No such thing as straight women? The real danger behind this study.

A recent study claiming that there’s no such thing as truly straight women has been doing the rounds this week. Dr Gerulf Rieger led the study- helped out, by the way, by none other than Dr Michael Bailey. Yep, that guy who decided a few years ago that bi men don’t exist. And that trans women are really gay men. Or, er, very straight men. Anything but women.

This latest offering involved measuring how women’s pupils dilated watching porn. The findings? Unless you’re a lesbian, your pupils dilate across the board. Doesn’t matter if the gender matches up to who you fancy, or if you report being aroused at the time.

They also looked into whether lesbians IDing as masculine or feminine correlated with whether they were sexually more masculine or feminine- that is, whether their pupils only dilated to women or to people regardless of gender. In a finding that will surprise precisely zero queer women? Not a connection in sight.

I’m not going to take pot-shots at the study design or the well-known biases of the researchers. That would be far too easy. Also, Autostraddle said it better than I ever could. Continue reading “No such thing as straight women? The real danger behind this study.”

No such thing as straight women? The real danger behind this study.
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Right so. First of all, massive TW on that link for sexual coercion.

Also, though: what?! What kind of world do people live in where “maybe” and “I am a lesbian and you are a dude and I am not attracted to you in the least” are answers that lead a person to think that sexytimes with this person are happening? What kind of world is it where someone hears those answers and keeps initiating sex with the person? I am lucky. I am really, really lucky because I just don’t get it.

I just don’t get the mindset where sex is something you do at someone as opposed to with them. I don’t get the mindset where you are so disconnected from the other person that you can have sex with them even if you have no idea if they want to be there or not. I don’t understand it. I can’t understand wanting to have sex with a person who doesn’t really obviously want to be there.

I’m at a loss here. A disgusted loss.

Sex work, exploitation, and slavery.

So with this BloggyWriMo thing, I’ve been putting of writing a lot of posts until the 1st. I decided that jotting down notes, bullet points and all sorts of underlines didn’t count, so over the next few days you’ll be getting a lot of posts that have been hanging about on notebooks just begging to be fleshed out for days. It’s amazing how it’s the moment you decide you’re not allowed to write for days that you get all the ideas that had been hiding away.

Anyway. Here, we’re talking about sex work and trafficking. We’ll be needing a trigger warning.

credit nataliedee.com

The other day, I was sitting in Tara St station waiting for a Dart to take me to Bray. I was just off the bus from Cork, and there was that special kind of chill in the air that meant winter had definitely arrived. There was a poster from Anna Was 14 (part of the turnofftheredlight campaign) several stories high on a building across the river. Got me thinking.

So here goes.

I am troubled by the conflation that campaigns like this- and the people who espouse them- make between abuse of children, trafficking and slavery, and work that people make reasonably free-ish decisions to do. I feel like it misses several major points, and suffers from incredibly ill-thought out perspectives on sex and autonomy. I think, in essence, that people take on our social taboos around and disgust relating to commercial sex. And that that this means that they fail to see several incredibly important points.

If Anna was 14, then what was done to her was child abuse, plain and simple. I’m not sure whether abuse for money or for personal gratification is more abhorrent. Probably for money, when you consider how that can be systematised and the disturbing implications of that. Then again, is systematic abuse for money worse than systematic abuse simply to hold on to power? Or systematic abuse covered up for that reason by so-called moral guardians? At least there’s an horrific honesty to money.

But either way, if Anna was 14, then what was done to her was systematic abuse. Even if it wasn’t systematic, it was abuse, and that cannot be condoned. In other words, coercing- or even allowing- a 14 year old to sell sex services is seriously fucked up.

If we’re talking instead about trafficking and sex slavery, the case is the same. A 14 year old can’t consent by definition. An adult has the right to give or withold consent as they damn well please. Kidnapping a person and forcing them to do work against their will is called slavery, and is something worthy only of our disgust and condemnation.

However- and if I ever had a catchphrase it’s this- here’s the thing. Abuse of children is abuse whether it’s physical, emotional, sexual, or a combination of the three. Slavery is slavery, no matter what you’re forcing a person to do against their will. Rape is rape, no matter what language you wrap it up in. Each of these things is messed-up because it violates consent, bodily integrity, and the sovereignty of a person over their life.

A moment to discuss terminology

A person who engages in sex work does not sell their body. My body is mine. Yours is yours. They cannot be bought or sold. That’s called slavery, and it’s rightly as illegal as it is immoral. What we all do, instead, is make agreements to provide certain services to others using these bodies and minds of ours. Agreements which, by the way, we tend to have every right to back out of. I may be being paid to use my body and mind to be, say, a shop assistant or a builder or an accountant. While it may be inadvisable for my finances and reputation to do so, I have the absolute right to walk out of those jobs any time I please. So a person who engages in sex work sells sexual services. Which are different to building or accountancy services. Building and sexual services, by the way, are also very different to accountancy services. And so on.

So, sex work then.

One of the things that you hear against sex work is that it’s somehow different to all other kinds of work. Because sex is special. In our society, it can seem like sex has to be either sacred and intimate, or else something dirty and tawdry or downright abusive. As a culture we don’t have many spaces to talk about sex in a neutral fashion, or in a positive way that doesn’t involve close relationships and preferably monogamy. In short, we have hella hangups about sex. I’m not saying, by the way, that the alternative to hangups is some kind of free-for-all where we all cheerfully buy and sell sex and sleep with anyone on the street who takes our fancy. I’m saying that things are probably a lot more complicated, and a lot more diverse, than we give them credit for. I’m saying that how I perceive sexuality is probably different to how you do and how the person across the street does.

And that’s important.

I may imagine that engaging in sex work would be a horrible thing that I would only consent to under duress. I wouldn’t know- I’ve never done it. But I can’t see it being something I’d be too happy to do. On the other hand, I’ve got friends who’ve been sex workers who’ve had all sorts of experiences with it- a similar range of experiences that I’ve heard of in other fields, really. Maybe more polarised.

Let’s talk a little bit as well about consent and free will, and how we apply these concepts to work. Almost all of us need to work. We may like our jobs or despise them, but no matter how much we love them we generally show up because we have to. We may do work that we love. We may do work that we figure is okay. We may have jobs that we go to solely to clock in our 9-5. And we may have jobs that we do just ’cause they give us the cash to get on with all the other things that we do with the rest of our lives.

But sex work is different.. isn’t it?

People say that sex work is a special case, because sex work is special. And that sex work is a unique kind of ‘selling your body’. But I’ve been in jobs- a lot of jobs- where I’ve had to produce a certain kind of emotion on demand. I’ve been in jobs that were physically demanding. I’ve been in jobs that were both physically and emotionally demanding. I’ll bet that you have too. And for each of us, there are jobs that demand a lot of us that suit us down to the ground, and jobs that we can’t stand. I’m pretty damn good at customer service, but by god do I hate it. On the other hand, I jump at the chance to get up in front of a roomful of people for an hour- something that many people view with more than a little trepidation. I’ll bet there are things that are not in the least related to sex work that you would never ever do for money unless you had no other choice. I’ll bet there’s also a few things that you’re surprisingly fine with.

People say that sex work is a special case. Sex workers who feel anything other than absolute love for what they do aren’t given the benefit of the doubt that they might think of their job the same way most other people think of theirs. You know, good sometimes, alright other times, would sometimes rather be at home, but shure it pays the bills.

Let’s go back to the start.

Trafficking, child abuse, slavery and rape are unconscionable. In all cases. There is no circumstance where it is anything but goddamn fucked up and profoundly inhuman to do any of those things. But those are entirely different to an adult who, of their own free (or as free as we can be in this society) will decides to engage in sex work.

This is important.

This is important because, as long as we conflate choosing to do a particular kind of work with slavery, we’re going to be missing the point when we look into dealing with them. Laws around sex work will criminalise sex workers and drive their work underground so that it’s easier for rapists and abusers to do their abusive, rapey things.

If Anna was 14 when she was trafficked into sex slavery, then we need to be serious about dealing with child abuse, human trafficking for all kinds of work, and actually preventing and prosecuting rapists.

If we’re worried about people who feel like they have no choice but to do sex work, then we need to get serious about providing more options for all people to get into work that they don’t hate. We need to start thinking of decent working conditions and honouring the choice to not do a particular job if it’s bad for your mental/physical health. We need to take that seriously. We absolutely need to make sure that jobs that can mess with your head aren’t jobs that people have no choice but to do.

And finally, if after all that we’re still worried about sex work, then we should start by working against stigmatising sex workers. We should listen to the reasons why people do this kind of work. We should believe them equally when they say that it’s destroyed their life, when they say it’s just a job that pays the bills, and when they say it’s fantastic. We should provide the services they say they’re looking for, and acknowledge that that will mean more than one thing. Y’know, the way we do with everything else.


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Sex work, exploitation, and slavery.

Because It’s Really None Of Their Business: on identity and sexuality.

Since it’s Pride month, I thought it would be nice to write a bit about queerness. It is the season for it, after all. Before I go any further, however, I have a confession to make. You see, I wrote some notes the other day about things I’d like to say in this post. It was very organised. I wrote them in a notebook which I take with me almost everywhere I go.

Today, I wrote a shopping list in this notebook. Then I took a Luas into town and bought some groceries and a very pretty crochet hook. It is now a couple of hours later, and I can’t find my notebook anywhere. I think it may be at the checkout.

Oops.

So I’ll do my best, but if this post isn’t quite as organised as it could be, don’t blame my writing skills. It’s entirely my absent-mindedness’s fault.

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And now, back to your (ir)regularly scheduled topic.

Don’t call me bisexual.

Seriously, don’t. I don’t like it. Call me bi, call me queer, you can even call me by my name if you really want to. But I don’t like being called bisexual.

You see, here’s the thing. I’m happy to be open about my orientation. As long as I’m in a relatively safe situation- nobody actually going to physically harm me- my preference is to be open. It’s good for people to be out in general, it prevents some misunderstandings and misconceptions, and it’s an important part of my self and my history. Being out is also a very handy asshole filtration system, which spares hours and even months of wasted time spent with people to turn out to be small minded bigots. Not to mention the fact that, if I happen to be interested in meeting someone or getting to know them a little better, having the orientation thing worked out as early as possible makes things run a lot smoother than they otherwise would. I recommend it to practically everyone, really I do.

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Being ‘out’ has nothing to do with anyone’s sex life

One of the profoundly irritating things about being open about one’s orientation, as I’m sure some of you know all too well, is the assumption that coming out involves a revelation about one’s sex life, that if I come out I’ve shared something personal, even intimate. And that coming out opens a window to all sorts of juicy conversations and details.

It really doesn’t. Think about it this way: if you and I are strangers, and then we meet, it is likely that you’ll* assume that I’m straight. We live in a heteronormative society. Most people assume that most other people are straight. So we’ve met, and you have, consciously or unconsciously, assumed that I am only interested in sexual or romantic relationships with men.

If I tell you that I’m bi, you know about what (who?) I do, or may be doing, than you did before. You’ve lost the only point of information you thought you had. I tell you that I’m bi, then you know absolutely nothing about my sex life*. And that is just fine by me.

You see, I don’t want to talk about my sex life in public. I really don’t. Maybe someday I’ll change my mind about this one, but right now it would feel highly unpleasant, a violation of something very personal and important, which I want to keep between me and Relevant Others**. I like to keep my private life private.

Being ‘out’ doesn’t tell you about my personal life. It doesn’t tell you about who I am or am not involved with, it doesn’t tell you anything about my likes or dislikes. It doesn’t tell you anything about kinks and turn-ons. It doesn’t tell you anything about the kinds of relationships I like to be in. It doesn’t even tell you anything particularly meaningful about the type of people I’m attracted to. All it says anything about is that if you do find out about any of that stuff in the future, or even if I happen to mention someone I’m involved with, you can’t be guaranteed a ‘he’.

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About homophobes

Have you ever noticed that whenever homophobes are talking about LGBT people, that can’t stop referring to us as ‘homosexuals’? You’d rarely hear an ‘LGBT people’, or even a ‘gay and lesbian’***. You might hear a ‘queer’, but you can bet it has nothing to do with queer theory. You might also have noticed that homophobic types tend to be rather preoccupied with queer people’s sex lives. And lives in general, for that matter. It’s always all ‘sodomy’ this and ‘lifestyle’ that.

This isn’t, necessarily, a coincidence. I read an article from the New York Times last week which touched on this topic. This article references a February CBS/New York Times news poll, where

half of the respondents were asked if they favored letting “gay men and lesbians” serve in the military (which is still more than 85 percent male), and the other half were asked if they favored letting “homosexuals” serve. Those who got the “homosexual” question favored it at a rate that was 11 percentage points lower than those who got the “gay men and lesbians” question.

Part of the difference may be that “homosexual” is a bigger, more clinical word freighted with a lot of historical baggage. But just as likely is that the inclusion of the root word “sex” still raises an aversive response to the idea of, how shall I say, the architectural issues between two men. It is the point at which support for basic human rights cleaves from endorsement of behavior.

This makes sense, if you think about it. Just like I don’t want everybody knowing details about my sex life, I don’t want to know the details of theirs. I’m quite profoundly lacking in attraction to the vast majority of people. While on a theoretical level I hope that everyone’s having a marvellous time with people who are having a marvellous time back at them, I don’t want to know the details. It’s disturbing that a difference in language could have such a profound impact on something so important, but it also makes sense. If we don’t want to know about the sex lives of strangers- particularly strangers whose sex lives are personally unappealing to ourselves- then we are less likely to feel positively towards them if every time we refer to them, the word we use to do so is, quite literally, full of sex. I’d like to get away from that.

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Would you like a stereotype?

All of this is, for me, closely related to prevailing stereotypes about those of us who are attracted to people of more than one gender. There’s the ones where you’re confused and can’t make up your mind, the ones where you’re flighty and immature. There’s the ones where you’ll sleep with anything that moves. The ones where you’re untrustworthy and bound to cheat on your partner with someone of another gender. Where you can’t be trusted.

A lot of this is about our sex lives- or, to be more specific, about the preconceptions that people have about our sex lives. It’s assumed (by some!) that any bi person, in a relationship with another person, will be tortured with desires and fantasies about people of the ‘opposite’ sex until we just can’t help ourselves. That, despite this, we don’t know our desires and that we’ll eventually settle down into one ‘side’ or the other. Even that our orientation as a whole can be determined from a quick glance at our most recent, or current, partner(s).

I know that no single word can completely eradicate biphobia and stereotyping. I also know that it is not my responsibility to single-handedly change the minds of every biphobe and homophobe out there- that’s up to them. And I know that I could be seen to be coming perilously close to blaming members of an oppressed group for the actions of oppressors. This is not what I mean to do. I do not blame anyone for choosing to identify themselves as ‘bisexual’. It’s a legitimate word, and identifying that way in no way absolves anyone from acting in a discriminatory way.

However, I do retain the right to want to make my life just that little bit more smoothly.

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Back to me. Because that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?

So say ‘bi’, if you like. It’s not ideal- it implies that I have two sexualities, for one thing, which is a bit bizarre. But it gets the point across, it’s a word everyone knows the meaning of, and it’s far less likely to get you thinking about my sex life. Or you can say ‘queer’. I like ‘queer’, but I’m well aware that it’s quite the loaded term for many people, so I prefer to use it only when I’m sure people will understand my meaning, and not find it offensive or triggering. Or you can say that I’m not too picky when it comes to gender****. I don’t mind, I’m not fussy. Just don’t call me bisexual.

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*Bar the fact that I most certainly hope that you are assuming that it includes consenting adults.

**And whoever I happen to be talking to after a few margaritas. Random drunk people are relevant, right? Right?

***Not that I’d know anything about that. Nothing to do with me, them Gays And Lesbians. Entirely different category over here. Although I do have quite a similar lifestyle to many of my gay friends, so it is possible that all of us, straight people included, are Living A Homosexual Lifestyle.

****I am, actually. In my own way. But if you want to find out more about that, you’d best start making up the margaritas.

Because It’s Really None Of Their Business: on identity and sexuality.