Showing posts with label sexuality. Show all posts
Showing posts with label sexuality. Show all posts

How I Came to My Bisexuality

For those not in the know, today is Bi Visibility Day...and with that, I decided to talk a bit about my bisexuality as it's a topic that I have occasionally addressed in this blog but not necessarily head on.  I mean, I did a whole schtick about it and talked about the linguistics of it, and reviewed an amazing book on the subject, but have never really done more than that.  So buckle up to hear how I got here.

I've read enough stories of coming out, had a great many friends come out to me, and witnessed a good deal of coming out stories to understand that there's a significant amount of them that have similar trajectories but for many of us, that is not the case.  My own story has familiar threads but woven from many different coming out stories.  

Some bisexuals have always known this aspect of their identity, but I, like others, discovered my bisexuality.  Heterosexuals tend to never have to discover or even question their heterosexuality, that's what we mean when we talk about heteronormative practices.  It's an assumption of presence (heterosexuality) and few are given or encouraged to challenge that assumption.  But bisexuals like me often stumble upon it, realizing that a part of one's self has been hidden from one's self.  

I grew up in a heteronormative society.  I liked and was socially accepted in my interest in females.  I knew attraction to males was openly shunned in our society.  Any attraction to males that I experienced could and was quickly disregarded as random thoughts but nothing serious or to be investigated because I had a clear attraction to women.  I could be either gay or straight; not both.  

Word cloud of this blog post in the shape of an umbrella.

Bi-Ways to Discovery

For the first twenty of so years of my life; that was easier than digging deeper into those occasional thoughts wherein I found myself intrigued by (never attracted, right?) men or the handful of homoerotic sexual fantasies I experienced.  But like many others, college gave me an opportunity to expand my understanding and lens in many ways.  It brought me into contact with a great many other students, staff, and campus leaders who were not straight.  Beyond normalizing what had been taboo and punishable in high school, I was also learning much from my course of study as it introduced me to the many different types of marginalized people within history and society (history major, keep in mind). The most profound idea that college introduced me to that helped me to eventually claim my identity as a bisexual was that non-heteronormative identities varied greatly and were perfectly acceptable means of self and sexual expression.   

After college, I found myself working at a large seller of Christian goods.  Many people found their way there as part of their spiritual journey or felt that they were doing God's work (I'm not sure capitalizing off everything biblically related is really what Jesus would do--but that's between them and their maker).  A significant percentage of them were either conservative, fundamentalist, or both, which meant the wrath and judgment of God hovered about two feet over each and every conversation.  For me, it was a job that I liked in terms of the work I was doing but not necessarily one that I was inspired by in terms of the content we were shucking.  But it would be while working at this job that I fully realized my bisexuality.  

Maybe that makes sense; maybe the spirit moved me in the right direction.  A significant part of my job did not necessarily entail a lot of mental energy. It was computer work that could be done without much thinking and therefore I could listen to audiobooks and audio programs while working.  We all know that I'm an audiobook fanatic so that is often how I filled my days.  But it was the early days of Audible and one of my favorite shows/podcasts that they had was In Bed With Susie Bright.  

A picture of a different people at a cookout with "Celebrate Bisexuality Day held every Sept 23"

Learning Bi Myself

Susie Bright is a writer, editor, podcaster, activist, bisexual, polyamorist, rockstar.   You can read more about her elsewhere but I was listening to her weekly podcast and being introduced to a wide variety of people, books, ideas, etc over the course of several years while working at that first professional job out of college.  Between her words, her interviews, follow-up exploration on the topics she introduced, I found myself delving deep into the worlds of gender, sex, and sexuality.  So there I sat in my cubicle, listening and expanding my mind on these topics while surrounded by people who loved to cast stones.  

I can give a lot of credit to a lot of different people for helping me get there, but Susie Bright's podcast was probably the game changer for me.  She was the first bisexual that I can recall who didn't offer one sole form of bisexuality or put parameters around what it should look like.  Her driving message about bisexuality is that it comes in myriad forms and that it (like much of sexuality) has a fluidity to it that is self-determined and understood.  I think that's a key thing I appreciated and found liberating about moving away from the heterosexuality box was escaping the overwhelming conformity it presented, repressing sexual exploration beyond a dogmatic insistence of male as defacto lead and female as de facto follower.  (That's not to say that alternatives and variety doesn't exist in the heterosexual world, but that the emphasis of the male/female dynamic described above is that which is promoted).   

In addition to her sage advice, I continued to expand my knowledge of sex, gender, and sexuality with books, websites, documentaries, and courses.  I voraciously consumed these pieces of information and lens both because I was interested in this area in an academic and a personal sense.  I came back to the topic time and again in an associate degree I was pursuing after college (in criminal justice) and in the graduate degree that followed in American Studies. 

Each piece of learning helped me to reflect about my past and present experiences and attractions to males. It first helped me to reposition those past memories and fantasies as not inexplicable and alienated actions but as something that was part of me.  This encouraged me to think more about why and how these occurred and were there other times to which such emotions and feelings were aroused in others besides females.  

So by this time, I came to better understand that I was in fact bisexual and began to identify as such in certain contexts (e.g. dating) and among certain people.  It took over 20 years for me to realize it, given the culture we live in and the mutability of attraction that occurred in me (and I would imagine other bisexual males in our culture).  For me, which is so damn fitting for me that I laugh every time I think about it is, is that it took books and learning for me to better understand it.  That is, as someone who has spent so much of his life in education as a student, instructor, and professional staff member --as a self-proclaimed nerd as it were, I found my way to bisexuality by reading books and articles, writing about sexuality, and taking courses both directly and indirectly related to it.    

The Phased Coming Out

It's a strange thing to come out in your 20s as bisexual (ok, it was strange for me). I did it in phases because, well, coming out as bisexual is complicated or maybe it is made complicated by others as a result of a mixture of ignorance on what bisexuality is or biphobia, which like homophobia can be found prevalently within our culture.  Making a statement about one's sexuality, especially when it conflicts with one's previously evident sexual interactions, can often be met with skepticism.  Inevitably, as many nonheterosexuals, queer, and trans people know, when one comes out, there is always an expectation of evidence to validate the claim.  For bisexuals, this means evidence of cross-dating, for gay and lesbian folk, it means having a same-sex partner, and for transpeople, it can mean having the surgery (regardless of whether the transperson has any intention of any of the surgeries related to transitioning).  

But I did it in phases because there were some people that it was going to be more relevant to than others and quite frankly, I didn't want to have conversations with people that I felt would be circular, cause me frustration or where I would be misunderstood.  So while I would be open about my bisexuality in relationships, with nonheterosexual friends, I was more selective about the circle of people I shared my identity with beyond that--at least in much of my 20s.  

There were other reasons for this as well.  For chunks of my 20s, I worked with youth, particularly after school daycare, summer camp, and residential teens.  With all but one of these places (a residential home specifically for LGBTQ teens), I did not openly speak about my identity because they did not feel like safe places to acknowledge such things.  Bi-phobia does exist; I've seen people's visceral reaction to someone who does not choose either/or but both.  We as humans are often comfortable with category and bisexuality crosses categories.  I had no interest in dealing with such bigotry why working because it had nothing to do with the work I was doing.  

However, once I was working at a residential program for LGBTQ teens, I realized, especially for the teens who often lacked positive and localized (as opposed to national or iconic) role models with which to look to and realize or appreciate different ways in which sexuality is expressed and how it is not the sole definer of our experiences.  From there, I became much more open about my bisexuality professionally, but working in academia, there is certainly a bit more acceptance of that (not a universal, but working in academia in Massachusetts, it is more so).  Sometime in 2012, I switched this blog from its original name (the Hitchhiking Adjunct) to its present name, By Any Other Nerd.  And sometime shortly thereafter, I identified as bisexual in my About page.  At different times, I have included this or not, depending on the changes I've made to my about pages and other additional pages.  

Coming out to my family was an outward to inward approach.  I came out first to my two cousins who also were also not heterosexual.  What was nice about one of these relationships is that it was a cousin whom I had not been particularly close with throughout much of my life and now, in our thirties, she's one of the closest family members I have.  As for the other cousin, I don't know.  She had disconnected from the family years previously for reasons I can understand in general but never specifically the disconnect from me.  Reaching out to her and coming out to her, I thought might bring us closer her but all I got was silence.  

Coming out to my immediate family didn't formally happened until I did my first stand-up routine which focused on being bisexual. Of course, I warned them ahead of time what the focus of my routine was and thus came out to them in the later part of my thirties. Coming out nearly 15 years after I knew may sound as if I was hiding from them.  It is more a matter of I had issue with bringing it up unless there was reason to.  If I had dated any guy long enough to "bring home", I would have had the conversation.  But in the absence of "proof", I didn't trust my family to actually understand it or appreciate what it was that I was sharing with them. So, it took a while for the circumstances to make it evident.   

Parting Thoughts 

Nowadays, I'm more open to dropping the B-word where it's relevant in a discussion or in a given moment.  I'm less hesitant to talk about it openly in nearly all space, but of course, that's context.  I don't know if I would carry the same confidence were I in different region or area of the country or the world.  But I do my best to talk about it without over-talking about it as I realize many non-heteronormative people don't get this opportunity.  If I can increase normality of nonheteronormative identities through being more open, then it behooves me to do so.  

I recognize that for a variety of reasons, coming out for me was not as challenging or life-threatening as it can be for others.  For that, I am grateful and recognize the privilege associated with my cultural, social, class standings that allow for that.  But I think it's worth considering for all of us to stop and think what it means for people to feel necessary to "come out."  In many cases, it's a result of the assumptions of culture that are put upon the person to which they must reject.  It requires the person to have to claim the space of "I am not who you're assuming."  And that can be an awfully hard space to navigate, especially in a culture that still has very strong notions about boys and girls, men and women (and the strict adherence to an artificial gender/sex binary therein).     

I'll probably have more posts about this subject in the months and years to come but for those who are discovering this for the first time, I'm assuming this changes nothing.  For those that were already in the know, I hope this provides some further understanding about who I am.  And for those that are grappling with your own identity or coming to understand it, I am sending you kind thoughts and hopes that you will be able to navigate to a place where you and your loved ones are comfortable with who you are.  

Did you enjoy this read? Let me know your thoughts down below or feel free to browse around and check out some of my other posts!. You might also want to keep up to date with my blog by signing up for them via email. 

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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.  

Did you enjoy this read? Let me know your thoughts down below or feel free to browse around and check out some of my other posts!. You might also want to keep up to date with my blog by signing up for them via email. 

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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: God Believes in Love: Straight Talk About Gay Marriage

God Believes in Love: Straight Talk About Gay Marriage God Believes in Love: Straight Talk About Gay Marriage by Gene Robinson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Overall, Robinson systematically shatters the assumptions about religion and homosexuality, creating a substantive and safe place for homosexuals and other nonheteronormative people to find God. In the end, he does much more to improve respect and interest in religion than a great deal of others writing about religion.

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Review: Ghost Wife: A Memoir of Love and Defiance

Ghost Wife: A Memoir of Love and Defiance Ghost Wife: A Memoir of Love and Defiance by Michelle Dicinoski
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Dicinoski writes a great memoir that contrasts her family's history with her pursuit to legitimate (at least in the eyes of the public) her relationship with her life-long partner and wife, Heather. The story revolves around Dicinoski and Heather traveling to Canada from Australia to get married in part to celebrate their love and in part to spite the bigotted policies of Australia. However, the narrative is more than just a "let's go to the chapel" story. Instead, Dicinoski explores how the failure for the culture to acknowledge her relationship is part of a story played out many times before with her family members who disappear in one way, shape, or form and it's this story--the story of invisibility--that is as moving as seeing Dicinoski and her partner solidify their love. In many ways, it parallels Dan Savage's memoir, The Commitment but has a very distinct flavor worth partaking.

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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:

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.  

Did you enjoy this read? Let me know your thoughts down below or feel free to browse around and check out some of my other posts!. You might also want to keep up to date with my blog by signing up for them via email. 

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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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Yes--That's Sexist and Yes, I Have to Call You on It

So right on the heels of my Letter to the Editor, I also have this to say (though, I wrote this before the letter to the editor came out and had to reschedule its release here).

I have a rather undeveloped policy about how I deal with things I take issue with on Facebook or other social media in which I am connected to people.  What little I understand of it though is that it starts with the assumption that if a person has chosen to virtually connect with me, then they have chosen to accept the fact that I am an active user of social media who seeks out conversation and meaning.  By accepting or requesting and continuing said connection, they recognize that I'm likely to engage with those things that grab my attention and to which I have some knowledge and/or stake in the conversation (and granted sometimes I have too much of latter without enough of the former--but that's a post for another time).

So when someone I'm connected with on Facebook, posted the following.  It certainly got me a wee bit angered and ready to say something.  In fact, it annoyed me enough to write a blog post about it.

Oh the many things wrong with this.  Particularly, because it was created on or around March 27/28 and it comes in the aftermath of the Stuebenville rape conviction and the various backlashes.   The many, many, many things wrong with this.  So much of this wreaks of a moral technopanic about the nature of women's behavior in public which is always easier than considering the role of the men or the system at large.

Of "Girls" and Men
So language is always an interesting thing to study and this meme is no different.  The women are all girls--even those who are married.  It may be a small or irrelevant point--obviously the page (IM So Fuckin High I can't even see u--clearly a page for chauvinistic, sexist, racist and other mad hattery) wasn't looking to be deep in any regard, but it does illustrate a disregard for women in our culture (fostered more by the 22,000+ likes and additional 1700+ shares).

A History Lesson.
I find the faux history most amazing and misinformed.  The idea of women as purely pristine and pure has never really jived with the actual history of sex, if anyone who has taken the time to study the history of sex will tell you.  In fact, the later half of the 1800s was a hotbed of sexiness with sex and sexual acts happening everywhere from dancehalls to brothels to saloons.

It annoys me when people level the supposed morals of the past to lay judgment on the present.  In most cases, these morals were nothing but myths to begin with.  It's like finding speed limit signs 100 years from now and deducing that people never drove over the speed limit--when in fact--we almost all do.

If we were to look at the late 19th century, we find that New York City had hundreds of brothels and brothels were also found in the West .  And the dance halls were filled with women exchanging drinks and gifts for favors--yes, sometimes of the sexual kind.

That's not to applaud what for many was a "choice" that wasn't a real choice (i.e. do this for survival's sake--one's own or family and loved ones) but it's to acknowledge that women were not the bastions of morality that we pretend they were.  That mentality (women's past purity or women's declining morality) contributes to continued sexism and mistreatment.  It first upholds women to traits and ideals that were never entirely true in the first place (and to which we never believe or feel that men can live up to) while also allowing for further shaming of women--another form of power and control.  That much of this is done by or for men without men having to adhere to the same spurious morals, only further illustrates the coercive power of patriarchy.

The statement that "In 1995: Girls Got Undressed for Money" is very curious and another play at shaming.  In all likelihood this is a reference to the Girls Gone Wild series (that's a link to Wikipedia-not to the actual site--and they state GGW started in 1997). But here again, the language is suggestive.  Women have been accepting money for getting undressed for thousands of years as there is ample evidence of temple prostitutes going back to the ancient world.  If the claim meant accepting money to take clothes off for a camera, they would still be wrong.  Women undressing for cash and the camera is something too that is over 100 years old.  Thus "girls" takes on a further meaning.  Girls in this sense are supposed to mean "good girls" to which prostitutes, strippers and other sex workers clearly do not fall into.  The judgment upon women to maintain their "girl" status clearly coincides with the ways in which they act as sexual beings.  Their state of undress is only for the male who (in 1880s parlance) owns her.

Facepalm indeed.
It's telling the that the last panel is a man in a state of disappointment.  First, because it seems that the meme-maker couldn't find a woman offering up herself in a state of undress on Facebook.  But also, that it gives away the bigger lie.  We put this expectation upon women, but in the end, it's typically men (or mayhaps we should use the term, "boys") that are encouraging, demanding and condemning it.  There's the perversity of it--the women are judged by the same sources of those who make the demands.  The ideas of Mulvey's "male gaze" are still relevant.

But It's Just a Joke
It's easy to shrug this off as a goofy internet meme in poor taste and saying I'm looking too much into it--take it too "literally" as the person who posted it said below.  But all memes are not the same and this one I found a bit caustic.  That we can shrug it off so easily as it so grossly represents truth, and plays into the ideas of a demoralizing society brought to us by technology and whose responsibility is placed upon women to uphold is utter rubbish.  Technology nor women contribute to the decline of society (and I continued to revoke the idea that society is in moral freefall).  If you think the moral decay of society is real, I would encourage you to read The Better Nature of Our Angels by Stephen Pinker (his TED Talk only scratches the surface) and significantly reduce the amount of "news" you watch.

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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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