Review: Massage Bongers

As of 2/8/16 This product is no longer available at Babeland

If you have ever stopped by one of Babeland’s brick-and-mortar stores (Seattle, LA, New York in Soho and the Lower East Side, and now Brooklyn!), you’ve probably played with the bongers.

They seem to be one of those non-scary toys that folks early in their sex-toy shopping tend to gravitate toward, probably because they’re unique, and at first you think “oh my god, does that go up my … ?” But then you find out they’re just massagers, whew, and start bonging the person you brought with you on this wonderful sex-toy outing, or you start bonging yourself.

I’ve seen the bongers at Babeland for years, and often pick them up, often thought, “oh that’d be nice to try out,” I do like giving and receiving massages, but I never bought a pair. They’re $25, and I don’t usually have an extra $25 hanging around for something that seems non-essential like Bongers. (Especially when I’m in Babeland and every $25 is already planned to go toward some hot cocks or leather or supplies.)

I brought these home recently and I gotta say, I really love them. No, they’re not so kinky really; even in the context of a sensual lover’s massage, they’re kind of unsexy with their bouncyness and being round balls on the end of sticks.

But they feel amazing. No really, amazing!

It took me a while to warm up to them though. After a few weeks of keeping them in my room and feeling unsure what I would even do with the bongers, I brought them out into the living room when my sister and her boyfriend were hanging out, watching tv, drinking some wine.

And oh we had a blast, once we got into them. “Do me now!” “These are so great, my hands aren’t nearly as tired as when I do a usual massage.” “Wait I can’t quite reach you like that … ahh perfect. They take so little effort to use!”

And then:

“I wonder if the kitties would like the bongers?”

And yes indeed, they really do. We leave the bongers under the coffee table now, and often get them out when we’re unwinding, relaxing after our long city days. And when the kitties start hearing the bonging noise, sometimes they come running, I’m not even kidding.

Human tested, kitty approved.

Tess at Urban Gypsy brought her bongers to work … I bet my coworkers would get a kick out of ’em, for sure.

So these might not be the sexiest toy that at Babeland, but it is always an improvement for your sex life to be more relaxed, more calm and connected to your body, right? And if you’re the kind of person who particularly likes to use massage as foreplay, to get connected to each other’s bodies and to relax your own muscles, then this tool could be a really great addition to your toy arsenal.

Me, I think I’ve just found my holiday gift. Bongers for everybody! My parents would love ’em, my relatives, maybe it’ll be what I bring to my holiday exchange at work too.

A particular place that I really recommend: the bottoms of your feet.

Sinclair on Bedroom Radio

I was privileged to be interviewed by Ellie over at Lumpesse.com for her Bedroom Radio podcast and our discussion went up just last night. Download episode #21 and hear us chat about gender, sexuality, butch breasts, and all sorts of things. (I was sipping on James all through the interview, so in my head I got less and less coherent by the end of the discussion. I haven’t listened to it yet, we’ll see how much that came through.)

Ellie’s podcast is pretty darn great, if you aren’t listening to it; she often reviews toys on her podcast by, ahem, trying them out. And she’s super smart about sex and gender.

Oh, and I read an excerpt from The Diner on the Corner, the winning Sugarbutch Star submission last year during the interview too.

You know the deadline’s coming up, right? September 1st is Monday. I have quite a few submissions so far – get ’em in soon, I’m already attached to a few of them.

In Praise of Femmes: Hair & Shaving

Thanks, all, for your thoughtful responses and life stories about butch hair in the last post.

Here’s a few of my thoughts about femmes and femininity and hair, and then I’ll ask some questions and open it up to whatever you’d like to say about the subject.

I want to distinguish here between options and personal preference – I talk a lot on this site – especially in terms of femmes and femme identity – about what I like, and I want to make it clear that those are usually my personal preferences, and I’m not trying to say that I think that’s what all femmes should be or that femmes who are not like that are not valid or are not “real” femmes or any of that crap. I hope that’s not how it comes across.

So, let me first say this, about my basic philosophies on hair: hair is a personal choice. It is also a major marker on the physical body used to distinguish gender differentiation in contemporary culture. Short hair on men, long hair on women; shaved legs and underarms on women, hairy men. This of course was not always the case; it used to be seen as very masculine for men to grow their hair long. Hair presentation, length, and social conformity are based largely on culture.

In my (unofficial, limited) cultural observation in the recent years, these differences are just getting more pronounced, although with the inclusion of gay male culture in mainstream men’s fashion, the rise of beauty products for men, the addition of “manscaping” and the metrosexualizing of fashion and beauty, beauty standards for men and masculinity are on the rise. It is not unusual for hetero/cis-women to expect their hetero/cis-men to keep their chest hair under control, to get eyebrow waxes, to keep their hair groomed.

But just because the beauty standards for men are raising doesn’t mean it’s okay for us to keep unobtainable beauty standards for women – or for anyone, for that matter. Honestly I believe we’ve got to turn the beauty culture inside out on our own personal journeys into our own gender identities, whatever flavor they may be, whatever area of the gender galaxy, to really examine what the culture dictates and unlearn the compulsory standards that can be exhausting, unobtainable, and even harmful to our bodies.

What the body does is natural, normal, acceptible, sexy – where hair grows, the stretchmarks, the veins that show through the skin, the moles and freckles, the thickness of the muscles or the tendons or the thigh or the waist or the hair. All these things are beautiful, and real.

And, in my humble opinion, are also turn-ons: the celebration of the beauty of the human body.

If you’ve never explored the potential damage and compulsory standards of beauty culture, take a look at:

So: once we start undoing society’s standards, and treating every possible option as valid and valuable for different reasons in order to make a true choice, we can start exploring what it is that we personally prefer. What turns us on, how our bodies feel the most sexy, what the soft animal of our body loves.

My initial thoughts about femme hair always go to the hair on your head, and the ways it’s worn. Being that I am very attracted to femininity, I do like long hair generally, though I know plenty of femmes who totally rock the chin-length cuts or the boycuts, I’ve even known a few with shaved heads.

I wrote once upon a time about how much I love it when femmes wear their hair up, and specifically the idea that “a woman’s hair is for her husband.” I wrote, “I know there are deep problems with this idea of a husband owning a wife’s hair, but I love the idea of it being so sexual, such a turn on, when a femme lets her hair down, that it’s private, saved for me and me alone.” And that’s just it exactly.

About body hair on femmes … honestly, my personal preference is basically bare. Very little hair, everywhere. I find shaving sexy, I find the rituals of beauty sexy (when they are done with intention and sexual connotations especially). I like to shave my lover’s legs, actually. That’s a scene I haven’t played out in a long time, but I find that intensely erotic.

I do have some guilt about liking the reproduction of traditional femininity. I know I could write pages about how it’s not compulsory, it’s resistance, celebratory, and intentional, but still sometimes I wonder if what my block is that I wouldn’t find hair particularly attractive. But I suppose I can attempt to justify this by saying that I absolutely think it should be culturally acceptible – I hate that it’s dictated as necessary by the beauty rules – but that my personal preference is skin, skin, skin. Is that because of the dominant cultural beauty rules? Yeah, probably. I can’t escape it, I was raised in it, I live in it every day. But I recognize that it exists, what it means, how it operates, and I fully support people who reject that rule and who prefer to have their hair wild and free, or trimmed and neat, or completely bare. All options should be valid.

So, now you:

I know you’ve already got a ton of things to say about femme body hair, but here’s some questions to get started:

If you’re in the transfeminine area of the gender galaxy:

  • Do you shave, wax, pluck, shape? Underarms, legs, thighs, stomach, chin? Why or why not?
  • What was your process in coming to do the hair sculpting and
  • How do you make choices about your hair? Based on sexual preferences? Cultural standards?What your lovers like?
  • How do you keep your pubes? Trimmed, waxed, shaved, au naturale?
  • What comes to mind when you see women who don’t shave?
  • Do you sexualize shaving or body hair removal?

If you are someone who tends to date transfeminine folks:

  • Do you have personal preferences when it comes to hair on the femmes you date?
  • Do you sexualize shaving or body hair removal?
  • Do you prefer hair on her head worn a certain way? Do you tend to be attracted to very specific hair cuts, styles, colors?

I’m also very curious about folks who live outside of the US – clearly my perspectives are very US-centric, and I’m not really sure what gets culturally dictated or compulsorily reproduced in other places. I have impressions, but being an outsider to culture in other places, I won’t presume to speak on it.

Please do elaborate however you’d like. And thank you, for reading and for your comments, I really like that we’re conversing here more and more, getting input from all kinds of people who live in all kinds of ways.

Define: Mutually Inclusive

In my writings on this site, especially about gender, I keep coming across a little issue about inclusivity. For example, if I write how great the butch/femme dynamic is and how it works for me, I get emails and comments saying, “But I reject gender! That’s okay too! (Right?)”

Of course! Absolutely. Just because I’m saying one thing is good doesn’t mean I’m saying the other thing is bad.

But that’s not how our culture usually works – we operate in hierarchies here, usually. If one thing is good, then the other thing is not as good, is bad, or is second-best.

But that’s not what I mean here. I am seeking to create a space where pretty much all options are valid choices, where if you don’t like the options you see, well, then you can create your own.

I’ve been searching for a word for a while now that would mean exactly that, that all options are valid, that just because one thing is good doesn’t necessarily mean that the other thing is bad.

Recently it hit me: mutually inclusive.

Of course – the opposite of ‘mutually exclusive,’ which is if one thing is right, then the other is wrong. But if things are inclusive then they can all be included, all be correct.

(“Mutually” implies two, somehow, doesn’t it? Which is where this term somewhat breaks down, because I’m talking about dozens of options really, not just one or two.)

So you might see this term pop up in my writing in the near future. I hope it’s useful in this ongoing dialogue and exploration, it helps me articulate some things for sure.

On Butches: Hair

I am a butch who shaves.

Not my legs, inner thighs, stomach, underarms (though I’ll get to those in a moment), but my face. Chin, mustache, sideburns. Every day.

It has taken me years to admit this, to celebrate this. I started shaving my chin about ten years ago, at eighteen, when my-ex-the-boy and I got into a fight and he used it as leverage against me. It was toward the end of our five-year high school relationship and he was increasingly paranoid that I would leave him to come out (which I did), so we used to fight about my perceived dykeness all the time. We were in his car in our driveway, just home from somewhere, yelling at each other. I have no idea what the context was, but I still remember the way he looked over at me and said: “I mean, you have more hair on your chin than me!”

I’m sure I’d noticed the hairs on my chin and upper lip, I’m sure they’d been there for years. I was at that time in denial about most of what my body did, how it looked. I spent as little time as I could with obligatory lipstick and mascara – the only makeup I could master without feeling like a clown, I never could figure out foundation or blush or eye shadow, despite the hundreds of beauty magazines that I studied, attempting to discover and reproduce the secrets of femininity.

It wasn’t until he said that, though, that I thought I should pluck, wax, shave, something, anything, so as not to give away my gender deviancy and gender defiance that seemed to be so certain that it would even come through in my biology. I’m a hippie after all – deep down I believe whatever the human body does is ‘natural’ and that all the hair policing was perpetuating unobtainable standards of beauty for women.

But this wasn’t about beauty, suddenly. It was about gender. It was about being revealed, when I didn’t even realize I was.

I promptly went upstairs, shut myself in the bathroom, took my razor from the shower, and shaved my chin smooth.

That was 1999.

It was only very recently that I let the hair on my face grow, even for a day or two. I’ve often seen dykes in the lesbian communities who sport peach fuzz mustaches, goatees, sideburns, but it never really occurred to me that it would happen if I didn’t run the razor along my face daily.

It was Callie who mentioned it first. It came up with Datedyke, too. I didn’t quite get the appeal at first. It felt gross, even shameful. No, they said. An indication of masculinity.

Oh yeah. Right.

I buy men’s razors now. Made for the contours of a face, not the smooth line of a shin bone or inner thigh. I enjoy buying products so masculine. I do it, head high, boldly; I challenge what the clerk thinks. I am not shy about it. It is a small act of gender celebration, gender defiance, gender activism.

Sometimes I even like my five o’clock shadow. I’ve developed the habit of scratching my chin like the boys do. Feeling when I need a shave. Letting it grow on weekends, on weeks when I don’t have work. When I was in Mexico I didn’t touch it once. Ten days without shaving, I am sure a personal record. I didn’t even know my hair would grow that long, that dark, that thick.

Sometimes, I even like it.

Okay, so, body hair.

Well, here’s the deal. I believe hair is a potential enhancer of sex. A sex toy. That it can be used to increase sensation, both tactile and visual. That the key decision about the hair on my head is for a sexual purpose. That running fingertips from ankle to cunt feels different on an unshaved leg – for both the person to whom the hand belongs and the person to whom the leg belongs. That it is different to fuck with a full bush as opposed to a brazillian.

Whether or not one is better than the other is a purely personal preference. Clearly there are some cultural preferences that correspond with gender role and expectation, but when all options have been examined and stripped of their social meaning and compulsory prescription, we can actually have an opinion about what we prefer, and make a choice.

I’ll get to femme body hair another time. I want to talk about butch hair, here, a bit more.

I know transmasculine folks who shave and who don’t. Who grow their hair long and who buzz it off nearly completely. I know a butch whose hair grows in so light she doesn’t have to shave – though she hates body hair, and would if her own wasn’t so light. I know a butch who had a contest with her friends to see who could grow their hair the longest.

Sure, I personally have preferences – I keep the hair on my head short, #2 on the sides, two fingers on top. I do this for sex, and for gender: I love the feel of buzzed hair under some girl’s fingers. Love how it makes me feel boyish. Love how there’s still enough for her to grab and pull on the top, in the back. Love the physical sensation of her desire as she pulls on it suddenly, when I do something and she responds, a physical communication between us.

I don’t shave my legs or underarms. I like the cultural masculinity of it. I like the surprise and occasional understanding of strangers. I do “manscape,” as the kids are calling it these days. Trim where it grows long, sculpt a little. I figure I sculpt and trim the hair on my head, I can do that for other places too. It is for sexual purposes really. And goodness knows there’s a lot I’d invest for sexual benefits.

So: I covered options, now let’s talk preferences. What kind of hair do you prefer on your butch? Butches & other transmasculine guys, how do you keep your hair? Au naturale? Waxed? Plucked? Is it leftover compulsory hair depletion from your gender-conformist days, or have you examined all your options and made the choice you prefer? Femmes, do you love it / hate it when a butch shaves? When she buzzes her hair or grows it out? When she keeps a mustache?

[ I know there’s a ton to say about femme identity and body hair too – let’s keep this to butches, for now. Start thinking, though, the femme equivalent discussion is forthcoming. ]

with what and where? ‘spanked’ winner

The winner of the delicious new anthology by Rachel Kramer Bussel is saintchick, with this submission about a great time she was spanked:

My ex had to work late one evening at school, so I thought I would surprise her by showing up. Her fave black dress, no undergarments except for the black and red garter, and black patten leather stilettos. Knocked on her classroom door and walked in, she was expecting me and from the look on her face I was in for some trouble. We made some small talk, and by small talk I mean she grabbed my hair and brought me close to her. Her lips barely touching my ear, telling me the exact things she had in store for me. I had only one rule to follow since I had already been a good girl. It was not to look back.

With that said I pretty much flung myself onto her desk, knocking off books, term papers, paper clip holders. She lifted my dress just so my cheeks were visble. Then I heard it, the sound of her opening her desk drawer. My legs started to quiver. I knew better to look back, but I so wanted to see the look on her face. She then placed her hand on the middle of my back to hold me down, and I felt the ruler graze my cheek. She then began alternating between the wooden ruler and her hand. She has this way about her. She would bring me just to the edge when I thought I could not take anymore and then would bring me down gently just to work me up all over again.

Once she admired her work and let her fingertips move over the fresh red marks, she let me up. With one long deep kiss, and one perfectly placed hand I came. On her and her desk. It was one of the best times ever.

Once I straightened out her desk, wiped her desk off (Thank God for Clorox wipes). I kissed her goodbye and just walked out of the classroom. As my stilettos clicked down the hall, a smile on my face, the security guard just looked up at me and managed to say nnnnight ma’am.

Good lord that’s hot. Makes me want to fuck in a classroom, or buy a fabulous ruler, or perfect

(Thanks to the anonymous semi-famous guest judge, you know who you are.)

Sorry I was so behind last week! My ‘real’ work is getting hugely in the way of my posts here. (Want to help me make Sugarbutch my full-time job?) Many posts on their way, including, of course, some butch eye candy, the call for femme eye candy, writings about the architecture of femme identity or what I learned at the Femme Conference, a post about strap-ons, follow up to the Spanked review about the ick factor, more poems, and oh gosh just a whole bunch of stuff. If only the day had more hours.

The Suspension of Heterosexual Belief (1 of 3)

Part one of three of my review of Spanked

I’m reading erotica and watching porn differently these days. For years – since before I came out – I’ve been an, uh, active reader of erotica and smut collections, with almost exclusively lesbian content.

Lately I’ve had the opportunity to review various things through this site, things I wouldn’t have otherwise picked up, like Crossdressing and Chemistry 3. Books and films which include various orientations; straight, bi, gay men, lesbians, threesomes.

In the past, I would probably not have even considered reading these collections or watching these films. My brain would think, ewwww, flesh-and-blood penises. That’s the “ick factor” right there (more on that in part two). But since I was doing it for research, and for review, I figured I’d give it a go … and it turns out that some of it really turned me on. Sometimes completely unexpectedly.

That was a bit uncomfortable for me, really.

It wasn’t until I read Kate Bornstein’s excellent article on the film WALL-E that I placed it: especially with erotica, I am able to suspend my reading of biological sex and only read gender. Male pronouns and male body parts don’t bother me, even though my orientation is pretty strictly lesbian, because I can get so deeply into the play of gender, I can “suspend heterosexual belief.”

Back to that in a moment. First, more about the film WALL-E and Kate’s (did I say brilliant? brilliant!) analysis of gender presentation, WALL-E: A Butch/Femme Love Story … or, Silly Rabbit! Robots Have No Gender.

… [A] pair of lesbian robots who fall madly in love with each other. WALL•E is nothing short of hot, dyke Sci Fi action romance, some seven hundred years in the future! Woo-hoo! Isn’t that what you saw? No? What movie were you watching? Did you see a heterosexual boy robot fall in love with a heterosexual girl robot? I did… at first. […] [W]hen I first saw the film, I saw a boy robot and girl robot. My question is this: how and why did most of us jump to that conclusion?

Kate goes on to examine the different ways that we determine both “biological” sex and the robot’s heterosexuality:

Is it because of their names? … both names are acronyms for each robot’s prime directive and function. Nothing to do with boy or girl there. … Is it simply by looking at the robots, we can tell? … We’ve got no way to spot those robots as male or female by using secondary sex characteristics. … neither robot has a DNA strand, so there is no way to type them by XX or XY. … Barring hormones – which I didn’t get a whiff of during the entire film – that just about exhausts the physiological basis for determining gender.

Examining some of the ways that we determine sex and orientation – hormones, chromosomes, secondary sex characteristics. And there’s the whole obsession with Hello, Dolly as the only model WALL-E has for romance; it is a campy presentation of sweet courtship, and a classic musical.

So, Kate keeps asking, what is it that is tipping us off? How can they be portraying these very human, very gendered, characteristics, yet still be robots?

Pixar and Disney … knew we’d see WALL•E as boy and EVE as girl. Both of ‘em are gosh-darned CUTE, right? Oh, come on. You know they’re SO adorable, right? How can they be that in nearly everyone’s eyes… gay or straight? I think the answer is that we shift our mind’s criteria for gender when we watch a film or listen to a love song or read a novel. We all blithely switch genders in our minds, the better to identify with the vocalist or character. [Emphasis added]

This is the genius part, in case you missed it. This is the part in the article where I exclaimed aloud, “Dammit, why didn’t I write this!”

There are, sometimes, and especially in art – love songs, films, novels – things that trump gender. When art begins speaking the language of emotion, that can transcend orientation or gender presentation and instead we just get the character’s attraction to each other, their courtship, their surges of emotion and desire for connection. I think this may be especially true for queers, who often do not see ourselves represented in popular media, so we learn to “suspend heterosexual belief” and instead see only the presentation and language of gender.

Kate gives some examples of other media – a Tegan & Sara song, Marlene Dietrich, Justin Bond. But wait, Kate’s not done:

Gender ambiguity — when it’s safely positioned onstage or up on a movie screen — is and always has been sexy to damn near all of us, no matter what our gender might be. … What is it that’s signaling sexual attraction to an audience with such a wide range of gender identities and sexual desires? I think the answer is that WALL•E is butch, and EVE is femme, two genders defined by the expression of strong, respectful, sexual desire.

I just love butch/femme as “the expression of strong, respectful, sexual desire.” That’s beautiful.

Butch and Femme are sexy dance steps with unlimited variations. Butch is gallant, femme is gracious. Butch is hail and hardy, femme has wicked cool wiles. Butch is handsome. Femme is pretty. Butch/Femme is all about relating to each other like ladies and gentlemen—no matter our genitals. … Butches can be dominant or submissive, strong or weak, honorable, or complete rats. So can Femmes. Butch and Femme have nothing to do with who makes more money. … There’s no perfection in the dance, there’s only the totality of self-expression and how that self-expression dovetails with someone else’s self-expression.

Yes, EVE is pertly streamlined. EVE’s eyes literally sparkle and dance. EVE giggles, for heaven’s sake. EVE is kick-ass strong and powerful. EVE is performing Femme. WALL•E is rugged and protective and shy and loyal. WALL•E is a sensitive little thing, held together by sheer will and rubber bands. WALL•E is performing Butch.

… And this is the part that gets me teary. I love that butch is a “sensitive little thing, held together by sheer will and rubber bands.” and that femme is kick-ass strong with sparkly eyes. Oh if someone had given me that possible explanation years ago!

Once we begin to look at the characters as Butch and Femme — not male and female — we can assign to them any gender we like. Sure, the film can be about a boy robot and a girl robot. But how about EVE as a sweet femme boy robot, like performer/chanteuse extraordinaire, Justin Bond. And WALL•E is a sweet butch girl robot, with a heart of solid gold, like performer/chanteuse extraordinaire Lea Delaria?

How freakin great is that! I love this way of analyzing popular media. Kate writes, “You’re the audience. You get to decide.” and goes on to mention a few other Disney films – Mu-lan, Pinocchio, The Little Mermaid. I took a “Feminist Interpretations of Disney” class as a gender studies undergrad, I have watched these films and examined the gender in them in depth.

But I’ve never thought about it like this. And I love it. (Writing through this has made me really want to see WALL-E, and some of those others, again.)

As someone who has a background in academic gender studies and feminist theory, I do take a certain amount of pleasure in the reading of texts like Disney films as reproducing the heteronormative, gendernormative binary, so in some ways revisioning media this way makes me skeptical. I don’t think the critical analysis should be discounted entirely, especially when it has such an affect on girls (this calls to mind the Princess Collection and discussions with feminist/progressive parents of little girls who are close to disgusted in their daughter’s obsession with princesses). But I do think it’s another fascinating way to look at popular media through the lens of gender presentation and expression.

So: that’s how a little love story about two robots can be read as butch/femme. And that’s how we can – and already do – suspend heterosexual belief when consuming popular media.

But when we’re talking about representations within the sex industry … written erotica, visual porn, or any smut, there tends to be the aspect of sexual anatomy. And for queers especially, it seems, the reality of a wet vagina for gay boys or hard penis – or, worse, a coming penis – for the lesbians actually grosses us out. It’s much harder to suspend heterosexual belief when the physicality of the different biological sexes is so prevalent – and, indeed, part of the point.

What is this ick factor? How does it work, and how does it affect us? Also, how do we get over it?

That’s part two, coming tomorrow.

with what and where would you like to be spanked?

Naked before me in the middle of our living room, blindfolded and tied to a chair, her delicate toes gracing the insides of my favorite shoes, her beautiful ass raised high in the air. I had left any sense of my integrity at the door.

Yeah, I felt like shit. But I couldn’t take anything back. Not a fuckin’ thing. And the thought of this made me whack her hard with that skateboard, landing just underneath her ass on the meaty part of her thighs. She cried out this time, without a saucy backup line to follow. The cry teetered between pleasure and pain, a perfect balance of both. I needed to do it again. Swinging the board up high, I aimed at the dead center of her buttocks and caught it just right. This caused the entire chair to move, and the flesh on her ass sprang back and forth again. A rush of air escaped from Logan’s lungs.

– from Logan by Rosalind Christine Lloyd

Rachel Kramer Bussel’s new anthology Spanked is out and making the blog rounds on a blog book tour – and today is my day.

I have all sorts of elaborate notes for an article that includes my review, but I was at the Femme Conference in Chicago all weekend and am today so exhausted and catching up on work that I will not have time to write all three parts.

On the plus side, one of the reasons that I’m so exhausted is because I was up until past the sunrise on Saturday night (Sunday morning), and had the opportunity to flog the cutest cheerleader wearing a gorgeous pinup-style bathing suit over the edge of a hotel bed.

So until I can get a little more caught up, consider this the introduction to the upcoming series of posts on reading pansexual erotica anthologies, smut, and this spanking anthology in particular. The other parts go like this:

  1. The Suspension of Heterosexual Belief
  2. The Ick Factor
  3. Review of the pansexual erotica anthology book “Spanked”

Since I don’t have much to review today, Rachel says I can give away one copy of the book, so here’s what you gotta do to win it:

Leave me a comment and tell me either:

  1. a great place you were spanked
  2. a great implement with which you were spanked
  3. somewhere you’d like to be spanked
    or
  4. something with which you’d like to be spanked

UPDATE: I really didn’t mean to make this so damn bottom-centric. Actually as the results came in, I kept thinking, where are the tops? Then I re-read and realized oops, it is quite pointed toward bottomy answers. So, you of course can also respond by saying:

  1. a great place you spanked someone
  2. a great implement with which you spanked
  3. somewhere you’d like to spank someone
    or
  4. something with which you’d like to spank

I guess I am a little bottom-centric at times, oops. But I don’t mean to be! I was dashing this off as fast as I could while at work today and didn’t write through all the options. It’s just cause I was salivating at the idea of reading some great bottoming stories … but of course, top perspectives on the spanking stories are so welcome too!

So, leave me your comments and I’ll get a guest judge to help pick the hottest answer tomorrow.

Don’t be shy; just give me the first one that comes into your head. It doesn’t have to be long – just a few lines of the key details.

Keep following the Spanked book tour as it makes the rounds. The book also has it’s own blog, and tomorrow’s review will be at Breathing In and Breathing Out.

Sugarbutch Star 2007 chapbook!

The Sugarbutch Star chapbook is DONE! I picked up the first fifty copies yesterday, and they will be making their debut at the Femme Conference this weekend. I’ll have copies available online soon.

The 2008 contest is officially underway … I received the very first submission already. I’m reading them as they come in, and as much as I want to say that I’ll be impartial and evaluate them all once I get to the end of the submission period, I find myself already getting attached to ideas that people are throwing out there. Submit your stories sooner rather than later, is what I’m saying.

I’m leaving for Chicago for the Femme Conference in a few hours, so posts will be on hold until I get back on Monday.

if I had a red pen

If I had a red pen that worked on internet web pages, I would go around and circle all the places where “Sugarbutch Chronicles” appears as “SugarButch Chronicles” or “Sugar Butch Chronicles.”

It’s a little thing, and it really doesn’t matter that much, what matters the most is that someone has seen this little space on the web of mine and likes it enough to link back to it in their own little space on the web. I’m always touched when I find Sugarbutch linked from a new place. So I’d never email somebody and be picky enough to say, “Hey, thanks for linking me, but will you change your capitalization?”

(I love how you can see the paper texture here, how the ink is just a little bit smeared. And that the word is “gender,” of course. So hot.)

But I always, always write this site name as “Sugarbutch,” so I’m not sure why people change it. The heading, the page title, the blog title, any comment I leave – it’s all one word. I admit, it’s a pet peeve of mine. I’m a grammarphile, after all. An English major. It’s not just the bad grammar that bugs me, but also the not calling things the way they want to be called, and lack of attention to detail.

Maybe other sugarbutches write the word differently and have different philosophies about why they capitalize or don’t capitalize the letter B. I don’t claim to have made up the term, but when I started using it, I’d never heard anyone else use it before me.

The way I see it, sugarbutch is a compound word. Part of why it is important that it is a compound word, why the B in butch is lowercase, is because the poetic meter of the phrase is a dactyl: the emphasis, when said, is on the first of the three syllables: SU-gar-butch CHRO-ni-cles. Adding a capital B gives the impression that it should be cretic: SU-gar-BUTCH CHRON-i-CLES, or, worse yet, that the “sugar” and the “butch” are separated completely: SU-gar BUTCH.

There’s a reason for the lowercase b, is what I’m saying.

(Thanks to the Movie Screenshot blog for the stills from Secretary.)

The red pen scenes always remind me of watching the film Secretary with The Ex. After she saw it for the first time, a few weeks later – it may’ve been our anniversary, or some such event, because I was definitely dressed up, and had brought flowers – she gave me two small gifts: one was very nicely wrapped small box, and in it was chewed up gum and pencil shavings. The other was a red Sharpie with ribbons tied around it.

Just remembering that moment where I opened the box makes something stir in my pelvis, some sort of heat of power. Sometimes she really knew how to play with me, how to get me going. It was so exciting, in the beginning.

When I opened these gifts I was in her office – she was the president of the queer student government group on my college campus, of course she was – and I locked her door, punished her, and fucked her on her desk long enough for us both to miss our next classes.

In the aftermath, we were tidying up, laughing, trying to listen to see how many people were in the adjoining lounge to figure out whether or not they knew we were in the office, and she took my hand and said, “Since I moved into this office I wanted to be fucked on this desk … thank you.”

One of my favorite moments of sex with her. Jeez, it’s so good in the honeymoon phase, isn’t it?

eye candy: standing around

I ran into this shot of Jenni from butch.org recently, and she kindly gave permission for me to reprint it here.

The caption read: “What Do I Do at Frameline32? I stand around outside the theater just waiting to see who I will run into (pictured here at the Victoria this past Sunday night before the Transtastic program). Sometimes I even go inside and watch the movies.”

And here’s a bit about Jenni: Jenni Olson is one of the world’s leading experts on LGBT cinema history. Author of The Queer Movie Poster Book (2005, Chronicle Books), Jenni founded PopcornQ at PlanetOut.com back in 1995 and continues to write about and actually make queer film. Her feature debut, The Joy of Life is now available on DVD.

The Difference Between Romance and Chivalry

What’s the difference between romance and chivalry?

Colleen and I had an interesting discussion a while back. The two can look nearly identical, we thought – bringing flowers, pulling out a chair, taking a jacket – but something separates them.

I do think some things are not so chivalrous and are exclusively romantic – candlelight dinner, gazing into each other’s eyes, promises of love + affection – but pretty much all the chivalrous actions seem to fall under a romantic umbrella. Like a sub-set of romance.

But see, sometimes chivalry is purely kind and thoughtful, with no romance whatsoever. When I hold the door open for a stranger, or for my mom or sister or a straight girl friend, I do it with no romantic intent.

Ah – so perhaps that’s what differentiates the two: intention. That’s what Colleen and I concluded.

Chivalrous actions are done purely for the sake of doing the action – kindness, thoughtfulness, observation of something that would assist someone else.

Romantic actions, however, are done with a particular purpose: of wooing the other person. Romance does want something in return, and when the relationship changes to “just friends” or ends, the romantic gestures cease.

So the gestures of romance and chivalry can appear the same, but are given with different intentions.

So (here’s the part where I get personal), I’ve always been a romantic. Big time. Love poems, handmade gifts, mix cds, sweet nothings. (I know, you’re shocked.) Lately I have been extremely suspicious of romance and the webs of seduction it spins, but I haven’t let go of chivalry. In fact, my chivalrous impulses have gotten stronger.

Trouble here is, I think my chivalry is often misinterpreted as romance. Paying for dinner, holding her door. I’m told these aren’t things that many transmasculine folks do, so they can be interpreted as grand gestures, even though honestly that’s just how I am.

As with everything else in my dating life, it seems, I need to make my intentions clearer in matters like this. I’m learning, I guess – to have better boundaries, to trust they are in place, to be clear, to listen to others and hear when they are not accepting of the boundaries I have.

Sometimes I feel like the boundaries I have in place are too strong, too much, too thick. Huge cement walls with barbed wire instead of lines in the sand. But the strange thing is, it isn’t until my huge cement walls are accepted – really accepted and acknowledged – that I can start putting up a chain link fence instead, then a picket fence, then a hopscotch chalk line.

The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change. – Carl Rogers

Update: I also wrote about chivalry on the post for March’s masthead, bringing butch back – specifically the ways that I approach chivalry as deeply feminist.

Define: Transmasculine

I’ve been adopting the word “transmasculine” to use to describe, generally, folks who were assigned female at birth who are male-identified, masculine, and/or masculinely presenting, in some way. I tend to stumble over this in these writings here – “butches and other masculine-identified females” or “butches and trans guys and bois and other girls who are boyish,” et cetera – and ugh, it gets messy to describe it that way.

So let’s start using the term “transmasculine,” okay?

I’ve been hearing it knocked around in the gender/queer communities more and more lately, but it’s from the TransMasculine Community Network that I am adopting this definition:

Transmasculine refers to any person who was assigned female at birth but feels this is an incomplete or incorrect description of their gender.

That’s quite broad – considering the “masculine” element in the word, I would probably say it’s more used as in, “an incomplete or incorrect description of their gender and they have some leanings toward the masculinity areas of the gender galaxy,” but in some ways I do like how inclusive their definition is. Regardless, I tend to use it to mean those of us butches, bois, trans guys, faggy femmes, and all sorts of other genderqueers. I’ve found myself using it in a few different articles I’m working on, so I wanted to be sure to introduce a definition.

I imagine the idea of butch as a trans identity is not so hard to grasp, and I’ve written about femme as a trans identity. The inclusion of the word “trans” as part of it feels touchy to me, because while I do agree that “trans” could – and probably should – be used as a great umbrella term for many gender descriptions, it also calls to mind for many an adherence to a strict gender binary – that if you are masculine, and female bodied, that you must be “actually” trans, not butch or masculinely female, as those spaces sometimes feel discounted. But that’s not how I intend to use it here.

Actually, I think I used to use “butch” in this way – as a catch-all phrase for anyone born female who leans toward masculine performance. But as my gender studies have gone on, I’ve come to accept and use a concept like transmasculine (for which I hadn’t had a term until now) as much more accurate, as I see “butch” as actually a very specific sub-set of being transmasculine. For me, butch is very much tied together with chivalry, a classic style of masculinity, feminism, and a sort of romance.

I of course think people should define these terms for themselves, but the more I do get involved in the genderqueer/transmasculine discussions, the more I see commonalities in those of us who identify as butch, and I see why some bois or other transmasculine folks don’t necessarily see that as their identity. I think in the past I’ve been much more inclined to say things like, “there is room for you in ‘butch’!” And it’s not that I take that back – certainly, if your lips tingle a little at the idea of calling yourself butch and claiming a butch identity, there is room for you in that identity and I think you should go for it, try it on, see if you like it, if it fits – but I’m seeing the ways that butch is actually more specific than I used to think it was.

Fascinating, how these things evolve. There’s so much to still create and discover and uncover and remake and expose about how gender works, what it means, our relationship to it. Man, I love this work.

‘sugarbutch’ tag on flickr

Hey look! People have started tagging photos of hot butches as ‘sugarbutch’ on flickr. And by people I mean honey darling.

Kind of makes you want to go through your own flickr photostream and add the sugarbutch tag, doesn’t it? Hint, hint.

I’ll be featuring some of these here on Sugarbutch, assuming that you allow your photos to be blogged.


www.flickr.com

More photos or video tagged with sugarbutch on Flickr

Sugarbutch Star Contest 2008: launch!

Well, it’s that time again … I’m doing another Sugarbutch Star Contest!

Here’s the deal:

  • YOU send in the details for an erotica/smut story
  • I pick my FIVE finalists, my favorite scenarios
  • I write up those finalists, one at a time …
  • When they’re all written, readers vote!

Want to be a star on Sugarbutch? This is whachoo gatta do:

Come up with a good scenario for me to write out. And I mean good. Read through last year’s, they are elaborate, fun, and hot. The infamous winning entry, The Diner on the Corner, remains one of my favorite smut stories that I’ve ever written

Include in your scenario outline the characters (who is doing the fucking), the setting (where are we fucking), and the plot (who does what to whom).

Here’s the Claire Danes example I used last year:

Characters: Sinclair & Claire Danes. Claire: redhead, petite, great legs. Particularly proud of her pouty mouth, that could be a nice detail somewhere.

Setting: Central Park & Claire’s apartment. We are both in the park to watch a free concert and catch each other’s eye. Claire approaches Sin, flirting ensues, Claire invites Sin to walk her home.

Story: Claire is very bold and asks Sin up for a nightcap; proceeds to seduce her with jazz music, fingers in Sin’s hair, a short skirt. When Claire gets Sin to the bedroom she gives Sin a blowjob and then straddles Sin, fucking until they both get off. Claire then ushers Sin out kinda fast and laughs at her attempt to get her number.

So make it look something like that. The details are key! Especially in the characters, give me some defining clothes they might wear, facial features, hair color, all that, so I can add those details in. But please, make your submission half a page or less.

EMAIL me this description at: aspiringstud at gmail dot com.

Prizes are TBA, but will probably include some good smut books, possibly some sex toys, and maybe even a night out on the town with yours truly.

DEADLINE for entries is Monday, September 1, 2008. Three whole weeks folks …c’mon, give me your best shot.

(You are definitely welcome to reproduce that image on your own blog, and link back here, to www.sugarbutch.net/sugarbutch-star-contest. And hey, thanks!)

Gender 101 (Excerpt)

It took a long (loooong) time, but I finally finished writing an article on Gender 101 for Eden Fantasys.

From the beginning I knew I could do it. I knew I had the information in me. But I had such a hard time organizing it, writing it down, figuring out what to omit and what to include. I got carried away. I went off on tangents that lasted for thousands of words, and were ultimately irrelevant. It took a lot of revision, a lot of thinking, a lot of conversations with all sorts of people – my mom and the Muse and Jesse James and Essin’ Em and my writing group all come to mind – before I figured out how to really refine my focus.

Problem was, I’m not talking about gender roles or heterosexism. I’m talking about variations within the gender galaxy, about the many, many finer points of gender identity and presentation.

The benefit to the huge struggle it took to get through writing this article is that now I have a much better idea about where to start, what to cover, and how to write gender 101, and I hope to do more of that in the future.

This is how it starts:

What the heck is all this gender stuff about?

Men and women, right? Boys and girls, males and females? But is there more to it than that? How does it work? If we talk about gender, are we talking about “The Gays,” like men who are effeminate, women who are masculine?

Why yes, there is that … oh, but there’s so much more. I’m here to give you a brief tutorial on what gender is, and provide an introduction to the studies of gender.

– read it all over at Eden, Gender 101

I’d love your feedback, and if you love the article and think Eden should do more things like this, please do let them know. I may write for them again in the future.

What happened in July

July was a big month! I’m refining the topics & categories that I’m beginning to consistently write here, and I like the columns I’ve started – on butches, and in praise of femmes.

One of the first things I did this month was ask for money. I’ve been realizing more and more how much time I put into this website – it has become my part-time job. Many people have said that it is significant to them, it’s more than just my personal adventures, it’s also a community filled with ideas and concepts about gender, butch/femme dynamics, lesbian sexualities, etc. I wrote a follow up to why I asked for money after I got a little challenged, but ultimately I was incredibly touched and honored at all the donations I received. Thank you.

I also launched some merch! I don’t make much money at all from this, pennies really, but it’s kind of fun.

On with the rest:

SEX

GENDER

RELATIONSHIPS

MISCELLANY

psst … post script, on eye candy

Part of the deal of me posting eye candy is that you, as readers and appreciators of the butch/femme dynamic, which I assume you probably are if you are visiting this site, are required to comment about how hot the butch is.

Hey, it’s hard to be objectified as “eye candy.” It’s hard to be judged purely on sexiness and looks and hotness and female masculinity appeal. So we must give these butches lotsa love.

And Dani is particularly hot. See what I’m getting at? There should really be more than two comments on that post.

I’m not usually toppy or controlling about comments, but part of the entire point of posting photos of butches is to celebrate female masculinity, especially in the face of a community that often villifies butches with nothing short of blame for the entire oppression of women, feminists, lesbians, dykes, etc. Cause that’s all our faults, you know. If we were only a little more of a “real woman” (read: conforming to our prescribed societal gender role) we wouldn’t be so oppressed.

So please, spoil the eye candy, will ya?

I’ve been thinking lately about how to do an equivalent of femme eye candy series. It might be called something like “femme not straight,” but I’m not exactly sure how to do that without it becoming “photos of pretty girls” which, though that’s awesome, is I think a cheap blog trick. Any interest or ideas?

Speaking of eye candy, I’ve got some good ones coming up. A filmmaker, and a butch on a motorcycle, great photos both. Keep sending ’em in, or tag ’em sugarbutch on flickr.

August’s masthead: combating lesbian bed death

August’s masthead is up. Late, I know. I’ve got some more elaborate ideas for photos that I really want to feature, which go with particular quotes, so I kept putting off updating the masthead thinking that I’ll actually take those photos, but now it’s been a week and I just dug through some old shots. This one was actually taken while I was in Mexico with Datedyke, and shows off the cufflinks Colleen gave me.

I’ve still go to finish “What happened in July,” too – that’s coming. This weekend, probably.

I was just this morning on my commute into the city thinking about my former relationship, the one I was in when I started Sugarbutch. We were together four years, and over the last two we had sex five times. Seriously, I started counting. And I, well, I have a little bit of a sex drive.

So one of the reasons I started writing erotica was to have a release for all the sexual energy and frustration I was feeling. And to continue my writing practice, in general. Go figure, there’s actually a lot of craft that goes in to writing erotica – character, dialogue, rise & fall of action.

I used to always get stuck at the part where the characters are having sex, going all hot & heavy, and then they’re just about ready to orgasm and have the whole scene end. I’d get so stuck there. Finally, Jesse James and I were talking one day, and she said, “well yeah, of course that’s the hard part, because you never really know how somebody comes until they do it, do ya?”

Reminds me of that scene in Amelie where she thinks “How many couples are having an orgasm right now?” And there’s a great montage of climaxes. [Can anybody find that clip on Youtube?] Here’s the clip (thanks Sun! I couldn’t access youtube from work). Each one is different.

I’ve been working on finishing this Sugarbutch Star chapbook lately, I’m getting it ready to be handed out at the Femme Conference next weekend, and I’ve also been thinking about how this used to be a major goal of mine – writing smut to get people off. Specifically, to get lesbians off. Even more specifically, to get lesbians to go fuck their girlfriends and to talk to their girlfriends about sex and to get more of what they actually want out of their sex lives. Sometimes I think Lesbian Bed Death perpetuates the prudish idea that women can – or want to – transcend those silly sexual relations and have some sort of deep, meaningful emotional connection, that that’s all that “really” matters.

Well duh, deep connection is important, but sex is important too. I gues that’s one of the differences between male & female sexualities, though, is that for women it does actually seem to be a case of “use it or loose it,” where the more we have sex, the more we want to have sex – as opposed to men, who while many have fluxuations in their sex drive, still tend to have sex drives independently of however much sex they are or aren’t having. I’m sure this isn’t true for all men or all women, but it tends to be true in many cases. (Y’all know of any sources on this? I’ve looked for articles but haven’t located any yet.)

What I’m trying to say is:

1. Still, one of the highest compliments folks can pay me about my smut writing is that they had to go get off after reading it, but also, that it made them want to go play with their partner or girlfriend or random first date or stranger or whomever. I love getting those emails or comments, thank you for that. Let’s make lesbians in future generations ask, “what is this ‘lesbian bed death’? Lesbians didn’t like having sex? They weren’t the most highly sexual creatures on the planet? I don’t get it!”

and 2 … Got ideas for stories you’ve always wanted me to write? The Sugarbutch Star contest is launching again. More details to come.

femme conference countdown!

The Femme Conference is next week! August really came on me fast, I can’t believe the summer’s almost over. Wait, let me rephrase – I can’t wait for summer to be over, I can’t stand the heat. I grew up in Alaska, remember? What am I doing in New York City anyway? Oh yeah, the sexy femmes. Alright, I can stand summer a little longer.

Ahem, I digress.

The Femme Conference! Muse & I are heading out to Chicago for the weekend. Here’s what’s up:

  • Who’s going? Will you be there?
  • I was hoping I might perform some poetry or read some smut somewhere, but I haven’t been able to make that happen. I will, however, have hot-off-the-presses copies of the Sugarbutch Star chapbook from last year’s finalists, and hopefully some Sugarbutch star buttons too.
  • I have been thinking about doing some sort of Sugarbutch meet-up – anybody interested in that? Let me know, email me or leave a comment & I’ll get in touch when I have more details, I don’t know when or where it’ll be yet.
  • So far, I’ve raised enough money for a plane ticket (hurrah!) and about half of the hotel costs, though just this weekend I realized I haven’t actually bought my ticket to the conference yet. So, if you woke up this morning, pulled on your pants or your flowy summery skirt, stuck your hands in the pockets, and pulled out a couple hundred dollar bills and thought, huh, I wonder where those came from, perhaps you can consider donating a couple bucks to me to send me to the Femme Conference. I’ll be reporting on what I learn, and try my best to bring back some new ideas about this big ol’ gender galaxy we’re trying to make sense of.

I am so very grateful to all of you who have donated already, it’s made a huge difference in my ability to afford this trip. If you’ve got it, and are able to support me, you can make a donation via paypal and keep me and this site alive & thriving.

See you in Chicago?

what happened on sexblogs this week (sugasm 143)

This Week’s Picks

  • Anti-Porn Protest Gets Weird: “People get very excited about their causes and lack the sense to see if the information backs them up. ”
  • The Come Shot: “You don’t see their bodies going blotchily red and hear them howling like a banshee.”
  • Third Time’s a Charm: “If I lift my kilt on Bourbon Street I’m much more likely to get arrested than if Elizabeth takes off her top.”
  • Mr. Sugasm Himself: Sugar Bank
  • Editor’s Choice: In My Office

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

And my personal favorites …

eye candy: Dani


(click for the full size)

“Dani loves forensics, hip hop and rock, her animals, coffee, fishing, being choked and boobs. She gets called ‘sir’ at the coffeeshop when she holds the door, looks at me, and throws horns.”

Clockwise from top right:
“1. Reading “Butch Is a Noun” and learning that there are others. 2. Butch dyke with a cigar hanging out of her mouth? Yesplz. But it’s more the eyes. 3. Her son’s name on her hand, holding onto the knife, the boxers, the rainbow. The picture took itself. 4. One of my favourite photos of her.”

– photos by Alisha, she who photographs

Oh look, Sinclair talks about cocks. Again.

I just got Vixskins packing cock Goodfella from Eden this week – it is made to pack with, so its very bendable, and it has balls that aren’t flat, but rounded, and made to sit in front of the O-ring on the harness. I guess there was some confusion about how to get the cock into the harness, ’cause Vixen made this video demonstrating.

So far, though, I’m not too impressed. It doesn’t fit in the standard O-ring, so I’ve had to get out a particular harness with a larger ring in it – and y’all already know I’m in search of a good new harness, so it frustrated me.

Also, Goodfella is really small! Look at the video again – her fist is nearly as long as the cock, and her fingers easily wrap around it. So, yeah, maybe it’ll work packing, but the Silky is longer and thicker – though it doesn’t have the balls, and it’s not silicone.

I should have included Goodfella in my packing cocks 101 review, but I didn’t realize it was so possible to pack with it. I don’t think it’s quite as comfortable to wear in the pants as the Silky is, but I’m still testing it out. We’ll see how it goes.

Choice feminism & compulsory gender roles

Lady Brett has a new post over at her fabulous blog Don’t Let’s Talk about feminism and housewifery, and I left a rather long-ish comment, and still find myself with strong feelings on the subject.

So hey, why else do I have a blog but to write impromptu non-fiction personal essays about gender and feminist theory?

1. The Value of Domestic Skills

I believe there’s nothing inherently unfeminist about keeping a home, doing domestic things, taking care of people you love, cooking, cleaning, decorating. Those are important, learned skills and talents, often very complicated arts, time consuming, and things which make a big difference in the quality of life.

There’s been quite a bit of reclamation around “women’s work” throughout the second wave and third wave feminist movements, which has revisioned and revalued the work that goes into domesticity as complex, learned skills, difficult, and often incredible works of art.

(See, for example, the art of Judy Chicago, in particular – The Dinner Party in particular, but there’s lots more in that vein. Also see the book Manifesta by Jennifer Baumgartner & Amy Richards. Anyone else have examples? Leave ‘em in the comments.)

Domesticity & housewifery can go against feminist principles when it is compulsory: not optional, expected, unrewarded, and unrecognized as hard work or valuable. The problems come in being forced into this role, when you’re only doing that if what you’re doing feels like what you’re “supposed” to do and not what you really want to do. Figuring out what actually suits you best, your particular talents and personality and inclinations – that is subversive, and empowering.

2. Choice Feminism

Recently, there’s been a rise of this idea of choice feminism, which claims that being a housewife or househusband, staying home to raise the kids and keep the house, is an option available to people if they so choose, and that there is nothing inherently wrong with this choice.

Makes sense, right? Some people – men or women or butches or femmes or genderqueers or whomever – think it would be great to have the luxury of having a partnership (or triad, or whatever) where enough income was being generated by another person (or another source) that someone could stay home and prepare good food and take care of their living space, take care of the kids or plants or animals. To others, this sounds like nothing they’d want to do themselves, they’d hate to be cooped up all day and would much rather go out into the world and socialize, feel like a ‘productive member of society.’

So in theory, it would be great if someone was able to say, hey, I’d really like to be at home, and their partner would say, that’s great, because I’d like to go to work and make enough money to support our family. And then the negotiation of details would happen, and wow, everyone has a great time with their lives, yay.

There are so many factors that go into building this as an option to begin with. For one, it takes a certain amount of education (and therefore access to education), economic capability, and stature in order to be in a relationship that can rely on a single income (and/or a lot of thriftiness!). The folks who have the ability to stay home and take care of their domestic life have to have a certain amount of economic privilege, by definition – they are able to survive without having a traditional, typical 40 hour a week job.

Point being, this isn’t an option everyone has, so it can’t be a “choice” for everyone. Some people cannot ever choose this choice, because of the ways we have been set up inside of economic systems. (If I had more time to research, I would include : all sorts of things on credit card theory, loan sharks, economic poverty, the working poor. Got specific resources for this? Links, books, documentaries? Leave ‘em in the comments.)

I bet someone staying home and claiming the housewife/househusband/etc role works really well in some relationships, and that those choices are totally legit and based in love and care and self-knowledge for the relationship, family, themselves, and their partners.

Problem is, there are still real social consequences to choosing the socially unacceptable, rarer, less compulsory choice. And it isn’t until both options are empowered with equal weight that we’ll be able to actually make these choices fully, and as long as society still deems one choice over the other, presenting it as an “option” sometimes feels to me as more one more way to force people into it compulsorily.

I think it is possible for these particular choices to have equal weight. Both should be equally valued, in my opinion, and it is possible for them to be in the current culture.

Whether or not they do actually have equal weight, however, would largely depend on a person’s perspective, family, culture, friends, and social status. Some people would experience rejection, marginalization, othering, belittling, or outcasting, if they decided to stay at home and “only” take care of their family’s domestic life. Others would experience peer pressure and gender policing for not doing so, for attempting to say that housewifery is valuable, especially when saying this to someone for whom housewifery was compulsory, and whom resents the lack of choice that she herself had.

Two examples:

A) Mona Lisa Smile
The film Mona Lisa Smile, set in the 1950’s at a women’s college, has a major theme of choice feminism throughout, as Joan, a student, struggles between pursuing law at Yale or getting married and starting a family. Her art teacher, Katherine, tries to encourage her to examine both options equally, even saying she doesn’t have to choose, she can have both.

Quote from the scene where Joan tells her art teacher that she’s going to choose to be a housewife:

Joan Brandwyn: It was my choice… not to go. He would have supported it [if I’d chosen to go].
Katherine Watson: But you don’t have to choose.
Joan Brandwyn: No, I have to. I want a home; I want a family, that’s not something I’ll sacrifice.
Katherine Watson: No-one’s asking you to sacrifice that, Joan, I just want you to understand you can do both.
Joan Brandwyn: Do you think I’ll wake up one morning and regret not being a lawyer?
Katherine Watson: Yes, I’m afraid that you will.
Joan Brandwyn: Not as much as I regret not having a family, not being there to raise them. I know exactly what I’m doing and it doesn’t make me any less smart.
[Katherine looks down] Joan Brandwyn: This must seem terrible to you.
Katherine Watson: I didn’t say that.
Joan Brandwyn: Sure you did. You always do. You stand in class and tell us to look beyond the image, but you don’t. To you a housewife is someone who sold her soul for a center hall colonial. She has no depth, no intellect, no interests. You’re the one who said I could do anything I wanted. This is what I want.
Katherine Watson: [hugs Joan] Congratulations. Be happy.

(source: Wikiquote)

It seems Joan is attempting to make the major point of choice feminism, that Katherine does not think housewifery is a legitimate choice for women. But I’m skeptical of this, because we don’t ever see Joan go through an awakening out of the compulsory gender role, realizing and fully understanding the limitations of her socially prescribed feminine/wife/mother role. Without really knowing that, is it possible for her to consider rejecting it as a legitimate option?

B) Sex and the City, season 4 episode 7, Time and Punishment

In the episode Time and Punishment from the fourth season of Sex and the City, Charlotte is newly married, and informs the girls that she’s thinking about quitting her job so she can begin her domestic duties. They react with significant glances at each other, though nobody says anything overly disagreeing with Charlotte’s news. The next day, Charlotte calls Miranda.

Miranda: Hello?
Charlotte: You were so judgmental at the coffee shop yesterday.
Miranda: Excuse me?
Charlotte: You think I’m one of those women.
Miranda: What? One of what women?
Charlotte: One of those women we hate who just works until she gets married. … The women’s movement is supposed to be about choice. And if I choose to quit my job, that is my choice.
Miranda: “The women’s movement”? Jesus Christ, I haven’t even had coffee yet.
Charlotte: It’s my life and my choice.
Miranda: Okay, Charlotte? This isn’t about me, this is your stuff.
Charlotte: Admit it! You were being very judgmental.
Miranda: I’m dripping all over my bathroom and you’re calling me judgmental. lf you have a problem with quitting your job…maybe you should take it up with your husband.
Charlotte: See, there it is, “your husband.” There’s nothing wrong with having a husband!
Miranda: Charlotte, I’m hanging up.
Charlotte: Don’t you dare hang up! And stop saying Charlotte like that. I am quitting my job to make my life better… and do something worthwhile like have a baby and cure AIDS.
Miranda: Oh! You’re gonna cure AlDS? Good for you. Just don’t be too disappointed if all you wind up with is a pretty ceramic mug with Trey’s name on it.
Charlotte: Take that back!
Miranda: I’m hanging up.
Charlotte: Don’t hang up! I’m interviewing girls to replace me… and I really need you to get behind my choice.
Miranda: You get behind your choice.
Charlotte: I am behind my choice. I choose my choice.
Miranda: I don’t have time for this. I have to go to work. Some of us still have to go to work.
Charlotte: I choose my choice!

(quoted from script of Time & Punishment.)

Problem for me here is that Charlotte is “the traditional one.” The most conservative, the one who blushes at the slightest of sex talk, the one who, throughout the series, is in serious husband-hunting mode. Has she really examined all her choices? Is she buying into the gender role that she’s presenting because she “chooses” it, or because it is compulsory for her?

But even though I am skeptical and questioning these women’s ability to make their own choices, I do come from the perspective that everyone has their own agency. I try – very hard – to let go of my own judgment about what would or wouldn’t be a good choice, and to really believe that another person is the only one who will really know what is in her own best interest.

But while I believe in agency, I also believe in things like laws of self-protection – seat belt laws, helmet laws, fast food regulation laws – because society has proved that people are susceptible, that we do not always make the choice that is in our best interest because of social, political, advertising, or any other number of pressures, and that educators, policy makers, and activists have the responsibility to protect and look out for others. That we are all interdependent, if you will – and that when everyone does better, everyone does better.

So how do we figure out how to have more agency in these complex situations of choice? How do we assure that all options do have equal weight for ourselves, in our own personal lives, even if they do not have equal weight in the eyes of society? How do we take a decision that used to be compulsory – like being a stay at home mom (SAHM, or Shit Ass Ho Motherfucker, if you’re a dooce reader) or, to connect it further to the Sugarbutch Chronicles subjects, adopting an exaggerated presentation of gender like butch or femme – and legitimately choose it?

3. Knowledge & Education

How can we make these choices have more equal weight?

Educate yourself. Study feminism. Study the history of compulsory gender roles, compulsory gender presentation, compulsory heterosexuality.

We can’t make any of these choices without understanding of where they came from, what they mean, what cultural, historical, and political contexts the choices sit within.

In a society that still has so much compulsory roles for men and women, it’s never just as simple as “I choose to be a housewife” or “I choose to work a full-time job outside the home.” There are so many factors – economic status, cultural and familial expectations, personal interests and pursuits, background, education, community.

I guess this is the part where we’re on our own, where we have to figure out the solution to our own gender problems, where we have to take responsibility for our own enlightenment.

One of my favorite quotes about gender is “femme is knowing what you’re doing.” My take on that is not that “all femmes know what they’re doing all the time,” but more like the implications that femme – or femininity, or gender expression in general – becomes an active choice, something that has a context and a history and a cultural understanding for the choices we’re making.

And it is possible to learn those things. Read into the history of gender studies, of compulsory gender roles and gender “deviance,” gender activism, butch/femme culture and society, the women’s and gay liberation movements. Get a sense of yourself & your gender in a larger sociological, historical, political, cultural, geographical context.

I see feminism as quite similar to how I am beginning to understand Buddhism: as philosophies, as world views. That it is a container, a baseline of explanation and understanding for how you see the world, interactions, social hierarchies, marginalized communities, value.

And as such, I really believe that everyone has a place within feminism. That everyone is affected by compulsory gender, by gender policing, by gender roles which oppress and restrict and encourage us to be less than full, open people, with access to the entire range of human experience. And therefore, everyone has the possibility to be liberated by studying the ways that these unspoken rules operate on the very personal, private aspects of our lives.

Here’s some suggestions of tools that have helped me along this search for knowledge and understanding. Add your own in the comments if you have further resources that significantly helped your perspective.

Feminism is For Everybody, bell hooks – amazing basic course in what feminism is, what it means, and where else to start looking. I’ve bought this for various people over the years. Completely accessible and wonderfully written.

The Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan – the classic feminist text about compulsory domesticity. Though it’s dated, if this isn’t something that you’ve examined overtly, it might be time to read it.

Creating a Life Worth Living, Carol Lloyd – an artist workbook that guides you through figuring out what kind of life you want to live, what your values are, how you want to be spending your time, and helps you set goals to do that. Might be helpful & empowering in this particular issue of choosing to be a housewife, in that it might help you see where you particular strengths are, and what ways of spending your day will make you the happiest.

Manifesta, Jennifer Baumgardner & Amy Richards – I’ve already mentioned this, but if you haven’t read it I highly recommend it. Very accessible and fun to read.

The Dinner Party by Judy Chicago – is an art exhibit currently housed at the Brooklyn Museum in the feminist art wing. Problematic and highly criticized for it’s white and western-centric focus, but still an amazing piece of art which elevates traditional female domestic duties such as table settings, needlepoint, and ceramics and presents them in the context of a long history of powerful, strong, capable women.

It’s all a long process, right? Of getting to know oneself, of examining the world around us and seeing where we fit in, where we don’t, what we like, what we don’t. Of becoming self-aware. And, ultimately, of finding the bliss that makes our own lives uniquely worthwhile.

4. Let The Soft Animal of Your Body Love What It Loves

Eventually, this is the integrated goal of this process, I think: to “let the soft animal of your body / love what it loves.”

It comes from one of my favorite poems of all time, and is a line I often quote. With care and consciousness, I believe this concept of letting myself love what I love to be at the core of my feminist beliefs. And I believe it’s possible to operate from this place, and within a feminist context, with feminist philosophies and outlooks on life.

It isn’t until I unpack all the societal gunk that I can really see, really understand, what it is that the soft animal of my body loves, and what it is that I should do with my wild and precious life.

Wild Geese
Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.