The Challenge

fannie-lou-hamer-activist-nobodys-free-until-everybodysOkay, my LGBTQ and sex positive friends and allies:

This is your call to action.  Maybe you’ve been burning with anger, or immobilized by fear. Maybe you just don’t want to think about political stuff at all — jeez, I know I don’t.  I’m not a policy wonk, and while business-as-usual hasn’t worked out that well for me as a disabled person, I’ve survived.

But the battleground is set, and it’s on the edge of a volcano. We hear the ground rumbling underneath us.  It’s more heated right now than I can remember anytime in my life — and I’m in my fifth decade. The fight for human rights feels more urgent to me now than anything since Stonewall, since the fight against AIDS in the 1980s & 1990s, since the assassinations of George Moscone and Harvey Milk, since the rallying cry around the death of Matthew Shepard or any of the myriads who’ve died for the crime of being different.

In the last five years we’ve seen the LGBTQ  community gain some amazing strides: the legalization of marriage nation-wide, the Obama administration interpretation of anti-discrimination law, some strong moves forward and statements by cities, states and school districts in support of their LBGTQ population.

We have met these changes with triumph and with regret that they are still so little and long overdue.  To us, it is obvious that all human beings must have the equal rights to access to love, security, housing, education, and jobs.

For the most vocal of the Trump supporters, no.  The election results were not a surprise to me, nor to many of my friends who’ve lived in rural America.  Anyone who is poor could probably see this coming. We know what shadows lie in the system of business-as-usual, and what has to be sacrificed to keep our awareness down, to keep from being ground under its wheels.

Throughout this election year and especially after the election results, it has become more obvious to us that people are tribal. We’ve noticed that many people’s definition of tribe can’t encompass an entire country, and maybe ours can’t either. But those of us who have been in this fight, whether for years or decades, need to redouble our efforts to put the good for the whole country over the good for just the people we like.

And how do we do that?

We need to challenge the idea that any life can be disposable. We need to broaden our perspective.  We have to struggle even harder for our own rights while simultaneously insuring that the rights of other people aren’t sacrificed for our security and peace of mind. Not in this country, and not on this planet.

We need to stay informed. And we need to get our information from good sources. Read many sources not just a few.  Cruise the news. Try checking out The Guardian or another foreign paper to get news on US politics.  Don’t rely on the same sources every day. And definitely get on the mailing lists for your own representatives to stay apprised of what they are working to do.

We need to stop vilifying people.  We can despise actions without despising the humanity of the people who perpetuate them.  We aim for understanding of those who are our worst critics. Tha

We need to commit to what we can actually do.  It’s easy to get swept up in post-election fervor and it’s not hard for most people to participate in a nonviolent protest. But if I’m agoraphobic, that’s not going to be my style of activism.

What small thing can I actually do to change the world today?  Would my efforts be more useful at a local level or state level? Am I more of an online activist or a call-your-senator type?  Maybe I’m a person wh0 believes that meditation or prayer has a place in activism.  Or maybe my Vietnamese next door neighbor needs me to go with her to Social Security to make sure that communication lines stay clear because she doesn’t speak English well.

I remember why I left the peace movement in the late 1980’s — I reached a wall. I felt I’d done what I could and I didn’t have any more to give. I was angry all the time, and some part of me felt that I couldn’t be marching for peace until I had more peace with who I was. Sometimes you need to change the world and sometimes you need to let the world change you.

The Challenge

I completely understand the desire to hide away somewhere peaceful or to Netflix out for awhile — and there’s a place for that. But don’t let that be where you stay.  Make a small amount of time for political action — an hour a week, or a phone call a day. Pick an organization working for change and meet with them in your city.  Because we really can’t afford to numb out all the time. We have a clear example of where inaction leads us. Now let’s see what we can really do.

 

(Value added: LGBT rights by country or territory)

 

What’s so wrong with a little sex work?

We shouldn’t forget that legalizing something means you’ll get more of it.
NYPOST.COM

This opinion piece poses an interesting response to the people arguing for legalizing sex work– of which, I am one.

I would argue that there is a difference between choosing sex work from a place of shame and desperation and choosing sex work from a place of knowing that it’s a good match for one’s interests and skill set.

Prostitution does not inherently commodify women’s or men’s bodies more than professional athletics, or acting, or hell, professional mime. It commodifies their compassion and hearts and conversation skills no more than therapy or teaching. It is no more soul-destroying than being a lawyer — far less in some cases.

I’ve meet a number of sex workers — and have two dear friends in sex work.  They are not victims or survivors (of anything more hostile than the occasional bad police work). They don’t lack self esteem — they’re empowered feminists who are proud of what they do.

One of them has a client who is a paraplegic who doesn’t leave the house.  Another has clients who are shy or don’t have the social skills to approach people for sex, but still have sexual desires.  Some clients are in town for business, or are just too busy to bother with all the complications that come with having a girlfriend or boyfriend.

I’ve known people who are clients too.  There are those who visit sex workers to learn new skills, to have a physical-only relationship with a person after their spouse or partner has become ill.  Some people are clear that they want sex, not a relationship.

What is wrong with that?

 

The author of the New York Post article also uses a slippery slope approach to argue that once sex work is made legal, everyone will want to do it.  There’ll be human sacrifice, cats and dogs living together…mass hysteria! (Thank you, Peter Venkman in my head.) The fear is that economically desperate and unemployed women will receive pressure to go into sex work…like they don’t already?

What is this romantic idea about empowerment through legal work, but not illegal work? Go to the nearest Target or McDonald’s and ask the workers there if they chose the job out of need and desperation or a recognition that it matches their skill set. Then ask them how empowering their work is, and if at the end of the day they feel fulfilled or maybe just a little degraded.

The author of the article then mentions all the organizations that are against Amnesty International’s position to decriminalize all aspects of professional, voluntary adult sex work, mentioning all the organizations that are against Amnesty International’s decision. In their own position paper, “Sex Workers’ Rights are Human Rights,” Amnesty International does describe this controversy and admits to being attacked from all sides when they first announced they’d be developing a group to protect the rights of sex workers.  It’s true.  This is a hugely controversial issue.  But you know who agrees with them?  Other reputable human rights organizations.  From that paper:

We would like to claim to be the first to address this issue.  But we are not. Other groups which support or are calling for the decriminalization of sex work include the World Health Organization, UNAIDS, International Labour Organization, the Global Alliance Against Trafficking in Women, the Global Network of Sex Work Projects, the Global Commission on HIV and the Law, Human Rights Watch, the Open Society Foundations and Anti-Slavery International.

It’s true that sex work is dangerous. You know why? Because it’s illegal. Until it is legal sex workers will not come forward when they’ve been harmed outside of their negotiated contract for fear of retaliation. Until it is legal, the industry won’t be regulated for safety.

Until it is legal, law enforcement will still conflate powerful, self-respecting, often feminist sex workers with human trafficking victims. Charitable groups will waste their time trying save people who don’t want or need to be saved when they could instead be devoting their efforts to real human trafficking, slavery, and the institutionalized injustices which make real crime invisible.

Rape Culture in YA Literature

Steady yourselves, I’m going to recommend an article in Glamour magazine.

But first I want to talk about Veronica Mars. You remember Veronica Mars right? A TV show a few years back, it featured Kristen Bell as a high school girl who helped solve cases that came in to her Dad’s detective agency. But what sucked me in right away was her backstory.

Veronica Mars was a popular girl who went to a party and was drugged & raped … and didn’t know by whom. When she went to  law enforcement she was ridiculed by the sheriff (“Why don’t you go see the Wizard. Ask for a little backbone.”) Her boyfriend broke up with her. She lost her “friends” overnight. I found that to be … well, realistic.

When the show opens, it is a year after that event. She has become a wise-cracking tough girl with no friends. A girl with PTSD who nevertheless handles her aftermath with grace and a taser.

Though that may not ring quite as true with many of us survivors, it is my fantasy of how I handled things 30 years ago. This was back in 1984. There was no background or training about rape other than from the plots of 1970’s cop shows. Opening: woman walks through dark parking lot. Footsteps. She looks back and quickens her steps.  The following steps quicken.  She fumbles for her keys and runs for her car door.  A man in a mask puts a gloved hand around her mouth.  Cut to commercial.   That was rape.

But someone forcing sex on you in his apartment?  That was just a thing that happened. Unless you were a pristine virgin attacked by an absolute stranger in front of witnesses, you didn’t go to the police. You put up with it. You didn’t question it. There was no talk about consent culture or rape culture. No one recognized acquaintance rape as “real rape” back then.

I talked to my roommate, who told me the same thing had happened to her and shrugged. I talked to my parents, who sympathized and urged me to stay in school. I talked to someone in the counseling office who talked about rites of passage and growing up. And I talked to a friend who said “Everyone’s first time sucks.” I don’t resent any of those people. We just didn’t know. It did not occur to anyone that this was rape, least of all me. (Also, tasers weren’t commercially available until after 1994, but I digress.)

If the books mentioned in the Glamour article below had been around, maybe one person would have believed me. If I had read these books, I’d have had the tools to acknowledge what had happened. I don’t have a lot of regrets in life, but I do wish I’d known enough to prosecute this guy.  I’m sure I’m not alone in that regret. Still today, 68% of rapes are not reported, and 98% of rapists won’t spend a single night in jail.

Over three decades we’ve changed a lot, and that’s worth celebrating.  A young* person raped in someone else’s apartment today may still be slut-shamed or told that they’re making too big a deal out of it, but there are advocates all over the internet.  Like RAINN.org, where a survivor can start getting the support and information they need.  Or No More.org, which gives friends and family members the strategies to be supportive. Or 1in6, specifically created for the estimated 17% of sexual assault victims who are men.  As the conversations about date rape and rape culture come up, and consent culture gains advocates, sexual assaults have gone down about 49% since 1993.

And here’s a great thing:  today’s young adults are getting more of an education about what rape culture is, through media. Glamour’s article on YA Literature makes that clear. And it is here:

http://www.glamour.com/story/ya-lits-hot-new-trend-fighting-rape-culture

It’s my hope that today’s young adults will recognize rape as rape when it happens to them or their friends. Certainly counselors and administrators and law enforcement have more information about it. But we still have a long way to go. Even as you read this some shell-shocked teenager is being questioned by someone they trust who will fail them by asking what they were wearing, if they were drinking and if they really thought it was rape. “It can’t be real rape — you’re a boy,” they will be told. Or, “you went to his apartment willingly.”

 Call to action: promote consent culture by having conversations with the young people in your lives…and buy someone a book that will help them recognize rape when it happens to someone around them.

Why Sex Worker Rights Complement LGBT Rights

I’m pretty new to being vocally sex positive.  I’ve been polyamorous all my life, so in my personal circle, I’ve been critical of dominant relationship paradigms — for me.  I’ve been bisexual all my life, so when someone has asked, I’ve said yes, I’m bisexual.  And I’ve been submissive most of my adult life.  That actually doesn’t come up in conversation much with my friends, so while I don’t hide it, I also don’t make a big deal out of it.

But through my volunteer work with the Center for Sex Positive Culture in Seattle, and with this blog, I have become much more vocal about what I’d like to see happen beyond the personal level:  transgender people should be able to use whatever bathroom they feel is appropriate; no one should be discriminated against in employment or housing, regardless of sexual preference or gender identity (or race, age, etc.).  And this:  I believe sex work should be legal.

Why?

Because I’d like to see sex workers empowered with protections and rights.  I’d like to see the highly professional people I know who do sex work get some recognition as the hard workers they are.  I’d like the profession to be better regulated, for sex workers to be seen as separate from the current international story that human trafficking and preying on the week is what drives sex work.  I’d like the profession to be regulated, too, because that would make illegal activity around sex work more visible.  And I’d like the people who patronize sex workers to be free to do so.

I also think it’s an important human rights issue.  Currently sex workers are arrested and jailed for their motive for having sex and for whom they have sex with.  Just like at one point, gay men could be jailed, beaten, and worse for their idea of whom they found sexy.  And there is also this, from the Huffington Post:

In terms of ideology, the two movements are not so far apart. The heart of the demand for LGBT rights is the idea that all people should be granted autonomy over their lives and bodies, that anyone should be allowed to sleep with who they choose and that it only concerns the people in the relationship and not the government or bigots. The very same idea is at the core of the fight for sex workers. Why should they not be granted the same freedom? Why should they not be allowed to have sex with who they choose? — Stephanie Farnsworth

If anyone wants to be truly free on this planet, we must fight for the rights of all our people to be free.

 

 

BDSM or Murder

All four defendants were found guilty in the beating and strangulation death of “house slave” Shirley Beck, reports the Leaf Chronicle in Clarksville, Tennessee.  Beck, who was 39 at the time of her death in 2014, had come to Clarksville  in 2012 to be trained in BDSM* and meet the man she’d developed an online relationship with, whom she hoped would become her Master.

The relationship didn’t work out.  Beck moved in with next-door neighbor Twila Ours, and a few months later asked if she could be Ours’ slave, according to Ours. Ours said she took Beck on as a house slave, a term the Leaf Chronicle calls “the lowest level in the BDSM community”.  Though Ours and Beck had a BDSM relationship, it did not include sex, said Ours.

She loaned Beck to the mistress Cynthia Skipper at the house at 108 Wilson to do some cleaning, and Beck eventually moved in there, where she did the housework and chores for all six housemates, none of whom worked. Skipper received Beck’s disability checks and controlled her money.

One day in June, 2014, one of the housemates (Alphonso Richardson)  became enraged because of what he thought was boric acid residue on his girlfriend’s glass. He said his girlfriend was blind, and he thought Beck was trying to kill her.  He woke up the other housemates yelling, and four of them suspended Beck, took turns beating her until she passed out, revived her, continued to beat her until she passed out, revived her again.

They beat her for four hours, and revived her three times to continue their punishment. Matthew Lee Reynolds was responsible for at least 50 strikes and kicks using martial arts moves. Alphonso Richardson continued to beat her well past any of the others, sometimes using a metal pole he’d taken from a military cot.  Skipper sat by and continued to inspire the men to beat Beck.  Derek M. Vicchitto helped suspend her, revive her, and suspend her again.  He beat her with an oxygen hose. At one point she was moved from a bedroom into the living room because the roommates didn’t want to damage the electronics in the room.

The defense argued that the beating was consensual, that Beck never uttered her safeword, and that this death was the tragic result of a BDSM play session gone bad.  There is a difference between BDSM and domestic violence, and that difference is consent.

The defense attorney stated, and the press asked:

Was this BDSM?

No.  According to the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom, consent must be “informed and freely given.”  In its “SM vs. Abuse Policy Statement” the NCSF says that sadomasochistic activity relies on activity that is safe, sane and consensual.

In guidelines developed by the Leather Leadership Conference in 1998 (then in New York), there are questions that one can use to determine whether the activity is BDSM or violence.

Informed consent must be judged by balancing the following criteria for each encounter at the time the acts occurred:

  • Was informed consent expressly denied or withdrawn?
  • Were there factors that negated the informed consent?
  • What is the relationship of the participants?
  • What was the nature of the activity?
  • What was the intent of the accused abuser?

Whether an individual’s role is top/dominant or bottom/submissive, they could be suffering abuse if they answer no to any of the following questions:

  • Are your needs and limits respected?
  • Is your relationship built on honesty, trust, and respect?
  • Are you able to express feelings of guilt or jealousy or unhappiness?
  • Can you function in everyday life?
  • Can you refuse to do illegal activities?
  • Can you insist on safe sex practices?
  • Can you choose to interact freely with others outside of your relationship?
  • Can you leave the situation without fearing that you will be harmed, or fearing the other participant(s) will harm themselves?
  • Can you choose to exercise self-determination with money, employment, and life decisions?
  • Do you feel free to discuss your practices and feelings with anyone you choose?

BDSM was the label the group of housemates put on their behavior to justify it.  But calling this horrific case “BDSM” is like calling rape “sex”.  If Shirley Beck were asked the questions above in the weeks before her death, no doubt her answers would have been “no”.

This case wasn’t about BDSM.  It was about psychopathy, group-think, a cluster of people who brainwashed each other into a culture in which it was okay to beat a disabled woman whose money the house mistress controlled.

Beck had a safeword, yes. She did come to Clarksville in search of a BDSM relationship, of course she did.  Another article in the Leaf-Chronicle reports that she left Illinois, a marriage and a child, because she felt like something “was missing from her life”.

Her housemates said she never used her safeword. The prosecution pointed out that she had socks stuffed in her mouth and was barely conscious for much of the beating.

And there is also this: though a neighbor had reached out and asked if he could take her to a domestic violence shelter a few days before, she had declined that help. Other neighbors stated they felt she was afraid, terrified of the people she lived with, but more terrified to leave them.

In such a state of mind, consent is not possible.

The Leaf Chronicle called a “house slave” the “lowest level in the BDSM community”.  As if there were a single BDSM community that had hierarchical rungs up a ladder, and if you weren’t good enough you would be knocked down to the next-lowest rung.  This implies that disrespect of the slave  is the usual basis of a Mistress/slave relationship.

It isn’t.  In many power exchange relationships, the power goes both ways, exerted by both partners within their roles.  The one who identifies as a “slave” may serve because he or she feels an almost holy vocation to serve others, or finds it very comfortable and natural.

Of course there are as many ways live a BDSM lifestyle as there are people who live it. But how these people expressed their kink that day in June has nothing to do with BDSM. It doesn’t touch the way the kinky people I know live their lives: gently, lovingly, ethically, and creatively.

Was this an injustice? Yes. A tragedy, yes. A beating death. Group violence.  But not BDSM.

This was just pain old murder.

 

*BDSM refers to some part or all of these: Bondage, Discipline, Dominance, Submission, Sadism and Masochism.  For a more involved definition, see the wiki.

 

 

 

On Tinker Toys and Sex Work

Do you remember Tinker Toys? I do. We had a lot of building toys when I was growing up, Tinker Toys, Lincoln Logs, Legos. And every once in a while, they’d get mixed up in our hasty “Oh crap, Mom’s coming!” panic-driven clean up, and the next time you’d go play with Tinker Toys all the colored plastic pieces and fake notched logs would tumble out. Because you’d done it wrong in the first place.

A recent “sex trafficking” bill in Hawaii, heard by the Senate Judiciary Committee this last week, does the same thing that many such bills do:  it conflates human trafficking and sexual slavery with legitimate sex work by adult practitioners in a consensual setting.

Most recent anti-sex work legislation gets it wrong.  When sex work, human trafficking and child enslavement are all thrown into the same box, legislation becomes messy, confusing, and ineffective.

Rights, Not Rescue

An open letter to policy and law makers from the Sex Workers Outreach Project of Seattle addresses this confusion:

Sexual exploitation that involves underage persons or adults subjected to force, fraud, or coercion is a serious violation of human rights; but sex work by individuals who are choosing to sell sexual services and which does not include these elements is not inherently exploitative, and it is not trafficking.

It further points out that policies which confuse “sex trafficking” with adult sex work and policies intended to “end demand” by criminally charging sex work clients (often with felonies) are often based on faulty research that is openly biased.

Adult sex workers do not need to be rescued from their chosen profession.  Many people are in the industry because it is a good living, because they are good at it, because they have an affinity for it, and some because they enjoy it.

Amnesty International calls for making sex work legal, as does the World Health Organization, UNAIDS, International Labour Organization, the Global Alliance Against Trafficking in Women, the Global Network of Sex Work Projects, the Global Commission on HIV and the Law, Human Rights Watch, the Open Society Foundations and Anti-Slavery International.  Such organizations recognize that there is a difference between sex work and slavery.  They advocate decriminalization as a way of “refocussing of laws to tackle acts of exploitation, abuse and trafficking – rather than catch-all offences that only criminalize and endanger sex workers.”

In other words, stop mixing the Lincoln Logs in with the Tinker Toys, and start building something that matters.

 

Tea & Consent

I ran into this video awhile ago and it’s stuck in my mind. It’s the perfect video for explaining consent to someone who just. doesn’t. get it.  If that sounds like someone you know, see if you can share this video with them, and then find out what they think. It could be a life-changing conversation.