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.

 

Injustice for Trayvon is Injustice for All

   First Published 7/21/13

 After killing an unarmed teenage boy whom he provoked, Zimmerman roams free. This is a truth of our nation. Though I assure you, this is not a truth our nation will pride itself in when we look back on history. My loved ones cried and I tried to comfort them in the midst of a storm that I knew all too well would come. I didn’t cry.Not because I felt nothing, but because the horrid truth of the matter is I was not remotely surprised. Zimmerman’s verdict only validated thoughts I have had for years, unable to unthink them because they’re all around me every day. Racism is real, injustice is real, and the worst part is, our culture has evolved into one that likes to ignore this fact.

 

Racism is no longer in the style of the KKK; blatant and disgustingly obvious. It is now hidden in our drug laws, and our justice system.

  We live in a world where five teenage boys of black and Hispanic descent can be wrongfully charged with the murder and rape of Trisha Meili, the Central Park Jogger  based on far less evidence than Zimmerman’s case. In an America where black boys and young men are stopped and frisked each day on the basis of “seeming suspicious.” In this same world we live in, a man named George Zimmerman shot an unarmed black teenager and is released on the grounds of self defense. We dare call this United States a “post-racial” society? It’s harder to see the prejudice when we have come so far as a nation. Optimistically, look at the improvement from separate schools and water fountains to a black president. You can’t deny improvements there. But to say that we live in a post-racial society in a world with Trayvon Martin, is a complete and utter lie. Racism is no longer in the style of the KKK; blatant and disgustingly obvious. It is now hidden in our drug laws, and our justice system.

stop and frisk nypd new york

 The majority white, female jury  should not be blamed for their decision, as they are not in control of the justice system that chose them, but had they at all been exposed to varieties of blackness, they may not have assumed such aggression from Trayvon in his attempt to defend himself from Zimmerman. This interview with Jury B-37 (who has since signed a book deal, by the way) makes it clear the tone of the majority of her fellow jurors was Zimmerman as victim, Martin as aggressor (See interview Below).

According to her logic, any time a teenager of “suspicious” descent walks in the dark in their own parent’s neighborhood with, dare I say- iced tea, skittles, skinny jeans and a tight hoodie,-don’t hesitate to practice your racism and kill them to “protect yourself,” since this teen is of course a natural threat for simply existing in their presence.We cannot pretend this is not racial. It is racial, in the loudest, most epic fashion. Because it illustrates the fact that young black men must expect to be assumed criminals in our society,  without so much as one crime done. 

 

 

 According to Geraldo Rivera, the absurdity of the previous statement is completely validated. Apparently, it’s necessary for black young men to refrain from dressing in any attire that is at all associated with “gangsters.” Is that gangsters, Rivera, or dressing in our societies perception of blackness? For the record, these graphic photos show Trayvon Martin lying dead at the scene of the crime, dressed in an undersized hoodie and khaki skinny jeans. If you have ever come across a “gangster” with khaki skinny jeans, please inform me at once, because there must also be a leprechaun and small bucket of gold by a rainbow nearby.  The sad fact is, the way Trayvon was dressed should not have been a factor. It should not be acceptable to assume that if a black man is wearing baggy pants, it’s somehow okay to profile him as a threat.  

 

  Are we really saying that if Trayvon Martin was Trevor Martin, a 6’2, 160 pound white teenage boy with iced tea and skittles khaki skinny jeans, that Zimmerman would have found this young, white, boy threatening? Would he have felt his life were in danger? I’m going to take a hunch and say that’s a definite no. This same tone rears it’s ugly head in laws like stop-and-risk, in which innocent young men are criminalized for appearing to cops to be possible criminals. Our drug war practices the same tone in which studies show that while blacks and whites consume almost equal amounts of marijuana, blacks are four times more likely to be arrested for pot possession.. I suppose they just look more criminal.

 

 We are not a country that should stand for injustice. With the results of this Zimmerman trial, we as a country made the statement that it is OK to profile based on race. We should expect it. To that I say no. If Trayvon were alive today, he would be the same age as my brother. Almost two years ago, my brother could have been Trayvon. Tomorrow, my brother could be Trayvon. And I don’t know about you, but that just doesn’t sit right. Justice for all means justice for Trayvon, and in this case, he got none. Until justice is won, I am Trayvon. And for any American that believes in justice for all, you are Trayvon, too.

 

 

Hmm… Which shall I choose- Miss Mrs. or Ms.?

 

Hmm… Which shall I choose? Miss Mrs. or Ms.? I possibly knew about this before, but it didn’t occur to me how sexist an issue these three title options were, until after a discussion in Women’s Studies, today. Mrs.  If you’re married, Miss if you’re not, and Ms. for either; or if you’re a feminist. You might recognize Ms. as the title of the women-positive magazine created by Gloria Steinem, a well-known feminist, journalist and political activist for women’s rights. Bet you can guess which title she uses. The need for the use of Ms. instead of Mrs. or Miss was brought on by second wave feminism. However, I remember getting in trouble in middle school for calling my teacher Ms. instead of Mrs. because she’d just been married. Note, I am from the south, and things seem to move a little slower down here.

            It seems so odd that men don’t have this same title trio. Why don’t men have an equivalent to Mrs. for when they’ve been married or Miss equivalent for our single guys out there? Gotta know if he’s a bachelor, right? The need for three title options with women stems from the earliest gender molds of our society.

Those foundations stem way back in the 1700s, even, when women were seen as property to be passed on from father to husband. Women take the man’s last name so why not add a title like Mrs. that emphasizes this, right? Wrong.  Why is it necessary that everyone know whether we’re married based on such a title? We’re no one’s property and we don’t need a stamp of Miss or Mrs. that says we are. As a budding feminist, I love that Ms. is an option. It is the woman’s equivalent to Mr. . It’s a freeing title that attaches to no expectations. Ms. could be a girl, a young woman, a married woman, whatever. None of your business. Just like Mr. implies.  It’s a strong statement to correct someone to call you Ms. as a married woman.I’ll go so far to say, I’d be great for Mrs. and Miss to be eliminated, altogether. They’re definitely not necessary in modern society, that’s for certain.