Activist, writer, sex-positive feminist, single mother, sandgroper, grumpy old woman.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

broken, but never alone

This will end up wordy. For the easily bored, here's the tl;dr version... I am a loony. I love the internet.

So those of you on Twitter will know that I went to the doctor today and, amongst other things, was diagnosed with depression and put on medication. I then came home and proceeded to lose my shit all over the internet.

This is not the first time I've had depression. It's something I've lived with all my life - well, half of my life. The other half was spent shagging and writing novels and scrubbing the bathroom at 3am, in joyous bursts of hypomania. Basically I'm a complete nutbag, but that's not what I wanted to write about.

What struck me today was how, for me, social media has completely changed what it means to live with a mental illness.

The last time I lost the battle with my brain was in 2003. I'd had a horrendous year, culminating in me dumping my boyfriend, quitting my job and moving back to the country. I had some immediate family close by, but zero friends. I had no internet, no landline and my mobile only did what every other mobile did back then - make very expensive phone calls. I was pretty much alone.

I didn't go to the doctor because I felt sad. I went for a Pap smear. While he was getting things ready, he asked me some stuff about life and my kids and the next thing I knew, I was sobbing my heart out.

That moment when the doctor asks the right question, says the right words, and the floodgates open? It's like a freakin' earthquake. The ground rumbles and splits beneath you and you start to free-fall. Until that point, you didn't realise just how hard you'd been fighting to maintain the balance, keep your shit together, pretend everything's ok. The weeks, months, even years of constant internal struggle. But in that moment, you admit defeat and realise you simply don't have the strength to do it any more. And that realisation is crippling.

Then, minutes after all this happens, your appointment is over and you find yourself back out in the corridor. Alone.

And this, my friends, is where social media changed my life.

In 2003, I had a two hour drive home from the doctor's surgery. I wailed and sobbed alone in my car until my eyes were so swollen I could barely see the road. On the way, I stopped and bought a bottle of vodka. It was late Friday arvo and Mum already had my kids at her place while I was away. I rang and asked if she could keep them for the night, went home, crawled into the corner behind my bed (paranoid that someone might see me through the window) and drank straight from the bottle, crying my heart out, until I passed out on the floor.

The meds kicked in a couple of weeks later, but things got much worse before they got better. I moved through each day like a zombie and cried myself to sleep every night. I started to fear leaving the house and having to speak to people. I've never felt so isolated in all my life. forward to today. Today, the earth opened up beneath me, just like it did last time. I sobbed my heart out in the surgery, then ended up in the corridor alone, just like last time. Only this time, I wasn't really alone. When I walked out of the hospital and turned my phone back on, I had messages from people asking if I was ok and cracking jokes and wishing me luck. When I got down the street and the shock started to set in, I stopped on the side of the road and pulled out my phone. Twitter made me laugh until I felt ok to drive.

And, yeah, I wailed and sobbed for most of the half hour drive back. Then I went to the chemist, discovered I couldn't afford to fill my prescription, went home and lost my shit. Like last time, I'm completely isolated in a town where I know nobody. And, yeah, like last time I headed straight for the booze, cracking open a bottle of Passion Pop. BUT HERE'S THE THING...this time, I wasn't drinking myself into oblivion. This time, I was having a few glasses of wine to calm myself down WHILE CHATTING TO FRIENDS. Rather than internalising all the fear and shame, I talked openly about it with people who had shared similar experiences. Rather than feeling like I had to pretend I was coping, I could say "I'm broken right now". And nobody judged me.

I was shown soooo much kindness on Twitter this afternoon. And I witness this kindness every day in my Twitter feed. Of course, that comes down to who you follow and how you interact on Twitter, but for me, it's a safe space filled with awesome people who genuinely care about each other. YMMV.

Isolation breeds depression and depression feeds off isolation. The last thing you need when you're depressed is to be alone. With social networking, you can carry your friends around in your pocket. When one timezone sleeps, another wakes up. You're NEVER alone.

Tonight, I'm not passed out on the floor next to an empty bottle. I haven't cried once since I calmed down on the verandah with a glass of sickly sweet bubbles. My son came home from school and I cooked dinner and we watched a couple of crappy comedies and when he noticed my puffy eyes and asked if I was ok, I said I'd be fine. And I will. Because I have you guys.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

More sex slavery fuckwittery - migration agents

First paragraph...  "Licensed migration agents are helping bring women to Australia on student visas who end up working in conditions of sexual slavery or at illegal brothels".

Second last paragraph... However a [DIAC] spokesman said it has "no evidence to suggest any migration agents have been linked with people trafficking in the sex industry in the last five years".

Last paragraph... The Migration Agents Registration Authority [said] no agents in the past ten years had been sanctioned over allegations of sex slavery or trafficking.

No evidence to back up your claims, no experts in the field to support you, so just start the article with a clear statement of what YOU BELIEVE to be true and hope the reader doesn't read all the way to the disclaimer at the end? Is this what passes for 'investigative journalism' these days?

If we're going to talk about sex work and visas, lets look at what role migration agents actually play. And more importantly, WHY.

If you're an English 20-something barmaid who wants to come to Australia on a working holiday, you can apply for your own visa and sign up with one of a multitude of Australian employment agencies. On arrival, those agencies will ship you all around the countryside, from pub to pub, arranging your accommodation and transport, and (I would assume) negotiating your pay rate and working conditions.

You are only allowed to stay in the same place for a short time before you have to change employers - which country pubs are all in favour of because, and I quote, "We get a steady stream of pretty young things and it keeps the boys happy. Keeps them coming back to check out the new ones". So basically, backpacker barmaids are being used as the cheap and unskilled equivalent of skimpies, but I digress...

If you're a 20-something SE Asian or Eastern European sex worker who wants to come to Australia for a working holiday, there's a good chance you won't be able to apply for your own visa. Thanks to over-the-top anti-trafficking policies, some countries are actually denying visas to young single women who they 'suspect' might be intending to work as a sex worker.

Even if they do manage to get their own visa, sex workers don't have the luxury of employment agencies to assist them in finding employment and accommodation once they get here. In many Australian states, brothels are not allowed to sponsor or advertise for staff, and procuring (and anti-trafficking) laws make it difficult for third parties to help sex workers find work. So think about it... you're in a foreign nation, where you don't speak the language, trying to secure employment in an industry that is heavily regulated and often shrouded in secrecy. You don't know the local laws, you have no way of knowing which are the well-run brothels and which ones are dodgy and once you find a job, you have no idea what your rights are.

*Note: If the only information a migrant sex worker gets about Australian sex work is "Foreign sex workers are sex slaves, exploited, offering unprotected services, being raided and rescued", etc - from our sensationalist media - how do you think that affects their choices? What sort of working conditions will they accept if they think that's the norm? How do they stand up for their rights if they're led to believe they don't have any?

Taking all of this into consideration, is it really any wonder that sex workers from other countries choose to go through a migration agent and/or brothel syndicate? It may be their best option, or perhaps their only option. One thing's for sure, it will always be the most expensive option. Bringing someone into the country and circumventing (not necessarily breaking) laws costs a lot of money. That expense is then passed on to the sex worker. Having huge debts and being in a precarious legal position then leaves these sex workers vulnerable to exploitation.

Let me just say that again, to make it doubly clear - migrant sex workers are vulnerable to exploitation thanks to anti-trafficking laws and immigration policies. Unscrupulous operators might be taking advantage of it, but our laws and attitudes are CAUSING it.

Blanket bans and excessive controls lead to a violent, exploitative black market, dominated by organised crime. Did the world learn nothing from prohibition?

Monday, October 10, 2011

Exposing the Flesh Trade (aka Sensationalist Journalism 101)

There is no story in journalism that gets more clicks, fans and accolades than a sex slavery exposé. 

The readers lap it up. It tugs at the heart strings, gives us an 'insight' into a seedy underbelly that we've never experienced and will never understand, and plays on our xenophobia and inherent fear of anything sex-related. It gives us a damsel in distress to care about and a hero to worship - makes our stupid white selves feel proud that we have heroic white cops to protect naive Asian prostitutes from their scary Asian bosses.

For the 'investigative journalist', it's an easy story to write. Few people know the realities of sex work, so you can just write whatever stereotypical crap springs to mind. Few people know who the major players are, so you don't have to interview them if you think they won't toe the party line. Many people have preconceived ideas about Asian women (ie RACISM), so readers will believe you when you suggest they have no agency, or that every Asian woman lives in desperate poverty, or that Asian women make great sex toys, or that Asian women are too stupid to know when they're being scammed or exploited. (Let's just ignore the fact that most migrant sex workers in Australia come from the US, the UK and New Zealand. They're obviously big enough and white enough to look after themselves).

Not enough evidence of trafficked sex workers? No worries - that's because it's such a well-hidden activity. They're definitely out there. Honest. We just can't find them. Sure, that means we can't corroborate the excessive numbers we're quoting, but you can't refute them, either. So there. Checkmate. If all else fails, find any old case involving an Asian brothel and question why nobody has been convicted. If possible, make it look like a cover-up. That shit must happen all the time, because police are corrupt and Asian gangs are powerful, right? Yeah, why not. The readers will buy that.

Why are my knickers in a twist (again) about this topic? Well, The Age and Four Corners have partnered up to do an 'exposé on the flesh trade', which will screen on Four Corners on Monday night. The Age has posted a bit of pre-screening self-promotion here:

The article's language and imagery, and obvious bias, is appalling. Not to mention the graphic depiction of the discovery of the murdered man. Vile tragedy porn. What the hell is this story even about?

Let's look at the facts, without all the decorative detail. The dead man visited sex workers, used meth, and one night he stormed a brothel. The Age/Four Corners don't know exactly what happened that night, but they're convinced he was there with good intentions. Mind you, the police didn't press charges because they thought there might be a case for self-defence, which would suggest that after an extensive murder investigation, they believed the man was NOT there with good intentions. (Interestingly, the detective involved chose not to comment). 

But we all know there must be more to this story than meets the eye, because OMG THERE WAS BROTHELS AND ASIANS AND STUFF.

"...there were whispers of broken hearts - Papo had fallen for a Korean student before his death..."

So he was in love with a brothel girl, who obviously didn't feel the same way, or there wouldn't be any broken hearts.

"[Papo] told an officer he was gravely concerned for the welfare of a 20-something Korean woman he had dated named Kathy...who was being threatened and had had her passport taken from her."

Ok, so he actually dated the woman. In the past tense. This seems to confirm they had already broken up.

"Then there was the discovery that the quiet Asian girl who had lived with Abraham in the Papo house for a few months, often studying English books on his bedroom floor, worked in a brothel".

WAIT....WHAT? She lived with him??? Ok, now I'm all kinds of confused. Was she trafficked from Korea by a controlling evil syndicate, who then let her go off and live with her boyfriend for a few months? How long ago was this? Why did she move out?

"[Papo] told [David] he had called Kathy on her mobile ... Kathy had been taken to Sydney and forced to work against her will. ''He said she was being raped and beaten and [told me] that he had to help her,'' David's police statement says. 

It took me three times reading through this article before I noticed this bit... "she had been taken to Sydney". Maybe I just had a comprehension fail, or maybe it was all the flowery language and waffling about Papo wanting to 'help Kathy' that had me picturing him trying to storm the place and drag her out of there. She wasn't there. She was in Sydney. So maybe Papo stormed the brothel demanding to know Kathy's whereabouts?

''[Abraham] said that a male had then got on [Kathy's] phone and threatened him. The guy had said that he would chop him up if he came near her. He told me he then rang an Asian guy that runs a brothel in South Melbourne and had an argument on the phone about Kathy.''

Ok, maybe not. He had just spoken to Kathy on the phone. Did she not know where she was? If his aim was to rescue Kathy, would it not have made more sense to call the Sydney police? Or jump on a plane? He had the money his brother gave him (if that's true) to do it. Why did he (supposedly) borrow this money, if not to get to Sydney? At this point, it's starting to seem highly likely that he stormed the brothel with violent intentions.

The whole phone call thing is also interesting. Apparently this sex slave - the one who was allowed to go off and live with her boyfriend for a few months - also has a mobile phone. A man gets on her phone (the same man who was raping and beating her?) and threatens to chop Papo into little pieces if he comes near her. And then....

David also told police he had called Kathy on her phone and, in broken English, she had confirmed that she was with ''bad people'', was being hurt and was unable to talk.

...the man hands the phone back to Kathy, so she can be called at a later date by her boyfriend's brother. But she's not allowed to talk. She just has the phone for...I dunno...Angry Birds, or something.

Maybe the TV program will provide more information and help this story make some kind of sense, but as it stands, it has more than a few plot-holes. I reckon I could write a slightly more believable version, based on the 'evidence' presented thus far...

A guy starts seeing a sex worker and falls in love with her. She moves in with him and after a few months, things start to head south. Maybe he demands she stop working and she doesn't want to, maybe he treats her badly (my own experience with a meth-using boyfriend wasn't exactly a barrel of laughs), or maybe she just doesn't feel the same way about him any more. For whatever reason, she ends the relationship and moves back into the brothel.

Loverboy doesn't accept this decision and starts stalking and harassing her. He calls her, she tells him she's gone to Sydney, he starts yelling at her. Some bloke (her boss, new boyfriend) grabs the phone and tells him to leave her alone. Loverboy goes ballistic. He doesn't believe she's in Sydney. He knows she's still in Melbourne and just trying to avoid him. He calls the Melbourne brothel and the owner takes Kathy's side, telling Loverboy to just back off and forget about her.

He goes to the police and makes a sex slavery claim - not because he fears his ex-girlfriend is 'in trouble', but to set the wheels in motion for a trafficking raid, which will cause havoc for the owners and hopefully get Kathy detained and/or deported. The police don't take it seriously, or maybe he just can't be bothered waiting for them to act, so he takes matters into his own hands. He storms the brothel, assaults a guy, maybe steals some stuff, then pulls out a metal bar to finish the job.

Now I'm not, for one second, excusing the man who beat another man severely enough to kill him, self-defence or not. I'm only looking at the events leading up to that incident, which - when you take away all the sex slavery, Asian crime gangs and seedy brothel neighbourhood crap - looks very much like your garden-variety ex-boyfriend who wouldn't take no for an answer. Would we see this differently if Kathy had been white? Or if she'd worked at a florist? Or if Zheng had been a nightclub bouncer, not a brothel driver?

Then, towards the end of the article, we get to the really dangerous part of these kinds of stories - the calls to change the laws and crack down on licensing/trafficking/sex work. Anyone who actually knows anything about sex work laws, brothel licensing and anti-trafficking laws, knows it's the 'cracking down' that actually facilitates this sort of crime. Cracking down on visas forces migrant sex workers to seek assistance from agents/traffickers. Cracking down on brothels forces owners to cut corners, rip off workers, or operate outside the legal framework in order to remain profitable. Cracking down on brothel licenses sees rich, powerful 'cleanskins' with no brothel experience buying their way into the sex industry. These crackdowns are invariably introduced in the name of "protecting vulnerable sex workers", but they are always the people that end up being hurt the most.

In the days since The Age article and Four Corners promotion hit, there has been an avalanche of trafficking and sex slavery media in NSW and Victoria... name but a few.

By the you notice anything missing from all of these articles? All these calls to change laws, crack down on owners and "protect the prostitutes"? Sex worker voices, that's what's missing. The very people these politicians and noisy advocates claim to want to protect. So noisy that they can't hear sex worker groups screaming FOR FUCKS SAKE, YOU WANNA TALK ABOUT EXPLOITATION? HOW ABOUT WE START WITH YOU EXPLOITING US IN THE NAME OF POLITICAL POINT-SCORING?!

The voices of sex worker rights organisations will not be heard in the Four Corners piece. The Australian sex workers association, for example - who runs a federally-funded migration project, in partnership with sex worker organisations in SE Asia and staffed by multilingual migrant sex workers  - was actively refused an interview during production. In their attempts to redress this obvious bias, sex worker groups are now being refused interviews with the newspapers. If you want to hear that side of the story, you will need to go to their websites, follow them on Twitter and Facebook, read the Indy press. Because you ain't gonna hear it in the mainstream media.

Trafficking is real. Sex slavery is a heinous crime and anyone committing it should be hunted down like a dog and prosecuted to the full extent of the law. We need to be aware that these situations exist and to know what to do if we come across it. But writing racist, hysterical nonsense and actively excluding the experts from the discussion is not the way to go about it.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

In defence of bogans...

This is a comment I made on another blog post that was defending the stereotyping of 'bogans'. Just posting it here to show someone else - and maybe to point to in future when the debate gets too much for me.

This suburban vs inner city thing seems to come up a lot in the ‘bogan’ discussion. I feel I should point out that that’s very much a Melbourne/Sydney thing. Other cities don’t recognise those issues to the same extent because they are, or have traditionally been, constructed differently – and the bush doesn’t recognise those issues at all. It’s no coincidence that the people most active against anti-bogan sentiment on Twitter have been from WA, SA, Qld and/or regional areas.

Interestingly, all those places are often judged as more ‘bogan’ than NSW or Victoria. The recent WA-bashing is a case in point, with West Aussies frequently described as inherently racist, sexist, homophobic, greedy and selfish. Why? Because it’s the home of the cashed up bogan? Again, I don’t think it’s coincidence that Australia’s primary mining and agricultural states, Qld and WA, are commonly stereotyped as insular bogan bigots.

You said in your post that “bogan was a Melbourne word for many decades …to [Sydney] the bogans of old were westies”.

Firstly, you guys (apparently) defined a bogan by the suburb they lived in. We didn’t. We have ‘bogan suburbs’, known as such because that’s where all the bogans live, ie. the ‘bogan’ is a pre-defined type of person that happens to congregate in that suburb. Those suburbs are almost exclusively welfare and state housing-dependent areas, so for many people, ‘bogan’ is intrinsically linked to low income.

Secondly, Melbourne isn’t the only place where the word ‘bogan’ existed. I was identifying as a bogan in highschool, 25 years ago. I also have friends from Adelaide who claim ‘boganhood’ in their teens and their definition is compatible with mine – someone in black jeans and a flanno who drives a ute, drinks beer and listens to Oz rock. It had nothing to do with bigotry, or ostentatious clothing and houses (the latter being the complete opposite of the traditional bogan).

Which brings us to the crux of my argument – I don’t appreciate my personal lifestyle or history (or state) being re-appropriated to mean something hideous and hated. And it’s really not appropriate for people who don’t inhabit that community or identify with the label to say it’s simply part of the “continuing defining process” and dismiss the concerns of people that do.

This cruel stereotype will cause actual harm to people. It’s already started. For example, Centrelink is trialling income management in select ‘bogan suburbs’ in Perth, because their inhabitants are automatically deemed to be irresponsible and lazy. Actually they’re just poor, but society supports these measures because they firmly believe that ‘bogans’ are a certain breed of people who don’t give a f*ck about their kids or their health or the taxpayer. Hey, that sounds familiar…NT intervention, anyone?

You are creating a new underclass that it’s totally PC to vilify. And it’s all very well to claim that the meaning of the word is changing, but the ORIGINAL meaning of the word is still firmly entrenched in our psyche. What this means is that, today, any person fitting the OLD definition of bogan (black jeans, wifebeater, feral ute, goatee) is immediately grouped together with the NEW definition of bogan (violent, racist, sexist, homophobe). I should add that this is particularly upsetting for country people, like me, who tend to present as the city idea of ‘bogan’, even if we don’t identify as such. Just last week I had an argument with someone about “arrogant country bogans in their 4WDs, who don’t give a f*ck about the environment”.

Apologies for the lengthy rant, but I don’t think people realise just how much this stereotyping is hurting people. I’m actually getting to the point where I’m scared to talk about certain things on Twitter, lest I be deemed bogan and shouted down for it. On the weekend, I tweeted a ‘bogan’ joke and a friend retweeted it – he suffered a full day of insults and accusations of bigotry because of it. (Both of us are left-leaning and known in the activist community AND also identify as bogans). In short, if someone is a bigot, call them a bigot. The word ‘bogan’ is already taken.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

re: my recent sex doll outburst

Ok, so now that I've had a couple of beers, a nanna nap and a nice cup of coffee, I might be able to comment on this more objectively, instead of going off half-cocked like I did earlier. I tend to only blog when I'm angry, which is a habit I probably need to kick.

I didn't want to make this an attack on the author and I'm really annoyed at myself for having done so. (If the person in question happens to read this, please accept my heartfelt apology). It was the session content I took issue with and, whilst that's obviously intrisically linked to the book, I'd prefer to focus solely on the topics raised in the session.

- The sex doll as the 'perfect woman' - controlled, obedient and silent.
The words 'control', 'silence' and 'perfect' were repeated over and over during the presentation. Now, I'm not doubting that there are people out there who like their sex partners to do what they're told and keep their mouth shut. I also know that there are traditional standards of feminine beauty that many men find sexually desirable. What I don't agree with is the suggestion that most men consider these things essential in a 'perfect woman'.

To be honest, I found that assertion extremely insulting to both men and women. I don't believe that men wield their penises as weapons, subduing and conquering a string of (female) partners, on a life-long quest to find the perfect automaton. I don't believe that women are valued solely for their vaginas and that having agency makes them somehow less than 'perfect'. I simply do not believe that the average man wants to have complete control over a silent, obedient woman. Full stop.

I'm not saying that the presenter personally believes this to be the case, but this is the premise that much of the discussion was built on. When the basic premise is so inherently flawed, the conclusions are bound to have some holes in them.

- Similar types of aberrant sexual activity - the desire for control and emotionless, one-sided sex can be seen in men's attraction to prostitutes. Firstly, this stereotype doesn't accurately reflect the power dynamic in commercial sex exchanges, nor the degree of intimacy involved. Secondly, having sex with a living, breathing sex worker is in no way similar to having sex with an inanimate object - the blatant dehumanisation of sex workers in that statement is utterly abhorrent.

If anything, I'd consider the motivation behind visiting sex workers to be the exact opposite of what was stated in the session. These men could have sex with sex dolls and other vagina-like sex toys, or they could masturbate. Instead, they pay to have sex with another human being. If you compare the number of men who have sex with sex dolls to the number of men who visit sex workers, I think you'll find substantially more men pay for sex - that is, the two activities are not so similar as to be interchangeable.

Sex workers are not some non-human entity devoid of emotions or agency. There is absolutely no difference between having sex with a sex worker and having sex with a stranger from the pub, only we don't judge people for the latter. Choosing a sex worker over an unpaid stranger does not make a man an emotionally stunted control freak, any more than choosing vanilla icecream over chocolate makes you a racist.

- Similar types of aberrant sexual activity - porn, again. Whilst watching porn may be somewhat similar, in that it's a masturbatory aid, the presenter seemed to have a hard time separating the porn movie from the porn actress. As with sex workers, comments were made about the women involved being degraded, controlled and forced to engage in unwanted (and unenjoyable) sexual activity, and that porn consumers prefer their women to be that way. The larger porn debate is not one I want to get into right now, but the assumption that a porn actress is living the part she's playing is nonsensical - we wouldn't assume the same thing of a Hollywood actress or TV soapie star. We should also credit men with the intelligence to tell the difference between an actress and the character she's portraying on screen.

Again, there is that underlying idea that sex is something that men do to women, that women tolerate begrudgingly. Any woman appearing to enjoy lots of sex (sex workers, porn stars) must be either forced or damaged. It then follows that a man who engages in sex with a forced or damaged woman must be some kind of monster.

- Having sex with sex dolls can become addictive
Call me crazy, but I just don't see a problem with that. Does it really matter whether a person shags his doll once a week or three times a day? Who is it hurting? People do become addicted to sex. Some of the more problematic consequences of sex addiction include infidelity, over-spending (on sex workers or mistresses) and the risks associated with unprotected sex. None of these things apply to a sex doll addiction.

- Sex doll use may act as a gateway to the mistreatment of actual people
I'm not sold on the idea of 'gateway' activities. They say that marijuana is a gateway drug, but if everyone who smoked pot graduated to the hard stuff, more than half our population would have a heroin addiction.

I just don't see having sex with a corpse as a natural progression from sex dolls. I don't think someone who beats the crap out of an inanimate object would enjoy seeing a real partner scream and cry and bleed. I don't think a man who has sex with a young-looking doll will end up raping a child.

I tend to see the gateway argument as just another attempt at enforcing morality, based on the belief that if you indulge in one deviant activity, you probably won't have any qualms about engaging in others. I can't think of any examples of 'positive' gateway activities. Nobody warns you that volunteering might be a gateway to employment. We don't fear that taking one person as a life partner will be a gateway to polyamory. It's only when you're doing something naughty (like fucking a sex doll) that you find yourself on the slippery slope.

- Sex doll users have a fear of commitment and don't want to experience real love
This may be the case, but I can also see the opposite being true...that sex dolls could provide a person with unconditional love. Children love their dolls and stuffed toys. They tell them everything, take them everywhere and care for them very deeply - if you want to see how much, just try and toss your kids' favourite toy in the bin. You could also compare it to the love people have for their pets, especially less demonstrative creatures like fish, and some people even feel a strong love for their plants. The fact that a person has sex with their doll is of no real consequence and doesn't make his feelings of love any less real.

- 'Normal' sexual behaviour occurs within a monogamous, long-term, heterosexual relationship.
This wasn't explicitly stated, but it was certainly intimated. The only type of sex discussed was penis in vagina intercourse and the inability to form lasting relationships was repeatedly referred to as a negative outcome. There was no recognition of sex or gender diversity. The power dynamics in gay and lesbian relationships were not explored, nor was it considered that some people might simply choose to remain single.

There was also no exploration into the use of sex toys by women - and when you consider the popularity of vibrators and dildos, that discussion could get quite interesting. Sex dolls might be silent and obedient, but at least they resemble a woman's (entire) body. Are women taking objectification to a whole other level by abandoning all but the penis? Do these oversized, perpetually erect penises have a negative effect on male confidence and body image? Does enjoying complete control over a silent, disembodied dick suggest a misandrist streak or fear of commitment?

Anyway, they are some of the reasons why I was so frustrated with the sex dolls session. I don't believe the presenter was intentionally sexist or that he meant any offense - I just think the scope of the study was way too limited and the perspective too one-sided. And I will repeat that I have NOT read the book and for all I know, the information may be presented in an entirely different way. If so, I'm happy to stand corrected. (I will also go back and remove my unnecessarily nasty recommendation not to buy the book, which I had no right to say). But I did find the content of the Swancon session really hard going and I vehemently disagree with a number of the conclusions.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Swancon36/Natcon50: SO MUCH SQUEE

On my first day of Swancon, as I gazed in wide-eyed wonder at a wall of Doctor Who merchandise, I heard a sharp intake of breath beside me and a female voice exclaimed "OH MY GOD! SO MUCH SQUEE!!!"

That statement pretty much sums up my entire weekend.

The panels - bar one*** - were exceptional. Amongst my favourites were Alan Baxter's workshop on writing authentic fight scenes (including simulated punch-ups between participants), Nicole R Murphy's presentation on writing sex scenes (NOT including simulated sex between participants!) and a fascinating session called 'Ghosts in the Machine: AI and The Human Mind' (panel included Justina Robson and Sean Williams).

My overall favourite would have to be the Series Four Doctor Who (Hartnell and Troughton) session, which showed heaps of rare/lost footage and audio, complemented by expert commentary and behind-the-scenes info from the panel. It included an emotional video tribute to Elisabeth Sladen/Sarah Jane Smith - half the room were sobbing their hearts out by the end - and another for Nicholas Courtney/The Brigadier. There was also a wake held for Sarah Jane and The Brigadier in the public bar on Saturday night.

This is only my third Swancon, but it's obvious there is a very large and passionate Who community in Perth and each year, the Doctor Who panels/events have made the top of my favourites list. If any of the folks involved happen to be reading this, THANK YOU.

I've never been to any other sci-fi conventions, but I've seen pics and heard many stories from my interstate and international friends. What blows me away about Swancon (and, from what I can gather, sets it apart from many other cons) is just how close you can get to the 'celebrities' of our field. If you read my post about last year's Swancon, you'll remember I had a major geekgasm over casually chatting with the likes of Ian Irvine and Richard Harland, and getting blind drunk with Scott Sigler. Let's not mince words here - that was nothing short of FUCKING AWESOME.

This year I found myself on a hunt for midnight munchies with Sylvia Kelso, teased Alan Baxter at the bar, danced like a mad woman to the music of DJ Sean Williams, philosiphised about small towns and family with Ian Nichols, talked sex with Nicole R Murphy, cuddled (at the behest of a Twitter friend) Paul Kidd, dodged (without success) Ellen Datlow's camera, and took happy snaps of Justina Robson. Just to mention a few. Again... nothing short of FUCKING AWESOME! Sometimes I regret living in the small-town backwater that is Western Australia, but Swancon is NOT one of those times.

Like all things, my Swancon experience had a downside. I raised the issue, for the second year running, of the exclusion of newbies as something the committee really needs to address. I know this exclusion isn't intentional, but the tight-knit groups of regular attendees can make new people feel very unwelcome. This is my third Swancon and each time I've ended up hanging out with people from interstate or overseas, because they often feel as left out as I do. If Swancon wants to broaden its fan base and increase its numbers, something really needs to be done about the isolation felt by newbies. This year I was a little better off thanks to Twitter - I'd met some Perth peeps online (and in person at #wawonkdrinks) and one of those people went out of his way to ensure that I felt included. His kindness made all the difference. Thank you, Nick!

All in all, Swancon was - all together now - FUCKING AWESOME. Thank you to the Swancon committee, the volunteers, the guest authors, the Whovians, the Perth Twitter geeks and everyone else who made my weekend so memorable. See you next year!

*** OH. MY. GOD...the 'Dolls of Desire: Man's Unnatural Selection of the Perfect Woman' presentation. I can't even begin to tell you how furious this session made me.

I haven't read the book and, after attending that session, I have no intention of ever doing so. But if the presentation is anything to go by, the book is a study based on a COMPLETELY FALSE PREMISE. I sat there with steam coming out of my ears as this white, heterosexual man talked about what it means to be a sex worker or porn star, denied women their agency and sexual enjoyment, described men as inherently abusive control freaks, demonised 'alternative' sexual behaviours like BDSM and polyamory, and invisibilised gay, lesbian and trans* folks. I had so many things I wanted to scream about that I was struck dumb and couldn't say anything at all.

To be honest, I had planned to give a constructive critique of this presentation, but I've realised I'm still too angry to comment politely on it. I was blown away by the level of sexist, stereotypical bullshit... and anyone who knows me in the real world knows I've dealt with a shitload of sexist, stereotypical bullshit in my time.

All I can say is... as a sex positive woman, I found this session incredibly frustrating.

[Edited because I let my temper get the better of me and behaved like an outrageously rude bitch.]