Would you date me?

It's not uncommon for columnists to bring up the dating issue facing our nation's youth and the quickly growing populace of young, professional adults. Oftentimes people say that "real" dating and long term relationships are nonexistent in youth culture, and that hookup lifestyles are unhealthy and unsafe. The underlying message to nearly all of these complaints is: "people aren't being groomed to get married".

Now, I could easily launch an attack on the oppressive imposition of the institution of marriage, how it creates unreasonable and narrow-minded expectations for people and fabricates romantic fantasies that result in bad relationships and unhealthy marriages. But I'm not. Instead, I want to talk about the binary between "hookup culture" and what I'm going to call "marriage-oriented culture". I strongly feel that if we don't spend more time as a society negotiating these two worlds, those columnists do have a good reason to be worried. People who end up falling into marriage after emerging from a hookup-only culture likely do not know the challenges that come with long-term relationships...and further, they may have not given themselves enough opportunity to discover what characteristics in a partner would be most favorable in the long term.

I first need to defend hookup-culture because it defiantly emerged from a world where public acknowledgement of premarital sex was so taboo it was punishable. The sheer fact that there is now a space where theoretically people can spend time learning about their sexuality and how to pleasure themselves is a good thing.

The problem is, in a world where everything has to be categorized into immediately understood commodities, the "scornful adults" lead people to believe that you can't be in hookup culture AND in relationship culture. And we all believe it, too. We are too insecure to assume people we romantically hang out with could be something more. Sometimes we're even too worried that if we don't hook up quickly, the opportunity for something more diminishes.

But as with most constructivist perspectives on culture, we also have to recognize that if a whole group of people in our dating pool approach romantic encounters in this way, it hard to actually find someone to date. Lots of emotional risk involved and too little chance of finding that someone.

I think that hookup cultures and relationship cultures need to intermingle more than they are, and I think the marriage-minded cynics need to chill out and acknowledge that there can be value to hookups and a variety of other permutations of romantic encounters. But I also think that youth, particularly college-goers (and especially men) need to now ignore the norm that is "hookup-only" and test themselves to explore things like dates, real friends with benefits, and possibly even longer-term relationships. Manontheside recently articulated how hard even talking about this stuff can be. But even though marriage IS a construction, lots of us still want to do it in the future. And that's going to require some practice.

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On the outdoor patio of a bar and grill: a gay Syrian Jew, a lesbian with a mom and two dads, a straight New York Jew, and me. Beers all around. A chili burger for me, a tofu salad for someone else. All academic types, yet the conversation, of course, is about sex.

Straight guy, to me: “So stop me if I’m prying, but in your experience, are you one of those gay men who is also incredibly promiscuous? I mean, do you find most gay men to be promiscuous?” He says this animatedly, but contains himself from projecting out loud.

Given my relative lack of experience, I want to laugh, but I know my Syrian friend is the type to broadcast his sexual escapades and habits, his occasional rendezvous at the local steam baths, his late night excursions to a popular San Francisco sex club. I can’t be disrespectful. But I choose to lean holier than thou and suggest my disapproval.

I shake my head. “No, I’m definitely not one of those gay men,” I assert, “It’s just not me. I don’t mind if other people do it, but I think as far as dating and sex, I’m looking for a more traditional type of experience.” I decide that tradition, with its connotations of valor and innocence, with its subtle implication that deviance exists, was just cocky enough to rope the other gay guy into the conversation.

I am right. He stops us, but at another word: “Wait, but what do you mean by promiscuous?” He wants to defend his lifestyle. “Just because I’m sex-positive doesn’t mean I whore myself out.”

Sex-positive: a term that a former machismo roommate introduced to me as self-evident in its definition—the quality of being attitudinally positive about sex, sexuality, and sexual experiences. At the time, my roommate accused me of not being sex-positive because I wasn’t interested in having it daily. I’d like to suggest to him now, after thinking about it for a year, that you don’t need to have sex frequently in order to be sex-positive. Can’t you be positive about sex but choose to be selective or—dare I say it: conservative—in your sexual expression? Does positivity necessarily correlate with a higher numerical value?

My friend, sex-positivity incarnate, continues (with passion, of course): “I’ll go home with boys who can come to a mutual decision with me. We want to sleep with each other and see what happens. We’re obviously attracted to each other, and there’s no more honest time between two guys than laying around, post-coital, talking. I think of promiscuous, and I think of jumping from man to man without agenda. I’m sex-positive because I have no problems with sex and can see it going further from there.”

By now, the three college students at a neighboring table are quiet.

In my head, a split-second flashback to an article I read on the reversal of romance over the last half-century: In the old days—or what people want to remember of it—couples dated, courted, and when attraction escalated, they consummated their relationship. Today, people consummate casually and freely, only evaluating after the fact if something else is there. Which one is more fun? Which one is safer? Which one works best in the long run?

The only woman at our table chimes in, academic claws ready to attack: “And traditional—what does that really mean?”

I purposefully keep things light. I turn my eyes to the side and flinch my cheek upward as if to blush. “Like in the movies.” I don’t blush though, because for me, this is true. I want the improbable movie romance.

Laughter. Initial disbelief.

“But come on,” my gay friend prods, “how many times have you picked someone up at a bar?”


“Well,” my lesbian friend continues, expecting something juicier to bring proof to her disbelief, “how many times have you been picked up at a bar?”


“Really?” the Syrian, still skeptical, presses. He pauses, his hand clasped around the pitcher, but not ready to pour. I can tell he’s not used to being around the relatively sexless; his truth, perhaps, lives in the tradition of primetime drama, that perpetually smoky and drunk bar of the everyman in which sex—not socializing—is the objective. This is what twenty-somethings do, he might posit: choose to make sex positive or make sex negative.

But what to do with me, or with the experience of just no sex? Is no sex always bad sex? While clarifying the two branches of so-called promiscuity, is it possible to apply the same idea to its opposite: prudishness? Must a sexual conservative—someone not necessarily abstinent but still getting, whether by choice or not, less than average—be plundered into the black hole of prudishness? Is he or she, for example, boring—as opposed to naughty—by nature?

In my head, the wheels turn: With times, connotations, and traditions changing, how are we supposed to define romance, let alone find it? Or, have we now come to a point where our words can no longer define our actions? Does our action—or lack thereof—define our words? What does it mean to be positive about an idea whose meaning we can’t even agree on?

I zoom back into the real world. I hesitate about, then decide against, sharing my questions; the academics, after all, are talking about sex.

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Oh VH1, you've really out done yourself this time. I thought Rock of Love was a ridiculous glimpse of humanity. Now we have "Tool Academy." Here is the trailer if you haven't been (un)lucky enough to catch the show.

Does anyone else feel like they watched the most attractive episode ever of Jerry Springer?

I appreciate that at least this time, the show includes therapy, pointing out that the habits of these guys is not normal. But what kills me is that there's nothing for the women. The show seems all about changing the guys. What about changing the women? Yes, the men have issues and problems, but so do these women - they put up with these men. For some reason, they think they deserve guys who lie and cheat and spend a woman's child support money. But the show only seems to be directed at helping the men fix their problems, and not the women. I think just as much attention needs to be paid to helping them as well.

But, that doesn't play into the heteronormative culture of the US, does it? Women are defined by their man, otherwise they are spinsters, or sad lonely and neurotic. We see it in movies, on TV, in newspaper articles about abusive partners - it's normal for a woman to put up with pretty much anything rather than be alone. Once again, we see it on Tool Academy, and pay no mind to the thought of helping the woman with her issues. She has no issues! Her man does! Let's completely ignore the fact that these women have no self-worth, otherwise they never would have formed relationships with such "tools" in the first place.

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Bitter Activism

Since half of what I think and write about has to do with changing hearts and minds in the interest of equality, one would think I'd be better at socializing with "the enemy", so to speak. Unfortunately this isn't really the case. I have internalized my reading about hierarchies of gender and sexuality as well as my own experiences with oppression to the point that I have really isolated myself from others in the interest of self-preservation. Basically, I have a lot of opinions but I'm afraid to express them to potential challengers out of fear that they won't accept me because I'm not status quo.

Now as I'm reading a lot of what I just wrote, I realize how much of it seems so ridiculous: "the enemy" is not always intentionally oppressive and may want to have challenging dialogue, they may be more like you and I than one might think, they may have perspectives that can successfully challenge our own... and further, we need to confront people in order to work out differences and create change.

I think a lot of these issues center around fear and group identities. It may be wrong to have a brief exchange with someone and assume they are oppressively status quo, but when you have a history of discrimination that you bring to the table, those experiences may be layered with anxiety. For me, when I meet guys of Western, cowboy stature that give off a hypermaculine aura, I read hegemony and kick in my avoidance engine. I don't engage, I might be shy or demeaning or obnoxious, I assume the worst and imagine all those assbag dudes that have made my life a living hell in the past.

Then I moved to New York City and met a new breed of straight dude. The super gay-friendly straight guy occupies a powerful place in Manhattan and New Jersey, and it's growing rapidly. At first I wrote most them off in the fearful way that I do, but then I got to know them and hear their stories; I learned how they successfully negotiated their straight male masculinity growing up with gay men in such way that what once were effeminizing forces are now close friends.

I think it's unproductive to burrow ourselves into little activist pockets where we all think alike, but I also acknowledge the psychological effects histories of discrimination can have on individuals as they go out and take on the world.

A friend of mine once told me that coming out is a lifelong process. When you are not among the status quo, perhaps we must learn to build a thick enough skin to coexist in challenging circumstances. But we can't expect ourselves to do this without a safety net. Some of us just can't emotionally afford to experience again the tougher falls we've had in our lives without coming home to people who love us and understand us. And I think that's okay.

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I used to tell my seventh graders that reading is like playing a sport: to get good at it, you have to practice, practice, practice; the mind, after all, is a muscle that you need to exercise before it can get fit.

Easier said than done, of course, and I should know. I’ve recently returned to weight training after a hiatus of, oh, nine years, and I’ve discovered that things haven’t changed: my upper body strength is still nonexistent. In middle school, I always failed at climbing poles and ropes; I’d be the student who would never quite make an ascent, simply hanging on for as long as he could and never actually getting one arm above the other. I was the guy who would attempt doing chin-ups by jumping up with my legs, grabbing onto the bar, depending on momentum to get my neck barely above it, and then find myself falling to the sand below. For years, I had it in my head that perhaps I was just born this way. Not everyone could be strong, I told myself, not everyone was cut out for the Olympics, or even the Presidential Fitness Exam.

Had my seventh graders thought that way, they would've succumbed to failure and given up on academics before their teen years.

I, for one, have not given up on what working out can do for me. And I hope that the same is true with love, that there’s not a certain survival of the fittest test involved and that some people just wouldn’t be good enough to fit in. I will not give in to that possibility. I refuse to believe that my chances are screwed before I get to screw my fair share.

A few weeks ago, as I walked around my new gym for the first time, I was embarrassed not to know how these lifting machines worked, with their with cyborg-like names that all ended provocatively in –ex, with levers, weights, pins, and other doo-dads that looked dangerous if I used them improperly. Somehow, it all seemed a bit like exercising your hormones for the first time, when your urges left you most vulnerable to trouble: How was it that I learned how to like, to flirt, or to have sex? Unlike a former roommate of mine, I didn’t grow up with parents who sat me down to talk about love and loving; I didn’t have access—or the desire, really—to read how-to sex books. In my life, there were no diagrams and safety rules posted nearby. Could I have hurt myself or a partner if I didn’t know how to do things right? Was there an equivalent personal trainer I could consult for scientifically-proven tips on how to properly position my body? Did I need to stretch beforehand? Was I supposed to exhaust myself until failure?

Back at the gym, I was ashamed to come to a machine, see that the pin had been set at a weight of—say—8 or 14, and have to move it all the way down to 4. On the flies, even at a setting of 3, I found myself struggling to channel strength from my left chest in order to finish one set. I looked around at all the hot, muscular guys who pretended that this wasn’t hard for them. For me, their sweat-stained shirts betrayed their superhuman powers and revealed their pain. And then, somehow, they would head over to the shoulder press, set their weights at an insane poundage, and lift like they were playing with feathers.

Okay, so maybe it wasn’t hard for them. Perhaps I just sucked at this game.

Similarly, how is it that some people have all the luck in dating? Some of them have had 8 or 14 significant others by the age of 25; I have a friend who is juggling 2 potential boyfriends and has a handful of consequence-free booty calls ready to go on speed-dial. Other buddies go out on at least one or two dates each week-- with different men! Meanwhile, there are others like me who can count on one hand how many people he’s slept with, and can use less than a hand to number the guys with whom he pursued a labeled relationship. Are my friends with the endless dates simply working out more than me? Are they more social, or are they more “fit” in the dating scene? Could they be faking it? Are they really in pain as they complete rep after rep of dates that lead to nothing except knowing how to date well? Are they sweating through this, or are they, as the jocks (and even average Joes) at my gym seem to show, all very much at ease with this?

I wonder what would’ve happened had I started working out a younger age. Had I the will and made the effort in middle or high school to go to the gym more regularly than required by my PE departments, would I be stronger, more in shape, and able to lift much heavier weights than I can now?

My young cousin Gloria started having boyfriends when she was in the fifth grade. Of course, nothing much—god forbid—was happening in the fifth grade (though you never know these days), but by fifteen, she had dated enough guys to know when she really liked someone. In her sophomore year of high school, she met the guy that she would then date for seven years—that’s through high school graduation, through college, and even after that. I see similar stories posted on my Facebook News Feed daily: so-and-so is now in a relationship, so-and-so is now engaged, so-and-so has changed his or her last name, is buying a house, is having her second child… all by 25. To this day, I’ve had a hard time squeezing seven weeks with a single guy, but how much of that brevity can I blame on not dating anyone until my sophomore year of college? Did I not start early enough? Am I a late bloomer? Do I necessarily have a lot of catching up to do, or are there supplements or steroids I can make up for lost time? Or what if I have the last laugh? What if I’m on the right timeline and everyone else is just overworking life?

Was there something I could have practiced at an earlier age to be better at the dating game? Was there direct instruction that I missed—because of my ethnicity, culture, or the late discovery of my sexuality—that might have helped me develop these skills? Or is it okay that I’m sort of like on the Biggest Loser of coupling, that I’m—for whatever reason—needing to get stronger and fitter this late in the game, that it’s possible even now, at the peak of my libido, to work really hard and get what I want?

Or is it possible that, in a society that privileges merit, achievement, and betterment all the time, that there are actually no skills involved in finding love? That for once, practice does not advance your odds, that perfection comes not with repetition, but with pure luck? And on the dark side of that seeming relief of a burden, how early—indeed, how birth-given—do those chances come into fruition? When excusing love with luck, how do I know it will all work out?

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I work for a Catholic organization. I was raised Catholic, I went to a Catholic school at some point during my education, I was married in the Catholic church. I am not a practicing Catholic (or practicing anything), but I've at least learned what to expect from Catholics.

I think the two "corporate" parts of Catholicism - healthcare (run by the nuns) and education (run by the priests) - are the only parts I can tolerate. At least these groups are out there DOING something. The roots of most Catholic hospitals and schools can be traced to some extremely humble beginnings, and I can honestly say my experience in both has left me hopeful.

Anyway, I had a moment at my work with my Catholic employer that left me extremely hopeful.

I am 100 percent pro-choice. My body = my decision. Your body = your decision. Against abortion = don't get one. Etc. But I've come to terms with the fact that the Catholic church is pro-life. This is the hidden part.

At least they are consistently pro-life, and don't pick and choose who is worthy of protecting (like those that are anti-abortion, yet support war and the death penalty).

Anyway, at my place of work, the Freedom of Choice Act came up. This is a proposed bill, that if passed, would force all hospital, even religious, to preform abortions. Obama has gone on record as supporting it. So the question was, what would happen to my company should that become law?

The formal answer was handled very well. It started by stating that the likelihood of that passing at this point was slim - Obama said that before the economy completely tanks, so his priorities have shifted, and it would never pass through Congress for him to even sign.

But, as a Catholic institution, we are pro-life. However, should it pass, that one procedure would not define us. We still have a mission to serve our communities.

But the answer went on, and this is where my feminist heart was warmed. As a compassionate organization, we should realize that for most women, abortion isn't A choice - sometimes it's the ONLY choice. We should be working to address that - supporting state-supported healthcare for children, food stamps, welfare, subsidized child care.

I almost cried. FINALLY, finally, a pro-life stance that makes sense. One that addresses what I wish the pro-life movement would address every time they spout their controlling BS. If you're going to be pro-life, awesome, but be PRO-life. Work to improve the LIFE of the child, not just ensuring it is born. Otherwise, you are simply anti-abortion.

And please, if you really are pro-LIFE, stop supporting the death penalty and war. Really. Because if you do, you can't call yourself pro-life.

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Mothers and Sons

One thing I’m sure we can all agree on is that parents largely influence children’s lives. Sometimes the influence is smaller, sometimes bigger, but there’s always something to be said even if the child never knew their parent. One thing I have always struggled with is my relationship with my mother. My relationship with my father is complex but was never all that important because he wasn’t that large an influence on my life and I don’t interact with him very often. I grew up with my mother and she raised me alone so she was pretty much the main adult influence in my life.

You get to a certain age and you start to wonder - does my relationship with my mom affect my relationship with women in general? Am I looking to date people like my mom? Not like my mom? Is there some crazy subconscious bullcrap secretly plotting to destroy my life so that I’m never happy enough in relationships??? Quite frankly, I have know idea. I never really bought into that line of thinking and while I think there’s definitely connections generally, I don’t particularly feel that my relationship with my mom has determined my relationship with women at all up to this point.

Regardless of that my relationship with my mother is complicated in of itself. I’m currently living with her for a month before I start traveling again. I was worried this choice would be a huge mistake as I hadn’t lived with my mother for 8 years since I left for college but I was and am also hoping that it could possibly strengthen our bonds. Since my mother first got cancer about 9 years ago which also coincided with me leaving the apartment and becoming an adult she has become increasingly negative and self centered and has very erratic emotional behavior. She goes from furious to crying to happy at the drop of a hat, most of which is due to a mixture of the medicine she takes and her emotional state after being through several years of cancer. All of this is understandable but that doesn’t fix the fact that she funnels most of her problems into me. I often feel as if I’m growing backwards as she treats me more like a child and I have more fucked up interactions with her now that I’m an adult than I did when I was a kid.

The thing that concerns me the most is how I am with her. Generally I’m a very calm and peaceful person, I virtually never get angry and I’m almost always relaxed. However, my mom, in her seemingly never ending quest to drive me insane, draws out the worst in me. I worry that this will never change and also that this may follow me into a serious relationship with a woman I may be with for a long time. The longest relationship I’ve had has been a year and I’ve had two year long relationships but the last one ended when I was 19. Do I have some crazy caged angry guy dwelling within me waiting to release all my vengeance on my next long term relationship? Maybe I’m just getting a quarter life crisis as my friends start to marry off and I’m reaching the age where people are expecting me to start thinking about having a family (I’ll be damned if I ever get married though, fuck that religious garbage). Being back at home has all these questions once again re-emerging. After having tried to talk to my mother seriously about our relationship several times over several years and each time turning out to be worthless as she literally forgets we’ve even had the conversation within months, I wonder, will my problems with her ever get better? If they don’t is it going to doom me into being some fucked up romantic partner? I hope it’s not, and the first part about preventing those things is being aware of it, but the mind is so complicated....who knows? As of now, I definitely think I’m fine and I haven’t ever really had any serious problems that I haven’t fixed with any of my girlfriends.

I guess I just have to keep on my toes and be aware and listen to my girlfriends when things are wrong. I just hope, more than anything, that one day I can fix the relationship with my mother but who the hell knows if that’s possible. At the least I’m confident that I can prevent that problem of my life from influencing others. I’ll tell you one thing though, I can’t wait to move out and go back to Guatemala.

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A Trachea Today

Transplant surgery's amazing stuff, of this there is no question. A new liver, lung, pancreas, any number of other parts of the body that are less specialized. Organ and tissue recipients have surgical complications to deal with, long arcing scars, and are on immunosuppressive drugs the rest of their life. That is the generally accepted cost of cheating death in this fashion -- if something fails, you can keep going on, despite the problems your Mark I body ended up with. However, the payoff to prevent this is extremely dangerous in some ways -- shutting down the powerful, endlessly adapting immune system opens you up to all sorts of opportunistic infections that no ordinary person would find fatal.

The state of transplant surgery is near and dear to my heart, as it is to so many transpeople. Physical body changes are really only one component of the process, but they are a large component -- and, honestly, most cispeople don't have a good grip on what can happens during GRS or any of the other surgeries typically performed on a transperson's body. Usually, a vague concept of "cutting something off", fueled by popular culture, is what they're aware of.

Popular culture's view is changing, albeit slowly. Society changes at its own (typically grueling) pace. Medical technology, though? Changes in that can be lightning fast, quick as a wink -- and sometimes revolutionize medicine in short order.

I'm thinking here of a recent transplant result that was not only significant for the patient's health but groundbreaking in terms of transplant surgery in general. A recent transplant of a length of trachea was performed on a woman, Claudia Castillo, who experienced a narrowing of her breathing passage on one side. Trachea surgeries aren't terribly interesting on their own, perhaps, but this had a remarkable twist that had some remarkable results -- she required no immunosuppressive drugs.

The tissue was collected from the donor, and placed in a chamber. Several chemical washes were then used to remove the donor's cells, leaving a fibrous tissue template in the shape of the trachea. Then, the fibrous template was soaked in a combination of tissues from the recipient -- stem cells and samples from the donor area -- until it was thoroughly impregnated with them.

So while normally the body recognizes that the transplanted tissues have differing DNA than the rest of the body and attempt to attack it as a foreign body, when the template was implanted in the recipient, it was recognized as if it were her own tissue -- and she required no immunosuppressive drugs at all, as her immune system had no reaction to the new tissue.

She's not expected to require any, ever, either. There was no trace of the donor's DNA left in the tissue, only the samples of the similar tissues and the stem cells; as a result, the implant simply seemed to take root. Two months after the surgery, Claudia's lung function is listed as being at the high end of the normal range.

Now, I'd be lying if I said wasn't imagining some fairly optimistic things as a result of this technology becoming widespread over the next few years; assuming that nerve tissue connections can be dealt with (perhaps through a version of this technology), this would point to the possibility of full-on genital transplants down the road from deceased donors, practically a holy grail for those of us looking for genital surgeries. Of course, nothing is easy -- this would involve a drastic removal of tissues from a body considered, physically, to be "healthy" -- which makes it a hard sell to a surgeon, as well as a difficult, lengthy surgery, from which you'd still be recovering for months, no doubt.

But I think I'm not alone, when I say that I'd gladly be cored like an apple on the table for a reasonable chance at a functional set of genitals I can live with.

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