Taking a Breather

Butterfly WomanJust in the last week, we’ve had two more trans women murdered here in the States. Last Friday night, Bri Golec was stabbed to death by her father, who left her body out on the porch and made a false 911 call saying that they were attacked by members of a cult that his “son” supposedly belonged to. And just a couple days ago, Christina Grant Infiniti in Miami was murdered by her boyfriend. This one has barely been acknowledged, even by media sources that would normally cover these murders, such as the Advocate. Couple this with the fact that on Wednesday, I had a hostile (but thankfully not violent) encounter in the ladies room on campus, and I need a few days for myself. I’ve even skipped my LGBT studies and activism classes for this week because of this, and my professors were told why before either class. As such, I’m not going to really write much today. Instead, I leave you with a couple of essays I wrote about a year or so ago for a human sexuality class, discussing the media influences that existed while I was growing up, and what I would like to see changed. Think of these in light of the recent murders that sometimes, more knowledge of a topic, or more visibility, is not always a good thing. I risk my life every day just by being open and honest. As Laverne Cox said during her speech, there isn’t a moment when I leave my home that I don’t wonder if I’ll be coming home at the end of the day alive.

I’ll be back next week. Stay safe out there.

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I grew up in the late 1980s and early 1990s. As such, I grew up in an era when computers were beginning to gain popularity, but were not yet a fixture in every household. Neither was the internet as ubiquitous as it is today. Additionally, the media did not cover issues of sexuality in the ways it does now; day time talk shows like Jerry Springer and Ricki Lake were the majority of sources about sexuality, particularly sexuality that was neither cis/heteronormative nor “vanilla” (i.e. for the purposes of procreation). There were a few other sources out there, particularly in homes where the parents were not restrictive of what their children watched. These would be comedians, late night pornographic shows on cable channels like HBO and Showtime, and access to a parent’s (usually the father’s) pornographic magazines.

Imagine if you will, a young transgender girl who is also lesbian or pansexual growing up in this society. Her father (the only parent she has ever known) works as a computer programmer, so the home is relatively middle class with access to cable television, computers, and the internet. Additionally, her best friend also only lives with his father, and that parent is never home. The two children have easy access to Playboy, Penthouse, Jerry Springer, and lots of video games (in an era when the Super Nintendo Entertainment System was the height of technology). The girl is being raised to think that she’s a boy because that is what the doctors and the rest of society keep telling her, but she knows something about that is off. At the same time, she knows she is attracted to women, and that is the norm for boys, so maybe the rest of society is right. After all, she is not particularly “girly” by societal standards, very much a tomboy.

Her only real source of information about people like her is Jerry Springer. On that, she sees the occasional episode where a man proposes marriage to his girlfriend, only for her to tell him that she has a secret – “I’m really a man!” She knew this was definitely not who she was, so she decided that she must be a boy, but there was still that nagging feeling in the back of her mind that something was wrong about it. That nagging would remain for several years.

Fast forward a bit to adolescence. Puberty hits the girl like a brick wall, because she starts developing like a male would, but part of her brain kept telling her that something was wrong with it. Everything she read or saw on the subject told her that puberty is horrible for everyone, so she brushes that aside. However, with the increased presence of the internet, she begins to find more and more sites discussing sexuality and begins to suspect that maybe she is actually a gay male, though after recognizing her attraction to females, decides that maybe she is bisexual. She confides this to a couple of her male friends, and by the next morning, she finds herself being kicked out of school (she is currently attending a military school).

This turns out to be a good thing, because at her next school, she meets an English teacher who has a class called Critical Composition and Discussion. In this class, students examine literature pertaining to many controversial topics such as racism, teen pregnancy, abortion, and even lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) issues. While the girl does not take the class itself, the teacher invites the girl to sit in during the week where they discuss LGBT issues, which includes three days with speakers who live the topic coming in to discuss what their lives have been like because of the issue. It is during one of these talks where it clicks in the girl’s mind: she’s female, not male, and on top of that, she’s likely lesbian. She quickly uses the internet to delve into every bit of information she can find on the topic of transgenderism and quickly becomes an expert on the topic.

As you have likely guessed, that girl is me. My story is one that is in many ways common to LGBT individuals who grew up around the same time as I did. The internet is becoming increasingly a way for LGBT youth to learn about their sexuality. Additionally, it serves as a springboard, helping them move through the initial stages of the coming out process, from pre-coming out to coming out, and later on to exploration. Additionally, while many aspects of society do contain messages about sexuality, as King (2012) points out, these messages have traditionally been very cis/heteronormative. Today, we have a growing body of mass media that does discuss issues of sexuality for those who are LGBT, such as Adam Lambert, Lady Gaga, Dr. Drew Pinksy, and Scarleteen. However, back then, all we had were Green Day and Christina Aguilera. For those who were lucky and lived in a major metro area, there were LGBT youth centers that might discuss issues of sex education for LGBT specific issues. Such places would be Rainbow Alley in my hometown of Denver, or Youth First in Dallas. The problem was (and often still is) that such places are often located in bad parts of their respective cities, thus parents are hesitant to take their children to them (which also requires the youth to have come out). Rainbow Alley, for example, was named thus because its entrance was in a back alley.

As such, like many LGBT individuals, I had to devise my own attitudes and practices when it came to my sexuality. This extends to basic courtship rituals, as we lacked societal dating scripts telling us how to behave. For example, when it comes to the issue of paying for dinner while on a date, the societal script says that the man pays for both himself and the woman. When both partners are the same sex however, this raises the question of who pays. This has led to many varied ways of dealing with the issue from LGB individuals, such as each paying for half, or each paying for their own meal, or one person buys dinner while the other pays for the movie, or even deciding that one pays for this date, and the other pays for the next. I came up with my own script of “whoever asks the other on a date pays” and then alternating from there if it becomes a long-term relationship. Which then raises the next social script: who asks whom out? Again, in heteronormative society, it is traditional that the male asks the female (with the exception of Sadie Hawkins dances). In same-gender relationships, that again fails to work, unless one decides that there must be a masculine partner and a feminine partner (i.e. butch and femme). By the time I was growing up and exploring my sexuality, this was no longer the traditional case as it once was among the lesbian community, so again, I had to figure things out for myself, as well as figure out which role (if any) I fit into.

Suffice it to say, that with all of my research into sexuality, my horizons for sexuality expanded as well. Dr. Drew was around when I was a teenager, though not as prominently as he has become now, as he ran a late night radio show with Adam Carolla called Loveline. This exposure to a great deal of varieties of sexuality as well as information both medical and personal resulted in my having a very open mind regarding sex, and a great curiosity as well. This has resulted in my modern day desire to be a sexologist and sex therapist, as well as part of my desire to be a gender therapist and to work with LGBT individuals.

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Growing up, I had little to no sources of information about sexuality, and the ones that I did have were often contradictory, sometimes even with themselves. For example, my dad in most things would tell me to research things and decide for myself what I wanted to do. One such instance came in terms of religion where upon asking what religion we were, my dad took me into his study, pointed out all the books he had on various religions, and told me to study and decide for myself. Sexuality was much the same, with him leaving me to my own devices, even introducing me to his cousin and explaining that she was lesbian when I was a young child.
However, when I got older and was kicked out of military school for being queer, my dad’s disapproval of my “choice” was made evident. Both he and my grandmother gave me individual sit down talks, in which each of them said basically the same thing (with one bit being word-for-word the same between them). That one bit was “I don’t care what you do with your life. Actually, no, I do care, because I know how difficult the life you’ve chosen will be.” Basically, they thought that being gay was a choice and were trying to impart that on me as well, despite being raised to decide my opinions for myself.

I did not go to church, being raised relatively pagan, but there was one time, before the military school, where my dad sent me to a Christian school at the request of his then girlfriend, who was Catholic. While at that school, I was exposed to a more conservative view of sexuality, and though I had not yet come out to myself even, my queerness was evident and I received a lot of harassment from students and teachers alike about how I should be more “conservative” in my sexuality and identity. This gave me yet another conflicting perspective to my own developing one.

The media when I was growing up also lacked much in the level of sexuality discussions, at least as compared to today. Scarleteen did not exist yet, and the internet was still in the early stages of gaining popularity and presence. For those who were willing to stay up late (which I sometimes did on weekends during sleepovers with friends), there was Loveline to watch on TV or listen to on the radio. Otherwise, daytime talk shows were the primary source of information via the media. Jerry Springer was the most common one to cover the topic, but more in a sensationalized manner than an educational one. Likewise, there were the late night pornographic shows on certain channels.

All of these media sources led to a very one-sided perspective on sexuality, especially a cis- and heteronormative perspective. As I got older and came to terms with my identity as both a trans woman and a lesbian, I was forced to look for more information that fit me. However, that was even more obscure and less helpful than education for the typical person. For example, regarding pornography, the vast majority of pornography involving two or more women, with or without men, is written, directed, and intended for men. As such, it is far different from how two women actually are together. Likewise, most pornography portraying trans women of any sort is the “chick with a dick” variety that is not typical of either women’s or trans women’s sexuality.

Lastly, I had a very brief bit of sexual education during high school. In my final semester, I took a mandatory health class where we covered basic reproductive and sexual health over the course of about a week. Other than that, I attended a few lectures within a class dedicated to discussing controversial topics within literature. I was invited by the teacher to sit in on the week dedicated to LGBT issues, specifically to the three days where there were guest speakers who had lived the topic. It was in one of these lectures that I learned about transgender issues and that I was also trans. This was probably my first real exposure to a more liberal, queer inclusive sexuality education. Afterwards, I began doing my own research online into the topics. I found every website I could discussing transgender issues and read up what I could. Most of the information was the same amongst them, but as with today, there was some conflicting information out there. I had to still find out who I am for myself, both in regards to identity and sexuality.

Luckily, the things that I would change about my education growing up have mostly changed already. There is far more information available than when I was a kid or a teen, though still a great deal contradicting. Additionally, I would still like to see more positive representations of all forms of queer sexuality, as well as a proper sex education program that is inclusive. I helped run one specifically for queer youth while volunteering at Youth First, and even there I managed to learn things. I would sometimes have one of the youth (affectionately referred to as the gaybies) ask me a question that I lacked an answer for. As such, I would give them the honest answer, telling them that I do not know, and then I would look it up with them there to try and get them an answer or two. As with my own childhood, if there were multiple options, I would do my best to examine all of the options with the gaybies, discussing the pros and cons of every option with them, and ultimately telling them to decide for themselves, but to be safe about it.

As with my gaybies, I would like to see all youth given such open-ended sexual education with options. The current controversy over whether to teach comprehensive sex education or teach abstinence only is rather asinine in my opinion. Studies have shown time and again that not only have the numbers of people having sex as teenagers not changed in several generations but also that abstinence only education does not work. It is almost a proven fact (if it has not been proven) that telling a teenager not to do something is almost a certain way of ensuring that they will do that thing. By telling teenagers not to have sex, it almost guarantees that they will. It is better to tell them that if and when they decide to have sex, to encourage them to do so well educated on the matter and to be safe.

Likewise, I would like to see increased sexuality education regarding LGBT issues, both for and about queer identities. Specifically, I’d like to see an increase in all forms of sexual education for all forms of sexuality. For example, rather than just teaching about typical condoms, I would like to see an inclusion of dental dams, “female” condoms, diaphragms, and other forms of both protection and contraception. I would also like it to discuss the differences between different forms of birth control, making it clear that Plan B, a.k.a. “the day after pill” is just a highly concentrated form of estrogen, like typical birth control pills, not an abortion pill as it is often mistaken for.

Another thing that I would like to see is more detailed sexual education regarding anatomy. No more separation of males and females. Teach all genders about the anatomy of both sexes, and how various parts respond to stimulation. I would also like to see it encouraged for people to explore their own bodies, learn what brings them pleasure and what fails to do so. Many women fail to find pleasure during sexual intercourse because society discourages them from learning their own bodies. By knowing what they actually enjoy, they are able to tell their partners what to do to ensure a pleasurable experience for both.

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