Losing What?

I remember the first time I watched the scene in Love and Basketball where Monica Wright (Sanaa Lathan) has sex for the first time with Q McCall (Omar Epps). Soft music. Gentle touches. Intense eye contact. A dimly-lit room decorated with both affection and apprehension. The pearl necklace that she never took off.

The term “losing your virginity” never made much sense to me after that because it didn’t seem like she was losing or gaining anything. Monica didn’t lose any part of her identity and didn’t look different after intercourse, so what was there to lose? Conversely, what did the penetration allow her to gain beyond experience with heterosexual intercourse? I don’t ask this in order to invalidate their experience or relationship; this intimate moment warrants respect from the film’s audience. However, it is implied that sex has altered Monica in some ambiguous way.

Let me be clear: these false ideas of virginity as a core part of one’s identity do not only pertain to straight, cisgender people. The example above was only used because it was my first experience with the idea of virginity as purity. Gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual, intersex, and asexual people’s fundamental characteristics and psychological makeup are not tainted or altered by sexual encounters. Monica’s worth is not tethered to her sexual history, and neither is that of anyone on the gender and sexuality spectrum.

Again, your mental and moral qualities are not changed after having sex. Sure, maybe you’ll feel less awkward and more experienced but overall you’ll still be you. There are several cultural and religious traditions that equate virginity with purity, honor, and worth, which would suggest that having sex spoils your character. The idea of virginity has long been associated with sexual abstinence and moral implications, so it can be discerned that if you abstain from sex, you’ll remain pure. Funny, I don’t remember Monica becoming a dirty, immoral beast, but maybe I’ll give the film another glance to make sure.

When I think about my own first sexual experience I recognize that I was a very different person back then, but that has nothing to do with the fact that my initial experience happened in a boarding school dorm room at age seventeen. I had braces, was a track and field nerd, and rarely ever caught the attention of boys at the school dances. I was undoubtedly awkward, but still comfortable with myself because my strengths were my passions and I had countless people in my life who genuinely loved me. Despite being less physically desirable, according to myself, than many of my peers, someone still wanted to have sex with me. Maybe he was genuinely interested in me; however, the fact that we’ve barely spoken in five years suggests otherwise.

My encounter comically conflicted with Monica’s. The Rick Ross poster taped haphazardly on the wall next to us fell off right as a Spotify commercial for Clorox interrupted his Jamaican dancehall music playlist. No soft music, no gentle touches, no dimly-lit room, no pearl necklace.

I remember waking up the next morning in my friend Shana’s room. My first thoughts were: “When can I fit in my long run today? Can I do eight miles in between dinner and study hall?”. Pre-sex Addis was post-sex Addis in almost every sense, except for the sole fact that I now knew what it felt like to have sexual intercourse with a boy. I was still naïve, I was still terrified to go to college, I still had braces, and I still thought it was cool to pretend to be super drunk to fit in with everyone else at parties. (It’s not, by the way).

It is worth acknowledging that for some, their first sexual episode is absolutely life-changing, especially for those who are deeply in love or have been sexually assaulted. However, sex is not a universal cognitive modifier. It is as individual as it is personal.

You can be a virgin with terrible character; You can have over fifty sexual partners and a heart of gold, and you can be anywhere in between. However, the moment you have sex for the first time does not dictate where you reside on this supposed “morality spectrum”. You will not immediately lose your standards, innocence, dignity, morality, or self-respect after sex.

I’m not a sex expert, just someone who has had a diverse set of experiences, but my fear of life changes and lasting passion for running indicates that I’m still somewhat similar to the awkward seventeen year old girl in the boarding school dorm room. Monica Wright lost her virginity to Q McCall and she still made it to the league. Sex changed nothing about her character or mine.

Plastic Surgery: Empowering Or Imprisoning?

Lately I have been thinking a lot about plastic surgery and why certain procedures are viewed as “fake” and others can be seen as a source of empowerment. Over the past few years I have been thinking about getting a breast reduction and breast lift. My chest has always been fairly large and is now a 34G, which is definitely on the larger side. I have days where I love my chest and I think my breasts are beautiful but a lot of the time I wish my breasts were smaller. I wish my back wouldn’t hurt so badly and I wish that I didn’t have to wear 2 or 3 sports bras. I wish men wouldn’t look down my shirt and I wish that I wouldn’t get comments like, “Oh wow, who are you trying to impress.” I wish I wouldn’t be viewed as more sexual than my friends with smaller breasts because somehow the size of my chest equates to the amount of sex I have. Sometimes I wish I could find clothing that fit me better and didn’t make me look boxy because my chest pushes out t-shirts to look unflattering and sometimes I wish that things like a simple tank top didn’t look so “revealing.” With all of these issues and challenges that come from the size of my chest, I think it is normal to wonder if I should consider getting a breast reduction. Most people have been very encouraging and supportive of me getting a breast reduction. The few celebrities who have gotten a breast reduction have been called words like, “brave” and “empowering.”

Why is getting a breast reduction seen as empowering, but if you get a breast augmentation you are seen as fake? A lot of women who have gotten breast implants are vilified by society and called “bimbos,” “sluts” or even “whores.” Not to mention, valuing “womanhood” with a bodypart, excludes trans women from ever fully being viewed as women. If a breast augmentation makes one “fake,” trans women are being valued as fake women for receiving aesthetic surgery that helps them present their gender identity. My particular experience as a cis-gendered woman allows me to understand plastic surgery in relation to my own experience with gender, but trans women are often made to feel less than or are often put down for their choices with plastic surgery as well. Women are often told to be one way in society, but when they conform to this standard they are shamed for it. Girls with small chests can often feel ashamed and insecure for having smaller breasts, but then if they take action and get a breast augmentation they are seen as fake and attention seeking. Women cannot win.

The patriarchal system defines gender by a series of contradictions. The patriarchy says that women must be one thing while simultaneously being the opposite. For example, magazines mainly focus on women’s appearances and give tips on how we can look our best, conforming to the male gaze and typically to white Eurocentric beauty standards. Our current society states that women are most valued for their appearance, thus making women feel the need to spend an inordinate amount of time and money on looks. However, if a woman conforms to this standard and puts effort into her appearance, she is often labeled as vapid and vain and ultimately she is never respected.

These very contradictions are also seen with the way we treat plastic surgery. Why is it fake to get breast implants when women with small breasts are frequently shamed? And then conversely, why are women with big breasts slut-shamed?  Can a breast augmentation or a breast reduction ever be empowering? Are both conforming to the male gaze? If I feel ashamed of having big breasts because men constantly look down my shirt or scream profanities at me because of my chest, isn’t getting a reduction a form of altering my appearance to cater towards men? Why do I believe that clothes don’t suit me because of the size of my chest? Is it because society has ingrained in me that things should make me appear slimmer rather than boxier? Is getting a breast lift complying to ageism and believing that only young and perky breasts are beautiful?

Ultimately there is no right or wrong answer to whether or not plastic surgery of any kind is empowering or imprisoning. Some people may feel extremely self-conscious about a part of their body and changing, altering, or enhancing it can really help them. Sometimes surgery can empower people to live life to its fullest.  Others might feel empowered by learning to love their “natural” form. The idea of a woman and the idea of femininity is often a constructed vision and myth, so perhaps through the active work of assembling readymade pieces (via plastic surgery) from an alienating and oppressive culture into an alternative version of oneself is empowering. Perhaps cosmetic surgery is highlighting the inequalities in the world by using the very tools that were designed to exclude women. Perhaps the limitations placed on women by viewing them only as a physical body can now be used as a source of empowerment. All I am saying is there is no right or wrong answer to whether or not someone should get plastic surgery. What is crucial is that we do not condemn anyone for their personal choices on their appearance.

Neither He Nor She

I’ll start out by saying this is my personal experience of being non-binary. I cannot speak for anyone else.

I came out to myself as non-binary at 17. I’d had very little real-life exposure to the concept of non-binary; I learned about NB mainly online and through social media. It made so much sense to me, I had never connected with being a woman or identifying with my body parts in the way I was socialized to. “Pussy power” didn’t inspire me and I wasn’t proud of having a period, both things I felt pressured to feel growing up in Seattle. That cis-feminism second-wave bullshit is extremely exclusionary and hurtful to trans and gender non-conforming people. I  hated the huge “FUCK MEN” vibe I felt coming from those exclusive pussy-only spaces, a transphobic attitude that prohibited non-binary and trans people who hadn’t come out yet from feeling safe and comfortable in those places. Stepping away from that second-wave feminism and exploring the concept of being non-binary made me feel like I had a more powerful voice. This process allowed me to separate my identity from my body parts, and separate the ownership of body parts from the gender spectrum more generally.

I came out as queer a year later. Gender and sexuality are two completely different concepts and you don’t always understand how you identify on both spectrums at the same time. Embracing my sexuality helped me separate genitals from gender, and allowed me to become inclusive of all body types and genders. I had identified predominantly as straight growing up.  I was confused by my feelings for people other than cis men.  I thought my interest in queer people was platonic, and I couldn’t come to terms with the fact that I was just plain attracted to them. I experienced these confusing feelings about my first girlfriend, Butter, before we began dating. It wasn’t until we danced together one night that I realized I had a crush on her.  I had a lot of internalized homophobia to come to terms with, because growing up I felt like I could never date a girl, but maybe I could just make out with one. Shortly after we began seeing each other, I was able to overcome these feelings, because I felt like I’d found someone I wanted to be with for a long time. So far, Butter has been the love of my life, or at least of my first 20 years on this Earth (haha). We were in a polyamorous relationship for about 9 months and broke up about a year ago, but she is still my best friend and I’ll love her forever. During this time, I was extremely blessed to have been surrounded by an incredible group of friends who all began to come into our identities together and still continue to learn and grow.

Once I had accepted the fact that I was non-binary, I started to feel much more comfortable in my own skin. Since there was no idea or model of what I should be or look like, once I accepted myself, I felt more comfortable coming out to others. Currently, I feel pretty damn okay about myself. It changes every day, but that’s true for everyone. I think I’ve reached an ultimate understanding about myself, and my relationship to gender and sexuality. Sometimes I wish I looked more masculine. I tend to feel more comfortable and attractive when I dress in a more masculine fashion, and have at times experienced deep dysmorphia. At the same time, I think the association between androgyny and gender nonconforming is bullshit. You can look however you want and still be non-binary, and that’s something I need to remind myself of too.

It’s always interesting coming out to people. Sometimes I choose not to at all. Last year I came out to my work by emailing 50+ people at once. It was an interesting experience. Not everybody got it, but more importantly, a lot of people tried to. As long as someone is not trying to maliciously misgender me, it doesn’t bother me when people slip up. I prefer when people gender me correctly. I honestly don’t know who they are talking about when someone refers to me as “she”; I feel like they don’t actually know me. Again, this is just how I feel personally and I don’t want to speak for anybody else. An old co-worker asked me,“So you’re not a woman and you’re not a man, what are you?” I answered, “A person.” That is the simplest way to explain it. For me, it’s important to have patience with these people and help them understand. Getting upset or angry isn’t going to help anyone. Growing up, we were and continue to be only socialized to accept heteronormativity. As long as they are trying, that’s what counts. Many queer people are tired of having to explain themselves to every person questioning their identity and not everyone is in the position or comfortable enough to do so, therefore it’s always nice to have allies to help explain and understand.

“They” until proven otherwise is a nice default pronoun. It’s always important not to assume someone’s gender, but also be careful about the way you ask or where. You don’t know if they want to talk about it at that moment, or if you are in safe space. I find that in private is always the best place for that conversation. It is nice when people correct others who misgender you, but knowing the right way to is important. For example, I think a good way to correct someone would be saying something about them and including their correct pronoun, like “This is ___ and they make really good music!,”  instead of correcting someone in a more public manner like “This is ___ and they are non-binary and neither a man or a woman!”.

Collage is called “Trial & Error: Figuring Out Who I Was” by Chella Man

Watercolors by Aaron Tsuru

Intro To BDSM Toys

Whips:

Whips, or single tails, take a lot of practice to use as they are long and unwieldy, this makes them difficult to land correctly and more likely to wrap around the body and hit unintended body parts. In general toys with small surface areas inflict more pain. The combination of small surface area and speed of movement makes this toy high intensity.

Low Intensity Floggers:

Floggers come in a range of styles and intensities. What distinguishes them from whips is multiple and/or thicker tails. Mini or short floggers with thick tails made of a soft material like deerhide are great for beginners or low intensity play. There isn’t a large margin for error because the short length and the soft and thick tails allow for thuddy and precise hits.

High Intensity Floggers:

Floggers have the largest range of intensity depending on the length and material they are made of. High intensity floggers have longer tails and are made of stiffer material. Any long and bendy impact toy takes practice to land correctly as I mentioned before. Thinner tails sting more, braided even more so, rubber and metal the most. Stiffer materials like cowhide will also mean a higher intensity. Floggers with extremely thin tails are often called cat o’ nine tails. They look like a combination between a whip and a high intensity flogger and hurt as much as one would imagine that combination would.

Crops:

Crops sting, so definitely not for the faint of heart but their size and rigidity means that they’re pretty easy to use. A bit of warm up and knowledge of where not to hit and anyone can handle this right.

Paddles:

Paddles, like crops, are easy to handle but their larger surface area means they are a lower intensity toy. They tend to be really thuddy and can be a good toy for low intensity play or for beginners.

Canes:

Canes are easier to handle than whips or long floggers because of their size and rigidity but they are most definitely a high intensity toy. They come in a range of flexibility. The more flexible they are the harder they are to control and the more bite they have. They sting a lot. They can even break the skin.

When it comes to impact toys we tend to separate them into thuddy and stingy. Thuddy is lower intensity pain, feels more like a punch. Stingy is higher intensity pain, feels like a slap, bites into the skin. Like I touched on before, surface area has a lot to do with sting vs. thud but so does material. Leather and wood are thuddy when they’re thick like certain floggers and paddles but have the potential to be stingy when they’re thin like canes, whips and certain other floggers. Rubber on the other hand is always stingy. It grabs onto the skin when it comes in contact with it. Even rubber paddles will sting. Only experienced players should use metal impact toys.

Many people’s idea of bondage is metal police officer cuffs. In reality, police officer cuffs shouldn’t be used on anybody, ever. They can cut and bruise the skin and cause permanent nerve damage. They can also tighten really easily and uncontrollably and often get stuck. There are a lot of great materials that wrist restraints can be made out of. Neoprene and cloth are budget friendly. Leather ones will last years.

Rope sold for bondage comes in different materials. Some of the most common are nylon, cotton and hemp.

Hemp:

Hemp has a rough texture but doesn’t cause rope burn. It’s suspension grade because it’s strong and knots hold tight. And it doesn’t cause rope burn even if it’s pulled fast. It’s good for all levels of experience.

Nylon:

Nylon is a great starter rope because knots can’t pull very tight. It’s suitable for any non suspension bondage. It’s sleek and smooth but can burn if pulled too fast across the skin.

Cotton:

Cotton rope looks a lot like hemp but feels softer. It is cheap, easy to find and washable. Like nylon it is only suitable for non suspension bondage but isn’t great for beginners because knots can pull very tight and be very difficult to undo.

You’ll find other types of rope materials such as jute, silk, polyester, bamboo. Make sure to do your research on what kind of rope you want and what rope you have, before using it. As can be seen from the brief descriptions above, different ropes are suitable for certain things and need to be cared for in certain ways. Always have safety shears within easy reach when playing with any rope but cotton rope in particular. There should always be room for at least one if not two fingers between the rope and the body. Constantly check that the blood circulation of the person being tied up isn’t being affected by the rope. Always make sure the skin around the rope isn’t turning blue. Check in with the person tied up to make sure they aren’t feeling any pins and needles. Have the person tied up wiggle their fingers and toes. Never leave a tied up person alone.

 

What To Do If You Have Just Been Raped

The issue with rape in the United States specifically, is that there is not a universal definition. In some states, for an assault to be deemed “rape” it has to be “forced.” The issue with this is that it implies that some rapes are more “legitimate” than others. For the purpose of this article, sexual assault is defined as “any event in which a person is touched in a sexual way against that person’s will or made to perform a nonconsensual sex act by one or more persons.” This definitions by Justin Lehmiller of Harvard University is left intentionally broad. The reason for this is to show that a person of any gender, sexuality, race, etc, can be assaulted and that assault can take any form from: groping, oral, anal, and vaginal sex.

It can be very confusing if you have been involved in a rape. In some cases, you may know what happened but if you were raped by someone you know or if the force involved was verbal or emotional, rather than physical, you may be uncertain. In many cases of assault, the victim doesn’t say anything due to shock, and then they question if they were raped because in their mind they did not fight it. However, if there was no consent, which isn’t the issue of saying no, it’s the issue that you never gave a clear YES. Then that is rape.

Another common misconception is that if you belong to a certain group or are a certain type of person such as a male, it can be hard to believe that you have been raped. If you feel that what you were involved in or what happened was something that you did NOT agree to, that you withdrew agreement at anytime, or that you said no to, you are dealing with rape.

The very first step to take if you have been raped is to get to a safe place. This means somewhere away from your attacker or the place where you were assaulted. The next step is to contact someone who can help you: calling your roommate, best friend, family, or 911. If you are feeling too shocked, upset, panicked, or are too injured to do so, you can also call a Rape Hotline. We have included some resources at the end of the article.

It’s important to next go to a hospital or Urgent Care center. Even if you don’t have insurance, you will still be treated. They will call the police for you and if you want to have a family member or friend they can make that call as well. If you find yourself somewhere you don’t recognize without a phone or your wallet, yell for help and ask anyone around you to call the police.

DO NOT shower or change your clothes. No matter how much you want to, you will be removing and destroying critical evidence. Even if you are not sure that you want to press charges, it’s important to keep that as an option.

When you are at the hospital, you may ask for a SANE – sexual assault nurse examiner. This is someone who is trained specifically to deal with rape and assault. If a SANE or rape counselor is not present, you can ask for one and wait until they arrive. This person is going to be a powerful advocate for you. They are trained to know how to deal with these situations and empathize with you. They will be with you through the process and give you important information about pressing charges, getting counseling, etc.

At the hospital, they will give you a rape exam. (Taken from Heather Corinna)

  • Any outside wounds or physical injuries will be taken care of, such as cuts or broken bones. The doctor or nurse may ask you some basic questions.
  • You will receive an overall examination including a genital exam and STI/HIV testing. The doctor or nurse will use a “rape kit,” which is a collection of materials designed for collecting evidence from a rape victim and her clothing. If you think you were drugged, let your doctor know so they can do testing. Photographs may be taken. An exam after a rape can feel very invasive, so express your needs. If at any point you want them to stop the exam just tell them to do so.
  • You will  be offered preventative medications for some STIs and emergency contraception if your rape presented a pregnancy risk and you are not on birth control. If either of those are not offered, ask for it.
  • When the police arrive, they should determine if you’re able to answer questions at this time and may ask you about the assault. If YOU don’t feel ready to talk about it, you can reschedule the questioning.

Resources

Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN)

Abuse an rape information, support network, and hotline

http://www.rainn.org

Work Cited

Rape Exam taken from S.E.X. by Heather Corinna

Rape definition taken from The Psychology Of Human Sexuality by Justin Lehmiller