Category Archives: Sexuality

Has Everyone Lost Their Goddamn Minds?

The Anniversary of Roe v. Wade was this week, and with it my attention turns to the legal issues surrounding the fetus. Except that I’m not doing that in the traditional sense this week, I’m doing it in extra special roundabout ways where I feel that my head is turning like the little kid in the Exorcist.

In New Mexico, a bill is pending which would prevent rape victims from getting abortions, otherwise they’ll face jail time for tampering with evidence.

A rape victim should not be forced to carry a pregnancy to term because the law thinks it will break the chain of custody in evidence. Rules of Evidence should not apply to the womb.

Tampering with evidence shall include procuring or facilitating an abortion, or compelling or coercing another to obtain an abortion, of a fetus that is the result of criminal sexual penetration or incest with the intent to destroy evidence of the crime. (Thinkprogress.)

Oh, and did I mention this would carry a 3 year sentence in prison? This would be a felony? Why can’t they simply compel that DNA evidence be taken from every abortion procedure when related to a rape? Isn’t that a better solution – a more humane solution than to compel a woman to remain pregnant after a sexual assault. And how exactly is the pregnancy evidence? Are they going to demand paternity tests on the rapist suspects? Are women going to be forced to have procedures done to prove who the father is? And once it’s done, why would they want to know? I would hope that the state would assist women in adoption procedures if they so wished, but I do not hold high hopes.

It would seem that the conservative end of these debates feels that a fetus is alive only when politically convenient, it would seem that when a woman should carry a pregnancy to term it is only when it is the least reasonable for the woman, and the most “useful” to the state. Does this mean that because she’s pregnant, you’ll believe she was raped? Are we really going back to the “well, women’s bodies know how to shut that sort of thing down” argument, from Fall of 2012? Are we really this incomprehensibly unkind to women in this country? And if we are, how do we stop it?

There is an implicit expectation of privacy built into the Constitution in many places. This right to privacy can be found through the 4th Amendment in our protections against an unreasonable search and seizure. How is this bill in New Mexico NOT a violation of those expectations? This law places pregnancy into the public sphere in a way that no other law would, especially given right to privacy afforded within Roe. We cannot allow women to be placed so publicly into the sphere of debate when they are experiencing what many consider the worst possible act of violence which can happen to a woman. We simply cannot remove these rights of privacy under the guise of “saving evidence”. It is a direct violation of the 4th amendment because this fetus is being unreasonably seized by law enforcement, the government.

Tomorrow in WTF Roe v. Wade Is On The Books Week: Catholic Health Services in Colorado denies that a fetus is a person.

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PTSD in the Age of Social Media

I opened my regular news reading to find photos of yet another rape victim. Yet another violation of a woman’s rights. In full color. The imagery stark against my retina.

I wonder sometimes if the reason why I cannot get the images of my own trauma out of my head is because every day I have to relive something of someone else’s sorrows. Media is spectacularly exploitative. Of course media is. Journalism is about telling other people’s stories, and because of it there is a trend towards exposing the most painful parts of a story without protecting the reader from their own pain.

This is part of why I strongly believe in trigger warnings. Do they seem stupid sometimes? Do we need to make sure we don’t overuse them? Oh, absolutely. If I didn’t read the articles labeled trigger warning half the time I’d miss out on valuable dialogue. But we need to be cautious with our readers. We need to be kind and thoughtful.

The images of gang rape coming out of India will not leave my head easily. The images of the girl in Steubenville, or the eleven-year old in Texas will not escape my dreams.

I wonder if the reason why so many survivors of assault, of rape, of abuse have not been able to heal properly because they are consistently given images to resurrect their own personal nightmares.

I cannot offer any solutions, because I cannot tell the editors of the world that showing us these photos makes our personal experiences sing louder than the present. I cannot deny that some days, all I want to do is throw in the towel and discontinue my fight, knowing that there will be days where the hurt is louder than the sound of my own voice stemming the tide against violence.

Can we heal when we know that the violence continues outside our own safety nets?

I know I can. But sometimes I cannot know it loudly enough.

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Sound Reflections: Questionable Quotes

I read a lot online. I read a lot of news, a lot of information, mostly so when I write on here I don’t come off as an under-informed dilettante. In the last 48 hours I’ve read a number of things which have made me frustrated. So we’ll talk about a couple of them.

This is a new segment on Feminist Sonar, named after the way in which sonar gets targets. The targets give off sound reflections. This is what I found.

Let’s start with an interview with Deborah Feldman over on XOJane, about her book “Unorthodox” which is a book about growing up in the Satmar Hasidic community in Brooklyn, New York. I’ve read the book and I have a number of opinions on it, but her book isn’t actually what concerned me. It was her use of the diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder which had me questioning her opinions:

“So many of the strict Hasidic laws seem to have been created in response to the horrors that Jewish people suffered during the Holocaust. Is all of this just the sort of thing that happens when an entire community suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

That’s exactly how I see it. In fact I’ve used those exact words. I’ve come to the conclusion that when a community is founded on PTSD, you can pass that PTSD on to the next generation, and maybe even on to another — but with every generation it’s going to be diluted, and the motivation for keeping your community and traditions alive is going to fade. My view is that if this community does not adapt and reform, it will eventually collapse and lose its youngest generation. And the new generation now has smartphones and the Internet; when I was growing up we were really isolated, but there’s no way to keep tabs on people right now, there’s no way to keep them from accessing information like they used to. People are wising up.” – Interview with Deborah Feldman

I would really like it if people would stop using Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as short hand for “bad things happen and now everyone is fucked up.”

I’ll let you in on something that isn’t a secret at all: I have PTSD.

I do not think that I will pass my disorder on to any children I may have in the future. I do not believe that we can GIVE PTSD to a future generation. By saying this about the community she comes from, Feldman doesn’t just dismiss the fears of her community (many of which are valid – though perhaps they could lay off on a number of measures which cause outsiders to label them as insular and cruel) but she dismisses the trauma her elders may have faced, and the trauma others have faced in order to gain the diagnosis.  Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a very difficult thing to live with, we have to fight to regain control of our memories, we have struggles to control our sleep patterns, and to learn to live with deep seated fear. I have no doubt that many Hassidic people have made choices about their lives based upon the events of the Holocaust, but this isn’t PTSD. PTSD has symptoms, it has specific experiences. It’s a diagnosis, not shorthand for reactions to horrific experiences. Please don’t use it as such.

Our second quote comes from an entirely different source, and for those of you who read Feminist Sonar frequently, you probably know what it is.

“If we cannot have moral feelings against homosexuality, can we have it against murder? Can we have it against other things?” – Justice Antonin Scalia

Justice Scalia really stepped into it this time. He has a habit of saying things like this about any number of topics which can cause most liberals to froth at the mouth and cry for justice – but in this instance what really bothers me is that he jumped directly from homosexuality to murder. No pause, no consideration. Murder. Look, I know that much of the conservative portion of the United States believes that having sex with a homosexual is the worst thing you can do, but the fact of the matter is – it’s sex. It’s just sex. You can have good, bad, or somewhat OK sex.  But unless it’s unwanted sex, you can’t really have evil sex.

The point is, comparing sexuality to murder is ridiculous. It’s overblown – and it tells us that Scalia has no intention of even considering the question of same sex marriage. I shudder to think of what he considers to be the rights of transpeople.
Scalia isn’t going to grant same sex couples marriage rights in this country – other justices are ( we hope), but these kinds of statements do not lend any confidence to me in terms of believing that Justice Scalia can be objective on any matter. His comparisons reek of privilege and of self assurances. I would hope for more decency from a Supreme Court Justice but apparently that isn’t how this works.

The sad fact is that this kind of a comment would be called trolling if someone were a nobody saying this out loud – but because he’s a Supreme Court Justice we actually have to take him seriously. This should be a line from a farce by Moliere, not something we have to take seriously. C’mon, people. You can do better.

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Election Issue #2: Women’s Rights

The main reason that I won’t be voting for Romney has to do with my gender, my sexuality, and my inability to accept that gender is a binary. I’ve already talked about how important marriage equality is to me, but today I’m going to talk about the politics of pregnancy and a woman’s right to choose.  I’ll be blunt – I believe in the right for a women to have a choice in whether or not they want to carry a pregnancy to term. I believe that abortion should be a viable option.The tactics used legally to stop women from making choices of their own accord are ghastly, and most of them are based on the desire to remove Roe v. Wade from the books. I wish I were being dramatic – but I’m not.

There are women in the United States who are being charged with feticide, the crime of murdering a baby before it is born. Phrases like “depraved-heart murder” jump off the page and into the courtroom. Given the stories told by the Guardian about the issues of pregnancy in America,  “indifferent to death or harm” indicates a level of distaste for the child which feels a little hard to prove here. Callous disregard for human life seems to be precisely the opposite of several of these stories – especially that of the woman whose downs syndrome baby was born premature and died of natural causes – yet still she was accused of wanting to kill her own child.

In Mississippi the right of choice has been taken away de facto, if not de jure,  by way of the lack of services. There is one operating abortion clinic. In many conservative states lawsuits consistently crop up demanding that abortion clinics keep their waiting rooms a certain temperature, get their doctors operating privileges, and various other specific and challenging requirements in order to prevent abortion clinics from operating without specifically closing them down in one fell swoop. Similarly, Charges under fetal homicide laws are pressed against the pregnant women who lose their babies, rather than against people who attack pregnant woman and thus kill the fetus.

What does this have to do with the Presidential Election when all these issues are primarily ones of states rights?
For one, Mitt Romney wants to privatize insurance and do everything state by state – allowing for discrimination against women’s bodies within the text of insurance laws and health care bills. Furthermore, Romney wants to remove the Affordable Care Act, and even though he didn’t admit to it during the debate. The fact that the ACA promotes women’s health is a problem. Birth control being paid for, STD testing being paid for, breastfeeding counseling being given freely – why does all of this scare the conservatives? Especially given that a study shows that the birth control mandate actually lowers abortion rates?

The issue comes down to power dynamics. Men want control over women, and their bodies. With choice, comes power. With power, comes equality. I may not like the idea of abortion, but the ability to make the choice to be a mother is a choice about freedom. Freedom from the consequence of rape, freedom from medical emergencies, freedom from raising a child who won’t take a first breath. Having never had to make that choice, I can’t say how easy or hard it is, but I can say that I will never forget hearing a classmate tell me that of course he’d expect me to carry a baby to term if I had been raped, because it was the will of God. The question I ask of this concept, is what about my own will? Women should have the right to take their free will into their own hands, and make the choices which are right for them – that’s why Roe v. Wade was taken on by the Supreme Court, and why their decision was to legalize abortion on a federal level – so that the state didn’t have the option to tell women what to do.
This isn’t really just about abortion either. It’s about the way that women are protected. Rape cases aren’t handled properly, neither is the attitude about sexual harassment, assault, or abuse helpful. The fact of the matter is, we live in a country where it’s still OK to discount the cry for help of a mentally disabled woman in Connecticut. She said she was raped, and the state said that because she can’t scream, or move her hands, she didn’t exert enough force for it to be considered a rejection of the sexual advances of her rapist.

We cannot allow our country to abuse women. We cannot allow various states to criminalize miscarriage in order to punish women for what their bodies often do without warning. These laws were written to protect women from violence against them, yet these laws are now being used to attack the women themselves, marking their fetuses as more important members of the society than the women who carry them.

I do not trust Mitt Romney to protect me from society. I do not trust Mitt Romney to give me autonomy over my body. I do not trust him to respect my choices and beliefs.

This is why I vote. To protect myself, and the other women who need protection from the clear violations of our rights.

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Reason to Vote #1: Protecting Marriage Equality

“Do things gradually will bring more tragedy. Why don’t you see it, why don’t you feel it? I don’t know, I don’t know.  You don’t have to live next to me, just give me my equality. Everybody knows about Mississippi Goddamn!” – Nina Simone, Mississippi Goddamn.

Once a week I’ll be covering a different issue of the election season. This week I’m covering an issue very close to my heart: Marriage Equality. I grew up raised by the queer community. At my own (straight) wedding I made it very clear over and over again, that while I was taking advantage of the rights afforded to me by the United States government, I would continue to fight for the rights of my fellow human beings to claim these same rights as married couples. This post serves as part of that promise.
Marriage is a civil right.  In 1967 the Supreme Court established legal precedent paving the way for the future of equality under the law. The decision repealed two laws established under the Racial Integrity Act of 1924, which discriminated against both people of color and people living with mental illness and other handicaps. What does this have to do with gay marriage?

Everything.

The process for the repeal of anti-miscegenation laws was a slow and tedious process, always fraught with the notion of going slow in order to make the change feel gradual. This is the same thing which the LGBT community has been told – go slow. Go carefully. Don’t trouble the waters too much.

While some states repealed their laws of their own accord, other states had to be told by the federal government that discrimination was unacceptable. The same will likely come of same sex marriage.

Which is why this election season is so important. With several states in play, voters need to make their voices heard. We need to stand up and say that we believe in equality, because the more that we make noise  the more likely that our federal government will listen.

We have a President who says he believes in gay marriage. We have to stand up for the rights of others in our community. Even if he says he supports it, his administration still enforces section 3 of DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) and thus bans same sex couples legally married from all the rights federally granted to heterosexual couples. That means that even if a same sex couple marries in a state where it is legal, no state other than their own is bound to recognize it, they cannot file joint tax returns, and many other federal rights. Ask more for President Obama. Vote him into a second term, and continue to push him to change discrimination in our country.

If you are a Washington State voter Approve Referendum 74.

If you are a Maine State voter vote YES on 1

If you are a Maryland State voter vote YES for question 6

We cannot change the system we live without speaking up about it. I know many in my generation believe that voting does nothing – but we need to put our votes where our beliefs are. That’s why I’ll be voting this year.

Why do I believe in gay marriage?

Because my marriage isn’t better than theirs. Because my role models for commitment are gay couples. Because I cannot call any love an abomination. I grew up raised by people who loved each other – not because of gender, or sexuality, or religious belief. They loved each other because of who their partners were. My father was gay, my mother is a woman. I don’t care. They loved each other. They loved each other enough that I am here.

If you love someone enough to commit your life to them, it shouldn’t matter whether or not you’re one man and one woman. It shouldn’t matter whether you can procreate or not. It shouldn’t matter what colors you are, or what religious beliefs you hold, or if you’re able bodied. What should matter is your love and your consent to be married.

I’m a heterosexual married woman. I see other marriages – gay or straight – as a testament to love and commitment, not as threats to my own. So let’s not stall any longer – lets’ not do this gradually. Let’s step into the 21st century, and give rights to all. Because you don’t have to agree with me: Just give my family their equality.

Photo by Caroline Hunton

E. S. Henry at the Prop 8 Rally in Spokane, WA. November 2008. Photo by Caroline Hunton.

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Self Casting & Burlesque

I have done a couple of interviews about my work on a couple different shows, and it always comes down to the same question. Why do I enjoy the burlesque world? Why do I think it has a benefit for me as a disabled performer?
The answer is in self selecting casting. In theater, I was always cast as either a little girl, or an evil person. Only once did I get to play a young woman in love. Only once did I get to do that. The first role I ever played was Caliban – the monster in Shakespeare’s The Tempest. On looking back on it, many people have suggested that perhaps this was inappropriate casting for a young girl with a cataracted eye. At an Oxford University summer program, I played Cassius in Julius Caesar. I was the evil manipulator, and part of the way my director had me play that manipulation out on stage, was to have Cassius pretend to be a blind man. The ploy for sympathy made sense in the context, but looking back I see it as a challenging way to question disability. Theater and disability are tricky things, and I often just wanted to play someone without having to adapt it to myself. I’ve been witches, and I’ve been old women, and I have been the tortured and angry Betty Parris – but until burlesque, I never felt like I was playing a person I wanted to play. Nobody would cast me as Juliet. Nobody would cast me as Marian the Librarian. Creating my own opportunities became my best chance.

In burlesque, there is frequently no director – and when there is, they are asking you for proposals on what you’d like to do in their show. So through that process we choose what characters we embody. I no longer have to portray the evil character because someone told me to, but rather, I get to choose. When Whedonesque Burlesque called,  I was able to self select to a character whom I wanted to play – and it wasn’t a vampire. I suggested three options, and the one my producer decided that we should pursue, was that of Kaylee. I wanted to play Kaylee because I felt like she and I had more in common than many of the other characters. I wanted to demonstrate her sweetness, and her love for her ship. Most importantly, I wanted to have fun – and in regular theater, I rarely got to play fun roles.

I think there’s a lot of power in being able to say who you want to play, and there’s a lot of power in being able to say who you want to be.

This isn’t just a benefit for those of us with disabilities, but for everyone. I think a lot of people can benefit from being able to self select who they play on stage. Many in the theater have roles they would love to play, but would never be given the chance because of what they look like. Perhaps you’re considered too heavy, or too old. Perhaps you think you have the right spirit, but your director doesn’t agree. Self selecting roles is both a way to validate yourself, and a way to show the world that you are something others do not necessarily see.

The downside to self-selection is obviously when those selections are inappropriate. When people put on a race that is not their own, or a disability which they do not live with, or for that matter a mental illness which they do not posses – then it becomes problematic. People feel that because they can choose to become anyone at all, they can do so without judgement.  However, because self-selection requires us to look within, we also must look without. Commonly, blackface is verboten, putting on another race is considered inappropriate and wrong.  Using another culture is called cultural appropriation. Why is it then, that performers do not see the same taboo in playing disabilities and illnesses which they do not live with? Consider that your actions in costume do reflect upon individuals for whom the costume is reality.

Self selection is a wonderful thing, but with it comes a great responsibility to care for one another. It is this precise self selection which makes burlesque a viable and important art form, but if we abuse self selection, where does that leave us?

(I highly encourage polite dialogue. I screen comments, so be thoughtful.)

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Feeling of Success

I’ve just returned from Seattle, WA where I was a part of Whedonesque Burlesque produced by Jo Jo Stiletto Events

It was an incredible feeling to work with so many fantastic and talented performers. Our audiences were filled with nerds and we got frequent standing ovations and a lot of love.

What was super lovely was that the cast took care of each other, and even I as a performer coming in from out of state felt completely a part of the cast and crew instantly. I love it when productions form families, and I’m happy to be a part of this one.

Here’s a modest picture of my performance as Kaylee, the darling mechanic of the ship Serenity. (Photo Credit: Deirdre Allen Timmons)

Lydia Ransom as Kaylee in Whedonesque Burlesque

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