THE SEX UNEDUCATED

Sex + Gender
Queer + Feminist
Social theory + Cultural Critique

Feminist/animal studies friends! Have any of you seen Dawn of The Planet of the Apes? I just saw it and wow, quite a lot is going on in this film! What were your thoughts?

Meghan Trainor - All About That Bass

Singing about body positivity! 

Do you believe that sex is a basic human need? Is it necessary to have a healthy sex life to have a happy, fulfilling, and stable life?

A question by Anonymous

These are two great questions, but I don’t think they are mutually exclusive.  I think sexuality, in all of its forms (including asexuality, which IS a sexuality) is intrinsic to the human experience. Considering it a basic human need, however, is a difficult question to consider. Our sense of identity/self is always tied up with sexuality and sexual awareness. This is not easily extractable as some singular ‘biological’ expression of human consciousness, but also a constant moment-to-moment negotiation with societies and cultures that are saturated with sexuality. Furthermore, as social people, we are constantly negotiating the sexuality of others and situating ourselves in relation to that as well. So, is the act of sex a basic human need? For some people, yes. For others, no. Has it become a fundamental part of our human socio-cultural experience? Yes, I would say it has - even if only in a symbolic sense. Regarding your last question, I would argue it is not universally necessary to have a healthy sex life in order to live a happy, fulfilling, and stable life. Not in the slightest. There are plenty of people who are ace, demi, or celibate (there are many, many shades of sexuality here) that are leading wonderful and beautiful lives. I suppose the last thing I will say here is that I am always very reluctant to extract something like sex, for instance, and thing of it as a singular modality of life. Nothing is ever extractable. Everything is tied up together, just like a rhizome. We cannot think of sex without thinking of economics, history, gender, race, ability, geography, language etc. These things are constantly in conversation with each other affecting the way an individual comes to understand the self and then relate with the outer world. 

The Sex Uneducated Needs Your Help!

Hi everyone! 

I am reaching out to all you lovely people to see if you could help me?

I recently graduated from UC Berkeley with a BA in Gender and Women’s Studies. I still live in the Bay Area and plan to remain here for the foreseeable future. 

After blogging for years about gender, sexuality, sexual health, and social issues along with my years studying these aspects of life academically, I want to do it professionally!

If you or anyone you know has a position in the Bay Area for a company or non-profit that deals directly with these issues, please contact me! 

Thank you SO much! 

All the best

Laura

TW: rape

feminishblog:

caputism:

feminishblog:

Rapists can be attractive.

Rapists can be charismatic.

Rapists can be successful, funny, and smart.

None of these things mean they are not capable of rape. But it does mean that people are more likely to ignore it, brush aside this truth, and make excuses for the rapists, because “they just don’t see it”…

Stop perpetuating the harmful stereotype, the harmful myth that rapists are all creepy dudes who hide in dark alleys or “look like they might rape you”.

You probably know a rapist. 

And that rapist may be female.

You know what would be really great? If you stopped shitting on posts, and left them as they were purposefully intended, instead of derailing them. I see that is a pattern on your blog.

Instead of making yourself useful in the fight to advocate against how male rape victims may be specifically shamed in our patriarchal society, you have to go tag along to a bunch of posts people have made and write “you mean people not men”, “it happens to men too”. It happens to men is a full sentence all on its own. You don’t need to the too, and you don’t need to throw women under the bus to support women.

And guess what? My post was gender neutral. That was fucking intentional. Because I know that although most rapists (of female and male victims) will be male, there are female rapists out there. I wasn’t forgetting anything in my post, and you certainly didn’t add anything to it.

kinkyturtle:

it’s interesting but also terrifying to see the ways that capitalism has shaped our language and how we talk about bodies. can you be useful? can you be a productive member of society? can you work? can you make money? that is all this comes back to. so much ableist and fat phobic rhetoric is, at its core, does your body enable you to produce capital. if not, then you are useless and don’t deserve humanity. 

And also how the body makes you a good consumer. Marx does such an incredible job of talking about the body within a capitalist framework in Estranged Labour. For example:

The worker becomes all the poorer the more wealth he produces, the more his production increases in power and size. The worker becomes an ever cheaper commodity the more commodities he creates. The devaluation of the world of men is in direct proportion to the increasing value of the world of things. Labor produces not only commodities; it produces itself and the worker as a commodity – and this at the same rate at which it produces commodities in general.

I think of this section in relation to the body, to ableism, and to how even, even as identity politics has moved marginalized identities into more visibility, they are all enveloped into the capitalist machine. This has been notably discussed regarding the LBGT community. (If only Marx was more aware of gender!) 

(via easytobearound)

Bird

thesexuneducated:

Bird is a character that has been in my head for sometime. Tonight, I began to write her into life. 

Bird had been dreaming again. It was always like this – a sweaty and confusing transition from one reality to another. A wet shirt and puffy eyes was not how Bird necessarily wanted to start the first day of her final year of high school, but felt being annoyed by this would be rather useless. Blinking and breathing, she slowly looked around her room. Clothes were strewn about impractically, the purple Christmas lights lining her window still glowed against the fog of morning, her desk was hidden beneath piles of late library books and yellow notepads recollecting half remembered dreams – yes, she was very much back in this world.

In the bathroom, Bird examined herself in the mirror. Today she could not decide if she liked herself or not. Placing her hands on top of her breasts, she attempted to picture what she would look like if they weren’t there. She smiled, which was only ever a lopsided and sheepish lift to the left side of her mouth, at the thought of it. Suddenly feeling like it was much later than it was supposed to be, she tiptoed to her clock not wanting to see the time. Fuck. She was late. Launching back into the bathroom, she hurriedly wrapped herself in her dingy ace-bandage, the only thing she could afford, to make her already small tits smaller. Digging through the topography of clothing that had become her room over the last few weeks of summer, she quickly found her favorite wolf t-shirt, a comfortable two sizes too big so as to drape over her angular shoulders. Up went her black Levis, a quick click of her belt around her hips, a slip into her once-white chucks, and Bird went flying to the front door. Passing the living room, all she could see was the television flashing a strobe of fluorescent advertising around her father’s perfectly round and very still head.

She paused to witness the scene, the same image she had seen for what felt like years.

With the disco-lights of consumerism flickering on her face, she decided to speak.

“Bye Dad. I’ll see you later.”

A short, monotonous and hardly audible OK left his mouth, quickly dissolving into the dusty air of the room he rarely left. As she swept through the door, the air of their shared breathing momentarily touched in the hazy light of morning.

Tripping down the street, her black 1967 Datsun Bluebird, in need of too much mechanical work, was the only car in sight. Blaring Suicide from the tape deck, she drummed on her steering wheel amongst the inconceivable green of the hills, vibrant with dew against a sulking sky.

She sang along, making faces and bopping her shoulders.

Oh girl, turn me on.

Oh girl, turn me on.

You know what to do.

Oh girl, touch me soft.

She wondered if Casey would be in her English class. Wondering, in this case, meant very definitely hoping. Thinking of Casey while listening to Alan Vega’s seduction was almost too much for Bird to handle this early on a Monday morning. She quickly turned off the tape, wanting to think of something other than the potential texture of Casey Johnson’s tongue, opting instead for a cigarette. She took her last and longest drag while pulling into the high school parking lot. Not soon after shifting into park, Bird felt the ominous and too familiar wave of nerves swell up inside of her. Blinking and breathing, she whispered to no one: please let this year be different. 

Copyright © 2014 by Laura Fryer.

Reblogging again for the morning crowd! 

Shedding the Wounded Attachment: A Self-Reflexive Journey of Over-identifying with Disease and the Possibilities of What Lies Beyond

This is my final honors thesis, written for the Gender and Women’s Studies Department at UC Berkeley. It is the culmination of 5 years of academic and activist work surrounding genital herpes. The entire paper is available after the break and might explain why you will see me blogging less about HSV.

GREETING SICKNESS

“Before herpes, I didn’t think about my body much. But the virus had jolted me into self-awareness.”

            -  Anonymous, ‘The Perks of Herpes’

As a teenager, I took generous liberties with my body. I desperately wanted to move beyond the lowly childhood-in-between and advance to that gritty, autonomous, and perfect state of ‘adulthood’. I naively believed that the more physical pleasure and emotional turmoil I experienced the faster I would embody my fantasy of maturity. Looking out into the world, it seemed to me that one ‘found themselves’ in sexual escapades and tumultuous relationships. I glorified the wounds of life as badges of honor, but never did I ever imagine that one of my so-called badges would be genital herpes.

One morning, soon after my twentieth birthday, I awoke to hundreds of tiny blisters all over my genitals. Terrified and experiencing pain unlike anything I had felt before, I snuck out of my sister’s house to visit my local clinic. By the time I had finished my gynecological exam, I felt entirely overcome by shame, guilt, and fear. What had I done to myself, I thought?  The blisters that engulfed me were not the wounds I had intended to find on my journey to adulthood; they were not a part of the story I had told myself about what my life would be like. As if walking through some invisible door, my diagnoses instantaneously and fundamentally shifted the way I understood who I was. I was no longer the same person with the same future that I once was, but someone else enduring what seemed like some primordial punishment for my sexual transgressions.   

Eight years has passed since my diagnosis and I no longer feel as negatively about myself as I once did. After spending the last five years entirely dedicating my academic and activist work to understanding all that I can about the condition, I have come to a place of cessation. However, the journey to this place of acceptance has been complicated and has potentially larger implications of what identity means entirely. This paper attempts to explore this journey, while considering the larger social and historical processes that have contributed to what it means to have genital herpes.

  First, I argue that the potency of genital herpes stigma continues to thrive and annunciate itself due to its medical legacy as always being understood through historically situated understandings of morality and biological purity. Rather than the innocent yet unfortunate mutation of cells in breast tissue, causing breast cancer for example, genital herpes is a virus that has always been understood as a virus that infects those who ‘deserve it’.  As such, we don’t see charities forming for the sole purpose of raising funds to find a cure or a uniquely colored bow to wear in solidarity with our ‘herpetic’ brothers and sisters. At the bottom of the illness hierarchy, genital herpes creepily crawls along, forcing those of us who share our bodies with the virus to reconstitute our sense of self within very limited terms.

The limitations of these terms force those of us with genital herpes to often turn to identity politics to empower the process of reconstituting our identity. My own life exemplifies this coercion to identity politics. In the early years of my diagnoses, I desperately sought an empowered image of myself, which included my condition. Seemingly, no other resources existed. I knew in some deeply intuitive sense that, despite the effectiveness of genital herpes stigma, what I was being told about who I was wasn’t true. I was not dirty, I was not marked, and I was not tainted. I needed a way to explain this, not only to myself but also to others who would undoubtedly need to know about my viral-relationship. I needed a new language to explain myself that didn’t buy into the historical proliferated discourse that assumed by body as filthy. Identity politics became a successful model in which to outwardly and inwardly reorganize my subjecthood, while providing a means for activist work. My blog, The Sex Uneducated, which was born out of this kind of feminist political framework, became a popular virtual space for people to find safety and an empowered message about living with genital herpes. With almost 30,000 subscribers, my posts and YouTube videos became a resource for reimagining life with a sexually transmitted disease as well as evidence that I was not alone in my personal seeking. However, after devoting five years of my life to the politics of the ‘diseased identity’ in both personal and academic realms, I have found myself feeling uncomfortably bound to my herpes identity, as if it were the single axis of my orbit. As theorist Wendy Brown so accurately argues, “politicized identity thus enunciates itself, makes claims for itself, only by entrenching, restating, dramatizing, and inscribing its pain in politics; it can hold out no future – for itself or others – that triumphs over this pain” (Wounded 74). I have been beginning to feel that each day that I blog or research my condition, I paradoxically reinforce its stigma and the illusion that it is central to my existence, illuminating the ways in which an identity politic may keep many of us devoted to the work entrapped by our diagnoses.

Lastly, I hope to explore what the limits of identity politics may reveal about possible futures in which disease is thought of in more porous terms. Expanding on Nancy Tuana’s articulation of viscous porosity and interactionism, which she describes as terms that help to critique the “divide between nature/culture, natural/artificial” because “these distinctions, while at times useful, are metaphysically problematic,” I hope to consider what lies beyond the dualism of human and non-human (202). Just as we will all die, we will all get sick. The answers to how, when, and under what circumstances we become ill should not potentially materialize as some primordial angel of social death, nor should the answers to these questions conversely relegate us to over-identifying with our condition. Instead, let us consider how viewing our world, from the cellular to the social, as profoundly amalgamous and in a constant state of indiscriminatory biological exchange could help us re-imagine what it actually means to be alive

Copyright © 2014 by Laura Fryer.

Read More

Bird

Bird is a character that has been in my head for sometime. Tonight, I began to write her into life. 

Bird had been dreaming again. It was always like this – a sweaty and confusing transition from one reality to another. A wet shirt and puffy eyes was not how Bird necessarily wanted to start the first day of her final year of high school, but felt being annoyed by this would be rather useless. Blinking and breathing, she slowly looked around her room. Clothes were strewn about impractically, the purple Christmas lights lining her window still glowed against the fog of morning, her desk was hidden beneath piles of late library books and yellow notepads recollecting half remembered dreams – yes, she was very much back in this world.

In the bathroom, Bird examined herself in the mirror. Today she could not decide if she liked herself or not. Placing her hands on top of her breasts, she attempted to picture what she would look like if they weren’t there. She smiled, which was only ever a lopsided and sheepish lift to the left side of her mouth, at the thought of it. Suddenly feeling like it was much later than it was supposed to be, she tiptoed to her clock not wanting to see the time. Fuck. She was late. Launching back into the bathroom, she hurriedly wrapped herself in her dingy ace-bandage, the only thing she could afford, to make her already small tits smaller. Digging through the topography of clothing that had become her room over the last few weeks of summer, she quickly found her favorite wolf t-shirt, a comfortable two sizes too big so as to drape over her angular shoulders. Up went her black Levis, a quick click of her belt around her hips, a slip into her once-white chucks, and Bird went flying to the front door. Passing the living room, all she could see was the television flashing a strobe of fluorescent advertising around her father’s perfectly round and very still head.

She paused to witness the scene, the same image she had seen for what felt like years.

With the disco-lights of consumerism flickering on her face, she decided to speak.

“Bye Dad. I’ll see you later.”

A short, monotonous and hardly audible OK left his mouth, quickly dissolving into the dusty air of the room he rarely left. As she swept through the door, the air of their shared breathing momentarily touched in the hazy light of morning.

Tripping down the street, her black 1967 Datsun Bluebird, in need of too much mechanical work, was the only car in sight. Blaring Suicide from the tape deck, she drummed on her steering wheel amongst the inconceivable green of the hills, vibrant with dew against a sulking sky.

She sang along, making faces and bopping her shoulders.

Oh girl, turn me on.

Oh girl, turn me on.

You know what to do.

Oh girl, touch me soft.

She wondered if Casey would be in her English class. Wondering, in this case, meant very definitely hoping. Thinking of Casey while listening to Alan Vega’s seduction was almost too much for Bird to handle this early on a Monday morning. She quickly turned off the tape, wanting to think of something other than the potential texture of Casey Johnson’s tongue, opting instead for a cigarette. She took her last and longest drag while pulling into the high school parking lot. Not soon after shifting into park, Bird felt the ominous and too familiar wave of nerves swell up inside of her. Blinking and breathing, she whispered to no one: please let this year be different. 

Copyright © 2014 by Laura Fryer.

A Theoretical Understanding of Genital Herpes Discourse

This is a segment of my most recent research paper, “Discursive Limits: How Medical Discourse Produces Genital Herpes Stigma” at UC Berkeley.

In Archaeology of Knowledge, theorist Michel Foucault argues that, “in every society the production of discourse is at once controlled, selected, organized and redistributed” (216). Discourse, or authoritative knowledge that is produced through speech acts and writing, is never neutral. For Foucault, discourse is quite the opposite; knowledge production is inherently intertwined with power and desire, having profound affect on subjectivity, perceptions of behavior, and the construction of institutions (216). So what then are the implications of authoritative writing about and around disease?  Science, and medicine in particular, speaks with finality; medicinal knowledge is perceived as unquestioned truth and concrete knowledge. However, as Foucault explains, the discipline of “medicine does not consist of all that may be truly said about disease” (223). For all that is written about disease, there is equally that which is not uttered. These omissions, or ‘prohibitions’ as Foucault calls them, illuminate the fundamental fact that, “we are not free to say just anything, that we cannot simply speak of anything when we like or where we like, not just anyone, finally, may speak of just anything” (216). Thus the experience of genital herpes is only ever authoritatively materialized through the discursive processes of science and medicine, producing a particularly stringent and clinical image of who and how the virus infects, while largely ignoring other obverse complexities of equal validity.

We can see this most clearly when we examine the CDC’s recommendations for avoiding contraction/transmission of genital herpes. They offer only this: “The surest way to avoid transmission of …genital herpes is to abstain from sexual contact, or to be in a long-term mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who has been tested and is known to be uninfected” (CDC). As an authoritative epistemological site, literally shaping the ‘reality’ of what it means to live with this condition, in a single sentence the CDC reduces a life with herpes to a sexless journey or one confined to a single body willing to ‘take the risk’. Although their recommendations are certainly viable and can work for a variety of individuals, just like suggesting one could not walk in order to avoid scraping their knee, their suggestions are difficult to live up to for the sexually active who will typically have multiple sexual partners prior to entering into a long-term relationship. By framing the ‘best’ way to avoid contraction/transmission as abstinence, rather than providing a multitude of options that acknowledge variations of sexuality, kinship formations, and sexual orientations, the CDC exemplifies Foucault’s notion of ‘prohibitions’. As he argues, “in appearance, speech may be of little account, but the prohibitions surrounding it soon reveal its links with desire and power” (216). Potential alternative lifestyle options that the CDC chooses to discursively withhold from the readership of their genital herpes webpage lead the analytical eye to observe two things: 1) according to the CDC, the herpes population should not be sexually active, or only in restrictive ways and 2) that transmission should be avoided at all costs. In gesturing towards these two finalities, the CDC condones people with genital herpes who are having sex with multiple partners, who aren’t practicing monogamy, and, with an emphasis on preventing transmission, villainize the oftentimes-unavoidable act of transmitting.

These two observations are haunted by the 19th century shift in discursive focus on sex and sexuality. In The History of Sexuality: Volume I, Foucault explains that:

Claiming to speak the truth, [science] stirred up people’s fears: to the least oscillations of sexuality, it ascribed an imaginary dynasty of evils destined to be passed on for generations; it declared the furtive customs of the timid, and the most solitary of petty manias, dangerous for the whole society; strange pleasures, it warned, would eventually result in nothing short of death (54).

In ending their information page with the foreclosure of ones ability to be sexually spontaneous, while the preceding sections simultaneously focus on “complications,” “the link between genital herpes and HIV,” and how herpes can “affect a pregnant woman and her baby,” the CDC produces an image of the condition as something certainly to be afraid of and one that will cause a kind of ‘social’ death (Gruter & Masters 150).  

Like a rhetorical map, the CDC’s genital herpes webpage linguistically connotes to readers precisely why and how they can socially ostracize those living with the condition, which becomes the same source for the HSV positive community to ostracize themselves. Literary theorist, Roland Barthes, argues that connotations are “naturalized as hegemonic, that is, accepted as ‘normal’ and ‘natural’” and thus produce what he considers myths (Barker & Galasinski 5). Through this theoretical lens, we can critique, not necessarily the epidemiological information the CDC provides about genital herpes, but the way in which they utilize language to frame and produce an ostracizing myth, naturalizing herpes as a condition that is always contagious, always linked to HIV, and always complicates pregnancies, which predominantly functions in proliferating stigma.

In thinking of stigma and the notion of social death, we can call upon sociological theorist Irving Goffman when he says, “by definition of course, we believe the person with a stigma is not quite human” (Stigma 5). Within the first paragraph of the CDC’s genital herpes information page, in a short section titled, “How Common is Genital Herpes,” the CDC uses the term ‘infected’ synonymously with ‘person/persons’. In a section only consisting of 117 words, they use ‘infection/infected’ 7 times, all as the subject of the sentence or as adjectives to describe the subject, which has the linguistic affect of shifting people with genital herpes from what could be considered a ‘healthy’ person to certainly someone who isn’t ‘quite human,’ but is most decidedly and perhaps most importantly ‘infected’ (CDC). Goffman posits in his seminal book, Stigma: Notes on the Management of the Spoiled Identity that:

[Society] constructs a stigma-theory, an ideology to explain [another’s] inferiority and account for the danger he represents, sometimes rationalizing an animosity based on other differences, such as those of social class. We use specific terms such as cripple, bastard, moron in our daily discourse as a source of metaphor and imagery, typically without giving thought to the original meaning (5).

 In focusing on ‘infection’ and referring to the bodies that carry the virus as ‘infected’, the CDC establishes a discourse that connotes people with genital herpes as inferior, dangerous through ‘contagiousness’, and provides a multitude of terms for society to use in their efforts to stigmatize genital herpes while naturalizing the conditions perils through their authoritative lens.

Transgender folks and the Prison Industrial Complex

SIGNAL BOOST

My friend and fellow UCB Gender and Women’s Studies Senior needs your help! Her honors thesis is really important and she is running into great difficulty with regards to access! This is where I am hoping the powers of tumblr can come in. Here is a short blurb about her work, with a longer explanation after the break:

Mary, a Gender & Women’s Studies undergraduate student at UC Berkeley, is working on her honors thesis about transgender people’s experiences when released from jail or prison, and she is looking for people who:
1) have self-identified or currently do self-identify as transgender
2) have spent at least 6 months in jail or prison
 
The conversations will be completely confidential and she will pay interviewees $20 for participating. If you are willing to engage with her in conversation about your experiences, or if you have any questions, please contact her at marysusman@berkeley.edu.
 
I believe that shared stories are powerful ways to draw attention to issues and create change. I’m a queer womyn who is involved with abolition movements/groups in the Bay Area. There’s no academic work on trans* folks transitioning from prison/jail to community (reentry), and that needs to change. I also am very critical of power and knowledge, whose voices “count” and how problematic academia is in terms of whose voices and whose truths count as valid and worthy of attention. I want to be reflexive in this work and gather feedback from my interviewees as I write it.
Please share this widely.
 
Thank you!

Read More