2013-07-31 18:42
There's a video clip currently doing the rounds called "Porn Sex vs Real Sex: The Differences Explained With Food". When i first watched it, i felt uneasy, but couldn't put my finger on why. i've now thought about it some more, and can identify a few issues:

  • It doesn't define what 'porn' is. This is a highly complex issue, to be sure, but it has significant implications in this specific context. To wit: It seems to be using 'porn' as shorthand for "professionally produced audiovisual sexually explicit material specifically aimed at heterosexual demographics". But:

    • There are increasing amounts of sexually explicit material that aren't professionally produced, e.g. the material often described as 'amateur' or 'homemade';

    • There are increasing amounts of written sexually explicit material; and

    • There are increasing amounts of non-heterosexual, non-cisgendered sexually explicit material available, both amateur and professional.

    This video clip essentially erases all this, and discusses 'porn' as a homogeneous entity.

  • It's cisnormative, implying that 'womanhood' and/or 'femaleness' necessarily involves having a cunt. How might this feel to trans women who don't have a cunt (and who might not be able to get surgery to construct one1), or to trans men who have a cunt and wish they didn't?

  • It's heteronormative, implying that there there is "too much" same-gender sexual interaction in porn, compared to such interaction in the general population. What message is conveyed to same-gender attracted people by reinforcing that we're in a minority; that same-gender sexual behaviour isn't statistically 'average'; that "too much" such behaviour is depicted in porn?

The whole thing reminds me of the "real women have curves" slogan. Although the intent of the slogan is to try to counter the representations of 'desirable' women's bodies in the media - which often involve pre-publication processing to make the depicted women look thinner than they actually are - in order to counter negative impacts on womens' body image, it fundamentally still involves body-policing. That is: it involves making an assertion about which body shapes should be respected and which aren't.

When i was at uni, i knew a couple of women, biological sisters, who were both ardent feminists and who were also both stick-thin - not due to ongoing dieting or regular exercise, but just because that's how their bodies were. They noted with frustration how they got subjected to comments like "You need a sammich!", quite rightly noting that such attitudes, even if favourable to women who "have curves", still involved making assertions about what a woman 'should' look like.

Similarly, the very title "Porn Sex vs Real Sex" is making assertions about what constitutes 'real' sex (not to mention assertions about what constitutes 'porn') via the use of statistics, an approach that is fundamentally hostile to acceptance (let alone celebration of) human sexual diversity. If two people film themselves engaged in consensual urine play, and then post it online, is it 'porn' that doesn't depict 'real sex' because it's something that most people don't do? And this issue arises for any consensual sexual activity that is a statistical outlier.

It seems to me that, rather than making claims about what constitutes 'real' sex - which can very easily dovetail into societal ideas about what's 'normal' - in opposition to the diversity of human sexuality, a different approach could be taken. We could, for example, be saying:
Porn shows lots of different things. Human sexuality comes in many different forms. But just because it's in porn, doesn't mean you're obliged to do it yourself! Neither does it mean you can cajole or force someone else into doing something they don't want to do just because 'It's done in porn!' Sexual interaction should involve people together negotiating sexual activity to engage in, based on respect for boundaries and the informed consent of all involved.

Think of porn like a recipe book: Not everyone is going to like every recipe in every recipe book, and people shouldn't be forced to eat the result of a recipe just because it appears in a cookbook. :-)
Surely this would be a better approach than using statistics to make some sexual activities more 'normal' and 'real' than others?

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1. e.g. someone such as myself.

With "War of the Worlds", Steven Spielberg shows how to make a movie that preserves the spirit of a classic story, whilst at the same time modernising it for a contemporary audience.

Read on for the rest of the review (warning, spoilers!) . . . . )
Okay, i just came across the article "Pope warns of rising anti-Semitism", and i'm pissed off:
"In the 20th Century in the darkest period of German and European history, an insane racist ideology, born of neo-paganism, gave rise to the attempt - planned and systematically carried out by the regime - to exterminate European Jewry," [said the Pope.]

What??? So hundreds and hundreds of years of Christian anti-Semitism had nothing to do with it? What about the anti-Semitic propaganda in the Gospels, involving Jesus dissing "the Jews" (John 8:44-47) and the blaming of the Jewish people for the death of Jesus (Matthew 27:25)? What about the promulgation of anti-Jewish laws (the Theodosian Code1) by Christian Emperors of the Roman Empire and successors? What about Martin Luther's work "Against the Jews and their lies"? What about the Christian-created caricatures of Jewish people as horrible little money-grubbers (e.g. "Shylock" in Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice")? What about the Spanish Inquisition's expulsion from Spain of those Jews who would not convert to Christianity - over 200,000 people? What about the Dreyfus affair in France in the late 19th century - was that instigated by 'neo-pagans'?

The Vatican continues to disgust me.

Update, 21.8.2005

So the Pope has admitted that the Church has shortcomings . . . . but somehow, i don't think he includes the Church's stance on HIV/AIDS and same-sex marriage in that. :-/

1. Unfortunately, i couldn't find an English translation. An article in the Journal of Religion and Society entitled "Christian Anti-Semitism: Past History, Present Challenges" provides the following summary:
The imperial legislation went even further and directly interfered with the life of the Jewish community through a series of new laws. The culmination of this process took place with the publication of the Theodosian Code in 438. Some of the laws in this code actually protected Jews from violence and asserted their basic rights and freedom. But the largest section restricted Jewish cult and activities.
The Victorian Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby has just released a survey regarding same-sex relationships. Amongst other things, the survey found that:
  • Over 98% of respondents supported legal recognition of same sex relationships.
    This level has been demonstrated repeatedly in Victorian LGBTI surveys over the
    past four years
  • Over three quarters felt that domestic partnership (currently available in Victoria) and federal same sex marriage should be available to same sex couples
  • 60% felt that registration of same sex relationships should be available

Although i feel that the demographics of the survey respondents should be kept in mind when considering the results of the survey - 59.4% of respondents came across the survey via the Melbourne Midsumma Carnival, 17.6% via a VGLRL mailout, and 7.5% via the Melbourne Rainbow Families conference - it would seem that it's fairly reasonable to conclude that the majority of people in same-sex relationships do want the right to marry. More dubious, however, is the claim by Rodney Croome in his latest blog entry in which he says that this survey indicates that same-sex marriage is indeed the priority for queers. As i wrote in my response:
i also don't think it's necessarily valid to assume that people who want marriage equality think that this issue is the highest priority in their lives, because where in the report does it actually /ask/ respondents what they feel is the main issue facing them as queers? As far as i can see, it doesn't, because, after all, this is a survey about queer relationships, not a survey about queer issues in general. i mean, if i had done the survey, i would certainly have agreed that same-sex marriage should be on the same legal footing as differing-sex marriage - but that doesn't mean it's a priority for me.

i then went on to note:
In any event, i must say that, even if same-sex marriage is /the/ issue for the majority of queers:

a) i wouldn't be surprised. People tend to rate what's presented to them by the media as 'important'. As far as i can tell, the media has given far more coverage to the issue of same-sex marriage than it has to any other queer issue.

b) That's fine. Still, it's not a priority for me (and perhaps not a priority for a substantial minority of the queer communities), and although i definitely support the right to same-sex marriage, and will continue to push that opinion in public fora, i will continue to try to raise the profile of other queer-related issues that i think deserve more attention than they're currently getting.

Rodney also noted in his entry that:
Even though they [i.e. queers] are the ones experiencing abuse at ever greater levels, they are also supporting marriage equality in quite astounding numbers.

So have i been wrong to argue that a higher priority needs to be given to the issue of queerphobia? What do people think of all this?
[ Cross-posted to the Pleasure Activism Australia email list. ]
In recent times, i've really started to appreciate how LiveJournal works in comparison to other blogging systems. i have found Blogspot/, in particular, to be difficult to use. i created a Blogspot account to allow me to comment on the people who maintain Blogspot blogs; but trying to actually comment has made me tear my hair out in frustration:
  • Unlike LiveJournal, you can't log in to your account via the comment form; you have to log in elsewhere first.

  • Oddly, it seems that once you're logged in, you're only logged in on the tab you logged in on. That is, if i log in on tab A in the browser, then open up a new tab, tab B, in order to comment on someone's blogs, the comment form will claim i'm not logged in. Argh! LJ doesn't have this problem.

  • Unlike LiveJournal, comments aren't threaded; nor does one get any notification via email when someone has responded to one's comments.

  • The navigation system is clumsy: if you're viewing someone else's blog, there don't seem to be any navigation aids to help you get back to either your own blog, or to the homepage, which is where you seem to need to be if you want to log out. Again, LJ doesn't have this problem.

All of this has made me wonder if the reason for oft-heard criticism that blogging is merely a self-involved monologue isn't based on experiences of blogging systems such as Blogspot. In my experience, Blogspot makes interaction with other bloggers difficult; and does Blogspot have a 'community' system, like that of LJ? Unlike Blogspot, LiveJournal actually facilitates interaction between bloggers.

Clearly, i need to upgrade my LJ account to a paid account, as a put-my-money-where-my-mouth-is gesture of support :-). And next pay, i plan on doing so. :-)

Update, ~7pm: i've actually just upgraded to a paid account. :-)
i recently came across an article about an Oxford Professor (no less!) who claims to have a mathematical proof that Christ was resurrected by God. A proof is only as good as its starting premises, and so i was flabbergasted to read the following:
He said that the conclusion was arrived at after a series of complex calculations, which began with the probability of God's existence as one in two, that is either God existed or did not, adding that it was also one in two that God became incarnate.

Er, what??? A possibility space limited to two possibilities does not automatically imply an equal probability for both of those possibilities - the sun may or may not rise tomorrow, but does that mean there's a 50% chance that it won't? :-P The assignation of probability to a given event is not necessarily a trivial task; and particularly so when we're talking about the existence of God! A Bayesian approach, which is based on examining previous occurences of an event, can sometimes help; but there is hardly an abundance of 'previous occurences' of the existence of God. :-P

It's really sad to see an Oxford Professor making a mockery of both spirituality and mathematics like this. If he so strongly felt the need to discuss links between spirituality and mathematics, perhaps he should have examined the plethora of instances of the Golden Ratio in the pentagram. :-)
i recently joined the CAAH_Sydney Yahoo! group. 'CAAH' is the "Campaign for Action Against Homophobia". And i must say that so far, i've been disappointed by what i've seen.

First up, there's the issue of the National Day of Action on August 13, which is the anniversary of the Federal government passing legislation to ban same-sex marriage. As i have noted here previously, i am concerned about the emphasis being placed on same-sex marriage as the issue facing queers, to the detriment of other issues - particularly homophobic violence. i had expressed my concerns about this when i first heard about the proposed NDA on the QueerNews list; i was told by someone from the VGLRL that the day would be about queer rights in general. So when i saw the NDA being promoted on the CAAH_Sydney list as being solely about same-sex marriage, i wrote an email expressing my concern:
i, for one, would be very concerned if the NDA was /only/ about queer marriage, and not queerphobia in general . . . . what sort of message would we be sending to the people of Australia if it appears that only the issue of marriage, and not discrimination, harrassment, isolation and violence, is what prompts a National Day of Action from the queer communities?

In response, i was told:
The Queer Marriage NDA was originally organised as a queer marriage action. It was planned on the anniversary of the Marriage Ban one year ago. Having said this there will be no "queer marriage police" ensuring that this will be the only subject canvassed :) . . . Sperate from this marriage action I would hope that there are an number of other campaigns on a number and whole range of queerphobic discrimination issues. Let me know if they are planned. I am sure CAAH bods will want to get involved and even initiate some of them if and when ideas are put forward.

So, basically, "Yeah, feel free to talk about it, but officially, we won't be raising it as a primary issue; someone else can do something about it." :-| i guess when you're working in an alliance with Australian Marriage Equality, that's the line you have to take. Mark Pendleton, one of the editors of Bite Magazine1, recently wrote an excellent critique of AME's positions, which i reproduce here behind a cut:

Read the critique . . . . )

My second concern about CAAH - although it's hardly unique to that group - is based on an email that came through to the CAAH_Sydney list calling for people interested in participating in a joint complaint to the Anti-Discrimination Board about John Law's queerphobic comments last year. Er, no, sorry, i won't be doing that. Were Laws' comments offensive to me? Certainly. Will fining him, or even sending him to jail, change his attitudes towards queers? i very much doubt it. Will fining him change society's attitudes? Again, i very much doubt it. Some people claim that such an outcome will "demonstrate that our society doesn't find such behaviour acceptable". Uh huh. Yeah, Laws' queerphobia is an isolated case; he's a member of our society's queerphobic minority. The majority of people in our society are queer-friendly. </sarcasm>

i believe that the result of criminalising queerphobic speech is not a change in people's queerphobic attitudes, but a strengthing of those attitudes, as people resent being told what to say and what not to say (and implicitly, what to think and what not to think)2. i believe that all it does is sweep queerphobia under the carpet, and into hidden spaces, where it's harder to deal with. i believe that queerphobia can only be addressed by grassroots public education campaigns, by actually convincing people that queerphobia is a Bad Thing, rather than leaving their queerphobia intact as long as they don't express it verbally. i feel that the resources being put in to this complaint to the ADB would be better directed towards the sort of public education campaigns i mentioned above. Oh, but i forgot: the only real issue facing queers at the moment - the issue that we must campaign on, the issue that takes precedence over all other issues facing queers - is the issue of same-sex marriage. :-P

Update, 7.9.2005:
The Australian Media and Communications Authority has found Sydney radio station 2UE did not breach anti-vilification guidelines in comments made on-air about one of the hosts of the television show Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.

1. A magazine i'm proud to be associated with - i'm currently revamping the Bite Web site to facilitate putting Bite online in both PDF and HTML form. It's just about ready. (Well, at least, the PDF section.) :-)

2. And anyway, i believe in actual freedom of speech, not "say what you think, as long as i agree with it." What right do i have to demand the freedom to say what i think if i simultaneously deny that right to others?
i seem to be encountering objectivist philosophy a fair bit lately, and after reading a piece entitled "What is Objectivism?" (from which all the following quotes are taken), i decided it was time to write a brief critique of Objectivist philosophy.
Objectivism is based on the premise that existence exists and is common to all conscious individuals independtly of what anyone think it is. As such it rejects such notions as Subjectivism (that reality is subjective to any individual), and mysticism (that thoughts can alter reality).

i think it's fairly trivial to assert that thoughts can and do affect reality: people's thoughts are a significant driver of people's behaviour, and people's behaviour alters reality. Having said that, i feel it's likely that the intent of this statement is to reject the possibility of thoughts interacting with reality without a physical intermediary (e.g. through telekinesis). It may be that such things are not in fact possible, but personally, i prefer to keep an open mind. Especially given that the fundamental nature of the universe / multiverse is something that's still very much under discussion.
One of the central themes of the Objectivism is that the conscious individual is an end to himself, and should strive to fullfill his own happiness and well-being. It demonstrates that by acting out of their rational self-interest , individuals best benefit others as well.

The problem with this is: what constitutes 'rational' self-interest? What is 'rational' to one person is not necessarily 'rational' to another, because different people have different life experiences and knowledge. The premises that one starts with can affect one's conclusions.

Further, what if the pursuit of one's happiness can best be served by inflicting harm on another person? For example, what if a person will only be happy if they inherit their parents' fortune, but this will only occur if all one's older siblings are dead? Should this person therefore kill their older siblings in order to secure the inheritance, and therefore their happiness? Without additional frameworks - whether they be ethical, moral, or legal - it seems that the objectivist approach is a recipe for encouraging what many people would regard as unpleasant behaviour.
Similarily it believes that Altruism (advocating the must to contribute to an external cause) is a harmful notion that one has to reject from within and without. Objectivism does not oppose individuals voluntarily contributing time, effort, or other resources to further the well-being of others. However, it demonstrates that claiming that you are only worthy of living if you help an external cause (the poor, your country, your religion, etc) is a harmful notion that has caused a great deal of strife in the world.

It has also been a helpful notion that has caused a great deal of amity in the world. Altruistic behaviour can, and in fact does, result in positive outcomes all around the world every day. (Stephen Jay Gould's essay "Ten thousand acts of kindness" discusses this at length.) To deny this is, to me, absurd. To dismiss altruism on the basis that it regularly (but certainly not always) produces negative outcomes is a case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Is altruism itself the cause of negative outcomes, or are those negative outcomes the result of altruism being coupled with specific ideas (e.g. that it's noble to die in the pursuit of preserving the 'purity' of one's 'race')?
Objectivism Support Capitalism as the ideal way of running a country and vows for Laissez-Faire Capitalism, as the ultimate form of it.

A plethora of critiques of capitalism and laissez-faire capitalism are available elsewhere, so the only thing i'll say about this is: capitalism may well be the best economic system we have available to us, but that doesn't mean it's ideal. (To give but one example: it can be cheaper - and therefore more 'rational' - to work employees to death and draw new employees from the large pool of the unemployed, rather than taking care of the health of one's employees.) Capitalism may merely be the best option from a set of poor options.

In summary, objectivism seems to me to be to be a rather naïve philosophy which apparently ignores substantial amounts of historical and contemporary data, and which seems to require additional ethical, moral and legal frameworks in order to produce reasonable outcomes.
A post recently came through to the transgendernews group which contained proposed lists of "Intersex and trans demands".

Reading over the proposed list of "trans demands", i agreed with many, if not most, of the demands listed. i particularly appreciated:

  • "Understand the privilege of feeling at home in your body, using a public bathroom, knowing which M/F box to check, having people assume your gender identity and them being right, etc."

  • Indeed. i really don't like going into 'male' bathrooms, because it feels like i'm betraying myself; but i feel that i have no other choice, since i basically look 'male' at the moment.

  • "Don't think that FtM are dealing with some kind of internalized sexism."

  • i can see parallels between this and the claims by some people that bisexuals are simply people who haven't dealt with their internalised homophobia. :-/

  • "Don't label our gender or sexual identity for us. Recognize the difference between the two!"

  • Yes, yes, yes! Most people assume that trans is a sexual orientation, not a gender identity (not surprisingly, because they're probably not exposed to much - indeed, any! - information to the contrary). It's frustrating when surveys and such ask me to specify whether i'm bisexual or whether i'm trans.

  • "Don't think of our experiences and identities as monolithic."

  • One of the things i always make sure to say to people when i'm talking about my experience of being trans is that we're a very diverse lot. i've gotten the impression, when i tell people that i have both a penis and breasts, that they're imagining a beautiful 'she-male' from a porno. So i then talk about how 'she-male' seems to be a porn industry term, since i've never seen it used outside of porn, and how i look more male than female.

However, there were a few demands i wasn't sure about:

  • "Don't just name yourself a 'trans ally' one day."

  • It's not clear to me what this means: is it saying "Don't just say that you're a trans ally; prove that you are by your actions"?

  • "Even if you think fucking with gender is hot, don't talk about it in an objectifying way."

  • Again, it's not clear to me what this means; is it a parallel to the demand in intersex list which says "Don't fetishize our bodies"? If so, i worry about the possible implications for sexual expression: don't most of us (i.e. both trans and non-trans people) have 'fetishes' that involve us being attracted to particular types of people? For example, couldn't we refer to being attracted to women with long hair, or to clean-shaven men, as 'fetishes', in that it involves getting turned on by specific physical characteristics? If so, aren't we then saying that we trans people don't want other people to be turned on by our physical characteristics? For me, this demand raises quite a number of complex issues.

  • "Recognize how class and race fit into these equations."

  • Woah. That's a big ask; there are people whose entire careers are based on studying how race and class intereact with gender and sexuality. Perhaps it could be better phrased as "Recognise that race and class influence these equations"?

  • "Don't think of a transgender identity as 'political.'"

  • Unfortunately, being transgendered is political; otherwise, trans people wouldn't face as many difficulties as they do. But perhaps the intention here was to say "Don't think of a transgender identity as a political statement". If so, that's problematic too, because there are people who identify as transgender who have taken on that identity as a political statement (just as there are women who become lesbians for political reasons).

Overall, however, i think the list is a very good start. :-)


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