Merriam-Webster dictionary adds gender-neutral ‘they’ pronoun

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Merriam-Webster gave the use of “they” as a nonbinary, gender neutral pronoun this certain whiff of linguistic authority by adding the definition to the dictionary in their most recent batch of additions.

The announcement was made on Twitter and certain people predictably lost their shit. But as Merriam-Webster acknowledged, the definition reflects an increasingly common usage of the “singular they.”

A recent study has shown that usage of the singular “they” has a welcome side-effect: It boosts positive attitudes towards women and queer people.

The dictionary’s senior editor Emily Brewster told the Guardian, “Merriam-Webster does not try to be at the vanguard of change in the language. Over the past few decades, there has been so much evidence that this is a fully established use of ‘they’ in the English language. This is not new.”

In a blog post, the authors of the dictionary addressed critics who argue that using “they” to describe one person is grammatically incorrect, which includes many right-wingers who seem to only care about grammar when it comes to the pronouns queer people choose to identify themselves with:

We will note that they has been in consistent use as a singular pronoun since the late 1300s; that the development of singular they mirrors the development of the singular you from the plural you, yet we don’t complain that singular you is ungrammatical; and that regardless of what detractors say, nearly everyone uses the singular they in casual conversation and often in formal writing.

It’s not quite as newfangled as it seems: we have evidence in our files of the nonbinary they dating back to 1950, and it’s likely that there are earlier uses of the nonbinary pronoun they out there.


Arizona Supreme Court tells businesses it’s OK to discriminate against gay people

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Whatever happened to Christians leaving the judging to god? The Supreme Court of Arizona just ruled in favour of two Christian business owners who sued the city of Phoenix so they wouldn’t have to abide by its requirement to provide services for a same-sex wedding.

In 2016, the “devout Christian” owners of Brush & Nib — an Arizona-based business that makes hand-written calligraphic invitations and signs — sued the city of Phoenix because the city’s anti-discrimination ordinance allegedly violated the company’s freedom of speech (ie. their right to refuse service to people they think are dirty sinners).

Brush & Nib’s co-owners Joanna Duka and Breanna Koski sued to overturn the city’s civil rights law before any complaints could be filed against them. They also wanted to post a sign saying that they refuse to serve same-sex couples.

In its decision, the court wrote, “Our holding today is limited to Plaintiffs’ creation of one product: custom wedding invitations.” As such, the ruling doesn’t apply to all businesses in Arizona, but it’s not hard to see how it could.

After all, anti-gay Christians owners of wedding-related businesses — bakeries, florists, videographers, wedding dress makers — have piped up all over the oh-so-free United States stating that their religious beliefs compel them not to serve The Gays.

So really, what’s the difference between these businesses and Brush and Nib? Little to nothing. And if these business fight for their right to discriminate against same-sex couples, Arizona’s Supreme Court seems prepared to give them permission.

Famous skeletons holding hands were male

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A pair of hand-holding skeletons–the so-called Lovers of Modena –in a burial site in Italy have been found to be male, according to researchers at the University of Bologna. The two bodies were discovered in 2009 and are believed to have been buried between the 4th and 6th century.

The sex of the skeletons could not be determined using genetic analysis at first but researchers developed a new technique using a protein found in tooth enamel and determined that both skeletons likely belonged to men, according to an article published in Scientific Reports.

This isn’t the first ancient grave site archaeologists have found with two people buried hand-in-hand; others have been found in Greece, Turkey, Romania, and Russia. But those were all male and female couples. And while researchers were confident enough about the couple’s relationship to name them the “Lovers of Modena” in 2009, discovering that they were both men has researchers confused.

“There are currently no other examples of this type,” Federico Lugli, the lead author of the study, told Rai News. “Many tombs have been found in the past with couples holding hands, but in all cases there was a man and a woman. What might have been the bond between the two individuals in the burial in Modena remains a mystery.”

Lugli said that it wasn’t common for men to be buried like this in this time period, but that their burial suggests a relationship of some sort. “In late antiquity it is unlikely that homosexual love could be recognised so clearly by the people who prepared the burial,” he said, suggesting that they may have been cousins or soldiers.

Yeah, about that…

A guide to transgender visibility

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It’s been 10 years since activist Rachel Crandall established Trans Day of Visibility (TDoV) as the first holiday of its kind: a celebration of transgender and nonbinary people, meant to raise awareness of the discrimination we face in order to create a world where we can enjoy the fullness of our lives.

Many trans people face a grim decision regarding visibility in an era where modest gains for trans rights coexist with rising far-right reactionary backlash. This can be particularly difficult for newly-out trans people or those just beginning to fully embrace the complexity of their identities, as they attempt to navigate the murky, uncertain waters of being visibly trans. Here are a few pieces of advice that I hope can bring clarity.

How do I handle cis people asking me to explain my gender to them?

One of the least fun things about being visibly trans is when cis people take it as an invitation to interrogate you. Not all of these interactions are hostile, but enough are, and even if it’s just an overly inquisitive friend, cis folks don’t understand how invasive those questions can feel. Whether it happens face-to-face or online, it can be difficult to know how to navigate those situations, especially if you (like me) feel an obligation to try and educate people who just happen to be a little clueless.

You don’t owe your story to cis people, though. It’s good to increase awareness, but unless they’re planning to pay your invoice, you don’t need to feel any obligation to do labor for them. Judge each interaction on its own, and if you feel comfortable and safe enough in that moment to share how you relate to yourself, go for it — bringing more empathy into the world is always a noble goal. If not, well…we’ll get to that in a minute.

Read on…

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Don’t put toothpaste on your dick

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Here’s a tip that you probably never thought you’d have to read: Don’t put toothpaste on your dick.  Or someone else’s. Unless they ask you to. And even then probably don’t.

There’s been a slew of articles in British tabloids — like The Sun and the Daily Mail — declaring that guys have been applying toothpaste to their penis in order to combat premature ejaculation and erectile dysfunction. Is it true? Probably not. Like kids eating Tide Pods, this seems to be just another dumb internet rumour made up for clicks and then passed around by gullible Facebook users.

No doctors have come forward to say that there’s been an increase in people doing this — only an increase in articles written about it.

The rumour seems to have started with some weird YouTube videos that recommended toothpaste as some kind of sexual aid, with grammatically creative voice-overs that sound like awkward translations. “See what happens when rub toothpaste in the secret area,” drones a robot-voice in one such video that has, incredibly, over three million views.

“In toothpaste is more than you can clean your teeth,” says another robotically-narrated video, this one with over a million views.

Videos like these are cheaply produced, consisting of low-quality clip-art and text-to-speech narration with a link to spammy snake-oil sites in the description. That they have so many views is probably more of an indication that YouTube is a broken platform than that anyone is actually following the advice.

Of course, people with penises are likely to try rubbing all kinds of strange substances on themselves. But toothpaste is a particularly bad one to experiment with, which is why it’s an old sleepaway camp prank to put toothpaste in someone’s underwear.

If someone were to apply toothpaste to their penis — and they shouldn’t — it would tingle and sting, which they could possibly mistake for a positive effect, particularly if lack of sensation has been an issue in the past. But that feeling is actually the skin becoming irritated and damaged. In fact, prolonged exposure could cause a painful chemical burn.

Depending on what brand you use, there are abrasive substances in toothpaste, as well as bleaching agents and irritating oils. Toothpaste is only meant for use on teeth; extended contact on any other part of the body can cause pain and injury.

If you are experiencing erectile dysfunction or premature ejaculation, there are plenty of other solutions: Breathing exercises are one useful technique or trying different lubricants. You might benefit from talking to a therapist. And of course, there are plenty of pharmaceuticals like Viagra that promise to assist.

In fact, the availability of more clinically validated sexual aids could be another reason that various websites like The Sun and local news channels have run so many articles about this mostly nonexistent problem. Those sites run ads for other sexual aids, and people looking for help with their genitals may be lured in my headlines about toothpaste before clicking on affiliate links and banner ads, thereby garnering a few cents’ worth of traffic.

In the same way that shoddy YouTube videos market weird sexual remedies, tabloids are here to market weird sexual remedies of their own. An article in The Sun that debunks toothpaste also links to breathless coverage of a “penis spray” that “helps men last longer in bed” — it’s just a bottle of the same numbing agent in sore-throat medicine.

Genetics can have an impact on sexual preference

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The findings of what is being touted as the largest-ever study of the role genetics plays in same-sex sexual behaviour found that genetics plays about a third of the influence on whether someone has same-sex sex but there’s no single “gay gene,” the New York Times and many other outlets reported last week citing findings published in the journal Science.

The influence comes not from one gene but many, each with a tiny effect — and the rest of the explanation includes social or environmental factors — making it impossible to use genes to predict someone’s sexual orientation, the Times reports.

The study of nearly half a million people, funded by the National Institutes of Health and other agencies, found differences in the genetic details of same-sex behaviour in men and women. The research also suggests the genetics of same-sex sexual behaviour shares some correlation with genes involved in some mental health issues and personality traits — although the authors said that overlap could simply reflect the stress of enduring societal prejudice, the Times reports.

The study analysed the genetic data of 408,000 men and women from a large British database, the U.K. Biobank, who answered extensive health and behaviour questions between 2006-2010, when they were between the ages of 40-69. The researchers also used data from nearly 70,000 customers of the genetic testing service 23andMe, who were 51 years old on average, mostly American, and had answered survey questions about sexual orientation. All were of white European descent, one of several factors that the authors note limit their study’s generalisability. Trans people were not included, the Times reports.

The researchers mainly focused on answers to one question: whether someone ever had sex with a same-sex partner, even once.

A much higher proportion of the 23andMe sample — about 19 percent compared to about 3 percent of the Biobank sample — reported a same-sex sexual experience, a difference possibly related to cultural factors or because the specific 23andMe sexual orientation survey might attract more LGB participants, the Times reports.

Despite its limitations, the research was much larger and more varied than previous studies, which generally focused on gay men, often those who were twins or were otherwise related.

There might be thousands of genes influencing same-sex sexual behaviour, each playing a small role, scientists believe. The new study found that all genetic effects likely account for about 32 percent of whether someone will have same-sex sex, the Times reports.

Using a big-data technique called genome-wide association, the researchers estimated that common genetic variants — single-letter differences in DNA sequences — account for between 8 percent and 25 percent of same-sex sexual behaviour. The rest of the 32 percent might involve genetic effects they could not measure, they said.

At last, a generation of schoolchildren will grow up knowing it’s OK to be LGBT

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Students across England are heading back to school this week, and while this might not seem momentous, for Stonewall, this school year marks the beginning of the end of a decades-long campaign to get an inclusive education system in England.

In September 2020, new regulations for teaching relationships and sex education (RSE) in English schools come into force. It will be a landmark moment – a whole generation will attend schools that not only accept LGBT people and same-sex relationships, but also celebrate and offer support on the issues that young LGBT people face.

The guidance means that primary schools will teach about different families, which of course includes LGBT families. Contrary to what’s been said by some online and in the media, this is just about showing kids that families can have two mums or two dads. Or to put another way: different families, same love.

Read on…


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U.S. court says teen sexting with friends is a child pornographer

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A teen who texted her friends a video of herself engaging in a consensual sex act is considered a child pornographer under Maryland’s law, the state’s highest court ruled Wednesday. For the first time, the Maryland Court of Appeals said it had to grapple with applying the state’s child pornography law to minors who consensually engage in sexting.

The court decided that the state’s child pornography statute does apply to a 16-year-old girl who texted a one-minute video of herself to her teenage best friends. In the video, she is seen performing a consensual sex act on a male.

In his opinion, Judge Joseph M. Getty said that the court had to contend with this question: “Can a minor legally engaged in consensual sexual activity be his or her own pornographer through the act of sexting?”

In a 6–1 ruling, the judges decided that the answer was yes, despite considering the “complexities of the sociocultural phenomenon of sexting by minors.” The Court of Appeals upheld an earlier decision by a lower court, which ruled that self-produced child pornography or consensual sex acts by a minor were not exempted from the state’s criminal statute.

However, the Court of Appeals urged Maryland’s legislators to update the state’s child pornography statute to reflect how teens today use cellphones, especially when it comes to sexting. Maryland is one of 22 states that has not passed legislation to amend its child pornography statue “since the advent of sexting,” the court noted.

The 16-year-old girl, identified as S.K. by the court, had a group text chat with two of her best friends. S.K. and her friends, a 16-year-old girl and a 17-year-old boy, shared “silly photos and videos” to “one-up” each other, the court said. The three friends, who attended the Maurice J. McDonough High School in 2016–2017, trusted each other to keep their group messages private.

As part of their “one-up” competition, S.K. texted both of them a one-minute video of herself performing fellatio on a male in October 2016. At the end of the year, the three friends had a falling-out and S.K.’s video was distributed to other students at the school. Both her former friends also reported the video to the school’s resource officer.

Read on…