7 Mistakes You’re Probably Making On Your Online Dating Profile


Having no luck getting a decent guy or woman to message you on online dating sites? We hate to say it, but it may be because the profile you've created is unremarkable. (Hey, you've been in a relationship for years -- possibly even decades; there was no need to master the art of the perfect Match.com profile.) 

To help you land a date, we asked a handful of dating experts and coaches to weigh in with the most common mistakes they see divorcées making in their profiles. 

Read what they had to say -- and their advice on how to write a better profile -- below: 

1. Your profile picture is less than flattering. 

Online daters wade through hundreds and hundreds profiles to find one person worth meeting for coffee. Of course they're making snap judgments about you based solely on your profile photo. That grainy, low-res photo you uploaded from Facebook isn't doing you any favors -- and don't even think about posting a pic from five years ago. 

"Every photo sends a message," said dating and relationship expert Damona Hoffman. "Don't think you need to post a photo from back in the day that's overly sexy to get a date. With clever cropping and your best angle, you can direct people's eyes to exactly what you want them to notice about you." 

To get casual, totally flattering profile photos, Jeffrey Platts -- a dating expert and men's coach based in L.A. -- recommends having a friend snap photos of you any time you're feeling "sexy, confident and well-dressed" while hanging out. 

"It just takes 30 seconds and you'll be adding to your collection of great photos to choose from," he said. 

2.  You're boring people to tears in your "about me" section. 

Your front-facing, model status profile pic may be what draws people in, but a compelling "about me" section that shows off your personality is what will land you a date. Describing yourself as a "laid-back guy who loves the beach and getting drinks" is the meh-est of meh descriptions. 

"That pretty much describes 99 percent of singles," said Platts. "If I tell you I'm going to buy you any smartphone you want, you wouldn't just say 'Thanks, just get me one that makes calls and can surf the web.' No, you'd tell me get the a 64GB iPhone 6 Plus in white. You want someone to want you because of you, not simply because you're a warm-bodied male or female." 

To spice up your profile, Platt suggests injecting some humor and personality into it: "Then people who share similar values, interests and lifestyles will gravitate toward you." 

3. Mentioning your ex -- or any other failed relationships. 

This should go without saying: Don't bring up your ex or other low-points in your romantic history. Divorce may have taught you what you categorically don't want in a new partner, but don't waste valuable space in your profile listing out negative traits you don't want in your life.  Surprisingly, it's something Laurie Davis, founder of online dating concierge service eFlirt, said she sees all the time while doctoring the dating profiles of divorcées. 

"It sets a negative tone for your profile -- not the most attractive quality to lead with!" she said, "It's best to keep your last relationship, and all the baggage that came with it, out of your first impression." 

4. Your word count is out of control.  

Adopt the Goldilocks principle when considering the length of your profile: Not too short, not too long, but just right. You want to tell a story about yourself that's intriguing but leave the whole story for the dates to come. 

"Say just enough in your profile to get them to want to meet in person and reveal the rest there," said Hoffman. 

5. Your username is forgettable. 

Sorry, SexyLady432 and Soccerfan1973, but you may want to rethink that username. What you call yourself won't likely be a deal-breaker for most but it's worth taking the time to come up with something original and more grown-up than the examples above, said Platt. 

"Look, I know that as more and more people sign up for online dating sites, the good usernames get swapped up but there's still room for creativity and personality," he said. "Test out several variations until you come up with one that you like and is available. You can always try lumberjackyogi and crossfitqueen." 

6.  You post pics of your kids or talk endlessly about being a parent.

Your kids may be adorable, Honor Roll-making angels but that doesn't mean they should be the stars of your dating profile. While it's natural to include details about your kids or life as a parent in your profile, you don't want to overdo it -- and you definitely don't want to include pics of the kids, Davis said. 

"Even if the photos with the kids are simply the most flattering, I've' found that what works best is to keep the focus on you, and you alone, in your photos," she said. "Crop out the others around you, in particular children." 

7.  You send an awkward first message. 

You now have the tools to write a profile that hits all the right marks, but remember: all the hard work you put into your profile can be upended if you send inappropriate messages to people you're interested in. A mere "hi" or "hey baby" aren't likely to go over well.

To ensure you're sending an initial message that won't offend or bore people, Platt recommends putting it through a "would I ever say this in real life?" litmus test. 

"Imagine going up to someone at a bar, saying 'hi' and just standing there silently. You wouldn't, so why do the same thing virtually? And women (and men) get literally hundreds of these messages. I've yet to meet a woman who has written back to an initial one-word message." 

To knock it out of the park with your first message, Platt said to "Write something that shows you actually read their profile. And the easiest way to do that is directly mention something that he or she wrote about and ask them a genuinely curious question about it."

In a sea of "hi" and "hey babys," Platt said you're sure to stand out.

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Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders to honor Jennifer Finney Boylan

Earlier this week, the Boston-based legal organization Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) announced that it would honor transgender advocate, best-selling author, and GLAAD co-chair Jennifer Finney Boylan with the Spirit of Justice Award. This honor seeks to recognize Boylan for her writings, teachings, and activism, which have played a significant role in articulating what it means to be transgender.

“Jennifer Finney Boylan’s work over the decades has exposed a broad public to the meaning of transgender lives,” said Janson Wu, Executive Director of GLAD.  “Her best-selling memoir She’s Not There: A Life in Two Genders introduced many people for the first time to a three-dimensional transgender person. With storytelling that is powerful and humane as well as witty, she has fostered understanding and support for transgender people and the multiple issues they face in navigating a transphobic world.”

Aside from She's Not There: A Life in Two Genders, Boylan has written twelve books – two memoirs, three novellas, one short story collection, and six young adult books. Her background in English began at Colby College, where she was a professor for twenty-five years, and currently acts as a special advisor to the college's president. In addition, Boylan is the 2014 Anna Quindlen Writer-in-Residence at Barnard College, and serves on the Kinsey Institute's Board of Trustees. She has also written many op-eds for the New York Times, and has worked as a consultant on LGBT-inclusive shows such as Transparent and I Am Cait.

On being chosen for this award, Boylan was very appreciative of the work that GLAD does in New England for the LGBT community, especially in her home state of Maine where they worked to defeat a bill that would have stripped transgender people of their rights. She explained, “I am so grateful to be honored by GLAD.  Although the organization of which I am the national co-chair, GLAAD, has an extra “A” in its name,  GLAD deserves an “A” all its own, for its work in bringing forth justice and in improving the lives of LGBT people, and those that love them, throughout New England.”

The Spirit of Justice Award Dinner will take place at the Boston Marriot Copley Place on Friday, October 16, 2015. For more information, please visit www.glad.org/events, and be sure to congratulate Jennifer on her award via social media where she tweets from @JennyBoylan.

July 30, 2015

‘Gay Girl In Damascus’ Hoax Highlights Failure To Vet Sources


After it was revealed in 2011 that 40-year-old Tom MacMaster was the man claiming to be lesbian blogger Amina Arraf, who wrote the "A Gay Girl In Damascus" blog, media outlets like The Guardian were forced to issue a slew of corrections. But this isn't just a story about a hoax, says Sandra Bagaria, a woman from Montreal who developed a relationship online with MacMaster; it's about the media's failure to properly vet sources.

Bagaria, who's featured in the new documentary titled "A Gay Girl In Damascus: The Amina Profile," told HuffPost Live on Wednesday that she had her doubts about Arraf's identity -- they never spoke on the phone or saw each other on video chat. But when The Guardian covered the story, she said all her reservations "got erased."

"[I thought,] 'Okay, The Guardian met her, so of course she exists. Why should I keep on doubting?'" Bagaria told host Alyona Minkovski. "But unfortunately, that's where I was wrong. The Guardian ... didn't conduct a live interview."

Bagaria said The Guardian interviewed Arraf via email rather than in person because she said she was being followed. After being reported by The Guardian, the story spread because other publications simply re-reported it without verifying it was true, Bagaria said. 

"In this case, they didn't take any time to [fact-check], neither the other ones, so it makes me [think] ... why should I spend time to actually read more news more carefully if they are not doing their job properly?" Bagaria said.  

As a self-described avid news consumer, Bagaria added that media outlets announce they are "breaking news" too liberally, which is exactly what happened in this case. 

"[The Guardian] just wanted to be the first who had a breaking interview, exclusive interview with Amina," Bagaria said. "And then [unfortunately], it got a lot of people fooled after that." 

Watch the full conversation with "The Anima Profile" subject Sandra Bagaria here.  

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Fashionably Late // Pride Year Round

2015 will go down in history as pivotal for the LGBTQ community, and the fact that the verdict of Obergefell v. Hodges came just days before the June 28 anniversary of the Stonewall Riots made this year's pride events a collection party for the ages.

And who says the party has to end? Take a look at any Pride calendar and you'll quickly find out that Pride is a year-round event. There are a lot of reasons a Pride is held on a date other than the last Sunday in June. For the southern hemisphere, that's the dead of winter. In the United States, some cities, like Philadelphia, had their own gay protests independent of the Stonewall, and so commemorate those dates. Others are more practical: The American Southwest is far too hot in summer to have a parade.

Even now, cities across the country are gearing up for their own takes on Pride, and a few are bona fide showstoppers. I've been to four that are worth sloppy seconds:

Worcester, MA: September 9 - 12
The somewhat more normal next-door neighbor of Boston and Provincetown, Worcester knows it is not a major destination and to its credit, does not try to be. Instead, Worcester Pride is a local affair, and along the way shrewdly taps a growing niche market within the gay community: families.

Let's be honest: a Pride march can be...um, "sexually charged," shall we say. It's all about men and women embracing their sexuality and putting it out there for all the world to see. All find and good, and with a very good reason to boot -- but it might not be the tableau for a four-year-old. It's the nasty secret of LGBTQ life: come what may, it is incredibly adult-focused.

"With kids" gay travel is probably the next big thing to sweep the travel biz, so Worcester is actually ahead of the curve on this one. It isn't to say that Worcester is as pure as the Alvin & the Chipmunks, but the city is a good example of IDing an underserved segment of the LGBTQ population and embracing it.

Las Vegas, NV: September 18 - 19
You would have to be insane to throw a three-day Pride event in the middle of the summer in a desert. Even the most ardent of activists bow their heads to 100° F and above temperatures.

While Vegas will probably always be the City That Straight Male Fantasy Made, in recent years, it has made a concerted effort to raise its profile among gay travelers. The result is arguably the biggest late-year Pride celebration in the country. Or at least, the showiest (which makes sense).

Contrary to popular belief, Sin City is a very gay friendly town; the casinos practically fell over themselves to contribute to the city's sparkling gay and lesbian community center, and all the iniquity had the odd side effect of making Las Vegas one of the least judgmental places in the country. Vegas Pride builds on standing events, and embraces a few local traditions like a good ol' Vegas-style pool party. The Luxor (can miss it; it's the big, black pyramid) regularly hosts a gay pool party, and it was a no-brainer to incorporate it into the festivities.

Most unusual is that the Pride Parade -- in downtown, rather than on The Strip, alas! -- takes place at night (the body glitter will get max effect), and instead of being the bookend to a Pride, it kicks things off.

Dallas, TX: September 20
You would think that Dallas would hold its pride in September to avoid the city's oppressive summer humidity, but not so! The third Sunday in September commemorates Judge Jerry L. Buchmeyer's ruling that first negated the Texas sodomy law (That judge's was infamously overturned later by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, but the parade remained an autumn event).

In a state as GOP-red as Texas, it may come as a surprise that Dallas is as blue as it is, and that it's gay population as active and thriving. Oh, sure -- there is a lot more line dancing and BBQ than, say, New York or Miami, but a Pride is a Pride. This is a great example of how the gay experience varies from region to region and even city to city.

Like Worcester, Dallas makes of point of highlighting same-sex families, a step in the normalization of LGBTQs in the South that still has a long way to go, Supreme Court cases be damned. And like Worcester, Dallas tends to be a insular--as its date hints, Pride celebrates local legends over national or even international people and events. The parade, technically the Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade is named after the legendary man who organized it from its inception. Ross sadly passed away in 1995, well before gays and lesbians could even hope to say they were equal citizens, but thanks regional fighters like him, LGBTQs found their national voice.

Palm Springs, CA: November 6 - 8
Palm Springs Pride is the end-of-the-year capstone to (and not to be confused with) the city's more famous -- some would say infamous -- White Party held in April. Astute travelers will notice how summer is conspicuously avoided; while there are actual springs in Palm Springs, and seasonal streams running down from the San Jacinto Mountains, things are so hot from May to September that the city sprays water in a fine mist during the hottest days so pedestrians don't die of heat stroke. That, by the way, is no understatement: step outside the city limits and you will see just how far into the Sonoran Desert Palm Springs lies.

But as an FYI, perhaps because the White Party maxes the city's party reserves to the full, Palm Springs Prides tends to come off as a genuine Pride event. While there is still a parade and festival, PSPride puts the movers and shakers in the local and international gay community in the spotlight.

For people in the region, you can actually have a near non-stop experience: Long Beach, Los Angeles, and several other municipalities have Pride events in the summer before Palm Springs. All within driving distance, the various parties and parades make something of a de facto circuit party of Pride days.

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I Once Was Lost, But Now Am Found. Was Blind, But Then I Came Out!

I was more than a blind follower or a casual experimenter in faith. I was a deep-seated convert and a wholehearted zealot -- I was a disciple of Jesus Christ.

Growing up, I spent most of my free time at church. I attended Vacation Bible School, went on mission trips, and talked shop with clergy. I studied the Bible like it was my job. I pored over it's pages, and it was a pretty big part of my family life: both my parents were church leaders, my oldest brother is a pastor, and another brother was a missionary. My childhood home was filled with conversations that revolved around scripture, so I know it like most people know a favorite movie.

I not only know scripture, but I aspired to follow its teachings. Take, for instance:
- love God above all else
- Jesus is God's son and he died for our sins, securing our salvation
- good works are pointless without faith in God
- drinking alcohol is a sin
- sex before marriage is evil
- foul language isn't pleasing to God
- homosexuality is an abomination
- the only way to receive eternal life is by trusting in Jesus Christ as your personal savior (the only alternative is an eternity in Hell)

These beliefs defined my worldview and dictated how I navigated relationships. A good friend of mine once pulled me aside to tell me that my religion had become foul, and nobody wanted to be around me. At the same time, countless people recognized my dedication to Jesus, and asked me to teach classes and lead small groups.

I lived this way for years. I knew intimately the world inside the covers of the Holy Bible, and I was firmly convicted that striving daily to be like Jesus was the only right way to live. I viewed people through a lens -- I believed that all those who had yet to believe in Jesus were in danger, and it was my job to share the Good News with them. I thought that the world was a closed circle and freedom through Jesus was everything else.

I would have continued in this life of faith, but something stood in my way. I felt I was neglecting a deeper part of me -- a visceral, uncontrollable desire. Then, something happened. I finally admitted a personal truth: I'm gay. In the same moment I came out to myself, I realized that my religion prevented me from living in the freedom of exploration, the excitement of curiosity, and the anticipation of answering some pretty tough questions. Religion was in fact the closed circle. I couldn't be gay and Christian. The two were at odds, and the effort to reconcile them was tearing me apart.

This realization is still ongoing, and it hasn't always been easy. As a matter of fact, it has been a lengthy awakening that has so far taken around a decade.

So what? Why does anyone care?

Well, maybe you're like me. Religion can make your identity seem less than ideal -- even to the point where it's oppressive. Now that I'm outside the bubble of faith, I can look back and see how confining it was for me. Don't waste another minute. It's okay to be exactly who you are!

Or, maybe you've known somebody like me. All I really needed was somebody to say, "It's okay to be who you are!" If you think you know someone in the closet, talk to them. You might be exactly what's needed -- permission to live truthfully!

Lastly, I need to apologize. I was wrong and annoyingly dogmatic. I am sorry that I used religion as a shield against homosexuality and to oppress others just like me.

I thought I was right, but now I can say that I have more to learn than anyone. I am so thankful to be living in a time when self discovery is applauded. It's becoming easier every single day, but for too many, the struggle is impossible to endure. Take heart! It's going to be okay because love always conquers!

Come out. Do it in spite of the people and circumstances that stand in your way, do it for the rest of us, and most importantly, do it because you deserve to be true to yourself! It's time! It's time to come out no matter what has been holding you back.

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A Gay Dad’s Letter To Those Who Question Caitlyn Jenner

When I was ten years old, I remember waking up in bed, cuddled up in my sheet from the night before. As I lay there day dreaming, I tucked the sheet around me imagining it to be a flowing ball gown, elegant, sophisticated and completely feminine. The fantasy came from deep inside me and in the moment was overwhelming.

It persisted on into the next Halloween season at which time I proposed a “unique” costume idea to my mother. I would go as her. Creative thinker that she was, my mother went for the idea.

On the night of, I pulled it off extremely well. Dress, makeup, pumps and pearls. I was not a comic rendition of a woman, I looked like a younger version of my mother. Strangely, under the cover of “Halloween” no one saw my motives of self exploration, nor reacted with knee jerk misogyny, homophobia or transphobia. I went off in the night collecting candy.

I hated it. What I discovered conclusively was that I was not in the least transgender. I was, and am, a cisgender guy, a male in a male body. I probably had gone only a block and I began to loathe everything about the presentation I was in, not because it wasn’t working, it was, but because it was not me.

That walk down a city block in heels may have given me a glimpse into the disingenuous feelings a closeted transgender person has to feel every single day. I don’t know that for a fact, I can only imagine that to be true.

Was my walk down that street at that young age courageous? Was I a hero? Probably not. I was in no danger as I had managed the time and place conveniently, and I had played my experimentation as a gag, a lark, a creative idea.

Now we are in the age of Caitlyn Jenner. Public tabloid discussion quickly morphed from whether Bruce Jenner might be transgender to a debate on whether Caitlyn Jenner is a hero. Presumably, the latter discussion has gained more momentum by Caitlyn being awarded the prestigious Arthur Ashe Award for Courage.

My sons are 12 years old and we have discussed Caitlyn. They truly did not understand how she felt, and her need to emerge as her true self from a male body. The issues involved needed to be explained to them. I also explained to them why she is, in my opinion, a hero.

There are others who apparently need a similar discussion. HLN’s show "Dr. Drew On Call"  assembled a panel to discuss whether Caitlyn was courageous and deserved an award. The panel consisted of Segun Oduolowu, Zoey Tur and Ben Shapiro.

As far as television goes, the panel and their interaction ended up being less like “The View” and more “Jerry Springer.” Oduolowu immediately drove the conversation to the level of hyperbole by screeching that Caitlyn Jenner was “a fraud.” His misguided points never once explained how Jenner was not authentically transgender, but focused on lives lost to AIDS in the 1980s. The cranky Shapiro, who seemed anxious to throw transphobic barbs at Tur, seated next to him, interrupted Oduolowu’s train of thought quickly. The barbs hit their intended recipient and Tur threatened to send Shapiro home in an ambulance. She then shot pointed comments of her own attacking Shapiro’s lack of emotional maturity.

Meanwhile, as this demeaning slug fest was playing out in one medium, graphic memes were making their way across another. These images attempted to contrast Jenner with disabled veterans. Social media images presented the premise that heroism was a competition in which if one was heroic in one way, it detracted from another’s heroism in another.

I decided that it was time for a letter.

To The Dr. Drew Panel and Those Who Question the Heroism of Caitlyn Jenner,

What exactly is a hero? When I hear the word, the first thought is of my dad. He was a career marine who put his life on the line for his country. He was also a man who put his kids and family first in his life and let us know he loved us every day. He sought to spiritually enrich us, and everyone around us, to the best of his ability. He always chose the brave and right thing over the easy and least intrusive.

If you say “hero,” I think of him.

When you say “hero,” here is what I do not think about: Your attitude Mr. Shapiro. You, addressing the transgender state of Caitlyn Jenner, and of Zoey Tur, who was seated inches from you, was bold, brash and in-your-face, but it was not heroic.

Willful ignorance is not heroic. Reducing a person’s heart, soul and dignity to the physiological make up of their body cells is not heroic, especially when even the most perfunctory research would tell you that your assessment was factually incorrect.

You could not have cared less about enriching anyone, let alone protecting them, as you reduced all of humanity into your pondering of chromosomes in human cells as the criteria for extending dignity by stating that “every cell in Caitlyn Jenner’s body, is male, with the exception of some of his sperm cells,”

nature, the International Journal of Science, refutes you. They state, “Sex can be much more complicated than it at first seems. According to the simple scenario, the presence or absence of a Y chromosome is what counts: with it, you are male, and without it, you are female. But doctors have long known that some people straddle the boundary — their sex chromosomes say one thing, but their gonads (ovaries or testes) or sexual anatomy say another. Parents of children with these kinds of conditions — known as intersex conditions, or differences or disorders of sex development (DSDs) — often face difficult decisions about whether to bring up their child as a boy or a girl. Some researchers now say that as many as 1 person in 100 has some form of DSD. When genetics is taken into consideration, the boundary between the sexes becomes even blurrier. Scientists have identified many of the genes involved in the main forms of DSD, and have uncovered variations in these genes that have subtle effects on a person’s anatomical or physiological sex."

A hero does not misrepresent easily accessed information to win a point.

Mr. Oduolowu, you faulted Jenner for not speaking up on behalf of AIDS victims in the 80s. Since I buried over 40 close friends at that time, I found your rhetoric almost as offensive as Shapiro’s. My friends who died of age when you were at best, a child, would not attack Caitlyn Jenner as you have. They would understand the closet in which she was trapped, as many of them were in a similar one. Their illness and subsequent deaths forced them out of hiding, and ultimately set an awareness in motion, an awareness from which you yourself are a benefactor. They, to a person, would not condemn Jenner for her own closet, but would be celebrating her ultimate break through.

A hero does not use the pain of others to shame others who had not caused that pain.

Ms. Tur, your behavior is the most familiar to me. It reminds me of my son Jesse’s. My son is a super personable, bright kid. He has an elevated sense of justice and right and wrong. He also has an innately quick temper. On occasions in the past where another kid has treated him badly, he has reacted and lashed out. Invariably, it would be he, and not the original offender who would get in trouble. It has taken a few years of reinforcement, but he finally has embraced that he did himself no favors by his previous choices. Our talks went like this:

Me:: Pal, what went wrong in this situation?

Him: I got mad and got in trouble.

Me: Did the other guy get in trouble?

Him: No

Me: Were you right that he harmed you to begin with?

Him: Yes

Me: Who did your reaction harm?

Him: Me. I got in trouble. Al l the attention got on me instead of him.

Me: Exactly. He harmed you, and then you harmed you.

Him: There has to be a better way

Me: I’ll help you find it.

Ms. Tur, I appreciate you were backed into a corner by an emotional bully. The choice to strike back at an even lower level was not only not heroic, it was not effective. He was the true bully, but managed to then paint himself legitimately under threat.

As this conversation was going on in the land of cable TV, a bigger one was on social media. Images of disabled veterans were being thrown against images of Caitlyn Jenner. These images had the intention of shaming Jenner for being considered heroic.

The energy behind this mob outrage seemed even larger than any effort to reward these and other veteran heroes for their sacrifice. Accessible benefits are apparently not the issue, exclusive use of a word is.

I am not addressing this letter to the people who put together the simplistic and superficial memes, however.

I wish to address the vast mob that responded to them.

The hero questioning memes went beyond veterans to ones that even included other sports figures. One was a juxtaposition with Tim Tebow for example.

That image alone garnered 192 thousand “likes” against Jenner. It featured almost 15,000 comments, the vast majority of which were unintelligible but decidedly nasty.

The Mob attack brought forth thoughts about Jenner’s own words, “If you want to call me names, doubt my intention, go ahead, because the reality is, I can take it. But for the thousands of kids out there coming to terms with who they are, they shouldn’t have to take it.”

So, to the Dr. Drew Panel and the Mob: What is a hero?

To me, and to my sons, a hero is someone who in the face of taunts, ridicule, shaming, and defecation, speaks out not for herself, but for others first.

Yes, Caitlyn Jenner is a hero. She is one not for being transgender. She is a hero because she is standing up to you.

She is one, because YOU made her one.

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I Was Catfished By The Poser Behind ‘A Gay Girl In Damascus’

Sandra Bagaria, a woman living in Montreal, thought she was getting involved with Amina Arraf, a lesbian Syrian-American blogger living in Syria, when the two started talking on Facebook in 2011. Their relationship grew more serious but was restricted to just texting and chatting online, which Arraf blamed on limited access to social media in Syria.

But months later, it was revealed that Bagaria's online love interest Arraf was not at all who she claimed to be. 

Bagaria, who is the subject of a new documentary titled "A Gay Girl In Damascus: The Amina Profile," explained to HuffPost Live's Alyona Minkovski on Wednesday that she felt lonely when she first began talking with Arraf during a Montreal winter. But Bagaria enjoyed Arraf's fierce spirit, and she supported her in starting a blog titled "A Gay Girl In Damascus" to document the Arab Spring uprisings -- a feat for Syria's persecuted lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.  

Bagaria's attempted to connect with Arraf over the phone or Skype, but Arraf claimed her internet access was blocked, which made sense to Bagaria. 

"Concerning the phone, I tried calling and I ended up in another phone number somewhere speaking Arabic," Bagari said. "But you never know. You're not living there and I was just, you know, expecting someone to answer, which was the case, but it was not Amina at that moment."

Things got murky after Arraf's cousin reportedly wrote on the blog that Arraf had been kidnapped. Despite campaigns around the world to "free Amina," it was revealed that nobody, including reporters who interviewed her, had actually met Arraf in person or heard her voice. Bagaria was still fearful -- until the person the world thought was Arraf was eventually revealed to be a 40-year-old American white man from Georgia named Tom MacMaster. It had all been a hoax

The ramifications of the fabrication were "very dangerous," Bagaria said, for the gay activists who essentially outed themselves to look for the reportedly kidnapped Arraf. When conducting interviews for the documentary, Bagaria said many still hadn't recovered.

"First they didn't want to even mention Tom's name, they didn't want to even talk about him," Bagaria said, adding that she didn't realize until well into filming how much harm MacMaster caused.

"That's what really upset me through the story as well," Bagaria said. "I got involved in the story because I willingly [accepted] the friendship, but they never asked for anything, and they just got exposed." 

Watch the full conversation with "The Amina Profile" subject Sandra Bagaria here.  

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What You Must Know If You Are in a Bad Relationship

According to my social media feed, 5 years ago today I was unexpectedly looking for a new place to live in Los Angeles. "Preferably Weho. Safe & quiet. $600-700," I posted. My first thought was, "what kind of West Hollywood slum was I expecting for $600?" Then I pondered how much everything can change in just 5 years.

I had only been in LA for a few months. My Nashville life crumbled after a record deal crashed and burned "Behind The Music" style, so I did what most people would do in that scenario. I started dating a younger man and moved us to Hollywood to start a career in stand up comedy. I wasn't thinking clearly. The record deal had taken well over a decade to land and when it fell apart I was simply lost. The younger boyfriend had really big pecs. You guys. Big. I was blind.

Turns out, I wasn't too bad at the comedy thing. I won an amateur contest at The Comedy Store on Sunset Blvd and soon after was regularly performing in legendary standup clubs around town. The relationship part, however, was bombing. Turns out, big-pec boyfriend was a Pandora's box of repressed homosexual guilt. He started taking the edge off with a nightly bottle of cheap vodka. Or two. He would wake the next day with no memory of leaving every burner on the stove blazing or of peeing on the floor.

I never quite knew what tragedy awaited me when I came home at night. On one of the worst evenings I walked in to him weeping; he had broken a glass and blood was everywhere. He was propped up by the record player holding a towel to his foot. Carol King was playing loud enough to rattle the windows.

Soon it was revealed he had taken up a secret West Hollywood boy on the side (Who, now that I'm remembering it all, also had strangely large pecs. Curious.) and that was finally enough for me to move out of that torturous scenario.

I never found a new cheap room to rent. Instead I packed up my car and drove the hell away from there. The last time I saw him was in my rear view mirror. He was standing in the yard with defeated posture watching me drive out of sight.

On the long trek back to Nashville I noticed, also in the rear view mirror, that my hair had turned a little grey.

It's funny, how an experience so painful and stressful now barely causes a pang. That's the merciful thing time does to us, I suppose.

I rebuilt my Nashville life complete with a new record deal on the horizon and a man who treats me with more kindness than I've ever known. We got engaged shortly before the SCOTUS decision. We have the most tranquil home.

I look back at that heartbroken version of me escaping Los Angeles 5 years ago, and then look forward knowing with certainty that anything is possible. Everything can change in 5 years.

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8 Things to Know About Amnesty’s Draft Proposal on Sex Work

Confused about the Amnesty International draft proposal? Here are some of the major points, broken down.

1. The proposal does not support forced and underage involvement in the sex trade.

Amnesty supports criminal laws against trafficking, coercing individuals into the sex trade, and soliciting sex from minors. Quoting the draft proposal, "Amnesty International considers children involved in commercial sex acts to be victims of a grave human rights abuse. Under international law states must ensure that offering, delivering or accepting a child for the purpose of sexual exploitation is covered under criminal or penal law, and must take all appropriate measures to prevent the exploitation and abuse of children."

2. The proposal does not support "wholesale decriminalization of the sex trade." And Amnesty is not inherently opposed to state regulation of adult, consensual sex work.

Quoting Amnesty's draft position: "...regulation should respect the agency of sex workers and guarantee that all individuals who undertake sex work can do so in safe conditions, free from exploitation, and are able to stop engaging in sex work when and if they choose. Additionally, such restrictions must be for a legitimate purpose, appropriate to meet that purpose, proportionate and non-discriminatory. States should also ensure the participation... in the development of any regulatory frameworks."

3. The proposal explicitly supports labor rights and fair labor relationships.

Amnesty's draft proposal explicitly supports fair labor relationships and states that countries must "respect and protect the right of sex workers to just and favorable conditions of work, including fair wages, safe and healthy conditions and limits on working hours" and "ensure that sex workers are entitled to equal protection under the law and are not excluded from the application of labour, health and safety and other laws."

4. The proposal recognizes the link between intersectional discrimination and oppression and compulsion into the sex trade.

Quoting the proposal: "The factors underlying sex workers' marginalization are manifold and intricately entwined with global economic inequalities and multiple forms of intersectional discrimination and oppression... Amnesty International recognizes that intersectional discrimination and oppression ... can play a role in an individual's decision to engage or remain in sex work and their experiences whilst in sex work. Systems of oppression such as gender discrimination, racism, socio-economic inequality and legacies of colonial occupation, deny people power and lead to poverty and deprivation of opportunity. Groups most at risk of discrimination and oppression are frequently over represented in sex work."

5. The draft proposal takes a strong position against economic compulsion into the sex trade and advocates for expanding options for marginalized groups.

Amnesty's draft proposal recognizes how economic inequality and discrimination of certain groups result in few viable economic options, and that intersectional inequalities can compel disadvantaged groups to choose sex work. The draft proposal calls for "policies which aim to support and improve the situation of marginalized people must focus on empowering individuals and groups and not devalue their decisions, compromise their safety and/or criminalize the contexts in which they live their lives."

They propose "provid[ing] appropriate support, employment and educational options that actively empower marginalised individuals and groups, respect individual agency and guarantee the realisation of human rights" and taking "necessary measures to eradicate discrimination against marginalised individuals and groups who are commonly represented in sex work, including discrimination in employment."

6. Amnesty supports voluntary, non-coercive programming for individuals who want to leave the sex trade.

The proposal asserts that "states have an obligation to ensure that no person continues to sell sex against their will and that everyone can leave freely when and if they choose."

Quoting the draft proposal: "In the same way that intersectional discrimination and oppression can limit employment options for people considering selling sex, it can also curtail individual's' ability to leave sex work when they want to."

The proposal urges "states to take appropriate measures to realize the economic, social and cultural rights of all people so that no person enters sex work against their will, and those who decide to undertake sex work should be able to leave if and when they choose."

7. The proposal calls for an end to direct criminalization of sex workers.

The draft proposal condemns laws that "seek to punish sex workers through sanctions such as criminal prosecution, detention and/or fines because of their involvement in sex work."

In the proposal, Amnesty cites research and asserts that evidence suggests that the "enforcement of criminal laws against sex work can lead to forced eviction, arbitrary arrests, investigations, surveillance, prosecutions and severe punishment of sex workers. Where sex workers face penalization when reporting crimes, their capacity to demand payment from or condom use with clients is also compromised. Notably, police routinely confiscate and/or use condoms as evidence of sex work in a number of countries around the world. The criminalization of sex work also frequently works to exclude sex workers from protections available to others under labour and health and safety laws and can impede or prohibit them from forming or joining trade unions to secure better working conditions, and health and safety standards. This, in turn, can render sex workers at greater risk of exploitation by third parties."

8. The safety and human rights of sex workers, not the interest of clients and third parties, drive the call to end indirect criminalization of sex work.

Laws against demand, and many third party laws, increase vulnerability to violence, "violate sex worker's human rights, including their rights to security of person, to just and favorable conditions of work and to health."

According to AI's research, "even when the sale of sex is not explicitly criminalised, laws that criminalise activities related to sex work, such as bans on buying sex or on solicitation, promotion, brothel keeping or other operational aspects of sex work, are frequently used to criminalise sex workers and/or work in effect to make their working environments more dangerous."

The full draft proposal can be found here.

Sound good?

Sign the Global Network of Sex Worker Project's letter in support here.

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Everything You Want To Know About Anal Sex (But Are Too Afraid To Ask)

Anal sex is not a new thing.

As long as people have roamed this fair planet, we've been putting body parts and other assorted items in each other's rectums.

What is new is what appears to be an uptick in those of us who are willing to talk about anal sex -- and enjoying it -- especially those who don't identify as gay men. Thanks in part to more recent visibility in the media -- from "Broad City" to "The Kingsmen" -- and arguably to queer liberation, more and more people are having anal sex or are at least starting to think about having it.

But if you've never tried it before, the thought of giving it a go can be daunting. With worries about pain to stressing about a potential mess, anal sex virgins have lots of questions. Luckily, HuffPost Love+Sex Podcast co-hosts Carina Kolodny and Noah Michelson, along with special guests Dr. Zhana Vrangalova, a sex expert and professor at New York University, and Claire Cavanah, co-owner of the beloved sex toy shop Babeland, have dedicated their latest episode to all things anal.

From a discussion with a woman who recently experienced an anal orgasm (but can't seem to have another one) to the ins and outs of trying anal sex for the first time to the mechanics of "pegging," find out what you need to know before someone starts knocking on your backdoor (or before you start knocking on someone else's backdoor).

If you want to download and/or listen to the podcast offline, head to iTunes or Stitcher.

This podcast was produced and edited by Katelyn Bogucki and sound engineered by Brad Shannon with additional production by Jorge Corona. Like Love + Sex? Subscribe, rate and review our podcast on iTunes.

Have an idea for an episode? Find us on Twitter at @HuffPostPodcast or email us at loveandsexpodcast@huffingtonpost.com.



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