sex ed

What’s the Harm in “Female-Bodied”?

Guest post by America Yamaguchi

[CN: sexual assault]

 

“Female-bodied” is a term that is endlessly harmful.

It reduces cisgender women to their uterus. While childbearing is a massively important component of patriarchal harm, it goes far beyond that. It is also harmful to insist that childbearing or a uterus is what makes a woman a woman, both to trans people of all genders, and to cisgender women who are infertile for any reason. It compounds a major source of psychological distress to cis women who cannot have children. By the standards of “female-bodied” to mean the uterine body plan, a cisgender woman who is missing any aspect or has a dysfunction by any part, is bound to feel like less of a woman. Thus, this term directly attacks the womanhood of a variety of cis women as well as trans women.

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Crack in the Womb

[Spoilers for the Season 1 finale of Steven Universe follow.]

The moment that sealed Steven Universe into richly-deserved fame and a place in future discussions of the evolution of pop culture was the 52nd episode, ”Jail Break.”  In addition to pointedly and thoroughly burnishing the show’s credentials as queer-inclusive and emotionally complex, it provided viewers with a beautifully-composed song-and-fight sequence, from the only one of the four main characters to have avoided a musical number until then:

The words of “Stronger Than You” are poetic and poignant, particularly these:

I am a conversation.

I am made

O-o-o-o-of

Lo-o-o-o-ove o-o-o-o-of

And it’s stronger than you.

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Yams for All

We need to change how we think about childbearing.

Having a child is probably the single most expensive decision someone in the developed world can make.  Once a child is born, one becomes responsible for that child’s food, shelter, emotional support, education, and a thousand and one other needs harder to anticipate and describe, sometimes through socialized systems that ease access to various goods.  The guardians of children become their first and fastest path toward accumulating the possessions that they will then use to gain their first taste of independence.  Parents and other caretakers and among the most important fonts of culture, moral growth, and personal development that any person will ever have.  The enormity of the caretaker’s role is so well understood that it routinely features in sexist writings that insist that women should be content with that specific influence on the future and desire no additional option or greater agency than that.

But there is one situation in which that understanding is ignored: the decision to have a child.

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A Sex Ed Manifesto

We are here to inform you that consent is an ongoing negotiation that can be withdrawn at ANY time and that if you EVER ignore that withdrawal, you are a rapist. We are here to inform you that a rapist is not something you want to be. We are here to inform you that you are never, ever, EVER “entitled” to any kind of sex with ANYONE, no matter what they say or don’t say, do or don’t do, drink or don’t drink, if they do not enthusiastically consent to it. We are here to inform you that, no matter what gender you are or what gender your partner is, YOU have the option to say no, and they have the OBLIGATION to acquiesce to your refusal, and they are bad people if they do not.


We are here to inform you that how often you have whatever kinds of sex you like having is between you, your partner(s), and whoever controls the spaces where you’d like to engage in this amazing and wondrous facet of the human experience. We are here to impress upon you NO ONE–not your church, not your parents, not even the rest of this entire society–gets to decide that for you. We are here to inform you that other people will have opinions about the hows and whys and whos of your sex, and it is up to YOU to decide which ones you take seriously and which ones you discard. Nothing about your preferences, interests, and tastes indicates that something is wrong with YOU. Not one thing. Your value is not dictated by what kinds of sex you have, how many partners you have, the genders of those partners, or anything else related.

We are here to inform you that some partners actually are bad news, and will do things that make you feel uncomfortable and unsafe. Some partners will try to isolate you from your friends and family or control your life in other, stranger ways. Some partners will try to use their positions of power over you–teachers, police officers, bosses–to get you to do things with them that you don’t want to do. Some partners will try to use violence against you to make you do what they want you to do. Sometimes, your friends or family will notice these patterns before you do. We are here to inform you that you do NOT have to tolerate that, that being in that situation does NOT reflect badly on you, and that there are places for you to go in order to escape that horror.

We are here to provide information about every intervention you might take to avoid becoming pregnant, avoid acquiring STIs, avoid getting your partner pregnant, avoid giving your partner STIs, stop being pregnant if you desire to not be pregnant anymore, and get rid of STIs. We are here to enthusiastically recommend any and all of those options that work for you. We are here to remind you that NOT ONE SINGLE THING IN THE ENTIRE UNIVERSE can make a claim on your body that supersedes YOURS, regardless of what properties that thing has or doesn’t have. We are here to remind you that the most effective way you will ever have to make sure you mire your family in poverty for a generation is to have a baby before you finish high school, and the second-most-effective is to have a baby before you finish your first post-high-school degree. We are here to remind you that you have the option to seek child support from your partner if you have a baby and they refuse to be part if its life. We are here to remind you that there are other resources available for people with children in difficult situations, some of which are provided by organizations like Planned Parenthood that are most famous for other services.

We are here to provide information on how to engage in sex acts safely and pleasurably that has nothing to do with STIs. We are here to give you the tools you need to understand your body and to know whether a partner has your safety appropriately in mind. We are here to encourage you to explore that body on your own and understand how it works and what YOU like, ESPECIALLY if you are a young woman and virtually everyone else in your life has been telling you the opposite. We are here to make sure that you do not think you are defective or weird or at all unusual if you need to add clitoral stimulation to your PiV sex to reach orgasm, if you need extended foreplay to reach the point where PiV is not painful for you, or if you find that you enjoy stimulation of your prostate. We are here to make sure you understand that paraphilias exist and are not shameful or signs of mental dysfunction or indicative of abusive tendencies or whatever other nonsense people have fed you. We are here to make sure you understand that sexual pleasure, whatever form it takes for you, is something wonderful, and not something about which you need to EVER feel shame.

We are here to provide information on the ways that the sex depicted in pornographic materials can differ from the sex you’ll be having. We are here to provide information on the ways that porn actors and sex acts in porn are optimized for viewing, not for the pleasure or enjoyment of any of the participants, and that porn actors (and regular actors, for that matter) are held to standards of attractiveness that are impossible, unhealthy, or both for the vast majority of the human race, including most of you. YOU will have to navigate that space and assert your place in it in order to have one that isn’t dictated by the wishes of those around you.

Your and your parents’ patriarchal, probably-religiously-motivated attitudes about sex, sexuality, and any ‘morality’ associated therewith that has nothing to do with consent have no place here, and if you retain them by the time we have finished providing this information, we will regard ourselves as having failed you.

"Where Does your Hatred Come From?"

“Where does your hatred come from?”

Really, sir? Really?

I was not able to answer you when you issued this insulting challenge, or answer your wife when she insinuated that my life and the life of my beloved are devoid of meaning for not being subordinated to your preferred cosmic tyrant. You and yours have made a tidy mess of my, and more importantly her, mental state by squatting on the privileged status of “host” to our “guest,” lobbing your assorted insults and imprecations while shielded from all but the most perfunctory defense.

You know what we call someone who uses a position of power to make someone else miserable? You know what we call someone who thinks the way to make someone agree with them is to treat them badly until they recant? We call them “bullies” when we feel charitable and “assholes” when we don’t.

I know you’re not prepared to so much as understand what being an atheist means. You stopped comprehending the atheist position at “doesn’t go to church anymore and lives in sin.” You continue to imagine it as an infantile rebellion against the One True Faith, a self-deception that allows a debauched youthful generation to enjoy various ungodly pleasures without guilt until it falls apart. You’ve made excruciatingly clear that you are not interested in even asking either of us, in even asking your daughter, what this weighty decision meant to her or me, what it continues to mean to us, because you like your assorted prejudices better. You’re quite content to think of us as the joyless, amoral, antisocial monsters your religious leaders have convinced you we are, and think of any reevaluation of our nature based on actually examining us and how we live as a lack of faith.

It’s funny how often this kind of faith leads people to treat each other badly. No, wait, it’s not funny. It’s incredibly, unbelievably sad.

Here’s something that’ll blow your mind:

I’m an atheist because NONE of the truth claims made by any religion, and especially yours, hold together under scrutiny. Not “God exists,” not “Jesus died for our sins,” not “there’s something wrong with having sex with someone before a priest has performed some hocus-pocus over the two of you,” not “there is a component of a human that ‘survives’ after the death of their body,” not even “Jesus existed.”

I’m an atheist because other people’s attempts to convince me that their religion is true, especially the religion with which I was raised, are always a dense pudding of logical fallacies, appeals to emotion (usually fear), appeals to ignorance or irrelevant authority, and outright lies.

I’m an atheist because “I feel it in my heart,” “my priest told me,” and “this is what my culture has taught since shortly after the fall of the Roman Empire” are unbelievably bad reasons to believe anything.
I’m an atheist because “examining the world in a way that takes into account the results of previous such examinations and is systematically designed to weed out human biases” is the ONLY way to gain real, usable knowledge.

I’m an atheist because faith is about ending inquiry and science is about starting it.

I am NOT an atheist because of “hatred.” I am NOT an atheist because some awful thing in my life made me “angry at God.” I am not an atheist out of disappointment or rage or spite. I am an atheist because atheism is a true description of reality and religion is not. The moment you understand that, you’ll join us.

So if you sense a special antipathy in me, in us, for the church in which you were raised, for the Church with a capital C that had the chutzpah to name itself with an obscure synonym for “universal” back when it was a tiny minority of the civilized world, it’s there all right. But it’s not there because we’re atheists.

It’s there because the church you so favor has a record of crimes against humanity that makes make Pol Pot look like an amateur.

It’s there because the church you so favor aids and abets in the murder by AIDS of millions of Africans every year by spreading misinformation about condoms and preventing other people from getting the truth out. It’s there because the church you so favor thinks people dying of AIDS or syphilis or cervical cancer is wonderful as long as it follows non-Church-sanctioned sex.

It’s there because the church you so favor kidnapped thousands of Spanish, Australian, and Canadian babies from their mothers’ arms because their parents were unwed or gay or otherwise “unclean” and the Church saw fit to redistribute them to “deserving” families. It’s there because the church you so favor was not satisfied with stealing babies from their mothers’ arms and also imprisoned and enslaved “unclean” women in laundries in Ireland. It’s there because the church you so favor is so discriminatory, so hateful, that it thinks that enslaving women and pawning off their babies to the first two-parent house with enough displayed crucifixes is a reasonable response to learning that they had sex out of wedlock.

It’s there because the church you so favor has spent billions of dollars fighting reproductive freedom at every possible turn, from sabotaging sexual education programs to attempting to deny women access to contraception to encouraging the state-mandated rape-by-medical-device of women seeking to terminate unwanted pregnancies.It’s there because the church you so favor expects people to accept, apropos of nothing, that the most natural of all human activities is a moral outrage unless it has the approval of a clique of old celibates with extravagant hats.It’s there because the church you so favor is so intractably disgusted with the idea that sex is fun, and that there are a LOT of reasons people have sex besides wanting offspring, that it’s determined to attack any means of separating the two developed since the first century CE.

It’s there because the church you so favor has spent billions of dollars propagating the ridiculous lie that permitting same-sex couples to enjoy the word “marriage” and the associated government benefits will have any consequence for opposite-sex couples. It’s there because the church you so favor, the church that’s been so busy making life worse for Africans in other ways, isn’t even raising an eyebrow at its Protestant counterparts’ effort to make being gay a death-penalty offense in Uganda. It’s there because the church you so favor and its assorted descendants have gone out of their way to make sure that people with gender dysmorphia are treated like monstrous aberrations, if they are treated at all. It’s there because the church you so favor encourages gay teenagers to commit suicide by telling them their very undeniable, immutable nature is a moral affront.

It’s there because the church you so favor has managed to make one of its foremost monsters into a universal symbol of goodness because she spent her old age watching Kolkata’s destitute patients writhe and die instead of building them a hospital.

It’s there because the church you so favor has had child rapists in its midst for 1700 years, even making one of them Pope in 1550, and has spent that ENTIRE TIME stonewalling any secular authority who would dare attempt to prosecute those rapes as ordinary crimes. It’s there because the church you so favor has systematically silenced and punished anyone who brought allegations of child rape to secular authorities. It’s there because the church you so favor had a policy in place, signed by the man who is now Pope, for moving pedophile priests from parish to parish, and sequestering them in remote corners of the world, so that their ever-growing resumes of raped children wouldn’t get too heavy in one place or draw the public eye. It’s there because the church you so favor, now that it’s finally being called to task for systematically concealing the rapes of more children than the country of Luxembourg has people, for 1700 years, its response was not to apologize for traumatizing thousands of children currently alive and untold millions more throughout history, or to immediately remit into police custody everyone they knew was raping children, but to keep stonewalling until the last possible second and to blame absolutely everyone else for the actions of thousands of priests sheltered by official policy signed by the Pope, including the raped children themselves.

It’s there because the church you so favor claims its authority from an unbelievably badly written book riddled with genocidal, bigoted, patriarchal madness, whose only redeeming feature is a smattering of moral truths that were old thousands of years before Jesus’s supposed lifetime, and has spent nearly 2000 years paying people to weave elegantly contrived sophistries to either justify or handwave away those monstrosities, as the morals of a given period demanded. It’s there because the church you so favor claims the mantle of moral superiority every chance it gets but has to be dragged kicking and screaming through every social revolution, always at least a century behind. It’s there because the church you so favor has sided with villains as renowned as the Nazi Party of Germany when it proved convenient and discarded those connections whenever they no longer heightened the church’s public esteem. It’s there because the church you so favor has as its top priority, from beginning to end, its own aggrandizement, with the well-being of its laity not even on the list.

It’s there because the church you so favor, and the thousands of others just like it, have defined a god that would eternally torment people for being insufficiently pious as “loving.”

It’s there because people like you—intelligent, thoughtful people like you—see all of those crimes, and keep going. It’s there because people like you claim to be utterly appalled at your church’s crimes against humanity, but you keep putting money in the collection plate, even though you know exactly the evil that money funds. It’s there because people like you are convinced that allegiance to the Catholic Church is a good in itself, despite the FACT that this allegiance contributes to a list of crimes against humanity I have only begun to enumerate, despite the FACT that this allegiance makes the world a worse place for all of us in a thousand terrifying ways. It’s there because people like you see the Church’s charities (universally worse at their job than secular charities) and its role in defeating Communism and think that makes everything else okay. It’s there because people like you look at African AIDS victims and suicidal gay teenagers and enslaved single mothers and people trapped in poverty by an unplanned pregnancy and say with sanctimonious pride that they brought their fate on themselves and should look forward to their eternal torment. It’s there because the church you so favor BROUGHT THAT SUFFERING ON THEM, AND PROUDLY CONTINUES TO DO SO.

It’s there because people like you look at people like us, people like my beloved and me, who refuse under any circumstances to even appear to support that level of cartoonish, monstrous evil, like there’s something wrong with US.

No, sir. My atheism is not behind my problem with the Catholic Church. The Church has that pretty much in hand by being utterly, shamelessly evil and expecting us to thank them for not being even more evil than that. My atheism is merely why I see no need to invent a thousand intricate rationalizations for why the supposed font of all moral truth and mouthpiece of an all-loving supreme being devotes so much of its energy to torturing to death anyone it doesn’t like. My atheism is merely why I didn’t have to choose between being a devout, practicing believer and not supporting the world’s oldest and most successful criminal enterprise.

My atheism is merely why I see this evil so much more clearly than you do.

You remember that next time you look down on us because we don’t respect or share your delusions.