so now we're tattoo-married [wedding post the seventh]

by Mark Cook
Last week we suffered a minor crisis in wedding plans when we discovered that our tattoo artist, Ellen Murphy -- who has worked at Chameleon, in Harvard Square, for the past eight years -- would be relocating to New York City at the end of August to work at Red Rocket Tattoo. Suddenly, she was not going to be available on September 14th to ink our wedding tattoos!

Thankfully, my dad had just completed the calligraphy design for us a few days previously (see above), and so I phoned up Chameleon and booked us for this past Monday evening. Here are some photos we took of the process.

Ellen works on Hanna's ink
first the stencil gets applied
and then the ink, which on one's wrist is pretty intense!
I had mine done vertically; here it is moments after completion
Hanna told me afterwards that I turn some pretty exciting colors while I'm breathing through the pain; while I never felt nauseated or in true danger of passing out, I did feel a little lightheaded at times and Hanna reports my skin turned some exciting shades of white, yellow, and green. At moments like these, I'm grateful for all those adolescent menstrual cramps that hurt like a motherfucker and taught me how to breathe through the worst until it was all over. (Also kudos to Ellen for being in tune with how I was doing -- we got the work done efficiently, without me ever having to ask her to break.)

The finished pieces, well-greased with antibiotic salve.
(Anna on the left, Hanna on the right)
We figure this puts us well on the way to a long life of marital commitment.


booknotes: pray the gay away

Between the winter of 1987 and the summer of 1988, Boston-based journalist Neil Miller traveled across the United States "in search of gay America." Though he spoke to women and men in the "well-trodden ... urban gay ghettos" of Washington, D.C., New York City (the "gay metropolis"), and San Francisco, his primary purpose was to document the experience of queer folks living in what coasters refer to as "flyover" states, the "red state" regions of the American South, Great Lakes, Midwest, and Plains states. As Miller writes:
Acceptance and self-acceptance amidst the anonymity of cities like New York and Los Angeles and even Boston meant little, I was convinced. One had to travel beyond the large metropolitan areas on the two coasts to places where diversity was less acceptable, where it was harder to melt into the crowd ... that was where the majority of gay people lived anyway, even if you didn't read about them in the gay press or see them on the evening news (In Search of Gay America, 11).
What Miller found in his travels was that queer people in the heartland were often less visible than their East and West coast counterparts; they kept their heads down and their mouths shut, maybe living in a community where everyone knew they were gay but no one openly acknowledged it. Many of Miller’s interviewees talked about the social isolation, particularly if they were un-partnered; in the pre-internet era single lesbians and gay men often had to travel regularly to urban centers to meet and socialize with others like themselves.

In the two decades since Miller's travels, much has changed in the world of LGBT visibility, culture, and activism -- yet our collective understanding of queer culture remains focused on urban, coastal areas as gay-friendly, while the rest of the country is dismissed (especially by those who don't live there) as a place where "diversity is less acceptable" and life is harder for queer men and women trying to make their way in the world.  Bernadette Barton's new study, Pray the Gay Away: The Extraordinary Lives of Bible Belt Gays (New York University Press, October 2012) both confirms and complicates this narrative.

A Massachusetts-born academic who moved with her partner to Kentucky, Barton was taken aback when a neighbor denounced homosexuality as a sin after Barton came out to him. Curious to understand how "Bible Belt gays" experienced this climate of casual anti-gay sentiment, she began interviewing gays and lesbians who grew up in what she terms the "Bible Belt panopticon," the southern mid section of the nation in which tight-knit communities and strong evangelical, fundamentalist Christian culture come together to create and police conservative norms. When the normative culture is implicitly anti-gay, open bigotry is not needed to encourage self-policing. For example, Barton quotes an interviewee reacting to a church billboard proclaiming, "Get Right or Get Left":
Get right means to be saved and get left means to be left behind at the Resurrection, but this also conveys the dual message of the church's political affiliation as well. It's very polarizing, and when I read it, it sounds like a threat.
Barton observes:
This is an example of how antigay rhetoric, especially to a Bible Belt gay, doesn't have to say anything at all about homosexuality. It's the associations. A Bible Belt gay knows homosexuality isn't included in the right column.
Pray the Gay Away explores different ways in which this Bible Belt panopticon manifests, from family expectations to ex-gay ministries, gay-unfriendly workplaces and legislation to ban same-sex marriage. Throughout, the voices of Barton’s interviewees are powerful evidence in support of her thesis. One graduate student, for example, tells Barton about how his parents tried exorcism when they found out he was in a same-sex relationship. When he remained unrepentant they not only disowned him and cut all financial support, but also removed all of his belongings from his dorm room before they returned home. Through the support of his campus community, the student was able to remain in school -- but the resilience of the child does nothing to redeem the horrific behavior of his parents.

I grew up in West Michigan, an area that is -- though technically outside the Bible Belt proper -- incredibly religiously and politically conservative. Reading Barton's work, I found much to identify with in its descriptions of life in a community that resists difference and where anti-gay feeling is commonplace. I was particularly struck by her observation that in such communities, "gay" and "straight" are the only two categories a person can belong to. Anyone who is something other than straight is “gay.” You're either "right," after all, or "left." That observation made me wonder whether it took me so long to recognize my own sexual fluidity in part because I literally had no language with which to describe myself.

Though I no longer have to live in a culture that makes it difficult (if not dangerous) to speak of my existence, I am mindful that what Barton terms the “toxic closet” effects everyone whom anti-gay bigotry touches, not just queer folk. My parents, for example, felt profoundly alienated when the city council rejected an anti-discrimination ordinance last year. And my grandmother is uncertain with whom she can safely share the joyful news of my marriage. The “Bible Belt panopticon” constrains us all.

At times, Pray the Gay Away seems to paint the Bible Belt as a monolithic culture of hate. I was pleased to see how careful Barton is to point out that she "deliberately sought out individuals who grew up in homophobic families and churches to best explore their consequences," and that her narrative describes the normative culture of the Bible Belt, rather than attempting to describe all people therein. (For a broader examination of queer folks' relationships with their families of origin, see the excellent Not in This Family by Heather Murray.) Barton’s conversations with gay Christians and gay-friendly church leaders, as well as her nuanced exploration of ex-gay ministries help show that even situations which appear toxic at first glance often contain more complex realities.

Yet ultimately, Barton argues that in the Bible Belt region "rampant expressions of institutional and generalized homophobic hate speech in the region bolster individually held homophobic attitudes and encourage those who have dissenting opinions to remain silent." One lesbian student whom she interviews theorizes that it might even be accurate to identify these anti-gay attitudes and actions as "gay cultural genocide.”

I highly recommend Pray the Gay Away to anyone with an interest in contemporary queer experience, in Bible Belt Christianity, and the intersection of the two. I’d go so far as to say it’s required reading for anyone who cares about what it means to be gay in America today. Whether or not you’ve ever lived in the “toxic closet” yourself, too many of our fellow citizens still wake up there every morning. We owe it to them to listen to the stories they have so generously shared.

Cross-posted at In Our Words.


from the neighborhood: teazle helps out

Hanna took this great series of photographs this morning while I was trying to read on the living room floor. Teazle really, really wanted to help.

(For the interested, I'm trying to finish Hollywood's Censor: Joseph I. Breen and the Production Code Administration by Thomas Doherty.)


this is what (bureaucratic) gay marriage looks like [wedding post the sixth]

Happy Friday y'all!

After a slight bureaucratic hiccough involving the misplacement of mothers' maiden names by the town clerk's office, Hanna and I finally obtained our marriage license last night, to be completed by our Justice of the Peace on September 14th. For those interested, here's what the bureaucratic face of same-sex marriage looks like:
click image to embiggen
I will point out that ours is a mixed marriage between Archivist and Librarian (cue gasps of shock!) - likely much more threatening to this generation's Brave New World than the fact we're both women.

I dunno -- does anyone else find themselves thinking of Hermes' bureaucrats song from Futurama?


from the neighborhood: synchronized cats

Hanna and I have been noticing lately that our two cats tend to mirror one another in resting positions. This is a particularly striking example of such behavior!


booknotes: the radical doula guide

I don't actually remember how I first happened upon Miriam Zoila Perez' blog Radical Doula, but it must have been fairly early on in the site's existence since she and I have been active in the feminist blogosphere for about the same amount of time (since 2007). I've been a virtual observer/admirer as Miriam has taken her radical doula journalism from its earliest personal musings to a much more high-profile presence in such spaces as Feministing and RhRealityCheck -- although I still have particular place in my heart for her earliest, most personal, internet home.

It's with a great deal of affection and feminist pride, then, that I've followed updates these past few months concerning Miriam's first book: The Radical Doula Guide: A Political Primer (self-published, 2012). I was able to support its creation in a modest way by contributing to the kickstarter campaign at IndieGoGo which raised over $4,000 in seed money for the project, and as a thank you gift for that contribution I received an advance review copy of the finished publication in the mail last week.


And it did not disappoint. Miriam's 52-page "political primer" discusses the political nature of what she terms "full spectrum pregnancy and childbirth support" -- a concept that covers not only childbirth and postpartum doula work, but also abortion and miscarriage doula care, a relatively new service some trained doulas are offering. There are books and training workshops available for learning doula techniques, and The Radical Doula Guide doesn't seek to replicate those resources. Instead, Miriam offers some reflections on how doula work intersects with political systems: "a starting point to understanding the social justice issues that interface with doula and birth activism" (4).

In four brief sections, Miriam acts as a tour guide through different aspects of full-spectrum doula care and brief analyses of three broad categories of intersection between pregnancy and politics: "bodies" (race, gender, sexual orientation, size, age, and HIV/AIDS), "systems" (immigration and incarceration), and "power" (class and intimate violence/abuse). Using these broad categories with the more familiar nodes of inequality as sub-categories draws our attention back from specific issues to think in more expansive terms about the ways our bodies and lives are policed within society in both informal and formal ways. And specifically, how those constraints shape the experience of pregnancy and parenting.

Miriam is particularly eloquent on the difference between politics and personal agendas. For as she points out, to practice as a doula means leaving one's own agenda at the door -- but it should not mean leaving behind one's mindfulness of how political circumstances shape the experience of the pregnant person you're working with. You may believe, for example, that having a C-section is unnecessary while the person you're supporting wishes to have one. It's not your job to convince the pregnant person not to have a Cesarean -- but it is appropriate to suggest resources for informed decision-making (especially if you're concerned about pushy medical staff).

This guide would be a great starting point for further discussion in a reading group or classroom setting; I definitely felt like the brevity -- a definite strength in many respects -- bordered on too brief at times. I imagine that folks new to social justice terms and concepts, or skeptics who need convincing that these issues matter might be frustrated. However, that is not Miriam's main audience. As a "primer" pointing outward to further exploration, The Radical Doula Guide is lovingly crafted and inspirational. It's definitely a must-have for any (personal or institutional) collection with a focus on reproductive justice issues.

The Radical Doula Guide is available to order online at WePay for $12.00 per copy (and discounted rates for orders of 10+).


from the neighborhood: anna & hanna go shopping at ikea...

... and accidentally come home with a GIANT BED.

Also a stuffed fox.

We ... didn't mean to purchase a bed that was going to need library stools to ascend into at bedtime. But upon assembling the pieces, we discovered that's what we'd done!

We started out this morning by picking up a Zip truck and dropping our old full/double bed frame (also from IKEA)  and second-hand foam mattress at Goodwill. Then we drove south of Boston to the local IKEA store. Which, we can report, is always an experience and a half. The relationship drama being played out between parents and children, husbands and wives, wives and wives, husbands and husbands, roommates, etc., is just something else. But! They did have our beloved bed frame in the next size up as well as a variety of mattresses to choose from.

We just somehow failed to realize that between box spring and mattress we were purchasing Mount Moriah.

The cats are slightly confused.

But we have a new bed. That will hopefully help us sleep a bit better and serve us for years to come. By some miracle of physics, Hanna figured out how to get the damn thing -- box and mattress -- up the narrow stairs to our second floor apartment. It was touch-and-go there for a few minutes at the u-turn of our landing. After we got it up, we agreed fully that next year when we move such heavy lifting will be left to the brawny lads and lasses of the moving company while we sit back and drink tea. If they have difficulty we'll point out that we did it once, so we know it's possible to do again!

To celebrate I went down to our neighborhood liquor store and purchased a lovely bottle of ten-year Glengoyne whiskey:

I picked Glengoyne because my father and I have actually been to the distillary, on our walking tour of Scotland in May 2004. Here's my Dad standing out in front of the main building in his hiking gear:

Anyway ... I'm signing off to knock back a glass and watch some Eddie Izzard while we wait for our Indian food to be delivered. Wish us luck as we climb to lofty heights for forty winks tonight!


minimalist wedding preparations [wedding post the fifth]

Well, folks, as hard as it is for us to believe four weeks from today we'll be getting married in our self-designed ceremony at a coffee shop, Tatte, here in Brookline, before a group of coffee-drinking witnesses! And as the date draws nearer, "plans" become "preparations" and items are slowly checked off the to-do list.

Here's a few items of note for the interested.

1) Our Marriage License. On Monday Hanna and I walked home via Brookline Town Hall and filled out the paperwork for our marriage license in the Town Clerk's office. The woman on duty over the lunch hour was chatty and nice, asking about Hanna's tattoos and sharing the secrets of the Best Water Bottle Ever Made. We wrote down all our identifying information in triplicate (name, birthday, birthplace, parents' names, etc.), signed all the forms, and then had to swear under oath we'd gotten everything correct. The clerk was impressed we were able to read aloud so well in tandem!

Hanna does subversive paperwork
I admit I had a few momentary waves of panic prior to going to the Clerk's office that they would refuse to issue us the license or just be weird about it. I actually had it all worked out in my head what I'd do if the person on duty was rude about it (be calm; request their supervisor or an alternate clerk; read them the riot act in letter to the town government later!). But all fears of homophobia were baseless in this instance, and things could not have gone more smoothly.

Anna and Hanna: Doing our best to destroy traditional marriage one piece of bureaucratic paperwork at a time!

I woke up in the middle of the night the day we went to file for the license thinking about how the 19th-century Boston Brahmins who pushed for civil marriage laws and vital statistics collection (marriage had previously been the province of the church). Those old white dudes, hand-wringing over the rising divorce rate, could not have imagined that two hundred years down the road their descendants would be utilizing laws that were essentially an expansion of government oversight to make claims for marriage equality and equal protection under the law. I love it when reactionary politics comes back to bite the conservatives in the ass (even if it takes two hundred years!).

Possibly I'm a slightly bigger history nerd than I previously imagined.

2) Flash Wedding! A couple of weeks ago, when Hanna and I were discussing what location we'd like to hold our solemnization at -- suddenly the office of our Justice of the Peace was feeling too impersonal -- it was Hanna who came up with the idea of getting married at one of our favorite coffee shops. Over our morning lattes. So we've settled on Tatte in Audubon Circle in Brookline, a tiny little storefront where we've been regularly stopping for coffee and pastries for the past three years. The manager was moved that we've asked, and we're going to meet with her next week to explain what we're envisioning.

3) Preparing the Space. We went with the notion of a "flash wedding" in large part so that we could keep it loose and casual, and minimize the performance anxiety. Nonetheless, we're going to do some preparation of the space -- both physically and on a more emotional level -- as a way of marking the transition into marriage. Hanna and I are assembling some objects for a table-top altar space, which we'll be setting up just prior to the exchange of vows (we plan to arrive a bit early and get some coffee to ease the nerves!), and we're going to speak with Tatte's manager about the feasibility of playing "Jesu, Joy of Men's Desiring" on the coffee shop sound system during the ceremony -- it's the piece my parents had for their wedding processional, and one Hanna is also fond of.

While the cafe will remain open for business during our exchange of vows, we're going to do our best to create a little micro-space either out on the front walk (if the weather is fine) or in the front corner of the shop (if it's not) where we'll use meditative silence and readings contributed by friends to move in an out of the sacred space of the solemnization.

4) Our Witnesses. We've invited three friends who live in the area to join us at the coffee shop as witness-participants on the 14th, and then again in the evening for a celebration dinner (place TBA) after we've scattered our separate ways during the day.* We've invited them each to bring a short piece of prose or poetry of their choice to share as opening and closing words, and one of them has bravely volunteered to take a few photographs so as not to disappoint the parents and friends who've threatened to drop us if we fail to provide material evidence of the nuptials.

And, as I've written previously, we're all going to be signing the document I've come to think of as the "witnessing document," our wedding contract with the vows handwritten by us, in turn, and then sent around the country to be signed by our nearest and dearest ... and then framed and hung in our homes-to-come along with, perhaps, a photographs or two and a copy of our marriage certificate.

All in all, I think we're well on the way to Making Our Wedding Day Matter. Melissa, our therapist**, impressed upon us at our last appointment the importance of making the day matter for us, regardless of how big or small the wedding itself was going to be. The importance of acknowledging what a Big Important Thing we're embarking upon together.

And I'm proud of us for doing just that.

Stay tuned for post-event coverage in late September, as well as a post breaking down what all this cost in the monetary sense. Because I think it's interesting to see what both the explicit and hidden costs of these life events can be.

*Hanna and I are hoping to get in for our wedding tattoos at some point during the afternoon, but we haven't had a chance to settle an appointment with our artist at Chameleon.

**I know. On the one hand, that sounds so terribly yuppie and self-indulgent to be saying, but a) it's true that we have a kick-ass therapist, and I think it's important to de-stigmatize mental health care by acknowledging that, and b) I'm grateful every day that we live in a state that mandates mental health coverage in all health insurance plans -- and, additionally, mandates health insurance. Even when Hanna and I were technically living below the poverty line (aside from student loans) we had state-subsidized health insurance that covered mental health care. Thank you former Governor Romney!


blogging at In Our Words: we can give them words: clearing space for children to explore gender and sexuality

I wrote another post for In Our Words this week on how parents (and allies) can support children in their gender independence and sexual fluidity (I'm not sure why the editors lopped "sexuality" off the title I supplied).
To begin with, don’t conflate gender expression with sexual preference. Our culture does this constantly, whether in the assumption that princess boys will grow up to be gay or that women who are butch sleep exclusively with lipstick lesbians. Some of those boys will no doubt grow up with same-sex desires, and some women who refuse to wear skirts are queer. One does not lead to the other. While grown-up queers often retroactively identify nascent gayness in childhood gender rebellion (“I was never good at sports”; “I hated playing with dolls”) and the gender police often conflate gender non-conformity with queer sexuality, they’re two different aspects of identity and experience. Children negotiate gender roles from the moment of birth, when they’re assigned a gender and adults interact with them accordingly (see Fine and Rivers & Barnett in the reading list below).

Children are also sexual beings, it’s true, but sexuality in the adult sense is something we grow into. It’s a process. And presuming adult sexual preferences for a child — whether it’s teasing them about a playground “boyfriend” or assuming their gender non-conformity will lead to same-sex desire — is unfairly boxing them into predetermined categories. We cannot know what the gender and sexuality landscape will look like as they grow into adulthood, and we cannot know what words they will choose to describe themselves. All we can do is give them a multitude of words from which to choose.
You can check out the whole piece -- including my "suggested reading" list (I'm a librarian after all!) over at In Our Words.


booknotes: after pornified

Anne's daughter Lilly, to whom
the book is dedicated (via)
As readers of this blog know, I spend a not-inconsiderable amount of time reading, writing, and thinking about sexually-explicit materials. Not just histories and health texts, but also works of fiction and nonfiction intended to arouse. In other words: porn.

As as you may also remember, I have little time for categorically anti-porn feminists (e.g. Gail Dines) whose only way of critiquing porn is to attack it wholesale. Pornography -- by which I mean, in the broad sense, material of any medium that is sexually-explicit and intended to involve the reader/viewer on a visceral level -- is, like any other creative medium, a way for us as humans to make sense of our world. And discounting it wholesale seems nonsensical to me. Should we not, instead, engage in a critical discussion about what we do and don't like about the current state of porn (there will, naturally, be differences of opinion here) and what we'd like to see more of moving forward (again, there will be no consensus -- there creativity lies)?

Therefore, I was super excited when I first heard, last year, about Anne G. Sabo's forthcoming book After Pornified: How Women are Transforming Pornography & Why It Really Matters (Zero Books, 2012). A follower of her blogs (Quizzical MamaNew Porn by Women; and Love, Sex, and Family), I knew Anne would have thoughtful and thought-provoking things to say about a genre of porn -- motion picture porn -- that I have had little experience with, and know little about. I was excited enough about the book to press the author for an advance review copy, which she was kind enough to send me (hooray!). Since that exchange earlier in the summer we've actually gotten involved in an ongoing conversation about sexuality and identity -- along with Molly of first the egg -- which has the potential to solidify into a collaborative project down the line.


Ahem. So, yes. It's great to connect with other thoughtful people who believe, as I do, that pornographic materials deserve sustained attention through all manner of lenses: as art, as literature, as cultural artifacts, as evidence of human sexuality, as a medium of communication and (hopefully) cultural change. Which is the story that After Pornified tries -- in part -- to document: How female directors are creating a new kind of pornographic film and how these new films explicitly and implicitly disrupt the conventions of inequality in much of mainstream moving picture porn. In Sabo's own words,
I have found that porn is not inherently bad; there has just been a lot of badly made porn. ... I am interested in the authentic porn made by women who show a sincere commitment to radically change porn, featuring female and male sexuality with respect and realism. Where porn becomes a vehicle for women to explore their own sexuality and define it for themselves (6).
Focusing on specific film-makers, with extensive discussion of the scripts, visual technique, musical choices, and sexual expression and messages of each film, as well as directorial intent, Sabo takes us on a verbal tour of this "new porn by women" and seeks to persuade us that their innovations are worth paying attention to for what they say about both the possibilities of porn and the possibilities of sexual intimacy between human beings. Candida Royalle, Anna Span, Jamye Waxman, Tristan Taormino, Petra Joy, and Erika Lust among others are artists whose work and words are extensively featured in After Pornified's pages (a list of films discussed and an appendix of resources for further exploration are really useful aspects of the book).

In assessing the porn she reviewed, Sabo employed a formal set of criteria which she includes in chapter one. The two axes along which she critiques the films are "high cinematic production value" and "progressive sexual-political commitment," including the values of gender equality and active subversion of received notions of sexual shame and guilt. These two criteria blur together in many cases, as when Sabo considers the way in which camera angle (the gaze of the viewer) reinforces power-over or emphasizes power-with dynamics within the sexual encounter. I really appreciated the way in which film qua film was brought to bear on the sexual messages being sent -- particularly in Sabo's discussion of the sexual gaze. The notion of sexual "objectification" as an inherent and universally-degrading aspect of (visual) pornography is a widely repeated truism within feminist circles, one which Sabo insists on complicating by pointing out instances of the "non-objectifying gaze":
What I find striking about the way the two [characters in the sex scene she has just described] look at each other is the exchange of a desiring gaze while the camera for its part refuses to objectify either [male or female partner]. Instead, 'objectification' here becomes an affirming, adoring act (27).
For the most part, I am not the audience who -- hopefully! -- may be encouraged by After Pornified to think about pornography in new and less totalizing ways. I am already eager to explore the realm of sexually-explicit materials for new sexual scripts, and to participate in remaking what we think we know about what porn is and the ways it can be used in our society. Still, I was pleased, as a reader, to be introduced to a new type of material I have had little opportunity (time and money being the barriers that they are) to explore. While Sabo hasn't necessarily sent me running up the street to our local Good Vibrations to purchase a DVD collection of Erica Lust or Candida Royalle productions, it has given me a sense of what's out there should I decide it's something I want to delve into more intentionally.

While reading my copy of After Pornified, I jotted down a few questions that the manuscript provoked for me -- questions that I didn't expect Sabo to answer within limits of a single text, but which I hope we will all think about as we carry this important work of re-thinking porn forward:
  • There's an assumption running through After Pornified that men have, historically, been the makers and consumers of porn and that as women viewers and film-makers enter the porn market the content will shift because what women want in terms of porn is different. This is an assumption that many feminist thinkers (both pro- and anti- porn) share. One of Sabo's interviewees, for example, relates her attempt to create porn films with "content that would appeal to women" (55). I find myself wondering what the basis is for our assumption that women want different things from men, porn-wise, and whether evidence bears this out? My guess is that women and men actually want more similar things in porn than the mainstream media would have us believe.
  • Building on that, I wonder whether female film-makers (the focus of Sabo's study) are more likely to make feminist porn (using her criteria) than male film-makers? Can men make feminist porn? Are there examples already out there of men involved in feminist porn? It would have been interesting to hear from men involved in some of the films Sabo reviews, to find out what their intentions and experiences were, and what sort of porn they found satisfying to make.
  • Again, this is beyond the scope of Sabo's study, but I found myself wondering about two constituencies while reading the book: Men who are ill-satisfied with mainstream porn and women who like porn that wouldn't make the cut, so to speak -- porn that wouldn't fit the "new porn" criteria Sabo has laid out. In most feminist discourse about pornography, as I observed above, men are treated as satisfied customers. Porn is a genre catering to "men," the narrative goes, and women are the tag-along partners or feminist trail-blazers. I would be very interested in research that complicated men's experiences of pornographic material (without the shame/blame framework) and explored what they, too, may want that the current mainstream fails to provide. Similarly, I fear that a focus on "new porn" that is feminist and egalitarian could ignore the fact that there are people, including women, for whom certain aspects of mainstream porn are deeply satisfying. This book wasn't the place to explore that in-depth, but I do think it's important not to simply replicate a "good porn" (feminist/egalitarian) "bad porn" (all other stuff) dichotomy -- something feminist history tells us is a trap all too easy to fall into.
  • I found myself thinking a lot about issues of access. Many of these films sound great, but they are often independently produced and distributed, subject to censorship laws, behind pay walls online, etc. Making money as a film-maker is obviously not a bad thing, but it's interesting to think about the economic aspects of distributing "new porn by women," and to think about where people who don't have the funds to invest in a feminist porn collection might access pornographic materials. I haven't looked into amateur porn sites much, but it would be intriguing to see if feminist sensibilities were seeping into home-made video smut the same way queer and feminist sensibilities are blooming within fan-fiction communities. As a general rule, I've had much better luck finding well-written, queer-progressive smut in fan-fiction spaces than I have in published erotica anthologies, even from imprints like Cleis Press.
  • Queer porn as a subgenre is not tackled in this book as queer porn, which Sabo elsewhere has acknowledged is a deliberate decision. She's trying to encourage us away from queer sexuality vs. heterosexuality to just talk about sexuality -- a goal I really appreciate. However, sometimes leaning away from speaking explicitly about "queer" or "lesbian" or "gay male" porn has the effect of erasing those perspectives; the majority (though by no means all) of the films Sabo discusses are about male/female encounters, and those which do feature women-on-women action or male-on-male action still seem to center around a heterosexual encounter as the driving force of the plot. So I guess -- as someone who's gotten a lot out of queer smut over the years -- I wonder what's going on in this "new porn by women" that so much of it is centered around male-female encounters? Perhaps it's part and parcel of trying to figure out how to women and men can have equitable sexual intimacy in a culture that constructs them as inherently unequal?
Finally, I appreciated Sabo's discussion, in her afterword, of how we bring our embodied selves into our work and scholarship. "There's somehow something incorrect for a scholar to be turned on at work," she observes -- pointing toward the discomfort many of her colleagues have expressed (including those in gender studies) when she discloses that she studies porn (202). I was reminded of bell hooks' piece on the the erotics of teaching, "Eros, Eroticism, and the Pedagogical Process" (in Teaching to Transgress, Routledge, 1994). hooks observes:
Entering the classroom determined to erase the body and give ourselves over more fully to the mind, we show by our beings how deeply we have accepted the assumption that passion has no place in the classroom (192).
hooks is writing more generally here about embodiment and emotional investment, about being full persons within an academic setting (the same could be observed about the workplace), rather than narrowly about being a sexual person. However, I see our discomfort with sexual topics and the notion of a person whose work turns you on -- or has the potential to do so -- as part and parcel of this separation from the self. Full persons, after all, experience arousal. We should not feel required to cut ourselves off from that feeling -- we only need to learn how to express it appropriately (for example, it's probably not a good idea to flirt with a student or share detailed stories of your sexual experience with an employee). As a culture, we seem incapable of recognizing the experience of arousal without picturing immediate sexual acts speaks to our broader cultural impoverishment when it comes to discourse about sexuality as an integrated part of our lives.

After Pornified is determinedly both scholarly and passionate, and thus a valuable contribution to the ongoing conversation about pornography's place in our culture -- both what it is and what it should or could be. I'm looking forward to seeing what sort of discussion it sparks, and where the work of feminist porn-making and porn critique goes from here.


blogging at In Our Words: holding the space: being good allies for our straight co-conspirators

these folks desperately need allies (via)
I'm blogging at In Our Words again this week, with a post on how queer folks can be good allies for straight folks. This was a piece pitched by the blog editors that I thought was an interesting concept, and once I started thinking about it I realized I had some notions (I know, right?!) about how we might go about that. I ended up with one concept, five specific tips, and a word of caution. Here's one of the tips:
While remembering fluidity is possible, it’s equally important to honor a person’s present self-identification. After all, we expect straight people to respect ours. Regardless of a person’s past relationship history or how they may identify in the future, it’s a basic tenet of respect to accept their self-understanding in the here and now. I’m as guilty as the next queer person when it comes to speculating who might be “on our team,” but too often attempts to uncover queer sexuality in straight-identified folks fall back on harmful stereotypes of sexuality and gender that reinforce, rather than subvert, heteronormativity (e.g. “he’s a ballet dancer, how can he expect us to think he’s straight?” or “that haircut is totally dykey”;  wink wink, nudge nudge). We need to trust straight people, as much as we trust queer people, to name their own desires as best they can.
Check out the rest at In Our Words.

If you're a straight reader, I'd love to hear what you think queer folks can do to support your own resistance to heteronormative bullshit. And if you're queer, I'd love to hear how you support your straight family and friends.

Share in comments, here or at IOW.

the dog days of summer [august-september siesta]

It's August 1st (can you believe it?)

And I've decided it's time to give myself a quasi-vacation from the 'net.

Teazle napping with Hanna
Given that I'm online for eight hours daily at work, total blackout isn't really a possibility -- or something I feel is necessary. But I've been feeling pulled in a lot of different directions blogging lately, and I'd like to take some time to reflect on where I want to put my writing energy.

(Rest assured the feminist librarian is my home on the interwebs, and will not be going anywhere anytime soon!)

So this is all to say that -- while I'm not going to quit blogging entirely -- from now until after our honeymoon in mid-September I'll be giving myself permission to post more sporadically than usual (when and how, exactly, did I get to the point of generating 5-10 posts per week, across half a dozen blogs?!).

I'm planning to use the offline time to read, write, nap, and enjoy non-work downtime with the future wife and kitten-kids.

Hope y'all are staying cool(ish) and we'll see ya 'round these parts when time and inclination indicate this is where I'd like to be.