About will be supporting Sexual Assault Awareness Month, with a focus on how it pertains to the LGBTQIA community
(HOUSTON) — April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, a topic that is neither new nor relevant, and one to which that many in the LGBTQIA community are not strangers. In fact, according to RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), a person is sexually assaulted every 8 seconds in America. Those statistics are startlingly high. More shocking is that according the Center for Disease Control (CDC), queer people often are sexually assailed at similar or higher rates than heterosexual and cis-gender people.
What’s frightening about these numbers is that they are based solely on the information available. They’re nothing more than estimations. Much of RAINN’s information comes from the National Crime Victimization Survey, which selects 150,000 Americans each year and gathers information based on that group. Unfortunately, there is a large and unaccounted for number of sexual assault victims who do not come forward—a fact that should not be used to place blame upon the victims. While there are several potential reasons for each individual’s decision not to come forward (fear of retaliation, fear of not being believed, fear of being fired, and many more), the one thing that is certain is that the longer that this sort of behavior continues to be perpetuated by sexual assailants and rapists, the longer more people will be victimized and that fear will perpetuate, as well.
Recently, America has seen in influx in the publicity of survivors who have stepped forward. With well-covered movements such as #MeToo (founded over ten years ago by activist Tarana Burke) and #TimesUp, to celebrities such as Rose McGowan, Alyssa Milano, Ashley Judd, Gabrielle Union, Anthony Rapp, Oprah Winfrey and many more that have stepped forward to share their stories and to talk about their experiences in the hopes to encourage and empower other people (namely women, people of color, and LGBTQIA folks) to step forward.
While this could have come at a better time (or maybe I should say that people could have been this tuned into the fact that sexual assault is prevalent sooner), it is nonetheless a remark to the bravery of women, the LGTBQIA community (with an emphasis on the trans community), people of color, and all others who are now stepping out and firing back. Men in power, from Harvey Weinstein to Louis C.K. and countless in between are being brought to their knees, which should be scaring men of lesser recognition all over the world. Because, famous or not, their time is coming, too. Unfortunately, RAINN also reports that most sexual assailants and rapists in the nation will not be imprisoned or be held accountable for their crimes. This is no surprise, considering that we currently live in a country run by a sexual predator (yes, Donald Trump is just as guilty).
But through these movements, through the media, and through solidarity for one another, we can begin to hold as many of these men accountable as possible. In fact, it wasn’t until just recently that I myself was comfortable discussing the story of the man who raped me when I was 19-years-old in my Less Than Butterflies column. It’s a terrifying feeling thinking that no one will believe you. It’s a terrifying feeling to wonder if the person will retaliate or what they’ll tell your loved ones about you. And no one can blame the victims who choose not to share their stories with the world. With that said, however, we—especially in the LGBTQIA community—must continue to be resilient, supportive, and engaged with our brothers, sisters, and nonbinary siblings. Because until we get there, until there comes a time when there is no tolerance for sexual assault and when victims do not feel they have to hide in the shadows, no one is safe.
And of many other things, the LGBTQIA community should be able to rely on each and every member for safety.
This month, About Magazine will be running a series of stories from victims of sexual assault, as well as informative articles about the prevalence of sexual assault, why the LGBTQIA community is so desensitized to it, why among gay men the lines seem to be more blurred (hint: they’re not and shouldn’t be), and much more. And this won’t be a one-off sort of thing. As long as there is sexual assault happening around the world, we will continue to talk about it, because time really is up for the disgusting men of the world who have led so many of us to a place where we can say (or where we’re too afraid to say), “Yeah. Me, too.”
Anthony Ramirez, Editor-in-Chief
You can donate to RAINN and learn more about Sexual Assault Awareness Month here.
What the actual heck is the GLBT Political Caucus thinking?
(HOUSTON)—Over the weekend, the Houston GLBT Political Caucus announced its long-winded list of endorsements for the 2018 primary elections, which are now only one month away (March 6th, 2018). The list, which consists of 60 names—59 Democrats and 1 Republican—hosts some notable names, from Beto O’Rourke to Fran Watson and beyond. However, it also is missing a couple of not only recognizable, but very important names in two very important slots.
Jenifer Rene Pool for the Texas House of Representatives and Lupe Valdez for governor. Why do these names matter? Well, for one, Pool was the president of Houston’s GLBT Political Caucus from 2006 until 2008. And then there’s the fact that she was also the first trans person to ever win a primary election in Texas in 2016 (although, she was defeated in November). As for Valdez, well, she made history by being one of the first democrats elected to office in Dallas in 2004 after a long span of time, and by being the only Latina sheriff in the entire nation elected and serving in 2004. Now, as their political candidacies are just a month shy of votes that could disconcert the Texas political establishment, Houston’s GLBT Political Caucus has pulled a very Texas-fitting move by endorsing straight, white men rather than these two queer women.
A little more background on these two women:
Jenifer Rene Pool is more than just a trans woman—she’s a successful businesswoman and advocate who not only has been appointed to the Buildings and Standards Commission, the Police Advisory Commission, the Task Force on Buildings and Standards, the Special Task Force on Film in Houston, the Houston Police Advisory Committee, but has also served thoroughly and actively in the LGBTQIA community for decades and owns her own consulting firm. In 2016 (as aforementioned), Pool became the first trans person to ever win a primary election in the state of Texas, beating opponent Erik Hassan for the Harris County Commissioner’s Court, District 13 seat by a staggering margin. Pool pulled in 78.28% of the votes. Hassan, on the other hand, reeled in only 21.72%. In November, Pool lost the seat to Republican candidate Steve Radack, but by a much smaller margin than Hassan had lost to her in the primary. Radack won with approximately 58%, leaving pool with about 42%. Now, Pool is running for the Texas House of Representatives, heavily emphasizing the repair of infrastructure, implementing comprehensive flood protection, reforming education to a quality standard, and so much more.
Lupe Valdez has served as a captain in the US Army, and has also worked as a federal agent. She served as Sheriff of Dallas County from 2004 until just last year. Valdez’s work in the federal government involved investigating fraud in the country, as well a crime corps outside the country. As the sheriff, she spent a great deal of time reforming prisons that were understaffed and overpopulated. Her advocacy for inmates extended even further, however, seeking better care for prisoners suffering mental illness. As mentioned before, Valdez was one of a handful of LGBTQIA elected public servants serving over the course of her career as sheriff; and when she began in 2004, she was the only Latina in the entire country to hold the title of sheriff. Now, Valdez is running for governor. Valdez is running on higher minimum wages, equal pay, affordable college educations, affordable healthcare, more and better public transit options, and raising the standard of education.
Unarguably, these are two strong political candidates. Right? And they just so happen to identify as LGBTQIA. Still, Pool and Valdez aren’t the only two LGBTQIA candidates running for office. In fact, there are almost fifty queer people running in Texas alone. Certainly, they can’t all win. Still, that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be given the opportunity to win.
I’m a staunch believer that we shouldn’t elect queer people just because they’re queer. I wouldn’t be electing Caitlin Jenner just because she’s trans. She’s also a Republican who endorsed Donald Trump. Not quite my cup of tea. However, among those near-fifty candidates that we’re talking about, nearly all are running on the Democratic ticket and are talking about issues that matter to the LGBTQIA community. After all, when it comes down to it, we’re concerned about the same things that cis and straight people are. We just want to be safe and afforded the same opportunities. But more than anything, what the community needs right now and more than ever is representation. Rare is the occasion that any given person is going to agree with each and every political stance taken by any given politician; but even rarer—especially in the LGBTQIA community—is the opportunity to be represented by a majority of politicians. We’re a community of minorities that converges like a Venn Diagram with other minority groups. We’re made up of gay people, trans people, bisexual people, black people, Hispanic people, Jewish people, Asian people, disabled people, veterans, asexuals, the non-binary, and so many more. Unlike the representation we see in our government—especially so in our state’s government—we are more than just white, cisgender, straight, male faces. So, why is that so much of what we’re seeing? And more importantly, why are those the faces that the Houston GLBT Political Caucus is endorsing over queer trans women or queer women of color?
Though it was reported in 2017 that Congress is now composed of 19% nonwhite individuals, there are only seven people who identify as LGBTQIA currently serving—less than 2%. Worse still? Only one of those 7 is a nonwhite person. So, if we take this information into consideration, and if we bother to ask why in 2018 we’re still seeing a giant lack of representation in our national and state government systems, it is equally important to ask why the Houston GLBT Political Caucus is endorsing straight, cisgender, white men in place of a strong trans woman and a Latin lesbian. Both of these women have worked tirelessly over the course of their political careers to ensure safety for the LGBTQIA community and who want to bring their voices—our voices—to Austin to make effective change.
As someone told me lately, “If the Caucus ain’t gonna support you [queer people], who will?”
To hear the Caucus’s new and sitting president tell it, as reported to MyStatesman, “We absolutely, positively wanted to endorse Lupe, but she didn’t do as well as we would have liked in the interview.” But that doesn’t quite seem like a good enough excuse. When it comes down to politics, the public eye never leaves a politician, especially not in the current era of 24-hour news coverage. A politician’s reliability, their credibility, and their flat-out ability to do the job aren’t solely based on one interview. They’re based on what work the candidate in question has done to effect change in the community. And neither Pool nor Valdez has carried out a career lacking said efficacy. Moreover, their careers—possibly even somewhat stunted due to their LGBTQIA statuses—have not come without pressures that their candidates have never had to face. As women—one trans and one cis—and as members of this community, both of these ladies have jumped hurdles to assume and maintain the positions they’ve fought tirelessly for to protect the well-being of other people. And, let’s be honest, these are both women of a certain age. That’s not a jab at them—that’s a jab at the times in which they’ve had to be unafraid and unabashed in order to make the strides they’ve made to get to where they are. Their political lives have had to shatter more glass ceilings than many in politics can ever imagine having existed.
And, as a community of mixed voices—gay, bi, trans, non-binary, lesbian, black, Asian, Hispanic, and more—we need heroes that are comfortable being uncomfortable to stand up, sword and shield in hand, to say no to the assholes in Austin who seek to shove us back into the holes we’ve worked so hard to wiggle our way out of. No more bathroom bills. No more denying us spousal benefits for city employees. No more revoking our right to marry. No more refusal to change gender markers. We need leaders whose voices reflect the people who are underserved—and we are the underserved. I’m not sorry to say that I don’t need a straight, white, cisgender man making decisions for my big, fat, gay life, just like our trans brothers and sisters don’t need one making decisions for them, and just like our lesbian sisters don’t need them making decisions for them, and just like our non-binary siblings don’t need them making decisions for them. We all need a voice that sounds a bit more like ours—a perspective that has been shaped by adversity and experience.
With that said, I’m not sure what the Houston GLBT Political Caucus was thinking when they made these decisions. No offense to Andrew White or Adam Milasincic, the men endorsed in place of Pool and Valdez. Their resumes are impressive, but they’ve also lived lives of white boy privilege. If we’re going to continue talking about draining the swamp and equality and reclaiming our time and nevertheless persisting, our community and the organizations and caucuses that self-proclaim to represent the politics of our best interests need to recognize that it’s time to stop endorsing straight, white, cisgender men in lieu of people who have walked down the roads we have. As someone told me lately, “If the Caucus ain’t gonna support you [queer people], who will?”
Houston GLBT Political Caucus, shame on you. Shame on you for not supporting our trans sister and our sister of color. Sure, they may seem like the underdogs right now. But isn’t that what all of us in this community are? The underdogs? Isn’t that what all of your sitting board members were at some point? But in 2018—a year into a presidency of pussy-grabbing, trans military-banning, and wall-building—you need to be setting the example that even the underdog deserves a chance to shine. You need to be elevating our people and putting them on a pedestal and telling not only these candidates, but the world, “Yes. You can do this. You are the best person to represent our community.” And you have failed in doing that here. As happy as I am that you have endorsed many candidates that I think are going to go out there and use their voices to do great things for us, I am so disappointed in you for discouraging two strong, fierce-as-fuck women when you had the chance to expose them to people who need to know they’re out there fighting for us.
Shame on you.
And queer Houstonians, yes, we have a problem. But we are the only people who have the power to fix that problem. So, on March 6th, get up, go out, and vote. Vote for the queer people on the ballot—no matter who has or has not endorsed them. Make your voices heard. Because the louder that we shout, the more of us that show up, the harder we fight back to be heard and seen and to live an equal and happy life, the more the world will change for the better.
A note on World AIDS Day from About editor-in-chief, Anthony Ramirez.
Hi, everyone. I hope you’ve all had a lovely week and are wrapping up your Fridays differently than I am – by not working.
As most of you who are in the LGBTQIA community know, today is World AIDS Day, a day specifically targeted at remembering those who have lost their lives to the HIV/AIDS virus, as well as to spreading education about the importance of safe sex, prevention, and living with HIV/AIDS.
I want to start by saying that there is nothing shameful about living with HIV/AIDS. I, myself, am HIV-negative, so there are a lot of aspect to HIV/AIDS that I cannot speak to. But as a person who is very sexually active and who has been with multiple gay male partners in his life, it’s extremely important to me that I am tested regularly, and that I take the precautions necessary to prevent myself from contracting HIV. And I believe it is equally important that we all get tested frequently. We have to so that we can live longer and healthier lives with those we love.
But back to my previous point: having HIV/AIDS is not a shameful thing. It’s not something that a person does to themselves. It is not a reflection of the kind of person someone is. It is not a scarlet letter they should have to wear for everyone to see. HIV/AIDS is an illness, and one that takes lives every single day. It does not, however, define a person who is living with it, nor should it affect the way that others look at them. It should not serve as an excuse for anyone to pass judgment on them. Again, it’s an illness that affects far too many people because preventative medications and healthcare are expensive, and because the LGBTQIA community does not have proper and comprehensive sex education throughout almost all of the United States of America.
The real trouble here is, nothing is 100% effective. You can utilize expensive condoms and take PrEP as prescribed, but you are never going to be 100% protected from transmission. That said, science has brought the LGBTQIA community very far in terms of prevention. True, PrEP provides a 92-99% reduction rate in your risk of transmitting HIV, but 1-8% of potential transmission is still a potential for transmission. That’s why being tested is (again) so very important. While I cannot – nor would I ever try to – speak for an HIV-positive person or try to expound upon their experiences, I can say that it is not a virus that anyone would want. For decades, our community has battled HIV – back to when it was still referred to as GRID (gay-related immunodeficiency disease) – before even that. In that same span of time, innumerable people have lost their lives to this disease.
However, science is constantly looking for ways to make us safer, because HIV/AIDS is not a virus of perverse sex or to just being gay. It’s a virus that limits our ability to love freely and live long, healthy lives. HIV/AIDS has long been used against the queer community by the conservative side of politics as a tactic to restrict the rights of queer people. And in many ways, that has served a hindrance to scientists who work their entire careers trying to find a cure for it. But no one is giving up.
We’re lucky that the number of queer people who are living with HIV/AIDS has diminished. Lucky, because no one deserves to live with something so nightmarish. Still, it is possible to live a long, happy, and relatively healthy life with HIV/AIDS. It’s not always an end-all. In fact, more people are living now much longer lives than ever before with HIV and AIDS. And that’s really something, because it was nearly unheard of just thirty years ago.
So, with all that said, About Magazine did not publish any content related to World AIDS Day, as we have a number of articles for you that will be released starting tomorrow, Saturday, the 2nd of December. We aren’t putting a time parameter on when these articles will end, as we believe that HIV/AIDS should be normalized and discussed all throughout the year. However, given what we recognize today, the next week will serve more information than normal. These articles will talk about the importance of sexual education for queer youth in schools, preventative measures for HIV, resources for people living with HIV/AIDS, a history of World AIDS Day, lists of myths about HIV/AIDS and the people affected by it, some personal stories from those in the Houston LGBTQIA community that are living with this virus, and much more.
It’s our earnest hope here at About that everyone will learn something from these pieces, and take this information to share it with the people you love and in your life. If you have questions you don’t know a credible answer to, hopefully we can help provide it, or at least point you in the right direction. Our goal here at About is always to make sure that this community lives well, happy, and healthy lives. So, please take the time to read some of the information if you’re unsure of anything about HIV/AIDS. And always feel free to reach out to us if you have any questions or if there’s something you think we should touch on. You can reach us at email@example.com.
For anyone reading this, please know that you are important, that you are special, that you are beautiful, and that you are loved, regardless of your HIV status or anything else you may feel defines you. Because nothing defines you other than what’s in your heart and how you treat others around you.
Is it possible that pornography is actually contributing to sexual assault and rape?
(Houston) – One of the leading headlines currently in the news is the number of sexual assaults committed by men wielding power. Victims have come out in masses, detailing their personal stories. The forms of assault accounted for vary from inappropriate groping to blatant rape.
Though the majority of our society demonizes these violations, these acts are also common scenarios that play out in pornographic films. While it could be damaging to state that pornography is to blame for sexual assault – as the actors do consent to sexual activity – it doesn’t take away from the fact that some people who watch porn have begun to fetishize sexual assault. In fact when the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence wrote an article investigating the correlation between pornography and rape, the conclusion was that porn did not contribute to rape. The ways in which porn shapes the values of human sexuality is something important to note in how it incorporates into our lives. Pornography has the ability to give viewers sexual representation of the desires and fetishes they may not be able to obtain. Unfortunately, those fantasies can be inclusive of sexual assault.
During this recent revolution of bringing sex abuse in Hollywood to light, one of the first high-powered celebrity men to be held accountable by victims was Bill Cosby (though there were many before him). At that time, many were under the impression that sexual assault was a rare incident, and Bill Cosby left many of his fans shocked and in disbelief. Few people suspected this comedian and supposed-family man of such atrocities. Even when Donald Trump was recorded talking about sexual assault with Billy Bush, this subject matter was referred to as “locker room talk” by many. Though Trump attempted to brush off the scandal, many were then and remain outraged. In October of this year, the story broke that Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein – who assaulted more than 50 women – opening the flood doors for victims of other assaults to come forward, many of which going back decades. There had been many speculations of Harvey Weinstein being a sexual assailant, with even Courtney Love and Rose McGowan speaking out against him in the past. However, most were afraid to speak out due to fear of losing out on career opportunities. Still, it took time for these accusations to be reported on by the media, which brought public intrigue into this aerated secret.
It appears the number of incidents being reported increases with each passing day with new perpetrators named almost as frequently. With the accusations, of course, come the PR statements. Kevin Spacey took his allegation as a time to reveal his sexual identity in the most inappropriate fashion. Louis CK, a once-beloved comedian by many, had been well known for his actions, but was only held accountable as of late. The list goes on from Roy Moore, to Al Franken, to Jeremy Piven, to Charlie Rose, and far beyond.
The sexual assault scandal has affected many outside the entertainment industry, with people on Facebook sparking the #MeToo movement. This movement, though new to many, was revived with the help of celebrities such as Alyssa Milano nearly a decade after being initiated by Tarana Burke to raise awareness of sexual abuse and to give victims from all walks of life a voice. Though some are facing this much worse than others – specifically women and people of color – no demographic has been spared this hardship, including the LGBTQIA community.
While sexual assault has been vilified by most, it remains a sexual fantasy many have fetishized, including in gay porn. Sexual assault in gay pornography can include scenes simulating coercion of “twinks” and men who identify as straight, as well as college hazing rituals that often involved forced acts of oral and penetrative anal sex. It is a genre that is often viewed and enjoyed by people from all parts of the sexual orientation spectrum, not just gay men. Despite coming out as gay following allegations of sexual assault against Anthony Rapp, Kevin Spacey’s true sexuality identity is up for question. Spacey’s coming out is viewed by many as an opportunistic approach to draw attention away from the fact that he not only sexually assaulted someone, but that the person in question was, at the time, a minor. Moreover, there should be made a distinction between being gay and having sexual desires towards men without emotional attachment. Men are open to being objectified just as women are, even if the frequency is less. An example of this being the aforementioned incident of Anthony Rapp being victimized. So, the question arises: how does gay porn that depicts forms of sexual assault differentiate from reality? Is this really an outlet for gay culture? Or could this form of fantasy be simulating existing thoughts of sexual abuse to potential assailants that may serve as a springboard for action?
Gay adult film star, Flip [surname eliminated for privacy], shed some light on this topic. When asked about sexual assault portrayed in gay porn, Flip said, “You have to realize everything that you’re seeing is not real. No matter how graphic or crazy these adult films get, it’s all consensual. You need to separate reality and fantasy.” With the argument that pornography does provide a safe outlet for living taboo fantasies, Flip added that the benefits of porn can have in society. “[Porn] is a good outlet to see the fantasies play out. Just like with movies, there are people who enjoy violent movies, but they are just everyday people. I think the same thing goes with porn. Some people enjoy violent, graphic porn, but [the actors] are very normal people.” Flip’s opinion has actually been backed by data that shows porn has decreased the statistics on sexual misconduct. Michael Castleman, a sexuality journalist had noted that the cases of sexual misbehaviors has dropped since the 1990s with the introduction of internet pornography. While both points are certainly valid, it does not eliminate the correlation of rape porn to real life sexual assault and rape. In fact, it seemed so evident that, following the case of Brock Turner (the Stanford University student who was convicted on two counts of sexual assault and one count of intent to rape), porn site xHamster established the Brock Turner Rule. Under this rule, xHamster began a ban on all porn videos depicting rape or sexual assault from their website. It certainly begs the real question: why are there people fantasizing about sexual assault? What about it is sexy?
The content of pornography has long been seen as sexually violent toward women, and has been proven to be so statistically. Interviews with sexual assault victims and survivors have reported that the simulation of most pornography (whether simulating rape or not) is congruent with real world sexual assault, including the language used in the pornography. Similar language associated with men against women (“slut,” “bitch,” “whore,” cunt”) in non-homosexual porn pervades gay porn, as well (“cum dumpster,” “cum slut,” “bitch,” “cocksucker”). Therefore, it perpetuates a similar belief about sexually submissive men or “bottoms.” Ana Bridges, an Arkansas psychologist, believes that men try to incorporate what they are observing in porn into their own sexual practices. A study she conducted with 487 college-age males (their sexual orientations were not disclosed) revealed that, “… the more men used pornography, the more likely they were to try to act out the same scenes and rely on pornography-inspired fantasies to engage in sex,” according to the Washington Times. Though merely conjecture at this point, it isn’t improbable to conclude that of those men who incorporate what they see in porn into their own sexual escapades, some of them have probably viewed porn depicting rape and sexual assault.
A common theme in sexual assaults, regardless of the industry it involves, is the advantage taken of an individual by someone who feels they are free to assault. In fact, in the study Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity, fraternity college students were questioned about their sexual habits, as well as potential rape. The study found that 83% had viewed mainstream porn within the last 12 months. That same study found that 51% of those men would likely rape a person if they could be assured that they would neither be caught nor punished. Finally, the report showed that those who watched sadomasochist porn reported a higher score of committing sexual assault.
Even if gay porn were to stop producing scenes depicting sexual assault and rape, sexual assault and rape would still exist. It should be noted that pornography does not define human sexuality, but rather is a mirror of the desires and fantasies of the individual. Still, sexual assaults carried out by persons of power are a result of their own will, whether or not they have been influenced by pornographic material or a sexual addiction. The problem of sexual misconduct is an issue that rests solely on society, and porn can act as a red herring to the real issue of what constitutes proper sexual conduct and objectification of men and women. The fact that these issues are hitting the national spotlight is an indicator that society no longer brushes off these violations as “boys being boys.” The evolution of how we perceive human sexuality, and what is appropriate conduct continue to change as society evolves its moral compass. What were once expected norms in the Hollywood industry have now impacted society as a giant problem, as well as bringing to light sexual assault that happens in every facet of society. Perhaps the fetishization of sexual assault in pornography will change as the tastes and morals of viewers change with the times. That in mind, if society wishes to put an end to sexual assault in the real world, it may be time to begin regulating the content of pornography to eliminate the predilection of porn depicting rape and sexual assault. After all, isn’t the old saying, “monkey see, monkey do”? It is possible that this could be applied to the idea of pornography and rape culture.