RIP the gender binary

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More and more young people are rejecting the binary and embracing an identity that falls outside traditional gender norms, says new figures released by the Higher Education Statistics Agency.

According to research, the number of students who declared their gender as “other” on university forms has more than doubled in the past year. In the past 12 months, in fact, more than 800 students in the UK declined to categorise themselves under the traditional terms of “man” or “woman”, compared to just 395 in the year previous.

King’s College London was among the highest tallies of gender non-conforming students, with other creative institutions such as Glasgow School of Art and Courtauld Institute of Art not far behind. However, the 830 students who prefer to identify as a third, other gender come from a wide cross-section of British universities, with a concentration of the data coming from Strathclyde and Salford too.

The move away from the gender binary is not just confined to university students either. In the past years things which were considered strictly “feminine” — like make-up — are being reclaimed by a generation sick of traditional gender norms. Clothes have followed suit, with an increasingly number of luxury fashion houses offering gender neutral collections rather than the traditional menswear and womenswear.

Those choices are reflected in the day to day lives of queer teenagers, whose sexuality and gender identity are finally becoming less ‘othered’ and more accepted. The change has been welcomed by students both non-binary and cis-gender, and by university staff. Anthony Grayling, who works at New College of the Humanities, told The Times: “People should be completely free to let others know how they like to be thought of and addressed.

“It’s a phenomenon very widespread among people of university age and this is an important time for them to think about who and what they are. They are experimenting with their identity and the important thing is they should be completely free to do that.”

Gay Life flourished in Berlin before the Nazis snuffed it out

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Last year, close to 13 million people visited Berlin, twice the number of annual visitors recorded 10 years previously. The city is positively bursting at the seams. Not many years ago, a vast number of Berlin apartments stood empty; these days, a pervasive housing shortage threatens to get worse. Berlin is in. But Berlin is also a projection surface for dreams and desires, a promise of a different, freer, better life.

Now, this Berlin enthusiasm is nothing new. Close to a century ago – as the Weimar Republic was nearing its end – Berlin was already a vibrant metropolis the likes of which could not be found anywhere else in the world.

“The city looks to me like a scintillating gem,” the American dancer and singer Josephine Baker observed.  “These big coffee shops are like ocean steamers, and the orchestras are their machines that resound all over the place, keeping it in motion. The music is everywhere.”

Visitors both German and foreign, such as the two English writers W.H. Auden and Christopher Isherwood, felt almost magically attracted by Berlin – by the city’s great size, by its rhythm, but most of all by its gay scene. “Berlin,” Auden remarked, “is a dream for pederasts.” And Isherwood, years afterward, expressed the city’s fascination most succinctly: “To Christopher,” he wrote, “Berlin meant boys.” Everything seemed possible; everything was possible.

As the capital city of the German Empire (the Second Reich, dissolved in 1919), Berlin was already the home of a multibranched, many-sided queer subculture. In the 1920s, Berlin could offer more than a hundred cafés, bars, and taverns that were mainly frequented by queer people of all stripes.

The writer Emil Szittya remembered a visit to a transvestite bar named “Mikado”: “At the piano sat the Herr Baron Sattlergrün, who however preferred to be called ‘Baroness.’” Another legendary spot was Silhouette, a small, permanently smoke-filled pub that did a thriving business well into the wee hours of the morning. While the guests ate chicken soup, a pale young man, wearing woman’s clothes and accompanied by a blind pianist, would sing melancholy songs; Marlene Dietrich and the composer Friedrich Hollaender were two of Silhouette’s regular customers.

In the evening hours, certain parts of the Tiergarten (the large park in the middle of the city) were turned into gay playgrounds; moreover, there were veritable gay brothels, camouflaged as bathhouses or massage parlors, where men could meet and have sex.

Read on…

Gay Culture is…

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Twitter user @introvertgay recently posted a message about gay culture that many people in LGBTQ community can relate to. “Gay culture is being a teenager when you’re 30 because your teenage years were not yours to live,” he wrote.

In 2012, the Human Rights Campaign surveyed more than 10,000 LGBT-identified youth, ages 13-17, and found that 42 percent of queer kids in America report living in a community that is “not accepting.” Ninety-two percent of them also said they “hear negative messages about being LGBT.”

In 2015, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a report that showed 34 percent of gay students are bullied on school property, 10 percent are threatened or injured with a weapon on school property, 28 percent are bullied online, and 18 percent have experienced physical dating violence.

@introvertgay explained the thought process behind his tweet (that spawned a whole “gay culture is…” meme) in a post on Medium that you can check out here.

Cartoons are queerer than ever

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While Cartoon Network’s Steven Universe gets plenty of credit for bringing queer issues to kids’ TV (rightfully so) thankfully, it’s not alone. In fact, the number of queer cartoons is rapidly increasing. And while not every show necessarily gets it right (looking at you, Voltron), at least there are many more other opportunities for young LGBTQ kids to see themselves on screen.

The past few years, there have been many queer cartoons — or at least queer cartoon characters. There was the first same-sex kiss in a kids’ cartoon in Disney’s Star vs. the Forces of Evil, gay parents have appeared in Cartoon Network‘s Clarence and Nickelodeon’s The Loud House and there was a relationship between two Adventure Time characters being build up over ten seasons.

Of course, the one doing the most for queer representation in animation is Rebecca Sugar, creator of Steven Universe. Alex Hirsch, creator of Gravity Fallssaid Sugar is “driving a race car way, way ahead of everyone else,” when it comes to representation. “Every time a creator or a network decides to try to go a little further and do something maybe other networks have been scared to do, suddenly we’ve opened up that space.”

Hirsch’s Gravity Falls has had its own issues with trying to insert representation. In a 2014 episode, “The Love God,” about Cupid making people fall in love, originally was to feature a couple of old women in love. The women were depicted as background characters in the storyboards — basically, a blink-and-you-miss it situation.

But Disney’s standards and practices department objected. Hirsch says, “The truth is they’re scared of getting emails from bigots and they’re cowards. So they’re letting the bigots control the conversation. My response was basically, ‘Let ‘em complain,’ ‘they’re wrong,’ and ‘they’re just gonna have to live with it.’ Unfortunately, it got so contentious that [the network] essentially told me that if I didn’t cut the scene they would cut the episode and they strong-armed me out of it.” Thankfully, in the season finale, Hirsch was allowed to have two other characters, Sheriff Blubs and Deputy Durland, come out as lovers.

Even Rebecca Sugar had problems initially; she said Cartoon Network came to her with notes, but she held her ground. Sugar said, “If this is going to cost me my show that’s fine because this is a huge injustice and I need to be able to represent myself and my team through this show and anything less would be unfair to my audience.”

On July 4, Steven Universe aired the first same-sex wedding, featuring a full on-the-mouth kiss. And as a added twist of the knife to the international markets where queer issues are censored, she put the more traditionally feminine character Sapphire in a suit, and the more masculine Ruby in a dress. (In these homophobic countries, Ruby is often dubbed with a male voice actor, to avoid having Ruby and Sapphire be a same-sex couple.)

Though we’ve come far with queer cartoons, as we’ve discovered with Voltron, there’s a long way to come. Even though Voltron engaged in the “bury your gays” trope and the queer representation was shown in only two scenes, Netflix promoted the show with lots of rainbows — trying to take advantage of the trend for LGBTQ representation while botching it just the same.

Rolling back America’s cultural Hatred of Foreskin

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Throughout the course of human history, wars have been fought and lost for seemingly trivial things. Whether it’s a patch of land between two countries or the Second Amendment, there’s no end to the limits that people will go in order to defend an abstract concept or physical place they’re attached to in some way.

The foreskin is admittedly not exactly the same as the West Bank or the right to bear arms, but the issue of circumcision has still ignited a fierce internecine war that has swirled for decades. The ins and outs of the circumcision debate cut to the core of the cultural differences between Britain and America—nations with very different approaches when it comes to how we treat our infant males.

In an increasingly globalised world, the foreskin is so much more than just a piece of skin or the plotline in a Friends episode. It’s the cultural dividing line that separates Yanks from the Brits.

“I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a uncircumcised penis,” says 27-year-old New Yorker Olivia. “If I saw one in the wild today I would probably not recognize it.”

Read on…

The vast gap between how the US and Europe think about teens & sex

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Eighth Grade is a highly-acclaimed coming-of-age movie about a 13-year-old American girl enduring the trials and tribulations of modern adolescence. But while teenagers in the US might well relate to the movie’s heroine, they won’t be able to see the movie in theaters—unless they’re at least 17 or accompanied by a parent or guardian. That’s because the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) gave the film an R rating for “language and some sexual material.”

There aren’t many other ratings to compare that against. The movie has only been shown overseas in two countries–the United Kingdom and Canada. But in Canada, Eighth Grade was given a 14A rating, meaning that everyone older than 14 can see it without an adult. Meanwhile, the movie played at the London Sundance film festival, but hasn’t yet been released for commercial viewing in the UK. The British equivalent of the MPAA, the British Board of Film Classification, hasn’t yet rated Eighth Grade, but it’s a good bet that, when it does, the movie will be rated more leniently.

Scene from the Swedish teen film The Ketchup Effect

The discrepancy in Eighth Grade’s Canada and US ratings is symbolic of the difference between the US and the rest of the world, according to the movie’s director Bo Burnham. “There seems to be a strange double-standard between sexuality and violence,” he tells Quartz. “It’s a little weird how much violence you can have in a PG-13 movie.” That’s because, as Charles Bramesco argues in a recent piece for Vox, movie ratings reflect what a culture deems acceptable content for children. And the US and Europe are on very different pages about what they view as child-appropriate.

Read on…

Summer Penis?

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We’ve all heard about “shrinkage,” but there’s a theory that a penis grows larger in warmer weather, too. As the temperature rises, some people swear they get “summer penis,” adding a few cm in length and girth down below. An article in MEL magazine explored this phenomenon, quoting several Reddit users who say the heat led to bigger penises, better erections and larger testicles.x

“Bigger dick in summer and smaller in winter?” posted a Redditor named Guillermo in 2016. “Anybody notices size fluctuation during the year? I know mine is bigger, I have better erections in the summer and I also tend more to of a shower instead of a grower. In the winter, it is the exact contrary. Why is that? More heat = better blood flow? Does that happen to you guys also?”

A number of users piped up to agree: One claimed that in deep winter his penis is about two inches soft. In the hot months, though, it can swell to twice that size (even larger “if I don’t masturbate for a few days”). Another revealed that he had “summer balls”: “I mean, when it’s hot they like to go down like if they were trying to get to my knee. In winter or cold days they look like a little hard brain.”

Of course, people have been scheming to upsize their shlongs for centuries, but there may be some science to summer penis. “When it’s hot outside, you may take in more water, which may in combination with the sweating make it appear like your body or skin is bloated,” urologist Dr. Jamin Brahmbhatt told MEL. “And that may give you the perception that things are larger.”

And, just like blood vessels contract when confronted with cold, they expand when warm to regulate heat. “The warmer the ambient environment, the more the blood vessels dilate, and the warmth allowing vasodilation increases blood flow,” urologist Dudley Danoff says. “So if we think of the penis as these two sausage casings that fill with blood, and the one channel that carries the urine, then the sausage casing will swell and expand to its genetic limit depending on the volume of blood. The increased blood flow will increase, and the corpora [the erectile tissue] will be expanded, and the penis will be ‘larger.’”

Unsettling metaphors about sausage aside, Danoff says the increased blood flow wouldn’t hold true when the penis is flaccid, but Dr. Jesse Mills director of the Men’s Clinic at UCLA disagrees. Mills has told Health.com, “penile size in the flaccid state is purely a function of how much blood flow is circulating in the penis. The warmer the environment, the more ‘show’ a man is going to have.”

One Size definitely doesn’t fit all (when it comes to Condoms)

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Pasante, one of the largest independent condom manufacturers in the UK, has released a condom sizer card that allows people to slip their boners into differently sized holes, all to determine what size condom will work best for them.

While it’s super important to use condoms that actually fit your penis size, we hope Pasante’s condom sizer card isn’t made solely out of hard cardboard, because sticking your penis into that would hurt.

According to one custom-size condom manufacturer, various condom studies have shown that one-size-fits-all condoms don’t actually fit anywhere from 40–45% of people with penises. Either the condoms are too long, too short, too tight or too loose.

When a condom is too tight it can be difficult to put on quickly and it can uncomfortably constrict the penis, causing pain and reducing blood flow, both of which can lead to a loss of the erection. When a condom is too loose it bunches up near the base, which can reduce sexual stimulation and even run the risk of slipping off during sex.

Often gay folks will use whatever condoms they get for free at the gay bar, or they’ll just buy whatever’s cheapest at the drug store, but it’s a good idea to really examine and experiment to see which ones are going to work best for you.

A few years ago extra small condoms for teens between 12 and 14 went on sale in Switzerland. Called the Hotshot, the condom has been produced after government research showed that teenagers did not use sufficient protection when having sex.

Study shows why so few queer Teenagers do School Sports

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High school athletics are practically a right of passage for most American teenagers, but there’s a certain demographic that’s getting left out of this activity: LGBTQ kids.

New research from the Human Rights Council shows not only the disparity in playing sports between straight and gay high school kids in the United States, but also some of the biggest reasons for that gap. The major takeaway is that while 68 percent of cisgender/heterosexual teenagers compete in high school sports, the same is true of only 24 percent of LGBTQ students.

That number drops even lower (20 percent) in states that don’t have any policies on the books to protect the rights of LGBTQ teens in sports – or have regressive rules pertaining to trans and gender identity.

The reasons for the lack of participation aren’t too hard to guess: LGBTQ teens simply don’t see themselves being accepted. They worry that their teammates and coaches will tease them, threaten them in a locker room setting or critique them for not being “masculine” enough. Of the kids that do play, about 80 percent are not out to their coaches, primarily for that reason.

Public opinion validates the teens’ feelings. 78 percent of sports fans and athletes acknowledged that youth sports aren’t a safe space for LGBTQ students, and 84 percent say they’ve seen anti-LGBTQ sentiments expressed in athletic settings. That doesn’t exactly make for a warm welcome.

Understandably, sports are most off-putting for trans and non-gender conforming youth. With most sports teams segregated by sex, students who don’t look like their teammates are commonly ostracized, and, in some states, are even forbidden from participating.

The HRC research fills an important hole in our understanding of LGBTQ sports. Although there have been a good amount of work examining queer participation in professional and collegiate sports, the data at the high school level is lacking. By seeing how many LGBTQ people abstain from sports as teenagers, it better illustrates why there aren’t a lot of (out, anyway) gay role models in professional sports – they avoid school athletics before they can develop the necessary skills.

The interesting thing is that the LGBTQ students who do participate in sports are happier and healthier than those who do not. Though still at the high rates you’d hope, student athletes are significantly more likely to have positive self-esteem, feel safe in at school and say they are less depressed than their queer counterparts who skip out on sports. It’s a remarkable correlation, but the study cannot say whether sports help these students to adjust or the better-adjusted students feel more comfortable joining sports.

The HRC further explains that school sports help to promote “equality, fairness, perseverance, discipline and integrity” – not the kind of traits we want to exclude LGBQ students from. Arguably, all kids can learn these traits better from having a diverse set of teammates including, so it should be a priority for schools to find ways to be more inviting and inclusive to these marginalized teens.

Nudity in Germany

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When I was a kid, my father always used to sunbathe nude in our garden at weekends. In public pools, children of all ages were allowed to run around naked all the time. Even now I’m comfortable with getting naked in the sauna or gym changing room. Maybe it’s because I’m German.

Nudism is traditionally popular in Germany, a country considered buttoned up and conservative compared with, let’s say, Italy. In Germany, nudism is known as Freikoerperkultur (FKK), Free Body Culture. When you travel there, you’ll see that baring all is normal in saunas, swimming pools, the park and on the beach.

Summer in the parks of Berlin and Munich brings the chance of encountering a middle-aged, bronzed German wearing only a hat and the BILD-Zeitung, Germany’s favorite tabloid.

Forget sausages and beer, the sign of true German-ness is publicly disrobing with absolutely zero self-consciousness. For me, it’s often just quicker and easier to do a clean strip at the pool or sauna than frantically trying to hide the bits that everyone else is already displaying without batting an eyelid.

Divided by the Iron Curtain, united by nudity

Germany’s passion for clotheslessness finds its origins in late-19th-century health drives when stripping off was seen as part of a route to fitness and sunbathing a possible cure for TB and rheumatism.

In 1920, while the rest of Europe was still getting feverish over the sight an exposed ankle, Germany established its first nude beach on the island of Sylt. Barely a decade later, the Berlin School of Nudism, founded to encourage mixed sex open-air exercises, hosted the first international nudity congress.

The Nazi era brought mixed fortunes for nudism, its ongoing popularity tempered by a moral clampdown. Laws passed in 1933 limited mixed-sex nudism as “a reaction to the increased immorality of the Weimar state.” More restrictions followed amid claims the scene was a “breeding ground for Marxists and homosexuals.” Nevertheless, it remained popular, enjoying support among members of the paramilitary SS.

Rules were softened in 1942 but still subject to Nazi prejudices that predictably focused on Jews and other “undesirables.” But war didn’t dampen Germany’s enthusiasm for stripping off, even when the country was divided by the Iron Curtain.

After the war, nudism was equally popular in both German states. Even as the country was being split asunder in 1949, some in the West were busy founding the Association for Free Body Culture — an organization that today is part of the German Olympic Sport Federation and the largest member of the International Naturist Federation.

Naked proletariat

Nudism was particularly popular in East Germany, or German Democratic Republic as it was known. It was secretly considered a form of escape from the uniforms, marches and conformity of the communist state. East Germans were free to practice nudism and did so wherever possible: at lakes, sea beaches and large FKK camping grounds. There was also, of course, an official socialist institution with a long, uninspiring name.

The “Proletarische Freikoerperkulturbewegung” or Proletarian Free Body Movement had 60,000 members. Nude scenes in GDR movies appeared long before the first naked people appeared in Hollywood films. The fondness for getting naked on both sides of the Iron Curtain also led to some curious incidents. GDR border guards were tasked with training their binoculars on the FKK beach just over the border to observe the behavior of naked capitalists.

Even German Chancellor Angela Merkel was said to have practiced nudism during her youth in the GDR — although it’s not been confirmed whether recently unearthed photos purporting to show her swimming and walking naked with friends are the real deal.

When West Germans started to holiday all over Europe, they brought their penchant for letting it all hang out with them. Nude resorts began opening in France in the 1950s, followed by increasingly popular FKK ventures in Yugoslavia and on the Baltic Sea.

In the beginning beach culture was mostly intermixed and nudity was widely tolerated — perhaps the reason why topless sunbathing is still acceptable on most beaches around the Mediterranean. Vacationing at the large nudist resort of Cap d’Agde in France became popular for Germans when it opened in the 1960s.

Today Germans are typically the most commonly seen nationality at European nude beaches. Back home, there are many nudist camping areas to be found along Germany’s coast and along the lake shores of the former GDR. That said, it’s not permitted to strip everywhere. Walking around naked in public areas where most other people are dressed counts as a minor breach of the law. Prosecutions can follow if another citizen is offended, but few ever are.

Where to bare it all

Today, there are about 600,000 Germans registered in more than 300 private nudist/FKK clubs and a further 14 affiliated clubs in Austria. Members visit these clubs to sunbathe nude or indulge in a spot of nacktjoggen or nacktwandern — naked jogging or rambling through the countryside wearing only backpacks, boots or running shoes.

A list of FKK clubs is available on the German-language homepage of the German Federation of Naturist Clubs. The heartland of public nakedness also still has a plethora of designated FKK beaches and nudist zones in public parks and on beaches.

The English Garden in Munich has two large FKK areas on the banks of the Eisbach creek. Berlin public parks have FKK areas: the famous Mauerpark in Prenzlauer Berg, the Volkspark Friedrichshain and the Tiergarten, and it’s permitted to get naked on all Berlin’s public bathing beaches, such as at Wannsee or the Mueggelsee.
Along the German coastline, the nudity ground zero of Sylt Island is still going strong. Sylt’s Kampen beach might now be a popular destination for the rich and famous — but in Germany, they too love getting their clothes off.

For those who like to put some distance between themselves and the next naked bather, Germany’s largest Baltic island, Ruegen, has no fewer than five FKK beaches. A full list of public nude bathing areas is available in German at nacktbaden.de.

How to get naked in Germany

The easiest way to bare it all in Deutschland is to visit one of the aforementioned public FKK areas. As these are mostly located in areas with a mixed dressed/undressed crowd, there’s no problem with partially disrobing until you feel comfortable. There are no changing rooms, so undressing takes place in public — but again, not one German is going to be offended by this.

Most FKK beaches on the coast will also have signs indicating textile-free zones. After passing these signs, visitors will need to disrobe immediately to avoid being reprimanded by the lifeguards who also enforce the rules.

Private FKK clubs welcome new members and offer trial memberships for beginners. The days of bare-it-all Germany, however, seem to be in decline. Most young people are fine with sunbathing topless in parks and pools, and like me have no qualms whatsoever with undressing for the sauna. But the ideals of the German nudist movement are slowly dying away.

FKK clubs have complained about shedding members, in east Germany especially, since the Berlin Wall came down. Maybe in today’s Germany there’s no longer a need for demonstrating liberty and freedom by shedding our clothes.

via CNN Travel