Friday FREAK OUT! IRS makes bold move for same-sex partners

Yesterday, the IRS ruled that same-sex married couples can file taxes jointly, regardless of the law in their state of residence. That means that if two people were married in one of the 13 states with same-sex marriage laws, and they reside in one of the 37 states that do not recognize their marriages, they will file joint federal taxes and single state taxes.

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This is both a significant step towards marriage equality, and also a confusing mess on how to file taxes. While this ruling does clarify how taxes will be filed for same-sex couples, it may create some complications, as pointed out in the NY Times.

Sexuality educators can use this ruling as an opportunity to highlight the progress towards equality, and the challenges that still abound.

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Friday FREAK OUT! Calling Chelsea Manning by HER name

This week, Pfc. Manning- sentenced to 35 years in military prison for giving classified documents to WikiLeaks- announced, “I am Chelsea Manning. I am female.”

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Amidst issues of the availability of hormone therapy in military prison and gender-specific imprisonment, the media response to Chelsea’s statement has been disrespectful, and an example of how NOT to honor someone’s gender identity. In her statement, Chelsea wrote, “I also request that, starting today, you refer to me by my new name and use the feminine pronoun.” Despite this straightforward, specific request, countless media sources have refused to comply, as Feministing points out that NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN, the Boston Globe, the New York Daily News, the New York Post, Politico, the Telegraph, Reuters, and the Los Angeles Times all used masculine pronouns and referred to Chelsea as Bradley. Time for an apology!

There has been considerable outcry about this major media misstep (but props to the Guardian for getting it right), with reference to how this issue is tough. I actually disagree. Chelsea was actually incredibly clear in her statement- it might be tough for someone to start using the correct pronouns, but we know which ones are ‘correct’. Gender identity is about a person’s self-idenitification, and if specific pronouns are requested, we should honor their request.

Seems like reporters, editors, and newscasters could all benefit from reviewing this AWESOME resource: How to Respect a Transgender Person. Step one:

Respect their gender identity. Think of them as the gender they refer to themselves as and refer to them with their chosen name and gender pronoun (regardless of their physical appearance) from now on.

Sexuality educators- please review this resource and teach your participants to respect transgender people, and not mimic the mainstream media.

I should note that some news sources have actually done a good job calling out this mistreatment of the coverage, including Huffington Post and Slate.

Friday FREAK OUT! Dear Daughter: I hope you have awesome sex

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When I was applying to grad school in 2004 for a master of public health in sexuality and health wanting to help change the discourse of how we talk about sex, never did I think that in just under 10 years an essay like Dear Daughter: I Hope you Have Awesome Sex would A. be written, and B. get so much attention.

This post, accurately characterized as provocative and refreshing by Feminist Philosophers, has been reposted on the Good Men Project and Huffington Post to name a few, taking writer Ferrett Steinmetz totally by surprise (check out his Random Thoughts on Going Viral).

Ferrett’s inspiration for writing this open letter was Daddy’s Rules for Dating– an outlandish yet sadly realistic list of limiting one’s daughter’s decision-making power and instilling incredible fear in a potential (assumed to be male) suitor. This list was surely meant to be funny but instead does a great job of outlining atrocious fear-based fathering.

What I absolutely love about Ferrett’s letter is that he acknowledges that his daughter is a sexual being, with the ability to make her own, informed decisions about engaging in sexual behaviors. He uses the words CONSENSUAL and GENDERQUEER. He eschews an open and honest attitude about sexuality that many parents struggle to adopt. He also admits that his daughter is her own person, whom he cannot control: “You’re not me. Nor are you an extension of my will….I’m not the guard who locks you in the tower.” How wonderfully empowering is that?! Instead, he’s the father that can be a support system, someone to turn to even when life involves sex.

I know that many people have criticized this piece, probably calling Ferrett worse things than I can imagine, but I wholeheartedly believe he’s on the right track. I’m happy to see people freakin out about this one- let’s get the word out there that sex can be awesome and sexuality isn’t something to be afraid of.

Friday FREAK OUT! Porn Sex vs. Real Sex: The differences explained with food

On your Facebook feed, scrolling through Twitter, or in the Huffington Post Weird News section, you may stumble across a wildly popular video making the rounds on the internet: Porn Sex vs. Real Sex: The differences explained with food.

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This short, hilarious video demonstrates some of the ways that pornography distorts the realities of sexuality, sharing tidbits such as….

In real life 75 percent of men ejaculate within 3 minutes.

71 percent of all women can’t orgasm through penetration.

all through the use of fruits, vegetables, and other things found in the kitchen in only 1:48. The use of food adds humor to a subject that is still somewhat taboo to discuss, as pointed out in an article by Mark Wilson.

In response to this video, a few people in the porn industry admit that porn is not meant to teach people how to have sex. Nina Hartley shared with the Huffington Post:

Pornography is a paid, professional performance by actors. It is a fantasy, it is not meant to be a rulebook and guidebook or a how to as a general rule. And it goes to show how poor our sex education is in this country that people are reduced to looking at an entertainment medium for information about the body.

Nina makes an excellent point. As I noted in a post last year, we need to be teaching individuals about sexually explicit content so they can think critically about it, and understand the differences between reality and fantasy. Especially in an ever-increasing age of technology where porn is not only easy to find, it’s sometimes hard to avoid. (Although Amtrak wouldn’t let me watch this video using their on-train wifi!)

What I think is extra interesting about this video, is that it wasn’t developed or commissioned by renowned sexuality educators (although a few, like myself, have applauded its ingenuity). Web video company Kornhaber Brown told HuffPo that they “just made this for fun”. Their website says, “Originally started as a fun internal project, we wanted to talk about a provocative social issue in a very creative way.” Since it’s launch at the end of July, the video has had over 6 million views.

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vs. the variety of real-life vaginas:

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(well, actually, vulvas. that’s what they would have said if they’d consulted sexuality professionals. but i guess we can forgive them this one time.)

Friday FREAK OUT! HelloFlo

This week one of the media items that has topped the charts is the advertisement for HelloFlo. I know when something has gone viral when more than two of my friends says, “have you seen this yet?” It’s all over Facebook, and definitely getting the attention of NPR.

This advertisement, featuring a young girl who just gets her period at summer camp, is trying to tell the viewer that tampons can be delivered to your door! Wow!

Whether they mean it or not, this ad, not meant to be a lesson on puberty, is telling the public a LOT about it. Such as…
– Vagina is a word that is ok to say.
– Your period is something that happens, so be ready and get used to it.
– Girls are getting their periods, so they need to both know about it and have products to respond.

This ad has definitely gone viral, apparently shutting down their website for a bit. However, what do young people really need to know about their menstrual cycle? Sure, many women do get cramps, and they should be prepared for some potential symptoms, but they should also feel ok with walking into a store, and asking the drug store clerk, “Where are the tampons?” I guess at summer camp it might be a bit tough to find a drug store, so a delivery service could certainly come in handy. But let’s also tell individuals that having a period is nothing to be ashamed of, and that obtaining products such as tampons and panty-liners is no big thang.

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Friday FREAK OUT! “Daddy, I thought a Weiner was a hot dog!”

This week the news has been absolutely inundated with commentary about mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner. Anything else that has happened is sitting under this giant cloud of sexting, scandal, lies and politics. Much has been said about the 23-year old he recently corresponded with, his relationship with his wife Huma Abedin, and how he has dropped in the polls this week. This story has been covered so broadly, I can’t imagine that young people aren’t hearing about this.

Are you ready to answer questions from kids about Weiner? Think about your responses to these questions (and feel free to post your responses in the comments!):

  1. Who is this Weiner guy, and why are people talking about him all the time?
  2. How come people are saying Weiner is a bad man?
  3. What is sexting?
  4. Why shouldn’t politicians send pictures of their privates to other people?
  5. If Weiner made a mistake a few years ago, how come he did it again?
  6. I thought Weiner was a hot dog. Is that his REAL name?
  7. Who is Carlos Danger?

While I am not going to provide suggested answers, I will offer some guidelines for answering questions…

  • Answer the questions that children ask- don’t brush them off, because then they might not ask you any more questions.
  • Answer questions honestly.
  • Be brief in your responses- if a child has more questions, they will certainly ask!
  • Use age-appropriate resources to supplement your answers.
  • Admit it if you don’t know the answer- it’s ok if you don’t know everything.
  • Show appreciation to the young person for asking questions about things they say.
  • Emphasize the importance of learning more and understanding media representations of politics.

Friday FREAK OUT! Ken Cuccinelli, VA gubernatorial hopeful, launches sneaky website, trying to re-instate “Crimes Against Nature” law

In my home state of Virginia, the race for governor continues to heat up, but hopefully not too much because Attorney General and Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli might get his knickers in a bunch about all that hot sodomy! On Wednesday he launched a new website, www.vachildpredators.com, which is framing the appeal of Virginia’s “crimes against nature” statute as a law that protects children from child predators.

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In reality, this unconstitutional statute would outlaw anal and oral sex among consenting adults. It’s all a request for the Supreme Court to take his case against MacDonald that lost in the court of appeals, despite the 2003 Lawrence v. Texas ruling that negated any anti-sodomy laws.

Cuccinelli’s anti-gay views are well documented- in 2009 he told the Virginian-Pilot that “My view is that homosexual acts, not homosexuality, but homosexual acts are wrong. They’re intrinsically wrong.” This new campaign highlights his extreme conservatism on the issue. Additional background can be found on Huffington Post, Salon, Slate, and of course Buzzfeed.

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The fact is that rape and sexual assault are already against the law, and another statute is not needed to protect the children. Sexuality educators can point to this campaign as a great example of how someone can frame a topic to misconstrue intentions. At first glance, you may be all for ‘protecting the children’; but really it’s about restricting rights, and imposing belief systems on others.

So, let’s freak out about this one, for sure. Let’s freak out about this candidate (who is ALREADY in an elected office) who wants to limit the rights of individuals to engage in consensual sexual behaviors. Let’s freak out so much that he does not get elected. It’s good news that polls are showing Cuccinelli’s opponent, Terry McAuliffe, with a slight lead in the polls as of Saturday. Woot woot!

Friday FREAK OUT! Steve Grand’s All American Boy- a love story with a twist- goes viral

Picture this- an unknown singer from Chicago, only 23 years old, without a label, no artist representation, and not much cash flow, maxes out his credit cards to produce a smash hit country love song that goes viral on YouTube. It’s the American dream come true. What’s the catch? The love song is about a boy crushing on ANOTHER BOY! Gasp!

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Grand’s song, All American Boy, posted on July 2 and already has over one million views on YouTube. He’s captured the attention of ABC, Huffington Post, and the Daily Beast, to name a few. Some of the freak out can be attributed to Buzzfeed, who asserted that Steve Grand is the first openly gay country star; however, Slate has already reminded us that Chely Wright came out as a lesbian in 2010.

Regardless of whether Grand gets crowned as the first, he’s certainly starting out strong. His story is inspiring- he told ABC that after coming out to his parents he was sent to ‘straight’ therapy. His Facebook posts reveal the angst he felt as he got ready to post the video. He shares a lot in an interview on the Backlot, including being overwhelmed by the response to the video.

I can’t imagine that Grand won’t be picked up by a recording studio in approximately two minutes, but I imagine that in the mean time he could use some support. (While the video has over 31,000 ‘likes’, it also has over 300 ‘dislikes’.) His website includes a button on how to contribute to his artistic talents.

This video, and Grand’s story, would be a fabulous teaching tool. The ‘classic’ crush storyline being turned on its head can help normalize same sex attraction. Sexuality educators can have participants reflect on the challenges that the lead character in the video might face, strategies for expressing attraction to another boy, and how he might feel when he’s turned down. (Note that there is a scene in the video where you can see two boys kiss and a naked butt, so if that’s a problem, stick with the still shots & the lyrics.)

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All American Boy represents a bold move by a brave young man. He didn’t let fear stop him from expressing himself, and I hope he’s seen as a role model for living out his dream.

Friday FREAK OUT! Video of LGBT Hate Crime goes viral

This past Sunday, June 30th, NYC saw one of the most festive Pride parades, especially given the recent SCOTUS rulings on DOMA and Prop 8. Unfortunately, we still have a lot of work to do helping people accept others for who they are. Late Sunday evening several LGBT young people were verbally and physically attacked on a Queens-bound F train. A bystander started videotaping two men who were harassing the young people. (Warning- this video includes graphic language and violence.)

On Sunday, June 30th at around 11:45 PM, I was riding home on the Queens-bound F train following a day of LGBT Pride festivities. Two men were loudly making homophobic comments, such as “Today was a scary day for me. There were fags everywhere.” When a group of queer youth got on the train, the men proceeded to harass them, stating that the teens made them want to puke and that they would be killed if they were in Iran. The first assailant then threatened to rape them, at which point I took out my phone to document the incident.
Seeing that he was being recorded, the first assailant lunged at me, violently grabbing my arms while trying to steal away my phone. One of the youth took the phone from me temporarily to protect it and told the assailant he shouldn’t attack a woman. When the assailant threatened to punch me, I took the phone back and ran to the other side of the train to push the emergency button and alert the authorities. At this point the second assailant got up and came towards me, grabbing my body and hands to try and get the phone to destroy the evidence. I yelled and told him I was an attorney. An onlooker then got up and stood between the assailants and myself, and another person left to get the train conductor.

A group of people had gathered to stand up to the gay bashers. During this, the second assailant put his hand around the neck of a young queer woman. When the doors opened up at the Roosevelt Ave stop, both assailants fled. I followed them to the station exit while calling 911. One witness had overheard them saying they were on route to Jamaica; they’re likely commuters who regularly take this route.

I uploaded the video to YouTube to see if anyone can identify these men. I was left with bruises and scratches from both assailants which I also documented. If anyone sees them or knows them personally, please contact the authorities. This was a hate crime. Anyone with information regarding the incident should contact the NYPD’s Hate Crime Hotline at 212-335-3100 or the AVP through its hotline at 212-714-1141.

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This video has gone viral, with nearly 800,000 views at the time of this post. Advocates such as the Anti-Violence Project have called for further action, and news sources indicate that the incident is under investigation.

The person behind the camera filed a police report and also posted the video to YouTube, in the hopes of identifying the perpetrators and calling attention to this incident. This encounter also reminds us about the recent spike in hate crimes in NYC, despite significant strides in equal rights for same-sex partners.

It is extremely crucial for educators to teach their students about how to respond in challenging situations. When someone’s safety is being threatened, it can be difficult to think clearly about critical actions that can help individuals and the people around them stay safe. Here are a few tips that come to mind when someone harasses or threatens you for any reason:
• Identify an exit where you can get away fast if needed.
• Remain calm and breathe normally.
• Note as much identifying information about the perpetrator as possible without putting yourself in danger.
• State clearly that you do not want to speak with this person any further.
• DO NOT ENGAGE the assailant in further debate- while it may feel necessary to assert your beliefs and values, it is safer to ignore their comments.
• Contact any relevant authorities and call the police if a crime has occurred.

It is unfortunate that it takes individuals being threatened, or harmed, to bring to light the reality of anti-gay sentiments. Until we live in a world free of hatred, we need to be prepared to respond.

Do you know of other important resources providing tips for victims or bystanders? Please post in the comments below.

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.

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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)?
PRO

CON

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.