Tag Archives: academia

#TheSexRadicals, Part 2: Paschal Beverly Randolph’s Anti-Slavery Sex Magick

28 Jul

Each week this summer, I’ll be posting short essays on sexual thinkers (read the introduction to the series here) who have changed my perspective on sex, and who, I believe, could be instrumental in helping us remake Western sexual culture. It will include some bits about my own life, some history, and some controversial claims. Last week was sexual freedom fighter and mystic, Ida Craddock.  The series also appears on RealitySandwich.com

Screen Shot 2015-07-23 at 2.50.01 PM

Paschal Beverly Randolph

Sex Is Liberation:  Paschal Beverley Randolph’s Divine Sexual Freedom

“…sex power is God power.”  

– Paschal Beverly Randolph (1825 – 1875)

If you want to understand why sexual freedom is so threatening to people and institutions in power, masturbation is a good place to start.

I’ll stick with the masturbation I’ve got decades of experience with: jerking off.  When a man masturbates, he closes his eyes and imagines sexual images.  Or he looks at representations of sex in porn, and alternates between seeing the porn and imagining himself as part of it, somehow.  While he’s interacting with what he’s imagining or watching, he also performs a single repetitive gesture: he moves his hand up and down his penis. The act of touching your own penis can be pleasurable in and of itself, but combine the physical and the imaginary for just a few moments and something more intense and mysterious happens. The images feel real, they feel present. They are real.  The body starts to do all sorts of things.  The brain releases endorphins.  A flush of pleasure rushes up and down the body.  After a just a few minutes, half the substance that creates life comes out.

The same is true for sex, but the imagination and action seeks out different contours: One body touches another body.  Here you feel your partner’s ankle touching yours, you feel yourself enveloping your partner, you close your eyes and feel a breath on your ear.  Your attention and awareness moves from spot to spot.  And the thoughts focus on affection, attention, the image of yourself and your partner as if you were floating above and watching.MIAPC

Sex isn’t ever merely physical and it’s certainly not a primal, instinctual mess; it’s a thinking-feeling-movement-activity.  It’s a waking dream, or a state of hyper-awake-ness.

This is why so many sex radicals are also occultists; sex is about consciousness, and however you might think of the occult, it’s undeniable that sex — from the first flush of arousal to the reeling afterimage of entanglement — is an altered state.  Crusaders for the legalization of drugs often call the government’s war on drugs a “war on consciousness.”  If we want to alter our own consciousness, they say, then we should have the right to. Let’s take a tip from this insightful rhetoric and go a little further when it comes to sex:

The war on sex is the oldest and most oppressive war on consciousness.

Sex and sexuality are intimately, totally, linked to our freedom of thought and expression.

That’s why so many repressive regimes are sex negative, jail sex workers and sexual minorities (especially homosexuals), and monitor sexual behavior.  It’s also why, if we want to change the world in a radical way, it’s important to look to sex for some answers. 

There’s radical about the notion that sex is a singular activity, special and dangerous.  That’s an ideal used by anti-sex activists and puritans who say that sex will corrupt the innocent, erode society, dement the clear and thoughtful. 

Paschal Beverly Randolph’s (1825-1875), powerful contribution was to redeem this notion and elevate it. Sex is, indeed, powerful.  But that’s precisely why it’s good for us to have it, experience it, and radiate our being out of it.  Sex accompanies us through life.  It’s not going away.  It awaits our understanding.

Randolph was charismatic, and from the one photo I’ve seen of him, he’s handsome; not a bad fellow to want to experience the power of sex with.  His parents were a wealthy Virginian and a slave from Madagascar.  He was friends with Abraham Lincoln and is rumored to be the only man of mixed race in Lincoln’s funeral procession (the records are inconclusive).  He taught slaves how to read and was a famed anti-slavery activist in his time.  He was also a prolific author, and helped people work through their perceived sexual dysfunctions. 

When he was in his twenties, the world was awash with spiritualism and religious reform.  Not long before Ida Craddock was defending the belly dancers and women’s right to bodily autonomy, Randolph claimed to channel echoes of mystics from the past:  Zoroaster, Pascal, and more.  His spiritual radicalism fueled his ideals.  As he became a prominent figure in the abolitionist movement, he was guided by knowledge he said had been handed to him by Egyptian miracle workers and Indian Brahmins.  Social change would take tremendous power — real magick — and figuring prominently, in his over a dozen books on the subject, was sex.

Whereas for Craddock, sex was a path to liberation, Randolph’s major contribution was this:

Sex is liberation.

Eulis! The History of Love: Its Wondrous Magic ,Chemistry, Rules, Laws, Modes, Moods and Rationale by Paschal Beverly Randolph

Eulis! The History of Love: Its Wondrous Magic ,Chemistry, Rules, Laws, Modes, Moods and Rationale
by Paschal Beverly Randolph

The power of sex, he wrote, is the deepest and truest power, above politics and brute physical force.  It’s a bolt of occult strength, a branch of God.  Randolph theorized human beings to have a sort of electric-energetic power, putting two human beings together properly would create a complete circuit, which could unleash all sorts of positive effects.  The moment of orgasm, an altered state of consciousness for both partners, was a moment of rising into the Divine, and then returning with extraordinary results.  Sex could be tapped into to rejuvenate your skin, become a kinder person, sway your spouse, resist disease, become smarter, make money appear, and more. It could counteract and destroy oppressive circumstances, be they from marital, political, or actual enslavement.

Having sex was a prayer that could be answered with power, and it was a power that everyone had access to.

Well, not everyone, exactly.  And he didn’t mean just any sex.  It had to be sex between a man and an equal or “superior woman”, coupled with a ritualistic prayer at the moment of orgasm.  It had to be a “double crisis” that shook up the reality around both (heterosexual) participants.

Randolph was limited in his scope, but there was a shockwave within those limits.

This  investigation into and respect for sexual power utterly changed him and his many devotees.  Because sex was to be used to understand and improve the self, Randolph was an early defender of birth control, women’s rights, and one of the first people to champion the virtues of intense sexual lust.

“Sex power is god power,”  Randolph wrote.  Or, to put it in the words of sociologist Murray Davis, “Sex…is a reality-generating activity.”

Whatever you may think of God or the occult, Randolph’s message is still important and radical.  He told us that everyone had a right to pleasure and happiness and that our bodies’ ability to create pleasure out of themselves was proof of this.  Furthermore, we don’t need the State or corporations to provide us with pleasure or to sell the world of happiness to us. That is inherent in our bodies and our interactions with each other.  And to see this necessitates more bodily freedom for ourselves and others.

When we move beyond the garden variety notion that sex is powerful, to the much more radical understanding that sex is power available to everyone, we see the world differently.  Instead of slaves and masters, Randolph showed us a regenerated reality, where we are all living, breathing power centers, waiting to discover ourselves.

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Next up:  The Man Who Destroyed Clouds with Sex

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Sources:

Deveney, John P.  Paschal Beverly Randolph: A Nineteenth-Century Black American  Spiritualist, Rosicrucian, and Sex    MagicianAlbany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1997.

Urban, Hugh. Magia Sexualis: Sex, Magic, and Liberation in Modern Western EsotericismBerkeley: University of California     Press, 2006.

#TheSexRadicals – A new blog series about sexual thinkers who can change our world.

20 Jul

IMG_1301 (1)Over the next few weeks, I’ll be posting short essays on sexual thinkers who have changed my perspective on sex, who, I believe, could be instrumental in helping us remake Western sexual culture. It will include some bits about my own life, some history, and some controversial claims. The series also appears on RealitySandwich.com

The idea here is to cultivate new growth in our thinking about sex, by looking to people who have laid down some of the groundwork.  This first entry explains some of of current sexual climate, as well as my rationale for creating such an incomplete list, why names like Michel Foucault or Dr. Ruth don’t appear while others do. It explains why I stick primarily to Western thinkers, even though I draw heavily on non-Western thinkers for my perspectives as well.  Please comment with your own favorite Sex Radicals, I’d love to hear more.

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The Sex Radicals: Seven Thinkers Who Can Revolutionize Sex in Our Culture

Introduction:  Who Should We Invite to the Orgy?

Sex is everyone’s own creation story, everyone’s personal Big Bang.

Before you looked at this website, before you got up this morning or the day or year before, before you read or said your first word, two people you’d never met — couldn’t have met, since you weren’t a you yet —went through a series of intimate or strained or casual or confused or loving series of movements and gestures that created you.

That means that your being, along with everyone else’s, is literally composed of sexual motion and desire, because the cells that split and aggregated to make your body were set into motion by sex.  When people have sex, the laws of biology and form pay attention.  Sex weaves itself in and out of our daily thoughts, the art we encounter, the feelings we have for each other.  Is it any surprise that we think about sex so often? 

But if sex is a fact of life, the fact of life that life springs from, why is our culture so screwed up about it?  Why is sex so legislated, one might say legislated against, misunderstood, and confusing, culturally?  There are hundreds of laws set up by the state, regulating sexual content, sexual behavior, sexual freedom.  And there are the unspoken laws, often just as constricting, in every relationship we have.  Sex shame in our lives and sex shaming in our cultural sphere are intimately tangled.  Instead of telling you the right way to put a condom on or how to please your lover, this series will examine the lives and theories of thinkers who were interested in pushing sex forward in some cultural way, in bringing what they’d learned from the mystery of sex to the cultural sphere to transform both.

The good news: 

Brilliant people have been working on improving our sexual culture for a long time.  If we want to have a more thoughtful sexual culture, a healthier one that respects sex and sexuality in its infinite forms, we have some powerful, radical thinkers to choose from.  These are people who have led the way, pushed the boundaries, cared enough about the darkened realm of sex to illuminate it for us.

The bad news:

You probably haven’t heard of many of these thinkers.  And you probably haven’t heard of many of them because the powers that be discredited them or provided them with unpleasant ends.

The other bad news:

WR

Wilhelm Reich

Everyone, even the radical researchers and thinkers in this series, absorbs the sexual prejudices, shames, and confusions of their time and place.  They might deftly avoid one bias and passionately speak out against it, all the while carrying around a whole host of others that they’re totally blind to.  Of course, I’m guilty of this too.  Since the current conception of sex is contaminated, getting new seeds requires, at first, growing crooked plants from polluted ground.  It’s going to take some time.

The other other bad news:

Some of the most important thinkers are kind of crazy.

This, in fact, is a large part of what makes them important. To come up with new possibilities for the world, you have to hang out in the impossible and the imagined quite a bit.  You have to say outlandish things to see if they’re true.  To stand outside the depressing weight of our reality requires deep and intense encounters with your own imagination and seeing things that others don’t see.

But who to invite to this orgy of sexual/cultural renewal?

To explain why I’ve chosen these thinkers and stuck mostly to our culture, a digression:

Christine Helliwell, anthropologist, lived in Borneo with the native people of the region, the Dayak.  One morning, she heard a group of elderly women laughing outside of her apartment.  She found them reenacting a scene from the night before: A man had snuck into a woman’s bedroom through the window, and the woman woke to find him gripping her shoulder. 

“Be quiet,” he said to her. 

The woman sat up in bed and pushed him away.  He fell back and when she started to yelling at him, he escaped back through the window with his sarong falling down.

But why were the Dayak women laughing about it, Helliwell wondered; the woman had almost been raped!  This community of Dayak had no word for “rape,” so Helliwell tried to explain, “He was trying to hurt you.” 

The woman’s reply stunned the anthropologist. 

“It’s only a penis,” she said.  “How can a penis hurt anyone?”

Indigenous people, as well as anthropologists like Christine Helliwell have been reporting deep cultural differences like this to us for years.  In the case of the Dayak community, sexual assault was so far removed from the understanding of sex and gender roles that it was inconceivable, laughable.

In central Africa, the Aka and Ngandu people have sex two to five times every night, and view sex as work, not recreation.  There’s also no known homosexuality among the Aka, belying the commonly held Western truth that homosexuality is universal and inborn.  There’s simply no word or concept for it.

In Tibet, some villagers practice fraternal polyandry – brothers will share the same wife.

Many Native American nations have traditions of Two Spirited people who express cultural gender fluidity, living with the other members of the community in one form, but understood as another.

But a list of indigenous sexual practices, or people from non-Western cultures who uproot the foundations of our understanding does not figure into the selection here. There are blog posts, books, internet videos and TV shows that highlight modern-day sexual differences between Western and indigenous cultures.  Usually, they have a check-out-these-wacky-natives feeling.  Instead of helping us question our own sexual ideas, these news-of-the-weird soundbytes reinforce our prejudices at the expense of indigenous people.  It’s cultural appropriation, because it ignores that the entire cultural context of that practice is different.

For example, it’s not uncommon to find non-indigenous LGBT activists evoking Two Spirit people as poster children for LGBT political/cultural messages, since same sex relationships and gender change are not (at least traditionally) frowned upon in cultures with Two Spirit people.  But while there are similarities, the differences are deep.  It’s not about “gay” or “straight” or “gender fluidity” as we understand it, since the multiple roles — such as iskwehkhan (“fake woman”), ayahkwew (“man dressed/living/accepted as a woman”), and more — are varied, nuanced and more complex than that.  They’re embedded in a different understanding of spirituality, cause and effect, communal connection, and more.  What’s more, these roles are often chosen for members of the community by elders.

Usually, at best, indigenous sex and relationship traditions are appropriated by well-meaning activists.  At worst, they’re dismissed as oddities or demonized as backwards. 

There’s a lot to learn from other cultures’ approaches to sex. In fact, some of the thinkers mentioned in this

Amber Hollibaugh

Amber Hollibaugh

series have learned quite a bit from other cultures…or have made the mistakes I’ve just outlined.  But learning can’t take the form of cultural cherry-picking.  Both brilliant individuals from Western culture and indigenous practices can be inspirational for us, but the former allows for a presumed understanding that the latter does not.  The list of who we can learn from and listen to when it comes to sex and culture cannot be complete without the voices of people from other cultures.  But this series is in no way meant to be complete. So to avoid appropriation and to create a reasonably understood framework of thinking, I’ve chosen Western thinkers.

So who should we turn to?  It can’t be just anyone.  The Marquis de Sade, for example, will have to stay in his Chateau; for all the sexual spelunking he did, he came up with too much grime to be desirable.  Recognizable faces like Sigmund Freud, Michel Foucault or pop culture reformers like Gloria Steinem aren’t adequate for our current situation precisely because they’ve had their ideas permeate our culture in a such profound way, but we’re still here, needing more.

So the strategy: Seek out thinkers on the margins of Western cultural consciousness (particularly US, since that is my vantage point, which explains Jacques Lacan’s inclusion, even though he is popular in select Western countries) who are leaning all their intellectual weight against our boundaries.  Express their radical ideas in an unfortunately incomplete but hopefully useful and understandable form.  Recognize that these they all have flaws.  Think about how they could intersect with our lives, including my own, so that they’re not just distant or academic.

Edward Carpenter

Edward Carpenter

And most importantly, perhaps, consider their work not as dogma, not as something we cannot be critical of or question,but rather, as a challenge.  What happens to our sexual consciousness and culture if we confront these thinkers with our intellect but also sit with a listening ear and open mind?

Next up:  The sexologist who married an angel and defended women’s right to pleasure.

Sources

Helliwell, Christine.  “‘It’s Only a Penis’: Rape, Feminism, and Difference.”  Signs 25:3

(2000):  789-816.

Wade, Lisa.  “Is the Penis Dangerous?”  Jezebel.  October 9, 2013.  Web.

Zevallos, Zuleyka.  “Rethinking Gender and Sexuality: Case Study of the Native

American ‘Two Spirit’ People.”  The Other Sociologist.  September 9, 2013.  Web.

They’re Not Here To Help: How Anti-Sex Work Activists Use the Tactics of Homophobes, Racists, and Islamophobes

24 Jun

bwMy latest essay, “If You’re Against Sex Work, You’re A Bigot” is up at The Stranger as part of their queer issue.  It’s the first (and hopefully only) fuck-you piece I’ve ever written.  The essay compares the tactics of anti-sex work activists (I refer to them more accurately as “anti-sex bigots” in the essay)  with the tactics of racists, homophobes, Islamophobes, and misogynists.  It’s a pretty one-to-one comparison, and that they are in fact basically bigots was a sentiment that concretized over the writing of the essay.

I don’t generally like writing from a place of anger, but the overwhelming weight of discrimination and stigma, not to mention misguided legislation and confused conversations, that sex workers face every day inspires a lot of, well, rage in me.  I wanted to give sex workers and allies a toolbox to dismantle the anti-sex activists’ work.  Too often, we find ourselves enmeshed in debate with them, defending ourselves against phony facts, fabricated statistics, shallow ideologies, and more.  Really what we should see is they have nothing to their arguments but hatred.  So rather than respond, the essay urges readers to dismiss, protest, shun, and shutdown.  They don’t deserve debate anymore than the KKK, skinheads, or the Westboro Baptist Church.

Here are some excerpts, and you can read the whole essay by clicking here.

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I should start an essay like this by telling you about how great sex workers are, how important sex workers’ rights are. I should “create sympathy in the reader” for anyone who takes their clothes off and performs sexuality. I should show you porn stars saving cats stuck in trees, sex workers volunteering at soup kitchens, strippers just trying to make it work for their families.

I should tell you about how it feels to deal with anti-sex-work stigma every day.

But this essay isn’t about us.

It’s about the demand to prove we’re worth sympathy. It’s about how if that sympathy shows up, it’s wrapped up in deliberate misunderstandings. It’s about the people who make the demand. It’s about how “Show us your humanity!” is more belittling and damaging than “Show us your tits!”

It’s about the people we should no longer respond to with anything other than protest or dismissal.

In other words, it’s about bigotry. It’s about bigots.

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I’ll refer to anti-sex-work and anti-porn campaigners here for clarity and honesty as “anti-sex bigots.” When that word gets tiring, I’ll call them “anti-sex activists.”

Why? Because sex is what makes sex work so special for them. Sex makes this line of work a singular profession, mystically distinguished from other jobs. But their analyses and understandings of sex lack depth. There is no substance to their arguments. Their tactics are strung together not with understanding or data, but with hate. Their bigotry is visceral, and their goals are clear:

1. Distort and destroy consent.

2. Create a framework of good vs. evil.

3. Cherry-pick voices.

4. Play the victim while holding the power.

5. Create apocalyptic urgency.

This list might sound like an exaggeration to outsiders. To sex workers, it’s exhaustingly and overwhelmingly familiar.

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Wait a second, wait a second, I can hear the fumbling voices of protest. Stop talking about bigotry. I mean, after all, we’re not talking about race, right? We’re not talking about something people can’t change. That’s what makes speech against those groups hate speech. Sex workers, well, they…

What? Were you finally going to say we choose our careers?

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Does this rant from an anti-sex activist sound familiar?

“The insistence that there’s nothing unusual in ‘work’ that involves male strangers penetrating your body and ejaculating inside of you goes right along with the ‘sex positivity’ popular with young Leftists. Women are likely to sustain injury (vaginal tearing) during heterosexual intercourse if we are not genuinely aroused (rather than performing for an audience); we are more likely to contract infections and diseases than our male partners; we are more likely to be harmed by male sexual partners (who are almost always larger and stronger than we are); and we are 100% more likely than our male partners to face unwanted pregnancy.” —Anti-sex bigot (5)

Compare that to this, from a video called “Medical Dangers of Anal Sex” posted by Christofer L, an antigay Christian You-Tuber:

“Let’s look at some simple biological truths… The rectum… [is designed] strictly for the removal of waste, moving it outward away from the body. This is why the blood vessels in the rectum break when a phallic object goes against the natural flow of movement by its muscles. Believe it or not, this causes rectal/anal damage. Many sexual experts and medical personnel discourage anal sex because of the danger… Safe sex? Mechanical damage to the rectum will happen regardless of the safe-sex measures.”

Same gesture, same hate, same simplifications.

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What’s more dehumanizing: showing your butt cheeks to an audience or having someone tell you that you don’t blackoutexist?

We need a varied, active, and dynamic picture of sex workers, not a muffled, stunted one. I started porn after going to grad school for writing and biology and being a college English instructor. I know plenty of porn performers with other jobs: meteorology, fashion design, dairy farming, law, freelance writing, directing, nursing, nonprofit organizing. Those are just off the top of my head. Yes, there are porn performers who—like many writers, actors, etc.—have no other job and are struggling. And there are other sex workers working out of various causes of necessity. The point isn’t that doing sex work out of need doesn’t exist. Nor is the point that we have to absolutely love sex work to do it. Not everyone loves their job, and sex workers should not be singled out and forced to simply because of the “sex” in their work. The point is, your picture of who sex workers are must be multifaceted. It’s a picture that’s ineluctably complex, yet anti-sex activists want us to hear one voice and will symbolically kill the rest of us to achieve the effect.

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“Pornography Is What the End of the World Looks Like,” reads the title of one anti-porn rant.

Whose world is ending?

What world are they talking about?

Like almost everyone who wants to save the world, anti-sex bigots have to fabricate a fake world that’s being destroyed first. KKK members fabricate the idea of a pure white race that’s being destroyed, fundamentalist Christians fabricate pure heterosexuality corrupted by gays, US warmongers fabricate pure democracy threatened by Muslims, and so on.

The end is near! Anti-sex activists create a world in danger from sex work, though our world without sex work never existed. To make sure the end is always near, they shift the goalposts. It’s not the porn, goes one argument, it’s the distribution!

The 1965 anticommunist, antigay, anti-porn video Perversion for Profit states:

“Pornography and sex deviation have always been with mankind. This is true. But now consider another fact… High-speed presses, rapid transportation, mass distribution all have combined to put the vilest obscenities in the reach of every man, woman, and child in the country.”

In 2015, an anti-sex activist proclaimed with the certainty she was saying something new when she said that “porn 15 years ago is basically Playboy andPenthouse, which as sexist as it was… those are the good old days. Today pornography has shifted rapidly, and it’s shifted because of the internet… [the internet has made porn] affordable, accessible, and anonymous…” (9)

We must act urgently! To save our neuropathways from online porn! To save young men’s desires! To save women! To save anyone we want to control!

All—yes, all—of the adverse conditions sex workers face are created or exacerbated by anti-sex bigots who directly harm sex workers or indirectly harm them by silencing them, spreading misinformation, blocking paths to sexual health education, and cultivating stigma.

“We’re here to save you!” sounds promising, until the statement is completed honestly: “We’re here to save you… from the damaging conditions we’ve created and continue to perpetuate.”

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read the whole essay

Porn-ing Your Way through College 101: A Syllabus

3 Oct

Porn-ing Your Way Through College 101

Syllabus

Instructor: Conner Habib

blackboardCourse Description

Every year, hundreds of thousands of barely legal teens are coerced by people more powerful than them, as well as societal pressure, to make the life-altering, no-going-back, always-on-your-permanent-record decision to go to college.

There are serious consequences for this, including discrimination based on your performance, not being able to find a job after college ends, and having to disclose to your partners and lovers what your major is.

Nevertheless, here you are, in a financially and sexually exploitative environment with no foreseeable way out.

Never fear!  Pornography is here to help.  Porn-ing Your Way Through College will help navigate the ins and outs of pornography, how to enhance your pornographic experience by being in college, and how to pay your way through porn by being in college.

Course Goals

Porn will help you develop valuable skills for navigating the difficult world of college and beyond.  These include:

Understanding your sexual boundaries.

Sex is constantly present and potentially dangerous in any college environment.  Being in porn will help you develop your boundaries by providing a safe space to experiment with your sexual preferences, constitution, and comfortability.  The general rule on porn sets is that performers have a right to say no at any time to any sexual act.  Developing this detailed understanding of what boundaries are absolute, and which of your own boundaries you’re interested in pushing, will make sex and the possibility of sexual interaction more pleasant for you off set.  Porn will help you understand not just how to say “no” when you don’t want to engage sexually, but also how to say “yes” when you do.

Understanding Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs).

Most porn studios have some STI protocol in place.  This means you’ll be engaging with some combination of basic STI education (including how STIs are transmitted and how to prevent and be aware of transmission), STI testing, and condom or other barrier use. You’ll also learn how to be more aware of your body and sexual health, since your livelihood will depend on it.  This will give you important information in your four years of college, as well as potentially transform you into a valuable health resource for your friendly but reckless peers.

Understanding How To Choose What You Want.

Choosing to be in porn is like choosing to be art history major: It’s widely discouraged by our culture.  Yet many people find porn and a career in other humanities rewarding and fulfilling.  By deciding to be in porn, you’ll be casting away social pressure by deciding your desire and integrity is more important than what our culture says you “should” do.  This makes you an ideal role model for incoming freshman who would otherwise throw their lives away traveling a path and choosing a major that’s expected from them.

Understanding How To Create Intimacy.

In porn, you’ll be expected to perform sexual acts with people you may not find immediately attractive.  While some people may deem such sexual acts “mechanical,”  you’ll find, instead, that they can be fun, athletic, and create a sense of healthy detachment.  One of the reasons sex workers are sometimes hired as hospice caregivers in other countries is because they don’t fear the touch of or touching a body that they may not feel drawn to.  The detachment that being in porn can help develop the ability to create intimacy rather than to expect it.  This will make you a better listener, communicator, and less apt to make kneejerk decisions with strangers, professors, or administrators.

classGrades

Whether you pass or fail in Porn-ing Your Way Through College will be assessed by a few factors. 

These include:

Integration of Porn into Your Present and Future Life. 

Let’s face it: Your friends, family, and coworkers, as well as your future employers will probably find out that you’ve appeared in adult scenes.  Make sure you’re ready for that.  Be able to approach them without apology (ie “I’m just working my way through college!”) or resentment (ie. “Yeah I’m in porn, fuck you, so what?!”).  Being able to calmly own your choices and sexuality presents a strong statement to other people and culture, and is more respectable than trying to hide your porn career, which is mostly impossible.

Managing the Rest of Your Affairs.

The down-to-earth nature of performing filmed sexual acts for money may make college, with its emphasis on theories, obedience, and beauracracy seem ungrounded and arbitrarily demanding. Make sure you keep your affairs in order, though.  Even though the academia is unreasonable and demeaning, it’s important that you stay the course and attend to your responsibilities.  It’s also important to keep your financial situation in order by keeping track of your taxes (ask your accounting professor for help!) and saving some money in the event that you’re unable to appear in porn during busy times like finals week.

Responsibility to Promoting Sex-Positivity and Other Sex Workers.

Now that you’re in porn, you’re in the public eye, people are going to have expectations of you, and be looking to you for guidance when it comes to the confusing and culturally fucked up world of sex.  People will appropriately or inappropriately bring up sexual topics and express their curiosities prejudices about what you and other sex workers do.  Everyone should have the right to express themselves sexually provided consent is present for all parties, sex work is work, and you should hold your head high for yourself and others. Make sure you’re able to patiently hear questions about your sex worker peers, including other porn performers, escorts, strippers, online sex cammers and amateurs, and to answer with compassion.

Don’t worry about being perfect, just do what you can!

Join an organization like the Adult Performer Advocacy Committee (APAC) or lend a helping hand at St. James Infirmary to interact with and support your peers.  Meet with your on-campus LGBT or sex positive student groups.

textbooksRecommended Reading

Playing the Whore by Melissa Gira Grant

My Dangerous Desires by Amber Hollibaugh

Porn Studies edited by Linda Williams

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With thanks to Christopher Frizzelle, Bravo Delta, and Belle Knox for the inspiration.

Censoring Sex

1 Apr

booksCensoring Sex Week 

or

What To Do When Your School Cancels Your Sex-Related Event

or

Corning, One Year Later

The Back Story

A year ago,  I was invited to speak at Corning Community College by EQUAL, the on-campus LGBTQI group, headed Brandon Griewank, a student at CCC .  The talk was part of the college’s Sex Week – which was meant to foster clear communication around and cultivate awareness about sex positivity and sexuality in students’ lives.  

A week before the talk the school’s president, Katherine Douglas, as well as other administrators decided to cancel the talk.  Why?  Because I’m a porn actor.  The thing is, she’d already signed off on the event.  The posters were made, and the ink was on the contract.  Here’s some info on all the amazing (and terrible) shit that happened, as well as some tips for students encountering similar problems setting up sex-related events for their schools.

The Hidden Back Story

It was actually much worse than a canceled talk. Students reported being intimidated by members of the administration, and were told not to contact the press.  Allegedly, Dean of Student Development, Don Heins, told Griewank that he wasn’t allowed to host the talk anywhere else in town, and even went to other venues to make sure they weren’t hosting it.  

“I hope you are grasping that this issue is bigger than you and bigger than EQUAL, right?” Heins reportedly said to students.  

This was the same person who had emailed Griewank just a few weeks earlier, “This line-up (of Sex Week) shows a lot of effort on your part to provide education to the students and the rest of the community.  Congratulations to you and the Equal membership for this work.”  But after the president had canceled the event, the tone had decidedly changed.

Brandon Giewank had an “absolutely intimidating conversation,” Griewank said. “He told me I wasn’t allowed to speak to the press, told me I wasn’t allowed to help Conner. He told me this in a closed room, there was no advisor to EQUAL there, and it wasn’t scheduled, so I had no time to prepare.”  Other students reported to me that Heins had had “diversity issues” in the past, particularly with LGBT students, and had complained about diversity training.

The Pressfunny

Of course, Griewank and I went to the press, and it became a national news story.  Buzzfeed was the first to report on it , and I wrote a follow-up to the article: an essay about how pornography often intertwines positively with the lives of LGBT people, particularly in small towns like Corning.

Soon, the story was all over the place.  The Huffington Post, the local papers, MSNBC, Inside Higher Ed, and more.  Here’s the story via Corning’s local NBC news station (This link is NSFW – it links to a porn blog, but that’s the only place the video is still up)

The Talk

Since the contract – along with my cancelation policy – was already signed, I received payment in the mail.  In a conversation with an administrator, it was clear that this was shutup money – as in, take the money and disappear.  (In a conversation with a student, Heins reportedly demanded to know: “Is (Conner) still coming to Corning? He would have no reason to come to Corning if not for the college’s money and we do not support that. Is he coming?’) 

I flew to Corning anyway. On the date the talk was scheduled, I presented it at the local library instead, to what was undoubtably a much larger crowd than would have shown for the original talk.  The audience was made up of students, parents, local residents, and professors,  I was told many faculty members were afraid to show up because of pressure from administrators.

We spent the evening talking to each other about pornography.  What were the audience member’s experiences with it?  What were their definitions, their questions and reservations about it?

The Fallout

When I got back, news of further intimidation and coercion by the administration began to filter in: First, a student who’d interviewed me for a campus publication emailed me, telling me: 

“Something is going on with the Administration, we aren’t even able to get an article out because even our  advisor, who was one of the biggest advocate for you, is now all hush hush and tight lipped about it all and the other members and I think the administration and the president may be responsible. I’m not even able to write anything up without getting in trouble.”

Then, even more troubling news:  Members of Equal told me they’d been targeted by a tenured professor in the Communications/Humanities department, Christine Atkins.  She was, they reported, hanging up flyers around campus defaming the student group.

Here are excerpts from the letter, entitled THE TRUTH ABOUT SEX WEEK (if you want the whole thing, you can enlarge the image):

Atkins“(EQUAL has) alienated an OPENLY LESBIAN FEMINIST FACULTY member (me) simply because she supported the president’s decision…My support of Dr. Douglas was based on my thoughts as a feminist and a woman…

(EQUAL has) ignored and silenced other gay voices, namely that of lesbian feminists, who since the Second-Wave of the Feminist Movement have argued that the pornography industry demeans women, men, and children and leads to rape and aggression, mostly against women and children.

…the origins of Sex Week, to my understanding, were about promoting healthy sexuality for all persons, whetehr gay, straight, bisexual, or other.  After weeks of thinking about the defintion of what ‘healthy sexuality’ actually is, I still find indefensible (as in…without a shadow of a doubt) the participation in an industry that degrades and dehumanizes individuals and is also part of a capitalistic system that oppresses and lulls the masses. – Dr. Christine E. Atkins (former Adviser to EQUAL)”

The letter was signed former adviser because the students in EQUAL had voted her out.

“EQUAL tried to schedule meetings to talk to her,” one of the students told me, “and our emails went unanswered for something like 14 days. When she did finally respond (regarding Sex Week and my event) she chose not to meet with us. It was then that EQUAL voted to remove her… partly for not having our back, partly because her schedule never permits her to be present at meetings and we worried she wasn’t fairly representing the views of the students, being that she was never present to HEAR the views of the students, and finally because she refused to MEET with us.”

The content of Christine Atkins’s letter is typical anti-sex rhetoric and anti-sex worker hate speech, masquerading as feminism.  There’s no real ideology behind it, and the arguments crumble under the slightest scrutiny (you can read my dismantling of some of these arguments here  and here).  And of course, plenty of women, including quite a few openly lesbian feminists, attended the talk.  The truly disturbing thing about the letter, is, as reported by the students, that a tenured professors was hanging up flyers that attacked students.  She also reportedly posted to similar comments to the EQUAL facebook page.

Even after the entire ordeal, LGBT students were allegedly being targeted and bullied by faculty.  “It was difficult walking around campus and having teachers that supported me for years distance themselves,” Griewank told me.  He said he and other EQUAL members felt isolated; not just by the administrators that opposed the talk, but by some who supported it but didn’t want negative attention drawn to themselves.

Thankfully it was late in the school year, and the members of EQUAL now felt more solidarity with each other than ever.  “When the community turned out to support the talk, we felt supported as students and felt solidarity as members of EQUAL.”  Classes were about to wind up into a flurry of finals and then wind down into graduation.  The flyers started to disappear, the advisers that did stand by the students were presented with Adviser of the Year awards by the Student Association.  Don Heins resigned (or was fired, it’s not totally clear).  People kept talking about the event, and Griewank and many other members of EQUAL matriculated.

The Problem

Why write about this now?SWUT

I left Corning feeling like the talk was one of the best things I’d ever done.  Not because I was feeling smug about my performance, but because I’d facilitated a discussion that was being strangled by people in power.  It’s one thing for people in power to not like sex positivity or pornography; it’s another thing all together for them to not allow any public discourse on it.  The students and community members turned out to disentangle those knots of silence.

Those knots are being retied and tightened all the time.  Schools have fought students’ rights to discuss pornography,  screen it for study, and to create sex positive events. In Knoxville just a few months ago, Representatives and Senators tried to draft bills to halt Sex Week at University of Tennessee, and in 2013, funding for the event was cut just days before it was set to start (it went on anyway with private funding and was a well-attended success).

The Advice

I talked to Brandon Giewank about his experiences with our event in Corning, wondering if he had any advice for student organizers. His tips were:

Know your mission statement:  “What kept driving me forward was that our intent was never to be controversial or to talk about sex just to be shocking,” he said, expressing the clarity of EQUAL’s intention for Sex Week.  “Know what your underlying message is, so you can respond when you meet resistance.” 

Reach out for off-campus support: During the controversy, Griewank also sought off-campus support, including the ACLU, who sent a letter to college administrators on behalf of EQUAL.  “When you’re going through something like that, you can feel like you’re in a bubble.  It’s really important to seek support outside the campus.”  Also, ““people on campus need a paycheck,” Griewank says.  It’s a reminder that off-campus help is important for expertise, but also because faculty and staff at the school may fear marginalization, particularly if the school is in a small community.

Leave a paper trail:  Griewank encouraged written exchanges between himself, other students, and administrators.  He also wrote down as much as he could remember about any conversations he had with Heins and the president.  His detailed records helped him secure assistance from the ACLU, and with statements he gave to the press.  They also protected him legally.

Don’t get into a clash of egos:  If a school cancels your sex-related event, “It’s not you against them, it’s a bigger issue.  That’s the same with any issue worth fighting for.”  This was important for me to remember as a speaker, too.  I was upset that people in power were denying students a chance to communicate about sex and pornography in a safe space, but publicly insulting the administration would have only drummed up sympathy for them.  The real issue – dismantling sex-negativity and creating a healthier sexual attitude in student communities, was more important.

It’s pretty obvious that college students are interested in sex and pornography.  What’s not so obvious is the forces that are lined up against discussion.  This is part of a larger problem in academia – that schools often refuse (either implicitly or through displays of power) to engage in students’ actual concerns or lives.  And when it comes to sex, it’s an even larger cultural issue.  Sex is supposed to somehow be separate from the rest of life.  But it’s not – it’s continuously woven into our thoughts, feelings, and actions.  Discussions about sex are urgently needed to heal the segregating wound constantly inflicted by people and institutions in power.  Sex needs to be incorporated back into the anatomy of everyday life.

If you’d like me to speak at your school or organization:

check out my lecturer fact sheet and contact me at connerhabib at gmail dot com.