Turn Off Your Fleshlight

LIKE BOGARTING THE egg rolls or avoiding drunk grad students, masturbation is equal parts giddiness and good common sense. It feels great, alleviates stress and trumps sleeping with that weirdo who keeps telling you how he “shattered, I mean shattered” his femur.

For decades, pediatricians have known that fetuses sometimes pleasure themselves (still want to feel the baby kick?), the ancient Egyptians believed the god Atum created the universe with his onanistic ejaculate (top that, circle jerkers) and I, myself, once accidentally flooded our downstairs shower when, during my senior year of high school, I discovered the Shower Massage nozzle did more than relieve backaches.

My fiance and I are quite open about our respective solo proclivities and swap tales with the vigor and humor we share with each other when we’re in the same locale. (I purchased my vibrator years ago with one of my paychecks from the literature and pop culture mag The Believer. Thank you, editor who assigned that Demetri Martin interview.)

So, I’m certainly not judging self-gratification or the use of accompanying tools. Where would our species be without tools? I’d never impede the course of evolution.

But while my mind is as open as my legs, I still don’t get the deal with Fleshlights. For those who don’t keep up with sex toys, the Fleshlight was first patented in 1998 and since then, its combination of flashlight-shaped exterior (hence its name, get it?) and flesh-like interior (ibid) have made it one of the world’s best-selling sex toys for men. At first, the “sleeve” as it’s called, consisted of a standard issue (as such) exterior vagina that led to a ribbed canal. From photos that are, in fairness, the only way I can gauge, it looked more like pink rubber plumbing than a lady’s happy parts.

But that was then.

Today the Fleshlight boasts sales of over seven million worldwide and features 100+ combinations. Its “What Is a Fleshlight?” video insists, “Many have proclaimed it feels better than the real thing.” Scads of customer testimonials make similar claims, deeming the Fleshlight’s surface so life-like, it feels more like life than life. (Sure, and Raquel Welch Wigs look more like hair than hair.) Fleshlight users no longer have to settle for just one disembodied hole, and several such orifices are modeled directly from plaster castings of top porn stars. (Some ladies allow Fleshlights to film their molding sessions. As is their right, of course. I’m assiduously against slut-shaming, but I do ponder their plan B career choices, if having a guy batter one’s beav ranks first.)

So today, in addition to “Lady” (vagina), the discriminating discharger can shoot it into “Butt”, “Mouth” and “Cheeks” (ass, not face). And while each opening lends itself to punchlines as well as punching the clown, “Cheeks” is particularly amusing because, unlike its counterparts, it’s the only one not scaled to size. “Butt”, for example, does approximate the size of a butt, though “Cheeks” is much tinier in order for its sleeve to fit the exterior metal casing. It resembles nothing so much as Backdoor Barbie. (New from Mattel!) Only, you know, if Barbie’s rump came sans head or torso.

While we wait as Fleshlight invariably develops “Nostril” and “Arm Crook”, let’s note how genuinely useful the Fleshlight might be if a man suffers a disabling injury or illness. No one should have his or her sexuality impeded because of awful luck. If a Fleshlight used solo or with a partner allows gratification otherwise unattainable, well, that improves someone’s quality of life, sort of like the polio vaccine. High five, science!

As for everyone else, all I can think is, “Really, dudes?”

For starters, most of the multibillion dollar porn industry already caters to men. So it’s not as if male needs are overlooked or otherwise shamed into secrecy. Guys (and many women, for that matter) discuss porn with the openness and frequency of a chef discussing German carving knives. If a man has fantasized a scenario, it undoubtedly has been committed to video and is available, usually for free, to anyone with an Internet connection. An option exists for every hard-on.

What does Fleshlight have to say about that? Two of its three instructional videos (I’m pretty sure the first Model T required less explanation) praise the Fleshlight’s “discreet” design. This would be a fine time to mention the sleeve must first be soaked in a vat of warm water to ensure its aforementioned life-likeness. “Mom, can I borrow your mixing bowls? I promise to clean them with hydrogen peroxide when I’m done. Maybe next Thursday?”

Afterward, the user must rinse his Fleshlight sleeve with still more warm water and wash the case and detachable cap. Then he must store it in a cool, open space so it can dry. Which means, from start to finish, the entire experience takes roughly double the time of a tube sock and some Jergen’s. Or, going old school, one’s hand, with its conveniently attached opposable thumb.

As eager subjects test prototypes for “Bellybutton” and “Foot Arch”, we should remember the Fleshlight sleeve, i.e. its selling point, is petroleum-based. (If someone gets turned on by the metal casing, I don’t want to see them in Home Depot.) Assuming the company’s sales figures are accurate, that’s over seven million fake vaginas, butts, mouths and cheeks that will sit in landfills while our children’s children’s children breathe through air filters surgically affixed to their tracheas. Archaeologists will surely have a fun time excavating the semen-speckled sediment, but perhaps we could make better use of our dwindling resources.

And there’s the cost. The Fleshlight usually runs from $65.00 to $75.00. The add-ons, such as the new Lauch Pad, which attaches  to an iPad and lets the user go at it in real time while his beloved reciprocates or, more likely, a Russian porn star with a French manicure moans wildly on a bad California sectional couch, cost another $25. That’s $100, give or take, for an experience that can be had for free. Meanwhile, the U.N. reports one billion children worldwide live in poverty.

Yes, I know, the same arguments can be made against vibrators. (Many dildos are now made of glass and therefore ecologically sound. Assuming you don’t mind inserting something that might give way to shards.) Vibrators are usually composed of something that started as a dinosaur, though, and should make for equally compelling archaeologist digs. In 2006, my vibrator cost $67.00. I felt bad and donated the same amount to Mercy Corps, but that’s because I feel innately guilty about everything and am the kind of person who spends her finite time on earth measuring the biodegradable properties of sex toys. Presumably, I’m not the norm. Ethically, vibrators present many of the same conundrums as Fleshlights.

The biggest problem with the Fleshlight then, is its very premise, the disembodied female body part that exists solely for male pleasure. Women are aware at far too young an age that a large swath of straight males already view the world through this paradigm. Fifty-one percent of the human population? They’re not autonomous persons with minds and emotions and goals and their own carnal desires. No, their bodies are literal and metaphorical receptacles of male sexual impulses. It’s hard not to view the Fleshlight as furthering this destructive and sometimes dangerous notion. No woman will be as supple or as supplicant as the plastic approximation of her erogenous zones.

Maybe it’s time to turn off the Fleshlights.

 

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Litsa Dremousis

About Litsa Dremousis

Litsa Dremousis is the author of "Altitude Sickness" (Future Tense Books). “The book is a howl of pain, a bellow of grief, and a funny-sad Irish funeral for a lover and friend, combining deep wisdom about mortality with an almost naive sensibility...The length is just about perfect: Any shorter and the thousand opposing facets of her experience wouldn’t be fully examined, but any longer might dilute her laser-sharp focus on the subject.”--Paul Constant, The Stranger. Seattle Metropolitan Magazine named "Altitude Sickness" one of the all-time "20 Books Every Seattleite Must Read". Her essay "After the Fire" was selected as one of the "Most Notable Essays of 2011" by Best American Essays 2012. She’s a Contributing Editor at The Weeklings. The Seattle Weekly named her one of "50 Women Who Rock Seattle".
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20 Responses to Turn Off Your Fleshlight

  1. Orlando Masvatos says:

    No one will take away my Fleshlight, ever! No constitutional amendment or executive order; no Supreme Court decision. It is engrained into the very fabric of who we are as Americans. From Westward expansion to defeating the Spanish and avenging the explosion of the USS Maine, the Fleshlight,(when molded into the hands of justice) defines, clarifies and articulates the very words our founding fathers fought so valiantly for.

  2. Orlando, I admire your willingness to fight for your right to please yourself, well, as you please. That said, remember westward expansion led to the genocide of American Indians and our Founding Fathers owned many, many Black persons. So, you probably want to compare your sex toy use to epochs that ended in less slaughter. Happy masturbating! (Also, “Yasou!”, fellow passionate Greek!)

  3. Orlando Masvatos says:

    You write well and I’ve followed your career closely, but please, do not burden me with the white man’s guilt. All I want, all I am entitled to as an American, is the constitutional right to own property. Do not take my dignity.

    • Thanks, Orlando, for being the only commenter who understood the tone of the piece. The two beneath you are riled up, as if I’m really taking away their Fleshlights. Or care enough to want to. Or am not obviously having a wee bit of fun here. Masturbate in peace, and thanks also for the compliment. Cheers!

      • James D. Irwin says:

        Instead of ‘masturbate in peace’, why not ‘live schlong* and prosper’?

        *not convinced this is the right spelling, but there’s no way I’m googling it to find out.

  4. Chris Albee says:

    Yes, a fleshlight is a disembodied female body part. Kind of like how a dildo is a disembodied male body part. The dangerous thing when applying gender politics to something as intimate as the sex toys people use in the privacy of their bedroom, bathroom or general cum shack is that you establish double standards that seek to shame and deter people from augmenting healthy sex lives or drives. Sex positivity has been an integral, forward-thinking aspect of feminism for so long that it disappoints me to see someone ostensibly sex shaming men for using toys that should, for one reason or another, remain an exclusively femme domain. I mean, damn, it’s just a silicon vag. And they’ve also been really old hat for ages.

    • Well unlike the guy beneath you who also missed the point entirely–that I’m clearly having some fun here–you had the guts to sign your real name when impugning my feminism b/c I jokingly impugned your jerk-off toy. I’d heard good things about you from the radio station, Chris. Obviously, people change.

      • Not a chickenshit, but call me what you must says:

        It’s not so clear that you are “having some fun here.” It is solely by virtue of your responses that one would realize how you don’t seem to think it is an actual argument.

        You make certain to at least try to distinguish the point (again, I’m weary to call it this given the fact that you’ve completely abandoned whatever sincerity your article seemed to have to begin with) from those that could be made in a similar vein against dildos. And you try to establish a bit of credibility from the outset by indicating how much you are not against masturbation. But somehow, despite the obvious work and ‘research’ that went into this article, it is supposed to be an obvious joke–or, as I would have to put it, a big waste of time.

        I’m sorry, but Chris is absolutely right to point out the glaring hypocrisy with your argument (or whatever it is that you were trying to do here). If the biggest problem, in your mind, with the fleshlight is a sentiment that works equally against dildos, and you are also in favor of dildos, then that’s hypocrisy in its purest form.

        So which is it, a joke or a point? I’m not so sure you can have it both ways with this one (only because whatever point you would be making is entirely hypocritical). After all, the only real distinction you’ve employed here is a strained link between fleshlights and sexual abuse, and, for that, I think you need to do a little bit more work before I’m convinced of anything.

        In the meantime, enjoy your dildo. I certainly don’t have anything against that because, after all, that would be pretty ignorant of me.

  5. Snark says:

    Why is this article/subject still an issue for feminists? I am a feminist but I don’t believe in shaming any masturbation tool, the end goal of the product is to induce pleasure. The majority of men that I know are feminists too. It is hard to disconnect yourself from the basic fact that sex toys are designed for men, and for women. The female sex toy is generically phallic because of the vagina shape and the male sex toys are designed to have a vulva aesthetic and are vaginally structured. The existence of male masturbation has been around for far less time than female masturbation (despite it being taboo/hush hush in some countries.) At the end of the day, each sex is disembodying the other through use of sex toys. Some men don’t feel comfortable with the use of dildos, as they echo their own erogenous parts. The same way as females dislike vagina-modelled toys. It seems like a cycle jerk, and draws feminism away from more dominant and current issues that female face. The fleshlight isn’t an issue that undermines feminism at its core. Constantly travelling the same ground in the name of feminism is a worrying trend.

  6. Antonia Sellwig says:

    A good, light read, which sadly hits too close to home for me. After 27 years of marriage, my husband, Jack, is open to the fact that he prefers his Fleshlight “Natalie” to my gaping vagina. I’ve considered surgery to correct years of elasticity but have found my new plan in the Obama system will not cover it. Jack and I have an otherwise healthy relationship, and outside of his occasional trips to Singapore on business, I’m confident he rarely strays. In the end, my aging body is just no contest to his magnificent “Natalie.”

    • I’m fairly certain anyone w/ a “gaping vagina” is not actually discussing it online. But mad props for being the first person to mention Obama. All discussions about anything ever must eventually invoke the President and/or the Audacity of Healthcare. Thanks for the compliment re the piece, though. Keep those legs crossed during a windstorm, lest you balloon and float away. Cheers.

  7. James D. Irwin says:

    First of all, I love the title of this piece, and has sent me to youtube to listen to the myriad live cover versions that exist (mostly performed by the Grateful Dead).

    Anyway, I’ve always thought of the Fleshlight as quite odd and sort of sad. What’s wrong with a clenched fist and a bit of elbow grease? That (the clenched fist) is really the truer make equivalent of a vibrator. Both provide self-pleasure in a rough approximation of ‘the real thing’ which is more of a substitute/alternative than faithful simulation.

    There is, in theory, nothing wrong with a male sex toy that aims to provide a faithful simulation of ‘the real thing’, although personally I’d feel extremely self-conscious (and frankly ridiculous) inserting myself into the emptied casing of a torch.

    However, I do think there is a problem once you get into the world of personalised/modelled Fleshlights. I may be wrong, but I don’t think many (if any) female sex toys are moulded after real people. Whilst I don’t have any real objections to pornography* (and have in the past delivered enthusiastic stand up routines on the subject, which betray a somewhat encyclopaedic knowledge of internet pornography), the idea of sex toys modelled on porn stars is maybe a step too far in the direction of viewing women solely as objects — and in fact quite literally reduces the performers in question to objects of sex i.e. the Fleshlight.

    The Fleshlight, along with it’s mouth/anal sphincter variations sort of reduces women to various holes designed solely to receive the male member. It’s not an ideal or healthy association to make, regardless of whether it’s ‘just a bit of fun’.

    One would speculate that, by and large, female sex toys are masturbatory aids which tend to be, because of anatomical necessity, phallic in shape. Tools of pleasure/stimulation, rather than detailed, disembodied simulations of ‘the real thing’. i.e. a dildo/vibrator is not necessarily an analogue of ‘the real thing’ but used because it feels good. Similarly, no penis work like a power shower, but a shower head can nonetheless be used for the purposes of sexual pleasure. By and large female masturbation seems (as far as I can tell) to be geared more towards stimulation over simulation — and this is probably a healthier approach.

    Men are simpler creatures, and quite literally easier to please. The male sex toy is really the internet i.e. pornography. The only physical stimulation necessary to reach the same ‘feel’ good factor’ comes in the form of the opposable thumbs and tubs of Vaseline God gave us.

    One would argue that sex toys for men are not as necessary as they are for women, in order to have a tremendously fun time. The Fleshlight is kind of like wanting our cake, and eating it out. In theory, there is nothing wrong with vaginal simulations for men,** in the same way there is nothing wrong with phallic simulations for women.

    However, the Fleshlight is kind of pathetic and demeaning to both genders really. Is there anything dorkier than creating a highly detailed synthetic vagina? The real sadness of the Fleshlight lies more in the high attention to detail, rather than it’s intended use. And once you get into the world of sex toys modelled on real people (although the term is used loosely as in this instance it applies to lovely young girls whose existence is based on facilitating hardcore male fantasy) it becomes deeply unsettling and unhealthy. i.e. the reduction of a free-thinking and reasonably intelligent adult women into a series of dismembered body parts that exist entirely for male pleasure.

    *Although, now I’m in my mid-20s I’ve come to feel deeply disturbed by heavy focus on v. young teen performers, and the fetishising of childhood i.e. babysitters, schoolgirls, cheerleaders etc which is kind of fine and natural for post-pubescent and adolescent boys but kind of horrifyingly predatory and inappropriate for anyone older than about 20 tops.

    **and what pubescent boy hasn’t tried to create his own vaginal analogue out of whatever materials he might have ‘to hand’ as it were? ‘American Pie’ would be missing it’s most famous joke if they didn’t. And what is a clenched fist if not a very crude attempt at vaginal simulation?

    • James, thanks for the compelling discussion and thoughtful details. Usually, when I see a comment this long I think, “Someone skipped their meds this week!” But you raise many salient and fair points. Hugely appreciated on all counts. Wishing you the best.

      • James D. Irwin says:

        It didn’t dawn on me that I’d written so much until I posted it, and immediately thought ‘oh no, now I look utterly insane and/or kind of obsessed with sex toys.’

        I contend though that, lengthy though it may be, my comment is probably the most sane/on topic i.e. free of gender politics/bizarre references to Obamacare/etc.

  8. Gus Petronas says:

    Good article and I agree with all your points, however, would it surprise you to find out that POTUS has one?

    • Okay, I’m enjoying that two of the persons who understood what I was going for here are Greek. Well done, brother-men. And, indeed, it would surprise me to discover our current POTUS has a Fleshlight, but perhaps Bill Clinton now has several. Hence, staying out of trouble of late.

  9. Jimmy says:

    Although you find the comments section “a kick because some of the men are outraged I’d playfully mock their preferred method of playing with themselves,” you are wilfully missing the point and artfully reinforcing outmoded gender tropes.

    Firstly, a fake rubber pussy is fucking funny. Of course it is. In fact, it seems even funnier at this moment in time than a rubber dildo. I guess at least you’re writing about it, so we can traverse the crag of humiliation before arriving at acceptance. Attitudes towards men’s sex toys clearly lag behind women’s in that regard.
    If something is taboo and humiliating, yet may have harmless benefits, playfully mocking it might not be such a good idea, unless you’ve got some serious remedy to go with the bane. Otherwise, it’s typically better to keep one’s ire for more fitting (and more difficult) targets. But, in fact, you go much further than this.
    First off, you take pains to illustrate how urbane and open-minded about sex you are. Not only do you love to masturbate, you know all about the history of it, too. Marvellous. Sadly, this is just the set-up to the closed-minded, self-masturbatory splurge of nonsense now masquerading merely as something “playful.”
    I think it was when you used the term “slut-shaming,” itself a pretty demonstrative term, that you piqued my irritation. You are “assiduously against it,” yet in fact cannot resist aiming scorn at the models whose beavers are battered. (Battered, of course, has a double meaning: I’m not sure whether you’re amused by the process of casting their vulvas, or at the idea of the soulless simulacra being battered by hundreds of thousands, if not millions of men! Nonetheless, you’re bang-on: it is the women’s right.)

    Like countless sad-act men before me, I will “gloss over,” ahem, the interestingly-themed Fleshlights. There’s even an alien one, for the love of beaver. It’s blue. I mean, that takes Avatar to the next level in so many ways. (Well, two, I think.) I suspect there was not much discussion on these more novelty designs in the original article precisely because it’s the ersatz nature of the ‘fake pussy’ Fleshlight that seems to be so much grit in people’s sandwiches.

    But then…

    “…it’s not as if male needs are overlooked or otherwise shamed into secrecy…” although the thrust of the article is precisely that. If that makes me sound ‘butt-hurt,’ it shouldn’t – it really shouldn’t. More gender tropes.
    Yes, men typically have less “need” for a masturbatory aid than women in order to achieve a simple orgasm. Men are wired completely differently when it comes to sex. Irrespective of differences, for many men, an act of masturbation is regular and occurs virtually daily, sexual partner or no. Men have two types of orgasms: one that comes packaged with loving sex and a partner, and one that scratches a necessary, in-built biological itch. There is crossover. The two aren’t mutually exclusive. But you’re still scratching an itch that always comes back. See, you can ask someone else to scratch your back (preferably). If you’re alone, or your partner is asleep, or you don’t fancy going out to find someone to scratch your back, you can scratch it yourself, which feels OK. Or you can buy yourself a really nice back-scratcher. If that back-scratcher is an exact replica of someone’s arm, who cares?! The petroleum argument is a stretch that advances no points other than “your male pleasure is not worth it.”

    The research on the length of time it takes to fire one up is also nonsense, despite being irrelevant and judgmental (if I want to spend an hour preparing it because I want to treat myself to a luxury jerk-off, I am entitled to do so). Process: lube it, fuck it, rinse it, pat it dry, hide it or be stigmatised as a sad-act for the rest of your life for wanting to squeeze a bit more pleasure and variety out of an activity you do daily.

    And there is another point: male masturbation is itself only really now becoming accepted across modern western society. Look at the male-dominated pejoratives for masturbation: ‘jerk-off’, ‘wanker’. If women shouldn’t be ‘slut-shamed’ (yuck) then I find it ironic that men can be ‘jerk-off-shamed.’ Surely you can see how furthering positive attitudes towards male masturbation helps everyone? How do you think so many teenage boys feel, growing up with a desperate urge to stick their dicks in everything, yet being told both explicitly and implicitly that masturbating is for losers? Is this likely to further male attitudes towards women, or pollute them? Society says it is not cool for a man to masturbate, and assures another generation of pathetic machismo holds both genders back another few decades.

    Nope, we never get to go there. Instead let’s focus on the price (!) – ‘$100, give or take, for an experience that can be had for free.’ Have a think about that one. And the blatant hypocrisy that is still there. Women’s sex toys are not exactly limited in scope so as to be pure medical aids. Now imagine a man writing an article about a female sex toy he’d presumably never seen in action. Imagine him writing “hey ladies, you might want to hang onto your bullet vibe, but put your rabbit down. You might not realise this, but people want sex all the time. So just find someone and have sex with them. Duh!” Now imagine him mentioning child poverty in the same breath. (I am appalled at that, by the way. That’s not funny. It only masquerades as being funny because we all find the article’s main subject inherently funny.)

    Charitably, the obvious lack of any real research (like maybe talking to at least one man who owns and uses one) is the real problem. While you concede that “if a Fleshlight used solo or with a partner allows gratification otherwise unattainable, well, that improves someone’s quality of life…” this line of thought is never realised or developed. It’s a lot better than a hand. It’s a lot better than most of the other male sex-toys on the market. It’s a lot better than trying to acquire real sex if the moment is not right (i.e., your partner is not interested, or you don’t want to go out on the pull just to fuck someone. That would be treating real women just as disembodied vaginas, wouldn’t it). Ergo, it improves quality of life.

    Instead, the toy is seen as entirely frivolous (“Nostril” and “Arm Crook”, lols) and suitable for a man suffering only “a disabling injury or illness.” We then get to digest comparing it to the polio vaccine. This is incredible. Men: maximising your sexual enjoyment only matters if you’re simultaneously trying to maximise someone else’s. Apparently. Your hyperbole isn’t really funny (in fact it’s damaging) when the target is both so easy to hit and unjustly so.

    At least you are honest enough in your summation to address the obvious truth – the real reason for the ire, behind all the sophistry, occupatio and blunderbuss-bluster:

    “The biggest problem with the Fleshlight then, is its very premise, the disembodied female body part that exists solely for male pleasure. Women are aware at far too young an age that a large swath of straight males already view the world through this paradigm.”

    There’s evidence of a huge hypocrisy here: those disembodied-cock-rabbit vibes. The million and one other (often very realistic) lines of very phallic female sex toys. Perhaps it’s too easy to view the phallus as a tool, something that can be replicated for female pleasure, while a vagina is not; it is some sacred fount that must be preserved. You delicately posit the view that men, as it is, only see women as vaginas. You miss the point: many men have difficulty seeing women as anything but a vagina when they need to get their rocks off. And we men need to get our rocks off a lot. We’re constantly told if we don’t satisfy this urge inside a real-life vagina then we’re pathetic losers. Do you see the, um, fallacy of your argument here? It acts to propagate the treatment of women by men as sex-objects. ‘Horny? Want it to feel really good? Remember, losers masturbate, but fine. Gigantic losers with bells on use male sex toys. Screaming mental losers use a Fleshlight, because, um, well here’s a bunch of spurious reasons I just thought up. Now get out there and grab someone…’ A remarkably Pyrrhic victory for feminism.

    And in fact, the manufacturers have taken some lengths to up the utilitarian appearance of the sex toy: it’s in a flashlight case, for crying out loud. As in, like you might have in a toolkit. It’s not exactly a sex robot. Heterosexual men just happen to like fucking vaginas. It’s an existing design with some limitations if you ever wanted to carry one in your purse.

    Even more hypocritically, it’s fine for women to pleasure themselves with phalluses of absurd proportions, yet there’s concern that “no woman will be as supple or as supplicant as the plastic approximation of her erogenous zones.” Take yourself down off that Petrarchan pedestal and join the club – sex toys can give your partner performance anxiety. But don’t worry, you can do it – we men got over it a long time ago. Some of us even realised we needed to actively support women in owning their own sexual pleasure.

    Ultimately, it’s really nobody’s damn business if I want to use a sex toy to get off. Let’s look at the subject with the obvious humour it warrants – but without shaming people that might want to use them. It saddens me when someone with clear intellect uses it to bludgeon away at an easy target, carelessly reinforcing tropes in the process. All of this is why some of the men who read your piece are upset. We expected better. To laugh these responses off as people not getting a joke is quite frankly ugly.

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