Wednesday, August 19, 2015

FDA Approves "Female Viagra"

So remember when I posted this before (re-blogging the whole thing as it's still relevant):

So I have a high sex drive, but—not going to lie—one of my big fears is that one day I won’t (illness and age do strange things sometimes). And I have friends who’ve either lost their libidos and want them back or never had much of one ever and would very much like to, so I am pro-research and testing to find a safe and reliable female Viagra equivalent.  
That said, I do understand that these types of drugs carry heavy burdens. The one you hear most often is the consent issue. Many people are worried that these will be just another date rape drug like roofies. Which, I can see how you got there, but don’t see that being the real consent problem. The consent issue with a drug like this is less likely that it’ll be used as a roofies type drug—rapists who would use a drug to bypass consent really don’t care whether the victim is into what they’re doing. 
The issue is more that, while there are many, many, many women out there who suffer from lowered libidos and very much want a female Viagra-type product, there are many, many, many women out there who have lowered libidos and are perfectly happy with that. When people talk about consent and female sexual stimulants, they’re worried that women who are happy with their current libidos will feel pressured into taking these drugs to appease partners who may have higher sexual drives than they have. 
Just look at the comments section of this video; the black-and-white, rape-or-not ideas on consent blasted on there are…disheartening. There are even more than a few comments about how men with female partners with low libidos are going benefit from these drugs so much, which is an ass-backward way of looking at this. 
Why? Because you would never hear someone say that chemotherapy is going to benefit partners of people with cancer so much. Or that inhalers benefit partners of people with asthma so much. Do they benefit those partners? Sure. But that isn’t the point of the drug. The point is to help the person with the medical issue. And that’s how the issue should be framed. Where the focus of the discussion should lie.
The fact that it too often doesn’t is proof of my point.
And the women who don’t want it aren’t the only ones who will suffer. Especially after reading “Why Do Men Fake It”—a really good book by Abraham Morgentaler, I think both sides of this issue are going to have their own set of issues. 
I definitely think that most medications should only be prescribed after having a good talk with a reputable doctor. And should only be prescribed if and when appropriate. And I do think that we are an overly medicated country that reaches for pills far too often. But, too often too, completely physical problems are treated as emotional ones and, particularly for women, we’re encouraged to talk about it and/or learn to live with it when taking a pill could solve it.
After all, a lot of anti-depressants also lower libidos. As an avid listener of Dan Savage, I’ve heard so many calls from women who took SSRIs to help with their depression but are now depressed because they can’t have sex.
And what I see happening with this drug is that there will be some women who are given it like it’s candy without another thought, whether or not they need it or would even benefit from it, and some women who would benefit from it will be forced to undergo a lot of unnecessary psychological analysis before getting a hold of this drug. All depending on their doctor’s perception of female sexuality. Which makes it less a medical decision as philosophical one. Which isn’t how decisions about anyone’s health should be decided.
Look at how contraceptives and Plan B are distributed in this country. With some people, they’re in and out without a whole lot of understanding about what exactly they’re doing to their body and the side effects and some people have to jump through insane hoops to get a hold of something they really, really, really want and need.
There just has to be a better way.
So much about the way we, as a culture, deal with sexuality—particularly female sexuality—needs a good tune-up, if not and out-and-out overhaul.
What we need is more research and testing for drugs like this, as well as more comprehensive and practical sex education, where people learn how to talk openly and frankly about and stand up for their own personal sexual desires.
Well, that same drug I was talking about then, the FDA just approved it. Despite the fact that it has clear and worrisome side effects, like fainting and wooziness. Despite the fact that it's dramatically more burdensome than its male equivalent; you'd have to take it every day, it doesn't work well with birth control, and it requires you to abstain from other mind-altering drugs, like SSRIs and even alcohol. It's not covered by insurance and would cost up to $75 a month (and remember, for it to be effective, you must take it every day for months or even years to even see an effect). And it's not really all that effective, as the group given the placebo in testing did about as well as the group actually on the drug.

Like I said before, low libido for women is a serious problem that requires serious study to find some serious answers.

This is not our answer. It can't be.

And, even with the argument that this will open the door to more and better answers, how many women will be harmed, seriously harmed, along the way? 

We can't, simply cannot, be content to settle for this drug. If we really want a female equivalent to Viagra, we need to demand better than Addyi.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Dear Unsolicitated Emailer/Commenter:

(Sorry, I’m watching Dear White People and the form is in my head) 

Why are you messaging me about how I’m not as attractive as I think I am?

One, exactly how attractive do I think I am? And how do you know this? Honestly, I don’t know. Growing up in a culture that both idolizes tall, thin, white girls while also fetishizing the fuck out of exotic girls of color it’s been a really confusing struggle to place myself anywhere on the conventional attractiveness scale. The best I’ve come up with is that there are people who find me attractive, people who don’t, and the vast majority of people don’t give a damn. 

And, oddly enough, I’m more or less in that last category. 

I recognize and acknowledge the right for people to find me unattractive. I’m grateful and flattered by the people who do find me attractive—ya know, most of the time, when it’s done respectfully with me, as a human being, in mind. But, really, in the great, grand scheme of things, I. Don’t. Care.

Yes, I post sexy pictures of myself. I’m, most days, comfortable and happy in my own skin. I find the expression of fashion—of clothes and costume and performance—to be a fascinating one, that allows me to literally embody the things that I care about. And, yes, I like the idea of having some say in how I’m presented in this world, where I don’t have to pretend to be—or even pretend to want to be—the pretty, little, white girl or where I can be more than someone’s exotic conquest. I like that, in the photos I put up, I get to be who and what I want to be.

I’m sorry, if that offends you. I’m sorry that being subjected to a darker, heavier, or whatever-er person in whatever state of dress they chose to clothe themselves in upsets you so. But, I promise, the internet is a wide, wide place; it’s not hard to get distracted by something you find shinier. Go find yours and leave me alone.

Two, be very careful about using this metric to measure the worth of a person. It lies to you. I've said it before, because I believe it, there is value in costumes. How we choose to present ourselves to the world, for better or worse, determines how we are perceived by that world. But that doesn't make it right and it certainly doesn't make it true. And, even the most revealing outfit—often the most revealing, look-here-and-not-here onesonly tells you so much and has the possibility of concealing much more.

Besides, if this is the only metric you use, willfully ignoring the rest of a person, good luck finding anyone who wants to be measured that way. None of us are exclusively what we look like; everyone has depths and I've yet to meet a person who enjoys having their surface valued over everything else they have to offer. 

And, even if you found someone who was okay with it, it's likely they'll judge you the same way. Are you okay with that? If you're not okay with it, what right do you have to ask things of others you wouldn't ask of yourself? And, if you are, that makes me sad for you because, even as someone who has looked fairly the same for the past two-and-a-half decades, I know that looks fade and time and age comes for us all. I hope when it comes for you, you're ready. 

Three, in what way is this a valid argument to use when debating anything but my looks? Don’t like my opinions on sex, on kink, on feminism, on diversity, on geekdom, on writing, on whatever? Fine. You do not have to. And, please, I’m a girl who very much likes debate; come talk to me about it. Debate with me. Stand up for what you believe in and see how it stacks up next to opposition. I truly believe that this is how we, as a species, best learn from each other. 

But the minute you start an argument, end an argument, or otherwise in any way invoke my looks on a topic whose merit is in no way related to those looks, understand that, in my eyes, you have just lost your argument. Because doing so is the mark of a person with no reason or conviction behind their beliefs. And I have nothing to learn from you and you are, in this moment, incapable of and unwilling to learning from me. Come back when you have something of value to add.

Because I really have no idea what you got out of your message and I know that I got absolutely nothing from it.

You know, besides a good rant at your expense.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Twisted Heroes: DC's Gods & Monsters

So I’ve mentioned it before that I love superhero stories. I’m absolutely in love with the Marvel movies and TV shows, but my heart will always truly belong to the DC animated cartoons. As a kid growing up in the 90s, I was utterly enamored with Bruce Timm’s Batman and Superman animated series. I remember coming home from school and spending afternoons and waking up early on Saturday mornings just to watch the world being saved over and over again by my favorite heroes. There was something exciting yet comforting about it.

Then as I grew up, so did my heroes with the Justice League and the Justice League Unlimited and the Young Justice series and with the many, many movies like “The Mask of the Phantasm,” “Return of the Joker,” “Doomsday,” and “Under the Red Hood.” And I got to see my heroes struggle. My heroes, who had seemed so infallible as a child began to show cracks and flaws, began to explore the moral gray ground that I knew my real world inhabited. I became privy to the more human sides of my superhuman heroes, which was fascinating.

And, to this day, I still love DC’s animated work. I think the style of art is beautiful and fun. I think many of the stories are still fun to watch. And the fight scenes are amazing!

But, as I grew up further—particularly as a storyteller—the less, well, marveled by DC’s work I seemed. Like how their obvious favoritism toward Batman often makes plots feel unbelievable; I’m a big fan of Sherlockian genius, but Batman is just a man yet he deus ex machinas more than anyone else in the Justice League, often to ridiculous and illogical degrees, like in “Superman/Batman: Apocalypse.” Or how the problem of having an obscenely superpowered boy scout like Superman, whose moral compass rarely points anywhere but directly north, almost predictably means that the bad guys are going to try to brain-wash or possess him into being their vehicle of evil. Or how, despite having a plethora of amazing and interesting female characters—in the League (Wonder Woman, Huntress, Supergirl, Black Canary, etc.), in the rogues gallery (Poison Ivy, Catwoman, Harley Quinn, Granny Goodness, Star Sapphire, etc.), and just out in their wider world (Lois Lane, Amanda Waller, Max Gibson, etc.)—they’re too often treated more like overly emotional, high-tempered, reckless sidekicks, screw-ups, or eye candy rather than real, plot-moving characters. More plot devices than actual plot developers.

And I think these points can be seen in their latest animated film, “Gods and Monsters,” as well as their online “Chronicles” series done as teasers to the film.

Again, don’t get me wrong, I still thoroughly enjoyed them, but a part of me wishes that this team of animators, that does such great work, would find people to refine their stories just a bit more. To take them to that next level.

Let’s take for example the film’s new monstrous version of Batman. Kirk Langstrom (originally Man-Bat in the series) is clearly the most developed, most sympathetic character of the three. Aptly (if not amazingly) played by the actor famous for bringing serial-killer-cum-do-gooder Dexter Morgan to life, Kirk is a man dying of cancer who, through playing around with science best left alone, turns himself into a blood-sucking vampire. Choosing to make the best out of a bad situation, much like Dexter, Kirk directs his affliction toward cleaning up the mess of criminals, feeding off of dregs of society whom, he figures, deserves it.

His was the first teaser to come out online and it perfectly setup what this film was going to be. I love that it took one of Batman’s most beloved characters, Harley Quinn, and let her be part of this world’s big-reveal twist. She was a great way to make this feel familiar and strange at the same time.

The short starts off in much the way most Batman stories start. Cloaked in the night lights of Gotham, Batman stalks around in a creepy Joker-esque lair, filled with large Jack-in-the-box cages and fridges filled with grape-flavored soda and body parts (a delightful nod to the Dexter series).

Even Harley herself starts off very familiar before twisting into something new. The short keeps Harley’s very disturbed sense of humor and regressed childishness, while very much upping the mature-content ante. I also loved that, from the grape “soder” in the fridge (a nod to Superman’s Bibbo Bibbowski) to Harley’s desire to create her own family, even if she has to steal and Frankenstein it together, from “The Return of the Joker,” this short took bits and pieces from its Kids’ WB past and wove them seamlessly into this incredibly adult story, creating a kind of whimsically unsettling magic. She may hold many recognizable elements, but this is clearly not your Saturday morning’s Harle.

Which makes the short a perfect setup Batman’s vampiric twist. Harley, crazy and regressed as she often is, is smart. I don’t think she’s actually criminally insane, not by our court’s standards anyway. When she’s done well, she knows exactly what she’s doing when she does it. Always. It’s part of what makes her such a good villain; unlike many of Batman’s other villains—including her love interest, Joker—she walks into evil with her eyes open. Every time. She’s no result of some freak chemical accident or great tragic mental break; she is an example of humanity’s innate desire to revel in that which we know we shouldn’t. To make bad decisions and feel good about it. For all her playfulness and levity, what makes Harley so interesting is that everything she does is by informed choice. She’s not stupid or misled. She’s a smart and calculated person choosing to joyfully play the fool. She’s studied and understands human behavior, expertly manipulating and playing in that space. She knows exactly how the game and all its players work.

That’s what makes this short fascinating. Harley knows how her Batman works. She commits crimes, he catches her, she gets locked up in Arkham, and Gotham’s revolving-door justice system lets her out, intentionally or not, to let her start the whole cycle over, again and again. She knows that these are the rules to the game; she is so sure of it.

Right up until the moment it doesn’t work the way she expects.

That first bite perfectly sets up this world as playing just within but ultimately against those established, expected rules; I can’t think of a better way to do so.

But if I could have added one thing to the short, it would have been a line reminiscent of her “Don’t you knock before entering a lady’s boudoir?” from “Harlequinade.” Personally, I don’t understand DC’s attempts to sex-up Harley. To me, there is nothing sexier than her iconic, form-fitting harlequin outfit; everything else is just a derivative copy (including my own, I know, I know). I find it so unnecessary to dress her up in kinky nurse outfits or lingerie. And, if one is going to do so, at least make it serve a point, like in “Mad Love” when she dons lingerie to tempt the Joker. And it wasn’t even that far of a stretch to have her in her underwear in this short; she is at home and wasn’t necessarily expecting guests. Why not acknowledge it, crack a joke about it, instead of kinda making it seem like a bustier, panties, and barely held-together stockings are her normal everyday crime-wear? She’s crazy, sure, but it’s just impractical to go running around the streets of Gotham in that. I’m all for making her sexy—she undeniably and, again, joyfully is—but she could have been sexy and funny, which fits her so much better.

But, like I said, whatever she’s wearing, at least Harley got to be more than just eye-candy or a prop. The film’s main female character in the Batman story arc, Tina, is just that: a pretty prop meant to manufacture motivation for Kirk and the movie’s ultimate villain, his old college roommate, Will Magnus. Tina hardly speaks. She has little to no characterization or backstory, particularly independent of the men in her life—hell, we don’t even know what she was studying while she was in school with them. We also oddly don’t know exactly why she’s dating Magnus who is, from the start, a complete, misogynistic, consent-violating, manipulative, jealous, ungrateful jackass who isn’t even remotely sympathetic or concerned for his dying friend; why is she with him, when the movie practically hits the viewer over the head with the fact that she ought to be and would likely rather be with Kirk (though, even with Kirk, I don’t really understand the appeal; he doesn’t really have many endearing qualities and we never really get to find out much about their relationship to each other, other than that they have one)?

Except, there goes our entire plot, if her dating choices made any sense at all.

And, to be fair, it could be seen as hypocritical of me to love Harley Quinn so much, despite her horrifically abusive relationship with Joker, yet hate on Tina so much. Except, when done right, DC explains Harley’s attraction and deeply held love for the Joker very well. As someone who grew up with abuse, who intimately knows what it’s like to love someone logic tells you you shouldn’t…Harley feels like, yes, a cartoonish and hyperbolic yet deeply relatable peek into this kind of relationship. He charmingly and often disarmingly grooms and romances her. He monstrously balances his disregard and abuse of her with tenderness and what often feels like genuine affection and caring. It’s confusing and crazy and overwhelming. You see how horribly he treats her and you know that she should walk away. Yet, just as often, you see them together during the good times and know they were made for each other. It isn’t—not in any way—ideal or healthy, but it’s earned. It’s developed. You might never make Harley’s same decisions, but you never wonder why she makes them.

Yet, with Tina—whose existence and story progression is the linchpin of the film’s plot—you cannot say the same.

Like I said, Kirk’s characterization felt the most fleshed-out and developed. I love that they focused on Batman’s desire for family and connection and how often that ends in tragedy for him. Loss of family and creating one’s own family—and often losing that made-family as well—is always at the heart of the Batman story and it belonged in this twisted version as well.  Your heart aches when he says, “I’ve only loved two people in my life. And they’re both gone,” to Magnus. To be so betrayed by someone he loved and whom he thought loved him back is so powerful and calls back to other stories where DC’s done this so well, like “The Return of the Joker” and “Under the Red Hood” or even with characters like Harvey Dent or even Nightwing in the animated cartoon.

Like I said, it’s done well, but could have been done so much better by making Tina as important in this trio as Kirk or Magnus. The way she ought to have been.

I had much the same feeling for Wonder Woman, the female protagonist of the film, as well. While I can appreciate the fact that they made her a sexually open, very sex-positive female, like I’ve said before, it’s not enough to make her that and only that. And, yes, Wonder Woman is strong in this film—fifty times stronger than Steve Trevor—and she gets some of the best and most interesting to watch fight scenes, but that’s abilities, not characterization. It’s what she can do, not who she is.

I can appreciate that DC tried to make her a strong, independent, sexually liberated female character, but I don’t actually think that this Wonder Woman felt all that empowering. Yes, she’s powerful and, yes, she says some of the right things (e.g. “I belong to no man,” etc.) but she ends up falling really flat.

I think the main reason for that is because she really doesn’t get much in the way of real motivations. Fight the bad guy, win the fight, get the guy, and that’s really it. I mean, Batman is trying to find a cure for himself. Superman is trying to figure out his past. And Wonder Woman is...trying to get laid?

Even her backstory just doesn’t feel realistic. For one, she falls for a guy she just met two second ago who ends up dying because of a family feud on a planet that isn’t even remotely hers. Making her essentially a superpowered Juliet. It’s just not that interesting and certainly doesn’t feel empowering or logical for her character.

And I’ve heard the argument that, because she was basically used as a sexual pawn in a war on her home planet, her overt sexuality and attempts at sexual manipulation—which are never actually seen to work, by the way—could be her way of reclaiming that part of herself that other people tried to exploit. I don’t buy it. Like I said, it doesn’t seem to actually work. Other than some mildly ribald jokes—often made in a very judgmental, slut-shaming way—nothing actually comes from her sexual relationship with Trevor. She doesn’t really seem to get any less grief than her male counterparts from the public, the government, or even from Trevor himself. She never gets actionable intel. She never gets leeway or privileges. Hell, she doesn’t even seem to get an actual, functional, or even all that enjoyable—much less lasting—relationship out of the sex. Mostly, she gets unreasonable and grotesquely territorial jealousy from Trevor and eye-rolling judgement from her teammates. That’s supposed to be empowering?

And I suppose there’s also an argument to be made that she’s on a redemption journey and is trying to do good because she’d done bad back on her world by betraying her interstellar Romeo, but there really didn’t feel like there was enough of that in the actual film either.

And there was opportunity to put more of that in the film. Diana almost always serves as an ambassador between her world and ours; she is the bridge that preserves and protects both. Yet, Bekka is disgraced and essentially exiled from her home world and is determined to hide her past from her adopted world. I would have loved, in the sparring scene between Trevor and Bekka, to have a moment where he questions her more significant, non-sexual intentions. If, after the fight, he turns to her and asks, “Why are you here, Bekka? I mean, why did you choose this planet, of all the planets in the universe, to run to? Are you really here to help? Or just to hide?”

They could also have had a moment when Batman mentions that, since her arrival, humans have been trying to copy her technology; that could have been a moment of self-reflection for her about her effect on her new, adopted home and her ability to be the hero she wants to be. Is she making a difference and is it a difference worth making?

And, if they’d taken more time to acknowledge that Magnus stole her tech, that could have made for interesting fight banter between Platinum and Bekka. With the idea that, for better or for worse, Platinum exists because of Bekka. Especially, if there maybe might have been a little bit of Tina left in Platinum—which there seemed to be in previous scenes—because here is this other woman who’s being used and twisted by another man who thinks he owns her.

They could have used these moments to take the two most plot-driving female characters and actually do anything with them that felt at all meaningful and impactful and at all on the same level as their male counterparts. All in all, Wonder Woman wasn’t a bad start to a character; they just focused on the wrong things which left her woefully under-developed.

Which they also did with Superman, who was my favorite character in this film, just not nearly as severely. Full-disclosure, Superman is my favorite classic superhero. There is something about his story—as it was told over the airways in the nineties—that just spoke to me. In much the same way I said that shapeshifter stories often make great symbolism for multicultural, first generation Americans, so does Superman. There’s something powerful in the idea that earth’s—and more specifically, America’s—greatest hero is an alien from another planet who rarely feels like he fully belongs in or to either world.

This film takes that idea to its logical conclusion.

Sort of.


Too often, the film sells Superman’s twist as the fact that Zod is his biological father and not Jor-El. Which admittedly is a big twist. In many ways, this robs Superman of his Kryptonian identity, his legacy, as Kal-El. He also doesn’t discover his history in the traditional way, when he’s a teenager in Smallville with his safe and well-adjusted Kent family. Instead, he grows up into a man without ever knowing what his powers mean or what they were intended for, when his birth parents launched that pod off into space, only learning an edited and censored-to-the-point-of-fabrication version from Lex Luthor. This definitely changes and shapes him.

But DC gave him one more twist that I think is far more fascinating. They not only stole Kal-El from him, but they stole Clark Kent from him. Instead of the Kents finding him and adopting him, he was rescued by illegal immigrants crossing the border into the US.

This, for me, is where his story should have been. This is what turned him. So much of what makes Clark, and by extension Superman, a boy scout who follows and firmly believes in the government, justice system, and promise of America is his upbringing with the Kents. He grows up with the traditional, All-American childhood and all that entails. He doesn’t even know anything is all that strange or unique about him until he’s in his teens.

But, by changing this—more than changing his genetics (especially since Superman only gets a pre-packaged, sugar-coated, Luther-approved version of his origin story, without knowing until well into the film his father’s true nature)—the film changes the essence of what it means to be Superman.

And I wish the film had gone more in-depth about those changes. We hear that he had a tough life; I want to know about that life. Presumably, that feeling of being alien and other and, likely too often, unwanted and othered must have hung over him as he grew up. Suddenly, the America that had stood for freedom and justice and promise for Clark must have looked far different to this Superman. Suddenly, the rules that Clark was taught build up and hold together the fabric of our society are the very same laws and restrictions that would have marginalized and often endangered this Superman.

And, without Clark to lean on for an identity outside of and safe from that sense of otherness, this Superman has far less of a connection to humanity in general. One of my favorite Superman quotes is from the episode “The Late Mr. Kent.” After someone tries to kill the intrepid reporter, which leads to the obviously false report of Clark’s death, Superman is forced to retreat to Smallville to ask his parents for advice while lamenting the loss of, if not his literal life, his life as he knows it, telling them “I am Clark Kent; I’d go crazy if I had to be Superman all the time.”

And this Superman does. And, while bothered by it, he just doesn’t seem bothered enough. Take his short; in many ways it also doesn’t seem that far off from a traditional Superman story. The world is in peril and we need Superman. At the very last minute, he swoops in to save the day.

Yet we watch him calmly walk past a bus of people crying out for help without even a second-glance much less any kind of reassurance. Once he penetrates the danger’s energy field, he sees a small, crying, terrified child Brainiac, who is clearly more terrified of himself than he is of even Superman. And, while not cruel, this Superman is suspiciously cold in his treatment of a child in so much fear and pain, who never asked to be made into a monster meant to kill a god. It feels efficient. He perfunctorily, almost obligatorily, goes through platitudes about controlling one’s own powers. But, when he sees that’s not going to work, he quickly and without much emotion informs the child that, in order to stop his out-of-control powers, he’s going to kill him. And then he does.

And, while there is regret and maybe even remorse on his face afterward, there is resignation also. This is the way of his world and, as he says in the film, “I’ve seen the harshness in life. If I deliver justice with a heavy hand, it’s because I’ve been on the receiving end.” This Superman rarely experienced softness and it’s difficult to be that hard and also be the kind of hero we like to celebrate.

This short reminds me of the JL:U episode “Epilogue.” In that episode, Batman is sent in to deal with Ace, a superpowered girl whose powers are causing chaos and distorting reality. He’s sent in with orders to eliminate the threat before she can do more damage. Instead, he calmly sits by her side and waits with her until she dies so she doesn’t have to be alone in her final moments. It’s that compassion that spurs Amanda Waller to start Project Batman Beyond because, after witnessing that act of mercy and humanity, she didn’t want to live in a world without a Batman.

And it’s that difference that makes the short seem so disturbing to me. Ultimately, they are the same basic plot—they even share the same main player, Amanda Waller. And, despite the fact that at the end of both the world is saved, one feels heroic, while the other…just doesn’t.

It’s made doubly more off-putting in the way Superman kills Brainiac. He lobotomizes him. It’s the exact same type of execution that the Justice Lord version of Superman uses to kill Lex Luthor and Doomsday, which incites so much of the conspiracies and chaos of JL:U’s first season. It’s an act that so separates the Superman we grew up with and his less compassionate, more villainous version.

If Batman’s short setup this world well, this short cemented it. We are not in Kansas anymore. And that is an interesting twist because, for an extremely powerful, godlike being like Superman, the world can’t afford to have him see himself as not human. It puts the systematic othering we often place on the backs of immigrants, legal and otherwise, into interesting perspective.

Another aspect of his character I found fascinating is his relationship to Lois. So much of their stories are inextricably intertwined. She’s almost always Superman’s first interviewer. She almost always names him. She’s often his conscience and hope in humanity.

But, in this twisted version, they hate each other.

I wish there had been more of their history. Maybe she did idolize him at the start; she’d better have been the one to name him. It would have added an interesting layer to their relationship. To have a moment when she looks at him with such contemptuous disappointment. Like in the “Brave New World” episode, she could tell him how she’d had such high hopes for him, but “look at you now.”

To which, I could see this incarnation of the caped crusader responding, “I am what your kind made me.” After all, when we treat people as less than human, how humanely can we really expect them to act in return?

I know that it might sound like I didn't enjoy the movie or that I hate DC or that I think they’re bad storytellers. Nothing could be further from the truth. Superhero and superhuman stories are often so powerful, DC’s more so than most. These kinds of stories resonate so much with the cultures that created them. This is why, when we talk about Ancient Greece, we talk as much about their mythology as we do their historical figures. Like I’ve said before, these kinds of stories, by magnifying and intensifying aspects of human nature, allow us to more easily and more extensively explore that nature. They urge us to be introspective. To ask ourselves what makes us us. They ask us to be better and to strive for more.

And, as an avid fan of them, I think it’s a sign of great admiration to ask them to do the same.

It's a Consent Issue: Separating Sex Work from Human Trafficking

I know I’m coming into the conversation a little late, but it’s one we need to keep having. Headlines were made when the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW) recruited a bunch of actresses and celebrities to sign a petition against Amnesty International’s intention to endorse the decriminalization of sex work, claiming that “it will support a ‘system of gender apartheid’ where ‘one category of women may gain protection from sexual violence and sexual harassment,’ but those who are forced against their will into the sex trade are ‘set apart for consumption by men.’ ”

However, Amnesty International decided to go ahead with their proposal, stating that “Sex workers are one of the most marginalized groups in the world who in most instances face constant risk of discrimination, violence and abuse. Our global movement paved the way for adopting a policy for the protection of the human rights of sex workers which will help shape Amnesty International’s future work on this important issue.” After studying the issue and talking to actual sex workers, they state “The violations that sex workers can be exposed to include physical and sexual violence, arbitrary arrest and detention, extortion and harassment, human trafficking, forced HIV testing and medical interventions. They can also be excluded from health care and housing services and other social and legal protection.” I, like Lacy in the video says, am no expert, but seems to me that, if you want to protect marginalized people in the sex work industry, everything we’ve seen seems to point to decriminalization.

But isn’t prostitution inherently bad? It’s selling sex, selling your body; how can we say that’s anything but immoral and criminal?

First, we ought to ask ourselves why we think it’s so wrong? What is so criminal about it? What makes the act of exchanging money for sexual service all that different from any other service industry?

The Sex

The most common answer is that the act of sex makes it different. That there’s something about the sex act—the intimacy or sacredness of it—that makes this different than, say, a waiter who serves you food in exchange for a wage or a doctor or therapist who takes a fee for treating your illness or a church who asks for donations in order to keep its doors open. It puts sex on some kind of moral pedestal that thinks exchanging money for it taints it in ways we don’t associate with all the many, many other services we already provide for financial compensation. It’s the same rationale—that sex is some sacred thing solely reserved for sacramentally-specific times with sacramentally-approved people in sacramentally-sanctioned relationships—that prioritizes virginity, particularly in in women, and is willing to shame them, sometimes to death, for violating that sacred prize and that believes that sex outside of a narrow set of some arbitrary person’s standards of sacredness—straight, vanilla, procreative, wedded, what-have-you—is wrong.

And, as an extension of this same argument, there are those who assume that no one would ever want to make a living by having unsatisfying, obligatory sex with desperate, pathetic, or predatory men. Or, on the flip side, claims that no one ought to buy sex from diseased, damaged, desperate, coerced women with no other choices or skills. 


One, not everyone who engages sex workers are desperate, pathetic, predatory, or men. And not every sex worker has an STI, past trauma, or debilitating condition or is under duress, under-privileged, under-skilled, or a woman. There is no one definitive sex work experience; it can be unsatisfying and obligatory, but it can also be rewarding, intimate, and fulfilling. For both parties. It can involve intercourse or not. It can be a one-time thing or a sustained relationship between worker and client. It can mean the end and betrayal of a marital relationship, but it can also save and sustain others. Stereotypes, by definition, cannot encapsulate the full experience of a person or a profession and our laws shouldn’t be based on them.

Two, by giving sex workers more rights and power over their own livelihoods, they have more opportunity to select their own clients based on their own standards. And, by bringing it out of the shadows, clients can better find workers who provide the kinds of services they want to the standards they’re looking for. And, by decriminalizing it, it provides a plethora of other protections for both workers and clients that would be otherwise unavailable.

And, three, whether or not you can imagine anyone wanting to do so, or whether you approve of it or not, has no bearing on the issue. There are people who do want to do this; your desire not to is never infringed by allowing them the freedom. Decriminalizing consensual sex work in no way forces or even encourages people who don’t want to do this to engage in sex work. In fact, the opposite is true. And, in the same way legalizing gay marriage in no way affects straight marriages or in the same way people consensually enjoying kinky sex in no way impacts or impedes other people from consensually enjoying vanilla sex, allowing people who want to engage in sex work in no way affects people who do not want to engage in it. And, if it doesn’t affect those people, those people’s opinions on it shouldn’t matter.

Sex is great. I love sex. Sex, in all its many varied forms, is one of my favorite things to think about and do. It’s great, but let’s not make it more than what it is. It is in no way intrinsically morally significant. There is nothing about it that inherently makes it morally better or worse, or morally more important or less important, than any other act.

Consent is a moral issue—obtaining and prioritizing it in everything we do is one of the most important moral issues—the actual act of sex isn’t.

So long as informed consent is always present and no actual damage is done during the act—just as it ought to be in every act, sexual or not—we need to stop seeing sex as a judge-able moral offense. And that includes offering it—again, in its many varied forms—as a service. The sexual nature of it shouldn’t justify all the extra moral baggage and outrage that it too often does. After all, "If you don't respect my yes, how can you respect my no?" Knowing what we know, cross-culturally and historically, about human sexuality, we should know better by now.

Especially some of the people from whom so much of the ire is coming from.

Too many feminist voices claim that sex work—even completely consensual sex work—is always and already degrading to women. That it always and already treats women as commodity to be bought, sold, and used. That it always and already reduces them to mere bodies to be taken advantage of by men. Which I can see your point, if you believe that sex, for some reason, has some intrinsic value in women that makes the consensual financial exchange of it a moral ill. If you believe that, because of the value you place on it, you deserve the right to decide how other people consensually engage in it. If you believe that your beliefs and opinions matter more than that of the very women you claim to want to protect. If you believe that advocating your beliefs—that are not supported by facts or statistics but are rather misapplied and over-reaching extensions of philosophies and ideologies—should mean “arresting, fining and jailing people over consensual sex.”

Because that’s what’s happening. These people have unilaterally taken consenting women and "claimed her body as a crime scene."

Which is what made the letter from CATW and all the activists and celebrities who signed it so offensive. I’m sure that, like all the other people who take this position, “the celebrities opposing Amnesty International ‘probably have good intentions,’ they’re far too quick to pat themselves on the back.” Instead of actually looking at facts or asking the people most involved, they make assumptions, often based in prejudice and ignorance. “Look, they’re misinformed, they’re parroting back what they’ve been told to say, as actors do, and they got their names in the headlines, as actors like.”

Believing something about other people’s experiences doesn’t make it true. And it hardly makes any of those celebrities authorities on those experiences and it really doesn’t give any of them the right to put other people’s fates in their hands. “The fact that celebrities who have no stake in this and will not be impacted by it are getting the largest voice is frustrating and, frankly, dehumanizing. Weighing in on a situation that doesn’t impact your life is absolutely going to be harmful because it’s saying the people who are impacted don’t deserve to speak and your voice is more important.” They can believe what they want but, if no one’s being harmed and no one’s consent is being violated, where’s the crime? What right does anyone have to intervene?

The Risks

Well, what about the inherent dangers involved in sex work? Doesn’t that make a difference? Doesn’t that make protecting the women in the industry—from the industry—more of a priority?

Except, one, we would never use that argument to keep people—particularly women—from working in law enforcement, firefighting, the military, science, or really almost any employment, since most carry some amount risk. Not anymore. Again, we know should know better by now. “There are all sorts of institutions, and all sorts of legal employers, that harm women but there no other jobs that we point to say, ‘The women doing that job have to be arrested—and arresting them is rescuing them!’ ”

The attempts to “protect women” by criminalizing sex work have failed miserably to actually protect women. Sex work has existed for a very long time in human history, at least since Ancient Greece; it’s not going anywhere. And trying to pretend like it will because of disapproval is not only willful folly, it’s harmful. “This modern debate has roots in Victorian England, which branded prostitutes as wicked, depraved and a public nuisance. Yet a shift in social thought throughout the era introduced the prostitute as a victim, often lured or forced into sexual slavery by immoral men.” The concern is too often veiled prejudice. “Everybody thinks they’re helping us. They never stop to talk to us […] They just want to make it disappear.”

Most often, when you hear people talking about this debate, you hear the argument that, while there are people who engage in sex work consensually, there are those who are forced into it through sex trafficking, “pointing out an increase in human trafficking and arguing that many women are forced into sex work.” And that any law that protects the people who consensually engage in sex work would devastatingly harm those who are coerced into it, since it’s often hard to discern between the two.

But the statistics simply don’t back this up.

But, for the sake of argument, even if it’s hard to distinguish the two at first glance, shouldn’t we make the effort to? As I said in my post about abuse and BDSM, we already do this for other things. There is a difference between consensually selling your own property and selling property that isn’t yours. We have language and laws that distinguish the two, labeling one commerce and the other fencing. There is a difference between having someone consensually work a job and forcing someone into labor. Our laws call that the difference between employment and slavery. We know the difference between these things, adding sex into the mix doesn’t change definitions.

A person consensually selling sex as a service ought to be seen as legitimate and lawful work.

Selling an unwilling person to provide a service that happens to be sex ought to be seen for what it is: human trafficking in sex slaves.

It really cannot be beyond our judicial or law enforcement systems to be able to detect the difference. And, if for some reason, it currently is, isn’t that something worth changing? After all, “there would be a lot more resources to devote if we left consenting adults to exchange money for sex in peace.” And wouldn’t the world as a whole be better if our police and courts could identify consent better? If they took the time and effort to take consent into account better? After all, “There are also bad and abusive husbands and boyfriends but we don’t outlaw marriage. There are bad abusive bosses in non-sex work jobs”, but we don’t assume all employers are exploitative simply because they could be.

Assumptions like that would be illogical, ridiculous, and would cause more problems than they would solve. And keeping all sex work illegal is doing the same, hurting people the laws purport to protect. For one, “A glaring issue that Dunham, Winslet, and Co. also may not understand about the life of a sex worker is that once he or she is arrested, it is dramatically harder, if not impossible, to find a job outside of the sex trade.” If there was less of a stigma over it, that wouldn’t have to be true. If we didn’t automatically assume that sex work is an obvious evil, something we necessarily always need to save people from, we could stop, look closer, and pay better attention to the people who actually need help and those who should be left alone.

That can’t be what we want for these people.

But that’s what we have been doing. These are the choices we’ve left them. People like CATW “go home at night thinking they did something good and we’re cleaning up the bloodshed. We’re the ones trying to keep ourselves alive.”

The Swedish Model

But, beyond that, it just doesn’t work. “You can’t decriminalize half of an economic transaction.” Sure, it works if your concern is removing sex work from the public eye. But the workers? You don’t get rid of the demand by cracking down on prostitution; you just push those would would supply the service into the shadows where their clients have gone to hide from the law. Leaving them with less options, less safety, and less recourse if things go wrong. “People who oppose sex work that are fond of saying that people only do sex work if they have no other way to survive. I would say to them, If this is someone’s only way to survive... how are you being kind to them by taking that away from them? How does that help? Do you want them to die? I understand that sex work is not always everyone’s first choice of employment. But if it is someone’s only option, arresting them for exercising that option is senseless.”

The fact is the statistics speak for themselves. Like the fact that “sex workers in Germany have the right to demand proper work conditions and work safety guidelines.” And “Research has shown incidences of rape to decrease with the availability of prostitution. One recent study of data from Rhode Island—where a loophole allowed legal indoor prostitution in 2003-2009—found the state’s rape rate declined significantly over this period, especially in urban areas. (The gonorrhea rate also went down.)” And “In New Zealand, street prostitution, escort services, pimping and brothels were decriminalized in 2003, and so far sex workers and the New Zealand government have raved about the arrangement. A government review in 2008 found the overall number of sex workers had not gone up since prostitution became legal, nor had instances of illegal sex-trafficking. The most significant change was sex workers enjoying safer and better working conditions. Researchers also found high levels of condom use and a very low rate of HIV among New Zealand sex workers.”

 Here's another great video talking about the unexpected benefits of decriminalizing sex work:

CATW wants to protect women from sex work without actually taking what those women—these people—want or what they’re going through into consideration. As I said, this is a consent issue. And, for all their good intentions, CATW doesn’t care about sex workers or their consent. They care about their own issues and efforts, content to see these women as victims—as a cause and a crusade—instead of as people with their own concerns and ideas for how to improve their lives. 

Watch this video to hear Amnesty International's position from them:

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Looks like "No Fappers" are Trying a Different Tact

Someone linked this to me today. And I have to say, I'm not a hateful person, but I fucking HATE No Fappers. I've talked about this. A lot.

If the constant stream of elected officials who get caught acting against their so-called better morals--meaning of course, the morals they expect everyone else to live by, just not themselves--have taught us anything, it's that anyone who tries to act like an authority on the morality of or tries to police someone else's sexuality likely has the deepest, most unethical closet of shame-riddled sex secrets ever.

I'm willing to bet whomever made this video, like the recent studies are finding, is crippled by how much they're secretly turned on by the things they rail against.

This video is horribly sex-negative, kink-negative, and slut-shaming trying to pretend that it's sex-positive and enlightened. 

"Don't eliminate porn, just police the hell out of it and limit it to a very specific audience that excludes the vast majority of people." 

Don't like the porn out there today; that's fine, go look for porn you do like or, if you can't, make you own. Don't judge people for what they like.

You want to actually help the porn industry, try concentrating less on content and concerning yourself over the treatment of the people in the industry. Make sure that performers, writers, crew workers, etc. get paid fair wages and are there not out of any kind of duress, financial or otherwise. Seek to de-stigmatize how the culture views performers as well as others involved in the industry. Promote people who do educational and ethical porn.

There are tons of ways to help "make porn better;" wagging your finger at people through a youtube video for being into puppy play really isn't one of them. There is no one right way to have or enjoy sex and thinking that your way is the only "true" way is narcissistic, entitled, delusional, and bigoted as hell.

Lastly, all your historical "facts" are blatant lies. Read Greek mythology! You really want to make the argument that they put sex--particularly fictional, pornographic sex--on some kind of moralistic, lovey-dovey pedestal? Google "Zeus" for me; I just want to see your small-minded, cherry-picking mind explode.

Monday, August 3, 2015

"I am an adult. Being strapped down doesn’t change that."

I've talked before about personal responsibility and how it's often misrepresented in BDSM relationships, particularly ones that involve intense power dynamics and/or risks.

I just wanted to share this take on it as well, since it was so beautifully written:
"I am an adult. Being strapped down doesn’t change that. It is literally my ass on the line , and I believe this is true of anyone who submits or bottoms. It is ALWAYS your ass on the line, every scene, every relationship. If you think that because you’re bottoming this is not so, I strongly recommend you step back for a while.
This calculated risk though is not unique to our play. So much of our lives involves calculating risks, and doing things anyway. All things can be dangerous. When we drive to work, we’re consenting to possibly getting in an accident. Eating at that sketchy food cart because it smells good and it’s cheap. Riding horses, taking medications, getting into and jumping out of airplanes, going sailing. If we want to be perfectly safe all the time, we need to stay in our homes and never leave. Our lives are precious and short and we want to have them as long as we can. But living them, in spite of the risks is so important. That’s one of the things I love most about BDSM. After a hard scene, scary or painful, I feel so alive, so present, so grateful to be here and breathing. It reminds me that I AM alive and that my body is a wonderful gift that I should use instead of just saving in case it breaks." 

I definitely recommend reading the full piece.

As well as this one, that talks about how we need to better discuss the active choice being made when a person chooses to submit to another person. It's not something that happens by accident. It's not something that happens because it's inevitable. It's, for better or for worse (though I optimistically hope it's for the better), a conscious and hopefully well thought out choice. "I’ve never actually met a single submissive man for whom submission means that they will submit to random women, people they don’t know, the checkout operator at the supermarket, that stranger in the gas station, those people at work, that lady driving past, the neighbour next door, ANYONE. It’s patently stupid."

Top, bottom, switch, or otherwise, we all make our choices because we are adults. If you believe this to be untrue, please examine why you believe that. Because, whatever your intention behind it, misguided protection or bid for some kind of high ground, ask yourself if maybe underneath all the intentions there might be prejudice that thinks, like children in need of outside guidance or interference, we don't deserve our chance to choose.