On the Necessity of Justice: Obama’s Decision to Not Prosecute Torturers

“Let’s not argue and bicker about who tortured who…”
-Monty Python and the Holy Grail, paraphrased

ObamaYou’ve probably heard that President Obama has decided not to proceed with prosecutions of CIA officials in the Bush administration who were responsible for torture. On the principle that “this is a time for reflection, not retribution.” On the principle that, “at a time of great challenges and disturbing disunity, nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past.”

This is the first time in the Obama administration that the President has made me deeply, blazingly angry. (Yes — way, way angrier than the Rick Warren debacle. That was essentially a symbolic act, and while I loathed its symbolism, I was willing to let it slide if Obama made it up with practical action.)

This is much worse. This is deeply serious. I need to say something about it.

* * *

I understand Obama’s desire to move forward; to look to the future and not the past; to unite the country and not divide it against itself.

But sometimes, in order to move forward, people need to know that justice has been done. In order to let go of the past, people need to know that the evils and injustices of that past have been addressed.

Geneva conventionsI understand that Obama is a practical man. Fine. From a purely practical standpoint: Why should other countries trust this administration to keep treaties and abide by international law, if it’s going to let something as egregious and purely evil as torture just slide? For that matter, why should the citizens of this country trust this administration to administer justice fairly, when we see that government officials can and do get away with crimes of this enormity?

And perhaps even more importantly: Why should current and future military/ intelligence people not torture, not give the order to torture, not come up with grotesquely laughable legal justifications for torture… if they know that if they do and if they get caught, nothing will happen? From a purely pragmatic standpoint, that is the whole freaking idea of accountability, the whole freaking idea of justice — to show people that if they do something terrible, there will be consequences. So they, you know, are less likely to do it. How much more pragmatic can you get?

And from a moral standpoint?

WaterboardingFrom a moral standpoint, this is completely indefensible. From a moral standpoint, this makes me want to throw up. From a moral standpoint, the idea that you should be able to do the vile, gruesome, flat-out evil things to other human beings that these people did — do I really need to spell them out again? — and then walk away scot-free, with no consequences but the torments of your own conscience… that is intolerable.

Nobody else gets a free pass from the concept of justice and the hand of the law, on the principle that we should just move forward and not spend our time and energy on retribution. If I get caught robbing a liquor store, no prosecutor is going to let me walk on the principle that we need to not get caught up in a divisive blame game and should instead just look to the future.

And when representatives of the democratically elected government of the most powerful country in the world commit one of the most vile, despicable, nauseating crimes imaginable — and do it in a conscious, orchestrated way — that’s a whole lot more frakking serious than me holding up a liquor store. The fact that these crimes were politically motivated and done on behalf of the government doesn’t make it less important that we prosecute. It makes it more important. Much, much, much more important.

There’s another word for what Obama is so dismissively calling “retribution” or “laying blame.” That word is “justice.”

JusticeAnd seeing justice done is not living in the past. It is moving forward. Emotionally, pragmatically, psychologically, morally — on every human level from the basest to the finest, seeing justice done is an absolutely essential component of being able to let go of past harms and move on.

We’re not talking about a quibble over whose turn it was to do the dishes, or a family quarrel over hosting Christmas dinner that’s still raging twenty years later. We’re talking about war crimes, some of the worst kind of war crimes imaginable — and we’re talking about war crimes that happened as recently as last year, and that went on for years. I do not want my country’s official position on that — the thing we are saying to the world and to ourselves about that — to be, “That was months ago. Why do you keep bringing up old stuff?”

Harm reductionI’m still not sorry I voted for Obama. I still ascribe to the harm reduction model of politics, and as angry as I am at Obama right now, I still think he’s a thousand times better than McCain would have been as President. (And it’s not like I think McCain would have been a mighty sword of justice against torturers in the Bush administration.)

But this is a big frakking deal. This isn’t just your basic “Well, I knew he was going to do some things that would tick me off, and he is the entire country’s President and not just mine, and he can’t make everybody happy” disagreement. This is a fundamental disagreement over a fundamental issue of political morality. And I hereby say that I do not accept it. I mostly like Obama, and have mostly been willing to cut him a fair amount of slack. But I hereby say that, on this issue, President Obama does not speak for me, and I reject his ideas with every fiber of my being.

I’ve written a fair amount about why I believe in the basic idea of government. As recently as two days ago, in fact. And one of the central themes in these writings has been that, in a democratic government, it is not only the right but the responsibility of citizens to speak out when their elected representatives represent us badly. When elected representatives make indefensible decisions that are likely to have appalling consequences, it is the right and the responsibility of citizens to say No.

So this is me, saying: No.

Obama is wrong. We need to bring torturers and war criminals to justice. And we need to start doing it now.

One Night Stand: A Review

Something from the archives today. This review was written for Alt.com. FYI: This piece includes references to my personal tastes in porn; family members and others who don’t want to read about that, please don’t read this piece.

One night stand coverReal dyke porno.

God, I love it.

Porn aficionados may know Fatale Video as one of the first producers of “by lesbians for lesbians” video porn (and of the groundbreaking “Bend Over Boyfriend”). They were making feminist indie porn in the ’80s and ’90s, way back before it was cool. (Conflict of interest alert: I worked for Fatale and its sister company On Our Backs, well over a decade and a half ago, and I performed in one of their videos.)

Lately, Fatale has taken to distributing adult lesbian videos from other filmmakers, making indie dyke porno available to a wider audience. And this business model is being put to excellent use with their latest release, One Night Stand (Pour Une Nuit). A queer/ dyke/ tranny-boi porno from France, One Night Stand is an intense, authentic, raunchy porno, with a kinky sensibility, an emphasis on immediacy and heat, and a gritty, arty, urban feel.

The look of One Night Stand is not slick — but it’s not amateurish, either. The grainy hand-held look gives it the raunchy, entertainingly dirty feel of an amateur porno shot in someone’s basement…. but it was filmed by someone who clearly gives a shit about filmmaking and knows their way around a camera. The lighting has a tough, urban look without being harsh or shadowy. And the shaky hand-held-ness is done expertly, always in the service of capturing the eroticism and energy of the scene.

One night stand still 2In other words, you get the best of both worlds. You get the authentic, passionate, in- your- face realism that’s so appealing about amateur porn… with the skill and artistry of professional work. In some ways, “One Night Stand” looks even grittier and shakier than a lot of amateur videos… what with it not having been shot by a single static camera stuck on a tripod. But it’s also striking and beautiful, with the strong, sensual impact of a real movie that most amateur pornos are missing.

(The rest of this review contains explicit adult material. If you’re under the legal age to read adult material in your area, do not click through to read the rest of the piece.)

[Read more...]

In Praise of Taxes

1040 formI realize that griping about taxes is an ancient tradition. Especially, in America, on or around April 15th. It’s an ancient tradition that, this year, has been formalized in the easily and endlessly mockable “teabagging” protests.

No, I’m not going to make cheap jokes about teabagging. Every single cheap joke that could be possibly be made about teabagging has been made on MSNBC in the last few days.

Today, instead, I want to buck this long-standing tradition.

Today, I want to speak in praise of taxes.

Look. I don’t passionately love paying taxes, either. (I’m especially cranky about it this year, since there was a miscommunication about my withholding and I had to write a big-ass check today.)

HighwayBut I drive on the highways that my taxes pay for. I hang out in the parks that my taxes pay for. I go to the libraries that my taxes pay for. I flush my toilet into the sewer pipes that my taxes pay for. When I set fire to my stove that one time, I called the fire department that my taxes paid for.

Inspection signAnd there are all the invisible things as well, the things our taxes pay for that we don’t notice until they disappear. There’s the rat hairs that I’m not eating, because my taxes are paying for health inspectors to see that the restaurants I eat at are clean and safe. There’s the filth that isn’t piling up in the streets, because my taxes are paying for street sweepers. There’s the tuberculosis that I don’t have, because my taxes are paying for public health officials to stem the resurgent tide of TB.

I take advantage of the things my taxes pay for. And I’m lucky enough to live in a society that is more or less democratic, where I have something that resembles a voice in how my taxes are spent. If I don’t like the way our taxes are being spent, I can vote out the people who decide how to spend them, and vote in people who’ll spend them the way I want them to.

So how, exactly, is paying taxes tyrannical, or unfair, or the hand of the government picking our pockets?

As I’ve written before: The basic idea of democratic government — what it ought to be, and what much of the time it is — is a society pooling some of its resources to provide itself with structures and services that make that society function smoothly and promote the common good. And it’s the structure a society uses to decide how those pooled resources should be used.

Screw you shirtTaxes are, quite literally, the pooling of these resources. To oppose paying taxes is to oppose the idea of society itself. It is to oppose the idea of pooling resources. It is to oppose the idea of working together for the common good… and to support, instead, a social philosophy of “Screw you, Jack, I’ve got mine.” You want to live in a world with no functioning government? Move to Somalia.

(Some people want government and taxes, and the services they provide, replaced with private enterprise and volunteerism. My problem with that is: Where’s the accountability? Where’s the process by which I can vote for how I want my fire extinguishing money spent… or can get rid of people who I think are spending it corruptly or stupidly? And besides, I don’t want my fires put out by people who are primarily concerned with making a profit, and are therefore doing cost-benefit analysis about whether my house fire is really worth extinguishing.)

Simpsons BearReflexive griping about taxes always reminds me of the Simpsons episode, the one where the bear gets into the streets of Springfield and the town goes nuts. They demand an elaborate, 24-hour bear patrol… but when they get their paychecks and see that they’re five dollars short because of the bear patrol tax, they’re outraged.

I think Americans are all too often exactly like that. We want the bear patrol, but we don’t want to pay for it. And all too often, like Mayor Quimby, our elected officials are all too willing to pander to us. Hardly any elected official will ever run for office in the U.S. on a platform of “I’m going to raise taxes, so we can pay for services we all want and need.”

It’s commonly assumed that this state of affairs is the natural order. Human nature. It’s taken as a given that of course nobody wants to pay taxes, that of course political hash will always be made out of griping about them. And in a Springfieldian, bear-patrol way, to some extent it’s true. Of course we would all love for there to be roads and parks, fire departments and sewers, clean streets and plague-free cities… all without anyone having to pay for it. Provided by benevolent elves, perhaps.

But I also think that this is a U.S. phenomenon as much as it is human nature. Look at European countries like, say, France. In France, this reflexive anti-tax sentiment just doesn’t play. I’m sure people gripe about taxes in France, too… but most people there seem to basically get that taxes are the price you pay for living in a society and providing the things that make a society function.

And I would like to start shifting the way Americans think about it, too.

I votedI think that those of us who care about government — who think that government is a salvageable idea and one that works more or less right at least a fair amount of the time, those of who think that as sucky as government often is it sure beats the alternative — need to speak up in praise and defense of taxes. On and around tax day, I’d like to see fewer gripes about the horribleness of taxes, and more commentary and news stories and blog posts and such about why the hell we pay them. On and around tax day, I’d like to see news outlets do a series on “the things your taxes are paying for.” I’d like to see people sporting “I Paid My Taxes” buttons on April 15th, the way we sport “I Voted” stickers on Election Day. I’d like to see April 15th get treated as a patriotic day, the way we treat the Fourth of July and Memorial Day.

We need to remind people — and ourselves — that, at least in a democracy, “paying taxes” basically just means “society working together to make all of our lives better.” It’s socially responsible. It’s patriotic. And it’s no more tyrannical than everyone on the softball team kicking in a few bucks for pizza.

You sometimes see cute little stories in the news, about how on such and such a day of the year, you’re no longer working for the government, and from now on for the rest of the year you’re working for yourself. It’s a story based on the concept that you pay about a fourth to a third of your income in taxes, and if you break that down by year instead of by paycheck, you’ll have paid off your year’s worth of taxes on such and such a day.

But it’s a story that I do not accept.

Because when I’m working to pay taxes, I am still working for myself.

And I’m working for everyone else in the society I live in.

What Women Want, and the Myth of the Psychic Lesbians

Please note: This piece includes some references to my personal sex life and sexual history. Family members and other who don’t want to read that, please don’t. This piece was originally published on the Blowfish Blog.

What women wantSo. “What women want.”

This New York Times article has been making the rounds. The one about scientific research on what women really want sexually. I wrote about it myself, focusing on the more sciency aspects of the article.

Today, I want to talk about something else.

I want to talk about the myth of lesbian sexual infallibility.

And I want to talk about the fundamental flaw inherent in the very question, “What do women want?”

The Times article got me thinking about this very pervasive myth about sexuality, one that I held myself for many years. (I hate those, don’t you? I always get more cranky about misconceptions that I once believed.)

The myth is this:

Secret girlfriendsLesbian sex is better than straight sex… because who knows better how to make love to a woman than another woman? Who knows a woman’s body better than another woman? Who knows what sex and arousal and orgasm feel like to a woman, better than another woman?

Okay. So. Can anybody tell me the flaw in this myth? You, there. Making out at the back of the class. What’s the flaw?

That’s right. Gold star for you. The flaw in this myth is:

Women are not identical.

Oddly enough, different women are, you know — different. We have different sexual responses, and we like different things in bed.

So being a woman does absolutely nothing to provide us with a magical golden key to the heart of female sexuality. There is no heart of female sexuality. There are only female sexualities. And they’re all really different.

NippleclampsExample. Back in my younger days, I occasionally had sex with guys who prided themselves on knowing women’s bodies… and in particular, on knowing how gently women liked to be touched. And I had to practically smack these guys across the nose with a rolled- up newspaper and scream, “Will you please just pinch my fucking nipples already? Harder. No, harder. No, really. Harder. Thank you. Sheesh.”

And this — incompetence? Cluelessness? No, that’s too harsh. Let’s call it temporary inexperience — doesn’t just apply to men. My own early fumbling sexual experiences with women were more than enough to demolish the myth of lesbian infallibility. The story of my first one- on- one sexual encounter with another woman would be depressing and pathetic if it weren’t so funny.

And it’d be depressing and pathetic if it didn’t have a happy ending: namely, the rest of my life, in which I’ve figured out a lot more about sex with women (and men, for that matter) than I knew in my early 20s. And in which I’ve gotten a lot more comfortable just asking my partners, “So, what do you like?”

Which is really the point here.

We aren’t born knowing how to have sex. Or at any rate, we aren’t born knowing how to have good sex. And we double certainly aren’t born knowing how to have good sex with this particular person, the one we’re having sex with right this minute.

Homosexuality in perspectiveNow, there is actually some evidence that lesbian and gay male couples may, on average, have more satisfying sex lives than opposite- sex couples. The Masters and Johnson study on sexual satisfaction in lesbian, gay, and straight couples (cited in the book “Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex”) is Exhibit A.

But if you look at that research, you’ll see that the reason for this pattern isn’t that lesbians have some sort of psychic insight into what other women like. (Or ditto for gay men.) In fact, it’s the exact opposite. The research showed that same-sex couples — of both genders — were more likely to take their time. They were more likely to pay close attention to their partner’s pleasure and sexual responses, and in fact to get their own arousal from it. They were more likely to lavish attention on their partner’s whole bodies, not just their genitals. And they were much more likely to talk easily, openly, and more often about what kinds of sexual activities they did and didn’t enjoy.

Whole lesbian sex bookIn other words: If lesbian sex really is better than straight sex, it’s not because lesbians “know what women want.” It’s because lesbians take the time to learn what their lovers, specifically, want. (Why that is, I don’t know. Harebrained speculation available on request.)

There are certainly some broad differences between female and male sexual responses. I wouldn’t deny that. Women tend, on average, to take more time getting aroused than men. Women tend, on average, to take more time reaching orgasm than men. Women tend, on average, to be less likely than men to come purely from penis- in- vagina intercourse. If you believe the study reported in the Times article, women tend, on average, to have a greater disparity than men between what arouses them physically and what arouses them mentally. Etc. Male and female sex organs are different — obviously — and even if there were no psychological/ emotional/ cultural issues in how women and men are taught to feel and behave around sex, those physical differences are still, well, going to make a difference. If you’re going to be a good lover — whether you’re having sex with women or men, whether you yourself are a woman or a man — a little Sexual Anatomy 101 should definitely be on the agenda.

Bell curvesBut these differences are generalizations. Tendencies on average. Overlapping bell curves. There are, for instance, some women who get aroused quickly. Who have no trouble coming. Who love to get fucked, and get off from it. Etc.

There is no universal “what women want.”

And in any case… women aren’t born knowing that stuff, any more than men are.

I think the myth of lesbian sexual infallibility tends to let straight men off the hook. It’s like, “How can I ever know what my lover/ wife likes in bed? I’ll never know how what sex feels like to her! I don’t even have a pussy! It’s hopeless!”

New View of a Womans BodyWell. Let’s see. You could try doing what I did when I was first having sex with women. You could read up on female sexual anatomy. You could read up on common patterns of female sexual arousal.

But if you really want to know what women want, I suggest you ask the one you’re in bed with.

Or the one you have bent over the kitchen table. Tied to the doorframe. Standing over you with a whip in her hand. On the floor with your face between her legs.

I’m not particular.

Why Do Queers Leave Religion?

Gay atheistSo why do queers leave religion?

Is it because religion has let us down? Is it because so much traditional religion is so grotesquely homophobic? Is it because priests molest children and the Catholic Church blames it on gays; because the Mormon Church spent millions to block same-sex marriage in California; because the evangelical Christian Right has used revulsion and fear of homosexuality to advance their political agenda?

Or is there, perhaps, another reason?

AdvocateThere was a recent article in The Advocate from out lesbian deacon Lisa Larges, arguing that LGBT people should not leave their religion and treat it as an enemy, but should instead stay in the churches and other religious organizations and fight for gay rights within them.

Much of what she writes I agree with (I certainly don’t object to the idea of fighting against homophobia in organized religion). And some of it I take issue with, but am willing to let slide for the purposes of this post.

But this has really stuck in my craw:

Let’s also say, while we’re still here in the first paragraph, that whatever the church or its representatives did to you — whatever abuse, whatever violation of trust, whatever was said to make you believe that you were not a child of God in your whole beautiful queer self, whatever the silence in which you did not hear how infinitely and immeasurably God loves you — whatever drove you out of the church is simply inexcusable.

Okay. Deep breath. Calm blue ocean, calm blue ocean.

Here is the problem.

Shaun the SheepI am sick unto death of non-believers being treated like sad lost sheep or wounded birds. I am sick unto death of my atheism being treated like an illness to be cured. I am sick unto death of my atheism being treated like a tragedy.

You want to know why I don’t believe that I am a child of God? You want to know why I don’t believe that God infinitely and immeasurably loves me? It’s not because I was abused or my trust was violated. It’s not because I was wounded or stunted by my religious upbringing (I didn’t have one). It’s not because so much traditional religion is so hateful and damaging to queers.

It’s because I don’t believe in God.

Period.

Theres probably no godAnd you know what? My atheism is not a source of weakness or sadness. In fact, it is a source of great strength and joy. I was able to leave religious belief when I became strong enough to stop hanging onto ideas simply because I found them comforting, even though they weren’t supported by any good evidence. I was able to leave religious belief when I was able to say that the joy of this life is enough, and that I don’t need to believe in an eternal after-life to find more than enough meaning and happiness in this ephemeral one. And being part of the growing atheist community has become one of the great joys of my life: a source of education, insight, friendship, mind- expansion, and just flat- out giggles.

MccBesides — it’s just not that hard to find queer- positive churches. A quick Google search on the phrase “gay churches” turns up over seven million hits, with two separate directories of gay- friendly churches coming up in the top three, and the MCC coming right behind that. Any LGBT believer with a computer who’s mad at their conservative church has access to these resources. It’s harder if they’re in Rural Nowhere, to be sure; but it’s just not that hard to figure out that you don’t have to hate queers to be Christian. If somebody really wants those options, they’ll find them… or at the very least, they’ll find that they exist.

The idea that people become atheists because they’re angry at God or religion is one of the most insidious myths that are held about us. (In fact, it’s Number 7 on my Eleven Myths About Atheists.) It’s the kind of thing that people like Rick Warren say about us. And it’s flatly untrue. Atheists — queer, straight, whatever — aren’t angry with God, any more than we’re angry with Zeus, unicorns, or the Tooth Fairy. We don’t believe in God. That’s the whole point of being an atheist. You can’t be angry with something that you don’t believe exists.

ScreamIt’s true that anger is sometimes a starting point for a journey out of religion. Like I said in my Eleven Myths piece: The realization that religious leaders were lying to them; the growing awareness that religion doesn’t deliver on what it promises; the sense that if an all- powerful God really existed he’d be a sadistic bastard… any or all of this can be the first crack in the foundation of religious belief. And it’s certainly true that LGBT people have more reasons than most to be royally pissed about religion. If anger about religion’s cruelties and hypocrisies is sometimes the first step to the understanding that the emperor has no clothes, it shouldn’t be surprising to find disproportionate numbers of queers in the Naked Emperor Brigade. (If indeed we are… which I’m not at all sure of.)

But people who leave religious belief don’t generally leave it because they’re angry. People who are angry with religion, but who still believe? They tend to look for a different religion. Anger may be the starting point for rejecting religion… but from my observation and experience, it is rarely the final straw. People don’t leave religion because they’re angry. They leave because they’ve become convinced that religion isn’t supported by any solid evidence, and doesn’t really make any sense. They leave because they no longer believe.

You want to know how the churches have failed us? They’ve failed to provide convincing evidence for God’s existence.

You want to know what the churches can do to bring us back? Come up with some better evidence, or some better arguments.

And in the meantime, please stop treating us like sad, wounded victims, who don’t understand that God loves us.

Similar posts:
Being an Atheist in the Queer Community
How To Be An Ally with Atheists

My Very First Orgy, and What I Learned There

Thomas_Rowlandson_(24)Please note: This piece, and the piece it links to, discusses my personal sex life and my sexual history in quite a bit of detail. Family members and others who don’t want to read that, please don’t.

I have a new piece up on the Blowfish Blog. It’s about the first time I ever went to an orgy; how it came about; and what I learned from the experience. The piece is called My Very First Orgy, and What I Learned There, and here’s the teaser:

There is nothing quite like walking into a dorm room with six naked people having sex together in a pile on the floor. Especially when one of them is your boyfriend. I had a brief moment of — well, “shock” is too strong a word, let’s call it “sudden adjustment” or “category error” — as the reality of the situation was rather crudely borne in on me. Then I decided, “What the fuck, this is what I’m here for,” hurriedly shucked my clothes, and joined in.

And I learned two very important life lessons: lessons that stay with me to this day.

To find out more about the pile of naked bodies on the floor and the important life lessons I learned there (no, really!), read the rest of the piece. Enjoy! (Oh, and if you decide to comment on this post in this blog, would you consider cross-posting your comment on the Blowfish Blog as well? They like comments there, too.)

On Having and Eating Cake: Rick Warren, the New Google World, and the Concept of the Apology

Rick warrenSo. As you may have already heard (I got it from about a hundred blogs, here it is on Pam’s House Blend), pastor Rick Warren, of Obama inauguration fiasco fame, whined in a recent interview with Larry King that he is being unfairly targeted as a hater of Teh Gays… and actually claimed in said interview that he never endorsed Prop 8 (the 2008 anti- same- sex ballot initiative in California), and never equated same-sex marriage with pedophilia or incest.

Liar, liar, pants on fire. Pam’s House Blend has the evidence and the links, as do about a hundred other blogs — I don’t feel a compelling need to repost them here.

So. Insert the obvious “Liar, liar, pants on fire” rant here. But that’s not actually what I want to talk about today. Here — in addition to “Liar, liar, pants on fire” — is what I want to say.

We no longer live in a world where you can say, “I never said that.”

GoogleWe just don’t. If you said it — on camera, on a radio show, in an interview with the press, in a letter to the editor, or heck, even in a blog comment — somebody will find it. We live in a searchable, Google-able world, and if you’ve ever said anything in an even remotely public setting — and you then try to deny that you said it — somebody will be able to find it, and call you on it. (I occasionally worry about this myself vis a vis my dreams of being a Famous Writer, as I don’t always watch my snark on places like Pharyngula… but oh well. Whaddya gonna do.)

So if you’re trying to backpedal from something you said that’s alienating people, “I never said that” is simply not an option.

Therefore, I would like to advise Rick Warren, and for that matter anyone in the public eye, to familiarize themselves with the concept of the “apology.”

SorryAn “apology,” according to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, is “an admission of error or discourtesy accompanied by an expression of regret.” It’s what you say when you’ve said something wrong or hurtful, and you don’t people to be ticked off at you about it. Or, in extreme cases, when you actually feel bad about what you said/did and want to express that.

The best form of apology, of course, and the one we would like to see from Rick Warren, is the genuine one. “I’m sorry that I hurt people. I said/did those things, and I’m sorry I said/did them. I was mistaken, I’ve been educated on this topic, I now understand better, and I’ve since changed my mind.”

But if that’s not feasible for whatever reason, the half-assed non-apology is always an option. The “I’m sorry people were upset by this” apology. The “I haven’t changed my mind and am not willing to admit I was wrong, but I don’t like the fact that everyone’s mad at me, and since I know I’m a nice person and yet everyone’s still mad at me they all must have misunderstood my intentions, and so I’m going to apologize because my publicist tells me I have to” apology.

BullshirtAnd Warren hasn’t even managed to do that. He’s still — in this instant- information, no-hiding New Google World — trying to get away with “I never said that.”

So here’s what I think.

If Warren were really trying to shift the public perception of him as a bigoted, homophobic schmuck, pretending he never said those things is not going to fly. Apologizing for them is the only way to go. And he has to know that. He’s not a complete moron. A partial moron, yes, but not a complete one. And whatever else you say about the guy, you can’t accuse him of not being media-savvy.

So I don’t think he is trying to shift public perception of him as a homophobic bigot.

Two wayI think he’s trying to have it both ways. He’s trying to suck up to the rabidly homophobic extreme Christian right, which is his base — while still trying to stay in the good graces of more mainstream Americans, who have somewhat more tolerant attitudes towards gays and lesbians than the extreme Christian right, and whose attitudes are becoming more LGBT- friendly every year… and who are the ones buying his books in droves.

If he were serious about mending the rift with LGBTs and our friends and families, he’d have issued an apology. At least a half-assed non-apology. At least for the “pedophilia and incest” remark. But he’s not. He’s trying to get away with “I didn’t really say that”… which conveniently evades responsibility for saying whether he really thinks it. (At least, it would if it still worked.)

So since he hasn’t apologized — even half-assedly — I can only assume that he is perfectly happy to let his hardcore extreme right-wing base go on thinking of him as a hater like them, while trying to come across to Middle America as a nice guy who love Teh Gays but just doesn’t think we should re-define marriage away from the biblical definition of one man, six hundred women one woman. Or at least, trying to plant sufficient doubts in Middle America’s mind about it.

I’m just saying, is all.

Call for Adult Fiction Submissions: Fishnet

Fishnet_stockingsI have a new gig! Starting pretty much now, I am the new editor of Fishnet, the online erotic fiction magazine of Blowfish. I’m also the old editor of Fishnet — I was actually the nagazine’s first editor, way back in the mists of time when dinosaurs ruled the earth — and I’m thrilled to be back in the saddle.

So if you’re a writer of erotic fiction, please read over this call to submissions, and send me your work! And if you’re not a writer of erotic fiction but you know people who are, please feel free to post this call for submissions and pass it along. This is an open call for submissions, and I’m happy for it to be sent and posted anywhere that it’s legal.

A quick note to my blog readers: Due to this gig and its demands on my time, I may be blogging slightly less often than I used to. More likely, I’ll be pulling a bit more stuff out of the archive than usual. But not to worry — I’m still passionately devoted to this blog, and will still be here almost every day with wisdom and rants about atheism, sex, politics, dreams, and whatever. And you’ll be getting my picks of erotic fiction… so on the days that I’m not here, that should help give you the strength to carry on. :-) (And yes, I will occasionally be publishing my own work there.)

LogoFISHNET MAGAZINE:
CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS FOR EROTIC FICTION

Fishnet, the online erotic fiction magazine of Blowfish, is seeking submissions. We are looking for adult fiction that is both literate and hot: fiction that explores the human experience of sexuality, while at the same time working as fun and exciting stroke material. We want hot fiction that goes beyond a mere sex scene — give us a good story, get us inside the skin of your protagonists and show us what they find exciting about the sex they’re having. Good writing is important, as is originality. Tender or melancholy stories are fine, but we’re also not afraid of stories that push boundaries, that blur the lines of gender, propriety or even consent. Challenge our assumptions, but make our toes curl while you do it.

Payment: Fishnet pays 5 cents per word, paid on acceptance. We will need your real name, address, and a US social security number (if you have one) before we can pay you. We are happy to run pieces under pseudonyms, if you prefer.

Rights: We take first perpetual web rights, exclusive for 6 months; a non-exclusive print anthology reprint right; and non-exclusive, perpetual audio performance rights (i.e., we can podcast it). The author retains copyright and all other rights.

Length: We are ideally looking for pieces longer than 1000 words and shorter than 4,000. Shorter and longer pieces will be considered, but are less likely to be accepted. Absolute upper limit: 6,000 words. (Long pieces may be split and published in two parts.)

(Addendum on length: Please note: We can only publish a handful of longer stories, and are much more likely to say “Yes” to pieces that are 2,500 words or less.)

Content: We are open to stories about any and all genders, activities, and sexual orientations. Stories about non-consent are acceptable, but will be prefaced as such. We cannot accept stories about explicitly underage characters.

Reprints: We are strongly focused on original material. We will consider reprints if they are exceptional. Reprints will be paid less than original work.

Submission method: Send submissions and inquiries to [email protected] Please send submissions by email, as text in the body of the email — no attachments, please, they will be rejected unread. Please include a short bio (100 words or less) with your submission. Bios may include a link to your blog or website. Please include Fiction Sub: (STORY TITLE) in the subject line, replacing (STORY TITLE) with the title of your story. Please also make sure that your submission does not contain “curly quotes” or other special characters. Please mark paragraph breaks with double line breaks, not with tabs.

Please also send a short cover letter that mentions the word count of the story enclosed and a couple of any relevant fiction sales (we also welcome first-time authors). We encourage you to send the cover letter as a separate email in case our spam filter catches the story by mistake; if we get just the cover letter, we know something happened and can contact you to fix it.

Multiple submissions: Please, no more than three submissions per author at one time. Multiple submissions should each be sent in a separate email.

If you have questions or want to submit work, please email [email protected] We look forward to seeing your work.

Blinded With Science: Sex, Sexology, and What Women Really Want

This piece was originally published on the Blowfish Blog.

So why do people do the sexual things they do?

And more to the point: If you have a theory about why people do the sexual things they do, how would you prove it?

EyeThere’s an article in the New York Times that’s been making the rounds, a piece about current sexology research and what it says about female desire. The bit that’s getting the most attention is the research by psychology professor Meredith Chivers on different types of visual erotic stimulation (images of men and women doing it, images of two men doing it, images of two women doing it, images of solo men, solo women, monkeys, etc.), and which types aroused men compared to women. And what this says about male versus female sexuality. And what that says about how our sexualities evolved.

The data everyone’s talking about, though, isn’t so much about what kinds of dirty pictures women and men like to look at. (Although that is interesting and pertinent: if the research is correct, men tend to be aroused by a fairly narrow band of imagery that clearly correlates with their sexual orientation, while women tend to be aroused by imagery that’s all over the map.) What’s getting the attention is the stuff about how hard it is determine which images women are aroused by… because women’s self- reported mental responses, and their involuntary genital responses, don’t match up.

At all.

Hm.

Now. Chivers’ conclusion is that women are physically aroused by a broader range of visual stimuli because, due to evolutionary pressure, it behooves women to be physically ready for sex they don’t want. To put it more bluntly: Women get raped. If women are physically aroused by a broad range of visual stimuli, we will be physically ready for sex even if we don’t want it, and are thus less likely to be injured during rape. Thus increasing our chances of survival.

Um…

Okay. That’s the preface. Here’s what I want to talk about.

Ape_and_Human_Evolution_TreeI want to talk about how difficult it is to draw useful conclusions about the evolutionary reasons behind any behavior. But especially sexual behavior, and behavior related to gender differences… since both sexual behavior and gender roles have heavy cultural baggage, and are the subject of intense social pressure, both conscious and unconscious, pretty much from birth.

So here’s my argument.

Is Chivers’ explanation plausible?

Sure.

And I’ve spent the last twenty minutes or so coming up with a whole passel of explanations that are also plausible.

Angolo_visuale_convenzionaleWhy are women stimulated by a broader range of visual stimuli than men?

It could be that women’s sexuality is more bound up with emotional attachment than men’s… and emotional attachment is more complex than simple lust, with a wider range of potential objects.

It could be that women live in a culture steeped in imagery of sexual women, a culture where women are constantly presented as objects of sexual desire, and thus even straight women learn to see other women that way.

It could be that women’s sexual desire is less gender- specific than men’s. (There’s some other data in the Times article backing up this theory.)

It could be that women are less aroused by visual erotic stimulation than other forms (such as verbal), and that showing women visual images isn’t the best way to figure out what we’re aroused by.

And it could be that women’s sexual desire is more complex and multi-factorial than men’s in many ways, with a less specific and more sweeping scope.

Central_nervous_systemAnd why is women’s self- reported mental arousal less likely than men’s to match our measured genital arousal?

It could be that women are taught from birth to be disconnected from our bodies and our sexuality, so we don’t find it as easy to identify our genital sexual responses.

It could be that women are taught from birth that being sexual is dirty and bad, and so aren’t as comfortable speaking frankly about it as men. In other words, women don’t want to admit what it is that’s turning them on. (Even to themselves. See above.)

It could be that male physical arousal is easier to notice — what with the boner and all — and thus men are more likely to define “arousal” as “genital arousal,” and to self- report it as such.

It could be because of Chivers’ “surviving rape” explanation.

And it could be, again, that women’s sexuality is more complex and multi-factorial than men’s, with a stronger “purely mental” component.

To be very clear: I’m not actually advocating any of these positions. I’m coming up with them to make a point. That point:

I could do this all day.

And I’m not sure how you would test any of these theories.

Just_So_StoriesSee, here’s the thing. As evolutionary biologist PZ Myers points out, there are enormous problems with these sorts of evolutionary “just-so stories.” They’re very easy to come up with (fun, too!), but they’re very difficult to test. You have to somehow screen out cultural influence (was the study done cross- culturally, or just in North America?). You have to screen out historical influence (if X behavior pattern is universal now, how do we know it was universal a thousand years ago, or thirty thousand?). And you have to screen out behaviors that are inborn from behaviors that are learned. As Chivers herself acknowledges, “The horrible reality of psychological research is that you can’t pull apart the cultural from the biological.”

And as any good skeptic knows: If a theory isn’t testable or falsifiable, it’s worthless. Whether it’s a belief in God, or a conspiracy theory, or a simple theory about the evolutionary forces driving the development of certain sexual responses… if there’s no possible data that could prove your theory incorrect, or no way to acquire further data either supporting or contradicting your theory, then your theory is useless. It has no power to explain the past or predict the future. It’s pointless. It’s not even wrong.

Rorschach_blot_06It’s easy to come up with possible explanations for behavior. Especially when it comes to sex. It’s almost like a Rorschach test: in the absence of a truly excellent set of supporting data, the theories people come up with to explain sex tells you more about the theorizers than they do about the theories.

It’s a lot harder to come up with theories that are really supported by all the evidence; theories that explain and predict evidence that can’t be explained or predicted any other way; theories that are more than just examples of the human brain’s amazing ability to come up with explanations for stuff.

By all means, we need to be doing careful scientific research into human sexuality. I wouldn’t in a million years suggest otherwise. We just need to be very cautious, very rigorous, and very slow, about coming to conclusions about what that research means.

These ideas were developed in a comment thread on Pharyngula.