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Sexcetera - Fall 2012

Sexcetera: The Fall 2012 grand list

I write an opinion column in my school’s newspaper, The Pioneer, called “Sexcetera.” It’s a column on relationships, sex, and sexuality, from a perspective I’m trying to keep sex-positive, feminist, and inclusive. I’ve been doing it for months, but (perhaps unsurprisingly, given my tendency to get busy and neglect the blog), I haven’t mentioned it at all here.

Since it would be silly to post each individual column now, I figured I’d post a general directory of what I’ve written this semester.

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Brief post: Why the Salvation Army’s not getting my money this year

It’s the holiday season, which means that along with the nonstop Christmas music in grocery stores, we’re also about to be bombarded with opportunities to give to those in need. Those iconic bell-ringers, the Salvation Army, are going to be out–and I’m not giving them a cent.

I’m not a Scrooge. I’m all for giving and helping people less fortunate than you. But the Salvation Army is not an organization I wish to support, because the good they might do is offset by a lot of less savory facts.

From autumnyte on Tumblr:

Well, here’s the deal, anon. The Salvation Army is an evangelical Christian group, and they impose those beliefs on the people that they employ and the communities they serve. Here are a few examples:

They are so opposed to LGBT rights that they have lobbied multiple times for exemptions from Federal and Local anti-discrimination laws, and threatened to withdraw their services.

They refused to provide shelter to a homeless gay couple, unless they broke up and renounced their homosexuality.

They refused to provide a transgender woman with shelter that was congruent with her gender presentation, instead insisting she house with men. She chose instead to sleep on the sidewalk and died from the cold.

Speaking of gender, there was also this charming incident where one of their hostels refused to open the door for a 17-year-old victim who had just been brutally raped (or even call the police for her) because that particular hostel had a strict “men only” policy.

Children who can’t prove their immigration status are turned away.

The organization also disposes of any Harry Potter or Twilight related donations (rather than giving them to other charities), because they claim the toys are “incompatible with the charity’s Christian beliefs”.

During the Bush Administration (thanks to “faith-based initiatives”) they fired about 20 long-time employees (Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Gay), simply for refusing to sign the organization’s statement of Christian belief.

So, that–in a nutshell–is what’s wrong with it.

I’m sure there are some exceptions on local bases, and certainly, I don’t encourage harassing or abusing the volunteers who are out collecting donations–they’re just doing their jobs, which have got to be hard, especially when things get colder. But if you’re looking to give to a charitable organization, I highly recommend looking elsewhere for a group with a better track record.

A breakfast sandwich made of golden, flaky biscuits, melted cheese, eggs, sausage, and bacon. A glass of orange juice is visible in the background.

Breakfast today

A breakfast sandwich made of golden, flaky biscuits, melted cheese, eggs, sausage, and bacon. A glass of orange juice is visible in the background.

Reminder: Why we need sex-positivity

I talk a lot about sex and sex-positivity, especially in person. (There’s a big post about what that all means and why I find it so important coming up at some point–it’s long overdue.) There’s a lot of cultural weight stacked against sex that I, as a humanist and a feminist, simply can’t accept, and so I’ve worked over the past few years to free myself of that stigmatical burden. But as a student at a small liberal arts college in eastern Washington, and one who calls Portland, Oregon “home” to boot, it’s sometimes easy to forget that the sex-positive spheres I inhabit are not what many people across the country recognize.

This post on reddit caught my eye today and gave me a really unpleasant reminder of what a sex-negative culture can do:

I’m a 17 year old female, and I think I have an over active sex drive.?

Or maybe a hormone imbalance. I’m not very sure. First of all i’d like to say I am not trolling, although it may sound like it. I’m a virgin. But I think about sex, frequently. I masturbate like about 4 times per week and think about sex everytime I go to sleep. I think about it way to much to where I’m at the point of seeing someone sexy on tv and wanting to have sex with them. I don’t know if this is normal, and I wasnt sure where to post this. Please help:(

This is what happens when a culture tells people, especially women, that enjoying sex is abnormal, that it’s wrong, that it’s something to be ashamed of. A girl exploring her sexuality in a perfectly natural, healthy way, harming nobody in the process, is led to believe that she’s physiologically abnormal for seeking pleasure. She feels guilt and grief when she has done nothing wrong. And she feels like even when she’s doing something that only affects her, she needs to be “normal”, as if there’s something inherently wrong with an abundance of sexual thoughts and behaviors.

We need to fight this. We need to tell people of all genders, sexes, and orientations that they can and should love their bodies and all they can do, if they so choose. We need to broadcast a better idea of what is “wrong” based on consent and harm, rather than puritanical anti-pleasure maxims. We need to create a culture that celebrates consensual sex and sexuality (including the choice not to be sexual)–rather than one that makes 17-year-old girls afraid that there’s something wrong with them for being sexual.

My summer 2012 reading list

As I alluded to a few posts ago, I’m aiming to educate myself this summer on a lot of issues, particularly issues of social justice and privilege. With some help, especially that of Rachel, I’ve come up with the following rough list, affectionately dubbed the “Just How Fucked Are We?” reading list. It’s in no particular order, and I may be adding to it or deviating from it as the summer goes on, but these are the books I’m diving into this summer. Since I’m still slowly working through this reading list, most of my synopses are based on publishers’ summaries or the reviews of people who’ve read them.

I link to Powell’s because it’s my favorite local independent bookstore, but, of course, you can check them out from your library or buy them at your personally preferred bookstore.

  • You Are Not a Gadget, by Jaron Lanier: A philosophical manifesto examining the growing role of internet technology in our daily lives, and how it’s changing our understanding of humanity and personhood.
  • The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, by Naomi Klein: An in-depth examination of the “shock doctrine” used to push neoliberal economic policies across the world, wherein governments seize the opportunity created by crisis in order to implement policies that would otherwise face stiff resistance.
  • Yes Means Yes!: Visions of a Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape, by Jaclyn Friedman and Jessica Valenti: An anthology from various authors on dismantling rape culture and educating people to value and embrace female sexuality.
  • Fast Food Nation, by Eric Schlosser: In what I’ve heard described as a modern-day take on Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, Schlosser investigates the many tendrils of the fast food industry in our society–not only the disgusting truths of fast food production, but also the cultural impacts of fast food, the industry’s exploitation of minorities, and much more.
  • Reefer Madness, by Eric Schlosser: An investigation of America’s underground economy, particularly focusing on marijuana, porn, and undocumented immigrants.
  • Broke, USA, by Gary Rivlin: A look into the recent development of the “poverty industry” in the last five years, an industry making big bucks on the backs of the working poor.
  • Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, by Barbara Ehrenreich: A classic piece of ethnographic literature. In the late 90’s, Ehrenreich attempted to see what life was actually like in the trenches of working poverty by experiencing it herself, moving from job to job, state to state, trying to keep herself fed and sheltered on near-minimum wage levels–and found that the”minimum” wage is hardly sufficient.
  • The Working Poor: Invisible in America, by David K. Shipler: A study of the invisible poor, courageous and working hard yet trapped in a web of problems.
  • Murder City: Ciudad Juárez and the Global Economy’s New Killing Fields, by Charles Bowden: A “devastating chronicle of a city in collapse” composed of individual stories of those living in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, a hotspot for drug-related violence.

Also not on the”Just How Fucked Are We” list:

  • In Praise of Shadows, by Junichir? Tanizaki: A classic essay on the Japanese aesthetic.
  • Reality is Broken, by Jane McGonigal: A look into real-world applications of positive psychology, seen through the lens of an award-winning game designer.
  • Sex at Dawn, by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá: A journey through human history, evolution, and psychology to suggest that sexual monogamy is not the default for human behavior that we all think it is.

These are the thousands of pages I’m going to try to put into my brain this summer. Wish me luck!

The Imaginary Commencement Address

My high school’s class of 2012 just graduated today. Damn, I feel old.

My friend Michael Jarmer, who teaches English at my high school, wrote this impressive imaginary commencement address to the seniors. It’s full of great advice derived from his experiences teaching and learning literature with his students, and reflects a healthy humanist appreciation for each other and for our lives that I always find so refreshing to read:

And once we’re in college or unemployed we wait for a job, a family, a kid, and then we wait for the kid to go through grade school, middle school, high school, college, job, marriage, grandkids, and…  Good grief. Stop waiting for life to begin. Your life has already begun. You’re in it. Live it. Be here now. Tomorrow will come, I guarantee it.

It’ll only take a few minutes of your time, and the inspiration you’ll get from it is totally worth it. Go read it.

Behind the Scenes

Refining my image

I just went through my old archives and hid about 70 blog posts that I felt were either embarrassing or just not worth keeping up anymore. Most of them were posts from middle school and high school, so for a lot of my friends, from before they even knew me. This is part of an effort this summer to change the scope and audience of my blog, which is something I’d rather just do than talk much about.

Along the way, I also made a few changes to previous posts:

  • For accessibility purposes, almost all images have been given alternative text.
  • Some typos were corrected.
  • A post from February 11, previously entitled “Astronomers got gypped,” has been renamed, “Astronomers got screwed,“ with an accompanying editor’s note at the bottom. While I generally don’t care to modify old content, I don’t feel comfortable using “gypped,” a racist term, in the title of a post.

The posts that are left are those that I would feel comfortable with anyone reading, although hopefully with the understanding that the earlier ones were written in the early days of both my own blogging and blogging as a medium in general, and thus I was still figuring out what I wanted to say. It should go without saying, but although they present a glimpse of who I was, they certainly don’t necessarily represent who I am now. Feel free to read and enjoy them (or cringe at them), but keep it in mind that a long time has passed between their publishing date and today.

Hopefully, this will pave the way for a more interesting blog in the future.

My mind is burning

My mind is burning.

I’ve decided that this summer, it’s time to stop being ignorant. I’ve had the privilege, as a white, straight, middle-class American male, to live a life fairly unburdened by worries of social inequality or injustice, but it’s time that I stepped outside that privilege and learned something.

I’ve hardly even begun thinking about making a reading list for the summer, and already, it feels like my head is on fire with all of it. Racism. Sexism. Capitalism.

It feels right now like the world is fucked up in so many ways. I recognize that might be a bit of an overreaction, but I also can predict I’ll be going further into a slump of that hopelessness the more I research and learn, until I can accept it and start figuring out what the hell to do about it.

Learning about this isn’t going to be easy. It’ll be tempting to just back out and retreat to my privileged position, where I don’t have to deal with the painful reality of what’s going on.

It’ll be my challenge to stick with it and make a worthwhile change in my life.

It’s going to be an interesting summer, that’s for damn sure.


Header image: “Sparks” by Daniel Dionne (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Communication is sexy

Formula: "# of things that get them off" over "# of possible sexual acts"
Let’s overlook the blatant mathematical problems here, like my use of a fraction with infinity in the denominator. You know what I mean.

My Beef

Here’s my problem with my study abroad program.

In the next week and a half, I have to:

  • translate interview questions in to Japanese
  • interview five Japanese people (in Japanese)
  • prepare a 25-minute presentation based on that data (in Japanese)
  • take a Japanese test
  • listen to and critique my performance on my most recent 20-minute Japanese oral exam
  • write a 600-character composition (in Japanese)
  • finish writing a 4-minute script for a film (in Japanese)
  • work with classmates to create the aforementioned film from my and others’ scripts
  • read approximately 200 pages of articles regarding minorities and immigrants in Japan
  • read a Japanese article for my reading comprehension class

This does not include any daily incidental homework that may be assigned in clas–this is just the stuff that I can see coming. And indeed, I’ve seen most of this coming from a mile away.

But I’ve been so swamped with the daily incidental stuff that I’ve been unable to make any headway on these long-standing projects. To illustrate this, in the last week and a half, I had to:

  • read 20 pages of a comic (in Japanese)
  • prepare a vocabulary list/task sheet for those pages (in Japanese)
  • do a Japanese listening practice assignment
  • read roughly 100 pages of articles regarding minorities and immigrants in Japan
  • take two Japanese vocabulary quizzes
  • take two kanji quizzes
  • translate a dozen complicated sentences into Japanese in preparation for a test
  • interview my host family about jobs and employment
  • select (and clean up) pictures to showcase in my photography class
  • write an article in Japanese about my experience with お正月 (oshougatsu– the Japanese New Year)
  • read a Japanese story for my reading comprehension class
  • write a 5-page midterm essay for Minorities and Immigrants in Japan

And that list’s probably not exhaustive. That’s mostly the daily incidental stuff that just came up. The longer-term projects, such as the midterm essay and the article on お正月 were pushed back to far later than one might consider prudent–not from laziness, but from sheer lack of time.

There is so much daily busy work simply required by my classes that I can not touch the long-term projects. I see them coming. I want to get them out of the way. But thanks to all of the stuff I have to do for class just to stay on top of the daily requirements, I cannot get a head start on them.

There are corners I can cut. I can come to Minorities and Immigrants having not read the articles (which I’m doing lately), and I can cut my sleep schedule short (which I’m doing, drastically). But skipping articles means that I don’t get as much as possible out of my Minorities class, which will bite me in a few more weeks when I have to write a final. Cutting my sleep–I’m already getting only about 5-6 hours each night anyway–means that I doze off in class (bad) or when trying to work, so I either get less out of class or my working efficiency drops. Beyond those two, I have a hard time seeing anything I can do (save for not writing blog posts, but this venting is preventing me from just completely breaking down into a nervous wreck, so I believe I can justify it on grounds of preserving my health).

This burns all the more because, for Pete’s sake, I’m in Kyoto. There are a million and a half things I want to be doing. I want to be roaming the streets, checking out temples that catch my fancy. I want to continue my as-of-yet-fruitless search for a double-edged razor (seriously; every drug store in Japan sells Feather brand double-edged razor blades, but none sell the razor itself). I want to peruse the wacky offerings of the enigmatic store called Don Quijote, buy manga at Book Off!, try crepes at a restaurant near campus, or just wander Uji and see what sights pop up to surprise me. I want to go on walks. I want to sing karaoke on Shijo and then slip into the weekend with a visit to a bath. I want to experience Kyoto again.

But I can’t. I can’t even spare time for the long-term projects that are required of me, to say nothing of my personal whims.

Rather than someone experiencing life in Kyoto while studying as a student, I’ve become a student grinding away at the piles of work he has, who just happens to be in Japan. I eat Japanese food for dinner and nobody’s speaking in English, but that’s the current extent of my daily–weekly–monthly experience in Japan. I can’t afford to do anything more.

It’s a recipe for disaster. Take one Spencer, marinated for years in “prone to stress out about work”. Coat in daily obligations. In a separate bowl, mix long-term projects. Keep separate. Sear until the juices of”possible stress relief” have all come out, then throw in a pan and bake on high until carbonized.

This is not, as a keen reader might deduce, ideal.

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