It Gets Better. Also … Grief. Please #stayalive.

That’s five. Five people, five boys, who could have grown up to be part of our world, part of our community, part of gay activism, or who could have, at the very least, grown up. Five boys since school started less than a month ago.

This isn’t new, of course. That’s On July 9th, Justin Aaberg, 15, in Minnesota killed himself over to anti-gay bullying. His mom is attempting some activism in dealing with her grief, but clearly we need more.

Whatever we’ve been doing isn’t working well enough yet, because this keeps happening.

I don’t really know what to say about it, I’m just moved by these stories rolling in, and Kristen, a former middle school teacher, has been upset about it all day, and we’ve been thinking.

Here’s some resources I found, places working on specifically this issue.. If you’ve got money to throw their way, and if you’re moved and shocked and outraged and sad like I am, I’m sure they would not mind your support.

What else? What can we do? What are you doing?

e[lust] #20: “On Making Sex Last” is in the Top Three!

Welcome to e[lust] – Your source for sexual intelligence and inspirations of lust from the smartest & sexiest bloggers! Whether you’re looking for hot steamy smut, thought-provoking opinions or expert information, you’re going to find it here. Want to be included in e[lust] #21? Start with the rules, check out the schedule and subscribe to the RSS feed for updates!

This Week’s Top Three Posts

On Making Sex Last: Cheerleading & Open Relationships – as long as the possession stuff can be fun and consensual, and not interfering with each other’s sovereignty, I think the two—cheerleading and possession—aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive.

Owned – I had almost forgotten that while here, with him, I was HIS plaything. I was OWNED by him. We had discussed this. I knew the rules. I must not forget again.

The sheer indecency of what we are doing – Is he looking for what I’m looking for? Surely so—all men want that, don’t they? A flaming succubus that comes only in the dark to bring unworldly pleasures and leave behind strange lingering dreams that spice their dutiful daytime lives.

Featured Post (Lilly’s Pick)

Stop Hating on Campus Sex Education – Clearly, there is a need for this education, because if it doesn’t come from sexuality educators, it comes from word of mouth (which can often provide incorrect information), or from the internet, or from trial and error.

e[lust] Editress

Is it Really “Strange” Sex?

See also: Pleasurists #96 and #97 for all your sex toy review needs.

Masks at October’s Sideshow

Hey guess what! Sideshow is just around the corner.

Next week, Tuesday October 12th, Sideshow: The Queer Literary Carnival will feature six readers on the subject of MASKS—what we wear, why, and how that changes throughout our lives or throughout our different identities.

We’ll be doing a special raffle for everyone and anyone who attends, with prizes like Rachel Kramer Bussel’s recent book Orgasmic, a cock from Vixen Creations, another cock from Tantus, and Ivan E. Coyote’s new book, Missed Her, and spoken word CD.

What’s that? Didn’t you hear that Ivan E. Coyote and S. Bear Bergman are reading at the November 9th Sideshow, along with Jessica Halem, on their 2010 Dangerous Mammals tour?

I’m practically beside myself! I’ve admired Ivan and Bear’s work for a long time, and though I’ve met Ivan, it was years ago, and I can’t wait to meet Bear. It’s going to be a great night.

There aren’t very many more Sideshow readings left in 2010, but we’ve had an incredible lineup so far and we’re gearing up to bring you all sorts of new and exciting folks in 2011. Mark the dates on your calendar—second Tuesday of every month!

See you in October?

Sideshow: The Queer Literary Carnival
Hosted by Cheryl B. & Sinclair Sexsmith
Tuesday, October 12th @ The Phoenix
447 East 13th Street @ Avenue A
Doors, 7:30pm. Reading, 8pm
Free! (We’ll pass the hat for the readers)
RSVP on Facebook!

This month’s theme is MASKS, starring:
Broch Bender (Seattle Spit)
Kelli Dunham (Queer Memoir)
Natalie Illum (Mothertongue)
Mardi Jaskot (Queer Conventions)
Maymay (KinkonTap)
Sarah Schulman (Ties That Bind)

Check out reader bios and photos.

… But Butch Voices Portland is This Weekend!

Hot on the heels of the Butch Voices NYC Regional conference, Portland is hosting their own Butch Voices this coming weekend, October 1-3. And I’ll be there!

I debated attending Portland’s conference—after all, these conferences are regional, so why attend in a region so far from where I live? But I adore the West coast, if you’ve been following Mr. Sexsmith’s Other Girlfriend you know the love affair I have every time I go visit a city on the I-5 corridor. It’s where I grew up, it’s the culture I know and feel most at home in, it’s what I crave and miss, and, eventually, I think it’s where I’ll end up. (Not sure when, exactly, but it seems right to be headed back that way, eventually.) So it feels important to me to attend.

I’ll be there Friday for the SWeLL performance, and then at the conference on Saturday, and reading my new butch poem, “Unsolicited Advice To A New Butch,” at the spoken word event on Sunday. Here’s the details:

Butch Voices Portland
9:30AM-10:45AM
Telling Our Stories: Writing Workshop with Sinclair Sexsmith

Everyone is the expert of their own life. Everyone knows themselves, their stories, their triumphs, their heartaches, better than anyone else. We all come from somewhere. We all have had struggles, heartaches, successes, breakthroughs, knockdowns, sideswipes, joy, that have brought us from the people we used to be to the person that we are today, and we butches have our own unique and similar stories. The rewards of starting to tell these stories, to write them down, to have others witness our stories, can be massive. The power of words to name what has happened in your lifetime can be spiritually and psychologically healing, can bring together communities of like-minded people, and can even write our selves into existence and change the world. Join writer, blogger, and activist Sinclair Sexsmith in a personal writing workshop about bringing out own inner stories out, finding the stories of our lives that are begging to be told, trusting the wisdom of our own inner voices, and finding the courage to share our stories with others. We will discuss blogging, places to read your work, editing, basic craft, and other inspirational butch writers. Bring paper and something to write with, there will be writing prompts.

Gender/Queer
Sunday, October 3rd, 2pm to 5pm
at In Other Words, 8 NE Killingsworth, PDX
Free and open to the public!

Gender/Queer is a spoken word/poetry event, that will happen on Sunday, October 3rd at In Other Words. Start time is 2:00pm and we’ll burn a fire under your feet till 5:00. The event will feature an open mic, as well as several featured performances. This event will be emceed by our PDX favorite MC Sossity Chiricuzio, notorious for her fabulous work with Portland’s one and only Dirty Queer.

The goal of this event is to offer a stage for the voices of butch identified women, transmasculine studs, aggressives, and any other individuals that find their identity on the gender queer continuum. We are also welcoming all allies to participate in this event. Gender/Queer offers an opportunity to shout out our stories through art and poetry and encourage a community oriented activism that demands social and economic justice as well as equal rights. It is a stage where artists can freely express their work on queer identities, sexualities, wants, desires, politics, you name it.

ASL interpretation provided by DHOR

I won’t be making it to the LA Conference, though I’d love to. Next time, maybe.

See you in Portland!

What happened at the BUTCH Voices NYC Conference

So BUTCH Voices NYC is over …

And it was fantastic.

I want to tell you all about it, and I barely know where to start. It was thrilling to work on a committee which was so invested in working, and whose skill-sets were all so complimentary. Primarily, I worked with promotion, copy, images, and event planning & promotion, as well as hosting some of the events over the conference weekend too. Which tend to be the things I’m good at, and the things I most like to do, in terms of putting on an event. There were a lot of logistical details that I was less concerned with, personally, but the rest of the Core Committee was so on top of it, I didn’t have to worry about it—I could just do the parts I was particularly good at.

It’s the first time I’ve been such a key organizer for a regional conference, and I had a wonderful time. I learned a lot about organizing and producing big events. I think I might go into a little bit of withdraw after working so closely with the other organizers—Kelli, Kawana, Lea, Paris, Emma, Emilie—I’m hoping we can organize a post-event gathering to debrief and talk about what’s next. (There’s already some discussion about another New York regional conference in 2012.)

But: what happened at the actual conference?

The Friday Night Social Event

Friday night kicked off the conference with Speed Friending at Anti-Diva. I was surprised and impressed at how many masculine-of-center folks came out for that. It was great to have a kick-off event where everyone came with the assumption that they would meet other people, everyone was more open and talkative than usual. We planned on having Melissa Li perform an acoustic set, but there were some technical difficulties and Melissa never did go on. But oh the rest of us did … on and on, talking to each other and about the conference the next day and about the other events that were planned for the weekend. Many folks were in from out of town, and not everyone who came planned on attending the entire conference, but was interested in meeting butches (for various reasons).

Just about as I was ready to retire, a text came in from Kelli, conference “chair,” if we had one of those, to both myself and to Emilie, along with a photograph of the conference space: we had a wall! A genius contractor had saved our asses at the very last minute by coming in to help us divide up the very large QEJ Performance & Conference space into three separate spaces where we could hold two workshops, registration, and the hospitality suite. Not only did it look amazing, it ended up being constructed out of cardboard, twine, and tarps. It was more than I would have expected—when I arrived on Saturday morning—and it was perfect. Em and I were so thrilled, we actually high-fived—a move I do not usually participate in, but it was apt.

And then the conference started …

After getting things up from the car and helping to open up registration, the first thing I did was to attend a workshop with Corey Alexander called Doing Relationships with Emotional Armor: For Stones and Our Partners. I’ve flirted with stone identity, and definitely have some emotional armor, so it was interesting and intense to bring those things to light and discuss them openly. It was a difficult subject to begin the conference, but set the tone for the depth and personal level of discussion throughout the day.

I took a brief break to prepare for the Cock Confidence workshop I was leading in the third workshop block, and then joined the impromptu discussion. Conference organizers intentionally left some physical space empty such that active discussions could happen, either folks could bring up new topics they felt weren’t being addressed or could continue discussions started in the workshops if they felt inspired to do so. So a few people decided to lead an open discussion on responsible masculinity, which was very fruitful and touched on many topics and conundrums of masculinity that I frequently contemplate. It was great to hear other perspectives on these things that often really get to me, that I spend days thinking about, or talking about, or writing about. The question of “What is responsible masculinity?” was posed, and much discussion of misogyny and feminism commenced. One of the major points made was the ways that expectations can be oppressive, and that though our identities may appear to be something someone knows and can identify, and therefore draws all sorts of conclusions about (e.g., masculine of center -> butch -> top -> dominant -> dates femmes), that one has to actually ask and observe that particular individual to see if any of those things are true for them—and they may not be!

We also discussed butch competition and policing, and how to build more butch community. Someone said, “The only way to eliminate butch competition and enhance butch camaraderie is to acknowledge each other.” Which, I think, was beautifully put and I wholeheartedly agree. We spend a lot of time circling each other silently, and it is a thin line, if at all, between that and competing.

Cock Confidence

Next, I ran downstairs to Cock Confidence & Strapping It On, which is a workshop I’m doing many times this fall (already at Purple Passion and Conversio Virium in New York and Good Vibrations in Boston). I was greated by a packed room, and people just kept streaming in—it didn’t hurt that I had two Aslan Leather harnesses, three Vixen Creations cocks, and one Tantus cock to give away, I’m sure!

I started in on my workshop contents about confidence and communication when there were a few questions and comments, rapidly, from attendees. I’m paraphrasing here, but basically what was said was, “What about butches who bottom, and the ways that can be seen as emasculating?” and then, “What about women who are survivors of sexual assault, and for whom penetration is difficult or traumatizing?”

Whoa. Big, huge topics.

Which I will gladly write about here, I have plenty to say about them (watch for future/soon essays), but on which I was not prepared to speak, or lead a discussion. I had a lot of (prepared) material to get through, so I explained that, and said, those are both way important questions and I would love to have a discussion about them, that I was not prepared to hold the space for that discussion now. But, I proposed, I will do some talking about toys, do the raffle, then adjourn early and folks can go off and explore another workshop, or stay here for Q&A and we can discuss those things. I also said: Thank you, for bringing that up. I am used to doing this workshop at sex toy stores (mostly with an audience of hetero couples) so those questions are definitely Cock Confidence 301 instead of 101, and I love that the Butch Voices NYC crowd really raised the caliber of the discussion.

Thank you for that, all of you who were there.

I think the room understood my point, so I kept moving on. I talked about toys, my favorite and the most popular harnesses and cocks, answered some questions, and pulled names out of the bucket to see who would take home some new toys. I’m going to work on a Cock Confidence Product Guide and let everyone know the things that I recommended and where I recommend getting them.

The conversation, when it continued, was a much smaller group and we ended up more CR-style, discussing our personal challenges and experiences.

It was definitely the best Cock Confidence workshop I’ve ever facilitated, and it was so much fun. Wish I could give away toys every time I do that workshop! To be clear—I give away these toys, and I work with these companies as a sponsor (of sorts) of Sugarbutch because I adore their toys so much, not the other way around (I don’t adore their toys because they’re a sponsor). I’m pretty picky about the toys I give away, and while I have tried out all sorts of products, even if I suspected they would be awful, I won’t give away things I think are awful.

Butch Representation in Media

Off I rushed to the Media Panel, where I moderated a discussion about butch visibility, mainstream media, working in the media, and how we use the media to further authentic images of ourselves. It was a great discussion with Madison, Grace, Mamone, and Dasha, and the attendees had many questions and comments about race, participation, othering, and success. I didn’t feel like we had a point that we really hammered home in this workshop, but then again, we didn’t really have a point that we set up to make when we formed this panel, so that was okay.

At the end of the panel, we went around the room and everyone there introduced themselves and did their thirty-second elevator pitch about what they do. It was fascinating to see the caliber of talent we had in that room, all together.

The Community-Building Keynote

The keynote at Butch Voices NYC was non-traditional in that we didn’t want to have one singular person speak for all aspects of masculine of center communities, and since it was a one-day conference we didn’t have time—or money—for multiple keynote addresses. So Kelli and I planned a community building keynote ceremony that was a commitment to our butch voices, and it turned out beautifully. It was incredibly moving, from start to finish.

It all started with a pebble, a river stone—everyone received one at registration. I took them from my own rock collection (remember my this I believe poem? “rocks in my pockets”?) I counted out 180, which didn’t even make a dent in my collection, to make sure we had enough for everyone, then added a few handfuls more for good measure. I have collected rocks over the years from just about any place I have visited, from Bournemouth in England to Ocean Shores in Oregon to Washington state to Southeast Alaska, where most of the rocks are from. The pebble beaches are the best up there. It’s become a bit of a collection, that therefore I subsequently have no idea what to do with. It doesn’t make sense to display them, not really, not beyond a few rock stack formations here and there, so they’ve been in a box for years. Seriously. A box of rocks. Useless and taking up valuable New York City apartment space. I’d be glad to donate them to a garden or beach, but most green spaces around New York are so manicured it doesn’t make sense to leave them there.

But a ritual—it was a perfect use for (some of) them. I was so pleased to pass them on in that way.

Before we started the ritual, we spent a moment with the Memory Wall we had constructed to add names to, people who are no longer with us but who came before us and whom we want to remember. And right away, the room got heavier, we focused, I felt immediately moved.

We all got a rock when we checked in at registration. The seven of us organizers stood up to explain about the ritual, what we were going to do and why, each taking turns. We explained that the rock had absorbed our personal experiences of the day, our individual voice and perspective, and that we were going to add that rock to the collective pile of our community’s experiences, similar and related, yet different and varied. We invited anyone who felt moved to participate—allies too, but whom were also invited to witness if they felt so inclined, as we need witness to our statements, commitments, and very existence—to come up to our make-shift alter, one at a time, and speak aloud the sentence, “My commitment to my butch voice is,” or “my commitment to butch voices is.” Folks were invited to substitute whatever words they wanted to for “butch,” if that wasn’t their identity word of choice, such as queer or genderqueer or stud or aggressive.

I wasn’t prepared for how moving it would be. I wrote the majority of the script that we read (which only dawned on me about halfway through the ritual, I wrote the keynote), and the whole time I was just crossing my fingers that it wouldn’t be cheesy, but would be honored and respected and come across the way I wanted it to. It did—and it went beyond my expectations, like much of the conference did, above and beyond. It was moving, enlivening, big. Many of us teared up. Many of us said hard things that would not have been easier to say in other places, but which felt safe to reveal. Many of us murmured or clapped or responded as each person who felt moved came up to place their rocks in the wooden bowl on the make-shift alter.

Paris closed the ritual by having everyone repeat a line that Kelli and I came up with, based on the Core Initiatives of the Butch Voices conference: “Our commitment is to stand together, to take care of each other, and to make the world a more just place.”

And with that, everyone could take a rock home with them, if they felt so inclined, and we adjourned.

What a day.

I’m still reeling from it all.

And yet … right after the keynote, Kristen and I rushed downtown to get to Bluestockings Bookstore for the Butch Voices Speak Queer Memoir/Sideshow mash-up reading/performance. I posted photos and a wrap-up of it over on the Sideshow blog today, but expect more photos from Syd London (official Butch Voices NYC photographer!) as those get processed.

And more articles, more thoughts, more things from me, too, as that all gets processed.

I feel so much gratitude toward the folks who came and were involved. I’m thrilled to have been a part of it.

The Butch Voices NYC Conference Starts Today!

The Butch Voices NYC Regional Conference is almost here!

The conference itself is tomorrow, Saturday the 25th, with registration opening up at 9am and workshops beginning at 10am. I’m doing a Cock Confidence workshop at 1:30pm tomorrow, and I have two Aslan Leather harnesses, three Vixen Creations cocks, and another Tantus cock to give away. I’ll also be showing off the brand new hot-off-the-presses VIP Super Soft pack-and-play cock that is barely even released.

I’m also modering a panel called “In the Public Eye: Visibility in Media” with some fabulous folks: Denise Madison from GirlzParty, Grace Moon from Velvet Park Media, Gina Mamone from Riot Grrrl Ink, and Dasha Snyder of The D Word fame who writes at Digital Goddess.

But aside from my own involvement in the panel, there are many more things going on! Tonight is a social event to meet & greet conference attendees at Speed Friending/Dating at Dixon Place, tomorrow is a special Queer Memoir/Sideshow Reading Series Mash-Up at Bluestockings Bookstore, and there’s a special Butch Voices Submit play party in Brooklyn late tomorrow night.

I don’t know if I’ll make it out to play, but I’m really looking forward to meeting people, hanging out, and talking about butch things all weekend. Kristen is baking her “face off,” as she is prone to saying, making her famous rosemary sea salt chocolate chip cookies, savory corn and cheddar muffins, and a special treat for someone’s birthday tomorrow.

If you miss these events, there’s another Butch Brunch on Saturday, October 16th which will be a nice follow up to the conference for those who miss the company of other butches.

To tie up this nice countdown, I’m featuring a recent novel from 2004 called Crybaby Butch by Judith Frank, published by Firebrand Books. It won the Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Debut Fiction in 2005. My (lesbian) book group read it about a year and a half ago, and we all liked it quite a bit—which is hard, usually novels especially are hotly contested. I remember there being some disapproval of how the femme partners were depicted (as controlling, fairly stereotypical “women”, perhaps with not enough depth) but we liked the butches.

Here’s the premise, from the publisher’s website:

Drawing on her experience as an adult literacy tutor, Judith Frank’s first novel traces the difficult and sometimes hilarious connection between two butches of different generations – a middle-class, thirty-something adult literacy teacher and her older, working-class student. With a disparate group of adult learners as the backdrop, Frank examines, with warmth and wit, the relationship between education and gender, class, and racial identity. Judith Frank is a winner of the Astraea Foundation’s Emerging Lesbian Writer’s Fund prize in fiction. A professor of English at Amherst College, she lives and writes in western Massachusetts.

There are not very many books out there with “butch” in the title, and even fewer of them published in the last ten years. It’s a good read that is complex and interesting, engaging and emotionally enthralling. A few folks mentioned Crybaby Butch in the comments when I featured Stone Butch Blues two weeks ago, all of them with praise for the book.

Buy it directly from Firebrand Books, from your local independent bookstore, or, if you must, from Amazon.

So now that I’ve gone through some of the major butch books, tell me, which ones did I leave out? Are there others I should have featured?

In Honor of National Sexual Freedom Day

The Woodhull Freedom Foundation is hosting the first annual National Sexual Freedom Day today, and along with in person events in Washington, DC, there is a blog carnival you can participate in if you feel inspired to write about sexual rights and freedom.

The questions are: What does sexual freedom as a human right mean to you? and What legislative or social changes would you like to see to promote sexual freedom?

There are very few things we humans have in common. Our cultures clash, we speak different languages, we hold opposing values, we worship contradictory gods—but all of us have a body. All of us have a body with similar patterns, something vaguely person-shaped, with variable configurations of skin and size and style, with varying degrees of stamina and strength. We don’t all like to do the same things with our bodies, but we are all born, and we all die. We all experience the world through the confines of this corporeal flesh, these five senses, these minds, this aging process, these fascinating ways that our various systems—digestive, nervous, circulatory, respiratory, reproductive, endocrine—constantly work to maintain.

What we do with our bodies while we are here, while we have this lifetime to explore this world, is our choice. It is, in fact, our defining choice; what makes our lives truly ours.

The details are as variable as there are people on this planet—our genders, our sexualities, fashion tastes, what we do for work, what we do for fun, what sensations are enjoyable, how our senses function, what pleases our eyes or ears or mouths or fingertips. But that’s the fun part, isn’t it? That’s the part we get to make up as we go along, that’s the part that we get to change as frequently as we like, that’s the part we get to constantly be curious about and explore, every morning when we wake.

Some of us discovered young that we are sexual beings. That when we come, we tap in to energy beyond ourselves, we release through our muscles in ways that are inaccessible otherwise, we feel connected to ourselves, our lovers, the world around us.

The tantric belief is that this fire, this energy that we tap into when we are sexual is life itself, is life force itself, is not just sexual energy, but all energy. Sure, there are plenty of other ways to tap into that life force than to have sex—but for some of us, sex is the most fun, the most rewarding, the most liberating exploration or hobby that we can have.

Remember Dedee in the 1998 film The Opposite of Sex: “It was clever of God or evolution or whatever to hook the survival of the species to [sex], because we’re gonna screw around.” Screwing around is hardwired in these bodies of ours, especially when our hormones get going. That’s what our bodies crave, want, desire. I’m beginning to think that using sex to sell all that advertising isn’t solely as nasty or manipulative as the feminist theory says it is. Yes, this culture uses sex to sell irrelevant things, but there’s something else underneath that: everything really is about sex.

And for some of us, for me, for example, when I’m not having it, I think about it constantly. I want to know where it’ll happen next, who it will be with. I obsess, I write, I think. I crave the release that my body and mind goes through when relating to another person—another body—that way. I crave someone who is particularly aligned to my orientation so that we can fit together like puzzle pieces and start lifting each other up, taking each other higher, pushing each other’s boundaries, making it safe to do things and explore things that we haven’t otherwise done before, or perhaps that we have, but want to do again.

That’s where the body comes in: when we can strip away all of the crap that culture shoves on us about sex, all of the conflicting messages, all of the virgin/whore dichotomies, all of the macho masculinity size-king bullshit, all of the shame and guilt for our desires, we can start listening to our bodies, really listening, to what bubbles up from inside. What would feel good right now? Full body rope bondage? A Whartenberg wheel? Melting wax dripped all over your back? A really good, hard fucking, just taking your body, using it, with disregard to your pleasure? Impulsive, public displays of affection? Kissing, and more kissing, and more kissing?

What does your body crave?

I think most of us can barely answer this question honestly. Most of us would have to dig through too many layers of shame and symbols and bravado and performance to get down to what we are really craving, what we really desire, what our bodies are truly asking for.

To be able to get down to that craving, then to articulate that craving, then to have someone we could safely confide in about that craving, then to actually play with that craving—that is sexual freedom.

It could be as simple as knowing that my body is asking for a glass of water, or knowing that it’s time to rest, or it could be as complex as a type of relationship, or the physical location on the planet where I build my home. There are dozens of things related to our inabilities to listen to our bodies deepest desires, and yet so much of what keeps us from that skill is sexual shame.

What change would I like to see come of this? I would like to see people listening to their bodies. There is no way to put that through legislation, exactly. Perhaps there are more round-about ways, and for that I admire politicians who are capable of speaking the languages of government and instating laws of protection and celebration.

But the rest of us …

I think we need to keep listening, way down deep, letting desires bubble up, and practice speaking them aloud, or at least saying them to ourselves, writing them down. I want to see us all making choices which honor our unique experiences and move our bodies down the paths of our lives with less violence, less shame, less fear, less confusion, less suffering. I want to see us celebrating the deep knowing of who we are, where we’ve come from, where we’re going, who we are walking the paths with. I want to see us learn from BDSM groups and teachings about body safety, playing safely, teachings like Safe Sane Consensual or Risk Aware Consensual Kink. I want to see us learn from feminist theory about the sexualization of little girls and the commodification of women and the belittling of the power of our sexualities. I want to see us learn from trans and genderqueer communities about what is “real” and what is constructed, and keep unraveling what it means to be a human being in this world.

There has been much change in the past ten years since I’ve been heavily involved in sexual activism and studying my own culture, trying to explain the reasons so many of us are so messed up about our bodies and about our sexualities. I know there’s more change to come, and I believe this work, organizing National Sexual Freedom Day or writing online about sex and gender or exploring some new toys to enhance your own sexual play or becoming curious about your own body’s inner desires all comes down to the tiniest of moments, the tiniest of changes, in listing to oneself, and taking one’s inner wishes seriously.

What say you, folks? What does sexual freedom as a human right mean to you?

Learn Tongue Exercises (Yes, That Kind)

So I know all I’ve been talking about is the Butch! Voices! Regional! NYC! Conference!, but I do actually have other things going on aside from that. Like tomorrow, at Purple Passion, I’m teaching a cunnilingus workshop!

A Dyke’s Secrets of Cunnilingus
with Sinclair Sexsmith
Thursday September 23rd, 2010 from 7pm – 9pm
at Purple Passion
211 West 20th Street between 7th & 8th Avenues in NYC
All attendees get 15% store discount before and after the workshop.
Cost: $20- class size is limited so prepaying is advised.

Among other things, we’re going to be using some techniques from The Low Down on Going Down to strengthen our tongues and mouths so we can have more precision and stamina. One of the ways we’re going to do that is using some Cheerios to help us with our tongue placement.

Now doesn’t that sound like fun? Come on out (for something OTHER than gender discussions) and have a good time. Purple Passion is a great store full of many inspiring things you don’t yet have in your collection, I promise.

Review: Leather Pleasure Harness by Aslan Leather

So when Carrie at Aslan Leather sent me the Rubber G, I also got the Leather Pleasure Harness, one of Aslan’s signature harnesses, and to me the most versatile. It has various configurations: two-strap, one-strap, driver pad or not, variable sizes of O-ring. The straps are thin and high quality leather, the craftsmanship, as I’d expect from Aslan, is lovely and detailed.

It has become my current go-to harness. It’s what I pull out when I want to play, it’s what I use.

1. Materials

This harness is leather. Beautiful leather. Buttery soft, well-treated leather. There’s nothing wrong with this leather whatsoever. Oh wait—yes there is: it’s porous, and absorbs liquid. For that reason, as with many other leather harnesses I have known and loved, I do not expect this harness to last.

2. Metal (Buckles & O-Rings)

I continually stress the quality of construction in Aslan products, and of course this is no exception. It’s lovely: there are buckles on both hips around the waist and sliding O-rings on the other two (or one) straps.

3. Style, Shape, Padding

This harness comes with a “driver pad,” the bit of padding that would sit behind the base of the dildo against the wearer, but I’ve removed it so there isn’t as much separating me from my cock and my girl. The straps are a little thin, which personally I like, but you may not—I do find they can dig in a little bit. I love the convertible strap style, and if you for example aren’t sure whether you prefer one style or the other yet, this is a great one to buy because it’s easy to change for one to the other as desired. It’s very adjustable and fits hips from 26″-44″ (and the larger version fits up 56″) comfortably.

I’m still in search of a harness this simple that is not leather, or perhaps just a harness with a replaceable or removable center strap that is not leather (probably rubber). But this is getting closer!

I’ve got a slightly customized Rubber G that I still need to report about … the center strap is a bit thinner, and I do like that better, and oh the rubber is growing on me. I love how easily it cleans up.

PS … Did I mention that Aslan Leather sent me a harness to give away at my Cock Confidence & Strapping It On workshop at Butch Voices NYC this weekend? Hope you got a ticket, because registration is sold out. I hear if you come early with a lot of patience you might (might) be able to get in. Thanks Aslan—can’t wait to draw a name and send someone home with a new toy.

Aslan Leather sent me the Leather Pleasure Harness for review. Pick it up over on Aslan’s site, or at your local independent feminist queer sex toy store.

What’s Going On at the Butch Voices NYC Conference?

Oh, I’m so glad you asked.

We have three major co-sponsored events outside of the Butch Voices day-long conference. You all know the conference details already, right?

Butch Voices Regional Conference in New York City
Saturday, September 25, 2010
Queers for Economic Justice Performance and Conference Space
147 West 24th Street, New York City, NY

The day-long conference will include workshops, panels, a butch hospitality lounge as well as a very special keynote celebration of our history and community of butches. Plan out your day by looking at the workshops offered and the schedule.

But what else is going on, outside of the day-long event?

First, Friday night kicks off the conference with a social event designed for us to all meet each other, make friends, or possibly hook up.

Speed Dating and Friending with Butch Voices
Friday, September 24th from 8-10pm
At Anti-Diva, Dixon Place, 161A Chrystie Street, NYC

Join us for queer speed meet and greet socializing brought to you from Velvetpark, hosted by Diana Cage and Grace Moon at Anti-Diva! Also featuring an acoustic performance with musical guest Melissa Li whose music has been featured in Curve and Bitch magazines, and has been nominated for an OUTMusic Award. Check out her current band Melissa Li & The Barely Theirs at www.melissali.com.

Cost: $10-$15
FREE for folks who have pre-registered for the BUTCH Voices NYC Regional Conference
Fundraiser proceeds will go to BUTCH Voices NYC Regional Conference

And if you found a date or a new friend or a good buddy or just didn’t have enough time at Dixon Place to get your groove on, come on over to Brooklyn after that for a dance party:

Que(e)ry II Dance Party
9pm-4am
$5-10 sliding scale
2 for 1 admission for Butch Voices attendees with secret code (sent to those who have pre-registered)
Blackout Bar, 916 Manhattan Ave., Greenpoint

A celebration of queer librarians and those who love them. You don’t have to be a queer librarian; you just have to dance with one! DJ CP * DJ EMOTICON * DJ ADAM E. MILKSOP * DJ SHOMI NOISE * Queer-Lit Drink Specials * Shushed Raffle * Hot GoGos * Real-Live Reference Librarians! Proceeds benefit: The Leather Archive & Museum (CHI) & The LGBT Community Center Library & Archives (NYC)

Then, Saturday after the conference, we’re going to hightail it down to Bluestockings Bookstore for a very special Queer Memoir/Sideshow: Queer Literary Carnival Mashup reading series:

BUTCH Voices NYC 2010 Queer Memoir/Sideshow Mash-Up
Saturday September 25th at 7pm
Bluestockings Bookstore
172 Allen St, New York, NY
$5 suggested donation

The first ever regional gathering of BUTCH Voices in NYC will bring together self identified Butches, Studs, Aggressives and other folks who identity as masculine as center as well as many allies for conversation, workshops, entertainment, and good ol’ fashioned butch bonding. The Butch Voices Queer Memoir/Sideshow Mash-Up will bring together writers and storytellers to share in this celebration.

QUEER MEMOIR is an NYC based storytelling series that works to give voice to our collective queer experiences, and preserve and document our complex queer history. Queer Memoir is curated and hosted by Genne Murphy and Kelli Dunham. SIDESHOW: The Queer Literary Carnival is a reading of serious literature for ridiculous times, curated and hosted by Cheryl B and Sinclair Sexsmith.

With Queer Memoir storytellers:

Ryann Makenzi Holmes, 26, Bed Stuy, Bk, NY — entrepreneur, student, biker, skater, DJ boi — was born in Washington, DC and raised primarily in Largo, Maryland. She currently attends Baruch College in New York, working tirelessly towards the “coveted” MBA. She resides in Brooklyn, where she attributes the inspiration for her first entrepreneurial endeavor, bklyn boihood, a community organization dedicated to the empowerment and visibility of masculine presenting queer and trans folks of color.

Morgan Mann Willis is an east-coast/uptown original; a homolicious, AGstudboi; a writer, teacher, student, woman-lover, cat-lover, bus-taker, part-time poet, full-time love machine who spends her days and nights spanking New York City’s sexy ass. Sometimes she teaches in prison, sometimes in jail, sometimes on street corners, but most of the time she’s being schooled by life or is busy dreaming up schemes to become several different varieties of amazing.

Emma Crandall recently moved to Brooklyn from Atlanta and teaches writing at Temple in Philadelphia. When not in transit, Emma writes about gay culture in her own precious scribblings, as contributing editor at Velvetpark, and, formerly, as co-creator of the blog Breeders Digest: Helping Straight People Help Themselves. She prefers life in melodrama, outfits on the complicated side, and Stevie Nicks on the rocks, with shawls.

And Sideshow performers:

Philadelphia, PA native Renair Amin is no stranger to the arts. As an author, she has written for various print and on-line publications. Her work also appears in the Nghosi Books anthology, Longing, Lust & Loving. As a spoken word artist, Renair has graced national stages, including New York City, where she hosts Speak Your Myne, a monthly open mic showcase of her creation. In 2006, Renair formed Pmyner, Ltd., a literary entertainment company for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender performance arts community. In 2010, Renair Amin was named one of the Top 5 Lesbian Entrepreneurs by LezNation Magazine.

Kestryl Cael is a dandy trans butch performance artist with too many stories to tell. Hir one-queer-show, XY(T), has toured across the country, delighting and discomfiting college students and soccer moms. Ze was a member of “The Language of Paradox,” a performance ensemble founded and directed by Kate Bornstein. Cael’s writing appears in anthologies such as Kicked Out, and ze is half of the performance duo, PoMo Freakshow. Ze is currently developing ‘348,’ a solo performance piece about the troubled teen industry, torture, and a hot pink sweatshirt.

But wait! That’s not all! If you’re still itching to go out after that, there will be a special Brooklyn-based sex and play party for women & trans folks late on Saturday night:

SUBMIT: A Special Collaboration with Butch Voices!

The city’s hottest sex and SM party for the women and trans community will feed your appetite, whether you’re a voyeur, experienced player, novice, or just curious, you’re sure to find something to satisfy! Come use our huge collection of equipment including slings, bondage equipment, spanking bench, plenty of private cubbies, shower, tub, live sex, and and hot porn! New boot black station! Wanna drink? We’ll keep yours cold! SPECIAL GUEST: DJ Mistress Roxxxy!! Wondering how to meet people? Wear an action wristband! ~ Lots of private spaces ~ women/trans only please be sure to check our gender policy.

Doors open at 10pm, bring your Butch Voices conference ticket for $5 off
Featuring a very special Deep Throat demonstration with Leah at 1AM

FOR MORE INFORMATION, questions, or the location call 718-789-4053 or email Red@submitparty.com

And if that isn’t enough, well, there will be another Butch Brunch following the conference in October, on Saturday the 16th. All of these events are open to the public, to masculine of center folks or our allies, and you don’t have to be attending the conference to come to these events (though you do get in free, if you have your conference registration proof). See you there!

Butch Brunch in NYC Tomorrow

September’s Butch Brunch is coming up tomorrow, September 18th, at 11am in the East Village of New York City, at Cafe Orlin at 41 St. Mark’s Place. Want to come? Please make sure to RSVP to me—either by email or by Facebook—so I will know how big of a table to get.

I’m sorry to say, it’s Yom Kippur, so the folks are fasting or observing might not be able to attend. I am sorry about that—it was the only Saturday available in September for me to host it, so it was the only option. There will be one more, after the Butch Voices NYC Conference is over, on October 16th, so hopefully if you are observing tomorrow you can still attend that one. Or, of course, perhaps I’ll see you at the Butch Voices NYC Conference!

Check out the photos from the Butch Brunch in August, it was a great time. We chatted about our relationship to the word and identity butch, how we identified, what we thought about the evolution of this identity. It was a great casual conversation.

Butch Brunch is co-sponsored by Butch Voices NYC and Sugarbutch, so we are adapting Butch Voices opinions about what butch means. From ButchVoices.com: “We are woman-identified Butches. We are trans-masculine Studs. We are faggot-identified Aggressives. We are noun Butches, adjective Studs and pronoun-shunning Aggressives. We are she, he, hy, ze, zie and hir. We are you, and we are me. The point is, we don’t decide who is Butch, Stud or Aggressive. You get to decide for yourself.”

Cafe Orlin i a pretty big place and they’ve got a $6 plate of eggs & potatoes & toast, and it doesn’t get cheaper than that in Manhattan. Please RSVP on Facebook or email me to let me know you’re coming so we can get a head count. They don’t take reservations on the weekends, so I plan on being there early to get a big table. See you there?

Review: Female Masculinity by Jack Halberstam

Countdown to the Butch Voices NYC Conference: 1 Week!

I’m counting down the Fridays with classic and modern butch book titles that I highly recommend because the Butch Voices Regional Conference in New York City (and then in Portland and LA) is coming up in just a week.

If you haven’t registered yet, you better get to it! We probably have something like twenty tickets left, and it’s filling up fast. The workshops and the schedule, and don’t forget that there are other events on Friday and Saturday nights. More information on those events (open to the public!) shortly.

This week’s book is the classic text Female Masculinity by Jack Halberstam. See how I called it a “text” instead of a book or a pile o’papers? Well that’s ’cause it’s pretty academic. But don’t let that stop you—it’s an important, classic piece of writing on masculinity and femaleness, and deconstructs gender in ways that paved the way for gender activism and theory in the years after. It was first published by Duke University Press Books in 1998.

I know it sounds like it’s unreadable and intimidating, but it’s worth struggling through. I haven’t read it since college but it kind of blew my mind. I should add it to my list of books to re-read, especially with all this butch stuff coming up, I’m inspired to delve into the theory again.

Here’s the description of the book:

Judith Halberstam’s deft separation of masculinity from the male body in Female Masculinity. If what we call “masculinity” is taken to be “a naturalized relation between maleness and power,” Halberstam argues, “then it makes little sense to examine men for the contours of that masculinity’s social construction.” We can learn more from other embodiments of masculinity, like those found in drag-king performances, in the sexual stance of the stone butch, and in female-to-male transgenderism. Halberstam’s subject is so new to critical discourse that her approach can be somewhat scattershot–there is simply too much to say–but her prose is lucid and deliberate, and her attitude refreshingly relaxed. Essential reading for gender studies and a lively contribution to cultural studies in general.

In addition to this book, Halberstam is the keynote at Butch Voices LA on October 9th! She’s scheduled for 1:30 – 2:30pm on Saturday, and boy I would love to be there. I had to pick between the LA Butch Voices conference and the Talking About the Taboo conference at the CSPH, and with other travel I’m doing, it made sense to stay in the region. Plus, Megan is kickass and the lineup at the CSPH conference is going to be fantastic, and I’m attending two other Butch Voices conferences, so … not much of a contest. But if you’re going to LA, know that I am envious! And I hope her keynote is amazing and inspiring.

Jack Halberstam currently writes online at Bully Bloggers. Here’s her recent bio, lifted from there:

J. JACK HALBERSTAM, Professor of English, American Studies and Ethnicity and Gender Studies at USC. Halberstam works in the areas of popular, visual and queer culture with an emphasis on subcultures. Halberstam is the author of Skin Shows: Gothic Horror and the Technology of Monsters (Duke Up, 1995), Female Masculinity (Duke UP, 1998), In a Queer Time and Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives (NYU Press, 2005). Halberstam was also the co-author with Del LaGrace Volcano of a photo/essay book, The Drag King Book (Serpent’s Tail, 1999), and with Ira Livingston of an anthology, Posthuman Bodies (Indiana UP, 1995). Halberstam is currently finishing a book titled “Notes on Failure” and beginning another on “Bats”…yes, the ones with wings and teeth.

Pick up a copy of Female Masculinity from your local independent queer feminist bookstore (if you want it to be around next month, ya know), or, as usual, if you must, from Amazon.

Talking About the Taboo at the CSPH

I’ll be participating in the CSPH’s 2nd Annual Conference, Talking About the Taboo, on October 10th from 1:00-5:00pm in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. If you haven’t seen Megan’s beautiful, fun, and flirty space yet, now’s your chance to see the place—take a day trip, if you live nearby, it’s going to be worth it.

More information is available on the CSPH’s website.

This year’s conference brings us some of the most noteworthy participants in the realm of sexuality. Be sure to stick around for what is sure to be an informative and lively panel addressing current issues surrounding sexuality. Our guest panelists will include: Dr. Charlie Glickman, Princess Kali, Audacia Ray, Sinclair Sexsmith, Dr. Logan Levkoff and Anita Hoffner!

Special Bonus: Providence Pin Up will be present taking photos of individuals who are interested in vamping it up in front of the camera.

Review: Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg

Countdown to the Butch Voices NYC Conference: 2 Weeks

Did you see that? Does it really say “2 Weeks” up there in the title. Um, reality check. So much to do! And I’m going camping with Kristen this weekend. She’s already made her famous (or what should be famous) potato salad. Which seems like a bad plan (the camping, not the potato salad) because there is so much to work on. But I’ve been working all week, and am still re-integrating after the New Mexico trip, so this will be good for me, I know. And we’re going to our favorite campsite that we’ve visited so far, still on the hunt for the perfect one, far enough from the city that it’s quiet and spacious but not so far that we have to drive all day to get there. I think I will be sneaking away during the days to find a coffee shop with wifi in the northwest Catskills so I can spend a little bit of time on The Smut Machine, aka my laptop, working on Butch Voices media.

Meanwhile: I’m counting down the Fridays with classic and modern butch book titles that I highly recommend because the Butch Voices Regional Conference in New York City (and then in Portland and LA) is coming up in just two weeks. If you haven’t registered yet, now is the time! We are very near capacity and can only hold so many folks in the space, so make sure you put your name down if you want to come. The workshops and the schedule have been announced, and they look fantastic, it’s going to be a great day. Stay tuned for the full announcements of events around the conference, on Friday and Saturday nights.

I’m really talking about classic butch titles here, so I can’t not talk about Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg. How many of us have had someone give us a copy of this book, early on, perhaps before we even know ourselves, and say, “I think this is you”? How many of us first felt like we were tapping into something larger than our own struggle when we started reading about Jess.

I had the opportunity to hear Leslie speak here in New York a few years ago, for her newer book Drag King Dreams, and it was thrilling. I love that about New York, that sooner or later, everyone does some sort of gig here, everyone comes through. It’s a magnet for some of the most amazing writers and activists and I do not discount the value of that (even in all my complaining about the big city).

If this book has been on your list for years, if you always meant to get around to it, if you kept meaning to read it, consider this a sign: it’s time. Go pick up a copy from Paperback Swap or your local indy bookstore or heck, even Amazon.

From Alyson Press, the publisher:

Published in 1993, this brave, original novel is considered to be the finest account ever written of the complexities of a transgendered existence. Woman or man? That’s the question that rages like a storm around Jess Goldberg, clouding her life and her identity. Growing up differently gendered in a blue–collar town in the 1950’s, coming out as a butch in the bars and factories of the prefeminist ’60s, deciding to pass as a man in order to survive when she is left without work or a community in the early ’70s. This powerful, provocative and deeply moving novel sees Jess coming full circle, she learns to accept the complexities of being a transgendered person in a world demanding simple explanations: a he-she emerging whole, weathering the turbulence. Leslie Feinberg is also the author of Trans Liberation, Trans Gender Warriors and Transgender Liberation, and is a noted activist and speaker on transgender issues.

Leslie Feinberg’s website has some other great information about the book, including the covers that were published in countries outside the US, a video of her reading from the book, and her afterward to the 10th anniversary edition.

When I was at the Lambda Literary Awards last year, the honored Leslie Feinberg, but she was too sick to appear and give her speech—someone else, her publicist I believe, gave it for her. So she hasn’t been doing many appearances, but I hope she is still writing.

She has been publishing quite a few photographs through Flickr and Twitter (@lesliefeinberg) if you’d like to follow her there. And of course more information about her work is over on her site, transgenderwarrior.org.

Pick up a copy of Stone Butch Blues directly from Alyson Books, or head out to your local independent queer feminist bookstore, or, as usual, if you must, from Amazon.

Twitter Porn Party Tonight & Giveaway Winner

Thanks to the Random Integer Generator for picking commenter #2 as the winner of the $30 Good Vibrations Gift Card:

Congrats, I’ll be in touch!

Don’t forget! Garnet Joyce & I are hosting another Porn Party over on Twitter tonight at 6pm PST / 9pm EST. Join us as we watch Tight Places: A Drop of Color and comment on it with the hashtag #pornparty.

If you tune in, Garnet is going to give away another $30 gift card during the porn party itself, so keep an eye on Twitter and the #pornparty hashtag tonight.

On Making Sex Last: Cheerleading & Open Relationships

I’ve asked a couple people recently what their secrets were for their successful long-term relationship, how they keep the passion alive, how they keep walking that delicate line of having enough space and still being connected to each other. Coming together, going apart, coming back together, over and over through the years.

One friend answered, “Do you really want to know? We sleep around. We’re both big sluts. The commitment, to me, means that we are each other’s biggest cheerleaders. We don’t believe in possessing each other. I am always on the sidelines yelling, ‘Go you!’”

I find possession kind of hot, personally. In a playful way. But I love this cheerleader idea, the ways that a relationship can be built to support each other through our individual personal trials. And as long as the possession stuff can be fun and consensual, and not interfering with each other’s sovereignty, I think the two—cheerleading and possession—aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. It reminds me of the quote in that relationship article I ran across long ago:

“Create for yourself a new indomitable perception of faithfulness. What is usually called faithfulness passes so quickly. Let this be your faithfulness: You will experience moments, fleeting moments, with the other person. The human being will appear to you then as if filled, irradiated with the archetype of his/her spirit. And then there may be, indeed will be, other moments, long periods of time when human beings are darkened. At such times, you will learn to say to yourself. ‘The spirit makes me strong. I remember the archetype, I saw it once. No illusion, no deception shall rob me of it.’ Always struggle for the image that you saw. This struggle is faithfulness. Striving thus for faithfulness you shall be close to one another as if endowed with the protective powers of angels.” -Rudolf Steiner

I think that perspective of cheerleading can also be seen as rooting for the other’s highest self, for what they’re capable of, at their best. So that part, yeah, I totally support.

The other part, though …

I have read all good the books about polyamory, I’ve been a proponent of The Ethical Slut and Opening Up by Taormino, I’m a big fan of Dan Savage who is constantly talking about how frequently monogamy fails, and I remain firm in the opinion that my significant, intimate partnering relationship should be open, but the degree of that openness, I’m still not really sure. In part, that’s where the other person comes in, but another part of me thinks that I am actually interested in a semi-monogamous relationship. Monogam-ish, as someone put it to me once.

I do believe in open relationships because, frankly, I’m a little bit of a slut. I have enough experience sexually to know that sex doesn’t actually have to mean anything, that it doesn’t have to necessitate a precursor to a relationship, that if I want to have sex with someone more than once, that doesn’t necessarily mean that I want to love them forever and shack up with them and share our lives intimately. And I don’t think that we, realistically, just stop feeling attracted to anyone else, ever, just because we’ve made a life-long commitment to another person. And that physical desire for someone else—or even intellectual or emotional desire—is not necessarily an indication of some deep-seated problem in the relationship.

I know it’s possible to be attracted to or interested in more than one person at the same time, and that one does not necessarily take away from the other. Most importantly, though, I recognize that just if or when I or my partner feels an attraction, I want us to be able to talk about that, to puzzle through it, to figure out if it’s important to go sleep with that person or if flirty coffee dates or making out is enough, or if it’s a temporary infatuation, or if it should become a bigger friendship.

Why do people cheat when they’re in a relationship? They cheat because they, ultimately, are feeling unfulfilled, sexually, emotionally, or otherwise. Because their relationship was sexually (or otherwise) incompatible from the beginning, but they made the decision to commit anyway, or because their relationship used to be sexually fulfilling, but isn’t anymore, because something changed (be it someone’s body, ability, health, sex drive, etc). This often leaves one person extremely unhappy and unfulfilled, while the other is guilty, apologetic, or withholding (or all of the above). But under the strict rules of monogamy, one can’t possibly go seek sex or comfort outside of the committed relationship without doing this awful, home-wrecking thing: cheating. Which is, according to most people, unforgivable.

But what about being so withholding as to not allow your partner their sexual fulfillment? How is that not the thing of which we are unforgiving?

And under the strict rules of relationships in this day and age, it isn’t just the monogamy that’s a problem: it’s the culture that de-emphasizes sex as not important, while simultaneously using it as the be-all end-all status symbol. Think about it: how many times have you heard someone complain that “the rest of the relationship is just fine!” And there’s “only” a problem with the sex part.

As if that was just this little, teeny piece.

Well, if you’re talking about a monogamous relationship, sex is pretty much the definition of what you are going to be doing with this person that you are going to avoid doing with every other person on the planet. And if you accept the premise that you are a sexual being and deserve to have your sexual needs fulfilled (though, I know, that’s a stretch for most folks), then by definition the key component of this monogamous relationship is to be sexually compatible.

But most of this stuff, for me personally, is theoretical-in-the-future. Because right now, my girlfriend and I are sexually compatible, are highly communicative about our needs (and continuing to practice and hone our communications skills), and very committed to both our sex life together and to our individual erotic fulfillment.

So we’re open.

But not because we want to sleep with other people. Well, threesomes, sure—we are both slutty enough and interested enough in interesting new sexcapades that doing sexual things together with other people is totally an option. And, sometimes, we have cashed in on that option, making dates with hot queers who, to our thrills, have agreed to come home with us.  We might be willing to play with other people at a party, and I have dreams of orchestrating a butch gang bang for her, where I just get to sit back and watch. Or maybe be the first and the last in a string of butches who get to take advantage of her.

But what about sex outside of this relationship, sex with another person on our own, without the other person there?

We’ve been talking about this, lately. From the beginning, we’ve claimed that we were open, and for a while that meant we could do whatever we wanted when we weren’t with each other, and we didn’t need to know about it. Then, as things got more serious between us, we decided we wanted to know, which (chicken or egg?) meant that neither of us were sleeping with anybody else.

But what does it mean now, a year and a half into our relationship? I guess we’re still working that out. By “regular” standards, we are open because most folks would consider things like threesomes or making out with another person potentially crossing the lines of monogamy. Oh yeah, and we have both attended erotic energy retreats, which others could (and have, for me) consider “cheating,” but which we are both fine with. And we are open because we are acknowledge that sexual desire for someone else can happen, and we should be able to talk about that, that desire for someone else doesn’t have to have repercussions within our own relationship,  and that sex can be fun and playful and, ultimately, meaningless.

As our lives become more entwined, though, and as we continue to be cheerleaders for more and more things in each other’s paths and trials and triumphs, from our sexual fulfillment to our careers to our emotional hurdles, we are less interested in other people. And playing with other people sexually, alone, without each other, just … doesn’t sound like much fun. We’ve both articulated that, recently. My sex life, at this point, has to do with her, and hers with me, and for a while anyway I want to be sure that she is a part of it.

For me personally, when I sleep with someone, I want to learn something. About myself, about the other person, about sex, about erotic energy exchange. For a long time, I was sleeping with people while looking for a person against which to form myself, I was looking for the particular magical orientation combination of femme-bottom-submissive to match up with my butch-top-dominant, while being in a person with whom I was also emotionally and politically compatible. Someone who would challenge me, someone who brought a lot to their side of the table, someone who took responsibility for their own shit. Someone that I could work on my own shit with, someone I could grow with, someone who will listen if I say, “I’m unhappy, and here’s why, and here’s what I think we should do about it.” Someone fierce, strong, capable.

If it sounds like a tall order, well … it is.

So for a while, I was just trying to find her. Searching and playing and refining what it was that I wanted by learning about what I didn’t want. And now that I’ve found someone like that, all I really want to do is play with her, in that delicious dynamic that I’ve been craving all this time. In our year and a half together we have already come to some fascinating new places in our sex life, and every time I find myself even remotely thinking that I’m bored or unfulfilled, I just quickly ask myself: well, what do you want? I bet whatever you ask for, she would be interested in doing it. And I quickly realize whatever momentary restlessness I felt was not about actually unfulfillment, but usually something else entirely. Usually something old of mine, rearing its ugly head.

And now that I have all of that, now that I have this relationship that continues to blossom and show me new things about myself, her, and the world, why would I go back to one night stands? I look back on my one-night stands, and even two- or three-night stands, and though they were fun, often a delight, they were also occasionally a disappointment. What would I learn, now, by sleeping with someone outside of my relationship?

I suppose it’s true that I am no longer looking for the be-all end-all package of my compatible girlfriend, so perhaps my standards for playful, casual are different, or should be. I think this is the question I should be asking myself: now that I have what I’ve wanted, and it basically works for me, what’s next? How do I continue to deepen my sense of self, my connection to erotic energy, and my connection to my girlfriend? What else can I—or do I want to—learn about sex?

Well, that’s a million dollar question. I will keep investigating.

And While I’m Mentioning Back To School … Sideshow!

Sideshow: The Queer Literary Carnival, hosted by myself and Cheryl B., is coming up in just one short week. It’s Cheryl’s birthday this month, so we might be doing a little somethin’ somethin’ in celebration of her awesomeness.

Tuesday, September 14th @ The Phoenix
447 East 13th Street @ Avenue A
Doors, 7:30pm. Reading, 8pm
Free! (We’ll pass the hat for the readers)

This month’s theme is BACK TO SCHOOL: SECOND ADOLESCENCE, starring:
Melissa Febos (Whip Smart), Theadora Fisher, Loren Krywanczyk, Tanya Paperny (LitDrift), and Rachel Simon (Theory of Orange) … Find out more about the readers, or RSVP on Facebook.

The Phoenix bar, who hosts Sideshow monthly, just got their own website and are now on Twitter @phoenixbarnyc.

Schoolgirl or schoolboy costumes or skirts or ties or vests are definitely encouraged!

Back To School: College Workshops This Fall

So it’s that time of year again …

I’m going to be doing some traveling around to different colleges in the next few months before winter break, doing the exciting workshop built just for smarty-pants college students interested in sex and gender, “Fucking With Gender: An interactive workshop on gender expression, identities, labels, transcending the mutually exclusive binaries, queer culture, and hot sweaty sex,” “Gendering Power: An interactive workshop on putting basic gender tenets into action, playing with gender in the bedroom through role play and power play, with a discussion of how gender identity can grow and change through intentional intimate sex play,” and a new workshop, “Relationship Skills Kindergarten: Things We Should Have Been Taught.”

I also do custom workshops, if there’s a particular thing that a college or student group is interested in, I will work with you to make something specific and special.

More information about me and my workshops are available over at my booking company, PhinLi.

Right now, I’m already planning trips to Portland, Oregon, Pawtucket, Rhode Island, and Tuscon, Arizona:

Butch Voices: Portland
Friday through Sunday, October 1-3
Portland, OR
more on ButchVoices.com

Talking About the Taboo
2nd Annual Conference at The Center for Sexual Pleasure & Health (CSPH)
Sunday, October 10th
Pawtucket, RI
thecsph.org

Strap-On 101 Workshop
Thursday, November 11th, 2010
Fascinations
Tuscon, AZ
More details TBA

Are you a college student heading back to school this fall? Are you interested in bringing me to speak or do a workshop or performance on your campus? Are you in one of these cities and could possibly help me do another workshop while I’m visiting? I would love to talk to you. You can email me directly, , or contact my booking company.

The Retreat

So I’ve just returned from a week out in the New Mexico desert, at a zen center, at a retreat with the erotic energy school with which I’ve been working for nearly ten years. This was the first time that I coordinated the retreat, meaning that I was the point person for logistical questions, I did most of the marketing and outreach, I organized the supplies that needed to be at the zen center while we were there, I registered all the participants and took care of the money. I answered last minute freak-out emails. I made sure everyone got from the airport to the zen center.

It was a hard job. I’m thrilled, on the one hand, to be doing more with the school, thrilled to be in more of a leadership role there. I’d really like to become a more formal apprentice to some of the teachers and perhaps even move into teaching this kind of thing myself. It’s a fascinating process, life-changing and delicious, and there’s not really any way to explain it in words. We just don’t have the language to describe energy and the way it moves in the body and how it connects to our emotional and erotic lives. I try, believe me I try to describe it, but I almost always fall short. Very frequently I just say it is beyond description. Something that must be experienced.

I did a similar retreat last year, it was residential and five days at the same location, but it was a completely different curriculum. Last year’s was formalized tantra. This year was just … play. The workshop title was “Pulse” and when the instructors and I were discussing it, they kept saying how much they just wanted to have fun. To move away from the classical tantra heady intellectual internal subtle stuff, but physical pleasure and release and play.

I’ve done things like this before, sure, some even in ritual space at an erotic energy workshops, but never for so many days and never quite like this. This was intense, hard, emotional, moving. And yes, lots of play.

It started out with a trip to the Georgia O’Keeffe museum in Santa Fe. No wait—scratch that. It started when I lost my wallet on the plane ride west, somewhere between JFK and ABQ. I’m not really sure what happened. When I got to Minneapolis, I didn’t have it. Thankfully, I did have my iPhone (which is kind of a miracle, since I keep it in my wallet). I was meeting two friends at the airport, two butches that I met at last year’s retreat, and we had planned to rent a car, drive up to Santa Fe to go to the museum, arrive a night early.

We still met up at the airport, but things got a bit jumbled because I’d made the reservations, and couldn’t pick up the car without a license or the credit card I’d used to make the reservation. At least I was meeting up with other people, I kept telling myself. If I’d been planning to do this alone, I don’t know what I would have done. Had someone wire me money, perhaps.

So that wallet thing put a ding on my plans. I had to deal with calling and canceling my cards, calling the airport’s lost and founds, trying not to stress about how I was going to get back on my plane to return. I had meticulously planned all the things I needed to do to get this retreat running, those 24 hours I had that were extra before the other participants arrived, so that was a stressful way to kick it off. And it’s so not like me! I kept wanting to explain that to everyone. I don’t do this kind of thing! I’m not disorganized! I don’t lose things like my wallet! Like, ever! But what could I do? I asked for what I needed, got a lot of support. And generally I was at a retreat center—I wasn’t on a shopping vacation, so I didn’t really need money. Just a few bucks here and there. It could’ve been worse.

We did make it to the Georgia O’Keeffe museum, and it was beautiful. This small little adobe building, only a few rooms, but a beautiful gallery. The other two butches and I—who everyone started calling “the fellas”—were only there for about half an hour, but we got a good sense of what was there. (It’s an exhibit I’d already seen in New York at the Guggenheim, of O’Keeffe’s abstracts, which I’d listened to the whole audio tour and spent hours in the galleries, so I felt well acquainted with most of the pieces.) Still, it was really lovely to see the museum and to see her works surrounded by the colors of the New Mexico desert.

We arrived at the zen center later than I’d planned, having been delayed by the whole wallet thing, but it was immediately a relief to be at the center, with the hummingbirds and the happy buddhist cats who live there and the hot springs and the hammock, oh the hammock, I love hammocks so much. (It kind of reminds me of Calvin & Hobbes: I just like to say hammock.)

I spent a lot of time in the Zendo (that photo on the right), which is a rather new building and is an incredibly beautiful meditation hall. The monks and residents who stay at the center get up every morning at 5am to do morning meditation, but I couldn’t bring myself to get up that early (even if it was 7am New York time) because I’d done it the year before and it wiped me out for the whole day. I wanted to be present for the workshop, much as I wanted to sit in that beautiful hall, so instead I stole into it (wearing socks to protect the tatami mats, of course) whenever I could. The zen practice is so rigid, sometimes it feels too immobile, but other times it is incredibly inspiring to clean lines and clear mind.

I miss meditating in that zendo.

The Fellas and I took over one of the rooms, the same one we’d all bunked in the year before. Since we got there so late and the participants were arriving the next day in the early afternoon, I didn’t have time to get into the hammock or go into the hot springs until after we’d already started and were dismissed for the night.

And what a delicious experience it was, when I finally lowered myself into the hot springs, walked along the bottom on all the pebbles, let the mineral waters soak into my muscles. Later, I lay in bed, my body tingling, a deep relaxation down into my bones, I could feel everything letting go, relaxing, just a little bit more. I started thinking about the abbess of the zen center, the woman who has lived there for the past thirty years. Time in the hot springs is actually listed on the daily schedule of the monks and people who come to spend time at the center. She goes into these hot springs nearly every single day for last thirty years, I thought. I would smile like her, too, if I did that.

It’s hard to describe the level of calm and relaxation that comes to me when I’m out in nature, connected to the weather and the earth and air and water, listening to the sounds of the birds and bugs and critters, paying attention to how a flower is growing. Up at Easton Mountain, where I’m coordinating another one of these retreats in November, there’s a sign in the vegetable garden that says, “The wilderness holds answers to more questions than we yet know how to ask.” —Nancy Newhail. I thought of that often when I was off on my own, sitting on a rock or in the grass or in the hammock watching the clouds, wondering if I would actually be happy if I wasn’t so connected to the heavy rhythms of the city, the culture, the events, the music and readings and bookstores and cafes and clubs. Wouldn’t I miss that? Wouldn’t I get bored? Would I really have enough fodder for my work, if I was closer to the earth and farther from people?

I don’t know. Maybe I would desperately miss the easy access to things like Thai food and dyke bars. But maybe I’d get enough of that if I kept my Internet connection (which of course would be mandatory) and kept traveling. I really don’t know.

When I visited Easton recently to get a feel for it, to see the accommodations and to be able to tell potential participants about the options and the space for the November workshop, when it came time to get back in the car and head back to the concrete urbana that is New York, I nearly teared up. I wanted to stay there. I wasn’t ready to go. I wanted to get out my computer and sit on the porch swing, or go for a walk on one of their trails. Kristen and I curled up in their hammock for a little while, but it was getting dark and it was time for dinner, so we didn’t stay long. I realized with that, though, that it’s really time to start planning my exit from the East coast and from New York City. I’ve always said I wouldn’t stay here forever, but I’ve been here more than five years now and it’s starting to feel less temporary. I don’t know if there really is somewhere better for me, but I want to look. I’m not convinced this is where I belong.

I’ve narrowed it down to somewhere along the I-5 corridor: Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, the Bay. I don’t know what will be best for me, or for Kristen, presuming that she comes along. But it’s time for me to start creating a plan.

I know I’ve been saying that for a long time, and that pretty much my entire column over on SexIs has been dedicated to reconciling with New York or, in my more city-depressed months, complaining about missing the West. But it feels different, and it’s time to start making a plan.

The retreat unfolded, as it does, with complicated emotions and things that became undone and unsure footing and practice and pleasure. The Fellas and I had a great time reconnecting and bunking together, and we often decompressed together at night after the big events of the day. There was another butch there, a leather butch also from the East coast, and along with one of the instructors and another woman who was figuring out that she was possibly queer (and, we suspect, possibly a bit masculine of center), when we finally got around to what we dubbed the Sadie Hawkins dance on the third day of the retreat, where we were all letting loose with some dancing and silliness, there were six of us up against the wall with our arms folded over our chests, saying, “I am dancing.”

It was thrilling and different to be in a women-only space with five other (or four and a half, really) masculine of center people. I struggled for a while, after I started doing work with this school, to bring my own masculinity to these women-only spaces, especially when they are focused on erotic healing and power, because much of the trauma in women’s sexualities has to do with men and, subsequently, masculinity. But since I’ve been bringing it harder into that space, not so apologetic or nervous about packing or wearing a button down or boxers, the experiences have been more about fetishizing my masculinity than about being afraid of it. Swooning over it, even, since for straight women to be in a women-only space where we’re exploring eroticism can sometimes be strange, with no one to focus their erotic attention on when they are genuinely not attracted to women. But insert a masculine woman into that equation, and it’s easier to sexualize us, easier to want us, easier to ask us to do things (like penetrate) that they would otherwise perhaps shy away from in groups of women.

I’ve never been in one of these women-only workshops that had so much heat and intensity around gender. One of The Fellas said, “I have—when I was the only butch.” And yes, I’ve been in that scenario, too, and it is also intense, but in a different way. Or maybe I was different then, or was just in a different position. This time felt different though, and at times scary. I felt like I was getting lost, being used for my masculinity, not being seen beyond my presentation. By time day four rolled around, I lost it for an afternoon, but thankfully I had so much support and many friends there, other queers who do “get” my masculinity and my presentation and weren’t just using me—or us! because of course a lot of this I ended up projecting onto those other butches, feeling like I needed to swoop in and save them, too, from being eaten up. Thank goodness they were around, and I could talk to them about what was going on for me (after freaking out a little and not knowing what was wrong).

That comes up in my life quite frequently, now that I am thinking about it, and there were plenty of other “issues” of mine that came up while in the circle, too. My relationships to community, authority, and leadership, for example, were tried and complex, and came up more than once. Being in touch with what I wanted continued to be a challenge. The distance between being in service to someone as an assistant and being seen for who I am felt fine sometimes, and terrible others. There were many moments when people asked me to clarify my gender or to explain something. “I work with a lot of trans guys, so I get gender,” one woman said to me over breakfast. “But I don’t get … ” she vaguely gestured to me. “Me?” I asked. “Yeah.” I gave a five-minute explanation of female masculinity and the identity alignment assumptions of femininity and female, masculinity and male. She seemed to get it. And it didn’t take much out of me, I’m okay with those conversations. Practiced at them. But it kept happening from all directions, throughout the retreat.

That wasn’t the only part of the retreat, though. I had some great conversations with the queers in attendance about gender, about stone identity, about masculinity and the ways we get used, about femme visibility in a women-only space, about being the “experiment.” The Fellas and I had a great conversation about male identity, where one of us said, “I’m not a ‘fella,’ I’m not a guy. I’m butch, that is my gender, and I’m woman identified.” We all nodded in agreement. In my semi-formal studies of masculinity, I’ve started getting more and more So even referring to us as “The Fellas” as I’ve done here seems not quite right, but I think of it as us, not as a male thing, and I like how it’s casual and a little dapper.

I’m so glad it was such a queer space.

There was talk about doing it again next year, and my first experience coordinating went very well. The group had a wonderful dynamic all together, and though there were some newcomers, everyone was really up for it and brought it, fully, attended and gave their all and, I think, moved mountains in their own personal erotic and emotional work.

It was beautiful to watch.

Watching the releases is my favorite part, really. It’s why I so adore doing this work, and why I crave these workshops. That level of cellular release of trauma and pain and shame is so hard to recreate one-on-one or outside of these ritual spaces, and it satisfies something deep in me. Something about healing women, about fixing what is so fucked up and wrong with this culture that does this to us.

I had a chance to chat with another woman (a queer femme in her 60s!) who does similar work coordinating workshops, and with the facilitators, and I expressed interest in doing more of this erotic healing work around genderqueer folks, butches, and anyone who consider themselves stone. I would love to get a more explicitly queer group together, even if it was just once, or once a year.

The folks who returned who had also attended last year all expressed interest in continuing this tradition, so who knows? These retreats in late summer may become an annual event, returning to the desert with a circle of women to strip ourselves bare and soak ourselves in healing waters.

Tight Places: A Drop of Color Twitter Porn Party & Giveaway

Garnet Joyce & I are hosting another Porn Party over on Twitter next week, September 8th, Wednesday, at 6pm PST / 9pm EST. Join us as we watch Tight Places: A Drop of Color and comment on it with the hashtag #pornparty.

If you’ll be watching along with us, let me (@mrsexsmith) or @garnetjoyce know, or use the hashtag, and we’ll be sure to mention you!

Here’s the description for the film, Tight Places: A Drop of Color, directed by Nenna:

Incite your senses with this hot and diverse new offering from Reel Queer Productions! Featuring the creative styling of new director Nenna and a luscious all people of color cast. Tight Places showcases true chemistry, solos to foursomes, unconventional sex, authentic female orgasms, female ejaculation, and even a few outdoor scenes! Lots of great extras, including commentary and interviews. 2010, 90 minutes.

What’s that? You don’t have a copy of this flick yet? Well you’re in luck: Good Vibrations is giving away two $30 gift cards that you can use to buy the DVD, video on demand minutes, or anything else you’d like from their store.

If you want to enter, leave a comment with a valid email address mentioning how you might use that thirty bucks, or some other comment entirely, and I’ll pick one winner at random on Wednesday morning, September 8th.

And stay tuned for more goodies the day of the party!

If you don’t win this one, don’t worry—Garnet is going to give away another $30 gift card during the porn party itself, so keep an eye on Twitter and the #pornparty hashtag next Wednesday night.

Review: Butch Is A Noun

Countdown to the Butch Voices NYC Conference: 3 Weeks

The Butch Voices Regional Conference in New York City (and then in Portland and LA) is coming up in just three weeks. And in honor, I’m counting down the Fridays with classic and modern butch book titles that I highly recommend.

Butch Is A Noun, S. Bear Bergman’s first book, has been re-released by Arsenal Pulp Press just in time for the fall series of regional Butch Voices conferences. If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend it. It’s a personal collection of essays about what it’s like to live outside the binary gender system, in more ways than one, and what the identity, word, noun, verb, and adjective “butch” means to Bear.

The first chapter of Butch Is A Noun, “I Know What Butch Is,” is one of my favorite essays that I think I have ever read. Bear has a PDF of it over on hir website, if you’d like to read it as a preview to perhaps buying the book, and there’s also a great video of Bear reading the first chapter (that I have posted before, but it’s time to post again):

(Just ignore the girls in the background. Seriously.)

One of my favorite comments about the book comes from Kate Bornstein, who says: “Butch Is A Noun is a book that… a) should be required reading in any gender studies curriculum, b) femmes should read whenever they’re feeling unloved, lonely or misunderstood, c) butches should read, d) all of the above. The answer, of course, is d. Thank you, dear Bear.”

There’s lots in there for not just butch-identified folks, but also for folks who love butches, regardless of your gender.

Here’s the description of the book from Arsenal Pulp Press:

Butch is a Noun, the first book by activist, gender-jammer, and performer S. Bear Bergman,won wide acclaim when published by Suspect Thoughts in 2006: a funny, insightful, and purposely unsettling manifesto on what it means to be butch (and not). In thirty-four deeply personal essays, Bear makes butchness accessible to those who are new to the concept, and makes gender outlaws of all stripes feel as though they have come home. From girls’ clothes to men’s haircuts, from walking with girls to hanging with young men, Butch is a Noun chronicles the perplexities, dangers, and pleasures of living lifeoutside the gender binary.
This new edition includes a new afterword by the author.

There’s lots of ways to connect with Bear online—read hir livejournal, follow @sbearbergman on Twitter, and of course sbearbergman.com.

In case you don’t know about it, Bear also has a new anthology, co-edited with Kate Bornstein, Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation just released from Seal press. Pick that up directly from Seal Press, at your local independent queer feminist bookstore, or, if you must, from Amazon.

Pick up a copy of Butch Is A Noun directly from Arsenal Pulp Press, or head out to your local independent queer feminist bookstore, or, as usual, if you must, from Amazon.

What’s Happening in September

Events! Oh there are many. I’m busy in September. I’m going to try a new format and give you a monthly overview of my appearances, readings, and events at the beginning of the month.

Twitter Porn Party: Tight Places
September 8, 9pm EST 6pm PST
Hashtag is #pornparty
Log on and watch the hashtag for discussion of the new Good Releasing film Tight Places: A Drop of Color with @mrsexsmith and @garnetjoyce

SIDESHOW: Queer Literary Carnival
Tuesday, September 14th, 2010
Produced & Hosted by Cheryl B. and Sinclair Sexsmith
The Phoenix, 447 East 13th Street @ Avenue A in NYC
doors at 7:30pm, show at 8pm
queerliterarycarnival.com

Butch Brunch
Saturday, September 18th
Cafe Orlin, East Village, New York City
RSVP on Facebook

A Dyke’s Secrets of Cunnilingus
Thursday, September 23rd, 7pm
Purple Passion
211 West 20th Street, New York, NY
I’ll be bringing some things to help us do some tongue-strengthening exercises. It will be a good time.

Butch Voices: New York City
Friday through Sunday, September 24-26
New York City
more on ButchVoices.com

Butch Voices Speak: A Sideshow/Queer Memoir Mashup
Saturday, September 25, 7pm
Bluestockings Bookstore
Lower East Side, New York City

Upon Return & Porn Party

I’ve returned from the New Mexico desert! It’s a bit surreal to be back, I’m still longing for the hot springs and the sound of the hummingbirds and the hammock. But I’ve got a pile of work waiting for me here in my various inboxes, so I better get to it. I’m heavily involved in the Butch Voices NYC Regional Conference that is happening September 25th, and between that and a special semi-secret relaunch of a project, this September is going to be very full. That means I might be posting less here, though I’ll try to keep it up.

A few of you asked about the erotic energy workshop that I’ll be coordinating in November in New York State. If you’re interested in attending, or want more information, email me and I’ll send you the exact dates and cost. It’s residential, meaning you stay at a retreat center for three days, and all meals are included.

Meanwhile! Garnet Joyce and I are organizing another Porn Party on Twitter. This one is next week, Wednesday September 8th, at 6pm PST / 9pm EST. We’ll be watching Tight Places: A Drop Of Color and tweeting our reactions with the hashtag #pornparty.

The last one, where we watched Fluid: Men Redefining Sexuality, was really fun. Come join in on the conversation!