Friday, April 30, 2010

Lessons From Pam Grier: How Can We Do Better?

Cross posted from my RH Reality Check blog

Trigger Warning

My homegirl sent me an email in the early morning called: How Richard Pryor Gave Pam Grier A Cocaine Encrusted Vagina. This was a article about Pam Grier and a small part of her memoir Foxy: My Life In Three Acts which was released this month. The exchange is between Grier and her gynecologist regarding her sexual activity and reproductive health while she was dating Richard Pryor. The conversation has made its way around the Internet and if you have yet to read it I’ve posted it below. If you want to skip reading it again scroll down to after the block quote.

He said, “Pam, I want to tell you about an epidemic that’s prevalent in Beverly Hills right now. It’s a buildup of cocaine residue around the cervix and in the vagina. You have it. Are you doing drugs?”

“No,” I said, astonished.

“Well, it’s really dangerous,” he went on. “Is your partner putting cocaine on his penis to sustain his erection?”

“No,” I said, “not that I know of. It’s not like he has a pile of cocaine next to the bed and he dips his penis in it before we have sex.” I had a nauseating flash of one of Richard’s famous lines: Even my dick has a cocaine jones.

“Are you sure he isn’t doing it in the bathroom before he comes to bed?” the doctor asked.

“That’s a possibility,” I said. “You know, I am dating Richard Pryor.”

“Oh, my God,” he said. “We have a serious problem here. If he’s not putting it on his skin directly, then it’s worse because the coke is in his seminal fluid.”

After any shock, fear, or discomfort there have not been too many writings about how this exchange can be useful for practitioners and for people working with women of Color and/or youth of Color. There’s something, I’m not sure exactly what, or if I will know what it is in a few hours (or days), about the Jezebel writers piece doing research with a physician regarding this story. I do not think it was a bad idea at all; there is just something I can’t pinpoint that leaves me with the impression of attempting to debunk the narrative of a Black woman.

Perhaps it is the use of the terms “The Truth” in the headline, as if Pam was not telling the truth. Perhaps it is Dr. Gurley’s statement (Jezebel’s “Bottom Line”): “It's extremely unlikely that there could be any toxic vagina effect of cocaine” that questions Pam’s recollection of the exchange with her physician which Dr. Gurley states could be “either misremembered recall on the patient's part, or, possibly more likely, a sleazy attempt by a vaguely irresponsible doc to scare someone into making a major life change.” My bottom line: There are ways to question aspects of a narrative without totally debunking the persons lived experiences. I had very clear memories and recollections of the attempts at discrediting Rigoberta MenchĂș when I read this piece. These are not memories I wish to have triggered to be honest.

In reading this part of Grier’s narrative I immediately thought of a few things: power physicians have over (not often enough with) their patients as Dr. Gurley mentioned, access to resources and education, various impacts of drug and alcohol use during sexual activity, issues of consensual sex, and harm reduction strategies.

Working at a school based health center in East Harlem under a medical director, physician, nurse practitioner, and other ancillary staff I learned very quickly that certain medical staff make final decisions and sometimes they are not exactly what the patient desires. I know this happens often enough, especially with younger patients, patients who may not speak the language of their care provider, patients who are undocumented, or who are differently-abled and thus have someone making decisions for their care. It took me a while to realize and understand that just because someone is a physician does not mean they know everything they need to about a particular form of care. It also does not mean that they are willing or able to provide the care that is required or desired. I remember being in situations where the physician used their power over me (as in their status, the assumption they knew more than me about my body, their wealth, and the list goes on) and I was so scared/intimidated/overwhelmed that when I left I felt totally frustrated.

Some ways activists and physicians have approached this topic is sharing what patients rights include. Yet, do we explain this to youth who we encourage to seek reproductive and sexual health care by themselves? How do we discuss the rights of our younger patients with them and confirm they understand?

At the time of this situation occurring with her physician, Grier was most likely in her late 20s and she had over 10 films she had starred in. I wonder about what resources and education she was exposed to in the early 70s regarding sexual and reproductive health. During the time of her relationship was when women of Color, especially Black and Latinas were being forcibly sterilized in the U.S., and many Nationalist organizations had taken strong anti-abortion and reproductive freedom stances in response to these human rights violations, in addition to the ideology of increasing the number of people of Color would come an increase in political power. Historical context matters, especially when we live in a society where we are quick to judge people’s decisions.

Many of us discuss alcohol and drug use during sexual activity and the connection to consent. However, as someone born in the “Just Say No” era of drug and alcohol use, it is extremely difficult to unlearn all of the misinformation and “scared straight” tactics that were taught to us. I recall being in an adult education class about the U.S. War on Drugs and having to unlearn so much I was told was right regarding how our bodies respond to various forms of narcotics and alcohol. To this day I’m still appalled at how many deaths are connected to alcohol use and consumption over illegal drug use and abuse.

One aspect of this discussion that is important to keep in mind is the access to cocaine by communities of Color in the U.S. at specific times (and some may argue even today). Anybody remember why “crack is wack?” It’s tied to class status and wealth. The first time I really understood and even heard about a person of Color using cocaine was Len Bias. That was in the 80s. I can only imagine how cocaine was seen as a drug used by the wealthy and a part of a hierarchy of drugs that is connected to status. Do we even discuss class and status in our sexuality education with youth? If so, how? If not, why not?

I admit that when I first read the story I thought: “where were the condoms or diaphragms?” then I caught myself and asked, “Who am I to ask such questions?” I then wondered what information or lack of it was provided that Grier believed having a numb mouth while performing oral sex might be a normalized physical response. I don’t doubt that Grier and Pryor both received one another’s consent to engage in particular activities together. I do wonder how this narrative challenges my ideas of consent.

Did anyone think of consent when reading this narrative? Do we have conversations and lesson plans in place that helps youth and adults think about how consent is not always so overt? Often my abstinence conversation with youth focuses on the various forms of sex that people may choose to have with themselves or with partners. I help youth decide how they want to define abstinence for themselves and giving them scenarios, versus telling them what it means. Yet, I realized reading this part of Grier’s memoir I don’t think I have as strong a conversation as I thought I did. How do we help people discuss what boundaries they wish to create, especially among younger populations, with their partners?

In the age of reality shows such as Intervention, do we discuss how consenting to a relationship, to a sexual activity, to a conversation about sexual boundaries and relationships is also a part of consent? For example, how could we begin a conversation about consensual sex with a 20-something finding herself in an intimate sexual relationship with a partner who uses a narcotic (even if not around her but to her knowledge) challenge or affirm the consent she’s given to her partner? Do we always meet our clients and patients where they are at in the moment? Or are we too committed to shaming and judging them into some form of action? Have we considered how shaming is connected to race, class, health, and is political as Dr. Melissa Harris-Lacewell discusses? What do we do if we over-identify with a client or patient?

Enter my ideas on harm reduction. I am in support of harm reduction strategies, yes even among youth who some may define as in “extremely vulnerable” spaces/situations. I realize this is not a very popular position, I worked with a supervisor once who made it very clear to me they did not approve of harm reduction at all, especially for the working class communities of Color we were working with at the time. I’ve found that harm reduction works well with many populations. It has opened up dialogues that I don’t think would have occurred had I shared a stronger judgmental/shaming approach. I also think that harm reduction can be more flexible than we may think. I’ve thought about this for a while now, and wrote a bit about this idea and if harm reduction can be more inclusive than we originally thought or were trained to implement. I wrote: “I choose to respect where people are as I hope others respect where I am at as we move through a situation or seek assistance or community.”

Instead of nurturing the shock, confusion, disgust, debunking of narratives, and ridicule of this testimony, what can we learn from Grier? How can we do better? We need to do better.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Revisiting Sexting

Cross posted from my Media Justice Column

me of you may never have guessed with all my critique and commentary on popular culture, I don’t have cable. Not only do I not have cable, but also I only get about four channels since the conversion as I still use rabbit ear antennas. Much of my consuming of media occurs between these four channels and catching things online. So, forgive me if I’m super late with discussing the anti-sexting campaigns that I just recently saw a advertisement for earlier this month.

While staying in a hotel in a very secluded city for a conference, I watched cable for the first time in months. As I watched MTV, I saw a commercial sponsored and created by MTV regarding anti-sexting. This topic is not new for you Amplify readers or parents of Amplify readers, nor is this topic new in the sexuality and sex education conversations. What is new for me is interacting with this new cyber-specific support, resources, and laws.

You see, I grew up without a computer or cell phone. I had to memorize telephone numbers! When I was in undergrad I was using a word processor. I know what dial-up sounds like, and that the Internet used to be called the “information superhighway.” Today, for me, is the future! With all this technology (i.e. “modernization”) there do come more challenges and laws about monitoring such activities (a post about “Net Neutrality” and what that means for all of us regarding protecting Internet freedom is forthcoming).

There are two things I wish to address: MTVs anti-sexting commercials and promotional resources and advertisements and one sexting story that caught my attention months ago but has had little discussion. Let’s begin with MTV and their anti-sexting campaign.

I saw a commercial, which I’ve tried so hard to find online but can’t, which is interesting. The commercial is of a young woman-soaking wet in a bath towel talking about how much she trusts her boyfriend. I’ve read that there is a similar advertisement with a girl of Color completely nude with her genitals blurred out standing in a gymnasium. Each young woman speaks about her trust towards her boyfriend, how it’s “not a big deal…right?” and ends with an anti-sexting message and link to a website.

The website that MTV has created is called A Thin Line which features a quiz, facts, suggestions on “taking control” and a space for youth to share their stories. I found it extremely interesting that MTV has created commercials focusing on sexting, yet the website focuses on multiple forms of digital and online/cyber situations, which they call: Constant Messaging, Spying, Digital Disrespect, and Cruelty. I spent some time on the website and was not completely impressed as an educator, mentor, and as someone who uses digital media multiple times a day to do my work.

In addition, there are huge messages that the fotos alone are sending subliminally and overtly. For example, all the images on the main page are of racially-White people (yes, there is one young person who could be Latina or Middle Eastern, yet when I first looked I instantly classified her as racially White as she is seated next to three other racially White people). The images are also accompanied by questions and slogans that give the impression that the users in the images are responsible and seeking information about the issues covered.

As I went to each issue covered I realized that the images became more racially diverse, but not by much. The majority of the images are of racially White women and men who are able-bodied. The time when I saw a number of people of Color was under the “Digital Disrespect” tab where 100% of the images are of people of Color, specifically women of Color. Now these images are not of a young woman of Color surviving “digital disrespect” but the images are of young women of Color in a group looking at a laptop, a telephone, a man of Color in shock, and a young woman of Color alone with her cell phone. I wondered: does MTV think only youth of Color engage in “digital disrespect”? What does it mean that only images of racially Black people are presented under this tab?

Two things that stood so much for me were the following: how heterosexist the campaign is and the clear exclusion of Asian, Latino and Black men in the campaign. The same Asian man is used in this campaign. He is first seen in the main Get The Facts tab looking at his laptop and then again in the Spying tab. The images of Black men in this site are of men screaming, laughing at a young girl with his friends (under Cruelty), and yelling/angry in the Constant Messaging tab. Latino men are scattered throughout yet do not have a strong presence, in my opinion, to even be memorable.

I can’t help but wonder what this means regarding the belief that young women are more at risk of being victimized by sexting or online/cyber bullying. Since when is this type of abuse gender specific? Do people really think queer youth use technology differently than heterosexual youth? Why wouldn’t MTV use its power as a prominent youth engaged space to include queer youth? Why is it so easy to exclude youth with disabilities and even undocumented youth or youth whose parents are undocumented? Is this an example of “saving the girls” over “saving the boys” because boys can take care of themselves, and/or because boys are predators?

I then watched MTVs special “Sexting In America: When Privates Go Public” and the two stories addressed are of racially White youth. One of the things I’ve discovered working with youth of many racial classifications, ethnic identities, class status’ and various abilities and gender identities are that technology is equally important to all of them. Having a telephone is a huge necessity for many youth today and I wonder why only some youth are thought to be important enough to target and represent.

This all comes from the first time I really began to pay attention to issues of sexting because I will be honest with you, when I first heard about it a few years ago prior to really working with digital media and youth, I assumed it was a class-based issue: wealthy kids, White kids getting “caught” and that’s why people (i.e. parents and authorities) were so focused on the topic. I thought: “here was a crime that was harming wealthy White youth and it had to be stopped!” Then I heard about Antony Stancl.

I first heard about an intense sexting and cyber-bullying situation last year via GQ magazine. In July 2009 the story “Sextortion at Eisenhower High” was published . The story focused on 18 year-old Wisconsin transnational queer adoptee Anthony Stancl, who was in his senior year in high school at New Berlin Eisenhower High School (called “Ike” by students). Author Michael Joseph Gross (whose tone I don’t find useful for a majority of the article) writes about Stancl stating:

Stancl allegedly posed as a flirtatious female on Facebook to lure Ike boys into sending naked pictures of themselves. According to the police, at least thirty-one of them did just that, and Stancl amassed a collection of explicit pictures and videos that he used as leverage in a game of sexual blackmail that eventually landed him in jail.

Earlier this year, and one day after MTVs Sexting special, Anthony Stancl was found guilty of blackmail and sentenced to 15 years in prison. One conversation that is not being examined is the bullying Stancl states he experienced when he was outed at school, any challenges that may have come up for him as a transnational adoptee from Peru to a family that is not of his same ethnic background, and what challenges come up in general being a queer youth of Color living in the US. Gross writes “He wanted to go to Peru that summer to build houses for the poor. He might have imagined the trip as a kind of homecoming—Tony and his sister, Stephanie, were adopted as babies from an orphanage in Lima—but his parents told him the trip was too dangerous.”

Here we have a young man of Color who seeks to go to his country of origin to do humanitarian efforts (which he sold his car to get funds) but is told not to by his adoptive parents. This concerns me on numerous levels. The fact that these aspects of his identity are not discussed or even considered troubles me and speaks to the invisibility of (young) men of Color in efforts and resources around sexting. The invisibility or exclusion of men of Color in general is frustrating. We need to do better.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

(VIDEO) A Review Of Orgasm, Inc.

Cross posted from my RH Reality Check post.

On a trip to Trinity College a friend asked me if I had seen the film Orgasm, Inc.: The Strange Science Of Female Pleasure. When I told her I had not, she began to tell me about the film. She had requested the library order it and it had just arrived when I was leaving. When I got back to NYC I decided to look into the film. I watched the trailer on the website (which you can see below) and sent a review request in which was quickly answered.

A pink folder of information about the film arrived a week later and I eagerly read the information preparing to watch the film. Director Liz Canner (Deadly Embrace: Nicaragua, The World Bank and International Monetary Fund) has several documentaries she’s created and directed of various topics focusing on human rights and social justice. An award-winning filmmaker, Canner spent almost 10 years working on Orgasm, Inc. Below is the synopsis of the film from the website:
“In the shocking and hilarious documentary ORGASM INC., filmmaker Liz Canner takes a job editing erotic videos for a drug trial for a pharmaceutical company. Her employer is developing what they hope will be the first Viagra drug for women that wins FDA approval to treat a new disease: Female Sexual Dysfunction (FSD). Liz gains permission to film the company for her own documentary. Initially, she plans to create a movie about science and pleasure but she soon begins to suspect that her employer, along with a cadre of other medical companies, might be trying to take advantage of women (and potentially endanger their health) in pursuit of billion dollar profits. ORGASM INC. is a powerful look inside the medical industry and the marketing campaigns that are literally and figuratively reshaping our everyday lives around health, illness, desire — and that ultimate moment: orgasm.”

Canner’s original goals of creating a film about science and pleasure led her to the creation of this film: the medicalization of pleasure. What I found interesting, although sadly I was not surprised (until later) was that many doctors, researchers, and pharmaceutical companies see the big “prize” in women’s sexual health being billions of dollars, NOT women experiencing or increasing sexual pleasure. In the film, Canner shares her thought process with viewers and we discover with her how the “medical profession is attempting to change the meaning of health, illness, desire and orgasm.”

If that quote doesn’t frighten you I don’t know what will!

My initial thought is that Canner asks several important questions: Where did the term “female sexual dysfunction" (FSD) come from? What is female sexual dysfunction? And what does research tell us? Canner starts at the pharmaceutical company that initially employed her 10 years ago to create erotic videos for clients, Vivus. She asks the founder, CEO, and senior staff about the origins of the term “female sexual dysfunction” and their role in the creation of the term. The founder admits, as seen in the trailer, he does not know. We learn later from another staff member that during a television interview there seemed to have been a “slip” by the CEO about the work they were doing on male erectile dysfunction and mentioned they are working on a cream for women. It seems viewers interpreted this as being a feminized version of a sexual dysfunction and thus the interest and profit of such a product was produced.

Canner asks her gynecologist, Dr. Susan Bennett at the Harvard Medical School: what is female sexual dysfunction? Dr. Bennet’s response is that there is no new medical discoveries regarding women’s sexual dysfunction that have been reported in literature (i.e. medical peer reviewed journal). This leads us to a conversation with Ray Moynihan of The British Medical Journal, and author of Selling Sickness, who shares the one article that was published in 1999 in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) that discussed female sexual dysfunction. Authors Edward O Laumann, Anthony Paik, and Raymond C. Rosen co-wrote Sexual Dysfunction In The United States: Prevalence and Predictors. It is from this article that the statistic of 43 percent of women experience female sexual dysfunction.

Moynihan states that the article was based on a survey from the early 1990s that asked women about common sexual difficulties they experience. Of the handful of questions if any respondent answered yes at any time they were classified as having FSD. Here are the questions asked that respondents could only choose a response of Yes or No:

* Lacked interest in having sex
* Were unable to come to climax
* Came to climax too quickly
* Experienced physical pain during intercourse
* Did not find sex pleasurable even if sex was not painful
* Felt anxious just before having sex
* Had trouble lubricating

In this article author Edward O. Laumann states that the percentages are normal and most likely a result of normal responses regarding challenges and stress. In the next JAMA issue a correction was issued that stated the authors had financial ties to Pfizer Inc. Enter the perspective Canner presents: Pharmaceutical companies have profit interest in FSD being identified as a health illness. Once the FDA approved it as an illness all sorts of devices and medications began to be developed and sought people to participate in their trials.

Canner follows Charlotta, a woman who is one of nine participants for the Orgasmatron, a device that requires a surgical procedure. Wires are inserted into the spinal cord and there is a hand held controller that triggers a signal and is supposed to help her achieve an orgasm. We learn that Charlotta does not respond well to the Orgasmatron, as five other women in the study and that she had experienced orgasm during sex prior to entering the trial, it was just not through vaginal penetration. She was a perfectly healthy woman, yet still selected to participate in the study. Charlotta shares that she was challenged by her participation with the device and in the film.

The second half of the video focuses on activism by community members, doctors, and educators about the medicalization of pleasure and FSD. She interviews Leonore Tiefer, a sex therapist and professor of Psychiatry at NYU and heads the New View Campaign, an organization that seeks to “challenge the distorted and oversimplified messages about sexuality that the pharmaceutical industry relies on to sell its new drugs.”

We also discover another aspect of new devices and practices that have emerged within the realm of FSD: Laser Vaginal Rejuvenation and Designer Laser Vaginoplasty. Canner attends the World Association for Sexual Health (formerly World Association for Sexology) conference in Montreal, Quebec in 2005, which I also attended, and speaks to a representative. I was surprised to hear the ideas of “agency” popularized by feminists to be used for their marketing. The representative spoke of “giving women choices.” When she shared with Canner the pre-and post-operative photographs (not shown in the video) Canner’s response is “they want to look like little girls!” Canner interviews a woman who chose this elective surgery and she shared that she did not experience any increase in pleasure or orgasm post-surgery.

What I learned and found surprising was the following:

* The number of magazines that featured and promoted “vaginal rejuvenation” and “designer laser vaginoplasty” included: Latina, Closer, Bazaar, Jane, Cleo, Woman’s Own, Elle, New Woman, and Maxim.
* The Reagan Administration deregulated the direct-to-consumer advertising by pharmaceutical companies. This allowed companies to advertise on television and other forms of media. Currently only the US and New Zealand have direct advertising.
* Dr. Laura Berman (whom you see on television such as Oprah and Dr. Oz) has ties to pharmaceutical companies. The Berman twins led FSD discourse and medicalization. Dr. Laura was the principal investigator for “female Viagra,” which she continues to promote through off label use (which is illegal) even though Pfizer called off the trials, as part of a “comprehensive care plan.”
* Dr. Laura is NOT the only one with such investments and interests.

There was so much this film led me to think about such as:

* What does it mean when the sexuality information we are receiving is by people who have investments in creating a profit with and for large pharmaceuticals? How does this goal for profit impact education, care, and resources that are offered? Why are people surprised when historically oppressed communities still voice a resistance to Western physicians?
* When people discuss “comprehensive sexuality education” what do they really mean? Because when I discuss it I’m not just talking about sharing options in contraception, birth control, consent, etc. but I also include race, class, national origin, dis/ability, immigration status, and the criminalization of certain communities. Who decides what "comprehensive" means and includes/excludes?
* Why is the U.S. sexuality and sexual health field so racially White, able-bodied, English-speaking, doctorate degree having, and older…still?! All of the experts presented represented these identities and I found that discouraging as a person of Color who has been in the field for over a decade. The people of Color we do see in the film are rare, one Asian woman speaks about her orgasm at the beginning of the film for less than 30 seconds, and a Southeast Asian woman speaks about her history of sexual assault and abuse. We are professionals and experts and our ideas and perspectives matter regardless if you are "ready" for us.
* Why not mention the big elephant in the room: that FSD is focused on people whose sex assigned at birth is female and does not include transgender people or people who identify as intersex? How do we continue to "Other" and medicalize bodies that do not conform to what medical professionals have classified as “normal”?
* How does a disability framework complicate, challenge, or affirm the medicalization of sexual dysfunctions?
* What about working class and working poor people? Is sexual dysfunction just a illness of the middle and elite class who may have health insurance to cover such medications, procedures, access to entering into a trial, or the time to seek out specialized care?
* How does this "profit over pleasure" and medicalizing pleasure work (if at all) in a sex-positive space?

Visit the Orgasm, Inc. website to learn how to order the film and/or host a screening.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Dancehall & Art Therapy

I led a session on Dancehall and art therapy with my Jiggly Boo Dance Crew boos. Here are the 5 songs that we danced to as we created art.

No No NO by Dawn Penn

Twice My Age by Shabba Ranks Featuring Crystal

Action by Terror Fabulous

Dancehall Queen by Beenieman

Champion by Buju Banton

Friday, April 23, 2010

Major Lazer: Cyborgs, Dancehall, Racism, & Colonization in Music

Cross posted from my Media Justice column

This post is 5 months in the making! Last year I heard the song Pon De Floor somehow, I really can’t remember since it’s been years since I listened to the radio. Then while watching So You Think You Can Dance, the remaining dancers did a group number to the song. That’s when I knew the song was at a new popular high. It’s rare when a Dancehall song becomes so popular we see it on primetime television. So my interest in the song, the performers, and the origins was piqued.

After doing some searching I found the video for Major Lazer’s Pon De Floor. I was immediately excited because the dancing in the video was very much the kind of Dancehall I find fascinating, yet also complex as it is overly sexually graphic. Basically performers are reenacting some sexual activities on the dance floor, yet are doing so in a way that challenges our ideas of athleticism in dancing in this way. Another aspect of the video that I was excited about was that the women dancing were large bodied women. Some may even call them “fat dancers” yet for me their bodies were so much like my own it was as though I was watching myself dance.

When I realized I needed to learn more about the group I did some online searching and put in a request for a Gchat conversation with my homeboy, musical genre guru extraordinaire: Hugo who writes about DJ music and its connections to identity and society and provides his own mixes for free at his online home American Pupusa. I like to call Hugo my “musical mentor.” My online searching led me to the shocking knowledge that Major Lazer is a fictional Black cyborg created by two White men, Diplo from Philidelphia (of M.I.A. fame), and Switch from the UK who specializes in “House” music. When I realized that two White men created this image of Major Lazer, created the music, and then used Black and brown bodies in the videos I knew I had to talk to Hugo as soon as possible! There was just too much to unpack on my own.

Hugo and I had a dope conversation about the group and the imagery, motivation, and process of Major Lazer. I asked Hugo to “school me” and he graciously accepted the task! I told him how I loved Pon De Floor and that it seriously rocked my world not only because the dancing was fierce and I love Dancehall, but because the diversity in body types, the over/exaggerated sexual representations, all the stuff I love. Yet, I did a Google search and now am so confused re: origins, focus, and how race connects, to name a few.

Breaking down the social locations of the two White men who created Major Lazer, Hugo shares that Switch has his brand of House [music] called “fidget house” or “crack house”, which is pretty much House music that “uses chopped up samples on top of the beat. It throw things off, swinging and syncopated it’s high energy and uses very bright sounds.” I asked Hugo about the origins of the term “crack house” because the term for me when I hear it is very racialized especially with Black people living in the US in the 80s and 90s with the Cocaine vs. Crack situation, especially with incarceration and sentencing. That term invoked a very graphic image of a White boy in a crack house which reminded me of the ending of Spike Lee’s Bamboozled. Hugo shares that the “crack house” name was “coined by this Jungle/Drum and Bass producer turned house guy named DJ Zinc who is British and White, so I’m not too certain on his reason, but in message boards these two terms are usually interchanged.” Wow. Just wow. Hugo also shared this article where DJ Zinc talks about the origins of the term “crack house.”

He then shared with me the background of Diplo and said he started out doing Hip Hop, produced an album called Florida that is in the vein of DJ Shadow, Rjd2, etc, but moved towards more dance music styles. He is famous for producing M.I.A.'s "Piracy Funds Terrorism" mixtape. Diplo also did a Dancehall track with Vybez Kartel on his first album called ‘Diplo Riddim.’ When I asked him more about Diplo Hugo says “he is that White dude that makes Baile Funk cool, Baltimore Club cool and things like that.” That made me laugh. Diplo also has a podcast that Hugo suggested I check out where he “promotes ‘world global music’ thing showcasing dance music from around the world with a focus on Baltimore Club.” Hugo also shared an interview with Diplo about working with several Dancehall and Jamaican artists for the Major Lazer album.

To understand exactly what Diplo and Switch did in creating Major Lazer, I decided to purchase the album. One hundred percent of the album is dancehall music featuring several well-known Jamaican and Caribbean artists mentioned in the video above. I asked Hugo: “(no making fun of my analogies) but they did a No Doubt with recording in Jamaica (JA) with Jamaican producers/engineers? which Hugo confirmed. I shared with him that “the representations in the videos I loved. It's 1 thing to have people of Color do the videos I love, and it's another when White boys do it. Know what I mean? Not that I love it any less (but I kinda do), but now it’s a different perspective with over-sexualized components.” This comment led Hugo to think about “race records” by “major labels when Blues became popular. Later we saw Chess Records (R&B and early Rock) who were started by two White guys and Blue Note for Jazz. All labels that produced so much of early Rock and Jazz music.”

In response to this question Hugo brings up a community and identity that I’m not familiar with: “hipster/s/dom.” He shared an article with me and states “Diplo is the quintessential hipster drawing from ‘other’ and bringing it to reinforce his own Whiteness rather than immersing himself in it, like a ‘yo boy.’ That’s the big critique against the hipsters and post-modernism: They make cultural products meaningless.” Hugo started dropping big words and I had to ask him to clarify, specifically what he meant by applying a “post-modern” critique. Hugo shared a link to help contextualize his connection. He said that in the example of Major Lazer, he’s “talking about the removal of Dancehall culture and identity because two White boys are copying and pasting this whole culture into a concept album.” I understood Diplo as not centering himself but centering his music. Hugo affirmed this and said that Diplo “brings the music to the masses and presents them as ‘danceable badbwoy music.’ The genres he presents are very popular in the ‘native’ locations in which they are sourced but he provides access to people who wouldn’t know how to access them themselves and Major Lazer is a reinterpretation.”

This was my “ah-ha” moment. I said, “ok, gotcha, but that kinda reeks of colonization. Colonization as in modernization ideologies and the exploration and conquest means better ideas. Not saying it is like that, just saying my mind takes me there.” Hugo agrees and asks “in the end who benefits the most? And the music is so layered with money, sound satisfaction, stardom, etc. So you have different beneficiaries.” I told you he was a music guru didn’t I! I admit that this complication is what draws me and what makes it all so intense and interesting musically. One of the more overt representations I see of racism and colonization in the Major Lazer videos and music is the use of a particular Black man who has been included in all the videos and promotional/marketing events for Major Lazer. Hugo told me this man is Skerrit Bwoy whose style of dancing is called “Daggering.”

Throughout our conversation Hugo and I shared several videos. He was honest with me in sharing that he had not seen all the videos I was mentioning nor had he heard the Major Lazer album. When I shared with Hugo the videos he agreed there were “SOOO many layers on this music and the images: hipster, dancehall, rave, color, body, etc.” We first started the deconstruct the video Pon De Floor and Hugo believes that it is “directly affecting a Dancehall genre that has very very strict codes and rules, so it’s a disruption and the uber-exaggeration of the ‘dances’ because in our culture [i.e. amongs many Latinidades] we have the aesthetic of the ‘doble-sentido’, that line of alluding but not going over, which some would argue is more sexually arousing than an open flat-out skank dance or reference.” We both agreed that the video is taking the doble-sentido to a more openly sexual side: bright colors, sounds, exaggerated dances, design, and general overload of imagery.

As we begin to talk about Major Lazer as a fictional Black male cyborg, “an 'enhancement' by technology, grounded in traditional rude-boy skanked out riddims and templates” as Hugo said, we noticed we were coming at Major Lazer from two different perspectives. I shared that when I realized Major Lazer is a Black cyborg I loved it because it connects to my women’s studies Donna Haraway feminist cyborg “stuff.” I shared with Hugo how historically in Haraway’s cyborgs (which are basically color and gender-free) that they have racialized the cyborg, which is something White feminists who use that don’t do, they say race will/can be omitted, so these two White boys don’t do that, or play by those rules. So what these two White boys do is kind of revolutionary. Yet I realize outside that “feminist” paradigm, the fellas are basically using racism to their advantage. Hugo sees the racism as “it took these two White boys to create a Black character who is infused with technology to make him the baddest dude on the planet. But I keep getting drawn back to the rules of Dancehall. It’s a tough genre to crack, and tougher one to innovate.” Hugo also talks about how this “follows another tradition where White singers who ‘sound Black’ are not revealed quickly (Madonna, Elvis, etc…) to gain commercial appeal. Ironic no?”

I asked Hugo to talk more about the strictness of Dancehall because I love the genre and find it very inclusive. I wanted to hear more about the strictness he was thinking. He starts by talking about one of our favorite musicians in general across genres: Yellowman. Hugo says that King Yellow, as he’s known to many fans, is “a big social and cultural exaggeration and so he was able to drop new ideas that way. Dancehall is technology music and the move from instruments to drum machines and electronic sounds came at the same time with King Jammy.” Hugo finds the strictness is in the development of the music versus the movement and representations of bodies and gender. He elaborates on this and says that the “strictness comes in that four main topics in Dancehall are weed [marijuana], homophobic lyrics called Badman lyrics, social consciousness lyrics, and sexual prowess slack lyrics. Dancehall is strict in the competitiveness of Toasters [Toasters/Deejays are the Reggae/Dancehall equivalent to what we call in Hip Hop an “MC”], credibility, crews, and musical politics amongst the emcees.”

From this conversation Hugo shared a video that he found similarities to by Flying Lotus called Parisian Goldfish. He saw similarities in color scheme, body and musically it’s another “perversion” of the genre. He talks about how the “larger musical context is becoming brighter generally speaking and we are now using musical samples from the 80s, Sega Genesis, Nintendo’s, neon.” I asked if Hugo thought that this goes back to the use of 80/90s imagery and music is connected to creating music in what is considered “Third World” countries, such as the fellas recording Major Lazer in Jamaica. Hugo encouraged me to explore that more. I discussed when some people want to produce/record in “Third World” countries, why is that? Does it make the music more organic? Is it an attempt for the musicians to convince themselves of creating music for the people because the people they want to use/sample cannot fly in/outside of their homeland because of issues of wealth, access, ability to leave country (i.e. passports, work visas, etc.).

Hugo made some connections between this approach having been done before, especially by rock artists and Black artists in the UK such as Tricky who went to Jamaica for Pre-Millenium Tension. He shared that “reggae producers and production has just as much a rich history as the performers, Studio 1, Channel 1, Waterhouse, Tuff Gong. These are famous studios owned by big producers. I think ‘First Worlders’ think it gives them street cred to access production techniques they can’t replicate.” I share that I see this a lot with musicians from Cuba. The techniques are the OG (original) ones that we had before people started to modernize music.

I saw this as a form of romanticizing the lack of modernity. Hugo challenge me and said “think of this: when ‘international artists’ come here they don’t’ change much: Sean Paul, Beenieman, Elephantman, but when Whites come down there the totally f-up the genres in different ways.” I saw a sense of entitlement was also at play even/especially when crossing boarders/boundaries. Hugo admitted that he was never really into hearing the album by Major Lazer in full and that all the hype it got may have influenced his decision to stay away from the album. I wondered if knowing how the fellas created their music, can we be surprised in the way it is being consumed?

At the end of the day I kind of feel duped, hoodwinked, bamboozled. I fell for imagery that was crafted by outsiders to represent something meaningful that I valued as an important part of my Caribbean identity. There are revolutionary aspects, yet there are so few in comparison to how many troubling aspects of the music, imagery and representations of Major Lazer. The entire time I transcribed and wrote this piece I couldn’t get Prince’s ideologies around choosing an unpronounceable Love Symbol to represent him to get out of his contract with Warner Bros. He was reported as stating in the book Where Were You... When the Music Played? 120 Unforgettable Moments in Music History

The first step I have taken towards the ultimate goal of emancipation from the chains that bind me to Warner Bros. was to change my name from Prince to the Love Symbol. Prince is the name that my mother gave me at birth. Warner Bros. took the name, trademarked it, and used it as the main marketing tool to promote all of the music that I wrote. The company owns the name Prince and all related music marketed under Prince. I became merely a pawn used to produce more money for Warner Bros... I was born Prince and did not want to adopt another conventional name. The only acceptable replacement for my name, and my identity, was the Love Symbol, a symbol with no pronunciation, that is a representation of me and what my music is about. This symbol is present in my work over the years; it is a concept that has evolved from my frustration; it is who I am. It is my name.

I now understand that Major Lazer is a symbol, yet I’m unclear what it represents because I realize it does not represent me or the community I find myself a part of. I’d love to hear what those of you who either identify with any of the artists we mentioned her or who enjoy Major Lazer think. This is definitely me as an “outsider” to some extent but an “insider” in others. An interesting space to occupy.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Recycle Your Sex Toys on Earth Day & Everyday (Reposted)

I'm re-posting this Earth Day post from 2009 that I wrote on this blog because it is still relevant and the links still work!

Today is Earth Day. It’s raining in NYC, which seems fitting. I’ve read lots, and lots and lots of posts about green sex toys that are currently available. Many of these toys are created by recycled material, have vegan ingredients, or are made of soy products. But, what about if your toy breaks, if you get a new one after ending a relationship, or if you just want to replace one that you are kind of tired of, what do you do with them? There are now options available for sex toy recycling! Below are some options:

1. Sex Toy provides this service. Not only do they recycle the toy for free, you also get a $5 voucher towards another sex toy at a store or at their upcoming online store for each toy you mail. I sent an email to see if they accept toys from outside the continental US, including US territories, as well as if the vouchers or upcoming online store will services those outside the US and haven’t gotten a response yet. I’m sure they will let me know when they can and I’ll update their response here. Read carefully their “How It Works” page, they ask you to wash your toy and mail it in a specific type of mailer. This means you will have to pay for shipping.

2. Recycle Your Sex is a program by sex toy seller Dreamscapes. They offer a $10 gift card to their store and those of their affiliates (Vibrator for every package you mail them. They will not think you are slick if you send 5 packages with 5 different toys to recycle. It kind of defeats the purpose, so instead, make sure you pay one amount and ship as many toys as you can at one time.

3. LoveHoney’s Rabbit Amnesty program is in the UK, where the law is to recycle all electronics, and vibrators fall under that law. To make this service more discrete, Love Honey launched their Rabbit Amnesty program in 2007. They want folks to bring their sex toy to the store for recycling, in exchange they will donate £1 to the World Land Trust, and they also offer 50% off a new rabbit vibrator. They have made an ad which is below and read more about what is actually done when they recycle your toy.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Monday, April 19, 2010

How Accessible Are IUDs?

Cross posted from my RH Reality Check blog

Earlier this month Newsweek reported that IUDs are becoming more popular as a form of contraceptive. Reporter Meredith Melnick discussed how the 2005 FDA approval of IUDs among younger women who do not have children has affected the increase in usage. I was not surprised when Melnick reported that some doctors do not support this method for younger women for various reasons. As someone who got an IUD in 2007 before I was in my 30s, I had a very hard time accessing the method of my choice.

Growing up with Puerto Rican hippie parents, I remember my mother telling me that the birth control pill kills Puerto Rican women. And it did. I knew at an early age that condoms were the method I was going to use before even considering a hormonal method, which was not appealing, and still isn’t. Even when the morning-after pill/emergency contraceptive came out I wasn’t too into the option for myself. However, as someone who provided counseling on all options to young people, I also knew where my personal boundaries stopped; it was my obligation never to interfere with my client’s options counseling. Several of my female-identified clients opted for hormonal methods.

My graduate research in sexuality, Latino communities living in the U.S., and women’s health complimented my family’s narrative of forced sterilization of women of Color in the Caribbean and women with disabilities in the US. Knowing these facts and choosing to work in a field that has such a troubling history, I considered myself an educated consumer when it came to birth control and contraceptive options. When I found a steady sexual partner I decided to look into getting and IUD, the only method outside of condom use that I knew was for me.

As someone who has the privilege of having health insurance in the U.S., I made an appointment to see my private physician. At the time I was employed fulltime and was insured via the union of which I was a member. We had pretty good health care, or so I thought, as I rarely had to pay out of pocket for seeing a physician or for prescriptions. I met with him and I shared that I was interested in the IUD. He informed me that my insurance did not cover the IUDs (there are twp available in the U.S., a ParaGard which can be used for up to 10 years, and a Mirena which can be used up to five years and has hormones). I asked him what methods were covered by my insurance and he said all hormonal methods (besides the hormonal IUD) and sterilization.

I was in shock.

I told my doctor that we would need to talk further about my options and how much the IUD would cost out of pocket. He shared the IUD would be about $600 for insertion and for the actual IUD (apparently they are two different costs). I asked about sterilization and he shared that I had two options: a “traditional” tubal ligation which would require an overnight stay in a hospital and follow up appointments or a newer form of tubal ligation which is outpatient surgery called Essure. If I chose Essure I would have to also choose a hormonal birth control method to use as back up for three months. He also told me about the risks involved and the 30-day waiting period required for me to be sterilized.

As someone who knew the IUD would, basically, instantly work I was not too happy with these options. My physician and I continued to talk and he told me that before he would agree to perform any sterilization procedure on me that I would have to “prove to him I really wanted to be sterilized” because I had never been pregnant, was 28 years old, and he wanted to make sure I wouldn’t “regret” the decision. My response to his statement was honest, but it may have come off as me being flip. I asked him “how am I to prove to you I don’t want to be a parent?” I proceeded to share with him that I was not interested in pregnancy, childbearing, or parenting an infant child. I also shared that I was more committed to helping youth of Color age safely and successfully out of the child welfare system than I was to having a biological child.

What finally convinced him was when I told him that if I did decide to have a child I would come to him for fertility treatment. I signed the 30-day waiting period form for sterilization and made the decision to call my health insurance and ask how much of the $600 fee they would cover, if at all. To my surprise my health insurance said they would only cover $180 of my IUD. I asked how is it possible that they would cover 100 percent a tubal ligation which includes overnight stay in a hospital, general anesthesia (which has its own separate risks), antibiotics, and follow up examinations when an IUD, which takes less than 10 minutes to insert usually, costs significantly less, yet they do not cover in full. My insurance company said I could “appeal” their decision. When I asked how long that would take they said up to eight weeks (if that). I told the woman on the telephone that I did not want to be worried about my method eight weeks from now. I wanted the method sooner rather than later.

It made no sense to me. It still doesn’t make sense to me. How can we live in a country where we talk about “choice” and where anti-choicers love to say: “you should have used a method” or “been responsible” when people who are being as responsible as they can be cannot access the method of their choice? How was my choice to decide what went into my body and what affected me (and who got money based on my care) gone?

After some research I found a city hospital that agreed to insert the IUD for me for free as they had federal funding. I was at a hospital that worked with many sex workers and young women of Color in helping them maintain their reproductive and sexual health. It was the best place for me to get this method and I was extremely excited. I never thought I’d be as excited as I was. Perhaps that excitement stemmed from “getting over” on the insurance companies, or that I knew I was getting the method I always wanted, it felt good. My physician asked me if I minded having a resident sit in so they could watch the IUD insertion. I agreed and after 10 minutes I had the method of my choice and was instantly relieved at having one of the oldest methods, with the most longitudinal studies, and highest effectiveness rate.

To say the IUD has rocked my world is an understatement. There were some side effects that I was told about, but was not completely ready for, such as bleeding within the first two months, and difficulty feeling the thread to check the IUD after my menstrual cycle. I had never had to prepare or “clean up” the way I learned to the first several months of IUD insertion. At the same time I found it almost impossible to find and feel the thread of my IUD through my vaginal canal. However, my partner did confirm the thread was there, and also claimed to have “felt” the thread but it was not painful.

The Newsweek article presents the opinion of several doctors and researchers and their positions on providing the IUD to patients. The only doctor of Color mentioned, Dr. Hilda Hutcherson, is cautious about offering the IUD to younger patients because of what can happen if someone has an IUD and contracts an STI. She makes connections between IUDs, STI infection and how the two together can amplify infertility if the STI is untreated and that “fertility is really important.” That is true, if someone wanted to become pregnant. I understand this position, and realize that the IUD only prevents pregnancy not an STI, as every other hormonal method. We also know that infertility may be the result of many untreated STIs. What I’m not in agreement with some doctors completely against the method (which is different from being cautious about it) is that restricting our choices is not the most effective way to be a provider to a patient.

Have we not learned from what happens when patients are not given all of their options? Not told of all of the possible outcomes of a method? The idea that women have options when they choose to be responsible is very much an illusion for many. The idea that sterilization is no longer an option that doctors push for some women, especially as a woman of Color, and a Puerto Rican woman, seems difficult to believe from my personal experience.

Earlier this year I went to a book release event for Dr. Iris Lopez’s recent text: Matters of Choice: Puerto Rican Women’s Struggle For Reproductive Choice, which follows three generations of Puerto Rican women over 25 years who have decided on sterilization as their birth control method. Her findings are fascinating and I encourage readers to engage with the text beyond this article. Dr. Lopez provides readers the opportunity to hear Puerto Rican women share their own testimonies about why they chose sterilization, and their choices challenge how I view sterilization as well. Although I considered sterilization, I didn’t want to have to go through the procedure. The discussions of feeling liberated by some participants opens up dialogue about power, modes of survival for women in abusive and/or violent relationships, and “traditional” US ideologies around “liberation” and what liberatory sexuality means.

I’m excited to see the IUD becoming more popular. I also think it may be a useful long-term method for people who may need it the most. In comparison to other hormonal methods for young women, I think the IUD can be a realistic option. Not only do some hormonal methods take a while to work (about 30 days is the “safe” window period often mentioned for hormones to become effective), they can also alter the menstrual cycle of many young women.

For some of the young women I’ve counseled continuing to menstruate was essential to their ability to use a method while feeling safe in their home where parents and/or guardians monitor their cycle. For young people who are not comfortable touching their genitals (think using the NuvaRing), want a menstrual cycle (so Depo-Provera is not an option), don’t want a method others can see (such as the patch, which only comes in 1 color, a perfect example of the normalization of Whiteness and light skin in our society and around the world in reproductive and sexual health), that they have to remember each day (oral birth control pills,), or that can be checked discreetly by a physician (vaginal sonogram) if a parent/guardian remains in the exam room during a gynecological exam (this happens a lot more than some people might want to admit). I see the IUD as an option for transgender men as well, the discretion based on who their partners are is one that I may add a new understanding of safety and security to a community often exclude when discussing contraceptives and birth control options.

Even though the FDA has approved the IUD for all ages, there remain challenges even in obtaining information. Earlier this week my homegirl, reproductive justice activist and college student Bianca M. Velez shared on twitter: “When asking for a pamphlet of further info re: ParaGard on the website, it asks if the reader is 18 or older.” How accessible did you think IUDs were?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Sunday Night Common Sense

Here I share with you what the definition of "Crunk Feminism" is from The Crunk Feminist Collective's Mission Statement. Never heard of it? Now you have!

Crunk Feminism is the animating principle of our collective work together and derives from our commitment to feminist principles and politics, and also from our unapologetic embrace of those new cultural resources, which provide or offer the potential for resistance. Crunk(ness) is our mode of resistance that finds its particular expression in the rhetorical, cultural, and intellectual practices of a contemporary generation.

Beat-driven and bass-laden, Crunk music blends Hip Hop culture and Southern Black culture in ways that are sometimes seamless, but more often dissonant. Its location as part of Southern Black culture references the South both as the location that brought many of us together and as the place where many of us still do vibrant and important intellectual and political work. The term “Crunk” was initially coined from a contraction of “crazy” or “chronic” (weed) and “drunk” and was used to describe a state of uber-intoxication, where a person is “crazy drunk,” out of their right mind, and under the influence. But where merely getting crunk signaled that you were out of your mind, a crunk feminist mode of resistance will help you get your mind right, as they say in the South. As part of a larger women-of-color feminist politic, crunkness, in its insistence on the primacy of the beat, contains a notion of movement, timing, and of meaning making through sound, that is especially productive for our work together. Percussion by definition refers to “the sound, vibration or shock caused by the striking together of two bodies.” Combining terms like Crunk and Feminism, and the cultural, gendered, and racial histories signified in each, is a percussive moment, one that signals the kind of productive dissonance that occurs as we work at the edges of disciplines, on the margins of social life, and in the vexed spaces between academic and non-academic communities. Our relationship to feminism and our world is bound up with a proclivity for the percussive, as we divorce ourselves from “correct” or hegemonic ways of being in favor of following the rhythm of our own heartbeats. In other words, what others may call audacious and crazy, we call CRUNK because we are drunk off the heady theory of feminism that proclaims that another world is possible. We resist others’ attempts to stifle our voices, acting belligerent when necessary and getting buck when we have to. Crunk feminists don’t take no mess from nobody!

Have a question? Contact us at

Saturday, April 17, 2010

(VIDEO) Is Representing Women of Color Really That Important?

Cross posted from my RH Reality Check Blog.

While searching for media that specifically represented young men of Color talking about how to properly put on and use a male and female condom for a previous post, I came across this video below which I linked to:

Excited that young college students from various racial classifications and ethnic backgrounds were represented and a part of the video, I shared the link via twitter. The next day I received a notification from someone called femidom_fan via twitter who said I should check out a video on a UKish site for a more “natural” model in a video. When I clicked on the video I noticed that 1. All the images that were drawn were colored in a peach color, what one might say is the color of the “flesh” crayon in a box and 2. The image of the person inserting the female condom matched these illustrations.

I responded to femidom_fan that the video and illustrations were of racially White or light skinned people and the videos I shared were more diverse and inclusive and so I would choose to use those over the one offered. The response was the following: “is it that important that WOC (women of Color) [are represented]? why?"

My immediate response was that femidom_fan’s question was problematic, then I found it interesting how exclusive femidom_fan’s thought process was. Why is it important to have women of Color represented and a part of conversations around reproductive health, reproductive justice, and sexual health? I couldn’t believe that was a question someone actually asked! It was as if my entire existence, my life’s work was seen as useless to this person. Good thing “I don’t really care what people say, I don’t really watch what them wan do, I got to stick to my girls like glue” as Sean Paul sings.

Then my homegirl, Aimee Thorne-Thomsen, executive director, Pro-Choice Public Education Project, a woman of Color in the reproductive justice movement, asked me: “where does one begin with schooling people about the importance of WOC, especially young WOC & QPOC (queer people of Color) in reproductive health/justice work...?” My response would probably be that I’d choose to educate other people of Color on why they are important versus educating racially White people on why our voices matter. I’m just in a space where I no longer want to prioritize or spend time educating racially White people who can educate themselves if they took time out to do their own research versus expecting us to teach and explain things to them. Talk about a sense of entitlement.

My homegirl Aimee and I are on the same page because then she wrote me this: “I think it's hard to begin those conversations about YQPOC (young queer people of Color) & repro health/justice with people who want YOU to teach THEM” (emphasis my own). Notice how she too says “conversations about” not conversations with YQPOC.

I agree with my homegirl, poet, radical tutor, media maker and mamĂ­ Maegan La Mamita Mala Ortiz’s belief: “It’s not my job to engage White people.” I know this may sound harsh, and even exclusionary to some, and I hear that. At the same time these are our lives. This is our life, death, murder, eugenics, inequality, survival. If I’m working to center youth, queer youth, people of Color, working class people, people with disabilities, undocumented people I’m going to focus on us first. We are a priority, and in a world that does not prioritize our lives or our survival, there is a lot of work to do.

What are your thoughts about the importance of women of Color’s representations in materials and education focused on sexual and reproductive health?

Friday, April 16, 2010

El Diario's 2010 “Mujeres Destacadas Award”

I've been nominated for this award. There are about 20 more women who were nominated, but I don't know who they are and will meet them on Sunday. Here's the letter I received in February from El Diario:

February 22, 2010
Ms. Bianca

Dear Ms. Bianca,

It is with great honor that I inform you of your nomination as a recipient of the 2010 “Mujeres Destacadas Award” a recognition given annually by El Diario La Prensa to the most outstanding women in our community.

Congratulations! As an honoree, you would be in the company of some of the Tri-state area’s most successful and influential Latinas making strides in the corporate, business, entertainment, sports and community arenas. The one request that we have for all recipients is that they be present to accept the award.

Now celebrating ‘Los Quinces,’ the “Mujeres Destacadas Awards” will be presented at a luncheon in the exclusive [Edited Out by Yours Truly] Hotel, on Sunday, April 18, 2010 at 12pm, sharp!! Please keep in mind that the luncheon is a private business event and capacity is limited.

If you accept the nomination, you will be featured in the special supplement published to recognize the accomplishments of all the “Mujeres Destacadas” recipients, highlighting each individual’s successes and contributions to the Latino community. We will need you to contact M. upon receipt of this letter to set-up an interview and photo shoot as soon as possible. In the meantime, you may fax or email her your updated bio and/or resume.

Once again congratulations on your nomination!!


Rossana Rosado

Publisher & CEO

El Diario La Prensa

An impreMedia company

I've not been "in the know" of this award so I did some searching. I found the nominees for 2009 which included Sonia Sotomayor and Soledad O'Brien. When I went to get my foto taken and be interviewed I asked how they chose and found out about our work. My contact shared that it was a group selection process. People suggest folks to the group and then they pick from that grouping. I'm thinking they found/remember me from my article about pornography in the paper in February, which was pro-porn, and focused on positive sexuality.

The event is Sunday and I don't know what to expect or what will happen. I know I'll be networking with the other nominees, and that tickets for the event are pretty pricey. Let's say if I wasn't nominated there would be NO way I could afford to attend on my own.

So, if you are in NYC pick up El Diario this Sunday when there will be a special supplement featuring us! If you are online check us out there too!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

What Is Spectacular Sex?

Cross posted from my Media Justice Column
(This is the original piece I submitted to my editor and because of my contract certain discussions re: pleasurable sex had to be omitted. This piece includes that discussion. I also plan to update this list with new conversations/links to analysis by people of Color regarding this video).

***Trigger Warning***

While visiting Trinity College this week I asked some female-identified students what their thoughts were regarding Kiely Williams’ new video “Spectacular.” I have yet to hear too many conversations among their/your community about this video. This question is similar to my question asking you all what you thought about Eryka Badu’s video that was getting so much attention a few weeks ago.

One hundred percent of all the people present had no idea who or what I was talking about. So we went to the Internet and found the video. Upon seeing her face, several of the women identified Kiely from her Cheetah Girls days and we watched and listened to the video together. It was a very fascinating conversation. If you have yet to see the video check it out below (NSFW):

We then watched Kiely’s response to the public’s discussion on her video, which you can see below:

Many of my favorite homegirls are writing about the video. I first read the analysis from the Crunk Feminist Collective that my homegirl Maegan La Mamita Mala Ortiz had shared. Then my homegirl Janna wrote a piece about how this song seems to be an anthem for “drunken blackout sex” which teases out a few areas that are often overlooked. My homegirl AJ, who is the Sexual Correspondent for has a recent piece up: Not So “Spectacular”: Kiely Williams, Black Erotics, and Sexual Responsibility which highlights several points regarding sexual assault, imagery, and HIV and STI rates among Black people living in the US. AJ then shared the writing of Carolyn Edgar who wrote Pimps Up, Hoes Up: Sexing Your Way To Your 15 Minutes of Fame which analyses this and a recent video created by a young woman of Color named Kat Stacks who identifies as having slept with numerous singers, rappers and/or celebrities.

In an effort to not redo what has already been done, and been done well, I want to focus on two specific topics: 1. Reaction by young people, 2. What is “spectacular” sex?

After watching the video with a group of students at Trinity College, one young woman admitted she was “confused” by the video. She did not know what to think, how to react, or how to properly consume the video and the lyrics of the film as well as Kiely’s response to the video. Others, as they watched, laughed and said “she’s a wreck [as an artist],” raised their eyebrows, and took deep breaths. We discussed this video alongside Eryka Badu’s video “Window Seat,” and the conversation was one I did not expect.

Many of the people present did not see anything overtly “wrong” with the video by Williams (or Badu for that matter). I thought it interesting that there was an interpretation of control and power in both videos. There are some ways that I can understand this perspective, after all media literacy skills do recognize that people have different perspectives and therefore different interpretations. I can see how Kiely’s decision to leave her partner’s apartment quickly when she awakened is a form of power for some viewers. That Kiely chose to be there and had the ability to leave when she chose to is important for many. I wonder if the confusion and the awkward discussions by artists are what makes such videos/songs/etc. easy to dismiss.

Then there are the amazing forms of media that is being made by young people, especially young people of Color and young women around the video. There are several videos that they have created that either capture their first consumption of the video and song or discussing their critique and/or praise of the video. One of the first that come up in a YouTube search is by PoeticallyChanged whose immediate response was “is she on the stroll” which is a term used to identify certain areas where sex workers find clients. PoeticallyChanged rolls her eyes, thinks the partner in the video is “ugly,” and sits quietly for most of the video. Later in her discussion she questions why Kiely gives the two Black men the finger but is smitten when the White man approaches her. Check out her video (and the comments) below:

MzDTH has also created a video discussing Kiely’s song and video and her decision is that the dancing was terrible, the budget was clearly low, and the partner was ugly. Her final message was that Kiely looks like a “ho” and that she was disappointed. Lillady2491 shares her perspective and also says she is disappointed. She asks “is that the real you” which is a very thoughtful question. If all of us do not have the same media literacy skills, how can we decipher between what is real and what is not?

Men are also discussing the video. For example, EducatedX has commentary, which also pulls on the Kiely looking like a sex worker, why is she wearing a fur coat to a club, and then spends a bit of time talking about why Kiely dissed Black men in the video. He shares that he does not “get it,” the “it” as in her goal for this song and video. Prince Ea begins his media watching the video as he acts as if he is masturbating while watching and says Kiely went “from Disney to Lewinski.” He also does a further analysis of Ke$ha and Rihanna and seeks to begin a dialogue on what is going on in society. He asks: “Are we depicting healthy images of beauty, self respect, self understanding?” Another video by a man I’d like to highlight is by Vandalyzm who shares how the young women of 3LW have all evolved (mentioning Naturi Naughton who played Lil Kim in the film Notorious.) One video I’d like to highlight (and because it does not have any profanity in it) is by pointthemout and he mentions “beer goggles”! Take a look:

So what is “spectacular sex”? I have my own list of what can make sex spectacular for me, and they are based on trial and error. I’ll share my bias: spectacular sex for me, includes no fear of contracting HIV or any sort of STI for any activity and no fear of unplanned pregnancy, when both my partner and I appreciate and accept one another’s bodies, when we both give consent, when our options are endless for various activities (yes this includes a mash-up of condoms available, toys, and good music!). Yet, how do you think others may define “spectacular sex”? More importantly, what is spectacular sex for YOU? Does your partner(s) agree?

I’ll admit that I don’t think it’s often that music videos are made to have viewers understand and acknowledge that human sexual response/arousal exists and is real. I write this because I have no idea if what Kiely thinks “spectacular” sex is may be a result of human sexual response, specifically orgasm, or what the bodies of some people may experience post-sex (think afterglow perhaps). I think some folks may also think that if after a night of sex with a partner if they have any visual signs or reminders of the interaction that this means it was “spectacular.” Kiely herself does her “walk of shame” with her left arm still dangling a handcuff. I think of how there were times when getting hickey’s really made me feel powerful because it was something other folks could see that let them know I was 1. desired and 2. Getting some action. I’m no longer a huge fan of such outward markings by certain lovers, but I do understand that desire and value.

I’ll leave you with a video that I find very useful and that is a call to action for those of you who seek/need/want to be active around this video and it’s imagery and how you interpret what is presented by freedomreeves:

What do you think? What is spectacular sex? What are your responses/reactions to Kiely’s video? All this talk about obesity and dieting, is it time for what Elizabeth Thoman calls a “media diet”?

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Feliz Cumple Dolores Huerta!

My homegirl Literanista reminded all of us today via twitter that today is Dolores Huerta's birthday! She is 70 today and has provided us a legacy of activism and social change that is almost unmatched. An activist mami of 11, she remains the President of the Dolores Huerta Foundation.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Call for Submissions!!! Women of Color & Sexuality

I've partnered with an amazing media maker and radical educator: SuperHussy to help her find, edit, and publish an anthology focusing on women of Color, sex and sexuality! Here's the Call for Submissions:

Alright ya’ll, it’s time to expand the reach of Super Hussy Media. You know there;s the blog, and the film projects in the works, but wait, here it comes…our first call for submissions for our annual publication, The Compendium.

Our first issue, The Talk, focuses on self-identified women of Color and how they learned about S-E-X. Here are the details:

The Talk: Women of Color On Sex is an exploration of how self-identified women across the Diaspora came to learn about sex and what it meant to have a sexual relationship. Did your mom, aunty or tia sit you down? Were your homegirls or hermanas responsible for giving you the blow by blow? Was Cinemax After Dark, Youtube or a telenovela your sex ed instructor?

Super Hussy Media seeks fresh and daring writers who can coax the reader into an intimate understanding of not only how they learned about sex, but how that knowledge impacted their sexual exploration. We want submissions that are funny, sad, enraging, and transformational.

The Talk is ultimately about our testimonies regarding how we were taught or chose to learn about our sexuality. How we are continuing to learn, lessons we wish we could share with other women of Color, introspective activities of reflection. This is all about us.

Submission Requirements

• Deadline: July 1, 2010

• No more than 2 previously unpublished short stories per submission

• Simultaneous submissions okay, but notify if your work is accepted elsewhere

• 4,000 words or less

• Double spaced

• Poetry and non-English submissions accepted as long as they are accompanied by an English translation

All contributors will receive a copy of the anthology.


All submissions must be sent electronically using .doc or .pdf to

Title of submission should be placed in the subject line. Please include your name, email address, mailing address, phone number, and short bio with your submission.

Superhussy Media publishes work that celebrates girls and women of color everywhere!

We look forward to reading your submissions.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

(VIDEO): Q: What Do Young Men Know About Birth Control? Scary Answer: Very Little

Cross posted from my RH Reality Check blog.

Growing up in the Washington, DC area, (Silver Spring, MD to be exact) and living in DC for a good part of my life, the Washington City Paper was one of the staples of my childhood. Now that I’ve lived in NYC, I have not spent as much time checking out the paper online as I used to, but when I came across a particular post on the paper’s site about how men in the DC area talk about birth control, my interest was piqued again.

A new part of the paper for me is a section called “The Sexist” which is written by Amanda Hess. Honestly, I chose not to spend much time looking past what was posted on the first page after I watched the video (included below) even if the tagline of the blog is "Sex and Gender in The District." This was mainly because I didn't see any writing/articles/themes that were written targeting me as a reader. The blog post I did read, Men Explaining Birth Control, contains interviews with men on the street and in their homes in the DC area being asked about various birth control and contraceptive methods: oral birth control pills, emergency contraception (aka morning after pill), the patch, and the ring. They share what they know about the method and how it works.

I will warn you, I didn’t find this funny; I found it rather scary.

If ever there were evidence of why “teen” pregnancy prevention programs do not work, this is it! Often pregnancy prevention programs, efforts and resources are focused on cisgender (young) women. There is this assumption that it is only women--but not the men with whom they are (hopefully) having consensual sex--who need the information on contraception and pregnancy prevention. It is not often that men (transgender or cisgender) are included in such conversations, or even envisioned to be a part of them.

With some sexuality education programs still separating classes by gender, limiting conversations about birth control and contraception (and the difference between the two), and with education focusing just on male condom use among men, are we really surprised that pregnancy prevention efforts are not working as well as they could? I’d be interested in knowing if the men interviewed could discuss how to properly use a male condom, demonstrate how to do that, and/or discuss the difference between the male condom and the female condom and how they are used.

Then there is the assumption that youth who identify as gay or lesbian do not need to know the same information regarding contraceptives and birth control. This cannot be further from the truth. Gay and lesbian youth may or may not want to have children, some may choose pregnancy to avoid coming out, and others may end up having sex with cisgender partners.

I wasn’t too surprised by the results of this video, but I also wasn’t entertained. Instead I found it extremely odd that in “Chocolate City,” with a huge international population, there were no men of color to speak with or interview. I’m not sure if there would be a difference in the knowledge men of various racial, ethnic, national origin, and/or documentation status would have in comparison to the very white presumed-U.S. participants in the video.

Other thoughts I’m having about this video: would younger men today know a little more? Will young men know more in another few years? The language used in the video was very telling, anti-choice, and specific. So much to unpack, does someone else want to do that? What can I do right now as a form of direct action to reach men of all ages and help them understand how birth control and contraceptives work? I’d love to hear what readers think and if you can suggest any websites that are dedicated to the sexual and reproductive health of (young) men.