2017 Annual Good Vibrations Sex & News Recap: A Rollercoaster of Sexy Sex, Newsy News

Oh, this year I have SO much respect for those who get up every morning to write about the World Today! Me, I’ve been stuck in a spiral: can’t look away, yet not able to successfully rub my brain against the overwhelming news enough to comment. Every week I meant to write a column! I have hundreds, maybe thousands of URLs cached which add up to much of this year’s sex- and gender-related news and commentary, preparing to do my annual Good Vibrations sex news recap. But instead of writing it up, I’ve felt as though I’m at that point in sleep when you know you’re sleeping, want to wake up, but can’t move.

Well, enough of that! The alarm is ringing! Let’s get together often in 2018 and consider the sex-and-gender culture and and all the social change surrounding us. We have to keep an eye on these things! If you need a little inspiration yourself, may I recommend the closing plenary session of 2017’s CatalystCon. It’s the best little sex conference ever, upcoming in May this year; its participants know, and are fighting, the ups and downs that so many of us live with these days.

The New “Normal”

Before I dig into my recap of what 2017 has meant for sexuality and gender issues, I just want to note that the past year did not just yield a “new normal.” (This is a word that I, as a sexologist, primarily associate with anti-LGBTQ/kink/etc. perspectives, plus perfectly ordinary people who screw themselves up by worrying whether they’re keeping up with the Joneses sexually.) The Trump era has given us a whole new definition of normal! It’s not about sex (well, it is, but surprising numbers of Serious Mainstream Media Year-End Recaps have not even mentioned the possibility that Trump will effectively be caught up in the Reckoning). Instead the term is being used to call out Trumpian tweeting and other attacks on the heretofore status quo. (See, for example, Jonathan Bernstein, “Just a Reminder: This Isn’t Normal” in Bloomberg, last Tuesday—before the Wolff book excerpts came out and the Trump/Bannon “cuck fight” per NY Daily News erupted.)

Oh, and here’s a reminder that this whole “cuck” nonsense used to be the province of fetishists who were turned on by their wives having sex with somebody else. Those 4chan bros stole one of our sex words!

This Year in Sex–It’s All About the Feds

In spite of the light acknowledgement of sex and gender issues in many other year-end Trump admin recaps, there’s been a lot of action at the federal government level. Almost all of it’s pretty bad. “Trump is not a typical Republican conservative,” noted Politico last weekend. “He used to be a pro-choice Democratic donor… But one reason Republican conservatives have turned a blind eye to his mishigas is that on almost every domestic policy issue, he has pursued an ideologically conservative agenda and nominated conservative ideologues to execute it.” This gets to the heart of the change but doesn’t spell out what the flip-flop is really about: I’ve been saying all year that he wants to sweep every evidence of Obama off the national map. Of course, many of those doctrinaire Republicans want the same.

He got busy right away, reinstating the Mexico City Policy as one of his first official acts. (Foes began calling this policy the Global Gag Rule when George W. Bush did the same early in his presidency.) The policy denies health assistance funding to countries that allow or “promote” (i.e. mention) abortion.

This wasn’t the administration’s only act relevant to family planning. It uses Planned Parenthood as an ideological football, as so much of the rest of the GOP does. Budgetary decisions seek to de-fund family planning and the Trump administration supports the right of employers to opt out of covering employees’ birth control in workplace health plans. The rights of undocumented women to access abortions while in US custody was challenged by the Justice Department in at least three cases. Judges stepped in to intervene and allow access to the procedure.

Even before he was inaugurated, Trumpworld news assumed a sexual cast. I don’t mean the “grab ‘em by the pussy” tape and multiple accusations of sexual assault that so fired up the pussy-hat-wearing Women’s March participants. Just over a week before his January 20 swearing-in, Buzzfeed released a dossier researching Trump’s ties to Russia, making public material that was already in the hands of the prior administration. Much of it wasn’t sexy, though all was indubitably newsy–especially after Trump fired FBI director James Comey. But the dossier did have one salacious detail that delighted the snarkiest among the anti-Trumpers: pee hookers! (as our friends at Wonkette like to say). Some elements of the dossier have checked out, but not this one… though if last week’s news about security flaws in almost all Intel chips is to be believed, perhaps The Truth is Out There. And given the entire rest of Trump’s year, the idea that hookers allegedly peed on a bed once been occupied by Barack and Michelle Obama has at least a whiff of plausibility.

Here, then, the phrase “this is not normal” can be used in the old kink-phobic sense AND in the new geopolitical sense. Oh, and also? I’m delighted to see a discussion of urolagnia in the mainstream media. Father of Sexology Havelock Ellis might have appreciated pee hookers! Not only that, this is a reminder of all the unappreciated yet so important labor sex workers do.

HIV, LGBT, Oh My

You may have seen in in the news that Trump fired all remaining members of his HIV/AIDS Council in the waning days of 2017. They had already been seated when he arrived, so in one sense, this is just more Obama housecleaning. He does like loyalists. Half the members had already quit, anyhow, saying “Trump does not care about HIV”; no AIDS chief had been hired, budgets had been cut, and the repeal-the-Affordable Care Act drama would/will have enormous repercussions on people living with AIDS, their caregivers, and the sociomedical world in which most are embedded.

Of course, in Trumpworld, it’s likely that HIV is also coded as a gay thing (he’s reportedly still calling out Haitians for having AIDS, for pity’s sake. Trump has not surprisingly been quite bad on LGBT issues. Whatever poor damn fool wrote “Gays for Trump” on a rainbow flag in the summer of 2016 has, I assume, descended into the depths of alcoholism by now. References to LGBT communities were pulled from the White House website. Then Trump addressed the Family Research Council’s Values Voter Summit. While he probably just thought they were another batch of Republicans who wanted to join his fan club, the Southern Poverty Law Center keeps track of them via their HateWatch project.

A re-made SCOTUS (thanks to the GOP’s intransigence on Merrick Garland and Trump’s nomination of Neil Gorsuch) is about to deliver a seriously significant judgment on the wedding cake case. Pro-LGBT, pro-separation of church and state advocates may not like its outcome one bit. And beyond all that, we also have the Trump VP problem:

“Pence wants to hang them,” Trump joked a few months ago, and by “them” he meant, of course, LGBTQ folks. No wonder people were so tickled at Pence’s Colorado vacation home neighbors who hung a “Make America Gay Again” banner for him to enjoy. See, because with Mike Pence in the room, the LGBT community basically feels like there’s a one-man homophobia band influencing everything that goes down federally. From the Daily Beast:

“Pence has supported the utterly bogus, ineffective, and universally disowned-by-all-psychiatric-associations practice of ‘conversion therapy.’ It’s why he’s opposed same-sex marriage and non-discrimination protections for LGBT people. Because to Pence’s religious ilk, gay conduct is an aberration, and gay identity is a sickness… And as vice president, Pence has been the Religious Right’s point man (with Attorney General Jeff Sessions) in the White House during a terrifying rollback of LGBT rights, as the Trump administration has vastly expanded religious exemptions, eliminated non-discrimination protections for LGBT employees of government contractors, eliminated protections for transgender kids in schools, zeroed-out aid for LGBT activists overseas, attempted to end transgender people’s military service, approved limitations of LGBT marriage rights – I could go on and on.

Even the feds’ anti-refugee policy is interlinked with its homophobia, as the indispensible Masha Gessen makes plain in a harrowing year-end New Yorker article.

Obama was pretty nice to queers, eventually, but no one is feeling all this backlash more fiercely than the trans community. It was already poised for a struggle when the right wing decided to make bathroom access the Culture Wars’ Last Stand. Not content to let the bar be set so low as to simply make lil’ trans children’s school lives miserable again, Trump mid-year decided by fiat, by which I mean by tweet, to bar trans folk from serving in the US military. As with many of his other actions this year, the courts provided a measure of balance. Last week trans would-be service members began signing up. I thank them in advance for their service and hope that they will all stay safe.

What’s Health Got to Do with It?

The administration and its Republican congressional allies tried like hell to leave their mark on health policy, specifically by repealing the Affordable Care Act/”Obamacare.” (Ahem–let’s just remember that ”Obamacare” is not the name of the damn law—this is a propaganda move that predates Trump). What does health policy have to do with sex? Everything from birth control to HIV prevention and treatment to access to medial care if you leave your cock ring on too long, that’s what. There are a jillion ways sexuality intersects with health care and medicine. There’s an entire chapter about it in The Sex & Pleasure Book, may I remind you, and the more people who lose access to affordable health care, the more sexual sequelae there will be to common and uncommon ailments. I wish no harm to Trump voters who wanted to stir things up. But I’ll bet money that half of those voters are going to have prostate trouble before too long. They’re gonna want some health care.

#MeToo, #HerToo, #HimToo, #ThemToo

I’m writing separate essays about The Reckoning (here’s the first—another coming soon). As noted above, the county’s most high-profile Reckoning target is still eating cheeseburgers in the Oval Office. But Roy Moore was not just sworn in as Alabama’s next senator, and I believe we have the groundswell of outrage over inappropriate sexual behavior to thank for that. (Plus some hellacious get-out-the-vote ground game, not to mention pretty much all of Alabama’s women of color coming out to the polls last month. Thanks, ladies!) And the composition of both House and Senate is shifting in part because of this groundswell. We’re only a few days into the New Year; there will be a lot more to say about this news thread, within government and everywhere outside as well.

It’s Not Sexual Harassment to Buy a Sex Toy!

Before there was a #MeToo movement* or a Reckoning, of course, there was a ton of sexual abuse. Some of it indeed got called out systematically, as it’s been on campus, partly thanks to the Obama administration’s Title IX policies. Enter Betsy de Vos, who apparently saw that hangdog mug shot of Stanford rapist Brock Turner last year and went “Awwwwww!” I’m not sure we’ve heard the last of this from the Department of Education.

And listen, while this movement seems unprecedented, in a way it is, and in a way it certainly isn’t. Hello, clergy abuse scandal! Hello, Bill Cosby! Hello, Seattle mayor Ed Murray! Hello, Olympics sports doc Larry Nassar! Hello, POTUS! I have been closely following news about sex, including the no-fun parts, in mainstream media for years now: I remind you that there have been multiple times that the horrific ubiquity and consequences of sexual assault and impropriety have been all up in our faces. May we all get somewhere, this time.

*In fact, before the #MeToo movement, there was a #MeToo movement—thanks, Tarana Burke!

Don’t Say that Word!

If you asked me which of the horrifying sex stories of 2017 was my favorite, I wouldn’t hesitate: I like the CDC Banned Words scandal the best! (Need a refresher?: “diversity,” “fetus,” “transgender,” “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “science-based” and “evidence-based.” Hey, it makes me want to play some Scrabble!) I love this because I can’t even begin to write about sexuality without using the word diversity. Talk about a shortcut to silence! But also, these forbidden terms remind me of another list of seven deadly words, those banned in my childhood. That’s right, say them with me!: “Piss, shit, cunt, fuck, cocksucker, motherfucker, and tits.” Thanks, George Carlin—rest in peace, man, but if you wake up from death’s slumber, I really want tickets to your first show as you assimilate all this. I feel sure you’d have a LOT to say.

People We We Lost in 2017

Carlin was an earlier adopter—he died way before the recent wave of significant deaths. Here are just a few of the people who left the planet in 2017 whose life and work is relevant to our consideration of sex and the news:

Edith Windsor (her name is immortalized in the SCOTUS case that gave us marriage equality)

Norma McCorvey (you might know her better as Jane Roe, named in the case that made abortion legal back in 1973)

Kate Millett (a hugely influential feminist writer whose own complicated sexuality was sometimes her theme)

Hugh Hefner (the man who put bunny ears on women and nudity on newsstands)

August Ames (the porn star who recently killed herself amidst an internet bullying surge)

The late Diane Torr with Man for a Day workshop participants

Diane Torr (dancer and performer whose drag workshops, Man for A Day, launched the drag king movement and much important gender theory)

Jane Juska (wrote “A Round-Heeled Woman,” about seeking sex later in life)

Psalm Isadora (SoCal Tantra teacher with a complicated past)

Dan Johnson (KY legislator and head of biker ministry who killed himself after being accused of raping his daughter’s teen friend)

Robert Dunlap (sexologist and sex coach)

Roger Ailes (the heart of Fox News and its many problems with sexual harassment)

Giving Porn the Last Word

Finally, a word from our friends in porn. Some porn figures are indeed Trump voters, but others see their work in a sexual freedom context that, they know, is not supported by the conservative agenda at work in all the other areas we’ve mentioned here. Much as we feared John Ashcroft back in the day, our exhibitionistic friends are in many cases worried about the future.

In that, they join a sizeable club.

Dr. Carol Queen

Carol Queen has a PhD in sexology; she calls herself a "cultural sexologist" because her earlier academic degree is in sociology: while she addresses individual issues and couple's sexual concerns, her overarching interest is in cultural issues (gender, shame, access to education, etc.). Queen has worked at Good Vibrations, the woman-founded sexuality company based in San Francisco that turned 35 years old in 2012, since 1990. Her current position is Staff Sexologist and Good Vibrations Historian; her roles include representing the company to the press and the public; overseeing educational programming for staff and others; and scripting/hosting a line of sex education videos, the Pleasure-Ed series, for GV’s sister company Good Releasing. She also curates the company's Antique Vibrator Museum. She is also the founding director of the Center for Sex & Culture, a non-profit sex ed and arts center San Francisco, and is a frequent lecturer at colleges, universities, and community-based organizations. Her dozen books include a Lambda Literary Award winner, PoMoSexuals, and Real Live Nude Girl: Chronicles of Sex-Positive Culture, which are used as texts in some college classes. She blogs at the Good Vibes Magazine and at SFGate's City Brights bloggers page and contributes to the Boston Dig. For more about her at carolqueen.com.

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