Archive for July, 2008

review: Bonk by Mary Roach

July 8, 2008  |  reviews  |  1 Comment

You may remember Mary Roach from the book Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, which made a big splash a few years back, especially relating to her ability to make scientific research incredibly readable and interesting to average folks. She also wrote Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife. (Her titles, though clever, now after book 3 seem slightly formulaic.)

Now, in Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex, she tackles sex. I was intrigued! And what I remember from Stiff is still true: her work is incredibly readable. She makes pig inseminations in Denmark, penis reconstructive surgery in Thailand, and sexual reflex studies in Cairo seem relevant and interesting. I read through chapters on testicles, erectile dysfunction, and penis implants, amused by her stories and laughing, following along with Roach’s investigation of human sexuality.

I kept wondering when gay people would start coming up. Especially when she starts discussing a guy whose genitals were “the size and shape of a navy bean,” (p159) I started wondering if that person was probably in fact intersexed, born with ambiguous genitalia. From what I can tell, this account was in the early 1900s, but I expected Roach to launch into some explanation of why someone might be born with small-to-minuscule genitalia and what and how they would be dealt with today (which would probably be with surgery, although that would depend on the awareness of your doctor). But no: no mention whatsoever of any sort of intersexuality or between-sexes options.

She discusses penile reconstruction and again, no mention of the science behind sex change surgeries like phalloplasties. Page 67 is the first place she even mentions homosexuality, and it’s only in passing, in describing Princess Marie whose husband, Prince George of Greece, was “a latant homosexual.” By page 188, her 2nd mention of homosexuality in parenthesis – “He had never had sex, never had a girlfriend (or boyfriend)” I was beginning to suspect that Roach doesn’t think of homosexuality as more than a tiny side-note.

Then, after reading through three chapters on male reproductive functions specifically (testicles, erectile dysfunction, and penis implants), we get to two chapters on women, “The Lady’s Boner: Is the Clitoris a Tiny Penis?” and “The Prescription-Strength Vibrator: Masturbating for Health.” She mentions a clit pumping device, and I found myself yet again thinking, wow, this subject leads directly into the field of trans men who opt against genital surgery but whom enhance their genitals – often their clit – with a small penis pump (or large clit pump) and encourage their clit to get larger, to become a tiny penis. That stuff is fascinating, and wouldn’t it be great if she lent her investigation, research, and accessible writing skills to that subject?

But again, no. No mention of anything remotely related. I know, these topics could absolutely be books unto themselves, but that she either a) ran into the material and deemed it completely unimportant, as to not even warrant a mention, or b) did not run into these studies or material at all, makes me think that she either wasn’t looking very hard or was deeply heterocentric in her research. If she did run across it, why not mention it? She didn’t have to go into the subjects in depth, especially because the topics of trans, gender, and homosexuality obviously intersect in well, pretty much every single place along the study of sexuality, but simply some acknowledgment of these things existing is, I think, necessary.

So, this is what I’m thinking about halfway through the book. I keep reading the chapters on the female genitals, and then the science of orgasm, and I come across female ejaculation in a footnote. I kid you not, the ONE AND ONLY time she mentions female ejaculation is in a footnote. A FOOTNOTE! A long footnote, comparatively, but still! Isn’t there more science to female ejaculation than simply one footnote? Maybe not – maybe that one footnote is seriously the only scientific study she could find on female ejaculation. But hey, isn’t that significant? Isn’t that an interesting cultural commentary on sexuality, where she’s spent almost an entire chapter on male ejaculation, sperm count, what it is made of, how far it shoots, how much comes out?

But Roach skips over all of this.

She does note, in a footnote again, on p197, that there are “351 ways to say penis … and only three for clitoris: bean, button, and the little man in the boat.” She goes on to make note that the “authors [of this study] felt this reflected society’s disregard of human pleasure, which is probably true, but I simply bemoan the lack of useful synonyms.” Well, the reason there aren’t ‘useful synonyms’ reflects the value in the culture, doesn’t it? It’s not as though we have any shortage of small, round objects in our lives – pennies, marbles, pearls, gemstones, pebbles come to mind. So what does it reveal about a culture that we don’t have a language to describe the primary source of female sexual pleasure?

That’s not what Roach is writing this book for, though, clearly. As I got into the last third of the book, though, I had to wonder: why is Roach writing this book? What’s her point? She doesn’t seem to do much except summarize scientific sex studies with a distinct lack of feminist, gender-positive, sex-positive (see chapter 10, “Masturbating for Health,” and her implied judgment when mentioning “Mr. Fred Jelly Dongs” and “Vibrating Port-A-Pussies” as examples of sex toys), and trans-inclusive perspectives. As I kept reading, I found myself wondering why it was I was trusting this person’s perspective, considering that clearly our values were in such different places.

By the end of the book, much as I had enjoyed her witty writing, I was convinced of it. She begins the last chapter describing a Masters and Johnson study called Homosexuality in Perspective in 1979, which actually addresses directly what lesbian and gay men do in sexual partnerships and how it compares to hetero couples. The penultimate paragraph, though, takes a turn for the worst when Roach writes:

Sadly, the main thing people recall about Homosexuality in Perspective … is that Masters and Johnson spent the second half of the book touting a therapy for helping homosexuals convert to heterosexuality. The team went out of their way to assure readers that they screened clients carefully, accepting only those who had turned to homosexuality after a traumatic experience with heterosexuality (rape or abuse, for instance).

… But let’s give Masters and Johnson their due. … The laboratory study of sex has never been an easy, safe, or well-paid undertaking.

Yes, they are due some credit in modern sexuality studies, certainly. But hey, why don’t we address this blatant homophobia? Is Roach assuming that we are so far beyond homophobia in our culture, and in her readership, that we don’t even need to address how damaging and dangerous perspectives like those are? Perhaps Masters and Johnson were under other pressures from homophobic fundors, perhaps there were political difficulties getting human subjects review board approvals for seemingly “encouraging” homosexuality – there could be various explanations for why they spent half of their book discussing the “cure” and how to “convert” homosexuals.

And then, to end the entire book with these paragraphs, given the blatant disregard of gay and lesbian sexuality, sex-positivity, or progressive gender understandings, leaves me with an awful sense of injustice.

Mary Roach, I love your writing. I really do. But there were many ways to validate and acknowledge perspectives that you do not understand without actually incorporating our experiences into your study of human sexuality. You were so very broad that you missed some huge, gaping holes. Hope your next study is more honed, thoughtful, and inclusive.

intentional vs ‘natural’ gender

July 7, 2008  |  essays  |  8 Comments

I did not ever mean to attempt that there is some hierarchy in having an “intentional gender” verses a “natural gender.” Actually, I’m kind of mad that anything I wrote even sparked those two differentiating terms, I really don’t like that distinction.

Contemporary gender theory says that there is no such a thing as “natural” gender, that all gender is a performance of some sort of impression of what gender is, of what physical cues for mating, attraction, sex, and physical communication between people.

Some people spend time studying gender, some do not. One of these things is not better than the other. I am not better because I study gender than someone who does not. It’s just something that I do, something others do not do.

I find it to be a fascinating, near endless, relevant, and insightful pursuit. But others may disagree with me – others, still, say that flyfishing, or American football, or taxidermy, are fascinating, near endless, relevant, and insightful pursuits; I don’t necessarily find that any of those things resonate with me, so I don’t study them.

But in choosing a romantic partner, a sex partner, a (dare I say it) girlfriend, I have some requirements. Yes, I know my standards are probably ridiculously high. But what can I say; I haven’t been single all that long (Callie & I broke up just over a year ago – it continues to feel like it’s been five years, three years, two years at least!), and I am not in any hurry to get heavily involved (read: monogamous) with someone. One of the requirements that I have – at this point – is that someone I date have things to add about all of this gender stuff that I kick around on a near-daily basis. I’d like those conversations to be collaborative, or at least complimentary. A slow building of an understanding of how this specific language of physical codes and symbols works.

I’m going to say it again, here, just in case it wasn’t clear enough: there’s nothing wrong with not being “intentional” with one’s gender.

I mentioned Penny’s lack of intentional gender not with judgment but thinking that this is something that I require in my relationships, and that perhaps it is not an interest she wishes to spend her time on and explore. We are both interested in sex, my interest and expertise is gender, and her interest and expertise is in relationships (she wants to go into couple’s counseling). Actually, I probably know about as much about relationships as she does about gender – I know quite a bit, in some ways, I’ve read many books, I’ve taken classes, I’m even familiar with much of the psychological theory, but it’s less my field of focus. Ditto to her and gender. She’s read the books, taken the classes. But it’s not necessarily a tool she uses to see the world on a daily basis.

As a small footnote, I had that difficult conversation with her on Friday, and we spent a lovely weekend together. We talked openly, things deepened, we got closer. I was half-expecting things to end, but instead, they got much better.

I’m working on writing up some sex stories from the weekend. I’m increasingly impressed with Penny’s kink, eager exploration, drive, and sexy fucken mouth … as a friend of mine said tonight, not only is she keeping up with me, she’s giving me a run for my money.

a bruise, and heels

July 7, 2008  |  miscellany  |  4 Comments

In celebration of my ticket to the Femme Conference, I thought I might dig out this photo of The Femme Top, who sent this to me after my call for birthday photographs. She lives in Chicago, now, where the conference is being held.

“They’re not strappy sandals, but my legs and my bruise (if you’re gonna play with other tops…) can make up for that.”

eye candy: buxa

July 7, 2008  |  miscellany  |  5 Comments

“This lovely buxa – Chicana butch – is E-lo.
She loves to make art, listen to cumbias and norteñas,
and to play butch/femme dress up with me! She’s oh soo yummy!”
- from Laura, who also sent in the Womyn in Construction eye candy

Protected: my issues + her issues

July 4, 2008  |  journal entries  |  Enter your password to view comments.

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more on why this shit ain’t free

July 4, 2008  |  miscellany  |  8 Comments

I’d like to clarify something about that last request for support: most of my income is not made in this freelance/fifty-dollars-an-hour variety. I think what I said was a bit misleading. (If I did make my money that way, I might call that my career and not keep up a part-time job that paid me nothing.)

What is going on is this: I have a 9-to-5 office job in midtown Manhattan (like thousands of others). I spend my days knee-deep in financial prospectuses, calculating portfolio performance data, creating pitchbooks – I’m a graphic and layout designer. (Actually, the only reason I’m qualified to do that is because I had websites and blogs online for the past twelve years, and I’ve taught myself everything I know.)

Lately, I’ve been becoming slowly aware, however, of my real talents and my real worth. Call it a quarterlife crisis, a Saturn Return by-product. It’s also self-awareness and self-knowledge, it’s asking for what I’m worth, and not accepting less-than. I’m lucky this way: I’ve had contacts, I’ve had support, I’ve had access to education (not that my degree in gender helped me get a job in finance, that was all purely computer/design skills, a hobby of mine through college).

Sugarbutch has done nothing but grow, and I have more ideas than I can keep track of. And while I made it sound like my hobbies – fucking girls, processing with my friends, watching porn – are what fuels this site, there’s a lot more to it than that. The July masthead I just posted took three hours and three dozen shots before I got one that was good enough. I research HTML and database coding issues, plugins for greater productivity, I network with other bloggers and sex bloggers, I strategize, I watch my statistics (but not overly-obsessively), I create advertisements, I write dozens of drafts, I write and rewrite and rewrite and edit and rewrite.

I’ve been keeping more track of just how much I put into Sugarbutch lately, as I’m attempting to get better control of my time. I really had no idea how much I was working on it. And as I’ve been realizing how much time I spend on it, and how I don’t get any monetary compensation from it, I find myself asking: what would I be doing with my time if I wasn’t writing Sugarbutch? I’m not saying that to freak you out, but honestly, I can’t afford to be spending all my free time writing this site. I’m stretched very thin, easily tipping over into too-stressed-to-function, and I need to find a balance.

I love this work. I do this work purely out of the love of it. I don’t do it because I expect to get paid or make a living this way, but people in my life lately have been encouraging me to see if it might be possible to do so. Maybe, if Sugarbutch starts actually paying me for the part-time schedule that I spend on it, I can downgrade my dayjob to being part-time. Maybe eventually I could work on Sugarbutch full-time! Maybe it would support me! That seems impossible – but hey, I am putting it out there to the universe.

Imagine how much more I could do here if I wasn’t spending eight hours a day on financial pie charts and stock holdings! I mean really, is that contributing to the world? Is that subversive and progressive and messing with compulsory heteronormative paradigms? (It is, insofar as that job allows me to work on my Real Work, which is this site. Maybe I should put an ad up for my company to say thanks, hah.)

It’s hard to ask for money. It’s hard to figure out what I’m worth. I may have made it sound like I make $50 an hour, but I don’t – what I’m saying is, the work I do on Sugarbutch, I give away, grateful that there is anyone there to receive it and add to the discussion at all. But I am beginning to sell this same work, writing articles, web and logo design, and blog setups and consultations, and I am beginning to understand what it’s worth, what people will pay for the expertise I bring here. I’m beginning to see the ways that I can make steps toward making this work – my Real Work, all along – my full-time job.

I know how blessed I am to be in this position, I really do. I’m so grateful for this site, this community, this audience, for everyone who visits and emails and comments and links to me and reads my ramblings, for everyone who’s told me that something I said connects with them. What more is there, really, than displaying my inner emotional, psychological, and sexual life, and to have someone say not only, wow, I get it, but wow, your understanding of that has altered my understanding, too.

So all this monetizing is an experiment – let’s see if I can actually make enough money to focus on this job, my Real Job, my real (dare I say it) purpose. It’s a custom-made dream job, just for me, after all.

this shit ain’t free, folks

July 3, 2008  |  miscellany  |  9 Comments

Maintaining Sugarbutch Chronicles has become my part-time job. I spend 10-30 hours on it every week, at least, and I spend many more hours working on it in indirect ways – reading books about sex, watching porn, processing relationships with friends, discussing relationships, listening to podcasts, reading blogs, participating in sex & gender & queer cultural events, going on dates, and hey, even fucking.

All of those things contribute to the work that I do here.

And I feel incredibly blessed that what I do is well received. The daily traffic here continues to grow, and I’m trying to keep up with all the requests, ideas, product reviews, features, articles, and topics, but sometimes I just can’t – I have a dayjob, after all, and friends that I do like to see sometimes – it takes a lot of work to keep this site going.

I’m sure you’ve noticed that I’ve added some actual ads in my sidebar, some web-based merchant affiliates, and, now, a donation button if you feel like becoming a benefactor. I’m also adding some “Sugarbutch Swag” merchandise in the (near!) future.

Here’s some ways you can support this site:

1. Support my advertisers

I don’t get a lot of these coming through, but when I do (upper left sidebar), click through them and look around. Show your support of the folks who choose to advertise here, perhaps they’ll decide it was useful to them and they’ll advertise again.

2. Support my affiliates

If you shop at Eden Fantasys, Babeland, or JT’s Stockroom, consider using the links in my posts or sidebar to access the site. It won’t change anything in your transaction, but a small part of the sales will go to me, and that helps keep this site in business. If you belong to any web-based porn sites like the Crash Pad Series, Good Dyke Porn, or I Feel Myself, consider going through the links in my sidebar as well. I get a few (teeny tiny) kickbacks through renewals and sign-ups, and it supports what I do here.

3. Personal donations

Donors will be rewarded with Sugarbutch swag, custom smut, autographed photos of me (just kidding), a kiss, or lots of gratitude (to be determined at my discretion).

Here’s one way to think of it: I charge more than $50 an hour for my freelance work in writing, web design and web development. So, donating:

$2 pays for a new pen
$12 pays for a new notebook (I go through 1-2 a month)
$25 pays for me to respond to one comment and answer one email
$50 pays for a average-length post that is simply my personal opinion ramblings (one hour)
$100 pays for a full-length post with links and resources, which requires research (two hours)
$200 pays for the hosting costs of this domain for one year
$1000 pays for my time writing, editing, researching, designing, coding, and maintaining this website for one week

Or, if you’d like to think about it another way, you can support my romps through New York City with pretty girls, which inspires my smut writing, which, in turn, gets you off:

$2 buys a pretty girl a daisy
$12 buys a pretty girl some roses
$25 buys drinks for me & a date
$50 buys dinner for me & a date
$100 buys drinks, dinner … and brunch the morning after
$200 buys a night on the town and a trip to the sex store
$1000 buys a weekend getaway to a cabin in the woods where there’s no Internet, only a pretty girl to play with, which will renew my spirits and enable me to manage my full-time job (which pays the bills) in addition to this unpaid part-time job (which I love).

(I can see it now … dating with sponsors! I show up on the date and hand the girl a flower (“this flower was sponsored by”), go to drinks and dinner (“this glass of wine was sponsored by”), give her a good night kiss (“this kiss was paid for by”) … hah! I’m joking, of course. That’s not exactly the kind of sponsorship I’m looking for here.)

Just some ideas … of course I’ll gladly accept donations in any amount. Special benefactors will absolutely be rewarded above and beyond just their access to this site.

Use the donation button in the left sidebar.

4. Merchandise …

… to be announced, but rest assured, it is forthcoming. I’ve had some requests and I think you’ll like what I’m coming up with. I’m going to need some models for the Sugarbutch Swag eventually.

So, that’s it, for now.

I’m very open to suggestions. If you have particular things you want to see here, ideas, requests, input, feedback, I’ll always listen. I won’t promise I’ll take your advice, but hey, I’ll listen. Email me anytime at aspiringstud(at)gmail.com or leave a comment anywhere.

As always, you can subscribe to Sugarbutch in a RSS reader to follow along with my sex, gender, and relationship adventures in the future. That supports me, too.

sugasm #138: top three!

July 2, 2008  |  miscellany  |  2 Comments

A few of you have asked about the Sugasm and why I post it … basically, in order to be part of the Sugasm, blog writers submit one of their entries from the past week and then everyone who submits votes for their top favorites. When the three are chosen, the weekly Sugasm roundup is released, and everyone who participates is required to repost the top links of the week as a thank you for their link being included in the Sugasm roundup. Basically, it’s a way for sexbloggers to show off what they’re writing, to feature the posts that we think are the best, and to direct readership to some of the best smut on the net.

It is a major source of visitors and readers from the sexblog sphere. Sugarbutch’s niche is kind of at the intersection of feminist blogs, lesbian blogs, gender blogs, and sex blogs, and as this blog continues to grow, I am continually attempting to encourage the overlap of all of those spheres.

This Week’s Picks

  • You’re going to come for me. “I imagined her, bound. Wrists behind her back, whimpering.” (Penny sure does know how to inspire me to write good smut, eh?)
  • Champagne Orgasms “I cry out, begging for him to stop, begging him not to”
  • Tie one on “He slipped his hands under my blouse and teased my nipples and breasts with his strong hands.”
  • Mr. Sugasm Himself: Sugar Bank
  • Editor’s Choice: The Look

More Sugasm | Join the Sugasm | See also: Fleshbot’s Sex Blog Roundup each Tuesday and Friday.

My Favorites:

  • You can be a PIG! Ah, Lolita! Love the new domain, you’re such a rockstar. Someday I hope to do half the travelling around to sex camps and workshops that she does.
  • Chivalry and Me Essin’ Em, being her usual articulate and progressive self about gender & relationships.
  • It’s not easy being Sexhobbyist Hah – no, it really isn’t easy. People think it’s all sex and orgasms, but it takes a lot of work, too.

what happened in June

July 2, 2008  |  miscellany  |  No Comments

June was supposed to be a relaxing month after the chaos of May, but it was quite busy, with Pride celebrations and the PSI workshop.

Sex:

Gender:

Relationships:
Still a few Penny stories …

Miscellany:

July’s masthead: list of five

July 2, 2008  |  miscellany  |  11 Comments

July’s masthead came from a reader who mentioned in passing that I’m (temporarily, at least) on her list of celebrity five. Yes, that is my handwriting, and my fingers, and a carefully chosen pen from my slightly obsessive pen collection.

It’s actually pretty hard to come up with a list of butches … most of those who Penny, Muse, Lee, & I brainstormed were musicians rather than actresses, seems there’s more of us in the music scene.

In case you can’t quite see it clearly, the list above reads:

  1. k.d. lang
  2. Amy Ray
  3. Melissa Ferrick
  4. Corky in Bound
  5. Shane on the L-word
    Sinclair Sexsmith!

Hopefully it’s clear that I don’t know if these folks necessarily classify themselves as butch, but they are in the female masculinity section of the gender galaxy, so they made this list.

I’m told that this originated with perhaps a Seinfeld episode, but I can’t seem to find a link to that (youtube, anybody?). What I did find, in going through some old journals of mine, is a link to dooce’s post on this once upon a time, and my own (old!) List of Five.

I decided it needed updating. It included. Here’s what I came up with as of today:

1. Maggie Gyllenhaal
2. Alyssa Milano
3. Tina Fey
4. Audrey Tatou
5. Gillian Anderson

Who’s on your list? Butches, femmes, both, neither?