Archive for September, 2010
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Schoolgirl or schoolboy costumes or skirts or ties or vests are definitely encouraged!
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.
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
more on ButchVoices.com
Talking About the Taboo
2nd Annual Conference at The Center for Sexual Pleasure & Health (CSPH)
Sunday, October 10th
Strap-On 101 Workshop
Thursday, November 11th, 2010
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.
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.