Me, Victorian Prude

Posted by – August 6, 2008

I was reading over at feministing.com about casual sex, & read a recent bulletin from GenderPAC about the increase in Purity Balls, & then was mourning over the loss of another trans woman who got beaten to death by a guy who she’d previously given a blowjob to, & it got me thinking.

See, I wasn’t comfortable being a nubile when I was younger. I wasn’t comfortable ever being a nubile, & am still only wont to dress in sexier ways in very safe spaces – like DO, or certain queer/drag/fetish events, or the like. As much as I know it’s never a woman’s fault if she is hurt because of the way she’s dressed, I also had enough contact with non-sexual street violence to be twice as cautious about leaving myself open to any kind of sexual abuse or harassment, much less violence.

Which probably makes me painfully Second Wave, but there you go. I just don’t get it, & I’m never going to get it. I never had good sex that was casual; a long-standing “booty call” type relationship was a little closer to my experience of having good, non-committed sex, and maybe here we’re just defining “casual” in different ways, and the folks over at feministing are talking about the same kind of relationship.

But for young transwomen who are getting killed the stakes are WAY higher. Not that a lifetime of dealing with the trauma of being raped or beaten isn’t enough, but at least you live through it. Stark, but there it is.

What worries me is that women are still defined by being sexual, and in some ways, are sexualising themselves instead of letting men do it. It’s kind of the Hugh Hefner version of feminism; sexually-liberated women means guys get laid more.

That is, I’m not sure it’s a world that women can be safe being sexual in. In fact, I’m pretty sure it isn’t. I’m not sure that encouraging women to be sexual in a world that still denigrates women and blames them for violence directed at them is a good plan. I don’t think Purity Balls are a good plan either; I find them ridiculous and frankly, kind of incestuous in their traditionalism.

I don’t really know what the answer is. I do know that I think young women need to feel more secure before having sex. I know that they need to tell someone where they’re going, & what their date’s name & address are. Trans women especially need to bring a friend the first time they meet a guy, & in a lot of cases, they need to be upfront about being trans *if* they’re going to date guys off the internet.

As usual, I find myself between the two sides of this ongoing argument. On the one hand, I think a lot of women become sexual in order to be sexy, not to be sexual for their own pleasure or their own selves, but for the validation that comes from our culture for it. On the other hand, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with remaining a virgin until you choose to have sex. In either case, I think women are being told too much about the right way to think about sex as a woman: either you’re supposed to be cool & groovy about casual sex or you’re not sufficiently liberated, or you’re a whore for even wanting to have sex without getting married & pregnant.

Be cautious, you beautiful young women. Not all men will respect your sexuality, & it’s worth waiting for one who will.

14 Comments on Me, Victorian Prude

  1. lizzy says:

    You said it exactly right. ” be cautious beautiful young women “.
    Being cool and groovy may not be worth the price. An Idea worth re stating.

  2. divadarya says:

    I share your ambivalence. When we heard of the young girl’s death, I had to bite my lip, because what I wanted to say is; why do our young girls play this dangerous game of “fool the straight guy” over and over? It goes without saying that their attackers are despicable and deserve the most severe of punishments, but why even play the game? How many other stories there must be of girls who were not killed but beaten severely or otherwise abused when the enraged guy finds out. I’m so proud of one beautiful young post-op friend of mine who lets every guy know who she is “As a matter of Trans pride, first of all, secondly for my own safety…”.
    I played with fire when I first came out too, but I guess I’m old enough to wise up faster. “Admire this!!” in blog talks about tranny bar culture a little; sometimes “no” should be “fuck, no!!”

  3. christinesus says:

    Helen:

    As someone who lives in a boring, middle-class neighborhood where the cops are the most likely ones to stop you when you’re out and about after dark, where does your experience with street violence come from? That kind of stuff is very foreign to me.

    C

  4. Great Post Helen –

    The trends regarding sex, women taking sex back so to speak , have many many deep implications – it all needs to be aired and explored. – From the publications evolving in the lesbian world the feminist world off our backs to On our backs..

    a slight aside..the most or at least top 3 most depressiing documentary i ever saw in the 90′s was called “KIDS” the causualness of the girls and they were young girls interfacing with gangs of boys was chilling…just so chilling..i.e. oral sex is not sex. etc. …sigh..

    Allso the double standard..which is a deeply feminist issue..the idea that men are studs yet women are sluts is alive an well – Its a very deep topic and thank you for continuing to explore it.

    Dear Readers all one has to do is read the paper and we can see street violence is on the upswing was it ever on a down swing..i think not …the suburbs are isolating IF you let them be. How much violence is occurring behind those closed doors – and it never makes the papers..domestic violence is a dirty secret to this day.

  5. helenboyd says:

    i don’t talk about my experience with street crime. suffice it to say that it’s the cause of my PTSD.

  6. joanne says:

    I’m a nice middle class white woman, formerly a nice, middle class white girl. Plenty of experience with violence, street crime and harassment, in NYC and all over the country when I used to travel alone a lot when I was younger. Lucky you that it’s foreign to you. Most women face it one way or the other, especially when they’re young.

  7. lizzy says:

    How many nice middle class white women have not experienced some type of violence, street, sexual abuse, rape incest ?
    I have been amazed and upset to hear just how many women in my chorus of 45 women have been beaten, or raped, or assaulted in some way.
    For many of them growing up, this was just part of life, uncle so and so touched all the little girls, and all there mommies told them to ” forget about it “.
    Why does Lizzy, out there in the suburbs have a big dog, and a shotgun ?

  8. Catrina says:

    In another life, or earlier in this one, I used to train women in martial arts techniques to fend off the vile scum that prowl the streets. Some of their stories were horrific. (Everyone… everyone should take a well regarded self defense course and know what to do in various circumstances.)

    In some cases, castration or immediate execution is “not” a cruel or unusual punishment. Some animals look human. But are really not human at all.

    In my old neighborhood in my youth, my apartment was burglarized over three times in six months. There was one murder in the next door building….. I broke up two rapes and testified in behalf of the victims… all in a space of about five years.

    There is a sociological imbalance that does exist in well to do neighborhoods and working class neighborhoods.

    Catrina

  9. It would be so great if sex education went back to the good old facts of life stuff i got in the early 60s not this value laden , sex = death stuff or the outright lies told in abstinance only education.

    so much is over sexulized in our culture..now i may sound like a prude, but i been there done that, back in the day. All of us have different circumstances. I just wish like you do Helen that women would be careful..get healthier messages and take more control – I suppose its human and part of the growing up process to want the validation of sex , for sex sake or to use it a way towards that hoped for emotional intimacy but the fact remains that women are more vulnerable to the down side of sex than males..(that is not to minimize male rape it can and does happen all to often as well)

    And geeze its complicated , and horriific for women in our culture and even worse in some other cultures where girls , and widows are disposable.. One just has to wonder if we will ever see an enlightened world – where women’s rights and human rights..and all humans are treated with dignity…the trends of late – don’t seem to bode well for this outcome BUT , you never know – where there is life there is hope, and sooner or later the repressive fundi stuff has got to get back to its pews..and out of our public policies.

    I agree with Catrina , the self defense course i took decades ago changed my entire world view , and gave me tools and a mentality a belief in myself that i simply did not have before it..and part of that is hieghtened awareness of all that is or was around me.

    If only we could get the message out to women of all stripes , be careful – be defensive , it could save lives. And nobody can validate you but your own self….NOW that is a mountain to climb indeed.

  10. oh l think your dating protocal mentioned in the POST is excellent and ought to be taught in school – its a new world , same dangers but even more risks then ever – its not getting safer , only more risky…yes let people know what you are up to and with who …it could save your life.

  11. christinesus says:

    Sorry Helen. Didn’t know that it was that close to your life. Most times, people talk about living in questionable neighborhoods, working in rough areas, or similar things. I had no intention on nosing around in your personal business.

    C

  12. Catrina says:

    On a lighter note, I too am very “non sexual”. It took a Presidential scandal (Clinton – Lewinsky) for me to finally realize what the 1960s song, “My Boy Lollipop” was really singing about….. true story….

  13. christinesus says:

    This is unbelievable. 1 in 3. How is this possible?

    Broken Justice in Indian Country
    By N. BRUCE DUTHU

    White River Junction, Vt.

    ONE in three American Indian women will be raped in their lifetimes, statistics gathered by the United States Department of Justice show. But the odds of the crimes against them ever being prosecuted are low, largely because of the complex jurisdictional rules that operate on Indian lands. Approximately 275 Indian tribes have their own court systems, but federal law forbids them to prosecute non-Indians. Cases involving non-Indian offenders must be referred to federal or state prosecutors, who often lack the time and resources to pursue them.

    The situation is unfair to Indian victims of all crimes — burglary, arson, assault, etc. But the problem is greatest in the realm of sexual violence because rapes and other sexual assaults on American Indian women are overwhelmingly interracial. More than 80 percent of Indian victims identify their attacker as non-Indian. (Sexual violence against white and African-American women, in contrast, is primarily intraracial.) And American Indian women who live on tribal lands are more than twice as likely to be raped or sexually assaulted as other women in the United States, Justice Department statistics show.

    Rapes against American Indian women are also exceedingly violent; weapons are used at rates three times that for all other reported rapes.

    Congress should step in and clearly establish the authority of Indian tribes to investigate and prosecute all crimes occurring on Indian lands — no matter whether tribal members or nonmembers are involved.

    Historically, Indian tribes have exercised full authority over everyone within Indian lands. A number of the early federal treaties expressly noted a tribe’s power to punish non-Indians. Toward the latter part of the 19th-century, however, federal policy shifted away from tribal self-government in favor of an effort to dismantle tribal government systems. Criminal law enforcement, especially in cases involving non-Indians, increasingly came to be viewed as a federal or state matter.

    Thirty years ago, the Supreme Court formalized the prohibition against tribes prosecuting non-Indians with its decision in Oliphant v. Suquamish Indian Tribe. In this case, a Pacific Northwest tribe was attempting to try two non-Indian residents of the Port Madison Reservation for causing trouble during the annual Chief Seattle Days celebration — one for assaulting an officer and resisting arrest and the other for recklessly endangering another person and harming tribal property. The court held that the tribe, as a “domestic dependent nation,” did not possess the full measure of sovereignty enjoyed by states and the national government, especially when it came to the affairs of non-Indian citizens.

    Then in 1990, the court extended its Oliphant ruling to cases involving tribal prosecution of Indian offenders who are not members of that tribe. Congress subsequently passed new legislation to reaffirm the power of tribes to prosecute non-member Indian offenders, but it left the Oliphant ruling intact.

    This means that when non-Indian men commit acts of sexual violence against Indian women, federal or state prosecutors must fill the jurisdictional void. But law enforcement in sexual violence cases in Indian country is haphazard at best, recent studies show, and it rarely leads to prosecution and conviction of non-Indian offenders. The Department of Justice’s own records show that in 2006, prosecutors filed only 606 criminal cases in all of Indian country. With more than 560 federally recognized tribes, that works out to a little more than one criminal prosecution for each tribe.

    Even if outside prosecutors had the time and resources to handle crimes on Indian land more efficiently, it would make better sense for tribal governments to have jurisdiction over all reservation-based crimes. Given their familiarity with the community, cultural norms and, in many cases, understanding of distinct tribal languages, tribal governments are in the best position to create appropriate law enforcement and health care responses — and to assure crime victims, especially victims of sexual violence, that a reported crime will be taken seriously and handled expeditiously.

    Congress should enact legislation to overrule the Oliphant decision and reaffirm the tribes’ full criminal and civil authority over all activities on tribal lands. This law should also lift the sentencing constraints imposed in 1968 that restrict the criminal sentences that tribal courts can impose to one year in jail and a $5,000 fine. In cases of rape, state court sentences typically exceed 8 years, while federal sentences are more than 12 years. Tribes should have the latitude to impose comparable sanctions. (A bill pending in Congress would extend tribal sentencing authority to three years, with more latitude in cases of domestic violence, but its prospects of passage are uncertain.)

    Congress recently allocated $750 million for enhancing public safety in Indian country. This money will help tribes hire and train more police, build detention facilities and augment federal investigative and prosecutorial capacity for Indian country crimes. Ideally, the grant process will be efficient enough to make sure that this money reaches the places most in need.

    But financial aid will not be enough to stop sexual violence against Indian women. Tribal courts have grown in sophistication over the past 30 years, and they take seriously the work of administering justice. Congress must support their efforts by closing the legal gaps that allow violent criminals to roam Indian country unchecked.

    N. Bruce Duthu, a professor of Native American studies at Dartmouth, is the author of “American Indians and the Law.”

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