“I am often picked on because of who I am,” 12-year-old Marcel Neergaard writes in a new op-ed published on The Huffington Post. “Sometimes being openly gay is like having a sign above my head that flashes ‘Different’ in neon colours.” The article paints a heart-breaking portrait of what life is like for too many gay youths in America.
Neergaard made headlines last summer when he helped squash Tennessee’s homophobic “Don’t Say Gay” bill. But now, nearly a year later, he claims the law is still being used to trample his free speech and to create a negative learning environment at school.
The “Don’t Say Gay” bill was authored by Tennessee Representative John Ragan. Had it passed, it would have forbidden teachers from talking about being gay in classrooms, and required principals and guidance counsellors to call parents if a student mentioned anything about being gay to them. Last summer, Neergaard wrote a petition against the bill that received over 50,000 signatures.
At the time, Neergaard was being home-schooled. Excessive bullying had forced him out of public school. Last fall, he returned to public school for seventh grade. But the bullying persists.
“In chorus we are going on a field trip to King’s Island, which they do every year with seventh and eighth graders,” Neergaard writes. “The other boys in chorus refuse to sleep in the same room as me for fear of being ‘turned gay.’” He continues: “The teacher pulled me aside and explained how the boys didn’t want to be in the same room with me because I’m gay … Then she told me the principal had called my parents to talk about this. It was upsetting. I was mad because if the same thing had happened to a student who was not ‘out’ at home, the principal would have outed them to their parents. That’s just not safe.”
“When it came time to sign up for rooms, all the boys except me were together,” he writes. “The principal pulled me aside to explain that I would have my own room on the trip. He didn’t say why, but I knew… they don’t like me.”
Neergaard also writes about the things other students say to him on a daily basis, including: “Who did you turn gay for?” “When did you turn gay?” “How do you know that you’re gay if you haven’t been on a gay date?” “Do you want to be a girl?” and “You’re gay because you act gay.”
“The protection of the classroom doesn’t seem to extend to me,” he confesses. “One day I was talking with my friends about Zachary Quinto being gay. An otherwise supportive teacher stopped me and told me ‘talking about being gay in the classroom is illegal in Tennessee.’”
The teacher, of course, was wrong. She was referring to the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, the very bill Neergaard had worked tirelessly the summer before to kill. “I have found teachers are quite confused because of Ragan’s bill (the Don’t Say Gay Bill),” Neergaard writes. “They’re too busy teaching to know if it passed, so they just try to be safe. Meanwhile, I am not allowed to talk about myself with my friends.” Yet despite his daily woes, Neergaard remains determined to create a more hopeful future for others. “I know I am not alone in my struggles,” he writes. “I also know that it’s not okay to be called out for being different.”
“I’m not the only gay youth in Tennessee,” he continues. ”I’m not the only gay kid in Oak Ridge. I’m not even the only gay student in my school, I’m just someone who is standing up. I know I have written about bullying many times, but this is still happening to kids like me everywhere and I refuse to let it continue.” He concludes the op-ed with a challenge to the rest of us:
“We also need people to encourage our representatives, who are supposed to represent us, to pass bills like the Dignity for All Students Act and federal legislation such as the Safe Schools Improvement Act. I want to make sure other kids do not have to go through what I have.” “This week I will be in Nashville for Advancing Equality on the Hill Day talking to my senator and (hopefully) representative about making schools safer for kids like me,” he writes. “What will you do?”
Sociologist danah boyd’s long-awaited first book, It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens, hits shelves today. boyd, who is currently working as a researcher at Microsoft, is one of the preeminent scholars of the way young people — especially marginalized young people of diverse economic and racial backgrounds, as well as diverse gender and sexual orientation — use the Internet, and her work has been cited often for her sharp observations and her overwhelming empathy for her subjects.
It’s Complicated is a passionate, scholarly, and vividly described account of the reality of young peoples’ use of networked technologies in America today. Painstakingly researched through interviews and close study for more than a decade, boyd’s book is an important analysis of networked culture you don’t want to miss.
In eight brisk chapters — thoroughly backstopped by a long and fascinating collection of end-notes — boyd tackles the moral panics of networks and kids, and places them in wider social and historical contexts. She systematically, relentlessly punctures easy stories about how kids don’t value privacy; whether the Internet holds special danger of sexual predators; the reality of bullying; the absurdity of "Internet addiction" and the real story of "digital natives" and the important and eminently fixable gaps in kids’ network literacy.
boyd is not a blind optimist. She is alive to the risks and dangers of networks; but she is also cognizant of the new opportunities and the relief from other social problems (such as hysteria over the presence of kids in public places; sexism, racism, homophobia and slut-shaming; the merciless overscheduling and academic pressure on adolescents) and the immense power of networks to enable advocacy, agency and activism.
Earlier in the week, 19-year-old British diving champion Tom Daley made a YouTube video in which he revealed that he’s in a relationship with "a guy." Several reports have since claimed that the guy in question is Hollywood screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, who, at 39, is 20 years older than Daley, a fact that headline writers worldwide made sure to focus on.
Almost immediately on Twitter, Facebook and elsewhere came the comments. "He could be his father," one gay man tweeted. "Yuk!" That was just the beginning.
A lot to unpack here:
1. Let’s cut the ageist crap. The "yuk" is a display of nothing but disgust for someone older. Yes, Black is old enough to be Daley’s father. But he’s not. If Black were just a couple of years older than Daley, he could be his brother too. But he’s not. Shocking news for you: You’re all going to be old. And your tastes are going to evolve over time. Some younger people are attracted to older people, and vice versa. There’s even a gay website called Daddyhunt. The famed novelist Armistead Maupin’s 27-years-younger husband, Christopher Turner, founded it. They met on another one of Turner’s sites, HotOlderMale.com. If that’s not your thing, it’s totally cool, but in that case just shut your mouth.
2. Deal with your homophobia, including your internalized homophobia if you happen to be gay. There’s an undercurrent in these comments — the "chicken hawk" charge — that suggests that gay men are more likely to sexually abuse underage teens, the ugliest lie about gay men out there. Hardcore homophobes are predictably pointing to Black and Daley as supposed proof. But many gay men too, so defensive about the charge and deathly fearful of how it’s used, overcompensate by saying "yuk." Look, we live in a world where youth and beauty are heralded, and where 77-year-old Bob Dole appeared in a Pepsi ad in which he had the hots for a 19-year-old Britney Spears. We’ve put an age limit on what we can and can’t do because we live in a civil society and abide by the rule of law. And this particular relationship falls well within the limit. So let’s drop this crap too.
The amendment to the Russian Federal Law, effectively banning the "propaganda" of same-sex sexual relations to minors, what are called "non-traditional sexual relations," makes for chilling reading. Stephen Fry’s likening it to anti-Semitism may not be far wrong; it is aimed at invalidating LGBT people which, in turn, fosters a climate of hate. To highlight this, the text of an "Explanatory Note" published with the Bill and the new clause of the Legal Code of the Russian Federation itself, approved by Vladimir Putin on 29th June 2013, is reproduced below with the words "non-traditional" sexual relationships and "homosexuality" replaced with "interracial" relationships, for its resemblance to Nazi racial laws of the 1930s is among this law’s most terrifying features.
What follows is based on an accurate translation of the original Russian documents. The Explanatory Note would read (with modifications in bold):
The promotion of interracial relationships has sharply increased in modern-day Russia. This promotion is carried out via the media as well as via the active pursuit of public activities which try to portray interracial relationships as normal behavior. This is particularly dangerous for children and young people who are not able to take a critical approach to this avalanche of information with which they are bombarded on a daily basis. In view of this, it is essential, first and foremost, to protect the younger generation from exposure to the promotion of interracial relationships, this being the aim of the present bill….
It is therefore essential to put in place measures which provide for the intellectual, moral and mental wellbeing of children, including a ban on any activities aimed at popularizing interracial relationships. A ban of this kind on propaganda as an activity involving the intentional and indiscriminate spreading of information which may be injurious to physical, moral and spiritual wellbeing, including instilling distorted ideas that society places an equal value on traditional and interracial sexual relations, amongst people who are incapable, due to their age, of critically assessing this information on their own, cannot in itself be considered a breach of the constitutional rights of citizens.
In view of the above, a bill has been drafted which introduces amendments to the Legal Code of the Russian Federation by making the promotion of interracial relationships to minors illegal. However, it would not be an offense to be a person in an interracial relationship but only to promote interracial relationships to minors.
The bill confers the right of drawing up charge sheets relating to activities carried out in public which are aimed at promoting interracial relationships to minors on officials of the authorities responsible for internal affairs (the police) and of considering any resulting cases on the courts.
The text of the new clause, again replacing "non-traditional" with "interracial," would be as follows:
Article 6.21. Promoting interracial sexual relations to minors:
1. Promoting interracial sexual relations to minors by spreading information aimed at instilling in minors interracial sexual arrangements, the attractiveness of interracial sexual relations and/or a distorted view that society places an equal value on traditional and interracial sexual relations or propagating information on interracial sexual relations making them appear interesting, provided that these activities do not involve criminal acts which are punishable under the law, will be punishable by the imposition of a fine ranging from four thousand to five thousand roubles for individuals, from forty thousand to fifty thousand roubles for officials, from eight hundred thousand to one million roubles or suspension of operations for up to ninety days for legal entities.
2. Activities stipulated in section 1 of the present article carried out using the mass media and/or information-telecommunications channels (including the internet) provided that these activities do not involve criminal acts which are punishable under the law, will be punishable by the imposition of a fine ranging from fifty thousand to one hundred thousand roubles for individuals, from one hundred thousand to two hundred thousand roubles for officials, of one million roubles or suspension of operations for up to ninety days for legal entities.
3. Activities stipulated in section 1 of the present article carried out by foreigners or stateless persons provided that these activities do not involve criminal acts which are punishable under the law, will be punishable by the imposition of a fine ranging from four thousand to five thousand roubles plus deportation from the Russian Federation or detention for up to fifty days plus deportation from the Russian Federation.
4. Activities stipulated in section 1 of the present article carried out by foreigners or stateless persons using the mass media and/or information-telecommunications channels (including the internet) provided that these activities do not involve criminal acts which are punishable under the law, will be punishable by the imposition of a fine ranging from fifty thousand to one hundred thousand roubles plus deportation from the Russian Federation or detention for up to fifty days plus deportation from the Russian Federation.
Clearly this modified version of the law would be wholly unacceptable. But the original text is no less obscene in targeting sexual rather than racial minorities. It has already been used against Russian citizens and foreigners. Legal sanctions also legitimize the victimization of LGBT people, which has led to some horrific violence. Minors are, of course, everywhere, and the law’s provisions are so far-reaching, including all communication channels, as to make any attempt to speak about, defend or demonstrate sexual orientation or trans-gender identity publicly under any circumstances subject to fines and imprisonment. There can be no support for gay teens in schools and even to discuss issues around bullying and suicide would break the law, as would a challenge to the law in the courts or the Duma. This is a step back to the graveyard of state-sponsored bigotry reminiscent of Nazi Germany, apartheid South Africa and some pre-1960s southern states of the U.S. [via]
When Mel Reiff Hill and Jay Mays’ gender-variant friend needed to give something to his mother that would help explain what was going on with him, they began to create a solution. They created The Gender Book. The book was designed to help both allies and people who are discovering the complexities of gender within themselves.
They wanted to make sure it represented a wide range of people:
We acknowledge that we as creators are pretty gender fabulous, but could never speak for other people’s experiences. Our intention wasn’t to be experts on anything but to share the diversity of a big awesome community (geographically, ethnically, generationally, etc). We wanted as many voices to speak for themselves as possible in the project.
They used personal examples from people who responded to online surveys. For example: “Sometimes I have to hide under the pretext of being ‘male’ or ‘female’ for the sake of surviving, and moving through the world with (some) ease. But I’m still me, despite whatever mask I may be forced to hide beneath. And no matter what, I try to be as true to myself as the situation allows.”
They’re still collecting answers to their survey here. Although all of the responses obviously can’t be put in the book itself, they hope to create a way for people to see all of the responses on their website. And, although they didn’t realize it was going to go as well as it has, they hope to publish it as a real, physical book — as soon as they can get together the funding and find a publisher (hint: you can donate here.) You can download the book for free here!
Masturbation doesn’t make you sexual, says sex expert Lori Brotto. She estimates that half of all asexuals stimulate themselves on a fairly regular basis. "People may ask, ‘How can they be asexual if they masturbate?’ I admit the finding did surprise me, too," said Brotto, the director of the University of British Columbia’s Sexual Health Laboratory. "When you talk about masturbation, you may think of it as a sexual activity, but actually masturbation is not inherently sexual. [Asexuals cite] boredom, stress reduction, helping them to get to sleep, etc., as reasons behind masturbation."
Several male asexuals told us they masturbate frequently, some every day, and most used the phrase "cleaning the plumbing" to explain why they do it. One female asexual said that while she masturbates about once a month, she has no idea why she does it; it just feels like something she’s biologically compelled to do.
Though asexuals (or "aces") are often seen as individuals who are devoid of sexual desire, incapable of sexual arousal and averse to interpersonal intimacy, both researchers and asexuals alike say these are largely misconceptions.
In a 2010 study, Brotto says she found evidence that asexual women have a similar genital response to stimuli as sexual women — in other words, a comparable sexual arousal response. Still, despite evidence that sexual desire and arousal are not usually absent in asexuals, current research indicates that aces do have significantly lower sexual desire and arousal than sexual individuals. Orgasmic function also tends to be lower. Several aces even said that while they can experience orgasm (a reflexive response), it is almost always — and this is a direct quote — "meh."
Brotto’s study indicates, however, that these lower levels are not caused by an "impaired psychophysiological sexual arousal response." As one asexual put it, "everything works, we just don’t want to get somebody else involved." Read on…
The Walker family is good at keeping secrets from the world. They are even better at keeping them from each other. Max Walker is a golden boy. Attractive, intelligent, and athletic, he’s the perfect son, the perfect friend, and the perfect crush for the girls in his school. He’s even really nice to his little brother. Karen, Max’s mother, is a highly successful criminal lawyer, determined to maintain the façade of effortless excellence she has constructed through the years. Now that the boys are getting older, now that she won’t have as much control, she worries that the façade might soon begin to crumble. Adding to the tension, her husband, Steve, has chosen this moment to stand for election to Parliament. The spotlight of the media is about to encircle their lives.
The Walkers are hiding something, you see. Max is special. Max is different. Max is intersex. When an enigmatic childhood friend named Hunter steps out of his past and abuses his trust in the worst possible way, Max is forced to consider the nature of his well-kept secret. Why won’t his parents talk about it? What else are they hiding from Max about his condition and from each other? The deeper Max goes, the more questions emerge about where it all leaves him and what his future holds, especially now that he’s starting to fall head over heels for someone for the first time in his life. Will his friends accept him if he is no longer the Golden Boy? Will anyone ever want him—desire him— once they know? And the biggest one of all, the question he has to look inside himself to answer: Who is Max Walker, really?
What makes Golden Boy work for me as a book about intersexuality written by someone who (as far as I know) isn’t intersex herself is that Tarttelin presents Max’s secret as a horrible problem only in the eyes of characters who think it’s a horrible problem. The problem is secrecy, not anatomy. As Max says late in the book, secrets “get out of you and they eat the air around you. They make it all thin, so you can’t breathe.” Read on…
Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare
The classic play about a girl who washes ashore after a shipwreck and disguises herself as a boy was banned in a New Hampshire school system by a rule titled "prohibition of alternative lifestyle instruction," which means that teachers in the district are forbidden from discussing homosexuality in the classroom. The plotline in which Viola, dressed as a boy, falls in love with Duke Orsino was deemed inappropriate.
Little Red Riding Hood by Charles Perrault
The fairy tale of a little girl who is led astray by a wolf while on the way to her grandmother’s house was banned by two California school districts because one of the refreshments for her grandmother that Little Red Riding Hood carried in her basket was wine.
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
Frank L. Baum’s classic story about a girl and her friends traveling through the mystical land of Oz came under fire for its perceived socialist values, but it was also banned because it described witches as good – as in Glinda, the Good Witch of the South.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
The story of a Southern family that confronts racism in their town may seem like an inspirational tale that’s appropriate for everyone, but it was banned by one school in Minnesota for inappropriate language because the heroine Scout swears, and by a school in Texas because it "conflicted with the values of the community."