sex-positivity for virgins

November 18, 2010

You don’t ever have to engage in any kind of sexual activity unless you genuinely want to. No, really, I mean it. Really, really skeeved out at the thought of masturbation? Don’t do it. Not comfortable with giving (or receiving) oral sex? You don’t have to. Anyone who says otherwise isn’t worth your time or energy, and also might possibly be very bad news, and if someone is pressuring you into sexual activity then you should have a very serious talk with them about boundaries and choice or perhaps you should sever contact altogether or maybe you should seek help from a Trusted Adult™.

But I digress.

You do have to acknowledge- out loud as well as in your head- that engaging or not engaging in sexual activity of any kind makes you no better nor worse than anyone else on the planet. Sex is like food: it’s not a moral issue. There are lots of different varieties, and everybody has their own tastes and preferences, and we don’t necessarily know why people like what they like. You can have as much or as little of whatever kinds of sex you choose, and so can everyone else, and that’s fantastic.

You do have to fight slut-shaming. When your friend says a girl is “such a skank”, you have to tell her (or him) that it’s wrong to say that about another human being. It’s sexist, it’s judgmental, and it is also unnecessarily cruel. It’s good policy to avoid unnecessary cruelty. Remember middle school? Wouldn’t it have been better if every person there consciously avoided cruelty? The same principle applies in the real world. (Or, umm, college. Speaking of which: the phrase “walk of shame” needs to go away forever.)

You do have to defend non-mainstream-monogamous-het-vanilla sexual practices. Does someone say bigoted things about LGBTQ people? Call them on it. Is your best friend speechifying about how freaky and weird and gross and just wrong BDSM is? Yup, you guessed it- tell her she is talking out of her ass and that just because she personally has no interest in, say, flogging or Wartenberg wheels or what have you, that doesn’t mean other people’s enthusiasm for those items and/or activities aren’t totally valid. (Maybe when that happens to you in real life you will manage to spit it out unmired in a bog of awkward syntax and too many negatives. If so, you are a far more courageous and articulate person than I.) And when people express prejudice of poly folk, you know the drill.

This isn’t the Girl Scouts; you don’t get the badge for one-time participation. If you’re going to call yourself sex-positive, you’ve got to commit. Sometimes that means fighting. If this is something you want- if you want everyone, regardless of gender or sex or orientation or kinks or what have you, to be free to choose their sexual activities or lack thereof without guilt or shame, and if you want each and every possible choice to be considered equally valid-

you have to fight.

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Back before Colleen/Alan was canon, Colleen and I spent a lot of time intertwined. (So did Alan and I, but that’s a whole other story.) We walked around hand-in-hand. We snuggled constantly. If we were sitting together, odds were she was curled up in my lap. It didn’t mean anything- she’s straight as a ruler. It was just harmless, no-end-goal-in-mind flirting.

Usually no one noticed, or cared, or commented. Two conventionally pretty girls holding hands reads as comfortable friendship, which in this case is what it was.

Except once, some dudely type dude, displaying every kind of visible privilege you can think of, told us to get a room, as we were signing into our dorm building. I had an arm around her shoulders; she had an arm around my waist. It was not a big deal. So, whatever, we ignored him.

Then we shared an elevator with him. Amateur comedy night continued. “Hey, don’t ask, don’t tell, right?” Oh dudely dude. You are so, so clever, if, of course, by clever I mean entirely unoriginal and uninteresting. We continued to ignore him.

He continued to waggle his eyebrows at us. We got out of the elevator, and he called after us: “Hey, have a nice night!” More hyena-esque cackling. Your implications, dudely dude! They were so subtle and hilarious!

Here’s the interesting bit. Normally, my gender presentation is pretty damn feminine. I love skirts and dresses, I wear my hair long, I gravitate towards all things lacy. That night I wore loose jeans and an unfitted plaid shirt and I had my hair in a ponytail; I looked about as stereotypically lesbian as it’s possible for me to look (which is still not very stereotypically-lesbian-looking). Colleen’s a utilitarian dresser, all jeans and t-shirts.

When I look feminine, all acceptable-object-of-stereotypical-straight-dude-lust, I don’t get any crap for flirtatious behavior with girls. (Straight dudes love it when pretty girls flirt with each other, doncha know. Because clearly we are only doing it for their entertainment and pleasure!) But the moment I didn’t feel like performing conventionally-pretty girliness, it was something to comment on, something to joke about.

This is all sexuality vs. sexualization: conventionally attractive girls who perform femininity can flirt with other girls without a problem, because that’s an image on which, we’re told, straight dudes get off. Thus it’s just the logical progression of feminine gender performance, which is all to please straight dudes, or so we’re taught. But when girls who look like they don’t give a shit about any straight dudes who might be watching behave the same way, they need to be castigated and shamed. God forbid they express their own sexuality and thereby totally exclude the straight dude observer.

That leaves you (if you are a queerish type girl like me) with two options: conform in your dress and mode of presentation, and you can do whatever you want, because your queerishness will fly under the radar. (You’re still risking the comments and catcalls of obnoxious objectifying type dudes, but you are risking those anyway by Existing While Female. You are risking lots of things by Existing While Female, and you do not get to opt out of those risks.) Or you can present yourself in a way that differs from the pretty-girl norm, but prepare to deal with those same obnoxious objectifying type dudes trying to shame you out of self-expression.

But then let’s say you’re fat, or not conventionally pretty, or a woman of color, or a trans woman who doesn’t pass, or a woman with a visible disability, or some combination thereof. Then you don’t even have those options, because those obnoxious objectifying straight type dudes, the ones who drip with privilege and Axe? They are going to feel entitled to comment (or castigate, or shame, or punish) no matter what you do, no matter how you choose to conform or deviate.

Fuckin’ patriarchy, man.

little victories

November 16, 2010

Sometimes boys- it’s always boys- use the word “rape” when they mean, well, not rape. My friend Simon used to do this all the time.

“Dude, that test totally raped me.”

“Oh my god, my team got raped.”

All itchy and strangly yet? Yeah, me too. This is one of my big little things. Sure, language and actions aren’t the same, and hey, I guess I could just- how did you put it?- lighten up, and you know what, you’re right, there are in fact starving children in Africa, thanks for reminding me.

There are many, many worse things in the world than teenage boys misappropriating language.

Even so. Words are crucial. Ask Dumbledore: fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself. In the same vein, meaningless overuse of a word signals association of meaninglessness and insignificance with the thing it describes. This is all rape culture 101- rape is a joke, rape doesn’t need to be taken seriously, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

So it’s a battle I fight. It’s a tiny, tiny battle, but I get very loud about it. Sometimes people roll their eyes or tell me it doesn’t matter, and then I turn incoherent with fury. Sometimes they listen, and sometimes they don’t. Simon listened; he never says rape when he doesn’t mean rape anymore.

But never isn’t the right word, as it turns out. Leela, his girlfriend, told me he still says it all the time. He just doesn’t say it around me. I’m not sure what to make of that. He respects me enough to watch his mouth when we’re hanging out, I suppose, but it’s not really respect, it’s a desire to avoid the inconvenience of me snapping at him.

Calling that respect is like calling obedience to the Bible  morality. It doesn’t count as morality if you’re only doing it out of fear of hell. Fear is self-interest. Morality is interest in and concern for others.

I still appreciate his not talking like that around me. But I wish he’d put together that I’m not the only person he knows who might be upset or offended by his misuse of language- I’m just the loudest.

My friends here know I’m into girls. (I dig boys, too. I just don’t like the word “bisexual.”) This is awesome, because I can talk about pretty girls and no one bats an eyelid.

This is not awesome, because I can’t check out girls without getting caught anymore. Colleen catches me constantly. We’ll be walking through the dining hall talking, and then I’ll get all… inarticulate. She’ll turn her head to see what I’m looking at. She’ll giggle. (Giggling is Colleen’s response to nearly everything.)

“You totally saw that, didn’t you?”

“Yup.”

Once upon a time, in seventeenth-century Boston, the Puritans executed an eight-year-old girl. Her crime wasn’t witchcraft, as you might expect. No- she had killed a classmate, by hitting the other girl in the head with a stone.

From what we can tell this girl was mentally ill. She suffered physical and emotional abuse at her family’s hands. In all likelihood she had no intention of killing her classmate. And she was only eight years old. Obviously, she was not the type of person we as a society would execute today.

These long-dead Bostonians, however, saw capital punishment as a deterrent. They weren’t hanging this girl to remove her from society or because it fit her crime; they were hanging her so others would fear the consequences of that crime. To that end they made a drama of it. The whole town gathered for the hanging, as they did for all such events. They lined up her classmates in front of the scaffolding, so the other children would learn from her example. A preacher gave a stirring sermon on sin and wasted youth, while enterprising folk hawked snacks and pamphlets containing transcripts of some of that preacher’s previous speeches- like a “Best of” album, but for hellfire and brimstone.

The girl herself gave a final statement, entreating all the other children to avoid her wicked, wicked ways, and thus dodge her tragic fate.

They hanged her to terrify children. They must have succeeded: what’s more terrifying than knowing that your elders, whom you’ve been taught to respect and obey, will kill you without a moment’s hesitation, if they believe you’ve transgressed?