Nominations Needed for Top Hot Butches

With the relaunch of the Top Hot Butches project, I am including different people than last year, in a totally different way.

I think this is some of the confusion about including cis men. The Top Hot list is not a top 100 butches list like it was last year. I’m not that interested in hierarchizing everyone based on hotness. Hotness is all relative, anyway.

What I am interested in is community, and bringing people together who experience similar gender identities. I’m also interested in the word “butch” itself, and how it scares many people, how many of us have such a strong reaction to it, like it’s a slur, as it has been used against many of us for lifetimes. And how it becomes a strong, defining word for others, a major hook on which we hang ourselves and by which we define ourselves. Many different kinds of people use this word to talk about who they are, and I’m curious about that.

The new site is more community-focused, with a whole blog component, Tumblr site, and Symposium, as I mentioned the other day. And there is still a Top Hot section. It’ll be more like a database of people you can go browse through and find their work and be inspired by, not a numbered list. Just people, doing good work, going about their lives, with a butch or masculine of center gender.

I’m much more inclined to include women than men, and it will be harder to find men to include, since I am restricting the men included to being butch-identified (more about that below).

I am especially looking for trans women who identify or present as butch, men (cis or trans) who self-identify as butch, and people of color along the masculine spectrum. It’s been easier to find the white butch dykes than anyone else, but I know there are a lot of other folks out there!

Check last year’s list to see who was on it before you nominate somebody. Everyone from the list last year, unless requested otherwise, will be included in the new project.

Rules for nominations:

ALL nominees:

  • Must be active in the public sphere of some sort, or a leader, and well known, in their field. Performers, writers, and activists are particularly easy to point to, but anyone notable in any field is applicable. Yes, this means your girlfriend/boifriend/boyfriend might not qualify. No, having a blog is not necessarily qualification enough.
  • Must have been doing work at some point in the last decade. There are plenty of people we can dig up who are no longer alive, or who were notably butch or visibly masculine women from decades past, but this project is about what’s going on now. Perhaps at some point in the future we’ll tackle Top Hot Butches pre-Stonewall, but for now, let’s focus on who is around now.
  • Can be of any age, though generally we’re talking about folks who are post-puberty, and even more frequently folks who are post-Saturn return, as it sometimes takes quite a bit of time to really know oneself enough to come to an alternative gender identity and expression like these. Age doesn’t matter.
  • Can be of any race, religion, ethnic background, or sexual orientation. That probably goes without saying, but I’ll make it clear anyway.

Inclusions of women, cis or trans:

  • It would be GREAT if they self-identify as some some of masculine of center identity: butch, macha, stud, ag, tomboi, genderqueer, etc.
  • If they do not self-identify this way (or they have a level of fame where they wouldn’t reply to an email asking if they do or not), they will be considered for inclusion based on these things: 1. rejection of traditional femininity, including but not limited to dress, style, and hair; tendency to shop in the men’s department and display a masculine gender expression most of the time; 3. swagger, meaning some sort of masculine energy in their movements; and 4. are out as queer. Some exceptions will be made to the requirement that they are out as queer, such as in the case of Katherine Moennig, where she is very clearly queer but has not made official statements regarding such.

Inclusions of men, cis or trans:

  • Must self-identify as butch. Either you know that they identify as butch, because they’re your friend or you’re aware of their work, or they have made some sort of public statement that says they identify as butch.

Inclusions of genderqueer folks that identify as outside of the binary:

  • Should self-identify as some of masculine of center identity: butch, macha, stud, ag, tomboi, etc., and be interested in being included in a database of butches.

How to nominate:

Email me, or comment on this post, with the following:

  • Name of the person you’re nominating
  • What they do (writer, performer, activist, lawyer, whatever)
  • Link to or attached recent photograph, at least 640×480 (landscape) and better yet, cropped to 700×400
  • Link to their website, Myspace, Twitter, or other web presence for more information about their work

Aside from Top Hot Butches, I am also compiling a list of butch-identified bloggers. If you are a butch-identified blogger, or if you read a blog by someone butch-identified who you like, will you please leave a link to them here and I’ll add them to my list. I have quite a few that I know of, of course, but I’m sure I don’t know you all! Even if you think I probably have yours, leave it anyway just to make sure?

And a huge thank you for your help with this project! It is coming together, and I’m really excited to show it to everyone.

Call for Submissions: Lesbian BDSM Erotica Anthology

As if the project (re)launch of Top Hot Butches wasn’t enough, I’ve got some other exciting news: I’m going to be editing an anthology for Cleis Press focusing on lesbian BDSM erotica!

I adore Cleis, I’ve been following their catalogues for years and I frequently jump at their new titles. They’ve published many of my short stories in other anthologies, and I am thrilled to be working with them as an editor. It’s a new venture for me! And I hope it goes well.

There is definitely a lack of the dirty stuff out there—so many of the erotica anthologies I pick up lately have lacked kink. And hoo boy I’ve been reading a lot of erotica lately. Did you know I am now the lesbian erotica editor for the Lambda Literary Foundation’s recently relaunched website? True story. I’m doing a quarterly roundup of the current lesbian erotica, so I’ve been getting all sorts of fun packages in the mail, but unfortunately most of them are just awful and I really hope the authors intended the book to be a joke. But if I can’t tell, then it wasn’t exactly a successful joke.

I can’t wait to turn up the dirty stuff and stick it all out there in a book with actual pages that you can wank off to—that’ll be a nice change from cuddling up to your laptop in bed, or wanking off at your desk, hmm?

A note about the word “lesbian” … it is pretty much necessary to use that word in the publishing world. So it was kind of not negotiable. I don’t feel great about it, and while I don’t not identify as a lesbian, it certainly wouldn’t be my first sexual identity label of choice (I tend to call myself queer).

Ultimately, though, it is an anthology focused on female characters, but any and all gender expressions are welcome (and encouraged!) to be represented in this anthology—cis women, trans women, and genderqueer characters who identify with the lesbian community. I will absolutely consider stories with trans men in them, assuming they identify with the lesbian communities, but know that the publisher has the final say over the manuscript and I’m not too certain how they would treat that.

If you’re a writer, please do submit a story. You don’t have to be a published writer, you don’t have to have any credentials, what matters is the quality of your story. You’ve got a few months to come up with an awesome scenario and send it in to me … really looking forward to reading all the submissions.

Please forward this call widely.

Call for Submissions: Lesbian BDSM Erotica Anthology [Title TBA] To be published by Cleis Press in fall 2011

Editor Sinclair Sexsmith is looking for hot, sexy, well-written stories about kinky sex between queer women, from bondage scenarios to power play to role play to sadism and masochism to sensation play for a new anthology of lesbian BDSM erotica. Looking for characters with a range of age, race, sexual experience, gender identity and gender expression: butch, femme, genderqueer, gender-non-conforming, dapper, and others will all be considered. Cis women, trans women, and genderqueer characters who identify with the lesbian community are welcome. Stories should have strong literary voice, characters, tension, and rising action. All characters must be over 18. Prose only will be considered, no comics, graphic stories, or poetry. For examples of what I am looking for, see Tristan Taormino’s collection Best Lesbian Bondage Erotica.

Payment: USD $50 and two copies of the book upon publication.
Deadline: January 1, 2011
Unpublished stories preferred.

How to submit: Send your story in a Times New Roman 12 point black font Word document (.doc) with pages numbered of 1,500 to 5,000 words to [email protected] Double space the document and indent the first line of each paragraph. US grammar required. If you are using a pseudonym, provide your real name and be clear under which you would like to be published. Include your mailing address and a 50 words or less bio in the third person. Publisher has final approval over the manuscript.

About the editor: Sinclair Sexsmith runs the award-winning personal online writing project Sugarbutch Chronicles: The Gender, and Relationship Adventures of a Kinky Queer Butch Top at www.sugarbutch.net. With work published in various anthologies, including the Best Lesbian Erotica series, Sometimes She Lets Me: Butch/Femme Erotica, and Visible: A Femmethology volume 2, Mr. Sexsmith also writes columns for online publications and facilitates workshops on sex, gender, and relationships. Find her full portfolio and schedule at www.mrsexsmith.com.

elust #21 includes my “Gabrielle, Guest Star”

I submitted my recent story Gabrielle, Guest Star to the elust sex blog roundup, since I write smut so infrequently these days I thought it’d be good to give that one an extra boost, have it make the rounds. Unfortunately, Lilly didn’t quite have enough judges this week, so there are just a few featured posts, not the usual top three. But hey, you can still go read my story!

And if you want another place to write or submit for, check out my recent call for submissions for my upcoming butch Symposium project. Submissions are due by November 10th.

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] #22? Start with the rules, check out the schedule and subscribe to the RSS feed for updates!

Important e[lust] update: e[lust] will be going on hiatus for the holidays. The editions for November and December would both occur around the holidays and I know I’ll be short on both submissions and judges as well as personal time. e[lust] #22 will return in January, with ample advance warning, so please make sure you’re subscribed for updates!

  • Featured Post (Lilly’s Pick): D/s Without the D/s?This is one of those situations in a real time D/s relationship where much of the “fun” aspects of the D/s needs to be stuffed in the closet for a bit. And for us, it’s not a great time to be either a masochist or a sadist. We can deal with that.
  • e[lust] Editress: Yes, Jelly Sex Toys Can be DangerousEven if a jelly rubber toy says “phthalate-free”, it still can contain toxic chemicals that can cause skin reactions in some people. These toys are still non-porous and can harbor dirt and bacteria because they cannot be sanitized.
  • This Week’s Top Three Posts: Unfortunately, this edition has no Top Three picks as I didn’t have enough volunteer judges. If you’d like to volunteer to help, visit this page to find out more info and ensure that the Top Three picks continue.
  • See also: Pleasurists #101 and #100 for all your sex toy review needs.

Define: Masculine of Center

I’ve been throwing this phrase around a lot lately, but I realize I haven’t actually defined it or credited it. For me, it came out of working with and attending the Butch Voices Regional Conferences this year, as we used it frequently to describe the myriad of masculine identities we were seeking to gather and discuss.

According to Butch Voices:

Masculine of center (MOC) is a term, coined by B. Cole of the Brown Boi Project, that recognizes the breadth and depth of identity for lesbian/queer/ womyn who tilt toward the masculine side of the gender scale and includes a wide range of identities such as butch, stud, aggressive/AG, dom, macha, tomboi, trans-masculine etc.

In contrast to transmasculine, which was the last catch-all masculine identity label that made the rounds, masculine of center doesn’t necessarily imply a linear progression or hierarchy, I even think of it as a circle, kind of like a color wheel where the center point is gender-less or genderfluid or all genders and all the various kinds of gender expression and identity dance around it. And while “masculine of center” is definitely in contrast to “feminine of center,” it isn’t necessarily in opposition, as they play off of each other, interdependent and interwoven.

Seems like a useful term, to me, to describe the breadth of masculine identities to which I sometimes want to refer. What do you think?

The Relaunch of Top Hot Butches

So you may have seen me Tweeting about the relaunch of the Top Hot Butches project, which I’ve been working on for the past few months. I’m getting set to launch it in mid-November, I’m aiming for November 15th.

And it’s time to start asking for your help.

But first.

Addressing the Controversy

A friend of mine asked this week what I was going to do to address all the controversy around the original list. I’ve given this a lot of thought, and I’m ready to open up the project, to take it to new levels, so I am approaching it differently.

The controversy was around including trans men on a butch list. There are many reasons this is problematic, but the main one is that trans men are men and a butch identity is usually a female masculinity, and aligning trans men with female masculinity is demeaning to their identity. However, there are many trans men who do have an allegiance with the butch identity, and I still feel it’s important to include them in this project.

Dykes and queers and trans men are not the only ones who use the word “butch.” When I spoke with Buck Angel about his inclusion on the list, aside from saying he doesn’t care, he also said he associates “butch” with the gay male communities much more than with dykes. It has a long history of being used for guys, and indeed if you do searches for “butch” you come up with it as a nickname for cis men more often than anything else, it takes some time to dig for the queer women’s angle on it.

So I am including cis men in the new project as well, queer or straight. Don’t worry—this will not take away from the focus of the site, which is the exploration of butch identity, which is still primarily a female masculine identity.

Of course, that begs the question: what makes cis men butch? What makes anybody butch, really?

I’m still not really sure. Nearly ten years into this butch identity and I still don’t have a good definition. So for now, I’m going with: self-identification. I don’t decide for you whether or not you’re butch, you get to decide for yourself.

There is still a Top Hot Butches-style list on this new project, however, and I don’t want to uninclude folks like Joan Jett or Samantha Ronson because they don’t self-identify as butch (or, hell, maybe they do, but I can’t seem to get ahold of them, wonder why). I still will be including androgynous, genderqueer, and other masculine of center women who are in the visible public realms who have an obvious rejection of feminine style and who have some swagger.

So what is this project?

I’m keeping the name of it secret, for a little longer. But don’t worry, it will be all over soon enough. The mission of the new project is:

to promote a greater understanding of masculine of center gender identities, expressions, and presentations, through encouraging: 1. visibility, because we feel alone; 2. solidarity, because there are many of us out there, but we don’t always communicate with each other; and 3. an elevation of the discussion, because we have a long history and lineage to explore and we don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

The site will include: a revised Top Hot Butches section, with photos and short profiles of people in the public eye who are butch-identified or who present a dapper, radical masculinity; a tumblr blog for butch media submissions and perusal; a blog with interviews, articles, and announcements about butch-related information by multiple authors; and a monthly symposium, a cross between a blog carnival and a link round-up with monthly writing prompts.

Speaking of the symposium …

Call for submissions for bloggers & writers: The first Symposium

I am planning to launch the new project’s monthly Symposium with the site’s launch on November 15th, and I need your help. I’m looking for writers who have something to say about butch identity, who are wiling to post their thoughts on their own blog (or email them in, if they don’t have a blog) and link back to the Symposium in exchange for the promotion within this project. Here’s the topic for the first Symposium:

Symposium #1, November 2010: What is butch? How do you define butch? What do you love about it? What does it mean to you?

Prepare a post for publication on November 15th, and I’ll be gathering all the links and putting forth a round-up of all participants.

This new project needs more help than just writers, however. I’m also looking for interns.

Interns

The new project is seeking interns. I am looking for people interested in learning how to moderate an online community, engaging in a digital environment; learning the ins and outs of blogging, including search engine optimization, WordPress coding and template modification, and basic photo editing. Email me with a statement about why you’d like to be involved and your relevant experience before November 1st, please.

I will also be seeking out writers for the site. If you’re interested in that, the best place to start is by participating in the Symposium. More information will be available on other calls for submissions to this project soon.

Okay I think that covers it! I’m really excited about this, I hope it will be as good and solid and successful as my vision for it.

Coyote Grace in Brooklyn

Remember Coyote Grace, the band made up of trans guy guitar player Joe Stephens (and Top Hot Butch #96, with his permission, as he is butch-identified) and femme bass player Ingrid Elizabeth? I’ve featured their beautiful song Guy Named Joe here before.

They’re playing a gig in Brooklyn! They so rarely come through New York, I’m so excited they’re going to be here … and so sad that I’ll be missing it, because I’ll be coordinating that residential retreat that I’ve mentioned a few times in recent months.

Sigh. Can’t do it all, I have to remind myself.

So, since I’ve featured Guy Named Joe before, and since I’ve been in a particularly romantic mood lately, here’s another of their songs that I adore. Maybe it’ll inspire you to go to their gig.

Coyote Grace
Sunday, November 7th, 2010
at the Jalopy Theater
315 Columbia Street, Brooklyn, NY
Showtime: 9:30pm Cover: $10 All Ages

Show ’em a really warm Brooklyn reception for me, okay? So they’ll want to come back!

Chains and Containment in “Black Snake Moan”

A few weeks ago, when one of my oldest and dearest and favorite-est friends, BB, was in town visiting, Kristen and BB and I had a night at home and sat down to watch a film. Having recently discovered the joys of both Paperback Swap and Swap A DVD, I have some DVDs that I haven’t seen in quite a long time, if ever.

Black Snake Moan was one of them, and we decided to put it on.

I saw it once before, as had Kristen, and I remembered liking it. But putting it on, I was nervous. What if it wasn’t feminist enough? What if they thought it was exploitive and weird? What if I thought it was exploitive and weird?

It sure doesn’t seem like a feminist, conscious film on the surface—it seems fucked up, about gender, race, and sexuality. Why would I want to see that? Why would I like that? But it’s more complex than it seems.

Here’s the basic premise: Rae (Christina Ricci) has an extreme sexual appetite. Rae’s boyfriend, Ronnie (Justin Timberlake) is off to the army and while they usually keep each other sane and balanced, she is losing her control and getting in dangerous situations, such as getting completely intoxicated, half-naked, and then beat up by a guy she occasionally sleeps with. Lazarus (Samuel L. Jackson), whose wife just left him for his younger brother, finds Rae unconscious on the road near his house and brings her inside, attempting to nurse her back to health. She, though, has all sorts of night terrors, which cause her to run around and scream—while pretty much still unconscious—so he chains her to the radiator. But when she comes to, two days later, he doesn’t unchain her, but decides she’s not healed yet.

I know, I know: I want to start yelling, NON CONSENSUAL! You can’t do that! But the thing is … she’s out of her mind, a little bit. I know it sounds like shaming a woman because she likes sex, but frankly I don’t think that’s what’s behind this. It isn’t that she likes sex too much, it’s that she is destroying herself through her pursuit of sex, which is clearly depicted as compulsive, and absolutely not something she is choosing from an empowered place.

Ricci is bone-thin in a very unattractive way, she looks so strange sometimes, so unlike her for this role. I wanted her to come over so Kristen could feed her baked goods and get a little bit of that glow back. But she plays the role amazingly—I even read a critique that said it was the highlight of her acting career. And Jackson is genius! I love the scenes where he’s playing the guitar and singing, the blues just dripping off of him. Healing music, no doubt.

All through the re-watch I kept thinking, why is this okay? Why is this not totally fucked up? Because it seems like it should be, on the surface—but it’s not, and I love this film. Maybe it’s because it’s so well written? Or well acted? Or well crafted, in general? I could go on and on about the layers of this film and the dozens of ways you could interpret the character’s actions (the Christian angle; the sex is bad angle; the men as savior angle), but really what I want to do is encourage you to see it for yourself, if you like to think critically about consent, feminism, character, and kink.

And oh yes, it is kinky. All the stuff with the chains, well …

I love the way she becomes attached to that chain. There is a part, after she regains consciousness but before she’s healed, where she consents to stay. Where she kind of doesn’t want him to take the chains off. And another part (in that photo, above) where she comforts herself with the weight and restriction of the chains, in part to get through her own triggers, and to break the automatic reactions in which she’s been stuck.

I would argue that hits on exactly what she needs: containment. Not in a repression kind of way, no, but in the tantric sense, that she is all energy and river and no riverbank. (Interesting, though, how she is able to be that container for Ronnie, as stated from the very beginning of the film when he says she saved him, onto the last scene.)

Plenty more happens in the plot after that: Lazarus teaches her things about life and living, she confronts some demons (including her mother), we get some abstract insight into the things that have been haunting her, and she seems to come to a stronger, more capable place. Personal growth, healing from trauma, and breaking through her own samskara: makings of a good film, if you ask me.

And, the chains …

Well, Kristen liked the chains. She has a thing for metal, more than I do I think (I’m more of a leather guy myself—not that I’m opposed to chains). I had, I remembered, received Metal Wrist and Ankle Cuffs from Sextoy.com that I’d never reviewed, nor had we, in fact, ever even used them.

I thought it might be time to break those out.

Yeah, so that was a good idea.

That image is from Griffin Leather & Metal, not the actual cuffs that came in my set. Mine are not nearly as gorgeous as these, but that’s basically how they’re set up. And the photo on the box that mine came in is pretty awful, it is something that would have steered me clear of buying it.

But in fact, it’s very much worth having around.

They’re relatively cheap, but they’re sturdy, and they don’t feel like they’re going to break (unlike some of the other bondage toys I’ve occasionally reviewed). The chains could be a little shorter, especially the chain connecting the wrist cuffs to the ankle cuffs, but that also might be because Kristen is kind of short, so perhaps with someone a bit taller they would be the perfect size.

The product description reports:

Nickel plated heavy duty locking wrist and ankle cuffs. Includes 4 keys. Wrist size up to 7 inches and ankle size up to 10 inches. The chain connecting wrists is 3.5 inches and the chain connecting ankles is 17 inches. The chain connecting ankles and wrists is 16 inches.

Those dimensions don’t seem quite right (longer connection between the feet than from the feet to the hands?), but that’s what the website claims.

And I’d like to tell you all about what we did when we played with them, but the truth is, I can’t remember the details. I don’t know how it started exactly, I don’t know how it ended. I don’t remember how I put them on her, but I do remember holding on to the chain, choking up on it so she couldn’t move. I remember telling her to get up and walk to the other side of the bed so she could look in the mirror. I remember watching her touch herself for a while, while I watched. And I may have snapped a few photos.

You know, maybe.

The Metal Wrist and Ankle Cuffs were sent to me for review from Sextoy.com. Pick up the Metal Wrist and Ankle Cuffs or other bondage toys from sextoy.com, or your local queer feminist sex-positive independent shop.

I’m still thinking about this film sometimes, even now, two or three weeks later, and looking forward to watching it again.

I’m not going to write a blow-by-blow account of the film and all the complex, phenomenal moments (like, “You’ll have to ask the chef.” “Paprika.” And everything about the characters of Miss Angie and Ronnie both), or an elaborate argument on why it might border on offending my feminist sensibilities, but doesn’t actually. I’ve enjoyed the extensive conversations I’ve been having with Kristen about the film since we saw it, and I’m looking forward to seeing it again.

Have you seen it? What did you think?

If you haven’t, perhaps you’d like to watch the trailer for the film, and see if it’s something you’d try out. I was skeptical, but it is much more than what it seems.

It’s That Calendar Time of Year

It’s the calendar time of year, where activists, artists, and photographers come out with annual affordable wall art to decorate your lovely walls. And here are some of my favorites from queer and activist organizations that you might want to pick up.

Sex Blogger Calendar

I was a pinup in the Sex Blogger Calendar for the last two years—in 2009 I had a solo shot by Stacie Joy, and in 2010 Dacia and I posed for a photo for our shared birthday month as shot by Amanda Morgan. I wasn’t in it this year, and I didn’t make it to the epic calendar party, but I heard it was a great time and I look forward to receiving my own copy of the calendar. And of course, I had to write a little note on Sugarbutch’s birthday. 2011 features Jiz Lee, Nina Hartley, Lilith Grey, Essin’ Em, Mollena, and more.

I Heart Brooklyn Girls

is back! After incredibly gorgeous 2007 and 2009 calendars (and a disappointing 2008 calendar), and no 2010 calendar, I was worried they were gone forever. But thank goodness, the 2011 calendar has arrived, and the shots on the I Heart Brooklyn Girls website look beautiful. The release party for that calendar was this past weekend, but I didn’t make it (too busy recovering from Bad Habit Brunch). I’m excited to pick up a copy of the calendar elsewhere.

bklyn boihood

If a femme pinup calendar isn’t your think, maybe you’ll dig the bklyn boihood calendar instead. I met Ryann at the Butch Voices NYC Conference. She also read at the Queer Memoir/Sideshow Mashup and did a fabulous piece about how the bklyn boihood calendar came to be. Of course Kristen and I couldn’t resist, and we picked up a calendar on the spot. I thought we’d have to wait to put it up, but it’s a 16 month calendar that started in September 2010, so it’s already on the wall in my office!

the first ever bklyn boihood calendar was created to celebrate all queer expression and identity. bklyn boihood is a community entity whose purpose is to provide visibility and promote empowerment for lesbian, queer, or trans identified studs, doms, butches, ag’s, and bois of color with gender presentation on a masculine spectrum. a percentage of all proceeds will be donated to LGBTQ organizations.

The calendar’s on sale for $10 over at the bklyn boihood website. Just sayin’.

I Love Global Girls

Remember the I Love LDN Girls calendar from a few years back? This year, they’ve got an I Love Global Girls calendar.

The photos look great. I probably won’t order this one—between those other three and the inevitable hometown calendar that my mom always sends as a holiday gift, I have more than enough places to see the date. But this one is tempting; I love the international design.

Hope you find a good one for next year. These might make good holiday gifts, too, hm?

The Rest of Syd London’s Butch Voices NYC Photos

The rest of the Butch Voices photos taken by our official photographer Syd London are up! Take a look at the Speed Friending event that kicked off the conference, or visit Syd’s flickr to see them all together.

Here’s the shots from the conference, including my workshop “Cock Confidence,” and the community-building ritual keynote:

And here’s the Sideshow/Queer Memoir Mashup reading at Bluestockings:

Check out Syd’s recent work on Time Out NY, the PFAG Awards Gala, Mad Men Season Finale at the Bell House, the Grand Central Die-In, NY Burlesque Festival, and the Marriage Equality March. There’s also the Remembering Youth Vigil up on Go Magazine’s website.

Thanks, Syd! Prints or digital copies are available to purchase, contact Syd directly for more information about that. “Like” her on Facebook to follow her work!

You Won’t Believe Who’s Performing At Sideshow in November …


November’s Dangerous Mammals Tour
at Sideshow: The Queer Literary Carnival
Hosted by Cheryl B. & Sinclair Sexsmith
with S. Bear Bergman, Ivan E. Coyote, Jessica Halem, and Tania Katan
Find out more about the readers!
Tuesday, November 9th @ The Phoenix
447 East 13th Street @ Avenue A
East Village, New York City
Doors, 7:30pm. Reading, 8pm
Free! (We’ll pass the hat for the readers)
RSVP on Facebook!

Review: Tantus VIP Super Soft

I haven’t been reviewing many products lately, on purpose. I’m getting a little bored reviewing products. Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful to have the chance to play with these toys, and I still have some things to tell you about, but I’m being pretty picky about what I consume and what I say I will write up here and what I won’t.

This one, though, is worth a mention.

This is the new VIP Super Soft from Tantus. It’s not quite available yet, but they are taking preorders. Tantus sent one to me (and one to Diana Cage) to make it’s debut at the Butch Voices NYC Regional Conference. They sent two other cocks to be given away during my Cock Confidence workshop, which was really fun to do, and I kept this one for myself.

Especially when I was single and dating, having a packing cock was extra important to me (remember my motto: It’s better to have a cock and not need it than to need a cock and not have it), and I did quite a bit of research about what could pack and play, and what was just for packing or just for playing. It turns out, there is very little out there that can pack and play comfortably.

In my opinion, I found the Silky to be the only cock that you can comfortably pack and play with.

Until now! The VIP Super Soft is exactly made for that. So I put it to the test. Does it work?

From the former comparison on pack and play cocks, I’ll talk about this one with four components: materials, packing, playing, and realisticness.

1. Material

Tantus cocks are all made from medical grade silicone, and this one is no exception. It is also Tantus’s “super soft” material, which is somewhat like Vixen’s Vixskin, but a little bit softer, and feels less porous. It doesn’t have the hard inner core that Vixskin does, however, which is what makes it easier to pack.

2. Packing

Yeah, it packs. It’s easy to pack. Metis Black, president of Tantus, wrote on Twitter yesterday: “Just read a review of someone who thought the Super Soft VIP was “too large to be worn discreetly” as a packer.” But in my experience, that’s not true. Packing is half in the cock and half in the pants, though—if your pants are too tight, any packer is going to be really obvious. And if that’s not what you’re going for, I’m sorry, but you’ll probably have to get some baggier pants if you want it to be a bit more discreet. I tend to go a little baggy (a style I have adopted in recent years in part because of the packing, I’ll admit), so I had no trouble with discretion whatsoever.

3. Playing

Because it’s soft enough to pack with, it’s kind of hard to fuck with. It is hard enough, sure, but only for some light play, nothing too heavy bang-bang-banging, because it’s going to be a bit too floppy and probably won’t stay in place. But for lighter stuff? Sure! And for blow jobs? Yeah, it’s really quite nice for that. Good length, good size (6.5″ long by 1.7″ in diameter), not so hard.

4. Realisticness

It is semi-realistic … the shaft is smooth, not veined or textured really, but it does have a head and balls, and it comes in three skin-tone colors of vanilla, caramel, chocolate (or whatever flavors Tantus calls them). I’m still waiting for a company to come out with more subtle shades of skin tones, but meanwhile we’ve just got these three basics.

It’s got a great curve to it so it stays a bit more erect than some other cocks which are just straight, and it hits some good spots while playing.

Any other suggestions?

It needs a slightly smaller O-ring than I usually keep on my harnesses, so it has popped out more than once at the top while I was wearing it. Pretty easy to fix, either by just shoving it back in there or by changing up the O-ring to something smaller.

This is the video by Tantus for the regular silicone VIP, that is not the super soft material. You can see the size a little better, and the curve, so it’ll give you a better feel for how it looks.

I’m glad to add this one to my collection, and I’ll definitely keep packing with it. I don’t think it’ll break quite as easily as the Silky, which will be a good change.

The Tantus VIP Super Soft was sent to me from Tantus to review. Pick it up at your local neighborhood sex positive queer feminist sex toy store, or online from Tantus directly.

Gabrielle, Guest Star

It is always different to fuck somebody new. New skin, new lips, new way she kisses, new way she writhes, new way she comes. I don’t keep a lot of assumptions the first time. I don’t expect us to get off, I don’t expect to be able to tell when she comes, if she does. I don’t expect dirty talk, I don’t expect a lot of communication about what’s what. Of course I do my best at all of those things—but with someone new, you just never know. Maybe it’s the chivalrous service top in me, but I watch for cues and tend to take them from her, as best as I can.

Which is how I ended up stroking my cock, still wearing my tee shirt, my back up against the wall in my room, watching Kristen get fisted. By someone else.

After watching her get seduced.

Kristen and I had both noticed Gabrielle when we met her at a queer event a month or so before, so when she was in town this time, we made sure to make plans to meet up for a drink. Who knows what will happen, I told myself. Kristen told me she thought Gabrielle was pretty, and slutty and smutty and loud-mouthed enough to be that big river of energy that Kristen often seeks in those close to her. Gabrielle was running late. No ETA exactly. When we went off to meet her, I was a little bit skeptical about whether she’d even show. “I half expect to get stood up,” I sort of joked.

It wasn’t that I didn’t want to see Gabrielle. When I thought about it later, I realized it was because I had no part in setting up this date. Kristen and Gabrielle arranged it, and though Kristen texted me to ask where we should meet up (the dyke bar in Brooklyn, of course), I had almost no part in the asking, the saying yes, the gauging of how interested or not Gabrielle might be.

All night, I had trouble reading Gabrielle. I was interested, and curious about her—she’s a smart, hot femme who it seems can make anybody laugh. Her style is cute and chic. She’s short, a little shorter than Kristen even, who is 5’2″, and not thin but not so heavy, just enough that I want to grip the flesh on her thighs. She talks a lot, and says interesting things about all sorts of things—being poly, education, being an artist. I liked her immediately when we met.

But I couldn’t tell what was going to happen. I couldn’t quite get a grasp on the conversation; I sometimes felt like the third wheel. I’d bring the conversation around to sex, but it didn’t take long for Kristen and Gabrielle to start talking about other things, like the socio-economic makeup of the cities in which they lived, or the queer community friend politics.

I didn’t try too hard. The conversation was interesting, I jumped in occasionally. Mostly, it was fun to watch them banter back and forth.

Kristen had just made a pie, so we had a good excuse to take Gabrielle back to our place for a slice of it. They talked more. It was getting late. Finally, they started kissing, making out, on the couch. Gabrielle pushed Kristen down and worked her hand between Kristen’s legs, Kristen grasped at her back and shoulders and came once, twice.

“Can I take this off of you?” Kristen asked her, pulling at Gabrielle’s dress.

“Somewhere darker,” she answered. And we went into the bedroom.

My Rocks Need A New Home

For years, I have been collecting rocks.

My mother and my sister who do astrological charts say it’s because I am severely lacking in earth elements. I used to always keep rocks in my pockets, to touch them, polish them with the oils from my fingers.

The beaches are covered in pebbles where I grew up, glacial pebbles, scraped clean and traveled through a river of ice to come down to be lapped and soothed by the tides. I used to stack them, or gather a bunch of white ones and make a spiral, or fill my pockets full when I went home for a visit.

Then, I started collecting them from places I visited. Central Park the first time I visited New York. the south coast of England where my dad’s girlfriend lives. Paris, Edinborough, Chicago, Ocean Shores in Oregon, New Orleans, the Jersey Shore, Japan, Arches National Monument in Utah.

And when friends went places, they started bringing me rocks back, too. Greece, El Salvador, India. if someone asked me what I wanted from somewhere, I would say, pebbles. beach rocks. Interesting rocks that show the land of a place.

Can you see where this is going?

I have a massive rock collection.

And now, I’m finding that my collections are shifting. Where I used to collect pins, matchbooks, key chains, I am now collecting sex toys, cufflinks, ties. I’ve always collected books; that continues. But my tastes are evolving. My grounding is evolving. I want and need different things surrounding me than I used to. I finally know what Things are useful in my life, because I’ve finally found a path, and I no longer wonder if perhaps one day I’ll get back to being a great jewelry maker, or greeting card crafter, or guitar player.

And after moving the rock collection across the country, and never really doing anything with it, just leaving it in a box after all these (five and a half) years, I’m thinking it’s time for them to leave my care and possession.

The problem is, I’m not sure what to do with them.

I used 180 of them for the keynote ritual in the Butch Voices NYC regional conference. I wondered, when I volunteered to use my collection, if I would have enough. 180 is a lot, right? But it barely made a dent in my collection. I had no idea how many rocks there were in that box, where I’ve finally consolidated all of them.

the rocks for the Butch Voices keynote ritual (and my cat)

I could take them to a beach, or a forest, and leave them there, but that seems … unfitting. Plus, most of the beaches and forests around here are not so full of beach rocks or pebbles, and it’d end up being an odd pile of rocks that clearly don’t belong. I could scatter them, I suppose.

I could donate them to a yoga studio or meditation studio or preschool.

They might be useful in a garden, especially the nice ones. But I don’t have a garden. I do know of some gardens around here, but I don’t know who runs them or how to get in touch with them. But I keep thinking they should go back to the earth, somehow.

What do you think? What can I do with this rock collection? Something creative, not too difficult, useful?

Butch Voices Speed Friending Photos by Syd London

Syd London, the official photographer of Butch Voices NYC, has posted the first of the Butch Voices photos!

Here’s the Speed Friending event from Anti-Diva at Dixon Place on Friday, September 24th, 2010. I love how these shots turned out.

You might recognize me & Kristen in those shots. Or you might find a shot of Kristen flirting with the bartender. Maybe.

photo by Syd London, www.sydlondon.com

Thanks, Syd, for all your hard work! Can’t wait to see more of ’em.

Ellis’s New Album “Right On Time”

On a whim, I downloaded (meaning, ahem, purchased from her website) Ellis‘s new album Right On Time after hearing this song on one of the music blogs I follow:

Maybe you remember that Ellis is Top Hot Butch #53 from the 2009 list. Maybe you’ve been a fan of her folk-rock guitar for a long time, maybe you even already have “Right On Time.”

But me, I had lost track of her work in recent years, I think the last album of hers I have is “Everything That’s Real” from 2001. And I’m thrilled to rediscover her work and to support this new album. And WOW is it amazing. I’m still playing the title track and track #7, “Without A Compass,” over and over. Do consider purchasing & downloading Right On Time—if you like this kind of music, you’ll like this new album.

The Scarleteen 2011 Fund Raiser and Blog Carnival

I’m taking part in the Scarleteen 2011 Fund Raiser and Blog Carnival! Thanks to Scarleteen and best price cialis ukblog.com/2010/10/12/the-scarleteen-2011-fund-raiser-and-blog-carnival/”>AAG for organizing this, it’s a great idea.

My day is November 15th, the last day of the carnival. They are expecting multiple authors every day, so you can still sign up and be part of the carnival. Tess kicked off the carnival today with a piece about talking to her daughter about sex.

I have long followed Heather Corinna’s work, and Scarleteen has been an invaluable resource to me for more than ten years now. I love that site and I want to support it in many ways. Wish I could toss ’em hundreds of dollars, but that’s just not possible for me right now. Don’t know Scarleteen yet? Time to get to know ’em.

Scarleteen has been the premier online sexuality resource for young people worldwide since 1998, and has the longest tenure of any sex education resource for young people online. We have consistently provided free, inclusive, comprehensive and positive sex education, information and one-on-one support to millions, and have never shied away from discussing sexuality as more than merely posing potential risks, but as posing potential benefits, something rarely seen in young adult sex education. We built the online model for teen and young adult sex education and have never stopped working hard to sustain, refine and expand it.

Hope you’ll participate in some way, be it writing about Scarleteen, sex education, or sending some money over their way. Watch for my post about it coming in November.

New Yorkers Know How to Do Brunch

Two brunch events coming up! Perhaps I’ll see you there?

Butch Brunch

Cafe Orlin, 41 St Mark’s Place in the East Village of New York, NY
Saturday, October 16 · 11:00am – 12:30pm
Please make sure to RSVP on Facebook (or email me) so I know how many to tell the Cafe to expect

Join us for an informal hang-out and socializing following the Butch Voices NYC Regional Conference.

Who can come? Anybody! It’s intended to be a space for butch-identified folks of various identities: butches, studs, ags, anyone masculine-of-center. If folks who are not butch identified would like to attend, that’s fine too, but do realize that we’ll be talking personally about our own identities as we get to know each other. It is not necessary to be butch-identified to attend this brunch, but it is encouraged.

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.”

And secondly …

Bad Habit Brunch

Saturday, October 23rd, 12:00pm noon
LGBT Center, 308 West 13th Street, West Village of New York, NY

Queer Comic Kelli Dunham (aka Sister Mercy) was not a very good nun. She had what the sisters called “insufficient docility” and “too much self esteem.” Because of this, Kelli was held back in pre-aspirancy for a year and a half. This is the convent equivalent of failing preschool 18 times. On Saturday, October 23rd, her 15th anniversary of leading the convent (down to the day, the Feast of the Assumption) Kelli will share the story of what a nice queer like her was doing in a convent like that.

With food by Kitchentop Catering.
Menu:
Spinach and cheese quiche
Cranberry scones w orange and honey butter
Butternut squash and chickpea salad
Fall green salad
Pumpkin swirl brownies
(yup, all made from scratch)

Buy your tickets ahead of time! Tickets are 15 bucks in advance (includes brunch and the show and some very um, special surprises) and 18 bucks at the door IF they are available.

Presale tickets
More info: sistermercy.com

Ten Ways I Am A Gender Outlaw

Today is the last day on The Great Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation Blog Tour, and I’m closing it out. Thanks, Kate and Bear. Thanks, Seal Press.

It’s a fantastic book. I laughed, I cried. Would you expect anything less?

There were a lot of pieces about trans experiences, not as in one singular trans experience, but people writing about their lives and what it’s been like to have the experience being gendered like they are in the world. A few other pieces were by cisgender femmes—but I have yet to read a piece in there talking about butch experiences. Now, it is a book focusing on trans identity, primarily, so maybe stories and essays about butch experiences don’t even belong here. That’s okay, I don’t have to see myself reflected in every single book about gender, sometimes it might not fit.

But it got me thinking: what’s my relationship to the term and identity “trans?” Is butch a trans identity? And what are the ways that I am a gender outlaw?

I do see butch as falling under the trans umbrella, as a sort of trans identity, because butch is a masculine identity on a woman (or, should I say, “woman”), and that is not what our culture defines as what a woman does. I am trans in that I transcend the binary, I transform the binary. I believe in more than the binary, and partly because of that I also believe that a masculine expression on a female body is a completely legitimate expression of “woman,” and that therefore it may not be a trans identity.

However … that’s not the dominant cultural acceptance of the way woman-ness can be expressed, that’s for sure. And I have learned more about gender—both mine and cultural systems of gender—from the trans movements than anywhere else. I find my gender has more in common with many trans folks than it does with anybody else, in part because of the intentionality and thoughtfulness behind it. So I still have an identification with trans. Though not without hesitation—which is why I say “a sort of trans identity” whenever I’m talking about it. I do understand how it could be, and I understand how it could not be. I guess I fall somewhere in the middle, sometimes feeling more trans than not, sometimes feeling not trans.

Regardless, though, a butch identity is outside the law, and is an outlaw. In this case, it’s not necessarily that I’m outside of the actual legal law, though we could talk about the ways that we still haven’t passed an ERA (wtf?) and that my sexuality in this country makes me a second-class citizen, but we’re not talking about sexuality here: we’re talking about gender.

And my gender, though perhaps not outside of the legal law, as it is no longer dictated that I wear at least five pieces of women’s clothing (can you imagine!? It was not so long ago), is outside of social law. Society has certain laws that I break all the time, by crossing back and forth between “male” space and “female” space, by presenting masculine in this world, by passing sometimes and not passing other times, by dating women, by being a feminist, by challenging misandry and misogyny and other ways that masculinity is constructed.

Here’s some other ways I’ve been thinking about that make me a Gender Outlaw:

10. I shop in the men’s department. I know this seems both like a given (duh) and like not a big deal, it actually can be. Getting a salesperson to help me is pretty difficult. Making a decision to either use the dressing room in the men’s department, or carry everything back to the women’s department, or not try on anything and make my shopping trip twice as long when I need to come back to return the things that don’t fit, can take up more space in my head than it needs to. Sometimes I get shoo’d out of the women’s dressing room, or at the very least I get disapproving and confused glances by other shoppers—both in the men’s department, women’s dressing rooms, and at the check-out. It’s more complicated than one would expect to keep shopping for men’s clothes, to crossdress, basically. And at this point, the only thing I don’t buy in the men’s department is binders (bras).

9. I visit a barber once a month. Inserting myself into traditionally men’s spaces is tricky, sometimes dangerous. Though I live in a very tolerant city, I still come across plenty of men in these spaces who are skeptical, giving me shifty sideways eyes, at best, and outright homophobic at worst. I continue to walk in there like I belong and request the same services (at the same price—which is also sometimes a problem) that any of the guys get. Aside from the barber, I get my shoes shined, I sometimes get my nails done or my eyebrows waxed—yes, I admit to a certain level of metrosexuality that goes with my masculinity. But it’s all for sex, people. I do it for the sex. And the pure joy that comes with a dapper presentation.

8. I disrupt the assumption that misogyny comes standard with masculinity. I treat women well, and I take that seriously. I do not believe femininity is any easier (or harder) than masculinity, and I do not believe it should be in a hierarchy of any time. I strive to not only believe that, but to live that belief.

7. I like what I like—I don’t let my gender dictate my interests, hobbies, or personality. I enjoy cooking, yoga, reading books, amateur astronomy, meditation, the psychotheraputic process, building community, and I don’t really like sports, or monster trucks, or remote control cars, or many of those “typical” masculine hobbies. I challenge the idea that any hobby belongs to any gender. These are human experiences, and human expressions, and human things to do, and I can choose from any one of them.

6. I research the butches and genderqueers and other masculine-of-center folks who came before me. I know I’m not alone in this lineage, this way that I walk the world, and even though sometimes it feels like I made it all, I only made myself in a long context of many others, and I pay homage as often as I can with respect and props.

5. I read everything I can about gender, keeping up with the latest books (like Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation!) I (try to) keep up with the myriad of butch and masculine-of-center blogs online, to keep hearing people’s stories, to watch as they unfold, to keep up with the conversations. I feel lucky that I have so many stories to read!

4. I see a gender identity as a beginning, not an end. As with any identity, the minute someone tells me they identify as a certain thing—femme, butch, genderqueer, gender-fluid, trans, male, female, whatever—I take that as a starting point, and I am curious to know more, not as the end point, where I fill in my own assumptions about what that means. I keep my assumptions in check. I keep my inner gender police in check, and instead of expressing anything like, “Whut? You don’t seem x to me,” I ask, “Oh? What does that mean to you?” It’s a starting place, a jumping off point, not something to close down the conversation.

3. I make friends with straight men—or at least, I’m friendly with them—to challenge their assumptions about masculinity (and butch dykes). I don’t see them as the enemy. I don’t assume they’re all the same. I challenge misandry in the queer circles. Marginalized communities, especially those who have come up from the lesbian and feminist histories, have a lot of man-hating built in to them. (I know, I’m not supposed to say that, but it can be true.) There is a difference between challenging a system of patriarchy vs challenging an individual man, who may or may not be as much of a subscriber to feminist beliefs as any of us are. Aside that, many queers are skeptical of masculinity—I have seen that as I get further into my identity as butch, and I’ve seen it happen to many of my trans guy friends. I do my best to challenge it when I see it, and ask what’s behind that comment, jab, or joke. Gently, and kindly, but still, to challenge.

2. I am a fierce feminist, and see the intersectionality of many different kinds of oppression and do my best to analyze and check my own privileges while standing up for those that are marginalized and oppressed. I think most homophobia and transphobia is still about a basic, fundamental sexism that believes men are better than women and therefore masculine-identified people are better than feminine-identified people, and I think the feminist theories can be a way to untangle those underlying cultural beliefs systematically.

1. I love my body. I just heard Tobi Hill-Meyer read a piece at the spoken word performance at Butch Voices Portland about how much of woman-ness is tied to hating one’s own body, and it really resonated for me. Despite being raised a bit non-traditionally, despite growing up into a butch gender, most of us are taught by this culture to hate our bodies, and I continue to treat myself with care, respect, and love, in the face of a culture which would have me buff, pluck, shave, cut, dye, powder, or hide the skin, stretch marks, and “flaws” of my body.

What do you think, y’all? Did I forget something? What are the ways that YOU are a gender outlaw?

Don’t forget to pick up Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation at your local queer feminist bookstore.

Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation

You’ve probably read Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women, and the Rest of Us by Kate Bornstein, published in 1995. (If you haven’t, you should.)

To follow it up, fifteen years later Kate Bornstein has teamed up with S. Bear Bergman for a new anthology, Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation, published by Seal Press.

Kate’s premise in the original Gender Outlaw is that ze is neither a man nor a woman, and discusses hir stories in forming a trans identity. It was one of those books that sunk into my stomach like a stone, that I gobbled up in a weekend, thinking, oh my god there are people like me out there. Not only that, but there are mentors on this path, there are people who have been deconstructing these identities—and building them back up in our own ways, let’s not forget that part—and changing the ways we perceive gender to work in this culture. That book was a revelation, for sure—it is widely used in college classes and read by all sorts of gender outlaws.

But now, Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation picks up the premise of the original Gender Outlaw and runs with it, telling stories of the many, many ways that gender outlaws struggle, celebrate, and live.

I could write something about each individual piece, what it meant to me, what I thought about it, how meaningful it was, what I liked or (occasionally) didn’t like. I could mention Katie Diamond and Johnny Blazes’s graphic essay about the many meanings of “trans,” like transgress, transcend, transpire, transform, translate. I’d love to mention pieces by Sassafras Lowery and Tamiko Beyer (both of whom have read at Sideshow), and my friend Fran Varian’s piece about gender and class and respect. I could say something about every piece in this book—even the introduction, a smart and sassy IM exchange between Bear and Kate about the contents of the book, what it’s been like for them to edit it, and the state of gender outlaws in general.

Julia Serano’s piece has been sitting in my head for days as I chew over it. She’s such a genius, I am seriously crushed out on her brain. In her piece, she takes that entirely too commonly heard phrase, “all gender is performance,” and explodes it:

Instead of trying to fictionalize gender, let’s talk about the moments in life when gender feels all too real. Because gender doesn’t feel like drag when you’re a young trans child begging your parents not to cut your hair or not to force you to wear that dress. And gender doesn’t feel like a performance when, for the first time in your life, you feel safe and empowered enough to express yourself in ways that resonate with you, rather than remaining closeted for the benefit of others. And gender doesn’t feel like a construct when you finally find that special person whose body, personality, identity, and energy feels like a perfect fit with yours. Let’s stop trying to deconstruct gender into nonexistence, and instead start celebrating it as inexplicable, varied, profound, and intricate. —Julia Serano, from Performance Piece, published in Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation and reprinted in full by Jezebel

Just, chills. I love what she’s saying here. I feel like I have my own piece in conjunction or response to that one. In fact, I feel like I have twenty pieces about gender that I’m itching to write, after reading this book.

I’m so glad I had the chance to check out this book, it’s definitely going to be something I recommend all over the place and mail as gifts. It belongs on my essential reading list, for sure. I’m excited to contribute to the virtual blog tour, as well! It has been amazing—just check out Riot Nrrd Comics’ graphic review, as a great example, and read through the rest of them if you like.

Just in case you haven’t seen it, and if you can’t wait to pick up this book and you want more Kate right now, check out Kate’s contribution to the It Gets Better Project. And you can always follow @katebornstein & @sbearbergman on Twitter. If you’re in the New York City area, you can also come in to Bluestockings Bookstore tonight, Friday October 8th, for a reading from Gender Outlaws!

Pick up a copy of Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation direct from the publisher, Seal Press, from your local independent feminist queer bookstore (if you want them to stick around), or, if you must, from Amazon.

Ask Me Anything: Being Recognized & Dreaming About Sex

Here’s the last of the questions from the Ask Me Anything post on Sugarbutch’s 4th anniversary! Thanks, everybody, for the comments and questions, and I hope you liked the responses.

Your blog is under a pseudonym, but you do post pictures. Etiquette wise, if you are in a queer setting and someone recognizes you from your pictures or blog, are you comfortable with being approached? —J-Femme

I’m fairly comfortable being approached—especially if I’m out socializing at a queer event, I’m happy saying hello to people or having a conversation with folks who know my work. If I’m on a date or alone, it’s probably still okay to say hi, but I’d just ask you to use your own discretion and not necessarily plop down at the table next to us and chat us up for hours, since perhaps we wanted to have some alone time.

But in queer social space, sure—I love talking to people about their experiences, and I’ve met some amazing people because they were readers of mine first who quickly became friends.

And last but not least …

Given that you think and write so much about sex, do you dream about sex? What are your sex dreams like? Do you get ideas for awake sex from dream sex?—femme in butch clothing

Yes, sometimes I dream about sex—it varies, like anybody’s dreams, to sometimes being very realistic, sometimes being very surreal, or sometimes being very extreme (almost uncomfortably so). I don’t remember ever having a dream and thinking, “Oh, wow, I should make that happen,” but it can often lead to inspiration to play in general, though not necessarily to reproduce what I’ve been dreaming about.

What about you all? Do you dream about sex? Just curious … (or voyeuristic, one or the other).

Ask Me Anything: Coming Out at Work

From the Ask Me Anything questions from Sugarbutch’s 4th anniversary:

I’m completely femme and work in a very straight environment. A few of my co-workers know that I’m gay, but I haven’t come out to all of them, and I’ve been at this work place for a year. I don’t usually hide my sexuality, but it’s been extremely hard for me to relax at this workplace. I hate that, and my partner is somewhat hurt that I haven’t been open about it and talked about her. I want to be able to do so, and I want to be strong in myself and come out with it. Any ideas on how to do it? The longer I wait the more awkward it is.—Tuesday, from tuesdayateleven.blogspot.com

It’s been months since you wrote this, so this might be an outdated question at this point—have you changed things? Did you start slipping your partner into conversation more frequently? Did you out-right come out? Did you let it leak to the office gossip?

Telling your co-workers things about your personal life can be tricky, especially since you’ve already been there for a year and you still haven’t said anything, because now, when the reveal happens, it will seem out of place. So how do you start bridging this gap between yourself and your co-workers, such that you can reveal more personal things? Maybe it’s time to have a happy hour after work, or host a weekend event, if you’re comfortable doing those things. Maybe it’s time to invite someone out to lunch and open up a little about your lives.

You don’t have to start with, “By the way, I’m gay,” you might want to start with the more impersonal. In The Art of Civilized Conversation, Margaret Shepherd says that conversations start with facts, then to opinions, then on to feelings. There are a lot of facts you can gather about each other that I bet you don’t have, if you’ve avoided any discussion of your partner so far. Where do you live? Where did you go to school? Where did you grow up? What’s your family like? Why did you move to where you are now? What do you do in your spare time, what are your hobbies?

I think it’s also in that book that she says the way people deepen with each other is to start revealing little things about themselves in the conversation, and then guaging the reaction of the other to see if it’s safe to continue revealing.

My mom always used to say, “Find common ground, then elevate the discussion.” See if finding some common ground about other topics makes you feel more comfortable talking about more personal things. Ask questions of them, too—as you find out more about them, you might feel more safe revealing things about yourself.

I kind of hate to say this, so I’ll tack it on at the end here, but it also could be that you are dealing with a little bit of internalized sexism, and some complicated feelings about your own femme in/visibility. I don’t know you, so this could be happening a teeny tiny bit or a ton or not at all, but I figured it’s worth throwing out there because I spent the last few paragraphs on one direction, but it might not have anything to do with that. You might be a very open, revealing person in the workplace, but have this particular snag when it comes to your own sexual orientation visibility. That’s a complicated thing to work with, as a femme who can, if she chooses, “pass” for a straight girl in the larger hetero world. There are many ways that femmes construct identity which are not strictly through visual markers, however, and articulating that identity—namely through speech and communication—is a big one. It might be a hurdle to examine and investigate in yourself a little more.

What say you all? Do you have more advice for this person in coming out at work? Are you out at work?

Here is a story / to break your heart.

I’m still working on more essays and ideas and thoughts in response to the recent gay suicides. My weekly column on SexIs Magazine, Mr. Sexsmith’s Other Girlfriend, features What You Can Do To Support Queer Youth today, which has some of my thoughts.

And did you hear that there was a gay bashing inside of Stonewall in New York City this past weekend? No seriously, Stonewall, like the gayest bar in this city? It’s practically laughable. I mean I’m sure it wasn’t laughable for the people who were bashed, but really? What? That almost seems desperate, to me. Like someone attempting to cling to power.

So. Since I don’t have the piece written that I want to write yet, I want to share this poem that has been in my head lately. I used it in my writing workshop at Butch Voices in Portland with the homework instruction to write ‘a story to break your heart,’ if you are willing. (It is most effective when read aloud, even just to yourself, I think.)

Lead
Mary Oliver

Here is a story
to break your heart.
Are you willing?
This winter
the loons came to our harbor
and died, one by one,
of nothing we could see.
A friend told me
of one on the shore
that lifted its head and opened
the elegant beak and cried out
in the long, sweet savoring of its life
which, if you have heard it,
you know is a sacred thing,
and for which, if you have not heard it,
you had better hurry to where
they still sing.
And, believe me, tell no one
just where that is.
The next morning
this loon, speckled
and iridescent and with a plan
to fly home
to some hidden lake,
was dead on the shore.
I tell you this
to break your heart,
by which I mean only
that it break open and never close again
to the rest of the world.

Reprinted from New and Selected Poems, Volume Two by Mary Oliver

Ask Me Anything: Becoming More Dominant

From the Ask Me Anything questions from Sugarbutch’s 4th anniversary:

What are some tools/techniques that help someone to “try on” a dominant persona? … How can I help her to get into the right mindset? How would you advise a new, and perhaps, reluctant dom to become more comfortable with her power? —Sophia

Great question. Wish I had had some guidelines, or someone who could’ve given me some pointers, when I was starting to come into my own dominant/top orientation.

I think it’s important to have conversations, outside of the bedroom, about your interest in playing with domination and submission, and to do some assurance that you want to be submissive—that you really really want to be submissive, and oh aren’t you so lucky that the two of you can play with that together. You might have to continually assure them of your desire to submit—before, during, and after. I know from my own experience, it sometimes boggled my mind that someone would let me do all those things I wanted to do to them, but I still felt that twinge of guilt and worry that I was going to hurt them, somehow. Assure them that they will not hurt you—or rather, that a) you want them to hurt you, and b) if they hurt you too much, or in a way that you don’t like, you are fully capable of using your safe word and getting out of the situation. They have to trust that you can take care of yourself if things get to be too much. You have to be fully capable of saying no for the yes to have any meaning.

Talk about what might happen if they do hurt you in the wrong ways—that you’ll stop, that you won’t both jerk away and get all distant, but that you’ll have a minute to talk about it, assure each other that it was not intentional and you both know the other wouldn’t do something that was too much on purpose. Apologize, and try to understand why it was too much, if it was just circumstantial (we’ve done this other times and right now it just wasn’t right) or if it was the actual thing (you tried this new thing and it went too far), or something else entirely.

There are some exercises you can do around this, if you want to. For example, you could do some light play with the intention of safewording out of it, at some point, to practice. And when you do safeword out, practice that moment of coming back together, taking care of each other’s needs, and then getting back into the play. A safeword doesn’t have to mean “stop forever and ever I need hours to recover,” it could just mean “okay I really need a break from this for just ten minutes and they don’t seem to be letting up.”

Say things like, “I liked this and this and this that you did, but this one small part was just too much for these reasons.” Assure and re-assure, especially in the beginning. Tell them what you liked, what was working.

Remember that your safeword can also be no or “stop” or “enough” if you aren’t playing with power exchanges where those words are used to arouse.

It really helps to have some parameters when playing with dominance or topping and trying to bring about a more dominant persona in bed. Those parameters can be various things: time, clothing or costume, dirty talking, or assuming another role with certain expectations.

Using time as a parameter can be a great way to start. Put a timer on and say, “I’m going to spank you for 5 minutes, and then we’re going to make love.” Or count: 30 spanks with my hand, 5 minutes of warm-up with the flogger and then 10 really hard strokes, 5 strokes with the cane.

Sometimes certain clothes can really enhance an exchange, and sometimes just one key item can transform a scene from “us” to “play.”

Dirty talk has been key for me in getting more comfortable with my dominant persona. Not only was it key for me to hear a semi-constant reassurance from people I was sleeping with that they liked what I was doing, it is also a way for us to keep in better contact during play, because we’re engaging our brains instead of possibly zoning out.

Role play can be a fantastic way to try on a dominant persona and get more comfortable inside of it, because you can hide behind both the fantasy and the role. Most role plays requre some sort of negotiation before hand, especially if you’re talking about what you’re doing (or what you’re doing in the fantasy). Say you decide that you’ll be a student and they will be a teacher, and you’ll do anything to get a better grade on that test, even bend over the desk. You’ve established a power dynamic, it’s within these specific constraints (because you’ll just go back to being yourselves when you’re out of these roles, you don’t have to own the desires quite as much when you’re stepping into another persona), and you’ve already established some guidelines about what you’re going to do and how you’re going to yeild that power such that your partner consents (“anything” for that better grade, even bend over the desk). They know this, because you already talked about it.

That kind of scenario gives someone permission to play with variations on a theme. They know they can bend you over the desk—but what happens if they try to get you on your knees first, or to sit on their lap? They know they have permission to do these kinds of things (especially if you’re good at the dirty talk, egging them on: “What do I have to do? Tell me, I’ll do it, you just tell me what to do. I have to get a good grade, I have to pass this class, I just have to.”).

So: negotiate, talk dirty, role play, fantasize together, work on your trust.

And don’t forget to assure and re-assure. Do it sincerely, don’t push it too hard, but step up and express the things you loved, the ways you felt, what you’d like to do again or more of. Write it down in email or chat (or a shared Google document) if it’s hard to do in person. Do it in pillow talk right after, if your tongue is more loose at that time.

Hope that helps.

Ask Me Anything: Standards of Beauty

While I was on the plane to Portland for Butch Voices this past weekend, I dug through my files and responded to the last of the questions from the Ask Me Anything questions from Sugarbutch’s 4th anniversary. Expect more of them posted throughout the week.

From some of your posts I think I’ve made an assumption that most of the women you date tend to be conventionally attractive/attractive by dominant culture’s standards of beauty (i.e. not fat, not particularly full figured, Eurocentric features, etc) So my first question is – is that accurate? And if it is, is that something you interrogate within yourself – as part of redefining masculinity (or the social concept that one way to prove your masculinity (in the dominant culture) is to have a (conventually) hot chick on your arm)?—J-Femme

No, that’s not acurate. I have dated girls of various sizes, with various ethnic backgrounds, who often have not fit into the dominant culture’s standards of beauty. I am definitely attracted to femininity, and those who are submissive in bed, but there are many unconventional qualities I look for in a date or a lover or a relationship, and the things I need in someone I date have nothing to do with conventional beauty—self-awareness, self-acceptance, empowerment, embodiment, expression. I date people I’m attracted to, and always have, regardless of cultural beauty standards (or, sometimes, regardless of what I know about my own orientations—which is how I have ended up dating femme tops, on occasion).

I haven’t always stated what the girls look like exactly, and I haven’t written about all of the girls that I dated in the last four years—some of them didn’t want to be written about, for example. I decided purposefully to leave out much of the physical body descriptions, partly because I was telling true stories from my dates and relationships, and, for a while, while I was still writing online anonymously, I didn’t want to expose myself. After I was out, and honest about writing about the people I was sleeping with (a lesson it did not take me long to learn), I asked permission to write about someone, and I respected what they wanted, which usually was to keep them as anonymous as possible.

Also, I decided deliberately to leave out many physical body descriptions about body size, shape, skin color, and hair qualities in order for the readers to superimpose themselves and their own experiences as much as possible onto the story. It’s a challenge to portray things like body size or ethnicity in writing without fetishizing it, in general and for me specifically, and especially as I started writing more and more erotica, I adopted that as a deliberate stylistic choice.

This policy of not describing women’s bodies in unconventional ways in my erotica hasn’t always worked the way I wanted it to, though. I’ve been criticized before for not including more full-figured women in my erotica. Sometimes I want to point out the stories that I’ve written and ask someone to point out where it says that they are thin—but I also recognize that by not stating it, I’m riding by on some assumptions. I’m letting people believe what they want to believe, and our brains tend to assume certain things, which usually line up with the dominant cultural norm, unless otherwise stated. That is not particularly effective activism.

But this is not necessarily activism—these are my fictional(ized) stories. This is art, and this is the thin line between art and activism. The activist in me wants it to be one way, driving home points about unconventional beauty and body size and features, but the artist in me reads those descriptions and cringes, because they feel unnecessary, surpurfluous, forced, awkward. I’ll keep flirting with that line, and hopefully find a place where the stories can rest, instead of pushing something into it that doesn’t belong, or ignoring an important opportunity for celebrating unconventional standards of beauty.

Secondarily: Yes, it is very important to me to interrogate the ways that the dominant culture views someone as more masculine if they have a conventionally beautiful woman with them. I have certainly done a lot of thinking about that in my relationships and my own orientations, and I’m frequently thinking about it in terms of what I’m representing through my erotica. My stories about Kristen have been criticized because of how I depict her multiple orgasms—people saying that most women don’t come like that, for example. Yes, I know that. I know that not only from the mountains of feminist and women’s sex books that I’ve read but also from my own experiences over the past ten years dating and fucking women. But here’s the thing: that’s what happens. Kristen is a real person and that is our real sex life, and that is the way she really comes. A dramatization or slightly fictionalized version of our sex life, sometimes, yes, but always based in truth.

Yes, I tend to be attracted to femininity. Yes, I tend to be most turned on by girls who are a little smaller than I am—I like to be able to throw them around. But I know butch tops who are really into girls who are bigger than they are, because it makes them feel all the more like a badass top. But there have been occasional femme tops who turn my head, some of whom I’ve dated. And there have been occasional butches or guys who got me all crushed out, too.

It’s a delicate balance between knowing myself and understanding that certain things just work for me more than others, and also being open to trying something if a sparkle comes along and surprises me. I don’t want my orientations—sexual, power, gender, or otherwise—to get in the way of a good fuck, or potentially good date or relationship. I try to keep myself challenged that way. It’s tricky because some of the things I am most oriented toward do line up with some conventional expectations—butch top / femme bottom, for example—but not because it is unexamined. In fact, it might be more because it is over-examined, because I know so much about gender and sexuality that I fetishize the conventional.

I don’t care about having a “conventionally hot chick” on my arm—what I do care about is having a girlfriend, a sexual partner, someone to play with that I am attracted to, with whom I can communicate, who is commited to our sexual growth, both separately and together.

Friday Reads: Sometimes She Lets Me: Best Butch/Femme Erotica

In keeping with the tradition I started this summer, featuring a butch or femme book on Fridays to countdown to the Femme Conference and then the Butch Voices regional conferences, I’m going to keep that up and continue featuring books on Fridays.

I was going to write about The Well Of Loneliness, Gold mentioned it when I wrote up Crybaby Butch last week and I thought, “Of course! Why didn’t I have that on my list?” It’s such a classic butch book. I expected it to be droll and depressing, but when I finally read it (in a british women writers of the ’20s class in college) it was incredible—so engaging, so well written, so articulate in the feelings of this “mannish” woman’s love for another woman. I definitely recommend picking it up, if you haven’t read it.

But … in light of the ridiculous amount of depressing news this week, let’s not even go there, let’s not mention a book called The Well of Loneliness, let’s not fall down a well of loneliness ourselves. Instead, let’s move on to something much more fun: smut.

I know I’ve mentioned it here before, but it’s worth revisiting. Sometimes She Lets Me: Best Butch/Femme Erotica, edited by Tristan Taormino, is a collection of the best butch/femme stories from the 16 years Taormino was the series editor for Best Lesbian Erotica. There are very few smut books specifically and exclusively with butch/femme content; this is the most recent, and, arguably, the best.

It is steaming hot.

“Butch/femme is erotic iconography. Butch/femme is bulging jeans, smeared lipstick, stiletto heals, and sharp haircuts. It’s about being read and being seen. Sometimes it’s about passing or not passing. It’s about individual identity and a collective sense of community. It’s personal, political. It’s a sexual electricity and power exchange. It’s the visceral space between the flesh and the imagination.” — from the introduction by Tristan Taormino

Here’s the description from Cleis Press:

Does the swagger of a sure-footed butch make you swoon? Do your knees go weak when you see a femme straighten her stockings? A duet between two sorts of women, butch/femme is a potent sexual dynamic. Tristan Taormino chose her favorite butch/femme stories from the Best Lesbian Erotica series, which has sold over 200,000 copies in the 16 years she was editor. And if you think you know what goes in in the bedroom between femmes and butches, these 22 shorts will delight you with erotic surprises. In Joy Parks’s delicious “Sweet Thing,” the new femme librarian in town shows a butch baker a new trick in bed. The stud in “Tag!,” by D. Alexandria, finds her baby girl after a chase in the woods by scent alone. And the girl in a pleated skirt gets exactly what she wants from her Daddy in Peggy Munson’s “The Rock Wall.” Sometimes She Lets Me shows that it’s all about attitude — predicting who will wind up on top isn’t easy in stories by S. Bear Bergman, Rosalind Christine Lloyd, Samiya A. Bashir, and many more.

Includes contributions by Alison L. Smith, Joy Parks, S. Bear Bergman, Amie M. Evans, Samiya A. Bashir, Rosalind Christine Lloyd, Kristen Porter, Tara-Michelle Ziniuk, D. Alexandria, Anna Watson, Shannon Cummings, A. Lizbeth Babcock, Sparky, Elaine Miller, Isa Coffey, Skian McGuire, Jera Star, Toni Amato, Peggy Munson, Sandra Lee Golvin, and Sinclair Sexsmith.

Pick it up at your favorite local independent feminist queer-friendly bookstore (if you want them to stay in business, that is), from Cleis Press directly, from Powell’s books in Portland (hi, #bvpdx!) or, if you must, from Amazon.

The Bullying Continues: Responses and News

I’m working on a longer essay about the recent teen gay suicides but meanwhile, here’s some more headlines and information about things that are coming in. Read them. Ponder what you can do.

  • October 1st: 19-Year-Old Gay College Student Raymond Chase Commits Suicide. “Raymond Chase was a person who liked Harry Potter and Rugrats and was a member of the popular facebook group “I cant spell “bananas” without singing hollaback girl.” He’s not number five in a week of suicides, he’s a unique special person with friends and family who are devastated by his loss. He’s a gay college kid who sure seems happy but not that day, or maybe he’d never been, and something happened or something had always happened and he couldn’t do it. His facebook bio is short and simple: “I like to laugh, I like to have fun, and I’m gay.””
    I count number 6, actually, but many articles I see are reporting 5. Beautiful writing from Autostraddle, definitely read this one.
  • September 27th: Ohio’s Tyler Wilson, 11, Gets Arm Broken By Classmate For Being a Cheerleader: “Tyler Wilson, an 11-year-old sixth grader in Findlay, Ohio had his arm broken Aug. 31 by a footballer-playing classmate at Glenwood Middle School after he and another boy began fighting with Tyler and calling him a sissy. How come? Because he joined a cheerleading squad.” The two boys responsible are now facing assault charges.
  • On Velvetpark: Judy Shepard: We Must All Protect Youth from Suicide: “Our young people deserve better than to go to schools where they are treated this way. We have to make schools a safe place for our youth to prepare for their futures, not be confronted with threats, intimidation or routine disrespect. … Quite simply, we are calling one more time for all Americans to stand up and speak out against taunting, invasion of privacy, violence and discrimination against these youth by their peers, and asking everyone in a position of authority in their schools and communities to step forward and provide safe spaces and support services for LGBT youth or those who are simply targeted for discrimination because others assume they are gay. There can never be enough love and acceptance for these young people as they seek to live openly as their true selves and find their role in society.”
  • September 30th: On The Stranger’s Slog: Why Are So Many Gay Kids Killing Themselves? Maybe it has something to do with shit like this: “La Crosse police are investigating accusations the reigning Riverfest commodore shoved a 14-year-old girl carrying a gay pride flag just before Saturday’s Maple Leaf parade.”
  • what are you doing right now to make the world safer for gay/queer/trans youth? if the answer is nothing, change that today.—dora

September 30th: Ellen’s statement about it on her show: “Things will get easier. Minds will change. And you should be alive to see it.”

Anderson Cooper smacks down the assistant Attorney General of Michigan for harassing and stalking the openly gay president of the the University of Michigan: “I looked up the definition of ‘cyber bully,’ and that fits what you’re doing. Do you consider yourself a cyber bully?” “Do you consider yourself a bigot? Merriam-Webster defines bigot as … ” “Are you aware that your boss thinks you’re immature?” Wow, sometimes I just adore Cooper. It’s so clear that the other guy has no ability for logic or consistency or integrity in his speech or life … what a sad, sad way to live. At least this is a little bit uplifting.

More soon. Lots of thoughts rolling around in my head about what we can do, what I can do, what needs to happen, what must change. Meanwhile, I’m in Portland for Butch Voices, and trying to keep my shit together.