Up Front by Emma Hart


Too Sexy for Your Site

Ever since the election, I’ve been pondering writing a column about the changes that would need to happen to MSD for us to be treating all our people like actual people. It goes much further than removing “excessive sanctions”. Thing is, I’m on a benefit, and I don’t think I can risk it. I haven’t done anything that would justify stopping my payments, but that’s hardly relevant.

In lieu of mine, read Catriona MacLennan’s blog instead. There are several things I would add even to this, but I don’t feel safe talking about them in public. I’d say, buy me a drink and we’ll talk, but that might be construed as financial support.

So let’s talk about something where I feel much safer: sex.

Last week, Twitter blocked the tag “bisexual” in image searches. It might have been a mistake, but it wasn’t a “technical issue”.

“One of the signals we use to identify sensitive media is a list of terms that frequently appear alongside adult content. Many of these words on the list are not inherently explicit, which is why they must be used alongside other signals to determine if content is sensitive.

“Our implementation of this list in search allowed Tweets to be categorised based solely on text, without taking other signals into account. Also, the list was out of date, had not been maintained and incorrectly included terms that are primarily used in non-sensitive contexts.”

It doesn’t matter how many times people use the word ‘bisexual’ in searches for porn, it should never be on this kind of list. Yet it’s not the first time a company with huge online influence has made this kind of “mistake”. Again, actual porn was easily accessible, but an LGBT term was not. Again, the erasure was a result of an attempt to ‘protect’ people, to solve a problem not properly understood by the company. Your defaults are not neutral, and neither are your algorithms.

Twitter at least swiftly put up their hand to the mistake. But it was fascinating for me watching the conversations unfold with the bisexual awareness accounts that raised the problem. There are two comments in particular that caught my attention like a broken nail snagging in your tights. I’m not going to name the people who made them, because it doesn’t matter and they don’t need the attention.

One was a dear man who said, “I don’t understand, why are people searching for their sexuality? I’m straight and I’ve never done a search for that.”

Of course you haven’t. You don’t have to. This is part of what you get for being the default: no hashtag. Your sexuality is so prevalent you can’t even see it. Nobody’s ever told you straights don’t exist. You’ve never had to come out. You don’t need to go searching to find people who look like you.

Then there was the person who, appalled at what Twitter had done, said, “It’s not like we’re a fetish!” Reader, my forehead thumped into my wrist-rest just as hard this second time, but for reasons perhaps more difficult to understand.

Here’s the thing everyone who is in some way not the straight-monogamous-vanilla-cissexual default has in common: our sex is somehow more powerful. It’s more dangerous, especially to children, and has to be more tightly controlled. Just walking down the street or going to a work event with your same-sex partner, or multiple partners, is somehow a sexual act. I’ve worked on a site where a same-sex kiss was banned on a PG-13 board, because it was just too damn sexual. Stupid sexy gays. I guess we just have to suck this up, right, because our Identity is Sexual. Not like straight people. They don’t have sexual identities, they just are.

And I know some of you are probably thinking, but kink is different, right? Kink is entirely about sex. It’s what you do, not who you are. How could kink not be sexual?

Here’s a thought experiment. It’s entirely hypothetical, of course, because there’s no way I could currently be in a D/s relationship, because despite it involving no financial support, that’s emotional support and I could lose my benefit if I was doing that. (Being made entirely financially dependent on a new partner could in no way enable relationship abuse, of course, and nobody’s MSD KPIs would give a shit if it did.)

So say, hypothetically, you got up for breakfast with your Dom and then his mum came in and you realised you’d forgotten you were still wearing your collar. I mean, that’s really embarrassing, right? God. So awkward. Imagine if that happened to someone who totally isn’t me.

So how is my collar more sexual than your wedding ring? They both symbolise a physical and emotional relationship. (The linked page is relatively Safe For Work. It contains the word ‘fuck’, but so does this column, now. The site as a whole is incredibly NSFW.) Why shouldn’t it be okay for me to wear my collar in public? It’s not sex.

I have a tattoo on my left arm. It unites a bisexual awareness symbol with a BDSM symbol. I’m always very cautious explaining it when people ask what it means. It’s a tattoo. It’s not sex. (It couldn’t be a vanilla symbol for the same reason it couldn’t be a straight pride symbol: those aren’t things.)

But no, we have to keep our heads down, because what if we polluted your children with our culture of explicit consent, with our nerdy spreadsheets and safety briefings and training sessions? Imagine. Straight vanilla sexual culture is doing such a sterling job of keeping people safe.

Twitter has restored my ability to search for “bisexual” pictures. Thing is, the hashtag is full of hard-core anime porn. Well done.

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