IU Sexploration – Fall 2013 (Part Two)

Incase you missed it, I discuss anthropologist Helen Fisher, erotic photographer Barbara Nitke, & “hooking up” in Part One.

11/4 – Dr. Kand McQueen: Breaking the Gender Dichotomy: Why Two Are Definitely Not Enough

McQueen is a public speaker spreading knowledge & societal acceptance of individuals who do not neatly fit into the categories of “male” or “female” in sex and/or gender. At this event, McQueen presented a brief overview of different transgender identities that people often confuse: cross dressers (dress as opposite sex), drag queens/kings (perform/entertain as opposite sex), gender queer (identify as neither, both, or moving between sex/gender), and transsexual (identify as the opposite sex).

Transsexual rights, or the lack thereof, were also addressed. McQueen shared stories that broke my heart; terrible injustices done to human beings simply because their gender wasn’t male OR female. For example, Robert Eads, whose experience was documented in the film Southern Comfort, was a female-to-male transsexual individual diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Because of societal concerns, over two dozen doctors denied him treatment, allowing the cancer to spread and cause his death. Unfortunately, his story is but one of many.

Despite the fact that intersex condition rates may be as high as 1 in every 100, the rights of intersex individuals are rarely talked about. McQueen addressed them directly. For those unfamiliar with the term, “intersex” is used when chromosomal or anatomical variation occurs, complicating the biological distinction between male or female. Historically, doctors have often been the ones to decide which sex the child should be raised as…and their decisions have not always been healthy for the children in question. For years, biological boys born with what is called a “micropenis” (exactly what it sounds like) would have their penis and testicles amputated and be raised as girls. Doctors would then advise parents to keep this a secret, even from their child. Talk about being confused about what’s happening with your body. Plus, early surgery like this can drastically reduce genital sensitivity, robbing individuals of sexual pleasure — for life!

Overall, McQueen’s keynote address (including personal narrative) promoted education, acceptance, and social justice in a very candid and accessible manner. For a thought provoking experience on gender identity, I would highly suggest attending or scheduling a talk by Dr. Kand McQueen.

11/20 – How to Survive a Plague (Screening and Q&A with director David France)

If you keep up to date on film news, you may have heard about this Oscar-nominated documentary on the AIDS epidemic. How to Survive a Plague follows two New York-based organizations, ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) and TAG (Treatment Action Group), and their fight to find an effective treatment for HIV/AIDS.  First-time director David France had just moved into NY when the epidemic began. Although he never contracted HIV himself, he dedicated this film to the lover that he lost to the disease. Combining his own footage with clips from media coverage and other members in ACT UP & TAG, France created a raw portrayal of minority struggle and community activism.

As part of a generation that was born in the middle of the AIDS crisis, I wholeheartedly believe that every 20-something should see this movie. It’s a part of history that should not be forgotten, but yet the story has ceased to be told. Growing up, I never heard about how the government largely ignored AIDS until it was out of control and had already killed thousands. I never knew how many people in positions of power openly spoke out against AIDS victims like they didn’t even deserve to live. And I never saw the diversity of people affected or involved, because in the rural Midwest “AIDS is a gay man’s disease.” (This still seems widely believed, despite the fact that globally, more than half of the people living with HIV/AIDS are women.)

AIDS awareness and prevention continue to be overlooked in sex education and the media. That condoms don’t protect against HIV or that AIDS can be transmitted through saliva — or even by shaking hands — are just some of the still prevalent paranoid myths. On the other hand, some complacent individuals view AIDS as a battle that has already been won. (The NY Times recently reported on the increased rates of unprotected sex among gay men and how this nonchalance may factor in.) The sad truth is this: there is no vaccine and millions die every year because they cannot access or afford treatment. Despite the need to focus on prevention instead of damage control, I almost never hear about the amazing new discoveries that have been made or are still developing, like the pre- and post- exposure prophylaxis or the contraceptive vaginal ring with HIV and herpes protection that is scheduled for clinical testing in 2014.

If you have Netflix, How to Survive a Plague is available for streaming at the time of this post. Watch it. Learn about the amazing activists who made a difference. If you feel inspired, check to see if an ACT UP chapter or another organization dedicated to fighting HIV/AIDS is near you.

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