Archive for the ‘Favorites’ Category

Wendy Slick (Interview)

September 18, 2007

San Francisco Bay Area filmmakers Wendy Slick and Emiko Omori have taken on the battle for women’s orgasm and placed it in a fascinating and bizarre historical context. Passion and Power: The Technology of Orgasm is a powerful new documentary about female pleasure, feminism, and vibrators. Taking as its starting point Rachel Mainz’s book The Technology of Orgasm: Hysteria, the Vibrator, and Women’s Sexual Satisfaction, Passion and Power covers the development of the vibrator in the 1800s as a physican’s tool to “treat” women suffering from any number of maladies from arthritis to nervous tension to depression and malaise. Turns out it worked pretty well.

The film briefly takes on the stag film era, when vibrators started showing up as sex toys — leading physicians to discontinue the clinical application of female orgasm as part of medical practice. But as amazing as the historical background is, it’s that much moreso when placed in the context of the case of Joanne Webb, a Texas woman who was arrested for possessing vibrators with intent to distribute. A schoolteacher, in her off hours Webb gave “passion parties,” sort of like a Tupperware party but a lot more fun, to other women who wanted to learn about and purchase sex toys.

Webb’s case became a cause celebre for sexual liberation activists across the nation; unfortunately, it’s also an ominous and in some ways bizarre warning that women’s orgasm is still the possession of the state. Since charges against Webb were dropped, no precedent was established, so the Texas law remains on the books.
Through interviews with Dr. Mainz, Betty Dodson, Eve’s Garden founder Dell Williams, performance artist Reno, Joanne Webb, and others, Passion and Power takes on the Texas case and the broader history of vibrators with equal gusto, forming a funny, scary, and inspiring portrait of the battle for women’s orgasm. The film has its West Coast premiere at the Mill Valley Film Festival on October 6, and also plays October 13.

We caught up with filmmaker Wendy Slick for a chat about the film and the politics surrounding it.

Read more at Eros Zine.

Flesh and Blood (Movie Review)

September 18, 2007

Larry Silverman’s beautifully photographed documentary Flesh & Blood takes on Phoenix’s Steve Haworth, a devotee of extreme body modification and fonder of Life Suspended, a group devoted to fleshhook suspension. The modifications that Haworth offers are among the most extreme in the world, and the footage in this film is extremely explicit, with oodles of genital nudity and plenty of piercing and cutting, including some genital cutting in excruciating detail. Oh, and there’s lots — LOTS! — of suspension, that is to say, our mortal bretheren putting enormous hooks into their bodies and hanging from them. Flesh & Blood has its West Coast Premiere at San Francisco’s Docfest on October 2 at 7pm; it plays again October 5 at 9:15pm.

Read the full review at Eros Zine.

Gay Politics, The Sopranos, and Merv Griffin (in the corner pocket)

August 20, 2007

mergriffin.jpgToday was the day for strange gay showbiz news: The first item from IMDB concerns Merv Griffin, whose irredemably boring talk show was my daily afterschool babysitter for years — probably aggravating, if not causing, the sense of existential malaise that has plagued me ever since:

The decision by the Hollywood Reporter and the Reuter News Agency to run an article by columnist Ray Richmond about the late Merv Griffin’s alleged homosexuality on the day of his funeral — then pull the article from their websites — then restore it — has touched off a storm of public and industry controversy. L.A. Weekly columnist Nikki Finke reported that the Richmond column was yanked after editor Elizabeth Guider was contacted by angry friends of Griffin. But David Ehrenstein, who writes a column for the popular liberal blog The Huntington Post, said that Richmond contacted him “fearful for his job” and he, in turn, called Michelangelo Signorile’s “Sirius Out Q” radio show about the censorship. Listeners to the program, Ehrenstein writes, deluged the Hollywood Reporter with demands that the article be restored. And a few hours later it was.

…and I ask you, what universe are any of these people living in wherein Merv Griffin wasn’t gay AND in which everyone in the world didn’t know he was gay, OR, if he wasn’t gay (about which I don’t actually give a shit, nor, I think, do most of us) what universe were any of these people living in wherein they actually thought that everyone in the world didn’t already figure the cat was gay and figure everyone else knew it, too.

If Merv wasn’t gay, he did a great job of seeming queer as a three dollar bill, in which case I do wish he had come out as straight, so other heterosexual beta-male pseudo-homo metrosexual pansies, among which I sometimes count myself depending on my mood, can take heart.

But no, he chose to go to his grave one of those ambiguous Hollywood closeted gays, which seems to be the fashion, contributing further — whether he was gay or straight — to our culture of homophobic sex-hating self-destruction.

I feel strongly that everyone has a right to privacy — your sexuality is your business — but I feel less and less tolerant of a Hollywood where queers naturally gravitate, only to remain closeted in the service of a career.

But wait! Sensitive Vito is here to save the day, by beating all of those gays to death with a pool cue. No, wait some more, the uppity queerazoids have stopped him!

The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) has won a victory against Oregon-based Rockwell Billiards, which had introduced a pool cue endorsed by The Sopranos star Joseph R. Gannascoli, who played a gay character beaten to death and sodomized with a pool cue in the TV series. The cue was advertised as “A Cue to Die For.” Following protests by GLAAD, Rockwell agreed to withdraw the product. In a statement, GLAAD President Neil G. Giuliano said, “Rockwell Billiards has done the right thing by no longer selling a product that many deemed offensive and insensitive.”

rackem2.jpgAs someone who suffered through every god damned episode of the useless Season 6 of The Sopranos, only to have two-thirds of the country trumpet the genius of David Chase because he’d discovered tape splice, I have to say that this is about the ONLY thing I can imagine Gannascoli doing that could be more offensive than his credulous portrayal of token homo Vito Spatafore in what might have been Season 6’s most hackneyed, bland, tedious and unimaginative storyline if the season hadn’t  teemed with other hackneyed, bland, tedious and unimaginative storylines.

Did Mr. Gannascoli, whom I am tempted to presume is gay because no fag could ever do that crappy a job of playing a straight person, feel that in order to buttress his public heterosexuality, he needed to promote a product that drew attention to the way in which his queer character was offed (“punished” in left-wing bleeding-heart theory-nerd parlance)?

Probably not. He probably didn’t give a second thought as to whether selling a pool cue would reassure people he was straight. But somebody somewhere, presumably at Rockwell Billiards, thought it was a laugh riot to sell a Vito Spatafore pool cue.

I’m not big on the idea that when in movies, plays or books bad things happen to sexual minority or female characters, filmmakers and authors and actors need to be taken to task — art is art. But commerce, too, is an art, and the Vito Spatafore Sodomy-Ready Pool Cue is a big fat Ishtar, just like Season 6 of The Sopranos. Good riddance to both.

Photo by Sean Mack, modifications by the author.

The Great Happiness Space: Tale of an Osaka Love Thief

August 8, 2007

SexBlo.gs informs me (and Tokyo Mango informed them) that The Great Happiness Space: Tale of an Osaka Love Thief is now available online, free, in its entirety. I reviewed this magnificent documentary when it ran at Docfest last year — here’s my review or, hell, go ahead & check the thing out online.

In Osaka, a thriving Japanese metropolis of 2.7 million souls, there’s an establishment known as Stylish Café Rakkyo, aka “The Great Happiness Space.” At Rakkyo, gorgeous women pay for the attentions of “boy hosts,” such as the club’s owner, 22-year-old Issei. In a business model not too different than at some strip clubs across the U.S., the girls purchase vastly overpriced bottles of champagne for consumption by them, their friends, and the male escorts. A high-rolling dame can drop over a million yen (let’s say, $10,000, give or take), and Issei admits that his best-ever customer left Stylish Café Rakkyo about $50,000 lighter. Now that, my friends, is a damn fine champagne.

What’s being sold, of course, is not Cristal and Dom Perrignon, but the time and attentions of the hosts. Issei has turned this gig into an art: The service of choice is the illusion of a relationship, to the tune of perhaps a dozen young women proclaiming their love and adoration for Issei throughout the course of Jake Clennell’s magnificently entertaining documentary, The Great Happiness Space: Tale of an Osaka Love Thief.

Read the rest of my review at Eros Zine.

Steve Buscemi’s ‘Interview’ (Movie Review)

July 20, 2007

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Photos courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics. Used with permission.

Steve Buscemi’s new film Interview is a fascinating experiment that, to me, proved a likeable failure. I found its characters strangely vapid, which might be the point, but is still kind of harrowing to watch.

I liked Interview anyway. It’s an interesting document for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is its cross-breeding of simplistic narrative structure with innovative filmmaking. It’s got the soul of a stage play but filmmaking chops that make it visually arresting; maybe it’s the My Dinner With Andre of its sex-obsessed, celebrity-craving generation. At times the characters feel like refugees from Melrose Place, but I still found myself hanging on every word.

The film opens today at the Embarcadero and UA Stonestown  in San Francisco, Shattuck Cinemas in Berkeley, and points east (Century 5 Pleasant Hill), south (Cinearts Palo Alto, Santana Row San Jose), and north (Sequoia Twin, Mill Valley).a.jpg

Buscemi plays Pierre Peders, a war correspondent with scars from Bosnia and other battlefields around the world. He’s pissed as hell that he’s been assigned to profile bubbleheaded TV actress Katya (Sienna Miller), who usually gets more coverage for who she’s sleeping with that week than for her acting ability. She shows up at a NYC restaurant an hour late for their interview, even though her loft is only a few blocks away. Pierre chases her away with his bitchy attitude, and hops into a cab while Katya storms off. Sadly, Pierre’s cab driver recognizes the world-famous Katya walking down the street and freaks out, getting in an accident and injuring Pierre. Katya, feeling guilty about having caused the accident, takes Pierre back to her loft to put ice on his cut head and maybe, just maybe, finish the interview.

Once back at the loft, the two start to drink heavily, always a great idea when in a professional situation, especially when one of you has a possible concussion. Locked in a conversational chess match and representing what they believe to be two opposing universes — Katya the defensive optimism of the entertainer, Pierre the self-righteous pessimism of the “real” journalist — Katya and Pierre fight and spar and occasionally grope each other. Pierre snoops, looking for an interesting angle on the bubblehead; Katya tries to play the role of journalist, asking the questions and looking for Pierre’s scars. She finds more than a few.

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If that sounds sort of contrived… well, it seems even more that way in the flick. I forgave it because Buscemi and Miller are so impossibly likeable in their friction, and because the characters are archetypal in their modernity. It’s all very romantic, two people who hate each other — who actually represent worlds that war with each other — forced to be civil without being civil and, in fact, being nasty bitches to each other.

But ultimately, Pierre’s problems, and Katya’s, felt as shallow to me as a plot on Katya’s prime-time soap opera. If you run with it, it’ll seduce you, and I watched as closely as I study an episode of 90210, without laughing. But ultimately it felt like this just ain’t that deep.f.jpg

That said, taken as something of a B-movie, Interview is an invigorating investigation of what are the archetypes we work with. It may be shallow, but far from being a cheap soap-opera that pulls its stock characters from the fifties and sixties, it feels as 21st-century as it looks (and it looks, by the way, gorgeous). But the 21st century is a poorly-blended smoothie of antique innocence and retro-cool, and Interview feels like a mash-up. It’s worth seeing for what it means, as much as for what it is.

Even if it weren’t an interesting film to begin with, Interview is notable because it’s the first entry in the Triple Theo project. Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh (great-grandson of Vincent van Gogh’s brother of the same name) was murdered in 2004 in Amsterdam by an Islamic extremist because of Van Gogh’s religious (or, more accurately, his anti-religious) views. Shortly before his death, he had embarked on a project to remake three of his Dutch films in English, with a New York City setting. Interview is the first; Stanley Tucci is taking on number 2 (Van Gogh’s Blind Date) and John Turturro the third (Van Gogh’s 06, which will have a new title in English).

g.jpgOne of the things that made Van Gogh an important influence on film was his use of handheld cameras (in this case, three) all running at the same time to capture multiple angles on the same performances. That technique was duplicated here, and members of Van Gogh’s team (including his cinematographer, Thomas Kist) were used on this picture. In addition to making the films more cost-effective to make, it appears to have allowed them to cut the number of takes, something you can feel in the spontaneity of Buscemi’s and Miller’s performances.

Despite, or maybe because of its main characters’ ultimate vapidity, Interview is an interesting and actually enjoyable experience, with all the things I love about most about indie movies (not least including gratuitous drinking and smoking… there just isn’t enough of those in American movies these days).

But watch the filmmaking more closely and there’s some truly interesting stuff going on. Interview isn’t perfect, but it’s worth a look.

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Photos courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics. Used with permission.

Steve Buscemi’s ‘Interview’ (Movie Review)

July 20, 2007

lead.jpg

Photos courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics. Used with permission.

Steve Buscemi’s new film Interview is a fascinating experiment that, to me, proved a likeable failure. I found its characters strangely vapid, which might be the point, but is still kind of harrowing to watch.

I liked Interview anyway. It’s an interesting document for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is its cross-breeding of simplistic narrative structure with innovative filmmaking. It’s got the soul of a stage play but filmmaking chops that make it visually arresting; maybe it’s the My Dinner With Andre of its sex-obsessed, celebrity-craving generation. At times the characters feel like refugees from Melrose Place, but I still found myself hanging on every word.

The film opens today at the Embarcadero and UA Stonestown  in San Francisco, Shattuck Cinemas in Berkeley, and points east (Century 5 Pleasant Hill), south (Cinearts Palo Alto, Santana Row San Jose), and north (Sequoia Twin, Mill Valley).a.jpg

Buscemi plays Pierre Peders, a war correspondent with scars from Bosnia and other battlefields around the world. He’s pissed as hell that he’s been assigned to profile bubbleheaded TV actress Katya (Sienna Miller), who usually gets more coverage for who she’s sleeping with that week than for her acting ability. She shows up at a NYC restaurant an hour late for their interview, even though her loft is only a few blocks away. Pierre chases her away with his bitchy attitude, and hops into a cab while Katya storms off. Sadly, Pierre’s cab driver recognizes the world-famous Katya walking down the street and freaks out, getting in an accident and injuring Pierre. Katya, feeling guilty about having caused the accident, takes Pierre back to her loft to put ice on his cut head and maybe, just maybe, finish the interview.

Once back at the loft, the two start to drink heavily, always a great idea when in a professional situation, especially when one of you has a possible concussion. Locked in a conversational chess match and representing what they believe to be two opposing universes — Katya the defensive optimism of the entertainer, Pierre the self-righteous pessimism of the “real” journalist — Katya and Pierre fight and spar and occasionally grope each other. Pierre snoops, looking for an interesting angle on the bubblehead; Katya tries to play the role of journalist, asking the questions and looking for Pierre’s scars. She finds more than a few.

d.jpg

If that sounds sort of contrived… well, it seems even more that way in the flick. I forgave it because Buscemi and Miller are so impossibly likeable in their friction, and because the characters are archetypal in their modernity. It’s all very romantic, two people who hate each other — who actually represent worlds that war with each other — forced to be civil without being civil and, in fact, being nasty bitches to each other.

But ultimately, Pierre’s problems, and Katya’s, felt as shallow to me as a plot on Katya’s prime-time soap opera. If you run with it, it’ll seduce you, and I watched as closely as I study an episode of 90210, without laughing. But ultimately it felt like this just ain’t that deep.f.jpg

That said, taken as something of a B-movie, Interview is an invigorating investigation of what are the archetypes we work with. It may be shallow, but far from being a cheap soap-opera that pulls its stock characters from the fifties and sixties, it feels as 21st-century as it looks (and it looks, by the way, gorgeous). But the 21st century is a poorly-blended smoothie of antique innocence and retro-cool, and Interview feels like a mash-up. It’s worth seeing for what it means, as much as for what it is.

Even if it weren’t an interesting film to begin with, Interview is notable because it’s the first entry in the Triple Theo project. Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh (great-grandson of Vincent van Gogh’s brother of the same name) was murdered in 2004 in Amsterdam by an Islamic extremist because of Van Gogh’s religious (or, more accurately, his anti-religious) views. Shortly before his death, he had embarked on a project to remake three of his Dutch films in English, with a New York City setting. Interview is the first; Stanley Tucci is taking on number 2 (Van Gogh’s Blind Date) and John Turturro the third (Van Gogh’s 06, which will have a new title in English).

g.jpgOne of the things that made Van Gogh an important influence on film was his use of handheld cameras (in this case, three) all running at the same time to capture multiple angles on the same performances. That technique was duplicated here, and members of Van Gogh’s team (including his cinematographer, Thomas Kist) were used on this picture. In addition to making the films more cost-effective to make, it appears to have allowed them to cut the number of takes, something you can feel in the spontaneity of Buscemi’s and Miller’s performances.

Despite, or maybe because of its main characters’ ultimate vapidity, Interview is an interesting and actually enjoyable experience, with all the things I love about most about indie movies (not least including gratuitous drinking and smoking… there just isn’t enough of those in American movies these days).

But watch the filmmaking more closely and there’s some truly interesting stuff going on. Interview isn’t perfect, but it’s worth a look.

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Photos courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics. Used with permission.

Lady Chatterly (Movie Review)

July 20, 2007

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French filmmaker Pascale Ferran’s Lady Chatterly is a magnificent film. It strips the celebrated D.H. Lawrence novel, which I’ve always found interesting but impenetrable, to its critical core, while creating a portrait of Lawrence’s class politics as well as his longing for passion over obligation. The film opens today at the Embarcadero in San Francisco, Shattuck Cinemas in Berkeley, and Camera 12 Cinemas in San Jose.

Constance, Lady Chatterly, is the wife of Sir Clifford Chatterly, a soldier crippled from World War I. The couple moves to Wragby, the estate near the mine that presumably provides much of the family’s wealthy. With Clifford’s immobility, Constance takes to wandering the grounds of the estate, and meets up with the gamekeeper, Oliver Parkin, a rough-hewn, taciturn chap with whom she quickly forms a crush and begins an affair.ladychatterly1a.jpg

As the secret affair progresses, other social expectations of Parkin and, more immediately, Constance, come into play. Since Sir Clifford’s injuries leave him unable to father children, he agrees to let Constance seek — secretly — another father for the child, but with stipulations that the child have a heritiage that is “at least decent,” in class terms — a that rules Parkin out, making the clandestine affair even more dangerous since, of course, Constance wants to have and raise Parkin’s child.

As Constance and Parkin become more intimate, Parkin turns out to have as rich an inner life as Constance — in his youth, his mother told him his daydreams made him just like a girl. This revelation occurs late in the film, and it’s only then, close to the film’s denoument, that you really start to understand what Constance sees in Parkin.

Lady Chatterly is marked by stirring performances. Marina Hands turns in what I read as a bright-eyed, dreamy Constance troubled with the frustrations of the too-rigid world — not just her own social and cultural obligations, but the injustice of class overall, a fact underlined by her encounters with Sir Clifford’s mine workers. Jean-Louis Coulloch’h’s Parkin is a rough, practical and in many ways emotionless man within whom dwells a delirious passion, so often weighed down with depression. Constance and Oliver open up new worlds, each for the other. It’s all the cliches you want it to be — every hackneyed romance novel stereotype, rendered with the kind of principled subtlety that both suits the era and makes the subject matter feel fresh despite it’s having been beaten into submission by judges and English teachers alike for eighty-plus years.

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The D.H. Lawrence novel known as Lady Chatterly’s Lover is actually the third version of the story that Lawrence wrote. The versions are sometimes described as “drafts,” but when Lawrence finished a version he set it aside and later started from scratch, so the three versions are remarkably different in a variety of details — for example, no dialogue is the same between version two, John Thomas and Lady Jane (from which this film is adapted), and the third version usually regarded as definintive.

French filmmaker Pascale Ferran says of the third version of Lady Chatterly’s Lover: “Certain aspects of the book excited me, but in my view, it was an impossible book to adapt, unless it were an adaptation so free that I wouldn’t have dared to think of it. It must be said that [the third version] is pretty verbose, and in that respect, the book has aged badly. It’s as though  Lawrence, in veiw of his subject’s eminently subversive nature and the censorship that he was anticipating, felt obliged to theorize the novel’s thesis through his characters’ voices: love is stronger than all class barriers.”

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Even so, it seems like Lawrence’s message was diluted by his fear of crossing those boundaries. In the third version, Constance’s lover was a former army officer, putting him almost in the same class as Constance. Here, Parkin should have been a miner.

When Ferran discovered John Thomas and Lady Jane, with its simpler and more direct take on the story and themes, she decided it would serve better for a film adaptation than the third version.

Thank God she did; as impenetrable as I found the third version, there’s a gorgeous story here to be told, and Pascale’s interpretation is a rich version as overgrown with visual symbolism as the Wragby estate is with Lawrence’s fecund and highly symbolic vegetation.

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What’s more, it’s somewhat depressing to view this film both in the consideration of history and in the context of Hollywood’s recently puerile output; there’s full frontal nudity of both Hands and Coulloc’h, in an almost textbook example of how sex and nudity can be used with sensibility as an integral part of a larger story. I’m not sure the MPAA would agree.

The Cesar awards are France’s equivalent of the Oscars, and Lady Chatterly walked away with five of them: Best French Film, Best Actress for Marina Hands as Constance, Best Literary Adaptation, Best Costume Design, and Best Cinematography. Since I haven’t mentioned those last two aspects of this flick, let me tell you that the costumes/sets and the cinematography are nothing short of amazing: in every way, the visuals of Lady Chatterly are a feast, sexy and inspiring from every angle.

If you’ve an interest in eroticism in literature, then Lady Chatterly’s Lover, love it or hate it, is a piece so critical to history that it can’t be ignored. More importantly, it’s a beautiful story that suffered in its best-known version from Lawrence’s reticence in telling it. Ferran’s told it in a new way, and it’s lovely.

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Photos courtesy of Kino International. Used with permission.

Girl/Boy Interrupted

July 20, 2007

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Last week’s San Francisco Weekly carried an absolutely fascinating article by Lauren Smiley about the use of the drug Lupron to interrupt puberty (reversibly) in transgender children. Lupron is used to “pause the child within,” as their advertising slogan goes. Its on-label (FDA-approved) use is to delay puberty in what’s called “precocious puberty,” that is, early-onset.

There are a number of interesting aspects to this very thorough article, not the least of which is that of the emotional damage that can be done to trans kids who are made to wait until the “appropriate time” to begin hormone therapy — that is, when they are “old enough” to consent, as far as the culture is concerned.transsymbol.jpg

For MTFs, that “appropriate time” would usually mean after testosterone has made irreversible changes to the kid’s body, all but guaranteeing she’s going to have a harder time passing in later life. For FTMs, it means losing some potential height gain, which would also be irreversible.

However, exogenous hormones also cause irreversible changes, so the decision being made is — again — irreversible. Lupon apparently allows some wiggle room, in which the development of puberty can be delayed, but not curtailed.

One thing that’s NOT dealt with in the article is whether the delay of puberty with Lupron might affect sexual functioning in later life — and by sexual functioning I mean specifically erotic functioning, which is something a lot of doctors seem to conveniently forget that a lot of trans people are, you know, kinda into, not unlike the rest of us. I was troubled by this omission, but it’s a very long article, and very complicated, so I’m going to cut Smiley some slack here.

I asked her by email whether she’d asked about sexual pleasure in her interviews with physicians. Her reply, after making sure that I would remind anyone that she is not an authority on this, and simply hypothesizing here:

“I didn’t inquire about sexual pleasure but I’m guessing the puberty delaying drugs themselves wouldn’t have an effect on pleasure or orgasms, since they eventually do go onto cross hormones and sex change surgery. So I’m guessing they’d experience sexual pleasure as much as any post-operative transexual. One guy did tell me that by having gone on puberty blocking drugs, the penis stays at a childlike size, and thus provides less material with which a doctor can construct a vagina — I wonder then if there’s less sensitive tissue that would help them to climax. I’m completely out of my element…I focused on the transition period, and no little about the surgeries themselves or the post-op period.”

So there you have it — an open question, and a very important one that shouldn’t get forgotten in considering trans youth. I don’t have time this week to go hunting for the answer, but maybe someone out there already knows.

What do you think about using pharmaceuticals to delay puberty in trans kids? Whether you’re trans, trans-friendly, cisgendered, ungendered, degendered, bigendered, multigendered, or a trans-hostile who thinks everyone who discusses this is going to Hell, please weigh in on this issue. Comment in the comments if you’re outraged, inspired, concerned, or bewildered by trans kids and the biocultural and pharmaceutical options opening up to them.

Transflag and Trans Symbol from Wikipedia.

Worlds Tallest Man Weds, Scours Earth With Cobalt Bomb

July 18, 2007

National Geographic reports on the wedding of the world’s tallest man, Bao Xishun, to Xia Shujuan, in the north Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region of China:

Xishun, 56, is a herdsman who towers 7 feet, 9 inches (2.4 meters). He is listed as Earth’s tallest man in the Guinness World Records and won fame in 2006 when his long arms saved a dolphin’s life.

In his global search for a wife, Xishun ended up marrying a woman from his hometown—who was nearly half his age and more than two feet shorter, Reuters reported.

(…she’d almost have to be more than two feet shorter than him, wouldn’t she?) — I remember reading about Xishun’s saving the dolphins late last year and remembering how fascinated I was by the Guinness Book of World Records as a kid. I liked everything about the human “oddities,” that is to say, people who didn’t fit the template. I also loved the weird science. I loved the biggest things, especially the biggest weapons, the biggest horrors, the greatest and most terrifying disasters.

That made me remember (and this story made me remember again) how profoundly disturbed I was, at a very young age, when I read in the Guinness Book about the most destructive weapon ever proposed, the cobalt-salted bomb designed by the Soviets, capable of destroying life on Earth with a single detonation. I was even more disappointed when years later I looked through Guinness and found nothing — nothing! — not a single mention of the doomsday bomb. I even went so far as to dig up a 1977 edition at a used bookstore, and there it was: Escape from the Planet of the Apes, for real, or at least for planned-out, Soviet style.

I don’t know if it was in the Reagan years or after, but apparently Guinness decided it was too disturbing to have unreal doomsday bombs in the book, sort of like having unicorns in the science museum, only with more cobalty goodness. “Who knows?” they must have thought; “It might give little kids nightmares.” Ya think?

Thanks a lot for considering that in 1984, fuckfaces, I’ve got a heap of sleepless nights between 1972 and now to thank you for, you and the Pentagon and the Kremlin and General Electric; thank God we won the Cold War, or things might really suck.

Now, my 1977 edition of Guiness seems to have vanished under the bed, behind the desk, who the fuck knows? Luckily there’s Wikipedia, and all its freaky disturbing shit about WMDs, especially the whole Nerve Agent Series, which made me think for some time last fall that reading Wikipedia alone could prevent me from ever sleeping again.

It’s 2:23am, incidentally, and Wikipedia is not to blame on this particular sleepless night; au contraire, this time I blame WordPress.

Congratulations to Bao Xishun and Xia Shujuan, and everyone who didn’t get killed by a cobalt bomb in the eighties. Sometimes it’s the little things.

Photos: Robert Wadlow, the tallest man on record, and his brother, from Wikipedia. Robert Wadlow died 67 years ago this past Sunday. And Fat Man, top, the fattest man on record.

Cold War kids were hard to kill, under our desks in air raid drills.

The MySpacing of Flickr, Or: Revenge of the Spawn of Web 0.0, The Sucker Punch

July 17, 2007

For those of you not particularly quick on the uptake, or who have no idea who I am, writer Violet Blue & I are close friends & have been for some time. She has an ongoing dispute with Flickr, which keeps censoring photos like the ones in this post (which I have conveniently hotlinked from Flickr), presumably for their sexual content, despite the fact that any idiot can see they show nothing that could be considered sexually explicit.

I suspect that some attention is given Violet’s Flickr stream, by Flickr, because her name is associated with the world of porn — she watches porn, she writes about porn, and therefore her artful erotic photos of implied nudity must be porn. Relying on Justice Potter Stewart’s definition of obscenity (“I know it when I see it”) works even better for Flickr than for the Supreme Court, because Flickr, like any corporation, owes it users nothing under the First Amendment. Its parent company, Yahoo, eliminated all user-generated chatrooms from Yahoo Chat because of objectionable content in user-generated rooms — not because of legal action or company morals, but because an investigation by a Houston TV station caused an advertiser panic. Yahoo’s chatroom closures were the 1890 Census of Web 1.0, the death-wail of a world gone mad, or at least as mad as human nature.

Clearly Web 2.0 isn’t going to let things go that far, and if it has to put the kibbosh on Violet’s panties and any other panties out there that might be on their way down… well, there’s no First Amendment in private industry.

Yahoo, like so many so-called Web 2.0 companies, seems unable to decide if it wants to be a consumer-based service that sees to the needs of its users and their creative communities, or something soft and gooey with no sharp edges, seams or pointy bits that allows its corporate overlords to avoid ever going out on a limb, mostly because it permits them to be so wishy-washy that they begin to resemble a lukewarm bowl of clam chowder without any clams… just the chowder, thank you, if no one objects that is?

Having worked quite extensively in corporate America, I have seen this phenomenon, and frankly I wish I could be surprised or outraged when I see for-profit companies showing neither brains nor balls, but only a desperate stinking terror that someone will compromise their fourth-quarter profitability or start a letter-writing campaign to Save the Children From Violet Blue’s Pantied Ass or Make The Slut Pull Up Her Pants! These waking nightmares are not subject to the Bill of Rights.

I am not a Web 2.0 Hater, I just hate everything, and Web 2.0, let’s be frank, is asking for it. With its promise of everything for free, everything else for cheap, Web 2.0 allows you, the user, Time’s Man of the Year, to provide corporate America with everything it needs to suck the eyeballs out you, the user, Time’s Man of the Year. It doesn’t cost you anything, AND it doesn’t cost you anything. Information is free to go from you to you, and these giant virtual corporations unexist solely for the purpose of bringing information from you to yourself, for free. What’s best of all, the zillions of dollars generated by this non-transaction goes not to corporate fat cats like Archie Bunker and Boss Hogg, but to inventive thirty-two-year-olds named Piper and Spike who ride their bikes to work and have video games in the company lounge. Finally, true capitalism has been achieved: it’s a “Wild West” out there, with information free, in a Gibsonian sense, except for porn, which no one wants anyway, because porn is bad and sex is dirty and why would you want it anyway, why don’t you just post some more pictures of your guinea pigs?

The odd thing about the myth of Web 2.0 is that it’s so agonizingly similar to the myth of Web 1.0, for those of us who lived through the Dot-Bomb: “There’s shitloads of money just around the corner. Here’s the pie chart, the line graph, the bar graph; this over here on the left is now, this on the right is 3Q-2002, and up here in the corner is you jet-skiing in the Bahamas when your shares vest in early ’03.”

Problem is, no one seems to be selling entrepreneurship now; rather, they’re selling community, democracy, the liberation of information; they’re selling creativity, as long as your creative impulses don’t cause nipple erection. What they’re selling is everything for free, everything else for cheap, this other stuff for the (amazingly moderate!) price of home internet access and computer equipment and camera equipment and a phone and wireless service and an iPhone and tech support and hey, your privacy is guaranteed.

Violet suggested that someone should write an article called “The MySpacing of Flickr,” but to hold up MySpace as a model for colossal blandness ignores what I consider to be the much larger problem of MySpace being an unusable piece of shit that appears to be popular, as far as I can tell, because every human being on the planet is smoking crack. Far from being bland, using MySpace is always a fascinating adventure, much like the adventure my girlfriend Bridgitte is currently having with Gmail, which I depend upon for my personal email, and over which I do an enormous amount of business. Bridgitte’s Gmail account stopped working, and guess what? Gmail’s tech support is shockingly unresponsive, and calling Google in Mountain View gets you a recording: “Google does not offer live tech support.”

These are the companies that now hold your creativity in the palm of their hand, and bring you, mostly for free, mostly, the gift of absolute creative freedom, the ability to live your dreams, as long as your dreams don’t cause nipple erection.

Photos: Violet Blue by Violet Blue, from her Flickr Stream. Some rights reserved.