Sugar Never Tasted So Good: Gender, Sexuality, and Sex Work in the Age of “Sugar Babies”

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By Naomi Liss

In the time of sexting, tinder and “hook up culture,” what it means to have a romantic or sexual relationship has changed. While many use online dating sites to simply find a romantic or sexual partner for personal gain, more and more young people, particularly young women and femmes (people identifying with femininity without necessarily identifying as women), have opted to become involved in romantic and/or sexual relationships for financial benefits. Though the practice has been around for some time, “sugaring” has become increasingly popular with the rise of dating websites, such as “Seeking Arrangement,” founded in 2006, designed specifically for young people to find “sugar daddies” or “sugar mamas.” Those who become involved in romantic and/or sexual relationships in exchange for allowances, gifts or help paying bills are known as “sugar babies.” While anyone can be a sugar baby, young women or those presenting as women, who seek male partners are the most common sugar babies. For my research I intended to learn more about the phenomenon of sugaring. Why do young women and femmes get involved? How does the practice of sugaring differ from other forms of sex work? As I am part of many communities made up of mainly queer women and gender nonbinary people, I was interested to learn more about how the practice of sugaring may affect young women and femmes’ sense of identity, especially those with gender or sexuality identities outside of the norm. Continue reading

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On the Circuit: Grindr and Emotion

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By Jeffrey Bigman

Towards the beginning of the 1976 film Logan’s Run, the titular character, who is preparing for a party, walks over to a hollow metal cylinder in his room and summons a date holographically. The first person that appears is a man, muscular and shirtless, and Logan shakes his head disapprovingly. He grabs a remote and tunes the holograms the way one would tune a radio until a slim woman in a tunic appears. Then Logan welcomes her into his apartment and tries to have sex with her. After she repeatedly tells him no, he asks her if she prefers women. “No,” she responds, “nothing, I—I felt sad. I put myself on the circuit. It was a mistake.”

This prescient scene predicts the age of app-based sexual encounters that would not come for another thirty years. Now, through apps like Grindr, people do summon others to their apartments in order have sex with them. Through these encounters the Internet transforms suddenly, as it does in Logan’s Run, from a theoretical space where one exists only in photos and language into an inescapably concrete encounter with another person’s body. Continue reading

Mockery or Reverence: The Responsibilities of Drag

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By Kenneth Jarvis

Drag has been creeping into mainstream consciousness since the release of Paris is Burning in 1991, the seminal documentary following the ball culture of the late 1980s. This familiarity has reached a new level with the success of RuPaul’s Drag Race, introducing a new generation to contemporary drag culture and its current top stars, including Alaska Thunderfuck, Willam Belli, Sharon Needles, Latrice Royale, as well as reintroducing RuPaul into American popular culture. While the show has mainly been shown in the United States, it has a worldwide fan base and has proven an influence on LGBT communities everywhere, representing a global drag culture.

While the growing influence of drag culture has received mostly positive reception, there is the question of what it means for men to dress as women for entertainment. For many drag queens, their performance is reverent to womanhood as well as challenging social gender constructions, but for some women drag is offensive mockery. There is also the question of whether drag queens as performers of womanhood should help advance the state of feminism, and the question where to put the boundaries between offensive and comedy. It is possible that because under the drag many of these queens are biologically men they are manipulating their male privilege in being able to use womanhood to comedic effect, but then cross back into their privileged position as men.

Continue reading

Tinder Hearts: Navigating the Youth Dating Scene in Precarious Times

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By Taylor Casteen

“So what do you think about Tinder? I’m interested, why are you doing this?” This is a question one of my respondents asked me at the end of our interview, and it’s a question I’ve had to ask myself several times over the course of my research. Why am I so interested in Tinder, a dating platform that, from most of my respondents’ standpoint and from my own, is only used for fun and as a cure for the tediousness of everyday life? But the real question in the end was not why I cared about Tinder, but why I cared about our generation’s relationship with dating as a whole.

In the beginning my motivation was rather simple: I was bitter.  Reeling from my most recent failed relationship, I had decided to throw my hands up in defeat and accept the fact that love was a lost cause in today’s world and that the whole idea of being in a relationship as a 20-something today was a complete waste of everyone’s time. And like so many others, both in my own generation and in older ones, I blamed the popularity of hook-up based “dating” apps like Tinder for this. For years now I have been fed up with my generation’s seemingly universal idea that serious connections and commitment were things to be feared, replaced by temporary intimate fixes, moving from one to the other at the rate of how internet memes gain and lose popularity daily. So, fueled by bitterness, and a need for a research topic, I decided to make what I assumed was the guilty party of this mentality the subject of my project.  Continue reading

Body Love and Social Media: A Story of Feeling the Sunlight

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By Taina Quiñones

“Here,” Rose says, tossing her royal blue bikini in my direction, “Try it on.” I hesitate before picking it up from where it lands on her bed and holding it up to my body. It will definitely fit. Due to our larger body sizes, Rose is one of the few friends I can clothes-swap with – something we both relish in whenever we are lucky enough to be in the same place.

This is my third summer visiting Rose in her hometown of Glencoe, Illinois. We are both sophomores in college at this point, and with permission from her parents, Rose and I will be roadtripping up to Wisconsin to spend a week in her family’s lake house.  She tells me we have to go swimming, and for the first time since I was a small child, I am genuinely excited to. Continue reading

Buck Angel’s Activist Project: Reclaiming “Vagina” and “Pussy” in Sexing the Transman

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By Zoë Crabtree

Introduction

The words with which we describe our bodies are tools for self-construction. Words narrate our memories, dreams, and goals; they enable us to construct our realities; they liberate our nightmares and circumscribe our fantasies. Words are powerful discursive tools. They act and make change in the world. Harvard lecturer J.L. Austin recognizes this in his lectures collectively titled How to Do Things with Words. He argues that words are performative: their very utterance acts upon the world, given, of course, the appropriate circumstances (Austin, 1975: 6). He uses the example of wedding vows to demonstrate that the very act of saying “I do” during a wedding brings the marriage into being (Austin, 1975: 8). In other words, not only do words shape how we think and feel about the world, they also shape the world itself. How, then, might someone try to change the world with words? What might it mean to employ words to contradict the constructed realities they have helped to create?

Recognizing language’s potential as what Teresa de Lauretis terms “technologies of gender,” transgender porn star and self-described “Man with a Pussy” Buck Angel has taken up these questions in his activist work. Angel’s central project has been to reclaim the words “vagina” and “pussy” for transgender men’s use: Continue reading

Pride or Prejudice? Contradictions of the Gay Scenes in Los Angeles, Berlin, and Amsterdam

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By Sam Sciarra

Within the context of western democratic nations, unprecedented human rights advances have characterized the past fifty years for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. Of course, we cannot deny that there is still a very long way to go—LGBT citizens of certain nations like the United States still face much discrimination and lack crucial freedoms (such as the right to get married, among others). However, it is still important to recognize that this increased societal acceptance of LGBT people has resulted in the creation of distinct yet similar gay youth subcultures throughout the cosmopolitan west. These gay ‘scenes,’ which primarily revolve around the nightclubs and various nighttime happenings of large urban centers, have become the preeminent space in which homosexual youth form their identities and engage in a decision making process concerning the type of gay person they want to become. This is most likely because, as Cattan and Vanolo (2013: 1166) suggest in their research on the emotional geographies of gay nightlife, “clubbing entails seeking people, places, relationships, and ways of being which provide physical and emotional security, which are often denied in the heterosexist world.” Continue reading