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The Distressing (But Relevant) Questions Raised In Uncanny X-men #1

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The most relevant stories are often the ones that ask the most difficult questions. The nature of those questions vary among places, people, cultures, and whatever happens to be pissing off a significant chunk of the population. Regardless of the circumstances, those questions are important and sometimes they come from unexpected places.

I wasn’t expecting such questions when I picked up “Uncanny X-men #1,” the latest relaunch in the most iconic X-men brand of all time. I was just glad to see Uncanny X-men return to prominence after an extended absence dating back to 2016. This first issue was over-sized and priced at $7.99, which is a lot for a single comic. I still feel like I got my money’s worth.

In addition to telling a great story that brought many prominent X-men characters to the forefront, “Uncanny X-men #1” did something unique in terms of how it established a conflict. For once, it didn’t involve killer robots, preventing a genocide, mutant terrorist, or alien space gods. Instead, it asked one profound question.

What if there was a way to preventing people from becoming mutants in the first place?

That may sound like a question that has come up in other X-men stories, but that’s only partially correct. This isn’t about curing mutants, a story that Joss Whedon brilliantly told during his run on Astonishing X-men and that “ X-men: The Last Stand” botched horribly. This is about inoculating children the same way we do for polio.

Specifically, a lab develops a vaccine that prevents the X-gene from expressing. Technically, they would still be mutants in that they would still have this gene. It just wouldn’t express itself. It would be akin to turning off the gene responsible for cystic fibrosis or sickle-cell anemia. It essentially treats mutation the same way we would treat any other genetic-based disease.

Naturally, the X-men and many other mutants don’t like this idea and not just because it’s akin to treating homosexuality as a mental illness. It reeks too much of genocide, something they’ve faced on more than one occasion. It would’ve been easy for “Uncanny X-men #1” to present it in that way, but that’s not how it plays out.

The all-star creative team of Ed Brisson, Kelly Thompson, Matthew Rosenberg, and Mahmud Asrar frame the issue in a very different way. Instead of some anti-mutant racist like Graydon Creed or William Stryker calling for mutant extermination, we get Senator Ashton Allen. He’s as generic a politician as can be in a superhero comic, but what he says and how he says is revealing.

Amidst a crowd of humans, mutants, and X-men, he talks about this mutant vaccine as a tool to alleviate suffering. He doesn’t rant about the dangers of evil mutants like Magneto or Apocalypse. He talks only about mutant children developing powers that could be dangerous to themselves or others. In that context, a vaccine might actually help them.

When you consider the mutant powers of characters like Rogue and Cyclops, who have mutant abilities that do real damage when uncontrolled, it seems entirely reasonable to make this vaccine available. Senator Allen never says anything about forcing it on kids or on mutants that already exist. He only ever emphasizes making it an option for concerned parents.

That’s distressing for the X-men because they don’t need to be omega-level psychics to imagine the implications. They can easily envision a concerned parent who doesn’t want their child to deal with the possibility that they may shoot lasers out of their eye one day. Any parent who cares for their child will want to mitigate the chances of them enduring such hardships.

In a world populated by mutant-hunting robots, parents already have plenty of incentive to use this vaccine. Given the damage that mutant-led conflicts often incur, the government has just as much incentive to make that vaccine available to everyone, free of charge and tax deductible. Governments less concerned with things like human rights could force it on children and that has some real-world parallels.

For mutants and the X-men, though, that means a permanent loss of their identity. Considering how mutants act as a metaphor for other oppressed minorities, this has implications for the real world, as well. I would even argue that the question will become increasingly relevant in the coming decades.

To appreciate just how relevant it could be, you need only look up the heartbreaking stories of parents who have disowned their children because they’re gay or transgender. In tragic some cases, people are driven to suicide. Even for those who aren’t parents, anything that might avert this kind of hardship is worth considering.

Given the complex causes of homosexuality, as well as the many factors behind transsexuality, it’s unlikely that there could ever be a vaccine to prevent it. The same can be said for conditions like Dwarfism. It’s not just genes, hormones, or radioactive spider bites that shape an individual’s persona. It’s a complex confluence of many things.

However, we are getting very close to a point where it’s possible to design children at the genetic level. Thanks to tools like CRISPR, it might even be possible one day to cut out entire traits from the human genome. That could, in theory, eradicate both cystic fibrosis and Dwarfism. More than a few people have expressed concern about that possibility.

Homosexuality and transsexuality are a bit different since there is no one gene or hormone that causes it, but most contemporary research suggests that genetics do play at least some role. Using similar technology, it might be possible for parents in the future to minimize or eliminate the chances of their children being homosexual or transsexual.

I imagine many in the LGBT community feel the same way about those efforts that the X-men felt about Senator Allen’s efforts in “Uncanny X-men #1.” Even if it only extends to giving parents this option for children and provides strict protections for those already born with these traits, it still treats who and what they are as a disease.

It’s dehumanizing and demeaning. More than one X-men in “Uncanny X-men #1” makes that abundantly clear. They don’t see being a mutant as a disease any more than homosexuality, transsexuality, or dwarfism. The fact that there’s now a way to prevent this makes for an existential crisis with some pretty heavy implications for the real and fictional world.

In the world of Marvel comics, a world without mutants has its own set of issues, the least of which would be the loss of a top-selling comic series. In the real world, though, the stakes are even higher. What would we, as a society, do if we suddenly had the tools to prevent homosexuality, transsexuality, and dwarfism in children before they’re even born?

I’ll even ask a more controversial question that’s sure to draw plenty of ire. What if those same tools could be used to modify the skin color, facial features, and overall appearance of our children? We already understand how genetics affects our appearance to some extent. What happens when we’re able to determine that for someone before they’re ever born?

These are objectively distressing questions. I’m glad “Uncanny X-men #1” dared to ask them. I doubt they’ll get debated or resolved completely in the proceeding issues, mostly because such resolutions are impossible in superhero comics. It still presents the X-men with a unique issue to confront and one that we will likely have to confront in the real world.

As is often the case with difficult questions, the answers are likely to anger some and distress many. Most people genuinely and sincerely want what’s best for their children. In the world of Marvel Comics, that could mean preventing them from gaining the kind of superpowers that makes them targets for Sentinels. In the real world, that could mean removing an entire class of people from the gene pool.

In issues like this, there are no heroes or villains. There are just difficult choices that we must make before someone else makes them for us.

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Filed under comic book reviews, futurism, gender issues, human nature, sexuality, superhero comics, Thought Experiment, X-men

Religious Dogma, Sexual Repression, And How They Foster (Horrendous) Abuse

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By now, most people have heard the news surrounding the latest round of scandals involving the Catholic Church. Once again, it involves the systematic abuse of children, the elaborate efforts to cover it up, and the religious dogma that is used to protect such behavior. It’s certainly not the first time the Catholic Church has been embroiled in such a scandal, but that doesn’t make it any less distressing.

There’s a lot I can say about the Catholic Church and how badly they’ve handled this issue. There’s even more I can say about how this famous institution’s policies have caused genuine harm in societies that remain devoted to Catholic traditions. However, I would only be repeating what others have already pointed out and I’d rather not do that.

Some have already done it better than I ever will.

For me, personally, these scandals cut deep because I have family who identify as devout Catholics. They see these same scandals too and I can confirm that it hurts them on a personal level. Whenever someone brings it up, they don’t make excuses. They despise those priests for what they did and those who covered it up. It doesn’t shake their faith, though. To some extent, I admire that.

At the same time, however, I often wonder whether they see the same flaws in that dogmatic theology that I see. I try not to bring it up with family members, out of respect for their faith. I still believe that even they are bothered by those flaws. When children are being sexually abused, how could it not?

There are a lot of factors in play with this latest scandal, from the nature of religious dogma to the corruption of powerful institutions. The one that few want to confront, though, involves the cumulative impact of sexual repression with rigid theology.

There’s no way around it. Religious dogma and sexual repression often go together. The Catholic Church is hardly the only institution that encourages strict repression of sexual behavior. Anyone living in Saudi Arabia or Iran can attest to that. With a billion adherents and nearly 2,000 years of history, though, the Catholic Church is one of the largest and most vocal proponents of this dogma.

The reasons for that are many and I don’t want to get into all the issues surrounding its effects. Instead, I want to focus solely on the celibacy of the priests. That practice represents a true extreme of sexual repression. It’s one thing to champion monogamy to the point of murdering adulterers. It’s quite another to have an entire class of people who have to completely repress their basic urges.

It’s not like trying to quit smoking, which is hard enough. This involves denying a basic, fundamental drive that is hardwired into people at birth. Trying to turn that off is like trying make sugar taste bad. It goes against fundamental biological wiring. The idea that someone can repress those force without incurring psychological damage is flawed, at best.

To get an idea of why, think about a time when you were really hungry. Maybe you were sick for a while, trapped on a long road trip, or went on a crash diet. That feeling of intense hunger is not something you can turn off. It’s uncomfortable for a reason. Your body isn’t getting something it’s been hardwired to seek. It’s going to make you feel uncomfortable until you do something about it.

The human sex drive is not like hunger, but it’s similar in that it’s a biological drive. For every living thing, be it a human or an insect, sustenance and reproduction are the two most basic drives. It is possible to survive without reproducing, but the fundamental forces of nature are going to push you to try.

When you push back too hard, it’s like trying to patch a faulty dam with scotch tape and chewing gum. From a psychological standpoint, your brain and your body are deprived. As a result, it’s going to do whatever it can to alleviate this deprivation.

It doesn’t matter if that act is extreme. It doesn’t matter if it’s illogical, illegal, or outright immoral. Your brain and your body will find a way to justify it if it ends the deprivation. For most, it’s just a never-ending battle that requires an individual to fill that missing need with something, which in this case is religious fervor.

It’s debatable as to how much this fills that fundamental need, but a lot of that assumes that celibate priests don’t do something in their private time to relieve the tension. Historically speaking, many in the Catholic Church and other powerful institutions were pretty blatant about how they circumvented the issues of celibacy.

Some priests had lovers on the side. Some employed prostitutes and concubines, but still claimed to be “celibate” because they weren’t married. More often than not, priests were only celibate in the most technical sense and the church often tolerated this. Even St. Thomas Aquinas, a man not known for liberal attitudes, even acknowledged the futility of suppressing the human sex drive when he said this about prostitution.

“If prostitution were to be suppressed, careless lusts would overthrow society.”

For a select few, though, that effort to maintain celibacy manifests in a truly horrific way. I think it’s safe to conclude that the priests who abused these children were not mentally well. Many might have been unwell before they entered the priesthood, but celibacy certainly didn’t help. Repression, especially the kind that’s taboo to even talk about, tends to make things worse.

That’s how people end up with mentalities that are poorly equipped to handle basic urges. Instead of a healthy expression of sexual desire, someone may react with anger or self-hate. When people are angry and hateful, they tend to take it out on someone. It’s not always sexual, but when someone has all their sexual desires pent up over the years, sometimes it seeps in.

That’s how simple desire becomes disturbing fetishes, including those that harm children. That’s how unthinkable behaviors are rationalized. When religious dogma tells someone they face divine retribution for feeling these intrinsic desires, that’s causes serious distress and efforts to mitigate it can make for some pretty unholy behaviors

While it’s hard to study the sex lives of celibate priests, the occurrence of these scandals along with the historical documentation of other lurid scandals reveal plenty about the effects of celibacy. When there’s no outlet for sexual expression, other emotions get caught up in the efforts to cope with that fundamental drive. Add religiously-motivated guilt to the mix and the impact only compounds over time.

None of this is an excuse for what those priests did to these children. They still committed an atrocity and no amount of divine excuses can mitigate the suffering of the victims. The Vatican will do what it has to do in order to maintain its power and influence. However, the reconsideration of extreme practices celibacy is unlikely.

Some media figures will mention it, but never to the point of encouraging serious reforms. That’s a dirty word in both the Catholic Church and any other religious institution. Historically speaking, the rate at which major religion institutions undergo sweeping reforms is nothing short of glacial.

I sincerely hope this latest scandal gives those in the Vatican serious pause, but I have a feeling that even this won’t do it. Religious dogma is notoriously uncompromising. People, especially within powerful institutions, make any excuse to avoid changing it. While the Vatican has made some strides, the fundamental issue remains. As long as basic human nature is suppressed, more will suffer and not in a holy sort of way.

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How Ellie From “The Last Of Us” Does LGBT Characters Right

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In the current state of popular culture, one of the most emotionally-charged words is “diversity.” It gets thrown around like a nuclear hot potato. Anyone who holds it too long gets burned and anyone who doesn’t hold it long enough gets attacked. Whether it’s the handling of female characters or representation of minorities, diversity is one of those buzzwords that creates the wrong kind of buzz.

That’s not to say that it’s always mishandled. From a pure business standpoint, it makes sense for media companies to pursue diversity because the world is becoming an increasingly diverse place. New markets and consumer bases are emerging as people gain greater access to media, thanks largely to global connectivity. Any competent business would want to appeal to the most customers possible.

Economics aside, injecting diversity into a movie, TV, comic book, or video game is fraught with challenges and potential backlash. Movies have felt it. Comic books have felt it. Video games have especially felt it, thanks to scandals that seem to get more frustrating with each passing year.

The number of failed attempts to promote diversity is vast and tends to bring out the worst in many people. The successes, though, often fly under the radar and generate way too little attention. Other than the success ofBlack Panther” and the occasional Supergirl comic, the cases of diversity done right are few and far between.

That’s why I think it’s fitting that one of the best cases of diversity comes from the world of video games, an industry that finds itself in a new controversy every other week. It’s even more fitting that it comes courtesy of “The Last of Us,” a franchise I’ve praised before in how it portrays masculinity in a refreshingly positive way.

Beyond just being an excellent game with amazing characters, it also provides a case study in how diversity can be done effectively. It doesn’t have to be forced. It doesn’t have to be preachy. It doesn’t even have to have a larger agenda. It can just be a bonus on top of a well-made product.

The character in question this time is Ellie, the co-protagonist to Joel in the first game and the main protagonist in the upcoming sequel. Her story is every bit as rich and compelling as Joel’s. Her history, her personality, and even the way she complements the gameplay helps make her distinct. She’s a major reason why this game is so enjoyable and why it sold so well.

She achieved all this as both a female and an LGBT character. It sounds like one of those combinations that has to be forced, but that’s not the case with Ellie. In fact, anyone who plays the entire story of the first game wouldn’t even know about Ellie’s sexuality because it was only revealed through a DLC , or downloadable content.

Even within that content, though, Ellie’s sexual orientation was not a big part of the story it told. It effectively filled in a time gap within the main game while also exploring more of Ellie’s backstory, but at no point did it make her sexuality a bigger issue than it needed to be. You could’ve removed that detail entirely and the story would still work, but it wouldn’t be quite as memorable.

More recently, during a preview of “The Last of Us Part II” at E3 2018, Ellie’s status as a homosexual woman was reaffirmed. Again, it wasn’t critical to making the moment work. The fact she’s attracted to other women doesn’t take anything away from the emotional weight of the scene. It does help enhance it, though.

Therein lies the key. What makes Ellie a great character has nothing to do with her sexuality. It’s not a defining aspect of her persona, nor should it be. It defines her no more than Joel’s heterosexuality defines him. It doesn’t have to be thrown in someone’s face as this huge, all-encompassing feature. It’s just a small part of a much greater whole that is Ellie.

There’s no effort to make her this LGBT icon, which has a tendency obscure a character when forced. Her status as LGBT isn’t belabored, either. She’s not important to the overall narrative in “The Last of Us” because she’s female and gay. She’s important because of factors independent of those traits.

That importance grows throughout the story, but not because of her gender or her sexuality. It’s what she does that helps establish her as an important character and a compelling one, at that. Her story complements Joel’s and the various other characters she encounters.

In the process, she also demonstrates a unique personality. She’s tough and stubborn, but she’s also impulsive and temperamental. Many of those qualities are entirely gender-neutral. Some stand out more because she’s a woman and that’s okay because a girl acting girly isn’t a big deal, which tends to get lost with other female characters.

It may seem so obvious, but the fact that diversity in media is such an issue shows just how difficult it is to pursue. Ellie succeeds because the diversity she represents is never primary to her character. It’s not even secondary, either. That’s not to say her gender and her sexuality are ignored, but it’s never elevated beyond a certain point.

Before any of those diversity-related issues come up, “The Last of Us” works to establish who Ellie is and why she’s important. That process of establishing a good, compelling character without her gender or sexuality being the focal point does a lot to get you to care about her story. It’s a process that can’t be rushed and the game does a masterful job in that respect.

The person Ellie is when you first encounter her early in the game is not the same person by the end. She’s someone who undergoes a lot of growth, encountering more than a few setbacks along the way. There are times she’s easy to root for. There are times when she comes off as an arrogant brat. Before you ever find out about her sexuality, you learn about her as a person.

By the time her sexuality finally comes up, Ellie is already so much more than the gender she’s attracted to. She’s a survivor, a fighter, and someone who has seen everyone she’s ever cared about die or leave her until Joel comes along. She also has a vital part to play in the ongoing apocalypse the world around her faces. All of this, once again, is not dependent on her gender or her sexuality.

I know I keep belaboring that, but it’s worth belaboring because that aspect of character development keeps getting glossed over. Other efforts at diverse characters often rush to the diversity without establishing why anyone should care about them. It’s why all-female remakes rarely resonate. It also leads to characters whose diversity is so blatant that it’s hard to take them seriously.

That’s not to say Ellie is a perfect example of diversity done right. She has her flaws, as does Joel. There are times when she’s too tough for her own good. She has a tendency to push peoples’ buttons for the wrong reasons. She also has questionable tastes in jokes. Even proponents of diversity can find flaws in her.

Despite those flaws, there are many lessons that characters like Ellie and games like “The Last of Us” can teach when it comes to doing diversity and LGBT representation right. The most important can be boiled down to four basic components:

  • Don’t try and force diversity just to fill a quota
  • Develop the character before developing the diversity
  • Don’t make their status as a woman or LGBT their most defining trait
  • Have the character complement their supporting cast, regardless of their diversity status

There are probably many more lessons that I’m not qualified to teach, but I think characters like Ellie do plenty by just being memorable and endearing. She’s a great character within a great story. That wouldn’t change if she were straight, but her being a lesbian does help her stand out, albeit for all the right reasons.

It’s also worth noting that Ellie’s story is still ongoing. “The Last of Us Part II” is set to come out in 2019 and the next part of her story promises to get pretty dark. Whether she maintains the complexity and appeal of her current character remains to be seen, but she has a strong foundation to build on, which is key for any character, regardless of their sexual preferences.

Whether we like it or not, there’s a lot of animosity between both sides, there more diversity in future media because the world is a diverse place. It’s just a matter of going about it in a meaningful, compelling way. Ellie is an example of how an LGBT character can work and when done right, it works pretty damn well.

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Why Treating Sexuality As A Disease (Always) Fails

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It wasn’t too long ago that discussions about reparative therapy, also known as gay conversion therapy, became more a joke than a serious concept. Going back to Michele Bachman’s failed presidential bid in 2012, and all the assorted jokes about her husband, who ran a religion-based therapy center, I think it’s safe to say that this issue has run its course and for good reason.

There was once a time when attempting to change someone’s sexuality into whatever society deemed acceptable was a serious pursuit. Even Sigmund Freud contributed to that effort, going so far as to claim that homosexuality could be cured through hypnosis. Seeing as how hypnotists are more likely to work in Las Vegas stage shows instead of clinics, it should be obvious how wrong he was.

As it stands, reparative therapy is rejected and discouraged by nearly every legitimate psychological and therapeutic organization on the planet. There are still those who claim that’s just part of the larger gay agenda, but those claims don’t deserve to be taken seriously. Whenever that many organizations to agree that something is so ineffective and harmful, it’s usually a pretty clear sign that there’s something wrong with it.

For the rest of the population that doesn’t buy into homophobic conspiracy theories, the issue is resolved. While there’s still a lot we don’t understand about human sexuality, our current understanding offers a fairly concise conclusion. It’s not possible to completely change or radically reorient someone’s sexuality.

So in light this widely-accepted conclusion, any subsequent efforts to radically alter someone’s sexuality through archaic tactics that involve shame, guilt, and pseudo-spiritual bunk should be just as asinine. The keyword there is it should be. Even though reparative therapy is roundly condemned, the spirit of that therapy continues, albeit with a different target.

This time, the targets aren’t homosexuals or some other sexual minority. Instead, the scope is bigger and more extensive than even defunct anti-gay ministries could ever hope to achieve. It’s taking aim at sexuality, as a whole, particularly that of men. While it doesn’t have an official title, the tactics are distressingly similar.

I’m reluctant to put a label on it because I’d rather not throw around blanket terms for an issue this vast. Much of it stems from those opposing everything associated with “toxic masculinity,” a term I’ve already condemned.

From sex scandals to advertising to representations in major movies, the obstacle is the same. A particular brand of male sexuality that caters to straight men seeking the company of beautiful women for basic, shallow reasons isn’t just falling out of favor. It’s seen as corrupt, part of some grand patriarchal conspiracy.

It’s so corrupt that some, such as Joss Whedon, describe it like a disease. Men who simply have these desires are somehow flawed and need to either be educated or scorned. It’s not quite at the level that homosexuals endured in the past, but the common themes are still there.

It’s hard to pinpoint where it began. Some might point to the Harvey Weinstein scandal as the catalyst that turned the public against the whims of horny men, but I think it goes back further than that, even past the 2016 Presidential Election. The concept of criticizing men’s preference to admire beautiful women isn’t new. The extent of that criticism, however, is unprecedented and still growing.

Regardless of how it began, either through vocal critics of breast depictions in video games or protesting sexy advertising, it’s a major movement now. It has popular hashtags and the backing of powerful media outlets. If you’re a straight man who enjoys admiring beautiful women, then congratulations. You’re the source of all the problems in our current sexual landscape.

Given the intensity of the rhetoric in the movement, it’s not just about protesting the injustices perpetrated by men in positions of power who freely exploited that power. It’s attacking certain manifestations of sexuality as a whole, deeming them “problematic” to the point where it’s practically pathologized. That’s how we end up with asinine terms like “toxic masculinity.”

It’s for that reason that the parallels between the long-debunked ideas of reparative therapy and ongoing condemnations of male sexuality are all the more disturbing. Stories about LGBT youth who survived reparative therapy, and not all of them do, tend to tell similar stories. The so-called therapy they get usually involves the following:

  • Excessive condemnation and shaming of certain desires
  • Attributing certain sexual desires with negative connotations
  • Demanding frequent confessions of guilt for past misdeeds, real or imagined
  • Demanding complete dissociation from a previous lifestyle
  • Attributing desires and feelings to disease or an unhealthy state of being
  • Attacking or subverting someone’s identity in an effort to re-shape it
  • Conditioning someone to associate natural feelings with negative sentiments

To anyone who has been keeping track of how men have been criticized for their attitudes towards some of the recent sexual misconduct scandals, these methods should sound painfully familiar. It’s also worth noting that these are methods that the American Psychological Association deems harmful and even dangerous.

Now, I want to be careful with my rhetoric here because I don’t want to imply that straight men who enjoy looking at beautiful women in bikinis are suffering to the same extent LGBT people suffered in these faux-therapeutic settings. That’s not the point I’m trying to make here. I’m just trying to highlight the extent to which the approaches are similar, even if they’re not the same.

It’s one thing to punish actual misconduct. It’s quite another to attack the underlying desires of an entire group. Men looking at beautiful women is now a symptom of objectification, patriarchy, and misogyny. Conversely, women looking at beautiful men is a major Hollywood movie starting Channing Tatum. See the difference?

That difference matters because treating those attitudes as diseases is every bit as misguided as treating homosexuality or transgenderism as a disease. It would be akin to referring to all homosexuality as “toxic sexuality” instead of a simple variation among the vast spectrum that is human sexuality.

That’s not to say there aren’t issues with certain attitudes men have towards sexuality. There are plenty of issues about women’s attitudes as well. However, the fact that the current culture, empowered by social media and selective biases, treats those attitudes the same way reparative therapy treats homosexuality is both revealing and distressing.

The negative impacts of those methods are well-documented, both in terms of harm and ineffectiveness. Relentlessly shaming people for their sexuality, be they straight men or gay women, is pretty damaging. It doesn’t take a licensed therapist to know that conditioning someone to hate their own desires will seriously affect their mental health.

There are many lessons to learn from the failures of reparative therapy. For one, it revealed just how powerful sexual and romantic desire can be in a person. It can also reflect how lonely it can be when those feelings are deemed defective, toxic, or deviant by a society, at large. Countless LGBT individuals have suffered because of these misguided efforts. More will suffer if those lessons aren’t heeded.

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Filed under Current Events, gender issues, sex in media, sex in society, sexuality

How To Break A Taboo (Or Stop It From Becoming One)

It’s not easy talking about taboos, sexual or otherwise. It’s kind of in the definition. Taboos, by default, are hard to talk about and hard to make sense of. Some don’t even make sense indirectly. If you’ve seen more than two seasons of “South Park,” you understand that.

In talking about weird taboos and the quasi-logic behind them, I try my best to make sense of them. We all have to do that to some extent over the course of our lives. I just try to do it in a way that’s sexy and could potentially lead to sexy stories that I can turn into novels.

While every taboo is unique in the sense that it’s uniquely weird, they are prone to fads, trends, and people just getting bored of them. As I’ve pointed out before, there are certain innocuous behaviors that we do every day that most used to be on par with public masturbation.

A lot of taboos fade over time, often as new generations enter the picture and form taboos of their own. Some linger and refuse to die gracefully. That’s why we still have blurred female nipples on cable TV and not a hint of BDSM in the “Wonder Woman” movie. I refuse to believe that there’s any justification for blurring nipples on network TV in the area of ubiquitous internet porn.

There’s no doubt that we’ll be dealing with taboos for as long as we’re a bunch of cavemen running around with smartphones and nuclear weapons. That may change when we get around to upgrading our brains, but even that may inspire a whole host of taboos that we can’t begin to imagine, although I did try.

For now, there aren’t many ways to break a taboo or stop something from becoming taboo. In some cases, it’s downright impossible. No matter what you do, people are going to get weird around certain proclivities, some of which involve some pretty kinky fetishes. Look up something called “cake farts” and try to find a way to not make that weird.

While there may not be a way to completely eliminate some taboos from our society, there are some ways to confront them. It is possible to break certain taboos and/or avoid them from becoming one altogether. Now, that’s not to say it can be done overnight or with a few strategic tweets. People are really stubborn when it comes to taboos, but they will come around if the conditions are right.

With that in mind, here are some of my tips on breaking and/or circumventing taboos. A lot of these tactics can apply to the sexy kind of taboos, but they also apply to others, many of which involve poor people and minorities. Again, don’t take this as a magic pill or something. Breaking taboos is hard and for good reason. We’re a petty species, but we can be reasonable if the conditions are right. That’s a big if though.


Tip #1: Make Taboos Profitable And Lucrative For Business Interests

This probably won’t surprise anyone who tips generously and has never found used bubblegum wrappers on their pizza. Money talks. It talks a lot. It also influences, more so than we’re comfortable admitting. It can, and often is, a source of corruption. In some parts of the world, that corruption is a big part of the economy. When there’s money to be made by politicians and business people, it can get messy.

That said, it’s a two-way street. Money and business interests can be corrupt, but that same corruptive force can be channeled. We’re seeing that with the growth of the marijuana industry. We saw it with the rise of the porn industry. These industries generate billions of dollars. That’s a lot of money by any measure.

No matter how regressive or uptight people may be, when there’s money to be made, people generally follow the money. A taboo that makes nobody any money is easy to clamp down on. A taboo that generates billions of dollars and significant tax revenue is a lot harder to fight.

While I don’t agree with Gordon Gekko’s famous quote about greed, it can sometimes work to others’ advantage. When it comes to legitimizing a taboo, being profitable and taxable on some level really goes a long way. At some point, the money just overpowers the weirdness.


Tip #2: Make Taboos Expensive To Preserve

This is more a preventative than confrontational measure. After a taboo becomes entrenched, it can usually find ways to endure any number of expensive lawsuits and litigation. Just look at the Church of Scientology. Truly robust taboos will find ways of exploiting the legal system to their advantage.

If you have a chance to be proactive, though, the legal system can work for you. It’s not too hard to sue for discrimination or harassment, these days. If you’re a minority, it’s even easier and you may end up on the news with Bernie Sanders. They key here is to focus more on the bigger picture, though. One lawsuit alone isn’t going to break a taboo. Many lawsuits, however, will make it impossible to maintain.

This is how a lot of our modern anti-discrimination laws emerged, using a series of successive lawsuits that made preserving old taboos too damn expensive. People may be stubborn, but when it comes to getting their lawyer’s bill, they will eventually grit their teeth and change their perspective. Even if they have the money to pay the lawyers, you can’t always put a price on frustration.


Tip #3: Make Sure Taboos Scare And/Or Inconvenience Rich People

This is one of those uncomfortable, if not infuriating, aspects of taboos and social norms. There are usually a disproportionate number of them that are directly effected, or in some cases imposed, by the rich and powerful. Taboos can be a form of excuse banking, helping rich people justify their treatment of the poor and minorities.

That’s how many people justified segregation, slavery, and feudalism. The system was such that any changes would’ve grossly inconvenienced the rich and powerful. In some cases, it might have completely ruined them.

Say what you will about rich people. They can afford to accept such criticism. They, like any other rational human being, seek to preserve their resources and their power. That’s the entire theme of the “Star Wars” movies. If giving minorities equal rights or allowing women to show their tits in public somehow undermines profits or power, then you can bet they’ll fight it with every ounce of their considerable resources.

Conversely, the act of frustrating the rich can help break taboos and even end them. Rich people want more money. Powerful people want more power. One of the major problems with segregation, among many, is that it effectively cut off an entire customer base. Once minorities could work and earn money, they wanted to do what everyone else does and spend it. The desire to spend money knows no race or gender.

Eventually, rich companies will want that money. At the same time, powerful people will want those votes and support. At that point, a taboo’s days are numbered. Being a racist asshole may be fun for some people, but it gets old fast once it starts costing money.


Tip #4: Make A Taboo Boring Or Bland

I’ve spoken before about the power of boredom. It can create super-villains and drive teenagers to cold-blooded murder. It is a powerful force, one that’s plenty powerful to break a taboo.

It’s not easy, though. In fact, I would argue that this is probably the hardest tactic to use if you’re trying to combat a taboo. Taboos usually emerge because something gets a rise out of people, often revulsion or outrage. It’s hard to temper that sort of thing. However, it can be done.

It’s happening right now with taboos surrounding marijuana. When I was growing up, the mere mention of marijuana conjured fear and horror. These days, it mostly conjures scenes from Seth Rogen movies. You could make the argument that public attitudes changed because of growing awareness of the effects of marijuana compared to alcohol. I would argue that the debate just got too boring.

Now that marijuana is becoming a full-fledged industry, there’s a financial incentive to break the taboo. However, it’s the lack of horror and outrage that comes with smoking a joint these days that really undermines the taboo. Say what you will about Seth Rogen. The man isn’t exactly scary. Without that fear, boredom usually follows.


Tip #5: Give A Taboo Political Connections

This is another aspect of making a taboo too expensive to preserve. Sometimes, it’s just not enough that taboos cost businesses money, as racial segregation often does. Even when the economics are on your side, you still need powerful allies when combatting or preventing a taboo.

This is where it pays to have powerful friends who owe you money and/or favors. You don’t always need compromising pictures of them either, but that can help. This is a big part of how the gay rights movement got off the ground. They had the support of billionaires and well-connected individuals who could influence people in power. Money talks, but sometimes political connections shout.

Again, it can cut both ways. There are billion-dollar organizations that fight to preserve taboos, but at least it’s a level playing field. Unlike the working poor, some taboos have billionaires who spend time, money, and favors to fight them. That’s a big part of how same-sex marriage became legal.

So as a rule-of-thumb, it helps to have both rich people and powerful connections in fighting a taboo. Granted, those same taboos could use similar tactics, but they’re at the mercy of the same limits. That means that if, despite the battles between billionaires and power brokers, a taboo simply doesn’t jive with our caveman brains, then it’s going to fail in the long run.


Tip #6: When In Doubt, Turn A Taboo Into A Party

This tactic is probably the most enjoyable, as well as the most satisfying. We humans love to party. We’ll look for any excuse to throw a party, have some fun, and take our clothes off without public shame. Taboos can be serious, scary, and depressing. Parties are the exact opposite of that.

Fighting a taboo with a party is like fighting fire with a waterfall. It’s using a diametrically opposing force to combat something. Mix in music, dancing, alcohol, festivities, exposed body parts, and an excuse to leave work early and you have the perfect antidote to a taboo.

This is what Mardi Gras does once a year. This is what Brazil does with Carnival. Taboos, reservations, anxieties, and fears all melt away in the spirit of having fun and enjoying yourself. This is especially potent for sexual taboos. These taboos, and the social norms built around them, tend to be frustrating and difficult for those who preserve them. A party is like a release, one that’s easy and enjoyable for all those involved.

So if you want to start the ball rolling on breaking a taboo, don’t hire a lawyer or make friends with a billionaire. Start by throwing a party. Make it fun, festive, and happy for all those involve. No taboo will stand a chance.


There are probably more tips and tricks for beating taboos that I didn’t list. There are likely a lot more that I didn’t even think of. Again, I’m not an expert. I’m an aspiring erotica/romance writer who tends to overthink certain subjects more than most, be they comic books or sleeping naked.

While I don’t expect these methods to spare us from a future of censor bars and blurred tits, I hope it makes people aware of the mechanisms behind taboos. They’re rarely logical and they tend to reflect certain proclivities in our society that we’d rather ignore. If we’re to make progress as a species, though, we should confront them and, if necessary, kick them in the ass.

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How “Sexually Fluid” Can You Be?

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Whenever I ask a question on this blog, it’s usually for two general reasons. One, I want to get people thinking strange, sexy thoughts that may or may not require a change of panties later on. Two, I want to explore possible ideas for future novels, which may also require a change in panties at some point. In either case, the only real loser are the dry panties of the world.

I’ve asked questions about human enhancement, artificial wombs, and sex with robots. I admit I tend to think some oddly sexy thoughts in my everyday life. These aren’t exactly questions I can ask somebody on the bus without getting thrown out. I still think they’re worth discussing though. We’re all hear because of sex. It’s worth talking about.

This latest sexy question isn’t quite as colorful as sex robots, but it’s a lot more relevant. It has to do with recent trend that has been observed by GLAAD, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, that the current generation of millennials is more sexually and gender fluid than previous generations.

What that means to those who took one too many sex ed classes in Texas is that more people today are not identifying as 100 percent heterosexual and more are not identifying 100 percent as a particular gender. I’ll give the Pat Robertsons of the world a moment to gasp and faint.

In terms of specifics, GLAAD’s 2017 Accelerating Acceptance report says that about 20 percent of millennials identify as something other than heterosexual and about 12 percent identify as something other than one particular gender. That’s quite an increase from previous decades where you couldn’t even get people to admit they masturbated.

GLAAD and their supporters say this is a positive thing and I agree to a large extent. It shows that more and more people are willing to come out as something other than what is considered “normal.” Given how the very concept of “normal” is flawed to begin with, especially in matters of sex, I think that shows that society is gaining a healthier attitude with respect to sexuality.

While this does count as progress in my mind, it does raise a bigger question that’s much harder to answer. Exactly how “sexually fluid” can we be in terms of our gender and sexuality? Does the report reveal a greater sexual flexibility in people? Or does it just reveal our current cultural trends?

Those are difficult question to answer. In some respects, they’re impossible to answer. Culture and attitudes do have an impact on our sexuality. Just look at last year’s trends in porn consumption for proof of that. At the same time, there are some components of our sexuality that are innate and inborn, a product of both genes and conditions in our mother’s womb.

The primary issue, and the one that neither GLAAD nor religious zealots can claim to know with certainty, is where cultural influence ends and biology begins. That line is not clear, poorly defined, and constantly changing as we learn more about our bodies and minds. Chances are it’ll keep changing for generations to come.

It’s still a relevant and interesting question to contemplate though. Is there a particular limit to how flexible a man or woman can be with their sexuality? I’m not just talking about the kind of flexibility that we see in “Orange is the New Black.” Prison is just one of those extreme situations that require us to be more flexible with our genitals than we’d usually be.

In this case, let’s try to avoid extremes and ask the question in the context of a functioning society. Just how fluid can a man and woman reasonably be? The answer for both genders might be different.

Current research indicates that women may be more sexually fluid than men. Is there a biological reason for this? Does the absence of testosterone or the abundance of estrogen make someone more likely to be attracted to both genders or not identify exclusively with one gender? Or is it possible that in a culture of internet porn, Lady Gaga, and Carl’s Jr. ads, female sexual fluidity is just more acceptable?

Again, it’s hard to pin down. The impact of sex hormones is always subject to change. We may discover tomorrow that pregnant women listening to boy bands may influence whether their child becomes homosexual, bisexual, or transgender. Human beings and biology in general are complicated, erratic, and as organized as a drunk stumbling through a Lego factory in the dark.

There may also be another factor to consider. These days, the worst thing you can be isn’t a communist, a Nixon insider, or an internet troll. Today, the greatest villain in Millennial crowds is the so-called “straight white cisgendered male.” Picture every villain inspired by Lex Luthor or Justin Beiber. That is who Millennials hate.

To be a straight white man who identifies as a man these days is to be a bad person by default. No matter who you are, whether you work for the peace corp or write erotica/romance, Millenials hate them because they think they’re the source of all the world’s problems. It’s one of those simple, believable, and wrong assertions that every generation believes to some degree.

The hippies had their villains. The yuppies had their as well. Millenials are no different. As such, they may be more inclined to identify as something other than straight, white, or male. It’s less a statement about their sexuality and more an elaborate display of virtue signaling, which is about as honest as genuine as a biology lecture from Jenny McCarthy.

So with these various complications in mind, I think it’s hard to conclude much of anything from GLAAD’s study. It’s one of those issues that’ll only become clearer in the future with the benefit of hindsight. By 2060, our descendants may look back on Millenials and say, “Wow! Those were some sexually confused motherfuckers.” They may also say, “Wow! I can’t believe we made that big a deal about sex back then.”

Until the day comes when we can all be shape-shifters like Mystique, this is going to be an issue. Sexual fluidity is one of those unavoidable outcomes from nature’s chaotic, often irrational forces. We can’t avoid it any more than men can avoid awkward boners.

It’s difficult to navigate, but I believe that Millennials are making a concerted effort to change that. The price, benefits, and extent of those efforts remain to be seen. All I know is that those efforts should give me plenty of interesting ideas for erotica/romance novels.

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