Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Dirty Mind vs Debit Card: Final Thoughts-The Porn Placebo

Today's Dirty Mind is me.

Hosting the incredible group of writers I call my Dirty Minds was an experience I’ll not soon forget. It was my intention to expose the Average Reader to the issue of corporate censorship, and provoke thought and dialogue about why corporations should not be allowed to dictate what the law will not.

The Dirty Minds did that. Boy, did they ever. They provoked a lot of other thoughts along the way.  Thoughts I’ll visit later, once we put the PayPal issue to bed.
Behind the scenes, these writers and others were speaking up in other forums. On their blogs, on articles covering the PayPal controversy, on Twitter…all over the internet, they kept the issue in front of people.

People like you.
Initially, Paypal told Smashwords founder Mark Cocker their decision to pressure him to pull certain erotica titles was due in part to pressure from the major credit card companies.

While the series was running, PayPal, Visa and now MasterCard spoke up.

Thanks in no small part to Remittance Girl, my first Dirty Mind, Banned Writers.com now have both Visa  and MasterCard on record denying any involvement in Paypal’s decision.
A real-life parallel to the situation occurred to me as I read Paypal’s dismissive and condescending post on their blog —the one where they state they welcome your feedback, but have in fact disabled comments.

I’ll share my story with you.
When my son was in the third grade, I got a note from his teacher asking for a meeting. He was my oldest child. In the four years my son had attended public school, I hadn’t been summoned to a meeting but once or twice, and I approached the meeting with trepidation.
I listened in shock as she informed me she believed my son had Attention Deficit Disorder. He was disruptive in class, his work was sadly lacking. He was on a course to fail third grade. She went on to say she felt he needed immediate evaluation by a specialist, and she gave me a name and phone number for one she recommended.
My husband and I discussed her suggestion, and we agreed to make the appointment. In less than an hour, the specialist confirmed the teacher’s suspicions. He gave me three prescriptions and made me feel like a horrible parent.
I filled the prescriptions, and sent part of the medication to the school, since the prescription called for three doses per day.
And I watched my child. Already thin by body type, he lost his appetite completely. He complained of stomach aches. He acted like a zombie. He had no interest in anything, not his friends, not his toys, nothing. He was a shadow of the child he had been. When he didn’t want to play baseball, I became truly concerned. The kid ate, slept and breathed baseball.
But his teacher was happy. She sent glowing notes home, and his grades went up.
One of my customers was a pharmacist. I mentioned my concerns to her. She told me the drug my son was on was one of the most over-prescribed drugs she filled. She also said she didn’t believe my son had ADD. She believed he was a normal, active little boy. To be clear, she had spent some time around my children.
When the medication ran out, I did not refill it.
The teacher went ballistic. My son’s grades plummeted, and every day she sent me a new note demanding I refill the prescription. But I knew in my heart, as his mother—the person whose job it was to be my child’s advocate--, the kid was being medicated unnecessarily. His side effects were painful to watch.
I was caught on the horns of a dilemma. The pharmacist offered me a way to know for sure whether or not my son needed the medication.
I accepted her offer. She provided me with placebo pills resembling the ADD medication.
Initially, I gave my son the pills at home as well as sent a supply to the school. My home supply ran out. My son never asked for the medication, but I knew from talking with him the teacher made sure he took one daily at school. His grades went back up. The notes from his teacher stopped, except for the occasional one telling me how well he was doing in class. She made a point to say he was staying in his seat and no longer being disruptive.
Then the school’s supply of placebo pills ran out. I did not ask my pharmacist friend for more.
The notes started again. Every day my son brought me a note from his teacher asking when I planned to refill the prescription. I ignored them.
The day came when my son handed me that day’s note, and asked “Why won’t you give me my pills so I can think?”
Stinging from outrage over the idea a teacher would put such words into the mind of my child, I read the note. The teacher was threatening to report me to the Department of Social Services for child neglect if I continued to refuse to refill the prescription.
Okay, now I was mad. I grabbed Dear Hubby and together we hit the front door of that elementary school like a two-man SWAT team. I summoned the principal, the assistant principal, the guidance counselor and the school nurse to join us in that third grade classroom. I didn’t ask them to join the meeting, I TOLD them their presence was required.
I explained to the assembled group they’d unknowingly participated in my version of a double-blind psych experiment. I showed them a placebo pill alongside the real ADD medication. I presented the notes from the teacher during the time period my son was on the sugar pills. I pointed to his grades, inexplicably high, given he’d had no real medication.
In summary, I asked the group who they saw as needing the medication, my son, or the teacher. I went further, stating I felt she’d hit on a lazy way to do her job minus the normal complications half a classroom of nine-year old boys can cause.
My son passed the third grade. The teacher retired at the end of the year. Oh, and that specialist was investigated by the state licensing board.
I see a lot of that teacher in Paypal. Perhaps they have genuine concerns about pornography. I believe my Dirty Minds proved transgressive erotica is not pornography. As a psychology major, I’ll refer you to the theory of Cognitive Dissonance to explain why women might want to read about a fictional account of a real-life situation they abhor.
Perhaps PayPal genuinely seeks to protect women from exploitation. If so, I’d suggest they donate to groups dedicated to stopping real violence against women, rather than demanding adult readers of legal fiction swallow their placebo policy which pretends to protect women.
Smashwords founder Mark Coker has announced Paypal may be softening their stance.
Like that third-grade teacher, now PayPal is sputtering. Groups like the ACLU of Northern California  and the Electronic Frontier Foundation  have taken the matter in hand. They need YOUR HELP to show Paypal you aren't going to swallow  their Porn Placebo. Fill out the forms. In spite of the disabled comments section on PayPal’s blog, your post on the EFF and ACLU  letters will go straight to the inbox of a PayPal executive.

Burn that f*cker down. Make their mail server crash from your outcry.

As any nine-year-old boy who ever swung a bat can tell you, it’s possible to lose the ballgame in the last inning. They may not know they’re quoting my adored Yogi Berra when they tell you “It ain’t over till it’s over,” but the sentiment applies here.

Keep your head in the game till the last out is recorded. Call PayPal. Threaten to close your account unless they stop playing doctor and get back in their proper corner: That of moving funds from Slot A to Tab B.
Tell them you’re not going to swallow. Say NO to PayPal's Porn Placebo. I’ll quote myself, arrogant though that may be.  “And, I believe, if we make enough of an outcry, you'll withdraw that offensive item you're sticking down my throat. I think your rigid stance might shrivel in the cold light of negative publicity.”

Call PayPal:
PayPal US phone line: 1-800-221-1161
outside the US call this number: 1-402-935-2050.
Call between 4 am and 10 pm M-F Pacific Time, and 6 am to 8 pm Pacific Time Saturday and Sunday

Contact PayPal on twitter @Paypal and tell them:  I vote NO to your Porn Placebo Policy—Stop Censoring Erotica
Use the form provided by the EFF and the one provided by the ACLU to add your name to the letter demanding PayPal stop censoring books.

Thank you for reading this series.

Submission Call for Transgressive Erotica Anthology


  1. Brava. That's all I can say.

    Well, that and the fact that your son is very lucky to have such an intelligent mother who thinks critically. Because, Jesus, that is a frightening story.

  2. Let's hope everything can get turned around. This is a ridiculous thing, and as you demonstrated with your son it happens all too often that people are told that they have to toe the line, not because it is best for the person involved, but because it is easier for the person doing the telling. Selfishness pervades, craving for power, control, all dangerous and insidious, and if it goes unchecked, where does it stop?

  3. First, let me thank you from the bottom of my heart for this eye-opening series. I've had a number of a-ha moments, and, to me, those are always precious.

    Like you, I got a call from school about my son's hyperactivity (in kindergarten, no less). Unlike you, my son actually has ADHD (as does his father, which we new). So, he started medication. But he was sad, and thin and not the child I'd come to adore - not himself. So I stopped the medication (and yes, the school raised a stink, although they would never have dared to call social services). Did he do well in that school - no, he nearly failed 5-8 grade. Was it because of the ADD? Nope, they were so busy looking for an easy solution (medication) that they missed the true problem (dysgraphia). Now he's in an alternative high school getting straight A's. The moral, for me, do what you think is right, and never stop searching for the truth (oh and DO NOT try to bully a mother about their child . . . or an author about their books!)

    1. I have spent some time reflecting on when it was we as women lost that fine art of Purposeful Rebellion. We use it on our children's behalf, of course. Yet when it comes to a larger issue, such as this one with Paypal, I saw a disturbing acquiescence. Perhaps it's the feminist in me that was not surprised when I saw the attitude in male writers, but to see it in women just frosted my cookies.

      Those who said Paypal had a right to set their own ToS couldn't seem to see the glaring fact that what they TOOK in no way compensated for what they give, and it outright infringed on a basic right to choose what you read, while disguising their feelings as fact and law.

      When WRITERS fail to question authority, that scares me. To that majority who simply shrugged and pointed to a company's right to wander into territory where they have no expertise, nor reason to be there, I'd wonder if their writing is as smug and complacent as their opinions.

      To those of you on this thread, I'd say you all gave me hope and a sense of common purpose not recently equaled in my personal life. I don't feel we're done either. But I no longer feel alone.

    2. "I'd wonder if their writing is as smug and complacent as their opinions"

      I'm betting yes on that one.

  4. I had to go through the same thing with my son, except they wanted to give him the new trendy label of autism. The problem was (I kept telling them this and showing them doctors notes and getting more and more frustrated) my son is deaf, and the specialists were taking forever in getting him in to be fitted for hearing aids. Imagine their surprise when he showed up for his first day of class wearing those and "his behaviour is so improved!"

    Sometimes it really does take a beating to get people to not only listen, but listen and comprehend.

    Thank you for picking up that stick, Eden. Thank you so much, and to all of those who contributed their thoughts and feelings for this series.

  5. Eden, thanks so much for sharing that. I've just found you via Monocle's Dirty Minds piece, but you've caught my eye with your comments on ADD far more than erotica (mostly because I've skipped over that - want to clear my head about this first).

    My partner has ADD (and, we've found out today, depression). He went through similar medication at school, but the difference between the placebos and the medication for him was so clear that his Mum stopped giving him the placebos part way through the test, since she'd learnt to tell them apart. Despite that, he stopped medication as soon as he could (early high school) and is managing it now through careful diet (no colours, and heaven forbid someone feed him phenylanaline) and counselling.

    To get to my point, even though we know all this about his ADD, when we have kids (who'll probably have ADD, especially if they're boys), I want to be the parent you were. Because damned if any medication alone can fix problems like that...if they're even problems to be 'fixed' in the first place, and not simply different approaches to be worked with.

    1. Hi Thoughtful, and welcome!

      The central issue is the same, be the issue ADD or censorship. The idea of opposing authority has become one we're uncomfortable with, and that is not always a good thing.
      People have forgotten there's a difference between debate and argument, and heaven forbid we think about the things we're told as hard fact, and reason out a response of our own.
      We've become so used to deferring to the 'experts'in any given field that we start to discount the empirical evidence we see in our day-to-day interactions with the subject. I think a lot of parents medicate without asking enough hard questions, and I think many people stand back and take censorship as 'protecting us from smut', when in fact, there's no good reason to accept either position without debate.

      As I opened my e-mail this morning, I was dismayed--but not necessarily surprised-to see a new entry into the arena of censorship. And I feel your idea of 'changing our approach' is on target for that issue as well as he issue of learning disabilities--which I see as nothing more than 'learning differences'.

      Einstein said: The definition of insanity is repeating the same behavior and expecting different results. We as parents need to learn to question whether another authority has our children's best interests at heart as a matter of course, and those ofus marketing erotic content need to make the censorship much harder to accomplish. Time to think in new ways :)