Tech Now + Beyond

Pakistan’s app-banning streak is both a personal and political attack

As a Pakistani woman, I have always viewed social media as a safe haven of sorts where I can share my views and opinions without being sidelined. In a country where women are so often marginalized and subjected to misogynistic trends, social media offers us a form of refuge to express our very constrained freedom. And this is exactly why Pakistan’s latest bans on dating apps and Tik Tok left me appalled. To me, these bans and blocks signify a further limitation of rights for women and the prevalence of sexism and misogyny in the country.

Recently, Tinder, Grindr and other similar dating apps were blocked for disseminating immoral content. This was followed by a ban on Tik Tok as well. According to Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA), notices were issued to the five dating apps, and companies failed to respond within the stipulated time. 

The decision was made to prevent the circulation of ‘immoral and obscene content’. Put simply, the ban on certain apps was imposed to appease the conservative factions of the country. 

Pakistan has had a long history of internet/social media bans and blocks. In recent years, the government has banned YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook as well. Content is monitored and often removed if it is deemed immoral by the authorities. 

The recent blocks have sparked a renewed conversation about the government’s attempts to control the flow of ideas on the internet. Restrictions on social media sites are normalizing censorship. Increased regulation is limiting free speech and paving the way for the conservative factions to benefit from it.  The rapidity of ‘moral policing’ is such that it is only realistic to expect a handful of social media sites left to access in the country. The government’s motives are unclear but what it does tell us is that the ban is geared towards suppressing free expression and the endorsement of conservative values in the country.

The ban on Tik Tok felt personal because it is the one platform that gives everyone a chance to express their creativity and showcase their talents. 

In the contemporary world, the internet and social media serve as one of the major avenues to express freedom of speech and expression. It is difficult to imagine progress without it. Blocks and restrictions can be a major setback for the upcoming generations, limited and monitored access to the internet will curb ideas and innovation. Amongst other things, it will sabotage the ability of technology in helping to eliminate the negative connotations attached to Pakistan.

The most recent ban on Tik Tok was yet another measure to suppress entertainment and creativity in the country. Tik Tok is one of the only platforms that made a vast majority of the Pakistani population feel welcomed (quite literally). People from various cultural, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds are not only able to access the platform but also produce content that was viewed and appreciated widely. 

There was no way to control the flow of information or trends on the app; perhaps this is why it was so threatening. Although, the ban was uplifted in the face of politics. But it felt personal because it is the one platform that gives everyone a chance to express their creativity and showcase their talents. 

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There have been numerous calls within the country by human rights campaigners to uplift the bans. As much as I want the ban to be unlifted, I cannot help but think we are headed towards a state with strict controls and censorship on the internet and print media. I find it rather daunting because social media seems like the one avenue where I can truly voice my opinions in a country where women are so often silenced. 

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Reproductive Rights Love + Sex Love

I’m 35 & don’t want kids —but I had to fight my doctor to get a hysterectomy

I was thirty-two years old when Caitlin Moran set me free.

I was sitting on the toilet in my tiny apartment in rural Platteville, Wisconsin, a town I’d moved to get some thinking and reading and writing done, a town where that’s about all you can do. At that particular moment, I was reading Moran’s astonishing book of essays, How To Be A Woman. The line which blew the locks off the mental cage I didn’t know I was inhabiting were as follows:

“We need more women who are allowed to prove their worth as people, rather than being assessed merely for their potential to create new people.”  

I sat bolt upright when I read that. Then I read it again. I couldn’t believe the sensation of openness and freedom that passage gave me—I wanted to grab a penknife and carve it into every doorframe in my house. More than freedom, those words gave me something I hadn’t realized I’d wanted: permission.

Let me explain.

If you are a woman in 2018, even if you are lucky enough to have a relatively feminist family, you’ll be endlessly prompted by friends, co-workers, even well-meaning strangers to fulfill a checklist: Home. Marriage. Children.

For women who hesitate before bubbling in that final, permanent choice on the “Are You a Good Woman?” test, there are a few helpful prods that others will administer:

You shouldn’t wait to have children! You never know how long it will take. (Note how deftly this timing-focused prod evades the issue of whether children are even wanted.)

He would make such a good father. (Note that the questioner will never ask the man in question if he is interested in being a father. That’s not what this is about.)

You should have children. It’s selfish not to. I already have [number]. What’s the big deal? (Misery loves company.)

And finally, the checkmate in the chess match women play against each other and themselves: What if you don’t, and then regret it?

This is the goad that got under my skin. I would poke myself with it—are you sure? Are you really sure?—at intervals, trying to awaken maternal instincts that remained stubbornly dormant. Wondering if, like a punitive O. Henry story, I would suddenly discover a ravenous yearning for babies at the exact moment my body lost the ability to conceive them. In the meanwhile, I continued gamely testing myself for parental abilities: working as a camp counselor. Teaching. Gingerly holding babies on my knee. Crucially, however, I never felt an urge to parent—either by conception or adoption, regardless of my parent friends’ breezy assurances that “when it comes to your own kids, you’ll feel differently.” The light switch stayed resolutely off.

Cut back to me, still sitting on the toilet in Platteville, Wisconsin, my legs steadily going numb, every neuron in my head alight. I felt like I’d found a doorway to Narnia in my closet; like an exam, I was dreading had been canceled. When Moran wrote that motherhood offered “nothing you couldn’t get from, say, reading the 100 greatest books in human history; learning a foreign language well enough to argue in it; climbing hills; loving recklessly; sitting quietly, alone, in the dawn; drinking whiskey with revolutionaries; learning to do close-hand magic; swimming in a river in winter […]” I got excited. I started thinking about all the books I could read, the books I could write. I imagined a room full of the embroidery supplies I love, stacked in a colorful array. I thought about visiting all the countries on my bucket list: Vietnam, Iceland, New Zealand, Scotland.

I wanted to do all of those things, and I wanted to do them now.

First, though, I’d have to get up off the can.

Cut to two years later.

I’ve packed up my life and my apartment and moved to Boston, a city containing jobs and opportunities and, crucially, the man I’ve been low-key in love with for my entire adult life. In a happy, if statistically improbable, coincidence, he’s fallen in love with me, too. We snag a tiny apartment in the city and are deliriously happy together. I write every day. I’ve started saving for travel. I even have a respectable embroidery collection. Thrilled that my gambit has paid off, I make one final attempt… at being a Good Woman. I sit my man down for a talk.

“Listen. I’m pretty sure that, if it were just me alone, I’d never have a kid. But for you, with you, I would happily have a child if you wanted one. Do you want kids?”

He looks at me like I am out of my mind. “Babe. No.”

“Are you sure? Are you really sure?” I ask. (I am getting good at asking this.) “You can think about it!”

He doesn’t have to think about it. In fact, he’s thinking about getting a vasectomy. “So we can stop spending all our money on birth control.”

Well then. I marvel at how easily he’s made this decision, how untroubled he is by the possibility of regret—when pressed, he shrugs. “If we regret it, we’ll adopt. I always thought I’d make a better uncle than a dad, anyway.” His unfazed attitude, I realize, is what making the baby decision looks like when you’re unencumbered by a lifetime of other people’s expectations. This is how not big a deal the decision can be—when you’re a man.

Back in the world of women, things aren’t so easy.

While the vasectomy has taken care of my immediate birth control needs, I’m still stuck dealing with howling menstrual cramps every month, plus a family inheritance: poorly located uterine fibroids, which make cervical dilation impossible. My uterus is like a lobster pot—easy for sperm to get in, impossible for anything larger than a sperm to get in or out.

If (God forbid) I am raped, or my man’s vasectomy turns out to be imperfect, I will be looking at a reduced array of options for abortion (maybe none, depending on the political winds), and a guaranteed C-section at the end of the hypothetical pregnancy I don’t want. I grouse about all this to my OB/GYN, who makes supportive noises until I say the magic words: “Fertility isn’t something I care about maintaining.”

Suddenly, she looks up from her computer screen.

“Wait. If you really don’t want kids, and you’re sure, there are more options.”

And that’s when I decided I was done being asked that question.

Cut to me, being cut open. Laparoscopic hysterectomy means a few things: a cluster of postage-stamp-sized incisions across your abdominal muscles. The removal of your uterus through some tiny tubes. (Assuming your ovaries aren’t giving you trouble, you get to keep those—the days of automatic ovarian removal, with attendant lifelong hormone replacement, are long gone.) The sudden realization of how much you use your abdominal muscles for everything. And no periods, cramps, or need for birth control, ever again.

I’m writing this with a hot pad across my lap. Ten days out from my hysterectomy, I’m still a little sore. Snow shoveling is right out. But my mind is at peace. I’ve finally realized that the sharp stick I used to poke myself with—“Are you sure? Are you really sure?” was just a way to distract myself from the fact that I already knew what I wanted. I just had to gain the courage to name my desire.

So: maybe you’re stuck in a cage. Maybe you already secretly know what you want, too. Know this:

You are enough.

You don’t have to make another person to earn your spot on this big beautiful earth.

You are enough.

You can do the thing yourself—write the novel, make the movie, start the peace process, build the supercomputer. You don’t have to raise someone else and hope they accomplish it instead. The terrifying, wonderful news is that they won’t. That’s your desire, to fulfill or not. And guess what?

You are enough.

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LGBTQIA+ Race Inequality

Are you being an ally or a white savior?

In light of recent conversations around Black Lives Matter Protests, being an ally to marginalized communities is the new “woke” thing to do. All of a sudden, white people understand the plight of people of color, men understand women’s oppression, and straight people understand LGBTQ+ experiences.

Everyone speaks up for everyone else’s oppression, to the extent that people are speaking over others, instead of speaking up for others. Often, this leads to uncomfortable situations, especially for closeted LGBTQ+ people who are only out to a few people. The aggressive desire of saviors to publicly call people out for being homophobic, racist, and xenophobic without any context of the situation has led to unnecessary misunderstandings. 

For example, closeted folks often make references about the LGBTQ+ experience around people who they are out to. Often, self-proclaimed “allies” to the LGBTQ+ community would overhear this and publicly confront them about their comments and accuse them of being “homophobic” for talking about the experiences of the LGBTQ+ community, falsely assuming that they are straight. This has led to public outings of closeted members of the LGBTQ+ community, which is both unfair and insensitive to them. For example, Author Becky Albertalli was forced to come out publicly after being criticized for writing Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda because people assumed that she was straight. 

The publicness of confrontations represents the performative nature of the savior’s actions. They crave social recognition for defending marginalized communities. They post a black square on their Instagram in solidarity with Black Lives Matter but don’t do anything to raise awareness for police brutality after Black Lives Matter stopped trending. These people are also missionaries who travel to developing countries to convert people under the guise of community building. This is an instance of saviors taking the moral high ground; they think that they are better than the people that they are “saving” because of their religion. In reality, the communities that are being “saved” have their own culture and religious values, and do not need to be indoctrinated with the values of another religion.

On the other hand, allies listen to the experiences of other communities. They do not speak over and speak for these communities but use their platform to amplify the voices and experiences of others. They don’t refer to marginalized communities as “voiceless” but create a stage for their voices to be heard. Allies do not expect social recognition for their allyship, nor do they limit their allyship to social media trends. Allyship is long-term because it is based on empathetic relationships between people. Allies do not pretend to relate to the struggles of a marginalized community; they acknowledge that listening to something is not the same as living through it. 

Allies also ask questions to improve their own understanding of underrepresented communities. They also do their own research to learn the history of these communities. However, they understand that not every member of a minority community feels oppressed and that minorities do not want to participate in the Oppression Olympics – a competition to determine who is the most oppressed on grounds of sex, gender, race, socioeconomic status, etc.

With the advent of the Biden Presidency, more conversations about intersectionality are in the works. Allies are an important part of liberation movements; enslaved people were liberated with some assistance from white abolition movements. Women were able to acquire the right to vote partially through the platform of their male allies. Historically, allies have worked to raise awareness for different causes within their own demographics. In order to raise awareness today, it is important to be cognizant of the fine line between being an ally and being a savior

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Reproductive Rights The Internet Gender Pop Culture Inequality

Mia Khalifa makes the porn industry billions, after being coerced into a contract for only $12K

In 2014, at the age of 21, Mia Khalifa joined the adult film industry for three months.

Within that short time, however, she was quickly ranked #1 on Pornhub, amassing millions of views. Despite her success, she only received $12,000 in compensation.

Six years later, she is still subjected to shame and judgment for being an adult film actor, simply for creating a products millions have consumed. This is a ridiculous stigma, one that affects those in front of the camera.

All the while, the people who often manipulatively bring these actors into the industry lose nothing, instead gaining hundreds of billions in revenue.

Six years later, she is still subjected to shame and judgment for being an adult film actor.

Since leaving the industry, Khalifa spoken up about the coercion and manipulation she faced to join the industry and the ways she was abused and exploited as an adult film actor.

In an interview with BBC, Khalifa disclosed the minimal amount of control and agency she had during the filming process. “Other than saying yes or no to one outfit or the other, I had very little say on what was filmed. The theme of it, the content, and where it’s filmed is not really up to you,” she explained.

Mia Khalifa recorded eleven adult films in a coerced collaboration with BangBros over the span of three months.

Ever since then, she has received backlash and hatred from various communities and ‘ISIS sympathizers’. Her account was hacked and propaganda was posted in her stead. She was disowned by her family and in many ways, her brief career as a adult film actor continues to shape her image today.

Over the years, Khalifa has made several attempts to have her videos removed but all she has received is mockery from the industry and the internet.

Recently, however, she went viral on TikTok and many people began to make videos to express solidarity with her. The music group ilovefriday, who formerly released a diss track against her, also came forward to apologize.

During the summer, the hashtag #JusticeforMiaKhalifa circulated, along with a petition to have Khalifa’s videos removed from Pornhub. 

Khalifa’s story has raised awareness about corruption in the adult film industry and has been a learning lesson for many. Exodus Cry posted a video that outlines corruption in the adult film industry.

Companies like Bangbros, Pornhub, and XVideos have perpetuated rape and sexual abuse by providing a website that allows users to upload videos of sexual violence against women and children without their consent. These websites were initially designed for acting, but a lot of the videos featured on the websites involve actual rape and sexual violence.

Companies like Bangbros, Pornhub, and XVideos have perpetuated violence through their content.

Journalist Helen Buyinski argued that Mia owes much of her fame to her time in the adult film industry.

Therefore, she should “own up to her mistakes” and not demand her videos to be removed. Buyinski, along with many others, argue that Khalifa consented to have herself filmed during a sex act but this argument is rather problematic because consent often becomes blurry in any form of sex work.

In response to Buyinski, Mohana Basu says, “If sex workers or porn stars have the right to withdraw consent in the middle of a sexual act, then the same principle of consent should extend to their videos.”

This can be supported by Khalifa’s account of her time in the adult film industry: “the concept of consent is [rather] meaningless in the power dynamic between the men controlling the porn industry.” 

Khalifa made a decision at just 21 years old without understanding the full implications of her actions.

Years later, despite withdrawing consent, her videos are still available online for people to view and download.

It is a form of sexual violation in many ways. 

Many of us have made impulsive decisions without understanding the full implications but not all of us have had to pay a price so high.

Mia Khalifa still faces backlash today.

She was disowned by her family and forced to move out because her address was posted on the internet. She is still labeled a pornstar, despite pursuing her passions within sports and app development industries.

Consent often becomes blurry in any form of sex work.

All the while, she’s done so while admitting that she feels responsible for the decisions she made at 21.

Decisions, mind you, made under intimidating and manipulative circumstances.

Should she not be given some leeway?

Granted, it is unlikely that Mia Khalifa’s videos will be entirely removed from the internet.

Nevertheless, her story has initiated an important conversation about corruption in the adult film industry and the implications for women that have been a part of the industry.

The companies need to be held accountable so that they can rectify their mistakes. At the very least, users can exercise their right to consumption, by switching to alternatives that are ethical and friendly to sex workers. 

Some alternative websites include: 

Based on Mia Khalifa’s account alone, we know that companies continue to propagate videos acquired through contracts acquired using force and manipulation.

The companies need to be held accountable so that they can rectify their mistakes.

It is also impossible to entirely wipe off the videos from the internet because they have already been downloaded and duplicated.

Nonetheless, it is important that these companies are held accountable.

Without that, we continue to fail future young adult actors — and remain complicit in the silencing and intimidation of former stars like Mia Khalifa

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USA LGBTQIA+ 2020 Elections Inequality

Sarah McBride has been elected as Delaware state senator in a monumental win for queer representation

Tuesday was a monumental day for queer representation in statehouses and congress. Early on in the night, Sarah McBride made history by becoming the first openly transgender state senator. The same day saw the first two openly gay, black congressmen elected to the house, Ritchie Torres and Mondaire Jones. With historical events like this, it’s crucial that we take a moment to understand the importance of these elections.

McBride has just become the highest-ranking transgender official in the United States. Previously the highest-ranking openly transgender official was Danica Roem, who became the first out state congresswoman in 2018.

So, who is Sarah McBride?

Sarah McBride speaking at an HRC event in a blue dress
Sarah McBride speaking at an HRC event via WashingtonBlade

McBride is a Delaware native who has always been interested in helping people through policies and politics. She worked for multiple election campaigns and was elected student body president of her alma mater, American University. Sarah McBride is used to making history. During her time as student body president at AU she made national news when during her last week in office, she came out as transgender. This made her the first openly transgender student body president at the university.

After college McBride proceeded to serve on the board of Equality in Delaware, where she is credited with getting a bill passed which prevented discrimination based on gender identity in employment, housing, and public accommodations. But, McBride wasn’t done achieving firsts for trans women.

In 2016 McBride became the first openly transgender woman to speak at the DNC. She endorsed Hillary Clinton’s presidential nomination and spoke about the importance of policies which support and protect trans folks.

As she was campaigning to be elected to the Delaware statehouse she partnered with the Human Rights Campaign as their National Press Secretary.

Why this matters to queer folks

Throughout her entire career, McBride has worked tirelessly to create spaces for queer individuals in the world. After it was announced that she won her congressional seat, McBride sent out a tweet specifically for young LGBTQ people.

Sarah McBride tweeting "I have tonight shows an LGBTQ kids that our democracy is big enough for them too"
Sarah McBride statement via Twitter

McBride’s win is impacting queer students at her alma mater, too. American University senior Sarah Ross (they/she) felt hopeful about what this means for queer voices. Ross said, “I think Sarah McBride‘s win will mean she is able to bring conversations to the table that have been relying on the words of queer allies and the few queer people in Congress. Hopefully, her win will enable her to strengthen the fight for legislation supporting queer people and enabling them lives free from harm and discrimination – at least at a legal level.”

Many queer and trans activists feel similarly, with praise erupting on Twitter and Instagram seconds after her win was announced.

Getting in the room

Representation is crucial, but specifically in politics. You need people in the room who have first-hand experiences to push policy in progressive directions. With issues such as the trans panic defense and bans for transgender folks in the military, it’s crucial to have individuals with lived experiences be given a voice in the inception of these policies.

Sarah Ross also spoke on the issue of inclusion, “Seeing queer representation is important to me because I think queer and trans people will not give up on queer issues. I think queerphobic and transphobic Congress members know this and will try to invalidate queer Congress members‘ actions, but once they are in Congress they have the ability and right to push legislation as they see fit. I would like to say I trust queer Congresspeople to fight for what is right, and I hope they prove me right.”

Straight representatives are able to sympathize with queer issues, but they do not know what it’s like to live them. LGBTQ+ senators, congressmen, neighborhood committee members, and school board members have lived the issues that impact their community. They understand how policies affect people’s lives because they’ve had to live through good and bad policies.

Without spending a day in the statehouse Sarah McBride has already made history. Her impact on the transgender community in Delaware cannot be understated, and many in the community are hoping to see her make a mark on politics.


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Sexuality Love + Sex Love

Dating as a queer brown woman is hard in a country that demands you to be invisible

Celebrate Spirit Day and support queer youth against bullying with us here at The Tempest.

The first time I fell in love, my best friend had shown me a printed still from Sailor Moon, I stared at the picture wide-eyed as I went over all ten of the Sailor Soldiers. Each girl was more beautiful than the next and as my eyes travelled over the different hair shades, it stopped for more than a minute on two women – Sailor Uranus and Sailor Neptune, to my sixth-grade self, they looked like everything I wanted to be as an adult. Feminine, attractive and dripping with big lesbian woman energy (I’d think years later). 

“Who are they?” I asked my best friend as I peered at them with interest. 

“Oh, they’re Sailor Uranus and Sailor Neptune. They’re lesbians.” she said, as if my eleven-year old self knew what the meaning of lesbians were. 

“What does that mean?” 

“It means when women like other women.” 

“What? Really?? You can do that??” 

I sounded mystified. It was an unheard concept to me – no one had ever told me growing up you could date women and that was an actual thing. I assumed everyone was like my parents.

Then, I settled on Tuxedo Kamen, a.k.a, Chiba Mamoru – Sailor Moon’s main squeeze. He looked like every Disney prince but even better with his beautiful midnight blue eyes, tanned skin and an ugly green sweater that would become the running joke in all the fanfictions I would read in secret years later when I was supposed to be studying for my finals. 

He was lovely, he was the knight in shining armor, and he was the perfect man. 

The only problem? 

I didn’t know what to make of him and my mind kept going back to the image of Sailor Uranus’ hand wrapped around Sailor Neptune’s neck in the photo.

Was that love? 

I’m in tenth grade when I start to understand that something about me is different. High school was a confusing time for me and everyone I knew – we kept so many secrets from each other and we pretended to be something we were not.  It was a terrible time to discover you were maybe a lesbian woman. 

Classmates magically had secret boyfriends overnight and I would be asked ad nauseam who I liked (it was always Tuxedo Kamen or some new anime man I discovered during my many YouTube binge watching sessions). People thought I was childish and when pestered if I had a crush on anyone – anyone at all, I vaguely admitted I liked a childhood friend (a boy I went to church with). Everything was fine, I was alright, and they left me alone. 

It was only months later during a trip to India for my grandparents wedding anniversary, I would hear that my third favorite teen celebrity Lindsay Lohan was dating a lesbian woman and my life would change completely. 

I don’t know how many women can claim that Lindsay Lohan and Samantha Ronson were their queer awakening, but I would like to think that I was one of the few. I spent that whole summer secretly using my sister’s Wi-Fi connector to look up lesbians, especially queer women in pop culture, singers (K.D Lang, Melissa Etheridge, Tegan and Sara), The L Word and this word – “bisexual.”

She would become the blueprint for every woman I would ever be attracted to.

My dreams began to morph into me imagining relationships with women who I belatedly realized I was attracted to. I didn’t know how to navigate it. I spent the next two years denying every lesbian woman-themed wet dream, everything I noticed about a woman that I found attractive. I shifted schools but would secretly pine about high school crushes through my Facebook account and years later I would develop a very embarrassing crush on a girl in my high school friend circle. 

She would become the blueprint for every woman I would ever be attracted to in the future. A few months leading up to the finals when I was revising for my exams, I wrote her a poem filled with all of my feelings for her. I tore it into pieces later because I couldn’t bear to see it written down in front of me – could I be a lesbian woman?

 I would stop going to church (I was a very religious growing up), I would fight with my parents and God. I would make small compromises but mostly I would hide because I knew that the country and the family I grew up in would never understand nor accept me. 

Dating as a bisexual and possibly pansexual woman is like playing a game of Russian Roulette.

I would only come to terms with my sexuality in my university years and then also, spend the rest of my college life having to answer homophobic questions from well-meaning friends (and not so well-meaning) in attempts to fit in. Every woman I felt a little attracted to or even suspected I was batting for another team – I would deny my feelings and pretend I wasn’t a lesbian woman. 

It was lonely. Some days I didn’t know how to deal with my fluctuating mental health. When I was feeling particularly isolated, I would watch the few LGBTQIA+ movies I would find online copies of or lurk on in the Gulf section for leads on where I could meet more sapphic-adjacent people like me.

For all the people who hate dating apps and spend time deriding it – I get it but also, I’m grateful that because of those Godforsaken apps, I’ve had my share of good, bad and ugly experiences with men and women.

Dating as a bisexual, pansexual and possibly a lesbian woman is like playing a game of Russian Roulette. You don’t know what you’re getting each time you swipe right. I’ve had propositions by couples looking for a threesome (“We just want a unicorn!”), catfishes (“If you’re really a girl, send me a photo of your boobs.”), women looking to experiment (“I just want to have fun”) and to date. 

My dating experience was abysmal, I barely got a chance to do anything due to having a strained relationship with my parents. We frequently fought because I was too much and if they questioned why I went out (the few times that I did) – they would need a running order of the evening and what I was planning on getting up to while out. The few men I did date – well, mostly just be in situationships with, ended up being emotionally unavailable and I hurt.

Men were very different from women; I had decided after spending three years in university with them. I didn’t particularly like them, but they were widely accepted, after all if I was caught with a man – I wouldn’t be immediately deported or jailed. But men were comfortable, easy – it was much harder to match with women on dating apps like Tinder and Bumble. Most of the women I ended up matching with, ended up becoming friends and I would simply pine in the stereotypical way that all us sapphic  girls do when they couldn’t be honest about their crushes. 

But these apps gave me an Invisibility Cloak and let me live my truth. 

I learned to embrace who I am, I learnt to fall in love, fall in lust and take caution when I felt I was unsafe. It also taught me that despite the way things are here, I wasn’t alone. There were other women like me – queer, lesbian, bi and pan – other people who were trying their best to live their truth, survive in the land of opportunity till they could truly be the people they wanted to be. 

After all, without the rain there’s no rainbow.

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LGBTQIA+ Policy Inequality

South Africa was the first country to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation: here’s why that matters

Today The Tempest is celebrating Spirit Day in support of queer youth against bullying!

In 1996, South Africa became the first country in the world to constitutionally outlaw discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The post-apartheid constitution enshrined a number of progressive anti-discrimination laws, aimed at ensuring equality and freedom for all citizens.  

The nation continued on this progressive trajectory, becoming the fifth country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage, in 2006. Since then, a host of LGBTQ+ rights have been granted, including equitable policies on issues such as adoption and parental leave.

Despite this, anti-LGBT+ sentiments are still exceedingly common. Religion features heavily in our society; it’s not unusual for people to use the excuse of “that’s not what god intended” as a defense for their bigotry. I remember teachers in school promoting these notions by reminding us that it was, “Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.” This tactical rhetoric is particularly problematic because rhymes are intended to stick, especially in the minds of impressionable children. 

The worst thing about these types of statements is that they aren’t overt, so nobody can be called out for using discriminatory language. It’s the loophole of all bigots’ dreams – and whoever wrote Facebook’s community standards, apparently.

Fortunately, societal disapproval has failed to influence legislation. In 2009, parliament rejected an application filed by the Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa, calling for LGBTQ+ rights to be removed from the Constitution. 

Given the historical injustice of apartheid, the South African constitution emphatically emphasizes respect of cultural and religious traditions and values. Although unquestionably necessary, this has muddied the grounds on which the protection of LGBTQ+ rights have been opposed. 

As such, the government reformed policy to prevent these defenses of discrimination. In 2018, a previous law which allowed for a marriage officer to object to performing a union on the grounds of conscience, religion and belief, was repealed. 

Although progress towards the recognition of the LGBTQ+ community has been frustratingly incremental, all moves towards inclusivity deserve to be celebrated. If there are no official measures to safeguard rights, the possibilities for discrimination are endless. 

Despite significant pressure, the government has continually defied public opinion in order to maintain its comprehensive anti-discrimination laws. This is testament to the country’s democratic principle that “South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity.”

However, this principled approach of freedom and equity has largely failed to translate into society.

While on paper South Africa may appear to be the pinnacle of inclusivity, the reality is decidedly different. LGBTQ+ hate crimes routinely fail to garner the attention or outrage afforded to other instances of discrimination and the laws meant to protect the community often fail to be enforced. 

Strong heternormative ideals of familial structure and gender roles continue to hinder public acceptance of queer identity, particularly in Black communities. Black LGBTQ+ people are frequently alienated and excluded, with many being subjected to violent retaliation.

Because LGBTQ+ rights were constitutionalized on the grounds of equality, rather than as a result of public consensus or promotion, the queer community in South Africa continues to be marginalized.

This prevalence of discrimination and hate-crimes serves to highlight the fact that legal protections are only effective if enforced. Such enforcement, however, also begs the question of whether or not certain demographics might be targeted above others. 

Nevertheless, LGBTQ+ rights have been hard-won; the fact that they are constitutionally enshrined is a BIG DEAL. 

In a time where LGBTQ+ rights are being repealed in countries claiming to be democratic, the significance of protective law is evident. Without official recognition, the door is wide open for abuse without consequence. 

It’s undeniable that South Africa still has a lot of work to do. However, the foundations for future progress have already been laid. The current anti-discrimination laws make it clear that anti-queer perspectives stand in opposition to the fundamental principles of our democracy.  

The Constitution advocates for equality and freedom, above all else. No citizen is legally allowed to discriminate against any person on the basis of their sexual orientation. And that really does matter. 

This Spirit Day, I’m focusing on the wins, however small they may seem.


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TV Shows Pop Culture

Watching “Jane the Virgin” in Spanish brought me closer to my mom

Before I sat down to watch Jane the Virgin, I thought it would be completely unrelatable. After all, I wasn’t a virgin, and I definitely wasn’t accidentally getting pregnant.

However, after watching it for the first time, I found that so many aspects of the show resonated with my life. Jane the Virgin is a refreshing drama and comedy that showcases the life of Jane Gloriana Villanueva, a  religious 23- year old virgin who has planned out her whole life and is completely on track for her own personal success.

I thought I wouldn’t resonate with the show— but I was wrong.

She is studying to be a teacher and she dreams of being a published author. She is also dating Michael, the perfect man for her. Everything in her life is going the way she wants it to until she accidentally gets artificially inseminated and becomes pregnant with another man’s child.

This satirical telenovela allows viewers to feel a roller coaster of emotions. I loved it so much that I rewatched it again in Spanish with my mom. 

The idea for this stemmed from a feeling that I wasn’t spending enough time with my mom. After all, I had just graduated from college and moved back home after 4 and a half years. It was a hard adjustment to start spending time with her in person rather than just having a few late-night calls a month. We had never watched a show together, so I thought it would be a great idea as a way to bond. 

This show touches many important issues for the Latinx community

Shows are also great conversation starters, and Jane the Virgin was not an exception. This show touches on so many important issues for the Latinx community including matriarchy, religion, immigration, sexuality, and the idea of family bonds. We laughed, cried, and definitely grew closer during the months we spent watching this show. 

With the female protagonists and lead actresses, Jane the Virgin does an amazing job at highlighting the different experiences that women face in life. While Jane is ‘little miss perfect’, her mother Xiomara is an outgoing and eccentric dance teacher with dreams of having a singing career. She had Jane when she was only 16-years old and Jane never got to meet her father until she was 23 because her parents split when her mother got pregnant. Jane’s grandmother, Alba Villanueva, is a deeply religious woman who helped raise Jane and made her vow to not lose her virginity until marriage.

I love the fact that this show is centered around the relationship between the women of the Villanueva family. The relationship between the women in my life is very similar. My grandmother, who I’ve always considered a matriarch, raised 6 daughters, my mother and my aunts, who I will always look up to as the strongest women in my life. My mother raised myself and my 3 younger sisters all on her own. Our relationships and the life experiences they taught me about are part of what defines me and who I am today. I was raised by strong women, and it was beautiful to see the same kind of powerful female energy captured in the show. 

Alba’s story of becoming an American citizen after being terrified of getting deported for almost 30 years is one aspect of the show that resonated with me. My parents are immigrants, and the whole immigrant experience, in general, is one that many of our Latinx families can relate to, especially because many of them came here to start a new life just like Alba. My mom definitely teared up when Alba had her citizenship ceremony, because it brought up memories and feelings from when she went through the process. It also came at a time when immigration became an important issue in this country. 

I’ve had many important conversations with my mum as a result of the show

Jane the Virgin also includes representation of the LGBTQ+ community. This is a subject that my mother and I never sat down to speak about, but the show definitely enabled us to have that conversation. There were various lesbian women on the show and even some gay men. At first, I could tell that my mom felt a bit uncomfortable watching lesbians making out on TV, but, after some time, she accepted it. And she wanted the characters to be happy. That was progress for someone who comes from a culture and family that is not very approving of the LGBTQ+ community. I’m glad that she was exposed to the topic through this show. 

Not only does this show touch on important subjects of sexuality, but sex itself. Jane, who was a virgin when she had her son, finally loses her virginity in the third season. Other characters freely explore their sex lives and own them. Jane’s mother, Xiomara, dates various men throughout the show and openly talks about her sex life with her daughter. Eventually, Jane’s devout widowed grandmother confesses that she is scared of having sex because she hasn’t experienced pleasure in over 30 years. Jane even takes her to buy a vibrator!

This was a very touchy subject for my mom and me. When I confessed to her that I wasn’t a virgin she got a bit upset at me but, eventually, we came to terms with the fact that sex is a natural part of the human experience. 

Watching Jane the Virgin in Spanish not only helped me appreciate the language even more, but it opened my eyes to so many important issues that we do not talk about enough in the Latinx community. Many of the important conversations that I have had with my mother recently have been a result of this show. I am grateful for this intricate but refreshing portrayal of my community. It is a gem of our generation.

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Sexuality Dedicated Feature Love + Sex Love

Even experimenting with my sexuality seems like a step too far

My whole life, not being straight wasn’t an option I allowed for myself. I knew it was just so much easier to what was expected by my family, friends, and society. A remnant of my upbringing, sexuality in general carried a lot of stigma and pressure. But now that I am on the cusp of adulthood, I wonder how different everything could have played out if I allowed myself to explore. 

I can’t even recall the first time a girl had caught my attention, that’s how far back it was. I must have immediately justified it as liking her hair, or the way that she dressed. Perhaps, I reasoned that I just wanted to look like her, and maybe I did. But then, as I went through my teenage phase, I would often fantasize about girls. I didn’t develop any crushes on anyone I knew, but I wondered what it would be like. 

Scrolling through Tumblr, a haven for young people questioning their sexuality, I found myself wandering over to those pages with the artsy nudes. Appreciating them just for their artistic merit, of course, I would say to myself. But afterward, I would feel such shame that my chest grew tight. What was I doing? Who was I? I never brought it up to anyone else, but I remember being on the verge of tears as I reasoned to myself that all girls were like this. I was just young and curious. From then on, my sexuality became a tough cycle of self-denial and censorship. 

But it didn’t always feel that way to me. Even after I started questioning my sexuality, I was still okay with moving on as I always had, being straight. I normalized it to such an extent that for a while, I stopped questioning it. I pursued relationships with guys and it felt normal, if still controversial to the conservative community around me. When I got older and went on an exchange program for a year, I did the same. On the dating apps, I didn’t hesitate to click ‘men’ as my preference. During my last week there, I swapped phones with a friend to swipe through a dating app for fun. On her screen, a woman’s profile popped up. I knew that she was bisexual, but for a second, it felt like the world was playing tricks on me personally. “She’s cute,” my friend said, peering over. She was.

I felt regret. It was my last few days away from home, so I felt that I had missed my chance to try going on a date with a girl. Although even the thought made me feel nervous, I still regretted never trying and now the door to experimenting with any of that seemed firmly shut. I already planned in my mind how I wasn’t going to tell any of my friends, how I could downplay it if they found out. It was crazy, that I was already prepared to keep it a secret. It struck me that day that I was afraid of experimenting because what if I really was bisexual? Just placing that term anywhere next to me felt earth-shattering.

Perhaps it was fear, or just a desire to avoid conflict. I had always been a non-confrontational person and would rather choose to avoid tension even if I have to give some of myself up. Already in a precarious relationship with my cultural identity and family because of my so-called liberal ideas and forward-thinking when it came to feminism and gender, I didn’t want to seem even ‘stranger’ in their eyes. I didn’t want to be rejected. Every move I made caused ripples, even that year away from home was a scandal. If I dared to experiment, who knew what would happen? It seemed like whether or not I was bisexual, just experimenting had the potential to complicate my life. 

I was afraid of that uncertainty. So I never put myself out there. The fact is that I might have tried it out and found that I actually wasn’t romantically or sexually attracted to women. I could find out that I was. If I had known then that sexuality could be fluid, that it could change over time even without the pressure of labels, would experimenting have been any easier of a choice to make? 

But I still wonder, what if? I think I’ll always wonder about that. I also think about other things I am afraid of exploring because of culture, family, friends, and other external factors. Hopefully, as more awareness is brought to experimenting and sexuality, things will change for the better, and more people will feel comfortable exploring important parts of themselves. As for me, I’m not sure where my life will take me. I wouldn’t rule out anything in my future. This is only the first step, confronting my internal ideas of ‘normalcy’, and I suppose it’s okay to not know if and what comes next.

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Culture Life Stories Life

Getting married means that my Pakistani parents have to bribe my new in-laws

Stepping into your twenties holds different meanings for different people. For some, it might mean entering a professional life and for others entering a newlywed arrangement.

If you’re a mature Pakistani girl who has crossed the pubertal barrier, you automatically qualify for Holy Matrimony.

And with that “milestone,” your parents begin to lay the groundwork for finding and providing for their daughter’s new family.

From furniture to utensils to the most meager of tangible items, the parents present an ‘ethical bribe’ to ensure that their daughter measures up to the required standard of acceptance.

If you’re “of age,” you automatically qualify for Holy Matrimony.

As a 23-year-old female in modern Pakistani society, I question all such detestable vices. Having given birth, raised and nurtured day after day to become a civilized individual, how much more do my parents have to sacrifice just because they are responsible for a female offspring?

And who provides the assurance of a blissful married life after having fulfilled these norms?

No one.

And if ‘God forbid’ this act of compensation falls short, the poor girl is subjected to a lifetime of scoffing and contempt.

Her whole existence is measured up by how much she can provide to her in-laws at the time of marriage.

Personally, I believe this ritual has become a sort of plague. The never-ending chain of expectation.

I was taught two things: self-reliance and tenacity.

I often hear elderly women eagerly gossiping about their daughter-in-law on the account of  ‘who brought what’ in terms of dowry. And having once been a newlywed themselves, they wear a mask of oblivion when it comes to someone else’s daughter.

I was raised as an only child and lived a solitary life.

I was taught two things: self-reliance and tenacity. My father fostered me to become self-sufficient in everything I did and that no one can truly undermine a woman’s worth without her consent.

Setting foot into 2019, this age of renaissance, where art, poetry, literature, and science are at their pinnacle, our greatest concern should be self-improvement and progression.

Let alone hoarding up on meaningless and mundane material gains.

The day we decide to mold our thinking is the day when the world around us will change, massively. It is not a subject of taking action, rather, it’s a matter of perspective.

A minute frame-shift of attitude can alter the life of today’s woman by leaps and bounds.

I put forward this question: who bears the responsibility of judging someone’s daughter by the weight of her baggage?

Health Care Science Advice Wellness Now + Beyond

Here’s why your gyno wishes you’d leave your pubic hair alone

A recent study in JAMA Dermatology surveyed 3372 women in the U.S. on their pubic hair grooming practices. 83% reported some measure of “grooming” (defined as anywhere from trimming the hair to taking all of it off). 63% said they opted for complete removal at least once. “Grooming” was highest in both the 18-34 group and in white women.

The most common reason women reported for pubic hair removal? 59% cited “hygiene” as the leading factor in this decision.

But the perception that having pubic hair is somehow “dirty” is wrong.

Pubic hair is thought to have an evolutionary purpose.

According to Dr. Jennifer Gunter, a gynecologist, it functions as a protective cushion for a sensitive-skinned area and, like eyebrows, traps microbes and foreign invaders from getting into that sensitive area.

The vagina also has a self-cleaning mechanism, which is why vaginal douching is no longer recommended: it can destroy the natural balance of healthy bacteria and normal acidity of the vagina, leading to irritation and yeast infections.

Some cite that shaving and waxing can increase the risk of infection because these practices essentially make little cuts on the skin.

This allows a direct passageway to blood for vulvar bacteria, outside of the defense system of vaginal mucus. Group A streptococcus, Staphylococcus aureus, and Staph’s resistant form MRSA all are common causes of skin infections.

Dr. Tami Rowen, an assistant professor at UCSF School of Medicine, has reported seeing grooming-related cases of folliculitis (inflammation of the hair follicle), abscesses, lacerations, and allergic reactions to waxing burns.

And a study in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology found that 60% of women who removed their hair experienced some of these complications.

Complications were twice as likely for overweight and obese women, and three times more if they removed all their pubic hair.

[Image description: Private grooming habits between men and women.] via
[Image description: Private grooming habits between men and women.] via
Now, is this to say women shouldn’t remove their hair if they choose? No.

Human eyebrows also had an evolutionary purpose, but we can totally shave them off if we damn well please. And just because something may carry minor health risks does not mean we lack the right to do it.

We do all kinds of things to our bodies by choice that may involve some minor health risks, like waxing/shaving elsewhere, piercings, or tattoos.

But a YouGov poll showed that while only 56% of women ages 18-29 feel that they should remove their pubic hair, 72% do it anyway. We must get rid of false narratives perpetuated by society that dictate the choices we make.

“Hygiene” is only one of the reasons women give for removing pubic hair, but it is a harmful reason. It perpetuates a false stereotype that women who do not remove pubic hair are unclean. The argument that pubic hair is unhygienic is the patriarchy acting under the guise of science.

Your vagina is not dirty for existing in its natural form.

Do what you please with your body because you like it, and for no other reason.

USA The World

The Trump Administration continues to threaten women’s access to birth control

The Supreme Court had us fooled. Just a few weeks after SCOTUS struck down a restrictive abortion law in Louisiana with a 5-4 vote, the justices upheld the Trump administration’s mandate that employers can refuse to let workers use birth control under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) due to religious or moral objections. Only 2 justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonya Sotomayor dissented. “between 70,500 and 126,400 women would immediately lose access to no-cost contraceptive services,” Ginsburg stated in her note of dissent, using a governmental estimate. 

The Health Resources and Services Administration – a government agency under the U.S Department of Health and Human Services – ruled that birth control is essential preventative care and that contraceptives would be free and covered under employer’s health insurance without any extra copays in 2012. Exceptions were explicitly made for places of worship, but not for religious controlled schools, hospitals, charities, and any other groups or businesses controlled by religious groups. However, both the Obama and the Trump administrations began to include a wider range of exemptions after pushback from religious groups. 

The U.S. government has always had a tumultuous and inconsistent relationship with birth control legislation since the creation of the ACA in 2010

In the 2014 case landmark case Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., the Supreme Court justices voted that for-profit organizations were exempt from the ACA’s contraceptive mandate under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), although the RFRA was declared unconstitutional by SCOTUS in 1997 at the state level. 

The U.S. government has always had a tumultuous and inconsistent relationship with birth control legislation since the creation of the ACA in 2010. The inconsistencies in legislation have allowed for the Trump administration to further their attacks on women’s healthcare. The RFRA has already been dubbed unconstitutional for states, so why does the federal government and the Supreme Court continue to allow the RFRA as an excuse to revoke women’s right to healthcare?

In 2017, Trump drafted new rules under an Executive Order that for-profit groups were officially exempt. The State of Pennsylvania, including several other states with their individual contraceptive mandates, challenged the government under the Equal Protection Clause. Despite, this, SCOTUS upheld Trump’s attack on contraceptives in the recent case Little Sisters of the Poor Saint Peters and Paul Home v. Pennsylvania. The Little Sisters of the Poor are a Catholic organization that provides homes for low-income elderly individuals. The nuns who run the organization are against contraception and abortion. Regardless of their religious rights, organizations and businesses should not have a say in what medication their employees are taking. It’s simply not their business. Now that SCOTUS has furthered these dubious exemptions, it will be easier for conservative businesses to regulate their female employees’ access to birth control under “moral” reasons. By revoking access to birth control, bosses are directly harming the lives of women. Contraceptives directly save female lives.

Bosses have no business deciding what happens in their employee’s private life, including what medication they are taking.

Birth control pills have a wide variety of different usages besides preventing pregnancies. Many women are prescribed birth control to regulate their menstrual cycles. Nearly 30% of women on birth control pills take them to make their periods less painful. Combination/multi-hormone pills also can prevent uterine and ovarian cancer. It can help reduce the effects of menstrual migraines, control endometriosis, and regulate PMS and PMDD, a severe form of PMS, symptoms. By upholding Trump’s mandate, many women will no longer have access to the medication that keeps them alive, especially poor women and women of color who cannot afford to pay for birth control out of pocket.

Just recently, SCOTUS also ruled that employers can’t discriminate against LGBTQ+ workers based on religious beliefs. Employers shouldn’t be able to decide the fate of women’s health and lives either.  Birth control shouldn’t be politicized. It’s necessary, preventative healthcare. The companies that are refusing to use company health insurance for contraceptives are silent on Viagra prescriptions. I’m sorry, but if your penis can’t get up, it’s probably “God’s will.” Bosses have no business deciding what happens in their employee’s private life, including what medication they are taking. 

Donald Trump and his administration have been attacking women’s health and the ACA the moment he stepped foot in the White House. He’s not an advocate for religious groups, he’s a tyrant who uses the guise of religious freedom to directly attack poor women of color. With Justice Ginsberg’s seat on the line, women’s health holds a terrifying future if Trump is re-elected. The government should not be pandering to the qualms of religious and conservative run businesses. Women’s healthcare is not a political tool, it’s a human right, and should be treated as such.

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