Viva Las Vegas and the AVN/AEE Extravaganza 2014!

Happy New Year, folks!  2014 is certainly off and running.  I finally feel recovered from the holidays and ready to tackle this brand new year.  The AVN Awards and the AEE (Adult Entertainment Expo) are kicking off this week in Las Vegas.  I head to the desert on Thursday to peruse the eclectic booths and see my extended adult family that I have grown accustomed to seeing at this event every year.  The land of adult is never boring and I am sure this year will prove to be just as much a ruckus as years past.

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To all of you heading to Vegas for this event, have a blast and be safe.  I will be reporting on all of my adventures when I return from the desert.  Stay tuned

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Holiday Crime Is Happening

Whatever it is that you celebrate in December, most of us have a holiday of sorts that we are preparing for. If you have gone to the mall, you will notice that it’s filled to the brim with people purchasing gifts at this time of year.

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As I was sitting in my hairdresser’s chair the other day, I began to ponder this season a bit. My hairdresser told me she requested that her family not buy her any more things, as she has so many. She only wanted gifts that she could consume and be done with immediately.

I don’t know about you, but Christmas snuck up on me this year. Most of the people in my life also felt as if 2013 sprinted by and they are rushing to close it out and ring in 2014. Something I have noticed this year more than others is how many of the people in my life have had a theft of some kind at this time of year. One person I know woke up after staying the night at a friend’s, to find that their iPhones, a laptop, and a Bose stereo were gone. Another friend of mine had her car broken into; the thieves didn’t get much, since her neighbors noticed and chased them off with bats.

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But this one really struck home: a friend of mine, who is married with four children, went to bed and accidentally left her car door unlocked. The thief (or thieves) got in and stole the change out of her car – but they also saw her garage door opener, and opened her garage to peer around while she, her husband, and her children slept. Thankfully, they slept through it and no one was hurt, but it got me thinking that this is honestly one of the worst times of the year for crime. ‘Tis the season, as they say.

I realize that as a whole, we are a society plagued by both petty and serious crime, but you have to admit the holidays bring out the theft in people more than other times of year. I saw a news report that a contractor scam is making its way through the East Bay. Men dressed as contractors knock on your door, telling you they are working on your neighbors’ house and they need access to your back yard. You unlock the door and let them in, thinking you are being a polite neighbor, only later to discover that this was just a scam and money and jewelry are missing out of your house.

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I understand that crime happens all throughout the year, but when we are all shopping more than normal and buying things we wouldn’t always buy, the payoff for theft becomes higher than at other times of year.  Other than children and really close friends, I stopped giving Christmas gifts a long time ago. I used to have Christmas parties every year so that I could spend time with the people who I love.

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Then I started celebrating Festivus, because it’s the anti-holiday party filled with grievances, a piñata, and wrestling. This year, the holidays snuck up on me so fast, I’m just making time for certain people while trying to finish out 2013.

Whatever it is that you find yourself celebrating, avoiding, or drinking through at this time of year please be careful out there. Lock your doors, cars, and homes. Keep an eye on your purses and wallets. Just be aware that there are people, who spend this time of year waiting for our busyness and stress to make us a victim of holiday crime. Stay warm and I hope you all have a lovely holiday, whatever it is that you celebrate.

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Closed For The Holidays!!!

Hello folks.  The end of this year is not filled with as much writing as I would like.  Let’s face it, the month of December is made up of holiday parties, closing out the business year; while we all sprint towards the New Year. You may not get much writing out of me, as I close out 2013.  Don’t worry, I already have a host of topics for the rest of 2014.   May you all survive the last few weeks of this year and may 2014 bring many new adventures for us all.

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Margaret Cho: An Original San Francisco Treat

There’s too many things happening in the world right now that aren’t funny: our federal government is shut down, the economy is still struggling…have you seen the price of a 1 bedroom in the city of San Francisco? We need a release; people need to laugh, to escape and to have a pleasant distraction.

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Watching stand up comedy live, when done right, is an incredible experience for the human spirit. A comic can transcend our immediate situation and provide a perfect diversion from the things swirling around us. In late September while traveling in Nashville, I saw that Margaret Cho was on tour again with her new show called, ‘Mother’. Cho is a comedian I have loved for years and I was missing San Francisco…I knew seeing Cho’s new show could fix that problem.

Margaret Cho Photo By Austin Young

Margaret Cho Photo By Austin Young

Cho is a San Francisco native, though she now resides between Los Angeles and Atlanta throughout the year. Cho was born and raised in San Francisco during the late 70’s and the city influenced her perspective in a big way. Her parents ran a bookstore called Paperbook Traffic in the city, where Cho’s mom taught her about gay people, using a book in their very own store. The story started with her saying, “Sometimes men love each other so much, I mean…so much, so much…”, in a thick Korean accent, imitating her mother. Her mother is a regular part of her routine and you can tell that the relationship is a source of how Cho moves through the world.

Zanies Nashville

Zanies Nashville

The show I caught in Nashville was at comedy landmark, Zanies. The very funny Jim Short was Cho’s opener and phenomenal. His set was perfect; he had the entire audience laughing from start to finish. (Short and Cho also have a podcast called, “Monsters of Talk“, which is entertaining and hilarious.) Short set the tone for the evening; by the time he introduced Cho, people were primed and wanted more.

Jim Short

Jim Short

When Cho appears on stage, she is immediately funny and approachable all at once. She shared about where she is in her life now, how she’s thinking about having children, her age and how her body has changed. She discussed being bisexual and how her relationships with men and women look.  As her set progressed, you find yourself laughing harder and harder and you also feel like you just had a conversation with an old friend. Everything Cho communicates during her set is the perfect blend of funny and vulnerable. Most people believe that all comics are tortured; Margaret Cho is real, all too human (in the best way) and more so, engaging. To say she was gracious towards those attending is an understatement. Audience members sent her drinks, she shared every one, involved many in discussions and held the audience’s attention lovingly from the moment she set foot on her platform.

Margaret Cho Photo by Lyndsey Byrnes

Margaret Cho Photo by Lyndsey Byrnes

Seeing Cho was a treat; she is a feature role on the Lifetime series, Drop Dead Diva, that is incredibly popular, she continues to write, perform and do film work. She is a busy woman, so this tour feels like an extra gift for her fans.

Cho’s set didn’t disappoint in any way, shape or form. Cho brought her A game and I was delighted that I finally got to see her live. Mother is coming to San Francisco on October 12th at the Nob Hill Masonic Center. Get tickets while you can as she tends to sell out.

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Ms. Pinto Goes to Washington for Woodhull

The weekend of September 20th found me and several San Franciscans headed to Washington D.C. to attend the Woodhull Sexual Freedom Summit. Sex, sexuality and gender are topics that have made history this year; DOMA was abolished, and gay people can now marry in 13 states while enjoying more rights than ever before.  In California, Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill allowing children in public schools to decide which bathrooms they use and whether they choose to participate in girls or boys sports. In the wake of all these changes, the Woodhull Summit and conferences like it are designed to discuss all of these changes and hopefully cause more.

Seduction Photography by Louis Shackleton

Seduction Photography by Louis Shackleton

Since I couldn’t see every panel, I relied on the attendees to let me know which panels were the standouts.  Sabrina Morgan, a well-known Bay Area sex educator and activist, had a sex work round table, Friday night.  Cheyenne Picardo, an attendee, said: “The sex work round table was a very smart diverse discussion led by Sabrina Morgan that may have been the first time I ever felt that all sex workers could be on the same page, maybe even allies, in the struggle for respect, safety, and recognition.”

Buck Angel, an icon in popular culture who is also the first Female-to-Male (FTM) transsexual to appear in the adult world, premiered his film “Mr. Angel” at Woodhull, and his pal Reid Mihalko, a sex educator based in Oakland, led the Q&A with Angel afterward.

Seduction Photography by Louis Shackleton

Seduction Photography by Louis Shackleton

After Cathy Vartuli saw the premier, she said: “The film did a great job of showing the ordinary moments and the struggle Buck went through finding his sexual identity and expression. It showed the confusion he felt, the challenges his family went through, and the love they all have for each other that brought them through the journey. I loved how the flash backs to him as a young girl growing up helped people connect to his transformation, and his courage. And when his dad broke down, it was so touching. I think this film takes a journey that is normally steeped in fear and mystery and makes it gentle and easily accessible to everyone. It showed the courage it takes to step out of your old life, and builds compassion and understanding for anyone going through this process.”

Shanna Katz, an attendee and speaker said: “As a sexologist and sex educator, as well as a member of a few sexually marginalized communities myself. I think it is incredibly important to have ongoing conversations about sexual rights. Many people assume that this means reproductive rights/justice, and leave it at that, but even many people already somewhat “in the know” were shocked to find out about the condoms as evidence law in New York, or that nursing home patients can get kicked out of housing in some areas for being (consensually) sexually active. Sexual freedom is multifaceted, and I was excited not only to be able to share my take on it (specifically around privilege, LGBTQ and disability identities), but also to engage with others in the field about the different issues that are so prevalent in the field.

Kate Guilfoyle Cassidy, the VP of Customer Relations of Masque and one of the proud sponsors of this event, said: “We were very honored to be asked to sponsor Woodhull Summit this year and were excited for the “friend-raising” opportunity that our attendance allowed. The Alliance’s work on human rights and sexuality education are very compelling. We’re always excited to introduce our product to forward-thinking attendees at sex positive events. Events like this are an excellent opportunity for thoughtful discourse on education and safe sex.”  If you’re wondering why Masque sounds familiar, it’s because they’ve sponsored almost every sex positive and adult event in the last two years.  It seems this oral sex strip company has a heart of gold and a desire to be philanthropic.

Woodhull did many things right at this conference, from unisex bathrooms to a list of rules on behavior and conduct. They offered a cigar bar and a party on Saturday night for everyone to unwind at.

Seduction Photography by Louis Shackleton

Seduction Photography by Louis Shackleton

But what they mainly offered beyond panels and speakers was a place where people who live with issues of being queer, polyamorous, kinky, a sex worker, transgender, disabled or part of many other marginalized communities, a chance to connect with like-minded people going through the same struggles, while trying to find solutions that can really make change, and not just apply a band-aid like so much of society wants to do.  It is one thing to read about these topics on the news and it is quite another to live it. And that’s what Woodhull does: it brings home the realities of these situations through people and panels.   In the words of Havelock Ellis, “Sex lies at the root of life, and we can never learn to revere life until we know how to understand sex.”

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What Labels You a Sex Offender? You Would be Surprised

I recently met Natalie, a woman who, in her words (and after investigating her case) “was pimped out for 13 years” of her life. When her pimp was arrested, she and the other girls he coerced to work as prostitutes were charged as well.  This woman was convicted of crimes at age 30 that labeled her a sex offender; she and those who were also forced to work, were victims. Due to the nature of our present laws, Natalie and those who identify as victims of the crimes leveled against them in this case, are now registered and viewed as sex offenders.

That didn’t sit well with me. When I think of the term sex offender, the last thing I think of is someone like her. I decided to do a bit of research to see what can get you classified as a sex offender, because disturbingly, a lot of things can earn you that title.

Via a mass email and requests on social media, I asked what people think of when they hear the term, sex offender.

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Monika Thomas: “I think of Pee Wee Herman, who ended up getting caught doing something that wasn’t that big of a deal given the context (masturbation in an adult theatre). I also think of the stereotypical, creepy, ex-con guy who people are trying to “protect children from” with the Meghan’s Law maps and I think of all the people who get caught up in the dragnet of “sex offenders” that don’t really belong there, like roommates of sex workers for instance.”

Craig Ainsworth, Esq. said, “The term sex offender creates a stigma, sometimes warranted, sometimes not.” Ainsworth feels perhaps a redefinition of the term is in order: “Not all sex offenders are created equal, but the registry system might not account for this.” Ainsworth suggested that perhaps the registry would work better, if it listed repeat offenders instead of every single case.

Kimberly Spillman shared her thoughts: “What I think of immediately: are they rapists/violent criminals? The term is too broad to know how dangerous a person with that title may be.”

Too broad is right. Do you know what crimes can get you labeled a sex offender? 18 year olds having sex or sexting with their 15, 16 or 17-year-old partners. Public nudity, flashing, public urination and mooning can also get you the label (which means, based on this definition, that people camping or attending an event like Burning Man, are potential sex offenders to anyone who disagrees with those behaviors and reports them). Those are not violent crimes, so why are these crimes ones that carry a label that will stigmatize your life forever?

I spoke to someone who has real experience with this – Karen Hammons,who has a website entitled The Offenders Wife.  The Offenders Wife is an online community where women whose husbands or someone they love carries the label of sex offender.

Hammons stems from South Carolina and five years ago, her life changed forever. “I got called by the police and was told that my husband was being arrested. The charges were contributing to the delinquency of a minor and using an electronic device to do it.”

At the time, her husband worked for a mega-church as a member of the Facilities team; the 17-year-old girl in question was in the student ministry there. Not only was he arrested, but his arrest made headlines in the local media. An announcement was also made at the church he worked at and that their family worshipped at.

Once the news was made public, her husband was fired on the spot and many people cut all ties to the Hammons family.  While she did have a few close friends who stayed loyal to their friendship, she said, “…it was a very lonely and traumatizing experience.” For reasons still unknown, all the charges were dropped and her husband did not have to register as a sex offender, but the damage was done and the effects still linger

The Hammons family still face discrimination five years later. It’s the little things; one of Hammons sons is autistic and needs to be walked to class. Her husband at times takes him to school. This seemingly normal parental duty was not viewed as acceptable by some of the other parents. Then Hammons found out that a number of parents, who had seen the news coverage years ago, called the school franticly, saying they had a sex offender wandering the halls and the school needed to put a stop to it.

Thankfully, the school told the parents that Mr. Hammons was not on the sex offender registry and he had every right to walk his child to class. This could have gone a few different ways and while Hammons husband does not carry the label of sex offender anymore, the stigma still haunts him and their family

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Hammons believes that the sex offender registry is too overloaded to serve the purpose it was initially intended for. When you look up a sex offender, you are not shown what the actual violation was; it simply says, sex offender – and that can mean any number of things.

The other part of the problem, Hammon feels, is the isolation it creates.  Most of these sex offenders and their families tend to isolate themselves for fear of harassment and discrimination.  Jobs and homes are a hard thing for registered offenders to come by, yet studies have shown that employment and community help sex offenders to not re-offend. Instead of isolating sex offenders and publicly shaming them with a registry, what else can be done?

What’s not being done in a practical way, is rehabilitation and education.  Benjamin Lopatin, Esq. said, “Our society is trying to sweep sex offenders underneath a rug and hope they disappear. However, this supposed solution merely gives a false sense of security.  There should be a focus on those deemed sexual predators, based on risk assessment. Additionally, there should be mandatory mental health treatment aimed at rehabilitating these sex offenders so they will not re-commit crimes.  There should also be more resources allocated for educating the public on sexual abuse prevention. Legislation that reacts on emotion and is based on fear and anger will not be effective in keeping society safe.”

When laws are created out of fear, folly is sure to follow.  Our fears cannot and should not dictate how we treat people. While I understand how terrifying some sex offenders are, how can we be certain every person who we see with that label, fits that emotional trigger most of us feel when we hear that term.

Nothing is black and white. Everyone has a story and our laws should account for that.

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Police & Problems on The Playa; Oh My

If you’re wondering why parking is a little easier in San Francisco/The Bay Area in general and traffic seemed less hellish than normal aside from the bridge closing it may be because a portion of our inhabitants are attending Burning Man.

Burning Man began in 1986 at Bakers Beach in San Francisco with just a few attendees. Once it gained popularity, they moved it to Black Rock city, Nevada.  This year, it has more than 60,000 attendees who head out to the middle of nowhere in order to dress in costumes, make huge pieces of art, some who may use a lot of recreational drugs, practice spirituality and then finally burn down a wooden man. While I look at the photos and think to myself how freeing and beautiful it all seems, I also fear extreme desert elements and the lack of indoor plumbing. Those two things have kept me on the outside looking in, if I am being honest.

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This year, almost all of the posts I read on Facebook and twitter, seem to be about a large, looming police presence (many reported in costume) on the Playa which (attendees, who prefer to be called Burners, call the city they create in the middle of the desert, The Playa). Granted, police have always had some type of  presence at Burning Man, but apparently, this year is very different. One Facebook Post in particular got me thinking about all of this.

Jeremy Thomas posted:

From a Burning Man regular:

 “The pigs are here. And uncommonly badge heavy. Earlier tonight, the #BLM pulled over El Couchino for a registration violation. In 18 years on the playa, I’ve never seen a more aggressive police presence than what’s been going down today. Deeply upsetting, outrageous stuff. One DPW member was issued a $275 ticket for urinating on the playa, and threatened with being forced to register as a convicted sex offender. (a note for people not familiar with Burning Man, the “Playa” is what Burning Man attendees or “Burners” call the land that this event is held on.) I suspect this is fallout from the lawsuit BMORG won against the BLM earlier this year. Whatever the cause, know this: Law enforcement is going to be VERY AGGRESSIVE at Burning Man this year. Keep your shit as right as you do back in the world. Don’t give them any excuses. Be extremely cautious, and MAKE SURE TO TELL YOUR FRIENDS. Things are changing. #BM2013 #LEO #police IF YOU DO GET STOPPED: Make sure to file an incident report with Burning Man. And before you get here, LEARN YOUR RIGHTS. [1]“

 In response to the police, a spokesperson for a group called “Reform In Our Time” said

“Our demands are simple: We want law enforcement excluded….. The problem is a huge growth in outside law enforcement officers invading the playa, not the money it costs. We would really appreciate them if they stayed outside and only came in when we really wanted them to. If the cops would leave their badges and guns at home and just be burners like everyone else in BRC, we’d welcome them just like we welcome anyone else. We’d even build them a Donut Camp! We’re not against cops necessarily, we just don’t want outsiders doing law enforcement in our city. We have everything we need to take care of it ourselves without any outside help!”[2]

After reading this, I began to look at other feeds; many burners are feeling the same way and worried that the police were taking too much of an interest in their once a year, Utopian society, week-long party.  I wondered if it had to do with a string of rapes that happened on the Playa last year, attendees hesitant to step in when they saw suspect behavior because they themselves were impaired due to their state of mind or the fact that they had no rape kits or ways to treat attendees who were sexually assaulted. Then I wondered if it was because of theft, drug overdose and the more things came to mind, the less I wondered why the police might take an interest.

Burning Man

Since I’ve never been, I relied on Burners past and present to educate me a bit on how they feel about things Burning Man related. One past burner told me this, when asked why she doesn’t attend anymore: “When I was attending, it was a known free for all where you could exchange anything for a handful of light sticks and needed items. Lots of sex, lots of drugs and lots of community. For most people, whether they’ll admit it publicly or not, that’s utopia for a week. I never felt safe there alone. Those attending and myself included at the time, behave as if they are not on US soil where laws apply. that’s part of the allure, you know?  Burning man is extreme emotionally, physically – in all ways. Hearing people freak out because law enforcement is present is ridiculous. We were knowingly breaking the law and people still are, en masse and they’re worried about police, wanting them to only be around in an on-call basis. This is not only irresponsible, this is a common belief amongst Burners.”

Steven Leyba, a well-known artist who attended and performed at Burning Man in 1995 and 1996 said: “That was the good ole days when you could walk the desert without some law school hipster playing at ‘artist’ for the week, walking about with his cock out misquoting Blake. I couldn’t understand why everyone was acting like Indians but no one ever heard of the Paiute tribe. The very tribe whose land they were on, a tribe that wasn’t completely killed from the American Holocaust. B.M. is about rules and conformity not about personal freedom and personal expression. The only difference between living in the playa and living in the real world is you can go naked or wear costumes your 9-year-old sister would think were stupid.” Leyba also witnessed three deaths during his time at Burning Man.  Both incidents included intoxicated people getting behind the wheel with disastrous and deadly results. He does not feel the playa is a safe place at all and has never returned.

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Another past attendee, who preferred to remain anonymous said, [she] “…feels people attend Burning Man, “To do drugs, and have sex.”  I asked her if she felt it was safe and if the added police presence was necessary. “I think people survive, but it’s not as safe as some would like to think it is and with the amount of people that attend, and the multiple agendas that everyone has, YES, the added police presence is needed. 

My favorite quote is anonymous which says: “Burning man is so surreal that I cannot tell if something is real or it’s my drugs”.  That pretty much seemed to sum it up, for a lot of people I have spoken to about Burning Man.

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Again, I have never attended, but I’m always fascinated that people create art and pack up to put themselves through a week in a desert. I am also not surprised to find that almost every response for shared stories and opinions asked to be left unidentified for fear of being “found out”. I had positive replies, but when asked for quotes to give examples, they felt uncomfortable sharing, even anonymously in case it could be, “discovered” who they were.

60,000+ other attendees are halfway through their Burning Man experience. What is clear? People want a week, truly away to do what they will, for reasons personal to them with no repercussions.

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