Deviant Acts: What is Deviancy?

My first course this term is The Sociology of Deviancy. I was absolutely stoked to get to take this course because deviancy plays such a huge role in a lot of the things that I’ve studied and put time and effort into writing about. When you think deviancy you might think about sex or sexuality or deviant sexual practices. This course looks further into deviancy by exploring things like gender, race, and urban policing, social structure, selling organs, crime, government, child abuse, smugglers and dealers, drugs, victimization of women in gangs, rapists, religion, underprivileged deviance, physical violence, war, drinking and alcoholism, marijuana, suicide, eating disorders, mental disorders, and of course sexuality and gender issues of all kids.

I’m thrilled to get back to a course that is heavy on reading and writing. I love courses that are focused on thinking and reflecting and sharing ideas. I love the open discourse between people who come from a variety of different upbringings and perspectives. One assignment gives us the ability to go do an act of deviance. A simple example given would be standing in the elevator the wrong way and noting how people react to you. (Ex: Standing and facing the wall.) I thought it might be fun to go a whole day interacting with everyone I came in contact with as some kinds of social communication can really be interpreted as deviant. Any other suggestions?

I thought I would share the basic notes from the first lecture! This is about different theories of deviance.

1. Statistical

Deviance is statistical. If we are unlikely to see something occur, it is deviant. It implies that people who are deviant are different from people who are not deviant. Imagine deviance on a bell-curve. People who are deviant are nowhere near average. Two problems with statistical deviance are a) How are the statistics obtained? If it’s by self-report, many people may lie to avoid being categorized as deviant. They may also know that the behavior is deviant and lie. b) Many behaviors are deviant but are also common. Speeding is deviant behavior but many people speed.

2. Absolutist

Deviancy is intrinsic to certain things. This is the universal good and bad. Typically the absolutist view is based on God or religion. The absolutist view is not based on social norms or the time period you’re in. People who are deviant are deviant, they will always be deviant, their behavior is wrong. The example given was Duck Dynasty. The people on the show understand the homosexuality is becoming socially accepted, that it is common, but according to their absolutist view of deviance it is still wrong and that cannot change.

3. Normative

There are two assumptions to the normative view of deviancy. That sociologists know what is normal, and that deviance is norm violation. This is often what I will reference when I discuss deviancy. This view is based on deviancy varying by time and place. This follows much of what I believe in, in regards to sexuality, as I have studied sexuality and have noticed how deviant behaviors have been regarded through time and in different parts of the world. This theory also suggests that deviance can exist in secret. People can be deviant and we don’t necessarily need to know about it – unlike statistical deviance, where deviance is based on how many people do a certain thing.

4. Reactivist

This is based completely on social reaction to behavior. People who believe in the reactivist theory believe that you cannot be deviant in private and that behavior must be seen and judged to be considered deviant. This theory may tie in with normative theories of deviance because over time and location the behaviors seen are judged and this may influence what behaviors are deviant or not. If a behavior isn’t seen or heard about is it more likely or less likely to be deviant? (Tough question.) Reactivists might say that you cannot be deviant if there are no consequences to that behavior.

These four theories are tied into two larger theories.

Positivism and Constructionism.

Positivists believe that there is deviancy, we can find it, it is objectively there, it was always there, it will always be there. This would be the first two theories.

Constructionists believe that deviancy depends on the where/when and that beliefs change over time. They are interested in who does the labeling and why people may benefit from labeling.

Do you think that there is a deviancy that is unchanging? Do you believe that deviancy changes over time? How would you define deviant behavior? Does deviancy have to be a behavior? What might someone gain from labeling someone as deviant? Who has the power to label someone as deviant? 

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Gaining Experience Later in Life

In my time writing I’ve come across all kinds of people who, for whatever reason, haven’t had the opportunity to have sex. For most of them, it seems like a combination of a few different factors:

1. They were not allowed to date when they were younger and didn’t get to dip their toes into the dating pool as early, preventing them from gaining experience at the same pace as other people their age.

2. They were told that sex and sexuality were bad things and developed a skewed sex-negative perspective of sexuality. They believed that their actions in bed would speak negatively of them and never experimented.

3. They wanted to wait until marriage or until they found the right person and that person never came along. They continue to wait but start feeling as though waiting might not be worthwhile for them.

4. They focused on other things when in school – like school itself, or work, or family, and didn’t have the right time or didn’t develop the right skills to foster a romantic or sexual relationship. They may have highly developed skills or a thriving career but may be lacking in important social skills. Sex was not a priority – by choice or necessity.

5. They fell into a social awkwardness that made it difficult to foster relationships. Certain normal personality traits might make dating hard for some people. Being shy, social anxiety, not knowing how to talk to the desired sex, hesitancy, etc.

When people message me with this kind of issue they have one of two questions:

Should I just get it over with? Should I keep waiting? 

Some inquire about prostitution or finding a casual partner over the internet. Others express frustration at dating, noting that even when you do dive in and give it a shot, it can be hard to find a partner who is interested in someone with little or no experience.

I’m torn on it and think ultimately it comes down to personal preference, like all matters of sexuality. While I wouldn’t over-hype the first experience, I do think that having a good first experience or at least a neutral drama-free first experience can help you develop your sexuality with less difficulty. What a “good” experience is depends on the person and, in many cases, their expectations of the experience. On the other hand I think getting a foot in the door can help you find new experiences and have a better idea of what to expect.

What advice would you give someone who felt they were late to the game and were growing impatient? If you have personal experience, is there any advice you would pass on? 

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The Influence of Casual Relationships on Finding Love

Somehow I killed an hour tonight looking at celebrity instagrams. The journey ended not because I decided I ought to do something more productive with my evening, but because I found inspiration. You need not look too far for the right kind of inspiration if you write a blog like mine. There’s examples of gender inequality, human sexuality, psychology, and relationships all over the place.

The photo was a photo-of-a-photo and the caption was this: since sex has become easier to get, love has become harder to find. 

I couldn’t figure out exactly what it was that rubbed me the wrong way about this, and then I realized that it echoed sentiments from the virgin/whore dichotomy. Upfront, I agree. If you’ve ever tried dating, the pool can be hard to pick from. A lot of people, particularly in their early to mid-20s, are looking for more casual relationships. They want to enjoy themselves, have new experiences, figure out what kind of person they want to be with. They’re figure out what kind of person they want to be. Trial and error and enjoying yourself in the process isn’t such a bad way to go about it. It can be frustrating for people who want to have more traditional relationships or at least enter into the dating pool with more traditional expectations. (A date or two, some getting to know one another over conversation, a bit of restraint.)

The virgin/whore dichotomy is, very simply, the idea that a woman can either be good (a virgin) or bad (a whore). The problem is that many men (and women) expect certain behaviors or traits that are typical of a whore, while still wanting a good girl, someone who is presentable, intelligent, smart. A lady on the street but a freak in the bed. Once you are labeled as one or the other, stepping outside of either set of lines is met with resistance. Typically: slut shaming.

That line reflects the virgin/whore dichotomy because it presumes that women who want sex or women who are willing to have sex early in a relationship (or even prior to a relationship) are not acceptable life partners or are not capable of loving relationships. The sex has reduced their usefulness as “good” women and made them disposable.

Of course, many men and women who are looking for casual relationships do find love along the way. That one-night-stand might be someone you could spend your life with, if you gave them a chance. (Though this is a dangerous sentiment, as I think it’s perfectly acceptable to continue onwards with casual sex, and your one-night-stand might not appreciate being wooed post hookup.)

Ultimately I would say that there are plenty of people who are out there looking for love, even the ones who like to have sex. If you find that it’s too easy to find sexual partners and that it’s distracting you from finding love, it might be helpful to stop having casual sex and focus on finding partners who have a similar mentality as you do. Strictly: that you’d prefer waiting to enter into a sexual relationship until you’ve developed a more hands-off emotional relationship. No right or wrong way to do it, right? What’s right for you might not be right for me.

Sex is a lot easier to find than love because sex has the ability to be casual, whereas love in definition is not casual. It requires a whole variety of things including but not limited to: trust, communication, time, timing, weaknesses, commonality, chemistry, and attraction.

There are subtle examples of the virgin/whore dichotomy in every day life. I would expect that many women experience it growing up, and that it shapes how they feel about themselves, the relationships they have, and how sex-positive they are or aren’t.

Can you think of any examples from your life?

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How We Self-Shame

“As different as we all are, there’s one thing most young women have in common: We’re all brought up to feel like there’s something wrong with us. We’re too fat. We’re dumb. We’re too smart. We’re not ladylike enough – ‘stop cursing, chewing with your mouth open, speaking your mind’. We’re too slutty. We’re not slutty enough. Fuck that. You’re not too fat. You’re not too loud. You’re not too smart. You’re not unladylike. There is nothing wrong with you.”

– Jessica Valenti, Full Frontal Feminism

In continuation to my Slut-Shaming post, I wanted to write a bit about self-shaming. This is a pretty vast subject that I could not possibly do justice to in a singular post, but I think it is important to discuss it when we discuss the language we use to talk about one another. It is this same language that we often use when we think about ourselves.

We can think about “self-shaming” as patterns of self-destructive behavior. If you have the opportunity, I would suggest reading any of Jessica Valenti’s books (quoted above) to learn more about how women might fall into these patterns. By no fault of their own, women may often learn that their self-worth revolves around their body or their sexuality. One might “gain self-worth” by being sexually available. Adjectives to be used might be: fun, exciting, sensual, erotic, adventurous. The double bind here is that if a woman chose to use her body in a sexual manner (as is her prerogative) she may also collect a variety of other not-so-pleasant adjectives. Slut, easy, immoral, loose, crazy, or dramatic.

We are told that to be good we must be bad, but once we are bad we are no longer good. Without giving women messages about self-respect, confidence, and choice, we are sending them into sexual scenarios with mixed messages about what give and take means.  

I think it’s important that a woman is able to go out to a club and have safe casual sex with men if that’s what she wants to do. I also think its important that she understands why she is having safe and casual sex, and that she is choosing to do so because it’s something that she wants to do. Problems arise if she feels like, at some deeper level,  she has to do something. The narrative is unclear and the mixed messages are damaging.

There is no clear boundary between being the fun loving sexual nymphomatic and the girl next door. In truth, these two women blend together, creating one complex human being. The problem arises when we don’t understand how to reconcile that overlap for ourselves, or when others on the outside see the overlap and cannot process it.

I don’t think there is a quick way to stop self-shaming. I think it is more about becoming self-empowered that begins to erase the negative patterns of thinking. I have heard friends of mine say that they had to do something with someone to keep interest. At the very basic level, this is where the problem starts. Simplifying ones worth down to a series of physical attributes or sexual practices. We need to see ourselves as worth more than the sum of our parts – and the sum of our actions. Learning to do this in conjunction with appreciating sexuality and the power of sexuality is the most difficult part of all.

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How To Negotiate Boundaries

I haven’t dated much and I am in a relationship with someone who has more experience than I do. Are there certain things that he is going to expect that I like to do or know how to do? What if I don’t? Do boundaries exclude these basic things? Help!

This is a great question! Boundaries are lines that you draw – like limits – in the bedroom. You always need to talk about your boundaries with new partners because it is unlikely that any two people have exactly the same boundaries. Boundaries can include both things we are uncomfortable doing, things we have tried and don’t like doing, things we absolutely hate, or even things we just don’t feel like doing that day. Boundaries can change over time – they can change immediately. Keeping a clear picture of what your partners boundaries are is very important.

How well do you know your partners boundaries?

Does your partner like to be called names? Are there certain names that are triggering for them to hear?

Does your partner like rough sex? How rough is “rough” – don’t talk on a scale of 1-10, discuss specific acts that you are interested in doing, and develop a safe word. (A safe word is something you can say to stop whatever it is you are doing immediately. Safe words are necessary within rougher play.)

Are there any sexual acts that your partner absolutely does not like to do? Are there any sexual acts that they have had a bad experience with in the past? Are there some things that your partner does not feel very confident with?

Does your partner use protection? What kind of protection does your partner want to use? Condoms are not always an assumed boundary – though they should be, particularly with new sexual partners. Talk about safety and sexual health when you discuss boundaries.

There are not certain things that your partner should “expect” you to do, but of course some people do develop a set of things they consider “normal” and they may not think about it. For many people, oral sex is a great example. Some people consider oral sex a regular part of their sexual routine. Others consider oral sex to be more intimate, or even something that they don’t like, or aren’t comfortable with. There is no right or wrong way to enjoy your sexuality.

Boundaries do not exclude basic things. We always need to seek consent with our partners. It is especially important to pick up on small and subtle cues with new partners who we may not know as well yet. It is also not expected that you know everything. Communicating what you like, what you know you don’t like, and everything in between, is very helpful in making sure that you have an open and healthy dialogue about your sexuality. Don’t be afraid of expressing how you feel. If your partner isn’t open to hearing it or pressures you in any way to do things that you are not comfortable with, that is not the right relationship for you to be in.

The important thing to remember is that every relationship starts fresh. Just because your partner might have more experience than you do, doesn’t mean he knows anything about your body. He’s going to have to learn, too, and you’re going to learn together.

Good luck!

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What is “Owning” Your Sexuality?

I talk a lot about “owning” your sexuality, but what does that even mean? If you’re new to the study of sexuality or even new to your sexuality, it can sound a lot more complicated then it really is. I believe that owning your sexuality is – at the core – about shedding preconceived notions of what sex is supposed to be like and finding out what you enjoy about sex and then learning to enjoy the things you enjoy. You can break it down into more management ideas, but actually pushing through and owning your sexuality is a serious proces. Some people find it easy to begin, and others find it takes serious effort to even comprehend. This is because there’s some serious psychology involved. Traits that we’ve developed, beliefs that we’ve grown up with. Sometimes we have to change how we think about ourselves and our bodies at a very basic level.

How about an example?

Many young women believe that masturbation is wrong and their body is inherently dirty. Some people come to believe this through parents who taught them to believe such things, because they too believed them. Other times this kind of mentality is passed down in abstinence only education courses. These classes often refer to women who enjoy their sexuality as used, or worthless of love.

Some people press against these ideas and come out stronger because of it. Others collapse under the pressure of having to perform to some unreasonable standards – to be chaste, but also desirable. To own ones sexuality is to look these “requirements of womanhood” in the face and come out on the other side with a healthy view of ones own body. To understand that masturbation is not wrong or dirty, but enjoyable, and healthy. It would be owning your sexuality to come out of that and know that if you had a sexual relationship you would not be less of a person for it and your worth as a human being would not be diminished. It’s about gaining power, regaining power, acknowledging power.

I would really like to write more about small things that we can do to own our sexuality. Simple, day-to-day things that we can do to improve our self-image. Things that reflect positivity back on the pleasure that we’re able to experience with ourselves or with our partner/s. This are lessons that should be applicable for any gender and sexual orientation – because we’re all targeted by these negative messages. I even think it would be fun to write up small challenges for interested readers. Things that you can do to make yourself feel self-satisfied and important.

I think owning your sexuality is incredibly important in having a satisfying sexual relationship – even that relationship is just with yourself.

Stay tuned for more!

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How do you feel female?

I noticed you’ve mentioned in a few of your posts that you’re cis. I understand how one can feel like one is in the wrong body, but I’ve never understood how one can feel emotionally that one is male or female, if that makes any sense. I suppose my question is…how do you feel female/like a woman?

I thought about this a lot, and I couldn’t figure out a good way to explain it. I started thinking about happiness. Everyone knows what happiness feels like but different things make different people feel happy. You know when you’re happy, but you also know when you are not happy. Being “happy” and “not happy” are two distinct things. This isn’t the best example because generally speaking people view happy as “good” and “not happy” as bad, whereas “cis” and “trans” are neither good nor bad, they just vary along the gender spectrum.

Just as everyone has different things that make them happy, different people have things that make them feel like a woman. There are also some things that I can do that make me feel more like a woman. Doing these things may not make other people feel more like a woman, but they do to me.

I also have to consider in all of this that gender is socially constructed. That means that when we’re born we’re told what it means to be a man or a woman. We are told that there are only two genders and that there are certain ways to behave and if you go outside of those strict columns that you are doing something that the other gender would do. Some things are genderless, but most things aren’t, or can be “gendered.”

When I hear people talk about their experiences in being trans* I hear stories of them just knowing. Sometimes it takes a while to “just know” because of how hard we’re pushed into one category or the other. I definitely felt that way discovering my own sexual orientation (I don’t feel straight, but I do like boys, and everyone keeps telling me I’m straight… so I must be straight, right?)

I don’t know if there IS a good answer to this question. You know. But you also do things that tell you. You slip and fall into pre-constructed categories. Then you can either let those categories continue to define you as that gender, or you can see them as two separate things. “I am a girl and I like rough and tumbling” or “I am a girl but I like rough and tumbling.” Does that make sense? I guess what I’m saying is that sometimes the things around us cement the gender we feel we are, or they tell us something about what we feel we aren’t.

If that’s all sort of exhausting to think about, we’re on the same page. I am certain that there are more fluid ways of expressing this, but I’ve never read one before, so I’m sort of working from scratch here.

My identity as a woman is unique – I know that I am female – but it is also fluid and ever-changing in what that means to me.

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Bisexuality in The Locker Room

Here’s the rundown:

1. Someone notable came out as being homosexual

2. Someone wrote about their discomfort in locker rooms

I’ve written about this in the past and have gotten some flack for my lack of empathy. This is why: Some people feel uncomfortable being in a dressing room with people who are homosexual. They don’t want to be “looked at” by people who are attracted to them. So while I might not be able to express empathy, let me express some understanding, or sympathy even. I get that it might be uncomfortable to think that there are people in the dressing room looking at you. Dressing rooms can be a breeding ground for insecurity and discomfort. You’re in a place where people are getting naked and taking care of personal things. The feelings that you have are valid. The problem is that we need to look at why we as human beings might feel the way that we feel and how they might invalidate others around us.

Let me make it personal. When someone says “I don’t want to share the ladies locker-room with someone who likes girls” I hear “You’re bisexual and I don’t want you to ogle me.” It presumes that, as someone who is bisexual or homosexual, you can be reduced to your sexuality as someone who simply leers at those they are attracted to. That might not be how someone feels when they are saying things like that, but it could be how it’s interpreted by the people they are talking about.

What is frustrating about it is that people have had these conversations with me unknowing that I am bisexual. They were comfortable with me, but were I to disclose that I was not entirely heterosexual, they would no longer feel comfortable.

When I’m in the locker room I’m not thinking about how cute naked girls are and how I want to go bang one. I’m thinking about my workout, how I smell, what I look like, my training goals. I’m thinking about what the combination for my lock is or where I tucked my second sock. I’m not staring at your breasts because I’m a perverted lesbian, I’m staring off into the distance thinking about what I’m going to make for dinner. I have the common courtesy to give you your privacy and space just as you would expect someone who is heterosexual to do.

This isn’t to say there isn’t a chance that I’m going to see what you look like naked. Anyone in there, gay, straight, or bi is going to see what you look like naked. And perhaps a stolen glance out of passing human curiosity for what-someone-else-looks-like-naked happens. But it’s not about sex, or your sexual orientation. I would suspect that most decent and respectable people would look away when they caught themselves looking.

I’m not saying you can’t feel discomfort thinking about it but I think it’s important to think about the experiences other people have as well and how we might be a little bit demonizing when we talk about this. Is this solution to split up dressing rooms for gay? straight? trans? cis? bisexual? sexually fluid? male? female? how many do we need for everyone to feel properly comfortable? Can we learn to manage our internal conflict and look at human beings as decent or invasive regardless of what their gender and sexual orientation are? That’s what I try to do, and I think it’s a good goal.

How do you deal with locker room discomfort? Do you grab a private room or do you bare it all out in the open?

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Words to Know

Crossdress – When a person dresses in clothing typically associated with a different sex. There is no one reason that someone may enjoying crossdressing. You can be of any gender or sexual orientation to crossdress.

Drag – When a person dresses up in clothing typically associated with a different sex for the purpose of entertainment. Drag is “over the top” or dramatized whereas crossdressing may be done more for the self or personal gratification.

FTM or F2M – Female to male, someone who was assigned female at birth who identifies as male.

Gender Queer – People who identify outside of the binary of male/female.

MSM – Male identified people who have sex with other male identified people. This is more inclusive to include people who may not identify as gay or bisexual, or for men who may not have been identified as male at birth. (Also “WSW”)

Words that are historically derogatory but are by some people being reclaimed: dyke, fag, homo, queer, hermaphrodite, transvestite, tranny, he-she, she-male. It’s not advised to use these words when talking to someone or about someone unless they have already referred to themselves in that way and have signaled that it’s appropriate for you to do so as well. It may also not be appropriate to use these words depending on the environment you’re in, the person you’re talking to, or the way in which you’re talking about them. Ex: You’re so queer vs. look at that queer over there!

If you have anything to add to these definitions, comment box it.

 

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WOTD: Whitewash

IMG_6636
IMG_6636 (Photo credit: Dan Nguyen @ New York City)

In classes about gender and sexuality we learn about “intersectionality” – the intersection of two or more things. For instance if we’re having a conversation about race or racism we may also have to consider the different experiences of a black heterosexual man and a black lesbian woman. A topic that often stems from this conversation, likely due to the issues of race, is “whitewashing.” Wikipedia defines as the biased presentation of data.

This was discussed in one of my classes recently in reference to the Stonewall Riots. The Stonewall Riots are often used to represent the visibility of the fight for equality. The moment that “started it all.” The problem is that people who were not present or people whose voices do not accurately represent what happened are speaking for the people who were there or the people who this conversation influences. There are a lot of great articles about this in reference to all the films and documentaries that have come out since Stonewall. I would recommend doing a google search for “whitewashing stonewall” or something similar. It may take a few reads to get the hang of why people are upset.

There came a point in my writing about these things that I realized you have to be careful when you’re talking about things that you 1) Haven’t witnessed or experienced yourself and 2) Could never witness or experience yourself. Are you letting the people speak for themselves or are you speaking for them? What is the intent? How could you let them speak for themselves? How does you speaking help or harm the efforts?

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