“Love is or it ain’t. Thin love ain’t love at all.”

We celebrate the life of Toni Morrison, who celebrated love in her work and in her living.

Happy New Year!

…at least for those people filing birth certificates in New York City.

New York City’s new non-binary gender option—gender “X”—is officially in effect. New Yorkers can now change their birth certificates to reflect their gender preferences, and parents can choose “X” for their newborns.

The new law brings NYC in line with California, Oregon and Washington D.C.; a similar provision will be enacted in New Jersey in February.

 

Sex Machine

Turns out that Kinky Robots are positioned to have better–more nuanced, negotiating, and thoughtful–sexual ethics than sitting Supreme Court Justices.

The foundations of healthy, happy, satisfying, and pleasurable sexual experiences are trust, effective communication, and of course, consent between people. The role of consent for the human in any situation is physical and psychological safety. At the same time, human sexuality includes many behaviors that rely on someone’s interior life and what uniquely excites them, and for some people that includes role playing and other creative interactions that sometimes involve testing and teasing physical and emotional limits of the body with their trusted partner(s), or practicing things that society may consider taboo. However, in this case we are discussing scenarios between a (let’s say non-sentient) robot and human(s), so the idea of consent should be human-centered, as in the Laws.

Would a BDSM Sex Robot Violate Asimov’s First Law of Robotics?

Perhaps the first rule for human pleasure ethics should also be, that one should not “injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm”.**

 

 

**The underlying claim here is that ethically negotiated and practiced kinky relationships do not rise to “injury” or “harm”.

 

 

Self-Care

The news cycle has been rough since, you know, the campaign.

If the recent news cycle has been particularly debilitating, LifeHacker offers some rather helpful advice** in the post How to Cope With the Current News Cycle as a Sexual Abuse Survivor.

Setting boundaries, learning to breathe, and recognizing that different selves need different kinds of care are all useful tools to make use of in times of great strain.

“‘Self care’ is about defining for yourself what nourishes you,” Bryant-Davis says. “For you that could mean going to yoga; for someone else it could mean going to a prayer meeting or going to a rally. Sometimes when we’re caught up in emotion we forget what’s worked for us in the past.”

The inverse of this is that you shouldn’t feel obligated to try a new strategy. If your friends are trying to get you to go to yoga class, but you’re feeling tender and aren’t sure you can deal with the yoga teacher’s talking about “feeling into your pelvis” or sit bones, maybe suggest another class. “People should not feel pressured to do things that will only activate them more,” Appio says. “There’s time and space to practice other strategies. Do what works. Do the lower risk thing first for sure.”

 

 

**Especially if you are a survivor of sexual assault.

Verdict Rendered

How do we develop an ethical framework for judging past actions?

One might say, we look at how those actions transact with the present and future that emerged with them. That is, if we think about time–even a single point in time–as past/present/future in constant and embodied communication, the question of whether or not one should be held accountable for past horrors and violence committed becomes a question about our present and future.

Padma Lakshmi closes her brave and touching personal essay about her own rape at 16 on a similar point.

Some say a man shouldn’t pay a price for an act he committed as a teenager. But the woman pays the price for the rest of her life, and so do the people who love her.

I think if I had at the time named what happened to me as rape — and told others — I might have suffered less. Looking back, I now think I let my rapist off the hook and I let my 16-year-old self down.

Let us not let ourselves down now (or in the future) when we think about holding abusers/predators accountable for sexual assault.  Our ethics in these cases should be wary of a temporal limit.

Pussy Control

Aurora Snow’s piece at the Daily Beast, “How Porn Made These Women Feel Empowered: ‘It Gave Me a New Sense of Confidence’” includes accounts from seven performers, including the Adult Video News (AVN) Female Performer of the Year, Angela White. Angela White has also recently published “The Porn Performer: The Radical Potential of Pleasure in Pornography” in The Routledge Companion to Media, Sex and Sexuality.

These performers offer their own experiences of their bodies prior to engaging in sex work. They cite insecurity and a lack of confidence. They describe the transformation of their relationship with their bodies during their work as arising from encounters with fans and other performers. Their work–their coworkers and their fans–emerges as a locus for the development of a greater appreciation for those areas they’d once tried to hide.

“One of the magazines I posed for called my stretch marks ‘beauty marks,’ and it was that magazine that helped me appreciate my curves in a way I couldn’t before,” recalls White.

There was a sense of validation in seeing herself this way: “Not only are men and women paying to see me, but there are companies paying me money for my curves. Seeing myself published in a magazine sold specifically for sexual arousal was confidence-boosting.”

Rather than feeling victimized and truncated by their experiences as performers, the women in this interview feel and describe a sense of flourishing.

“Whatever you’re insecure about, chances are it’s somebody’s biggest turn-on. Capitalizing on the things I used to hate about myself has given me so much respect and appreciation for my body and shown me power I didn’t know I had.”

There is the possibility of mounting a critique of this transformation particularly because it is explicitly bound to and within the view/approval/validation of others. One can point to the way that White highlights the role of the market in her self-esteem and confidence. Certainly, one can read this article solely as an account of being-for-others.

These critiques point to a limited account of the lived experience of these performers; and their role in knowledge production about their work, their place in their work, and about themselves. That is, these critiques run the risk of discounting the being-for-self that these women claim and embrace.  (Being-for-self  can involve admiration from others.) It is to deny that one (and particularly porn performers) can both engage with the world and transact with it without completely being reduced to it. It is to suggest that they are ontologically resilient enough to resist being completely truncated by the encounter. More to the point, a desire to rush to such a critique ignores the lived experience of these performers and commits epistemic violence.

As Angela White states in an earlier interview:

Most of the academic work on the field is about sex workers but never makes references to their voices. I believe when it comes to the production of knowledge about sex workers, specifically porn performers, in this case, I believe they are experts in their own lives and should be heard and represented—not just spoken about. I wanted to contribute to the academic knowledge on the subject albeit through the engagement of female performers themselves. Obviously, my work now is both academic and performative: every time I’m on set I use it as an opportunity to collect more data on the issue so it’s all tied to a larger study later.

…I don’t look at whether women are abused or empowered. I look at how the performers in porn experience their sexuality—how performing in porn has changed their sexuality—and I think more research on the topic needs to be done. It’s such fertile ground and there’s so much to look into when it comes to porn and it hasn’t been done because of those narratives.

Attending to the being-for-self of these performers strikes me as the far more thoughtful, supportive, and productive stance to take. If these women have found a way to more fully be for themselves–be themselves–and love themselves through their work in porn we should not doubt it; we should attend to it.

The Force in her, strong it is.

Self-love is an ethics of liberation, communication, and community.

Kelly Marie Tran–the first woman of colour to have a lead role in a Star Wars movie**–gives us a salient example of all three of these in her personal essay for the NY Times.

I had been brainwashed into believing that my existence was limited to the boundaries of another person’s approval. I had been tricked into thinking that my body was not my own, that I was beautiful only if someone else believed it, regardless of my own opinion. I had been told and retold this by everyone: by the media, by Hollywood, by companies that profited from my insecurities, manipulating me so that I would buy their clothes, their makeup, their shoes, in order to fill a void that was perpetuated by them in the first place.

Yes, I have been lied to. We all have.

And it was in this realization that I felt a different shame — not a shame for who I was, but a shame for the world I grew up in. And a shame for how that world treats anyone who is different.

I am not the first person to have grown up this way. This is what it is to grow up as a person of color in a white-dominated world. This is what it is to be a woman in a society that has taught its daughters that we are worthy of love only if we are deemed attractive by its sons. This is the world I grew up in, but not the world I want to leave behind.

I am here for Tran’s loving work (and work at loving herself and loving others like herself).  I am here for leaving behind a new world using an ethics of love.

I know how important that is. And I am not giving up.

You might know me as Kelly.

I am the first woman of color to have a leading role in a “Star Wars” movie.

I am the first Asian woman to appear on the cover of Vanity Fair.

My real name is Loan. And I am just getting started.

I am here for Loan.

 

 

**As a Star Trek fan, it is important to note that the first woman of colour that I even saw in space was Nichelle Nichols as Lt. Nyota Uhura.  (She later achieved the rank of Commander.)

 

“It’s a clean slate–and a new world.”

Josie Totah’s (of the television sitcom Champions) personal essay at Times.com about her identity as a transgender woman is generous, thoughtful, and hopeful.  I am excited for her “clean slate,” her “new world,” and most importantly, all of her exciting new acting roles!

There are still things that scare me. Identity documents can be hard for transgender people to change. I’m afraid of that moment when someone looks at the ID, looks at the photo, looks at the gender marker – looks at you. I never want to feel like I’m not allowed in somewhere because of who I am. I’m scared that being transgender is going to limit me in that way. And I’m scared that I’ll be judged, rejected, made uncomfortable, that people will look at me differently.

But when my friends and family call me Josie, it feels like I’m being seen. It’s something everyone wants, to feel understood. And, as a semi-religious person who went to Catholic school, I have come to believe that God made me transgender. I don’t feel like I was put in the wrong body. I don’t feel like there was a mistake made. I believe that I am transgender to help people understand differences. It allows me to gain perspective, to be more accepting of others, because I know what it feels like to know you’re not like everyone else.

Also, hat tip to Jazz Jennings and her groundbreaking series I am Jazz for helping young trans people (and their loved ones) like Josie.

At Stake: Sex Worker Rights

Emma Whitford at Splinter has written an important account of the rise of sex worker activism in her piece, “The Rise of the Sex Worker Rights Lobby“.

The national increase in sex worker activism is coming at a particularly precarious time. In April, President Trump signed SESTA/FOSTA, anti-human trafficking legislation that sailed through Congress with bipartisan support and made website owners liable for certain types of third-party content. Journalist Melissa Gira Grant has reported on the rapid chilling effect that followed. Websites quickly scrubbed content related to sex work, and with it the platforms many rely on to make money safely. “It sent shockwaves throughout the sex work community,” Jo, a 27-year-old sex worker in New York City, told Splinter.

But the response was just as swift. Sex workers organized know-your-rights trainings, marched, and collected testimony for the law’s first constitutional challenge.