Pure As the Driven Slush: Heather Corinna's Journal and Diary, Online since 1999

Archive for the 'burning questions' Category

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012

I’m not feeling well today, so I’m not good for much, but I can manage to journal, and am grateful for the chance to do it.  Even if I have to be nauseated in order to get the downtime.

I have to say, my introversion epiphany of a couple months ago was possibly the very best thing that’s happened to me in a long time, even though, as I keep exploring this, it’s bringing up some things for me that are kind of a bummer.

For instance, I’ve been feeling like this is yet another place where I really got a bum deal by not being able to live full-time with my father before I did, the introvert of my two parents.  I’m scrolling back in my life to even the weekend visits we spent together, and realizing what a great model they were for managing introversion well and not feeling like I had to conform to extroversion. Of the couple days we’d spend together, there was always just as much, if not more, quiet time as time spent out and about. Even the out-and-aboutness usually involved just the two of us or small groups. I’ve been thinking about the days where sometimes almost for the whole of a day, we’d hang out at his favorite deli, both of us with a book, where we’d read for a while then talk for a while, where people could stop, visit and chat us up and then move on, and if I wasn’t feeling open or chatty, I was never told to put my book down so as not to be rude.

At my other home, there really wasn’t room for being introverted. About the only time I really got any kind of acceptance, or was even just left alone for a little bit without conflict was either around achievement or performance, and ideally, both. If I did some kind of dancing monkey routine, then I was marginally acceptable.  But most often, my introversion was framed as rudeness, or trying to hide from people, or hide things from people; a need for privacy to refuel was often presented as a need for secrecy. Sometimes my need to be alone was framed as my not liking or loving people. Or, my desire to be slow in conflict or step away from it before reacting instead of quick and reactive was framed as not taking conflict seriously (when really, it was quite the opposite, and is still: it’s taking the time I need to react thoughtfully and well instead of getting caught up in a tidal wave of upset).  Of course, in the worst of the worst of conflict, I tend to do what my Dad does when people won’t give him space, which is to just vanish altogether, which then winds up being seen as abandonment when all we are really going for is some space to ourselves so we don’t implode or explode or just get utterly lost in someone else’s drama.

Suffice it to say, the wound around being way too separated from my Dad during a lot of my life is always one that stays a little bit raw, so more salt on it basically blows. It’s clear he would have done a bit better if we’d been full-time earlier, and in so, so many ways, I would have, too. This may be the least of them, really, but still.

I’m sure this is something other folks who survived a lot of serious trauma can relate to, but it also always feels so strange and surprising to me to identify smaller — per my perspective, anyway –  things in your life and upbringing that have messed you up or just steered you the wrong way.  I feel like it’s so much harder to see them, hell, even to remember them, through the thick fog of much bigger trauma. That’s not helped, of course, by the cultural narrative we have around certain kinds of trauma that paints those of us who are survivors as, of course, so, so super-messed up by X-thing, with everything that isn’t right for us or okay as automatically attached to that trauma. But the big trauma itself obscures the smaller issues that sometimes maybe aren’t so small after all.

In some weird way, it kind of makes me feel more connected to people who have NOT gone through some of the horrible shit I have, and who I’ve often had awkward conversations with when they feel bad about things like this having been traumatic for them, versus things like my living through rape or other abuses. I never felt like anyone needed to compare that way, or that there was any need to feel bad (and heck, I’m nothing more than happy when I know people haven’t been through the mill so badly in their lives).  But I have always felt a little disconnected, like we weren’t quite living in the same worlds, and these kinds of realizations make me feel a connectivity I really appreciate. I think this kind of connected feeling around the smaller stuff may be what people are actually seeking when they’ve been through The Big Awful and say they “just want to be normal.”

I’m recognizing a lot of seemingly-smaller things around all of this. I don’t want to do that thing people do where they latch on to this One Big Thing to Explain Everything, but you know, this does explain a lot. Also? It’s really kind of col to be learning brand new, shiny things about myself.  As someone who has done a lot of reflection, got counseling way earlier in my life than most, I confess that I’m often a bit hungry for new growth.

For instance, the more reading I do, the more I become aware of why friends with ADD have expressed that maybe I’m ADD: there are a bunch of introvert things that are a lot like ADD things. I’m starting to understand more and more why I sometimes feel so daft when I’m overstimulated, and how at times when the pressure is on to be so smart so fast it often IS in the context of overstimulation, and that just can’t work for me. That’s awesome for extroverts: a recipe for disaster for me, especially if I’m not doing that I can to dial everything down so I can step up.

Longtime readers may recall that a bunch of years back, I felt utterly crippled by a sudden. inexplicable anxiety about public speaking.  I’d never really liked doing it, especially with big groups, but I always could do it, but from outta left field, I suddenly really, really couldn’t.  I’d get sick to my stomach, have panic attacks, the works. I could never figure out why it got so bad so suddenly.  Then I took a look at that timeline, and noticed that happened at a time when I was so, so very exposed on the whole, had so many people and so much work I was juggling, I was so visible, and it was all utterly nonstop.  It didn’t even occur to me at the time — nor later, when it calmed down some, also fairly inexplicably — that it might have been about much too much happening all the time, with me having to be on almost 24/7, and was just to do with that business of straws, camels and their backs.  In retrospect, now, it seems really obvious.

Also?  I had this idea that because so much of my work life anymore doesn’t have me with people in-person, that a breakneck pace, so long as it wasn’t face-to-face could work just fine. Now I’m starting to see how marathoning direct service still isn’t so great, even when I don’t have people right in my face.  In fact, I think what can happen is that I miss the cues I’d otherwise pick up in in-person interactions to know when I’ve hit a limit and need to recharge, so with online work, I need to create breaks and downtime in built-in ways, rather than only realizing I went over my limits once I am utterly wiped out.

Anyone who knows me very well and has stayed talking with me for hours and hours and days and days has probably heard me go on at some point about my (apparent) very strange non-reaction to dopamine geekouts.  Now, I can’t tell exactly how well studied the neurochem around introversion I’ve been reading about it, but it seems that being introverted, all by itself, may be why I’m just all yeah-reward-neurochem-hit-that’s-nice-whatever-moving-on around dopamine, because the word is that that’s how interoverts are with dopamine, and it’s acetylcholine we need and crave instead. Oddly enough, my nutritional deficits usually are also acetylcholine-related, and I’ve also had low blood sugar and low blood pressure all my life, which it seems may have something to do with it, too. Who knows how useful any of that may be, but more to geek out about, always fun.

Unsurprisingly, a bunch of this involves Aha! moments for me, that when I bring them to Blue, is all “Umm, I know.” I suppose it never does fail that all of us are often so much more aware of the behavior of those around us than of our own. I think that’s one of those things we’re supposed to magically outgrow with the wisdom of age and a lot of meditation. And yet. That said, my sweetheart has been beautifully patient with my process in this, making extra room for me to have extra room, when I’m already someone who errs on the side of more-time-alone than most as it is. Those “Umm, I knows” also are delivered with likely less boredom than I’d expect from someone has who has already seen a lot of this from their side of the screen already.

I still, I’m sorry to say, have yet to come up with the miracle plan of how to change the world as it is right now so that there’s more room in it for introverts and for what we need to be who we are.  I know, you’re disappointed. Me too.

But my own plan for right now is to just keep reminding myself that when I feel like there’s no room for me and I need to conform that that’s not the deal: the deal is that I need to conform to this no more than I ever have with anything else in my life, and instead carve out the space and place I need and ask for room to be made. I’m still barely just starting with that, because it asks for quite a bit of revamping and revising, but I’m getting there. This includes asking myself for that space and place, or, perhaps more to the point, the part of myself that — quite counter to almost every other part of myself through my life, so I’m resistant to even acknowledge it sometimes — really bought the bill of sale that said I had to be a person in some ways I not only am not, but a person which often obscures the uniqueness of who I am and my best ways of being me.

For that matter, it obscures a whole kind of people who’ve always had a lot to give the world, but who the world has to quiet down to hear, and slow down to see and really take in, people who I’ve probably appreciated most in my life far beyond the mere fact of having a mere temperament in common.

P.S. Holy bananas, do I know how out of date some of the supporting pages of this journal are. Updating them is on my to-do list. But since that’s been on my to-do list for, oh, two years and change, I’m seeing if stating that intention where other people can see it — and thus, I’ll feel really embarrassed if I don’t get to it soon — helps.

Sunday, May 23rd, 2010

While so much of my work involves my giving other people advice, I’m writing today to ask all of you for some for myself.

While the answers and working it out are obviously going to be complex, the question itself is pretty simple.  How do any of you both accept and express your limits to others, especially people you don’t know?

I’m not talking about sexually, but in the rest of life.  Over the last year, and certainly the last few months, it’s become clearer and clearer to me that I’m not very good at this.  I’m actually great at it sexually or when it comes to my close personal relationships.  But when it comes to work-stuff, and to people who I don’t know very well (including people who may feel they know me, but who I don’t feel I know)?  I kind of suck at it. Okay, so I really suck at it.
I am aware that one of the big hurdles is that I have done and do so much that I know that can give the impression I’m either superhuman, or just always capable of doing a million things at once.  I also know that a lot of people don’t realize — how could they, really — how many people at a given time will usually be asking/wanting things of me at any given time.  To boot, when it’s about work, I find it really hard to figure out who to be professional yet still state limits that usually have something to do with having too much work on my plate, but also have to do with my health and the limitations it can impose, which is very personal.  Same goes for the financial limitations I have, also personal.  I mean, “I’m sick, broke and stretched to my limit,” is just not a very professional answer, even though that’s often the truth of things.

For example, right now, the hard truth is that unless I’m being compensated very well for anything work-wise, I really, really should say no.  Same goes for my needing to do anything work-wise which requires a lot of time and energy for any kind of setup or prep, other than things in which I can just bring my existing skills and resources to the table.  Between now and a few weeks after the upcoming move, I just need to not take ANYTHING extra on at all, because if I do, I just don’t know how it will get done in the midst of everything else.  Ideally, I’d be able to go a month before even answering any email, because the backlog is so great, and I feel so overwhelmed by how many folks want or need something from me.

Lastly, I’ve little doubt that consciously and unconsciously, my own dislike of some of my many limits probably comes across in some of these exchanges, which I’m sure doesn’t help. Any tone from me that sounds apologetic about my limits…well, I guess I feel like it only seems to make things worse.  Too often lately, I find myself just not responding to a lot of people sometimes, too, because a) even taking the time to respond to everyone takes up a lot of time and energy I don’t have, b) it makes me feel crappy to have to constantly explain that I can’t do everything, and c) a lot of people seem to take it really personally, a response I’m also really bad at dealing with, and tend to easily feel guilty about.

So, are you awesome at this?  What works for you in doing this?  If you sucked at it in the past, what was your process like in getting better at it?  If you could just gab at me about it, I’d be so grateful.  Thanks!

Wednesday, March 17th, 2010

Dear Amazon,

Yes, I am an Amazon whiner.  I made a big stink in the past when my book was among the books de-ranked by you.  And I have complaints about you, even though I would be remiss in saying that you benefit me by selling my book, to the point that Amazon may be where I do my best sales. Thank you for that, but at the same time, you get a cut, too, so it’s not like I’m the only one who benefits from that arrangement.

I’m irritated again.  I’ve been irritated by this for a while, but I have got to get it off of my chest.  And yes, I have a personal and vested interest in this: I am not without bias or personal agenda.

When I go to the Amazon section that is Books> Teens > Self-Esteem, I get a list of books almost entirely written FOR teens about self-esteem.  When I go to the section that is Books> Teens> Literature & Fiction, I get fiction books that are written for teens. When I go to the section that is Books> Teens> Horror, I get horror books that are written for (not about) teens. When I go to the section that is Book> Children’s Books> then ANY topic, I get books FOR children.

So, I cannot figure out for the life of me why, when I go to the section that is Books> Teens > Health, Mind & Body> Sexuality, the vast majority of books on the list are anything BUT books for teens about sexuality. This is not a new issue, it’s been how it is for years.

Right now, the top book is a book by Meg Meeker for adults about her ideas on teen sexuality (which perhaps best belongs in that horror section I mentioned earlier).  Of the first 25 books on that list, in fact, four are similar books to Ms. Meeker’s (at least one of which should be shuttled to that fiction list). Five of the first 25 are young children’s books about sex or reproduction, not teen books. Perhaps strangest of all, four of the books in the first 25 are children’s fiction that have nothing to do with sex whatsoever, and where it would be pretty disturbing if they did. I’m very certain that My Weird School #17: Miss Suki Is Kooky! and My Weird School Daze #3: Mr. Granite Is from Another Planet! are NOT teen sexuality books.  I don’t think anyone reading those books is reading about how Miss Suki is that kind of kooky or how the other planet Mr. Granite is from is a planet where there are free condoms for everyone.

Of the first 25 of the list, only 8 of the books, including mine, are actually for teens and about sexuality, sexual embodiment and/or reproduction.  Though of those 8, 4 are about NOT-sex — about how God doesn’t want you to have any until you’re married, in a word — more than they are about sex. So technically, only 4 of the 25 first books in the section currently showing are for teens and about teen sexuality.

This would be a whole lot like if I went into a section for vegan cookbooks and what I found instead were a handful of auto manuals, some contemporary fiction that had nothing to do with cooking vegan, a bunch of books about why vegans are terrible people, a few on how veganism will kill you dead, some steak cookbooks and then 4 actual vegan cookbooks.  Which I think we can agree would be mighty silly.

Or like if people looking in the religious section for books on funadamentalist Christianity found…well, nothing but books like my book.

I’ve left you a note about this before.  You didn’t get back to me.  This came as no surprise. But I can’t tell you how much I’d like an answer on this.  Is this random?  If so, don’t you want to clean it up so that the books are on-topic and relevant to the readers you have the section for, just like the books in all other sections?  If it isn’t random, what’s the deal?  Do you just not want teens to be able to read about sexuality at all?  If so, why bother having a teen sexuality section in the first place, why not be transparent that you just don’t want one?  Is it just that you prioritize sections being in order in such a way that teen sexuality just comes last?  If so, can I volunteer to freaking clean it up for you already?

Thursday, February 4th, 2010

So, here’s a question: how many of you think male-bodied or identified people are, as a group, earnestly satisfied with their sex lives?

To be clear, we hear a lot about how many women are not, but most men are, but I think that statement isn’t actually about satisfaction, but about who is reaching orgasm, or reaching orgasm most often.

If a given group of people reaches orgasm, then those people tend to be classed as sexually satisfied, just because they have reached orgasm, even though we know sexual satisfaction is a far larger critter.  Vaginal intercourse is a biggie where we see this: because most men orgasm that way (who do have intercourse) but most women don’t, people will say most men are satisfied with intercourse while women aren’t… but are men really satisfied with that activity alone?  Or are they just reaching orgasm that way?

I just wonder sometimes how short the cultural and (especially in the mainstream) interpersonal conversation about male sexuality is being cut short in this because of these kinds of assumptions. I also wonder that if I’m correct in my thesis, one reason we see so many male/female partnerships where women aren’t satisfied is because there are many men who really aren’t either, but since they’re a) reaching orgasm and/or b) getting” the kind of sex men are supposed to like, or told is satisfying for them because of orgasm, there’s a whole world of communication and exploration in many relationships which could be happening, but which isn’t because of this issue.  In other words, that we can sometimes expect one party of a couple to have a whole set of skills in finding out and communicating what satisfies them that they may not actually have (or know they don’t) at all, and expect them then to share or translate skills to their other partner they don’t have in the first place.

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2010

(I decided to kind of feel out and workshop this here before it went to the Scarleteen blog.)

You should wait for sex, but if you can’t….

This is another in a long line of common phrases people use, like “preventing teen pregnancy” that I strongly dislike.  It’s one thing when I hear it from people who clearly have no or little respect for young people (or anyone else), or don’t recognize that someone who is 6 and someone who is 16 and not both “children” in the same respect.  But when I hear it from people or organizations where I know they do have a more nuanced and respectful ideal per the treatment of both young people and sexuality, I feel seriously bummed out.

Let’s unpack this, working backwards.

“You should wait for sex, but if you can’t…”

That’s usually followed by “then you should have sex using safer sex and contraception.”  Or — and usually addressing both those things  — “you should be responsible.”

In some respect, that’s fine. Not everyone needs contraception, either because they don’t have a partner with a radically different reproductive system than them or they’re not having the kinds of sex that can create a pregnancy, so that doesn’t always make sense. But by all means, for people choosing to have any kind of sex, we’re 100% on board with the sentiment that all of us — no matter our age — should be engaging in sexual practices supportive of safeguarding everyone’s best health, and in alignment with whether we do or don’t want or are or are not ready for a pregnancy. So, this statement often tacitly or inadvertently defining all sex as opposite-sexed or as intercourse isn’t okay, but overall, on the safer sex and contraception bit?  I’m right there with you.

But the “if you can’t?” Not cool. We all can elect not to have any kind of consensual sex, sparing masturbation we may unknowingly do in our sleep, something that happens sometimes. Some people also do have earnest impulse control disorders, but those are disorders, and do not occur in the vast majority of people of any age.

If we have consensual sex it is completely within our control, whether we’re 13, 26 or 63. There is no “can’t wait” when it comes to consensual sex. To suggest there is is not only incorrect, as we have free will, it can also be rape enabling. It backs up those who excuse rape by saying they (or rapists) couldn’t control themselves, that just they couldn’t help it, that when they feel sexual they cannot stop themselves and every kind of garbage of that ilk that is an absolute, and highly convenient, fiction. People always can hold off on sex or decline sex unless someone is being sexually assaulted or abused, in which case the person doing the abusing is in control of what is happening, but the person being victimized is not because the other person or group has also taken control of that person in some way.

Some folks say “don’t” instead of can’t. That’s far better. There most certainly is a “don’t want to wait,” but there isn’t a can’t. Nearly everyone can. It’s just that not everyone always wants to. Not only is that a more truthful framing, it’s one which makes clear that active consent and decision-making, and owning your choices, is of great import.

This “can’t” stuff also plays into the way older people represent teen sexuality: as something out of one’s control or will, as about “raging hormones” (hormones with superpowers, apparently, which can compel the body to move against one’s own will), as this burly, untamable beastie that picks young people up by the feet and shakes them until they don’t have two pennies of sense left to rub together. I’m not about to argue that when sexual feelings first start to develop and flourish that they don’t often feel heady, even unwieldy: they do tend to. That doesn’t make them unmanageable or make any actions one may take stemming from them out of a person’s control. I will also argue that this is somewhat situational — not about people only of a given age, gender or marital status — and that we have no reason to think, and no data to support, that older adults do not also experience strong sexual feelings. In addition, I hear from a lot of young people worried something is wrong with them because their sexual feelings are not at the mega-hormone-madness level people say teenage sexual feelings are. Heck, maybe it’s both a misrepresentation of young adult sexuality AND older adult sexuality.  All the same, young people are capable managing their sexuality well, and also tend to do a better job with it in cultures that don’t present teen sexuality like this.

There’s another big flaw with the general message here: “You should wait for sex, but if you can’t, be responsible.” Huh?

If there’s something we should do, and we’re not doing it, we’re probably not being responsible already: by definition and context, the term “should” here implies an obligation. By all means, if we are NOT making and owning our own active sexual choices, or if we “can’t” have the ability to own our choices at all, and thus, are irresponsible by default, we are absolutely not being responsible.  So, “If you can’t be responsible… be responsible?  That’s -1 + 1, which equals zero. It’s null.

“You should wait for sex…”

…until? You should wait for sex until what or when? Until you’re married? Until you’re in a committed relationship? Until your body is all the way done developing (which it kind of never is, technically, as it’s always changing, just not often as radically as in puberty, which often isn’t all the way over until we’re into our 20’s)? Until you’re older? How much older? By whose standards? And why: what will one, three, five or ten years automatically give you just by having a birthday each year?

I think that for the most part, politically and culturally progressive people, and plenty of moderates, have down that the “until you’re married” part isn’t sound.  Not all of us have the legal right to get married to people we love, at any age.  Plenty of us don’t want to get married at all.  Some of us are in both of those camps.  Too, marriage does not mean a lack of STIs, a lack of unwanted pregnancies, a healthy relationship or a stellar sex life (even far-right folks know this part, they just avoid admitting it as much as possible).  It never has. It doesn’t still. And as we mentioned just the other day, through history, even for those who did/do marry, most people have had sex before marriage, especially if of people who marry, both were not very young teens when they did. Saving sex for marriage was never a realistic standard for most young adults nor a common practice.

For some people, long-term committed relationships have more positive outcomes. Some people have positive outcomes in casual or shorter-term relationships. For most, it’s not a simple either/or, because it depends on the specific relationship or scenario, as well as what that person wants and feels best about at a given time in their lives.

From some sound perspectives, physical sexual development is important, though not likely as much as emotional and intellectual development is. For instance, when the cervix hasn’t finished developing (which it generally will by about the mid-twenties), it’s more prone to infection, and it’s supported by data that for women who become sexually active (with activities which involve the vagina, anyway: not sure vulval sex is an issue here) under the age of 18, those risks are higher. But what if physical development like that is the only thing that gives us an age, and that age isn’t for everyone?

Wait until you’re older? How much older? Until it’s legal? Well, think whatever we do about age of consent laws, that’s pretty sound.  But even in states where the age of consent is, say, 16 or 18, there are usually allowances for same-age sexual relationships for those under that age.  If it’s not about the law, at what age does everyone, unilaterally, acquire the skills, resources and the right relationships and scenarios to assure, or at least strongly suggest, sex will be either devoid of unwanted outcomes or bear less risk of them, or be a positive? If, in reading this, you’re not silent and have that one magical age handy for me, I need to assure you that I can’t think of one single age, talking to people of many ages about sex, I have not had people report negative or unwanted outcomes with. I also have never seen evidence to show such an age, so if you have, do please send it this way.

You won’t, though, because there isn’t any.  We have sound study which tells us things like that at the youngest ages, teens expectations of sex often are less realistic, and that the youngest teens do self-report unwanted outcomes from sex or unhappy experiences more frequently (it’s a difference substantial enough that it’s sound to say it is more common) than older teens do.  We also have good data that shows us that for the youngest teens, sex more often is not consensual sex, but is rape, via either force or coercion.  Data like that is critically important, and is data we should absolutely share with young people when we’re talking with them about sex, especially if they seem to specifically fit the picture of any of that data.  However, there will always be exceptions, and often those exceptions are not about a few teens, but about a few million. Age-in-years also isn’t all that’s going on in those pictures.

Here’s where both I, and Scarleteen as an organization, stand on this. What we want is for everyone to only have any kind of sex — be it intercourse or any other physically enacted expression of sexuality with oneself or a partner — when it is what everyone involved in a sexual scenario: strongly wants, can and does actively consent to, feels prepared for, and has the knowledge and capacity to have sex in a way that is physically and emotionally safe for everyone.

This is our goal for people of every age, and we don’t think it’s fair or reasonable to hold young people to different standards on this than we hold, or anyone else holds, older people (especially if you’re going to say young people are less capable of meeting the standard than older people, but older people don’t need to meet it once they are capable).

So, if “you should wait” means until all of THAT, then you betcha, we’re so on board.

The kinds of things we know ARE likely to create positive sexual outcomes — areas where we can clearly see those positive outcomes most often occur — are things like having an earnest and shared desire for sex with the person you’re having it with at any given time, having knowledge about and access to sexual healthcare, safer sex tools and contraception, having the full legal right to and a sense of ownership of your own body (be that about the right to give nonconsent and consent or reproductive rights),  having emotional support and acceptance from your community and culture, not feeling shame or fear about sex or sexuality, having a strong sense of self as well as a real care for others and feeling prepared for and at least somewhat skilled with the kinds of things sex requires, like communication, vulnerability, creativity, compassion, discovery and boundary-setting. There are people who are teens and who have all of those things sometimes: there are plenty who do not. There are people who are 20, 30 or 50 who do not: there are also plenty who do.  While age and life experience can absolutely hone any and all of those things, a) it clearly doesn’t for all people (if only) and b) some of those things can sometimes be easier for younger people than older people, especially if they haven’t unlearned any of their intuitive skills with them yet.

I know, because of what I do and how broadly I have done it for and from a wealth of study on human sexuality, sexual and human development and sociology, that there is no one broad group which people can be a member of that guarantees unilaterally positive sexual experiences or relationships with either unilaterally positive outcomes, or a lack of any negative outcomes. Marriage doesn’t do that, and it never has.  Being of a certain gender doesn’t do that, nor of a certain race or economic class.  Being of a certain age doesn’t do that, either, and also never has. Setting aside both the implicit falsehood of these kinds of statements, and the audacity of making them to members of a group which we are not members of ourselves, if we give young people the idea that getting married, having a partner for X-months or X-years or reaching some magical-age-or-other will immediately imbue them with all of the above resources, skills or scenarios, we aren’t helping them any.  At best, we potentially set them up for disappointment, but at worst, we may put them right in harm’s way — since those things alone do NOT protect them — the very thing I think most people do want to prevent.

The other thing “wait until” can say as a message, intentionally or not, is that once anyone chooses to have sex, it’s a Pandora’s Box they have opened and can’t shut evermore. Sexual choices are not just important or meaningful the first time or times we make them: those choices are always meaningful, we consider if sex is something that is right for us every time we do or don’t choose to engage in it, and we all always have the right to change our minds and decline sex, even if we had it before.  But a lot of young people don’t know or feel that, especially with the other messages they get about how their valuation as people changes based on whether or not they have had sex or do have sex. I know, for certain, our allies don’t want to enable that message to young people, but I worry some do because this messaging dovetails with that kind all too easily.

“You should…”

Shoulds are mighty tricky when we’re talking about sexuality, especially when making opening or general statements, rather than responding to someone’s specifically expressed wants and/or needs. Given a rare few of us have been reared without pervasive shoulds when it comes to sex, or have been totally uninfluenced by a world which is rife with them, it’s really easy to slip into saying “should” and we all usually have to work hard to avoid it. But I think we need to try.

When it comes to things like what kind of sex someone enjoys or wants, or to when sex will most likely be right for them (especially in a given situation when you don’t even know what their unique situation is), “you should” usually means something more like, “I wouldn’t,” “I didn’t,” “I don’t think you should because I didn’t like that,”  “That didn’t work out so well for me, so it probably won’t for you” “I’d prefer if you didn’t because what I want is…” “My personal values dictate…” or “Some person or idea who has more authority than you do says no.”

This is particularly an issue, and particularly problematic, when adults are talking to young people, and all the more so when they’re saying “shoulds” about nothing but age-in-years.  So often, adults have the idea that because they were once a young person of 13 or 19 or 22, they know all of how it is for young people of that same age.

But there are some big problems with that. For sure, those of us who are older were once younger. We were, however, our own younger selves, not the younger person we are talking with and about right now.  we were not our younger selves in the same time they are their younger selves. And while some parts of a given experience they had may be much like one we had, they may experience that thing very differently, or have different outcomes than we did.  For sure, age and hindsight gives us perspectives, and those truly are often valuable, especially if we’re mindful people. But the idea that we know so much more than a younger person about their experiences, or what may be their experiences, just because of our experiences or our age isn’t kosher. It is, in fact, is one of the ways that adults are often adultist. On top of that, we have adults who DID wait past X-age to be sexual with partners, and felt that was best for them: but not having had the other experience, they can’t know what that would have been like for them. Then we have adults who had sex younger than they feel would have been best for them: they have a bit more information than the former group, but still can’t know what starting sex at a different age would have been like. Having experience with something doesn’t give us experience with not-something-else.
I was sexually active as a teen. Almost unilaterally, I deeply enjoyed the sex I had, it was on my own terms, my partners were awesome to me and I didn’t have the unwanted outcomes we’ve always heard will fall upon the heads of teens who have sex en masse (likely because I did very well with safer sex and contraception when it was needed), save a broken heart a few times. No more achy-breaky than heartbreak I experienced from nonsexual relationships, either (actually, I think those heartbreaks were sometimes worse for me). I’ve heard from more than my fair share of adults my age or older who both don’t manage their sex lives NOW as well as I did as a teenager and who are less pleased with their sex lives as adults than I was with mine as a teen. However, because my experience was like that at a given age does not mean I’m going to assume that what worked for me is going to work for every or even any 15-year-old female-bodied person out there, at this point in time or any other.

I know full well that it doesn’t or likely won’t work for some and I also know there are those for whom it does or will. My own experiences may provide me perspectives (but also potential biases) I may not have had I had very different experiences. But it’s my job to manage them and put them in greater perspective, to recognize they are individual, not universal, to avoid projecting and to figure that for any given teen out there who might have been just like me, there’s one out there who is radically different, and for whom my choices at a given age would be a terrible fit, with very different outcomes.

If being older really makes us wiser, why do adults have such a fracking hard time seeing when we’re projecting this stuff unto youth, or recognizing it’s often so disrespectful? Many times that “should” comes from the I-did-this-I had-bad-things-happen place. I completely understand adults — especially those who are parents or are mentors, teachers or other allies, rather than folks who don’t have any real emotional investment in a teen or teens lives — wanting to do what they can, within reason and with care, to help young people avoid harm or hurt. I think that’s laudable and loving. However, a negative outcome happening from something we do at one age doesn’t mean it’ll happen to all people that age doing that same thing. We all need to think more deeply than this and present teens with thoughts of more depth.

I took a one-block walk to the park to play when I was seven, climbed on what looked like a jungle gym in an alley to me (it so wasn’t) and I wound up slicing off half my hand, which left me with a permanent disability. Does that mean that it’s a bad idea for seven-year-olds to go take a walk, and we can be sure of that because of what happened to me when I was seven? If I have had both positive and negatives with both serious and casual relationships, does that mean all must be good for everyone…or that none are?
Maybe you had intercourse with your boyfriend when you were 15. You didn’t use birth control and became unwantedly pregnant, or a condom wasn’t used and you got an STI. You didn’t come into the relationship with knowledge about either of these things, nor sound negotiation skills or a real sense of self-esteem. You hid your sexual activity because per your religion, you were breaking the rules and sinning. Your relationship was also crappy, and the guy wound up leaving you, on top of everything. So, if you had had intercourse at 20, but all those other conditions were exactly the same, do you think the outcome would have been different?  Doubtful. Just like if that guy had a mustache, things would not have been different with all the same conditions at the same age with a partner sans mustache. The problem most likely was not being 15. It was all the conditions of that equation.

There’s often some coulda-woulda-shoulda going on here, too. A lot of people come of age with ideas of what “perfect sex” or “perfect lover” or “perfect first time” is. Many people have the idea that if they had just done X-thing differently, they would have had that perfect first time instead of the less-than-stellar experience they had. Certainly, we don’t always all make the best choices and some different choices very much may have resulted in different outcomes — because no, someone who had no sex at all would not have become pregnant, and someone who didn’t choose a sex partner they knew was a jerk would have been less likely to wind up with a jerk-in-bed. But as someone who hears a WHOLE lot about that “perfect first time,” including from people who followed all the given “rules” about what promises to make that so? I gotta tell you: if you didn’t have it, one reason why was that, in large part, that “perfect” first time isn’t real. It, like perfect lovers and perfect sex, is a fable; a fantasy. Hello: that’s why it’s so shiny. Too, we can’t ever know what outcome switching up one thing differently would have had, or what THAT change may have created. We hear a similar tactic in reproductive justice a lot, when people who are antichoice and regret an abortion they had say that they should have done adoption, that would have been so much less painful. Not only do they have no way of knowing that, that ignores the endless scores of women who HAVE surrendered a child and found it very painful. Grass, greener, other side: you know this one.

I also want to be clear that “should” is a word that has something to do with control. When we say “should” to someone — especially without context, such as where someone tells us they want to have sex without a pregnancy, so we say they should then consider using contraception — we suggest someone is obligated to make a certain choice. That’s not helpful messaging if some of our intent is to empower people to make their own best choices.  The phraseology here also suggests that responsibility is more about someone doing their duty, being a good citizen or a “good person,” than just caring for themselves and caring for others: it’s the latter motivation that’s more likely to help people create and nurture positive sexual lives and relationships. Plus, messages of duty and/or obligation in regard to sex are particularly noxious for women, for whom much of the whole cultural history of sexuality has been about sex as a duty and obligation.

I would be so delighted if we could start to broadly hear a change in this messaging, especially from individuals or organizations I know or think truly want what is best for young people, which certainly includes, ideally, a lack of negative or unwanted outcomes from sex, and also — pretty please? — some address of consent; which I also hope includes nurturing positive, wanted outcomes, like feeling good about one’s sexuality, having a satisfying, beneficial sexual life — one that includes pleasure and fun, not just not-pregnancy or not-STIs — like feeling able to express yourself and your feeling with someone else, like feeling alive in your body and feeling capable and respected. I don’t think we can’t present sex positively and treat young people as capable while still sending strong messages about health and public health: in fact, I think the former tends to make the other much more effective.

Here a few different phrasings to try on:

  • “If you want to have sex, please care for yourself and others by taking care of your bodies, hearts and minds, including consent, safer sex and contraception.”
  • “If you are going to choose to have sex, and want to do all you can to assure positive outcomes, on top of assuring desire and consent, please manage any infection or pregnancy risks with safer sex and/or contraception.”
  • “If you and your partner feel emotionally ready for sex, and each want to be sexual together, please make sure you are also practically ready when it comes to safer sex and contraception.”
  • “If you want sex to be positive, you’ll want to wait until sex is something you and yours want and feel ready for, including the use of safer sex and contraception.”
  • Or, if you earnestly feel you either didn’t wait but should have, or did wait, and that means it’s best, and want to speak from your own experience, how about “From my perspective, I think you should wait because . But if you decide that isn’t what’s best for you, and you want to choose to have sex, then I would like you to be sure mutual consent, safer sex and contraception are all in the picture.”

Of course, my favorite approach is avoiding generalized statements like this and instead having conversations where I can simply first ASK if someone does or does not want to have sex right now, then give more information, and ask more questions, then tailoring what I am saying to what they state their needs and wants to be: if we start there, and work from their answer, it’s pretty easy to sidestep all of the problems with these kinds of phrasings. I think it also makes it easier for us to focus as much on what we should be doing as we’re focusing on what teens should.

Saturday, January 23rd, 2010

There’s a woman (crowepps) who comments at RH Reality Check who I just love, love, love.  I often find myself just being so freaking glad she exists.

Today, she provided perhaps what is both a) the most honest  and b) the most comical answer to the cloying and perpetual anti-choice question I have ever read.

Q: When did your life begin?

A: When the kids went away to college and I got a divorce.

Saturday, January 23rd, 2010

I’d like a little help with something.

Due to popular demand from some of our Scarleteen users, I need to write a piece for them about casual sex: how to figure out if it’s right for you and someone else, how to negotiate it, how to work it all out.  Certainly, much of our material can be applied to sex in casual or committed/ongoing relationship contexts, but there are definitely some differences with brand new partnerships or casual ones that could stand to be discussed.

Initially, I thought that this was so no problem, and absolutely something I can write for them…

…well, wait.

Initially, what I actually thought was that I was bummed to need to do this because I know I am going to have to deal with a level of crap about it that is just plain going to suck.  I take enough shit from neocons (and all kinds of other folks) as it is for nearly anything I say about young people and sex that is anything more than “Just wait,” but putting something like this right out there and up front is likely to result in my taking more crap than usual.

So, I thought that.  Then I got over it. They tell me they need it, so it’s my job to provide it, that’s how I do things.  Plus, I’ve always liked casual sex and managed it exceptionally well, so it’s certainly something I can write about, and it’s not like I’ve ever pretended, to the young folks or anyone else, that my life and sex life has been made up of traditionally or morally-sanctioned relationships.

But I’m hitting a bit of a snag, which is the worry I’ve actually been TOO good at casual sex in my life to do this piece well all by myself.  That in some sense, it’s been too easy for me, so I may be overlooking some management and negotiation skills, or some potential pitfalls, that should be included. I tend to be a sex-on-the-first-date (or, sex-in-lieu-of-date) person almost unilaterally from near minute one of my sexual development, with me being the person nearly always initiating that. I spent many years of my life as a frequent one-night-stander and found that was usually a great fit for me: I felt very free in that, I’ve had a lot of fun, and I tend to be able to be sexually open really fast with people when the chemistry is there. I also came of age without feeling any major moral judgments around casual sex from my peers or even most of the adults around me, so I think I came into it with less fears and doubts and baggage than other people, and certainly a generation of young people told casual sex is the stuff of death and moral and emotional destruction, have.

In some ways, casual sex has posed less challenges for me than sex has in ongoing or committed relationships. I’m also, in general, a risk-taker by nature, so there’s that to contend with, too.

Now, maybe I’m just being a dope and underestimating myself, or maybe I’m even unconsciously buying into messages that casual sex is so much more emotionally risky than other kinds of sex, something which I know hasn’t been true at all for me, but I’ve always gotten strong messages I’m weird that way, messages which may or may not actually be true.

All the same, I’m asking for help: might any of you want to share with me some of your issues/tips/helpful hints when it comes to casual sex that I can look at and potentially include in this in the case that I might see this as far easier or more manageable than other folks do?  Pretty please?

Monday, September 29th, 2008

I call to you, Internet, for help with two fairly droll issues.

1) Anyone here an Excel-yoda?  What I need to do is use an existing contacts database (one that was organized pretty poorly, especially for this purpose) to create many, many mailing labels for a CONNECT mailing that needs to get out super-soon.  I don’t know how to do this, nor do I know how I should best build a new database to make mailing other organizations easier in the future.  What I do not want to wind up having to do is to type all of these contacts twice, once in a new database file and once in a Word doc or something else so I can do the labels.

2) Lobster mushrooms.  I got a beautiful bag of dried ones from the forgaged edibles folks at the farmer’s market on Sunday, but I’ve never used this particular type before.  I was thinking about a smoky, mushroom-garlic-coconut milk sauce, or maybe a lovely barley soup, but I’d love some other ideas, especially if you’ve cooked with these before.

Sunday, September 14th, 2008

So, the other day at RH Reality Check — a fantastic place I love and am so glad to have a column at, but the fundies do tend to seriously abound there — I was discussing what kinds of sex education programs exactly Obama supported for young children which the McCain campaign purposefully misrepresented.  In a word, it’s good touch-bad touch stuff, about personal safety and boundaries, the kinds of things ECE and elementary educators and community educators have addressed for an age. Nothing new here to see, kids.

When someone suggested parents could opt out of this, I had to ask why anyone would, really, and how, exactly, one was supposed to teach that age without ever addressing these issues with children since they tend to come up just among children themselves with some frequency.  I got a response which read,

Here we see why all this “opt-out” business is a sham. If Ms. Corinna’s mentality is pervasive among public school educators, then as a parent, “opting-out” of sex ed for your child is tantamount to entering yourself in the school’s sex offender database.

There is more (fairly fruitless) discussion there, but when I read that, all I could do on this end of the connection was silently mouth, “The fuck?!?”

(And not just because I’ve never worked at a school with a sexual offender database, nor can I imagine that I’d ever, as an educator, finding myself looking to use a child as any kind of weapon, retaliate against a parent or presume that a parent who objected must be abusing their child.)

It wasn’t progressives who have been at the root of, or in support of, sexual abuse panics.  It’s not progressives or educators (or both) who would do children and their families harm by false smears because we couldn’t have things go our way.  It’s not been progressives who look to annihilate, execute, terrorize, slander or otherwise go nuts harming or killing people to weed out “the (invisible) enemy.” The Patriot Act? Vietnam? The Rosenbergs? Lynchings and whites-only swimming pools?  The Salem Witch Trials?  Our current immigration laws? Not us, dude.

And then it struck me: I keep seeing this common theme over the years where it appears that neocons and fundies aren’t so much worried about us making OUR mistakes, or doing things the way we tend to do them.  Rather, they seem much more concerned that we are going to make THEIR mistakes, or use the tools and tricks they have tended to wield (and we have tended to strongly protest) against them.  I also feel like a certain sector of that population is so drawn to the idea of a fearful, omnipotent god simply because they don’t trust themselves without one.  What keeps them “in line,” or behaving in the way they feel they should, is driven strongly by a potential punishment if they behave differently.  In other words, I am seeing a whole lot of projection.

This is but a theory, and it may or may not be apt.  If it is apt, it’s going to be mighty tough to convince a group of people who don’t trust themselves without a certain structure — I’m not entirely sure real esteem can even happen in hierarchy — why some of us can be trusted without it and don’t feel we need it, or even if we share it, see it differently, incorporate it differently in our lives, and don’t feel that those without it are automatically untrustworthy.  In terms of hysterical panics — like the red scare, like the ritual child sexual abuse panics, like terrorist panic — if they see them as valid (and they tend to) and not as grave errors and abuses, it’s going to be tough to get them to see why we disagree, and why for those of us who do disagree, we are incredibly vigilant about NOT doing anything remotely like that as part and parcel of who we are and what our own ethics are all about.   If it is apt theory on my part, what is this really about?  Is it as basic as being about low self-esteem (when it isn’t megalomania), or is that totally simplistic and ridiculous?  If it is that basic, how, exactly, do we help raise their esteem, particularly if it’s trapped in power-over/power-under, and particularly when so often we’re the -under in that equation?

I have an aunt-by-marriage on my mother’s side who is one of my favorite people in that family.  She’s a longtime born-again Christian in a family of Irish Catholics, and I can assure you she wouldn’t be saying the kinds of ridiculous things I keep hearing from people who say they are like her. When we have a conversation, now and then she injects some scripture in, but in the way you have a conversation — it’s an inclusion, with room left for everyone else’s inclusions as well. She voices what she does because she is expressing something for herself, making a connection, looking for her thoughts to be one part of the whole quilt of the discussion.  She’s also always been massively supportive of me and what I do, is a big fan of the book, and is a very potent but gentle caller-outer of bullshit and hypocrisy.  Maybe I need to ask her about this.  I feel like she’d get what I’m saying (or tell me I’m being totally bizarre) and have some interesting perspective.

This stuff hurts my freaking head, man.  Not because I’m an idiot, but just because I’m so tired of thinking about it and trying to figure it out, especially when I’m trying to do so at the same time I’m trying to discuss things reasonably rather than giving it all the hell up, calling them a big doodyhead and heading off to enjoy my rights while I still have them.

Speaking of interesting perspective, I FINALLY came into touch with someone who is pro-life, and who is also feminist, vegetarian, antiwar, antioppression and against the death penalty.   I have been trying to find someone like this for YEARS, because I felt like the ONLY productive discussion I could ever have with someone who was pro-life was with someone who wasn’t kidding around when they talk about valuing “life.”  So far we’ve had some amazing exchanges, even though we’re really just getting started, and while I don’t expect either of us to agree with the other when all is said and done, it so far seems pretty enlightening and awesome for us both.  Cool stuff.

* * * * * * * * *

Over the last couple weeks, I have, at last, met a goal I set last fall of having 10-mile rides here be not only something I can do, but my average ride, having accepted that the 20-mile rides on flat land that were the mainstay in Minneapolis and Chicago cannot happen on the hills here.  I’m peeved it took me so damn long to get there, but 10 is now not easy, but doable, and I can exceed that distance on a good day, too.  Friday morning I actually just spaced out for a while on a trail and wound up doing 13 by accident.  Didn’t space what distance I’d done by the time I had to pedal the long grade up to get home, and my pubic bone still feels like a dart shooting straight up my coochie everytime I sit down or try and do something more pleasant with that location, mind you, but still.

* * * * * * * * *

By the by, we’re starting a new guest-blog series at Scarleteen written entirely by people of color on all things sexuality and sexual health.  I have a nice handful of cool people on board who are going to get started, but I would love to have even more.  Anyone interested? We’re also getting started on our election materials, so if anyone wants to help there, that’d also be fantastic.

* * * * * * * * *

In other news, it came up during a hangout with friends at the house that I’ve had more than one editor make clear that if I were willing to write a memoir about my adolescence, I’d probably have a contract in three seconds or less.

While it’s entirely possible I’ll do that at some point in my life, a) that point isn’t now, b) there’s no way I’d do that unless most of my family were dead, just because the worst offenders would make my life a hell yet again otherwise, and c) I can’t figure how I’d write something that’d mostly make someone want to off themselves while reading it, since so much of it would be about plain old awfulness.

But then it occurred to me that what I could do is simply write nothing but the GOOD moments that occurred during that occurred for me between the ages of 10 and 16.  Given the number of them, you’d have a clear understanding of how awful most of it was for me.  The extra bonus is that it’d also be a very, very short book to have to write.

I’m calling it 57 Minutes of Joy.

Friday, August 1st, 2008

I’ve a question for the group.

What the hell do or would you say to women (or men, but I almost always only get this from women) who are thoroughly convinced that when they say no to a boyfriend (again, usually a boyfriend or some other guy), about any kind of sex, and he keeps doing or trying to do what he is doing anyway, it is because he just doesn’t understand what no means or is certain these women are kidding while clamping their legs together and saying no or playing a cute little game? To impart that he UNDERSTANDS she is saying no, that she does not want him to continue, and misunderstanding he is doing something against her will is not the problem?

Seriously, I need some new perspectives here, some fresh brain-juice.

Because in a recent incidence of this, no other logic of any kind having gotten through to the girl in question certain her new boyfriend just doesn’t know what the word no means (and feeling this is simply a basic given for men in general), I was left with only “Is he stupid?” which I don’t feel is particularly productive.

This has been one of those weeks, man. Every now and then, it just seems like The Bad & The Ugly (without The Good) becomes the predominant theme in user queries for a handful of days, and it so burns me out.

(By the by, I’ll be in San Francisco next weekend, and at the Center for Sex and Culture both next Friday evening and the following Sunday afternoon. details soonest.)

Tuesday, July 29th, 2008

I don’t mean to do a drive-by dumping with something so heavy, but the topic has been on my mind a lot over the last few months. I’m not going into depth because I think the statement I’m quoting here — or rather, the attitudes it speaks to — truly speaks for itself.

Basically, however loaded, heated and conflicted discussions about prostitution and sex work can and do get, whatever difference of opinion anyone may have about law and policy and approach, I feel like there’s a very easy common ground where everyone should be able to start: with the essential humanity of anyone who is or has been a prostitute or a sex worker.

I was reminded of this the other evening. This is an excerpt from Gary Ridgway’s statement at his sentencing for the murder of 48 women, a majority of whom were prostitutes:

The plan was I wanted to kill as many women I thought were prostitutes as I possibly could.

I picked prostitutes as my victims because I hate most prostitutes and I did not want to pay them for sex. I also picked prostitutes as victims because they were easy to pick up without being noticed. I knew they would not be reported missing right away and might never be reported missing. I picked prostitutes because I thought I could kill as many of them as I wanted without getting caught.

(Bolding mine)

I feel like that if that statement doesn’t elicit a great deal of sympathy and empathy for women who do or have done sex work or who have been trafficked; a great deal of anger and sadness towards the way women in prostitution (and men, but I do think that all things given, the stigmas are greater for women and transwomen) — whether it is chosen or not, whether or not, when it does involve choice, that choice is made more freely or less freely or with more or less agency — are so often seen (or made invisible) and treated by a wide range of people, including but by no means limited to johns, what position sex workers/prostitutes are so often placed in by social mores, law and individuals…

…well, I don’t know if anything could.

However, I do think that no matter what side of the proverbial fence (as if it were so simple) anyone in good conscience is on, something like this really should be — and often is — a solid place where everyone can meet and be in agreement as to its inhumanity, whether it’s said by a john and serial killer of prostitutes or that nice lady down the street who goes to your church.

Friday, July 25th, 2008

Every now and then, I seriously have to wonder what on earth I can possibly do to convince determined, self-assigned missionaries that I am a seriously lost cause.

Do I change my sigline in places I write or discuss to, Don’t bother: I’m in hell already? Do I wear the blood of baby goats or a hairshirt when I go out to do talks? A t-shirt that reads “Jesus Loves Me…but he told me to tell you that he’s getting pissed off at you?”

Just passing through, having dealt with some wacko in the comments of some of my recent columns at RH Reality Check. I actually don’t have to deal with this stuff as much anymore as I have in the past — I think most of them have long since figured out that if they bring this stuff to Scarleteen, it never sees the light of day, and if they email me, I hit delete. We’ve also had some amusing exchanges in the past where when they did find a way to go on a preach-a-thon, the teens they were so sure were so malleable and not-at-all-wise to their shit basically have told them to shove it and get the hell out of their space.

It tends to only be when I branch out somewhere new anymore that they come back out to pray play. (Today I couldn’t help but sing Don’t pray for me, Saint Christina…) Can’t say if it’s a coincidence or not, but this week one of my favorite “Bad, bad, evil sex lady!” emails (I actually only got the one this week: again, anymore, those really are the strong minority these days) was someone explaining to me that I clearly was unqualified to give anal sex the weight it should have because I used the word “jellybean” — a clearly frivolous, flippant confection, unless jellybeans connote something else I’m not aware of — in the title of an advice answer.

What reaction I was supposed to have to this missive beyond the one I did — wild laughter, which I presume was not the wanted reaction — I couldn’t begin to tell you. Why this was someone’s Very Serious Issue that day which deserved even three seconds of their time, I also just do not know. But I did at least seriously consider switching to creampuffs the next time I talk about assfucking. Creampuffs require artistry and are a bit more upper-crusty, therefore I presume them to be a more suitable choice. Plus, that should keep the appropriate amount of homophobic innuendo intact.

Obviously, I could prattle on about these kinds of annoyances forever, but there’s just little point. It’s not likely to even come to a full halt, and even if I didn’t do what I do with my living, I’d probably still have to hear this crap from someone at least every now and then. Heck, I had my mother’s mother calling me a devil while praying for my soul as a child for as far back as I can remember (primarily because a) I was technically illegitimate, b) no one baptized me, and c) there was just something so clearly and essentially wretched and evil about me that someone needed to save me because this shit obviously wasn’t going to save itself). I’m afraid I’m just plain old savior-bait.

But that doesn’t mean I still don’t want to kvetch about it for a minute now and again.

Okay, my minute’s up. That’s better.

Sunday, March 16th, 2008

Lately, amid all of the prostitution current event fracas, and the ensuing blogosphere drama (which I stay out of as a rule. I’ve always been mostly a blog lurker at other folks’ online homes, primarily because I suppose I feel like too many people online just like to revel in/enable/create conflict for no good reason) around it, something has occurred to me which may or may not have merit — I’m still ruminating on it — but which I think is worth considering in the spirit of a little mental floss.

That something goes like this:

• Forced prostitution = military draft

• Prostitution/sex work chosen because of being a best financial option, limited availability of or access to further education/life options or particular social/regional limitations = Military enrollment chosen because of being a best financial option, limited availability of or access to further education/life options or particular social/regional limitations (in either case, sometimes these are also temporary situations rather than permanent ones)

• Prostitution/sex work chosen despite having a wide array of other employment/financial options or open availability of further education/life options = Military career chosen despite having a wide array of other employment/financial options or open availability of further education/life options

I think that looking at things this way, we might tend to see (well, I am, anyway) some correlaries when it comes to how many people are in each group for both prostitution and military (and that right now, we’re seeing the most people in both areas of work in that second group, and how those folks get there also have some common factors), and how in that first group, either situation is something one’d probably consider inhumane (though more folks seem to think a forced draft is acceptable, and I’m not sure why), and how, while that third group is where we tend to see the fewest people for both types of work, we certainly cannot deny that group exists.

In both cases we are talking about work which often has dangers many other jobs do not, which often tends to have a short shelf life in terms of sustainability of that work as a career over a lifetime, where after doing either kind of workers workers tend to have wounds, issues or disabilities caused by the work which frequently cost them and are often not paid for (or paid for adequately) by the work they did, and work which people tend to have very strong feelings about which can/do strongly impact the workers.

We also are often talking about two industries in which financially, there is a big divide between the employer/industry or client and the worker themselves, where we often will see certain racial and socioeconomic factors at preferential play. I find it interesting in thinking about both of them together to note that with sex work, we see mostly heterosexual women and gay or feminized men, while with the military we see a majority of heterosexual men or gay or masculinized (or perceived as masculine) women (and the latter is a very recent addition, no less). In the same vein, I think it’s also interesting to note that the clientele of sex work is and has always been primarily male, and the way the military has often been presented is as protection for women and children. Suffice it to say, we’ve also always had very strong links between these two groups in many ways: the military as either clients of sex workers, or as part of forced prostitution, has a long history. As well, we often see many people who, as those served by either type of worker, will defend or champion the work that serves them, but do very little for — or even act in nonsupport of — the workers well-being or care, tangible rights, or social strata, or who rally against a given group of workers yet actively or passively still benefit from them (much like we will sometimes see actively antichoice women as clients at abortion clinics).

It’s perhaps obvious, but I also wonder if looking at this sort of comparison, or some other like it, wouldn’t help to improve some folks’ levels of compassion or understanding for sex workers or about sex work.

Bear in mind I’m talking about these things from the perspective of workers only here (and to be frank, that’s all I’m interested in discussing: in nearly any situation I could give a rats ass about how clients or others who are served by workers benefit before we are assured that the workers have fair conditions where the benefit is at least mutual). I’m not talking about if one or the other type of work or industry has more merit or value, if one or the other is more or less acceptable or positive or how either work or industry may or may not benefit anyone — individually or as a culture or class — who isn’t a worker in it.

So, what do you think? Deconstruct, reconstruct, poke holes, explore, discuss.

(For all I know, by the by, someone else has made this comparison before me, and I’m either reprising it unknowingly, or just missed a page somewhere. If anyone does know anywhere it’s been discussed before or explored, I’d love to know where.)