“Yes Means Yes” teaches me to fight for healthy, shame-free sex

4 stars: “Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape”, a book of essays collected by Jaclyn Friedman and Jessica Valenti //

A number of these essays are amazing and helped me change my thinking and take on even more feminist, inclusive, and egalitarian views. This book takes on rape culture, sex work, misogyny, queerness, porn, sex education, consent, masturbation, the myth of sexual purity, and process-oriented virginity.

“Killing Misogyny” by Cristina Meztli Tzintzún goes into explicit detail about how even forward-thinking, “outwardly feminist” people can privately exploit the women in their lives; sadly, women are often encouraged to keep these instances quiet to “protect” the “good” men, instead of holding those people accountable.

Too many times in radical left circles, we uphold the image of the man who transforms himself from being hypermasculine and self-destructive to being hypermasculine and revolutionary, but fail to extend this same image to the scores of heroic, deserving womyn who have transformed themselves from victims of a life of subjugation and violence into radical, self-loving feminists who use these personal struggles as a catalyst to create radical social change… I believe we can tear down the walls of silence that maintain structures of misogyny and create safe spaces that are maintained through deliberate action, praxis, and love. [bold emphasis added]

“Who’re You Calling a Whore?: A Conversation with Three Sex Workers on Sexuality, Empowerment, and the Industry” is an amazing interview. In particular, I loved the sections that:

  • examined how sex workers also “commodify men”: (“I remember looking at guys in strip clubs and seeing dollar signs in place of their heads… You stop seeing men in the clubs as people — they are money in my pocket or not. I hate it when people assume that the only people commodified in sex work are the workers.”)
  • discussed how in an ideal world, clients would be polyamorous and have enthusiastic permission to sleep with / get a lap dance from / date etc. sex workers
  • how sex work can be empowering or exploitative (or both), and how this makes it similar to any other profession: (“An exploited woman is one who is not comfortable in her line of work, does not enjoy what she is doing, and is only doing it out of desperation, coercion, or because it seemed like the only way to make “easy money.” This feeling can be experienced by workers in any profession: ambulance chasers, attorneys, doctors, salespeople, et cetera.” However, because the stigma is much greater for a sex worker, an exploited woman would be… relegated to deal with feelings of shame and social rejection in silence.”)
  • the three women interviewed discussed being “particular and choosy” about what types of work they do and even what kinds of acts they will or will not perform or which clients they will be with

Another article, “An Immodest Proposal,” blew me away in its wholesome, gloriously-healthy dreams of how we could learn about and learn to engage in sex as young people if we only taught a different narrative than the current “It’ll hurt the first time” / “Save it for someone you love” / “Don’t have too many partners or you’ll be called a slut” bullshit teens are fed. This article made me a steadfast, vocal advocate for empowering sex ed for teens and young adults; I hope young people can enjoy good, honest, healthy, happy, communicative sex when / if they become ready. Women and girls have desires, and they are wonderful! Understanding them and learning to celebrate them is CRUCIAL to breaking down the patriarchal, religious, and oppressive cultural mores that I and so many others were raised under.

“Real Sex Education” by Cara Kulwicki also discusses how to teach teens about sex; my favorite section mandates that sex education doesn’t have to be graphic or “porn” to be qualitative:

“Letting teens know that women usually achieve orgasm through rubbing of the clitoris, whether with fingers, mouth, object, or penis, isn’t the same as screening an instructional video on giving good cunnilingus. It’s not the same as writing down the names of sex-toy shops on the blackboard or handing out diagrams of cool and exciting coital positions. And teaching that lubricants reduce pain and increase safety and pleasure during many kinds of sex should be thought of not as performance advice, but on par with vital lessons about condom use.

Real sex education… [teaches] that pleasure is an important part of any sexual relationship. It’s about teaching that there is nothing wrong with wanting to feel sexual pleasure and seeking it out, so long as it is done safely and responsibly. It’s about teaching comfort with one’s body and a lack of shame over desires, and that there is more to sex for all people than sticking penises inside of vaginas. Real sex education teaches how to go about making intelligent, safe choices, rather than just stating choices available… And I believe that teaching teens to make smart choices about sex must involve teaching them that having sex, partnered or alone, can be a smart choice.”

“A Woman’s Worth” by Javacia N. Harris dives deep into the realm of media, cultural expectations, and how women are wrongly judged for their “sexual value” rather than who they are (which can totally include their sexuality IF they want it to!). We need to take hard stands against content that demeans women, and we also need to “find ways to build ourselves up individually in the meantime” while we’re waiting for (and creating) art that empowers and celebrates women.

“Sex Worth Fighting For” by Anastasia Higginbotham looks at self-defense and encourages women to fight tooth-nail-and-voice against unwanted sexual advances, regardless of environment, company, or whether or not the advances are coming from someone you know or love. We can’t just envision a world where rape doesn’t exist; we have to combat it in our own lives and stand up for ourselves at all possible moments:

“We can learn to fight for sex on our own terms. Literally. With strong words, conviction, and certainty, with hands, elbows, knees, feet, and a “NO” so mean it chills the blood.”

This essay doesn’t victim-blame; encouraging women to stand up for themselves doesn’t mean that those who have been assaulted somehow failed, but it does demonstrate that we can RUN the very second that we feel uncomfortable, disrespected, or violated. I know that my own assault from someone I was dating is sticky because I didn’t ever vocally say no, and I didn’t leave. Instead, I froze up (which is an article of its own) and just mentally checked out, thinking that if I just let it happen, it would end soon. Had I read this article before that night, I might have been mentally prepared to say, Fuck it, fuck being polite, THIS IS NOT HAPPENING, and left with no explanations. I’ll never know for sure. But I do know that we need to say SCREW the societal expectation that women are supposed to be polite and smooth things over and take what’s coming for them. We are better than that, and good sex is worth fighting for.

“The Process-Oriented Virgin” by Hanne Blank is another of my favorite essays. It explores the notion that some people are redefining what constitutes the “loss” of their virginity; while I myself prefer to think about things in terms of sexual experiences rather than “losing virginity”, this essay is really important. Blank explains how some are discounting any sexual experiences where they didn’t orgasm or didn’t initiate or didn’t enjoy the encounter, etc. etc. The point is that these people are reclaiming what it means to become sexually active and are eradicating the notion that OTHER PEOPLE are the ones who decide when you “lose” your virginity; instead, she advocates for a new “cultural constant” that allows each person to subjectively decide when they have experienced sex. This is especially important for queer people, who don’t necessarily ever have penis-in-vagina intercourse, but who obviously still have sex — which they define and interpret. Enacting this definitive change “would change sexuality, gender roles, and maybe the world.”

I wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone interested in dismantling gender roles, sex, and rape culture. I gave it four stars simply because I skipped a number of the essays and actively disagree with one, but I still think it’s an amazing collection and am a better person having read it.


Nancy Huang’s masterful “Favorite Daughter”

Favorite Daughter is easily in my top three favorite books of poetry, thanks to its honest, relatable poems, sharp cultural and racial critiques, and achingly haunting language. Lines like “i wish for the moon to swallow me” and “19 and I know what love is: a house on fire…” contain movement, both in emotion and meaning. Nancy’s references place this collection in conversation with history, psychology, linguistics and sociology, and media, creating a personal bridge to aspects of society that are often (and detrimentally so) only discussed as curiosities. These poems remind us that it is people who should be considered and prioritized, that when colonialism and Western ideologies are dismantled, it is for the benefit of all of us.

One poem I want to mention is “Old White Guy”, a rewriting of a problematic (as is so much of his work) poem by Marc Kelly Smith. By stripping the poem down to a handful of words, Nancy starkly unveils just how ugly Marc’s work is.

Another poem, “Aperture”, compares the effects of washing out an image in photography to the erasure of Asian people from history textbooks and media. “Chinese New Year, 2017” is a collection of images from everyday life: the speaker’s mother braiding her hair; writing poems “until dawn edges around the sky”; bingeing on TV shows while eating popcorn. This poem ends with the beautiful revelation: “Maybe love / is just becoming more of someone.”

I interviewed Nancy [in 2017!!!] about this collection and her life, curious to find out more about the author behind the marvel that is Favorite Daughter.

How have you forged your identity? What are obstacles you’ve overcome and – in hindsight – were they worth it?

I used to think about identity as something that other people call you. It took me a long time to reframe this, and of course it was worth it, but I still slip back into that mindset of “you are what they say you are,” which is always so diminishing.  

I remember I was talking to the unconquerable poet Ariana Brown, and she told me that she made a conscious decision to stop explaining things to white people in her poems. It was taking up too much space. I credit her for my own reworking; I started saying to myself, you don’t have time to explain this to them. They’ve got to figure this out on their own. And, this is only partially about the way language is used in poetry, or the way I use language in poetry. This is more about what I think of myself, navigating through a reality that more often than not doesn’t center me. I shouldn’t have to translate my existence to people. 

“Tipping Scale” was a really important poem for me personally; as of last November, I learned that I have generalized anxiety, and I’ve been working to improve my mental health using traditional and non-traditional methods. It can be really difficult at times, but it pays off.

How does mental healthy play a role in your day-to-day life, and why should people talk about it (publicly and privately) more?  

Thank you for this question. I wish you luck with your own mental health journey, and I hope that you have community around you to help you.

“Tipping Scale” was a poem I wrote because I was trying to balance (forgive the pun) the fact that certain ways of healing work for me, but also have a terrible history of working against people like me. Western medicine has a horrible history, yet my entire life, people have disparaged traditional Chinese medicine in favor of it. 

It’s made its impact; I see therapists, I use birth control. But it’s so much more complicated than that. There’s a line in the poem that refers to that complication, the one about how my therapist at the time, as a white woman, was also my oppressor. I can’t separate those things. 

As for mental health, my depression and anxiety are low-grade and I’m high-functioning, which initially prevented me from reaching out. But talking about it openly counteracts the stigma. That’s the other weight on the scale, in the poem, how even though Western medicine is a corrupt industry and historically terrible, there is less mental health stigma in it than there is in Chinese American communities. And stigma grows from silence. 

Do you want to share advice for other queer women or take us through your coming-out story or just talk a little about your journey?

I don’t know about advice, haha; there are so many incredible queer women and femmes out there and I don’t think they need advice from me. But even though there are plenty of bi/pan women/nonbinary poets to read (June Jordan comes to mind), you’re right that either word really isn’t getting around, or (more likely) we’re unintentionally overlooking people. As an example, the Lambda Literary Awards don’t have a Bisexual Poetry Award category. I know that there have been steps made this year to change that (by amazing people), so it’s getting better. But if someone were to nominate my book for a Lammy right now, I’ve been informed that they wouldn’t be able to. There isn’t a category for it. And it’s not like Favorite Daughter defies categorization, or that its author does. There’s just this overlook of certain people. And judges/reviewers that give literature awards especially need to pay attention to that.

As for my journey, I started writing all these stories about being bi/pan when I was in high school, and it got to the point where reality was hindering that expression. I spent a lot of time confused—as a lot of queer kids do—and it was worse because I was keeping it a secret. I kept putting off thinking about it because I would look at a (cis) guy and feel the way everybody was telling me was “normal,” so like a lot of people who are attracted to multiple genders, I initially thought I was straight. Every time I was attracted to or emotionally connected to a woman I would blame it on fluky hormones. But I wised up eventually. And when I started to come out to people, they took it well. I’ve been lucky with that. 

What is your family’s relationship to China while living in the U.S.? What aspects of culture do you / your family still retain?

My parents are both very connected to their families in China; my mom visits her family periodically and my dad’s family is split between here in America and in Beijing. When we lived in China they were totally comfortable. I’m very jealous of that easy familiarity with both countries. And as far as assimilation goes—there’s only so much you can “adjust” when you immigrate. You can learn English, and be afforded privileges in that way. You can choose not to do that, and people have. Specifically, because I have a closer proximity to whiteness than other POC, that gives me a different level of privilege. 

How has assimilation affected you and your family? 

Whatever the opposite of assimilation is (exclusion? mistranslation?), that’s the aspect of existence I think a lot of AAPI poets talk about more. Of course, that doesn’t mean that assimilation isn’t happening, and that it doesn’t have consequences; my forgotten language (Mandarin), my forgotten histories, the fact that I don’t know any of my ancestors’ names. These are all real. But who wouldn’t have an easier time writing about the things they know are happening versus the things they’ve forgotten have happened? That’s why, for me, assimilation represents privilege, and in a certain sense, amnesia. There are poems in my collection (like “Aperture”) that are about both. 

On “Colonial Conquest” in particular, how has your appearance affected your dating life? 

Oh, “Colonial Conquest”. Oh, Tinder. Navigating the dating realm in an Asian body has been an experience in perspective. When I date/talk with men of color on Tinder, they obviously understand racial navigation more than white men. Messaging white men who don’t have the same awareness can lead to awkward times. Colonial Conquest was just a compilation of times when that awkwardness turned hostile.

Could you talk about the process of publishing and putting together Favorite Daughter? Are you touring to promote the book? What’s it like being in the Write Bloody family?

I am touring! Soon! It’s a lot of work and I had so many nerves initially that were soothed by a variety of different amazing people. But anyway. Being a part of Write Bloody is surreal. The other day I was looking at Clint Smith’s Twitter and I just thought, we have the same publisher. Cue my hyperventilation. It’s incredible. I keep thinking I’m just living in my own fantasy and I’m about to wake up any second. 

When I’m promoting the book, it’s easy to forget that behind me there’s been a team of people helping me bring it to life. My experience working with all of them has been really eye-opening; all the editors and the commissioned graphic designers and sales representatives and social media contacts. There are layers and layers when it comes to this kind of work that I previously had not been aware of. What a privileged education. 

Interview edited for clarity and grammar. Special thanks to Nancy for infinite patience while I sat on this interview for far too long! I’m so excited to finally publish this article and loan out my copy.

Boys Will Be Boys

Boys Will Be Boys

by J. A. Anderson


i’m in third grade

a boy pushed my to the ground

and sat on top of me

he didn’t move until i made him

no one tried to help

Boys Will Be Boys


i’m in fourth grade

a boy threatened me with

chunks of concrete from the black top

no one stopped him from

throwing them at me

i had to defend myself

Boys Will Be Boys


i’m in the fifth grade

a gang of boys chased me

grabbed me

pulled on my hair

held onto my arms tightly

they didn’t let go until i got free

no one yelled at them

Boys Will Be Boys


i’m in sixth grade

and i sit with my legs open

it’s comfortable and

a boy sits the same way

i’m told to sit like a lady, with my legs closed

no one told him to sit with his legs closed

Boys Will Be Boys


i’m in the seventh grade

a boy made a sexual joke

about me

no one told him to stop

i didn’t make him stop

Boys Will Be Boys


i’m in the eighth grade

a boy called me a bitch

no told him to shut his mouth

he didn’t apologize

and i didn’t make him

Boys Will Be Boys


i’m in the ninth grade

a boy smacked me across the face

i hit him back

no one told him not to hit

he still thinks it was okay

Boys Will Be Boys

Held Responsible For Their Actions.

Just. Like. Girls.

I cut off twelve inches of my hair. The Art Form of Self-Expression.

My hair was over a foot long. So for my birthday, on July 13, I decided to have it cut.

All together, they cut off about four feet of hair which I plan on donating to a program called Wigs For Kids (linked below.) I’ve donated my hair three times now and will continue to do so as long as my hair grows.

My hair now hangs a little longer than chin-length and I’ve never felt so confident and empowered from a haircut. Maybe it’s the wave in it. Maybe the length. Maybe because it makes me look a little older. But I feel ready to take on the world.

I also like feeling a little rebellious. My hair is short and dyed a blue-green color, which is not very “feminine.” Girls are supposed to have long, natural hair, right? Nowadays, it has become more normal for people to have different haircuts. Pixie cuts, shaved heads, long hair and everything in between. But still, it’s fun to be a little rebellious now and then.

And then I dyed it blue with real hair dye. Not Kool-Aid, which I have also done. I love it so much. Not just because it looks cool or because it’s fun, but because it’s self-expression. Everything you do is an art form, it’s self-expression. Have fun with it!

Speaking of self-expression, I really do think it’s an art form. How you dress, how you do your makeup or if you choose not to. How you act. The things you love. The way your hair is styled. It’s art 1. I think it’s so beautiful that people like to present themselves in different ways that they think is beautiful to them.

If you are looking for some sort of change, get a fun haircut. It’s empowering and fun. It makes you feel good.

Do you have a lot of hair? You should try donating. Wigs For Kids is linked here.

Is your hair dyed? Do you have a cool haircut or just got one? Let us know in the comments!!!

  1. 1.
    the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.

Make Way for Moana

written by Jamie Anderson
June 26th, 2017

I’ve seen Moana about four times…maybe five. Six? And oh. My. Gosh. I love it so much. Moana came out in 2016 and is the newest Disney Princess movie. But Moana is unlike any other Disney princess that has ever been on the screen.

Moana Is The Hero 

In most Disney movies (notable exceptions are Brave and Mulan and… kind of Frozen) the men save the day. Even if the female character(s) are badass and can handle themselves, the men usually push them out of the spotlight. This is called the Trinity Syndrome.

“The Dissolve” explains it like this: “For the ordinary dude to be triumphant, the Strong Female Character has to entirely disappear into Subservient Trophy Character mode. This is Trinity Syndrome à la The Matrix: the hugely capable woman who never once becomes as independent, significant, and exciting as she is in her introductory scene”.

But in Moana, she is the protagonist, and eventually the person who saves the world. (Spoilers) She is the one who puts back the heart of Te Fiti back, stopping the darkness.

Photo credit: Disney Wikia

Yeah, Maui helps, but he doesn’t save the world like he was originally supposed to. He helps. He’s the supporting character.

There is No Love Interest

Sure, love in a movie is cute and sometimes funny, but it’s in just about every Disney movie. Usually, it’s the only thing the female characters do. They fall in love. That is their purpose. Even Rapunzel, the lovable lead in Tangled falls in love during her life-changing adventured to find out who she is. But in Moana, there is no love interest. It’s never brought up. She doesn’t say love is bad or she doesn’t want to marry, it’s just not there. Instead, she has a fun, platonic relationship with Maui, almost like a sister-brother relationship.

Whoo! Independence!

Moana (and other characters) are Properly Proportioned and Animated

Disney Princesses are always thin. Skinny hips, bigger boobs, thigh gaps, you know what I’m talking about it. Skinny Minnies. But that isn’t realistic at all. That tradition changes in Moana: she looks like a teenage girl…because she is one! Thighs, hips, muscular arms. Her parents, who are older, had wrinkles and laugh lines. They had tattoos and piercings. They looked like people! Yay!

Moana is Not White

If you do some research, you know that a lot of the Disney stories originate from different places in the world, which is great. But there is not a lot of diversity, particularly in casting for the voice actors. Moana is the first Polynesian “princess.”

Photo credit: Disney

(Technically, daughter of the village chief. Anyways…) Disney is slowly expanding their stories to include and focus on women and girls of color. Shout out to Hawaiian-born, American actress Auli’i Cravalho who voices Moana. Hurray!

Lastly, Moana is Actually a Good Leader

The princesses that are born into it are never seen being taught how to lead. We just assume the man in their life is going to take over? Lame! In Moana, we see her being taught to lead. And she’s good at it. She accepts her role, too. She solves problems, saves her island (and the world), teaches everyone how to sail on the open ocean, thinks of her people, and is shown teaching children, saving animals, and helping others through pain. Do you see what I’m saying?

In conclusion, I love Moana. By far, she’s my favorite Disney Princess. If you haven’t seen it yet,  you have to.

Photo Credit below. Moana vs. Ariel. Featured photo from Google Photos.

Image result for Moana vs other princesses