Walking into Henrietta Hudson feels like taking off a heavy backpack. It’s a humid June night in New York’s Greenwich Village, and inside the reggaeton-pulsing bar, a sparse crowd drinks beer and laughs. My shoulders instantly relax, and not just because I’ve escaped a spring downpour.
JEN MARTIN AND LIZ ALPERN lived in “that house.” Many queer friend groups have one. It’s the kind of place where a pot of soup is always boiling, where bread is always in the oven, where someone is always willing to read your tarot cards. Friends stopped to visit the Brooklyn apartment on weeknights. It was a space to cook and eat, to work and relax.
Read more at Atlas Obscura. Photo: Brooke Lark/Unsplash.
ON MAY 20, 1895, 16-YEAR-OLD Susie Johnson, wearing nothing but gauze and haloed by a flock of live canaries, burst through the crust of a giant pie. It was polo player John Ellliot Cowdin’s 10th wedding anniversary, and the dinner was lavish: 16 courses from clams to coffee, each punctuated by champagne. Two models entertained the male guests. There was a later rumor—likely apocryphal—that their hair color was coordinated with the wine, the brunettes pouring red, the blondes pouring white. Susie Johnson, dancing out of double-crust pastry, served herself.
Read more at Atlas Obscura. Photo: Hugo Aitken/Unsplash.
YOU! Yes, I mean you. You, who are seeing holiday engagement photos and getting teary thinking about what might have been. Watching kids ice-skating and remembering the names you had already picked out for your future children. Hearing jingle bells and thinking of her phone jingling with your text. Your fingers twitch toward the phone. Should I text my ex? you wonder. Just one message, you think. Just one casual, ‘hey, how-are-you… I miss you… please can we try one more time… how about my place tonight’ text. How bad could it be?
Babe, bad. You know it. I know it. Dua Lipa knows it.
The anxiety starts in my chest and then blooms, smothering my lungs and filling my belly: a guy has just asked me out. Oh no, I think, panicked. Am I interested? How do I turn him down?
I’m not a character in a preteen novel, with butterflies in her stomach because she’s never been asked on a date. It’s definitely not my first rodeo. I have, however, had bad experiences of being asked out by men who couldn’t take no for an answer — including one guy who harassed me online for two years after I declined a date with him. With 81 percent of women having experienced some kind of sexual harassment, I’m definitely not alone in this anxiety.
HAPPY 377 READ DOWN DAY, EVERYONE! In a rare piece of absolutely fabulous news, on Thursday, September 6, the Indian Supreme Court officially decriminalized homosexuality.
Technically, the Court “read down” Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code to exclude consensual sex. Implemented in 1860 under British official Thomas Macauley, Section 377 outlawed “carnal acts against the order of nature”—meaning any sexual activity that isn’t heterosexual, penetrative vaginal sex. For 158 years, the law has been used in India to harass, persecute, and imprison queer people, especially transgender and third gender people, and sex workers.
That is, until now! In a landmark decision, the Indian Supreme Court, in the form of a five-judge Constitution Bench, declared that it was unconstitutional for Section 377 to criminalize consensual sex between adults. The ruling does preserve the part of Section 377 criminalizing bestiality and sex with children. The Judges’ opinions touched upon the constitutional right to equality before the law, the fundamental right to autonomy and privacy, and the right of minorities to equal citizenship regardless of popular morality. Opening up the possibility of future rights guarantees for the LGBT community, Justice DY Chandrachud wrote in his opinion:
Members of the LGBT community are entitled, as all other citizens, to the full range of constitutional rights including the liberties protected by the Constitution. Members of the LGBT community are entitled to the benefit of an equal citizenship, without discrimination, and to the equal protection of law.
This decision comes as a result of over a decade of struggle by the queer community, feminists, and rights activists, reflecting the much longer legacy of feminist and queer struggle in India. It’s been a windy road. Section 377 was initially “read down,” or decriminalized, by the Delhi High Court in 2009. That decision prompted severe backlash from conservatives, notably from many members of the Hindu nationalist political establishment, including one politician who labeled homosexuality “illegal, immoral and against the ethos of Indian culture.”
In a major blow, a 2013 Supreme Court judgement reversed the 2009 Delhi High Court judgement, drawing on popular prejudice to once again render queer sex a crime. “While reading down Section 377, the division bench of the HC overlooked that a minuscule fraction of the country’s population constitute lesbians, gays, bi-sexuals or transgenders [sic],” the decision read. That “minuscule minority” responded with protests and a curative petition, or a petition seeking to return the case to the Supreme Court for review by a five-judge Constitution Bench.
The Supreme Court’s reading down of Section 377 is a beautiful, historic, vastly important moment for LGBT Indians. It also, hopefully, will set a precedent for future affirmations of the rights of minorities. One sentiment from the judgement in particular has come to the attention of rights activists: The judges cited a line from the ruling in the Supreme Court’s 2017 Right to Privacy case that reads, “The guarantee of constitutional rights does not depend upon their exercise being favourably regarded by majoritarian opinion.”
In the contemporary global political climate, it’s a desperately-needed reminder. Under the current Hindu nationalist government in India, mob lynching of minorities has increased, as members of the dominant population target mostly Muslim and Dalit (members of the most oppressed caste) people. Majoritarian morality or “tradition” have also been cited to limit women’s dignity and autonomy and persecute couples who marry across religion or caste, as in the 2017 Hadiya case, in which the right of an adult woman to choose her spouse was eventually affirmed by the Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, the “collective conscience,” or majoritarian morality, has long been cited by the Supreme Court itself to substantiate capital punishment, including in cases, like the 2013 hanging of Afzal Guru, that some rights activists still believe to be wrongly decided. As human rights lawyer Vrinda Grover wrote in response to the 2017 hanging of the men convicted of the 2012 Delhi Gang rape, which was condemned on principle by activists opposed to the death penalty, “If ‘collective conscience’ is invoked as a reasonable ground, how will communal attacks, fake encounters, public lynching of Dalits and now Muslims, all enjoying social endorsement, be held unlawful?”
For me—and many of the friends and activists I’m talking to—this point resonates most. Queer people, all queer people, are entitled to the right to life, dignity, and equality regardless of what the majoritarian morality thinks of us. That’s not because we’re special: that’s because all people—all people—are entitled to the right to life, dignity, and equality. Regardless of who we are, what we’ve done, where we come from. Regardless of how the majority feels. The point of rights—and the thing that makes both the Indian and the American Constitutions tools in the struggle for social and economic justice despite their many flaws—is that rights are not based on majority rule. They are inalienable. And they are for everyone.
Of course, there is always more to do. Hierarchies of class, caste, religion, and gender identity haunt the Indian LGBT community as they do communities worldwide. And the framework of privacy falls short when it comes to issues of economic justice and public space—what does the right to have sex in private do for the many queer Indians who live, and have sex, on the streets?
But right now, as joy and color fill the streets across India, it’s time to celebrate.
Read the original post on Feministing. Cover photo: Delhi Pride 2017, courtesy yours truly.
When trans women of color led the way in the Stonewall Riots of 1969, Pride was born. It was a movement against police harassment and to claim space for a marginalized community. By fighting back, members of New York City’s queer community signaled they would not be pushed into the shadows anymore.
The Stonewall Riots are part of a decades-long campaign for LGBTQ visibility, inspired by the belief that accepting and celebrating ourselves and our community — even when society won’t accept or celebrate us — is a radical act. The courage to come out transformed LGBTQ people’s status in society, and in the face of continued discrimination, it remains a powerful weapon to guard one of our most powerful resources: our mental health.
There’s a scene about birth control in the questionably feminist 2017 Hindi flick Lipstick Under My Burqa that stuck with me. Shireen, whose abusive husband rapes her and refuses to use condoms, goes to the gynecologist for another abortion. The gynecologist tells her she can’t keep having abortions and using the morning after pill, and the only other form of available birth control is the condom. Shireen, however, knows her husband won’t use them.
Hold up, I thought, sitting in the theater. What about the pill? After all, I get my pack easily available at my handy-dandy local Delhi pharmacy, prescription-free, for the grand total of 60 rupees (about 88 cents) a month. Easy, peasy, preventing pregnancy. Why wasn’t this fictional gynecologist suggesting that this lady who clearly needs a covert and independent form of birth control use the pill?
That wasn’t the first time I’d noticed a difference in the politics of contraception, and specifically the daily pill, in India versus in the United States. Compared to my friends at home, many if not most of whom are on the pill, none of my heterosexually-active women friends here uses the pill for birth control (more, in fact, use the morning after pill). I’ve had a lot of conversations about this, and friends pointed to many factors affecting our different attitudes toward hormonal contraceptives: mistrust for Western medicine, a mistrust for pharmaceutical companies, and lack of sex education in homes and schools (of course, far from an India-specific phenomenon). Friends also pointed to the role of state-sponsored family planning programs, exclusively geared toward married women and including sometimes-fatal forced sterilization, in sowing justified mistrust towards contraception programs as a potential act of state control. Finally, while we had these conversations among ourselves, there was a distinct lack of sexual and reproductive health resources on even our progressive university campus.
One new site is looking to change this. Called Chokhri, a Hindi word meaning “girl” (but in a pejorative, “woman of ill repute” kind of way), the site aims to create crowd-sourced maps of sexual assault, workplace sexual harassment, abortion access, and marital or intimate partner rape. While crowd-sourced maps of gendered violence aren’t new, Chokhri’s approach is important. First, the project includes a map of marital or intimate partner rape, which remains legal in India, and which is often overlooked in favor of sensationalized accounts of public sexual violence by lower-class and caste men against upper-class and caste women.
Second, the map of abortion access is useful in sparking a conversation about particularly young, unmarried women’s access to reproductive healthcare and contraception. In a social context where premarital sex is certainly common but remains quite taboo, discrimination and moral policing against sexually active unmarried women by gynecologists and other medical professionals is rampant. Meanwhile, there is a massive problem of sex-selective abortion against female fetuses, which contributes to a highly skewed sex ratio and the devaluing of girls’ lives. Yet access to abortion remains difficult particularly for poor and unmarried women. This is especially true considering that, while abortion by doctor’s recommendation to protect the health of a woman or in the case of rape is universally legal, elective abortion (abortion in case of contraceptive failure) is technically only legal for married women. While unmarried women can access elective abortion under-the-table even in reputed clinics, stigma and socioeconomic constraints mean that access remains an issue.
Chokhri’s demographic seems highly skewed toward young, English-speaking urban women, which definitely limits the scope of experiences it can represent. Yet the videos on its Twitter, featuring young women talking openly about sexual health, are great in a context where sexual health resources remain largely inaccessible even for privileged women.
Feminists: making everything harder for god-fearing gentlemen who feel entitled to get laid. We’ve come a long way from the good old days when men had a right to sex with their wives regardless of women’s opinion on the matter (marital rape was legal in the US until the 20th century). With the evil witch-hands of feminism continuing to reach into our bedrooms, we have to ask: will The Feminists now make us all sign a contract on an app before getting busy?
Well, dear reader, wait no more. The sex apps are here, and they’re intended to do just that. Since consent is now in vogue, app developers have done what app developers do best: found yet another way to technologize a basic aspect of human life and transfer it to a smartphone. Following #metoo, numerous outlets have reportedon the promised perks—and anticipated drawbacks—of apps that promise to streamline the process of consent.
I know what you’re thinking: yet another obnoxious imposition from feminazis intent on sterilizing all human passion and reducing dirty talk to legalese. (Side note, please stop comparing struggling for gender equality with literal genocide and fascism; it is not a good look). But you’re wrong! In reality, many feminists, including yours truly, think smartphone apps recording sexual consent are a terrible, awful, 100% horrible idea. That’s right, friends: feminists are not responsible for this affront to human sexuality and in fact, we are committed to making your sex life better.
Since I saw the specter of sexual consent apps evoked again and again during the social media flurry of #metoo, I think it’s important to address why, exactly, they’re a terrible idea. Here is a handy dandy list of reasons why apps that record sexual consent have the potential to do more harm than good.
1. Consent can be withdrawn at any time. Consent is an ongoing process of communication. Our boundaries and comfort levels can change throughout a relationship or encounter, and what we might have been down for a few hours or even few minutes ago can turn us off now. A lot of consent apps (like LegalFling) bill themselves as providing legal backup by recording the partners’ desires and intentions before sex, but saying yes to something at one point in time doesn’t mean you have to do it. And while some apps offer a “no” function, it’s an absurd idea that in a fraught sexual situation, the average person is actually going to pull a phone out, open the app, and record that in fact, they no longer want to suck dick.
2. Consent can be more complicated than a simple yes or no answer. Consent isn’t a simple yes and no; it’s a process with the aim of creating a relationship of respect for bodily autonomy. It can be as complicated as sex itself. By reducing sex to a contract (in some apps, literally) rather than a conversation, consent apps erase the ambiguity and nuance of human interaction and avoid the actual issues of power and communication which make sex so fraught, and so awesome.
3. Consent is not about liability. It’s about equality. While a lot of consent apps market themselves as helping partners articulate boundaries and ensure evidence in the event of sexual assault, being able to produce a contract that says someone consented honestly seems to offer potential protection for rapists. Because again, you can sign a contract detailing the sexual acts you want and don’t want to do, and then change your mind a couple minutes later – upon which point your partner has an obligation to stop. By making consent about liability, rather than mutuality and equality, consent apps promote the pretty shitty view that consent is something you need to practice to save your ass, rather than to respect basic humanity. Jaclyn Friedman was quoted taking down this idea in an article at Motherboard: “People think about consent in terms of ‘I need to cover my ass so no one can accuse me of rape.’ And honestly, when you’re approaching consent from that angle, that’s a really rapey angle.”
4. What kind of boring-ass sex do these developers think people are having that they’re actually going to stop and make a legal contract between every shift in activity? Seriously guys, advocating that sex be affirmatively consensual and that it promote a sense of mutual equality does not mean we are against spontaneity, passion, ambivalence, voracity, and all the weird human shit that makes sex so damn compelling. Stopping sex to check in, talk about what you’re feeling, pee, or because you’re bored and you’d rather watch Netflix is normal and important. Stopping sex because you want to ask your partner to sign a legal contract giving you permission to put your finger in their ass sounds pretty impractical and robotic. You could just ask.
5. For the love of god, can we stop letting tech corporations dictate literally every aspect of our lives?: Everything in life does not have to be mediated by a smartphone. From what you eat to where you go to your vaginal discharge, tech companies make wild dough off your data—and they know lots of weird shit about you that you probably wouldn’t want them (or the American government) to know. While several of these apps are made by non-profits, others come from for-profit companies—and concerns about the standardizing effects of technology apply in either case.
6. Promoting a standard of affirmative consent does not necessarily mean supporting increased criminalization or policing. These apps, through their emphasis on consent as a legal or evidentiary standard, definitely do. Case in point: The makers of the “What-About-No” app, part of the “We Consent” app suite, advertise it as a way for partners to clearly signal a no. But the feature is both impractical and comes with a highly creepy detail: the app uses a literal video of a police officer to communicate your “no.” As though corporate (and nonprofit) entities having access to your sexual data and mediating normal human interactions isn’t creepy enough, your “no” is literally communicated by the police state. Contrary to the allegations of random dudes online (or writing opinion columns), many of us who have a critique of patriarchal sex and wish to stop rape do not think the way to do that is to have police officers in people’s bedrooms.
7. This shit is hard. There’s no easy out. Consent apps are an easy out for what is in actuality an active, ongoing, lifelong process of learning to respect other people’s bodies and communicate boundaries of our own. This process is fraught, fun, complicated, weird, annoying and thrilling, like any other aspect of human life. It’s not a contract between two individuals. It’s a collective process of creating more egalitarian social norms which operates from our bedrooms to our classrooms to our movements.
I’m not a total technology Scrooge. I do think there’s a role for the smartphone in the bedroom (besides porn, obvi). Apps that are potentially useful in the bedroom don’t claim to make contracts, but start conversations. This can also be done with a good ‘ol fashioned worksheet, for example Scarleteen’s Yes, No, Maybe, which is a great tool for encouraging self-reflection and communication with a partner. The key difference here is an emphasis on facilitating communication, rather than recording proof.
So next time you’re tempted to go on a vitriolic Twitter rant about how feminists want you to sign a contract before fucking, remember: we don’t! Consent is about making sex more equal. It’s not about making sex a legalistic, cynical enterprise between two smartphone-wielding robots. There’s no Uber for sexual equality, and that’s a good thing.
The Christmas I was fourteen, my mom gave me and my sisters the best gift you can give to a bunch of teenage girls: A copy of Our Bodies, Ourselves. I was a budding feminist, an avid reader, and obviously super interested in sex, and so I spent days—months—years even, poring over that book and learning every detail. With chapters like “Lovemaking With a Woman” and “Masturbation,” what wasn’t there to love? The advice was real (and feminist!) and set me up for a lifetime of sexual happiness. (Note to all parents: If you want your children to grow into quality human beings with happy sex lives, get them this book!)
Of the many memorable passages and much-valued advice, one bit of Our Bodies, Ourselves’s sage wisdom particularly stuck with me—the neat fact that, in lieu of (or perhaps in addition to!) a dildo, a (washed, please!) cucumber could do the trick. And oh yes, I soon discovered, it could.
Our Bodies, Ourselves is not the only one to have made this discovery. Using the earth’s natural produce for sexy stimulation is a practice probably as old as humanity itself. And can you blame people? The phallic shape of crudités classics like the cucumber is all-too-suggestive. Plus it’s a two-for-one deal, since after one handy dandy trip to the produce market you can have sex for breakfast and a salad for lunch.