Showing posts with label sex. Show all posts
Showing posts with label sex. Show all posts

Perceived As....

When trying to explain myself, I sometimes use the term, "perceived as heterosexual."  It's a term that catches people off guard, usually, people that do not fully know me or know that I'm bisexual.  It raises an eyebrow and occasionally, provokes a question about what that means.  

As a cisgender male, I am in a committed relationship with a cisgender female and that is largely what people see.  And from that view, the assumption comes that I am therefore heterosexual.  That's the byproduct of a heteronormative society and part of what is known as bi-erasure.  While I get why this happens, I'm often frustrated by the way it mutes my full identity as bisexual.  That I am attracted to more than one sex is an important piece of my identity; though not the defining piece (I'm not sure, for me, that there is a defining piece of my identity--except maybe learner).  It's added infinite value in my life by acknowledging it and allowing it to shape the adult I've become and just because I have chosen to commit to a life-long relationship, doesn't mean it is any less of my identity.  It doesn't change a fundamental aspect of who I am; just like having a second child doesn't mean you cease loving the first child or if love dogs, you stop loving all dogs because you now have one.   


This muting may not seem like much but there are some ways to better understand it for those that aren't in the know.  Here are a few analogies worth considering:


  • We hang out regularly and while you do your best to ask me about the full range of personal and professional life, I only focus on your personal life.  When you offer up your something about your professional life, I either do not acknowledge what you have said or return to talking about your personal life. 
  • You and I are at a significant event for one of your two children (play, sports, competition, performance, etc).  The other child is present with us but I don't bother to acknowledge, interact with, or respond to that child.  My entire attention is focused on the child performing.  
  • You are driving a car and I am directing you to our destination.  But I will only allow for use to take right turns; thus we can reach our destination but only by essentially circling around it into to arrive at it.  

Each of these analogies captures an absence of acknowledgment and appreciation for the fullness of the other person's life.  By using, "perceived as heterosexual," I give those paying attention the opportunity to question their own assumptions and the opportunity to speak up.  It also signifies to some that there is indeed an ally in their midst, even if, on paper, I may not appear to be.
Bi triangles.svg
Public Domain, Link

Of course, one could ask why I don't just acknowledge my bisexuality right up front; aren't I muting it by saying perceived as?  Explaining bisexuality is tricky to explain.  People get heterosexuality; they get homosexuality (regardless of how they feel about it or at least they pit it as an opposite to heterosexuality), but bisexuality seems impossible to compute for many folks.  I remember telling one family member that was the case and of course, the reaction was a follow-up question as to whether I would stay committed to my partner.  I wish that was the easiest question I'd gotten on the subject, but alas, U.S. culture is great with either/or thinking but not so much with both/and thinking.  So to roll out the conversational grenade that is bisexuality is usually not necessarily useful in that particular moment when I'm using the term, "perceived as..." and I know it enough to not go down that road but to leave room for it, should someone at a later point want to better understand.  


I wrote this post, not to complain or to speak of any injustice that I am facing but rather just as a means of helping others to think not just about the language we use (or don't use), but maybe to help others (and myself for that matter) to think about how our perceptions of those we are close to might mute or ignore aspects of them that are in fact an important part of their identity.  In doing so, do we further alienate or harm those in our lives?  For some, probably not and yet for others, I'm guessing it has some negative effect.  





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Review: Advice from a Wild Deuce: The Best of Ask Tiggy

Advice from a Wild Deuce: The Best of Ask Tiggy Advice from a Wild Deuce: The Best of Ask Tiggy by Tiggy Upland
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I openly admit that I am biased in reviewing this book because I am close with the actual author (spoiler alert—Tiggy Upland is a pseudonym!). Regardless, I found this book to be a fantastic dialogue on the subject of understanding bisexuality (my own, and others). Upland pulls together the best questions from her advice column to provide a panoramic view of what it means to be a bisexual in the United States in the 21st century. She’s great at taking on personal questions and drawing out the nuance issues present and parsing out specific advice to the person while also connecting the question to the larger tapestry of navigating bisexuality in a culture that still doesn’t appreciate or provide much room for it. What’s more is that Upland’s tone is bemusing, sagely, and engaging. She’s capable of calling out self-deceit in a way that doesn’t turn the reader away but rather endears them to her and to the letter-writer. Beyond the question and answer format that permeates much of the book, Upland includes various asides, resources, and even photo-comics that add more nuggets of wisdom. For those looking to understand the complexity of bisexuality for personal or professional reasons, this book is a great resource.

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Review: Asking for It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture and What We Can Do about It

Asking for It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture and What We Can Do about It Asking for It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture and What We Can Do about It by Kate Harding
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In many ways this is a brutal book for many people. For victims of rape and sexual assault, it confirms and explains what many of them have gone through in a culture that pays mere lipservice to victims of such violence. For those who have never been directly involved, it's an eye-opening exploration into how many of us are likely to be complicit in sexual violence in our culture. But equally important, it's an eloquent and strong critique that gives victims and allies the means of which to see the pernicious assumptions about sexual violence in our culture and to call it out when we see it. Harding's accessible prose, wit, and drawing out of the different aspects of American society that create a rape culture blend together so well that the reader is left speechless. It's one of those reads that I feel that everyone should read and even if it people disagree with it, we'd be a better society for having read.

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Review: Intersex

Intersex Intersex by Thea Hillman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Hillman's exploration of her own challenges and sense-making as an intersex person is an excellent work for anyone better trying to understand intersex. Filled with memoiric chapters, poetry, and other personal writing, the book crafts a nuanced understanding of the battles one faces when the dominant culture has denied you space and personhood.

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Review: Challenging Casanova: Beyond the Stereotype of the Promiscuous Young Male

Challenging Casanova: Beyond the Stereotype of the Promiscuous Young Male Challenging Casanova: Beyond the Stereotype of the Promiscuous Young Male by Andrew P. Smiler
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Boys don't have to be "boys" but we sure want them to think so. Overall, I appreciate Smiler's effort to delegitimize male culture that emphasizes and trains men to be "Casanovas" (promiscuous and disregardful of women). He hits upon several points that correspond to my own experience while also leading down some roads I had not thought of. There are some places here he comes up short (e.g. he argues that the male as "player" only really began to be celebrated in the 1960s and beyond--but ignores characters like Costello who was a player regularly celebrated within the Abbott and Costello show).

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Review: A Queer and Pleasant Danger: The True Story of a Nice Jewish Boy Who Joins the Church of Scientology and Leaves Twelve Years Later to Become the Lovely Lady She is Today

A Queer and Pleasant Danger: The True Story of a Nice Jewish Boy Who Joins the Church of Scientology and Leaves Twelve Years Later to Become the Lovely Lady She is Today A Queer and Pleasant Danger: The True Story of a Nice Jewish Boy Who Joins the Church of Scientology and Leaves Twelve Years Later to Become the Lovely Lady She is Today by Kate Bornstein
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women and the Rest of Us but was a little hesitant to pick up A Queer and Pleasant Danger--where can one really go after providing such a fascinating look and exploration of sex, gender, and sexuality. Wow--Bornstein sends readers in some awesome directions in this memoir that leaves you in stitches with some of the more zany events in her life.

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Review: Scared Straight: Why It's So Hard to Accept Gay People and Why It's So Hard to Be Human

Scared Straight: Why It's So Hard to Accept Gay People and Why It's So Hard to Be Human Scared Straight: Why It's So Hard to Accept Gay People and Why It's So Hard to Be Human by Robert N. Minor
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Minor's book is rather complex for the lay reader but extremely profound and useful for everyone as it identifies the elements of "straight culture" that reinforce a variety of expectations, demands, and problems in our culture. He teases out a variety of perceptions about how our culture pushes people towards being "straight." He's careful to distinguish between being heterosexual and being straight, seeing them as quite different. That is, heterosexuality is understood as the desire and attraction to members of the (perceived) opposite sex whereas "straight" is the ways that attraction is expected to be displayed. It's a powerful book that many could glean much from as it comes to how we understand our own and others sexuality.

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Letter to the Editor: Abstinence a failed policy

This is a letter to the Salem News from last week that I had published on sex education.  Enjoy!

"To the editor:

Joseph Sciola (”Condoms have no place in schools,” April 4) advocates abstinence-only education when he asks “Whatever happened to telling kids that sex outside of marriage is wrong, it’s immoral, it’s sinful?” The easy answer is that it failed, and horribly so. It fails to delay first sexual engagements, it fails to prevent teen pregnancy, it fails to halt the spread of sexually transmitted infections, and it fails to account for homosexuals (upward of 10 percent of the population) who cannot marry in more than 30 states."

For the rest of the letter, visit the Salem News opinion page.



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Of Bunnies and Logos: The Playboy Icon

My Informational Design and Visual Literacy course provided me with a challenge this week to explore and discuss a company's logo.  Basically, to break it down and explore how it captures the company's message and purpose.  After aimlessly googling company logos trying to find inspiration, I randomly thought of the Playboy logo and what follows is what I wrote.  I should warn you that several people who read an excerpt on Facebook said they wouldn't be able to look at the logo the same again.  So enjoy!
Image: Playboy Bunny.  Image Source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/thumb/a/a8/PlayboyLogo.svg/500px-PlayboyLogo.svg.png

There's lot to cover with this logo and the more I think about it, the more ingenious I find Playboy to be with their logo.  This logo conveys much without actually saying anything formal and much of what it suggests is more risque without having to be blatantly raunchy--something that Playboy aspires to over other entities like Hustler and the like.  Playboy is a multimedia empire that largely caters to men’s sexual interests. What started initially as a magazine has evolved into books, television, film, websites, events, and facilities (e.g. The Playboy Mansion). The key style that Playboy has employed for decades has been sex through the prism of sophistication; the equivalent contrast of an escort versus as street-level prostitute. Playboy is the escort, purportedly offering class and sophistication with its sexual steam.   Though the extremely sexually-conservative folk would see all elements of sexual capitalism vanquished, sexual moderates and liberals tend to view Playboy with much more acceptance or amusement (except when of course, one delves into the niche of feminism that claims that all pornography is exploitative of women and detrimental; I do not agree with this branch of thinking, though I can understand how one gets there).   While celebrities, politicians, and other high-profile people seek to avoid being “caught” with lower echelons of sexual capitalism, many regularly interact with Playboy and are comfortable with this association. As one of the best-paying magazines in the country, many popular and skillful writers have at some point published in Playboy magazine (those famous “articles” that no one reads).


Researching the logo can be a little tricky.  After all, each search is prefaced with "playboy" and that invites all things sex related--which only speaks to the prevalence and success of the company and its aforementioned logo.  However, it did yield some interesting sites such as this Tumblr site that presents cartoons from Playboy magazines throughout the years.  


The famous bunny logo balances the prestige and sophistication that Playboy as an organization has attempted to uphold while in subtle and sophisticated ways, communicates that sex is still the subject on hand.  For those that don't know, the Playboy bunny originated in an cartoon in an early issue of Playboy magazine by Art Paul.  It evolved into what has become the icon of Playboy fairly shortly after that.  



Time to explore the logo.  First, there is the singular contrast of black and white. This makes the logo bold and stick out; grabbing the viewer’s attention. Also the mixture of black and white could also be read through a moral lens in that despite the questionable elements of sexual capitalism (represented by the color black—a color traditionally meant to indicate the negative), there is purity mixed with impurity.  The black and white contrast also connects to the bow-tie and more strongly elicits the bow-tie's metaphor as a stand in for a full blown tuxedo.

The rabbit head silhouette is continually referred to as the Playboy “bunny.” This is a curious but impressive feat by Playboy because it plays out several themes simultaneously and across the sexual divide that’s worth acknowledging.  These ideas could be mutually exclusive if one thinks about it too much, but funny enough, no one ever does.  The bunny is used in many ways and thus the icon can be embraced by many.

  1. The icon “bunny” appears to be male (indicated by the tux—more about that later).
  2. The tux also invokes a sense of class and wealth.
  3. The “bunny” is a rabbit; well known for its proclivity for sex.  
  4. With these three consideration, the bunny embraces the "playboy" who is wealthy and looking to sexually score.
  5. Yet, a bunny is typically a young rabbit; as in, a newly born rabbit, not yet capable of reproducing.
  6. “Bunny” is the term referred to the women that work at the Playboy clubs and the term many refer to when talking about women who work for Playboy in some form of exhibition. 
  7. Taking three, five, and six, here again, we have an interesting presentation of women:  sexy but non-procreating exhibitionists.
  8. What about the bunny presented in side-profile. The bunny doesn't look forward which might be a direct invitation.  Instead, it looks to something the viewer can't see. Therefore, the viewer must ask what the bunny is looking at and must become the bunny to see what the bunny sees.
  9. But given that the only action permitted to the bunny is to look, we also discover the centerpiece of the Playboy industry.  The visual.  Looking at "bunnies".  It promises us nothing more.   Laura Mulvey would be proud.
Image:  Word cloud of this blogpost

So why is the tux important? Firstly, it indicates class and sophistication, a key element of Playboy. It also indicates that the icon we are looking at is a male (e.g. a sophisticated man).  Some would argue this is questionable, but given the bunny's origin as a male "playboy", it seems rather moot.   Since the icon is abstract (yet clearly male), it does encourage the viewer to project himself into the role of that bunny who is presented as looking (leftward). Thus, the image tells the male viewer that he too can see what this icon sees (an abundance of women in various states of undress). This idea of abstraction comes from Scott McCloud who discusses that abstraction enhances one’s tendency project himself or herself into the abstract. That is, the more abstract (to a certain point) a drawing is, the easier it is for people to picture themselves therein.

Of course, there are more sexual hints within this logo still. The bunny ears spread out in a way that they could simultaneously be considered phallic (from a state of flaccidness to an erect state) and yonic (the two ears forming the “V” of a woman’s legs as well as the “V” of the pubic mound). The curvature of the bunny in contrast to the straight-lines of the tuxedo tie also hints at a contrast between the constraint of the male viewer and the sexual abundance of the women within the Playboy establishment. And of course, the bunny’s face with its particular curve simulates a curvaceous buttocks or even a breast (supposing the bunny’s “eye” to be the nipple).

All in all, this logo does a fantastic job at capturing the tantalizing and complex sexual dynamic that Playboy represents.  The question of whether it is intentional or not (much like when the student says, "but did the Shakespeare mean all that stuff") isn't relevant.  The fact that it can be all found there makes think about the direct and indirect ways information is communicated.  They say a picture is worth a thousand words--and I blew past that a few paragraphs ago.  




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Yes, It's Complicated: Accusations, Performance, Gender, & Sexuality

Maybe it's the weather...maybe it's the Supreme Court...or maybe because it's been on my mind of late what with this letter to the editor and this calling out of a sexist meme.  Yes, it's probably the last two and in general, I regularly have gender, sex, and sexuality on the brain and thus, am inclined to write about this.

So I'm just going to throw it out there.  I'm quite challenged when I hear people accuse others of being gay or being closeted.  It's something I have been witness to at least half a dozen times in the last year.  And it does often come as an accusation of being gay, in the closet, or so repressed, that the (accused) person just doesn't know it.  All of these conversation I have experienced happen not in front of the accused but in conversations to which they are not privy.

When pursued with questioning about why the accusation has been made, no answer involves, "Well, I saw him making out with another male."  (Though that in itself is not necessarily a guarantee of him being gay, keep in mind).  But usually, there is nothing in the accused's behavior that can be defined as "gay"; instead it almost universally points to gender.

I get why people may speculate about the sexual orientations of others.  I certainly look for clues.  I do my best not to assume everyone I meet is necessarily heterosexual.  I constantly have to look for clues or check innate assumptions embedded in typical discussion questions. I recognize that I have to do this because we're still not comfortable enough with the topic to ask or have a respectful way of asking.  But the danger lies in moving from clues to conclusions.  At the end of the day, I don't assign their sexuality; if it's relevant, then I'll try to find a way to invite them to tell me and if I can't find a meaningful way to do that, then I probably don't deserve to know.

So what's my hang up about suspecting or even accusing people of their sexuality?  These are vocalized or text-based conversations; ones that could be overheard or re-read.  And the accusers have most likely had these discussions with others besides just me--the accusations have spread.  The damage of this cuts two ways.  It first cuts in the amplified perception of this person of being questioned about who he or she is.  But it also cuts at the people who hear the accusers make their case.  People like me.  

Gender and sex are often hard for people to understand and to clearly delineate.  I get that but I still am pained when am witness to these occurences.  It's a philosophical and activist issue but also a personal one.  There were various times in my life where I've been openly accused of being gay.  The most absurd (though in truth they were all absurd in some degree--not because of my sexuality, but because how or why the person thought he/she had the right to make such a claim and what he/she was doing with such a declaration) was in either junior or senior year of high school where a female classmate accused me of being gay because I wore shorts all year long.  Apparently wearing shorts year-long has something to do with sexuality--who knew?

One of my favorite movies on gender, sex, and sexuality is Jamie Babbit's But I'm a Cheerleader (1999).  It's a film I often use or refer to in my courses.  However, there's one challenging scene in the film that throws the rest of the film into question and in some ways, undervalues much of the good the film does.  The scene (below) is the intervention scene, wherein Megan is confronted by her family and friends to be told that she is gay (and needs to go to a de-gayifying program).  Now, I get that Babbit in all likelihood shaped the scene in the context of Megan being so utterly repressed that she is ignorant of her homosexuality.  Yet, I can't help but feel the coercion of that scene in which her non-sexual acts are read as gay and the declaration of her homosexuality lead her to re-form herself as homosexual.  I know how loaded that sounds and I'm sure at least half my readers (friends and strangers alike) just furrowed their eyebrows, if not outright cursed me.  Bare with me!


Megan's gender is called into question--not her sexuality.  She's vegetarian, likes Melissa Etheridge, has vaginal art, and doesn't like making out with her boyfriend (that last point is supposedly the final truth--but bad chemistry between two people--isn't always an issue of sexuality).  This crystallizes er perception by family and friends as "lesbian"--an attraction to other women.  Yet her acts are non-feminine (at best--though barely by any means), not necessarily homosexual.  Megan comes to accept the label forced upon her by  her community and embraces it.  In this way, Babbit's film reads almost like the nefarious "True Directions"--the conversion therapeutic camp that attempt to fix people who are not heteronormative.  In Babbit's rendering of Megan--it's the community's intervention and then her acculturation to that identity by fellow non-heteronormative types that lead her the status of homosexuality--that is, she's cured of her heterosexuality by the training she receives from her nonheterosexual group.  In the end, the perception of her gender comes to codify her sexuality--never entirely divorcing the two (even the title conflicts gender and sexuality).  Again, that's some of the point Babbit is making but it's that sword that cuts both ways again.  It cuts at Megan--because she may be homosexual, but that she never gets to question or explore her gender--without it having to reposition her sexuality (or even consider more than the two options given here or heterosexual or homosexual) limits her (and I do recognize that in the context of a 2 hour film in 1999, some of these topics are much harder to fully flesh out--Babbit does give this some attention with the character of Jan).  It cuts the other way in which audiences reinforce and take with them the fact that gender dictates or is a solid indicator of sexuality.  And that's a challenging and somewhat dangerous idea to pose openly.

So I bring it back to the accusations.  When we declare someone else's sexuality based upon their gender, we do harm to all people.  Beyond the potential effects it has for accuser and the accused (and how the accuser's perception reinterprets the relationship with the accused), the accuser's sharing of his or her suspicions with others perpetuates the elements of gender with sexuality that are already problematic for our culture.  Why?  It informs others of the "right" and "wrong" ways to be as a "man" or "woman," if one is to be associated with a particular sexuality.  When we accuse someone of their sexuality in this context, we speak volumes about the ways in which we expect gender to conform to sexuality.

In Megan's case, it leads a happy ending--which is great.  But I think in many instances, it does harm because it communicates how people should not act to avoid the associated perception.  This happens for two reasons.  The first is that the associative sexuality with gender performance in many contexts is still understood as derogatory if it defies heteronormative expectations.  The second is that people want to be understood and not miscommunicate who they are.  Combined, the failure to create neutral space for gender and sexuality that is nonheteronormative and non-threatening with the desire to clearly communicate who we are, creates caustic side effects.  It's not only that we don't want to miscommunicate who we are but we devalue certain associations--we see them as threatening if we're perceived as such (Listen to the hostility in someone's voice when being labelled as an identity they are not, "I'm not gay!"  Followed by the Seinfeld'esque, "Not that there's anything wrong with that.").  It reinforces the gender and sexual hierarchy.  If we are a culture that cannot divorce gender from sexuality and privilege some genders and sexualities over others, we encourage heterosexual males to be "men"--"real men" and other such questionable ways of conceiving ourselves and others.  We limit our abilities to understand and express ourselves in full.  We perpetuate the perceptions of gender and sex expectations (and expressions) and reinforce some of the more negative results from such associations from gay-bashing to slut-shaming to rape.

Here's what happens in those conversations when the accuser is speculating to a friend--he or she is also communicating what are acceptable and unacceptable ways to present one's gender in conjunction with one' sexuality.  As a person who regularly reflects on his gender and sexuality, I consciously pick up on what this spells out on the ways we are supposed to be--what's appropriate or what will get people talking.  I like to think I've garnered the strength, self-confidence, self-acceptance, and understanding to not let such things affect me--but they most likely do in ways I'm not entirely aware of.  Thus I would imagine that others too who are confidants in such discussions, hearing about an accused are likely to also internalize the unspoken messages about how he or she should be to avoid such accusations.

In writing this post, my purpose is not to scold or condemn those who have done this.  In truth, I would bet in my own history, I have likely done this.  Rather I want to bring an awareness to the nuance within our conversations that we might not entirely realize is there when we talk about gender and sexuality in the presence of others and the ways it effects us directly and indirectly.  If this has provide some means of doing that for you--great!  If I've failed miserably, well--I guess I have more work to do.



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Letter to the Editor: Issue of sex change for prisoner deserved a deeper look

The Salem News’ handling of the Kosilek situation needs work. They framed Kosilek’s gender identity disorder and the attempts to address it through surgery as a “want” and tell us that insurers consider it “elective” so it must not be important. It’s like Botox, right? When did the insurance companies become bastions of correct decisions about health care?...

For the full letter, click on through.


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Verbal Handgranades, Vitriolic Banter, and Verifiable Rape

Because I am a male, I need to preface this with certain key points.

1.  I understand the seriousness of sexual assault. 

I am thankful that I have never been a victim of it (more through luck than the fact that I'm male--on two specific times in my past, mere timing prevented it from in all likelihood occurring).  I have encountered a great many people professionally and personally that have been through it.  I've seen the way it impacted and continues to impact their lives.  In writing this, I don't look to undermine the seriousness of rape, sexual assault, or the continued sex, sexuality, and gender divide in this country.

2.  I understand that language is a powerful tool used to impair people's voices.  

That is, I realize that poor means of discussing something tells us just how problematic something is in our society.  Many are not comfortable using the "correct" names of body parts (penis, vagina, anus), nevermind having a healthy discussion about having sex without switching into analogies, metaphors, and language that masks it like dimmed lights.  Therefore, even the talk and rhetoric of women (by mostly men) can create a genuine sense of paralysis or clearly indicate certain truths that are negligent and ignorant at best.

3.  I understand that sexual assault is still a serious problem.

My discussion here does not undermine or disincline me in any way to finding sexual assault appauling, problematic, and still prevalent in our society.  It's merely what I would consider something that runs parallel to it.  A problem not entirely disconnected.

Regardless of these points and awareness, some may still decide that I'm just not getting it or just using my male privilege to ignore the "real issues."  I understand, but I think what follows is equally important to consider.

Media and progressive media are doing a disservice in their orgiastic obsession over things like Chick-Fil-A, Romney's faux paus abroad, and Akin's remarks (And I won't kid myself, I'm just as guilty of jumping on the self-righteous bandwagon).  Todd Akin’s remarks are deplorable and loathsome.  Absolutely.  And yes, they are one among many examples of the Right’s poor dealing with understanding what feminism is (sadly, they seemed to have eclipsed with Palin – especially after considering Rebecca Traister’s nuanced analysis of gender in the 2008 election in Big Girls Don’t Cry).

The concern of the political, legal, medical, and physical treatment of women is extremely important.  So many people hear the appalling comments by Akin and the like and feel that this is a sign of a slide backwards, but in context, it’s not.  Every time we have a public discussion about rape, awareness goes up.  Akin’s comments would have flown under the radar 30 years ago.  Today, even Palin is calling for his departure.  Yes, it’s a problem, but that there is a conversation going on with it speaks volumes about where we are.  We at the point of arguing how language indicates viewpoints about rape and feeling because of one's viewpoints about rape, that person should personally disqualify himself from the office he's running for.  That is progress.  One has to wonder if the events around Clarence Thomas had played out today, would he have been a legitimate candidate.  I find that unlikely--and that's just 20 years ago.  That everyone, including Republicans, feel the need to respond based solely upon words says something significant.

But what worries me, is how much we're obsessing upon this and other similar events.  In the social-networking realm, I'm seeing people post many items repeatedly in and around these subjects, communicating expressions of fear and angst over the idea that there is a war on women.  Again, I'm not saying there aren't things to be concerned about and to pay attention to, but when people are propping up the straw-man idea that the Right wants women redomesticated a la 1950s, I'm doubtful.  When people say they fear for their personal safety as a result of these things, I get concerned.

I get concerned because three different things occur in my head simultaneously and assessing which one (or ones) may be underlying the concern can be hard to calculate.

1.  Actual threat.  

Are the people expressing fear and concern in a position of genuine threat by what’s going on?  Is what’s going on directly or indirectly harming/effecting/hurting them?  And is something actually happening—that is, are specific laws being passed in places they live, actions being taking to people they know, now or in the foreseeable future?

2.  Echo chamber.  

As Eli Pariser discusses in his book, The Filter Bubble and his Ted Talk, Google and Facebook are sending us increasingly into our own echo chambers, where we keep hearing the information (and I use that word warily) that we preference (through our “Likes” “Fav” “+1s” and the like)—the algorithmic Internet keeps feeding us similar and familiar material.  This means that once you like or share one article about the war on women, you hear more and more of it.  Therefore, more and more types of those articles show up in our Facebook feeds, newsfeeds, even in our ads.   Unfortunately, this amplifying of the echo chamber  will also trigger the availability heuristic making us think that whatever is being amplified is more rampant and abundant than what may actually be happening.

3.  Distraction.  

We’re made to fixate on one thing—often a confusing or not-entirely clear thing, so that other things can occur while we’re not looking.  This is the magician’s flare or baffling with bullshit.  To some degree, this is also related to Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine.  While we're posting, reposting, liking, retweeting, and spending other amounts of time talking about Akin's idiocy, what else is going on that we're missing?

What I fear when we look at the events and nonevents around women’s rights is that we’re slipping into the echo chamber and distraction, more than an actual threat.  Or rather, the threat is coming in different ways.  Our fixation and angst over the rhetoric of politicians is consuming our time, our attention, and our effort while other things are happening that are equally threatening to nature of our democracy and fairness in our society.  The almost quiet and overwhelmingly easy development of Voter ID laws that have risen in the last four years is scary.  The direct impact of these laws is numbered in the millions and has equal potential to shift outcomes of key states.  

Make no mistake, I think we still have a far way to go in terms of addressing the hundreds of thousands of sexual assaults that happen each year.    But what scares me more is that those who are disproportionately likely to have been or become victims of sexual assault  (see Fact Sheets on this document) are those who are also those who are most likely to be disproportionately affected by the Voter ID laws.  These laws speak to a rape of another sort  (Same word, different definition – “to plunder (a place); despoil OR to seize, take, or carry off by force").  If our attention to the rhetoric distracts us from protecting their inalienable rights that would seem to be a step back more.  This is what concerns me--we're being distracted by certain conversations that allow us to feel empowered by boycotting a restaurant, or calling for a resignation, but we're not doing much to actually help and effect direct and relevant outcomes.

Lastly and importantly, I don't want Democrats to win (and that's not to say I want them to win), because they properly played the fear-card by overexploiting idiotic quotes from people who clearly show us that stupidity is not a trait evolution will get rid of any time soon.  Fear sells—Bush showed us that and Republicans love the play the “Othered” card—look at the Birther movement, but hope is always better.



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Letter to the Editor: Columnist misleads on Chick-fil-A

To the editor:

Deroy Murdock’s concern about hypocrisy or the supposed totalitarian slant of Democrats expressed in yesterday’s Salem News is disappointing and clearly misleading.

First, in all politicians, there are opportunities for totalitarian machinations. There are innumerable incidents in which the same rhetorical magic tricks could be shown to illustrate just how totalitarian Republicans are, trying to regulate people’s bodies and people’s choices. His biggest misdirect was his attempt to equate the bigotry of Dan Cathy with the more nuanced approach that President Barack Obama has taken. This is clear by the way he decontextualizes his quotes and doesn’t provide the full quotes of the president. The 2010 full quote: “I think it’s a fair question to ask. I think that I am a strong supporter of civil unions. As you say, I have been to this point unwilling to sign on to same-sex marriage primarily because of my understandings of the traditional definitions of marriage.”
For the rest of the letter, check out the Salem News.



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Recommended Reading - 2011

Here is my most updated list of Recommended Readings. I’ve broken them down into general categories and listed them alphabetically by author’s last name.  Without a doubt, I’ve missed a few and I’m sure some are bound to raise an eyebrow.

LITERATURE

  • I'm Not Scared by Ammaniti, Niccolò
  • Fahrenheit 451 by Bradbury, Ray
  • A Clockwork Orange by Burgess, Anthony
  • The Awakening by Chopin, Kate
  • The Good Earth by Buck, Pearl S.
  • The Souls of Black Folk by DuBois, W.E.B.
  • The Count of Monte Cristo by Dumas, Alexandre
  • The Three Musketeers by Dumas, Alexandre
  • Invisible Man by Ellison, Ralph
  • Beowulf translated by Seamus Heaney
  • Bartleby and Benito Cereno by Melville, Herman
  • The Odyssey by Homer
  •  The Iliad by Homer
  • Brave New World by Huxley, Aldous
  • The Metamorphosis by Kafka, Franz
  • The Poisonwood Bible by Kingsolver, Barbara
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Lee, Harper
  • Mary Reilly by Martin, Valerie
  • Beloved by Morrison, Toni
  • Lolita by Nabokov, Vladimir
  • Animal Farm  by Orwell, George
  • 1984 by Orwell, George
  • The Bell Jar by Plath, Sylvia
  • Twelve Angry Men by Rose, Reginald
  • The Jungle by Sinclair, Upton
  • Frankenstein by Shelley, Mary
  • A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Smith, Betty
  • Of Mice and Men by Steinbeck, John
  • Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde by Stevenson, Robert Louis
  • Dracula by Stoker, Bram
  • Pudd'nhead Wilson by Twain, Mark
  • The Color Purple by Walker, Alice

HISTORY

  • On Monsters: An Unnatural History of Our Worst Fears by Asma, Stephen T.
  • Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Diamond, Jared
  • Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq by Kinzer, Stephen
  • Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong by Loewen, James W.
  • A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present by Zinn, Howard

CULTURE, POPULAR CULTURE, AND POLITICS

  • Free: The Future of a Radical Price by Anderson, Chris
  • NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children by Bronson, Po
  • The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement by Brooks, David
  • The Invisible Gorilla: And Other Ways Our Intuitions Deceive Us by Chabris, Christopher
  • Popular Culture: An Introduction by Freccero, Carla
  • The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains by Carr, Nicholas G.
  • Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America by Ehrenreich, Barbara
  • Wrong: Why Experts Keep Failing Us and How to Know When Not to Trust Them by Freedman, David H.
  • The Science of Fear: Why We Fear the Things We Shouldn't--and Put Ourselves in Greater Danger by Gardner, Dan
  • The Culture of Fear: Why Americans Are Afraid of the Wrong Things by Glassner, Barry
  • Consuming the Romantic Utopia: Love and the Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism by Illouz, Eva
  • Whose Freedom?: The Battle over America's Most Important Idea by Lakoff, George
  • Don't Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate--The Essential Guide for Progressives by Lakoff, George
  • Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Happy and How They Can Change the World by McGonigal, Jane
  • Culture, Self, and Meaning by Munck, Victor C. de
  • Inventing Reality: The Politics of News Media by Parenti, Michael
  • Inside the Mouse: Work and Play at Disney World, The Project on Disney by Project on Disney
  • Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know--And Doesn't by Prothero, Stephen R
  • Reality Hunger: A Manifesto by Shields, David
  • Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age by Shirky, Clay
  • The Truth About Lies by Shea, Andy
  • Inventing Popular Culture: From Folklore to Globalization by Storey, John
  • Planet Simpson: How a Cartoon Masterpiece Defined a Generation by Turner, Chris
  • Our Inner Ape: A Leading Primatologist Explains Why We Are Who We Are by Waal, Frans de

SOCIAL JUSTICE

  • The Coke Machine by Blanding, Michael
  • "They Take Our Jobs!": and 20 Other Myths about Immigration by Chomsky, Aviva
  • Ecology of Fear: Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster by Davis, Mike
  • Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America by Ehrenreich, Barbara
  • This Land Is Their Land: Reports from a Divided Nation by Ehrenreich, Barbara
  • The Assault on Reason by Gore, Al
  • We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families: Stories from Rwanda by Gourevitch, Philip
  • There Is No Me Without You: One Woman's Odyssey to Rescue Africa's Children by Greene, Melissa Fay
  • Black Like Me by Griffin, John Howard
  • Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming by Hawken, Paul
  • Me to We: Finding Meaning in a Material World by Kielburger, Craig The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism by Klein, Naomi
  • Savage Inequalities: Children in America's Schools by Kozol, Jonathan
  •  The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America by Kozol, Jonathan
  • Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Kristof, Nicholas D.
  • We Are All the Same: A Story of a Boy's Courage and a Mother's Love by Wooten, James T.

FOOD/CONSUMERISM/ENVIRONMENT

  • No Impact Man: The Adventures of a Guilty Liberal Who Attempts to Save the Planet, and the Discoveries He Makes About Himself and Our Way of Life in the Process by Beavan, Colin The Vertical Farm by Despommier, Dickson
  • Twinkie, Deconstructed: My Journey to Discover How the Ingredients Found in Processed Foods Are Grown, Mined (Yes, Mined), and Manipulated Into What America Eats by Ettlinger, Steve
  • Eating Animals by Foer, Jonathan Safran
  • The Wal-Mart Effect: How the World's Most Powerful Company Really Works--and How It's Transforming the American Economy by Fishman, Charles
  • Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution--and How It Can Renew America by Friedman, Thomas L.
  • Ecological Intelligence: How Knowing the Hidden Impacts of What We Buy Can Change Everything by Daniel Goleman
  • Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Kingsolver, Barbara
  • The Story of Stuff: How Our Obsession with Stuff is Trashing the Planet, Our Communities, and our Health—and a Vision for Change by Leonard, Annie
  • The Face on Your Plate: The Truth About Food by Masson, Jeffrey Moussaieff Green Metropolis: What the City Can Teach the Country About True Sustainability  by Owen, David
  • The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Pollan, Michael
  • In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto by Pollan, Michael
  • The End of Food by Roberts, Paul
  • Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture by Shell, Ellen Ruppel
  • Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal by Schlosser, Eric
  • Maxed Out: Hard Times, Easy Credit and the Era of Predatory Lenders by Scurlock, James D
  • $20 Per Gallon: How the Rising Cost of Gasoline Will Radically Change Our Lives by Steiner, Christopher
  • Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think by Wansink, Brian

GENDER/SEX/SEXUALITY

  • Woman: An Intimate Geography by Angier, Natalie
  • The Feminine Mistake by Leslie Bennetts
  • Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940 by Chauncey, George
  • Men, Women, and Chain Saws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film by Clover, Carol J.
  • Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in America by D'Emilio, John
  • Sex for One: The Joy of Selfloving by Dodson, Betty
  • The Ethical Slut by Easton, Dossie
  • The Vagina Monologues  by Ensler, Eve
  • Transgender Warriors : Making History from Joan of Arc to Dennis Rodman by Feinberg, Leslie
  • Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality by Fausto-Sterling, Anne Anatomy of Love: A Natural History of Mating, Marriage, and Why We Stray by Fisher, Helen
  • Freaks Talk Back: Tabloid Talk Shows and Sexual Nonconformity by Gamson, Joshua
  • City of Eros: New York City, Prostitution, and the Commercialization of Sex, 1790-1920 by Gilfoyle, Timothy J.
  • The Survivor's Guide to Sex: How to Have an Empowered Sex Life After Child Sexual Abuse by Staci Haines
  • The Technology of Orgasm: "Hysteria," the Vibrator, and Women's Sexual Satisfaction by Maines, Rachel P.
  • How Sex Changed: A History of Transsexuality in the United States by Meyerowitz, Joanne J.
  • Symposium by Plato
  • Sex, Time, and Power: How Women's Sexuality Shaped Human Evolution  by Shlain, Leonard
  • Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls by Simmons, Rachel
  • Big Girls Don't Cry: The Election That Changed Everything for American Women by Traister, Rebecca

GENRE AND MODERN FICTION

  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (Entire series) by Adams, Douglas
  • The Robot series by Isaac Asimov
  • The Foundation series by Isaac Asimov
  • Ender's Game by Card, Orson Scott
  • Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? By Dick, Philip K.
  • A Scanner Darkly by Dick, Philip K.
  • Crooked Little Vein by Ellis, Warren
  • Stone Butch Blues by Feinberg, Leslie
  • Neverwhere by Gaiman, Neil
  • From the Notebooks of Dr. Brain by Faust, Minister
  • The Last King of Scotland by Foden, Giles
  • The Maltese Falcon by Hammett, Dashiell
  • Double Indemnity by Cain, James M.
  • The Wayfarer Redemption series by Sara Douglass
  • The Zombies of Lake Woebegotten by Geillor, Harrison
  • The Outsiders by Hinton, S.E
  • A Widow for One Year by Irving, John
  • The Body by King, Stephen
  • It by King, Stephen
  • Just After Sunset by King, Stephen
  • The Stand by King, Stephen
  • Let the Right One in by Lindqvist, John Ajvide
  • What Dreams May Come by Matheson, Richard
  • Fight Club by Palahniuk, Chuck
  • Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit by Quinn, Daniel
  • Q & A by Swarup, Vikas
  • The Hobbit by Tolkien, J.R.R.
  • Player Piano by Vonnegut, Kurt

BOOKS ABOUT COMICS

  • Superhero: The Secret Origin of a Genre by Coogan, Peter
  • Power of Comics: History, Form and Culture by Duncan, Randy
  • Comics & Sequential Art by Eisner, Will
  • The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic Book Scare and How It Changed America by Hajdu, David
  • Men Of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters, and the Birth of the Comic Book by Jones, Gerard
  • 99 Ways to Tell a Story: Exercises in Style by Madden, Matt
  • Batman Unauthorized: Vigilantes, Jokers, and Heroes in Gotham City by O'Neil, Dennis
  • Comic Books As History: The Narrative Art of Jack Jackson, Art Spiegelman, and Harvey Pekar by Witek, Joseph
  • The Man from Krypton: A Closer Look at Superman by Yeffeth, Glenn

MANGA

  • Parasyte by Hitoshi Iwaaki
  • Barefoot Gen by Nakazawa, Keiji
  • Akira by Katsuhiro Otomo
  • Death Note by Tsugumi Ohba
  • A Drifting Life by Tatsumi, Yoshihiro
  • Buddha by Osamu Tezuka
  • Ode To Kirihito by Osamu Tezuka
  • With the Light... Vol. 1: Raising an Autistic Child by Tobe, Keiko

GRAPHIC NOVELS

  • Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Bechdel, Alison
  • Powers by Brian Michael Bendis
  • Unwritten by Mike Carey
  • The Contract with God Trilogy by Eisner, Will
  • The Boys by Garth Ennis
  • Preacher by Garth Ennis
  • He Done Her Wrong by Gross, Milt
  • The Nightly News by Hickman, Jonathan
  • Transhuman by Hickman, Jonathan
  • Sandman by Neil Gaiman
  • The Cartoon History of the Universe/World by Larry Gonick
  • Homer’s The Odyssey by Hinds, Gareth
  • Shakespeare's King Lear by Gareth Hind
  • The Broadcast by Hobbs, Eric
  • The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation by Jacobson, Sid
  • Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman
  • Invincible by Robert Kirkman
  • Still I Rise: A Cartoon History of African Americans by Jr., Roland Owen Laird
  • The Complete Essex County by Lemire, Jeff
  • Museum Vaults: Excerpts from the Journal of an Expert by Mathieu, Marc-Antoine
  • Asterios Polyp by Mazzucchelli, David
  • Making Comics by McCloud, Scott
  • Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art by McCloud, Scott
  • Superman: Red Son by Millar, Mark
  • Batman: Year One by Miller, Frank
  • Batman: The Dark Knight Returns by Miller, Frank
  • The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore
  • V for Vendetta by Moore, Alan
  • Watchmen by Alan Moore
  • Captain America: Truth by Morales, Robert
  • Remains by Niles, Steve
  • The Mammoth Book of Best Horror Comics by Normanton, Peter
  • Suspended In Language: Niels Bohr's Life, Discoveries, And The Century He Shaped by Ottaviani, Jim
  • Three Shadows by Pedrosa, Cyril
  • Renfield: A Tale of Madness by Reed, Gary
  • Lovecraft by Rodionoff, Hans
  • Earth X by Alex Ross & Jim Kreuger
  • Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi.
  • The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman
  • Rising Stars by J. Michael Straczynski
  • Disaster and Resistance: Political Comics by Tobocman, Seth
  • Understanding the Crash by Tobocman, Seth
  • Ex Machina by Brian K. Vaughan
  • Pride of Baghdad by Vaughan, Brian K.
  • Y: The Last Man  by Brian K. Vaughan
  • Irredeemable by Mark Waid
  • Kingdom Come by Waid, Mark
  • Graphic Witness: Four Wordless Graphic Novels by Frans Masereel, Lynd Ward, Giacomo Patri and Laurence Hyde ed. By George Walker
  • Fables by Bill Willingham
  • DMZ by Brian Woods
  • American Born Chinese by Yang, Gene Luen
     



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