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What does queer mean?

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The word “queer” remains controversial, but while some still do find the term derogatory, most LGBTQ+ people have proudly reclaimed the anti-gay slur and use it in a positive light.

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In the English language, queer dates back to the 16th century, and was possibly derived from the German word ‘quer’, which translates as ‘oblique’ or ‘perverse’.

Originally defined as “odd”, “strange” or “peculiar”, the term “queer” took on a more sordid meaning from the mid-20th century when it was used to pejoratively refer to those with same-sex desires, especially gay men.

But, with the rise of LGBTQ+ activism in the 1970s and 1980s, some gay rights campaigners positively reclaimed the word “queer” as an umbrella term for gender and sexual minorities.

Today, queer is widely used by millennials as an inclusive term to refer to anyone who is not straight and/or not cisgender.

But, for some people, particularly older generations, “queer” still carries negative connotations.

Just last month, Twitter banned some users who had described themselves as “queer,” facing a backlash from those who had reclaimed the term.

Definitions

According to Brian Lewis, whose book British Queer History was published in 2013, the word “queer” today has three primary uses.

He explains: “’Queer’ is used in three main ways: as an act of reclamation from homophobes; as an umbrella term for the micro divisions of the LGBT+ community; and as a marker of sexual fluidity in opposition to heterosexual and homosexual binaries and identities.”

For Lewis, the term “queer” is “one of the most useful—and controversial—categories of analysis in the study of sexuality.”

Similarly Alan Butler, a research fellow in history at the University of Plymouth, who is also secretary in the LGBTQ+ arm of the Oral History Society, recognises this contradiction.

“’Queer’ has had multiple meanings through time,” he says. “Currently it’s framed by many as an umbrella term for people who exist outside of heteronormative and cis gender norms. For many people though it’s been derogatory and still is.”

Meanwhile, Justin Bengry, who lectures in and convenes the Queer History MA at Goldsmiths, University of London, the first course of its kind in the UK, says: In academia we often use ‘queer’ as an umbrella term.

“As an inclusive term to include the widest range of gender and sexual diversity in the past and the present.”

He continues: Some activists too have positively reclaimed ‘queer’ as an inclusive term that welcomes people beyond the LGBT spectrum or whose identities fall outside those categories.

Some people don’t want to be identified by LGBT categories – they reject being cateogrised and being labelled.

Queer and same-sex desire

Early recorded examples of queer meaning same-sex desire include a letter written in 1894 by John Sholto Douglas, 9th Marquess of Queensberry.

Bengry talks about a letter he has read dating from the 1930s where the writer talks about being “queer” in reference to his desire for another man.

He explains: Even though he’s writing in terms that are similar to our understandings of ‘gay’ today, there are still important differences in the past. But he’s certainly writing about same-sex desires.”

The mid-20th century and negative meaning

From the mid-20th century onwards, however, the term “queer” started to take on a negative meaning and was used to pejoratively refer to LGBTQ+ individuals, particularly gay or bisexual men.

Bengry says that by the mid-20th century “queer” was being used in a way that was “derogatory and venomous and negative.”

Butler explains: “In the 1940s, 50s and 60s, the term was very prevalent and used to describe and often put down LGBT people.

“It tended to be associated most closely with gay men and was used as an insult. The continued through the 80s and 90s and even today some people use it as an insult or as a term of hatred.

Reclaiming the word “queer”

As Lewis writes in his book, British Queer History, from the 1980s the word “queer” began to be reclaimed by “radical grassroots activists in organisations like Queer Nation and ACT UP (in the US) and Outrage! (in Britain).”

These individuals, Lewis writes, “began to deploy it as a calculated and edgy act of reclamation.”

By reclaiming the word “queer”, says Bengry, LGBTQ+ rights activists redefined themselves – and hit back against those who had used the term to insult them.

He says: From the 80s and 90s, with the development of a more radical activism and queer theory, ‘queer’ really came to be redeployed in opposition to the venom of its use in the past.

“Queer people now said: ‘No, this is our word, and we’re taking it back … we’re reclaiming it for our own purposes and activism.’”

Using queer with caution today

But Bengry says the “strongest association” that “many people alive today” still have is of queer being used “threateningly, dangerously, as a weapon, aggressively.”

Consequently, he says, we must act with awareness when using the term “queer.”

He continues: “Many people were physically assaulted and emotionally harmed, and that was the word that accompanied those assaults.”

“That threat and violence is still incredibly resonant for them. It’s something that we all have to bear in mind when we use [queer] today – we can be re-traumatising people by using this word.”

As Bengry points out, the term “is useful and complex”. He adds: “Some people today actively claim it as an identity. It also recognises a much greater diversity of experience and identity than any other term.”

For Butler, “queer” is particularly a taboo word in Plymouth, where he teaches, because of a homophobic murder in 1995. After the crime, someone sprawled the homophobic graffiti “no queer’s here” at the scene of the murder.

Still, Butler is happy that, at least outside Plymouth, the word “queer” has been positively reclaimed.

“If something perceived as an insult is owned and celebrated by you then it loses its power in terms of hatred,” he says.

Complete Article HERE!

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Many parents unsure of talking about sex with LGBT kids

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Many parents of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) teens feel uneasy and uninformed when it comes to talking to them about sex and dating, a new study shows.

The study included 44 parents of LGBT teens between the ages of 13 and 17. The parents cited many challenges in trying to educate their teens about sex, including general discomfort in talking about it, and feeling unable to offer accurate advice about safe LGBT sex.

“Parents play an important role in helping their children learn how to have healthy sexual relationships, but they really struggle when discussing this with their LGBTQ teens,” study author Michael Newcomb said. He is associate director for scientific development at Northwestern University’s Institute for Sexual and Gender Minority Health and Wellbeing.

The study was published recently in the journal Sexuality Research and Social Policy.

“We need resources to help all parents — regardless of their child’s sexual orientation or gender identity — overcome the awkwardness and discomfort that can result from conversations about sexual health,” Newcomb said in a university news release.

He noted that a healthy and supportive relationship with parents is a key predictor of positive health outcomes in teens of all sexual orientations.

“Many parents and their LGBTQ teens want to have supportive relationships with one another, so if we can design programs to strengthen these relationships, it could have a tremendous impact on LGBTQ teens’ health and wellbeing,” he said.

In a separate study, institute researchers examined how gay and bisexual boys between 14 and 17 felt about talking to their parents about sex.

“We found that many of the gay and bisexual male youth in our study wanted to be closer to their parents and to be able to talk about sex and dating,” study lead author Brian Feinstein said in the news release.

“However, most of them said that they rarely, if ever, talked to their parents about sex and dating, especially after coming out. And, even if they did talk about sex and dating with their parents, the conversations were brief and focused exclusively on HIV and condom use,” Feinstein said. He is a research assistant professor.

That study was published in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior.

Complete Article HERE!

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Federal courts ask: What is the meaning of ‘sex’?

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Existing prohibitions against discrimination ‘because of sex,’ already provide a civil rights umbrella wide enough to cover discrimination based on sexual orientation and transgender identity, some judges are beginning to say.

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A number of federal courts have begun to ask a question that has become more and more subtle over the past few years: What is the meaning of ‘sex’?

It’s a question that has in many ways evolved out of the storms of cultural change that have surrounded the country’s shifting ideas about human sexuality and gender over the past few decades. Many of these culminated in the US Supreme Court’s landmark 5-to-4 decision in 2015, in which a bare majority declared same-sex marriage a constitutional right.

On the one hand, the high court’s epoch-changing decision that legalized same-sex marriage created the kind of situation that inevitably arises out of rapid cultural change. Today, neither the federal government nor some 28 states offer any explicit civil rights protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people (LGBTQ), either in the workplace or any other arena of daily life.

“It is constitutionally jarring to know that, in most states, a lesbian couple can get married on Saturday and be fired from their jobs on Monday, without legal redress,” notes the legal scholar William Eskridge, professor at Yale Law School in New Haven, Conn.

And many throughout the country, even those with liberal-leaning views, continue to be uneasy about the presence of transgender people in certain sensitive places, including school bathrooms and locker rooms.

On Friday, President Trump issued a policy memo that would disqualify most transgender people from serving in the military, after tweeting about his plans to issue such a ban last July. As Defense Secretary Jim Mattis reported to the president in February, the administration is concerned that the presence of transgender soldiers could “undermine readiness,” “disrupt unit cohesion,” and create unreasonable health care costs for the military, echoing arguments used in the past for other groups.

At least four federal courts have found this reasoning constitutionally jarring as well, potentially violating the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the law.

Yet beyond sweeping constitutional questions which regulate what the government can do to its citizens, the nation’s evolving definitions of sex, marriage, and gender have also been quietly transforming the nation’s civil rights laws, which regulate how citizens live their common lives together.

Title VII and Title IX

Indeed, a number of federal courts have recently begun to weigh in on a vigorous and relatively new legal idea, simmering for the past few years in federal civil rights cases but only now beginning to take a more defined legal shape.

There may be no need to press Congress and the majority of state legislatures to change their statutes and explicitly add LGBTQ people to their lists of protected classes. (Traditionally, these include race, color, religion, sex, and national origin.) Existing prohibitions against discrimination “because of sex,” already provide a civil rights umbrella wide enough to cover discrimination based on sexual orientation and transgender identity, some judges are beginning to say.

The Obama administration took this position in 2016, telling the nation’s public schools that transgender students should be able to use the bathroom of their choice, a directive that interpreted Title IX’s prohibitions against sex discrimination as covering transgender identity.

Last April, the US Court of Appeals of the Seventh Circuit in Chicago, which includes nine justices nominated by Republican presidents and five by President Ronald Reagan, also embraced this idea. In an 8-to-3 decision that spanned the panel’s ideological spectrum, the full court ruled that the Title VII’s prohibition against sex discrimination in the workplace also included any based on sexual orientation.

Last month, the Second Circuit in New York issued a similar ruling. “Sexual orientation discrimination is a subset of sex discrimination because sexual orientation is defined by one’s sex in relation to the sex of those to whom one is attracted,” wrote Chief Judge Robert Katzmann for the 10-3 majority. It would be impossible “for an employer to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation without taking sex into account,” he continued.

Such an evolving legal definition of sex could again reshape the nation’s legal landscape. “Potentially a lot is at stake,” says Professor Eskridge. “Depending how broadly you go, this idea could affect dozens of state statutes and dozens of federal statutes, the chief of which are Title VII and Title IX,” sections in the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act that forbids discrimination both in the workplace and in public schools.

Original intent

On the surface, the debate over the meaning of “sex” in these cases divides legal thinkers into classic liberal and conservative approaches to the law. Those who focus on the “original intent” of laws and the precise words of the legal text have generally rejected the expansive lines of thinking about the definition of sex.

“I think the better answer, the cleaner answer is just, let Congress go ahead and change the laws,” says Mark Goldfeder, senior fellow at the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory Law School in Atlanta. And there’s virtue in hashing out such questions through a political process rather than letting a panel of judges make such society-shaping decisions.

Indeed, this was part of the reasoning behind a three-judge panel in the 11th Circuit in Atlanta, which came to the opposite conclusion. In a 2-to-1 decision, the majority said that discrimination “because of sex” and discrimination based on sexual orientation were two different things. The disagreement among appeals courts could invite a potential Supreme Court review, scholars say.

But the history of the legal concept of “sex discrimination” unfolded in a much more complex way, many observers note, and conservative jurisprudence, too, has played a key role in the evolving definitions of “sex” that almost immediately began to widen over time.

“There’s been this natural progression of the law,” says Susan Eisenberg, managing partner at the Miami office of Cozen O’Connor. As a trial attorney who has been defending companies from civil rights complaints for more than two decades, she’s has watched as the concept of “sex” in discrimination cases has evolved over time, changing the ways she defends her clients.

The evolution of civil rights law

In the first decade after the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, she and others point out, the “original intent” of the prohibition against sex discrimination was clear. The nation’s elite law schools and medical schools were often reserved for male applicants only, single women could be denied leases and bank accounts, and the nation understood its merit-based workplace as the natural domain of men alone.

But by the 1970s, people began to claim that sexual harassment in the workplace also violated Title VII’s prohibition against sex discrimination, and the Supreme Court agreed, declaring “a hostile work environment” as a violation of Title VII.

By the end of the 1980s, the Supreme Court found that discrimination based on “gender stereotypes” was also a violation of civil rights laws – in this case a woman who was passed up for promotion because she did not act feminine enough.

“She argued: that’s discrimination against me on the basis of my sex,” says Steve Sanders, a professor at Indiana University’s Maurer School of Law in Bloomington. “They’re not discriminating against me as a woman per se, but they’re discriminating against me because I failed to demonstrate certain stereotypes of what it means to be a woman, and the Supreme Court accepted that.”

And the nation’s high court broadened the definition even further in 1998, ruling unanimously that Title VII’s workplace protections covered sexual harassment between members of the same sex – a key decision, says Ms. Eisenberg, citing a passage that in many ways redefined her job.

“Statutory prohibitions often go beyond the principal evil to cover reasonably comparable evils, and it is ultimately the provisions of our laws rather than the principal concerns of our legislators by which we are governed,” wrote Justice Antonin Scalia for the majority in the case Oncale v. Sundowner, explaining the expanding definition of sex in this area of civil rights law.

“The sexual orientation cases that we’re now seeing basically takes the logic of these cases one step further,” says Professor Sanders. “If you’re a man, the social stereotype and the social expectation is that you will want to have sex with a woman, that you will want to have a relationship and a marriage with a woman. But, no, you defy that gender stereotype about what it means to be a man, because you’re attracted to other men.”

“Well, if the idea that men should only be attracted to women and women should only be attracted to men is a form of gender stereotyping, ergo, the logic goes, it’s covered by Title VII,” he says.

The Trump administration, however, maintains that while the Justice Department “is committed to protecting the civil and constitutional rights of all individuals,” in these case it remains “committed to the fundamental principle that the courts cannot expand the law beyond what Congress has provided,” said Justice Department spokesman Devin O’Malley in February.

‘Lack of clarity can prove expensive’

Corporate attorneys say most businesses have already instituted their own antidiscrimination policies. “But though many have adopted these, only voluntarily, the unevenness, the irregularity of anti-discrimination laws, I think is very challenging for the business community to grapple with,” says Darren Rosenblum, professor at the Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University in New York. “So I think there is an imperative to clarify the law on this point. That’s what they need first and foremost, because the lack of clarity can prove expensive, figuring out which norms to follow.”

Even so, Eisenberg points out that given the ways in which the high court has redefined the meaning of sex in past precedents, today simple claims of “gender stereotyping” already covers most claims of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

“And if you’ve got people who are being discriminated against just because they’re not part of a protected characteristic, that’s just not good management,” Eisenberg says. “It’s not good for recruiting, it’s not good for maintaining employees, it’s not good all the way around.”

Complete Article HERE!

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Medically assisted sex? How ‘intimacy coaches’ offer sexual therapy for people with disabilities

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‘For me, the sex is obviously why I’m seeking this out, but I’m also seeking services like this out because … I feel the need to be touched, to be kissed,’ says Spencer Williams.

For years, Spencer Williams felt he was missing something in his love life.

The 26-year-old Vancouver university student and freelance writer has cerebral palsy. He says he meets lots of potential sex partners but had trouble finding what he was looking for.

“I always refer to my wheelchair as it comes to dating … as a gigantic cock block,” he says. “It doesn’t always get me to the places I want, especially when it comes to being intimate.”

“I thought, if something didn’t happen now, I was going to die a virgin.”

So he Googled “sexual services for people with disabilities.”

That’s how Williams found Joslyn Nerdahl, a clinical sexologist and intimacy coach.

‘Intimacy coach’ Joslyn Nerdahl says sex can be healing.

“I answer a lot of anatomy questions. I answer a lot of questions about intercourse, about different ways that we might be able to help a client access their body,” says Nerdahl, who moved from traditional sex work to working as an intimacy coach with Vancouver-based Sensual Solutions.

“I believe [sex] can be very healing for people and so this was a really easy transition for me, to make helping people with physical disabilities feel more whole.”

Sensual Solutions is geared toward people with disabilities who want or need assistance when it comes to sex or sexuality. It can involve relationship coaching, sex education or more intimate services. They call the service “medically assisted sex.” It costs $225 for a one-hour session.

Nerdahl notes that some people with disabilities are touched often by care aids or loved ones who are assisting with everyday activities such as getting dressed or eating.  But her clients tell her that despite that frequent physical contact, the lack of “erotic touch” or “intimate touch” can leave them feeling isolated, depressed or even “less human.”

‘Help a client access their body’

Nerdahl says each session with a client is different, depending on the person’s level of comfort and experience, as well as his or her particular desires and physical capabilities.

Williams says his sessions might start with breathing exercises or physio and move on to touching, kissing and other activities.

An intimacy coach may help a client put on a condom or get into a certain position.

A session might also involve “body mapping,” Nerdahl says, describing it as “a process of going through different areas of the body, in different forms of touching, to figure out what you like and what you don’t like.”

Social stigma

Sex and sexual pleasure remains a taboo topic when it comes to people with disabilities.

For Williams, accessing this service is about more than sexual pleasure. But it’s about that, too.

The sex is obviously why I’m seeking this out, but I’m also seeking services like this out because I feel the need to be close. I feel the need to connect. I feel the need to be touched, to be kissed.”

“Sometimes people … offer to sleep with me as a pity, and I often don’t appreciate that. I want things to be organic and natural,” says Williams.

He much prefers his sessions with Nerdahl, in which he is able to explore physical and emotional intimacy in a non-judgmental and supportive setting, even though it’s something he pays money for.

“I think it freaks people out when we talk about sex and disability because most of the time they haven’t thought about that person in a wheelchair getting laid,” Nerdahl says. “They just assume they don’t have a sex life because they’re in a chair, and that’s just not the case.”

Legal grey area

The stigma is further complicated because Canada’s prostitution laws have no provisions for services that blur the line between rehabilitation and sex work.

Kyle Kirkup is critical of Canada’s current prostitution laws that criminalize the sex trade regardless of context or intent.

Currently, it’s legal to sell sex and sex-related services, but illegal to purchase them. (Sex workers can be charged for advertising services or soliciting services but only if in the vicinity of school grounds or daycare centres.)

Kyle Kirkup, an assistant professor at the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Law, calls the current laws a “one-size-fits-all approach” that criminalizes the sex trade regardless of context or intent.

The current law doesn’t include provisions for people with disabilities, or which deal specifically with services like Sensual Solutions whose intimacy coaches may come from clinical or rehabilitation backgrounds.

“A person with a disability who purchases sexual services would be treated exactly the same as any other person who purchased sex,” he says.

“So it’s a very kind of blunt instrument that doesn’t actually do a very good job of contextualizing the reasons why people might pay for sex.”

There are other countries, however, such as the Netherlands that view medically assisted sex in another way entirely; sex assistants’ services may be covered by benefits, just like physiotherapy or massage.

Complete Article HERE!

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Puberty is starting earlier for many children

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– sex education must catch up with this new reality

Some girls as young as six and seven are showing the early signs of puberty.

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The British government is consulting on a new curriculum for sex and relationship education in English schools. This change provides a timely opportunity to update how, when and what children are taught about puberty.

Astonishingly, the Department for Education (DfE) guidance on sex education has not changed for nearly two decades. But after concerted lobbying, research, and the recommendations of multiple committees of MPs, in 2017, the Children and Social Work Act finally acknowledged the need to provide “sex education for the 21st century”.

New statutory guidance for schools will be published following the public consultation, which closes in mid February. From 2019, secondary schools will be obliged to offer relationships and sex education, and primary schools to offer relationships education. Parents will retain the right to remove their children from sex education – other than that which is covered in the science curriculum – but will not be allowed to remove them from relationships education.

These changes are underpinned by widespread concern about the negative effects of digital technologies on young people’s sexual lives, particularly sexting, child sexual abuse and exploitation, and “strangers online”. The new curriculum will, it seems, teach children and young people what healthy relationships look like in the fraught context of smart phones, online porn and Instagram.

The new puberty

But the new curriculum should also take account of what is happening to the bodies of young people in the 21st century. Not only do kids seem to be growing up much faster today, many of them are actually starting to develop physically earlier than ever before.

According to many scientists and clinicians, we are living in the era of “the new puberty” in which increasing numbers of girls start to develop sexually at age seven or eight. In the 1960s, only 1% of girls would enter puberty before their ninth birthday. Today, up to 40% of some populations in both rich and poor countries are doing so.

Sexual development is also being stretched out for longer, with many girls starting to grow breasts and pubic hair two to three years before they have their first period. While there is less evidence that boys’ development is changing so rapidly, some studies also indicate that earlier entry into puberty’s initial stages is becoming more common.

The causes of these changes remain unclear. Many scientists point to the simultaneous increase in childhood obesity, while others study the effects of environmental chemicals, such as Bisphenol A or BPA (which is found in some plastics), on the body. Other research has explored the effects of social factors, including family structures, experiences of early life trauma and socioeconomic disadvantage. This range of explanations points to how complex a phenomenon puberty is.

The current DfE guidance states that:

All children, including those who develop earlier than the average, need to know about puberty before they experience the onset of physical changes.

But it leaves schools to decide, in consultation with parents, “the appropriate age” to teach children about puberty. In 2017, the Personal, Social and Health Education Association argued that this should be when they’re age seven. But talking to seven-year-olds about breasts, pubic hair, body odour and genital changes may not be easy for many teachers, or for many parents. Being seven is supposed to be a time of freedom, play and innocence.

Getting ready for puberty.

Updating sex education

Children who develop early, present a challenge both to cultural thinking about sex and to sex education policy. While many parents and young people want updated sex education, this usually comes with the proviso that such education be “age appropriate”. Although very important, this phrase is painfully vague – and it’s unclear whether it refers to chronological age, emotional age or stage of physical development.

Today, some seven-year-olds may be emotionally young but also starting to grow breasts and pubic hair. Other early developers who have experienced early life stress – such as abandonment or abuse – may feel more mature than their peers and be ready earlier to learn about puberty and sexuality. The widening gap in the timing of boys’ and girls’ sexual development also poses a challenge. Teaching girls separately, or earlier than boys – the strategy in my own child’s primary school – risks reinforcing harmful gender norms and notions of secrecy around issues such as menstruation.

Instead, perhaps we could try to disentangle puberty from teenage sexuality and to develop accounts of puberty that do not frame it as the dawn of adolescence. A seven-year-old with breasts is not “becoming a woman”, and a menstruating nine-year-old is probably not going to want to have intercourse anytime soon.

Ultimately, this means moving beyond traditional portrayals of female bodies that focus on reproductive capacity in order to explore wider meanings and experiences of being a girl. Growing up is also about new horizons, such as strength, health, even pleasure. Sex and relationships education might even then include puberty as something to be anticipated, noticed, even celebrated – rather than as yet another risk.

Complete Article HERE!

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