I graduated from the San Francisco State University Sexuality Studies (SXS) MA program in May 2011. I have done everything in my power not to mention the department so as not to give any sense that I promote it. I thought that would be enough. But it's clear that it's not. Since graduating I have been approached by increasing numbers of members of the SFSU Sexuality Studies MA program cohorts who have expressed demoralization, frustration, and concern for their mental well-being as a result of being a part of the SXS program. I am compelled to publicly state that this is unacceptable and that it is the duty of the department to be responsible for its students. Though I am honored that people who do not know me feel that I am worthy of their trust, it is a great commentary on their perceptions of the department's failings that this is so.
I was so harmed by the program - what can only be called harassment from members of my cohort coupled with astounding indifference from faculty, a professor telling me in a meeting that I essentially didn't have the intellectual rigor to do well in her course, the head of the department at the time only soliciting opinions from and mentoring white men - that I did not feel safe enough to even attend my own graduation. Since graduating I have provided advice and support to nearly a dozen people from the SFSU Sexuality Studies department who have come to me because they felt dissatisfied, unsupported, under-stimulated by the curriculum or opportunities for research with a critical race lens, and/or felt unsafe and didn't feel like faculty in the department could be held accountable. I want to be clear that proactively ensuring the satisfaction and professionalization of students is a professional duty.
The San Francisco State University Sexuality Studies masters program touts itself as social justice oriented. In my opinion it is not. This SXS masters program touts itself as having a "commitment to community building." In my opinion it does not. The SXS masters program says that it is committed to "excelling in teaching graduate studies." If it is in fact committed to this goal I feel that it is currently failing.
I hope that this public stand empowers students in some way and encourages faculty to rethink what they've done that would compel so many of its students to come to a stranger rather than the people they share a classroom with everyday.
Keywords: SXS, Sexuality Studies, Masters, SFSU, San Francisco State University, graduate program
Saturday was busy: conference, happy hour with naked dudes (more on that in the next blog), and play party (see details on that disaster here). If you were following my Facebook updates you know that I experienced a lot of intense nostalgia this weekend while revisiting my alma mater, UC Berkeley, for the 28th Annual Empowering Women of Color Conference. I walked past my old apartment at 2525 Durant, whiffed the donuts nextdoor at King Pin where the hot Greek guys who work there would occasionally take their shirts off when it got too hot, sat at my old favorite cafe across the street from the law school where that one guy I dated that one time went and where we would meet after our classes. And I even managed to facilitate my workshop "The Politics of Werq-ing: Femmes, Fashion & The Labor of Gender Performance."
Meandering down Bancroft in a slightly (just a smidge) panicked, caffeine jonesing search of coffee I found a sign for a spot that served Ritual. Ritual competes with my beloved Four Barrel for fav cup. I felt excited that my search had ended. The sweet, sweet smoky prize was just 40 feet away. Having visited the Ritual HQ, located in San Francisco, last year it's clear that they take their coffee very seriously. I like that! And Ritual is served at one of my favorite, favorite spots in all of San Francisco/the world: Hollow. I've noticed my friends tend to think Ritual a little too acidic, but it's a winner in my book. Everyone has their preferences, but the very first indicator of the quality of your coffee is the smell of it when you walk into the place where they're serving it. The prevalent smell should be the smokiness of the roasted bean and it should be unobscured by other weird/indistinguishable smells. As much as I love the ambiance of Caffe Strada (it's got this almost Cafe du Monde feel to it) I walked in there and the smell of the coffee turned me off immediately. There's also never any seating at Strada, but I'm the kind of girl for whom that's a bonus because it activates my competitive/strategery-oriented self. Just a block down the street is adorbs Babbette Cafe with a courtyard and super cute (and plentiful) indoor seating. Gorgeous floral arrangements and snazzylicious desserts included.
Post-coffee and cardamom orange coffee cake *drool* I head back to UC Berkeley, pass a bunch of people doing an extended lesson in swing dancing, past Sather Gate and mandatory hacky sack 2.0, to facilitate my workshop. I had prepared a little PowerPoint (ok, I love PP and its amazingness will never cease to be amazing to me). Highlights of the agenda included: Deconstructing & Analyzing Werq, Processing & a little something I called "Le Sashay Show." By the time we were talking about what femme is/means, the room was full and we were all starting to sweat a little. I won't give you the play by play, but I will tell you that Le Sashay Show was tres magnifique. Six of the workshop's bolder participants came up "on stage" and did a little werq: strutting and telling us about how their gender, race, size, class background and level of ability had figured into the way they performed gender for the day. We even had a DJ! Ghurl, it was magical. I'm getting tired just thinking about all that sashaying. So, it's time for me to go. But stay tuned for the next blog about those @barebachelors...
I'm having... a moment.
Normally I would wait a day. Let it simmer. But I'm having a moment and I want to write about it. A moment of anger, frustration, rage, confusion... No, no, it's not confusion. It's that cognitive dissonance that keeps coming up again and again. This is the city I live in, the one that's 17 miles from where I grew up, the one that's the sanctuary city, filled with people of all class backgrounds, of people with differing citizenship statuses, sizes, ages, colors, abilities, and that city continuously seems at odds with the kind of gathering I find myself in this evening: Kinky Salon at Mission Control.
Having spent an afternoon in the company of a bunch of fabulous folk- sipping champagne, choking a little on that chocolate flavored and carbonated red wine, switching between Spanish and English, laughing, being amazed by Dick van Dick's Air Jordan shoe purse (DvD, btw, recently won a trophy in the Femme Queen Realness category at an SF ball) - I literally walked out of that house on South Van Ness into a totally different side of San Francisco, the side I keep trying to close my eyes, hold 'em real tight and hope is gone when I open them. And if not gone, transformed beyond recognition. But that side seems to get bigger and bigger, and the city seems to cater to its growth.
These are the specifically bohemian bourgeois burner variety of San Franciscan, the middle class thin white heterosexuals who congregate in homogeneous groups and think of themselves as liberals because they wear faux fur chaps and have 8 songs by James Brown on their iPod. Their progressive politics cluster around sexuality and recreational drug use, and they imagine themselves a reviled minority because they want to watch other middle class thin white heterosexuals fuck each other while high on coke.
Tonight I was reminded of what it feels like to be invisible, something I haven't felt in so long it actually felt strange and a bit absurd. Mind you: I was in a neon yellow dress, ghurl. It takes COMMITMENT to making a fat girl in a neon yellow dress feel invisible. I was unapologetically bumped into, passed up, ignored, and greeted with an indifference I'd nearly forgotten people were capable of feeling toward me. I was particularly outraged that the volunteers who held the party together tonight - making sure that hallways aren't stopped up by couples who feel the absolute, impossible-to-fight need to make out right in front of the bathroom door, keeping the toilet tidy, making sure that people aren't passed out or (in my case) having a fucking miserable time - all seemed to be fat girls, and there didn't seem to be much love, appreciation or respect for any fat girls in that place in my estimation.
There are these moments when I wish with all my heart that I didn't know that when in the company of this kind of people that my brownness and my fatness render my body as undesirable. And it's been a minute since I felt like my body was undesirable. I have intentionally avoided spaces that feel like Kinky Salon for a long time because there is no room for a person of color if you don't fall into a narrowly defined part of their fetish landscape. And there's definitely no room for fatties.
My friends - and even complete strangers - keep telling me that San Francisco is uniquely fucked. The dating scene is dead if you're a brown girl with a politic who fancies boys, they keep telling me. San Francisco is a bunch of Peter Pan complex having, Polo wearing misogynists. Forget it, they say. But goddammit, I live here. I like living here. And I'm not migrating in the name of some dick pilgrimage. So, will the real San Francisco please stand up?
And please, please, let it not be some dude named Tod from Noe Valley.
"I am a fat girl. I'm also a hot girl, a clever girl, a sweet girl, an evil girl, and many other things." Thus begins Kitty Stryker's chapter, "Fat Sex Works," in Hot & Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love and Fashion. In fact, Kitty and I will be reading from Hot & Heavy at TONIGHT's very special and very sexy event at Good Vibrations, 1620 Polk Street from 6:30-7:30pm. Kitty is a sex worker rights activist, writer and social media guru. I asked Kitty to share some of her wisdom and experience with the blogosphere.
Have activism and writing always gone together for you?
Absolutely. I think my first experience with this was when we had to write an essay for D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) on how we would tackle marijuana as a drug issue and I wrote a five page tirade on how I felt we needed to shift the focus away from a few people smoking it and onto the various ways we could use the fibers to replace cotton and paper as a more sustainable option. I ended up winning the contest, which made me realize that a well-written essay had the power to shift the discussion from black and white into the complicated intersections between, which is where many things exist. As I've grown older, I've learned that the world between the binary is valuable, but to also honor the voices that are on either extreme as valid, too- it's a struggle to embrace these intersections within my writing, and one I do sloppily a lot, but it's a challenge I continually strive towards.
What role does fatness play in your work/your life/your relationships?
I'm aware of it every day. Most days, I embrace it, I strut with it, I work it. On those days, my confidence bubbles over, I want to hug everyone, I kiss my lover naked with the covers off and want to lounge around all day without ever dressing, just basking in my body. But some days, my fishnet crotch rips, or I can't get any clothes at the store that fit right, or my breasts keep popping out of my bra in an awkward fashion, and I resent it, I resent living in a culture where my fat is considered a sign of my sloppiness, a sign of sin. Those days my lover has to hold my hand a little more, I throw myself into my work a little harder to prove my worth, I dress a little more high femme as if to prove to the universe I *can* be fat and femme and fucking sexy and they can all go to hell if they don't agree. It's a constant struggle to maintain high self esteem when everything around you tries to tell you that your fat is something wrong with you. It's something I don't necessarily notice day to day, but if I stop and consider it, it affects me and how I move through the world with every step I take.
Favorite parts of your work?
Currently my work is primarily social media marketing with some sex work. I think what's really rewarding for me is that I've been able to be defiant and unapologetic about my sex worker history in my tech job while also be really good at what I do- it's not relevant, and I shouldn't be gawked at nor reviled for it, and it's rewarding not to be. I've been able to move out of sex work almost entirely unless I want to dip back into it for fun, and into a job I'm both successful at and really enjoy using the skills I picked up by marketing myself as a sex worker. That's kind of awesome. I'm very aware, though, that I have a lot of privilege that helps with that- no arrest record, being white, a middle class family, being cisgendered. These things protect me a lot from judgment, and while I'm out and proud, I try to make sure that I also quantify that with the fact that I *can afford to be*.
What words of wisdom do you have for young fat queer writers?
The best thing I ever found for myself, personally, was to channel my rage and despair into writing political pieces through blogging and articles. Through that, I found an outlet, I found community, and I found a purpose. Eventually, I even found paying jobs, so- people will say your anger is something to calm down, but use it as fuel and set some fires. Be a phoenix.
Find out more about Kitty at her website www.KittyStryker.com and come out to Good Vibrations at 1620 Polk Street tonight from 6:30-7:30 to bask in some of Kitty's brilliance in person.
Werq v. Work
In my estimation, "werq" is work's second or third cousin. I see them as related because I see werq'ing as labor with roots deep in queer femme of color performance (see: Paris Is Burning). I see it as labor for the purpose of creating and teaching self-love, for pleasure, to destabilize the pervasive impenetrable forces of The Boring (e.g., heteronormativity and the like) in the culture at large with the power of attitude, and I also see it as the labor of archiving history. Werq'ing a style or a stage is the domain of ferocious people. In my ignorant days of yore, the way I thought of werq'ing was untethered from any historical space or time. Madonna imported wholesale motifs, language and aesthetics from the ball scene, and gave middle class America a counterfeit rendering of a community of queers of color - divorced from a politic or a critique. There has been a resurgence of "interest" in ball culture in some communities/localities as of late - still untethered from a politic or a critique for the most part in my opinion.
What the Hell Do I Know?
I think it's important to mention that (1) I'm not from or of the ball scene and (2) I seek to be in conversation with queer theory and politics but do not seek to claim queerness. In preparing for a workshop I'm teaching on the politics of "werq-ing" at the Empowering Women of Color Conference this weekend, I've been thinking a lot about werqing. For me, werqing has a lot to do with gender. The way I do or perform gender is political and intentional. I seek to destabilize notions of feminine respectability, fat invisibility and the grateful subservience expected of women of color with my chunky jewelry, my over-sized sunglassses (aka "bitch stunners"), and my short dresses.
Point of Destabilization #1: I just gave you a boner. You're welcome. Boners/erectile tissue - across gender - totally disrupt shit, and when I make my body into a sexy spectacle I own the way that it is being interpreted. Rather than my female/femme body being consumed without my consent, I use my fishnets to dominate the experience a la "oh no, Sir, I have chosen to be read in this way. Now do what I say."
Point of Destabilization #2: Fat girl invisibility is not my thing; cheetah print is. I've worn tight clothes for a long time, and that includes the gratutious display of muffin top, jelly roll, goodies of every variety beneath a nice loud print. I do not see my body as unattractive or off-limits, and see my fat as an extra fun thing to accessorize. When I dress up my fat body without the intention of hiding it I am sending a clear signal to everyone who can see me - and myself - that I will not be forced into invisibility.
Point of Destabilization #3: The grateful brown girl thing isn't cute to me/I am uppity. So, I know that the no matter how post-racial the US thinks it's being, there's still embedded - deep, deep, deeeeeeep in the culture's psyche - that brown girls are supposed to be grateful and submissive. I go out of my way to come across as uppity. I identify as uppity so feel free to think that of me all you want because you're right.
I Am Not Responsible for Your Interpretation of My Art
No, not everyone gets what I'm doing, but that's alright. I'm not making art for them.
I will be offering a workshop at the Empowering Women of Color Conference entitled "The Politics of 'Werq-ing': Femmes, Fashion & The Labor of Performing Gender" at UC Berkeley this Saturday, March 16, from 3:40-4:40pm. Find out more and register online here.
Not many people know this but when I originally pitched Hot & Heavy the book was going to be all about fat girl sex... Sexuality has always felt like my political nest, the place from which I stretched my baby feminist wings. I am drawn to talking about sex openly and honestly because I experience it as a deeply political and pleasurable act. Dirty stories have brought people together for, well, a really, really long ass time. I never feel closer to people than when I'm telling them about that one time I queefed in my boyfriend's face (seriously, that was my opener when we would hang out with new couples) or they're telling me about that time they found glitter in their pussy, like, 8 days after that one orgy they went to.
Interestingly, whenever I talk to people who haven't read Hot & Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love and Fashion they presume that the book is a full-on salacious read about hot times at Fat Ghurl High. I'm not sure if it's because of the cover (featuring duhliciously sexy April Flores), because I'm a pervert (or maybe they are) or because the title is a reinterpretation of a sexy turn of phrase. Just to set the record straight: as much as I love the idea of a book all about the secret sex lives of fatties, H&H isn't actually all about sex. Though, I will give you a little secret: when I originally pitched the book to Seal Press, it was. My idea was to interview a bunch of fat girls about their sex lives and share all the juicy details thus blowing the mind of all society, kick-starting an orgiastic fatty revolution. The senior editor at the time, the too-fab-for-words Brooke Warner, had a vision for a book that delved deeper into other arenas of fat girl life. It turned out that I LOVED that idea! We collaboratively came up with the idea for what is now Hot & Heavy.
I heard from Good Vibrations a few months ago and they said they were thinking about buying the book. They were one of a few local bookstores who really supported me during the sale of my first book (about boobies, in case you didn't know), and I was stoked that H&H was a fit for them. I was also excited because I immediately saw the opportunity to focus on the naughtier parts of the book in a reading... which is happening this THURSDAY at 1620 Polk Street! Yes, March 14 from 6:30-7:30 catch me and Miss Kitty Stryker reading from the book's more adult chapters. Kitty's chapter, "Fat Sex Works!", is an incredible look into her experience as a fat sex worker in the US and abroad. I will be reading choice morsels from chapters "2Fat2Fuck" by Rachel Kacenjar, "Journeying Into a Fat, Fleshy Vulva" by Shawna Peters and "The Fat Queen of Speed Dating" by Golda Poretsky. And there might be a little peak into my chapter, "Pecan Pie, Sex & Other Revolutionary Things." There will be truffles, there will be naughtiness, there will be cleavage (personal guarantee on mine at least; feel free to bring yours). Hope to see local folks there there! And if you're not around enjoy a couple chapters and raise a glass. We'll be there with you in perv spirit.
Hey, ghurl! So, yes, this blog is kinda about promoting my workshop, "Revolutionary Muffin Tops: Deconstructing Fatphobia, Reconstructing Self-Love," at this weekend's Breaking Boundaries Women's Conference at San Francisco State University, buuuuut it's so much more than that! I'm all about unveiling the truth about fatphobia because it is about so much more than just the fat or the muffin tops. There's all kinds of secret ingredients that make fatphobia as insidious as it is. Secret ingredients include:
Register at: www.sfsubreakingboundaries.com.
I spent last weekend in Arcata, California, home of Humboldt State University. This is the land from whence Sponge Bob (or at least his creator) hails, where men in beards walk their yaks through town, where champagne is free on Sunday. Oh, and also you can book an outdoor hot tub at a Finnish café that doubles as an enchanted troll forest at midnight for $9 and still get a mocha and a chubby raspberry thumb print cookie.
I was invited to do the keynote for this year’s SexLand. This year’s theme was “peek-a-boo” and was a mixture of body positivity, sex positivity and burlesque. I arrived on Friday afternoon on the tiniest plane ever. Parts of SFO are under construction and I had to take what looked a lot like the Marriott shuttle around the airport to get to my terminal. I’d seen the tiny ass plane on my way in, and chuckled to myself, shaking my head and pitying the fool who’d have to fly in it. Well, pride goeth before the fall, my friends. Of course, I ended up on that plane and I watched as the tiny, unprotected propellers picked up speed. It reminded me of being in my mom’s mini-van with the 3.5 axles. It was an adventure though! It was me, my cheetah print rolly suitcase and 9 people from Eureka. And there was beverage service. I always like to be a little uppity with the beverage service and ask for mocktails. Oh no, no plebeian drinks for moi: “I’ll have a cranberry spritzer, please. Feel free to be heavy-handed with the cranberry, girl.”
It took me a while to come up with a title for the keynote, but I decided on: "There's Glitter in Fatlandia: Fat Activism as an Unapologetic (& Hella Sexy) Queer Politic." I really wanted to know some things about the people in attendance and so I asked them a bunch of questions. I promised them that I would have the results up today and here they are! Unfortunately, I didn't have time to analyze all the responses (boooo, I know!), but I think you'll enjoy what I did manage to get:
There were 81 respondents, but some responses to some questions were deemed inadmissible because respondents answered with multiple responses, did not answer at all or answered in a way that did not correlate with one of the options given. These are the limitations of statistics! But they’re still pretty fun :D
For question #4 During childhood, how would you describe attitudes toward sex in your household? 4 responses were inadmissible, and 77 were admissible. Here is the breakdown (approximations):
1. Very Positive - 5%
2. Somewhat Positive - 23%
3. Neutral - 39%
4. Somewhat Negative - 22%
5. Very Negative - 10%
What I found MOST interesting – and of course, this observation is totally NOT scientific and would literally never get reported in anything official… yay, blogs! – I found that answers were clustered. So, for example, if someone reported a very positive or somewhat positive response there would be another very/somewhat positive response right after it. If I got a very negative there would tend to be another one right after it. I interpreted this to mean – considering the way that the responses were collected – that people were sitting next to people who had similar experiences around sexual attitudes growing up. And I presumed that people were sitting next to each other because they were friends. OR this could just be a total coincidence, but I thought I’d put it out there as food for thought. Do you think you’re friends with people who grew up in families with similar attitudes toward sex? What other politics did you and your friends share growing up?
In response to Question 5: Y/N: Did you masturbate or play sexual games by yourself or with other children? 79 responses were admissible; 2 responses were inadmissible:
Yes - 59%
No - 41%
In response to Question 9: Y/N: Does the way you feel about your body affect the way you have sex? 72 responses were admissible. 9 responses were inadmissible.
Yes – 80.5%
No – 19.5%
In response to Question 12: Y/N: If you have had sex, do you regret the first time and/or wish you had waited? 62 responses were admissible. 19 were inadmissible.
Yes – 34%
No – 66%
This question was inspired by an article on the New York Times website in 2010 that reported that 63% of American boys and 69% of American girls report regretting their first time and/or wishing they had waited. From that article:
“The age at which Europeans and Americans first have sex is the same — 17, on average, on both sides of the Atlantic. The percentage who use birth control from the start? In Holland it’s 64 percent and in the United States it’s 26 percent. The percentage who have regrets about their first time, wishing they had waited: 63 percent of boys and 69 percent of girls in the United States, and only 5 percent of boys and 12 percent of girls in the Netherlands. Teen pregnancy rates: three to six times higher here than in Western Europe. S.T.D. rates: 20 to 30 times higher here than Holland. H.I.V. rate? Theirs is six times lower.”
For Question 13: What would you say has had the biggest effect on your sexuality? 66 responses were admissible and 15 were not.
The only clustering pattern I found interesting was that those who responded that media had the biggest influence on their sexuality were clustered in the response pile (again, not scientific but interesting!).
Nearly all respondents answered Question 8, which asked them to describe their body with 3 words. The answers had enormous range from "beautiful," "awesome" and "sexy" to "awkward," "flabby," and "inadequate." Here are some of the responses:
19 year old male from Los Angeles identified his body as “skinny, scrawny, tall” and reported the biggest influence for his sexuality was media.
19 year old female from New Mexico said she was “buff, strong and awesome” and her biggest sexual influence was sexual/romantic partner.
18 year old female from Torrance, CA said she was "short, soft (not toned), inadequate."
18 year old female from LA identified herself as a “fabulous bitch” (and apologized for using 2 words to describe herself! Love!) and identified her biggest sexual influence as "myself/IDK."
18 year old female from Sacramento identified as "awkward, small, and uneven."
20 year old female from Colorado identified as “tall, greek goddess curves, muscular” and identifies Dan Savage as her biggest sexual influence
21 year old female from Chester, CA grew up in a household she reported as having very negative attitudes toward sex and sees her body as“disgusting, gross, pale.”
My favorite response was from a 27 year old male from New York who said that the three words that best described his body were "your sex machine."
I really appreciate everyone who participated in this survey!
I left Humboldt inspired by a bunch of radical, sex positive people and educators. They made me remember what is at the heart of my politics, why I became a sex educator and the way that sex is one of the most important battle grounds for justice and change that’s out there.
Virgie Tovar, MA is one of the nation's leading experts and lecturers on fat discrimination and body image. She is the founder of Babecamp (a 4 week online course focused on helping people break up with diet culture) and the editor of Hot & Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love and Fashion (Seal Press, 2012). She writes about the intersections of size, identity, sexuality and politics. See more updates on Facebook.