married and unmarried people whose jobs afford them neither.

At the same time as the marriage debate rages, the New York Times reported that fewer households than ever before contain married couples. For the first time, historically in the US, the percentage of households containing a married couple dropped below 50%. Interesting. Of course people are still tending to marry, but they’re doing it later in life rather than earlier. I wonder what the impact of ‘abstinance only’ sex education will have in combination with this trend!

Some things I’ve been thinking about while away and plan to blog about soon:

  • Are kids today really losing their childhoods and growing up too fast, as some people suggest, or are they growing up to slowly and extending their adolescence too far into their young adulthood? Do they need more protection or less? More freedom or less?
  • How can we best support efforts to destigmatize sex work?
  • How can we improve access to emergency contraception and to abortion services where they are still legal? And how can we best keep them legal?

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Filed under News and politics, public discourse, Travel