Friday, June 30, 2017

Not All Rape Requires a Rapist

I was just thinking about the boundaries between rape and consensual sex, and the areas where the distinction is unclear. And I realised that I support a more broad definition of 'rape victim', and a more narrow definition of 'rapist', which means that I believe someone can be raped by someone who is not a rapist. (I'm still not sure what to call the person who does this act.)

Essentially, I define a rape victim as someone who had sex that they did not want, and that felt emotionally damaging and/or violating to them. Whereas, a rapist is someone who knowingly had sex with someone who, as far as they could tell, did not consent, could not consent, or when the rapist felt uncertain whether or not they consented.

Examples of situations I'd consider rape without necessarily having a rapist involved:

Someone who believes they have no right to refuse sex acquiescing to sex that they don't want because they see no other option. (Examples include asexuals or gays and lesbians having sex with a partner they're not attracted to because they don't see non-heterosexuality as an option, or CSA survivors who've learnt that their 'no' isn't listened to so they don't bother anymore.)

Someone who feels that sex is required for practical purposes, despite strongly not wanting sex. (For example, having sex in order to have a place to stay and someone to support you, or having sex with your partner to disguise a pregnancy caused by cheating.)

Being forced into unwanted actions that you consider sexual by a person who doesn't see those acts as sexual. (For example, being forced into an activity that triggers a fetish of yours that the other person is unaware of, intersex children being forced to have genital exams and/or genital procedures, or children in behavioural therapy programs being undressed against their will.) Note, in many cases this involves morally problematic behaviour by the perpetrator, but since the intent was not sexual, they're not a rapist. (Conversely, if you are tricked or coerced into an unwanted act that the perpetrator sees as sexual and you don't, they are a rapist. For example an omorashi fetishist interfering with someone's access to the toilet is rape, even if the victim is unaware that this was sexually motivated.)

Being unable to consent due to a neurological, chemical or psychiatric condition that the other person is unaware of. (For example, being too drunk or high to consent, being in the middle of a manic episode, having a complex partial seizure, sexual impulsivity due to a brain tumor, having a metabolic issue such as hypoglycemia, etc, and the other person is unaware of your condition or how it affects your ability to consent.)

Engaging in BDSM or role-play without agreeing on a safe word first because both parties are inexperienced, and the top not being able to tell the difference between role-playing and genuine nonconsent.

Interestingly, this also means that in certain situations, it's possible for both parties to have been raped unintentionally by the same sex act. For example, two sex-repulsed asexuals in a romantic relationship with each other, who don't see non-sexual romantic relationships as an option and don't know that their partner feels the same way they do about sex, might decide to have sex that neither party wants and both feel violated by. Or two people who were both drunk or high might have sex that neither would want if they were sober.

I think drawing this distinction is a good thing for many people. It means that people who need help for unwanted sexual experiences can feel free to sex out help intended for rape victims, without worrying about whether or not the other party was a rapist. It could also help people who aren't ready to admit that their rapist was a rapist, but are ready to admit that the sex hurt them. And it can help us look at how to reduce the risk of accidental unwanted sex, without necessarily stigmatising the people who engage in sex unaware that their partner doesn't want it.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Fetishization, Attraction to Personal Characteristics, and Privilege

The idea of someone having a specific attraction to people of a certain ethnicity, disabled people, transgender, intersex or nonbinary people, or people of a certain weight tends to be controversial, with many people describing it as wrong.

However, there is one type of person-specific attraction that is widely accepted, and generally seen as normal - gender-specific attraction. So, what makes it different? Is it just that monosexuality is the majority?

Criticism of person-oriented fetishes tends to focus on people who are not part of the group they're attracted to, but rather a more privileged group, and tends to focus on the following beliefs about fetishists:

Well, I can tell you with confidence that there are heterosexual men who fit every one of these traits with regards to their approach to women. And yet, misogynistic straight men aren't generally used to argue that women should only date men if they're multisexual. (And of course, bi/pan/etc men can be misogynistic too.) Nor have I heard many people claim that a man being heterosexual instead of bisexual is inherently misogynist.

Just as there are straight men who objectify and stereotype women and straight men who treat women with respect, people with attractions dependent on other personal characteristics can have the same range of attitudes towards the people they're attracted to. Any time you have a relationship between partners who have different degrees of privilege afforded them by society, the more privileged partner could wind up using their privilege in ways that hurt their partner. It's not limited to those who have selective attractions.

It's also important to note that person-directed 'fetishes' can easily be accompanied by romantic attraction - and that this doesn't necessarily matter that much to whether the person's pursuit of their attraction target is likely to be hurtful or respectful. Most misogynistic straight men are both romantically and sexually attracted to women, and indeed many of the hurtful expressions of misogyny in romantic/sexual relationships are more linked to romantic than sexual attraction. (Stalking, jealousy, violence in response to possible break-up, double standards and isolating the partner from other relationships are all examples of romantically-coded harmful acts that are frequently related to misogyny.) Meanwhile, aromantic allosexual people can be respectful to their sexual partners, using clear boundaries and honest discussion of feelings to avoid implying a different kind of relationship than what they are truly seeking. And there is nothing wrong with having sex outside of a romantic relationship, whether with a stranger, an acquaintance, or a friend.

So the problems with person-directed fetishes aren't due to the fetish. They're due to racism, ableism, transphobia, fatphobia, and other types of discrimination. Prejudice doesn't cause person-directed fetishes, and having and acting on a person-directed fetish doesn't necessarily mean you're prejudiced. But if you're attracted to people with less privilege in some area than you have, you owe it to your potential partners to unpack your privilege and educate yourself about the discrimination that they face.

Unfortunately, fetishes are stigmatized, even if there's nothing inherently harmful about them. And like anyone else, some people who are targets of person-directed fetishes will be prejudiced against fetishists. In addition, having close ties of any kind to a stigmatized group can result in some of the stigma falling on you (eg "nigger lovers"). And many person-directed fetishes are aimed at people that society generally tends to see as unattractive or undesirable partners, which means that their partners are likely to be seen as lower status simply because they chose a stigmatized partner. ("Couldn't get a good one.")

Friday, June 16, 2017

Better or Worse?

Most people have probably heard of the It Gets Better project, designed to give hope to LGBT youth by telling them that 'it gets better'. And for many, this is true. LGB adults have more freedom to seek romantic partners regardless of gender, and are less likely to depend on homophobic people for their safety and survival. And transgender adults are more likely to be able to access medical transition tools, as well as less likely to depend on transphobic people.

But the same is not true for aromantic and/or asexual people. For these people, it frequently gets worse as we get older.

In our teens, we're often seen as just a 'late bloomer' or 'not ready yet' - even if we try to come out. It's frustrating and hurtful to get dismissed when you try to say something important about your identity, but at least we're not likely to get attacked or kicked out unless we're perceived as also being LGB or trans. Acting aro/ace in adolescence often looks like you're 'saving yourself for marriage' or just immature, both of which are generally accepted ways for teens to act, especially by adults.

But when aros and aces reach adulthood, we start to look more unusual, and get more prejudice.

In my experience, as I got visibly more adult in appearance, straight cis guys have gotten pushier about their romantic/sexual advances. Many guys who wouldn't dream of trying to pressure a teenage girl into something sexual or romantic are quite willing to pressure a woman in her twenties. All female-presenting people get this to a certain extent, but aro/ace women are seen as having less of an 'excuse' - we're not taken, and we're not gay. From what I've heard, this is especially true for aro/ace women of color, who are often dealing with racist fetishization and stereotypes of sexual permissiveness in addition to misogyny and aphobia.

For male-presenting aros and aces, the pressure often comes from other men, who see being a single man or especially a male virgin as shameful and a sign of incompetence and unmanliness.

Aces in relationships are faced with the most pressure to have sex. Sexual incompatibility is a valid reason for a relationship to fail, but societal pressure makes it harder for new partners to discuss sexual compatibility, and leads many aces to try to pressure themselves into being more sexually available to their partners. Allo partners may feel inadequate for not being able to make their partner attracted to them, or may become hostile because they feel like their partner has betrayed or tricked them by dating while asexual, especially if they didn't initially understand their feelings around sex. One of the common contexts for asexual corrective rape is being raped by a romantic partner, especially for female-presenting aces involved with men.

Aros who want strong platonic bonds find such bonds becoming less and less available as they get older. Preteen girls often pledge to be 'best friends forever', and from what I understand boys are less demonstrative but still very close to their 'bros'. In adolescence, many alloro teens maintain a balance between platonic and romantic bonds, and if they abandon their friends for their romantic partners, it's expected that their friends will feel hurt about this. But in adulthood, strong platonic bonds are considered less important, and friends start to drift apart, leaving romantic bonds as the primary bonds in most adults' lives. Aromantic adults often find themselves alone and lonely, with few or no close bonds of any kind - especially if they don't have good familial support.

So for aros and aces, it doesn't get better. Very often, it gets worse instead.

Friday, June 09, 2017

Gender/Sex Preferences in Sexual Attraction: What Are They Based On, And What Does This Mean For Attraction to Trans, Non-binary and Intersex People?

OK, so many people have a sexual preference for people of a particular gender and/or sex. And the extent to which this depends on the target's gender as opposed to physical sex characteristics is controversial and often tied to transphobia.

But here, I'm just going to talk about the objective experience of sexual attraction that is influenced by gender and/or sex related characteristics, and how that could work. When someone is attracted, for example, to cisgender women but not cisgender men, on which features does this attraction depend on?

Let's talk firstly about primary sexual attraction. This is sexual attraction you feel instantly upon seeing someone, before you know anything about them apart from what's readily visible. And one thing that's pretty clear is that in the vast majority of people, genitals are not going to be visible. If your attraction to people depends entirely on them having a penis, for example, you're only going to feel sexual attraction to people you've seen naked. And that's clearly not the typical experience. So what can you generally see instantly, when someone is clothed, that will give clues as to their gender and/or sex?

Two things - secondary sexual characteristics, and gender expression.

I know for a fact that secondary sexual characteristics are a big part of many people's sexual preferences. My brother and father have both indicated that they're very attuned to the differences between the typical postpubertal male and female bodies, and prefer bodies with postpubertal female characteristics such as rounded hips, larger softer butts, and breast growth. Many women I know, meanwhile, describe a preference for bodies with a moderately high amount of upper body musculature and broad shoulders. If we look at gay and lesbian people, many echo similar preferences to those shown by straight people of the opposite gender.

For most people whose attractions are primarily dependent on secondary sexual characteristics, chances are that they will be attracted to people primarily based on their current and past sex hormone profile. They will be most likely to be attracted to people who have only been exposed to the hormones of their preferred sex, such as cisgender people, intersex people who produce only those hormones, transgender people who started medical transition prior to puberty using those hormones, and transgender people whose bodies naturally produced those hormones and who have not received treatment to interfere with or reverse those effects. To a lesser extent, they may also be attracted to people who have been affected by both sets of hormones, and people who have used surgery to alter features affected by pubertal hormones, largely based on the extent to which they approach the features of those who have only been affected by the person's preferred set of hormones.

Theoretically, there could also be people whose attraction is based on secondary sexual characteristics but with a preference for characteristics not typical of cisgender people, for example preferring people with low voices and breast development. Such preferences may underly some individuals who are preferentially attracted to transgender and intersex people.

Note that individuals attracted to people based on secondary sexual characteristics aren't simply going to be attracted to trans people based on gender identity or assigned sex. Instead, their attraction will depend on which of those factors is a stronger influence on the person's secondary sexual characteristics at the moment. If this changes over time - as in the case of a post-pubertal individual beginning to medically transition - their potential for attraction to this person might also change.

The other gender-related dimension that is readily visible is gender expression. I know for a fact that there are people who are attracted to masculine or feminine presentation regardless of the individual's gender, sex, or secondary sexual characteristics. So, for example, a person may be attracted to people with long hair, people who like to wear dresses or other traditionally feminine clothes, or people with feminine mannerisms and/or vocal patterns. Or to short hair, traditionally masculine clothes, or masculine mannerisms and/or vocal patterns.

In terms of identity, a person attracted to people on the basis of gender expression will most likely be attracted to gender-conforming cis or trans people of the gender associated with that expression, nonbinary people who present in that manner, and gender-nonconforming people of the gender not associated with that expression. So, for example, they might be attracted to masculine cis men, masculine trans men, masculine nonbinary people and masculine women (cis or trans).

My Gender

OK, so this is going to be kind of rambling and confusing, but I just wound up chatting with an agender person recently, and it's gotten me to thinking.

I described myself to them as 'mostly cisgender', and I think that's probably the most accurate. And maybe this is why I feel so drawn to trans and especially non-binary experiences, despite not technically being part of that group.

OK, so first, I've realized I probably am a little bit genderfluid. There are times when I feel like a woman, in a positive sense, and times when I just feel like I'm not not a woman. There are even a few times where I feel vague hints of other genders. This happens when I'm identifying with a character.

Identifying with a character happens sometimes when I'm inspired for one of my own stories, or got really into someone else's story, and I end up taking on features of that character. I get their personality traits, mannerisms, sometimes I feel like my body looks more like theirs than it really does. Sometimes this includes gender, if they're not female. Obviously, most of the non-female characters I've identified with are male, but there's been a few nonbinary ones too.

Some random examples of characters I've identified with and traits I drew from them:

  • crochety old woman from a book I can't remember the title of, who was cranky and quarrelsome and miserable her whole life and then died just as she was fetching someone a glass of water - I ended up snapping at my parents over supper right after reading that book, because I felt crochety
  • Mitchell from Being Human - I got his mannerisms, a faint sense of being male, and I kept expecting to see myself wearing fingerless gloves when my hands were bare
  • Szthrar'kek, my illithid psion from D&D - I felt predatory, detached in an amused kind of way, genderless, powerful, and affectionate in a casual ownership kind of way
  • Vulcan woman lost on earth in a mental fanfic I never wrote down - I felt like I had pointy ears, and like people were really strange and didn't make sense to me
  • Lydia, a pregnant autistic woman from a story I'm writing - I felt like my sensory issues were more acute, like I wanted to pass as NT, and like I was pregnant (which felt really weird and wrong when I was actually menstruating)
  • brain-eating emotion-eater villain guy from the backstory to one of my stories - I felt arrogant, predatory, witty, and like I had everything under control, and a little bit male
These are not the only ones by a long shot. Aside from channelling random characters...

She/her pronouns feel the most right. They/them doesn't bother me, but feels imprecise. He/him feels wrong. I haven't been called by any other pronouns, and I've only gotten they/them and he/him online.

Mrs, Miss and Ms all feel wrong, and Mr even worse. I would most like to have no title or Dr, although I haven't technically earned my Dr yet. Mx might also work, but it feels a bit weird because it's new to me, and part of me feels like people will assume I'm non-binary, which I don't think I am.

I tend to call myself 'person' more often than 'girl' or 'woman' (as seen in my about section), because I feel like my gender is not a very big part of who I am, but calling me a girl or woman doesn't feel wrong. Calling me by any other gender would definitely feel wrong.

The times when I've felt most alienated by femaleness is when people have paired it with being straight, NT, and/or feminine.

Recently, I had to pick out some formal wear for a funeral, and the formal women's clothes all looked completely wrong - not just like they'd set off sensory issues and look too 'neurotypical', but also like they were implying I want to be sexually attractive. (They all had some kind of feature to draw attention to the wearer's chest.) I ended up getting a couple shirts aimed at men that feel particularly masculine to me, probably the most masculine thing I've worn, with button-up collars. They felt a bit odd, but in a good way. It didn't feel like I was male, in any sense. Mostly, it felt like I was queer, in a KD Laing sort of way.

A few years ago, we had our car break down and my Dad and I wound up hanging out with some elderly people at some kind of club. The old ladies encouraged me to sit with them, while my Dad sat with the men. I sat there only a few moments, listening to their conversations about things I had no interest in, before fleeing to my father's side, feeling really alienated by their femininity and their assumption that I was like them and our shared gender should somehow overcome the bond between me and my father.

I don't like my body, but not in any real gendery way. My genital area is a big problem for me, but it's mostly sexual abuse issues, cleanliness obsessions and my particular weird nonfunctional experience of sexual arousal that create negative feelings around that area. I certainly would be a lot less happy if I had a penis and balls there instead of what I do have.

My breasts sometimes cause me pain, but I'd like them fine if they'd just stop hurting. I really, really like the idea that I have a womb, even though it causes me pain and discomfort every month, because I love the idea of being fertile and getting pregnant, and I love the idea of breastfeeding. Probably the thing that make me feel the most connected to womanhood is my capacity to do the female mammalian reproduction thing. (I do wish I didn't need a man, or anyone, to help - if I could do parthenogenesis, I would.)

So, this random mess of gendery stuff mostly adds up to cis, but not the conventional idea of cis, and not 100% cis. I'd say I'm, indeed, 'mostly cisgender'.

Friday, June 02, 2017

101 Ways To Teach Social Skills - Neurodiversity Comments (Activities 77 - 101)

This is the fifth and final part of my review of 101 Ways to Teach Social Skills.

Section 7: Standing Up For Yourself

Activity 77 focuses on feeling good about yourself. This activity looks great!

Activity 78 is about having a positive attitude. This looks mostly good, except for the claim that other kids will like them better if they have a positive attitude. This could easily lead to self-blame if the kid is being bullied and can't maintain a positive attitude - even if the bullying came first.

Activities 79 - 80 are about sticking up for yourself and patting yourself on the back. These activities both look great!

Activity 81 focuses on being physically attacked. This activity has good advice, but it's vital that adults follow up appropriately when a child reports being attacked. If the child tells you that they reported an act of violence and didn't get an appropriate response, discuss the issue with their parents. If it's a chronic problem, the parents may need to take the issue to a supervisor, contact the police (especially if the perpetrator is over 12, as they can be charged with assault), or remove the child from the environment.

Activity 82 focuses on being bullied. This one is pretty poor advice. Ignoring bullies doesn't work, especially when you outright tell the bully you're ignoring them. Bullies will just escalate if ignored, until the child can't ignore them. Avoiding a bully is usually impossible if the bully attends the same school as the victim. And the discussion question of "why do you think you (or the child) were chosen as the victim?" sends serious warning bells. Never, ever suggest to a child that their personal traits caused them to be bullied. While having poor social skills can make them a more attractive target, the bully is ultimately responsible for their own actions. It's never the victim's fault that they got bullied, any more than it's a rape victim's fault that they got raped.

Activity 83 is about dealing with teasing. This activity is absolutely terrible. It doesn't actually give any advice on how to distinguish friendly teasing from verbal bullying. Plus, the advice they give for verbal bullying is terrible. They repeat the advice to ignore it, and also suggest saying 'so?' and having a sense of humor, which don't work either. The only piece of good advice is to tell an adult.

The surest way to distinguish friendly teasing from verbal bullying is to use an "I statement" to say how what they said made you feel, and ask them if that's what they intended. If the teasing is friendly, they'll probably apologize and clarify their intentions. If they're bullying, they'll probably either mock you for being upset or tell you it was no big deal in an aggressive tone without apologizing.

Activities 84 - 85 cover coping with stress, dealing with group pressure (peer pressure). These activities all look pretty good.

Activity 86 is about learning to say no. It's pretty good, but I have a problem with the suggestion to tell people why you're saying no. That's a good idea sometimes, but you don't owe people an explanation if you don't feel comfortable telling them.

Activity 87 is about releasing anger safely. Most of their suggestions look good, but hitting a pillow isn't a good idea. Research has found that aggressing against an object when you're angry just makes you angrier, and more likely to take out your anger on someone else. Talking about it, drawing a picture, exercising, counting slowly to 10 and breathing deeply are all much better ideas. Exercising in particular releases the pent-up energy without role-playing aggression.

Activities 88 - 89 discuss rights and responsibilities and being assertive. These activities both look good.

Section 8: Managing Conflict

The introduction touches on the idea of 'natural leaders', claiming they are kids who manage conflict better. In my experience, though, the kids I knew who were considered 'natural leaders' were manipulative social bullies, who charmed adults while being a menace to other children. Just because a child is a leader in their peer group doesn't mean they show positive social interaction patterns.

Activities 90 - 91 discuss what conflict is and what internal conflicts are. These activities both look good.

Activity 92 teaches children that both parties are responsible for a conflict. This message concerns me, because bullies often disguise their bullying as a mutual conflict, when really it's entirely one-sided. Care should be taken to acknowledge that sometimes people attack you for no reason at all, and that's not a conflict - that's bullying.

Activity 93 teaches children how to apologize. This activity looks good, but you should also address unnecessary or excessive apologies, which can be a result of low self-esteem.

Activity 94 talks about knowing whether you should resolve a conflict right away or wait until people are prepared to handle the discussion. This is a good idea, but some kids might have difficulty waiting if the conflict is very upsetting to them. It's a good idea to discuss coping strategies if that's an issue for any of the kids.

Activities 95 - 99 talk about resolving conflicts calmly, compromising, finding win-win solutions, negotiating and peer mediation. These activities all look great.

Activity 100 discusses fair fighting, attacking problems rather than people. This looks great, but you should discuss what to do if their opponent doesn't follow these rules. You could set a verbal boundary and refuse to discuss the issue until they agree to follow the rules of fair fighting. For example "I will not tolerate name calling. If you can discuss this without calling me names, I will discuss this issue further." If they don't listen to the boundary, use the broken record strategy or simply leave.

And lastly,

Activity 101 discusses positive and negative outcomes from conflicts. This activity looks great.