ABC news recently featured a story about “Pure Fashion,” a U.S. faith-based program that leads 14-18 year-old girls “through an eight-month course in which they are encouraged to ‘dress in accordance with their dignity as children of God.'” The eight month course ends with a “‘purity preserving’ fashion show.”

The obsession with, monitoring of, and handwringing over girls’ (sexualized) appearance is of course not new, but this particular iteration comes from an ironic source: a fashion model and former Miss Georgia, Brenda Sharman. Sharman may be preaching “purity” but she also understands that her message will be considered more hip if she can dissociate from conservative and/or mainstream culture. Hence, Sharman is on a mission to reframe “pure” girls as “radical” girls:

Brenda Sharman: model, former Miss Georgia, and founder of Pure Fashion.
Brenda Sharman: model, former Miss Georgia, and founder of Pure Fashion.


“The idea with Pure Fashion is very countercultural,” said Brenda Sharman … “It takes a girl who is brave and gutsy…This is not for the weak and wimpy girl … to say, ‘I’m different, and I’m going to preserve my innocence and virginity,’ that’s a girl who’s radical!”

Scene from the Pure Fashion catwalk
Scene from the Pure Fashion catwalk


The problem is, radical, counter-cultural movements are supposed to challenge and pave new ground. In contrast, the leaders and proponents of Pure Fashion look to conservative established models for their inspiration. They are mothers, fathers, and church leaders who are deeply disturbed by the sexual displays (assumed to be impure) of their unmarried daughters. This may be a radical backlash to signifiers of sexuality or the de-coupling of sexuality and reproduction, but it’s not radical.

Concerns about sexually expressive girls and women is common amongst groups whose cultural and religious norms privilege men and/or believe that men and women have naturally different physical capabilites and personalities. As Shari Dworkin and I argued in a recent article,

“(c)ultural and religious traditions that privilege men always require intense regulation and surveillance of girls’ and women’s sexuality. In these contexts, the moral and social ‘worth’ of girls and women is based on their sexual availability, creating a good virgin-bad whore dichotomy. This tradition is thriving in many aspects of U.S.  culture, including the movement for abstinence-only education, virginity pledges, purity ball, and so on” (Lerum and Dworkin, 2009b).

It is clear that “Pure Fashion” can be added to the list of cultural institutions that support a hierarchical segregation between “virgins” and “whores.” For example, one mom who sent her daughter to “Pure Fashion” expressed her desire for men to look at her daughter in the same way that she looks at her daughter, as “pure and beautiful and innocent”:

“I don’t want her to be distracted by men. So I kind of don’t want men to look at her at all, not notice her,” Tina said. “But I recognize that they will, so I just want to make sure they look at her in the way that I see her, which is pure and beautiful and innocent.”

But conservative religious parents aren’t the only one sounding the alarm horns; many feminist and feminist-leaning academics and professionals are also concerned about sexy and sexual girls. This is because mainstream media appears to create the opposite problem of conservative religion: that is, rather than telling girls and women that their worth is based on their lack of sexual availability, the media appears to “tell” girls and women that their worth is based on their widespread sexual appeal and availability. They may leave God and purity talk out of it and they may not send their daughters to Sharman’s fashion reeducation program, but secular, feminist, and academic critics are still dismayed by girls who dress “sexy.” Indeed, it has become common for people across lines of politics, religion, and profession — at least in the US — to shake their heads in dismay over the increasing “sexualization” of girls, women, and of culture. This perceived shift in mainstream US culture is almost uniformly seen as harmful, something to critique and work against. It is in this cultural context that the American Psychological Association formed a task force on the Sexualization of Girls and wrote a highly publicized report (APA Task Force report on the Sexualization of Girls 2007).  (See below for the APA’s definition of “sexualization”).

In contrast to the APA task force and conservative religious groups, we think it is a mistake for scholars and activists to automatically assume that sexualized images and appearances are harmful to girls and women. We critique the methodological, empirical, and epistemological foundations of this argument in great depth in a recent article (Lerum & Dworkin, 2009a), but here I focus on just one point: how the concern about “sexualization” misses the boat on sexual health. While the APA task force briefly discusses what they consider to constitute “healthy sexuality,” we argue that the term “sexual health” is much more useful for social justice, feminist, and public health scholars/activists:

… we suspect that an ideological gulf may exist between the APA’s (2007) concept of healthy sexuality and the more widely recognized concept of sexual health. For one, the APA’s version of healthy sexuality seems to rely on the existence of a sexual partner: (‘‘intimacy, bonding . . . shared pleasure . . . mutual respect between consenting partners,’’ p. 2). In contrast, the concept of sexual health is often explicitly tied to a rubric of individual sexual rights (some of which may apply to both children and adults). Originally developed by the World Association for Sexual Health and now widely recognized (and modified) by other organizations including the World Health Organization, the concept of sexual rights may include the right to sexual pleasure (not necessarily with another person), the right to emotional sexual expression (including self-sexualization), and the right to sexually associate freely (Lerum & Dworkin, 2009, p. 259).

We further argue that “(s)ounding the alarms on sexualization without providing space for sexual rights results in a setback for girls and women and for feminist theory, and is also at odds with the growing consensus of global health scholars (Lerum & Dworkin, 2009, p. 260).

While the APA task force report virtually ignores sexual health, statistics about sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are widely embraced and utilized by conservative religious groups. The following quote comes from Brenda Sharman, director of “Pure Fashion”:

“If you are too steamy in your bikini, you will become a part of a statistic,” Sharman told a roomful of 40 girls at the Atlanta conference. “By the age of fifteen, 76 percent of teens are involved in a sexual relationship. What do we expect, really, when so many girls have displayed their bodies to the world? … For the first time teen girls have the highest gonorrhea rate in the nation, teen boys have the second. Approximately 400,000 teens have abortions every year. And according to UNICEF, half of all new HIV infections occur in young people 15-24.”

Of course, Sharman’s use of these statistics is alarmist and conflated (e.g., the UNICEF statistics are GLOBAL, reflecting more about conditions of access to contraception, early marriage, and/or extreme poverty than whether or not a girl has access to a bikini!), but it is also clear that conservatives are using them to shore up a particular theory of sexuality (i.e. bad things happen when girls get sexy). For critical scholars of sexuality, justice, health, and inequality, these statistics illustrate points and questions around a very different set of assumptions. We leave these interpretations to the conservatives at our own peril.


The APA task force defines sexualization as a condition that occurs when a person is subjected to at least one of the following four conditions:

  • 1) a person’s value comes only from his or her sexual appeal or behavior, to the exclusion of other characteristics,
  • 2) a person is held to a standard that equates physical attractiveness (narrowly defined) with being sexy
  • 3) a person is sexually objectified – that is, made into a thing for others’ sexual use, rather than seen as a person with the capacity for independent action and decision making, and/or
  • 4) sexuality is inappropriately imposed upon a person          (APA Task Force, 2007, p. 2)


Bibliography/Recommended Reading:


worldaidsday400_558On December 1, 1988, the World Health Organization declared its first observance of World AIDS Day. Since that day 21 years ago, every December 1st has been used to raise awareness about the global HIV/AIDS pandemic.  In 2006, the Political Declaration on AIDS set a goal to have “universal access to comprehensive prevention programmes, treatment, care and support by 2010.” While progress has been made, we are very far away from being able to trumpet that successes have been fully reached. For the year 2009, the theme of World AIDS Day is Universal Access and Human Rights.

Currently, approximately 33 million people are living with HIV/AIDS (for a full set of global epidemiology slides, click here). Women constitute one half of the people living with HIV/AIDS, and this percentage has risen rapidly from 35% in 1985 (for a slide on the percentage of women in the epidemic around the world, see the UNAIDS epidemiology slides above). Shockingly, young people constitute one half of the new infections each year. While there is no cure for HIV/AIDS, anti-retrovirals have offered hope, newfound possibilities for health and well-being, and added years of life to millions of individuals, households, and communities around the globe. In the case of treatment, while many (but certainly not all) in the United States have access to life saving anti retroviral therapies, the availability of treatment is widely variable around the world. Unfortunately, only a small proportion of those with HIV/AIDS have access to anti-retro viral therapy. (For more details on the prevention, treatment, and care dynamics of the epidemic around the globe, see the UNAIDS 2008 Report on the Epidemic.)

Universal access as a theme is pointing to the need to ensure that populations have access to HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment, and care.  This is easier said than done—in 2007 only 31% of people who needed treatment received it—and the rate of infection is far outpacing the increases in the number of people who are receiving treatment. Economic retractions around the globe threaten the progress that has been made and there are some reports that treatment programs are being halted or scaled back substantially given economic constraints (UNAIDS 2008 Report).

Because of the way that the number of infections is far outpacing those who have access to treatment, and because the epidemic is largely spread through drug use and sexual contact, the importance of prevention cannot be overstated. Prevention is well recognized as a key factor in slowing the pace of the epidemic—and this is not simply a matter of getting people much needed information and skills about condoms. Prevention is also about tending to the root causes of the epidemic, which involves issues related to social inequalities, homophobia, poverty, gender inequality, the criminalization of drug use and sex work, violations of human rights, and lack of health care access and infrastructure. And, then of course there are the complexities of culture and human behavior, and the fact that many prevention programs work for a short time, even up to a year, but these behavior changes are not often maintained in the long run. There is a great deal of promise in structural, interpersonal, cultural, and group level behavioral prevention interventions. However, the promise of these prevention interventions will not be fully realized without attention to social inequalities and human rights issues.


This brings us to the second aspect of the theme of World AIDS Day 2009: human rights. While it may not be obvious to many, violations of human rights shape HIV/AIDS risks and access to prevention, treatment, and care around the world.  Men who have sex with men, sex workers, and drug users experience stigma and discrimination throughout the world. Many countries attempt to make HIV/AIDS a public health issue, but far too often, it is treated as a moral issue where populations are blamed for their fate (particularly sex workers, drug users, and men who have sex with men). Some countries do not even count “men who have sex with men” as a category in their surveillance systems and men who have sex with men have the lowest coverage of HIV prevention services of any category (UNAIDS, 2008). In numerous countries, women who are known to be HIV positive are thrown out of their homes  when they test positive for HIV/AIDS and do not have adequate access to education, property rights, or income generation to help them to survive (and these factors shape their risks to begin with)—this is the case even when their partners may have infected them. In my own travels and research in South Africa and Kenya, it is clear that many women will not bring their children back to health care centers or clinics to be treated with ARVs for fear of being thrown out of their households and families by their male partners, relatives, or community members. Many men do not come to clinics to be tested because of HIV/AIDS stigma and because of perceptions that clinics are women’s spaces. Men also do not test because of ideals of masculinity which teach men to avoid signs of “weakness” or need. In many countries HIV positive women and men are subject to forced sterilization. Sex workers and drug users are often arrested and viewed as criminals, and prisons do not have adequate access to drug rehabilitation, condoms, or ARV’s, exacerbating the epidemic among “high risk” populations. And the U.S. has been known to stop funding prevention programs that take comprehensive sex education and condom use into account, arguing (against a very strong evidence-base) that abstinence and be faithful approaches work best (for studies that show that comprehensive sexual education and condoms work better than abstinence only programming, there are too many to list, but see this for one). The list of the links between social inequalities, rights, and HIV/AIDS risks goes on and on.

There have been gains, and there have been many of them. The number of people on anti-retroviral therapy has increased 10 fold in the past 6 years alone (UNAIDS, 2009). Recognition of the role of gender inequality and homophobia in shaping HIV/AIDS risks is increasing, as has prevention programming which is increasingly gender-specific and transformative for both women and men. Defining ‘human rights’ and implementing changes in rights has newfound momentum and if this continues, may provide marginalized populations with increased protections, resources, legal recourse, and access to prevention, treatment, and care. The US has a centralized dissemination program to diffuse evidence based successes to community based organizations. There is global mobilization to eradicate mother-to-child transmission. The economic contributions to prevention and a global scale ups in treatment have been a stunning testament to the fact that the global community can rally much needed support.

Still, there is much work to be done both domestically (U.S.) and globally. The incidence rate of HIV/AIDS in Washington DC is similar to that found in Western Kenya. The age distribution in some countries on the African continent has shifted life expectancy downward by several decades in several countries due to the epidemic. AIDS is the leading cause of death right now among African American women aged 25-34 in the United States and African-American women are 21 times more likely to die of HIV/AIDS than Caucasian women. There are millions of orphans due to HIV/AIDS. Sub-saharan Africa constitutes 10 percent of the world’s population and over 65% of the cases of HIV/AIDS. Anti-poverty efforts and food security efforts have been slow to link up with HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment, and care and are much needed. National policies have been hampered in their implementation by a lack of coordination, technical skill, and competing economic and health needs. Young people need prevention efforts more than ever before and prevention efforts reach adults the most. To achieve universal access and human rights within the HIV/AIDS epidemic is a goal that all social sectors and countries must all strive for. At the same time, all must be mindful that recalcitrant issues such as social inequalities and social justice shape the epidemic profoundly and must be dealt with head on in action and not in rhetoric.


For more information on the AIDS pandemic and how you can get involved in advocacy, research, or activism see the following links:

If you are reading this blog from a computer or phone within the United States, you are well aware that health care reform debates are coming to a head. The latest controversy over just how, and for whom, health care reform will become institutionalized comes in the form of the Stupak amendment, which the The Wall Street Journal describes as “a last-minute amendment toughening abortion restriction in the House health-care bill….” backed by “(t)he U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, a powerful force behind the strong abortion language in the House.”  Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal also reports that “Planned Parenthood …. has started a petition drive that has been promoted by Cosmopolitan magazine,” and that  “(a)ctivists hope to flood Washington to rally and lobby on Dec. 2, during the week that Senate floor debate begins.”

A protester in Los Angeles last Friday

To better understand this issue from the perspective of reproductive and sexual justice activists, I turned to a former student of mine, Courtney Bell. Courtney received her M.A. in Public Policy from the University of Washington, Bothell in 2008 and is currently working as a Public Affairs Field Organizer for Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest.


Message Number Three

by Courtney Bell

As a community organizer for Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest, I have had the privilege of joining our supporters on the front lines of the debate over health care reform these past few months. Together, we have generated thousands of contacts into the offices of our members of Congress, expressing support for reproductive health care and advocating for its inclusion as part of any basic health care package.

And it’s been a bumpy ride. When Planned Parenthood Federation of America kicked off our organizing campaign for Health Care Reform early last summer, we had three primary messages to convey:

  1. Reproductive health care must be included in any health care reform package. Reproductive health care is basic health care and real reform includes women’s health.
  2. Essential community providers must be included in health plan networks so that patients can access health care from the trusted providers in their communities.
  3. Women must not be worse off after health care reform than they are today.

When I first heard Message #3, I thought to myself, “Duh! Isn’t that kind of a no-brainer of a goal to be working toward? Surely, if health care reform is passed, this is the only outcome to be expected.” I knew that health care reform was all about expanded access to care for millions of people, and currently there are more than 17 million women in the United States who are uninsured.

But now, having participated in three chaotic and infuriating (read: teabagger) Health Care Reform town halls in Western Washington, countless nationwide phone banks, and two advocacy days on the Hill in Washington DC over the past few months, I see that clearly, Message #3 has become our paramount concern. On November 8th, the House passed its version of Health Care Reform with the inclusion of the Stupak-Pitts Amendment. Under this amendment, millions of women will lose access to private insurance coverage for abortion care. And as reported in a study by the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services, “the treatment exclusions required under the Stupak/Pitts Amendment will have an industry-wide effect, eliminating coverage of medically indicated abortions over time for all women, not only those whose coverage is derived through a health insurance exchange.”

It has been a founding principle of Health Care Reform, as articulated by President Obama, that no one will lose the benefits they currently have. Make no mistake: this is exactly what will happen if the Stupak-Pitts Amendment makes it into the final version of the bill.

Fortunately, the Senate version of Health Care Reform currently excludes this disastrous language. We must do all that we can to ensure that when the final bill comes before our President for a signature, it is one that respects our fundamental rights.


If you are interested in joining Planned Parenthood in this fight to ensure that women will not be worse off after health care reform than they are today, Courtney offers three action plans:

1. Sign the petition to President Obama, Majority Leader Reid, and Speaker Pelosi. It’s the first step to stopping the Stupak ban and protecting women’s access to abortion coverage.

2. Join Planned Parenthood in DC on December 2 for a National Lobby Day, when Planned Parenthood and allies will be taking this message straight to Congress.

3. Read the Issue Brief: Impact of Stupak Amendment on Access to Abortion Coverage and Care and share with others.


Additional readings from reproductive health and justice experts on the Stupak amendment:

In the past few weeks there have been several new stories (at least the U.S.)  about young people dressing “queer”  (in other words, playing with gender and not adhering to a rigid sex/gender system), while some school officials wring their hands in dismay. Some officials respond by attempting to BAN gender non-conformity at school, such as we see in the Morehouse College case and in the case of the girl who is fighting to wear a tux for her Senior class photo. One school principle attempted to simply CANCEL an event where gender/sexual non-conformity might be displayed (Alabama prom story). Meanwhile, one official response to gender non-conformity in India has been to simply add another official sex/gender category: voters can now register one of three sexes: male, female, or “other.”

These new developments are gratifying for me to witness, even those that are hotly contested. Sanctions around “appropriate” behavior and appearance expectations are not new, but perhaps what is new is a larger coalition of people (including parents, teachers, students, scholars, and community members) who understand that gender norms are not static, but simply reflective of existing sex/gender/sexuality systems. This larger coalition is part of the reason why Ceara Sturgis, the girl who wants to wear a tux for her Senior class photo, can be so courageous: “I’m standing up for a bunch of people who support me,” she said. “It’s an honor.” This is new, and very exciting.

That said, courage is needed on many fronts when it comes to working for sex/gender/sexuality justice. For the 11th year in a row, we are reminded of the fact that many people still hate and fear gender non-conformists so much that they murder them.

ritahesterThe Transgender Day of Remembrance was initially a response to the murder of Rita Hester, which occurred 11 yrs ago this week (Nov. 28, 1998). Rita’s murder occurred just 5 weeks after the murder of Matthew Shepard (who died of his injuries on Oct. 12, 1998). The story of Matthew Shepard inspired a jaw dropping amount of attention and activism, culminating with The Matthew Shepard Act (criminal justice legislation which imposes harsher penalties for perpetrators of hate crimes) signed by Obama just last month.

In contrast to the mainstream recognition of Matthew Shepard, few in the mainstream, even in the gay movement, have heard of Rita Hester. Unlike Matthew, a white, middle class college boy, Rita Hester was African American, transgendered, and made a living in part through performance. Though the movement inspired by Rita has had to be more grassroots (no People magazine features here), it has been steadily growing. And today, not just in the U.S. but internationally, there are more than 120 separate vigils and events scheduled in remembrance of all the Ritas of the world. eleventh1Please see below for a marvelous article on the meaning of today’s events from Jos, a trans identified author writing for

Today is the 11th annual Transgender Day of Remembrance. This day was created as a time to grieve trans and gender non-conforming people killed over the past year because of fear and hatred. It also serves as a time to raise awareness about violence against trans folks. The event was started by Gwendolyn Ann Smith following the murder of Rita Hester on November 28, 1998. Every year since the day’s founding vigils and memorial events have been held in the US and increasingly all over the world.

This year the TGEU Trans Murder Monitoring project TDOR 2009 update has collected information about over 160 people killed because of other people’s violent reaction to their trans presentation or identity. These numbers represent only those people we know about. We don’t know how many trans folks were actually murdered this year – our identities are so rarely recognized and there is still so little awareness about trans issues and the violence trans folks face that it is safe to say many murders of trans folks went unreported.

Finding accurate information to identify murder victims as trans or killed because of their gender presentation is a consistent challenge. Just this week the brutal murder of Jorge Steven Lopez Mercado was reported as that of a “gay teen” with male pronouns used when referring to Lopez Mercado. There has been very little coverage of the fact that Lopez Mercado was a sex worker with a female presentation. Murder suspect Juan antonio Martinez Matos said he thought Lopez Mercado was female but then “realized that the teenager was actually male.”

I don’t know how Lopez Mercado identified, but Martinez Matos’ statement tells us that they didn’t conform to his strict understanding of gender: Martinez Matoz thought Lopez Mercado was female and then changed his opinion, the reason given for the murder. So Lopez Mercado’s name has been added to the list of those we remember.

Many of those we have mourned over the years originally had their murders reported as the killing of a gay male. For most we still don’t know how they identified. But Lopez Mercado’s murder reflects those of too many others killed when presenting a gender other than that assigned to them at birth. Some may not have identified as trans but all were killed because of hatred directed towards those who break the strict rules of the compulsory gender binary. They were killed because they did not conform to what someone else thought their gender should be.

The media’s consistent failure to accurately identify trans folks reflects the erasure of and refusal to recognize our identities, lived experiences, and even our very existence. Information that identifies a murder victim as the target of anti-trans violence is often presented in the same way Martinez Matos’ story has been reported: the murderer thought the victim was a woman and killed them when they realized they were actually male and panicked. This narrative erases trans identities, legitimizes perceived physical sex over gender presentation, and paints trans folks as desceptive and the murderer as tricked, suggesting possible justification for murder. Media narratives end up contributing to the culture of violence and hatred targeted towards trans folks by legitimizing this “trans panic” narrative that gives the responsibility for explaining the murder victim’s identity to the very person who killed them.

Based on the murders we know about traditional sexism plays a huge role in who is killed: most people on the list each year had a feminine gender presentation. Other intersections of oppression seem to increase the likelihood of being targeted by anti-trans violence as well. Most of the people on the list are black or Latin@. And many were sex workers, a job that is often the only option for trans folks facing employment discrimination, rejection by family and friends, and high drop out rates from school because of harassment.

As a trans person I know I am a potential target of violence. However, as a person with white privilege not engaging in potentially dangerous work to survive I know I am less at risk than many other trans folks. This certainly gives me pause on Trans Day of Remembrance. I am lucky enough to have access to a pretty big platform when I want to raise awareness about the trans-related issues I care and know most about. Most of the people killed never had the opportunity to share their stories in such a public way.

I share something with everyone who was killed, but there are also major differences between my life experiences and those of most of the people we are remembering. I raise this point because I often feel a degree of appropriation in Trans Day of Remembrance. Many people are entering this day remembering lost friends and loved ones, people with whom they share life experience. But even many trans folks like myself have a very different life story from those killed. While I feel a strong personal connection to this day I also know the stories are not my own. I can mourn but also recognize important power differentials that make other trans folks more likely targets of violence. We must avoid using the stories of those killed to advance consciousness raising projects and a political agenda that is about the needs of trans folks with more relative power and privilege. Instead, we need to be continually working to build a politics that centers the voices and needs of those who are most vulnerable, even within already marginalized populations.

This year there are Transgender Day of Remembrance events occurring in over 120 locations. A list of events can be found here, though there may be an event at a city near you that is not listed so I recommend searching for “Transgender Day of Remembrance” and the nearest city if you would like to participate in a vigil or memorial.

Shari Dworkin and I are happy to introduce our first official guest post, from Adina Nack, Associate Professor of Sociology at California Lutheran University:


By Adina Nack

What are the overt and covert goals of school dress codes? Are these dress codes developed to ensure that students meet norms of professionalism, or do these serve as tools for schools to enforce heteronormativity and stigmatize transgenderism? Are schools citing safety concerns, warning parents about how to protect youth from harm, or do these intend to distract us from the ways in which dress codes serve to reinforce heterosexist norms? How well can we predict the unintended consequences of dress codes – both the more ‘traditional’ and more ‘progressive’ policies?

These are the questions I found myself asking after reading Shari Dworkin’s recent post about Morehouse College’s dress code and a recent New York Times article by Jan Hoffman that asked, “Can a boy wear a skirt to school?”: (see High Schools Struggle When Gender Bends the Dress Code).

articleLargeThis NYT piece focused on the number of U.S. high schools who have created dress codes that explicitly classify “unconventional gender expression” as violations warranting disciplinary actions. Hoffman also mentioned some high schools whose dress codes are more accepting of “gender-blurring clothing.” Hoffman’s recent NYT article includes arguments for and against dress codes that allow for a diverse range of gender and sexuality expressions, noting safety as “a critical concern.”

To exemplify this point, Hoffman mentions Lawrence King’s 2008 murder. Living and teaching near Oxnard, CA, I had immersed myself in the news coverage of this school shooting. Journalists often discussed King as a 15-year-old student who sometimes cross-dressed and who had talked about being gay. For example, Ramin Setoobeh’s 2008 coverage of King’s story in Newsweek included detailed descriptions of the clothing, make-up, and accessories that the 15-year-old often wore to school. At the time of the murder, many local residents – ranging from the socially conservative to the socially progressive – were shocked when reports revealed that King had been allowed to ‘cross-dress’ at his middle school. According to MSNBC, his school’s leniency became the reason for Lawrence King’s family to file a personal injury claim against the school district: “for not enforcing the dress code.”

When it comes to questions of school safety, it is not appropriate to posit any dress code as the solution. Blaming a school – for having a “lenient” dress code or for not enforcing a dress code – is a simplistic and unjust conclusion to reach. Following this line of reasoning, we should not question a dress code which privileges a narrow definition of masculinity. Codes and policies rooted in social inequalities serve to elevate oppressive norms – we can and should be critical consumers.

In an SWS listserv discussion inspired by last week’s NYT article, sociologist Joan I. Biddle, raised interesting points that illustrate why a context-sensitive analysis is key. I followed up with her by email, and she clarified her perspective:

“The degree to which the faculty become involved with these students may have a lot to do with how the student behaves at school. Is the student doing things which disrupt the learning of other students? Also, how does the student present her/himself to the others in the school setting? And, is this presentation compatible with the flow of things in the social/educational environment at the school?”

Several questions arise here: How does heteronormativity influence teachers’ and administrators’ definitions of ‘disruptive’ behavior? Do longstanding stereotypes about homosexual males – as those who seek to ‘convert’ heterosexuals or as supposed perpetrators of sexual crimes – make it more likely for a cross-dressing male student to be labeled as deviant and aggressive?

Biddle’s point about the social significance of a student being perceived as ‘disruptive’ is illustrated by a line in Setoobeh’s article about King’s murder: “Larry King was, admittedly, a problematical test case: he was a troubled child who flaunted his sexuality and wielded it like a weapon—it was often his first line of defense.” In U.S. schools, are heterosexual students ever accused of ‘flaunting’ their sexuality? Are heterosexual boys who flirt with girls likely to be cited for having used their sexuality as a weapon?  Setoobeh’s use of a ‘sexuality-as-weapon’ metaphor likely referred to reports of King being accused of ‘sexually harassing’ several male students, including the student who ultimately killed him. However, framing King as the one wielding “a weapon” distracts from how we problematize any sexual agency on the part of minority sexualities and the numerous reports about King having been the victim of homophobic bullying.

A year and a half after this tragedy, mainstream media coverage of school dress codes fails to bring sufficient attention to underlying inequalities reinforced by these institutional policies which codify heterosexism. If we want to focus on safety concerns, then what about holding all U.S. schools accountable for not allowing any type of bullying or sexual harassment to take place on their campuses? Reframing the social problem in this way would require a nationwide crackdown on the most prevalent and normalized type of sexual harassment – that of boys/men harassing girls/women. We would also have to address the far too common harassment and bullying of LGBTQ students, heterosexual female students, and students who are marginalized for their ethnicity, social class, abilities, or religious beliefs.

I agree with Dworkin, who concluded her post with, “Supporting dominant forms of gendered, racialized, and sexualized masculinities (heterosexual masculinities, middle class masculinities) and erasing subordinated masculinities (gay, working class, or urban underclass) whether this is through dress codes, hair styles, speech, or other social practices simply does not recognize that there are many acceptable ways to be a man….” It’s time to de-stigmatize ‘boys in skirts’ and keep issues of power and privilege in mind when we discuss students’ expressions of sex, gender, and sexuality.


Suggested Readings:

  • Hand, Jeanne Z. and Laura Sanchez. 2000. “Badgering or Bantering?: Gender Differences in Experience of, and Reactions to, Sexual Harassment among U.S. High School Students.” Gender and Society, Vol. 14, No. 6:pp. 718-746.
  • Meyer, Elizabeth J. 2008. “A feminist reframing of bullying and harassment: Transforming schools through critical pedagogy.” McGill Journal of Education, Vol. 43, No. 1 (Winter): 33-48.
  • Pascoe, C.J. 2007. Dude, You’re a Fag: Masculinity and Sexuality in High School. Berkeley, CA: UC Press.
  • Whitelaw, Sarah, Laura Hills, and Julia De Rosa. 1999. “Sexually Aggressive and Abusive Behaviors in Schools.” Women’s Studies Quarterly, Vol. 27, No. 1/2: pp. 203-211.

A recent article in the British Telegraph reports that the government of the Spanish region of Extremadura is funding a new sexuality education campaign directed at teens aged 14-17. The campaign takes an empowerment approach towards teens and sexual pleasure, leading with the slogan, “Pleasure is in your own hands.” Through hip fanzines, flyers and workshops, the campaign provides sex positive information about masturbation, as well as contraception and self-respect. Full text of the Telegraph’s article can be found here

Extremadura shares its eastern border of Portugal and its western border with Castile la Mancha (which houses Madrid).
Extremadura shares its eastern border with Portugal and its western border with Castile la Mancha (which houses Madrid).


As might be expected, religious conservatives in Spain (affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church) are not happy with the pleasure campaign: the Telegraph quotes Hernández Carrón of the right wing People’s party as saying, “‘(t)his is an intimate subject that should be dealt with at home.'” He complains further that “(w)e have become the laughing stock of Spain.”

Despite conservative opposition, this move is part of a larger shift within more progressive sexual health circles towards a “sex positive” perspective on sexuality and sexual pleasure. Indeed, in their Declaration of Sexual Rights, the World Association for Sexual Health lists sexual pleasure as #5 out of 11 sexual rights:

#5. The right to sexual pleasure. Sexual pleasure, including autoeroticism, is a source of physical, psychological, intellectual and spiritual well-being.

How did it come to be that pleasuring one’s own body came to be seen as forbidden to begin with? In his book, Solitary Sex: A Cultural History of Masturbation (2003), Thomas Laqueuer (UC Berkeley, History) traces some of this history to the Enlightenment concept of “onania” (which claims that masturbation actually causes physical harm): “The dangers of onanism became a key concern of Enlightenment thinkers, whose preoccupation with social order made them see this inherently private activity as self-abuse in the most literal sense” (review in The New Yorker). This same review in The New Yorker rightly points out that sources of guilt and sexual shame also most certainly existed prior to and well beyond the touches of Western European Enlightenment.

For the religious opponents of masturbation in Spain, The Catechism of the Catholic Church (#2352) may more than enough reason to oppose pleasure for its own sake:

“Both the Magisterium of the Church, in the course of a constant tradition, and the moral sense of the faithful have been in no doubt and have firmly maintained that masturbation is an intrinsically and gravely disordered action.”137 “The deliberate use of the sexual faculty, for whatever reason, outside of marriage is essentially contrary to its purpose.” For here sexual pleasure is sought outside of “the sexual relationship which is demanded by the moral order and in which the total meaning of mutual self-giving and human procreation in the context of true love is achieved.”138

Sexuality education and the right to sexual pleasure are not the only areas where Spain is becoming a leader in progressive sexuality policy; in 2005 Spain also became one of just five nations that currently recognize gay marriage. [along with the Netherlands (2001), Belgium (2003), Canada (2005), South Africa (2006)]. Additionally, Norway and Sweden have both recently passed legislation of gender-neutral marriage bills (Jan. 1, 2009 and May 1, 2009)– thus effectively also legalizing same-sex marriage.


  • Laqueur, Thomas W. 2003. Solitary Sex: A Cultural History of Masturbation. Zone Books.

India is a vital location for sexuality scholars and activists, further confirmed by yesterday’s news that “India’s third gender gets own identity in voter rolls.” Partial text of this news story is quoted below:

By Harmeet Shah Singh, CNN

NEW DELHI, India (CNN) — Indian election authorities Thursday granted what they called an independent identity to intersex and transsexuals in the country’s voter lists.

Before, members of these groups — loosely called eunuchs in Indian English — were referred to as male or female in the voter rolls.

But now, they will have the choice to tick “O” — for others — when indicating their gender in voter forms, the Indian election commission said in a statement.

“Enumerators and booth-level officers (BLOs) shall be instructed to indicate the sex of eunuchs/transsexuals etc as ‘O’ if they so desire, while undertaking any house-to-house enumeration/verification of any application,” a statement from election authorities said.

India, home to more than 1 billion people, has 714 million registered voters.

Intersexual people are seen as a marginalized community in India. Many end up begging on the streets, becoming prostitutes or earning their livelihood by dancing at celebrations.

This news comes on the heels of a July ruling in India that decriminalized homosexual sex (discussed in a previous post comparing sexual rights movements in India and the U.S.). The comparable U.S. ruling to this came just six years ago with Lawrence V. Texas.

The story above uses the terms “intersexual,” eunuch,” and “transsexual” as interchangable identities. Perhaps in some contexts they may all be considered members of the same “third gender” category,  but it is also useful and important to clarify some basic differences between these terms and others. Below are some very short, shorthand definitions:

  • Eunuch: an historic English term for a man who has been castrated to perform special social functions.
  • Intersexual: a term referring to people who are born with a mixture of both “male” and “female” hormonal, chromosomal, and/or genital characteristics (historically referred to as “hermaphrodite.”) (See the work of biologist Anne Fausto Sterling.)
  • Hijra: A term originating in South India referring to a person usually born male or intersex, but who uses female pronouns as dresses in feminine/”women’s” attire.
  • Transsexual: a term referring to someone who changes their sex through medical (surgical and/or hormonal) procedures.
  • Transgendered: a term referring to someone whose gender identity is different from the one traditionally assigned to their sex category. (People are born into sex categories of male and female; many but not all then become gendered masculine or feminine and into “men” and “women.”) Thus a transgendered person born in the female sex category may identify with the gender category “man” or “boi.” This may or may not involve surgical or hormonal alteration (in other words, it can simply be a social agreement).
  • Drag: a term that comes out of gay culture, involving someone temporarily “performing” a gender not usually associated with their sex (through dress, gestures, and so on). Ironic humor and extravagant campiness often involved.
  • Transvestite/cross-dresser: These are older terms with many meanings and histories — and often the term has been used in a derogatory fashion. In terms of practice though, “cross dressers” are often not gay, but “straight” men who simply enjoy dressing up as “women.”

These definitions are not meant to be comprehensive, but simply an entry point for those unfamiliar with these terms. There are also dozens of other terms associated with specific cultures and histories. (Readers, feel free to share other definitions, links, or references!)

Ok, now on to the topic at hand. Whenever I discuss the idea of recognizing more than two sexes/genders with my students, they inevitably claim that “society” will never let more than two sexes exist. Where would “they” go to the bathroom?!” they cry. Well, now we finally have a case where a “society” did allow more than two sexes to exist. Officially exist. Like in the Census Bureau. Then again, the concept of a third sex/gender has a long history in India (Reddy 2005).

Three things fascinate me about this new development in India:

  • 1) the social/activist process by which a third sex/gender became legally recognized (if readers have information on this I’d love to hear about how this worked in India),
  • 2) the acceptance of a third gender category based on either Social identity (people who simply feel and dress as a different sex/gender) and/or Biological identity (people who possess hormonal, chromosomal, and/or genital characteristics of more than one sex). As a result, this category applies to people who are intersexual, people who undergo surgical or hormonal treatment, and/or people who simply identify with a gender category not typically associated with their sex. This recognition of a third sex/gender free from the limitations of  a dichotomous sex category system, opens up all sorts of interesting questions. (E.g., in the U.S., the underlying premise of the gay marriage debate is that there are only two sexes: Male and Female, and two basic types of sexuality: Gay and Straight. If a third sex/gender person wanted to get married in the US system, what kind of marriage would it be?)
  • 3) Finally, I am intrigued by the implications of politically enfranchising this socially/politically marginalized group. (I am thinking here of how in the U.S., millions of marginalized Americans are barred from voting by simply denying felons the right to vote). Keep in mind here that a large proportion of Hijra are sex workers, and that sex workers in India are already quite well organized. Like the gay rights activism of ACT UP a significant amount sex worker activism in India is linked to the HIV/AIDS epidemic (e.g., SANGRAM and the Sonagachi Project). How will the newly enfranchised Hijra will impact the movement for sex workers rights, gay rights, intersexual/third gender rights, and HIV/AIDS interventions? What will they say about ongoing controversies around intersexual athletes (such as the Indian runner, Santhi Soundarajan)? I will be watching with great interest!

(Thanks to Melissa Embser-Herbert for the story tip).

Some recommended books on “third gender” related issues:

  • Jacobs, Sue-Ellen, Wesley Thomas, and Sabine Lang (Eds). 1997. Two-Spirit People: Native American Gender Identity, Sexuality, and Spirituality. University of Illinois Press.
  • Manalansan, Martin. 2003. Global Divas: Filipino Gay Men in the Diaspora. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
  • Namaste, Viviane. 2000. Invisible Lives: The erasure of transsexual and transgendered people. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Preves, Sharon. 2003. Intersex and Identity: The Contested Self. Rutgers University Press.
  • Reddy, Gayatri. 2005. With Respect to Sex: Negotiating Hijra Identity in South India. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Stryker, Susan and Stephen Whittle, (Eds). 2006. The Transgender Studies Reader. New York: Routledge.

This year’s November elections in the United States included two high profile “gay marriage” cases, one in Maine, one in Washington State. Both states typically vote Democratic, are predominately White, and are on the Northernmost borders of the US, brushing up against Canada (where gay marriage has been legal since 2005). Accurate data on religiousity is hard to come by, but Maine and Washington are both considered to be far more secular than their counterparts in the South and Southeast. Now a week after the elections with most of the votes counted, activists and analysts are attempting to understand what happened: Why did Maine vote against gay marriage, and Washington vote for civil unions (AKA “everything but marriage”?)

In Maine, gay marriage was voted down by voters at 53% to 47%. (But just two weeks before the vote, polls indicated a dead heat at 48% to 48%, with 5 percent undecided).maine_map

Washington_mapIn Washington, civil unions (AKA “everything but marriage”) between same sex partners and opposite sex partners older than 62 was approved by almost the same percentage as disproved in Maine: Approximately 53% to 47%.

The Huffington Post (via AP newswire) reports that Maine is just the latest in failures for gay marriage to pass by popular vote:

Gay marriage has now lost in every single state — 31 in all — in which it has been put to a popular vote. Gay-rights activists had hoped to buck that trend in Maine — known for its moderate, independent-minded electorate — and mounted an energetic, well-financed campaign.

Yesterday’s issue of The National Review Online, a conservative online publication, featured a triumphant story on the Maine defeat:

Robert P. George, a professor of politics at Princeton and founder of the American Principles Project, observes: “Maine is a northeastern liberal state with a significant student population. There are few blacks and very few Mormons. There is not a large Evangelical Christian population. The forces working in the state for the abolition of the conjugal conception of marriage as the union of husband and wife had the strong support not only of the media, but also of the state’s governor and other leading political figures. They had a significant funding advantage. On Election Day, they got the large turnout that they believed would assure them of victory. Yet, when the votes were counted, the people of Maine came down solidly in favor of restoring the conjugal conception of marriage that the state’s legislature and governor attempted to abolish.” (Lopez, “Winning with Marriage: Another year, another electoral victory.”) (emphasis mine).

Prof. George clearly marks some of the usual suspects opposing gay marriage: Mormons, non-intellectuals, evangelical Christians, and African-Americans. George and editor Kathy Lopez from NRO argues that that since none of these demographics are dominant in Maine, the reason must be that Maine voters simply know the difference between right and wrong: (“Why has gay marriage consistently lost when put in the hands of voters? Because what’s true is true. Most people know in their own heart that marriage is between a man and a woman”).

Assuming that the answer to this question is a bit more complicated than “right” or “wrong,” I first turned to the U.S. Census Bureau for quick facts on Maine and Washington. Here we see that:

  • Washington state is BIGGER: approx. 6.5 million in Washington vs. 1.3 million in Maine.
  • Washington state is GROWING FASTER: 11% growth in Washington, 3.3% in Maine; (US average 8%).
  • Washington state has YOUNGER population demographics: 12% age 62+  in Washington, 15.1% age 62+ in Maine; (US average: 12.8% 62+)
  • Washington residents make more MONEY: $55,628 median household income in Washington; $45,832 in Maine; (US median household income: $50,740)
  • Washington is MORE RACIALLY DIVERSE: Washington is 84.3% White; Maine is 96.4% White (US average: 79.8%).
  • Washington voters are MORE EDUCATED: 27.7% B.A or higher in Washington, 22.9% B.A. or higher in Maine (US average: 24.4%)

The demographics for King County (including Seattle) are even more striking. With a population of over 1.8 million (bigger than the entire state of Maine), 44.4% over the age of 25 hold at least a Bachelor’s degree. King County voters also voted in favor of Referendum 71 (“everything but marriage”) by a landslide: 68% to 32%.

We know from numerous social surveys that higher education and younger age are often correlated with tolerance toward gays. These factors may help to explain some of the difference between Washington and Maine election results. For example, Lax and Phillips (2009) show that across the U.S.:

  • only 10-35% of people age 65+ support gay marriage
  • but 35-75% of people between age 18-29 support  gay marriage.
  • Incredibly, this means that on the aggregate level, age matters more than location: i.e. young people in gay-hostile states are more likely to support gay marriage than older people in gay-friendly states! (See graph here).

Since Washington State is younger while Maine is older than the national average, the age-factor (in addition to the education factor) seems quite relevant in these elections. (Another twist here is that in Washington State, older heterosexual voters actually had an incentive to vote for civil unions).

For gay marriage rights activists, simply waiting for old people to die off (or for more people to go to college) is unsatisfying; this strategy also doesn’t work for conservative defenders of exclusive heterosexual marriage rights. Thus, debates around gay marriage continue to boomerang back to the sacred associations of marriage: Can the meaning of marriage change? Should they? What are the consequences of changing the meaning of marriage?

My hunch is that for those 5% of Maine fence-sitters, it was the fear around changing the meaning of “marriage” that tipped them toward the status quo. In Washington state, marriage wasn’t on the line so voters got to skip past those fears, bringing them toward a post-modern future.

Stay tuned for: “When does the meaning of marriage change?”

Morehouse CollegeMorehouse College is a small all-male college in Atlanta Georgia with 2,700 students. It has recently instituted a ban on women’s clothing, high heels, and carrying purses within its student body. Dr. William Bynum, vice president for Student Services reported that “We are talking about five students who are living a gay lifestyle that is leading them to dress a way we do not expect in Morehouse men.” CNN reports that the college has stated that those who are found breaking the policy will not be allowed to go to class unless they change. The school also reports that “chronic dress-code offenders could be suspended from the college.”

The policy details 11 expectations of students, including:

  • 1. No caps, do-rags and/or hoods in classrooms, the cafeteria, or other indoor venues. This policy item does not apply to headgear considered as a part of religious or cultural dress.
  • 2. Sun glasses or “shades” are not to be worn in class or at formal programs, unless medical documentation is provided to support use.
  • 3. Decorative orthodontic appliances (e.g. “grillz”) be they permanent or removable, shall not be worn on the campus or at College-sponsored events.
  • 4. Jeans at major programs such as, Opening Convocation, Commencement, Founder’s Day or other programs dictating professional, business casual attire, semi-formal or formal attire.
  • 5. Clothing with derogatory, offensive and/or lewd messages either in words or pictures.
  • 6. Top and bottom coverings should be work at all times. No bare feet in public venues.
  • 7. No sagging–the wearing of one’s pants or shorts low enough to reveal undergarments or secondary layers of clothing.
  • 8. Pajamas, shall not be worn while in public or in common areas of the College.
  • 9. No wearing of clothing associated with women’s garb (dresses, tops, tunics, purses, pumps, etc.) on the Morehouse campus or at College-sponsored events.
  • 10. Additional dress regulations may be imposed upon students participating in certain extracurricular activities that are sponsored or organized by the College (e.g. athletic teams, the band, Glee Club, etc).
  • 11. The college reserves the right to modify this policy as deemed appropriate.

Cameron Thomas-Shah,  the student government co-chief of staff, has said that “The image of a strong black man needs to be upheld,” on the campus. And Bynum declares with certainty that the policy is needed by reporting that:

“We know the challenges that young African-American men face. We know that how a student dresses has nothing to do with what is in their head, but first impressions mean everything.”

Oh, gosh, where to begin with this one…

Stuart HallStuart Hall, in his seminal work on social inequality and culture (titled Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices), defines how a sense of “othering” develops among more powerless groups when marked as “different” from (and often inferior to) dominant groups. “Othering” as you can see is a verb and refers to how powerless groups are marked and viewed as different and then frequently treated differentially by dominant groups on the basis of such markings. Marginalized groups, in turn, frequently come to see themselves as “different from” dominant groups and, at times, take on the qualities of dominant groups so as to assure that the possibilities for acceptance and upward mobility are not squelched within “mainstream society.” For African-American men in particular, as a response to having a lack of access to traditional means of masculinity (e.g. the occupational structure and mobility within it), scholars have further suggested that many African-American men adopt a “cool pose” that exaggerates attributes of masculine prowess (physicality and sexuality) to compensate for the lack of empowerment in other areas of their lives (Staples, 2006; Majors & Bilson, 1993; Messner, 1997). This process is said to be due to institutional and personal racism and discrimination which deny many African-American men traditional opportunities for masculine affirmation (e.g., education, employment, etc.). Behaviors to constitute hegemonic masculinity (the most dominant form of masculinity in a given period–often middle class and heterosexual), often include those that conform to gender role expectations that signify masculinity not only in the African-American community but broader society more generally.

This response may not be surprising given that historically, African-American manhood has been portrayed in racist ways as “problematic,” characterized by deviance, having a lack of social and familial responsibility, poverty, and sexual promiscuity. Concurrently, African-American sexuality has often been conceptualized as hypermasculine, hyperheterosexual, and aggressive (Ford et al., 2007) even when studies show that men frequently act in the opposite manner.

In the case of this particular news story, the response of the school represents precisely what the above scholars delineate. First, the school is “othering” classed signifiers of urban youth and the urban underclass (no “sagging pants” no “do rags,” no “shades”). It is also “othering” men who are (supposedly) not masculine, men who are not heterosexual, and men who dress casually (e.g. “unprofessionally”) at college events or common areas. In this way, dominant forms of masculinity are being embraced while “subordinated masculinities” (urban underclass, gay men) are being rejected and surveilled. The school is likely responding in this way because they want to ensure that African-American men, who have often been denied access to traditional structures can work within the current system and succeed (e.g.  this is clear from the quotes from the administration such as “we know the challenges that African-American men face,” “first impressions mean everything,” and “the image of a strong black man needs to be upheld”). Simultaneously, however, the school is rejecting signifiers of “other” men so as to ensure that the privileges associated with dominant norms of masculinity are not lost on African-American men as a group. To accomplish this, the school is attempting to use clothing policies to erase signifiers of marginalized masculinities as a way to shore up access to the privileges that arise from “good impressions.”

While it is important for African-American men at this university or any university to succeed, these policies are discriminatory against feminine men, gay men, and men who signify non-dominant aspects of class relations. Other African-American scholars have shown how racist and classist ideologies are used to surveil the dress and actions of Black male basketball players in the NBA (Todd Boyd’s book Am I Black Enough For you?), the hair of African-American newscasters, and how homophobia is alive and well both inside of and outside of the African-American community.

Recently, David Love posted a follow-up article to the policies enacted at Morehouse College online titled “Morehouse dress code is more about homophobia than decorum,” and underscored that “the ban on women’s dress is, however, little more than a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy for gay students. At best, it is a misplaced policy. At worst, it’s pure homophobia cloaked in official college stationery.”

Love goes on to report that “At a time when President Obama has announced his intention to repeal the military’s ban on openly gay servicemen and women, the school’s timing couldn’t have been more awkward. And in light of Congress recently passing a Matthew Shepard hate crimes bill to protect gay victims of violence, the Morehouse dress code is insensitive and anachronistic.”

It appears that Morehouse College can and should reconsider its othering and policing practices (despite its long list of classed signifiers that are on the prohibited dress code list, the school seems to then hone in on the fact that “we are talking about five students that are living a gay lifestyle”). Supporting dominant forms of gendered, racialized, and sexualized masculinities (heterosexual masculinities, middle class masculinities) and erasing subordinated masculinities (gay, working class, or urban underclass) whether this is through dress codes, hair styles, speech, or other social practices simply does not recognize that there are many acceptable ways to be a man–and many acceptable ways to be an African-American man in the United States. If stigma and discrimination are what Morehouse College wanted to teach its students about manhood through its public statements and its dress code policies, then they succeeded without question.


  • Ford, C.R., Whetten, K.D., Hall, S.A., Kaufman, J.S., & Thrasher, A.D. (2007). Black sexuality, social construction, and research targeting “the down low” (the “DL”). Annuals of Epidemiology, 17, 209-216.
  • Hall, S.(1997). Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices. New York: Sage Press.
  • Majors, R., & Bilson, J.M. (1993). Cool Pose: The Dilemmas Of Black Manhood in America. NewYork: Touchstone Press.
  • Messner, M.A. (1997). Masculinities: Men in Movements. Lanham, Maryland: Altamira Press.
  • Staples R. (2006). Exploring Black Sexuality. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield.








This story comes from British-based Elizabeth Pisani. Pisani has a Ph.D. in Epidemology, is author of The Wisdom of Whores: Bureaucrats, Brothels, and the Business of AIDS, and has a blog by the same title dedicated to “sex and science.”


elizabethYesterday the US finally dropped its absolutely senseless law forbidding people with HIV from visiting the Land of the Free. (While Saint Obama is getting patted on the back for ending the ban, he was actually signing off on something that George Bush put in motion last year). That’s unmitigated good news for people with HIV, their lovers, friends and families, as well as for a lot of US employers who can’t import some of the best and the brightest simply because they have a not-very infectious virus that can only be transmitted in a tiny number of well-known ways which we can protect against with safe, cheap technologies.

Does this signal a new wave of common sense in HIV prevention in the United States? That’s certainly what we expected when Obama was elected. During his campaign, for example, he recognised that sterile needle programmes cut HIV infection among injectors, saving lives and money, and pledged to end a ban on funding those programmes from federal coffers. So cities such as his home town of Chicago, pictured in the map below, will now be able to use central money to provide clean needles to the inner city injectors that need them most. As long as they set up in one of the grey spaces. In the cemetary, in other words.


(Click to enlarge)

On this fantastic map, which comes from Yale University’s Dr. Russell Barbour by way of Stop the Drug War, the red areas are the parts of town where it would be illegal to operate a federally funded needle exchange under new rules proposed by Congress. The Drug War Chronicle provides an interesting history of the needle exchange shenannigans. Essentially, Obama did not remove the ban from a budget bill because he thinks policy shouldn’t be made through sub-clauses in budget bills. Democrats on the committee discussing the bill disagreed, and dropped the ban. Then Republicans, not willing to give up the idea that the availability of clean needles would have us all racing to start shooting up smack, decided to protect the innocent by forbidding needle programmes within 1,000 feet of “a public or private day care centre, elementary school, vocational school, secondary school, college, junior college, or university, or any public swimming pool, park, playground, video arcade, or youth centre, or an event sponsored by any such entity”. That’s the red bits on the map of Chicago above. Here’s Dr, Barbour’s map of needle exchange exclusion zones in San Francisco:


This is clearly just a way of pulling the rug from under any effort to increase access to clean needles. We’ve come to expect this kind of implaccable opposition from conservative Drug Warriors in the United States. We used to expect the Brits to be more rational about their drug policy, and the UK has, thank God, held on to its policy of providing clean fits for anyone that needs them. But with the sacking of the government’s independent advisor on drugs David Nutt for repeating his independent advice after the government chose to ignore it, I’m not so sure.

I’m not even going to wade in here about whether or not idependent scientific advisers to government should shut up after their advice is ignored, but I will commend to you a wonderful paper by Dr Nutt on the dangers of Equasy, (pdf) an irrational addiction to horse riding. This has been seized on by many who have not read it as an example of his inappropriate analyses. Irony, where art thou?

The US Drug Warriors also joyously seized on the latest round of anonymous surveillance of HIV among drug injectors in Britain, sending out an e-mail crowing about rising rates of HIV and drawing a link between that and the fact that the UK was the first country in the world to have national injection safety programmes. My next post will put those rather one-eyed claims into perspective.


Click here for the original story .