Staying Safe Online

November 2, 2015

Included in Chapter Seven of Connecting to Kink

Guarding Your Privacy Online

If you log onto any fetish or social media site, you are liable to see the following message (or something similar) on various profiles:

WARNING: Any institutions or individuals using this site or any of its associated sites for studies or projects, profit or nonprofit projects — You DO NOT have my permission to use any of my profile or pictures in any form or forum both current and future. You may not cut, copy, paste anything from/off my profile including photos, videos and/or writings in any way, shape or form. If you have or do, it will be considered a violation of my privacy and will be subject to legal ramifications.

Be aware this warning is meaningless. It’s not a legally binding statement. The legal document you signed, by accepting the TOS (terms of service) when setting up a profile on any site, trumps anything you post and probably says pretty much the opposite.

The most important thing to understand when creating an account on any website that is free (and even some that charge a fee) is that you’re not the consumer, you’re the product.

Now, on Facebook and other conventional social media sites, the most embarrassing thing anyone else might learn about you is somewhat limited by the restrictions the site has on what you can post.

But, sites like Fetlife and Collarspace have no such restrictions. And the product is no longer just your gossip and cute pictures of your pets. It’s your sex life.

I’ve Seen That Face Before

Unless you can afford being outed as a kinkster, don’t post naked pictures of yourself in bondage with whip marks on your ass if they also show your face, tattoos, piercings, or other identifiable body modifications recognizable to anyone else who might stumble across them … or go looking for them. Don’t use pictures that show identifiable backgrounds, or that you may have also uploaded to a conventional social media site or to a website connected with your legal name. Check the background. Can you read the certificate perhaps showing your legal name that you hang on your bedroom wall?

A website that requires you to log on offers nothing to make you or your identity safe. Don’t believe that no one can see your photographs unless they’re also logged in. And don’t believe any promises of privacy offered by a site, because they’re not accurate.

For one thing, anyone can create a free email account on any one of a dozen sites while providing no information that can be traced back to them. They can then use that email address to create an account on the site you think is protecting you from non-kinksters’ eyes.

Further, those photographs can be accessed without logging in. Fetish sites are often free or partially free. They don’t invest money in security that protects the content. And there’s no guarantee that if you post a photograph that you’ll ever be able to delete it. Even if it is removed from a site, it’s probably still in the cloud storage system used by that site and therefore recoverable by anyone who knows what they’re doing. People have had deleted, “private” photos they posted online used against them in court.

If the photo you posted was taken with your smartphone, chances are the file contains data about where and when it was taken and other information that can be used to identify you.

Combine all these security holes with facial recognition software (which can deliver matches even when years, facial hair, weight, and makeup change someone’s appearance) and you have a recipe for disaster. What would happen if your boss found the picture of you getting gang banged or the private detective hired by your ex who’s fighting you for custody of your children turned up a photograph of you hanging naked and upside down in bondage or a prospective employer discovered images of you whipping someone chained to a rack?

Online privacy is almost nonexistent. I’ve always said that you should never post anything online that you wouldn’t want your boss, your elderly grandmother, your worst enemy, and the IRS to see — or at least don’t post it if there’s any way it can be traced back to you.

Rites of the Savage Tribe

September 10, 2015

Today’s guest blogger Jean Roberta believes in tolerating everything except intolerance. This piece originally was published on the Erotica Readers & Writers Association Blog

Rites of the Savage Tribe

By Jean Roberta, author of The Flight of the Black Swan: A Bawdy Novella

I’m always interested to learn about sexual cultures: what a particular demographic considers sexually acceptable, and what is taboo.

One social event among today’s young that has been acknowledged in the media is the Teenage Sex Party: a group of secondary school students get together to drink, and (in many cases) indulge in other mind-bending substances. A gang-bang happens, either spontaneously (it seems like a good idea at the time), or pre-planned. In most cases that I’ve heard of, the event is largely spontaneous, though it often starts with one boy and one girl. The rest of the crowd piles on.

I suspect that this event happens much more often than many adults choose to believe. It’s easy enough to legislate a minimum age for drinking, driving, and consensual sex. It’s not really possible to legislate lust, curiosity, or recklessness, and teenagers of all genders have these qualities in abundance.

Now here is the catalyst that propels a local event into the stratosphere of public discussion: someone has a recording device and takes pictures, or makes a little porn-movie of the event. Someone posts this on YouTube or some other social-media platform. The images go viral. The girl or girls in the Sex Party (who are usually outnumbered by boys) become targets of a lynch-mob of their peers.

In some cases, the girl who has become known as the Scarlet Whore of Whoville (or whatever town it is) changes schools to avoid the stigma, and finds that her reputation has preceded her. If
she reads her email, she finds fresh insults and threats every day. She can’t concentrate in class, and wants to drop out of school. She can’t sleep. Her only support comes from her parents, who would like her to recover in a well-guarded facility. In a worst-case scenario, the girl commits suicide.

At this point, there is much hand-wringing in the media. The girl’s red-eyed parents ask why the police have not prosecuted the “rapists” who did this to their daughter. Various experts point out that vulnerable young women need to be better-protected from sexual exploitation presumably, by means of constant supervision.


The frequent aftermath of the Teenage Sex Party, in which a girl is deprived of human status because of her perceived sexual behaviour, is parallel to the disfiguring, flogging, or murder of “fallen women” in cultures that practice fundamentalist religion in its most medieval forms. There is nothing especially modern or high-tech about any of this; it took place in the time of Christ, as recorded in the Bible. (Christ was against it.)

Let’s reconsider the party itself. In a case that was recently discussed on a daytime television talk show, the girl who was the centre of attention explained that she went to the party with the intention of having sex with one boy (presumably her boyfriend at the time). Another boy entered the room, and both boys persuaded her to let them take turns. By this time, everyone involved was both drunk and high, so it was hard for the girl to remember everything clearly. At
some point, she became aware that the fourth guy had been replaced by a fifth guy. She couldn’t identify him, but she knew he hadn’t asked her permission.

The talk show host asked Scarlet (as I’ll call her) if she knew the difference between sexual attention and sexual exploitation. He made it very clear that there was only one right answer to this question. She said yes, and agreed that what was done to her had crossed the line. The host then assured the girl’s anxious parents that the local police were wrong when they said the boys couldn’t be charged. The host promised to look into the case himself.

Are you uncomfortable yet?

Scarlet was clearly disturbed by the host’s promise to her parents that oh yes, those five boys could and should be punished. She said she didn’t think they should get criminal records. She seemed admirably loyal to the truth: the event had not been a clear-cut assault, and she had not been simply a victim of unwanted sex.

It’s incredibly hard for a teenage girl to maintain her integrity by telling the truth about her sexuality in the face of social pressure. In my day, there was rarely any objective evidence, but rumours abounded. When numerous classmates asked me whether it was true that I had “done it” with the boy who was bragging about this, I denied it. Admitting it would have opened up an abyss of shame in which I was afraid of being trapped for the rest of my life. Then, when boys asked me why most girls lie so much about what they really want and what they’ve really done, I cringed. I didn’t want to be a liar or a hypocrite, but I didn’t see any viable alternative.

Let’s think about sexual hypocrisy with regard to Scarlet and the boys from the party. Did the boys acquire terrible reputations at school because they were recognizable from the video on YouTube? Did anyone propose that the person who recorded the event without Scarlet’s consent (and who might not have been a participant) should be convicted of a crime?

I would like to see a talk show with a different focus on the Teenage Sex-Party and its aftermath. Who were the ringleaders of the smear campaign against Scarlet, and why was no one talking about appropriate penalties for them? Where were the parents of these underage thugs? How many of them will grow up to become sexual bullies at work? Will any of them become police officers who use their power to abuse or even kill innocent civilians?

Something is definitely rotten in Denmark, so to speak. And it’s not a loss of sexual purity among young women.

About Jean Roberta: Jean Roberta has taught English in a Canadian university for over 25 years, and now teaches a credit course in creative writing as well.

Her diverse fiction (mostly erotic) has appeared in over one hundred print anthologies, an out-of-print novel, two out-of-print story collections, and two single-author collections (Obsession, The Princess and the Outlaw), as well as The Flight of the Black Swan. Anthologies including her work have won awards from Lambdalit, EPIC (Electronically Published Internet Connection), and Independent Publishers Association. She has also written poetry, drama, news articles, scholarly non-fiction, blog posts and reviews.

The 25 opinion pieces she wrote for a monthly column, Sex Is All Metaphors (based on a line in a poem by Dylan Thomas), are available as an e-book. Under her actual family name, she co-edited an anthology of scholarly articles: OutSpoken: Perspectives on Queer Identities, and contributed an article on a controversial “lesbian” novel, “The Well of Loneliness” (1928).

She married her long-term, female partner, Chilean-born Mirtha Rivera, on Samhain weekend in 2010. More on her website. You can also find her on Twitter and LiveJournal.

#KoboFail: erotica ≠ romance and romance ≠ erotica

May 27, 2015

Recently, I stumbled across a reviewer’s comment that she had received a copy of my “science fiction BDSM romance.”

Spyder’s Trouble is in no way, shape, or form a romance. Technically, it’s not even science fiction, it’s space opera, but that’s a distinction many people don’t make.

I checked on the retail sites and sure enough, Kobo lists the book as Romance > Erotica > BDSM and Romance > Erotica > Science Fiction & Fantasy.

Once I recovered from shock, I wrote to the publisher, Circlet Press. I received the following response from Cecilia Tan:

“Unfortunately on Kobo the only erotica categories are all subcategories under Romance. There is literally no other way to choose an erotic category, and you must choose a category in order to publish. You are free to take it up with them if you wish, but they’ve been deaf to all calls to revise their categories so far.”

So, I did.

I started by tweeting:

“Hey @kobo erotica ≠ romance and ≠ porn! No romance in Spyder’s Trouble ( but that’s only listing option!?!?!?

@mtamblyn” (@mtamblyn is the Twitter handle of Kobo President Michael Tamblyn.)

Tamblyn responded: “I don’t think we necessarily have a problem with any of those three options. Not sure what your question is…” Of course, when I explained the “question” by tweeting “@mtamblyn The problem is that a BDSM space opera with NO romance can’t be listed under Erotica BDSM or Erotica SFF UNLESS it’s under romance” he didn’t respond.

This did not surprise me. I had the same experience last September when I tweeted: “Hey, @mtamblyn it would be nice if your employees actually read emails before they cut and
pasted canned irrelevant responses. #KoboFail” Then he responded with his email address and a request to contact him. He completely ignored my email, despite two subsequent posts on Twitter bringing it to his attention.

This time, I refused to let him get away with pretending to care in public while ignoring all complaints in private. A couple of days later, I asked: “Ain’t it amazing how @mtamblyn always responds to @Kobo tweets, tells you to email him, then ignores emails & tweets questioning #KoboFail”

That’s when he started the whine (later picked up by another Kobo executive) that he couldn’t “have a conversation about metadata in 140 char.” (My interpretation: he didn’t want to have a conversation in the public eye.)

When I reminded him that “Last time I emailed you, you never responded. Since this subject is fairly simple, I thought to keep the conversation public,” he out and out lied.

“Last time I brought in our Director of Self-Pub @MarkLeslie & his staff to help you out. Hope we can help again.” I responded to this blatant fabrication with “Last time NO one responded to
my email, @mtamblyn. Not you nor any member of your staff. My concerns were ignored. You only pretend to care.”

No response.

Mark Leslie Lefebvre, Director of Self Publishing & Author Relations at Kobo, aka @MarkLeslie tried again (repeatedly) to steer the conversation offline (and out of sight) by following me and urging me to DM (direct or private message) him so “we can have a proper conversation regarding category code options.”

Then, he also resorted to lies stating “when a problem is identified it’s definitely addressed.” A good portion of my original email to Tabmlyn was specifically related to the fact that Kobo does not address problems created by its staff. This especially includes issues resulting from Kobo staff training to respond to emails by cutting and pasting FAQ responses rather than actually reading the emails sent them.

I reiterated that I didn’t believe any “dialogue” was necessary, either Kobo intended to correct the classification problem or it needed to admit it had no intention of doing so. Lefebvre again tried to take the conversation off Twitter: “Still waiting for your email so a proper dialogue can occur.” I asked “Why should I waste words on an email you will ignore?”

A day later when he hadn’t responded, I taunted him with “Apparently, @MarkLeslie goes to @mtamblyn school of #KoboFail customer ‘service.’ Pretend to care until hyperbole proved wrong, then ignore.” Lefebvre then took it upon himself to find my email address on my Kobo publisher account and contact me.

He started out with a proven lie: “We take every single email we receive from authors seriously and we track issues reported.” (To which I responded with the list of five emails — including the one to Tamblyn — that never received answers from Kobo.)

He then went on to complain that issues weren’t black and white and required more than 140 characters to discuss after which he wasted almost 600 words trying to justify, with some pretty lame examples, why erotica needed to be listed under romance. He actually claimed that: “Our customers are able to find what they are looking for within the existing hierarchy so what you might see as an issue isn’t an issue from the point of view of the people who are currently purchasing titles in those categories.”

I pointed out that by forcing erotica books to be categorized as romance, “whether or not they are found is not the issue. When they are found by someone thinking they will include romance they are tossed aside in disgust because they contain no romance.

“Meanwhile, people who are interested in Erotica > Sci-Fi or Erotica > BDSM but do not care to read romance (men) will not find my books because they wouldn’t think of looking under romance.”

He insisted that “customers make purchasing decisions from a cover that is designed to appeal to the target audience as well as a synopsis that ensures they are properly informed about what they are going to read should they purchase that book.” He completely ignored the fact that the first step in that purchasing decision is finding a book (to see the cover and descriptive blurb) and no one will be able to do so if the books “are on the wrong shelf in the library or categorized incorrectly by the retailer.”

His response completely ignored the “dialogue” he claimed on Twitter he wished to have. He just defended his boss ignoring my emails, and instead focused on the other four emails that never received answers under the mistaken belief that they could have gone missing. (They all were responses in ongoing conversations that were cut off by Kobo staff who just stopped answering my emails rather than discuss my concerns.)

When I admonished him for not addressing “a single point I made about the classification system,” his response was a politely worded “go away.” He said: “As I stated in a previous email, classification systems are arbitrary. Ours is no exception. I explained how our classification system is set up and acknowledged that you do not agree with it. (Which he actually had not done. His only reference at all to the “dialogue” he claimed to want was the statement: “Your concerns and points have been dually noted.”) It has been noted and if it is felt that making any change to the existing classification system better serves our customers and our business, the appropriate changes will be made.”

Kobo has been, as my publisher stated, “deaf to all calls to revise their categories” for one reason: Kobo wants to marginalize erotica. As I explained in my Banned Books Week post back in September, retailers’ puritanical attitude that readers must be protected from evil authors who produce books those readers might want to purchase and consume will continue unless readers take their dollars elsewhere.

You will notice that I have shared no links to Kobo on this post. I would ask that those of you who are interested in reading Erotic BDSM Space Opera without romance instead purchase Spyder’s
from the publisher, Circlet Press. There you also will find many other books that offer both speculative fiction and erotica, some of which contain romance and some of which do not. But, at least you’ll be able to determine whether or not romance is included before you purchase any books.

Medical Inequality

April 21, 2015

In the past two years, I’ve been horrifically exposed to the inequalities in American medicine.

I’ve lost my father, two aunts, and three dear friends. Of those, all but two involved cancer. And half of them were a direct result of medical neglect or outright malpractice deriving from inequality.

Almost every civilized country on the planet (including many considered “third world”) provides health care for its citizens. Canada, Australia, Japan, Russia, most of Europe, most of South America, Cuba, etc. But, in the United States, people are brainwashed into protesting the minimal assistance ACA (Affordable Care Act) offers, ignoring the death, debt, and despair caused by the lack of universal health care here.

Faux News, the tool of the 1 percent, convinces these delusional dissidents that somehow government assistance will reduce the quality of care they receive, ignoring the fact that government-run Medicare offers the most cost-effective and highest quality of care available in this country.

In reality, the quality of health care in the United States is surpassed around the world. Even Mexico offers its citizens better health care in terms of outcomes than that available here. And the high quality care that these absurd activists are so worried about losing is available only to those who have money and privilege.

Even if you have privilege, you still can leave your family indebted to the medical establishment. The number one reason for bankruptcy in the United States is medical bills.

But, without money and/or privilege, the medical establishment condemns you to death. I lost two friends in one week. The first, a white, upper middle class, cis woman had her life extended by almost a decade after her cancer was diagnosed as Stage IV. She was monitored constantly, getting CAT scans at regular intervals. She had access to experimental treatments which gave
her several additional years of high quality living. When the end came, in her seventh decade, it was peaceful, expected, and at home with her family.

The second, a trans woman, also had a history of cancer. But, she did not receive adequate monitoring. She had been ill and in pain for weeks, but no CAT scan was ordered, just an x-ray. Her doctor told her she had pneumonia. She was admitted to the hospital on a Tuesday because the pain had become unbearable and the treatment wasn’t working.

By the time her provider got around to paying for a CAT scan all it could do was confirm her death sentence. In her early fifties, she died the following Monday of Stage IV cancer.

The women of privilege received medical care from a non-profit medical center that put forth a heroic effort to preserve her life. She had time to prepare her family, her affairs, her finances, and to say goodbye to her friends over lunches and chocolate.

The trans woman was neglected by a for-profit company that has a history of killing patients rather than spending money on expensive tests and treatments. (That same organization worked systematically for three years to kill my aunt — not white, not privileged — through neglect, malpractice, and over medication.)

With no warning, the trans woman had to say goodbye to her friends in the hospital. For those further away who couldn’t make it there quickly, they only were able to spend time with her after she lost her ability to speak clearly. Instead of spending quality time over months with each individual or family, she was mobbed by the many who loved her over the course of a few hours.

Because she had no time to prepare her finances and affairs, her extended family may lose the home they shared.

You can help them out at the gofundme account their friends set up for them. That Americans must create crowdfunding campaigns to beg for assistance with medical bills is seen as bizarre in more civilized parts of the world.

But, the GOP is determined to strip away what little relief the ACA offers. Republicans prefer to allow huge mega corps to make obscene profits by allowing people to die rather than provide adequate medical care and then billing their families for hundreds of thousands of dollars, sending them into bankruptcy.

The rest of the world has figured out that providing citizens with affordable health care makes economic sense. But we’re still trapped in a paranoid delusion that somehow government interference will reduce access and quality even though the opposite is true.

Not a book review: Racism in America then and now

December 30, 2014

I recently finished reading the eighth book in Barbara Hambly‘s compelling historical murder mystery series about a free man of color set in 1830s New Orleans shortly after the Louisiana purchased changed that city forever.

Benjamin January is the son of an African man and a half white woman. He was given his freedom, his name, and his education by the white Creole, St.-Denis Janvier, who purchased Benjamin’s mother to make her his mistress, a relationship known in the “custom of the country” as placée/protector.

Highly educated, Benjamin speaks half a dozen languages, trained as a surgeon in Paris, and is an accomplished pianist. But he’s also six-foot three and muscular, with skin dark as his father’s. As a result, despite his accomplishments, every white man, especially Americans, see him as money on the hoof. They resent the fact they can not legally sell him as a field hand for more than $1,000. Many are offended at his command of their language, expecting him to speak in a slave’s unschooled pidgeon.

Written from Benjamin’s point of view, the books give an educated and intelligent man’s interpretation of racism and slavery as it applies to himself, his family, his friends, and people he meets. Unable to work as a surgeon because of his race, Benjamin struggles to support himself as a musician and piano teacher. Because of his race, he is limited to where he can play and who he can teach. And he always contends with his inability to legally defend himself if white men choose to beat him for the money in his pocket or even his boots, the threat that one will kidnap him and try to sell him as a slave, the prohibition against looking a white man in the eye, the necessity of abasing himself in the presence of unschooled, unwashed, louts just because their skin is “white.”

Although the perspective is similar to that in the book Twelve Years a Slave, the Benjamin January stories provide more entertainment. He invariably must investigate a murder when the blankittes (whites) either falsely accuse a black man (too often Monsieur Janvier himself) of the crime, don’t care about the victim because they’re black, or just can’t figure out whodunit. To solve the mystery, Benjamin often must disguise himself as a
slave to gain the access he needs to white spaces and the confidence of other slaves.

Hambly studied history at the University of California, earning a masters degree in Medieval History. Her research, knowledge, and comprehension of the past flavor the Benjamin January series in which the Historic New Orleans Collection is always cited in the acknowledgements. She writes in period, many of her characters plucked from history, using the language of the times as it would have been used then by whites and blacks.

That language, now considered offensive, can be jarring, and for anyone who has never had to check their white privilege, the books can be an eye opener. But, what I find difficult to accept is how little the world has changed in the almost two hundred years since the books’ setting.

Now, as then:

  • It’s still all too easy for a black man to lose his freedom because of a white man’s lies.
  • Black men are still killed for talking back to a white man or touching a white woman, the presumption always that she would never have consented to or asked for that touch.
  • Blacks are prevented from making enough to feed their families while white men get rich off their labor.
  • Black adult males are still called “boy” by whites.
  • Blacks are prevented from voting, not believed when they testify in court (if their testimony is even allowed), and are routinely excluded from serving on juries.
  • And still too many people can’t see past the pigment of someone’s skin, still consider anyone of color less than human.

Hundreds of thousands died in the Civil War, thousands were murdered during Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Movement, and still black men — often unarmed, many innocent, some only guilty of crimes that a white would merely receive a ticket for — are killed every day by whites. And too often, those whites face absolutely no penalties for lynching men and women by claiming they believed they were in danger, even when that claim is absolutely outrageously

In the United States the concept of a black man playing a super hero or a secret agent is vilified by the right wing nut jobs. Every action of the first African-American president is reviled even when they duplicate those of white men who were praised for doing exactly the same thing. And dark skinned men are killed daily by cops without any justification. And yet, there are still people who try to stop conversations about racism because they claim it no longer exists.

They couldn’t be more wrong.

Vote Blue

October 28, 2014

For the past four years, the House GOP has wasted taxpayer money with frivolous votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act, the GOP-created legislation which has resulted in millions more Americans getting access to health care. GOP legislators, in session less than half the year, call struggling minimum-wage workers who sometimes work three jobs to feed their families lazy.

While our infrastructure crumbles around us, we have seen no meaningful legislation from the 113th Congress. Republicans got elected by promising jobs, but they have only voted to restrict women’s access to healthcare, impose Christian believes on the government in violation of the First Amendment, and shut down the government, costing taxpayers billions.

If you’re not outraged by the behavior of elected officials who care more about impugning the Black, Democratic President than helping Americans recover from damage done by his White, Republican predecessor, you haven’t been paying attention.

All 435 members of the House of Representatives, 33 of 100 Senators, and governors in 36 states are on the ballot. Voting out the Koch-brother-funded, Tea Party idiots would give us the opportunity to end obstruction, filibustering, and constant gridlock in Washington and see laws passed raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25, eliminating tax breaks for companies that send American jobs overseas, reforming campaign financing, and giving Veterans expanded access to health care, education, and job training, etc.

But, the combination of Koch-brother funded lies (they’re paying for 44,000 advertisements in swing states alone), gerrymandering which has drawn ridiculously configured legislative districts to consolidate all left leaning voters in mostly right states, and voter suppression laws created solely to prevent the poor, people of color, students, and women from voting, could exacerbate the obstructionist House by creating a Senate that will waste time trying to impeach the president while stealing more from the American public.

If you don’t want to see Social Security, highways, state parks, public schools, etc. privatized so billionaires can make more money, if you don’t want to see income inequality continue to widen, if you don’t want to see another ALEC shill willing to destroy the civil liberties of the many to further empower the 1 percent on the Supreme Court, you need to Vote Blue in November.

While I would very much like to see a progressive third party take hold in the U.S., the reality is that takes time and work. It’s telling when you’ve never heard of any of the third party candidates on the ballot. We can’t build a serious third party by only putting candidates for national and state-wide offices up for election. In order to run viable campaigns for national and state-wide offices, third-party candidates need to start the same way their Democratic and Republican opponents did: at the local level.

“The race for the United States Senate is going to be close — in fact it’s going to be so close that a handful of voters may decide who controls the Senate in Washington,” admits one Republican supporter. “People of like-minds need to stick together so as to avoid the rise of a government that is in complete conflict with their values.” He wrote those words to scare GOP voters into forking over money and getting to the polls for the midterm election.

But, unless your values are Tea Party ignorance and obstructionism, you must Vote Blue. If you don’t vote, or you vote for Republicans or third party candidates, you are handing the United States government over to right wing nut jobs who can’t spell, but are determined to take away your health care, your reproductive rights, your ability to earn more than slave wages, your weekends, your vacations, your home, and your retirement funds.

If you want to take our country back from the corporations, the 1 percent, the racists, misogynists, homo haters, trans attackers, and forced pregnancy movement proponents, please Vote Blue next week. If you don’t, you will empower those who want to make sure you never get a chance to vote again.

Also on the Ballot

In addition to the lies generated by and on behalf of candidates, supporters of amendments on the ballot in a number of states are spewing forth deliberate falsehoods and misinformation about legislation that will cause even more harm.

For example, several states are voting on “personhood” amendments, but since the majority of voters do not support “personhood” these are worded to prevent voters in those states from figuring out that’s what’s at stake. Forced pregnancy movement proponents frame their campaign around stories of pregnant women killed by guns or in auto accidents whose fetuses were destroyed as well. The fact that these laws could make abortion and many forms of contraceptive illegal is conveniently never mentioned.

And in Oregon two critical amendments are getting misrepresented in the media and advertisements.

Opponents of Measure 92 — which would require labeling of foods containing GMO — claim it will cost consumers money. In reality, the labeling will cost very little, about $2.30 per person per year. What could prove costly is if food manufacturers decide to eliminate GMO food from their products to avoid the labels. And, we’re told if we want to avoid GMO foods, we can just buy organic.

The reality is there have been no scientific studies done to show whether GMO foods cause harm to humans. But, there is ample proof that they do result in harm to soil, song birds, bees, and water because of the increased used of chemical pesticides. Buying organic foods for individual households won’t prevent the massive damage that Monsanto’s pesticides used with its GMO seeds do to the environment and to small farmers.

Monsanto and DuPont are throwing millions of dollars against this Measure. They’ve gotten much of the state’s media to agree with them. Given that those media are reaping big bucks in advertising dollars, their reasons for voting against Measure 92 are at best specious. Given the low cost of labeling, which would be added to the existing labeling requirements, you have to ask what Monsanto and DuPont stand to lose if we simply notify consumers what’s in the food they eat.

If you vote in Oregon, vote YES on Measure 92

Proponents of Measure 90, creating a top-two open primary, claim this will give voters more choices. In reality, it will simply make it easier for corporate money to buy elections. Right now, the two-party primary system hurts the smaller third parties the most. When THEY say no, Measure 90 will make things worse, we should listen. Most telling about the impact of Measure 90 is who’s signed on to oppose it including Planned Parenthood Advocates of Oregon, The Oregon Bus Project, Oregon League of Conservation Voters, the Pacific Green Party of Oregon, and the Oregon Progressive Party.

If you vote in Oregon, vote NO on Measure 90

Given the length of this post, I won’t go into further details about additional measures on the Oregon ballot, except to urge you, if you vote in Oregon, to also vote YES on Measure 88 (drivers’ cards for qualified Oregon residents) and vote YES on Measure 91 (legalizing recreational marijuana).

Banned Books Week: Why Readers Need to Care About Ebook Sellers’ Arbitrary and Capricious Content Guidelines

September 23, 2014

On Dec. 5, 2012 I published “Aunt” Grace.”

On May 11, 2013 I learned that “Aunt” Grace won second place in the National Leather Association: International John Preston Short Story Award for excellence in literary works in SM/leather/fetish writing published in 2012.

On Sept. 3, 2014 my publisher account with All Romance was terminated because of “Aunt” Grace.

A little background: Previously, I had only published my novels and short story collections (including the two that contained “Aunt” Grace) on All Romance. With the loss of Kobo retail outlets in U.K., the death of Sony and Diesel, and Amazon doing everything possible to bury my books, I saw potential for replacing some of these lost sales if I increased what was available at All Romance. I decided to invest more in that market and spent several weeks reformatting all my short stories and resizing all the covers to meet the site’s requirements.

I worked with the publisher relations supervisor to manage some technical difficulties I had in taking advantage of the interface that allowed books published on All Romance to be sold in the iBookstore. Then I received a notice from the Chief Operating Officer, accusing me of violating the site’s content guidelines, specifically regarding “Works which contain incest or pseudo-incest themes for the purpose of titillation” and “Works that are written for or being marketed to the barely legal market.”

The latter accusation was aimed at Jail Bait and Teacher’s Pet. While I admit the blurbs (designed to sell books) toy with the “barely legal” angle, that’s not what the stories are about. They both tell a story of an 18 year old discovering her sexuality, constrained by society’s one-sided, misogynist standards regarding women’s pleasure. (Two Brothers, about two young male virgins, one of the other stories that appears in Young & Eager, never gets banned for violating “barely legal” guidelines, even though the younger brother is only 18. Of course, that one gets criticized because the two brothers are in bed with the same woman and OMG, they might touch each other, even though they don’t.)

Both Jail Bait and Teacher’s Pet and the collection they appear in together are now published on Apple and Kobo, two of the most restrictive markets in terms of prurient content, via Smashwords. From the beginning, the first story was always available for sale on both markets in another collection, further proof that all these “content guidelines” are arbitrary and capricious.

Most of the All Romance COO’s ire appeared to be directed at “Aunt” Grace.” She erroneously claimed it “contains a pseudo-incestuous relationship between Grace and your protagonist, who she refers to and has thought of as a niece.” She terminated my account without warning, removing 60 plus works from two markets because she had a problem with three, forcing me to scramble to reformat everything yet again.

First, pseudo incest is an oxymoron. Incest is sexual intercourse between closely related persons. If people aren’t closely related, there’s no possibility of incest. Pseudo is defined as pretended; false or spurious; sham.

“Aunt” Grace contains no incest, pseudo or otherwise. The characters are two women who became acquainted as young girls because of other people’s marriage and who rediscover their attraction to each other as young adults.

It involves two women who are not legally related. Grace’s mother married the father of the boy who grew up to become Jen’s father long after both Grace and Jen’s father were born. Jen’s father never appears in the book. Jen grew up calling Grace “aunt” because that was required then, even though they weren’t related in any way and weren’t that far apart in age.

The two women always had the hots for each other. Their attraction was constrained more by their families disapproval of their orientation than their “relationship.” In the book, although Jen calls Grace “aunt” out of habit at first, the word “niece” is used only once, and that’s facetiously,
when Grace introduces Jen to her slave.

“Jen, this is my slave, Emma. Gurl, this is my,” Grace cleared her throat, “niece, Jen.”

It’s worded to make it obvious to most readers that Grace does not think of Jen as her niece.

The story is also about Jen fighting against misogyny in her chosen career and prejudice against her sexual orientation. She finds refuge, and a chance to explore BDSM, in Grace’s leather family.

I ran into the same specious objections to “Aunt” Grace at
Kobo and Apple. In both cases, in order to sell this award-winning story, I had to make arbitrary and capricious language changes, changes that eliminated the women’s backstory and reduced the characters’ depth. I also switched the cover to say “Sir Grace” instead of aunt.

This was not the first time my work was banned by All Romance. In 2012, Broken and Shattered were kicked off the site.

I write books as Korin I. Dushayl about the dark side of BDSM, including questionable consent and abuse of power. I’ve redefined them as transgressive because the sex scenes in them often aren’t supposed to be erotic (which doesn’t mean that some people won’t find them arousing). But, if any character exploits another in a story I write, it’s obvious to readers (if not the character themselves) that the relationship is inappropriate at best, criminally damaging at worst. I don’t portray abusive stalkers as romantic heroes.

I’m all for labeling books based on what’s in them so adult readers can choose what they purchase based on their own personal preferences, triggers, and boundaries. One person’s hottest sex scene ever will make another person want to hurl.

However, it is inappropriate and inexcusable for any individual or corporation to make arbitrary and capricious decisions about what other adults get to read.

Further proof that all this hoop jumping is for absolutely no legitimate reason and that so-called “content guidelines” are arbitrary and capricious:

  1. both Apple and Kobo sell the original “Aunt” Grace as part of another collection and no retailer has voiced any objections to that other collection;
  2. as of this writing, Apple still has not accepted Two Brothers for sale from Smashwords even though it was one of four books All Romance neglected to pull and the exact same story is still for sale on Apple via All Romance;
  3. I had to change the title and cover of Young & Eager to get it sold on Kobo even though all four stories within the collection were already for sale individually.
  4. On Amazon, Apple, and Kobo I must call my Family Dynamics collection, Leather Family Dynamics (although at least on Amazon, unlike the other two, I didn’t have to change “Aunt” Grace).
  5. Apple published and then pulled Sir Grace in the space of a few days. I was told I needed to change the category listed from “Romance > Erotica” to “Erotica > Romance” and I’m still waiting for it to be available for sale again. Meanwhile, that version of the story is available for sale on Apple in Leather Family Dynamics.

Arbitrary and capricious? Can anyone deny that?

Even Smashwords admits, in much kinder words, to the arbitrary and capricious application of “guidelines” by Apple. In explaining the reasons why books accepted by Smashwords don’t get distributed to Apple, the site states the process “is performed by humans, and is therefore subject to some inconsistency from time to time. You may also find that things that were okay a year ago are no longer acceptable to them going forward.”

In the midst of all this, Amazon had the unmitigated gall to encourage people to read really old books that had once been banned such as Madame Bovary and The Prince while arbitrarily and capriciously banning current work by numerous erotica authors.

All Romance, Apple, Kobo, and Amazon will continue preventing you from reading books the way they were written — how the author believed was the best way to tell the story, the way you may find entertaining and/or arousing — unless readers protest. The retailers have made it quite obvious they don’t give a rat’s ass about their authors. We’re just content providers and if any single person — on the retailers’ team or a random visitor to their websites — finds our content objectionable, it’s gone.

The only way to change this puritanical attitude that readers have to be protected from evil authors who produce books those readers might want to purchase and consume, is to yell loudly and repeatedly at any retailer that bans books for arbitrary and capricious reasons. Better still, purchase your books from other retailers, or whenever possible from authors and publishers directly, and let the retailers know why.


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