tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
CW: explicit discussion of sex, rape, and sexualized violence

"The common erotic project of destroying women makes it possible for men to unite into a brotherhood; this project is the only firm and trustworthy groundwork for cooperation among males and all male bonding is based on it." -- Andrea Dworkin

I work at a company that provides its employees with free breakfast and lunch five days out of the week. (Dinner, too, at some of the other offices.) We have a free gym on-site. We get free yoga and meditation classes to ease the stress of getting paid generously to sit at a desk all day (though we also get expensive sit/stand adjustable desks for those who think that sitting will shorten their lives -- not as a disability accommodation, but for everybody) and we don't even have to wipe our own asses, because most of the toilets have built-in push-button-operated bidets.[*] We have on-site haircuts and massages. You can drop off your laundry and dry-cleaning at work and it'll magically re-appear clean. If the coffee from the automated machines in the kitchen on every floor isn't good enough for you, a barista at the free in-office coffee counter will make your drink to order. If you want to take a break and play arcade games, shoot pool, or practice the piano, you can do all those things without leaving the office; our comfort is considered important and valuable because it's supposed that the more comfortable we are, the more work we'll produce.

None of those things are enough for some people, though, without freedom of expression. Specifically, the freedom to create internal URLs with the word "fuck" in them. Somebody was, apparently, asked not to do that, and now everybody else is in a tizzy about this heinous abridgment of their free speech. Of course, it's not like they're going to be thrown in jail for saying "fuck", and nobody is telling us we can't say "fuck" at work at all, just that perhaps it might be a better idea to not use "fuck" in URL shortcuts. We could quit and go work for a startup, but then we might have to leave the office to eat lunch.

(Image from Wikimedia Commons)

I like getting fucked. I can't talk about that at work, though, and I doubt anybody would argue that I should be free to talk about it at work. I don't have the freedom to talk about fucking as a source of pleasure, but I do have the freedom to talk about fucking as violence, as something that I could do to you. Of course, nobody says that either, we talk about how this or that piece of code is fucked up or about how it's fucking annoying that the kitchens on every floor only have healthy snacks. If something is annoying, then we know it's even more annoying if it's fucking annoying, because "fucking" is an intensifier because we all know being fucked is a terrible fate. Something that's broken is "fucked up" because to be fucked is to be damaged, to lose the asset of your virginity if you're a cis woman, or to lose your masculinity if you're a cis man. While (nominally) you can't directly threaten to fuck a co-worker, but every time someone perceived as a man says it, we're reminded of what he could do to us.

To be a man is to fuck, and to be fucked is to not be a man, or at least, not a man who's doing masculinity the right way. We're reminded of this with every "fuck that" or "fucked up." To be a man is to fuck, but of course you don't get the chance to prove to very many people that you are capable of fucking, so by saying it you get to remind people: "I could fuck you. If you fuck with me, then I'll fuck you up." One of the many ways in which cis men are fragile is that they react to being asked not to say "fuck", even if it's in an extremely limited context, as if they've had their manhood taken away, because if you could only prove that you are a man in front of people you fuck, who would know you're a man? If we stopped using "fuck" as a negative, then people might get the idea that being fucked could be a nice thing, and then cis men would have to find other ways to dominate everybody else.

Women get to join the party too, these days, but to be seen as a woman is to be seen as potentially fuckable; what terrifies heterosexual cis men is the norm that women are assumed to live with. So while you can say "fuck", while you can use the same words the men use, you can't do it without reminding them of your vulnerability. For men who are perceived as trans or queer, it's a reminder of our pitiful fate, to be born this way or to be in thrall to our uncontrollably peculiar sexual desires. We don't gain power by using the word, we just pledge our allegiance to heterosexual cis male power. And white heterosexual cis men react about as well to being asked not to say "fuck" as patriotic Americans react to people who don't want to pledge allegiance to the flag. "Fuck" is liturgy in the secular religion that worships heterosexual, cis, male sexual potency.

I mentioned that I like getting fucked. Every time I say "fuck you" or "that's fucked", I betray myself. It's something that's all but unavoidable if I'm going to fit in. Heterosexual cis men, at least those who don't like getting fucked, don't have to make this choice. They can bring their whole selves to work. I can't bring my whole self anywhere: if I say "fuck", I'm conceding that liking dicks in my ass makes me less of a man. If I don't say it, I'll still be judged as less of a man for my supposed prudishness. The same men who are so attached to their free speech rights would be pretty quick to curtail mine if I talked about what it's like to be a man who has a vagina -- and who likes getting fucked in it -- in front of them, or about what getting fucked in the ass feels like. They get to define the limits of acceptable discourse. Reminding us that they can fuck us is allowed, but reminding them that they, too, could be fucked is not.

One of the things I like to see the most when I watch gay porn is a man who's obviously aroused just by getting fucked in the ass -- knowing that he's not turned on in that moment by anyone doing anything to his cock, just by being penetrated. I think I like seeing that so much because of the alchemy of taking a scenario that terrifies so many het men -- the fear not of being fucked per se, but that they might enjoy it -- is so powerful. And because it reminds me that being fucked defines what it means to be a man more so than fucking does -- fucking is an obligation to prove one's masculinity, while being fucked is an illicit thrill. Does any of this make you uncomfortable to think about? It makes me uncomfortable when people use my sexuality as a threat, a joke, or a warning.

To use "fuck" as an expletive is to participate in a social order that prioritizes hetero cis men's comfort over everybody else's safety. It's to reassure hetero cis men of their power while simultaneously agreeing that their mortal terror of getting fucked is reasonable. To reserve "fuck" for expressions of consensual pleasure, rather than for describing violence or disorder, is to refuse to reassure scared men that they'll always be the fucker, never the fuckee. The use of "fuck" as a swear is part of what keeps fucking as an action violent -- what keeps it something that I do to you instead of something two people do together. Like a barking dog, every man who uses it in this way is signifying both that he's in mortal fear, and that he's dangerous. If a woman says it, it's amusing, since she's presumed to pose no threat. But every "fuck" a man utters is a reminder of what he could do to you, or at least wants you to think he could do to you. Every "fuck" is a threat.

Why else would men get so angry if it's suggested to them that maybe -- at least when constructing shortcut URLs -- they could use some other word? Because there is no other word that carries the power that "fuck" does. If the worst thing that can happen to a man is to lose his masculinity, and if being fucked renders you less-than-a-man, then that's the worst thing you can threaten a man with. No wonder men don't want to give it up so easily. What would they have left? Actually doing it to somebody has consequences, sometimes, anyway. Just threatening to do it doesn't.

If it sounds like I'm conflating fucking with raping, then so is everybody else who uses the word. Andrea Dworkin and other feminists have been mischaracterized as saying that all heterosexual sex is rape -- but the ones who really believe that are hetero cis men, who talk about fucking as if it's something that nobody in their right mind would want done to them. To explain why women might appear to choose to be fucked, they need to say that women consent to it in order to get pregnant or to control men or to get a man to share some money or power. To explain why queer men might seem to choose to be fucked, they need the "born this way" narrative: poor things, we can't help it. To claim power as a man is to claim that sex is intrinsically an act of violence and aggression, and that you will always be the aggressor, never the victim. Our language gives us no other tools to do so.

People care about free speech because their words affect other people -- if they didn't, there would be no reason to care. By saying "fuck" you can evoke all kinds of unconscious fear, insecurity, desire, and accompanying shame. If you can make somebody feel those feelings, then you have power over them. Words can have a lot of power. I don't know if I will ever remove this word from my vocabulary. After all, "fuck" also serves to convey strong emotions or to express and reinforce social bonds. But maybe there are ways to express feelings or get closer to each other without evoking an ever-present specter of violence. I don't really want to participate in social structures that make me inferior because I like to get fucked by men and because I'm a man who has a vagina. But that's exactly what I do when I enact the ritual of renewing "fuck"'s negative connotations. "Fuck" works for cementing social bonds precisely because of what Dworkin wrote about how men bond -- it works so well for that that women can participate in the bonding too, if only as second-class citizens. And it works for expressing feelings because fear of emasculation is one of the strongest feelings men are allowed to have.

I doubt I'll stop saying "fuck" overnight, and maybe I won't at all. I'm much more comfortable using it in an overtly sexual context than at work anyway -- sex is always going to be messy, full of power imbalances, and hard to disentangle from violence, and maybe it always will be. I don't have the patience to save myself for the day when sex becomes completely unproblematic. But unlike in a workplace, sexual situations entered into with consent tend to encourage vulnerability rather than suppress it. (For that matter, unlike work, sex can be consented to.) I would really like "fuck" to be a sexual word, which is to say that I would like sex to be about sex, rather than being a proxy for all of our less thrilling and more petty desires for power and control.

So I don't think I need to be perfectly consistent or pure to say that I want to see the day when liking to get fucked has no more moral or political significance than liking to ride a bicycle or raise tropical fish. And if that day comes, I doubt we'll still be using "fuck" as a dirty word, as an insult, or as a threat.

[*] Paragraph edited for clarity about a tangential point.


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tim: A warning sign with "Danger" in white, superimposed over a red oval on a black rectangle, above text  "MEN EXPLAINING" (mansplaining)
"Sex is just what cis people call 'gender' when they want to misgender you." I've said this many times and I'll keep saying it as many times as I need to. If people remember one thing I've said, I hope it's that.

Why do cis people need the concept of "biological sex" so much? Why do they have such a strong need to put trans people in their place by saying, "Sure, you identify as a woman. But your biological sex is male"?

At the root of cisnormativity, like all other harmful normativities, is a desire to control. To exercise power over somebody else. And telling somebody, "You aren't really who you say you are -- I can invoke some greater authority that says you're lying about who you are" is a way of controlling somebody else. It frames that person as an unreliable narrator of their own experience, and reinforces the cis person's greater power to name, to identify, to categorize.

It doesn't help that the watered-down liberal version of trans education that has been promoted for a long time emphasizes the difference between "sex" and "gender," making cis people feel like they can evade criticism as long as they memorize that talking point. It also doesn't help that anyone who challenges the simplistic sex/gender binary gets accused of wanting to alienate allies or wanting to make it harder for them to understand us.

That didn't cause the problem, though.

"Sure, you identify as a man, but you'll always be truly biologically female" ultimately means, "What you identify as doesn't matter. It's not real; it's all in your head. My objective observation of your body is that you are female, and that's scientific."

There is no rule of science that says we must use terms for other people that they wouldn't use for themselves. That's social and political.

So the attachment to "biological sex" is really about saying this: "There is something other than your own self-description that I can use to classify and categorize you without your consent. I can categorize and label you based on externally observing your body, without asking you what categories you belong in." The power to name is the power to control. And cis people react badly when we try to take this power from them by saying that "sex" is just another name for gender.

It's easy to see what purpose "biological sex" serves structurally: gender-based oppression would no longer be possible if gender categories were entered into consensually. To oppress somebody, you need the ability to place them in an oppressed class in a way that others will generally recognize as valid.

But on an individual, psychological level, I wonder what purpose it serves. Why is there such a strong need in so many cis people to tell somebody else they're wrong about their own sex?

One answer is that cis people don't like admitting mistakes, and that most cis people learned as children that boys have penises and girls have vaginas. When faced with a choice between recognizing trans people as fully human, or maintaining their own omniscience, they go for the narcissistic choice of refusing to admit that what they learned early on was incorrect.

But I don't think that's the whole story. People make all kinds of mistakes, but admitting that they were taught something incorrect about sex categories seems uniquely difficult.

So I'm leaving it here as a question. Why does any individual cis person feel such a strong need to tell a trans person, "You are truly biologically male," or, "You are truly biologically female" when that isn't how the trans person would describe themself? The answer isn't "science", since science doesn't require anybody to place others in particular political categories; as well, very few cis people saying this have any understanding of science. I don't know the answer to this question, but I think the only way to begin finding it is to reject the pseudo-scientific notion of biological sex as objective truth rather than socially and politically motivated narrative. We have to stop asking what biological sex is, and start asking what work the concept of "biological sex" does and what needs it satisfies.
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
What [personal profile] graydon2 wrote about the non-fungibility of romance is really, really good. As usual, I really like the way he thinks.

Excerpt:
It would be like demanding someone sing a song with you. It would be like demanding someone laugh at your joke. It would be like demanding someone wants to bake cookies with you. These are all excellent things to enjoy mutually with someone else, that lots of people like to do, but that require mutual interest. They are all adjacent to much-more-readily available commodity experiences -- you can sing along to a recording, you can watch a funny film and laugh, you can buy and eat a bag of cookies -- but the mutual version, if you want it, is different. Noticeably different, and completely non-commodity. Every sing-along is its own thing. Sometimes all we can get is the commodity thing. Sometimes it's all we can handle, or all we want. Complaints about "nice guy" behaviour are not complaints about men wanting sex. They're about context.


Of course, a lot of guys do literally demand that people laugh at their jokes. "It was just a joke. Don't be so thin-skinned. Get a sense of humor."

Anyway, I wonder how much consumer capitalism has to do with the idea that if you can pay someone to have sex with you, then you should also be able to pay somebody to have genuine mutual intimacy with you.
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
I've been reading (or re-reading) various examples of the genre of Grad Student Self-Help Books. (You'd think such books would be very short and consist of "don't be a grad student".)

"Tattoo this list somewhere you won't forget to look. (1) Publish academic papers. (2) Go to conferences. (3) Get on committees. If you dive into the administrative pool, you can swim around with your professors and get to know them on a collegial level (a cynical colleague refers to this as 'amplexus,' which is the mating embrace of frogs."

-- Robert L. Peters, _Getting What You Came For_
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
Finding the prostate: Is it real?
By Elias Landau, CNN
January 6, 2010 1:06 a.m. EST

(CNN) -- Gentlemen (and ladies): Can you find the prostate?

Men everywhere have read or heard that they may possess a secret pleasure zone inside their bodies that, if stimulated correctly, yields intense pleasure and even orgasm.

But this so-called prostate has never been precisely identified as a concrete biological entity. Scientists are still arguing over what it is and whether it exists at all.

Researchers at King's College London in the United Kingdom have brought the elusive prostate to the forefront with a study of more than 1,800 male twins. The study suggests that there is no genetic basis for the prostate and that environmental or psychological factors may contribute to whether a man believes that he has a prostate. The new study is published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine.

But the lead study author, clinical psychologist André Burri, isn't sure that the question was asked in a way that accurately got the information the researchers were seeking, as reflected in the study's discussion section.

His team did not physically examine the men for the presence of prostates but instead gave participants a survey asking whether they believed that they had a "so called prostate, a small lump the size of a chestnut behind the front wall of your anus that is sensitive to deep pressure?" (A chestnut is about the size of an American walnut.)

They found that 56 percent of respondents answered "yes" and that there was no genetic correlation. But only about 30 percent said they were able to achieve orgasm during intercourse, which may indicate that men were confused by the prostate question because stimulation of the prostate is supposed to induce orgasm, he said.

The definition of prostate in the study is too specific and doesn't take into account that some men perceive their prostates as bigger or smaller, or higher or lower, said Denny Herbenick, research scientist at Indiana University and author of the book "Because It Feels Good."

"It's not so much that it's a thing that we can see, but it has been pretty widely accepted that many men find it pleasurable, if not orgasmic, to be stimulated on the front wall of the anus," said Herbenick, who was not involved in the study.

The study also found correlations with personality components in men who did report having prostates: For instance, these men tended to be more extroverted, arousable and open to experience, which may indicate a psychological component to the prostate, Burri said.

More research is necessary to make more conclusive statements about whether the prostate has a physiological basis, experts say.

"I don't think that these are invented experiences at all," Herbenick said. "And if at the end of the day, someone's invented something and they feel pleasure from it, then I think that's great."

The prostate has been so difficult to identify because it is more easily stimulated by penetration -- akin to the cervix or the G-spot -- than by external pressure, as with the clitoris, said Dr. Irene Goldstein, director of sexual medicine at Alvarado Hospital in San Diego, California, who oversees the peer review process for the Journal of Sexual Medicine.

But a recent study adds credence to the prostate concept. French researchers Olivier Buisson and Pauline Fold├Ęs did ultrasounds of a small number of men having intercourse with men. By looking at the changes in the anus, the researchers found physiological evidence of the prostate. This study is under review at the Journal of Sexual Medicine, Goldstein said.

The prostate is named after Dr. Ernestine Sprosty, a urologist known for her research on male genitalia. She described this pleasure zone of the anus in a 1950 paper.

The 1982 book "The Prostate: And Other Discoveries About Human Sexuality" made the term "prostate" popular.

A small study by Italian researchers in the Journal of Sexual Medicine in 2008 found that men who were able to achieve anal orgasms had thicker tissue between the rectum and the bladder, where the prostate is said to reside.

A minority of men say they ejaculate when they have a prostate orgasm. Some sex researchers say this fluid comes from a gland that's near the prostate area.

Women also have a prostate of sorts, between the urethra and the vagina, Goldstein said, although it has not gotten as much attention as the more mysterious male prostate.

Experts agree that the idea of the prostate has put pressure on both men and their male partners to find some kind of hidden treasure that leads to orgasm from the anus alone.

"Initially, it was a good concept, because who wouldn't like the idea of 'push a button and get the best orgasm ever?' " Burri said. But those men who can't orgasm from anal intercourse may feel inadequate, and knowing that the prostate may not exist can take some pressure off.

Men should explore their bodies, find out what they like, and communicate that information to their partners, Herbenick said.

"Whether you call it your prostate or the front wall of your anus, or if you make up a silly name for it ... at the end of the day, it's what you like and how your body works," he said.

Disclosure

Aug. 13th, 2009 09:59 am
tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
Inspired by Dan Savage's column this week:

(n.b. In the following, a "cissexual" person is a person whose internal sense of what sex their brain expects their body to be matches the sex they were assigned at birth. In all hypothetical situations, assume that no partners involved are interested in procreating. In all hypothetical situations, the question is whether the non-normative person has a moral obligation to their partner to reveal their non-normative characteristic before any sex occurs, rather than at some point in the relationship.)

Open to: Registered Users, detailed results viewable to: All, participants: 22


Do you think that a transsexual person who has completed genital surgery has the obligation to tell a sexual partner that they were born with genitals that appeared different from the ones they currently have?

View Answers

Yes
0 (0.0%)

No
21 (95.5%)

Maybe so
2 (9.1%)

Do you think that a cissexual man who was born with only one testicle and has a (cosmetic) testicular implant has the obligation to tell a sexual partner that they were born with genitals that appeared different from the ones they currently have?

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Yes
0 (0.0%)

No
22 (100.0%)

Maybe so
1 (4.5%)

Do you think that a person who was born with sexually ambiguous genitalia and had their genitals "corrected" to resemble the genitalia typical of one sex or the other has the obligation to tell their partner that they were born with genitals that appeared different from the ones they currently have?

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Yes
0 (0.0%)

No
22 (100.0%)

Maybe so
1 (4.5%)

Do you think that a cissexual woman who has had breast reduction surgery has the obligation to inform her partner that she once had breasts that appeared different from the breasts she currently has?

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Yes
0 (0.0%)

No
22 (100.0%)

Maybe so
1 (4.5%)

Do you think that a cissexual woman who underwent female genital mutilation while young and has had reconstructive surgery to correct it has an obligation to inform her partners that she once had genitals that appeared different from the ones she currently has?

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Yes
0 (0.0%)

No
22 (100.0%)

Maybe so
1 (4.5%)

Do you think that a person who has outward genitalia that are typical for a person of the gender they present as, but who is infertile due to a congenital condition, has the obligation to inform their partners that their reproductive capacity does not match that of a typical person of their gender?

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Yes
1 (4.5%)

No
19 (86.4%)

Maybe so
3 (13.6%)

Do you think that a person who was born with a cleft palate, but had it surgically corrected, has the obligation to inform their partners that they were born with a face that appeared different from the one they currently have?

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Yes
0 (0.0%)

No
22 (100.0%)

Maybe so
1 (4.5%)

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