Sunday, July 19, 2009

Sex Ed Class and Discrimination

I am taking a required sex education class the first week of August. The teacher, in an attempt to desensitize us, gave us an assignment. We were to go to a book store, such as Barnes and Nobles, and select ten sex self-help books. We are to choose one to read, and the other nine needed to be listed on a bibliography with book descriptions before class starts.

Being a rabid lesbian in a room of heterosexuals, I believe it is my sacred duty as a daughter of the Goddess in a fertility religion to educate my peers. So I headed for the gay/lesbian section. I could not find it! I finally asked at the desk, and found out that gay/lesbian books had been reduced to two bottom shelves in the "Cultural Studies" section. I am not a cultural study.

I was outraged that there were only two lesbian and two gay books that fit the requirements of the assignment (The other books you see in the pile on the floor pictured were interesting things found in other parts of the store on other subjects. I was, after all, an English major many years ago). The rest of the two shelves were either histories of the gay/lesbian movement or they were erotica, neither of which were useful for the assignment. I only saw one book, other Helen Boyd’s book My Husband Betty, on transgenders.

Next I headed to the self-help section. It was completely, as expected, exclusionary. Apparently only heterosexuals need self-help given the six shelves of books and the section label! Nice to know that Barnes and Nobles has such confidence in our ability to have sex. On the other hand, the more book titles I went through, the more angry I became.

Warning: The rest of this rant is X rated. Buy your ticket for the TMI bus before continuing. And the opinions expressed her violate my feminist union card.

Side explanation: This is completely politically incorrect, and a deep secret of my feminist lesbian soul. I love porn; not so much the pictures, but the cheesy movies where everybody has a great time engaging in incredibly intimate sexual play. I even like heterosexual porn, although I am way more focused on the women than the men. Unfortunately, most so called lesbian porn is performed by straight girls, and they don’t tighten straps enough, or seem to understand the nervelessness of simply engaging in their own pleasure without a man intruding at some point. Nevertheless, I get an erotic kick out of porn, so I assumed I would likewise have fun looking through the pictures in self-help books. For some reason, gay male porn seems to be a lot more convincing.

Unfortunately, when I saw the heterosexual self-help books, illustrated or photographed, I unexpectedly train wrecked. I mistakenly assumed that my secret porn fetish would allow me to enjoy looking through the books. I was wrong. (I only found one I would refer my clients to with a clear conscious. The rest would be intimidating, or I didn't like the illustrations/photography, or something.)

I finally come to the conclusion that movie porn invites the viewer to participate, if only visually. The so-called actors often break the frame by looking directly into the camera to heighten the sense of immediacy. Movies seem to presuppose that having someone watch is part of the experience. Regardless of my orientation, I am invited to participate; not so with heterosexually oriented self-books. They feel entirely exclusionary. The books are written only to the heterosexual experience, from a heterosexual point of view that assumes my lesbian experience to be invalid.

Suddenly I was confronted with exactly how far from the mainstream I world I have gotten, and the contempt with which I am ignored. The books dealt with exclusivity between the man and woman, presumably married (last time I looked, Cameron and I can't married in SC!) and pointedly leave me out of the picture. They also seemed to focus heavily on pleasing and pleasuring the man. I got the sense that the woman's pleasure didn't come from her own enjoyment of sex, but pleasure from her partner's enjoyment of sex. Shesh. The more I read the books and viewed the pictures, the more irate I became. And the more my gender bending wife panicked on the other end of the phone! I think she wondered if I would castrate her when I got home on general principle.

Despite my grumpiness with the heterosexual books, I was almost equally disgusted with that I found in the gay/lesbian section. The first Barnes and Nobles, which had the two lonely books for lesbian self-help, only had The Whole Lesbian Sex Book: A Passionate Guide for All of Us by Felice Newman (editor of On Our Backs) and On Our Backs Guide to Lesbian Sex edited by Diana Cage. Both are good; but both are slanted by their own poltical/social views.

Let me explain. While both books are explicit, fun and edgy, they also can be incredibly intimidating. For the young, savy lesbian who is totally comfortable with her orientation and likes living in an exploratory world of night clubs, parties, and dating, these can be fabulous books full of information, insight, and encouragement. If I had read either during my own middle-aged coming out, I might have fled screaming into the night. Not because I hadn't done as much or more in my young, heterosexual world, but because if that's what is expected by the hot dyke sitting next to me, I'm out of here. (When Cameron realized how nervous I was about stepping outside my comfort zone the first time we were together sexually, she slowed way the hell down and let me catch up! Cameron likes reminding me that I was a rowdy girl, just out of my heterosexual comfort zone.)

Furthermore, both books were written by magazine editors, which introduces a very slanted view. One is the editor of Curve, an upscale magazine with interviews of such people as Melissa Etheridge. It is not porn. It talks about sex, but is not graphic (like Maxim). They do not write "How to Please Your Woman" articles, although the Fairy Butch advice column will talk about dildos and sex. The other magazine is the lesbian equivalent to Hustler, with graphic photos and instructions on how to safely engage in some of the edgiest sexual behaviors safely. Each magazine has its own agenda and political views, and the editor's views are very clearly shown in their book. What a sharp contrast to the heterosexual self-help books with Ph.D. behind their names!

If this little assignment is any indication of how the class will go for me, then my classmates are going to be rather unhappy with with the outspoken lesbian with an agenda. I bet not a one of them has considered the struggle of gays or lesbians, let alone a gender bender outside the binary box. I consider it my sacred duty, as the daughter and priestess of the Goddess, to knock them from their comfort zones. In the mean time, I going back to Barnes and Nobles to complain. The smaller store didn't even a section header for me. I want it back! Meanwhile I'm talking about being subversive and rebellious in class while my wife is trying to remind me that I may have to take other classes with these students. Do I look like I care? Hrumph.

On the bright side, I've been thoroughly desensitized. I read everything, as I grumbled on the IM to Cameron, surrounded by people, including the innocent with children. I was careful not to let the pictures show. But since I had to plug up the lap top, the only seat available landed me in the middle of four men and a woman who kept sneaking glances at my stack of books (which included great stuff for gay gals such as my favorites, Is It a Date or Just Coffee by Mo Brownsey, The New Lesbian Sex Book by Wendy Caster, and Lesbian Couples: A Guide to Creating Healthy Relationships by D. Merilee Clunis, PhD and G. Dorsey Green, PhD which is not specifically a sexual self-help book, but so amazing my straight friends need to read it to. The gay sex books garnered the most sideways glances, and included The Joy of Gay Sex by Dr. Charles Silverstein and Felice Picano, Gay Sex Secrets Revealed by Jonathan Bass, and The Gay Man's Karma Sutra by Terry Sanderson. I never blushed once.)


  1. Hi Grace -- If a lesbian sex book is written only about lesbian experience from a lesbian point of view, does that mean that it assumes that heterosexual experience is invalid? I don't think we'd draw that conclusion, and I don't think the reverse is true either, when it's a heterosexual sex book. I would be inclined to give those straight authors the benefit of the doubt.

  2. But I agree with your dislike of the ridiculous "Cultural Studies" heading used to obscure lesbigay books (along with women's studies books and books about other minorities). One of our big bookstores here in Canada (Chapters) uses that heading too and it always annoys me when I see it.

  3. Thank you for commenting, Debra. You are right that the heterosexual experience is not invalid. Having two sons, I lived as a heterosexual woman the first forty years of my life. But if the bookstore is going to seperate all books about the lesbian experience out of all other categories (self-help, religion, relationships, etc), then only two shelves and two self help books was an under representation! LOL

    I think where I really felt that the lesbian experience is invalid is even with books of a theme of self pleasure and orgasims, they ended with heterosexual intercourse and teaching him how to please her. I did not find a book just about self pleasure. Nor did I find books that taught women to self-pleasure and then seek a lesbian parnter. The limited selection sent a clear message to the lesbian women of this area that we will not find books in a small town in SC.

    Interestingly enough, going online does fill in the gaps. Lots and lots of myraid possibilities regarding books. So perhaps the real lesson that I will take back to class is to have client order gay/lesbian books online because the book store is not the best selection.

  4. Yes, thank Goddess for the internet, LOL!

  5. Sounds like there's a need. Maybe you should write a book. Or is it the bookstores who need to change, not necessarily the books written? As you say, you can find what you are looking for online.

    Please update when the class is underway. It sounds fascinating.

  6. Dremweaver, I so admire your honesty in your writings. I think your classmates are in for a rollercoaster of an experience. I think Java is on to something...sounds like you have at least one book inside you dying to come out.

    Updates would be appreciated.