Why We’re Awesome: Girls Who Code

“I love to see a young girl go out and grab the world by the lapels. Life’s a bitch. You’ve got to go out and kick ass.” — Maya Angelou

Why We’re Awesome- A series spotlighting wonderful organizations that empower women and girls all over the world.

Science. Blerg. Many young girls will tell you it is their least favorite subject. But not these girls! Girls Who Code is a New York City based organization with the goal to close the gender gap in science based careers by training young girls interested in learning computer specialist techniques.  Hence the name: Girls Who Code.

Girls Who Code aims to provide computer science education and exposure to 1 million young women by 2020.

This is an organization that the U.S. education system has been needing for a long, long while. After all, to say girls don’t like science and math is simply a myth created from the way our education system is structured. Don’t agree? Check out the facts below.

In middle school, 74% of girls express interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM), but when choosing a college major, just 0.3% of high school girls select computer science.

Women today represent 12% of all computer science graduates. In 1984, they represented 37%.

Thank you, Girls Who Code, for helping young girls find their love for science, again. Programs like this are making  the U.S. just a little more like the progressive place we all hope to see one day, and that’s why Girls Who Code is awesome.

Girls Who Code began in NYC, but is currently working to launch programs in San Francisco, Detroit and San Jose in the year 2013.

Sharing Time!

First of all, I have such a huge aversion to telling people about things I’m doing. This may be a silly aversion, or in fact totally validated- I just know when I go on my blog to yap about things I’m doing I can’t help but feel like an obnoxious little beetle. So instead of making this a shameless promotion-fest, I’d love for us all to get involved! Below, I’ll share with you some things I’ve done recently,and in the comments I’d LOVE for you to tell me what YOU’RE doing, so I can check it out. And seriously, I really will check it out. 

Jas’s article on Black women, Queers and Sex Ed was just featured on Bitch Magazine. (See the original here)

Story Time! Jas’s short story, “Next Joke” is now a The-Toast.net thing

And finally, finally, finally- Check out the new JasSoandSo Facebook page. Jas will buy you a house filled with kisses if you like it. Figuratively, of course.

This has been a shameless promotion brought to you by Jas Joyner. Murp.

Thank you all so much for reading! Now, post you’re cool things below because I can’t wait to read about them!

Gender and the In Between- A Gender Queer’s Journey

Featured on Afropunk.com and SheWired.com!

As a child, I spoke as few words as possible. The sound of my feminine voice disgusted me. I hated to be called a girl, while loving the color pink. I was a budding genderqueer.

Boys are different from girls, they said.  Fundamentally different, they’d persist. Boys don’t have long hair. Boys don’t like pink. Boys don’t cry and boys are tough. Girls like playing with dolls. Girls do poorly at math and enjoy frilly things.

Boys.  I studied them. I developed obsessions with male classmates with the utter desire to someday become all that they were. I would play make believe with my siblings in which I’d only be satisfied if I took on a male role.  I connected with boys in a way I never could with girls, and never quite understood why. I would wear suspenders as a tween and feel like a boss because they would make it look like I had no chest. When I started to develop, I would wrap myself in a bandage, not realizing that was a trope practiced all too often in the trans community. I would do this until my gender identity was challenged.

“You are so flat,” my very influential peers would say, prompting me to ask my mother to buy me my first training bra.

And then I discovered the internet. I learned about the term transgender. I looked at hundreds upon hundreds of befores and afters, FtMs. Top surgeries, bottom surgeries, hormones. I would read and read until my eyes would blur from my families’ bright Dell desktop screen, and I’d sink in my chair, feeling the emptiness grow inside of me. It was as if the more I searched for myself, the more lost I got. Because I couldn’t avoid my feelings; I didn’t feel fully male.

I didn’t know any trans people in my anti-queer, southern town, and definitely wasn’t going to be the first. So what did I do? I conformed. Like the scared child that I was, I began to present myself as outrageously feminine, so no one would suspect anything strange. It was as if I thought people could see through me, and wanted to give them no reason to use thier x-ray vision to spot my insecurities…or my weirdness.

I fell into a bout of shame, hating my natural femininity because I’d used a false, hyper-femininity as a wall to hide behind for so long. Oh, what a person will do to fit in.

I wanted no more shame, so I turned to the bottomless internet once again, searching for a reason to love myself. I studied femininity and the power of it all. I learned that being feminine does not equate weakness. There is strength in the power of women. In femininity, there is beauty; not the skin deep kind but the unconditional kind.  Through countless articles and books, and studying empowered feminist women like Betty Dobson and bell hooks, I learned to love my female body, and now I don’t want to lose it.

So here I am, yin and yang. Masculine and feminine. I wear my hair long but learned to walk from male role models growing up. The color pink still makes me smile, but I feel like a lie when wearing a dress. I still bind and wear clothes from the men or boys section, and prefer to hide my curves (the little bit that I have anyway). Not because I want to look male, but because it is how I feel most comfortable.

I call myself a boi, a budding term used in the lesbian and queer community, and truly believe if energies were gendered, I would be just that. I have little to no desire to have surgery or take hormones, though I like it when you call me “he.” I don’t mind “she” or “they” because I am that, too. All of the above, please. Sometimes I feel completely male, and wish on those days I had an attractive male body to wear. But most days I feel like both. I know it is confusing. I even confuse myself sometimes, but that’s simply how I feel. I don’t feel masculine enough to be male, nor am I feminine enough to be female. I love and accept my female body, though I ask you to not suspect that makes me a “woman.”

Through my journey, I find that in terms of gender identity, you are what you say you are. A man that wears makeup and has double D’s is still a man if he tells you so. It takes no more criteria than that. What it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman are social constructs, and though the masses follow these standards, you don’t have to. I don’t have to. I prefer to say I am in between genders, masculine of center, and as I feel, I am.

I spoke recently to a dear friend that had a challenging question for me;

“Why don’t you just ignore gender? Why don’t you just be who you are and not worry about what that makes you, be it male, female or otherwise?”

I sat there, stumped and silent, too caught off guard to admit my annoyance. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it but this anger boiled inside me. I slowly felt the tingle as my senses returned and I blurted out,

“Because nobody wants to be an outsider!”

I certainly didn’t think before I spoke, but couldn’t ignore the truth behind my words. Nobody wants to be an outsider. No one wants to feel like they belong nowhere. So many queer and trans people walk through their lives never feeling fully human, as if there is something alien about us that no one will ever understand. That is why we search for acceptance. That is why we challenge the gender binary and tell you to call us Zir. We’re fighting for our visibility, because we don’t like feeling invisible. We are not transsexual, we are sometimes not even transgender, but we’re definitely all over the gender spectrum, as a gender “binary”  is all but an illusion.

I’ve wanted to talk about this for a while now, but due to the fear of officially coming out as a genderfuck, I’ve avoided it. But as you see with this whole rant, I don’t care who knows anymore. I am tired of hiding in the binary and this is my way of connecting with all you gender queer and trans folk out there that are not interested in going all the way, on either side of the gender binary. We are the in betweeners, and we’re proud. Finally. 

Smartest Queer Black Women Series (Twitter Included)

Fast Company recently released their 2013 “Smartest Women on Twitter” list in which you will find no, I repeat, no black women. At all. So, in honor of  black-queer greatness, here’s a new series to present to you amazing, intelligent  black, queer women that are smart enough to be on anyone’s “Smartest” list. These women have greatly impacted the fight towards black LGBT visibility,social justice, and all around wonderfulness- and as a nice touch, all will have Twitter accounts.

Stacyann Chin- Poet, Writer, Activist- Twitter/stacyannchin

Staceyann Chin, a native Jamaican,  has written a number of  thought-provoking poems and even had a one-woman show at New York City’s  Nuyorican Poets Cafe.  She was co-writer and original performer in Russel Simmon’s Poetry Def Jam on Broadway. She wrote a memoir entitled “The Other Side of Paradise,” and was featured on “The Oprah Show” where she expressed the difficulties coming out as a lesbian in Jamaica.  She has spoken openly about her pregnancy through In vitro fertilization, and proudly represents as a single, lesbian mom.

Don’t Speak: On Black Women, Queers and Sex Ed

 A version of this article was featured Bitch Magazine. Check it Out!

 

Black Queer Couple

Being the queerio I am, I have this pass time of regularly Googling queer sex related topics in the news for fun. Hey, who knows, maybe there’s some new sex toy I need to learn about #possibleTMI. Well this time, I was met with less than awesome news; Black women are less likely to get HPV Vaccines. According to a recent Health article,a  only 18 percent of black women from 18 to 24  as opposed to one third of white women ( across all income lines), have started taking the vaccine.

“Given that cervical cancer is more common and associated with higher mortality in African-American and Hispanic women than in white women, it is especially important to understand the barriers to HPV vaccination for these populations.”

Black women, as I’ll further explain, have a history of doing less when it comes to sex protection. So in the words of the ever-dope Salt-n-Pepa,  “let’s talk about sex”, people. No not that sex. The boring sex; sex education.

HPV stands for Human Papillomavirus, and it is the most common sexually transmitted infection of them all. To clarify, the HPV vaccine only protects against two out of the 40 different kinds of HPV. However, these two types, 16 and 18,  are the most likely to cause cervical cancers down the road.  I must be honest, for the longest time I thought it was far more difficult for one to contract HPV in lesbian sex than in heterosexual sex. Sadly though, it turns out we can catch it just as easily, and in similar ways, as can a straight person. According to the Cancer Network, we can catch cervical cancer through genital on genital contact, touching partner’s genitals then our own, or sharing uncleaned toys. Bisexual women and even some self-identified lesbians have also had sex with men, which increases the risk of HPV even more so.

As a black person from the conservative south, I understand that it’s not really a big thing in black culture to discuss sex. I notice more of a “mums the word” approach. In high school, I remember discussing with a few female friends, all black, the ever-awkward “talk” parents give. You know, “the talk.” I was stunned to find my mother was the only one out of all my friends to have given me some version of the talk when I turned ten. Though my mother’s awkward ramble was totally hetero-centric (as I was not out and proud at the mere age of ten), I’m so thankful today that she even went there for me, as I learned not a lot of parents do. I’ve noticed as I grow older that no matter how liberal sexually a black woman is, it is more respectable and acceptable to keep it to ourselves than to vocalize. In a poignant article from Bitch Magazine, Tamara Winfrey Harris further discussed the active silence black women practice when it comes to the subject of sex.

Respectability politics work to counter negative views of blackness by aggressively adopting the manners and morality that the dominant culture deems “respectable.”

Acting overly prudish whether we (black women) actually are or not,  is meant to work as a neutralizer for us when compared to non-black women, as we are already attached to so many other negative stereotypes. But I must ask, is it really beneficial to express virginity if you know that’s not what’s up? I think not, because it hurts us as black women on a fundamental health level, as you can see from these statistics, courtesy of WomensHealth.gov –

  • Chlamydia rates that are more than seven times higher
  • Gonorrhea  rates that are about 16 times higher
  • Syphilis rates that are 21 times higher

However, the avoidance of sex ed talk doesn’t just go for black folks.  Queers in general seem to have this air about us that implies some sort of magical-STIs- shield, more so than straight folks. I say this from a completely personal perspective, as my experience in relationships and conversations with close friends have illustrated this idea to me. It is as if we feel since we are not having hetero sex, we’re safe. That is why it’s important to broaden our understandings of what sex actually is, so that we stay protected in all sexual situations. Especially when facts like these exist; lesbians (of all colors) are far more likely to develop cervical cancers than are heterosexual women.

Full disclosure, I hate all doctor’s visits, let alone doctors that have total V.I.P  access to my who-ha. Nothing sexy about it. I especially don’t like having to wonder whether my doctor is LGBTQ friendly, because if they’re not, the whole experience can be quite traumatizing. Who wants discrimination while simply trying to be healthy? Well, I come to you with great news. Queer allies have got our backs when it comes to pre-sexy-time woes.  The Human Rights Campaign has created an annual Healthcare Equality Index in which hundreds of gay-friendly hospitals and clinics make themselves known. Also, many LGBT centers all over the country offer or support companies that offer free and low-cost HIV testing specifically for our community on a regular basi

Consider all those times you had sex and protection didn’t once cross your mind. Mhmm. It happens. But the fact is, it should. I agree, depending on what you’re into, it can be harder to protect against STIs as a vagatarian; Yep, I went there. But in the long run, caution is really the best way to go. I’m not saying we all need to run out and get that HPV vaccine like, now, as there are precautions and arguments against it, let alone the many qualms some people have with vaccines in general. The real concern this Health News article raised was the overarching need for women and queers of color to do so much more when it comes to sex education and protection. As much as I like to think of us queerios as some sort of superhuman species within ourselves, we must accept the fact that no one is invincible. We’re all subject to contracting a sexually transmitted infection. The great thing is, if we’re careful and responsible, there’s a lot we can do to avoid them.

 

MORE by Jaz Joyner

More by Jaz Joyner

“I’m not emotionally available. “

 “Are you… physically available?”

  I knew I shouldn’t have, but I couldn’t help myself. Here is this beautiful girl standing in front of me, once interested in me. Once wanting me. If the only thing holding her back was emotions, why the hell do we need those? She looked at me, angry and frustrated, her brows furrowed and her skin a burnt orange under the frying sun. She rolled her eyes and prepped her feet to stand and I stared at her. I watched her go before she’d left as if I could see the future. I felt myself wanting her the way I thought she’d wanted me, and I couldn’t take it. I grabbed her arm and squeezed like a child to its blanket. She was my security and without her I was naked. I felt vulnerable. Not in the way people feel when they’ve been exposed in a way that makes them uncomfortable. More like a part of me had been kidnapped and I had no leads on how to find it. I didn’t know how to change her mind or make her want me the way I thought she did before.

   “Kate.”

  I said, like speaking out her name unlocked some feeling in her she didn’t know she had. I was kidding myself. She ripped her arm from my grasp and stood over me. I felt like a piece of dust, just waiting for her to blow me away. I stood, towering over her, giving me this false sense of power I wish I had.

   “I’m sorry.”

    I would have rather she said nothing at all. Her words were poison. I didn’t want to stand anymore. She was moving away from me and I had no more ideas. I watched as her back turned to me and she slinked down the sunny sidewalk in her clunky red heels. I just knew she would look back at me. I knew she’d have second thoughts and come back to me, but she didn’t. She walked all the way down the block and I stood there like a zombie, wishing for more. More of anything really. I wasn’t picky.