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

Archive for the 'in which I throw up in my mouth a little' Category

Wednesday, July 6th, 2011

I very recently started some coaching to help me develop some balance between my work and my life, and to help me create better separation between the two.

It’s probably more obvious to everyone else than it was to me that I needed that, but to give you an example of just how clueless I can be about this, my coach and I were setting a goal so that I could, eventually, get down to a workweek that looked at lot more like 40 hours a week instead of the more typical 60, and even 70 I wind up putting in sometimes.

In doing that, she asked me if I could describe what a day when I was working 40 hour workweek would look like for me.  In my usual Corinna lead-first-with-mouth-next-with-brain fashion, I opened my mouth to immediately speak and said, “Well….”

And then nothing came out. In the back of my head, a very annoying Musak version of Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence” started to play, because silence was all I had going.  Finally, when I reached the sub-basement of the elevator of my mind, I mumbled, “Shit, I have no idea.”

This seemed ridiculous. Surely it had just been a while, and I couldn’t remember.  So I asked her to hold on a second while I collected my thoughts, and flipped my fingers through the card catalog of my life.

Last decade or so: yeah, no 40 hour weeks there or anything even close. Plenty of years where I wasn’t even just working this one job, including the two years where I was killing myself — but feeding myself, and keeping my organization afloat, both hardly unimportant — by working three.

Let’s try looking at the pre-web years. The year before I started all of this?  Nope, three different jobs.  The couple of years before that? Teaching jobs, nannying jobs, my internship and the farmer’s market gig during the summer on top of all that.  Nope, back to that 60 hour+ week during those years.  I know it’s not even worth considering the years I was running my little school, because even in the five days a week it was open, I showed up every day to prep at 5:30 or 6 and didn’t usually leave until 6 or 7, then showed up one weekend day to clean it.

That gets us to the college years, during which I usually took around 27 credit hours a semester and worked close to full-time on top of that to pay for school and my own bills. When I was in high school, because of the kind of school I attended, we had a longer school day than most, and I worked part-time then, too, so no 40-hour-weeks then. During my gap year between high school and college I think I actually did have close to a 40 hour workweek, but since a whole lot of that year was spent in an LSD-induced haze, I a) have few memories of that year and b) think the ones I have are perhaps a little bit suspect, since some of them contain things I’m fairly certain did not exist in reality.

That gets me to early adolescence and childhood.  While I’m very sure trying to visualize how those days went is of limited use regardless, the fact of the matter is that even during a lot of them, I got up incredibly early, often going to the hospital with my mother hours before school started, so I don’t think I even experienced a 40-hour “workweek” as a child.

Which all led me back to my initial answer: “Well….shit, I have no idea.”

I’d like you to share a rerun of the moment I had in my heart and my mind when I realized it was true that I earnestly had absolutely no experience in my life, neither as an adult nor a teen or even a child, of not being overworked and overextended, and pushing past what is a pretty common limit for an awful lot of people; of having overwork and overextension be my absolute normal, to the point that I couldn’t even access anything in my usually vivid imagination to pull up a picture of what having a life that wasn’t like that could or even might look like. Enjoy the moment with me next where I was whacked a few hours later by what utter insanity that is and how very, very long it has taken me to realize that.

Mind, it’s not like my experience with this is all that atypical for someone like me in terms of my usual economic class, trying very hard to just pay the basic bills and keep my head above water. I come from immigrants, so there’s also that to take into account. I’ve also always worked in at least one of three fields: education, activism and healthcare, which are all legendary for paying very little while demanding a lot from their workers. But do most people in those kinds of situations not even recognize that their normal is….well, too much?  Again, color me clueless.

Setting aside the past, and keeping in the present, one of the big questions is this: why DO I work so many hours?  Over the last year and change, for the most part, I get paid the same whether I work 40 hours or 80 hours.  It’s not like I see an increase in financial support for what I do when I work more hours, like people notice and say, “Hey, that ED seems to be working way more hours than usual, I’m going to donate or donate a little more.” I think most of the time, people just don’t even realize that I’m the person doing most of the work that I am to even consider my work hours, why would they?

When other organizations are short of funds, short on staff, but high on people who want and need services, what do they do? They have people wait longer out of necessity and cut back services: they do not ask their staff to add more and more hours without additional pay or benefits to try and have one person do the work of ten.  They do not suggest that a staff person should just give up their whole life to do their very best to get as close as they can to working 24/7. That is because they are reasonable, fair and probably don’t want their staff to drop dead.  Go, them. Would that my own boss were such a smart cookie who gave that kind of a shit about me.

But she’s really, really got to change or else it’s going to be time for me to find a new boss.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve been doing okay. Moving out here to the island has allowed me to live in a beautiful place where everything is not constantly breaking at a reasonable rent. No, I don’t own a house or a vehicle, but as always, that’s okay: those things are my normal, too, but they’re fine as normals. Working more isn’t likely to put those things within my reach. I don’t have the healthcare I need, still, but there’s nothing I can do about that.  Overworking also won’t give me access to that, it just makes me need it all the more. I can pay my rent and my bills every month, I don’t have to worry about being unable to afford to feed, clothe or shelter myself. I can even sometimes give the people in my life in a far worse spot than me a tiny bit of financial support sometimes: less than I’d like to, but hey, as someone not even middle-class, being able to do anything at all is a boon.

I’m actually in the position right now to have a really beautiful life if I want it, if I allow myself the time and space to enjoy it and live it. I’m living in a place I love being in, with someone I adore.  For the most part, my life currently is blissfully free of drama or crisis. I’ve had the opportunity to learn to just be happy, rather than in a constant struggle, be it financial, interpersonal or emotional. It’s even possible that sometime in the future, I might be able to find a way to bring Briana and Liam — who are both part of what I consider my core family in the world — over here, but to commit to that, I’d need to, and want to, commit to having the time to really help with Liam and be around for him. So, my little pipe dream is a beautiful thing, but this sense I’ve had that would be no problem is delusional, since as things have stood, I clearly have yet to learn how to make that kind of time. Promising it to a little kid and his mother when I don’t know if I can deliver it would be unconscionable.

Let’s take another trip to The Department of the Painfully Obvious. I have had pretty much zero time for any of my creative work.  I can manage a little bit of time to sit with an instrument and strum on it some, but have had little to none for more than that, to create (or even publish what IS created!) any visual art, or even just fiddle around to get those juices flowing, to put any real time into writing that isn’t directly related to work. I was an artist before I was anything else in this world, and it’s so vital to who I am and to expressing and exploring who I am for me, and yet.  And yet.

There’s more, but those are the core issues, and they’re pretty overwhelming all by themselves.  But the good news is, I know all of this now, I am painfully aware of all of it now, even if that awareness is in its infancy.  The even better news is that I’m committed to making positive changes and have started doing that.

The first goal is for me to get to a 55-hour workweek. Over the last week, since setting that goal, with one day shy of that week today, I’ve clocked 48 hours.  If I work  only a 7-hour day today, I’ll have met that goal for this week.The week before this I clocked around 70 hours, so that’s a pretty massive improvement.  Now I just have to stick with it which, of course, is a lot easier than it sounds.

It’s been a nice week.  I’m finding that at least once, I have actually felt the kind of sense of accomplishment in packing less into a day, and ending it on time, as I often feel in packing in more than seemed possible and working superhuman hours.  I’ve had some of the kind of time I’ve wanted to have for my partner.  I’ve had some of the kind of time I’ve wanted for myself. I feel slightly less relieved by the idea of being run over by a Mack truck because if I were dead, I’d finally be able to get a nap.

I’m also starting to see some of the things that keep me in this mess.  For instance, while I’m usually really excellent about limits and boundaries in my personal life, and in my professional ethics, I’m recognizing I’m actually very bad with both when it comes to work in the sense of what’s asked of me, what’s asked of myself and what (read: how little) I ask of others. I ask much, much more of myself than I ask of others, and I think the trick is going to be to find what’s in the middle of those goalposts, and move each side closer to it.

I’m also finding out I’m less immune to what others think or say about me around my work than I thought.  For instance, we did go ahead and put up a notice that response time for direct services at Scarleteen will now be slightly longer sometimes out of necessity.  There was some background gossip around that somewhere that I know was about something to the effect of how much I suck, and I was finding that really, really bothered me, even though I know I don’t suck and I also know that anyone who’d make that kind of judgment is clueless about the level of work I do myself and we do as an organization, or what it takes to run it all, especially for this long with so few resources to draw on. Why do I care so much, especially when the chances are that anyone being critical hasn’t put half the time and dedication into their work as I’ve put into mine?  And why am I putting so much of my own esteem into work, and so little into life anymore?  Must to fix.

Guilt is clearly another big trigger for my internal overwork beastie. When the emails keep piling up to the degree there is just no way for me to answer them all in a day, sometimes at all; when people are asking me to do things for them, their projects, their orgs, and usually for free; when I set a limit or politely decline things I’d love to do but just can’t because I am out of hours to do them in and people don’t back off, rather than feeling pissed, I feel guilty. I want to be able to do all of these things, and I’m very unforgiving of myself when I can’t.  So, rather than dismissing or getting mad at people who won’t respect my limits or take some time to get a sense of how much I’m already doing before they even ask for something (or hey, try and ask for things only when they can make a sound offer that compensates me in some way), I internalize and get made at myself and refuse to let myself off the hook.  Even when I know someone has figured out how to trigger a guilt response in me or is clearly looking to do that, I still have to talk myself through why that’s uncool, rather than just falling in line and acting of of guilt.

Of course, there’s also the fact that this is something I need to learn. I am, as I now know, an absolute beginner at this.  I do not know how to work a typical, full-time workweek. I do not know how to have this kind of balance, both because I haven’t usually had the opportunity and because the few times I have, I didn’t take it.  I have to learn how to do this, and my ignorance has been a barrier.  I have to ask for help with this, so I can learn, rather than asking for help with all the work I manage, which can feel like the same thing, but it really, really isn’t.

There’s going to be more, of course, but I think one other thing that’s on the list of things that keep me stuck here is one of the toughest to face, speak or even think about, which is that the person I usually want to be is really not a person I — or anyone who doesn’t want to kill themselves — can be. If and when I am only highly valued or appreciated because I do more work than others and will give up everything to do it, that is not a good thing. That’s a serious problem.  I can’t control whether or not that’s the yardstick by which others measure me, but I can control whether or not I use it with which to measure myself, and I have got to stop doing that. I not only cannot be that person and be healthy and whole, that person isn’t so great, anyway. I’m more than that person. I’m someone who has always had the capacity for a lot of joy, even when things are awful, and who has been really dedicated to milking everything I can out of life, living it completely and fully and with great wonder and abandon and delight. I can be that person, who has value AND still work to the degree I need to to support myself and to the degree I can to do the good things for the world and the people in it that are so important to me. But I can’t be that person, that whole person, if all I do is work and if when I work, I am working so much and so hard that when there is finally a minute when I am not working, I am too physically, emotionally and intellectually drained to do anything else.

I think I’ve mentioned in the past that a while back, my mother found this newspaper article about a relative of ours from 100 years ago. The headline read, “Man Drops Dead After Stint of Shucking Corn.” (For serious. Clearly a writer who thought subtlety was for sissies.)

The story was about how said relative was purportedly feeling really, really sick all day, but had a history of being a very hard worker, and was not going to make an exception that day. He made clear to his co-workers that until all that corn got shucked, he wasn’t going to leave work. So, he did it: he shucked all that corn. Then, as the headline so delicately reports, he dropped the fuck dead.

I feel certain there was a moment in there where dying must have felt very satisfying. A long day of farm work when you are literally taking your last breaths is hardly the best day ever, so it being over — like, really over — must have been awesome for a second.  There may have even been a moment in there where he felt quite satisfied, thinking that he won the Martyr Olympic Gold for finishing his work even though he also finished his heart in doing so, which probably no one else on the team that day could say for themselves.

But I also have this funny feeling that there may have been another moment, probably the very last one, where he had a sudden, likely awful, realization that he just spent his last moments above ground on earth shucking fucking corn for pennies; spent his last day creating a challenge for himself that seemed laudable at the time, but was about the worst, most pointless use of a last day on earth there was. When he had that moment, he probably felt like a total asshole.  Then he died, that assholic feeling being the last he had. It was perhaps paired with the vain wish he had had just one more nanosecond to leave a tip for someone later on down the line like me that his story was not to be interpreted as an aspiration or inspiration.  Rather, it was a warning not to be so damn stupid as to think that last ear of corn matters more than giving someone you love a hug, rolling down a sunny hill, having a laugh, drinking a cool pint, eating the corn instead of working it, or just appreciating the value of your life as something much, much more than merely being She Who Works Herself to Death.

He didn’t leave that message, alas, and some of my family members indeed saw this dude as some sort of hero. When I first saw it, I did too. I thought, “Yep, that’s us, aren’t we so awesome in our badass workiness?” I thought that because I was an idiot who somehow wound up with a Protestant work ethic that would make Luther feel like a hack, even though we don’t even come from Protestants (though I’d be lying if I didn’t say we do come from some idiots, so maybe that explains it).

But I’m starting to get that unwritten message now. I’m going to learn how to leave the last ear of the damn corn unshucked if it…well, if it doesn’t kill me.

Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010

Last week, this eloquent missive arrived in the Scarleteen general email box:

From: na@aol.com
Subject: [General Contact] Heather Corinna
Date: July 29, 2010 8:50:10 AM PDT

bob sent a message using the contact form at http://www.scarleteen.com/contact.

her advice comes from fact that Heather Corinna is a SLUT

I don’t know Bob. I also have never slept with anyone named Bob as far as I recall — I have a near-exclusive partiality to lovers or partners with names that start with the letter J or M, followed by A, C and D. The two lone B’s I can recall have both been Brians. This begs the question of how, exactly, Bob knows I’m a slut in the first place. Bob’s agenda is also a mystery. Maybe he thought I had some kind of supervisor who would see this…actually, I don’t know what on earth Bob’s intent was here. No sense trying to suss it out. All I know is that it came in, I read it, and I said, “Umm, okay. It just might. And?” Perhaps obviously, I cannot ask Bob what sort of actionable response he wanted from this very important piece of news, because he, demonstrating exceptional courage, did not use a real email address.

There’s been a lot of talk about sluthood on the interwebs this week, mostly stemming from Jaclyn Friedman’s fantastic piece here and a couple patronizing, backlashy replies. I hesitate to link to them because I hate to send them traffic, but it’s never fair to call someone’s words idiotic without sharing the evidence you’re basing that judgment on.

When Jaclyn’s piece came out, I read it, thought it was great, so real of her, and clearly something that resonated with a lot of women. Jaclyn and I are friends, so I also had a little more inside scoop on what a big deal putting that out there was for her. While I very much appreciated the piece, it didn’t resonate with me on a personal level all that much. I’m quite certain this is not because it wasn’t a powerfully-written and important piece, because I think it was.

I just got off the phone with Jaclyn, in part because some I wanted to try and figure out WHY it didn’t resonate with me, and make sure that in figuring that out, I wasn’t making any assumptions about Jaclyn and her experiences or thoughts.

(By the way, an etiquette tip it appears some people never learned? When someone puts out something exceptionally personal, no matter who they put it out to or where, if you want to have anything resembling manners, you at least try and engage with them directly before you psychoanalyze them for the whole world, and probably mostly for your own benefit. No, no one HAS to do that, but anyone arguing for “values” or “respect” is going to lose an awful lot of face if they have the social graces of a mosquito.)

Back to that email. I got it, had that reaction to it, which was pretty much no reaction. That was followed with momentary amusement at the idea either I, or my mystery supervisor (oh, if only!), was supposed to have some kind of reaction.

See, to me, a statement like that is about as powerful and about as true as statements like:
• her advice comes from fact that Heather Corinna has a BIG NOSE
• her advice comes from fact that Heather Corinna is SHORT
• her advice comes from fact that Heather Corinna was RAPED
• her advice comes from fact that Heather Corinna ENJOYS HULA-HOOPING
• her advice comes from fact that Heather Corinna likes giving and getting HEAD
• her advice comes from fact that Heather Corinna has a PUG
• her advice comes from fact that Heather Corinna is A BIG QUEERO
• her advice comes from fact that Heather Corinna STUDIES SEXUALITY
• her advice comes from fact that Heather Corinna is IRISH-ITALIAN
• her advice comes from fact that Heather Corinna has been a TEACHER FOR 20 YEARS
• her advice comes from fact that Heather Corinna HAS RENT TO PAY

All true, all part of who I am and what life I live and have lived, and likely all part of what influences the advice that I give to others. Etymologically, being a slut means being untidy and/or being someone with a twat who has either bonked a lot of people or, as the awesome Kelly Huegel pointed out, is a female person who has had sex with more people than any one person calling them a slut considers acceptable. One supposes you can add in the frequent implication that being a slut means being someone of “loose” or questionable character or values.

So, am I a slut? Sure, okay. I am untidy. I have had sex with more people than some people consider acceptable, and on the bell curve of what folks report with a lifetime number of partners, I have had more than most. Since I have routinely questioned both my own values and character for myself all my life as a regular practice, and try to keep flexible, I suppose it’s also true to say mine are both questionable and loose. When you tell me or others something that is true about myself, I’m not likely to get my feelings hurt or be offended, particularly when we’re talking about things that have been my choice, like my sex life.

Jaclyn is getting some of the negative reactions she is just because some people are just idiots. But Jaclyn is also probably getting that kind of reaction because some of what she said is exactly what those people want to hear if they read very, very selectively. She’s a solid writer, which makes it easy to take her statements out of context.

In the piece, one thing she voiced was that what she most wants right now is a long-term relationship; that she has been able to have casual sex of late, and that it has been positive, but what she really wants and does not have is an LTR. While she did not voice a causal relationship between the two (quite the opposite), what she said allowed people who are seeking out such things to cling on to that notion, one they desperately want to believe and want others to believe. She also voiced she had feelings about casual sex that were not unilaterally positive, something else they want to hear and spotlight. And because she said what they wanted to hear and because it resonated with some other women, she’s a great sort of poster child for a carnival show where people pretend to be showing others the poor, broken girl who just doesn’t know any better so that they can avoid her same, terrible fate.

She also disclosed she survived sexual trauma. As I’ve said about a million times, if and when any of us do that, while it’s important we do do that, both politically and because being able to be honest about any part of our lives is major, we become very easy marks.  Almost anything we do or experience ever-after, anything that is anything less than perfect, will often be attributed not even to our rape, but to us being a person who has been raped. I’ve decided my new comeback to this when I get hit with it, by the way, is going to be “Okay, let’s say everything wrong with me or that I’m unhappy about sexually or interpersonally IS because I was raped.  So… what the fuck happened to YOU that made you this screwed up?”

Anyway, in thinking about my non-reaction to that email since last week, to my less-than-super-pow reaction to Jaclyn’s post and to the responses to it, positive and negative, I’ve come to some conclusions.

Jaclyn was considered “the good girl” in her family. In mine, that was my sister, not me. Her good girl distinction and my bad girl one were affixed before either of us engaged in any kind of sexual behavior or even thought about it. Mind, my family was not a unified front in this. One of my parents was extraordinarily sex-positive and very strongly and loudly against slut-shaming and against the whole good girl/bad girl epoch, while my other parent — raised in a very religiously-oppressive household where this stuff was a staple — and particularly my stepparent (an abuser, so no surprises there), slut-crowned me pretty much on the basis of having a first kiss and on trying so hard to meet gender presentations that didn’t feel authentic to me, but that they required. It appears I erred on the side of presenting that way too well. Talk about a backfire. Not girly enough? You’re a dyke. Too girly? You’re a slut. It’s a tough game to win, and one I perpetually lost. It’s also why when I was assaulted at 11 and 12, after one attempt to tell my mother, I didn’t tell anyone for years. I knew my stepparent would feel proved right and I knew it would be used against me in his abuse. I couldn’t bear the thought of giving him any more ammo.

That consistent verbal slur or implication was also based in homophobia: I knew about my feelings for girls, or experienced them, anyway, before I knew about my feelings for boys. I didn’t recognize those feelings for what they were very clearly until high school, but in hindsight, it’s obvious my family did. That may be part of why, while the word “slut” doesn’t hold particular power with me, either as a slur or as something to reclaim, the word dyke very much did and has. I think that has to do with my own journey in getting right with other women and with my gender. Mostly, though, I think it’s about been called a dyke and not being far enough in those journeys that I did internalize it as a slur — something I never did with slut because when it was hurled at my in my pre-teens and early teens, I knew it wasn’t true. About feeling bad about something I wished I’d instead felt good about and had had the strength to refuse to internalize as bad.

Jaclyn and I talked about what our differences in some of this might be, and some of what came up was privilege. While we have or have had some similarities (the self-defense, the communication skills, the fact that we’re both white), we’re also a bit different in that arena. The trajectory of our lives and sexualities have been different: with each decade, for instance, my number of sexual partners has declined: in the last ten years, I’ve only been outside LTRs and single with casual partners for around 2. I have had my work or the credibility of my work impacted by my actual or perceived sexual behaviour. But I also tend to experience a weird kind of privilege in often having little privilege. I figure if it isn’t going to be one thing, it’ll be another, so I may as well just be who I am and put who I am on the table. Like Janis sang, freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.

Like Jaclyn, I have had times in my life when I have wanted an ongoing, intimate relationship and have not had one, though with me that’s rarely abstract. When I want one of those, it tends to be about wanting one with someone specific (or, let’s be frank: about wanting relationships where I can get some privilege and be spared some of the judgment we get while in other models). It’s fair to say I’ve usually been far more cautious about getting into romantic relationships than I have been about getting into bed with someone.

The first person I deeply romantically loved and wanted a lifelong relationship with died, and I had a while in my teens and early 20’s where I struggled with the idea that I had my shot with romantic love; I met My One Person and since apparently there was but The One, I had had mine and was shit out of luck because that person was dead. I got over that, but it took a while, and all the bullshit about there being only one big love people shove down everyone’s throat did not help at all. Given the fact that in many ways, the people closest to me growing up turned out to be who I could trust the least, I absolutely have had intimacy issues because getting close has always equaled a fear of not just being hurt, but the fear-via-experience of being abused and seriously neglected. I could go on, but the point is I have a very good idea about the why of that (and have already had and enjoyed the psychoanalysis to help me get there, thanks), and it’s simply What Is: don’t see it as anything broken I need to fix, but the person I am based on the life I’ve lived, a person I like, love and respect.

I’ve had a handful of long-term relationships in my life, most of which I’d class as successful: I had good experiences in them and got good things from them, so did the other person or people. Sparing the death of my sweetheart in high school, the person who has left or adjusted almost every one of them? That’s usually been me. Why? It depends, really, but more times than not it’s just been because various needs or wants I had weren’t being met in those relationships or the relationship had morphed from something romantic into a different kind of relationship that felt a better fit for everyone. First time at bat with my current partner, I skeedaddled because of PTSD whacking me in the face without warning or preparation and I dealt with it very badly as a result.

However, I’ve also had just as many times when I wanted more casual sex partners or experiences than I had. Like most parts of life and like many people, I’ve had both feast and famine, and have been delighted about the feast and distressed about the famine. In what things or areas there was bounty or drought strikes me as irrelevant. Bounty almost always feels great while drought pretty much always sucks, for everyone, with everything. Rocket science, this ain’t.

I even miss casual sex when I’m not having it. I can’t always say that so plainly when I’m with someone long-term. But blessedly, my partner (who’s known me on and off for 20 years, a relationship that began in 1989 with a three-night-stand) knows with certainty that I very much enjoy the sex that we have as a currently monogamous couple and also understands that while there are plenty of common threads between sex we have in LTRs and casual sex, also groks the differences and doesn’t see them as being in a cagematch.

When I miss it, what I miss is the adventure, the uncertainty, the dance of the thing. I miss sudden, often unexpected connectivity. For me, there was always something spiritually very cool in experiencing sex as one of the many ways people who aren’t deeply connected can wind up very deeply connecting quickly, be that with the sex itself or with the conversation before or after. While I’m all for taking the cultural unacceptability out of casual sex for those who still cling to it or are very impacted by it, at the same time, there’s this sort of partners-in-crime thing I’ve sometimes had with casual sex partners, where you’re both doing this thing you know some people think is not okay, which can make it all the more playful.

There’s a kind of abandon that I experience in sex period, but which for me has been particularly strong with casual sex. There’s that thing where it’s really very much up for grabs as to whether or not you’ll have sex that day or night or not that’s a lot tougher to come by with sex in ongoing relationships, long or short-term. There’s a lack of expectation I appreciate. Heck, I miss being able to blog more about the sex I have: that’s a lot more tricky when you’re having it outside casual situations. As well, given some of my history, it’s often been easier for me to say what I want when there are no strings attached than when there are. I can either way, it’s just that doing so with someone who knows me very well is more of a challenge, and feels much more vulnerable to me, so it’s scarier at first than in casual sex.

I clearly prefer ongoing or long-term relationships that start with casual sex. Not that I honestly know much about the alternative, since I’ve almost unilaterally had that thing happen that so many of us are told will NEVER happen with casual sex. Almost all of my ongoing romantic relationships have started with casual sex. Many of my friendships have, too. One of the things I miss when I’m missing casual sex are the friendships that I have found stem from it. Casual sex has rarely meant a lack of love for me. I’ve given and received a lot of love and care in most of my sexual relationships of all sorts; the casual ones have been no exception.

I know a lot of people are very scared of STIs with casual sex, but this is one of those areas where I know too much. Coming of age with a parent working in some of the earliest AIDS care meant I got and saw facts, not fictions. My personal life and those around me have reflected the reality that it’s lack of barrier use and lack of sexual healthcare most responsible for STIs, not what kind of sex we have. Having more partners certainly increases the risks, but only having one or two and not using barriers and having everyone regularly tested presents even larger ones. If I didn’t know this before I went into working in sexual health, including in clinical work, I sure know it now. Someone can tell me all they want STIs are about casual sex, but they’re usually not people working in these fields because we know better. When I hear someone say “she’s risking her life for casual sex!” I tend to wish I could require compulsory volunteering in domestic/intimate partner violence.

I’m aware, especially after going on 13 years of sex and relationships being my full-time work, that there is NO human interaction in which we cannot get hurt; NO one way of having sex or sexual relationships that removes the risk of heartbreak or abuse. There are some bare basics — consent, communication, self-awareness — and then each of us doing our best to make choices and interrelate in the ways that feel a best fit for us and anyone else involved at any given time of our lives.

I know that for people like the two I linked to shredding Jaclyn, of course, there’s also a gender script pretty much running the show. However, it’s not even worth addressing here because it’s absolutely meaningless and irrelevant for those of us who are queer and who aren’t gendernormative. (You also can’t make it meaningful by trying to change the facts of someone’s orientation and partnerships, calling them all male or hetero when they haven’t been. Just a tip.)  I’d posit that even for those who are, much of the time it’s only relevant because they’re so susceptible to those messages, not because there’s some sort of biological or sociological essentialism that rule all.

With both casual and non-casual sex I have not had radically different dynamics when it comes to my partners and their/our gender. In fact, some of the most pervasive messages about gender in the hetero scripts about casual sex sound like science fiction through the lens of my own experiences. For example, in my own sex life, it’s not usually been men who were hardest to hold onto when holding on is what I wanted, but women. It’s not been women who have expressed feelings hurt by casual sex the few times that’s happened, but men. Whoever these “all men” are that fuck and run? I’m not sure I’ve slept with any of them, and if I have, I must have just run through the finish line myself before I saw them start their own sprint.

There’s another difference Jaclyn and I talked about this morning, which is that being slut-shamed is new for her, whereas it’s something I grew up with and which has been pervasive for me for a long time.

I think it’s safe to say I haven’t ever been hurt by my own actual sluttery, per what that word actually means and per how it’s most often colloquially defined. Even being called one when I was young mostly hurt within the context of every name I got called and every way I was intentionally isolated and abused. There’s even a flip side to that, though, which is that being called a slut also gave me permission to go and be one: after all, if you’re going to get called something that involves doing things you may enjoy, it feels silly not to do those things. Maybe if I hadn’t gotten called one, it would have been harder for me to explore that part of my nature, which has involved some of the best parts of my whole life.

The personal disrespect to me in slut-shaming isn’t really what has stung, since it’s generally been clear people who throw that word at others don’t have much respect for anyone, not just me. They also most often seem to be most strongly reacting to women having sex outside the system of sex-for-goods, be those goods marriage, shelter, children, social status, hat have you. That’s a big reality for many women in the world I acknowledge and understand, for sure, and also acknowledge and understand is inescapable for some, but I also feel is nothing close to ideal. I’m lucky to have been able to live outside that system for most of my life with only a few brief exceptions. This is usually also clearly why so many of the folks so attached to that way of codifying sex are so anti-prostitution: it’s critically important their sexual exchanges be seen as radically different, even though I don’t see the big diff myself.

The few times I have felt deeply hurt by being a “slut,” wasn’t in any of the sex (or untidiness) I was having or had, but in the way people who call me or other people sluts; in the way “being a slut” is presented, something Jaclyn spoke so aptly about. It was the verbal abuse — like any verbal abuse — that hurt, not my own sexual life used as a vehicle for that abuse. That’s probably a big duh for those past the 101 of abusive dynamics, interpersonal relationships and sexuality. But for some strange reason, it escapes people’s minds who think that they can say the issue isn’t THEIR chosen words or actions, but what WE did to CAUSE their words and actions to burst forward from their mouths and fingers, which they apparently have no control over because of how our own lives, of which they often have been no part. It’s amazing that the same people who tell women they should just shut their legs don’t seem to have the same standards for their own mouths.

The times I’ve been attacked and nonconsensually deconstructed per what a slut/whore/insert-your-fave-sexual-chick-shame-here I am and it has hurt, the hurt was centrally about something different than I think the folks doling out that epithet imagine it to be. It’s not been about my feeling ashamed of myself or my choices. It’s instead been about profound disappointment and weariness that we still, at this point in history, can’t all be real about who we are in our sex lives and have our divergence simply recognized as the diversity human sexuality and life is, with the understanding that none of our lives is everyone’s right answer. That so many people still just cannot get that because they put themselves and their lives out there as prescriptions doesn’t mean we all do. When those attacks are about you having casual sex and about how much that sex shows how little self-respect you have or how little respect you’re getting, the ironic icing on that cake is that I’ve been very respected and cared for, as have my partners, in most of the sex — casual and not — that I have had. Where I’m not getting that respect isn’t from the people everyone says didn’t or won’t respect me, but from the people presenting themselves as experts on respect who clearly know nothing about it at all.

As someone who has worked many years and long hours to try and repair some of this stuff culturally, it’s particularly frustrating and tiresome and makes me feel like Don Quixote all too often. Which is really no fun at all without a Sancho Panza to have witty, existential banter with or without getting your very own musical.

There’s also a subtext to all of this that has to do with who is perceived as redeemable and who isn’t. If YOU, yourself, are seen as potentially redeemable, you get talked to one way: often with what is presented as gentleness, but tends to feel an awful lot like being patronized.  If you are NOT seen as redeemable, the language tends to be more angry and rough. If who might be influenced by you or what you voice is seen as redeemable and YOU also are, you all get talked to like you’re stupid little lambs.  If you are NOT seen as redeemeable, but who hears or sees you is, you’re really in the shit. And if you get so lucky, you and anyone you might influence are all seen as unredeemable, because that usually nets you a complete and blissful silence where you can just support one another and enjoy your private lives in peace.

I was accused by Walsh yesterday of having “many young women drinking my Kool-aid” who “were unhappy about it.” I’m not sure who these young women are or what my Kool-Aid is exactly. I asked, I got silence. Thus far, in the work I do, I have yet to see reports about how upset someone is that they did something Heather Corinna told them to do, sparing a few people I’ve told to get a GYN exam or a test for something and who got poor care from healthcare providers when doing so. Since I don’t tell anyone to have this kind of sex or that kind of sex at all — on the contrary — I’m not sure what that was all about.

Lest dumb assumptions be made, the reason this is here and not at Scarleteen isn’t because I feel ashamed of myself or my friends or that I think my sex life is de facto inappropriate.  It’s because as much as possible, especially when the young people there don’t ask me for it, I limit what I share anecdotally.  I have these funny things we call boundaries on my planet. I’d do the same even if — maybe even especially, since it’s SO different than where they’re at — I had only had one partner, married them and was with them for 25 years exclusively. The young people I provide sexuality education to usually know precious little about my sex life and sexual history, because they come wanting to talk about themselves, and also because my own sex life often has little to do with them or what they’re asking. How my sexual history would be pertinent to how they can use their birth control method or to where their own clitoris is beyond me. Adults who assume I sit and talk turkey about what’s going on in my bedroom with young people usually do because that’s what they do, not because it’s what I do. Young people also tend to voice to me that older people’s anecdotes about their own sexual experiences can feel like pressure, no matter WHAT those anecdotes are. Just a few weeks ago, a few of them were talking about how they feel pressured by a lot of abstinence-messaging TO have intercourse because it presents it as the only REAL sex. Go figure.

Some of the reaction to Jaclyn’s piece, or this business about my Kool-Aid clearly was about the poor, vulnerable young women we are perceived as having corrupted or may corrupt. Often evidence for this is stated in that wild, crazy “hookup culture” all the cool kids are purportedly part of. Beyond the fact that I’m not sure how people like myself or Jaclyn can be held responsible for any casual sex young women may be having now, I also want to make clear that I feel quite certain most of the hookup-culture stuff is pretty much exactly what happened to me when I was young.  It’s calling people sluts who often haven’t engaged in any sexual behaviour, or if they have, haven’t been doing anything different than what generations before them have developmentally.

Sparing a few limited populations, as far as I can tell and based on what young people talk about in droves in my work, this “hookup culture” where they’re apparently having ALL this sex or ALL this casual sex is mostly adultist sex panic.  (The funny thing is, the only interaction I had with Susan Walsh before this was on a panel where if I recall correctly, Logan Levkoff and I were calling her and another panelist out on exactly that issue.) From what I can tell, they’re considerably more sexually conservative than my generation and a lot of my parent’s generation was, and are having around the same or fewer sexual partners than we were, not more.  Which also makes them a lot more vulnerable to messaging about sluts, whether they’re going to do the name-calling or are going to get name-called; whether they are or are not sluts at all.

In fact, it’s entirely possible Bob is a 15 year-old kid who sees me as a slut simply because I’m a woman who is talking about sex, which he has been told, in umpteen different places, means I must be a slut and means he must try to shame me accordingly.  Hopefully, Bob will grow up, which is more than I can say for many adults talking this way.

P.S. Some other entries have come up today around some of the fracas I wanted to point out:

• From Amanda Marcotte: http://pandagon.net/index.php/site/comments/no_laughing_no_screwing_no_learning_how_to_read/
• From The Sexademic: http://sexademic.wordpress.com/2010/08/03/girl-fight-sluts-vs-prudes/ (who also wrote about Oxytocin, oddly enough, as I’m trying to finish a piece on it I keep putting off)

• From Jessica Valenti:  http://jessicavalenti.com/?p=592

Saturday, May 23rd, 2009

(Cross-posted from the Scarleteen blog, because a) I can and b) I’m just that irritated with this lately.)

Preventing teen pregnancy. I hate, hate, hate that phrase.  Nearly everywhere I go or look as a young adult sexuality educator anymore, I run into it incessantly.

Let me be clear: I don’t hate doing all that we can, to help people of every age to avoid pregnancies or parenting they do not want or do not feel ready for.  I’m so glad to do that, and it’s a big part of my job at Scarleteen and elsewhere when I work as a sexuality and contraception educator and activist.

I don’t hate doing what we can to help women who want help to determine when the best possible time is for them to become pregnant and parent (for those women who want to do so at all), and to do what we can to be realistic about pregnancy and parenting when counseling those who are considering either or both.   In addition, I’m totally in support of making sure young women know all their options with the whole of their lives; aren’t choosing to become pregnant or parent at a time that’s too soon for them to both discover and reach their own goals and dreams, or too soon for them to be able to learn and provide good care of themselves.  All good stuff, all terribly important, and all things that many young women seek help with which we can provide.

I’m on board with parents of teens or twentysomethings who don’t want to pay the costs for their teen’s pregnancy or the child of their teen, or don’t want a new infant in the house.  I’m not down with any young person assuming that their parent should automatically be a co-parent, an instant babysitter, or will bankroll a pregnancy.  Co-parenting with anyone is something to be discussed and negotiated, not assumed.  When we’re talking about consensual sex, if a young person has the maturity to have sex, to have sex which carries a risk of pregnancy, and to consider parenting themselves, I think it’s reasonable and appropriate to also then require the maturity to discuss and negotiate any contributions they want from their own parents with pregnancy or parenting.

I certainly understand parents wanting their youth to be able to have a childhood and adolescence that is not fraught with more responsibility and stress than a young person is able to manage, or which is likely to cause them unhappiness: that’s plain old love, and I don’t see a thing wrong with that.

I understand wanting children in the world to have parents who are capable of parenting, and for those children to have their most basic needs met.  I worked in early childhood education for years before moving on to run Scarleteen, and I continue to feel very strongly about quality care and parenting for children.  I also came from two young, unprepared parents, so I know firsthand what some of the downsides and struggles can feel like to a child.

I’m also absolutely on the bus when it comes to all of us, doing all we can to make our soundest decisions around pregnancy and parenting, and the idea that we should all be held accountable when it comes to only choosing to parent if and when we think we can be parents who can provide what children need.  It is in part because I am on board with that that I am 39 and childfree, despite being someone who has always liked kids a whole lot, to the degree that I’ve been teaching my whole adult life.  Part of why I also work at an abortion clinic is because I strongly support the right of every woman to decide if a given time is or is not right for her to remain pregnant, and to have the option to decide a given time is not right.

(For the record, I do not understand that “we shouldn’t have to pay taxes that support other people’s children,” stuff.  I have to pay taxes for all kinds of things I don’t support or like, but I’ve never had a problem with the idea that some of my income goes to help and support the children of the world.  It’s one of the few things my taxes go to that I do feel good about.  I have chosen not to reproduce myself, however, I’m of the mind that we all share some collective responsibility for caring for everyone else on our planet.  So that one?  I don’t get or sympathize with.)

Here’s what I’m not okay with.

What I hate about that phrase is the patronizing, disrespectful and ignorant presumption that all teen pregnancy is unwanted or unplanned: it isn’t, and while young women may have less information about and access to contraception than older adults so may have more unplanned pregnancies than older adults (teens do have more unplanned pregnancies than older women, but the highest unplanned pregnancy rate right now is for those 18-24, poverty is as much a determinant as age is, and close to 50% of pregnancies for all women are unplanned), that part certainly isn’t their fault or doing. Ask a young person what they want in sex education or contraception access, and you’ll find it does not resemble what we, the adults who have withheld power from them in these policies, have usually provided.

I hate the shaming or demonization of teen parents or teens who become or are pregnant, the widespread assumption that all of that is always bad or always wrong, and must always be prevented based on anyone’s standards but those of young people themselves.  I hate teen pregnancy being presented as if it were a pandemic, and teen parents presented as automatically incapable of parenting just as well as anyone else.  I hate the often-dishonest moralizing that often goes with all of this, and teens being told that all sex = pregnancy and that the only way to prevent pregnancy is to avoid all kinds of sex, and/or that choosing to be sexually active means choosing to be pregnant.  I hate the other words so often used around this topic, which make teen pregnancy sound like Hurricane Katrina. I hate the defeatist messages we give teens or young women who have become pregnant and who are deciding to parent. I hate that we seem to hold teen or young mothers to higher standards of parenting than we hold older parents.

I hate that our culture has no problem recruiting young people into the military before the age of majority (for enlistment at 18, but the efforts start before then, contracts are often signed before then), suggesting that they have the capacity to make that kind of potentially life-altering decision, one that can often involve choices around life and death, and yet suggests they have no capacity to make this one.  I hate that in many states and areas young women can be legally married at 16 or younger, and even though for the youngest teens, that often requires parental consent or a pregnancy, I hate that it’s thought by so many that marriage at the age of 16 somehow makes young parenting easier, better or more socially acceptable, or that for a 16-year-old woman, a legally binding marriage contract is somehow less of a big deal, less of a limitation on her life, than a social contract to care for a child. I hate that there are states and areas which don’t allow a young woman the right to choose to terminate a pregnancy of her own volition, and some which don’t allow her access to contraception, and yet in some areas — especially when we are talking about nonconsensual sex — remaining pregnant is the only option we allow young women to have within their own control.

I hate the presumption that it is anyone’s place BUT the teen in question to actually prevent a teen pregnancy.  Can it be our place to help those who want help in that aim?  Absolutely, and I hope that when and if any of us are asked for that help, we’ll provide it. But it’s not our place to do the preventing, because it ain’t our body or our life.  It’s theirs.

Perhaps even more than that, I hate some of the attitude that seems to inform that presumption, which feels to me a whole lot like older people saying that it is okay for older women to become pregnant, but not for younger women.  Which is a pretty odd thing to say about women who both have actively working reproductive systems, who both have the ability to become pregnant and to parent, or to make other reproductive choices.  In fact, it sounds a whole lot like eugenics to me.

I’m not going to beat around the bush (as it were) here.  In a whole lot of ways, women in their late teens and early twenties are in a better position than women in their thirties or forties are to reproduce, whether anyone likes it or not.  They are more fertile, their bodies will bounce back more quickly from a pregnancy, and they have more energy both for pregnancy and for keeping up with small children.  A 19-year-old woman and a 39-year-old woman, on average are not in the same space physiologically when it comes to bearing children.  The younger woman, in general, is in the better, healthier position, and the same is likely so for her fetus, particularly if she has healthcare of the same quality the older woman has.  And for most of human history — though there are certainly aspects of this, such as gender inequality and sexual violence, very worthy of critique and change — teen or young adult mothers have been who so many of our mothers were.

There is another side of that coin, which is that young women are without some things many older women have.  They more frequently will have less financial resources to care for children, their partnerships (if they are co-parenting) can tend to be less stable or shorter-lived, and they have less access to things like day care at school or work, good transportation, health insurance and the like.  Obviously, too, a younger person has often had less life experience, and an older person may have greater perspective in certain areas which can be of great benefit when it comes to good parenting.  But there are corrections for those inequalities. So many of the troubling statistics that we have on teen pregnancy and parenting aren’t around the pregnancy or parenting itself, or the age of a parent, but instead, arise from many inequalities young people suffer because we have set things up so that they do.

For instance, it’s not likely because someone is 16 when they become pregnant that they will be less able to finish high school, but because so many opportunities for schooling are cut off to young, pregnant women, and so few concessions are made to help a pregnant or parenting teen finish high school or enter college. Given the higher teen pregnancy statistics when it comes to young women of color, immigrant women and rural women, the fact that our culture often doesn’t privilege education for those groups in the first place is no minor detail. It’s not likely because someone is a teen that their child can be more likely to wind up in the corrections system, but because someone is a parent of any age who is without the resources they need to actively parent. Older people can help younger parents by sharing life experience and perspective gleaned with them rather than hoarding it or lording it over them.

Given that we know that that lack of resources is a central issue, why do we see so much money and so much effort put into “preventing teen pregnancy” yet so relatively little put into efforts to get free or affordable daycare into high schools and colleges, providing counseling, schooling and housing for young mothers?  Why do we hear so much about preventing teen pregnancy yet meet so much resistance when it comes to contraceptive and abortion access for teen and young adult women?  Why does the left and right alike tend to have so much to say and offer before or while a teen is pregnant, yet so little post-pregnancy or when a teen has become a parent?

Why is so much money put into developing and doing fertility therapies for women moving outside of their reproductive years, and so little for supporting women at the dawn of them; women of an age where even the best contraceptive methods, used perfectly, fail most often?  Why are the celebrity teens or those of fame and wealth “speaking out against teen pregnancy” so often the loudest voices we hear?  Why are the representatives of teen pregnancy and parenting so often so non-representative?  Knowing about the disparities between white women and women of color with teen pregnancy, those between women in poverty and those who are affluent, and about the achievement limitations teens who choose to become parents so often feel they have, what the heck is up with the vast majority of those representing teen pregnancy being so wealthy, white and pampered (or male!?!) all the time?

Knowing that for some teens who do choose to become pregnant, or risk pregnancy needlessly, it can come out of loneliness, the desire to cement a relationship, low self-esteem or the feeling that they have little opportunity for a breadth of life achievement, why do we shame them, blame them and put them down so often, further isolating those already isolated and low-feeling teens even more?  (At the same time, it’s important to recognize these are also often motivations or feelings of older women with pregnancy or parenting, too.  They do not only belong to teens.)

For the many older men involved in these prevention initiatives, given the rate of sexual violence and coercion involved in so many teen pregnancies, given how often young men don’t cooperate with sound contraception, and given the fact that no cisgendered man has any experience with being pregnant himself, why are their efforts not put on talking to young men about sexual violence, sound sexual decision-making of their own and contraceptive cooperation rather than in moralizing at young women?  And yes, I’m talking to guys like you, Neil Cole.

(FYI, I don’t think Cole’s commercial or ad should be suppressed.  However, I’d like to bring your attention to who the infant is given to in the ad, and who is the one really being talked to, who the big issue is left with while the male partner is taken out of the car and out of the issue. Check out the ad: the only thing directed at young men is about marriage. Cole’s language around teen pregnancy with the Candie’s campaign, and who so much of it is aimed at is seriously not okay in my book, particularly as a male person. While he seems to put so much of this on young women, he also doesn’t seem to recognize what actually does belong only to young women: “kids” don’t have babies, women do. Yet, all the parts of teen pregnancy — marriage has nothing to do with getting pregnant — are apparently, based on his language, only about women.)

I’m also not entirely certain that there isn’t, possibly, for some, some measure of envy at play here. It’s tough to talk about, especially as a feminist, but I have had enough friends trying to reproduce at later ages now to know how incredibly frustrating the process can be for them.  I also have friends honest enough with themselves and others that they will share that they do feel jealousy and anger when they see other women able to become pregnant as easily as breathing, and that’s often the case with the youngest women.  Some older women — not all or even most, but some — struggling to get pregnant now may even feel resentment about all the strong social messages they got about childbearing that they had to wait for later, should wait for later.  If and when those feelings exist, they are valid and real, but don’t have a place, covertly or overtly, in the discourse around teen pregnancy.

When older people and/or those of means are those creating the movements to “prevent teen pregnancy,” — and that is overwhelmingly who is — the onus is us to evaluate and keep in check any bias we may have, and to be very sure those are not influencing how we treat teen pregnancy, planned or unplanned, wanted or unwanted.  And that’s what I think hasn’t been done very well: that’s what I see when I see phrases like “preventing teen pregnancy.” I see a whole lot of bias, a whole lot of carelessness and a whole lot of disrespect.

So, are we all checking in to be sure that older people aren’t trying to claim some sort of ownership over pregnancy and parenting and who has the “right” to parent; who can and cannot be a good parent based on age alone — and nothing else — something we know has little basis in reality?  Are we sure that some of the messages we’re sending aren’t about our own frustration or resentment; aren’t coming from a place where we might feel like young mothers now are taking liberties we wish we would have?  As well, are we sure that for those of us who felt that our lives went best because we did not procreate or do so at a given age aren’t projecting our own goals and desires unto a generation which may be radically different than ours?  Might we even be projecting some of what we saw and heard — and disliked — from our mothers generations unto this one?

Ageism is alive and well and teens are a very common — and often thought to be acceptable — target for it. We, as adults, make lousy policies for or around teens without allowing them input or control, and then we point the finger at teens when those policies we made or supported fail them, such as the poor sexuality education we’ve given them (especially in the last ten years here stateside), the awful relationship modeling, the glamorization, romanticism and commercialization of things like motherhood, vaginal intercourse, marriage and being sexually “attractive.” The only real power we give them of late is in the commercial marketplace, and then adults whine about how youth are fixated on money and acquisition. Uh, okay.

Their sexual and reproductive lives are two of the areas where ageism is exercised constantly, and often without any resistance from even progressive adults. Are we sure that ageism and classism (not to mention racism and sexism) aren’t playing a part in our discourse around teen and young adult pregnancy?

Are we also sure, that as can happen, that older people are not harboring a desire for their children do do as well as them, but not to surpass them?  In other words, what if — just what if — a young teen mother really could “have it all?”  What if she could be a good parent AND finish high school, finish college, have the career she wanted, have all she envisions her life to be?  By all means, that scenario might feel mighty frustrating for generations before who did not have the cultural or interpersonal supports or resources to achieve all of that, but not if we can see making things better for the generations that follow us as one of our great successes, not as something we were robbed of or must grudgingly provide.

It stands to mention that some of this approach likely comes out of attitudes that are not just about young people or young women, but about pregnancy and pregnant women, period.  We have long had a cultural problem with women’s bodies and reproductive systems being treated like collective property; with laws, policies, practices and initiatives around pregnancy being led by everyone but those who actually are or will be pregnant.  To some degree, the way we have been treating teen pregnancy is highly indicative of those attitudes, which isn’t all that surprising.

But if we’re serious about being pro-choice, if we’re serious about wanting to help others make decisions in real alignment with respect and self-respect, the most basic foundation we have to hold is that every woman has the inarguable right to make choices about her own body for anything that happens to or inside of her own body, and that no one but that woman is most qualified to do so.  Once we start talking about preventing a given choice someone else may make, we take that person’s ownership of their choice away.

When our bodies are of an age where they can reproduce, any of us then — be we 16 or 36 — has the right to choose to do that with our bodies if we want to.  By all means, once a child is born, we’re talking about someone else, someone outside of a woman’s body, and not our own body.  That’s a huge and tangled discussion of its own, especially given the way children are so often framed as the property of their parents, rather than as the responsibility of parents and all the rest of us.  But until there is an actual child born and independently present?  We are talking about a woman and her own body.  Not ours, hers.

For the record, I also have a problem with the notion of “preventing unplanned pregnancy.”  A LOT of wanted children, children who are loved, children who are parented well, come from unplanned pregnancies: at least half of us have.  As a sexuality educator who knows very well how many people don’t understand how reproduction works, and as someone who has a good handle on human history per how long most people didn’t know, it’s safe to say MOST pregnancies throughout history have been unplanned to at least some degree. Even now when we do know more, when far more people are educated, when we have many contraceptive methods which are highly effective,  a lot of people approach pregnancy not as something they exactly plan, but leave themselves more or less open to at given times depending on how okay they are with pregnancy. For sure, we do want to fill people in on the things which might make a pregnancy more or less healthy when it happens, make parenting go better or worse for everyone involved, but while planning can certainly contribute to healthy pregnancy and sound parenting, it really isn’t a requirement or a reality for many people.

This really isn’t all that complicated.  Words matter.  The phraseology we use for things matters, especially when we’re talking about subjects like this.  Especially when we are talking about choices which are not ours to make, about the lives of others and the bodies of others.  Especially when we are talking about something as nuanced, complex and wildly individual as pregnancy and parenting.  Especially when we are coming to something and saying that it is about quality of life and respect.

May I suggest some easy lingusitic corrections?

If your heart is in the right place, what you want to do is to not to prevent anything.  Rather, you want to nurture and support conscious conception and contraception, conscious birthing; to enable wanted and healthy pregnancy, wanted and healthy parenting. You want to help support all of us in having exactly the reproductive life we want and feel is best for us to the degree that we can control that.

If you’re still stuck on prevention as an approach, why not try making it about helping teens to prevent unwanted pregnancy or unwanted parenting?

Is age really even relevant? Only so much. An unwanted pregnancy has the capacity to disrupt or cause hardship in a woman’s life whether she is 17 or 37.  A parent who is unprepared for parenting, who doesn’t want to parent, or who just can’t parent can do damage to a child no matter how old they are or are not.

What you really want to do — I hope — is to help women of all ages to understand what all their possible choices are for their whole lives, to have a good idea of what making any given choice can entail, the possible positives and negatives alike, and how it could impact them and others.  What you probably really want to do is to help young people, all people, make choices around sex, pregnancy and parenting which are most likely to result in a happy, healthy life, and the life any given person most wants for themselves and those in their lives. What you also probably want to do is work just as much towards creating a culture of support for those who do become pregnant — by choice or by accident — and choose to parent as you work to support those making different choices.  And if you really want to help to prevent unwanted teen pregnancy, you need to make sure your efforts are directed just as much towards young men as they are towards young women.

I know for a fact that many of the people who use the current language around teen pregnancy are people whose intentions are stellar, totally laudable, and all about the good things I’m talking about here. So, why diminish or mislead those great intentions with words and phrases that undermine them and disrespect the population we’re claiming to care so much about?  Why use the negative when you’re trying to support the positive?

P.S. This rant is dedicated to my friend and volunteer Alice, and all of the other teen and young mothers who get as validly angry about this stuff as she does.

Sunday, April 12th, 2009

This is a fucking outrage.

So, it appears that Amazon.com has decided that some books now belong in their version of the back room.  In other words, some books, which they state they consider “adult” now are no longer listed in sales rankings or topical lists of subjects.

My book — a young adult book, one right on the shelves with everything else in the young adult section at the library, for crying out loud — is among them.

So are: Changing Bodies, Changing Lives: Expanded Third Edition: A Book for Teens on Sex and Relationships by Ruth Bell, Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and A World Without Rape, Full Frontal Feminism: A Young Woman’s Guide to Why Feminism Matters by Jessica Valenti, Cycle Savvy by Toni Weschler, Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters, Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson, Gender Outlaw by Kate Bornstein and too many others to count.

What CAN I still find in the rankings, which apparently now cannot, according to Amazon, include “adult” material?  Girls Gone Wild: Girls on Girls, Surrender the Booty 3: The Search for More Arse, Jenna Jameson: Ultimate Collection, Playboy: the Complete Centerfolds, Girls Kissing: Volume One, Hot BabesI don’t think I need to go on.

In other words, what it’s looking like is this:  It’s NOT “adult” and not deranked, so long as it’s porn, or salacious, or for the sexual entertainment of “normal” people. And possibly also simply not adult if it’s heterosexual or heteronormative (or tagged to the contrary).  It IS likely to be considered adult and stripped of its ranking if it’s queer (or written by a GLBT author), not hetero/gendernormative, feminist or about any aspect of sexuality for young people (though oddly, some YA sexuality guides were spared, and of the ones I am familiar with, they aren’t outrightly queer-inclusive or sex-positive, either of which may be why).

To be clear, if a person searches for one of these books by title or author, they will find it.  However, that’s only so useful.  Many people find books on a given subject by browsing the subject listings, not knowing what is available by title or author, or by seeing what books are most popular per sales: these derankings remove us from those listings, no matter our book’s popularity or relevance in a given subject.  What this also results in is a given subject, like say, homosexuality, showing books which aren’t actually relevant unless you are looking to “cure” yourself of the apparent affliction of your own identity (today, post-deranking, A Parent’s Guide to Preventing Homosexuality was the top book under homosexuality, and most other books in that topic are of that ilk.)  In other words, many of the listings by subject in these kinds of subject areas, have been replaced with books which, well…either aren’t really about the subject, which are protests to these subjects or are somebody’s idea of what is an acceptable approach to these oh-so-unacceptable topics.

I sent a letter, a far calmer one than I wanted to, to their executive office this morning, which looked like this:

To whom it may concern,

It has recently come to my attention that the topical listings and sales rank for my book, a young adult sexuality and reproductive health guide, “S.E.X.: The  All-You-Need-to-Know Progressive Sexuality Guide to Get You Through High School and College,” are now gone on Amazon, despite having active sales, and usually being very well ranked.

I have also noticed several other reproductive health guides for young people, such as Toni Weschler’s “Cycle Savvy,” and The Boston Women’s Health Collective’s “Changing Bodies, Changing Lives,” have had the same treatment.  And yet, other books similar to ours, such as Michael J. Basso’s “The Underground Guide to Teenage Sexuality,” have retained their rank and listings.  Why?  Who is making these decisions, and where might any of us who are authors find the clear criteria or standard on which these decisions are being made?

My understanding is that Amazon is now hiding what it considers to be  “adult” (or rather, SOME “adult”) material from its rankings and listings,  While I strongly disagree with this practice as a whole — and the arbitrary standards clearly being applied, particularly as Amazon appears to be especially targeting gay and lesbian material — I feel all the more strongly about my book and some of these others being classed as adult, as they are expressly young adult books.

I can go to any library who has my book — and that is hundreds of libraries — and see my book right on the shelves, in the young adult section, unhidden.  Why has it been relegated at Amazon to the back room?

Thank you,
Heather Corinna

Who knows if I’ll get a response, or if the response I get will…well, contain any actual information.  Clearly, an arbitrary standard is being applied here, but I have a hard time envisioning them earnestly copping to it.  After all, what exactly are they going to say?  “Yes, we do find sexual health information for young people, particularly if it addresses queer youth or is written by a queer author, obscene and do NOT feel that Girls Gone Wild is, because…well, it’s not gay, even when the girls are macking down in it because we all know that’s just for the guys watching?”

(Is it perhaps worth my pointing out that the girls who appear in GGW really NEED to be able to find books like mine?)

Edited to add this.  If they can make money off of my book, one supposes I ought to be able to voice my objections at their front door.

4/14 Update: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/apr/14/amazon-derank-books-sexuality

Friday, September 5th, 2008

Yeah: I’ve been just plain speechless.  A rare occurrence, to be sure.  Savor it.

I don’t know if it’s watching neocons identify sexism like it’s this brand new kind of insidious ugly which has ever existed before last weekend,

…if I’ve been too tired from tending to pregnant teenage girls living  in the world the rest of us do and whom no one is looking to elevate to sainthood (though better a slut than a political prop, to be sure),

… if it’s a certain sector all but rubbing their slimy hands with glee with the prospect that all this groundwork they’ve been laying and getting laid (fitting, that) will bring us to the point where they don’t even have to pretend we’re not fulling embracing facism anymore,

… or if I’m just starting my usual slow descent into election dread, in which case “Fuck me,” is really all one could have to say.

Thursday, August 7th, 2008

Before I head off the San Francisco — where for the religious right to get at me, they’d have to crawl through an ocean of queers first, who probably would rub their cooties all over them and turn them gay — after a few hours in Slumberland, I feel the need to sum up my week in but two words: holy shit.

Which does a rather amazing job, really, of saying it all in very short order.

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.)

Saturday, May 24th, 2008

The last week and a half in review?

The last few days I’ve had that wonderful cycle I have every other month which results in not only heinous pain when my period starts, but hours of vomiting. This time, I hit a record eight hours from start to finish of the vomit, to the point that even keeping water down was impossible. Not my best day ever. I was at clinic when all this started and was at least able to get an EFT treatment from the doc there, which fended off the worst of it so I could finish my workday. Unfortunately, it only fended off the big yuck into the evening, and my body seemed to want to get revenge for dismissing her schedule.

After several years of this, there is still no solid theory on what the heck the deal is. I do have more votes for this being the flirtations of peri-menopause than anything else, and it does appear that in those cycles proceeding this, I’m anovulatory. As I mentioned to someone else though, if this is flirtation, knowing that given my age I’m looking at a long courtship, I’m not excited. And I don’t even want to think about what the consummation of this relationship will be like. Ugh. So much crap for an organ that, for the most part, I’ve never even wanted to use.

Given I was on the couch all day and night yesterday after I could finally keep enough water down to get a painkiller in my system, I caught up with some film. I’ve had Sweet Land sitting here for weeks wanting to see it, and it was just a beautiful, quiet and earnest film. I didn’t realize that Mark Orton (of Tin Hat Trio, who if you don’t know, you so should) had done the soundtrack, either. As I am wont to do with Jarmusch films in general, I fell asleep twice when Broken Flowers first came out, so tossed it off, but had a few people telling me it was so, so good, so finally could watch it yesterday. I remain unimpressed. My father said he couldn’t stand La Vie en Rose, but I rabidly disagree. Parts of it felt disjointed (though my suspicion is that was intentional), but I thought it was amazing, and sweet jesus did that woman ever earn her Oscar. Brilliant, brilliant acting.

Due to the holiday on Monday, I am graced with a schedule at clinic this coming week where my two days are one right after the other, rather than being spaced out over the week, which I mightily look forward to. At home, the way I work tends to be in very extended two or three day spurts at a time. Since I’m usually working Mondays and Thursdays away, that’s been creating a problem in my usual patterns, and only allowing me Friday - Sunday to do that, taking away the time Mark and I usually have together since he’s got a standard day job with a standard schedule. So, this weekend, this should allow us some extra time, and also give me the whole front of the week to finish up a few articles I’m almost done with. I’ve been working on a sort of meditation on the validity of love for young people, so often told the love they experience isn’t bonafide or real, that I’m particularly stoked to finish.

The Thursday before last, I came home from clinic feeling pretty defeated, having had my first repeat client since I started working there, a 17-year-old girl with one of those few-years-older boyfriends who looks like Joe Sensitive on the surface, but who actually is a controlling, careless ass. In fact, the first time I saw both of them at the tail end of January, the clinic was still allowing “support” people (I put that in quotes since they were often anything but: more often than not, the ones who wanted to come back only did because they wanted to control the client) into counseling appointments. He was one of my examples as to why I, personally, was not at all okay with that, and the policy has since changed. While I sat there explaining her procedure, her aftercare, asking how she was about her choice, he sat playing video games on his cell phone. Would that I were kidding. As well, he told me this whole lovely fairy story about how the pregnancy was all her doctor’s fault because he didn’t renew her pill prescription on time. When I asked if her doctor had also then, of course, made clear he was never to wear a condom under any circumstances, I got a shrug and a sneer. When I told her she could have a Chlamydia and Gonorrhea screening with her procedure if she wanted, HE answered for her saying she should probably get that, and when I not only made clear I wasn’t freaking talking to him, but asked if, given how invested he was in her screening, if he’d ever had one himself, he told me no as if I had asked if he ever tore the legs off of squirrels. What a charmer.

And there she was, back again a week ago, and she was sent home with three months of pills last time, no less. Of course, Mr. Wonderful was still with her, and very not-pleased when he couldn’t come back into my office this time. I did the sneering that day. Alas, she wouldn’t talk to any of us about birth control, or much of anything, even though she was back in the office for another procedure not even three months later. Obviously, I can’t keep watch over any client to assure they use the birth control we give them, or do anything outside the office to help them get away from jerks. So, I know I’m not at all responsible for her being right back there, but it is pretty hard not to feel like, somehow, you failed someone in that spot; like there were some magic words I could have said but wasn’t smart enough to think of. It’s frustrating, and it’s hard not to bring that home and stew in it.

On the other hand, I’ve done a few options sessions lately, hour-long sessions expressly for clients who just don’t know what to do about a pregnancy and need to talk it through, and I love those. They often do get pretty emotional, but usually within just that one hour, you get to watch someone come in totally conflicted and lost and leave resolved, clear and confident. Two of my last three decided to terminate, and one decided to continue her pregnancy and parent: all felt good about their choices, and that is incredibly rewarding. One common thread I see in a lot of these though, no matter someone’s age, are families pressuring them into a given choice. A lot of the time in these sessions, you have to spend the first quarter or even half of them just getting the client clear when it comes to putting away everyone else’s opinion, whether the pressure is to continue a pregnancy or terminate. But the mere fact that any family makes a condition of their love what a woman does with her own pregnancy and her own body is so incredibly maddening. Watching someone feel like (or be directly told that) they have to choose between what they know is right for them and the love of their family makes me want to hurl even without my grumpy uterus.
I finally got my camera in for repair: here’s hoping they can actually fix it. They seemed about 50/50, which was not especially heartening. I need a working camera, both for the photo gig in Minneapolis next month, and for my own well-being. Being unable to make any art over the last handful of months has been seriously sucky.

Plus, the garden is coming along really beautifully this year, and my old camera from early 2000 isn’t at all cutting the mustard when it comes to capturing it. (It is not, for the record, half full of poisonous flowers this year, as I unconsciously chose last year. I am taking this as a signal of improved mental health on my part.) Since the dog also has a habit of stealing my strawberries and cherry tomatoes, I also made a small garden just for her this year in the front with those things of her very own. This may or may not make any sort of difference, and may, in fact, only be indicative of the fact that I take my dog a little too seriously.

There’s also been family drama, but I’m not going there. Let me just say that a lifetime of my parents being unable to stand each other, and ever being the person perpetually shoved into the middle, is truly tiresome.

Mark is off to the start of SIFF tonight, where a feature he produced last year is playing, and I’m off to an evening out with a co-worker at the fantastic new cantina a few blocks away which includes some vegan deliciousness, then up to the Copper Gate for a perhaps ill-advised bout of Norwegian grain alcohol. I have a little gardening on my plate today, a little Scarleteen work, a couple edits on an anthology piece, some tidying-up and a few snuggles where I can get them.

(And hey: happy birthday, Fish! My father sends birthday wishes to you as well, still clearly nursing his mad crush on you.)

Saturday, May 10th, 2008

My lone wish for tomorrow is that it ends on a better note than this.