Susie Bright, in addition to being a best-selling author, activist, and podcast host, is editor at large for Audible. Susie's blog, The Bright List, keeps readers and listeners apprised of new audiobooks.
This month brings the Audible release of three titles from one of my favorite independent scholars, Hanne Blank. Blank’s curiosity and thorough, critical thinking have brought fresh insights into the fields of human sexuality and history. Her warm, witty, and clever writing has brought me much enjoyment.
From the “discovery” of the Hymen in ancient times to abstinence-only education in schools and purity balls today, Blank writes about the history of our preoccupation with "virginity." In her analysis, we can see the social construction of virginity, the sexism implicit in it, and the malleable definition of virginity over time.
Everything you think you know about virginity is up for debate. Blank writes with a great deal of humor and perception: "Of all the countries of the developed world, the United States is the only one that has to date created a federal agenda having specifically to do with the virginity of its citizens."
Narrated with friendly authority by Fran Tunno who also read Straight.
This is one of my favorite sex-ed books about any subject. I hadn’t thought about it one way or another, “size and sex”-- but there’s a lot to it. This isn’t a PC plea for acceptance, it’s really about FAT SEX, the reality and the creativity! Skinny people love this book too!
“Big Big Love is a ginormous blessing to people everywhere. Not only is it a superb sex manual, it’s positively radical, fun to read, and life affirming—big time.
"We know that “people of size” enjoy sex as much as anyone, but to talk about it so frankly, to show it, and give explicit details about the ins and outs of it, is as transgressive as it gets in our culture of “thin is sexy.” This book is well worth its weight in gold.”
"Among Mamitarees if a boy shows any symptoms of effeminacy or girlish inclinations he is put among the girls, dressed in their way, brought up with them, and sometimes married to men." Nicholas Biddle, original journals of the Lewis and Clark expeditions
"Their garments consist only of skins; the women are always clad very modestly and very becomingly, while the men do not take the trouble to Cover themselves. I know not through what superstition some Ilinois, as well as some Nadouessi, while still young, assume the garb of women, and retain it throughout their lives. There is some mystery in this. For they never marry and glory in demeaning themselves to do everything that the women do. They go to war, however, but can use only clubs, and not bows and arrows, which are the weapons proper to men. They are present at all the juggleries, and at the solemn dances in honor of the Calumet; at these they sing, but must not dance. They are summoned to the Councils, and nothing can be decided without their advice. Finally, through their profession of leading an Extraordinary life, they pass for Manitous, — That is to say, for Spirits, — or persons of Consequence." From the journals of Jacques Marquette, 1673-1677
"Among the women I saw some men dressed like women, with whom they go about regularly, never joining the men. . . . From this I inferred they must be hermaphrodites, but from what I learned later I understood that they were sodomites, dedicated to nefarious practices. From all the foregoing I conclude that in this matter of incontinence there will be much to do when the Holy Faith and the Christian religion are established among them." Franciscan Pedro Font's diary
The use of the word "gay" really arose in the 1920s or '30s, but there was all sorts of different language in the previous four hundred years. Take us back to some of the earliest descriptions and usages of terms to describe queer people in the Americas.
Language can be very tricky, so when we're looking at language and how it's describing people, we have to realize that sometimes other people do the describing. So, before the Europeans even came here, we had many Native tribes and groups of people who exhibited behavior such as cross-dressing, same-sex relationships for both women and for men. Each of the tribes had their own language for this. When the Europeans came here, they used the French word berdache--which was a pejorative word essentially meaning a pedophile--for these people, completely inaccurately. Yet it's a word that continues to be used by anthropologists even today.
There's a mix in the behaviors and attitudes that you're talking about among the Native Americans, around both same-sex sexual behavior but also around breaking gender boundaries.
Certainly breaking gender boundaries for the Europeans, who were quite shocked when they came here. So the language that we have, which is used to some degree now, is the European terminology. Which I think we find repeatedly throughout the history of America. America was here before the Europeans came, they brought over the language, another word that they brought with them was "sodomite." Which is a theological term, meaning a person who has committed a sin of sodomy. Used rather broadly about anybody who transgressed accepted gender or sexual behaviors. And yet, a word that's used today, even in the general sense of the sodomy laws which are defined in various different ways. So from the earliest Colonial times, we did not have "homosexuals," we did not have "gay people," we had people who were accused of committing the sin of "sodomy" and were "sodomites."
And so both of those terms--"berdache" and "sodomite"--were really pejorative.
Completely pejorative. The first, by social implication, although considered a sin. The second explicitly, theologically, a sin. So it's important to realize that most of our laws emanate to a large degree from canon law in Europe, and were translated from the church into the state.
The true story of a nice Jewish boy who joins the Church of Scientology and leaves twelve years later to become the lovely lady she is today
“I was born male and now I’ve got medical and government documents that say I’m female—but I don’t call myself a woman, and I know I’m not a man. . . .”
Scientologist, husband and father, tranny, sailor, slave, playwright, dyke, gender outlaw—these are just a few words which have defined Kate Bornstein during her extraordinary life. For the first time, it all comes together in A Queer and Pleasant Danger, Kate Bornstein’s stunningly original memoir that’s set to change lives and enrapture readers.
Wickedly funny and disarmingly honest, this is Bornstein’s most intimate book yet. With wisdom, wit, and an unwavering resolution to tell the truth (“I must not tell lies”), Bornstein shares her story: from a nice Jewish boy growing up in New Jersey to a strappingly handsome lieutenant of the Church of Scientology’s Sea flagship vessel, and later to 1990s Seattle, where she becomes a rising star in the lesbian community. In between there are wives and lovers, heartbreak and triumph, bridges mended and broken, and a journey of self-discovery that will mesmerize readers.
"A Queer and Pleasant Danger is a brave, funny, edgy, and enlightening new memoir. I loved it and learned from it. Kate Bornstein shares her fascinating journey—through gender, Scientology, and more—and it was a thrill to tag along on the ride. This book is unbelievably powerful and affecting. If Kate Bornstein didn't exist, we would have to invent her. But luckily for queers, straights, gender outlaws, and general readers, Bornstein is out and out there." —Dan Savage, author, columnist, and architect of the "It Gets Better Project"
"To me, Kate Bornstein is like a mythological figure or a historical literary character such as Orlando or Candide who, by illustrating her struggles, shows the rest of us how to live. This book is destined to become a classic." —Mx Justin Vivian Bond, author of Tango: My Childhood, Backwards and in High Heels
"Kate Bornstein's journey from moon-eyed Scientologist to queer icon is harrowing, heartbreaking, and amazing. This narrative is surely not for the squeamish. And yet, in the story of a sea-dog named Al who became a trans goddess named Kate, we see the messy, unsettling, inspiring struggle of a lady trying—and at last succeeding—to let her own soul be known. Disturbing and wondrous." —Jennifer Finney Boylan, author of She's Not There and I'm Looking Through You
“I read A Queer and Pleasant Danger over four nights in a bathtub and bed and was totally transported to Kate Bornstein’s world. Kate boldly lets us look under the hood of her own transformations as Jew, Scientologist, boy, girl, Buddhist and parent, leaving us with a richer understanding of the true identity underneath: human. A Queer and Pleasant Danger is a page turner, making sweet love to the paradoxes we all face." —Amanda Palmer, musician and co-founder of The Dresden Dolls
"Bornstein is hilarious, honest, acerbic, and fearless in her writing…QAPD is at least three books in one, each of which is a page-turner."—Religion Dispatches
"Breathless, passionate, and deeply honest, A Queer and Pleasant Danger is a wonderful book. Read it and learn."—Samuel R. Delany, author of Dhalgren
We've all heard the cliché, and we all know its meaning: that "male" and "female" are at the heart of God's plan for the world, and that heterosexuality is the only "natural" sexuality. Kirk Cameron, the former child TV star, made this point just a few days ago: that homosexuality is unnatural.
We know, too, that this is not a scientific claim. Actually, homosexuality is quite "natural"; it's present in hundreds of animal species and in every culture in the world. Sexual diversity is the rule, not the exception -- the plan, not the deviation.
But there is that myth, that story, of Adam and Eve. No matter the scientific evidence, no matter the countless lives of happy, healthy LGBT people, there's that story, that binary, and that claim.
Well, I'd like to take that story back -- to reclaim it for all of us, not just those of us who find love in heterosexual, monogamous life.
First, let's set aside the parts about God, the Bible, the whole theological aspect of this myth. Let's treat it just as literature -- as a text, sacred to many, but first and foremost a story of human origins and human purpose. All of us -- religious, atheist, agnostic, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, progressive, fundamentalist -- should be able to agree on that.
And in that myth, the pairing of Adam and Eve was the solution to a problem. In the more detailed version of the Genesis story, they don't just appear on the stage; human coupling is the result of divine fidgeting. God creates the human being, but then has to tinker with the original plan, because of the first flaw God finds with all of God's creation: loneliness.
"It is not good for the human being to be alone," God says in Genesis 2:18. In context, this is a shocking pronouncement. Six times, God had remarked how good everything is: light, Heaven and Earth, stars, plants, animals -- all of these are "good." The entirety of creation is "very good." Yet suddenly something is not good. Suddenly, God realizes there is something within the world as we find it that is insufficient, something that all of us experience in our own lives and that we all strive to transcend: the existential condition of being alone.
Notice, too, that Eve is not the first solution God attempts to deal with the problem of Adam's aloneness. God first presents Adam with every animal in the world -- birds, beasts, even those animals that would later become domesticated by people. But none suffices. Only then does the story of Genesis 2 tell us that God took the rib from man to make woman. Only human companionship solves the existential problem of aloneness, the first problem our religious traditions set out to address. And, finally, notice that Eve is not created, in this narrative, to make children with Adam; this story is about loneliness and love, not procreation and progeny. Indeed, Eve's femininity is not even essential to be what Hebrew calls an ezer kenegdo, and what antiquated King James English calls a "help-meet": someone able to be with Adam on equal terms and be a companion to him.
In other words, notwithstanding the many problems with this particular myth (it's been used not just against gays, of course, but primarily against women, by those who read it as setting up a gender hierarchy), this is a tale about the importance of human love and companionship.
Now, for most people, this love is indeed experienced in a relationship between a man and a woman. For about 5 percent of people (we can argue about the numbers; the range is usually 3 to 10 percent), this love is found in a relationship between two men, or between two women. And for some others, love may be found in either kind of relationship, and sexuality may be experienced as fluid.
Personally, I am one of that 5 percent. During my teens and 20s, as I struggled with my sexuality, I had relationships with women and, as much as I was able, fell in love. But something was always "off," even though at the time I couldn't quite identify it. (Maybe I knew, deep down. I don't know.) It took me 10 years of wrestling, cajoling, self-hating, and self-judging, and finally a serious car accident, which shook up my body and soul, to finally admit that if I wanted true love, the kind that the Song of Songs sings about, the kind that the Genesis myth says is so important, well, my Eve would have to be a Steve.
This is about much more than sex; it's about love. And that is the most natural thing in the world.
Now, if we do consider ourselves religious, this point matters, and it influences how we understand our sacred texts and traditions. Surely, a loving God could not want the tyranny of the "closet" -- an all-too-cozy metaphor for what is really a life of deceit, loneliness, and alienation. The Kirk Camerons of the world can still pretend that homosexuality is some kind of choice, pathology, or worse. But I have known both the life of the closet (for 10 years of my adult life) and the life of companionship. I know that my life with my partner is not simply about lust. It is exactly as the Genesis myth describes: a life of sharing, companionship, and love. Sure, for most people, "a man... shall hold fast to his wife." But in some cases, a woman shall hold fast to hers. And in some others, a man shall hold fast to another.
Of course, I know there are other Biblical texts that influence what some people think about homosexuality. In my book God vs. Gay?, I spend a long, long time parsing them out and show that they are obscure and ambiguous, and that they certainly do not contemplate loving, committed relationships. But anyone can interpret Biblical text; that's the easy part. As Shakespeare said, even the devil can cite scripture for his purpose. The hard, and more important, part is deciding which approach to take: one that leads to more love, or one that leads to more aloneness; one that leads to more of the holy, or one that leads to more of the shameful. As I approach these sacred texts, the story of Adam and Eve helps point the way, by reminding me that it is not good to be alone -- and it is very good to find someone with whom to share your life.
Today's post is from Hanne Blank, author of Straight: The Surprisingly Short History of Heterosexuality. Blank is a writer, historian, and public speaker whose work has been featured everywhere from Out to Penthouse. An independent scholar, she is the author of Virgin: The Untouched History and seven other books that explore the intersections of sexuality, gender, the body, and culture.
One is straightforward disbelief. How on earth, I have been asked more than once, could I consider writing a history of something that has demonstrably always existed, world without end, "male and female created He them," amen? What sort of history could there possibly be to write?
This is, conveniently, also a reasonably straightforward question to answer. Just asking someone to define "heterosexual" is usually enough to illuminate the fact that it's far from a simplistic matter of the fact that males and females exist in the world and are capable of reproducing sexually. All the other things that come up, from love and sexual desire to religion, marriage, and even ticking off the "married, filing jointly" box on one's tax form make it pretty clear that there are definitely parts of what "heterosexual" is that must have some kind of background, some kind of story, some sort of connection to history. Too, people are usually ready to acknowledge that the word "heterosexual" had to come from somewhere, and that this also constitutes a bit of history.
It seems to me that people come to acknowledge that heterosexuality can have a history in much the same way that they come to acknowledge that food can have a history. People have always, obviously, eaten food. But they haven't always eaten the same things in the same ways, or prepared them identically, or ascribed the same meanings to the food they eat. Heterosexuality -- or at least relationships between men and women, which is not entirely the same thing -- is not so different.
The other reaction I get is more complicated, and harder to respond to. Many people, particularly among my queer and feminist friends, have expressed the view that working on the history of heterosexuality is redundant, and possibly a sort of Uncle Tom-ish betrayal. Haven't heterosexuals got enough of a share of our culture's bandwidth already? Does heterosexuality really deserve to have political progressives like me spending time and effort, energy and intellect, to boost its signal?
On the surface, this seems like a very good question. And yet the history of heterosexuality itself reveals, at a stroke, the ways in which any honest history tends to undermine and complicate the structures of power and privilege.
Heterosexuality does, yes, broadcast its priorities far and wide, in our culture, with top billing and extreme prejudice. But it is notoriously, even ludicrously, bad at self-reflection and self-analysis. I've noted many times that it isn't the straight people who've managed to actually get a purchase on the history of heterosexuality. It's the queers -- Michel Foucault and Jonathan Ned Katz, to name the two most visible and important of the heterosexuality scholars who made it possible for me to even consider writing this book -- who've taken on the task of revealing what makes heterosexuality tick.
It's not a simple task, after all. All of us, queer and not queer, are born and bred, enculturated and explicitly educated to see heterosexuality as being not just normal, but Just The Way Things Are. It often seems to take a queer perspective, and queer outsiderness, to get any purchase on the idea that this might not be entirely true, and that perhaps, heterosexuality is instead One Of Many Ways That Things Might Be.
The fact of the matter is that as much as we might want to believe that we ought not lend our attention to the enormous sociocultural juggernaut that is heterosexuality on the grounds that paying attention to it only gives it more energy with which to thrive, none of us live our lives outside of the heterosexual matrix. Even if we despise the heteronormative hegemony, even if we fight the heterosexism of the patriarchy we live in with every waking thought, the fact remains that the less we know about it, the less effective our resistance can be. As much as I dislike thinking of heterosexuality as "the enemy" -- it's not, it's just an idea we use to think with -- we still need to know our enemies. Just as we need to know our friends. Just as we need, quite frankly, to know ourselves.
Each and every one of us, no matter what our own sexual orientation may be or how we may identify, has had to forge that sexual orientation or identity in the long shadow of heterosexuality. It influences every one of us, in every part of our lives. It shapes who we are and how we think. It influences how everyone we talk to thinks. And this ultimately is why it's a worthwhile project to know how it got that power, that reach, and that capacity to determine the shape of our culture and our lives.
It's also why studying the history of heterosexuality is, inevitably, not a thing that lends force and credence to that huge cultural presence, but rather takes it apart, looks at the pieces, and pronounces many of them curiously arbitrary and rather strange. Just like looking at the history of food makes us ask questions about why, for instance, we eat rabbit but not rat, why we make associations between moral virtue and the green astringency of kale but not the sweet purity of sugar, looking at the history of heterosexuality makes us wonder similar things about our attitudes concerning who desires and loves and has sex with whom, and in what permutations of biological sex.
I do understand the fear that having scholars and writers look too long and hard at the history of heterosexuality might seem to lend credence to its claims of superiority. Yet having been through the process of taking that long hard look -- and written a book that will take anyone else who cares to join me on the same journey -- I can only say that it is an experience that can only end up exposing both heterosexuality's forest and its trees.
Beginning with the very foundations, merely in asserting that heterosexuality has a history and explaining how that's possible, a look at the history of heterosexuality confirms nothing so much as the radical notion that human experience is no monolith, and that even the most weighty and powerful of our cultural institutions is only as inevitable, and only as eternal, as any of its myriad individual parts.
I don’t care for the current labels that we have for sexual orientation. I think they are confusing and confining, and I don’t think they truly represent the broad range of sexual and romantic attractions that actually exist in the species.
While labels such as gay, lesbian, bisexual, straight, and even pansexual, omnisexual, and queer can help with self-definition and the formation of communities, they can also result in shame, guilt, or concern when someone’s attractions happen to fall outside of the label that the person has adopted, or when someone is told that his, her, or hir attractions are wrong.
Regardless, it appears that these labels are here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future, and I am willing to go along with both their intended meanings and the meanings that each individual ascribes to them as he, she, or ze defines his/her/hir own sexual identity. However, I simply can’t accept the notion that “ex-gay” is a sexual orientation.
Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays (how original – could they not come up with something on their own without stealing from the marvelous organization PFLAG?) are calling for the reprimand of a Maryland school superintendent, saying that his statements broke the school district’s own nondiscrimination policy regarding sexual orientation.
It seems that PFOX sent flyers home with students telling them that no one is “born gay,” and that gay and lesbian students can change their orientation if they want to. Apparently the superintendent criticized the flyers, and now PFOX is complaining that he violated the district’s nondiscrimination policy because ex-gay is a sexual orientation, too!
Sorry, PFOX, I don’t buy it. If a gay or lesbian person can truly change his or her sexual orientation, then that person is no longer gay – right? That’s what “ex-gay” means – right? So if a person is “ex-gay,” then he or she is “straight” – right?
And if an “ex-gay” person is not straight, then, given the dearth of labels that we currently have available to us, that means that he or she is gay – right? So there is no such thing as “ex-gay” – not really. Is that what you’re saying?
Or maybe what you really mean is that we should expand our labels to account for all possible sexual identities and orientations. If that’s the case, then you would certainly support the labels “pansexual,” “omnisexual,” and “queer” – right?
Or maybe what you mean is that we should just get rid of labels altogether and allow each individual to love whomever he, she, or ze happens to fall in love with – no questions asked, no judgments made, and no labels needed.
If that last one is where you’re going with this, PFOX, then I would support it wholeheartedly. Unfortunately, I have a feeling that I’m a little off base.
But I think you’re grasping at straws with your “ex-gay is a sexual orientation” argument. It’s not – not unless you are willing to move outside of the categories that we have now, and doing that is going to be dangerous for your side.
Be careful what you let out of the box. You might not be able to get it back in.
Today's post is from Hanne Blank, author of Straight: The Surprisingly Short History of Heterosexuality. Blank is a writer, historian, and public speaker whose work has been featured everywhere from Out to Penthouse. An independent scholar, she is the author of Virgin: The Untouched History and seven other books that explore the intersections of sexuality, gender, the body, and culture.
When I began work on my book Straight: The Surprisingly Short History of Heterosexuality, I often got teased by friends who wondered whether, in working on the history of something so commonplace, I was going to come across anything that wasn't already common knowledge. Surely, they thought, it would all be very straightforward, very vanilla, very Leave It to Beaver, and if there were anything in there they didn't already know about, they'd be surprised.
As it turned out, this was far from true. The history of heterosexuality is actually a motherlode of remarkable and sometimes deeply strange stuff, from the broad-brush conceptual to the kinds of tidbits you add to your cocktail-party repertoire. Not only does the history of heterosexuality offer up surprises that make you rethink what "heterosexual" is and means, it also makes you realize how little we really know about this thing about which most of us assume we already know everything we need to. The following are 10 of my personal favorites.
1. May 6, 1868
The words "heterosexual" and "homosexual" were coined on this day in a letter written by Austro-Hungarian journalist Karl-Maria Kertbeny to the German legal eagle and proto-gay rights crusader Karl Ulrichs.
Technically speaking, before that fateful Wednesday, it was impossible for anyone in the world to be either a heterosexual or a homosexual, because the words didn't exist yet. [Image: First mention of the word "homosexual" and "heterosexual" (in a letter from the Austro-Hungarianwriter / from) Karl Maria Kertbeny in 1868 Photo: Hungarian National Library.]
Not Kirchberg and Feenstra. [Photo: NBC Universal]
2. Kirchberg vs Feenstra
Married American women didn't gain full legal control over their own financial assets until after this landmark U.S. Supreme Court case in 1981. In overturning "head and master" laws that gave husbands a legal upper hand over financial decision making within marriages, this decision finally made it illegal for a husband like Louisianan Joan Feenstra's, awaiting trial for sexually molesting his daughter, to decide to do something classy like mortgage the house for which his wife had paid in order to pay his legal bills. (And no, that date's not a typo: 1981.)
3. The "Science" of Mutual Heterosexual Orgasm
The ideal that men and women should have mutually orgasmic sex developed during the same time period as the idea of "heterosexuality" did, in the late 1800s and early 1900s. This novel notion helped establish the new notion of distinctively "heterosexual" desire and pleasure as scientific and medically proper.
By 1922, Dr. Walter Robie would write that married coitus had to be "mutually pleasurable and simultaneously climactic... if it is to be scientifically correct."
4. Science Has Never Defined "Heterosexual"
Never mind the question of whether there's such a thing as distinctively "gay genes" or "gay brains"; we don't even know if there's such a thing as straight ones. Physical and biomedical science have yet to define or even confirm the empirical existence of heterosexuality... no one's ever even tried.
This means that scientific research being conducted on the question of what makes people gay is being done without a properly characterized control to compare with. That's bad science.
5. Survey Says... We Lie a Lot About Sex
If you think you're better off trusting the statistics in sex surveys than what your friends say about their sex lives for an idea of what "normal heterosexuality" looks like, think again.
Research done on the accuracy of self-reporting in sexuality surveys, including a 2009 study in the Journal of Sex Research, demonstrates that in sex research as in life, what people claim about their sex lives often doesn't match up to reality. A better bet is to consider sex research stats as a representation of what's possible, not what's typical.
6. Freud, Father of Foreplay
Though men and women have engaged in various forms of non-intercourse sexual activity since time immemorial, the idea that there was a necessary opening act to sexual intercourse called "foreplay" is something we owe to Sigmund Freud and a handful of other psychologists and medical types around the turn of the 20th century.
7. When Going Down Meant Going... Down
Some late 19th-century authorities and physicians believed very sincerely that any woman who was interested in having a man perform oral sex on her was a sadist, and any man who complied was dangerously passive and submissive. Performing oral sex on women, they believed, was a "gateway drug" that led inevitably to ever more depraved acts of submission, and could possibly drag men all the way down to what they saw as the bottom of the heap, making them into the kind of men who provided oral sex to other men.
8. What's Love Got to Do With It
For most of Western history, it was considered shameful to feel or display too much romantic emotion toward a spouse. Treating one's wife "as one would a mistress" was excessive and unseemly; as the Lady's Magazine lectured its English readership in 1774, "the intent of matrimony is not for man and his wife to be always taken up with each other, but jointly to discharge the duties of civil society, to govern their families with prudence, and educate their children with discretion." Love, shmove, marriage was a job -- not an adventure.
9. Great-Great Grandma Used Birth Control
A passionate commitment to contraception was a part of many male-female relationships long before the Pill or even commercial condoms came on the scene. Statistical research shows that men and women began to limit their fertility during the 19th century, with birthrates among American white women declining from an average of seven babies per woman in 1800 to only about three and a half in 1900... not the sort of drop that happens spontaneously.
What were great-great grandma and grandpa using? Probably withdrawal.
10. Heterosexual? Thank a Gay Rights Activist
"Heterosexual" is not, and never was, a scientific term. Nor is "homosexual." Both were coined in the context of what we'd now call gay rights activism, during a campaign of pamphleteering and letter-writing in opposition to a mid-19th-century German sodomy law.
The idea behind the words "heterosexual" and "homosexual" was to demonstrate through language that these were merely two ways in which human beings could be sexual, distinct and equal, with the implication that sodomy laws should apply equally to everyone... or else to no one at all.
“From its thorough but brisk explorations of sexual orientation’s intersections with sex, gender, and romance, this illuminating study examines our presuppositions and makes a powerful, provocative argument that heterosexuality—mazy, unscientific, and new—may be merely 'a particular configuration of sex and power in a particular historical moment.'" Publisher's Weekly
Like the typewriter and the light bulb, the heterosexual was invented in the 1860s and swiftly and permanently transformed Western culture. The idea of “the heterosexual” was unprecedented. After all, men and women had been having sex, marrying, building families, and sometimes even falling in love for millennia without having any special name for their emotions or acts. Yet, within half a century, “heterosexual” had become a byword for “normal,” enshrined in law, medicine, psychiatry, and the media as a new gold standard for human experience.
In this surprising chronicle, historian Hanne Blank digs deep into the past of sexual orientation, while simultaneously exploring its contemporary psyche. Illuminating the hidden patterns in centuries of events and trends, Blank shows how culture creates and manipulates the ways we think about and experience desire, love, and relationships between men and women. Ranging from Henry VIII to testicle transplants, from Disneyland to sodomy laws, and from Moby Dick to artificial insemination, the history of heterosexuality turns out to be anything but straight or narrow.
With an eclectic scope and fascinating detail, Straight tells the eye-opening story of a complex and often contradictory man-made creation that is all too often assumed to be an irreducible fact of biology.
Stories of sexual scandals in churches throughout the nation have been downright routine in recent years, suggesting to many Americans that a deeply rooted problem plagues American Christianity-and prompting some to abandon their congregations altogether. In See Me Naked, Amy Frykholm takes us beyond simple indictments of, or blind allegiance to, Christian cultures to explore the complex, intimate intersection of sexuality and spirituality as it affects the lives of ordinary Christians.
Recounting with care and nuance the life histories of nine American Protestants, Frykholm shows us the harm done by the rules-based sexual ethic now dominant, which alternately denies and romanticizes sexuality. But she also points to how American Christians might otherwise access their spiritual tradition to heal the divide between religion and sexuality. One story examines the intricate relationship between a man's religious faith and his sexual addiction. In another, a man defines religion as a wall that kept him from the discovery that he was gay. One young woman uses sex to defy her devout parents, while another seeks to transcend her body by going without food. Nearly everyone interviewed in See Me Naked remains a Christian, with some further on their journey than others. Yet each of them is working to understand the connection between their desires and their faith. Ultimately, their stories-stories of pain and violence, perseverance and courage-attest to the healing power of struggling through the wild and uncertain experiences of life.
See Me Naked explores the many ways that people work to recover from harmful beliefs and restores the notion that one of the key insights of Christianity is that the body, with all its struggles, pains, and difficulties, is a vehicle of the holy and can lead us into a more full relationship with God.
Click here to read a review of Frykholm's work posted on Spirituality and Practice.
Gail Dines doesn't pull any punches in this piece for Counterpunch about Dominique Strauss-Kahn and the hotel maid who accused him of raping her:
I have a great idea for a movie. Here’s the pitch: A poor, slutty immigrant takes a job as a chambermaid so she can have great sex with the hotel guests. One day she hits the jackpot. She walks into a room only to be met by an irresistible stud old enough to be her father. Known in his home country as “The Seducer” he offers her a full view of his impressive manhood.
Overcome with lust, she falls to her knees and the two have great consensual sex. But being a woman and all, she is a lying, scheming whore and accuses the seducer of rape. The poor seducer becomes one more victim of “sex offender hysteria,” as one caller to National Public Radio named it, and now he must defend his good name.
If you haven't checked out the enormous wealth of reading material at Scribd, perhaps you can start with our LGBT Pride Collection. For Pride Month, we've pulled together excerpts from a dozen books: memoir, history, and ideas. Click on the covers below to read an excerpt from each book:
And if our excerpts whet your appetite for more, here are some interesting Scribd posts from other publishers we like.
"In the age of Twitter and reductive history, we need a complex, fully realized, radical reassessment of history-and A Queer History of the United Statesis exactly that. Along the way, there are enough revelations and reassessments to fuel dozens of arguments about how we got to where we are today. I don't know when I have enjoyed a history so much."-Dorothy Allison, author of Bastard Out of Carolina
In the 1620s, Thomas Morton broke from Plymouth Colony and founded Merrymount, which celebrated same-sex desire, atheism, and interracial marriage. Transgender evangelist Jemima Wilkinson, in the early 1800s, changed her name to "Publick Universal Friend," refused to use pronouns, fought for gender equality, and led her own congregation in upstate New York. In the mid-nineteenth century, internationally famous Shakespearean actor Charlotte Cushman led an openly lesbian life, including a well-publicized "female marriage." And in the late 1920s, Augustus Granville Dill was fired by W. E. B. Du Bois from the NAACP's magazine the Crisis after being arrested for a homosexual encounter. These are just a few moments of queer history that Michael Bronski highlights in this groundbreaking book.
Intellectually dynamic and endlessly provocative, A Queer History of the United States is more than a "who's who" of queer history: it is a book that radically challenges how we understand American history. Drawing upon primary documents, literature, and cultural histories, noted scholar and activist Michael Bronski charts the breadth of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender history, from 1492 to the 1990s, and has written a testament to how the LGBT experience has profoundly shaped our country, culture, and history.
A Queer History of the United States abounds with startling examples of unknown or often ignored aspects of American history-the ineffectiveness of sodomy laws in the colonies, the prevalence of cross-dressing women soldiers in the Civil War, the impact of new technologies on LGBT life in the nineteenth century, and how rock music and popular culture were, in large part, responsible for the devastating backlash against gay rights in the late 1970s. Most striking, Bronski documents how, over centuries, various incarnations of social purity movements have consistently attempted to regulate all sexuality, including fantasies, masturbation, and queer sex. Resisting these efforts, same-sex desire flourished and helped make America what it is today.
At heart, A Queer History of the United States is simply about American history. It is a book that will matter both to LGBT people and heterosexuals. This engrossing and revelatory history will make readers appreciate just how queer America really is.
Michael Bronski has been a gay activist, writer, and cultural critic since 1969. An original founding member of Fag Rag (1970) and Boston Gay Review (1975), he was also the principal arts writer for the Gay Community News (the first national LGBT weekly) from 1975-1995.
Along with winning two Lambda Literary Awards, he is the recipient of the 1999 The Martin Duberman Fellowship for scholarly research in GLBT studies, awarded by the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies, City University of New York, and the prestigious 1999 Stonewall Award, presented by the Anderson Prize Foundation. Bronski has won community recognition awards from Boston’s AIDS Action committee and the Cambridge Lavender Alliance, and the 2004 Leadership Award from the D-GALA (Dartmouth Gay and Lesbian Alumni Association and the 2008 Distinguished Lecturer Award form Dartmouth College. He is Senior Lecturer in Women’s and Gender Studies and Jewish Studies at Dartmouth College.
Louisiana’s “Crime Against Nature” statute punishes solicitation of oral or anal sex for compensation more harshly than the state’s criminal law penalizes prostitution generally. Not only does a second or subsequent offense of offering oral or anal sex for money carry much longer prison terms and higher fines than any number of prostitution convictions, it also subjects individuals convicted of Solicitation of Crime Against Nature (SCAN) to mandatory sex offender registration. No state other than Louisiana requires anyone convicted solely of selling sex for money to register as a sex offender. Only in Louisiana does merely offering to provide oral or anal sex in exchange for something of value land you on the sex offender registry.
Far from being a technical requirement, being required to register as a sex offender affects nearly every aspect of a person’s life. In Louisiana, sex offenders are required to carry a driver’s license or state ID with the words “sex offender” emblazoned across it in bright orange capital letters.
Once on the registry, an individual’s picture, address, identifying information, and crime of conviction also appear on a publicly available website. Moreover, you are required to pay $60 a year to register, and between $200 and $750 to send out postcards to all of your neighbors featuring your picture, address, and the crime you were convicted of.
Imagine all of your neighbors receiving a postcard informing them you are a convicted sex offender. Most will think that you are dangerous, violent and prey on children, when in reality you were convicted for offering to engage in oral sex with an undercover officer for $50 bucks ten years ago when you were struggling through tough times. Imagine your kid or family members googling your name and learning more about your past than you ever wanted them to know. Imagine trying to explain to a prospective landlord, employer, or romantic interest that you have never harmed a child, or engaged in any conduct involving force, a weapon, or lack of consent.
Whether or not you end up having to register as a sex offender for 15 years – or the rest of your life if you are convicted of SCAN more than twice - is completely up to the police officer who decides to arrest you and the prosecutor who decides what to charge you with. Because the same conduct is covered by the prostitution statute, which prohibits solicitation of any kind of sex (vaginal, anal, oral, manual, and whatever else the imagination can conjure) for money, someone accused of offering oral or anal sex for compensation can either be charged with prostitution or solicitation of a Crime Against Nature – or both.
Police and prosecutors are given no guidance whatsoever in making that decision, which can change the entire course of a person’s life. You can either wind up with a misdemeanor criminal conviction, or a felony that requires you to register for a sex offender for 15 years to life.
As Queer (In)Justice argues, such unfettered discretion in the hands of law enforcement lends itself to overt and implicit policing of race, gender and gender identity, sex and sexuality, and poverty. The numbers bear it out – the vast majority (80%) of people required to register as sex offenders solely because of a SCAN conviction in New Orleans are African American. An overwhelming majority (97%) of women who are registered as sex offenders must do so solely because of a SCAN conviction. And, predictably, along with poor Black women involved in street-based economies, transgender women and gay men of color are singled out for SCAN charges.
Clearly, the disparity in sentencing consequences for the solicitation of oral and anal sex stems from historical condemnation of sexual activity that is non-procreative or traditionally associated with homosexuality. How can this still be happening almost ten years after the U.S. Supreme Court decided Lawrence vs. Texas, the historic case which was hailed by Lambda Legal as "a legal victory so decisive that it would change the entire landscape for the LGBT community," and supposedly eliminated criminal penalties for conduct associated with homosexuality? That’s what I thought when I first heard about this. Then I read this fateful line in the Supreme Court’s decision in Lawrence, which was decided on the basis of privacy.
This case does not involve … public conduct or prostitution.
In other words, while Lawrence eliminated criminal penalties for those engaged in consensual homosexual activity in private, it has been interpreted – erroneously, we argue - to not provide any relief to queers who engage – or are perceived as being engaged - in public sexual conduct or the sex trades. Their landscape remains, in fact, the same.
People like Michael (a pseudonym), a Latino man who was kicked out of his home for being gay at age 13 and forced to make his own way on the streets, are unfairly punished by this law. Because Michael once offered an undercover cop oral sex in exchange for $50, he was convicted of SCAN, spent 4 years in jail, and was forced to join the ranks of the Louisiana sex offender registry. He is now HIV+, and he can’t stay in a homeless shelter, get a job, or find housing because he is branded as a sex offender – and will be for the next 15 years. People like Stella (also a pseudonym), a young African American transgender woman who, like so many other transgender women, is often profiled as being a sex worker and is constantly arrested for and charged with solicitation of Crimes Against Nature every time she steps into New Orleans’ storied French Quarter as a result, is forced to register as a sex offender for the rest of her life. She’s not alone – as one person put it, “I feel like if trans women are just walking down the street, they hit them up with that charge...”
People like Frances (also a pseudonym), a middle-aged African American grandmother who was arrested and charged with SCAN as a teenager trying to make her way through high school despite grinding poverty, will continue to live in shame and fear of humiliation and harm.
Yes, this law also affects middle-aged grandmothers. As Queer (In)Justice highlights,
Cathy Cohen points out in her groundbreaking essay Punks, Bulldaggers, and Welfare Queens, gender conforming heterosexuals can also be policed and punished for exhibiting behavior or indulging sexual desires that run contrary to the vast array of punitive rules, norms, practices, and institutions which “legitimize and privilege heterosexuality.”
…women of color [are] by definition outside the bounds of heteronormativity, and therefore inherently subject to gender policing and punishment. For instance, Black feminists have consistently highlighted the development of a number of controlling narratives casting Black women as dangerous, gender deviant, “castrating matriarchs,” or as sexually aggressive, promiscuous, and depraved, to justify their regulation as both inherently criminal and as “breeders” of criminals. Cohen also points to the use of heteronormativity to exclude single mothers on welfare, predominantly perceived to be almost exclusively women of color, and sex workers, from who is “normal, moral, or worthy of state support” or legal recognition.
One African American woman forced to register under the Crime Against Nature statute asks "I was raped and used myself a lot of times. I never hurt anyone - why am I on the registry as a sex offender?" Another, who has struggled with poverty and addiction and has spent most of her life behind bars, in large part due to SCAN charges, as a result says: “There are children getting raped every day, but no, you want to go after me, and go after the transsexuals out there ... It just vex my spirit.”
In other words, there is both theoretical and real common ground among poor non-transgender Black women and transgender and gay men of color who are, or are perceived to be, involved in the sex trades, on which multi-racial and multi-issue organizing can be solidly built. The disparate punishment of certain types of commercial sexual exchanges based on ancient notions condemning queer sex should also be considered an LGBT rights issue that affects both queers and heterosexuals.
Unlike earlier efforts to challenge the statute post Lawrence, the campaign currently underway to, spearheaded by local harm reduction agency Women With A Vision, focuses on the experiences of both queers and heterosexuals of color who share experiences of policing and poverty. In this way, it represents exactly the kind of organizing Queer (In)Justice hails as the future of a progressive queer movement. Led by lesbians of color, bringing together civil rights, racial justice, women’s health, AIDS, LGBT, juvenile justice, and anti-police brutality attorneys, advocates, and organizers, and centering the voices and experiences of all people affected by the law, the campaign recognizes that issues of poverty, race, criminalization, gender, sex, and sexuality are inextricably intertwined.
Join Women With A Vision’s No Justice Campaign in demanding the repeal of Louisiana’s Crime Against Nature statute and retroactive removal of everyone who is on the sex offender registry solely as the result of a non-violent SCAN conviction. It’s just one step toward ensuring that no queer is left behind.
Queer (In)Justice: The Criminalization of LGBT People in the United States, by Joey L. Mogul, Andrea J. Ritchie, and Kay Whitlock went on sale in bookstores across the country on February 15, 2011.
Today's post is from Gail Dines, author of the forthcoming book Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality. Dines has written and lectured on the porn industry for over two decades. She is professor of sociology and women's studies at Wheelock College.
For all those women who think men are interested only in sex and not conversation or intimacy, think again. A New Jersey based company, ironically called True Companion, has come out with what it calls the "the world's first sex robot". This is, according to news reports, a life-size rubber doll that has all the "necessary" orifices. Why the big news? After all, this is not the first time that the porn industry has come out with a sex doll. The company Real Doll has been around since 1996 and offers "an extensive list of options, including 10 female body types and 16 interchangeable female faces." Offering to customize the doll to the desires of the particular consumer – color and shape of pubic hair, fingernail colors, hairstyle, ethnic features etc., -- the company boasts that "If you've ever dreamed of creating your ideal partner, then you have come to the right place."
True Companion is trying to build a business on the deep insight that some men want more from their ideal partner than silent beauty. For about $8,000 True Companion offers a doll that actually talks in response to various stimuli, generating nuanced and complex sentences such as "I love holding hands with you." Douglas Hines, the owner of True Companion, wants the customer to be able to "talk and relate to" the doll because he has come to the great realization that "Sex only goes so far -- then you want to be able to talk to the person." At last, men have discovered that for most women -- and perhaps a few dolls -- conversation matters! Well, it's a start.
As ridiculous as this robot may seem to many of us, it actually makes perfect sense in a society saturated by porn, where the average age boys first view porn is 11 years. Boys and men are socialized by porn to see sex as lacking in connection, intimacy and emotion. Sex in porn is all about penetration; as chrisfjohn, commenting on the robot on the Huffington Post, said, "the great part about porn is that you don't have to deal with all of the emotions and drama of a relationship." For chrisfJohn the robot is a bit too emotionally connected -- he doesn't want to "have to listen to it talk." For Don E Chute, on the other hand, the price is a bit steep because, he calculates, for that amount he could buy "roughly, 80, $100 hookers." To be fair, many of the comments do see the problem with the robot-as-partner idea, but the misogyny still drips from their posts, as in the case of AZ85283, when he asks "Mothers, what the hell are you raising?"
Of course, it's not the mothers but the pornographic culture that is raising men who are increasingly seeing women as interchangeable with sex dolls. If a doll with three orifices can stand in for a woman, then it doesn't bode well for women who want to be seen as equal to men and deserving of full human rights. To see just how gender specific this is, can you imagine women shelling out thousands of dollars for a male doll, no matter what size his manhood, even if it did say, "can I make dinner for you"?
That first year goes so fast! To commemorate our first anniversary, here are the most popular posts of the past year based on page hits. They represent a good cross-section of the topics and voices we've featured here on the blog. If you've enjoyed the blog during this past year, join our Facebook Blog Network or Fan Page. Thanks for reading!
I spent the better part of academic year 1989-90 in Kathmandu, Nepal, on a Fulbright research grant. My project was to explore connections between the poetry of Walt Whitman and ancient Vedic literature, especially on the topic of consciousness. I also agreed to supervise the doctoral dissertations of several students at Tribhuvan University, one of which was entitled, "Walt Whitman as a Tantrika Yogi."
I knew little about tantra, which was then just beginning its faddish popularity in the United States, but I felt okay about supervising the dissertation. After all, Whitman's sexuality—his own personal sexuality as well as his views of human sexuality—was so enormous and complexly layered a subject as to invite a myriad of approaches— the more unconventional the better. And I was in the perfect spot to learn about tantra, since many scholars regard Nepal as its historical home. So, working on the dissertation should be interesting.
Indeed, I came to see Whitman in a revealing new light. But beyond that, what I learned about tantra was often on my mind fifteen years later when my co-author, Kevin Scott, and I began work on The Porning of America. As we studied definitions of pornography, distinctions between porn and erotica, and so on, it became clear that porn in America has its roots in Puritanism. And that tantra provided an example of a completely different—and much healthier—orientation toward sexuality. The porn websites we surfed could have been written by characters right out of Hawthorne. Sex is "filthy," "nasty," "dirty." The women are "sluts," and "whores." Puritanism and porn share the same view of the human body and sexuality. The only difference is that porn transgressively revels in what the Puritans righteously ran away from.
The online teaser was intriguing: '"Human monsters" a reality.' Having lived through the first few years of the 21st century, I wholeheartedly agreed. But when I clicked on the link, I discovered that it led not to a story about current political figures, but to a CNN article about an '80s Olympic athlete who was unknowingly given steroids by her coaches in order to enhance her performance.
East German shot putter Heidi Krieger thought she was taking vitamins, but later discovered, as her body began to masculinize, that she was being given the anabolic steroid Oral-Turinabol, a drug that, according to the article, "changed a woman into a man." As Krieger continued on the steroids, she noted changes not only in her physical appearance, but also in her feelings.
"I felt much more attracted to women and just felt like a man. But I knew I was not (a) lesbian," Krieger told CNN.
Good thinking, because lesbians don't feel like men. But I digress.
In 1997, Krieger had a "sex-change operation" and became Andreas Krieger. Details of this particular "operation" were not made public, and I would like to know more, because I find it fascinating that there is one magical "sex-change operation" that will do the trick. But I digress. Krieger is now married and runs an army surplus store. He says he does not want to be seen as a victim, but he presents himself as quite unhappy with his situation and with the circumstances surrounding his "sex-change operation."
Trans people aren't broken. We aren't looking to be "fixed," and we have no need of a repairman. We have spent decades trying to convince the Western world of this, and forgive us if some in our ranks were starting to feel a little optimistic about our progress – until, maybe, now.
Just when we thought that an end to the tinkering around with our brains might be in sight – at least for those who are very far sighted – along comes a repairman in the form of Dr. Kenneth Zucker, a non-transman who, like so many before him, thinks he knows what's better for us than we do. Dr. Zucker thinks he can "fix" us – whether we want him to or not.
Now Dr. Zucker might be merely an annoying interruption in our otherwise peaceful day – some scam artist who knocks on our door and tells us that our roof or our driveway or our air conditioning is in disrepair and that he can fix it for cheap – and we could easily tell him that we have our own service, thank you very much, and close the door in his face. Unfortunately, in this case, there's one small catch – Dr. Kenneth Zucker has been appointed by the American Psychiatric Association to serve as the chair for the Sexual and Gender Identities Disorder task force that reviews the new version of the DSM – the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual that is used by psychiatrists, psychologists, and therapists to diagnose mental illness. And, in this regard, Dr. Zucker is no mere annoyance knocking on our door. He is a very dangerous man – and not just to trans people.
Talk about teachable moments. Two days before the "topless Miley" stories broke all over television and online, my class and I were discussing the young star of the Disney show, Hannah Montana.
My endlessly digressing American Studies class, fifteen young women and one lonely fellow, saw a connection between the subject and period we were studying—the representation of women in Cold War-era popular culture—and the current phenomenon of young female stars being offered up onto the altar of a lecherous public consumption.
Knowing, as they do, how easy I am to distract, they asked me what I thought of Miley Cyrus, who plays a normal high school kid who moonlights as a rock star. (Don't we all remember that kid from our own high school days? No?)
I said, roughly, "Well, the music makes my ears bleed, BUT, considering the options, if my daughter were to be a fan of the star, I would probably decide to shut up and let her have her fun."
And now for the latest transsexual travesty (there’s at least one a week nowadays, isn’t there?): a transman is pregnant. Female-to-male transsexual (born female, now male) Thomas Beatie is bearded, breastless, and with child, and although he is not the first transman to become pregnant, nor will he be the first to give birth, the situation is causing a major blip on the media’s sensationalism sonar. Beatie has been interviewed on Oprah, told his story to The Advocate, and had his picture passed around like a bottle of Boone’s Farm all over the Internet, with his pregnant abdomen prominent below his reconstructed chest. He’s been called everything from “freak” to “fabulous,” and everyone with an opinion has made it known. Forgive me if I yawn.