Bernadette Barton Talks About “Pray the Gay Away”

Feminist Conversations is a regular feature here at Feminists For Choice. Today we have the pleasure of talking to Bernadette Barton, author of Stripped: Inside the Lives of Exotic Dancers (2006) and Pray the Gay Away: The Extraordinary Lives of Bible Belt Gays (2012). Today we are focusing on Pray the Gay Away and homosexuality in the Bible Belt area.

1. What inspired you to write Pray the Gay Away?
I write about what I call the “abomination incident” in the introduction to Pray the Gay Away. A neighbor told me being gay was an abomination after I came out to him. Although this kind of testifying is relatively commonplace in the Bible Belt, I had never before encountered a stranger who felt entitled to judge me as sinful, and tell me so, based on my sexual orientation. I grew up in Massachusetts in a politically progressive family and was unaccustomed to this kind of interaction. So, even though I had lived in Kentucky for 11 years by this point, I had not experienced much homophobia. My experience as a graduate student at the University of Kentucky, surrounded largely by lesbians, led me to believe that this sort of homophobia had ended.

I was both surprised and troubled by this encounter – the abomination incident – in 2003. Shortly thereafter began the 2004 presidential election season with an anti-gay marriage amendment on the Kentucky ballot. At this point, the homophobic discourse in the public sphere amped up considerably. Marrying a same-sex partner was compared to marrying a dog, horse, child and cousin. Homosexuality was constructed as polluting and contagious. And yard sign and bumper stickers displayed people’s public attitudes about gay people, many of which were in opposition to gay rights.

It became forcefully clear to me that homophobic attitudes and actions were alive, and integral to many people’s understanding of their social worlds. Since I had found my relatively small encounters with stranger homophobia so disturbing, I began to wonder how such attitudes affected gay people who grew up in the region. I was relatively lucky not to negotiate bigoted beliefs directed against my person-ness until I was in my mid-20s. What would it be like, I imagined, to process this kind of condemnation while one’s identity was still forming? Thus, Pray the Gay Away was conceived, and I formally interviewed 59 people from the Bible Belt and have had informal conversations with over 200 others. [Read more...]

Good News About Teen Birth Rates

A recent study from the National Center for Health Statistics reports that teen birth rates in the U.S. have hit a record low: “31.3 births per 1,000 girls and women” between the ages of 15 and 19. These rates have been going down for a number of years, but this represents an eight percent decline in a single year (2010 to 2011), which is pretty impressive. Overall, teen birth rates have fallen 49 percent since 1991.

While the study just looks at the numbers, and not factors that may have led to the drop, researchers have suggested several reasons that could be contributing to the decline. Teens are delaying the age at which they begin having sex, and it is becoming more common for teenagers to use contraception—including methods that were once recommended primarily for older women, such as the IUD.

[Read more...]

I Was A Pro-Life Teenager

Today’s guest post comes from Philippa Willitts, a British freelance writer who also blogs for The F-WordWhere’s the Benefit?, and her own personal blog. She can be found procrastinating on twitter both personally (@incurablehippie) and professionally (@philippawrites), and she enjoys good food, good friends, and nature. 

I grew up Roman Catholic. Nearly all my friends were Catholic, I went to Catholic state schools, and I went to Mass weekly. I took my faith very seriously, and although I was critical of some of the Church’s mandates, such as the ban on contraception, I fell for the anti-choice rhetoric hook, line, and sinker.

The thing is that when you are a rather sensitive teenager, and somebody tells you that people are killing babies, there is no way to understand that other than with horror. Killing babies? This must be stopped!

The thing is, I had no access to an alternative viewpoint. The internet was a mere twinkle in Tim Berners-Lee’s eye, and anyway, what possible arguments could there be FOR killing babies?

[Read more...]

More Teen Boys are Wrapping It Up

The Associated Press reported some encouraging news this week: according to a recent study, a whopping 80 percent of teenage boys are using condoms the first time they have sex.  This is up from 71 percent in 2002, and 55 percent in 1988.

So what gives? Are teen boys proactively wrapping it up or are girls drawing a line in the sand and insisting on condoms?

It’s hard to say. My guess is a little bit of Column A, a little bit of Column B. But others are more skeptical. One young man interviewed said he would “be hesitant to give guys credit for coming up with this on their own.” Ha! [Read more...]

Condoms: What are they good for?

Used to be I could joke that the only people even talking about condoms were the teens on Daytime TV. Maybe it was all the celebrity babies, or the “bump” watches. But it didn’t seem like too many grown-ups were using them. (Or any other form of birth control, for that matter.)

Times have changed. Condoms are making a comeback. Thrusting their way into the media spotlight, so to speak.

First Nicholas Kristof wrote a column on contraception that practically put the condom out to pasture. His rosy prediction:

The next generation of family planning products will be cheaper, more effective and easier to use — they could be to today’s condoms and diaphragms what a smartphone is to the bricklike cellphones of 20 years ago. (Kristof, “Birth Control Over Baldness,” NYT, 9/26/10)

Condoms made the news again a few days later in the coverage of a new study on American sexual behavior published by The Journal of Sexual Medicine. The chief talking point? Sexually active teens are using condoms on a more regular basis than their Baby Boomer parents (and grandparents). Even when the parent or grandparent is having sex with a stranger.

The stories themselves are a mixed bag. If Kristof is right about the future of reproductive technology, it would not only be good news for women looking for effective forms of birth control—it could very well be the key to our survival as a species, given the threat of overpopulation. And if teenagers are using condoms more than boomers, well, that’s fewer unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases among teens. And for their elders? A lot of tough questions.  [Read more...]

Friday News Roundup

Busy week means lots of links to share with you.

Equality Under the Hood: What Women Auto-Know – Feministe
Proposed PA Bill Would Ban Abortion for Rape Victims Who Don’t Report Assailant – Post-Gazette
Gender-Based Violence is the World’s Problem – State Department
Teens Need Accurate Info About Abortion, Not Propaganda – Boston Globe
Why Pre-Natal Care Starts Even Before You Get Pregnant – New York Times
Doctor Takes Public Stance on Abortion – Journal Star

Thanks to @megan_eb for posting this AWESOME Sesame Street video, called “What Women Can Do,” after the jump. [Read more...]

Tim Gunn’s Message to Queer Teens Made Me Cry


Tim Gunn recently taped a message for LGBTQ teens on behalf of The Trevor Project, the national organization focused on preventing suicide amongst lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning and queer youth. Gunn’s message? It gets better.

First of all, I have to say that I love me some Tim Gunn, and have been hagging him since the debut of Project Runway. His message made me cry – because I can relate to what he’s saying to teens, and because I’m passionate about LGBTQ youth.

The recent media attention to LGBTQ youth committing suicide is very sad, but the worst part is that queer youth commit suicide at rates that are four times higher than heterosexual youth – and both the media and the government have remained silent about this since the first reports came out from the Department of Health & Human Services in 1989. Eve Sedgwick famously referred to this as a genocide against queer youth. And here we are in 2010, still failing to serve queer youth. [Read more...]

Thursday News Roundup

Colorado Pershonhood Bill Fails to Qualify for Ballot – National Partnership for Women & Children
An Interview with Gloria Steinem – LA Times
Are Smaller Condoms for Teens the Answer? – AlterNet

Teens, Feminist Politics, and “Avatar”

Last week, my kid and I decided to catch a matinee of James Cameron’s much anticipated Avatar. The trailers made it look interesting, and I really loved his last big hit (Titanic). As an added bonus, it looked like a good bet for entertaining someone of the 16 year-old techno-geek set. I figured I’d be amused for a couple of hours at worst and, at best, I’d be impressed with the animation/special effects. And, I thought, I might (just might) find something interesting to discuss with my angsty emotional roller-coaster riding/hormonal distant teenager.

Before the actual movie started, I laid even odds that the most exciting part of the entire experience would be my first glimpse of the theatrical preview of the latest Johnny Depp/Tim Burton endeavor—Alice in Wonderland. It hits theaters just in time to celebrate my next birthday in March. Squeeee! Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter + Tim Burton = automatic cinematic masterpiece. But I digress.

It turns out that, even though the aforementioned preview of Depp/Burton goodness was awesome (as expected), Avatar itself was nothing short of amazing. Despite some fairly obvious flaws as well as some problematic plot themes/elements, it is a beautiful film, both as an epic story and as a technical marvel. In my mind, it was worth every bit of the $10/each I paid for us to see it—and I’m a wait for the DVD (cheap) sort of girl. [Read more...]

Wednesday News Roundup

mouse-clickNew Magazine for Transguys – Original Plumbing
Anti-choicers Loose Bid for “Choose Life” License Plates – Sun Times
Sex Ed Via Cell Phone? – Amplify Your Voice
Feminist By Day, Housewife By Night? – The Globe and Mail
German Women’s Magazine to Ban use of Models – Feministing
Where’s the Feminist Outrage Over David Letterman? – Feministing
A Comparison of First-Trimester Abortion Procedures –
Unsafe Abortions Cost Developing Nations Millions Per Year – Guttmacher Institute
Facts about American Teens’ Sexual Behavior – Guttmacher Institute