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The Ties That Bind


 An Exploration of Anchorage’s Kink Community

by K. Jered Mayer

“Here’s a couch you can sit and relax on, or whatever. I like to suck dick while the guy is reading. It’s the sapiosexual side of me.”

Surprised, I glanced at the man guiding me through the rooms to see if the statement was meant for me. It was not. Not all of it, anyway. Everything after introducing me to the furniture had been an aside to a friend of my leather-clad cicerone as they passed by, but it had been said so offhandedly and received so earnestly that I knew right then I had never been in a place quite like this before.

The Alaska Center for Alternative Lifestyles–mercifully acronymized and more commonly known as ACAL–has been labeled in the past as “Anchorage’s only sex club.” It’s an oversimplification that people are quick to correct, not least of all the Center’s founder, Sarha Shaubach. The website she set up for ACAL is done so in a way as to put focus on the real purpose behind the organization’s inception. Not for scintillation nor sexploitation. Certainly not for orgies, which require “a lot of planning and connection” to arrange. Instead, the focus is on community.

“Your Kink Community Home Base” graces the top of the main page, followed by a description promising “elevated kink education and foundation building,” as well as a “judgement [sic] free, body positive environment,” and protection and equipment for healthy exploration.

The FAQ section on their website goes even further into detail. Here, BDSM is defined as a more complex, overlapping number of ideas, and not just whips and chains and ball gags. There are answers in this area to questions about privacy, membership costs and advantages and various other things to expect regarding dress codes (there isn’t one), alcohol–there isn’t any of that, either; it’s critical there is zero confusion regarding consent–and what else is offered for those not interested in the tying or whipping side of it. And there is plenty offered: card games, movie nights, bootblacking (the polishing of one’s leathers) and regular classes on rope and knot work to promote healthy bondage and prevent serious injuries.

While the club itself had some initial troubles starting up–Sarha notably sent the Press a letter in December 2014 detailing her struggles getting ACAL up and running in the old Kodiak bar building while co-leasing the space with “Fuck It” Charlo Greene–classes, play sessions, recurring memberships and group events have proven strong enough to keep the community thriving.

So much so, in fact, that it was inevitable a larger venue would someday be needed. When that day came this last summer, ACAL didn’t need to look far to find it. Back in June, weekend events began being held in an 8,000-square foot space on 3rd Avenue. By July, they were fully moved in.

When ACAL finally came to my personal attention last month, they had fully settled into the location and I was chomping at the bit to write about it. Sexuality has always fascinated me in its myriad forms, as has people’s reactions to it and how readily some subscribe to an opinion based on what they think something is and not based on what it actually is.

I wanted to know. I wanted to learn.

ACAL offers a text-based subscriptions service to alert people of upcoming events. When I reached out to Sarha for the first time, she asked if she could sign me up for what she called “the same spam stuff” she gave to anyone interested in attending the Center for the first time. I agreed–I wanted to approach this from the ground up.

So it is that I found myself downtown on New Year’s Eve opening a door with a leather pride flag draped over it. I ducked inside and scaled a gray stone staircase, then waited my turn as the woman in the box office window politely explained to a couple men that no, this wasn’t the entrance to the Latin dance party that was also going on, that was the other side of the building, this was something much, much different. They shuffled back past me. It was my turn.

“Yeah, I’m here for the, ah…” At the time, I only knew it as the Alaska Center for Alternative Lifestyles, which was a rigid mouthful, or as the “fetish club,” which seemed remarkably ill-informed. Which I was. So I stammered.

“Are you here for the dance night or for ACAL,” she asked. I confirmed the latter. When she asked me if it was my first time attending, I confirmed that too and she handed me a five-page pamphlet on the rules to follow, appropriate and inappropriate behaviors and the safe word. Safety, discretion, clear-mindedness, consent and a zero-tolerance policy on hate speech were all heavily emphasized. I signed a consent sheet and returned it to the box office, where I was quizzed on what I had read before being allowed entry.

I passed my quiz with rainbow colors, paid my $25 non-member entry fee and had my license number written down and filed away with my paperwork. Once that was finished, I was assigned a guide to give me a tour of the facility.

“Normally, we’ve got the whole floor,” I was told. “But sometimes, like tonight, we rent out the big room to other events. Only this side is open tonight, but that’s okay. Sometimes I like that more. It’s more intimate.”

The first room I was led into was the social room. Cell phones are allowed here, but strictly for texts. Pictures are prohibited and people are asked to take calls outside, to maximize privacy. There are plenty of seats around the space to relax or recline upon. Snacks or food are customarily set out for guests, as are sodas and water. The night I went, there was a hummus plate. It was delicious.

The social area serves multiple purposes. Members and guests can meet here to discuss activities for the evening, or to shoot the shit, or to take a break from anything that was too exhausting or discomfiting in the play room. I saw an even mix of men and women sprawled out under a number of fantastic art pieces. Variety was the spice of life in the social room when it came to age, body types and dress. T-shirts and jeans here, corsets and leather chaps there. I saw smiling faces. I heard giggles, chuckles and guffaws. It felt safe. Relaxed.

From there, we moved into a second, transitional room. The room with the couch. While my guide took a moment to discuss oral sex preferences and unrelated plans for the weekend, I took in the small area. Some pornography sat on top of a cabinet for anyone needing a primer to get in the mood. On the walls were photos of bound men and women. There was a bookcase packed with books on sexuality and erotica. There was also a healthy collection of close-up, black and white photographs of vaginas with varying grooming situations and piercing statuses. It was fascinating to me, from an artistic perspective, to see such a display of body variance.

The last room, just beyond, was the playroom. Low-lit, blue themed. A long, padded table was positioned near the door for massages or wax play. A mattress was pushed against one corner on the right, covered in a Minions blanket that honestly struck me as the most out-of-place thing in the room. The bed was unoccupied, but the other corner on the right side was not, as a young man practiced different knots while binding his girlfriend. They moved thoughtfully, conscious of each other’s bodies, a sensuous grace about them.

To their left, against the center of the back wall, was a stand meant for kneeling over. A couple was wrapping up their spanking session. It was loud and vigorous and I could feel my cheeks flushing as aggressively as, well, hers.

And still there was more. Directly in front of me was a cushioned bench. A wooden overhang had a metal ring affixed to it. A man walked by me, trailed by a woman, as my tour guide described the layout. He stripped down to his underwear and his companion helped slip a restraint through the ring, binding his wrists above his head. She followed that with some light whipping and tickling. She massaged his bare back. She slapped his ass. The entire time, they communicated clearly.

There was one more room, an off-shoot to the left, that held a cage and two X-shaped structures one could be bound to. Whatever had been going on before I stepped in was over and the women there were busy getting dressed and cleaning the equipment.

My tour ended then, with an, “And there you go! Have fun!”

I did have fun, though I couldn’t help but feel a little like an outsider. I watched these men and women during intimate moments. A woman undressing while her friends bound her with thin rope. A young couple using the open floor space to wrestle, asserting dominance over each other. A lady in a frilly blue skirt being digitally stimulated by a man who looked like a sexy train conductor. I was a voyeur, drinking in the sights, but though I was fascinated, I wasn’t quite prepared for the role. I retreated after a while to the social room. Did I mention the hummus plate was delicious?

I left around midnight. The New Year. The ball had dropped, people were toasting. I left with nothing but positive impressions in mind.

But Sarha and I had agreed that you couldn’t gauge the Center based off one experience. And so a week later I returned. The full floor was open this time for a 12-hour lock-in event. I brought two women with me, neither of whom had ever been, to see how it felt to others.

On my return trip, the playroom I experienced the first time had been rearranged into a general activity room. There were more attendees as well, but fewer sexual activities. Instead, everyone was more focused on games like no-money strip poker and Cards Against Humanity.

My friends and I checked out the other half of the floor eventually, walking into a room I can only describe as cavernous. The floor was bare concrete, which tied up the winter cold and exposed it to us. Heat bars were plugged in, to little effect. A handful of lamps provided gloomy illumination.

There was plenty more room here to put on a show. Tables and mats were set up to lay and play upon. At the back, a silhouette screen and photographer were set up for discrete erotic photo sessions. To one side sat a Sybian. If you’re unfamiliar with those, it’s a sort of vibrating saddle to which you can secure a synthetic dick. A box nearby had an incredible assortment of different lengths, girths and angles.

The room was impressive and filled with orgasmic opportunities, but with so much cold and open space and with so few people occupying it, it felt almost too bare. I recalled my guide’s preference for the more intimate arrangements, and it made sense to me now. This felt less like a shared moment and more like an impersonal display, a sentiment shared by one of the women with me.

All the same, both of my companions–neither identified as particularly fetishistic or kinky–told me they could definitely feel the sense of comfort and community that permeated the walls of ACAL. It was a reminder, again, that this place was meant to be more than just a “sex club.”

My friends and I left and talked about the evening over drinks and in the days that followed I reached out to other members of Anchorage’s fetish and kink community to talk about their experiences in general and to see what their relationship with ACAL–if any–had been like. The majority of responses were positive, but not all of them.

In fairness and full disclosure, I did hear back from a pair of women who had been decidedly turned off by their visits. One lady told me she had been pressured multiple times by men ignoring the No Means No rule–victims of this harassment are encouraged to approach management immediately so the violator can be dealt with. Astoria, who gave me permission to use her name, told me she didn’t have confidence in the level of security or protection the club promised.

I can see how this could be a concern. Aside from having documented signatures and taking down license and ID numbers, there isn’t a way to effectively run background checks on everyone rolling through. Instead, members and guests are expected to be self-reliant and cautious through conversation. When it works–as in the case of convicted sex offender Daniel Eisman who broke his probation by attending last October–the nefarious entity is quickly rousted from the club. But when it doesn’t work? Well, it comes down to observation, communication, crossed fingers and a knock on wood.

That being said, my experiences with ACAL and my research into the community around it left me with the firm belief that these types of incidents are in the minority and that the heart of the organization beats around the desire to provide a sense of normalcy to lifestyles different than what most might be used to. They do this by promoting education, patience, discussion, acceptance and understanding that not everyone is going to get off to the same thing. And that’s okay! The lesson is to be comfortable with yourself.

Wrapping this up, I thought it best to end with something for people who might be on the fence. For that, I went back to the community. I asked Astoria–a 26-year-old local fetishist who says she’s tried just about everything–for one thing she would tell anyone curious about alternate lifestyles.

“SSC,” she said. “Safe, Sane and Consensual. That phrase is a big part of being kinky. People are in the lifestyle because it’s something they enjoy or need to get by with the rest of what life throws at you.”

Being safe, considerate of the comfort of others and treating people rationally. Crazy how key behaviors in an “alternative” lifestyle are the same things everyone should already be doing regularly.

And was there anything else I took home from the experience, I’m going to assume you’re asking. Did I come away with any new interests myself? Well, I’ll just have to get back to you. I’m a little tied up at the moment.

Complete Article HERE!


Fears of coming out dissolve with acceptance from peers



When I first decided to come out, I was terrified.

At the time, I was 16 and just starting to move up the social ladder at my school. I was passing all my classes, looking for my first job, and had finally started to feel settled in after moving here a year earlier. I had come from the conservative state of Idaho to the equally conservative state of Utah, and both states were heavily dominated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or the Mormons.

Again, I was terrified.

My middle school in Idaho seemed to be a breeding ground for the conservative culture I was so afraid off. My peers drove tractors after school for their farms, went hunting on weekends for wild ducks, and voiced their support for the Second Amendment whenever the issue was discussed.

There were boys who attacked others with the words “faggot” and “homo,” and peers of mine who called everything from a school assignment to a lonely seventh-grader “gay.”

It was in these halls that my stereotypes about the LDS Church and the conservative culture formed. During my three years at this Idaho school, I only knew two LGBTQ classmates who had already come out; a boy in the grade ahead of me, and my best friend. They had somehow pushed passed all of these slurs and jokes to become two of the most well-liked people in the school, something my 14-year-old mind could barely understand.

When I had switched schools to the suburbs of Utah, I was amazed at how similar it felt to Idaho. There were fewer farms for sure, and the schools were structured differently, but the residents were strikingly similar. They were rippled reflections of one another, with the most prevalent similarity being the dominant population of LDS Church members.

By the time my freshman year started, I was barely acquainted with the LDS Church and its policies. I knew that something called family home evening took place on Mondays and a majority of the members were conservatives. I knew that plans should not be scheduled for Sundays, and that my favorite beverage of the time, coffee, was a no-go for the church. Other than that, it was just another religion to me.

Then I stumbled upon a documentary on Netflix centered on Proposition 8, the controversial piece of state legislation passed in California that prevented same-sex couples from being legally wed. I started watching the movie because I was a teen struggling with my identity, but quickly learned that the LDS Church, the same religion that had thousands of churches and even more members in the only places I’d ever lived, was a major supporter for the movement.

My hesitation toward coming out and being ostracized in my own community had become a real fear. Prop 8 had happened in 2008, and six years later a relatively unknown documentary had made a then 15-year-old boy in Utah absolutely terrified to come out.

For six months I put up a façade of normality in hopes of finding some sort of solution. I refused to discuss my romantic life, and on the rare occasion that I was approached about homosexual people, I quietly voiced my support before changing the subject.

Then suddenly, on Dec. 14, 2014, I decided that I was ready to come out officially. I had told a few friends in the month prior, with all of them offering me unwavering support when I was ready. I logged onto Facebook that night and posted a photo of myself with the words “NO H8” painted on my cheek. I logged off, went to sleep, and woke up the next morning with a handful of likes and a few comments from friends who congratulated me.

Dec. 14 was the Sunday leading up to the biggest week of the year at my school: our annual winter fundraising drive. I had a vision of me entering the school and being surrounded by people looking to confirm the rumor they heard. I would be the ultra-confident gay, and my peers would look from afar as I became the talk of the school.

Instead, I was met with nothing; no support, no criticisms, no questions.

Eventually, people asked about it and just as quickly brushed it aside as irrelevant. I was the same person, and as one friend explained it, nothing had changed except that I had become a more complete “me.” Even in the weeks following, I found nothing but acceptance and open arms from all of my friends.

But most surprisingly, it was my LDS friends who supported me during the times I needed it most. They let me openly talk about my relationships and feelings and defended my community when a snide comment arose. Most seemed to opt for the middle ground; since my sexuality didn’t concern them, they had nothing to oppose.

Although I wish some Mormons were vocal about their support for the LGBTQ community, I understand that time is required for change to happen. And there are, of course, Mormons who are either LGBTQ themselves or allies for the community that work toward making the religion a more accepting place.

Yet, there is still this stigma that a gay person can’t be in the LDS church. When I tell people I’m gay, it seems to be assumed that I am subsequently not LDS (I’m an atheist), and I still find myself assuming that all Mormons I meet are heterosexual.

But I feel grateful that I can wake up each day and not dread going to school, because I know that I am lucky to have a group of peers who support me. There are less fortunate teens who are still afraid to reveal their sexuality in fear of being outcast; it’s an issue that can’t be resolved until the LDS Church makes it a priority to fix its relations with the LGBTQ community.

Complete Article HERE!


When You Are Old, Chinese, and Gay


Gay, lesbian, and bisexual retirees seek companionship and acceptance in old age, but some find it harder than others.


By Fan Yiying

Zhang Guowei, a 76-year-old bisexual veteran, is relishing his twilight years. “I couldn’t be happier with my life post-retirement,” says Zhang, who was a doctor in the army until 1994.

As a former military officer, Zhang’s monthly pension is 10,000 yuan ($1,440) — five times the average pension in Changde, the small city in central China’s Hunan province where he lives with his boyfriend. Zhang divorced his wife in 2003 and met the love of his life — Wu, who is 40 years younger — a year later on the internet. “I expect him to accompany me through the remainder of my life,” Zhang tells Sixth Tone after finishing his daily exercise routine.

Zhang says he is bisexual but prefers men. He gained support and understanding from his ex-wife and two daughters when he came out to them in 2003. When he passes on, his assets will be divided equally among his daughters and his boyfriend. “My kids have no problem sharing with Wu because they know he is the one taking care of me in my final years,” he says.

The May-December couple have been living together since 2005 in an apartment provided by the government for retired army cadres and their families. The 10-story building houses a dozen veterans in their 60s through 90s, some living alone and others with their spouses.

When Wu first moved in, Zhang told his neighbors that Wu was his gan erzi, or adopted son, whom he met online. (The Chinese concept of gan erzi allows for a sort of informal adoption of adults, with no legal or religious implications.) “I had this vague idea that they might be gay,” says 74-year-old Lu Shize, who lives downstairs. “But it’s none of my business to ask about his private life,” Lu adds.

Last year, following in other veterans’ footsteps, Zhang wrote a 218-page autobiography — including his experiences of recognizing his sexuality — and shared it with his fellow cadres. His neighbors were very understanding. “Everyone knows about us, and no one gossips or gives us a hard time,” Zhang says.

Lu, who had never before met any out gay or bisexual men, says he admires Zhang’s courage. “Being gay or not, it doesn’t change the way I see him,” Lu says. “We are in our 70s; what’s more important than being happy and healthy?”

China’s population is rapidly aging. The proportion of the population aged 60 or older was more than 16 percent at the end of 2015, according to the Ministry of Civil Affairs, and that number is only set to increase. The nation’s changing demography brings with it challenges for managing welfare and health care, especially as fewer seniors are able to count on their families for support.

Two older men hold a symbolic wedding ceremony in Beijing, Jan. 30, 2013.

Decades of family-planning restrictions mean that even seniors who have children often must become self-reliant, as children born during the one-child policy can’t afford to support two parents and four grandparents. As a result, for many elders, being childless is no longer a major concern or an unusual occurrence.

Wen Xiaojun, 56, is single and childless. Immediately after he retired in November from working as a civil servant, he rented an apartment in Sanya, on the southern island of Hainan, where he is spending six months avoiding the cold of his hometown in the eastern province of Zhejiang. “I still feel young and restless,” Wen tells Sixth Tone. “Being childless makes it easy for me to travel after retirement.”

Like other older people, LGBT seniors want to have rich, fulfilling, and independent lives. They hope that retirement will give them the opportunity to focus on what they truly love.

Wen enjoys his slow-paced life in Sanya. He goes to exhibitions, takes walks along the beach, plays volleyball with locals, and sometimes meets up with men he contacts through Blued — a popular gay social app, on which he hopes to find a long-term boyfriend.

But dating isn’t easy for older gay men. “Younger generations can build a relationship quickly by kissing or having sex soon after they meet offline,” Wen explains. “But we want something more spiritual and stable.”

Similarly, 62-year-old Ah Shan, as he’s called within the gay community, says that finding a partner is his biggest problem these days. His finances are secure, as he owns his apartment in Guangzhou — capital of southern China’s Guangdong province — and receives a monthly pension of about 5,000 yuan, but he has been single for four years and is ready for that to change. In the meantime, he is renting out one of his bedrooms to gay friends so he has some company at home.

Ah Shan poses for a picture in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, 2013.

Most gays, lesbians, and bisexuals of Ah Shan’s generation knew little about their sexual orientation until internet access became available at the turn of the millennium. Even when Ah Shan was working in the U.S. in the late 1980s, he refused to consider himself gay because the only information he’d heard about gay topics in China was AIDS-related or implied that homosexuality was shameful or immoral. “I think I was brainwashed,” Ah Shan laughs.

Over the last two years, Ah Shan has been working on a gay oral history project, recording the stories of older gay men in Guangzhou. He has talked to more than 60 gay men aged from 60 to 90, who have experienced some of China’s most critical historic moments, from the Cultural Revolution to the nation’s opening-up era. “If we don’t record them now, part of the important history of LGBT in China will be gone,” he says.

Many of the men are married and choose not to come out to their families. “They go to this particular park to chat with other gay men in the daytime to release their emotions, but when the sun goes down, they have to return home to bear their family responsibilities,” Ah Shan says with a sigh.

Ah Shan’s own parents passed away before he was brave enough to tell them the truth. His mother died in 2000, a year before homosexuality was declassified as a mental illness in China.

Compared with gay and bisexual men, older women find it even more difficult to disclose or discuss their sexual orientation. Since 2010, 45-year-old Yu Shi from Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, has been working on an oral history project for older same-sex-attracted women across China, but she says the process of locating participants and persuading them to share their stories is tough.

“Chinese women are in a weak position in the family, which doesn’t allow them to speak out for themselves,” Yu says, adding that of the 30 or so lesbians who have taken part in the project over the last six years, only one has come out to her family. Many won’t divorce their husbands even if they have female partners. “Chinese people are very concerned with saving face, and they think it’s a loss of face to get a divorce if you’re already a grandparent,” she says.

Yu and her 40-year-old girlfriend have lived together for over a decade, but despite their enduring, loving relationship, they can’t enjoy the security of a formal union, as same-sex marriage is not yet legal in China. Some issues can be resolved by making a will, but others — like legal or medical power of attorney — remain a problem.

According to Yu, some LGBT seniors who are single and childless have considered building their own retirement estate where they can live together and take care of one another. Although they aren’t opposed to regular nursing homes, Yu says “they prefer to live in a place where they can open their hearts and share their experiences with others in the same circumstances.”

A lesbian couple kiss each other during an event in Shanghai, Dec. 22, 2013.

As more and more seniors live separately from their children, retirement facilities in China have struggled to meet growing demand. The government encourages investment in privately owned nursing homes, but so far none have been established exclusively for members of sexual minority groups.

Little public attention is given to the needs of older LGBT people, but to Wang Anke, a 50-year-old bisexual woman from Beijing, these individuals don’t do enough to stand up for themselves, either. “We are almost invisible,” she says.

Wang married her husband in 1990 and plans to spend the rest of her life with him. Though Wang considers herself happy and fortunate, she says that most older lesbian and bisexual women she knows are pessimistic about their senior years. “They’re lonely and lack emotional care,” Wang says, adding that many would rather live alone than move into a nursing home where they fear they can’t be themselves. “Loneliness will go to the grave with them.”

But while some LGBT seniors advocate dedicated nursing homes, Ah Shan opposes the idea of separate services. “In the long run, LGBT people shouldn’t lock ourselves in a so-called safe place,” he says. “What we really need is for the overall environment to allow us to live comfortably in the community.”

Complete Article HERE!


New study finds girls feel unprepared for puberty


Girls from low-income families in the U.S. are unprepared for puberty and have largely negative experiences of this transition, according to researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Their latest paper on the puberty experiences of African-American, Caucasian, and Hispanic girls living mostly in urban areas of the Northeastern U.S. shows that the majority of low-income girls feel they lack the information and readiness to cope with the onset of menstruation. The research is one of the first comprehensive systematic reviews of the literature on puberty experiences of low-income girls in the U.S.

The findings are published online in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

“Puberty is the cornerstone of reproductive development,” said Marni Sommer, DrPH, MSN, RN, associate professor of Sociomedical Sciences at the Mailman School of Public Health. “Therefore, the transition through puberty is a critical period of development that provides an important opportunity to build a healthy foundation for sexual and reproductive health. Given the importance of this transition, the research is striking in its lack of quantity and quality to date.”

The investigators used Qualitative Research guidelines to review the data from peer-reviewed articles with a qualitative study design published between 2000 and 2014. They used a quality assessment form as a further check of the data.

The age of breast development and menarche has declined steadily in the U.S. during the last 25 years, with 48 percent of African-American girls experiencing signs of physical development by age 8. “This trend may mean that increasing numbers of African-American girls are not receiving adequately timed puberty education¬, leaving them uninformed and ill-prepared for this transition,” said Ann Herbert, doctoral candidate at the Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Although many of the girls reported being exposed to puberty topics from at least one source—mothers, sisters, or teachers—most felt that the information was inaccurate, insufficient, or provided too late. Girls also reported being disappointed in the information they received from mothers; meanwhile many mothers said they were unable to fully address their daughters’ needs. Mothers were uncertain about the right time to initiate conversations, uncomfortable with the topic, and uninformed about the physiology of menstruation. The timing of puberty also influenced girls’ puberty experiences.

The researchers noted that despite a strong focus on adolescent sexual health outcomes, such as sexually transmitted infections and teen pregnancy, clinicians and practitioners in the U.S. have yet to capitalize on the issues of puberty onset and menstruation as a window of opportunity to improve adolescent sexual and reproductive health. In addition, the current body of research leaves out many topics entirely. “For example, missing are the voices of adolescents with non-conforming gender role and sexual orientation,” Herbert said.

Earlier research showed that irrespective of race, higher-income girls had more knowledge about puberty, were more prepared for menarche, and had more positive attitudes about menstruation, strongly suggesting socioeconomic disparities related to preparation for puberty.

“Findings from the current review suggest that low-income girls today expressed a sentiment similar to girls studied in the 1980s and 1990s—a feeling that they were largely unprepared for puberty and menarche,” noted Herbert.

“Our review makes it clear that there is a need for new more robust interventions to support and provide information about for low-income , something we are considering for the coming years,” said Sommer.

Complete Article HERE!


Staying Married Through a Gender Transition


“Sometimes I see myself as a lesbian, and sometimes I don’t.”

By Evan Urquhart

Six years ago, Cassie and I met and began dating as lesbians. At the time, I didn’t know I was transgender. Then about two years ago, just nine months after we were married, I told her I thought I might want to transition and live as a man. It’s hard to overstate how difficult this was for us at first, but we stuck with one another and managed to preserve our marriage. I spoke with Cassie about staying together, and about being a lesbian (or maybe not) in a relationship with a trans man.

Think back to when I first told you I thought I might want to transition. What was your initial reaction?

When you first told me, I was surprised by how angry I was. I mean, you weren’t my first experience with a trans person. I’ve had a number of friends come out, and it’s never been hard to adjust. Plus, I was in the queer dorm at UMass, and many of the kids I lived with were trans. I always figured I was well prepared for the possibility of a romantic partner coming out. I didn’t know what I’d do, exactly, but I didn’t think I’d be angry. But when you told me, I don’t know … We were trying to get me pregnant at the time, and all I could think was that you were fucking up my adorable little lesbian life.

I wasn’t!

I know. It just felt like you were. I know that’s unfair, but it’s true. I was also angry at myself, because I wasn’t actually that surprised by the news. There was no way I could convince myself that it was just a passing thought. I knew it wasn’t. We’d talked about your gender in the past, and I told you I thought you had some issues to work out. We had so many conversations about how you thought every woman would want to be a man if they could, and I would tell you, no, I wouldn’t want that, and you wouldn’t believe me. It was frustrating, but I forgave it, because I sensed you had some internal issues to work out. But I guess what I thought (or maybe hoped) was that one day you’d recognize a sort of queerness in yourself and stop arguing with me about my own gender, not that you would go full-on with testosterone, surgery, changing your name, everything. Now I tell people I have a husband.

It’s been really tough. How do you think we’ve managed to stay together?

A lot of things. I think I was scared at first because I didn’t think I’d end up breaking up with you. We’re so compatible in so many ways. Part of me was afraid that your personality would change so much I’d not want to be with you, but I didn’t really think that I would leave.

You felt trapped?

Marriage is a trap. That’s a weird question.

Argh. My nonjudgmental leading questions don’t work on you—you’re on to me. What eventually made it OK, when at first it didn’t feel OK?

We talked a lot, all the time, about everything. Even when it was hard, we hashed things out rather than ignoring them. And should I talk about the open relationship? We opened things up, as we’d done before, but I think it was especially important in this case.

The release valve. Not feeling like you’d never be with a woman again. Being able to explore other relationships with other people without ending everything we had to do it.

Something like that.

Do you still consider yourself a lesbian?

Oh, geez. We’re jumping to that question now?

It seemed relevant.

Sometimes I see myself as a lesbian, and sometimes I don’t. Part of me thinks it’s wrong to consider myself a lesbian because if I do, and I remain in a relationship with a trans guy, or even admit attraction, on a certain level, to any other trans guys, I’m effectively invalidating their gender. That said, coming out to myself was such an important thing for me. It made so much about myself make sense, not just who I was attracted to but my personality and how I interacted with the world. It made me so much happier. I don’t want to let that go.

I always said I didn’t have the power to unilaterally change your orientation.

Right, but your transition did make me think about my sexuality in a different way. A number of different people that I’ve been attracted to, whether I dated them or not, were people I thought at the time were cis women who came out later as trans men. If it was really just you, well, you could be the exception. You could be grandfathered in. But I feel like it might say something about me—about the sort of people I like—that you’re not the only one.

I’ve always butted heads a little with the lesbian community, anyway. But at the same time I feel like that’s part of what it means to be a lesbian, to butt heads with the lesbian community. I once got into a fight with a girl who said I wasn’t a real lesbian because of what I was wearing. I got kicked off a lesbian forum for saying I thought you could still be a lesbian if you had enjoyed sex with a penis, even once. God forbid.

This reminds me, we’ve been talking about trans men, but what about trans women? Are you attracted to trans women? Have you ever been with a trans woman? Do you think you can be with trans women and still be a “real lesbian”?

Yeah, I’ve been attracted to and been with trans women. I know it’s a point of contention for some people, but I think that’s silly. At least for me, if I’m hanging out, flirting, feeling attraction and chemistry with someone, then there’s a good chance I’m going to enjoy having sex with that person if I get the chance. I guess if you’re only attracted to genitals, that could be more limiting, depending on the specifics, but I feel like you’re probably having pretty boring sex. Maybe I’m wrong, and to each their own, but it’s not an issue for me. And I kind of suspect it would be less of an issue for other people than they think, but they just don’t want to think about it.

So, my being a trans man was more of a threat to your sexuality than your being attracted to a trans woman was.

Yeah. I’m really not worried at all about sometimes being attracted to trans women.

Talk about my physical changes, and how you feel about them.

Well, it’s better now that you’ve come out of the weird little hole you were in. You were spending all your time on Reddit or in the other room, alone, doing God knows what. You acted so weird at first, so totally in your head about things. You never wanted to have sex, and having a conversation with you was like pulling teeth. I was more annoyed with that than anything. The actual changes didn’t bother me as much as I’d feared. I guess they’ve been gradual enough it’s been easy to get used to. But then you’d do things like repeat the same phrase three times in a slightly deeper voice, and I just had no patience for it. I was finishing a master’s degree and dealing with infertility, and I didn’t have time for your issues.

And I’ve settled down now?

Definitely. We’re about back to normal, I’d say. I’ve settled, too. At this point I’m just kind of embarrassed by how I reacted early on. I think that once I just chilled out and accepted your transition as what was happening, and as a good thing for you, our relationship could just be what it was. No pressure. We started getting closer again, and you started relaxing. Plus, we had a friend at the time, a trans girl, who helped a lot.

Because she was very political.

She was very no-nonsense. She handed you a trans pride flag at the pride parade when you were still only partially out. I’ll never forget the look on your face when that happened. She also started using male pronouns for you and calling you Evan and told me to just get over it. And I did. Probably in part because I liked her, and I didn’t want her to think I was mean. But still, it helped.

So, how are things now for our relationship?

They’re really good. I mean, there are no guarantees. Changes are still happening, and I’m sure we’ll have some ups and downs in the future. I don’t want to jinx anything. But we’re connecting again, we’re having sex again, and sometimes when someone from your family forgets and uses your old name, I have a moment where I’m not even sure who they’re talking about. You’re just my Evan. It works.

And, how do you feel about your sexuality?

I think I still see myself as a lesbian in a lot of ways, and I don’t know if I’ll ever completely change that, but I’ve been referring to myself as queer more often, and I like that as a compromise. I feel like that word fits me pretty well, and maybe I’ll ease into using it completely in the future. But right now I’m not completely over thinking of myself as a lesbian, especially since I’m still generally more attracted to women.

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