Sshhhh….

Harry_potter_and_the_deathly_hallowCan’t talk. Reading.

I just got my copy of Harry Potter (I ordered it from the U.K. to get the edition that’s not translated into American English — how nerdy is that?), and it just arrived today. So I’m taking a brief blog break while I geek out. See you in a few days — with a winner of the prediction contest!

One In Seven: Why Civil Unions Aren’t Enough

AisleThere are plenty of reasons why civil unions really aren’t equal to marriage — even if the rights and responsibilities spelled out in a state’s civil union law are identical to marriage in every way.

There are legal reasons why they’re not equal — marriage is recognized in every state and indeed every country, while civil unions aren’t; so the rights and responsibilities don’t necessarily travel with you when you leave the state that granted them. There are emotional reasons — marriage is an institution/ ritual/ relationship that has existed for thousands of years, one that has tremendous resonance in our culture in a way that civil unions simply don’t. And there are moral reasons — as history has born out, separate but equal is pretty much by definition not equal.

But if none of those convince you, here’s a really good practical one.

JusticeAs of right now, five months after New Jersey’s Civil Union Law took effect, at least 1 out of every 7 civil-union couples in New Jersey are not getting their civil unions recognized by their employers.

1 out of 7. 14 percent.

If 14 percent of married couples in New Jersey were being denied full, legally-guaranteed marriage benefits by their employers, there’d be outraged stories on every news source in the region, and quite possibly rioting in the streets.

Gsehead2And actually, it’s probably more than 1 out of 7. The 1 out of 7 figure comes from 191 complaints reported to Garden State Equality (out of 1,359 civil-union couples) — and chances are excellent that not everyone who’s having problems is reporting it. And before you ask — no it’s not just one big bad company that’s skewing the results. According to Garden State Equality, the 191 cases involve close to 191 companies.

So civil unions aren’t just legally unequal to marriage; they’re not just emotionally unequal; they’re not even just morally unequal. They’re unequal in the most literal, practical sense of the word. Even in the state where the civil union is the law, people in civil unions are not being treated the same by their employers as people who are married.

HendricksleboeufI get that civil unions are a big step forward. There are times when I’m astonished by the fact that “well, same-sex marriage is out, but civil unions would be okay” has become the moderate position on the issue, maybe even the moderate- to- conservative position. I get that they’re better than nothing — heck, 6 out of 7 civil-union couples in New Jersey are getting their benefits, and that’s not trivial. And I get that, the Supreme Court being what it is right now, it may not be the best strategy to put same-sex marriage to a test on the national level until we get some new faces on the bench.

VowsI’m just saying: It’s not the same. It’s not enough. And I am disinclined to pretend that it is. This fight will not be over in this country until same-sex marriage is legal and fully- recognized in all 50 states. You can put nice cushions in the back of the bus — but it’s still the back of the bus.

(Thanks to Good As You for putting the press release on their site.)

And the Winner Is…

And the winner is…

Gretatricorn_2

Thank you all so much for your feedback on the pictures! I didn’t see anything like consensus on one image that clearly stood out from the rest — which was, in fact, useful information. The only opinions on which there was anything even resembling consensus were (a) that the “scary” picture was out (since that was the one I was most strongly leaning towards, the strong “No” was very helpful to know about), and (b) that the current one with the tricorn is perfectly lovely. So I’m sticking with it for now. Eventually I’ll want to replace it, since it is several years out of date, but I’m no longer in any hurry.

As to HTML in the comments: Only a couple of people expressed a strong opinion about it, and those people disagreed. So for now, I’m going to keep things the way they are (i.e., no HTML enabled in the comments, and URLs automatically converted to live links), since that’s what people are used to with my blog. If anyone else has a strong opinion about that, do let me know. And thanks again, everyone! I loved all the comments and observations and very much appreciated all the thought y’all put into it, and the whole process has been vastly entertaining. Ta!

Carnival Time: Humanist Symposium #5 and Carnival of the Godless #71

391pxriesenrad_grTwo atheist carnivals up today:

Humanist Symposium #5 is up at The Green Atheist. If you want to read good atheist blogging that’s positive about atheism instead of being critical of religion, this carnival’s theme is exactly that. (I don’t have anything in the Symposium this time around, but I have in the past and think it’s likely that I will in the future.)

And the Carnival of the Godless #71 is up at the excellently-named Aardvarchaeology. I submitted two posts to CotG this time, since I couldn’t decide which I liked better and thought I’d let them choose, and they very kindly included both: Craig Thompson’s “Blankets”: Atheism in Pop Culture Part 3, on the problem of teaching religion as if it had the authority of fact (especially to children); and The True Faith: Liberal and Conservative Christianity, on the problem of liberal Christians accusing the Christian Right of not being true Christians. Thank you, nice archaeologist!

Not Going There: The Blowfish Blog

Please note: This post contains references to my personal sexuality and sexual practices. The post that it links to, even more so. Family members and others who don’t want to read that, now would be a good time to disembark.

Do_not_enterI have a new piece up on the Blowfish Blog. It’s called Not Going There, and it’s about why I don’t want to do certain kinds of edgy role-playing sex scenes — and how, in the process of figuring that out, I got a lot more sympathy for people who don’t want to be “good, giving and game” about milder kinds of kinky play. Here’s the teaser:

But there are some roles that I either don’t have in me — or that I don’t want to tap into if I do. I don’t want to find my inner Nazi, or my inner slave-owner. If I have one, I don’t want to get to know it. I don’t want to make friends with it. And I really don’t want to get off on it. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with people who do, any more than I think there’s anything wrong with me for getting off on my inner martyred doormat or my inner sadistic bitch. I just don’t want to go there.

And it suddenly occurred to me:

Oh.

I bet this is how men who don’t want to spank women feel.

To find out more, check out the rest of the piece. Enjoy!

Two Reader Polls: Pictures, and HTML?

Hi, y’all. I’m thinking of making a couple of changes to my blog setup, and I wanted to poll my readers on it before I do.

GretatricornFirst: I’m thinking of changing the photo of me at the top of the blog to a different one. I do like the tricorn picture, it’s one of my favorite pictures of me ever and I’m very attached to it. But I feel like it doesn’t quite represent who I am now (I haven’t done a historical costume event in a while). And as the blog gets a wider readership, I’m not sure I want people’s first reaction on coming to it to be “Historical recreation nerd.” I kind of want my home picture to present a broader picture of who I am. (It’s also a little out of date.)

On the other hand, it is quirky, which I like. And it’s unlike most other blog portraits I’ve seen, so it does set me apart from the crowd. And it is the one I’ve had for a long time, so maybe people are familiar with it and identify it with my blog, and I should just leave well enough alone.

So here are the other ones I’m considering.

ScaryI call this one “Scary.” And it’s a very strong contender. (Yes, I’d crop the top; I just don’t have Photoshop on this computer.) Plusses: I think it’s beautiful and sexy, and it looks a lot like me while still being unusual and quirky and distinctive. Minuses: It’s a little out of date (all of these are, actually, but this one is a little more than most). Also the flash makes it a little washed-out.

SunI call this one “Sun.” Another very strong contender. It’s very beautiful, it looks a lot like me (probably more than any of the others), and it’s more up to date than any of the others (the grey streak shows really nicely in this one). And it’s probably the best-photographed and most professional looking of any of them. Minuses: It’s not very quirky or distinctive — it’s a pretty standard head-shot portrait, and I don’t think it stands out from the crowd that much.

TophatI call this one “Tophat.” I probably won’t use it, but I thought I’d throw it in. Plusses: It looks a lot like me, and it looks a lot like a really happy me who I like a lot. “Big, boisterous laugh” is a good look for me, I think. Minuses: The tophat makes it scream “Historical recreation nerd,” thus not really solving the tricorn problem. Also it has the flash wash-out problem.

Avatar_4Okay, probably not. For copyright reasons if no other. But I had to include it anyway. And the scary thing is: It probably looks more like me than any of the others.

So what are your thoughts? Please vote!

And the second and final question: To HTML, or not to HTML?

330pxhtml_element_structuresvgAs some of you have noted, I don’t have HTML enabled for my comments, so people can’t use italics or bold, or create their own live links. The reason I did that when I was originally setting up my blog is that I had a choice: I could either let HTML be enabled, or I could have URLs in the comments automatically converted to live links.

I chose to go with the latter, since it seemed more friendly to your average commenter who might not be up on HTML and might not know how to create live links. But enough people here have mentioned the fact that they can’t use HTML in their comments, so I thought I’d ask. Would you rather be able to do HTML in your comments, or would you rather have any URLs in your comments automatically converted to live links without having to know HTML to do it? Let me know. And thanks for reading the blog, everybody!

Carnival of Feminists #43

450pxkobe_wonder_wheelThe Carnival of Feminists #43 went up today, with a great collection of feminist blogging. This is the first time I’ve been in this carnival, and I feel a little silly that my debut wasn’t my piece on hate crime laws or sex education or even Christopher Hitchens, but my silly little piece on Angelina Jolie and Us Magazine. But there you have it. You go to the carnivals with the blog you have. Anyway, there’s some good feminist blogging there, and I encourage all y’all to check it out.

“A price I was willing to pay”: Hard Porn, Sex Work, and Consent

This is one of the smartest, most thoughtful things I’ve read lately about sex — not just porn or SM, but sex — and I wanted to call y’all’s attention to it and talk about it a little.

480pxcanis_lupus_layingIt’s by spanking model Adele Haze (I don’t know why spanking models are called models instead of actors or performers when they work largely in movies, but except for curiosity I don’t really care). In this piece, Haze talks about a shoot she did with Lupus Pictures, a kinky video production company that’s renowned/ infamous for making movies with extremely heavy content: very hard spankings/ beatings, done with intense implements, causing real suffering and serious bruises and marks.

346pxalineetvalcour_t1p112Haze makes no bones about the fact that the actual “getting caned” part of making this video was very difficult and not at all pleasurable. But she also makes it clear that she found the experience extremely satisfying, and doesn’t regret it in the slightest. She found it professionally satisfying — Lupus’s production standards are apparently very high, and as a performer it was an artistic pleasure to be working with them. And she found it sexually satisfying — the caning itself was far from enjoyable, but the prelude and the aftermath were an intense erotic pleasure, and she was able to tap into some very dark fantasies of non-consent in a way that she hadn’t been able to before in a professional setting.

Spank_me_cane_mePertinent quote: “So yes, I knew there would be pain, and I knew I wouldn’t enjoy it. I wrote it off as a side-effect: a price I was willing to pay. In hindsight, I’m glad to say that my judgement on this was sound.”

I think the thing I like so much about this piece is that it makes the parallels between making spanking porn and doing any other kind of job vividly clear. And it makes the parallels between making spanking porn and being in any other kind of sexual relationship vividly clear as well.

LoveitSee, in any kind of job, and in any kind of relationship, there are things you like and things you don’t. Even if it’s a job or a relationship that you’re basically happy with, there are going to be parts that are hard to deal with. What makes a job or relationship a healthy one is that the good parts make the bad parts worth putting up with — and that you’re free to make that decision.

Hot_english_punishmentAnd that’s true for porn — all porn, not just spanking porn — as much as it is for any job. I think some people have a tendency to think that if every single thing on a porn shoot isn’t a perfect erotic dream for every performer, it’s therefore exploitation at best and coercion at worst. (Eros Blog, the blog where I found this piece, has an excellent analysis of this coercion/ exploitation question with porn in general and with Lupus Pictures in particular, in his piece Evil Porn Werewolf Enslavers Debunked.) But if you look at making porn as (a) a job and (b) a sexual relationship, you realize that porn doesn’t have to make all its performers perfectly happy in order to be a healthy job. It just has to make them happy enough. There has to be enough about it that they like, sexually and professionally, for the stuff they don’t like to be worth putting up with.

(Via Eros Blog, who got it via Spanking Blog. God, I love the Internets.)

Mighty Real: A Review of “9 Songs”

9_songs_1I was digging through my archives the other day, came across this, and was extremely entertained by it. I think I’m the only film critic on the face of the planet who actually sort of liked “9 Songs.” I may be the only sentient being on the face of the planet who actually sort of liked “9 Songs.” I think there are giant seven-eyed mollusks from the planet Zarquon who hated “9 Songs.” So I decided I should come clean about it and stand by my eccentric opinion. Here’s the review I wrote of it for Adult FriendFinder Magazine. Enjoy!

Mighty Real
Copyright 2005 Greta Christina. Written for Adult FriendFinder Magazine.

9 Songs. Directed by Michael Winterbottom. Written by Michael Winterbottom, Kieran O’Brien and Margo Stilley. Starring Kieran O’Brien and Margo Stilley. Unrated.

9_songs_7Before I say anything, let me get this out of the way: This is the movie where people have sex. If you’ve heard about “9 Songs,” this is almost certainly the Number One thing you’ve heard about it. The actors — not the characters, the actual actors playing the characters — have literal, explicit, non-simulated, actual real-life genital fucking-and-sucking sex. And rather a lot of it, too.

Now obviously, if I were talking about a porno movie, this would be so uninteresting as to be laughable. But for a non-porn, semi-mainstream art-house movie, it’s pretty much unheard of. And whatever buzz is being generated about the movie is being generated because of it. Which is kind of too bad. Because while the sex in “9 Songs” is pretty interesting, the fact that it’s “real sex” isn’t the most interesting thing about it.

So I wanted to get that out of the way right off. And in fact, the movie gets it out of the way almost as quickly, establishing its “real-sex” credentials in the very first scene between the two main characters — so you can get a good look at it, and get used to it, and move on.

9_songs_10See, here’s the interesting thing about “9 Songs.” It isn’t that the sex is “real,” or even that there’s so much of it. What’s interesting about “9 Songs” is the way the movie uses sex. Directed by Michael Winterbottom (“24 Hour Party People,” “Welcome to Sarajevo”), “9 Songs” uses sex to tell the story of a couple’s relationship (well, okay, sex interspersed with songs at live rock concerts). We find out about Matt and Lisa (Kieran O’Brien and Margo Stilley) and the rise and fall of their love affair, not through a series of conversations, but through a series of sex acts. The way they’re having sex — what they do, how they seem to feel about it, how it gets started, who takes the lead, how well they pay attention — this is how we find out about who these people are and what they’re like together.

9_songs_8And here’s what struck me. In most mainstream (i.e., non-porn) movies, when two characters have sex, it’s the very fact that they’re having sex that’s important. Typical movie sex shows people having sex for the first time; even when it’s not a first time, sex is almost always used as a plot point, a shocker or a turning point, a newly opened door or a burned bridge. Filmmakers don’t bother to show you anything special about the sex, don’t bother to make the style and the feel of the sex unique to those characters. The fact that they’re having sex is apparently special enough. The actual sex can just be generically hot movie sex, with perhaps a few broad strokes (rough or tender, quick or slow, loving or cold) to paint a marginally more specific picture.

9_songs_11But in “9 Songs,” the fact that Matt and Lisa are having sex is a given. They’re having sex from the very beginning of the movie, and by the second or third scene, the fact that they’re having sex is no more surprising than the fact that any two people in a relationship are having sex. So it’s the kind of sex they’re having, the tone and flavor of it, that becomes important.

For instance. There’s a scene where Matt ties Lisa up, blindfolds her, and begins guiding her through a fantasy, telling her “Forget where you are” and making up an erotic story for her to imagine and enjoy. But almost immediately she takes over the storytelling, picking it up and running with it in an entirely different direction, taking control away even as she’s bound and blindfolded.

For another instance. There’s a scene where Matt and Lisa go to a strip club together, apparently to enjoy this naughty thrill together as a couple. But as the scene unfolds, Lisa become increasingly entranced with the dancer, ignoring Matt entirely and even forgetting that he’s there — to the point that she doesn’t notice when he takes off and walks out the door.

9_songs_9There are many, many more instances. There’s a scene where Lisa is masturbating, with the door open and Matt in the next room; not in a friendly “showing off for my lover” way, not even in a feminist-empowered “my body, my right to masturbate” way, but in a defensive, closed-off, “fuck you I don’t care what you think or want” way (exacerbated by the fact that, as always, they’re at his house). There’s a scene where Matt asks if she thinks they’ll ever have sex without a condom, and Lisa says no: not because of safety, but because she likes it better with one. There are scenes near the end of the film where Lisa feels Matt slipping away and starts becoming more sexually attentive and affectionate. I could go on and on. The whole movie is like this, with the actors expressing subtle emotional shadings and character traits during sex scene after sex scene after sex scene.

9_songs_15And again, it struck me how rare that is, in both mainstream movies and porn. Mainstream actors spend years learning to express emotion and character in the way they walk, speak, smoke, eat, scratch their head, look in a mirror, everything. But sex is either supposed to come naturally, or it’s not considered important and unique enough to work on. And porn actors — even the ones who can act — spend so much time and energy trying to look hot that there’s nothing left for depicting the way their particular character would have hot sex. (I still remember how great Rocco Siffredi was in the arthouse movie “Romance” — until it came to the sex scenes, and he stopped being Paolo the character and just became Rocco the porn star.)

9_songs_16The fact that the sex is real isn’t entirely trivial, of course. You’d think it would work as a shocker, and it does a bit at first. Even I was staring at the actor’s genitals for the first few minutes, making sure I was really seeing what I thought I was seeing. But after a while, the realness of the sex has the exact opposite effect: it normalizes it. It presents sex as natural: one of the things people in love do together, and therefore interesting to look at and worth depicting as authentically as possible. (Director Michael Winterbottom himself has commented on this, pointing out that, “If you film actors eating a meal, the food is real.”) The scenes at the rock shows are given the same casually loving attention as the scenes in the bedroom, putting sex in the same category as music: an integral part of the characters’ lives, important but not separate. And while there’s no special attempt to show you the fucking and sucking in all its close-up glory the way porn movies do, there’s no special attempt to avoid the shot, either. It’s just normal, filmed like a normal aspect of love and coupledom, beautiful and moving and fucked-up and funny and sad.

ShortbusAnd of course, the fact that the sex is real puts “9 Songs” firmly on the line between porn and art. You know how non-porn movies have become more and more sexually daring (some of them, anyway), and how porn movies have become more artistically interesting and innovative (some of them, anyway)? You know how that line between the two has started to blur, the way it seemed like it was going to in the ’70s before everything went to hell and the two split off back into their own little worlds? Well “9 Songs” is trying to make that happen again. It’s more than just the latest salvo in the campaign, more than just the latest push of the envelope. “9 Songs” has plonked itself squarely on the fence between the two territories, sitting its big naked butt in the gateway and holding the gate open for anyone else who wants to come through. In either direction.

9_songs_4But does it work? Sure, it’s an important event in the history of cinema, blah blah blah. But is it a good movie? For the most part, I’d say yes. It’s very much a small movie — it’s not even a slice of life, it’s a sliver — driven less by plot and narrative than it is by feelings and images. You have to have patience with that sort of thing, with a quiet, meandering story that takes a while to establish itself and doesn’t really go very far. And the voiceovers during the Antarctic scenes (the movie is presented as a flashback, with Matt remembering the relationship while he studies glaciers) are pretentious to the point of teeth-gnashing madness. So you’ll have to have patience with that, too.

9_songs_2But if you can deal with this sort of small, quiet, occasionally pretentious arthouse movie, I think your patience will be rewarded. It’s perceptive and thoughtful about sex, about love, about relationships, about the places they do and don’t overlap. The sex is beautiful to watch, even when it’s sad, erotic and romantic in the way that your own sex life might be erotic and romantic. And if you’re at all interested in the way sex is (and is not) depicted in movies, then rush your butt out to the arthouse before it goes away. You absolutely cannot miss this one.