Friday FREAK OUT! Bert & Ernie’s moment of joy on the New Yorker cover

The internet, Twitter, Facebook, and news outlets worldwide are freakin’ out about the cover of next week’s issue of the New Yorker, that appeared online today.

The photo, titled, “Bert and Ernie’s Moment of Joy”, was submitted by independent artist Jack Hunter to a Tumblr page. He shared,

It’s amazing to witness how attitudes on gay rights have evolved in my lifetime…This is great for our kids, a moment we can all celebrate.

The reaction to the cover photo has been overwhelming, both in support and admiration, and strong criticism. What are the two sides saying (on Twitter, at least)?


on a somewhat related note that was probably not the intention…

In response to an online petition for Bert and Ernie to get married in 2011, Sesame Workshop did issue a statement that Bert and Ernie are not gay, and do not have a sexual orientation. more on this story here.

What is the fearless sexuality educator response?
As with any media sensation that illicits a divisive response, it is important to examine the rationale behind both sides. Encourage participants to identify what the image says to them, without imposing the views that they may have heard already and ignoring anything that they may already know about Bert and Ernie. You might get responses including…
– It’s ok for two male-identified puppets to sit closely together on the couch.
– Looks like Bert and Ernie were watching the SCOTUS rulings (presumably on marriage equality, but as benschwartzy points out in his tweet, the voting rights act was also ruled on).
– They’re just puppets- fictional characters on a kids show.
– Dude, what are you thinking, that image has been on on the internet for a year already.

Also ask participants about what is unclear from just looking at the picture. Those responses may be something like…
– The nature of the relationship between Bert and Ernie.
– Whether Bert and Ernie have actually talked about their relationship.
– If it’s cold, and that’s the reason why they’re cuddling.
– If Bert and Ernie are sexually involved, is their sexual relationship healthy and consensual.
– How old Bert and Ernie are (there are rumors that they are supposed to be just 6 years old).

Follow up this discussion with some additional thoughts about media literacy (which is a common theme in my Friday FREAK OUT series) communicating that it’s important to reflect on the intention of the image, and what messages are explicitly and implicitly communicated. Ask participants that if they are going to share this photo on Facebook, what does it tell your ‘friends’ about your position? What would your tweet say? How might they respond if someone disagreed with your point of view?

I am personally torn. On one side, I appreciate the image that the author clearly stated the support of a national trend towards acceptance of same-sex relationships. On the other hand, it does assume a lot about the nature of the relationship of two fictional characters, and contribute to the notion that two men can’t just be friends and show affection. I’m not quite as worked up as Tyler Coates, but I’m also not about to make the picture my Facebook timeline background.

SB5, DOMA & Prop 8- SHUT DOWN!

Today has been one of the most memorable Wednesdays for legislative victories in my arena, ever! I honestly do not remember a time when we’ve had so much good news about such bad legislation. Not only have we had a citizen filibuster shut down an outrageous abortion law in Texas, the Supreme court made MAJOR rulings in favor of marriage equality. This sexuality educator is thrilled! (Although maybe it would have been better spread out, so we can relish the wins over time. But I’ll take it any way I can!)


Senator Wendy Davis answers questions from Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr

Texas State Senator Wendy Davis, with major support from her fellow Democrats Leticia Van de Putte, Senator Kirk Watson, Senator Royce West and Senator Rodney Ellis (read more about the power players in the filibuster), led the charge against some abhorrent TRAP laws that would have imposed unnecessary regulations on Texas abortion clinics, thus forcing the closure of all but 5 in the entire state. The bill would also ban abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy. Her inspirational filibuster prevented the vote on what would have been a sure-fire pass on SB5. The Twitterverse was AFIRE with supporters (and a few dissenters), proclaiming that they #standwithwendy in her awesome pink sneakers.

Supporters of Wendy Davis, in orange, filled the Senate building.

Although, not as vocal as the protesters/supporters that were AT the senate. At about 11:48pm (CT), the crowd started cheering so loudly, it delayed the vote until after the 12am deadline. Lt Governor David Dewhurst called for a vote anyways, which kept supporters (and Wendy Davis) on their toes, but it was eventually deemed invalid due to the fact it was taken after the deadline. Want a great recap of the day, including memes and tweets? Check out Buzzfeed’s post, The Internet Celebrates Texas State Senator Wendy Davis’ Filibuster. A more journalistic approach can be found on my ever-fave, Huffington Post.


Since March, the Human Rights Campaign has led the charge raising awareness about the DOMA Sumpreme Court rulings.

The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), signed into law in 1996 by good ‘ole President Clinton, has been a MAJOR barrier for achieving marriage equality. The law basically said that one state did not have to recognize same-sex marriages from other states. In the case United States v. Windsor, Windsor sued the government after being charged estate tax on her partner, Spyer’s, property, which should would not have to do if their marriage was legally recognized. From here, the tale is tough for this not-so-much-a-lawyer sexuality educator to tell, so I recommend the Washington Post’s rundown on what you need to know about the case. What’s especially outstanding about this ruling, is the strong language used in the majority  opinion issued by Justice Anthony Kennedy…

The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity…By seeking to displace this protection and treating those persons as living in marriages less respected than others, the federal statute is in violation of the Fifth Amendment.

It is such a relief to see a Justice of the United States Supreme Court uphold the value of human rights. Suzanne Goldberg’s got it right in her post, that the real victory here is “the direct, clear way that the Court seems to understand why DOMA is such an egregious violation of the constitution’s equality guarantee under the Fifth Amendment.”

Prop 8

The Supreme Court also ruled on the 2008 California ballet measure, Proposition 8, which created a state constitutional amendment declaring that marriage is only between a man and a woman. In Hollingsworth v. Perry, the court ruled that they will not make a ruling, and the case will be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. What does that mean? The ruling in the Lower Court of Appeals stands, and same-sex marriage is back ON in CA. Again, I will admit my non-lawyer status (although my mom DID tell me to think about law school! yeah right, that legalese makes me dizzy) and direct you to the Huffington Post for more details on the legal process involved.

What does all this mean for fearless sexuality educators like myself?

One thing is that HOPE springs eternal. We so often do this work amidst setbacks, institutional barriers, and the FEAR that what we do is for naught. But days like today help us maintain our strength, and remind us to be steadfast and vocal for what we believe in. If we don our orange, stand up against injustice, and speak up for what we believe in, we can accomplish our goals.

Friday FREAK OUT! Is Robin Thicke’s song “Blurred Lines” really ‘rapey’?

Robin Thicke’s song, “Blurred Lines”, has been listed #1 on the charts in the US and the UK two weeks in a row, but that’s not what the ruckus is all about. This song, and accompanying video (especially the explicit unrated video that was banned from youtube), has been criticized as being ‘rapey’ on blogs such as Vagenda and Feminist in LA, and even a Canadian model who made her own video, “Robin Thicke is a D*CK“. The hoopla has made it into CNN’s nightly news, the Huffington Post, and the Daily Beast, to name a few.

So, what are people freakin’ out about?

– A recurring song lyric, “you know you want it”, whispered into girls’ ears
– The use of various “nonsensical” props in the videos, including a needle, a bicycle, and farm animals??20130621-012143.jpg
– Depicting ‘good girls’ as really wanting wild sex
– Showing scantily clad women dancing around/with fully clothed men
– The domestication of women (this is my biggest problem-I can brush my own hair!)
– An announcement that “Robin Thicke has a Big D…” (shown, ironically, with balloons)

While Thicke’s song does depict pressuring women to engage in sexual activities assumed to be wild and outrageous and the assumption of an internalized yet not actualized crazy sexual desire, there is no demonstration of a forced sexual encounter. It does show ‘blurred lines’ of sexuality and clearly omits any depiction of consent; however, I would not go so far as to call it ‘rapey’. Just because a sexually charged experience does not explicitly demonstrate consent does not mean it is not consensual.

Remember, this is not the first song with sexually suggestive lyrics or the first music video with scantily clad women being objectified by men. I agree with Tricia Romano, that “Thicke’s video would barely register on the outrage meter when compared to most garden-variety hip-hop videos featuring bling and babes.” And someone at SPIN, a super trendy music magazine, finds lots of the parts that have been criticized as problems in the video downright amusing. In addition, it’s important to acknowledge that many couples are in fact inspired by this song…I just last night heard a story of a couple that performed a choreographed dance to “Blurred Lines” as the entry to their wedding reception. And while it is entirely possible that their relationship has not yet included a conversation about consent, I, as the optimist, like to think that it has, and that their well-received, playful expression via this song represents some ‘fun’ in their relationship. And it is unrealistic to think that actual sexual encounters in any relationship are completely void of ‘blurred lines’. Thicke may not be demonstrating the most politically correct sexual values, but what may make people uncomfortable is the reality of what is presented. In addition, attaching a ‘rapey’ label to a song that resonates with the masses may in effect ostracize an audience that needs to hear the message about the importance of consent.

So, given the controversy about “Blurred Lines” being a rape song, or a love song, or just a song, what can educators (or parents, or any adult for that matter) do with this poppy, admittedly catchy piece of culture that is topping the charts right now as this year’s ‘summer anthem’? The observations about the problems with “Blurred Lines” are an important part of media literacy – something that should be an essential component of everyone’s education. We NEED to examine lyrics and think critically about what music is telling us and what videos are showing us. Each and every one of us should be thinking about…

– what does the song say about desire- both female and male?
– what does the song say about how men attract women, and how women attract men?
– what does the song say about expectations of gender roles?
– how does the song address the idea of consent?
– how might the song/video contribute to rape culture?
– how might this song influence someone’s idea of sexual performance?
– what do YOU think of this song?

Because maybe freak-outs about songs like this give us an opportunity to sit down and answer these questions, rather than just dance and sing along to yet another a fun, yet creepy song.