Category Archives: gender & sexuality

mapping sex in America

Ever have an amazing sexual experience? A night that has become a memory in your head that will always bring you smiles? Or interested in the sexual lives of others?

The Museum of Sex has decided to map the stories of people’s sexual lives. Just click on a state and add your story. And then wander around and read the adventures of others (definitely check out NYC). It’s fascinating to see what people attest to in different parts of the country. (And yes, it seems as though people have sex everywhere!)

(tx benchun)

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my queer dyke cunt

I officially feel like an angry dyke because the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has deemed my identity “vulgar.” In denying “Dykes on Bikes” a trademark, the attorney decided that ‘dyke’ is offensive, scandalous and vulgar. I love how people in power are allowed to regulate the self-identification of marginalized populations. Don’t they realize that we’ve spent generations trying to take back the terms that they have used to oppress us? These are *their* terms and we’ve reclaimed them. Now they’re ours. And since they are now ours, they can oppress by regulating them. Brilliant, absolutely brilliant.

Update: i’m an idiot and forgot to thank Jason Schultz for keeping me abreast of all this. And bless him for being willing to go to bat for us crazy dykes.

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Lessig working to end child abuse

As head boy at a legendary choir school, Lawrence Lessig was repeatedly molested by the charismatic choir director, part of a horrific pattern of child abuse there. Now, as one of America’s most famous lawyers, he’s put his own past on trial to make sure such a thing never happens again. — New York Metro

Pedophile inclinations result from an illness, but execution of those desires constitutes rape. And rape is always an abuse of power for which society must do everything in its power to eliminate.

Thank you Larry for having the strength to come forward with your story and use your privilege to put an end to this.

Ni una mas.

Perpetuating Intolerance: Microsoft and LGBTQ issues

I was horrified when i heard that Microsoft withdrew support for an anti-gay-discrimination bill. At first, i didn’t believe it. I always thought of Microsoft as being super queer friendly. They had won awards for civil rights issues; many of my friends at Microsoft are LGBTQ-identified. Only a few years ago, when i was thinking of going back to industry, Microsoft had done an amazing job of recruitment, involving my girlfriend in the process (and in a trip to a spa), introducing me to other LGBTQ employees and giving me a nice queer guide to Seattle upon arrival. I was exceptionally impressed.

As i dove deeper, i became outright angry and horrified. The justification offered to the LGBTQ group at Microsoft was that they chose to take a “neutral” stand on controversial issues. WTF? “’cause if you’re not trying to make something better / then as far as i can tell / you are just in the way” – Ani

Needless to say, queer folks everywhere got pissed. A prominent employee quit. Outrage poured in everywhere. Succumbing to pressure, Microsoft reversed its stance stating: “After looking at the question from all sides, I’ve concluded that diversity in the workplace is such an important issue for our business that it should be included in our legislative agenda.”

On one hand, i’m glad to see that pressure worked. On the other, i think that some education has to happen here. Whenever issues of marginalization come up, folks often fuck up and when the marginalized population gets pissed, they evaluate if they cries are loud enough. This is not actually a progressive approach. It requires marginalized people to demand their rights, to work extra hard, to always fight rather than forcing privileged folks to do a privilege check and think about what they are doing.

This is particularly problematic in queer issues because the common refrain from the straight world is “keep your sex life out of the professional sphere.” It’s often accompanied by “I don’t bring my sex life to work, why should you?” There are a *lot* of problems with this. Most obviously, take a look at photos on people’s desks, who they bring to company events, who they talk about going home to. “But that’s not about sex!” Neither is a queer identity. The only reason straight folks think it’s about sex is because in order to grapple with a queer identity, they have to bring sex into the picture. Queer issues at work are rarely about sex – they are almost always about identity. It’s about being comfortable with who you are, having the right to love and be loved, having the infrastructure to support your loved one, etc.

There is a hegemonic assumption of straightness and it penetrates this culture to the core. Last week, at the airport, a little girl with her mom looked up at me (traveling alone) and asked “Where’s your husband?” What was i to say? Instead, i stammered.

Straight folks ask me why queer folks always have to remind everyone that they’re queer. Guess what? Every marginalized population consistently reminds you of their identity. Queerness just isn’t written on the body in the same way. We remind you because we’re tired of being invisible. We remind you because invisibility is damaging at every level of society and the more invisible we let ourselves be, the more oppression occurs.

Companies think that they have no responsibility in social issues. Bullshit. Companies are societal infrastructure and when they choose not to get involved, they maintain status quo in the most conservative ways possible. Not getting involved is an act of making people invisible. Companies are hegemonic in their very nature and to be a progressive company, to be a company for the people means to recognize the inequalities and intolerance embedded in society and work to overcome that. It requires action because inaction perpetuates intolerance.

sitting in the boardroom
the i’m-so-bored room
listening to the suits
talk about their world
they can make straight lines
out of almost anything
except for the line
of my upper lip when it curls

BlogHer Conference

The BlogHer Conference has been announced and registration is currently open. I want to see this conference be as diverse as possible – diverse along every axes imaginable. I need your help in organizing women bloggers from around the world with a million perspectives to attend. I’m also interested in adding things to the conference that will meet the needs of different types of women. For me, the goal of this conference is to build social solidarity amongst women. If you have ideas, please let me know.

But please spread the word. The key to success for this event is to get as many different women on board as possible.

There are some scholarships available and i’m hoping that we can find ways to fly women around the world in. Also, if you have any leads to making this possible, please let me know!

SXSW, why i attended and marginalized populations

(updated 03/17/05)

OK, SXSW was awesome. I’m sure the Flickr photos show the amount of ridiculousness that went on. There was more. I could pretend to discuss the panels but, let’s be honest, i didn’t attend many. I did however miraculously make it to mine. I spent a lot of time talking with people, hearing people’s stories. I got to meet lots of bloggers i didn’t know, got to hear about what other people loved about certain technologies and learn about a few new ones.

Malcolm Gladwell made the entire trip worth it for me. OMG… to have a speaker who was able to speak to the issues of marginalization at a tech conference in a way that people listened by focusing on the experiments took my breath away. I hope at least a fraction of the packed room heard the implications of what he said, of what Blink says. Take his key example: orchestras thought that they were judging men and women equally and that women were just not as good. When they started putting up a curtain at the auditions, suddenly, the ratios changed. Drastically. We have biases in every interaction, unconsciously. And in order to level the playing field, we have to actively work to deal with those biases because we have to change the social structure in order to rid ourselves of the biases.

Speaking of which, i feel the need to address the why sxsw post by Liz and David’s why etech post. I chose to go to SXSW. I was actually part of the 5% who applied to etech, only my application was rejected because it wasn’t emerging. That’s fair. But as an academic, i can only go to conferences that i present at. I wasn’t even thinking about SXSW until Tantek approached me to speak on a panel there. At first, i hesitated at his puppy dog eyes. And then i started talking to the gals and realized that it would be a great opportunity to meet up with folks. And then when i saw the program, i got ecstatic to see that issues of identity and other risque topics were going to be actively dealt with, all in the topical structure of SXSW. And there were going to be diverse keynotes, not all of which were technically focused, but applicable to the tech crowd. This made me very very very excited.

David argues that the reason that Etech should be forgiven is because their applicant pool was dismally lacking diversity. I think he’s wrong. Of course it is dismal and not due to a lack of talent out there but due to social networks. Lots of people don’t even know that they can submit proposals. Almost all of the speakers at this year’s Etech were floating around Etech last year. They’re already part of the in-crowd. What percentage of Etech applicants attended Etech in a previous year? Given that a small number of women attend the conference, there’s going to be a poor representation in applicants. And there were even fewer people of color.

More importantly, marginalized populations often don’t think that their voice matters as much as the dominant voices. If we’re not part of the social network, we’re going to think that even less. I didn’t know you could apply to be at Etech until after i was invited to go – i never would’ve even considered applying. And i didn’t know how SXSW panels magically appeared until two days ago.

It’s socially and culturally not an equal playing field. You can’t build a meritocracy on top of that and one doesn’t exist. There are biases at every level. And if you want diversity, you need to actively go after it. Conference organizers – reach out to the women and people of color you know and ask them to brainstorm with you. Actively invite marginalized groups who you know are doing great stuff (or get your friends who are women, POC to do so). Make sure you have diversity on your board. Put together identity-driven BOFs. Invite diverse groups to the low-key events where they’re underrepresented so that they can meet and greet (because not all get-togethers are conferences). Do *NOT* expect them to come to you. When you do so, you perpetuate hegemonic forces – you become part of the problem. Meritocracy doesn’t emerge by just pretending it exists and without equal grounding, it is not possible.

Update: After a conversation last night, i wanted to clarify a few things. In conferences like SXSW and Etech, there’s no clear delineation of what is an acceptable topic or not (as opposed to say CHI). I mean – what is interactive or emerging? Additionally, the review panel consists of a very small number of people (all of who are pretty much guaranteed a slot). At CHI, there are hundreds and hundreds of blind reviewers. At SXSW and Etech, the metric is “interesting” – this is where we get ourselves into trouble. Interesting to whom? To the un-diverse review committee?

At CHI, everyone who is working in the field of HCI knows about it and gets to decide whether or not they appreciate the scope. Many of us in the margins grumble regularly, but still submit our work there. Not everyone working on emergent or interactive knows about Etech and SXSW. A few small percentage of people in each field go. Who goes is very very driven by social networks. Given the homophilous nature of social networks, the longer you go without diversifying, the less diverse it will get and you will have to work harder and more explicitly because you will not get random diverse applications when it’s seen as non-diverse. Thus, you have to be explicit to counter that process. People who apply to these conferences have mostly gone to it before or been recruited. If your audience is not diverse, you won’t have a diverse application pool.

One concern that was raised regards the % of women working in these fields. We’re not talking computer science – not everyone at Etech/SXSW is a CS person. We’re talking technology-related. And there are lots of folks who can inform emergent and interactive that aren’t CS folks, especially when you have huge tracks that are supposedly on social. I know so many women working in the social tech field – they just aren’t part of that network. Most of the social tech events that i go to and throw are more like 40/60 – just not the ones that are part of the “social software” network.

Additionally, i don’t believe that the % in the field is a good metric for a conference – i believe you have to surpass that through explicit effort in order to affect the field as a whole. Conferences are networking events and need to be treated as explicit social activities meant to diversify the field. I’d bet most people who attended Etech or SXSW came home with a lot more contacts and relationships, even if only built on beer. Those are people that we’ll all run into again, we might even work with simply because we had contact to personalities (not just resumes) at a conference. And if that group isn’t diverse, it will affect our work environment as well as our social and general professional.

This is why i’m so invested in this. I’m not an idiot – i know that i get invited to talk partially because i’m a woman. But i believe in opening up the tech field, i believe in diversifying it. And to do so requires more than motions towards meritocracy. If i can be a tool to aid in that activity, fine, but it also doesn’t have to be me. It just has to be someone.

simpsons, gay marriage & kids

In the NYTimes article covering last nite’s Simpsons, the president of the Parents Television Council is quoted as having said: “You’ve got a show watched by millions of children. Do children need to have gay marriage thrust in their faces as an issue? Why can’t we just entertain them?”

My immediate reaction was to laugh my ass off. So, in other words, we’re supposed to teach when it’s a conservative value that the Council supports but supposed to only entertain when it’s a value that the Council doesn’t share? Hmm… But seriously, when did a parent’s council ever support media that just entertains? ::laugh::

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Extremities: a play about rape

I went to see a terrifying play last night – Extremities:

Set in present-day, Extremities is every woman’s worst nightmare come true… with a twist. During an attempted rape, a woman captures her attacker and proceeds to torture him. Her roommates return home and struggle to determine who is guilty of a crime, the woman or her would-be rapist.

It’s a benefit for SFWAR – San Francisco Women Against Rape and it runs through this weekend. It’s the kind of play that makes you really uncomfortable but you’re super glad you saw it.

my queer identity

A few days ago, an anonymous reader reached out to me to kindly inform me that i could be saved, offering me prayers in my path to finding Jesus.

I decided to take this opportunity to be upfront about my sexuality and my views for those who don’t know me so well and for those of you who are struggling with attacks or pressure or guilt because of your sexuality. I believe that no one has the right to make you feel badly for your sexuality and i believe that the struggle we all face is how to find peace and comfort in who we are and how we interact with others. It is with a grounded sense of self that is very rooted in my own religious values that i offer you my views on sexuality. They don’t have to be your views, but you can only respect me if you respect that this is who i am and what i believe.

When i meet people who spark something in me – intellectually, spiritually, emotionally, i often fall in love. That feeling of love is not framed in a sexual sense. I fell in love with my closest friends in this world – that’s how they became my dear friends. Their psychological position in my life is very deep. Love, for me, is a very strong and passionate emotion that extends from utmost respect and appreciation, awe. With love, there is a sense of warmth and joy, vulnerability, compassion, trust. Through mutual honor, love is an emotion that binds people together.

Not all relationships of love have a sexual component. Yet, sexual interaction takes that love deeper, allowing an even greater connection, passion and vulnerability. Sex is an act that stems from love and allows it to grow deeper. I believe that sex is a very meaningful act and a valuable component to different relationships of love. I do not believe that sex is an act that is only reserved for one person in this lifetime.

Sex has another axis to it – that of desire. Only particular connections for me have a sexual resonance, a “chemistry.” I wish i knew the formula for that chemistry, but i don’t. There are people that i have loved deeply with whom i have no sexual chemistry and that’s simply the way it is. For me, that chemistry does not have gendered limitations.

Let me step back a moment. We have a cultural assumption that there is a binary in sex (culturally called gender) – male, female. Anyone who has worked with intersexed or transgendered people know that this cultural binary obfuscates reality and causes harm. There are people whose genitalia does not match society’s dichotomous expectations, hormonal and chromosomal structures that aren’t written about in textbooks and identities that make bodies seem very foreign. Of course, God created these people too.

I understood this foolish dichotomy in my gut at a young age, always upset that the world was divided into female and male. It is via working in gender clinics that i was able to see what happens when it breaks down.

My sexuality is rooted in my dismissal of that dichotomy and a recognition of a gender range that reflects both sex and performance. I identify as queer, not gay, not lesbian and certainly not bisexual (which reinforces the binary in its term). I have fallen in love with people with all different sorts of sexual and gender identities.

I do believe that i have a choice about who i have sex with, but i don’t believe that i have a choice over who i have chemistry with. Some people’s chemistry fits neatly into privileged heternormativity (i.e. they’re ‘straight’). Some people’s chemistry is between people of similarly sexed bodies. For me, my chemistry doesn’t fit neatly into a binary of sexuality either, but it certainly doesn’t mean i have chemistry with everyone nor does it mean that i have chemistry with a larger percentage of the population. It simply means that it does not fall along neat lines of either gender or sexuality. Thus, the term ‘queer’.

Given this, i could, as society has pressured me to do, make a choice to only engage in sexual relations with those whom society has deemed socially appropriate. In other words, if i like boys and girls, why not make it easier on myself and just date boys? First, i think that is rubbish and indicative of a moral system to which i do not subscribe. Second, why should i let cultural pressures obscure my actual feelings?

I have strong religious values and beliefs, but they do not believe that guilt, sin, self or projected torture, hate, intolerance, self, or enemies are in any way productive or valuable. My beliefs are rooted strongly in love, respect, honor and kindness. I do not believe that there is ever anything wrong about rooting love in consensual sex. I believe that social efforts to construct something as ‘wrong’ are simply mechanisms to assert power and control, an attempt to play God, not to honor God. In my view, honoring God means honoring yourself and others, working to release yourself of hatred and judgment, finding ways of respecting all forms of life. God’s work means finding peace beyond suffering in order to release ourselves from the cycle of birth/death. No part of God’s work means increasing suffering for anyone in any form.

My sexuality is rooted in a combination of love and desire that has no gendered boundaries. Sex is a consensual act that emerges from and glorifies both love and desire. There is nothing and i do mean -nothing- wrong with loving someone else and expressing it sexually. This is not a sick addiction or a sin – it is a pure emotion rooted in everything good.

[Please note that my definition of God may not reflect yours. And my definition of religion does not include a literal reading of any scripture.]