Jan 192011

Being a sex educator is hard. I’ve spoken to this before; there is the choice about how you answer the “what do you do” question, there are stalkers and creepers who follow you workshop to workshop or won’t stop calling/emailing, there is the fact that the education I do is not considered “real education” (even sometimes by the professional sexuality organizations to who I belong), there are very few degree programs in the country, jobs can be tough to get and freelancing doesn’t always pay the bills, the list goes on. However, one thing that has always kept me going is people who lead the field, like Jamye Waxman, Midori and Tristan Taormino. These three incredibly strong women have been sex educators for years, and have figured out how to approach the masses in a way that they are more accepted (even if sometimes protested), through books, movies, educational films, workshops, college lectures, performance pieces and more.

However, this morning, I woke to this in my inbox. The great Tristan Taormino, sex educator extraordinaire, has been uninvited by Oregon State University, after they had asked her to speak AND asked her to buy her plane tickets with the promise of reimbursement. Not only did they un-extend their invitation, but they are now refusing to pay for the plane tickets she has already purchased at their behest. I’m surprised, but not shocked. One of my favorite gender activists was censored at a local college after some conservative students claimed her used of the words “tranny” and “fuck” were detrimental to their mental well being.

I love what I do. Almost every moment of every day. However, the fact that it is not only hard to book events, but now sex educators (who are far more well known and published than I am) are being uninvited? It’s ridiculous. According to them, it was due to her website and resume…which hasn’t changed since the booking. Because she shoots feminist/ethical pornography, they are turning her down.  Yet other schools bring in anti-gay speakers for “their side of the story” and porn legends like Ron Jeremy (who does not identify as being in the feminist porn or ethical porn genres).  Thank goodness for schools like Brown University, Hofstra, University of Arizona, Colorado College, SUNY–Purchase and more that have welcomed me (as well as other sex educators), as we are, with the understanding that lectures and workshops about healthy sexuality do nothing more than provide information to students, and can only serve to help improve their lives.

I say shame on OSU, and on other schools that are capitulating to conservative legislatures and mores. Education is about gaining knowledge and opening students eyes to the world, not about censoring based on social constructions of what is “appropriate.” It would be one thing if you chose to ignore her letter of interest; I sent out about 200-300 a year, and rarely hear back from a dozen schools; it’s part of being a sex educator. But to invite her, and then change your mind after telling her to buy her tickets, and now choose not to reimburse her? That is low, OSU, and it shows a lack of class, a lack of educational and open-minded spirit, and I am quite disappointed. I assumed a school in a place like Oregon would be a little more forward thinking.

With that said, I am currently booking schools and universities for fall 2011/spring 2012. I am sure other educators are as well.  If you (whether student, staff or faculty) are interested in learning more about sexuality, sex and disability, ethical pornography, kink, LGBTQA issues, communication, safer sex and more, please contact me. Fascinations has agreed to pay my airfare to college/university gigs starting in May, so I can be more affordable and accessible to schools with smaller budgets. I’d love to show OSU what immense good a sex educator can do on campuses.



January 19, 2011

Tristan Taormino

Award-winning author, columnist, sex educator, and filmmaker Tristan Taormino was set to be the keynote speaker at Oregon State University’s Modern Sex conference, scheduled for February 15-16, 2011. Yesterday, she was uninvited by a university representative, who cited her resume and website as the reason.

On October 28, 2010, organizers of the OSU Modern Sex conference booked Taormino to give the keynote talk; they confirmed the date and agreed to fees, and Tristan’s management received a first draft of the contract on November 1. That contract was incomplete and sent back to OSU for revisions. As with many negotiations, the contract was pending as all the paperwork got done, but in late December, OSU again confirmed Tristan’s appearance and conference organizers told her manager to purchase airline tickets, for which OSU would be reimburse her.

On Tuesday, January 18, 2011, Steven Leider, Director of the Office of LGBT Outreach and Services contacted Colten Tognazzini, Tristan Taormino’s manager, to say that the conference had come up short on funding. Tognazzini told him that since the travel was booked and the time reserved, they could work with whatever budget they did have. Leider said that would not be possible: “We have to cancel Ms. Taormino’s appearance due to a lack of funding. It has been decided that OSU cannot pay Ms. Taormino with general fee dollars, because of the content of her resume and website.” At OSU, ‘general fee dollars’ include taxpayer dollars given to the University by the Oregon State Legislature to defray various costs. They differ from ‘student activity dollars,’ which are part of every student’s tuition and help fund student groups and activities.

Taormino’s resume includes her seven books on sex and relationships, the 18 anthologies she has edited, numerous television appearances from CNN to The Discovery Channel, and her award-winning adult films. She was a columnist for The Village Voice for nearly ten years and has given more than 75 lectures at top colleges and universities including Yale, Princeton, Cornell, Brown, NYU and Columbia. Her website, puckerup.com , includes sex education information, advice, and information about the films she directs for Vivid Entertainment, one of the largest adult companies in the country.

“In my ten years of booking Tristan at colleges and universities, of course there has been some controversy. But I have never had a university cancel like this last minute,” says Colten Tognazzini, Taormino’s manager. “It’s not unusual for contract negotiations to drag on. Once they confirmed we should book her travel, I felt comfortable the event was a done deal. I continued to work with them in good faith that a signed contract would be forthcoming. I believe that the conference organizers’ hands are tied, and this decision came from much higher up. They have cancelled with less than a month’s notice during Tristan’s busiest season. She gave up other opportunities to go to Oregon. Without a signed contract, we may have no recourse, and were told we will not be reimbursed for her travel.”

Tognazzini spoke to a source at OSU who speculated that the University feared that when it went before the legislature in regards to future funding, legislators would use OSU’s funding of a “pornographer” on campus as ammunition to further cut budgets. This source, who wishes to remain anonymous, told Tognazzini, “I think they’re uninviting Tristan because they don’t want to have to defend her appearance to conservative legislators.”

“I’m extremely disappointed that OSU has decided to cancel my appearance. I’ve been protested before, but never uninvited. I have never misrepresented who I am or what I do. I am proud of all the work I do, including the sex education films and feminist pornography I make,” says Taormino. “The talk I planned to give at this conference, titled “Claiming Your Sexual Power” has nothing to do with porn, but the porn is such an easy target for anti-sex conservatives and censors. I find it ironic that one of the missions of the conference is to understand diverse perspectives of sexuality. Apparently, my perspective—one of educating and empowering people around their sexuality—isn’t welcome at OSU.”

If OSU students and others still want to hear Taormino speak, she will be teaching two workshops at She Bop in Portland on February 13 and 14. “She Bop supports a healthy perspective on sex and sexuality and we are proud to have Tristan Taormino present two years in a row at our shop in Portland. Tristan is a leading educator paving the way for others to help break down the stigma around sex in this country. It is part of our mission as a female friendly adult shop to support sexual empowerment and growth,” say co-owners Jeneen Doumitt and Evy Cowan.

  3 Responses to “Nationally Known Sex Educator “Uninvited” from OSU”

  1. Honored you mentioned Brown on your list :)

    And yeah, this is terrible. Most of all, though, it’s HYPOCRITICAL (love that you pointed out how they bring “anti-gay” folks for “their side of the story”) and then do shit like this.

    Can’t wait to have you back at Brown, lovely!

  2. To be fair, using general funds means avoiding controversy in *any* direction. You don’t invite those-who-I-won’t-name-on-your-blog on those funds, either. While a chafing restriction, it’s well known within universities. You also don’t mention these people (again, all sides, not just sexually liberal or conservative) by name in papers when they appear through utterly blind technical analysis of social media data.

    OSU screwed up organizationally. I see two possibilities: Someone was so clueless that they didn’t realize what the “Modern Sex” conference would entail, or someone intentionally ignored their known restrictions. It’s all well and good to protest, but not to involve other people in your protest without their consent and when it can harm them. I hope there’s a possibility I just don’t see.

    Either way, OSU should have gift or alumni money sufficient to cover her expenses. But they’ll need to be a little quiet about using it. They *should* have shifted her to those funds, but that becomes tricky in other contractual ways within the university. The trickiness of shifting has nothing to do with subject matter. Or common sense, alas.

    Remember that public institutions across the country are facing 5%-20% budget reductions regardless of “liberal v. conservative” politics. The money simply isn’t there. Like the institution where I work, OSU is trying to protect their students from higher tuitions and staff from lay-offs.

    OSU definitely screwed up, but this situation’s nasty all the way around. Whoever screwed up inside OSU likely will be looking for work shortly.

  3. (Oh, and I also just realized this OSU isn’t the OSU I thought it was. The uses on Twitter definitely are leading people to blame the wrong (and far more well-known) OSU.)

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