2016: What Just Happened?! Sexy Sex Newsy News Annual Recap
I’m sure that not all the news this year was sex-related, but I’m challenged to recall a single big story that didn’t have a whiff of the sexual (often, since it’s 2016 and a shitshow, nonconsensual). I’ve scrolled through hundreds, maybe thousands, of news stories to curate the year for you, and I don’t ever remember being this overwhelmed. Let’s just begin simply, then, by agreeing that there should never be anything called either Pussygate nor Pizzagate in US political discourse.
And yet, at the end of this singular year, here we are… about to discuss both. Well, let’s dive in.
Rest in Peace, O Bright Stars of Our Youth
There were really two stories of such enormity that they’ll define 2016 historically, and only one of them was the election. The other was the wave of deaths that seemed unremitting, many with a link to sexuality and/or gender. Some talked about a “celebrity death curse,” but not all the important people who departed this year were celebs, at least not outside their own communities. Good Vibrations lost our founder, Joani Blank, to just-legalized (in CA) physician-assisted suicide after a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. Fetish photographer Charles Gatewood, artist and gay TED talk sensation Jok Church, and bisexual, multiracial activist and seminary provost Ibrahim Farrajajé, all heroes in the Bay Area and beyond, died during the first half of the year. 2016 wasn’t done with the Bay Area yet, however, and later in the year we lost art collector and designer Buzz Bense and the dozens of victims of the Oakland Ghost Ship fire, including rising trans star Cash Askew.
And of course the year’s losses began with a huge one: David Bowie. Of late a family man, in his early career he was a sexual icon and gender chameleon. “David Bowie Gave People Permission to Be Who they Wanted,” read one headline, and it’s hard to imagine our last 45 years of increasingly diverse sex and gendered cultures evolving as they did without him. Many artists spoke up about his influence in these contexts, not just musically. Every death that followed, I darkly joked, “They couldn’t live without Bowie.” Followed just a few months later by Prince’s tragic accidental overdose, it was a one-two punch of lost musical and performative genius, shot through with genderfuck and erotic heat, Prince’s loss all the more terrible because he had been struggling with a painkiller addiction—in a way, he was the highest-profile victim of a national epidemic—and because he had just announced two months before that he was working on a memoir called The Beautiful Ones. Surely his former flame, prótegée, and fellow ‘80s superstar Vanity, who predeceased him by less than four months, would have been included.
Other stars lost from the musical firmament were met with outpourings of grief as well. We were heartbroken to lose our old friend Candye Kane–not just a big, beautiful, bisexual blues belter, she also used to make porn, back in the day. Not-quite-out, beloved gay Mexican singer Juan Gabriel had US and global Latinx communities in tears this summer. Pete Burns, the Dead or Alive lead singer who died in October, had clearly been grappling with and/or celebrating gender for the past many years. Grand, grave and wry Leonard Cohen, the intellectual’s sex symbol, like Prince had also been predeceased by a muse (his lover and the star of his song “So Long, Marianne” had died in Norway in July and he’d reached out to her, as The Guardian reported). “I’ll be following you soon,” he said, and in November he did, after a life that included some of the most moving sex anthems ever written. Listen to the lyrics of “I’m Your Man” again if you need a refresher. And then on Christmas Day it was ’80s superstar George Michael. Initially closeted about his homosexuality, he came out in a big and influential way in the late 1990s. Said The Daily Beast’s Tim Teeman of Michael’s response to being arrested in a tearoom—he made a public sex anthem called “Outside” featuring, yep, tearoom scenes—”Those were George Michael’s closet doors, finally being thrown open en masse to reveal sex, joy, dancing, and sexuality itself. No shame. No going back in. His lesson to younger gay pop stars, and in fact radically to his fans, to all of us whatever our sexuality and political beliefs was uncompromising: not only can you be out, you can boldly claim and revel in your sexuality. You can be out, but you don’t have to be the good-gay they want you to be. You can be yourself.”
Trans performers The Lady Chablis (best-known for being, and playing, herself–most notably in the film Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil) and Alexis Arquette both died. Playwrights Edward Albee (Who’s Aftraid of Virginia Woolf?) and Peter Shaffer (Equus) are gone. Late-night psychic Miss Cleo died–it turned out she was a lesbian. Christian pamphleteer Jack Chick gave grief to people doin’ some sexual sinnin’, but he was pretty obviously inspired by porny “eight-pagers”–his tracts were the exact same size.
Political figures were not immune to the curse; “Antonin Scalia couldn’t live without Bowie?” I blurted as I heard the news of the SCOTUS judge’s sudden death in a posh hunting lodge. (I loved, as I devoured obits, learning more about his fast friendship with his ideological foe Ruth Bader Ginsburg.) And former First Lady Nancy Reagan’s death occasioned a tempest over Hillary Clinton’s mis-remembrance of her role in the AIDS crisis; in fact, both Reagans had been real enemies of the AIDS activists trying to raise awareness and political will to fight the epidemic.
As the indispensable Wonkette reminded us, Reagan had also been a Hollywood star (actually, Wonkette remembered that she had been famous for something in particular, but I will let her rest in peace today and let you go look that up on your own). She was far from the only performer to exit the planet on the cultural killing field that was 2016. Porn performer (and James Deen rape accuser) Amber Rayne died in April, as did female wrestler (and occasional porn performer) Chyna. Fred Caruso, creator of The Big Gay Musical, posted his suicide note to Facebook in June, just days before the attack on the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. Brady Bunch mom Florence Henderson died in November, but her inclusion in this list isn’t as a blended-family advocate, it’s because she was apparently one frisky human; in February the NY Post gossiped, “At 81, Florence Henderson has Multiple Friends With Benefits”! Good for her, we say, and hope she died happy. Sex symbol and bon vivant Zsa Zsa Gabor died in December. And finally, Carrie Fisher, iconic not just for her fraught role as Princess Leia but also as a whip-smart and acerbic commentator on stardom, Star Wars, mental health, and contemporary culture, died after suffering a heart attack on a long plane flight, leaving us talking about sexist outfits, basing women’s fame on their looks, highjacking a star for her on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and brandishing lightsabers in tribute. She wanted her obit to read she had “drowned in moonlight and been strangled by her own bra.”
And then the way we knew that 2016 wasn’t a normal year in celebrity deaths (if we needed any more evidence): her mother Debbie Reynolds died the very next day. I am hesitant even to post this before midnight on New Year’s Eve… would that keep another celebrity safe? Already a kind man is raising crowdfunded money to try to protect Betty White. Heaven forfend she cannot live without Bowie.
Election Hell or a Hell of an Election?
I already wrote up a Sexy Newsy recap of the election; you can read it here: https://goodvibesblog.com/sexy-sex-newsy-news-election-edition/. I wrote it before the election, though—just in case any readers needed to be reminded about the issues, or, you know, the stakes for global civilization. So naturally Pussygate comes up, but let’s just remember a few more fun stops on the campaign trail: In March, Donald Trump talked about the size of his dick. That just may be a first in presidential discourse—at least, in front of a hot mic. We learned (if we didn’t already know) that Trump was associated with Roy Cohn, right-hand man of Joseph McCarthy… if that doesn’t make you sweat, I bet you got even less history in school than Trump himself seems to have learned. JK Rowling, always on the lookout for mythic-level malfeasance, said a few sharp words about the candidate in May, leading later in the year to the best-ever moniker for an orange-haired president: Cheeto Voldemort. Doesn’t that make “Carlos Danger” sound like a wannabe? This nickname was spotted on a protest sign as enraged women swarmed Trump Tower in the aftermath of Pussygate. The sorority of Nasty Women, and all the men and others who love them and fear for their country, will gather outside the Trump Tower Annex (sometimes also known as the White House) just after Inauguration Day to protest some more. Can’t make it? I’m pretty sure there will be many opportunities in the years to come. Oh, and reportedly days of protest are being organized in all 50 states.
The biggest news since the election, though (well, besides the unbelievable [for many] news OF the election) has been twofold: the assembly of Trump’s cabinet, and the argument about the role of the extreme right wing and their “fake news” in his election. Cash is flowing into Planned Parenthood coffers especially because of Mike Pence, former Indiana governor who has appeared in prior Sexy Newsy recaps. Take Pence and add a Supreme Court appointment or two, and pundits are arguing whether Roe v. Wade is toast. (Long-acting contraceptive prescriptions are on the rise, just in case, and if you, reader, are a childbearing-age person with a uterus who is sexually active with penis people, think about going and getting some of that in the next three weeks.) While Pence has a baaaad LGBT track record, too, at least Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson was involved with the Boy Scouts when they liberalized their policy about gay kids. Trump touted how much more pro-gay than average he was, but that remains a mixed message, and other cabinet members are no friends to friends of Dorothy. And Trump insider Steve Bannon, his chief “alt-right” link, is no friend to Dorothy herself, or other women either, many feel. There are far more ways to be concerned than just over sex and gender issues (questions of immigration and economic and racial justice, for starters, oh, and nukes), but it’s hardly a surprise to find there was a post-election spike in panicked crisis calls, especially by queer youth.
Facebook got called out for “fake news,” and it is a good day for me every time FB is called out, since I remain completely dubious about their role in our polity; plus it pisses me off every time they censor sex things, like breast cancer exam info, award-winning photojournalism (the iconic pic of the napalmed child in Viet Nam got pulled for a while this year), or great works of art (they also pulled an image of the vulva-worshiping painting L’Origine Du Monde). It’s good news that Jeff Zuckerberg may be willing to take some responsibility for this fake news situation, but before I go on, let me just spell out that “fake news” is a euphemism for another word: propaganda. I have been ranting about media literacy for the past few years, generally using porn as a starting point—but the fact that every American cannot spot utter bullshit when it pops into their newsfeed is a dire problem. Take “Pizzagate,” possibly the most batshit conspiracy theory anyone could possibly have cooked up: Hillary Clinton and her team are involved in a child-trafficking ring operating out of a pizzeria. Never mind that it’s Trump who seems to have been involved with a dude, Jeffrey Epstein, who got in trouble for child trafficking. (One of Trump’s many accusers was associated with that sordid scene.) This is evidence that some folks will literally believe anything, and there’s a fair amount of indication that the new Trumpian right is glad to take advantage. If we need proof, Exhibit One is that fellow who busted in with a gun, fired a few shots, and failed to find the pizzeria’s hidden rooms where they hide the kids. Whether or not Pizzagate was generated by money-hungry Macedonian teenagers (yes, that’s a thing, and they’re a little offended that we’re accusing them of costing Clinton the election), it’s Real News now.
I’d like to predict the future here—well, that’s not true, the very thought makes me anxious—but I will say: Donate. Identify your circles of support. Protest. Stay in communication with your friends and with your legislators. Strap in for a wild ride. And if you’re one of the target demographics whose names and lives have been bandied about in this ugly election: Stay safe.
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Reproductive Rights (Or, “the Perils of Planned Parenthood”)
Of course, the election cycle has had questions of reproductive rights, women’s rights, and sexual abuse and assault baked right into it. Perhaps, from a very far remove, this will be seen as a good thing: the simmering issues boiling over, forcing us to contend with them. But I’m not writing this in 2050, so for now, these are terribly fraught subjects, and there’s plenty of news to match. Abortion and/or Planned Parenthood have been targeted in many states, including Pence’s Indiana, Texas, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Ohio. (The latter’s anti-choice governor John Kasich emerged as the sanest-seeming of all the GOP candidates, which just shows how freakin’ far the needle has moved.) Many people donated to Planned Parenthood in Mike Pence’s name, which we can only hope irritated him… sometimes this year we have had Schadenfreude, and nothing more, to cling to. In my notes on the year (I keep URLs cached, all 52 long weeks) I began using the header “Perils of PP” in February, with Kentucky, Ohio and Wisconsin already attacking reproductive rights. But men have problems too! One of the most egregious proposals as far as some fellows were concerned was in the great state of Kentucky; women were going to need to sign a permission slip before their hubby could get his Viagra prescription filled. This was a “just making a point, guys” proposal from a female Democratic legislator, not surprisingly.
Other reproductive rights news in 2016: The Pope decided to extend the ability of priests to absolve abortions. David Daleiden got out of some of the trouble he’d gotten into for nonconsensually taping Planned Parenthood execs in the highly politicized sting operation he’d concocted the year before. Pharmacists in California can now provide birth control, allowing users to bypass a doc visit. Women in Poland rose up in a “Coat Hanger Rebellion” against hyper-restrictive laws. The UN found Ireland’s very restrictive abortion laws to be a violation of human rights. Clinic closures let to an upsurge in STI rates. The Essure long-lasting contraceptive implant received a black box warning. Zika-caused birth defects made lack of access to abortion and free reproductive choice an even more dire issue in Brazil (and elsewhere in Central and South American and the Caribbean) than it already was. And SCOTUS weighed in on abortion cases, including Texas’s Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, that went a very different direction now that Scalia was absent. “Greatest Victory Since Roe v. Wade”! said The Daily Beast. “A Battle of the Sexes at the Supreme Court”! said Forbes.
(At Least Two of) The Sexes, Battling
The battle of the sexes is surely revived in this political climate, if a) there ever was such a battle and b) it ever simmered down in the first place. Body-shaming, burkini-banning, domestic violence (most vividly, Amber Heard vs. Johnny Depp, a legal struggle that’s still playing out even as Depp appears with his sleeves rolled up in ads for Dior’s Sauvage perfume. (Way to evoke domestic violence and racial insensitivity all at once! Twofer, Dior!) The pundits declared that 2016 was the year that women’s mags got political. Trolling of women continued apace, most obviously after the all-female Ghostbusters was announced. (Another twofer, as trolls went after the splendid Leslie Jones for her skin color, not just her chromosomes.) Samantha Bee got her own show. Obama came out as a feminist in the pages of Glamour. A study revealed that most people don’t thing there’s a gender pay gap in the workplace. (But there is, Blanche, there is!) And reminding us that anything we grapple with in the USA is being fought with potentially even higher stakes elsewhere, Pakistani model and internet sensation Qandeel Baloch was murdered by family members after becoming a conservative target. Rest In Power, Quandeel—another loss of a fierce and lovely creative talent.
Consent, Sexual Assault and Rape Culture
2016 was a huge year for high-profile rape cases: Cosby is still on trial; the Stanford rape case concluded with a sentence for perpetrator Brock Turner that many consider criminally abbreviated, and there is a petition to recall the judge; Kesha’s case against Dr. Luke drew headlines and support from other performers, especially women who, increasingly, have been coming out as survivors of assault themselves; and, reminding us that this is not just a women’s issue, a terrible Idaho case revealing hazing and locker room coat hanger rape against a high school sports team member. Young men in Hollywood revealed rape histories, too. Julian Assange finally got questioned about the Swedish rape allegations that led him to hole up in the Ecuadorean Embassy, and in a high-profile conviction, Oklahoma cop Daniel Holzclaw was convicted of serially raping prostitutes, addicts and other vulnerable women and got 263 years behind bars. Cosby sued accuser Andrea Constand, and both Kanye West and R. Kelly publicly declared him innocent—that’s some bad company you’re keeping, ‘Ye, considering the years of allegations against Kelly! Rolling Stone lost its case over sloppy reporting in its 2014 A Rape on Campus University of Virginia expose, but campuses everywhere continued to grapple with rape and sexual assault, many involving accused athletes. One such case, dating back to 1999, has been re-litigated in Hollywood, as the launch Nate Parker’s film Birth of a Nation was affected by a rape case of which he was acquitted when it went to court. Many cases still, of course, do not go to court at all, and when they do, their chances are often affected by statutes of limitations and a backlog of untested (or even discarded) rape kits. Oregon, Idaho and other states have tried to tackle the latter problem, which California removed the statute of limitations on rape after the Stanford case. After the letter from Emily Doe went viral, Joe Biden became a booster, writing to her and teaming up with Lady Gaga to speak up about the topic. Gaga also brought the issue to the Oscars with her song Til It Happens to You.) Emily Doe was made a Woman of the Year by Glamour.
All the Other Sexes: Transgender Issues in the News
I wrote last year about transgender visibility and legal change, with a worrying postscript about the Houston equal rights ordinance that was lost because opponents whipped up bathroom panic. That panic was front and center in the story of trans rights this year as first South Dakota and then North Carolina passed restrictive “bathroom bills.” The first was vetoed, but the second caused a firestorm that’s still hot, with businesses and celebrities boycotting NC and a holiday week flurry of political activity seeking to remove the bill in exchange for removing the local ordinance, in Charlotte, that sparked it. That maneuver went awry, and it’s not clear what that state’s next step will be—but trans people there feel exposed, frightened, and angry.
The Obama administration fired back with two federal actions: one decree from the Justice Department about school bathroom access (several states piled ion to sue for its reversal, and a judge halted its implementation in August), and one requiring health insurers to provide care regardless of a policyholder’s gender identity. And Target pitched in with a “You are welcome in our restrooms” policy, while California went to work on the issue too, making single-stall restrooms everywhere automatically open to all (though not, of course, all at once).
A 9-year-old trans girl made the cover of National Geographic and trans heartthrob Laverne Cox got to play the lead role in Fox’s update of the Rocky Horror Picture Show. (I must digress for a second—am I the only one who said “WTF?!” when it was announced that FOX was remaking the iconic camp ode to the genderbent?)
Chelsea Manning has had a hard year in federal custody, with a suicide attempt over not being able to groom herself in a feminine fashion, a subsequent bout of solitary confinement, and a petition for an Obama pardon. A Minnesota mom is suing her own daughter for undergoing gender confirmation, Oklahoma proposed anti-trans legislation, and conservatives all over the place (lookin’ at you, Ben Carson!) have said stupendously ignorant and hateful things about trans people. Fortunately, several studies came out this year that, if those people were open to actual information, might sway them: The Lancet devoted a special issue this fall to transgender and LGB health; a study concluded that trans kids who can live openly fare well; and another study found that just one in-depth conversation reduced anti-trans bias. The UN took steps to declassify trangender status as a mental illness… and Tinder took steps to try to be more inclusive.
LGBT News in 2016
The year in LGBT issues was also full of bad news; besides losing stars like George Michael, the community suffered horrific loss of life and casualties in the Pulse nightclub massacre. Political backlash continued, particularly in conservative states. But Alabama’s Supreme Court conceded in its fight against marriage equality; Disney, Marvel, and other companies threatened to boycott Georgia over a homophobic bill and caused the governor to veto it; and Mississippi struck down a ban preventing same-sex couples from adopting. The Stonewall Inn became a national monument, Montel Williams went after Bill O’Reilly for being a homophobe, and the Pope recommends that Catholics apologize to gays for being so unfriendly for all these years. Kristen Stewart began openly having a relationship with a woman, and Game of Thrones fans are bucking for Yara Greyjoy to hook up with Danerys Targeryan. And martyred gay politician Harvey Milk, a Navy veteran, got a ship named after him.
Porn in the News
This year in porn things also got political, with a ballot measure in California seeking to force all porn performers to use condoms in spite of the fact that performers wished to make that choice for themselves. Thanks to an unprecedented outpouring of media opposition (only about two Cali newspapers editorialized in favor of it) and a legion of porn stars speaking up on social media, the measure went down to defeat. South Carolina legislators wanted to ban sales of computers in their fair state that allowed one to access porn; after the laughing stopped, that idea went nowhere. Performers are now expressing fear of a Trump administration’s stance on porn prosecutions; stay tuned on this, since porn prosecutions are always a conservative government threat. And two very high-profile women came out this year against porn: Mormon teen abductee (and adult badass) Elizabeth Smart detailed that porn made her horrific ordeal even worse (but she didn’t have kind things to say abut Mormon attitudes toward girls and women and sex education, either, so there’s a plus!); and Pamela Anderson, of all people, has become an anti-porn crusader. I’m not a fan of her tape with Tommy Lee, but now I suppose I’ll have to muster a bit of guilt when I watch Barb Wire.
The Oldest Profession
In sex work-related news, New York Magazine devoted a cover story in March to the question “Is Prostitution Just Another Job?” (Not just, is the conclusion.) Holzclaw’s trial and conviction had been keenly watched by sex work activists, and the trial of the Grim Sleeper serial killer in LA, who had preyed mainly on sex workers, ended in a death sentence. The Oakland, CA police department scandal over cops’ having had sex with a teen hooker cost three police chiefs their jobs. Also in Cali, pimping and trafficking accusations were lodged by Kamala Harris against the owners of Backpage, which they are fighting. And France passed a “divisive” law, reports Euronews, criminalizing customers rather than prostitutes. These laws are indeed controversial and are not liked by many sex workers because a paranoid and irritated john is seldom a good, safe john.
HIV/AIDS awareness now has Charlie Sheen onboard; he’s promoting a new condom design, too. A vaginal ring has been found to reduce HIV infection in women, but it turns out women need more Truvada than men do in order to be optimally protected. An important vaccine is in trials in South Africa, and the UN has vowed to end AIDS by 2030. Patient Zero did not begin the epidemic in the US, a study found, and his code name wasn’t even Zero—it was O: history made via typo.
This year in sex research, we learn that abortion is not a danger to mental health—needing one and not being able to get one is. Listerine helps protect against gonorrhea (the Listerine folks have evidently been claiming this for the last century). More people are grooming their pubic hair, and those who do are more susceptible to STIs, but it’s not yet clear if that has to do with the hair removal specifically, or that they behave in a friskier fashion. Sexism, it has been learned, is bad for certain markers in men’s own mental health. A male contraceptive is on its way… maybe. Having a vasectomy isn’t found to increase prostate cancer risk. Oral sex on people with HPV definitely increases oral cancer risks; more boys need the HPV vaccine. Boys also need to be exposed to stories with female heroism, another study found. Circumcision won’t make the penis less sensitive, said another, though it’s hard to parse how they would be able to tell.
And just in case you are still looking forward to the future, you’ll be glad to know that touching a robot’s crotch makes humans feel aroused.
That must be all, right? That was a lot! But wait—there’s more!
In the world of sex and tech, Twitter is trying to end abuse on its platform, but has not managed to do it yet. It was revealed that lots of Ashley Madison’s lady members are actually fembots. AdultFriendfinder and OKCupid got hacked. So did smart sex toys—an app-controlled product wasn’t quite as private as consumers thought (so they sued). Still, this is a wider Internet of Things problem; I’ve been talking about it for some time. Speaking of dildos, people mailed them to the Malheur reserve when the Oregon occupiers called out for supplies. (Heh.) And Cocks Not Glocks, at University of Texas/Austin, became the biggest anti-gun protest Texas had ever seen… not to mention the most adorable.
Playboy models put their clothes back on. Monica Lewinsky launched a line of emojis to fight bullying. Archie Comics was rewritten to include an asexual character. Ozzy came out as a sex addict. There may be a vaccine for chlamydia (which Ozzy might want to get). Gay Talese wrote a fascinating book about a voyeur who owned a motel where he spied on people having sex, but then disavowed it, sort of. Glenn Beck got so freaked out about Trump that he went on Samantha Bee’s show and made friends.
Big news in the media was the Gawker lawsuit over the not-so-private Hulk Hogan sex tapes, secretly funded by Gawker enemy and Trump friend Peter Thiel. Hogan won and Gawker is another RIP for the 2016 death list. Big news in the world of health: Zika turns out to be sexually transmitted, apparently including via kissing. Penis transplants have been tried and so have uterus transplants; the former are, so far, succeeding better than the latter.
And the year’s other enormous (and Schadenfreude-filled) story was Roger Ailes, Fox News impresario, and his swift downfall… pushed off his perch by sexual harassment accusations by Gretchen Carlson, abandoned by Rupert Murdoch’s sons, accused by many other women (including Valkyrie Megyn Kelly). Lo, how the mighty have fallen. Here’s to seeing more of that in 2017!