A queer exploration of all things gender

Posts tagged ‘Pornography’

Book review: Gender Outlaws – The Next Generation by Kate Bornstein and S. Bear Bergman

Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation is a collection of essays submitted from a wide range of people with very different experiences of gender, and very different things to say.

This book is brilliantly original. Never before have I read a book that blurs the boundaries between academic discussion, activists talking about their causes, artists talking about their passions, and humans talking about their pain, love, and needs. This coupled with things like comics, recipes, and poetry mixed in, and the introduction formed entirely of an online conversation between Bornstein and Bergman themselves. The tone struck is witty, thoughtful, relaxed, and (certainly in my case) draws the reader in.

Obviously in a work with contributions from…*counts*…52 different authors, some styles and content will speak more to any individual than others. Despite this large heterogeneity, I found the ‘tone’ of the book remarkably cohesive. Not because what the different writers say is necessarily over-similar, but virtually all inspire a wonderful state of thoughtfulness.

Each submitted piece stands alone, and all are short (2-7 pages each). This makes it extremely easy to dip in and out of, but the organisation of the essays is such that one can read straight through and stay gripped. Even accounts that may be very abstract for some readers – for example, the negotiation of gendered experience whilst being in an all-women Roller Derby league – contain powerful insights into the treatment of other people, and I would suggest offer at least a wonderful set of alternate perspectives and empathy-inducing thought patterns.

Some of the writers speak to me more than others, and I mean this to mean how much I enjoy and respect what they’re saying and their style and clarity – rather than necessarily a direct resonance with personal experience. Indeed, many of the articles are so interesting because they can cause you to think about experiences you may never have considered – but this can then shape how you consider gender in your own life. I didn’t find terminology confusing despite much specific ‘gender language’ being used by lots of different people, but this could reflect my academic privilege. I imagine this is a book that will speak most loudly to people with either an active interest in gender or those who have experience of being a gender or sexuality minority – rather than as a present for grandma. Though I would love to be wrong about this. I would imagine that not that many straight and cis readers would pick this book up of their own accord, but that the world would be a better and cooler place if more did.

The wide range of topics covered does involve a range of areas that may be distressing for some readers. As one might expect, the submissions from writers often discuss some of the post poignant (and difficult) occurances in their own lives, which may be triggering for some readers – and unfortunately each chapter does not come with trigger warnings or particularly indicative titles. Eating disorders, gendered violence, experience of chronic illness, and racism are all themes that are touched on. Though despite this, the book didn’t leave me with a sense of heaviness. Many of the writers imbue their pieces with valuable humour.

A point that may cause some controversy and disagreement very early on in the book (which is a point raised by Bergman in the introduction) is their use of the word/slur ‘tranny’. I think they produce some valuable discourse around this important and sensitive topic, but at the same time you may not like it. If the following quote gets your brain fired up, then you will probably find the book stimulating.

S. Bear Bergman: I can see the argument for outlawing “it’s so gay” better. They’re trying to outlaw bullying, but “don’t be mean” isn’t – evidently – an enforceable school rule, so they list particular meannesses the young people are not permitted to engage in.

Kate Bornstein: But look at what happened a generation after people were damning the word queer. Now it’s something you can major in, in college.

SBB: The think I just thought is: people are who are super-protective to police the word tranny have no real confidence in the cultural power of transpeople. They police it because they fear that if not-trans-identified people get hold of it, their power will make it always and forever a bad word. And I, we, feel find about it because we have a lot of faith in the cultural power of transfolks – of trannies – to make and be change.

If this tickles your imagination, then bearing in mind some of the other essays are about:

  • The insights being trans gave one writer into corporate politics
  • A love affair with a non-binary bathroom
  • Christian anti-gay and anti-trans actions in Singapore and activism against this
  • The experience of being a Drag Queen having being Female Assigned at Birth
  • Queer sex as performance art

I would hazard you’ll be very stimulated indeed if you pick this book up.

To porn or not to porn? Feminist views on pornography

So today my fine perusers, we will be discussing a particular issue relevant to Feminism – but first, a quick overview. Everyone has heard of Feminism, but there is understandable confusion sometimes about what this word actually means. A well educated friend of mine once demonstrated a serious misunderstanding when telling me why she didn’t identify as a feminist in saying “well…they’re bra-burning man-haters, aren’t they?”

“You didn’t just say that did you? Oh wait…yes…you did.”

In its most basic manifestation, feminism is quite simply the establishment and defence of equal rights and equal opportunities for women. It therefore seems to me that to disagree with this is to disagree with the idea that equal rights and opportunities between the sexes is a desirable outcome. Far more people agree with these simple principles than actively label themselves as being a ‘feminist’. There’s loads of discussion that can be had on exploring why this is, but an important thing to recognise is that many people who identify as feminists will have very different ideas about what they feel the best state of affairs should be, for both men and women*.

Of  the many possible contentions and divisions that exist between different feminist philosophies and movements, today the stance on pornography will be considered. Not only is this relevant to a large number of people (far, far more than would admit it) but the issue was of such importance that the debates that raged in the late ’70s and early ’80s actually became known as:

Not even making this up. It was also known as ‘Porn Wars’ , but I don’t love you guys enough to spend that long messing around in Microsoft Paint making two of these.

On one side of the Sex War were the anti-pornography feminists. Key members of this movement include Catharine MacKinnon, and the late Andrea Dworkin. Some of the key arguments include that the production of porn involves women being coerced – either physically , psychologically, or economically. The star of the infamous film Deep Throat‘, Linda Boreman, was publicly supported by both of these women when she publicly came out to say that she had been forced and abused by her husband into making the film.

It doesn’t take someone to be anti-pornography to say that ‘hey, forcing people to perform sex acts…is bad!‘. A criticism that has been levied is that anti-pornographers can imply that sex is something that men enjoy and enforce, but women only endure, marginalising female and feminine sexualities. There have indeed been some female porn stars, identifying as feminists, speak out in saying that their careers are their own free choices and they feel a sense of empowerment and ability to express themselves sexually in their work. One counterargument to this basically runs as ‘the Patriarchy has made you think this way, you are actually being exploited‘. 

Is it just me, or is it a deliciously appropriate state of affairs that Feminism is written right down the length of a shaft?

Now, this previous statement may have caused a small snort of derision. If it did, I’m hoping it’s because of the non-falsifiability of the argument. This response could be touted whatever anyone says – no new way is offered to actually test the idea that porn stars are repressed. Anti-pornographers may rather be shooting themselves in the feet in refusing to recognise the ability of women to choose to engage in and with pornography. I hope that you weren’t thinking the bold statement was a silly thing because of how the word ‘Patriarchy’ is set up as something big and scary. It is a real thing, and it is rather crappy. Without getting hugely sidetracked, it is fair to say that not simply from a global perspective but very much here in the UK and other  culturally similar countries, women experience lower wages for the same positions, greater risk of sexual crime, the socialisation of being the ‘weaker’ ‘delicate’ sex…go hit google, have a little explore.

Whilst it’s quite easy to find problems with some members of the pornographic industry, some ‘sex-positive’ feminists argue that blanket criminalisation (as has been called for by anti-pornographers) is a greater evil, in restricting freedom of expression and freedom of speech. It also isn’t the case that all sex-positive feminists sprung up in response to anti-pornographers – some indeed write and work under the axiom that the Patriarchy mostly holds a monopoly on how women are able to express themselves sexually, and seek to change this, through support of ethical pornography, and pornography featuring ‘strong’, ‘active’ women.

It’s clearly a tricky one. On the one hand, you’ve got people who unambiguously are harmed in the manufacture of porn. The shady, seedy view that is often socially held by those who purchase such materials makes it far less embarrassing to do so with a secretive and private air – there isn’t all that much pressure from the market for responsible, ethically aware, organic, pesticide-free porno. It would be very desirable for more people to pay more attention to how the people in what they look at and watch might really be treated. On the other hand, heavy-handed legal restriction and restriction of material because it is sexual rather than harmful (admittedly sometimes a controversial distinction to make) does no-one any favours, and buys into an old-school conservative (with a little ‘c’, but also probably many Tories as well…) anti-sex, moral absolutism. Arguments have been made that exposure to pornography can cause addiction, and make men more likely to commit sex crimes against women. On the other hand, studies exist that show things like people believe porn to have had a positive effect on their lives, and sex offenders had seen less or milder porn on average than other criminals. There seems to be lots of conflicting claims, certainly enough that I’m not going to attempt to take a clear side. However, it seems to me that abstractly, women (or men, or anyone for that matter) choosing to show off their naughty parts isn’t really the problem. People being rotten to people who are quite often women (in this context) is, which isn’t something one needs to hold the label of ‘feminist’ to have a problem with.

*Apologies that the wordings so far has implied a binary mode of thinking – not doing credit to the individuals who identify neither firmly as men or as women, and others – identities which for brevity’s sake I’ll describe with the term Genderqueer. Many (though far from all) feminist discourses don’t even acknowledge the diversity possible in gender identities, which is problematic all on its own.

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