TIME Opinion

The Beta Marriage: How Millennials Approach ‘I Do’

Archive Holdings Inc.—Getty Images

We are a generation reared on technology and choice. Why wouldn’t we want to test a lifelong relationship first? How millennials are redefining "forever."

You could say I beta-tested my relationship.​

It began with a platform migration ​(a cross-country move) and a bandwidth challenge (cohabitation in a 450-square-foot apartment). There was a false start (botched marriage proposal). Then, an emergency deglitching (couples therapy). We tried to take the product public before we were ready (I wrote about our relationship in Newsweek). And then, finally, we abandoned launch. There were simply too many bugs.

It’s a joke, kind of – except that when it comes to millennials and marriage, the beta test may be par for the course. And really, why wouldn’t it be? For a generation reared on technology, overwhelmed by choice, feedback and constant FOMO, isn’t testing a marriage, like we test a username, simply… well, logical?

The findings of a new survey certainly reveal so. In conjunction with a new television drama, Satisfaction, which premiered on the USA Network last week, trend researchers asked 1,000 people about their attitudes toward marriage. They found all sorts of things: among them, that people cheat on the internet (uh huh), that young people don’t think their relationships are like their parents’ (of course), and that everyone seems to have taken to the term “uncoupling” (yuck).


They also uncovered a surprising gem. Buried in the data was the revelation that almost half of millennials (43 percent, and higher among the youngest subset) said they would support a marriage model that involved a two-year trial — at which point the union could be either formalized or dissolved, no divorce or paperwork required. Thirty three percent said they’d be open to trying what researchers dubbed the “real estate” approach – marriage licenses granted on a five, seven, 10 or 30-year arms, after which the terms must be renegotiated. And 21 percent said they’d give the “presidential” method a try, whereby marriage vows last for four years but after eight you can elect to choose a new partner.

In total, nearly half of all of those surveyed, ages 18 to 49 – and 53 percent percent of millennials — thought marriage vows should be renewed, and nearly 40 percent said they believed the “till death do us part” vow should be abolished. In other words: Beta marriages! Unions you can test and deglitch, work out kinks or simply abandon course without consequence. “This is a generation that is used to this idea that everything is in beta, that life is a work in progress, so the idea of a beta marriage makes sense,” the study’s author, Melissa Lavigne-Delville, told me. “It’s not that they’re entirely noncommittal, it’s just that they’re nimble and open to change.”

It’s not a new concept, entirely. In the 1970s, the anthropologist Margaret Mead predicted the growing popularity of “serial monogamy,” involving a string of monogamous marriages. Helen Fisher, the biological anthropologist, has advocated for much of the same: she believes humans aren’t meant to be together forever, but in short-term, monogamous relationships of three or four years. Stephanie Coontz, the author of Marriage: A History, has advised a marriage contract “reup” every five years — or before every major transition in life — “with a new set of vows that reflect what the couple has learned.”

More recently, Mexico City lawmakers proposed (unsuccessfully) a “renewable” marriage concept, whereby couples could simply renew or dissolve their unions after a period of two years. It’s not so unlike the setup described by a young writer in a Modern Love column in the New York Times last month, about how she overcomes “marriage anxiety” by renewing her vows with her husband every year like clockwork. “I think people are indeed trying to avoid failure,” says Andrew Cherlin, the author of The Marriage Go-Round.

And, why wouldn’t they? The United States has the highest divorce rate in the Western world. The data show clearly that the longer we wait to get married the more successful our marriages will be. And it’s not like we can’t move in together in the meantime: the rate of unmarried cohabitation has risen 1,000 percent over the last four decades. Not all of our marriages will work, no — but when they do, they’ll work better than at any other time in history, say scholars. And when they don’t, why not simply avoid the hassle of a drawn-out divorce?

“Millennials aren’t scared of commitment — we’re just trying to do commitment more wisely,” says Cristen Conger, a 29-year-old unmarried-but-cohabitating podcast host in Atlanta. “We rigorously craft our social media and online dating profiles to maximize our chances of getting a first date, and ‘beta testing’ is just an extension of us trying to strategize for future romantic success.”

In an era where, according to the survey, 56 percent of women and men think a marriage can be successful even if it doesn’t last forever, that might just make sense. Scholars have observed for some time that attitudes toward divorce have become more favorable over the last decade. Millennials in particular are more likely to view divorce as a good solution to matrimonial strife, according to the sociologist Philip Cohen — and more likely to believe it should be easier to obtain.

And, of course, it’s easy to understand why. We’re cynical. We are a generation raised on a wedding industry that could fund a small nation, but marriages that end before the ink has dried. (As one 29-year-old survey respondent put it: “We don’t trust that institution.”) We are also less religious than any other generation, meaning we don’t enter (or stay) committed simply for God. We feel less bound to tradition as a whole (no bouquet tosses here).

And while we have among the highest standards when it comes to a partner – we want somebody who can be a best friend, a business partner, a soul mate — we are a generation that is overwhelmed by options, in everything from college and first jobs to who we should choose for a partner. “This is a generation who has not had to make as many long-term commitments as previous generations, so the idea of not having an out feels a little stringent,” says Lavigne-Delville. “Divorce has happened for a long time. Maybe we should rethink the rules.”

Indeed, at the end of the day, whatever you want to say about the hookup generation, or millennials’ inability to commit, the vast majority (69 percent, according to Pew) of millennials still want to get married. We simply need a little extra time to work out the kinks.

“Getting married is so much more weighted today, I get the impulse to want to test it,” says Hannah Seligson, the 31-year-old married author of A Little Bit Married, about 20-somethings and longterm unmarried relationships. At the same time, she adds, “I wonder if this is a false control study in a way. Yes, marriage terrifying, it’s probably the biggest leap of faith you’ll ever make. But you’ll never be able to peer into a crystal ball – or map it out on a spreadsheet.”

Jessica Bennett is a contributing columnist at Time.com covering the intersection of gender, sexuality, business and pop culture. A former Newsweek senior writer and executive editor of Tumblr, she is also a contributing editor for Sheryl Sandberg’s women’s foundation, Lean In. You can follow her @jess7bennett.


TIME Singapore

Singapore Has Banned an Archie Comic for Depicting a Gay Wedding

In an installment of Life With Archie first published in 2012, the franchise tackled the issue of gay marriage head on — by putting it on the cover. The Hollywood Reporter

A recent crackdown on publications discussing homosexuality sheds light on Singapore's traditional moral values and notoriously restricted press

State media censors in Singapore have banned the sale of an Archie comic book for its frank presentation of gay marriage, a matter that remains socially taboo and legally verboten in Southeast Asia’s most developed state.

Singapore’s Media Development Authority (MDA) censored the comic book, first published in January 2012, earlier this year, but the ban is only just now coming to light — a week after another state agency removed three children’s books promoting tolerance of same-sex relationships from the national library’s shelves.

The third installment in Archie: The Married Life, one of several spinoff series in the multifarious Archie universe, features the wedding of Kevin Keller, a gay character whose creation in 2010 earned writer Dan Parent a GLAAD Media Award last year. (In the latest volume, Archie dies taking a bullet for Kevin, now a U.S. Senator.)

As critic Alyssa Rosenberg noted Wednesday in The Washington Post, the 75-year-old comic book franchise has in recent years adopted a distinctly political subtext, taking on issues of topical significance as they come: Kevin, a gay solider, was introduced as the Obama administration was deliberating the end of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell; Archie’s interracial marriage made the cover in 2012.

Social progressivism isn’t really Singapore’s forte, though.

“[We]… found its content to be in breach of guidelines because of its depiction of the same sex marriage of two characters in the comic,” an MDA spokesperson said in a statement to TIME. “We thus informed the local distributor not to import or distribute the comic in retail outlets.”

In its guidelines for imported publications, the MDA prohibits comics and other illustrated material that depict or discuss “alternative lifestyles or deviant sexual practices,” listing homosexuality as an example of such (alongside “group sex and sadomasochism”).

Such stringent regulations are par for the course in Singapore, where social conservatism reigns supreme and strict curbs are placed on the dissemination of information. The country ranks 149th of the 179 countries listed in the 2013 Press Freedom Index — between Iraq and Vladimir Putin’s Russia — earning it the distinction of having the least free press of any developed economy in the world.

Concerning the recent purge of homosexual content, though, these restrictions may not be completely unwelcome. Sodomy, although rarely prosecuted, is criminalized as an act of “gross indecency,” and the majority of citizens, according to one survey, still take a “conservative approach” to marital and family matters. Indeed, the MDA claims to predicate its censorship decisions upon “public feedback or complaints,” and only turned its attention to the Archie comic after receiving a number of grievances.

TIME sexuality

Dear Black Women: White Gays Are Your Allies, So Don’t Push Us Away

We, too, know what it's like to be ostracized and pushed down.

In the earliest months of our relationship, my now-husband wanted me to understand something fundamental about his tastes, so he took me to a concert with acts I’d only vaguely heard of. I knew Queen Latifah, obviously, and was somewhat aware of Erykah Badu, but the rest of the lineup at the 2005 Sugar Water Festival, a short-lived summer showcase for black songstresses, were new to me.

Also new to me as a child of an upscale, white Long Island suburb: the composition of the audience. There were an overwhelming number of black women filling the vast Mandalay Bay Convention Center, which was unusual enough for a show on the Las Vegas Strip. But these women were accompanied, to my surprise, by more than a smattering of white men. Gay white men, that is. Very gay white men.

Those relationships fascinated me — and made a certain sense. It’s easy, once you start to imagine it, to see the natural connection between the two ostracized groups, both of which have translated that marginalization into defiant, self-affirming subcultures. My then new beau came of age in the urban nightclubs of Washington D.C., New York, and Tampa, all places where many white gay men found acceptance and common cultural cause with their oppressed black sisters who, in turn, flooded the scene, seeking places to revel away from so many predatory, demeaning straight men of all races.

Last week, that alliance came under attack by misguided University of Mississippi senior Sierra Mannie, who believed she was defending black women from cultural theft by launching an assault on white gays who, to her mind, behave too black. She zinged, “You are not a black woman, and you do not get to claim either blackness or womanhood. It is not yours. It is not for you.”

Others have already burned the piece down to its homo-ignorant nub, noting that Mannie writes cluelessly and obscenely about the nature and challenges of being gay. Her fire is fueled by some undeniably racist interactions, a supposed epidemic of white gay men who actually wish to be called by stereotypically black names and anoint themselves “strong black women.” It’s difficult to dispute that such behavior is weird and offensive, but it’s illogical to suggest all gay white men are “thieves” on that anecdotal basis alone.

Yet here’s what else Mannie overlooks in her full-frontal assault: White gay men as a group could be the truest friends black women can have in American society. No alliance is perfect, but this one has the potential, if nurtured properly, to reconfigure the stories of race and gender. White gay men — once intensely vilified but now able to harness our white male privilege for good, having learned what being on the outside is like — are a conduit through which black women can work against both countervailing forces that push them down.

Gay white men, in fact, pioneered a prototype for this. Not long ago, the biggest barrier for social acceptance for gays was heterosexual men. Then we co-opted them. At first, those old enough may recall, straight men refused even to speak to us, lest others perceive them as less than fully virile, if not gay themselves. Even those who deigned to be friendly did so at an arm’s length, claiming to be discomfited by irrepressible images of us — with them? — in sexual positions. Over time, this eroded. They liked our music. Straight women liked our clothes, our hair and our manscaping, and straight men will do just about anything to appeal to straight women. We were house-proud, fashion-forward, smart and funny, versed in both high and low culture. By the early 1990s, straight, urban men even accepted a hybrid moniker: the metrosexual.

Once those lines were blurred, once straight men not only accepted gay men but sought out our advice — remember “Queer Eye For the Straight Guy”? — men of all sexual orientations could see their similarities far outweighed their differences. Familiarity bred affinity, and affinity forced straight men to realize they had little to lose — and perhaps the admiration of straight women as a fringe benefit — by supporting full equality for gay people.

Our willingness to share our culture facilitated this detente. But “willingness” may be a strong word because it would have happened whether we were happy or angry about it. Mannie can bark at the gay white universe to lay off, but an appealing means of expression and art are the ultimate in open-source culture.

There is no question white gays have intrinsic advantages over black women in American society. Sure, we’ve taken our lumps, but black women certainly win the sweepstakes of oppression by a landslide. It is, in fact, this basic difference — race — that has enabled us to blitz through our civil rights movement in head-spinning fashion, while black women continue to face painful economic and political hurdles. Why did gay rights go from fantasy to entitlement in a blink of the historical eye, even as other oppressed minorities fend off efforts to deny them the ability to vote or obtain a decent education? Because so many of the gay men (and women) who came out were white and, thus, already embedded in the nation’s most powerful institutions.

But we’re here now, and we’re natural allies. The mutual fondness between so many black women and white gay men arises both from similar, if not shared, experience, but also a strikingly similar approach to coping with it. Some tropes emerged from black female culture and some from the gay world, but how or why is the stuff not of pundits or essayists, but of doctoral dissertations by social anthropologists. We aren’t going to get to the bottom of that on Twitter.

Still, cultural alliances like this are rare and should be treasured, not chastised. Black men didn’t have one. Neither did Jews or Native Americans. Arab Americans sure don’t. But through some fluke of cosmic association, black women have kindred spirits in white gay men. Don’t push us away.

Friess is an Ann Arbor, Mich.–based freelance writer and former senior writer covering technology for Politico, who teaches journalism at Michigan State University. You can follow him on Twitter @stevefriess.


CDC Survey Finds 1.6% of Adults Identify as Gay

Pride Week 2014
People carrying a giant rainbow flag in New York City's Pride Parade Stacey Bramhall—Moment Editorial/Getty Images

Another 0.7% identified as bisexual, and 1.1% said "something else" or didn't answer

Correction appended July 22.

For the first time in 57 years the Centers for Disease Control’s National Health Information Survey has surveyed adults on their sexual orientation, and the results published Tuesday show that 1.6% of adults aged 18 or over identified as gay, while another 0.7% identified as bisexual.

The figures were slightly lower than the findings from previous surveys, which had estimated that the LGBT population comprised 3.4 to 4% of the population.

An additional 1.1% of respondents identified as ‘‘something else,’’ stated ‘‘I don’t know the answer,’’ or refused to provide an answer.

The CDC said its statistics would help researchers to identify and address health disparities between gay and straight adults. The report identified elevated levels of smoking and drinking among respondents who identified as gay, as well as a higher likelihood of meeting federal fitness guidelines.

Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly attributed the data to the wrong source. The survey was undertaken by the Centers for Disease Control’s National Health Information Survey.

TIME sexuality

My Hellish Youth in Gay Conversion Therapy and How I Got Out

James Guay is Against SB1172
James Guay Mark Avery—Orange County Register

It was a painful process, but I also experienced freedom in knowing I had done my best to change before recognizing that it wasn’t possible.

Would I truly go to heaven, despite being gay?

This question haunted me growing up. My earliest and most influential childhood memory is being 4 years old and “accepting Jesus into my heart.” Did I truly know what that meant—or was I looking for love from my parents?

I was raised in a strict, fundamentalist Christian household in Los Angeles, where homosexuality was referred to as “an abomination to God, worthy of eternal damnation in hell.” At church, at school and at home, being gay was rarely acknowledged and, when it was mentioned, described with contempt as the worst sin—comparable to murder, rape and child molestation.

I didn’t want to experience the pain of eternity in hell. I didn’t want to be despised by everyone around me. And so, when I was 16, I went to weekly meetings with an “ex-gay” Christian psychologist who tried to change my sexual orientation.

The harmful practice of sexual orientation change efforts—also known as ex-gay, reparative or sexual conversion “therapy”—involves attempts by a therapist to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) clients. In fall 2012, California became the first state to ban licensed mental health practitioners from using this practice on minors; I testified in favor of the legislation. I wept when I heard the news that the bill had been signed into law. And I celebrated when the U.S. Supreme Court recently denied an appeal by anti-gay groups that sought to overturn the ban.

I was 9 years old when I recognized my attractions for the same gender. Praying to God every night and pleading with Him to take my feelings away didn’t work. Practically living, eating and breathing the Bible didn’t work. I tried repressing and denying who I was—but nothing changed inside of me. I was taught by my pastors, parents and peers to hate myself—and that worked.

My family attended Grace Community Church in Sun Valley. John MacArthur, head pastor for more than 40 years, has always had a strong anti-gay perspective. In a recent video, he tells parents to “alienate, isolate, not have a meal with and give over to Satan your homosexual adult children.”

I was bullied and harassed in middle school and at Los Angeles Baptist High School. I would stand on cliffs, fantasizing about killing myself. Fortunately, my fear of experiencing worse pain in hell for eternity kept me from actually committing suicide.

My saving grace was competitive gymnastics. I felt a sense of mastery over my body, whereas I wasn’t able to control my same-gendered attractions. I used the physical pain of gymnastics to numb the emotional pain.

When I was 16, my parents saw self-inflicted cuts on my arms. I confessed that I was struggling with same-sex attractions. They were concerned and wanted to help me change so that I could join them “in eternal life with God.” My dad found a Christian psychotherapy group practice that dealt with issues my church didn’t want to deal with, like satanic ritual abuse and homosexuality. I was so tormented that I begged my Dad to let me see the “ex-gay” psychologist after they had an argument over the fee.

For a year, I attended weekly individual therapy sessions where I was encouraged to blame my distant relationship with my father and over-involved relationship with my mother for my same-sex desires. I was also guided to “remember” an original wounding—in particular, sexual or physical abuse—that I had not experienced. The main cures were to build “healthy same-sex non-sexual friendships,” become more “masculine” and date girls.

Initially I felt better. I wasn’t alone. I even quit gymnastics for a few months to fully dedicate myself to changing my sexual orientation.

I also went with my dad to conferences put on by Exodus International, the nation’s largest ex-gay organization. At 16, I was the youngest participant among 300 others struggling with their sexual orientation and religious beliefs. In breakout groups, we learned about how to become more “manly.” We were told that if one walked, talked and sat different from others of our gender, this was evidence of dysfunction that could be altered to instill heterosexual desires.

And I read books and listened to audiotapes about how to have a “corrective and healing relationship with Jesus Christ.” These materials talked about how the “gay lifestyle” would create disease, depravity and misery. I was convinced that doing what I was told would change my attractions—and confused about why these methods supposedly worked for others but not for me.

I eventually realized that this “treatment” wasn’t working for me—or for others. It was a painful process, but I also experienced freedom in knowing I had done my best to change before recognizing that it wasn’t possible.

At 20, I attended my last ex-gay conference. Shortly thereafter, I fell in love with a man. My love for him felt natural. My experience was nothing like what I had been told about the evil and impossible nature of same-sex relationships.

In 1991, I attended my first Halloween in West Hollywood, a place I had been told was a gay ghetto of the worst kind of sinners. I discovered something quite different, and it opened my eyes to hopeful possibilities. I saw people smiling, dancing and celebrating their authentic selves. I saw couples and friends enjoying life. I wanted that, too.

My journey out of self-rejection was not easy. At the time, I was living with my parents. They eavesdropped on me and learned about my relationship. They gave me an ultimatum: If I broke up with my boyfriend and started seeing another Christian psychologist who specialized in sexual orientation change efforts, they would continue to support me while I tried out for the U.S. Gymnastics Olympic Team. If not, I would have to move out.

I moved out a week later, on Easter Sunday. It was an extremely painful departure. When I didn’t make the Olympic Team, I transferred to UC Berkeley to join their gymnastics team—one of the only college gymnastics teams at the time that was truly gay-friendly. I joined a gay support group and saw several therapists in my twenties. In my thirties, I began my long-term work with a psychotherapist who helped me to break through my residual shame and self-harming behaviors.

Psychology became my new spirituality. It helped me to make sense of what I endured in childhood. And it turned out to be my calling. Today, I have a psychotherapy practice in West Hollywood where I work with LGBTQ clients to help them recover from homophobic environments and experiences.

My own family found some peace. Throughout my adult life, my father apologized for kicking me out of their home for being gay. Two years ago, a week before he passed away, he told me that we would be reunited in heaven because of my childhood acceptance of Jesus. He had evolved. His admission was a final act of love and desire for connection.

I’m so relieved that California, and now New Jersey, have laws to protect LGBTQ youth from this dangerous practice. It means that fewer teenagers will be placed in the position that I was—a position of self-rejection and self-loathing. But sexual orientation change efforts are still being practiced across the United States, on both minors and adults. As someone who underwent this damaging “therapy,” I’m heartened by efforts like #BornPerfect, a new campaign that aims to bring about a nationwide end to the practice. That message—that we are all worthy no matter who we love—is one that every child should receive.

James Guay is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with a private practice in West Hollywood, California. This piece originally appeared at Zocalo Public Square.


The Strange Social Science of the Color Red

Women walking
Getty Images

There's plenty of research connecting the color with sex. Here's why

When it comes to sex and women, red is the first color you think of, right? Red lips, red lingerie, red dress. Studies show men perceive women who wear red on dating profiles as both sexier and more open to a sexual encounter.

Red, it seems, sends a very clear message—about sex. And now scientists add to the scarlet sex literature with this piece of data, which we reported on earlier, in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin – turns out it’s not just men, but women too who see women who dress in red as more overtly sexual and open to having sex. Not only that, women perceive other women who sport red clothing as sexual rivals (i.e. after their mates), which raises their competitive instincts and leads them to think negatively about their ability to maintain relationships and be loyal.

What? Does that mean every time I grab the red dress my female friends see me as a romantic threat who is about to move in on their partners? “I don’t think it’s the case that women who wear red are always advertising sexual interest,” says Adam Pazda, a social psychologist at University of Rochester who led the study. “But there is evidence that people make judgments about other people in general based on clothing. You can see how color might easily fit into that.”

MORE: The Science of Dating: Wear Red

Pazda says that studies have also shown that people who view pictures of female news anchors in loose or tight-fitting clothing perceived those wearing the form-fitting outfits as less competent, possibly some derivation of the idea that they were dressing for sex and therefore somehow less able to do their jobs.

One thing to remember about that study, and Pazda’s as well: You probably react differently to strangers you pass on the street than those you’re confronted with in a lab setting, where the questions the scientists are asking can’t help but be leading.

If someone sticks a picture of a news anchor wearing a loose top in front of you, asks you to rate her competence, you’re going to grasp at any possible clue to make your decision, because you have to make a decision, or a judgment. You have no other information on the anchor—you don’t know her, you don’t know her background, and you certainly don’t know her experience, which would be more reasonable measures of her competence. Instead, you’re making a snap judgment and for that, you tend to rely on your cultural experience.

And when it comes to the color red and women, that cultural background tells you that red equals sex. In Pazda’s study, he ran three experiments, one to test whether women perceived other women dressing in red as more sexually receptive than those clothed in the same outfit but in white; another to determine if that perception of being more open to sex implied sexual promiscuity, and a final experiment to test whether another color (green) and outfit changed the results.

Each participant was shown either the red-clothed image or the white- or green-clothed one, and then asked to rate, on a sliding scale, the woman’s openness to sexual encounters and her promiscuity. But since they knew nothing else about the women in the pictures. They couldn’t hear their voices, or watch their behaviors. With no other information to go on what were the participants basing their decisions on?

They were likely relying on deeply ingrained, and even unconscious biases connecting the color red to sex. “When we asked, ‘Is this person interested in sex,’ or how seductive or flirtatious is this person, they are drawing on whatever cues are available to make judgments about them,” says Pazda. “One of the only cues is using the dress or shirt color.”

That may only play a small part in people’s first impressions of others in real life, however, where they have facial expressions, behavior, conversations and other information on which to base their decision. Pazda admits that “people aren’t always making judgments about others automatically. But if we stop and make a judgment, color may influence how that judgment is processed.”

TIME Singapore

Singapore Provokes Outrage by Pulping Kids’ Books About Gay Families

Toddler plays with bubbles as participants wait to take part in the forming of a giant pink dot at the Speakers' Corner in Hong Lim Park in Singapore
A toddler plays with bubbles during the Pink Dot parade at the Speakers' Corner in Hong Lim Park in Singapore June 28, 2014. Edgar Su—Reuters

One of the books, the multi-award winning And Tango Makes Three, recounts the real life-inspired story of two male penguins raising a baby chick at New York's Central Park Zoo

The Singapore government has ordered the National Library Board (NLB) to remove from library shelves and destroy three children’s books that portray gay, lesbian or unconventional families.

The multi-award winning And Tango Makes Three recounts the real life-inspired story of two male penguins raising a baby chick at New York’s Central Park Zoo. The other two banned titles are The White Swan Express: A Story About Adoption, which features a lesbian couple, and Who’s In My Family: All About Our Families, which describes unconventional parental set-ups.

The move has resulted in a torrent of opposition in mainstream and social media, the latter largely via the #FreeMyLibrary hashtag. An open letter criticizing the ban has also received more than 4,000 signatures.

“This is a very unfortunate step backwards,” Kirpal Singh, associate professor of English Literature at Singapore Management University, tells TIME. “While we try to balance the conservatives and liberal minded, do we remove anything or everything that gives offense, especially if this offense is quite problematic, quite complex?”

Homosexuality is a sensitive subject in ostensibly modern Singapore. Gay sex remains illegal but is rarely prosecuted, and an estimated 26,000 revelers thronged this year’s annual Pink Dot gay rights rally — one of the largest public gatherings of any sort seen in recent years. Nevertheless, society remains conservative.

According to a NLB statement, “We take a cautious approach, particularly in books and materials for children. NLB’s understanding of family is consistent with that of the Ministry of Social and Family Development and the Ministry of Education.”

The ban was reportedly spurred by a complaint from a single library user who is also a member of the Facebook group “We Are Against Pinkdot in Singapore.”

The NLB boasts a collection of more than five million books and audio-visual materials, and a spokesperson told Channel News Asia that it acts on less than a third of the 20 or so removal requests received each year. (James Patterson’s Kill Me If You Can, which depicts incest, was the subject of a complaint but remains on the shelves.)

Naturally, gay rights activists are outraged. “This unfortunate decision sends a message of rejection to many loving families that do not conform to the narrow father-mother-children definition of family that it has adopted,” said Pink Dot spokesperson Paerin Choa by email. “Pink Dot believes that Singapore can be an inclusive home for its people in all their diversity, and that constructive dialogue should be the way forward for a truly embracing society.”

For Singh, the furor may at least have the positive side effect of prompting debate. “This may contribute to a more vital discussion for Singapore in terms of where we are and where we are not when it comes to values, freedoms and an open state for discourse,” he says.

While praising the NLB as an institution, acclaimed Singaporean author Alvin Pang writes: “This is a serious impoverishment of what books are and what knowledge means, and it can only harm our intellectual development and broader social discourse.”

Justin Richardson, co-author of And Tango Makes Three, would no doubt agree. “We wrote the book to help parents teach children about same-sex parent families,” he told the New York Times in 2007. “It’s no more an argument in favor of human gay relationships than it is a call for children to swallow their fish whole or sleep on rocks.”

TIME Culture

Sex, Women and TV: 21 Shows That Changed the Way We See Female Desire

A look at 50 years of female sexuality on the small screen from I Love Lucy and Bewitched to Game of Thrones and Masters of Sex

We live in a culture consumed by sex, and yet it is still rare to see realistic portrayals of female sexuality. That’s starting to change, thanks to shows woman-produced shows like Girls, Orange Is the New Black and Masters of Sex (which begins its second season on July 13). But the struggle to make women’s desire less taboo on TV has been a long and slow process: Masters of Sex owes much of its success to groundbreaking shows like Sex and the City, Seinfeld and even I Love Lucy. Here’s a short history of female sexual empowerment onscreen (in reverse chronological order):

Lizzy Caplan as Virginia Johnson and Michael Sheen as Dr. William Masters in "Masters of Sex"
Lizzy Caplan as Virginia Johnson and Michael Sheen as Dr. William Masters in “Masters of Sex” Showtime

Masters of Sex (2013 – )

Despite taking place in the 1950s, Masters of Sex may be the most progressive show on TV when it comes to women and sex. Based on the real sex research of Virginia Johnson and William Masters, the show extensively explores the science of sexuality—and female sexuality especially. In an early episode, Virginia explains to William why a woman might fake an orgasm. The researchers go on to study topics ranging from female masturbation to the merits of the clitoris versus the G-Spot. “The sex is so integral to our story that [the producers] have had to come up with really clever ways to braid it in there,” Lizzy Caplan, who plays Johnson, tells TIME. “I think they’ve managed to do that where it doesn’t feel like it’s being made for 14-year-old boys.” (Read this magazine behind-the-scenes feature on the show’s all-female team of writers and producers.)

Laura Prepon (L) and Taylor Schilling (R) in a scene from Netflix's Orange is the New Black Season 2.
Laura Prepon (L) and Taylor Schilling (R) in a scene from Netflix’s Orange is the New Black Season 2. JoJo Whilden—Netflix

Orange Is the New Black (2013 – )

Netflix’s prestige series about a women’s prison is the first show to delve into all types of female sexuality. Too often shows like The O.C. or Weeds create a plot line in which a straight woman “experiments” with being gay. Orange Is the New Black cleverly turns that trope on its head by pursuing a story in which the main character—Piper, a spoiled New Yorker—falls back in love with her ex-girlfriend while in prison (despite having a male fiancé waiting for her on the outside). The other characters on the show range from bisexual to lesbian to straight. It’s also the first mainstream show to feature a transgender female character played by a transgender woman.

The show—which has the most diverse cast on television in terms of race, sexuality and body type—approaches women’s sex realistically and unforgivingly, the way other shows might approach male sexuality. Memorable scenes include a character using a dog to masturbate, a woman who has just had a baby lactating during sex and a competition between two inmates to see who can bed the most women.

(L-R) Lena Dunham, Jemima Kirke, Zosia Mamet and Allison Williams in “Girls.” Jessica Miglio—HBO

Girls (2012 – )

Hate her or love her, Girls creator Lena Dunham challenges societal norms about sex in almost every episode of the show. If you think Dunham spends too much time naked on screen, that’s because Dunham is trying to make a point that in real life not everybody looks like supermodel; but everyone does walk around their apartment naked, and everyone certainly has sex naked. In the fantasy-like episode when Dunham’s character Hannah spent several days playing house with dreamy Patrick Wilson, Dunham challenged the rules of television which dictate men can “date up” in terms of attractiveness but women cannot. And in the volatile relationship between Hannah and Adam (played by Adam Driver), Dunham explores what exactly is “normal” when it comes to sex. Every season of Girls is guaranteed to start a fiery debate in the blogosphere and challenge our perception of women’s sexuality.

Emilia Clarke plays Daenerys Targaryen in "Game of Thrones."
Emilia Clarke plays Daenerys Targaryen in “Game of Thrones.” HBO

Game of Thrones (2011 – )

Game of Thrones has a complicated relationship with women. Many fans were outraged this year when the show’s writers added a rape scene that didn’t exist in the book. And in just about every episode, the HBO show finds a way to flash women’s breasts onscreen. But these degrading sex scenes are balanced by some particularly powerful moments for the female characters: at the end of this season, Daenerys Targaryan, a queen, ordered one of her followers to strip so that she could have her way with him (consensually) in the same manner that many men have ordered women to sleep with them on the show before; and a rape victim, Cersei, similarly seduced her brother, Jaime in a moment of particular power and passion. Women on the show are beginning to learn to take what they want—just like their male counterparts. Game of Thrones is a cruel world, but it is one where women often have equal opportunity to manipulate and murder their way to the top.

Alicia (Julianna Margulies, right) joins her estranged husband, Peter (Chris Noth. left), in a show of support as he announces his candidacy for governor, on "The Good Wife."
Alicia (Julianna Margulies, right) joins her estranged husband, Peter (Chris Noth. left), in a show of support as he announces his candidacy for governor, on “The Good Wife.” CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

The Good Wife (2009 – )

The Good Wife begins with a story we’ve all seen before: a political figure cheats on his wife with a prostitute, and the wife stands by his side as he apologizes on national television. But the “good wife,” Alicia Florrick, is no doormat: Alicia takes control of first her work life—returning to law after years as a stay-at-home mom—and then her sex life, as she debates whether to stay with her husband (who is in prison early on in the series) or rekindle an old romance. In one scene, Alicia’s husband Peter watches Alicia in court and is so turned on by her prowess that he eagerly gives her oral sex when they encounter each other at home. It’s a moment of immense power for Alicia, and a sexual act rarely seen on network television.

“I truly believe she’s instigating a sexual revolt for network television,” star Julianna Margulies said of show’s creator Michelle King in an interview with More. Perhaps with King’s help, the sexual liberation of women we see on HBO and Showtime will become mainstream on network stations too.

Actress Anna Paquin plays Sookie in "True Blood."
Actress Anna Paquin plays Sookie in “True Blood.” John P Johnson—HBO

True Blood (2008 – 2014)

Though Sookie Stackhouse constantly needed to be protected by men, True Blood had its progressive moments (usually involving orgies). Women were predators almost as often as men, and they had just as much of a sexual drive. For three season, Sookie was torn between two potential love interests: Bill and Eric. But finally Sookie asked herself, “Why can’t I have both?” The result was a steamy vampire threesome. Sure, it was a dream, but how often do you see a threesome with two men on TV?

Joan Harris (Christina Hendricks) and Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss) in “Mad Men.” Frank Ockenfels—AMC

Mad Men (2007 – 2015)

Though the Mad Men audience thought they were spending the last seven years watching the downfall of Don Draper, they were really watching the rise of Peggy Olson. From the minute Joan had to convince her doctor to give her birth control, show runner Matthew Weiner had a not-so-secret agenda to explore the growth of feminism. Peggy and Joan have used two very different strategies to navigate a sexist workplace: a prudish Peggy refused to use her looks to advance (rather she jeopardized her career with workplace romance); a much more sensual Joan had an affair with her boss and seduced men into getting her way. Both suffered for their choices: Peggy hid a pregnancy to save her career and recently bemoaned the fact that she is alone at 30; Joan was asked to sleep with a client in order to save the agency—though she leveraged it into a partnership for herself.

Mad Men in many ways is the precursor to Masters of Sex in its exploration of the growth of feminism in the 1950s and 60s. Just as Joan and Peggy quibble over whether or not to use sensuality as a means of getting ahead, Virginia and Lillian debate the merits of leveraging sex in a sexist workplace. The struggles of all four women feel all-too relevant even 50 or 60 years later when women face the same struggle to try to have it all.

TV Mary-Louise Parker
Mary-Louise Parker as Nancy Botwin in “Weeds.” Monty Brinton—AP/Showtime

Weeds (2005 – 2012)

Before Walter White, there was Nancy Botwin, an amoral suburban mom-turned-drug dealer who claimed she was just trying to keep her family afloat but really took a sadistic pleasure in her crimes. Nancy relentlessly used her sexuality (and cruelty) to get ahead, neglecting the care of her children as she seduced (and sometimes married) FBI agents, drug dealers, king pins, murderers, fellow inmates and even her dead husband’s brother. Her attitude had a ripple effect: some of her two sons’ horrifying antics included poking a hole in a condom to get a girlfriend pregnant, having an affair with a 40-year-old woman and murdering a member of a cartel. Nancy bulldozed the trope of the saintly single mom by being downright evil and a little sex obsessed.

Kristin Bell stars as Veronica in "Veronica Mars."
Kristin Bell stars as Veronica in “Veronica Mars.” Robert Voets—CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

Veronica Mars (2004 – 2007)

In the first two seasons of Veronica Mars, the young detective tirelessly worked to track down the person who drugged and raped her. The third season followed a similar plot where Veronica hunted a serial rapist on her college campus. We saw the repercussions of Veronica’s attack in her school life as she’s ostracized as a “slut” and in her sex life as she struggled to trust men again. No show before or since has taken on the issue of a woman’s right to safety in quite the same way: students were protesting on the fictional Hearst College campus years before real-life college students across the U.S. filed a slew of Title IX complaints against schools mishandling sexual assault.

This undated photo from Showtime, shows cast members from the television series “The L Word.” Pictured in the top row, left to right, are Sarah Shahi, Mia Kirshner, Laurel Holloman, Rachel Shelley and Pam Grier. In the bottom row, left to right, are Erin Daniels, Leisha Hailey, Jennifer Beals and Katherine Moennig. Isabel Snyder—AP/Showtime

The L Word (2004 – 2009)

Lesbian characters on primetime (see: Glee, Grey’s Anatomy, Orange Is the New Black, Pretty Little Liars, etc.) may seem de rigueur in 2014, but that wasn’t the case when “The L Word” started airing on Showtime in 2004. The landmark series followed the lives of a group of lesbians in West Hollywood as they hung out, gossiped, dated, broke up, made up and had plenty of steamy sex. But more importantly, the show offered a nuanced portrayal of a community that was usually depicted by the media with the broadest of brushes. And sure, the show had its fair share of cringe-worthy moments, including a season-long murder mystery arc and a spin-off reality show called “The Real L Word,” but that doesn’t make it any less groundbreaking.

—Kelly Conniff

Cynthia Nixon, Kristin Davis, Kim Cattrall and Sarah Jessica Parker in “Sex and the City.” Craig Blankenhorn—AP

Sex and the City (1998 – 2004)

Sex and the City has often been credited with bringing frank discussions about (and depictions of) women’s sexuality to the forefront of popular culture. Carrie and her friends discussed everything from vibrators to circumcision to sex positions over cosmos. Then they went home and practiced what they preached—all had multi-season love arcs but would date and sleep with many different men in between.

Every woman could see something of herself in one or all of the characters: Samantha, the one who was as sexually liberated as a man; Miranda, the one who prioritized work over men; Charlotte, the one who just wanted a happily ever after; and Carrie, the sex columnist who was a conglomeration of the other three. Their glitzy power was intimidating, and they disposed of men like men disposed of women. They got their hearts broken, but moved on. Their revolutionary dating strategies arguably jumpstarted the infamous “hookup culture” of Millennials. The liberating assertion that men were dispensable was undermined towards the end of the series when each lady traded in Mr. Right Now for Mr. Right. But the sexual liberation of Sex and the City still paved the way for shows like Girls and Orange Is the New Black.

Calista Flockhart at 1998 Emmy Awards
Actress Calista Flockhart arrives at the 1998 Emmy Awards in Los Angeles, CA on September 13, 1998. Barry King—Getty Images

Ally McBeal (1997 – 2002)

Ally, a single lawyer in Boston, may be best remembered for her ticking—or rather, pounding—biological clock, embodied by that dancing CGI baby to the soundtrack of “Hooked on a Feeling.” And yes, she only became a lawyer because she followed her boyfriend to Harvard. But as obsessed as the show is with matrimony and motherhood, it has a nuanced take on female sexuality. The plot kicked off with Ally suing a former colleague for sexual harassment, and such lawsuits became a mainstay at her firm. The series was full of jibes at the mini-skirts she wore to court, hijinks in the co-ed bathroom and sex that ranged from casual to solemn. And while the show was often silly, writer David E. Kelly wasn’t afraid to get serious: Ally’s roommate had to defend herself with force after a date exhibited a “no-means-yes” mentality, and Ally found deep sympathy with a transgender prostitute whom she kept out of jail only days before her new friend got murdered by a john. TIME put Ally McBeal on the cover in 1998 asking, “Is Feminism Dead?” No, not dead—just complicated.

—Sarah Begley

Sarah Michelle Gellar Stars In Buffy The Vampire Slayer
Sarah Michelle Gellar Stars In “Buffy The Vampire Slayer.” Getty Images

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997 – 2003)

Buffy Summers is often credited as pop culture’s prototype for great female characters. She was both superhuman and truly human, vulnerable and witty and stubborn. Her strength was the keystone that held the show together. But Buffy didn’t fight bad guys alone, and she wasn’t the one who helped Buffy break boundaries when it came to representing female sexuality on the small screen.

Buffy’s bestie Willow started the show as a quiet school-focused girl struggling for the romantic attention of the boy who was her best friend. By the time the show ended, she was a powerful woman who had been half of one of the earliest positive portrayals of a lesbian relationship on mainstream television. Other characters treated the relationship between Willow and her girlfriend and fellow witch Tara as a big deal not because of their genders but because of their love. Joss Whedon, Buffy’s creator, made the show a masterpiece of metaphor, and those two were no exception: high school is hell, college roommates are demons, growing up feels like dying — and Willow and Tara worked magic.

—Lily Rothman

Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Elaine Benes in “Seinfeld.” Chris Haston—NBC/Getty Images

Seinfeld (1989 – 1998)

Elaine Benes might just be TV’s most revolutionary feminist heroes, primarily because she was just as selfish as her male counterparts. She was assertive yet feminine, hilarious yet sexy. Seinfeld wasn’t afraid to talk about women’s sexuality or joke about it, a surprisingly rare feat in the 90s: in one episode, when Elaine’s favorite method of birth control, “the sponge,” was discontinued, she debated whether a man she was seeing merited any of her dwindling supply. In other words, “Is he sponge worthy?” And she could play with the guys, a notion epitomized in “The Contest” episode when she participated in (and lost) a competition to see who could last the longest without masturbating. Elaine taught audiences that maybe men’s humor and women’s humor aren’t so different after all—and neither are their sex lives.

Candice Bergen as television journalist Murphy Brown.
Actress Candice Bergen as television journalist Murphy Brown. CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

Murphy Brown (1988 – 1998)

Murphy Brown completely revolutionized television when the main character, a news anchor, decided to have a child as a single mom. It was presidential campaign season in 1992 so then-vice president Dan Quayle took the opportunity to chastise the fictional, 40-something, divorced news anchor: “Bearing babies irresponsibly is simply wrong,” he said, speaking on family values. “Failing to support children one has fathered is wrong. We must be unequivocal about this. It doesn’t help matters when prime-time TV has Murphy Brown, a character who supposedly epitomizes today’s intelligent, highly paid professional woman, mocking the importance of fathers by beating a child alone and calling it just another lifestyle choice.”

Quayle’s comments kicked off a firestorm of debate about single parenthood and became a central controversy in his campaign for a second vice presidency (with George Bush against Bill Clinton and Al Gore). The show responded, running part of the speech in an episode and having Murphy Brown quip, “Perhaps it’s time for the vice president to expand his definition and recognize that, whether by choice or circumstance, families come in all shapes and sizes.” Brown had the baby on the show and continued her successful career, proving a woman doesn’t need a man to have it all.

Golden Girls starring Bea Arthur, Betty White, Rue McClanahan and Estelle Getty.
Bea Arthur, Betty White, Rue McClanahan and Estelle Getty in “Golden Girls.” ABC Photo Archives/Getty Images

Golden Girls (1985 – 1992)

We remember it now as a nostalgic rerun about four older women living together in Miami, but in its heyday, The Golden Girls broke the silver barrier for women onscreen. Created by Susan Harris, who wrote Maude’s abortion episode (more on that later), the show is both a clever sex comedy and a tender tribute to realistic female friendship. And while it’s sometimes referred to as a geriatric Sex and the City, the show still manages to treat its older characters with respect, even when Rue McClanahan’s Blanche was sharing details about her latest sexcapade. And that’s not all: the show also tackled sexism, transgender issues, same-sex marriage, AIDS, all in 22-minute episodes.

—Kelly Conniff

Actresses Jaclyn Smith, Cheryl Ladd and Kate Jackson, stars of the American TV show 'Charlie's Angels', circa 1978.
Actresses Jaclyn Smith, Cheryl Ladd and Kate Jackson, stars of “Charlie’s Angels.” Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

Charlie’s Angels (1976 – 1981)

For better or for worse, Charlie’s Angels along with shows like The Love Boat, Fantasy Island and Three’s Company were responsible for a new television genre: “Jiggle TV.” Charlie’s Angels sent especially mixed messages: the three women were powerful kick-ass detectives, but they were also controlled by a man’s voice coming out of a speakerphone. The show taught young girls that women should pursue a career while looking sexy at the same time. Still, the Angels could shoot guns, fight and drive cars as well as the boys: there are worse aspirations.

Cast members Beatrice Arthur (as Maude Findlay) and Adrienne Barbeau (as Carol) in “Maude” in 1975. CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

Maude (1972 – 1978)

Maude, played by the incomparable Bea Arthur, was one of the only—and certainly the most ardent—feminists on TV at the time. The show addressed a wide range of topics before any other, including menopause, plastic surgery, gender equality and, infamously, abortion. In the first season, 47-year-old Maude discovers that she’s pregnant, and the married woman with a grown daughter decides to terminate the pregnancy—the first instance of an abortion on TV. The episode aired two months before the Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade.

American actress and comedian Mary Tyler Moore (as Mary Richards) sits at a desk in a scene from "The Mary Tyler Moore Show."
Mary Tyler Moore (as Mary Richards) sits at a desk in a scene from “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970 – 1977)

Mary Tyler Moore’s Mary Richards broke ground for women by focusing on her career rather than her marital status. In an era when the average woman was married by the age of 21, the character stayed single into her 30s as she pursued a career in Minnesota as a news producer on a wacky local TV station. She went on many dates—a precursor to Elaine Benes, Ally McBeal and Carrie Bradshaw—but by refusing to marry proved that she didn’t need a man to support her. The show also may have been the first on TV to discreetly reference birth control.

Samantha (Elizabeth Montgomery) and Endora returned to the 14th century to remove a curse placed on Darrin’s (Dick York) ancestors. ABC Photo Archives/Getty Images

Bewitched (1964 – 1972)

Women have long been suspected of having some sort of magic power over men. But on this show, the young beautiful newlywed really was a witch. And like so many fairy tales, she promised to give up her powers for the man she loved and change herself so she could live in his world. Doesn’t sound all that revolutionary, but the way the series played out, Samantha couldn’t resist using her magic to fix things for her hapless husband and of course, hilarity ensues.

Played by the ever-charming Elizabeth Montgomery, Samantha switched between two worlds: The mortal one where she was a sweet and demure housewife and her witchy universe where she wore sexy, long gowns with capes and could fly around the world at will—or clean her whole house with the twitch of a nose. She even had an alter ego, a cousin, also played by Montgomery, who embraced the sexual revolution of the 1960′s and taunted Samantha for staying home and doing her own vacuuming. At the center of the series was the subversive idea that although women are incredibly powerful, they often downplay or hide their abilities in a world that wouldn’t be able to handle it.

—Susanna Schrobsdorff

"I Love Lucy" promotional shot of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz and their child, Lucy Desiree Arnaz.
“I Love Lucy” promotional shot of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz and their child, Lucy Desiree Arnaz. CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

I Love Lucy (1951 – 1957)

I Love Lucy was one of the first sit-coms to feature a genuine loving couple. Compared to The Honeymooners in which Ralph would swear that “one of these days” he was going to hit his wife Alice so hard she was going to go straight to the moon, real-life couple Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz shared happy, intimate moments.

It was also one of the first shows with a pregnancy plot: when Lucille Ball realized she was pregnant in real life, a baby was written into the show. They had to use the term “expecting” instead of pregnant, and a priest, a minister and a rabbi had to review every show about her pregnancy to make sure there was no offensive language. But 44 million viewers tuned in to watch little Ricky’s introduction to the world, 72% of all U.S. televisions at the time.




TIME sexuality

Dear White Gays: Stop Stealing Black Female Culture

You are not a black woman, and you do not get to claim either blackness or womanhood. There is a clear line between appreciation and appropriation

I need some of you to cut it the hell out. Maybe, for some of you, it’s a presumed mutual appreciation for Beyoncé and weaves that has you thinking that I’m going to be amused by you approaching me in your best “Shanequa from around the way” voice. I don’t know. What I do know is that I don’t care how well you can quote Madea, who told you that your booty was getting bigger than hers, how cute you think it is to call yourself a strong black woman, who taught you to twerk, how funny you think it is to call yourself Quita or Keisha or for which black male you’ve been bottoming — you are not a black woman, and you do not get to claim either blackness or womanhood. It is not yours. It is not for you.

Let me explain.

Black people can’t have anything. Any of these things include, but aren’t limited to: a general sense of physical safety, comfort with law enforcement, adequate funding and appreciation for black spaces like schools and neighborhoods, appropriate venues for our voices to be heard about criticism of issues without our race going on trial because of it, and solid voting rights (cc: Chris McDaniel).

And then, when you thought this pillaging couldn’t get any worse, extracurricular black activities get snatched up, too: our music, our dances, our slang, our clothing, our hairstyles. All of these things are rounded up, whitewashed and repackaged for your consumption. But here’s the shade — the non-black people who get to enjoy all of the fun things about blackness will never have to experience the ugliness of the black experience, systemic racism and the dangers of simply living while black. Though I suppose there’s some thrill in this “rolling with the homies” philosophy some adopt, white people are not racially oppressed in the United States of America.

White people are not racially oppressed in the United States of America.

White people are not racially oppressed in the United States of America.

Nothing about whiteness will get a white person in trouble the way blackness can get a black person shot down in his tracks. These are just facts. It’s not entirely the fault of white people. It’s not as if you can help being born white in America, any more than I can help being born black in America.

The truth is that America is a country that operates on systems of racism in which we all participate, whether consciously or unconsciously, to our benefit or to our detriment, and that system allows white people to succeed. This system also creates barriers so that minorities, such as black people, have a much harder time being able to do things like vote and get houses and not have to deal with racists and stuff. You know. Casual.

But while you’re gasping at the heat and the steam of the strong truth tea I just spilled,what’s even worse about all of this, if you thought things could get even crappier, is the fact that all of this is exponentially worse for black women. A culture of racism is bad enough, but pairing it with patriarchal structures that intend to undermine women’s advancement is like double-fisting bleach and acid rain.

At the end of the day, if you are a white male, gay or not, you retain so much privilege. What is extremely unfairly denied you because of your sexuality could float back to you, if no one knew that you preferred the romantic and sexual company of men over women. (You know what I’m talking about. Those “anonymous” torsos on Grindr, Jack’d and Adam4Adam, show very familiar heterosexual faces to the public.) The difference is that the black women with whom you think you align so well, whose language you use and stereotypical mannerisms you adopt, cannot hide their blackness and womanhood to protect themselves the way that you can hide your homosexuality. We have no place to hide, or means to do it even if we desired them.

In all of the ways that your gender and race give you so much, in those exact same ways, our gender and race work against our prosperity. To claim that you’re a minority woman just for the sake of laughs, and to say that the things allowed her or the things enjoyed by her are done better by you isn’t cute or funny. First of all, it’s aggravating as hell. Second, it’s damaging and perpetuating of yet another set of aggressions against us.

All of this being said, you should not have to stop liking the things you like. This is not an attempt to try to suck the fun out of your life. Appreciating a culture and appropriating one are very, very different things, with a much thicker line than some people think, if you use all of the three seconds it takes to be considerate before you open your mouth. If you love some of the same things that some black women love, by all means, you and your black girlfriends go ahead and rock the hell out. Regardless of what our privileges and lack of privileges are, regardless of the laws and rhetoric that have attempted to divide us, we are equal, even though we aren’t the same, and that is okay. Claiming our identity for what’s sweet without ever having to taste its sour is not. Breathing fire behind ugly stereotypes that reduce black females to loud caricatures for you to emulate isn’t, either.

So, you aren’t a strong black woman, or a ghetto girl, or any of that other foolery that some of you with trash Vine accounts try to be. It’s okay. You don’t have to be. No one asked you to be. You weren’t ever meant to be. What you can be, however, is part of the solution.

Check your privilege. Try to strengthen the people around you.

Sierra Mannie is a rising senior majoring in Classics and English at the University of Mississippi. She is a regular contributor to the Opinion section of the school’s student newspaper, The Daily Mississippian, where this article originally appeared.

TIME sexuality

‘I’m a Survivor of Rape and Intimate Partner Violence–And I’m a Man’

Silhouetted man through window
Getty Images

The crisis of campus sexual violence can't be solved without addressing other populations that are at surprisingly high risk.

The topic of campus rape has been making its way to Congress and the White House, and coverage of this issue has increasingly been making headlines. But conspicuously absent from the conversation is the narrative of male and queer survivors.

My name is John Kelly, and I’m a survivor of rape and intimate partner violence. I was raped twice while in college, but one of my experiences doesn’t fit into traditional definitions of rape. While incapacitated, a male former intimate partner performed oral sex on me. The amount of pain and anguish that rape caused me was no different than that of my other rape, a more widely accepted iteration in which I was forcibly penetrated.

It took me a long time to come to terms with my experiences, in large part because I didn’t have the language to articulate them. The confusion, fear and shame I felt, coupled with my school’s inability to respond, contributed to an attempted suicide and subsequent hospitalization only weeks after my second attack. Rape and intimate partner violence are rarely spoken of within the queer community, or with male survivors.

Last week I became the first person ever to testify before Congress on same-sex dating violence. My hope is that as coverage of this topic increases and begins featuring a greater diversity of voices, the stigma surrounding same-sex sexual violence will dissipate. I hope that as this becomes something we feel more comfortable talking about, survivors will easily be able to receive the help needed, regardless of sex, sexuality or gender identity.

TIME’s recent cover story on campus sexual violence was much needed, and activists and survivors across the country are moved to see such stories making national headlines. But TIME didn’t mention male survivors or queer survivors once. Indeed, women experience sexual violence at higher rates than men, due in part to gender norms. The effects of sexual control, coercion and violence of men against women cannot be overstated. Men commit rape at significantly higher rates than women. The 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS) shows that 98% of female rape victims and 93% of male rape victims report having only male perpetrators.

The gender norms that allow men to rape at such staggering rates also create ideals of masculinity that silence male survivors. The percent of male survivors is higher than generally understood, particularly among at-risk demographics such as queer and gender nonconforming men. The NISVS showed that 1 in 71 men are victims of rape (forced oral or anal penetration), and nearly 1 in 5 men experience some other form of sexual violence (such as the 5% of men who have been made to penetrate someone else.)

Using the more inclusive definition of rape as any forced/nonconsensual penetration—including being made to penetrate—the same study shows that 6.2% of men are rape survivors, about 1 in 15. A 2011 survey of studies investigating same-sex sexual violence, published in Trauma Violence Abuse, found the median rates of rape for gay or bisexual men was 30%, and 43% for lesbian or bisexual women. The 2008 book Social Work Practice with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender People found that 25%-33% of all surveyed same-sex relationships involved domestic violence. Other research shows rates of sexual assault victimization in the transgender community may be greater than 50%. I cannot prioritize either of my rapes, and neither should statistics or the law. Sexual violence in the LGBT community is an epidemic.

These types of assaults—against men, against queer people and between people of the same sex—are happening on our college campuses. While the narratives are few and far between, we are finding our voices.

While major publications have often chosen to focus on predominantly straight, white female narratives, populations that are at high risk for sexual violence are being ignored in a way that continues to be detrimental to the safety of these communities—my community. We must include narratives of people of color, queer people and trans people to show the varied forms of sexual violence on college campuses and beyond. Only then will we begin to solve the crisis of sexual violence in higher education, and the epidemic of LGBTQ sexual violence.

John Kelly is a rising senior at Tufts University, where he studies religion. He is the Special Projects Organizer and an ED ACT NOW Organizer for Know Your IX, and a certified rape crisis counselor in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. He tweets at @john_m_kelly.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser