Sexy Sex Newsy News Week of December 20-27, 2013

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Alan Turing Pardoned, Though Still Dead, Unfortunately
The Queen of England had a fabulous holiday present for long-dead computer genius Alan Turing: a 60-years-on posthumous pardon overturning his conviction for “gross indecency,” with which they charged homosexual men in the UK in the years between the Victorian gay panic of which Oscar Wilde is the most famous victim and the legal changes set in motion by the 1957 Wolfenden Report. For some 70 years, including the entire first half of the 20th century and the full span of Turing’s life–he died at age 41–the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885 made not only homosexual sex but essentially homosexual identity illegal. Since Turing was a hero, the man who cracked Germany’s Enigma code during World War II and already noted for the work he’d done with his proto-computer Turing Machine, when he was convicted, in what the LA Times called a “spectacular outburst… of ingratitude,” he was given the option of hormonal treatment with estrogens–sometimes called “chemical castration”–over a jail sentence. He took the chemicals; not long after this “sentence” had ended he was dead, a victim of either suicide, a tragic accident (he conducted home experiments using cyanide), or maybe even murder. Common wisdom has had it all along that his conviction–the criminalization of his very identity–set the stage for his death and perhaps directly caused it, though it’s likely not even possible at this late date to know exactly how this played out.

In any event, thanks to high-level politicking from the likes of Stephen Hawking and Stephen Fry–an odd couple united by their concern for their great forebear’s reputation–the Christmas Eve pardon hit the news early this week and has generated some truly fascinating news coverage: some of it so fascinating because of the details of Turing’s life it unveils, some of it casting light on the UK’s sociocultural context, and some very interesting because of the passion it’s engendered on editorial pages: “Remember Turing. Salute him. Never forget what he did for all of us, and what his country did to him” are the final words from the NY Daily News, and from the Atlantic, “There’s no command-Z for this great man’s suffering.” Word. 

More commentary on this story from the BBC, the Independent, Slate, and many other periodicals. The LA Times quotes digital visionary Jaron Lanier, whose strong words about the pardon offset the rather treacly welcome from commentators without a critical perspective on the action and its meanings; the GuardianLV embeds a Lanier video commenting on Turing.

And our friends at io9 remind us that Turing is about to have his own biopic, played by winning British “It Geek” Benedict Cumberbatch. Surely this could not have influenced the timing of the pardon; these are vanishingly rare–Turing’s is only the fourth one given since the 1940s. But an odd coincidence.

This Just In: Oscar Wilde Not Pardoned Yet, or All the Other Gay Men Either
It’s bad enough that all this happened to Turing; it happened to up to 75,000 other gay and bisexual men too, however. After all the attention the Turing pardon has received, buzz has started to build regarding the unjust nature of the law to begin with. And Turing is too late (by which I mean really late–like, dead) for his pardon to be more than a grand gesture; for the men who are still living with this stain on their records, it would mean a great deal more. This story will be continued.

More Antique Brit Homophobia: In India, it’s Baaaaaack
Then there’s the way those Victorian-era British laws keep on giving even after the Isles themselves have come to their senses: in India, in Uganda, and in many other previous colonies and protectorates, homophobic laws remain on the books. India just reinstated criminal status for homosexuals. Uganda narrowly missed rewriting their law to impose the death penalty, under, it is said, the influence of US evangelicals. Instead, it’ll be life in prison. (Uganda also, the same week, made it illegal for women to show any skin–literally, miniskirts are illegal now, as the Guardian and other publications announced.) And Russia is having its own problems with homophobia and the law. This issue, too, is far from a brief and time-bracketed news item. We’ll be hearing much more about it in the new year.

In (Rather Stunning) Sex Industry News…
Two big things to report: First, Canada has decriminalized prostitution. Well, sort of. Prostitution was already more legal there than in many countries, but virtually everything surrounding the sale of sex for money was illegal: “communicating for the purposes of prostitution,” bawdy house laws that disallowed brothels and any sort of indoor safe space in which to work, and other things. It was illegal to be a driver, a support staffer, or a bodyguard too–as it is in the US. The country’s Supreme Court unanimously struck down the prostitution-related laws thanks to a challenge brought by three sex worker activists; the judges agreed that the laws made sex work too dangerous. They’ve asked that the laws be re-written, but for now, expect to get a seriously smokin’ lapdance if you go to Toronto. The BBC, tvnz.co.nz, and the Toronto Sun report on this big story.

And in California, we hear courtesy of US Prostitutes’ Collective (US-Pros), the state’s Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board has unanimously changed an administrative ruling barring sex workers from receiving compensation if they are subject to violent crime, including rape. Sex worker activism made this domino fall too, a seriously symbolic (as well as concrete) win in a struggle that has had many setbacks of late. That this board explicitly “allowed funds to be denied to a victim if the crime occurred as a direct result of soliciting, purchasing, pimping or engaging in an act of prostitution” made it very clear to what degree sex workers can be regarded as second-class citizens; the early-December ruling was covered by US News and World Report, SFGate, and many other papers and websites around the country. The US-Pros website aggregates a listing of many of these.

Catching Up with Previous Stories
Marriage equality had a big, big week: Recently New Mexico allowed same-sex marriage, and now Utah has stepped up too. They’re going to the Chapel of Love in Salt Lake City! (Though word has it that not every county clerk is welcoming the erstwhile newlyweds.) While many conservatives are blaming “activist judges” (funny, they never say that when things go their way judicially), a federal judge declined to stay the ruling, so the weddings can continue. US District Judge Robert Shelby “said the state didn’t show that it would likely win its appeal of the case on the merits or that it suffers irreparable harm in allowing same-sex couples to marry,” according to Deseret News. In a fabulous twist, one of the first couples to be wed after the original December 20 ruling was a Utah state senator: “‘I proposed to my partner of 27 years in June, but I said, “We’re not going to get married until we can get married in Utah,”‘ state Sen. Jim Dabakis, who is openly gay, told CNN.” Congratulations to the senator and his partner Stephen Justesen, and all the jack Mormons and same-sex Family Values Utahans and Utahns who celebrated Christmas by gettin’ hitched. The Boston Globe, Business Week, and the BBC were also following this story.

We’ve mentioned the UK’s porn filters in past columns, mandatory now on all computers sold in the British Isles. The Drum revisits the filters with the news that these filters are–surprise! (not!)–blocking tons of content that youth have a right to see. Nay, we can even say a need, since all sorts of sexual health information is–you guessed it–blocked. Nice going, ham-handed friends of ignorance! Now we just need to work out whether you did that on purpose, or if it’s almost as bad: social surgery using a dull knife.

Finally…
I bet before last week, only a small fraction of you regularly used the words “Jennifer Lawrence” and “butt plug” in a sentence. You have company now, however! As Salon points out, CNN just posted the whole darn interview, which is great, because it allows us to hear Jennifer Lawrence use the word “butt plug” in a sentence. I know the feeling will pass soon enough, but there are days when I think to myself, much as Santa must on December 26, “Ah, well, my work here is done.”

Salon also brought us our favorite new holiday song, courtesy of Saturday Night Live: “Let’s Do It in My Twin Bed.” Trust me, it is so worth a listen. And my favorite sexy newsy news source also published a wonderful holiday reminiscence: “Jesus Never Gave Christmas Porn.” So you think your parents got you weird stuff?

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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