This Is A Conversation About Duties: On M/s Language

Sinclair’s note: rife & I have been gathering and publishing anonymous statements about the impact of using the words “master” and “slave” in a kink context. This one is longer than most others, and elaborate, and I wanted to ensure we all get enough time with it, so I am putting it in its own post.

Thank you to the person who wrote it, who wishes to remain anonymous.

This is not a conversation about rights. It is a conversation about duties.

This whole conversation hurts my heart so deeply because I don’t think it is a conversation about the validity or value of M/s relationships, and yet we seem to have turned it into one. I have been engaged in M/s dynamics since I came out in the public scene in 2006. Before then, I didn’t have language for what I was doing. So much of who we are and what we do is wrapped up in this dynamic and I, for one, am not willing to give up such an inherent piece of myself and my identity. I am and intend to fully continue living, loving and thriving within the depths of the power exchange dynamics that have become the bread and butter of my daily life. However, this conversation has nothing to do with my dynamics. This conversation has to do with the feeling that I, and my brothers and sisters, get every time a white person introduces themselves to me, or expects me to address them, as Master. For me, this is where things get difficult. You are not my Master and I am not yours. So why is this even a part of our interaction?

As a historian, I have understood that the honorific “Master” in the community used to be an earned one. That is how I reconciled the expectation that I would use this very triggering word with the gut wrench it evoked when I was first expected to use it. “This is about the mastery of a craft,” I told myself. Sort of like the master classes I had seen in school. I certainly didn’t feel the same gut wrench when the word was employed to describe a Master Chef or a Master Painter. I rationalized the word this way and went about my Leather life in deluded bliss.

Then I met a Black boy who wished to be my slave. Even as a Black person myself, I knew that it wasn’t the same, so I set about speaking with my fellow people of color to ask for their aid in teaching me what it would mean to own a Black slave in America. I worked hard and listened to so many voices. Everyone had different opinions that spoke to their kinks and life experiences. Some of the most interesting conversations came from my fellow M/s lifestylers who deeply crave and enjoy the M/s life 24/7 but have had to struggle with how to reconcile that with the awful history of this country and the very real, very raw feelings that that history evokes. Not one person on this journey ever questioned our desires to relate to one another this way, nor to build a 24/7 dynamic surrounding those desires. The only things that emerged remained true, across all conversations, were: 1) “I should not be expected to address anyone (but *my* Master) as Master” and 2) “I would prefer not to have to be triggered constantly by the casual use of the word Master in my company”. These held the ring of truth for me and felt like easy fixes. I began to look into other words and other languages spoken by my people. (I am a native French speaker, while one of my boys is a native Spanish speaker.) I found Maîtresse, Maîtriser, Dominate, Domina, Lady, Lord, Liege and Sovereign that worked for me. I even considered using the phonetics of M/s to create the word Emess to describe my dynamics. Words are flexible and I want to be able to employ that flexibility to fully express myself without the side effect of causing harm.

I will not change the way I relate to my partners, practice my kinks or devote myself to my dynamics and I don’t believe that anyone is asking me to. No one is asking that the practices of our life long love in power exchange change. Members of our Community, our brothers, sisters and siblings, are simply telling us that the use of A WORD is harming them.

Why am I getting the feeling that we don’t seem to care? That the pain and suffering that the word evokes is not enough for us to do something about it? We have been harmed by words before. Words like faggot, dyke and freak have harmed many within our Community. When these times came, we gathered ourselves together and we forced change. We reclaimed these words and made them our own. The problem with this situation is that white people cannot reclaim the word Master in America because they aren’t the ones that it hurts. We need to find a different way to do this this time.

I will admit that the task of changing our verbiage can appear to be a daunting one. It is not, however, impossible. An NPR Article entitled “The Journey From ‘Colored’ to ‘Minorities’ To ‘People of Color’” put it well: “Language is and always will be an essential element in the struggle for understanding among peoples. Changes in the words and phrases we use to describe each other reflect whatever progress we make on the path toward a world where everyone feels respected and included.” We have to ask ourselves, how important is it to us that every member of our Community feels respected and included?

I accept that words cause harm and know that words can be changed. We, as a Community, have the power to make that change. The only thing anyone is asking here is that we care enough about the impact of our word choices on our members to enact that change. For that to happen, however, we need to find a place of agreement that we can start from. Can we find such a place?

American history will not take away my right to experience and express my deepest kink and Leather desires in the ways that work for me. I will not allow it to take more from me and my people than it already has. I will not stop engaging in M/s dynamics. But again, I recognize that no one is asking me to do that. Not one person has attempted to take away my right to have my relationships the way I desire to have them. This is not what this conversation is about, and so, I am struggling deeply because I am continuously seeing this conversation reduced to that. Asking for semantic change does nothing to effect my self or my dynamics. The power I wield is not somehow lessened if I am called Domina instead of Master. My identity will not change or be reduced because I introduce myself as Maîtress. My rights to love, fuck and play in the ways that feel right to me are not being called into question.

This is not a conversation about rights. It is a conversation about duties. Of course we have a right to define our dynamic as we please and use monikers that work for us and turn us on. Of course we have the right to express our leather and kink as we wish. However, if we want to be inclusive, if we want to be a safe space for the next generation, if we want to grow and adapt to the needs of our marginalized family members and if we want to pledge ourselves to making the community better, then we have a duty to engage this conversation from a different lens. We have a duty to shed our need to defensively protect a word that is causing harm and take on instead a need to find a way to enjoy the dynamic that word represents without causing harm. Leather has always been a step ahead in subverting the norms and there is no reason that we cannot do that again here. Let us set the example by taking down our defense walls and trying to really listen to and get to the heart of the pain of our fellow Leather people. Let us really work hard to allow the voices of our hurting members to sink in and truly be heard. Let us try our very best to remember that this isn’t personal, it is institutional… Together we can find the answer, but not until every member at the table feels heard without judgement. The right answer will preserve our sacred kinks, identities and dynamics at the same time as making our spaces more inclusive and safe.

I’m Voting Biden/Harris, But I Still Want A Dyke For President

Am I excited about voting for Kamala Harris and Joe Biden? No.

Am I going to vote for Kamala Harris and Joe Biden? Abso-fucking-lutely. Of course.

Am I excited there is a Black woman as the democratic vice president nominee? Yes! I’m excited about anybody who isn’t a cis white man. That we are starting to have possibilities, options, is fantastic and I absolutely want to see more of it and I’m excited about it.

But: Kamala Harris was a police officer. I, like many folks in the past year or so, have been learning more and more about the movement to abolish police entirely, and I’m in support of that. There are many arguments about whether more strict regulating or defunding would be steps toward abolition, and some say no, that we’ve been regulating for years and it hasn’t changed the amount of killings of innocent (particularly Black) people and police brutality. And at a time like this, when the Movement for Black Lives is stronger and more active than it ever has been, I am kind of shocked Biden chose someone with a such a police history. Then again, of course he did — he’s a moderate, centrist democrat and perhaps radicals will still vote for her because of her radicalness (being a Black woman), but more conservative folks will still vote because of her police history.

Kamala Harris also had a serious hand in SESTA/FOSTA, and if you don’t know what that did for sex work and freely distributing information about sexuality in general, definitely look into it. Her history as a DA is intense and generally bad. There are many criticisms — what I’ve mentioned here is by no way exhaustive, not that I’m trying to be. Point is: there is reason to critique her.

Either way, I was going to vote for the democratic nominee. I’m not necessarily excited about it … I don’t particularly believe that the nominees for president in this country are ever going to represent my actual beliefs and values.

I want a dyke for president. (Image text by Zoe Leonard, transcribed below.)

Still, I’ve voted in every election that I have been able to since I was 18. I do believe it’s important.

I was talking to rife today about my frustration with the state of the world — particularly the US, but corporate greed and profit over people over the earth are everywhere, not just here. I feel angry, disappointed, and helpless — which can and does sometimes turn to apathy. I’ve heard many of my friends talk about how actually volunteering for a local election or doing work on a presidential campaign has helped them feel like their anger has somewhere to go, so I’ve definitely been thinking about that part, too — how to turn the anger and frustration outward into action rather than inward into hopelessness and apathy.

I’m curious how you all out there are doing. Are you eligible to vote? If so, are you planning to vote? Did you vote in the 2016 election? If not (and assuming you were eligible), why didn’t you? Are you disappointed that Bernie or Warren didn’t get the nomination this time around?

And perhaps most importantly: What kind of activism are you doing? How have you funneled your rage, apathy, frustration, give-up-ness into something productive?

I write about voting and politics on here sometimes, sure, but I’m not a journalist and so it’s more rare to write about ‘current events’ type of happenings. I tend to assume that everybody is seeing a lot of the same media I’m seeing, because we’re all in a similar queer feminist liberal urban bubble of media — though I know that’s not true. Internet algorithms change what everybody sees extensively. I mean, have you been saying the same things I’ve been seeing this week — the extensive essays about why Kamala Harris sucks, but the resolve to vote for her anyway? The feelings of disappointment, and the barbed wire around being allowed to feel our feelings of disappointment, asking folks not to please jump on them about feeling bad because of course we will vote blue? And the smattering of folks who are saying, simply, ‘hurrah, a Black woman’? That’s what my news feeds and timelines are all full of.

I’m thinking about how I can use Sugarbutch in the coming months, if there is anything I can actually do to support getting Biden/Harris elected. I can write about it more, I can share my thoughts as we get closer … which isn’t my favorite thing to do, because it veers close to journalism, which doesn’t excite me. But how can I use the platform AND come up with something exciting? Not sure yet, but I’m thinking about it. If you have ideas, I’d love to hear them.


Text of the above image:

“I want a dyke for president. I want a person with AIDS for president and I want a fag for vice president and I want someone with no health insurance and I want someone who grew up in a place where the earth is so saturated with toxic waste that they didn’t have a choice about getting leukemia. I want a president that had an abortion at sixteen and I want a candidate who isn’t the lesser of two evils and I want a president who lost their last lover to AIDS, who still sees that in their eyes every time they lay down to rest, who held their lover in their arms and knew they were dying. I want a president with no air-conditioning, a president who has stood in line at the clinic, at the DMV, at the welfare office, and has been unemployed and laid off and sexually harassed and gaybashed and deported. I want someone who has spent the night in the tombs and had a cross burned on their lawn and survived rape. I want someone who has been in love and been hurt, who respects sex, who has made mistakes and learned from them. I want a Black woman for president. I want someone with bad teeth and an attitude, someone who has eaten that nasty hospital food, someone who crossdresses and has done drugs and been in therapy. I want someone who has committed civil disobedience. And I want to know why this isn’t possible. I want to know why we started learning somewhere down the line that a president is always a clown. Always a john and never a hooker. Always a boss and never a worker. Always a liar, always a thief, and never caught.” ― Zoe Leonard

The Impact of M/s Language: Voices from the Community

rife and I are starting to compile different statements and quotes from people in the leather, kink, and M/s communities about the use and impact of the terms “master” and “slave,” particularly for Black people.

This is part one of probably many; I hope to continue to compile these stories and talk about the impact of the language. The images at the beginning are pull quotes; the full statement is after.


From the perspective of someone who isn’t in the BDSM community but who wants to learn more about everything that the practices can offer- the terminology behind Master and Slave is entirely a turn off and stops me from even being able to open up to bdsm. As a black person, seeing those titles and seeing the bdsm community defend them so fiercely makes it feel like they’re the gatekeepers keeping me out for being uncomfortable. I recognize that it’s a deeply institutionalized phrase that means more to those who are already so ingrained in the community. But when I’m invited to m/s events, it makes me uncomfortable because I can’t get past the name.

It’s exactly the same feeling as when a friend is super into NASCAR, but there are confederate flags everywhere. They’re not intentionally there to hurt anyone. It’s ingrained in the experience to have the flags there. People who aren’t affected by those symbols don’t even see them anymore, they’re just in it for the fun. But I can’t walk into a stadium full of confederate flags and be expected to not feel minimized or unvalued the entire time.

The concept behind modern m/s relationships is intriguing, but I’ll never get to be into it without the constant reminder of our very recent history/ daily life as a society. I hope that people will be open to my perspective, because it’s entirely hurtful to be shut out.

— Aubrey

When I first joined the leather community, every chance I got I pulled aside any black person to bend their ear. I asked them how they dealt with white people using words like Master and slave. A lot of them looked at me with sadness because no one had a real answer. It hurt but they got used to it. When trying to encourage black people to explore the leather community and come in to these spaces, they have asked me how I could stand hearing words like that. The truth is, I don’t. I cringe. The first time a white man introduce himself as Master so-and-so, I was shocked that someone would look me in the eye and ask me to call them Master. The thought running thru my mind was that I will NOT call you Massa. Since then I have learned to grow a hard shell against this language because a part of me has lost hope that it will ever change.

— Anonymous

Your post made me feel… at ease. I have had conversations with those in the past about how the title of Master and Slave can be so hurtful. There is a whole community of people who I may not ever meet because of those two words. Not because I don’t think they are good people. Just clueless and prideful. When I walk into a ‘kink’ dungeon or event and someone asks me if I top or bottom, there is a level of safety implied. If someone were to ask me if I was a Master or Slave, it would scare me. The terms Master and slave to me brings about visions of slavery, shackles, abuse and death. If in that moment I say slave, it brings down hundreds of years of oppression onto my shoulders. The term immediately turns the askers face into a twisted confusion of misunderstanding and a lifetime in the death grip of systemic racism. It is confirmation, for some. Confirmation of where they think people who look like me belong. In shackles, collared, and beneath their boots. When Y/you both posted that statement, it was relief I felt. There is a level of wariness I have always had around you both. I have spent some great times and created awesome memories with you. It doesn’t dismiss the feeling of concern I have as a black person aspiring to an M/s type relationship talking to two white queers who don the label and embody the values of those words in their everyday lives. I often wondered if you would/could understand the immensely heartbreaking swim through the weighted mud of identifying with those terms. If you as white queers could ever understand what it feels like to bare the brunt of the mountains of hatred those two words hold for me. The weight of two words that would see me relive the destruction of my ancestors souls every time it left my lips. You made that post and I sat back in my chair and exhaled. My shoulders relaxed. My jaw unclenched. And I knew then that you understood. Even just a little bit… and some of the mountain crumbled away… and I exhaled. I hope you don’t lose the title. If you did it would mean that people are more attached to the words than the actual traditions and rituals it represents. It would mean the death of the M/s community for me. I am currently looking at those who are responding negatively to your post with an eye of possible danger. Making notes on whom to stay away from.

— Anonymous

There are more over in the “Voices From the Community” album on Facebook. We’re still compiling statements, and if you have opinions about using the terms, we would love to hear from you; please email [email protected]

On Representing the M/s Title

There’s been a lot of conversation around our statement about our choice to not use Master/slave language for ourselves. Many are wondering how we can fulfill the obligations of our title without those words. Some even ask if we’re breaking up or (gasp) transitioning to a vanilla relationship (spoiler alert: we aren’t!). So, in the interest of transparency, we want to put your mind at ease about a few things:

1. Of course, we affirm you can identify yourself however you like, it’s your identity. We are sharing our relationship journey,not kink shaming anyone.

2. We can not and do not speak for Black folks on this matter, and recognize a great diversity in opinions on this. We are sharing our own relationship journey. As queers and dykes, we understand the beautiful important work of reclaiming words.

3. We know what we do is not trying to replicate or look to chattel slavery, it is a beautiful deep calling that for us is spiritual and profound. The words happen to be the same.

4.We have learned that despite our good intentions, these words can cause hurt, and we care about that hurt.

5. We decided to drop the Master and slave from our titles (you can just call us Mx. Rook and little, hunter, boy, or just rook). We’re also going to be way more careful about using those words in general leather spaces. This doesn’t mean we will stop our education or visibility in those spaces, our classes will just be rephrased to talk about “Ownership dynamics” instead of “M/s dynamics.”

6. We take our titleholding commitment seriously. We feel it would be dishonorable to step down before the year is complete since we have committed to serving. Part of that commitment is to sharing our personal authority exchange relationship journey.

7. We have been in conversation with the South Plains producers since before making any announcements, and they have been incredibly supportive of our personal journey around this. We appreciate their insight as folks who have been in the M/s community for many years.

8. We love our lineage and our community. We are passionate about hierarchical relationships and have deep respect for the title system. Nothing about our relationship has changed except the words we call each other.

9. We want to continue this conversation and apologise for any hurt feelings, shock, or discomfort you felt watching our initial brief statement. We are learning and growing all the time. We wish we could be having these conversations in person, we wish we could have told you individually first. Thanks for being understanding of our strange and unprecedented times that push everything so social media.

10. We appreciate that this community values respect, integrity, and inclusion. Thank you for respecting our way of practicing our ownership relationship though it may look different from yours.

So, how will we represent the title?

According to the IM/s Judges Handbook, the International M/s pair is chosen to be visible as one individual healthy M/s or O/p relationship. We were proud to be chosen as International Master/slave 2020 by a panel of judges whom we admire. We are committed to sharing what is happening behind the scenes in our dynamic, not just on the surface. Sharing our thoughts about the impact of using the words “master” and “slave” has been a way to be transparent about what is really happening in our relationship right now. We don’t know what the answer is; we don’t yet know what other words we’re going to use in the long run. There aren’t great, easy answers here or the community would have found them already. But we are asking the questions, and curious and open about what everyone has to say.

We are proud to be in an authority exchange relationship. We are not embarrassed or ashamed. We are oriented this way, and living better lives because we are in this partnership.

We are proud to be rooted in the M/s community, and we love being part of the traditions, leather values, and embracing of change that happens in radical communities. We would not have such a strong dynamic if it weren’t for the support from and knowledge in the M/s community, and we are extremely grateful for all that we’ve learned and continue to learn. We are in this for the long haul and plan to continue our title journey with you.

We are excited to continue teaching workshops on authority exchange dynamics. We are gearing up to visit more MAsT chapters too; it is exciting that online meetings make visits more accessible. Our class “The Art of Ownership” is about the wide range of authority exchange relationships, from Victorian to Leather, from something you do on the weekends to 24/7 long-term ownership. It is designed for general leather events and folks new to authority exchange, but is full of theories and charts that are fun for experienced folks, too.

So how will we serve this title system without those words? We will continue to share our journey on Facebook and Fetlife, just with other language to describe ourselves. That’s the only thing that’s changed. We will continue teaching classes and creating support groups and fun activities online.

Our schedule for the next few months is:

August 3 – Unlearning White Fragility through BUTCH Voices (rescheduling for September)
August 16 – Unlearning White Fragility for Leatherfolks through Portland Bad Girls
August 20 – Kinky Virtual Game Night
August 27 – Leather Couch: Topic TBA
September 10 – Leather Couch: Jack Thompson – IML AMA
September 24 — Roles & Responsibilities webinar
October 15 – Leather Couch: Jesbian & Teagan – Leather Lust
October 22 — Feminist Sadism is not an Oxymoron webinar
November 12 – Leather Couch: Raven & Joshua – Polyamory & Power Dynamics
November 13-15 – teaching for Leather Reign – Ownership as a Spiritual Path
November 19 — The Protocol Game
December 3 – Navigating Family & Authority Exchange Relationships
December 17 – Goal Setting For D-types
January 21 – Leather Couch: Tomo – Navigating the M/s Relationship Plateau
January 28 – Kinky Virtual Game Night
February 19-21 – FLAME Conference (we will apply to teach again)
February 25 – The Satisfied Submissive webinar
February 2021 – Leather Couch: Master Jim, slave marsha, Sir Cougar, Topic TBA
March 2021 – Leather Couch: TBA
Monthly Nonbinary D/s Discussion group – dates TBD

We are still available for workshops, panels, and discussions; please email us both at [email protected] if you’d like to invite us to your event or group.

On Stepping Away From M/s Language

Content: Discussion of the uses of the words master and slave in a consensual kink context, the politics of using them in community, and the harm they cause.

A few weeks ago, I put this note out on social media:

“Hi everyone; some of you may know that with my boy we are the International Master/slave 2020 and Northwest Master/slave 2019 titleholders in the leather community. We have been planning a conversation about the impact of the words master and slave for a long time, and we want to dive into it more now. We understand that when used by non-Black people, these words cause harm. Personally, we are stepping away from using the words. I’m sorry for the harm they’ve caused, and I’m sorry it’s taken us so long. I’ll detail more about what we’re going to do in a full statement forthcoming; I’m taking some time to consult with community and figure out the way forward. We will have a full statement out within the next week.”

rife and I then published this note on the Facebook page for our leather title:

Running for and winning this title has been an incredible journey, and this is not the title year anyone expected. We’re heartbroken to see our events being cancelled or, at best, moving online. We miss you all and wish we could be having this conversation with you in person.

The changes we are making with our relationship titles reflect our personal journey; our relationship structure itself hasn’t changed. We still want to talk with you about all the nerdy power theory stuff. We’ve just decided that for us, as white folks living in the racist United States, we aren’t going to use the terms “Master” and “slave” any more.

This was a hard choice to make because it has been so valuable to find community around these words, and to be part of a lineage of people exploring conscious, consensual power exchange.

We recognize and affirm that Black leatherfolk have many different views on consensual ownership dynamics, and we honor Black leadership in the M/s community. There are Black people who have done the hard, beautiful work of reclaiming these words and as queers we understand the power behind that. We cannot and will never tell a Black person what to do — many Black folks have chosen to use these words for themselves. These are their words to reclaim. Everyone has a different journey with these words. There are many white folks in M/s community who are aware of the potential impact of these words and use them with care.

We are not judging others’ choices about their use of the words Master and slave. We affirm that your words are your choice. Total power exchange dynamics are psychological edgeplay, and everyone gets to decide for themselves what their comfort level is.

The words Master and slave helped us find this community — our people — where we are validated and seen. At the same time, there have been multiple Black people in our lives – dear friends and leather family- who have told us they are harmed by these terms. We can’t and would never speak for Black people, but we know some Black folks experience our use of those words as violent and triggering. Because they have told us so.

We apologize to the Black people we have harmed in the use of these terms. Whether it was intentional or not, it caused harm and we’re sorry. We know finding new language for our relationship will not solve racism, but it’s a small thing (among many others) that we can do to reduce harm.

In the past, we have been careful with usage when not at M/s events, because we want those around us to consent and opt into hearing M/s language. Just like I wouldn’t highlight my Daddy/boy fetish if I knew someone around me was a survivor of child abuse, our intention was to be respectful and cause less harm to those around us. We would try to cover our back patches when walking through hotel lobbies, and include content warnings on published essays. We didn’t do this perfectly.

Currently, we are:

1. Stepping away from using those words for ourselves and considering other options.
2. Apologizing for the harm we have caused in the past.
3. Creating more conversations about this, and researching and listening to better understand the changes that Black folks are calling for.
4. Supporting Black liberation movements in concrete ways, including financial donations, political action, and volunteer work.

We have many thoughts about using M/s language as white people — currently we have a 17 page document full of notes, and have had countless conversations about it. We want to talk about the intersection of power exchange and anti-racist work, and we want to find more folks who want to do that, too. If you want to be in this conversation with us, please like this post and let us know.

Wouldn’t it be amazing if we had an M/s community that everyone felt they could belong to? What would it be like if we knew that nobody was being left behind because of unintentional impacts of our words?

Most importantly, how can we, as white folks committed to both the M/s community and to racial justice, reconcile the awful history of these words with the beautiful relationships we have? We don’t have the answers, but I hope through conversation we can start to puzzle this together.

It’s not about the relationship structure; we love this way of building relationships and will fiercely defend our heart-soul calling towards it. We are Owner and owned with a total authority transfer dynamic, just like we have been. It’s not about the M/s community; finding y’all has been life changing for us and we love you dearly like the family we always needed. We are not trying to police anyone else’s language or tell you how you should identify. We just want to make sure our words are not harming the Black folks in our leather family (and beyond).

We are invested in the health and longevity of this community. We want to see our spaces thrive and grow for years to come, and will be here producing online events, workshops, and discussion groups for those committed to the path of structured relationships.

With love & in leather,
the Rooks

There is now elaborate conversation happening both on Facebook and where rife published the statement on his personal Fetlife.

If you want to talk to me or both of us about this, I am open to discussion and available. You can contact us both at [email protected] or me at [email protected]

I would love to talk to people who are particularly at the intersection of 24/7 authority exchange and anti-racist work, who are interested in engaging with ideas for supporting the M/s community and leather community in general to work to be a more accessible space for Black folks specifically and POC folks in general. If you’d like to collaborate and discuss, please reach out and let me know.

We are also now collecting other statements and quotes from folks discussing the impact of the words master and slave for them, and publishing them on our Facebook page here. They can be anonymous, with your name, or with a pseudonym. Send them to us at [email protected], or get in touch if you have questions about them.

What about here on Sugarbutch?

Here on Sugarbutch, I’ve taken down posts that use master/slave language. Some of them I’ll be editing and putting back up, but some will stay down because they were primarily about M/s and wouldn’t be the same to edit. I won’t be using M/s language in erotica or in posts about my relationship going forward.

I am however interested in writing about the many, many things which are coming up in response to this statement — things about reclaiming language, about what level of comfort different people have with using them, about other issues of racism in the M/s and leather communities, and more. I haven’t figured out if I can/should post that here, or if I will publish that on Medium or somewhere else — but either way, I will be putting content notes at the beginning of the pieces so people can opt in or out to what they are reading if they wish. Feel free to let me know your preference in the comments, and I will take that into account.

Last, but not least

It has taken me some time to come to not using these words.

We both had reservations about using those words when we started finding the M/s community, but the M/s community has many explanations for why those words are used and has done a lot of work reconciling their history. There are many Black leaders in the M/s community, and I have learned much from them. I hope it’s clear within the statement above, but we are not trying to make commentary of any kind about what it means for Black folks to use these words — only for US, personally, as white folks.

I needed the teachings about authority exchange relationships that the M/s community presents, and they have completely changed my life for the better. I would not have as strong and healthy of a relationship with rife as I do if it were not for that community. I’m incredibly grateful, and I do want to see that community thrive, grow, and continue. I also hope to have a conversation about the use of these words, who it leaves out, and the harm they cause — which is already happening.

I have many other things to share about this process, and I’m slowly gathering my resources to write more about it. I am talking to Black and non-Black leaders in the leather and M/s communities about next steps, following the guidance of what Black folks want. We’ve been having dozens of hours of conversations. I’m doing my best to listen.

I welcome folks to join me and rife in visioning, as we said in our statement, a leather community that is truly inclusive, where all feel safe to show up as their full authentic selves. If you’d like to join the conversation that is already happening, check out on the Facebook page for our title years and the statement on rife’s Fetlife (which has many more comments).

6 Black Educators to Follow & Support on Patreon

One of the things I’m hearing a call for out of this uprising for Black lives is to pledge ongoing support and donations and redistribution of wealth, not just one-time donations. Patreon is a great way to support artists and educators — y’all know I’m a big fan of their model.

Here are a few great artists, activists, and educators I am pleased to support there, and I highly recommend you do, too — not just to make donations to smart, creative, life-changing people, but also to get access to all their amazing work! Personally, I’m inclined to folks who are incorporating some element of sexuality or embodiment into their work, and if you’re reading here, you may be, too.

1. Eclipse is creating a cosmic home for Black Queer Erotica

2. Sassy Latte is creating Education & Art about Body Politics & Racial Justice

There aren’t a lot of folks doing work at the intersection of sexuality and racial justice, and she shares great resources, thoughts, and images. With recent posts such as “6 Ways White People are Causing Harm with Their Attempts at Allyship” and “Let’s Stop Trying to Use White Privilege for Good,” her longer writing through Patreon is worth diving in to. Check her out on Instagram, where she is very active.

3. QueerWOC is creating a digital community for queer women of color

I found them through a Patreon article about Black creators to support, and they wrote, “The Podcast started as a Tumblr page back in 2013. Now it has grown into a community space for lesbians, bisexual, queer and trans women of color to come together and celebrate their “lives, loves, and laughs”. Hosted by Money and Nikeeta, a family therapist and community organizer respectively, the two hope to leverage Patreon to sustain the podcast and also grow the brand by producing merchandise and hosting in-person meetups.”

4. Rachel Cargle is creating resources and critical discourse to aid in unlearning

Recently, she posted templates for holding your local school district or academic institution accountable for racial justice, and she posts ongoing inspirations and thoughts about on The Great Unlearn Instagram and Rachel Cargle Instagram.

5. Good Ancestor Podcast with Layla F. Saad is creating interviews with change-makers & culture-shapers

Layla F. Saad is the creator of Me & White Supremacy, “A 28-Day Challenge to Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor leads readers through a journey of understanding their white privilege and participation in white supremacy, so that they can stop (often unconsciously) inflicting damage on black, indigenous and people of color, and in turn, help other white people do better, too.” Her Patreon supports her work and her podcast, and keeps us updated with what she’s developing.

6. Nicole Cardoza is creating conversations and tools to reclaim wellness – for all of us

Nicole Cardoza publishes the Anti-Racism Daily newsletter, “your daily reminder to dismantle white supremacy.” I have some of her recent newsletters still in my inbox: Capitalize the B in Black, Defund the Police (Beyond the Slogan), Protect Essential Workers, Rally to Celebrate Juneteenth. They are relevant every day and offer actions to do to support anti-racist work. Go to the website and add your email here: https://www.nicoleacardoza.com/anti-racism-daily.

There are many ways to support the Movement for Black Lives, but if you’re into supporting creators who are putting their good work out into the world, hope these are a few who are inspiring.

Who are you supporting on Patreon, or in other places? I’d love more recommendations.

Breath as a Healing Tool During COVID-19 with M’kali-Hashiki

M’kali-Hashiki is an erotic breathwork facilitator whose work has been transformative for me personally. She is a leather dyke, polyamorous, and a BDSM practitioner, and, to quote, “I have personal experience achieving mystical states during sex.” She has many skills in many intersectional erotic realms.

Her work focuses on breath as a healing tool in an erotic context. What does that mean? “It’s a series of breathing techniques that allow you to access and circulate your erotic energy,” she says. But “erotic” is not a euphemism for “sexual” in this case — “Erotic energy is your life force, your creative energy. The purpose of erotic breathwork fundamentally is to deepen your embodiment: to strengthen your connection with your body.”

Doing erotic breathwork now, in the midst of both a pandemic and uprisings, is particularly important. “People use these techniques for many reasons: deal with stress, remediate chronic pain, enhance physical/energetic/emotional intimacy with partner(s), to deepen their meditation, to practice dying,” she said. “In these times we know that stress and pain and fear and panic can weaken the immune system. So having the space to process these emotions will help to strengthen our immune system. Also we need to a space for our grief. We will be grieving something, if not a person/people, then a way of life. Repressing grief also weakens our immune system. We need to feel all of our feelings instead of just swallowing or repressing them. Here in this circle we get to feel whatever and however we feel. And lastly we need to make space in our bodies for joy & pleasure. Erotic Breathwork is a great tool for that.”

She has two special community offerings through the end of August: community erotic breathwork, and BLM Protesters’ sessions.

BLM Protesters’ Community Erotic Breathwork Sessions

These sessions are for any Black folks involved in the recent protests (and any Black healers supporting them).

For all the Black folks who’ve been in the streets protesting our murders: I’m offering a virtual space to come commune with your body. To croon songs of love & thanks to it for allowing you to make your voice heard; to remind it of its sacredness at a time when the US wants to ram it’s lie that you are not of value down your throat; to purge the fear & adrenaline that your body sustained while you were out there; to strengthen your soul’s endurance. A space carved out of time to feel however the fuck you wanna feel, to let those emotions run through you and create a river connecting you with our Ancestors who protect you, and our Descendants who will benefit from the holy work you’ve done. To feel all of our heartbeats in the sound of your inhale & exhale. To just be.⠀

Fam. Words right now really fail to grasp the breadth of the situation we’re in, so I’m not even gonna try.

Our rage, our grief, our fear, all of it is valid. Let us come together and hold each other with our breath and feel whatever the fuck it is we want to feel, outside of the White Gaze, outside of the Media. Let us circle and remind ourselves how precious we are, how valid our emotions are, how much we have overcome, and how far we will go together. Let us gather together and find what comfort we can from one another. Give your body a space to purge all that adrenaline, to thank your body for making your voice heard. To remind your body that you have not & will not swallow the lie that it is of low value, To fall into our connection to the Ancestors who protect us and to our Descendants who will benefit from the holy work you’re doing. To feel all of our heartbeats in the sound of your inhale & exhale.

Starting June 6 at 4pm PDT—and then every following Saturday at 3pm PDT—join me in a cybercircle with other BLM Protestors (and the Black Healers supporting them).

Shelter In Place Community Erotic Breathwork Sessions

Times are scary right now. We don’t know for sure what the outcome of this pandemic will be. No matter where we are on the globe, our society will be transformed. And transformation can be chaotic, both outside and inside our bodies. Every day brings more frightening news, and if you live in the US, it’s clear that our federal government is not up to the challenge.

All of this turmoil & uncertainty causes anxiety, stress, and panic; which not only affect our ability to stay healthy, but also make it harder to hold to make & keep space in our lives for joy.

Starting March 22 until the end of California’s Shelter In Place, I’m offering Erotic Breathwork Drop-In Sessions twice a week (Sunday at 12:00pm PDT & Thursday at 6:30pm PDT). These sessions are “Pay What You WIsh”, and no-one turned away for lack of funds. These sessions are designed to take you on a journey of excavation, of renewal, of integration. They can provide you with a container to dump some of the panic, fear, and grief so you can go about your life as well as a regular opportunity to re/connect with your body and/or access joy in your physical and energetic body.

Panic & stress weakens our immune system, joy & community strengthen it!

“We’re in a chaotic time, and chaos just means change,” said M’kali-Hashiki. “We are poised to create the world of justice and beauty and love that we have been dreaming of. We need to get through this time, we need energetic stamina, but we also need to be ready for this new world, to divest ourselves of the stories and ways that have not served us, we need to welcome the body’s wisdom & erotic Breathwork helps us to hear what the body wants to tell us.”

Head over here to sign up for one of M’kali-Hashiki’s erotic breathwork sessions for BLM protestors or for community breathwork sessions.

Sign up for her mailing list, and follow her on Instagram to keep up with her work.

Some Notes That May Turn Into A Sex Manifesto

Because the boy & I have been together for 9 years, and because we are also adults with jobs and families and obligations and bodies that aren’t always in the mood for sex, and because even the most compatible people have phases of being mis-matched in their desires and drives.

Because it is of incredibly high priority to me to have a rich erotic life.

Because I crave sex frequently. Because I struggle to feel close without the addition of pheromones and the alchemy of fluids. Because I want the physical closeness of losing ourselves in each other, of getting skin-drunk, of the intoxication that comes from tasting you. Because I use it to let my guard down. Because I let my guard down to have it. Because I want my guard down but I don’t always know how to take it down. Because my guard goes up so intensively automatically that I don’t always even notice it’s there. Because I still think about the boner preservation society and what would be on my list.

Because sex is the best way I know how to pray. Because sex is the best way I know how to see god. Because I need the release of orgasm like some people need a workout, to wring things out of my body, to shake and release. Because I have no better way to experience the holiness of my body. Because I start feeling floaty when I don’t have someone on top of me for a little while. Because I crave the feeling of all my senses activated, and you feeling every one.

Sex Manifesto (first draft)

1. The boy should assume that all sexual and erotic play is intended to have some pleasure in it for him. If it is not pleasurable, he is not only invited but expected to speak up about that and let that be clearly known.

2. It is possible that the Dominant will want to engage in erotic play that is not pleasurable to the boy, and the boy should do his best to accept that. However, this play should be intentional and with full knowledge that it is not pleasurable.

3. The boy can expect to have basic needs met before engaging in erotic play, including: hunger, using the bathroom to relieve himself, temperature (especially being too cold), and tiredness. If those needs are not met, he is expected to speak up and let them be clearly known.

4. We have long engaged in erotic play without a safeword, but we do have certain code words and phrases that can and should be used. a) “Mercy” is an accepted code word, and the Dominant will always consider mercy when the boy asks for such. b) “If it pleases you,” can be used to mean “I don’t particularly want to do this, but I will do it because you want me to.” c) “Only if it pleases you,” can be used to mean, “I do not want to do this, but I will because you want me to.” d) “I am a tool for your pleasure,” can be used to mean, “I am focused on servicing you,” meaning, “this is not about my pleasure right now.”

5. Masturbation is encouraged, orgasms are not restricted, and there are no particular requirements for how either should be done. Asking permission to come pleases the Dominant, but is not required at this time.

6. Fantasies are encouraged, porn is encouraged, and other erotic explorations are not just allowed but encouraged.

7. Having sex with other people during dreams is allowed. (Let’s just make this explicit, since the boy’s dream-self sometimes feels guilty.)

“There Are Others Like You:” Interview with Rowdy, rife’s Puppy

Recently, Betty Butch was doing some research for an article, and did a small interview with me about my puppy persona.

How shall I refer to you?

my pup name is rowdy and pup pronouns are he/him, but if you’re referring to me as the human, you can call me rife, property of Mx. Sexsmith, pronouns he or they.

Tell me about yourself

My pup is a husky-corgi mix named Rowdy. He is super friendly and loves wrestling and human attention. He enjoys the outdoors and– OMG BALL!!

When did you first hear about puppy play, and how did you come to participate?

I probably saw it first at Folsom street fair about ten years ago, and thought, cute! that looks fun. But was much more on the giving scritches side than getting them for a long time. I played one time with a pup who did a whole sled dog team and that was pretty inspiring.

What does puppy play mean to you? What does your experience of puppy play look like?

For me, it is a playful, nonsexual way to be extroverted in kink spaces without the anxiety of having to be verbal. It can look like wrestling or cuddling or playing fetch.

Can you tell me about a scene or moment that encapsulates your love of play / pup headspace?

I like to be told I’m a good boy, so training with my dominant/handler can be fun… but the most memorable was after my cis-pup died in a kind of tragic way, I happened to be at a kink event at the time and couldn’t bear people asking me how i was doing because i was devastated. So that was the first time I was in full pup mode in public, and it was healing… it felt like a way to be closer to my dog who had just passed, remembering her body language and enacting it. And after, we did a piercing ritual still in pup space.

Would people be surprised to know you engage in puppy play? Why or why not?

Depends on where they know me from. ;) We don’t talk about it much on the blog or as titleholders, but my pervert friends would not be surprised. I love animals and am a dog walker part time as one of my vanilla jobs.

If you could give advice to someone curious about puppy play (whether private play, or going to events/moshes), what would that advice be?

You don’t need any gear, just have fun. Practice nonverbal consent a lot and have a plan in place if your boundaries are pushed (standing up or saying “no” works). Pups come in all shapes, sizes, ability levels, and genders, so don’t sweat it if you’re the only one not on your knees or with your particular plumbing. I paw-mise, there are others like you!

Ready to Make Waves: Two Recent Inspirational Leather Speeches

I’ve heard more speeches in the leather community lately than I have ever in my life, and I gotta say — I’m moved. There is some beautiful oratory happening, some strong inspiration, some insight and sharing and vulnerability and power that I haven’t seen in a long time.

It’s how I used to feel, in feminist and queer activist circles. At all those rallies and meetings and events. But I haven’t felt that way about queer and feminist events in a while. Leather feels more at home, and more edgy, and like more relevant topics.

Here are two examples from this past year: Bianca Spencer, current Ms Rubber San Francisco, at the Ms Powerhouse Leather San Francisco contest, and Jack Thompson, at International Mr Leather in May of last year, delivering what became his winning speech.

Bianca Spencer’s speech from Ms Powerhouse Leather SF contest

Bianca, the current Ms Rubber San Francisco, gave this speech during the Ms Powerhouse Leather San Francisco contest — and I was moved. I mean, I think we all were. I haven’t been so inspired by a speech in a long time. Thank you, Bianca!

Jack Thompson’s speech at International Mr. Leather

I haven’t found the transcript for Jack’s speech yet, though I think I saw one at some point so I do think it’s out there somewhere. Jack is breaking down boundaries as an out, bi-racial, bisexual, HIV-positive trans man, and there has been some push back from the cis men in leather, but equally powerful support. It seems clear to me why he won, when I heard this. #JackIsMyIML

Resources For Sex & Chronic Pain

A friend of mine recently asked me if I had any resources for chronic pain and sexuality. I knew of a few off the top of my head, but I started looking around, and querying in a few of the sex educator groups I’m in, and on Twitter, and compiled this list.

Thanks to everyone who weighed in and made suggestions!

What else do you all recommend? Please leave them in the comments.

Spoon Theory

Y’all probably know about the spoon theory — it is very widely popular in many circles, not only when talking about ability, written by Christine Miserandino. If you don’t, highly recommend you familiarize yourself with it — here’s the sweet article that started it all, over on ButYouDontLookSick.com.

Websites

Chronic Sex – & their Podcast
KinkAcademy.com – Shanna Katz & Wintersong Tashlin have series on sex & disability
Sexability.com – Rafe Biggs
Disability After Dark – Andrew Gurza
SexAbled – Robin Wilson-Beattie

Twitter

SexAbled – Robin Wilson-Beattie

Corey Alexander

Articles

Books

Partners in Passion – short section starts p374, but there are resources throughout the book
The Monster Under the Bed: Sex, Depression, & the Conversations We Aren’t Having – JoEllen Notte’s new book, forthcoming March 2020
Am I Ugly? – from the author: “First third talks about chronic illness, and the last third talks about sex in relation to surgery scars.”

D/s Books

Kneeling in Spirit: Disabled Submissives

Conference

Sex & Disability conference – happened in 2017 but there are listings for presenters and resources here

Cartography of Control: A Map For Areas of Dominance & Submission

When it comes to control in D/s dynamics, there are a lot of questions to ponder and theorize about.

How do you give over even more to your dominant? How do you take more from your submissive?

How do you work out what your limits are?

How do you take or give more control?

How do I start making rules and protocols outside of the bedroom?

Or maybe you’re just in a D/s dynamic that is excellent, but you both want a little … more? So perhaps the question is simply, How do you step up your D/s dynamic?

This theory can help address all of these.

The Cartography of Control is a Map

The cartography of control maps out areas of someone’s (generally the s-type) life, and codes them into categories to share which areas they would like to have under someone else’s control and which areas they would like to keep for themself.

The first step is to brainstorm different life areas. These are probably endless, but there are some broad umbrella categories that applies to most folks. Here are some areas to start with:

Kink/BDSM activities
Orgasms/sex
Partners
Friends
Community
Family
Pets
Tidiness
Money
Spirituality
Gender
Emotions
Sleep
Speech
Stuff/possessions
Medical
Goals
Time Management
Media
Opinions
Education
Work/profession
Body modifications
Posture
Grooming
Dress
Politics
Hobbies
Fitness
Drugs
Therapy
Food
Alcohol

It’s always possible to think of more things, or to get a lot more specific about things within the categories — grooming, for example, could be divided into how someone keeps their hair, shaving, what products they use in the shower, makeup, their skincare routine — all sorts of things. But for now, we’ll keep the categories broad and divide it into specifics later.

Sort the Categories Into Yes, No, or Maybe

Now that you have a somewhat robust list — it doesn’t have to be exhaustive, but at least is a complete enough list for you to start — sort them into three different categories:

  1. Areas the submissive would like the dominant to have control over
  2. Areas that the dominant could possibly have control over, depending on [certain] circumstances
  3. Areas the submissive would like to retain their own control and final decisions over
One of the things rife often says is that he can’t give over any area where he himself does not have control. For example, if he was a smoker, he couldn’t give his nicotine addiction over to me, because he isn’t in control of it. I could help him with a plan to stop smoking, but I couldn’t just say, “You are no longer addicted,” and exercise control.
This is quite simplified; you could develop more categories to sort things in to, like “areas I will give over after the permanent collar is on,” or “areas you can control

For now, don’t worry about whether or not the dominant wants to control these categories. That’s a separate step. Just think about the submissive’s part in it, and whether they could or are willing to give up control.

One way to sort these is to write all your categories out on paper, then use different colors to denote which ones are which. Red could mean “no, I will keep control,” yellow/orange could mean, “maybe, depending on circumstances,” and green could mean, “yes, I would like my dominant to have control over these.”

Yes, you can change your mind — fine tune it, think through it, do thought experiments and make educated guesses about how future you would feel if certain areas were under someone else’s control.

Like this:

After you have the areas sorted, it’s time for the dominant’s part.

Next, make a separate chart of areas the dominant would like to have control over, could maybe take control over depending on circumstances, and would not like control over.

Now you should have two sets of lists. Time to compare them

Start with the yeses — those are the low-hanging fruit, the control that is easily on the table! Find the areas where you are both a yes — that’s your sweet spot. There are probably months of explorations inside just those areas alone!

But if you want to keep digging in, find the areas where one of you is a yes and one of you is a maybe, and discuss. Maybe you’ll discover some places where you want to grow more trust, or some parameters for the relationship that you hadn’t previously discussed.

When you’re ready to start exploring a particular area, brainstorm all kinds of things within that category that you could control, and start experimenting with protocol.

But first, a quick word about protocol:

Remember — only add one or two protocols at a time into a dynamic. It sets up the submissive to actually succeed at remembering what the protocols are, and doing them. Plus, it helps the dominant to remember and recognize when the protocol is or isn’t being done, and to act if it does not happen — which is another key piece of managing protocol.

You’re also perfectly set up to start playing with the Protocol Game, if that appeals to you! The cartography of control is a perfect way to figure out some of your training areas, and build the game from there.

Hopefully, figuring out your cartography of control will help identify areas where you can dive deeper into your dominance and submission.

No, You Don’t “Get” Racism Because You Are Oppressed, Too

Gender discrimination and racial discrimination are not the same thing.

Some white folks say, “I understand racism — I’m [other marginalized identity], I’m oppressed, too.” Or, “I have experienced intense discrimination for being trans, I can imagine what it’s like to be black.”

But here’s the thing: you don’t.

Racial discrimination is not the same as sexism or transphobia or heterosexism or homophobia or classism or any other marginalized identities and experiences.

I — and all of us white folks — have no idea what it is really like to be a person of color and face racial discrimination.

I am educating myself to read the stories and memoirs and artistic creations to learn what it is like, but I still don’t have any lived experience of it. I’ll never really know how deep it goes, how intense it is — because I am not a person of color.

There are patterns to structures of oppression. So that means there are patterns in the activist strategies, too.

There are some systemic similarities with how marginalized and disempowered groups are treated and disenfranchised by institutions, for example. And there are some similarities in the activist strategies used to build up tolerance, acceptance, understanding, equal protection, and equity.

For example:

Like cis folks can step up and do some of the education and harm reduction with other cis folks to try to ease the emotional and educational burden on trans and non-binary folks, white folks can step up to do anti-racist work.

Like cis folks can learn about their privilege and learn to use their privilege to lift and amplify voices of trans and non-binary folks, white folks can learn about their racial privilege and step aside to support pox voices, attendance, and access.

Like cis folks reacting defensively and overreacting to misgendering someone or getting their pronoun wrong, white folks can work on their white fragility, and work through feelings of white guilt in order to better reflect on their own behavior when they do something racist or racially insensitive.

I do not know what it is like to live as a person of color. But I do know some structures for social activism — which hopefully support liberation — that parallel within both schools of activism.

Five Essential Apps for Sex Bloggers

Over the 13 and a half years of blogging about sex (that’s right — since April 2006!), many folks ask me about the tools that I use. Here are some of my favorite tools, the ones I’m in almost every day, the ones that are now the core of the work I do here at Sugarbutch.

All of these include affiliate links! If you sign up through one of them — first of all, thank you! Second, if you want me to help you set it up or walk you through how I use it, I’m glad to share some of my best practices as appreciation for using my links.

1. You must have a mailing list. Try Convertkit

You have a mailing list, right? You gotta set up a mailing list. The free services are great — don’t pay for something until you use the free service and outgrow it.

When you start noticing you want more features — like segments, or drip campaigns, or tags, or landing pages — take a look at Convertkit. It starts at $29 a month, and it does all the fancy email tricks that you can imagine, plus it’s beautifully designed, intuitive, and plugs in to all the major web apps. 

Sign up here (with my affiliate link — thank you!). 

2. And you want to promote your blog posts on social media. So, Coschedule, obviously

In 2019, it’s not a blog if there isn’t all kinds of social media attached to it.

Coschedule is a social media manager — like Buffer or MeetEdgar — plus an editorial calendar. You can have multiple users all working on the same blog and create to-do lists and other assignments. I love their “Requeue” feature, which will automatically recycle certain content on social media based on criteria. For example, I have about 25 tweets in a Requeue folder called “holidays,” and set it to be active around Thanksgiving and let it run through the New Year. It automatically rotates through the tweets, publishing one a day at the “best time” (as determined by Coschedule — but I could set specific times, if I want).

I use it to push all my WordPress posts out to social media after one is made. 

Starts at $40/month, but there is a referral and benefits program that cuts that in half if you write a blog post about it, and can get the price even less with more referrals.

Sign up here.

3.Once you grow, you might want to offer webinars! Crowdcast is the best

There are many platforms for this. Zoom is a common one, which is great for discussions and meetings where you want to see everyone on the call. But if you want to do more of a lecture type webinar, look at Crowdcast. It includes a chat, a place to ask questions and then mark if you are currently answering that question, polls, and the ability to bring someone on screen with video or audio to talk to you. Plus, replays at the exact same link. 

Starts at $49 a month. Worth it. Sign up here.

4. You gotta make everything pretty — Canva is better than Photoshop

Maybe don’t tell Photoshop I said that. I’ve been a photoshop user for e v e r  and I love that program, but honestly? I have barely opened it up since I started using Canva. It’s so much simpler and all of it is right there. 

It includes all sorts of design templates for just about any image you can imagine — book covers, instagram posts, facebook event covers, featured images, business cards, resumes, brochures, flyers. On and on. And they’re adding more all the time. Now there’s a Pexels integration, too (which is still one of my favorite photo stock sites). 

Check it out over here.

5. Once you’re ready, launch a Patreon

The only one on the list that gives you money, rather than costing you money.

You know what this is by now — Patreon has been making a splash in the blog world for years, and it seems to only be growing. I really hope they will get themselves sustainable, the creator world needs this service so desperately! It has seriously changed what Sugarbutch is for me the past five years. I’ll ever be grateful for the structure it offered, and all the people who support me through it. (Here’s my own Patreon, if you’d like to become a patron. Like a patron of the arts! Thank you!)

Sign up over here through my affiliate link, & I’ll help you launch yours.

 

5. Last, but not least: WordPress.org, not .com

First of all, watch out for the adult content rules on .com. Make sure you know what the guidelines are, whether or not you decide to adhere to them.

And while we’re talking about it …

It’s not a resource, but you gotta brush up on the kinds of content that are allowed on every platform. Guy New York has collected a round-up on the various content platforms and what is allowed and not allowed. 

WordPress.org is different, and gives you more control than the .com. Your mileage may vary here, and you should consult your web designer to figure what is really best for you. Even though there are small differences, sometimes they can mean everything. 
 

Those are the essentials, in my opinion!

What am I missing? Leave your very favorite, top five web apps for blogging in the comments.

 

Bi-Erasure, Community, and Other Thoughts on Bisexual Visibility Day

It’s Bisexual Visibility Day!

Here’s a few things I want to put out there that are often misunderstood or stereotypes about bi folks.

Bisexual Doesn’t Necessarily Mean Two Genders

Some folks think “bisexual” is antiquated because bi means two, and it’s referring to being attracted to two genders. I have seen some great breakdowns about “bi” from a linguistic standpoint, and that the prefix bi can mean “from one end of the polarity to the other,” not necessarily “one thing and it’s opposite” or “two things.”

People can use whatever identity words they decide for themselves, let me be clear! If the word doesn’t work for someone, cool. I’ve heard people say that even agreeing that bisexual means attraction to lots of genders, they still don’t want to use the word, because the predominant understanding of it in culture is still meaning two. I always intend to support whatever words work best for you to describe yourself.

Bisexuality is Not A Phase

It is a legitimate sexual orientation, not a stop-over between compulsory heterosexuality and coming out as queer.

Except, you know, when it sometimes is, which is also fine.

Bisexual people belong at Pride.

And bisexual people are not always visibly queer, so there can be judgement, exclusion, and dirty looks at queer gatherings and pride events. This lack of inclusivity is part of bi-erasure, where bisexual folks are accidentally or intentionally excluded from queer community and events.

People, c’mon: do better.

You can’t necessarily tell if someone is queer by looking at them. Repeat that until it’s embedded in your brain. Also repeat, you can’t necessarily tell someone’s gender by looking at them.

Trans People Can Be Bisexual!

Many trans people identify as bisexual, just as many cis people do. Sexuality & gender are different things!

Bisexual Folks Aren’t Necessarily Polyamorous

Bisexual people aren’t necessarily polyamorous or generally slutty. They can be just as monogamous, polyamorous, open, slutty, or kinky as any other person of any other sexual orientation!

And that leads me to: people are still bisexual even if they’re in a monogamous relationship.

And on a personal note …

I’ve been thinking about being bisexual lately, and my own relationship to it, which is what is prompting me to write this.

Being a butch who has historically dated femmes, now that I’m dating a trans genderqueer boy/boi, I sometimes feel like part of my identity is lost or invisible.

I’ve had a lot of pushback for dating a boy, especially because I was so visible as a writer on butch/femme theories and smut. People have expressed disappointment, sent hate mail, left mean comments, and even accusations of misogyny (which, actually, I take very seriously, but it seems to be exclusively based in not dating a femme anymore, which in my definition isn’t the same as misogyny).

It’s been hard to have lost that visible identity as a butch who loves femmes, as well as receiving criticism.

I don’t usually think of myself as bisexual, partly because he is (so) exceptional and I still feel oriented to femmes, and partly because I’m not really involved with explicitly bisexual community so it’s not something that I’m around. (See how that implies that bisexual community is not within queer community? I believe it should be, & should be very welcome, but in practice, in my experience, it is separate.)

A lot of the concepts about bi-erasure and bisexual invisibility are really resonating with me at the moment. I’m really curious about folks who are bisexual go through some sort of process when they become monogamous — which doesn’t exclude who they are attracted to, but it excludes acting on those attractions, to some arranged and agreed upon degree. Is that something that is mourned by bisexual folks? Is there literature on that? As you can tell, I haven’t done any research on it yet — I’m just starting to articulate it myself.

I have heard people talk about that the difficulty when they are in a relationship with someone who transitions, and their sexual orientation is perceived to have changed by others, when in fact it may not have. It can create a feeling of invisibility, too.

I’m curious about the way the world — and the queer community specifically — perceives bisexual identities, and how much the orientation perception is really limited to who that person is with at the moment.

I primarily call myself queer when referring to my sexual orientation, though I do resonate with the lineage of lesbian and dyke. I wouldn’t correct someone if they used those terms. Bisexual still feels uncomfortable and not quite right, personally, but I am curious about some of the theory and how it relates to my current relationship structure.

Happy bisexual visibility day, all!

What Are You Going To Do With That Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies Degree?

I wrote & performed a poem called “What I’m Going To Do With My Women* Studies Degree” at the Gender, Women, Sexuality Studies graduation in 2004.

Ever since I saw it, I’ve been thinking of this tweet. Things are changing so, so much. I’m so grateful.

One of my favorite parts of the poem? “People ask me — ‘what are you going to do with that degree? Go work at the women studies factory?'”

(That poem is called Every Single Day on my 2004 spoken word poetry album, For the Record.)

When I took my first feminist theory class, at Seattle Central Community College in 2000 (wish I remembered the professor’s name to give credit), I had such a lightbulb moment that I felt bowled over. Oh. I’m a women studies major. Right. I forgot. Well, it’s not that I forgot, it’s that I had never thought that thought before, but now that I had, I knew completely that it was correct.

I needed that degree because I needed to understand the suffering I had related to my nonbinary (though we weren’t using that word then) gender and my queerness, and I came out of it with a bigger understanding of other intersectional identities like my artist/semi-working class background and my whiteness. That degree was survival, was key for me to be able to be an adult in the world and not be completely shut down by my experiences as a person with marginalized identities.

I was also a Creative Writing/English major, and my tentative plan was to work in book publishing. I figured I’d be writing eloquent emails and identifying the sexism in the workplace, and that’s what I’d be doing with it.

I used to feel some envy — or even jealousy — when other people would write eloquently about intersectional oppression, because I wanted so badly to do that. but jealousy is often the best teacher, because I doubled down and studied and wrote and wove my experience in with all the things I was learning. Sometimes I say Sugarbutch is my graduate degree, only partly in jest.

I never expected to have the tiny platform (very well known in very few places) that I have, talking about sexuality, gender, kink, and relationships. so much of what I know comes from that degree, and from the queer education my first queer roommate led me through when I was 20, 21, 22.

So I saw this tweet the other day and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. It stopped me and I had to pause my scrolling and let it settle in.

Things are changing so, so much. I’m so grateful.

Seeing so many people picking up this conversation and doing so much work, in such huge ways … instead of feeling jealousy, I just feel relief.

Relief that the racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, transphobia, heterosexism, cissexism, is being called out from within tiny communities to a national level. Not everywhere, I know, and I’m in a self-selected bubble on the internet just like I’m in a self-selected bubble in the liberal cities I’ve lived in all my adult life. But because of the internet, and advancing technology, and because of the marginalization and terror we are feeling so hard due to this presidency, it is happening in such larger ways.

And I’m feeling this slow ungripping, this letting go, this holding on to it softer. I’m still so invested, and I still get in there and get my hands and face and feet and whole self dirty sometimes, but I don’t feel obligated the way I did before.

Still, often, I feel like there is so much to do and so little has changed. But when I pull back a little, there are such significant differences even in my lifetime.

I’m so grateful for the strides.

And thank you, Earth, first for teaching me so much, and now for continuing to catch up.

*The degree at University of Washington Seattle at the time was called Women Studies, definitively with no apostrophe-s, because it was studies about women, not studies that women do. It’s now changed to Gender, Women, Sexuality Studies, which they abbreviate to GWSS and pronounce g-whiz. (Love it!) As a student, my class petitioned the department to change the name and expand to gender and sexuality, even to use the word ‘queer.’ This is one of the oldest Women Studies programs in the country, however; started in the early 80s (I think), and the first batch of professors were just then starting to retire. They said, you have no idea how hard we fought to use the word women, to convince the university that women studies is legit. I learned a lot from those conversations, and while I’m glad they changed the name, I respect the roots and think it’s important to name the lineage it comes from. Much love to the professors there who changed my life.

Methods of Control in Your D/s Relationship: Defining Rules, Tasks, Protocol, and Ritual

Relationships with authority exchange, using dominance and submission, are usually centered around control: who makes decisions, who dictates what happens, whose standards are upheld, who tells who to do what.

For lots of us, telling someone else what to do — or being told what to do — is the core of the fetish. It’s the thing that makes us feel all tingly and yummy and taken care of and important and good.

So, D/s relationships use a lot of rules, tasks, protocol, and ritual.

These words are often used interchangeably, but have nuanced differences. In my personal relationship, we’ve spent a lot of time ironing out what the key distinctions are and how to use them.

Your mileage may vary here — please, find and use the language that works for you. Sometimes I short-hand these in my work, so hopefully it’ll be useful to have a reference point for the definitions I’m using when I do.

”Rules” Are The Big Picture Guidelines

“Rules,” as I use them, are like a moral compass, like the underlying ethical values in the relationship.

You’ve probably been in a workshop or a classroom where the instructor set some expectations at the beginning, such as “One Mic: one person talks at a time.” (I’m sure you can think of many other examples of these.) This is a way we set community agreements with each other about the values we hold collectively, so we can be clear about the kind of behavior we expect.

Same goes for a relationship — these are the overarching guidelines we are agreeing to follow as part of our foundation.

Sometimes people call these things like guidelines, principles, or philosophies, but we call them rules — sometimes we refer to them as “capital-R Rules.” They are best when simple, clear, and straightforward (though that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re easy) — I suggest between 5-10, not very many. Because these rules are often words that have multiple definitions, being very clear about what they mean is important.

Examples of rules:

  • Transparency — be forthcoming about what is happening in your life
  • Respect — communication expectations, how we treat each other

”Protocols” Happen Ongoing

You can have dozens, even hundreds, of protocols underneath the rules. Sometimes they are directly related to the rules, but sometimes they are not.

Protocols are the instructions that are followed on a day to day basis. They are recuring and time-specific, meaning they have some sort of trigger that makes them happen. If they can be explained by the statement “if this, then that,” then I consider it a protocol.

Sometimes people call this “procedures” or “rules” in a relationship, though D/s folks tend to really like the word “protocol.” Sometimes I use “protocol” and “rules” interchangeably — such as, “rife has a rule that he asks permission to get in bed.” Meaning, that is a protocol. Or, “Whether or not he uses furniture isn’t a rule for us.” But what I mean is, we don’t have that protocol. (Mostly I do this in speech and am more careful in writing, for clarity.)

Most of us have lots of little protocols like this for ourselves, things that dictate our style and habits. Examples are things like, I never wear a blue shirt with blue jeans; I always wash my dishes after I eat; I never go to bed without a cup of tea. (I bet you can think of at least five that you already have, off the top of your head.)

They should be fluid — especially when one person is making protocols for another. They can be added or removed as the needs or desires of the folks involve change and grow. Sometimes they become so integrated that they are invisible. rife and I call our protocol notes a “living document” — sometimes it changes organically, sometimes we need to have a formal check-in about it and assess.

When introducing new protocols in a relationship, do so slowly, and a few (one or two) at a time. It can be so tempting — for all of us! — to pile on the protocols and get hot and excited about it, but that quickly can become overwhelming, which both means it’s hard for the dominant to track what’s happening and it’s hard for the submissive to implement. Make sure to let everyone have time to integrate and practice the new protocol before adding more.

I’m not going to go in to enforcing protocol, but there are many complicated things to say about it.

How do you figure out which protocols you want to make? Well, that’s a process! I have a lot of theories through my workshops like The Protocol Game and the Discipline Unit of D/s Playground.

Examples of protocol:

  • Brush, floss, and use mouthwash immediately after you wake up
  • No screen time after 9pm
  • Always wear matching bra & panties
  • Get a manicure once every two weeks with a polish of my choice

”Procedures” Are How Things Are Done

Protocol is what I want to be done, and the procedure is how I want it done. “Do the dishes every night before bed” is a protocol; “wash the dishes with this type of soap; put them this way in the drying rack organized by size; wipe down all the counters, sink, and stove; set up the coffee pot to be ready in the morning” might be the procedures underneath that protocol.

Usually, the procedure can be taught once (and perhaps guided or corrected, as time goes on) and documented clearly, and the submissive will have a point of reference. The protocol might happen daily, but the procedure is explained and then enforced.

Procedures are slightly different than rituals because while they reinforce the dynamic through controlled behavior, they aren’t necessarily intending to generate D/s headspace or a spiritual connection. They do often have multiple steps within them, but they are usually concrete steps.

Often, people include how a protocol is done in the definition of the protocol itself. Nothing wrong with that! I’m just breaking down the two different concepts for clarity.

Examples of procedures:

  • “Make my coffee:” add creamer until the color matches this paint chip, approximately two tablespoons; add one dash of simple syrup
  • “Make the bed:” military corners, fluff the pillows, put pillows on top of the sheet and blanket

“Tasks” Are One-Time Assignments

Tasks are assignments which are done one time. Sometimes they have deadlines, sometimes they are open ended.

Tasks could evolve into protocols, particularly over time — for example, “Pick up my dry cleaning tomorrow,” is a task, but “Pick up my dry cleaning every Thursday,” is a protocol.

With tasks … the sky’s the limit! Tasks are great when starting out in a relationship, because the people involved can get a sense of what they like and don’t like, what the dominant’s style is, what works, and what doesn’t. Plus, they are great opportunities for rewards (even if the reward is a spanking).

One fun way to do task assignments is to give them a task with the instructions that they will get another one when they complete this one. That way they can take their time with it — if they have an incredibly busy schedule, or if it is very elaborate, it could take a month, but if it is simpler or they have more time, it could take a day.

Some task examples:

  • Run an errand and pick up [object] at [place]
  • Write me an email with short descriptions of five fantasies
  • Clean the kitchen and bathroom before [date]
  • Make me [this particular] piece of art

“Rituals” Remind Us of D/s Headspace

This could sometimes be known as “routines,” though I use the word “ritual” because it has a slightly different intention behind it — the word “routine” sounds a little more like being on auto-pilot. I think of the intention as being connection to the D/s dynamic, each other, and possibly a larger purpose — a spiritual path. Either way, rituals are intended to get us deeper into a D/s headspace, to bring more consciousness and intention. Toutines are generally intended to become background habits that propel us through our lives.

Routines are often used more in the day-to-day, and rituals are used for more special occasions, but using the word ritual for the day to day — hopefully — brings more consciousness to it.

Rituals are larger events that usually have multiple steps or aspects of protocol. They also have a particular trigger, such as: when we wake up together, then do the morning ritual.

Rituals might be daily or occasionally. We might have morning/evening ritual, or a New Year’s Eve ritual, or we might have a once in a lifetime ritual of a bat mitzvah upon turning 13.

Examples of rituals:

  • When your alarm goes off at 6:30am, get up from your sleeping spot and kneel on my side of the bed until I acknowledge you. I will rise and stand above you, and we will recite our morning poem. I will go to the shower and you will begin cooking
  • When someone graduates from school, we go to our favorite restaurant and invite the whole family
  • When we have been apart, before anything else, the submissive kneels and kisses their dominants boots

That’s my thoughts — how do you use these words?

Do you use them in similar ways that we do? Or different? Do you prefer to call these concepts something different? Totally cool. These are ideas to jump-start what works best for you, and have clarity in the different categories of control in D/s relationships.

Hopefully, having different categories makes it easier to create and brainstorm protocols to try out.

Decks, Books, & Spreads: Getting Started with a Tarot Practice

I’ve been sharing more of my tarot practice (particularly on my personal Instagram) lately, and getting some questions.

With the rise of self-publishing, artists from around the world have been able to create and publish their own decks through places like Kickstarter and on-demand — so there are literally hundreds of decks.

And then, once you have a deck, where do you start?

Three Decks

You only need one deck, technically, but a lot of folks end up collecting a few 9or a lot). Here are three of my favorites (and the most popular and accessible), with a few others thrown in. Ultimately, tarot decks are works of art, and you want to choose one where the art speaks to you, and you find meaning to sit with and absorb in the imagery.

The Wild Unknown, by Kim Kranz

The Wild Unknown is the most popular tarot deck right now, usurping the classic Rider-Waite deck (more on that next). Kim Kranz’s illustrations are clear, accessible, beautiful. The accompanying guidebook is simple and straightforward. It’s a great modern, simple interpretation of the concepts, and a fantastic deck to start with.

There are two websites which have catalogued all the cards in the Wild Unknown and written some of their own interpretations, and those can drop you in to even deeper meanings of the cards: Carrie Mallon, and Mira Sol Wisdom. Order it at your favorite local bookstore or new age store, or, if you must, from Amazon.

Rider-Waite-Smith, traditional

If the archetypes and hero’s journey of the tarot speaks to you, you might want to start diving in to the traditional theory a little more. Most of the deep theory of the tarot uses the traditional Rider-Waite, or Rider-Waite-Smith deck.

Why am I referring to it with two different names? Rider is the publisher, Waite is the writer, and Patricia Coleman Smith is the illustrator. The deck has been called Rider or Rider-Waite for decades, but many folks now are moving toward calling it the Smith deck, as the imagery is one of the most intense and lasting thing about the deck itself.

Rachel Pollack and Mary Greer are two of the most renowned tarot theorists, and all of their work focuses on this deck. They have many books (more on that below). Jessica Dore is a modern tarot reader who is using social media — Twitter and Instagram — to share interpretations based on psychotherapy concepts and models. She has online courses and classes, too.

This deck is usually less than $20, and pretty much all stores which carry tarot decks will have it. Try your local crystal – new age – witchy store, or grab it on Amazon.

Spacious Tarot, forthcoming by Annie Ruygt and Carrie Mallon

Carrie Mallon is a bit of a modern tarot celebrity. I found her through her Wild Unknown interpretations and have followed her work ever since.

She has just finished her own tarot deck, the Spacious Tarot, illustrated by Annie Ruygt, and it is b e a u t i f u l. I’m already anticipating that it will be one of my most-loved and most-used decks when it arrives. Her kickstarter closes July 20th, go grab it there.

I also really love …

Inner Hue’s Lumina Tarot, Raven’s Prophecy, Anima Mundi, Wayhome. I’m really excited about a few more decks coming out this summer: The Witch’s Insurrection and Modern Witch Tarot.

And then there are the queer decks!

There are quite a few which have explicitly reimagined some of the more patriarchal themes. Some of them, like Carrie’s Spacious Tarot above, move away from the patriarchal imagery, but still aren’t explicitly queer. But even more of them are explicitly queer, and many of the interpretations are much more modern, using queer activist language.

They often re-interpret the court cards, for example — instead of “page / knight / queen / king,” or “daughter / son / mother / father,” they might interpret them more as stages of a wisdom practice, like “seeker / apprentice / artist / mentor” (The Collective Tarot) or “beast / witch / grandmother / shadow” (Tarot of the Crone).

Rather than compile my own list, here are a few good ones: Autostraddle has a list of eight queer tarot decks, and Queer Tarot has a great list too.

Three books

Some come with books, and some don’t, so you might want a book or two of interpretations of the cards in addition to your deck. I tend to pick my favorite deck, then use multiple books to read interpretations of the cards until I feel like I have a sense of what it means and how it applies.

Queering the Tarot by Cassandra Snow

This book started as a series on a great queer tarot website (now shut down), but lucky for us, it turned into a book. Cassandra Snow dives into the traditional meanings of the cards and offers new interpretations based on lived queer experience and

Order it at your favorite local bookstore, or, if you must, from Amazon.

Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom by Rachel Pollack

One of the best interpretation and theory books I can recommend. If you want to go deep, here’s the one to go to. It has in-depth writings for each of the cards, of course, but it features more philosophy about the progression of the Major Arcana than most books do, and more connection between the cards and the journeys embodied in the cards. For example, in the six of swords, it might reference how it’s a bridge from the five to the seven — things like that. Highly recommend it if you want to get more into the archetypes, hero’s journey, and interwoven connections of the tarot. Order it at your favorite local bookstore, or, if you must, from Amazon.

Tarot For Your Self: A Workbook for Personal Transformation by Mary K. Greer

Mary K. Greer is considered one of the great tarot leaders, and this workbook will make it obvious why. It is a great resource to keep unfolding all the ways that tarot can be used for personal insight and growth.

Order it from your local bookstore or new age store, or, if you must, from Amazon.

Soul Tarot School by Lindsay Mack

I have to mention Lindsay Mack and Soul Tarot School — she has a variety of ecourses, but also her tarot podcast has been hugely influential for me. I look forward to her “monthly medicine” episodes every month, and it’s one of the few podcasts I actually keep up with.

Daily practice

One of the best ways to get to know your deck is by pulling a card daily.

  • Sit still and bring your focus in. Get centered. Breathe. Ground. Whatever your practice is to get in touch with yourself, do that for a minute or two.
  • Shuffle the cards. Most tarot folks use the overhand shuffle method, rather than the riffle shuffle, I suppose because it prevents the cards from bending. Tarot decks can be many different sizes, too, so it is easier for bigger decks.
  • Ask: What energy would support me today? What should I be calling in? Where should my energy focus? Your wording may vary, so find words that work for you. Focus on that request.
  • Choose one card. It could be the one on top, or a random one from the deck that is calling to you.
  • Sit with the imagery for a minute and see what you feel. How would you interpret it?
  • If you want, look it up in whatever books or online sources that you’d like. Some folks read entirely intuitively, from the imagery, and don’t use other sources, but you can use none or one or seven or however many you’d like. I like to pull a variety of books down, and see the different interpretations of the cards in each one. Sometimes I look through the corresponding hashtag for that particular card on Instagram to see even more artistic interpretations of the card, and the posts often include some write-up interpretations, too. For example: #fiveofswords, #thehierophant, #kingofwands.

Three spreads

Three-card

If I want to go a little deeper than one card, if I have some time or a bigger psychoemotional puzzle, I might do a three card spread instead. Labyrinthos has a list of 18 simple 3-card tarot spreads, and I use these frequently for just a little more than a single daily pull. I particularly like Situation – Action – Outcome, and use that often.


Deck Introduction

Katey Flowers has a tarot deck interview spread that I usually conduct any time I get a new deck. It feels like a way to ground into the new imagery and tone of the deck. It asks things like, how can we work together? What can you teach me? Describe yourself; describe me. I find it insightful and helpful, like a first date with the deck.

Spreads for special occasions

One of my favorite things to do is to pull out the cards on a particularly meaningful day. Sometimes that’s my birthday, a holiday, the solstices and equinoxes, an eclipse, a new moon or full moon, a life-changing event. There are dozens of spreads for all of these, depending on what you’re looking for. A quick Google search for whatever you’re looking for will bring up many options, as will some looking around on Instagram.

For example, I recently used this spread by @lionharts on Instagram on July 2nd, for the Total New Moon Solar Eclipse in the sign of cancer. But it could be any particular occasion — try Pinterest, Instagram, or just a Google image search for the occasion + “tarot”, and plenty of spread options will come up.

Ultimately, tarot is a personal journey.

Discard everything I’m saying here if it doesn’t resonate — Find what works for you.

Kinky Summer Camps You Should Definitely Attend

I spent two weekends in June at kink events that were primarily outdoors — Desire: Leather Women and Boundless. Both were here in California, Desire in Palm Springs and Boundless near Ukiah.

I had a great time — I’d been to both events before. While they’re wildly different in terms of who they attract, the tone of it, the cross-section of the leather community, the classes, and even the location, I was struck by what they had in common.

I spend a lot of time observing — at these events, but also in general. As I sat in a chair in the shade by the pool at Desire, and as I sat on a picnic bench eating lunch at Boundless, I had the same thought:

I hope all adults do this.

At least once, if not every summer, if not all the time.

Not just the kink part of the sex part, but the body positivity. People wore whatever they wanted to wear: head to toe leather, suits, fancy dresses I would even call gowns, sarong wraps, mesh jock straps, wrist and ankle cuffs with nothing else, or just completely nude. (I wished them much sunscreen.)

I wouldn’t think of an outfit that would stand out in a way that they would “look weird,” be judged, shamed, or not fit in. Maybe a military or police uniform? But even that has a place in kink, as many have uniform fetishes (though it is problematic at best, and outright violent at worst, as they are symbols of racist and classist systems. Still, they are seen in kink spaces).

I don’t think there’s a body that would stand out, either. There are so many people of so many sizes, abilities, appearances. I’m sure that body shaming, fat phobia, and ablism all still happen, I’m not trying to say they don’t — this community is a microcosm, after all, not some magical safe haven where the cultural biases don’t exist.

But generally, there’s a different standard of body acceptance at these retreats. There are tiny women with big burly men on leashes, there are round men in kilts with three submissive girls in tow, there are conventionally gorgeous women who are just there to watch, there are fat non-binary folks with a different play partner every time they turn around, there are gender-fabulous people with beards and high heels.

It’s every configuration I can think of, and some I would probably never think of; my own bias is frequently questioned.

And I love it.

The folks who attend are, for the most part, cultural outsiders. Sure, many are conventionally attractive and some have “beauty privilege,” but many (even most?) don’t. To many, we’ve always been the weirdos. But there’s no being the weirdo here — or maybe more accurately, we’re all weirdos here, in a reclaimed, honored way.

Beyond the body acceptance, it also struck me just how unique, unparalleled, and embodied play these spaces encourage. They really are adult playgrounds, places we can explore connection with others; temperature like the swimming pool, hot tub, fire play, body bags; sensation on the skin and muscles and fascia from bold to subtle to sensual to violent; ways to move and run and jump and wrestle and chase; ways we make up the rules to our games and get others to play along, follow the leader and tag and laughter and interpersonal group social politics.

Of course, with all our adult knowledge of complexities — like consent, psychology, authority exchange, systems of oppression patters of trauma and habit and conditioning — it’s not easy play. But that, too, is part of what makes it fun — the challenge, the risk, the thrill.

I hope everyone spends time in these environments.

That they are held outdoors in clothing-optional spaces (in summer) is key — we can wear anything, we can be on leashes or stilts, in bondage or pajamas. We can have our bellies hanging out, showing our scars in all their glory and history, our genitals touched by the sunshine (again with the sunscreen wishes!).

I hope everyone gets to experience this at least once in their lives. Even if it isn’t comfortable for them to be nude, or to not bind, or to not wear makeup, or show their desires to anyone watching, it is incredible to see so many people doing so. It is incredible to see so much permission to take up space, to go for it — to play with our bodies in every and any sense of the word.

I’m sure I don’t know all of the events that are like this, but here’s a list of a few you can check out if you want to attend something like this. They really are worth flying across the country to attend.

Check out these events:

Boundless — in Northern California, about half an hour from Ukiah. Outdoors, food provided, wonderful education, dungeons and activities in the evenings. Most attendees bring their own tents and camp, but there are some cabins and some shared rooms in the lodge available. The event center, Saratoga Springs, hosts other kink events, too.

Desire Leather Women — in Palm Springs, California. It’s a women-only event, which means trans and cis women. As with any event that is gender-specific, they’ve received some criticism about their policies, but in my experience it’s been a welcoming, inclusive environment. As two transmasculine / trans-ish people, rife & I have loved attending.

Dark Odyssey Fusion, and Dark Odyssey Summer Camp — Summer Camp is where rife and I met (and, later, where I threw a scavenger hunt engagement party, so obviously I’m biased, because I think it’s the best event ever. More specifically though, it’s held at Camp Ramblewood near Baltimore, Maryland, which hosts many kink events through the year. They’re mostly pansexual, lots of amazing education and celebrations, I love having a pool and huge grass lawn and as much outdoor play as we want. If I lived closer, I would be there every time.

I haven’t attended any of these, but here are some others to check out — if y’all have been there, I’d love to hear what you thought.

If you have other events like this to recommend, please leave them in the comments!

I imagine this kind of liberation is what many people find at events like Burning Man, circus arts gatherings, or other hotel-based kink and sexuality conferences. It’s different, to me, to have them all combined — outside, kink, sex, all clothing optional.

If you’ve attended any of these, I’d love to know what your experience was like. Often people particularly ask me how it was to be there as a queer nonbinary person — most kink events are largely white, cis, and straight, so finding ones that have a strong queer component, or aren’t that way at all, is a concern for a lot of folks.

I’ve experienced this in the summer 5-day residential retreat that my spiritual community produces, called Portals of Pleasure. We producers/facilitators have been doing this for 11 years now, and I’ve been part of the planning and facilitation team since the beginning. It’s challenging to describe, though we tried on our recent podcast episode. What’s the most different about it compared to these others is that Portals is 25 people maximum, and these others have hundreds of people. It’s also much more personal, tailored, curated … there’s no pickup play, it’s all very intentional and, for me, much more intense and deeper.

Portals is happening at the end of July. If that kind of group erotic embodiment / sacred somatic work is something you’re already familiar with, I invite you to reach out and learn more, and see if it is a good fit for you.

If you aren’t familiar with it, take a look at the workshops I’m cofacilitating in Seattle this coming year about BDSM and energy. They aren’t beginner workshops, but they are suitable to folks who haven’t done erotic/spiritual group work in the past but who are familiar with play parties, kink, and play. They will be near the solstices and equinoxes as part of our Year Wheel series.

Glad to talk more about them, just send me a note and let’s talk.

But meanwhile — find one of those kinky summer camps! And let me know what you think.

The Singular “They” Is Grammatically Correct, Dammit

Hello!

I just read your identity pronoun piece on Medium and I would like to converse with you about a few questions I have.

My child is currently identifying as non-binary. My only issue is from a grammar stand point. I struggle with referring to an individual in a plural way due to years of grammar education. I truly feel that I (and possibly others) may catch on quicker if it didn’t seem like we were being incorrect with the grammar by being correct in addressing the person.

I truly ask this with an open heart and mind. Do you think due to the creation of the subset — or acknowledgement as it were- that it may be easier for those outside the set to be mindful and those in the set to become recognized?

I look forward to your commentary.

Regards,
Renee’


This is a real email that I received, though I did edit it to be shorter. 

Here is my reply.


Hi Renee’,

I hear ya with the kind intention of this question. You’re not alone in asking it — many, many people do not like the use of the “singular they” as a nonbinary pronoun.

Here are a few resources for you.

Other options for third person pronouns:

Many transgender, gender non-confirming (GNC), and nonbinary folks in the US have been using pronouns aside from he or she for decades. Ze, hir, zir, xie, ey, and per are just a few that some of my community has used over the years. Here is a table of many of the different third-person gender pronouns used in English.

In GNC communities, people choose which pronoun they feel best fits them and resonates for them. The use of the singular they was always one of many, but it is only recently that it has become widely accepted in the mainstream English speaking / US environment.

Why singular they is okay:

Singular they was declared the word of the year by the American Dialect Society in 2015.

It has been in consistent use as a third person singular pronoun since the 1300s. Shakespeare, Chaucer, and Emily Dickinson all use it in their work. The wikipedia entry on it breaks it down quite well. Here is another longer history of the usage of the singular they.

Whether or not you realize it, most people already use the singular they. It is just used more generically, rather than individually. Teen Vogue has a good write-up of the common questions asked about nonbinary pronouns.

Because singular they has been used for so long, it is generally the easiest third person nonbinary pronoun for people to grasp.

Which do you think is easier to say?

  • they went to the store
  • ze went to the store
  • pe went to the store

On changing language:

I get that it’s hard to change the use of something that has always been one way. But language changes all the time. Here’s a list of TED talks that discuss how language is fluid and changes.

Language is solidified by those in power. Those who have been in power have been (are) cisgender people. But language is more of a living thing that both reflects and shapes cultural norms. Changing the language changes the oppression of marginalized people.

Using singular ‘they’ also helps with another major feminist linguistic issue: the way we default to using he/him pronouns as general examples in English. Using they/them solves that problem, and is much less awkward than using “s/he” or “she or he,” and challenges the use of maleness as the norm.

Here are two books for you:

A Quick & Easy Guide to
They/Them Pronouns
The Gender Book


Perhaps this part is the most important:

It takes uncomfortable change to be inclusive and supportive of marginalized people.

Yes, it can be uncomfortable to use the singular they. Yes, it means you will probably mess up as you are getting used to it, and perhaps hurt some people’s feelings, and perhaps have to apologize and learn and do better, and that is uncomfortable. But it is essential to try in order to make a world that can be more welcoming, inclusive, and celebratory of marginalized and oppressed folks.

This is a very clear, very concrete way that nonbinary people are asking to be supportive. Please do it.

Last, but not least:

Please consider doing your own Google research before asking nonbinary people, such as myself, to do research and explain things to you. This has taken an hour of my time that I could be otherwise working for money, being with my friends, or creating my own art.

I decided to do this for you because I am going to use this as my next article and make it public. But next time, please use Google — or a librarian, whose job it is to help you find information! — and educate yourself. There are thousands and thousands of articles, videos, and offerings online that already explain the things you’re asking me.

Things you could Google for additional research:

  • how to use the singular they
  • why use singular they
  • history of singular they
  • is singular they grammatically correct
  • how to be supportive of nonbinary people
  • alternative third person pronouns
  • use of singular they in literature
  • changing language over time

Asking nonbinary people to do work to educate cis people is a form of emotional labor that costs us time, effort, and energy. It is incredibly common for nonbinary people to be asked to educate cis people, and it is exhausting.

Next time you ask for labor like this, at least offer to compensate. I do coach people on gender, sexuality, and relationship issues, and I would be happy to consider coach you further. Contact me if you wish to pursue that.

In conclusion: 

If you agree with me, great. Please share this.

Perhaps you do not agree with me, and you’re one of those people who only uses “cool” to describe temperature. But if you insist on prioritizing grammar rules above honoring nonbinary people, I insist on thinking you’re a jerk.

Sincerely,
Sinclair

Pronouns: they/them

PS: If you appreciate the time I put into this article, please consider supporting me on Patreon or making a PayPal donation to my email address, [email protected]

Dear (Cis) People Who Put Your Pronouns On Your “Hello My Name Is” Name Tag

Dear cis people who put your pronouns on your “hello my name is” name tags:

Thank you.

When you do that, I feel more comfortable putting my pronouns — they/them. I feel more comfortable being visibly out as nonbinary. I feel more comfortable asking people to use the pronouns that feel most like me, that make me feel most seen and whole, instead of just resolving to be mis-gendered and mis-represented and whatever who cares anyway.

(Maybe I do, somewhere, a little.)

When we’re doing the socializing part of whatever event we’re at, and we are introduced, I automatically feel warmer toward you — regardless of your gender or presentation. I feel much more comfortable talking to you, because you already tell me you know a little about gender.

Thank you.

It is an ongoing cultural struggle right now to break our eyes open to more than the two binary gender roles. We are all still learning. Nonbinary and trans folks are still evolving the language and culture, and educators are still figuring out the best ways to communicate the theory and compassion. It’s a challenge to undo the cultural systems that have been normalized all our lives.

And yet, we must. If we want to support everyone to live their best lives, we must. If we want to be honoring of everyone, we must.

Other great places to include your pronouns:

  • Your email signature. Example: “Sinclair Sexsmith¶ Pronouns: they, them, theirs, themself¶ [email protected] | @mrsexsmith | Facebook | Patreon”
  • Social media bio, on Twitter or Facebook or etc. Example: “Writer. White non-binary butch feminist dominant. They/them.” You could also periodically put a post up on your social media, “Just for the record, I use they/them pronouns. Also, I grew up in Alaska, my favorite flower is red gerbera daisies and my favorite number is 12.”
  • Regular bio, if you’re a performer, writer, teacher of some sort and you have a bio you send around, include them there! Example: “Sinclair Sexsmith (they/them) is a writer and queer nonbinary butch dominant.”
  • Introductions at a meeting or workshop, if they say “Go around & say your names.” They don’t have to invite you to include your pronoun in your intro in order to include it! Example: “I’m Sinclair, I use they/them pronouns.”
  • Any time you’re speaking in front of a group! Example: “Hi! I’m excited to have you at this poetry reading today, thanks for coming to the Bluestockings Bookstore. I’m Sinclair, I use they/them pronouns — but you probably already know that, since you’re here!”
  • Can you think of other places I haven’t listed here? I’m sure there are others. Leave ’em in the comments!

If you don’t know someone’s pronouns, ask!

This is an important skill to cultivate. We have probably all heard this, but there are plenty of times we — all of us, myself included — feel awkward asking, and so we don’t. But it’s never too late — ask at any point during the conversation.

It’s not a faux pas if you have to stop in the middle of a sentence, just ask.

“Sorry, what are your pronouns?”

“Oh I didn’t get your pronouns, what are they?”

“Will you remind me your pronouns please?”

If you mess up, no big deal. We all do.

You’re not a bad person if you mess it up. You’re not a bad ally, or a bad person. You’re practicing. Maybe you got the wrong info, or maybe that person just changed their pronouns.

Just start again.

The #1 thing to remember: don’t make it about you. Apologize, move on, try again.

“The other day, she — “
“They use they pronouns.”
“Oh, they. Okay. The other day, they …”

That thing where people say, “Omigod, I’m SO sorry! I really care about pronouns! I’m trying so hard! I’m not used to it! Forgive me!!!!” — that makes it such a bigger deal than it is. Treat it like mispronouncing someone’s name — it’s a little disrespectful, so be sure to be sensitive, but it’s ultimately no big deal.

Just acknowledge, apologize, have a redo, and do better in the future.

It gets easier with practice & time.

You’ll get it. Keep at it. Practice saying and expressing your pronouns whenever you can. Practice asking. The more cis people can ask and practice with each other, the more of the burden it takes off of trans and nonbinary folks to do the education work themselves.

There’s one more thing I want you to know:

It feels so good when people get it right.

It can make my whole day brighter when I hear someone use they/them pronouns.

Honestly, I rarely hear it myself, because if I’m standing there, it’s the least likely place for someone to refer to me in the third person. But sometimes it happens in an introduction, or a story. And it still surprises me sometimes.

I feel vulnerable, and cared for, and seen.

Fundamentals of the Protocol Game

It’s a game: Try out one protocol a week for a year — keep ones you like, forget those you don’t. It’s pretty simple!

rife + I are doing a webinar at the end of April where we’ll walk you through how to actually come up with 52, making training categories, and some best practices for making protocol happen. The webinar is on April 27th for $5+ patrons — sign up here.

We’ll do most of the workbook right on the webinar, so you’ll walk away with the game set up — you won’t stick it in your desk drawer and discover it three months later thinking oh yeah, I was going to do that wasn’t I?

I highly recommend it for folks in and out of power dynamics or relationships, for dominants or subs or switches! It’s been very helpful & successful for un-owned subs in the past; it gives a sense of structure, things to practice, and ongoing reminders of D/s identity.

Some of our key learnings:

The first few times we set it up for ourselves, rife + I found that sometimes the protocol I set up for him were actually things I had to do — like: “receive a flogging every night” is actually kinda my protocol, something I had to make happen, not his. So the second year we did the game, we each had our own.

We also split the protocols into tasks vs protocols:

Protocols are “if this then that:” when you wake up, offer me sexual service. When you shower, shave your cunt. when you do the dishes, wear a butt plug.

Tasks are one time: clean the refrigerator. Get waxed. Buy new rope.

I’ve had (mostly) vanilla friends of mine use this for other things, too. Once I helped a friend set up 52 dating experiments, because she wanted to date more but was coming up against all kinds of blocks. It can work for all sorts of realms of exploration and growth and goals.

But how do you come up with 52?!

Coming up with the actual protocols can be the hardest. I asked so many dominants if they would mind sharing their list of the protocols with me

Breaking it into training categories, or, as we call it, making a training wheel, can help with that:

(PS, it’s really helpful to have a graphic designer / illustrator as my owned property, I gotta say. Reminds me of how all those singer/songwriters marry their sound techs. I get it.)

There are also more serious high-level overviews of life like this one, from the book How To Be, Do, or Have Anything (which is actually better than it sounds).

There are other life matrix-esque charts, but it’s often best to come up with the areas of your life specifically that you want to make the most progress in. They could be the ones that are holding you back, but don’t forget the ones that are sexy, fun, power-driven, exciting, juicy!

We break protocols into multiple categories:

  • Sexy for sexy’s sake — just, because
  • Making pragmatic things hot — dishes (but with a butt plug!), paperwork (but tied to a chair!)
  • Self-improvement

(But go easy on the self-improvement one, okay? We can so easily get caught up in Making Ourselves Better, and it’s important to also be accepting of where we’re at and just stay still, too. Meaning: make sure you also have a lot of sexy ones that just feel good in your dynamic & identity! Plenty more of those than the self-improvement ones.)

In her book Discipline (now out of print), Lily Lloyd set up these Three Core Rules for protocol which I really like. If a protocol goes against any of these things, don’t do it! Or, reassess it!

If all of this sounds interesting, come join me + rife on April 27th for the Protocol Game workshop!

The $5 or up levels on Patreon include the monthly webinars —— which will include D/s PLAYGROUND this summer!

Sign up at patreon.com/mrsexsmith

The Outermost Bracket™: A Theory on D/s and Non-Monogamy

Both non-monogamy and power exchange relationships revolve around sets of agreements between the people involved. Sometimes, those agreements are in harmony — and ahhh, isn’t it lovely when that happens? Not just lovely: it is magic.

Sometimes, however, they conflict.

Both D/s and non-monogamous relationships often have agreements (and arguments) which center around control, ownership, and permission. The difference is, non-monogamy often emphasizes the equality of all parties, while D/s is about someone having authority over the other.

As you can imagine, when both D/s and non-monogamy are both happening within one relationship, that can be very difficult to negotiate.

rife and I were both in non-monogamous relationships when we met, and we quickly knew our play — and then our relationship — would have an ongoing authority imbalance (a.k.a. power dynamic, D/s). As our D/s relationship grew, the non-monogamous and D/s agreements became increasingly complicated. Our authority imbalance continued to strengthen, and sometimes it trumped — or we wanted it to trump — our non-monogamous agreements. That didn’t make sense to a lot of our non-monogamous friends or with the polyamoroy theory that we were reading, and we had a lot of trouble navigating that.

In trying to negotiate all of this (with a lot of trial and error and fucking up), we developed a theory we call “the outermost bracket,” that explores which identity is set within the other.

In other words, is the D/s within the non-monogamy agreements, or is the non-monogamy within the D/s agreements?

Quick disclaimer:

This theory doesn’t apply to everyone. If it makes sense in your world, great! Hope you can take it and make it your own and use it to negotiate these complex things with more ease. If it doesn’t apply, cool. Just take what makes sense and leave the rest.

I’m using the terms “D/s”, “dominant/submissive relationship,” “authority imbalance,” and “power dynamic” as somewhat interchangeable. There are dozens of other terms that folks might be using, too, but these are some of the main ones. All of them mean different things to different people with subtle nuance, but for the purposes of this theory, they are similar enough. Generally, I use them to mean all kinds of authority imbalance relationships in and out of the bedroom.

This theory might be most relevant for D/s relationship where the dominant has a lot of control, but some bedroom-only D/s dynamics might apply here, too, since often there are rules executed in the bedroom. Such as: you will only come when I give you permission, you will call me Mistress and nobody else, you will always keep your genitals shaved. As you can imagine, if someone who has those rules is playing with someone else, they might cause conflicts.

Similarly, I’m using the terms “polyam,” “polyamory,” “open relationship,” and “non-monogamy” somewhat interchangeably. We could have long conversations about the nuanced differences between them, and what applies to what, but for the sake of this essay, they’re similar enough.

The conflicts around D/s and non-monogamy are vast and complicated, and, while there might be some parallels and common concepts, the specific circumstances are unique to each polycule or set of folks involved. I don’t assume to speak for everyone or all experiences, and this might not resonate with you at all.

The Key Distinction of the Theory

Is your non-monogamy restricted by your D/s rules and agreements, or is your D/s restricted by your non-monogamy agreements?

Let’s break that down.

When Non-Monogamy is the Outermost Bracket

When non-monogamy is the outermost bracket for someone, a couple’s D/s relationships happen within their open relationship agreements.

This often looks like making relationship guidelines with a partner, or setting one’s own solo-poly or polyamorous family boundaries, and negotiating D/s within the confines of those agreements. Whatever D/s-based rules, protocols, or agreements are made, they do not extend to other partners — and the D/s might be restricted by non-monogamous arrangements.

For Example:

Let’s say that Mel has a partner they live with, Jay, and another partner, Alex, they are in a power exchange relationship with (and perhaps other partners, too).

The relationship with Jay is long-term and they consider themselves primary partners. That relationship has various agreements for how any other relationships happen — how many times per week, whether or not they sleep over, whether they only do certain things with one person and not another. Mel and Jay made these rules together from an egalitarian place, and both adhere to them.

Mel’s relationship with Alex is a power exchange relationship where Mel is the sub and Alex is the dom. Alex wants to exercise some control over Mel’s sexuality — let’s say they want to restrict the use of Mel’s ass so that only they can fuck it. But Jay doesn’t want any restrictions on what they can or can’t do with Mel.

The agreements within the D/s don’t extend to their primary partnership — at least, not without some negotiations between all three of them, and with Jay’s blessings for the restrictions.

(Sometimes, Alex and Jay might get together and conspire to make wonderfully terrible things happen for Mel. But that’s an exception, because non-monogamy is hard and sometimes Alex has lots of feelings and they have to spend lots of time sorting it all out.)

So Jay might have control over very specific things in Mel’s life — for example, what they wear when they get together for dates, or how they keep their hair. Whatever these are, they are not things that interfere with Mel’s other relationships.

But Jay’s control does not extend to whether or not Mel can have any other partners, and does not extend to any parts of their relationship with Alex.

In other words, the rules of the D/s relationship do not extend to the primary relationship, nor to the arrangements of any other non-monogamous activities.

In my experience, this is how the majority of D/s non-monogamous relationships operate.

Having non-monogamy as the outermost bracket can help the D/s boundaries be incredibly clear. Mel might want Alex’s power and control over them to be in certain realms or within certain time restrictions only, and their power dynamic might flourish that way.

When D/s is the Outermost Bracket

When D/s is the outermost bracket for someone, their non-monogamous relationships happen within their D/s agreements.

The dominant in this scenario would be in control — to whatever degree they arrange — of the kind of play the submissive would have with other people.

Let’s use another example:

Carter is Devon’s dominant. Carter is in charge of pretty much every aspect of Devon’s life. Devon occasionally wants to play with other people, but Carter gets to say how that happens, when, and within what context.

That could look like:

  • The dominant gives orders when the submissive plays with anyone else
  • The dominant is allowed to play with others, but the submissive is not
  • The submissive is allowed to do certain things but not other things
  • The submissive has to ask permission for any kind of play with others
  • The dominant gives permission for all of the sub’s new relationships, but none of their existing ones

Ultimately, the submissive conforms to the dominant’s will, and the arrangements for their non-monogamy are within the confines of the D/s. The submissive’s needs and boundaries are taken into consideration here, and the rules are consented to, but they might be guided by the controlling ideals of D/s and not the egalitarian ideals of open relationships.

This means that the other people Devon is in relationships with must, to some degree, consent to their relationship being underneath the D/s umbrella that Devon has with Carter. Not everyone wants to do that.

How far does the control go?

A dominant controlling the kinds of acts the submissive can or can’t do is one thing; controlling who the submissive is in relationship with is another thing. Vetting or giving permission for a certain relationship to happen or continue can get into tricky territory that can become controlling, unhealthy, or even abusive.

When the dominant controls the kind of non-monogamy that the submissive is allowed to have, it can be a red flag to some folks outside of the relationship. The negotiations of this should be careful and intentional. All parties are in their full agency, give explicit informed consent, and understand that they can talk about it if it becomes a problem between them.

For some folks, it works; for others, it means that the control goes too far.

And this is the key distinction of the Outermost Bracket theory.

Why Does This Matter?

If you know you are into one of these relationship styles more than the other, it can be useful to bring up early on in negotiations. If you can communicate what you’re looking for, you’re much more likely to get it. So, where do you fall? Is non-monogamy your outermost bracket? Is D/s? Or do you structure things in another way?

If you’re having trouble figuring it out, I suggest doing a thought experiment: imagine you are in the most ideal D/s relationship. Do you have control over all aspects of your submissive’s relationships? Does your dominant have complete control over you? What would it feel like if they did?

In Conclusion

For me and rife, this distinction was very helpful as we were figuring out how to navigate the theories we knew about non-monogamy and the desires we had within our D/s. We even extended it with geeky HTML references to talk about hierarchies of other relationship identities (for example, our relationship is M/s first, and Daddy/boy within that). More on this later, or come to our “Art of Ownership” class!

There are probably many other theories and best practices within the overlap of D/s and non-monogamy — no doubt this is not the only one! But honestly, there’s not much out there about it. We know of very few resources, aside from Raven Kaldera’s book Power Circuits: Polyamory in a Power Dynamic.

I’d love to hear about the different kind of theories you all know about and have come up with. Please add your resources and theories to the comments!

PS: Feel free to expand on this theory and apply it to all kinds of other identities! Please do credit us and link back here if you do.

Creating a Submissive Training Plan for Yourself

Submissives don’t have to wait for a dominant to give them structure, plans, and training! There is a lot you can do on your own to keep yourself connected to your submission.

A training plan involves protocol, goals, rules to follow, and, ideally, rewards. A lot of protocol and training in relationships revolve around sexy kinky things, but sometimes people use it as tools for self-growth and self-improvement.

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A quick side note: though I am really into the tools and ideas of the self-growth worlds, I take it with caution. Sometimes focusing so hard on improvement and growth can give the impression that who you are and what you’re doing already right now is not good enough, and I don’t want to encourage that. Still, it’s often satisfying to dream big, break it down into goals, and work toward them, so the tools still have a useful place in my life.

Even if you don’t currently have a dominant, you can create a training plan for yourself to keep you motivated, connected to your submissive, and striving. These are excellent skills to hone, both for yourself and for your future dominant.

So what is a ‘training plan,’ anyway?

A training plan is a breakdown of the small steps needed to reach a goal. For example, if the goal is to run a marathon, the training plan breaks down the different steps to get mentally and physically prepared in order to do it. For example, a triathlon training plan might include identifying one’s current level of swim, bike, run; increasing capacity for each; targeting biggest improvement potential; and setting a date to do the triathlon in order to dole out the milestone goals between then and now.

Making a goal and working to achieve it combats boredom & complacency, because there’s something challenging to strive for — pushing oneself is not usually boring, and inherently not complacent.

Within the context of D/s, there are dozens of skills that submissives can hone in order to be of greater service to the dominant. Setting a goal to learn or master some of those skills can serve the D/s in the long run, as well as the submissive themself.

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If you are in a relationship, and you want more training or support to meet goals and push yourself, you could think about presenting your dom with a short list of goals you are curious about, that you think will benefit your partnership, and ask your dom to choose which one they would like most. You could still follow the other suggestions, and create the rest of your plan yourself, knowing that the reward will be presenting your completed goal to your dominant at the end of the plan.

Step 1: Identify What Kind of Training to Pursue

Depending on what you want to improve, or what your dominant/household would want you to improve, your training will be different.

Here’s some examples of skills you’d like to increase or parts of your life that you’d like to improve:

  • Providing sexual service
  • Domestic service: cooking, housekeeping chores, bookkeeping, assistance, gardening
  • “Trophy” attributes like dress, grooming, mannerisms
  • Entertainment: music, dance, storytelling, producing/hosting events
  • Expressions of devotion

Step 2: Vision What You’d Like the Goal to Be

Here’s some examples that (roughly) correspond to the examples above:

  • Receive double penetration
  • Perfect your favorite Thai food dish
  • Do 100 push-ups
  • Play guitar well enough to share sing-alongs at a campfire
  • Make a photo album (actually print out some of your Instagram photos!)

Step 3: Break the Goal Into Small Tasks

Continuing with the examples above, here’s some of the tasks and experiments that could happen in order to perfect your favorite Thai food dish.

  • Go visit your favorite Thai restaurants to order the dish and see how you most like it
  • Research Thai cooking classes in your area
  • Ask that friend who is a really good cook for some help
  • Look up recipes for that thai dish
  • Gather the ingredients needed
  • Cook the dish for your friends at least 5x to experiment with getting the flavors right

Step 4: Set a Timeline

When do you want to have this task or goal complete? A timeline is essential to a training plan — otherwise, it’s just a someday-dream.

Make your timeline as realistic as possible. You might even check in with friends about the timeline and see if they find it realistic — sometimes it’s hard to tell how long something will actually take.

Step 5: Set Aside Time To Do These Different Tasks

That might mean saying no to things you want to do, or canceling things, or pausing a project or hobby you love in order to make time. You can come back to all those things later. You won’t miss out on that much, I promise. (This is a good time to practice noticing your FOMO — fear of missing out — and not letting that fear overpower your goals and training.)

Put your tasks on your calendar! You could even make a date with a friend to keep yourself accountable.

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One Last Note: About ‘Failing’ to Meet Goals: I’ve noticed that submissives are often a-types, and often beat themselves up (even more than their doms beat them up) for mistakes and short-comings. Learning to acknowledge limits, forgive failures, understand and move on are big skills for a sub to build. (Big skills for all of us to build, let’s be honest; but in a D/s context a sub is held to external standards and both D and s need to work with that with kindness & forgiveness & humanity.)

Step 6: Practice

Anything new needs practice. For a while, it will be a thing to try out (and probably fail, sometimes). The only way to see the progress is with more practice, more diligence, and more trying.

Find different ways to practice. Put your skill in different situations to adjust and practice with different variables. Tell your friends that you’re practicing and ask for their help in supporting you. For example, cook at a friend’s house, cook in a very limited prep time, cook using only what you have in the house and make a range of substitutions.

Step 7: Present! Show Off Your New Skills!

Once you feel confident that you have practiced a lot, show off your skills! Share what you’ve been doing with friends. Offer your new cooking skills by bringing dishes to a leather community event. Or find different ways to share what you’ve been learning, and tell people about your journey.

  • Make the Thai dish for dinner for your partners + friends
  • Dress up for no good reason, just to look good
  • Write down a fantasy about your new DP skill
  • Set up a campfire sing-along

This is part of how to reward yourself for a job well done!

Step 8: Celebrate Meeting Your Goal!

You get to decide how to celebrate — you could bribe yourself, you could create a star chart and cross things off, you could high-five your bestie and congratulate yourself.

And repeat!

Set another new goal, break it down, and get it done!

Introducing Erotix: Literary Journal of Somatics

For a few years now, I’ve been working on an anthology called Erotix: Literary Journal of Somatics. I put out a call in late 2016, thinking it would be a quarterly journal (!) published by Body Trust with the intention of putting some words to the erotic embodiment work we pursue, which is often mysterious. But the personal (trauma) crises I’ve been going through have kept me pretty much unable to get to my big projects since then, so it’s just sat in my inbox (and in the back of my mind, making me feel awful). On top of that, the submissions I received were somehow not quite what I was visualizing, though I couldn’t really put my finger on what I was visualizing to explain it, either. I thought I might have to do a second call for submissions.

But as I’ve been able to pick up projects — and complete them! — again this year, I’ve been tackling Erotix. It’s a smaller volume than I expected, but it finally came together in some sort of form that makes sense for me. No idea if I’m going to make other volumes — with the Best Lesbian Erotica project on my plate right now, it will probably be a little while before there is another one, but of course now that this is finished I’m excited and want to do more. I also don’t want to promise another one and then keep it incomplete for a long time.

But here it is, the first issue! I am excited to share it with you. It’ll be ready to buy in August.

Introduction

In an erotic embodiment workshop, though we may be loosely organized around a theme of exploration, we all come together with different stories. We have different lived experiences, different relationships to our bodies and to others, different wounds, different resiliency. Many of our stories explore the themes of connection, touch, rejection, care, transformation, power. Some of them overlap at the same resonant frequency, and when we find the tones that match ours, the moment of perfect harmony which comes out of cacophony can be a soothing balm of relief.

I find this to be true in anthologies, too. A group of stories, tied loosely around a theme, manifested through a writer but now a being in their own right, come together with different expressions. Through the various refracted perspectives, sometimes deeper truths emerge. Sometimes a resonance emerges like a singing bowl which can buoy, which can soothe. Sometimes each piece adds it’s own perspective on the melody, like the different instruments in an orchestra.

I’ve had a vision for Erotix as a literary journal of somatics, but it’s taken me some time to figure out what that is and how to share it with others. That process of articulating something is precisely part, in fact, of what I visualized. When starting to do work in erotic healing circles in the late 1990s, participants and staff alike were often counseled not to talk about it, because others who weren’t there and didn’t experience this transformative space wouldn’t understand. Amy Butcher’s essay, “Between Silence and Words,” explores this further. But in the two decades since then, we in the embodiment, somatic, transformative, and sacred erotic realms have begun articulating quite a lot — and much of the world is ready to hear what we have to say.

That is Erotix’s goal: to be a mouth and tongue to express, in the linear confines of the written word, what it is like to experience embodied erotic transformations. The differences in the content are too many to name — power dynamics, masturbation, temple, sensation from subtle to bold, intellect, skin, orgasm, kink, connection, friction, music, and countless more. Each experience is unique and individual. Yet seeing a dozen or so descriptions come together in one volume shows some commonalities, some themes: the wild and whimsical ways our bodies work, the healing power of pleasure, the navigation of reclamation, shameless exploration, and connecting beyond ourself and other to a greater consciousness all thread through. They also thread through week-long residential workshops where we pray and dance and soar, where we realign our Self and selves, where we circle in a lineage of women’s temples.

Though not everyone can be in temple with us, I hope that as you sit with this small volume of words and have a glimpse of what it might be like. Each of these contributors bring their body and desire to the page, and without each one, the circle of this book would not be complete.

The Personal Blog Is Not Dead

I’ve been writing personal journal entries online again. For a while, it was on a completely different WordPress subdomain, but recently I imported all those posts to Sugarbutch — about 30 of them from the last two years. Since I brought them in to Sugarbutch, I’ve had more supporters there, and sharing them again has been inspiring me to write even more of them.

The new password is available for people who are Patreon supporters. You can be a supporter at any amount. (There are other benefits, too! Like free ebooks and giveaways and following my work in all the places I’ve been writing and personal updates and musings.)

I understand the frustration of someone you follow putting their (arguable best) work behind a paywall … but at this point, 11 years into writing on Sugarbutch, and with the death of personal blogs, things have changed so much. I just can’t share like I used to. A big part of the challenge of publishing personal things is the vulnerability, and the overexposure. There are just too many people reading, and when things are very fresh, when the things I’m writing about are still happening, it can be crippling to have comments or even acknowledgment.

So I am narrowing my audience. I tried to narrow it before, offering the password to the mailing list. But the mailing list is over 10,000 email addresses now. So now, it goes to the Patreon folks. I know that they are invested in me, in my art and expression, in my journey, and that feels like buy-in in a different way than folks who consume my writing as more of a reality tv show. Sharing it with the Patreon folks is a new experiment, and I’m not even sure how long it’ll last.

When I met rife, and Kristen and I started breaking up and having deep challenges between us, I started writing less about what was happening for me personally. Kristen requested me not to — but also, I was shutting down, struggling. Maybe I’d call it a sort of writer’s block, but really it was because I didn’t want to read or admit what I was writing. As I started writing less personally, I also started building Sugarbutch as more of a ‘brand,’ studying entrepreneurship, and trying to turn my work into a more serious business. That too took my focus away from sharing the personal. And in lots of ways, it was good for me; I learned a lot and it moved me forward. And I kept struggling. Those years were a major depression for me, and it’s taken a lot to get out of it … but maybe I am out of it? It’s certainly different now.

Plus, I have a job again. My grip on survival and money is not quite so terrified. I’m not working on my brand, my work, my websites, my marketing for every spare minute of every day, and collapsing when not working on it. It’s taken about a year of this new job (and 18 months of therapy) to get back to myself in this way, but it’s been a relief now that I’m writing more.

And yet, it still incites panic in my stomach to think about publishing those very personal things. But the Patreon has been deeply supportive … I love that it gives me hope that my writing is actually a valuable addition to the world, and it gives me financial proof in exchange. I love getting to know folks more and recognizing their names and having deeper conversations — it feels like I’m building friendships, not ‘readers.’

Money isn’t the only kind of exchange for my work, though. I know sometimes money is just not an option at all — my finances have at times been that tight, where it’s just impossible to spend even a dollar. I get it. I’m open to other ideas. As many of my friends have said, “I can’t pay my rent in vegan cupcakes,” so there are plenty of things I don’t really need and that won’t help me to exchange, but I’m sure there are even more which are useful and lovely. I’m not sure what they are? Perhaps folks who are interested in trading for something other than money can let me know and we can talk about what we could do?

I often hate it when people put their (arguably best) work behind a paywall, and I have in the past refused to give them money on principle. Even through all of the work I’ve done in the entrepreneur world, and knowing how little artists and activists get paid, it still feels arrogant or self-righteous to me — though I know it shouldn’t. But now that Patreon has rolled around, it feels very easy to support artists in that way. At first, as research, I pledged $10 a month to be divided among different folks on Patreon, and I’ve kept with that for the past few years, moving around the money depending on whose work is speaking to me right then. I’ve loved seeing behind the scenes and getting to know the struggles behind the creations. It really is a wonderful platform for creators online.

There’s also news that Patreon has changed their terms of service to exclude certain kinds of adult content. Violet Blue has been following this and investigating very closely, and I’m sure there’s still many updates to come, but it has made me panic much more than I expected. Will this support that has become so important to my work suddenly be taken out from under me? Will my CONSENSUAL explorations of fantasy cause me this circle of friends and support that has become an essential piece of my work? They aren’t saying that all adult content is banned, but I know my content with consensual non-consent and age play sets off alarm bells. I don’t really want to remove all of that from my site, but what if they say I can stay if I do? Would I do it?

I don’t know what’ll happen next with that. But for now, please come join my inner circle, and tell me you support my writing not with your words, but with a little bit of energy. For the price of a cup of coffee once a month. For a dollar. For a hundred dollars. For whatever you can spare. It tells me you want me to keep going, that you get value from this. And I’ll be glad to bring you in and share some of the harder, deeper truths that I’m struggling with, and learning.

PS: The old password still works for the older journal entries. The new ones tagged with mentalkink have the new password, the older ones have the password you got via email on the mailing list. I probably would go back and change all the old ones if I could, but that will be a deep to-do item for the site, since it’s so time consuming.

Which harnesses work with double dildos?

Featured image l-r: Feeldoe Realdoe; Injoyus; Double by BS Atelier; Fuze Tango Double-Ender

Dear Mr. Sexsmith,

My girlfriend is visiting soon and is buying a Share dildo for her visit. She is looking at getting a RodeoH harness to use with it, but the folks there have conflicting opinions about what will work with the Share. Do you have any advise on a harness that will work with the Share, or for that matter, advise on double-headed cocks?

— Avery

Hi! Glad to help …

The trouble with advice about these things is that they’re all so subjective, ya know? So what works for me may not work for others. Still, here’s my best ideas, from my own experiences and from talking to a lot of other folks.

First: Can’t double-ended dildos be used alone?

Yes! Absolutely. However, they do have a tendency to slip out, especially in certain positions (like if the wearer is on top with their legs apart, for example). Using a harness with a double makes it more secure while still giving the wearer extra sensation.

My favorite uses for the double-ended dildos are: 1. receiving blow jobs, 2. when fucking, being on the bottom with the receiver’s legs spread over my hips, so my legs can squeeze together, 3. jerking off. In that order.

Which double-ended cock to choose

Personally I like the Feeldoe Realdoe the best of the double-headed ones. It has a variety of sizes and colors (though the colors correspond to the sizes, so you can’t just get whichever color you want in any size), and I particularly like the (white person) skin tone color because it’s relatively close to my own. (It only comes in one “flesh tone” though, which is unfortunate. And by “unfortunate” I mean “normalizes whiteness”). The angle is really good, the side that goes inside the wearer stays put better than others, it rubs up against the wearer’s bits better than others. It’s pretty hard silicone, so it doesn’t feel the best in someone’s mouth — it doesn’t have any give (especially after being spoiled by NYTC and Vixen). This is particularly noticeable for blow jobs, though sometimes also penetration.

The Share is pretty good, though I’ve found the part that goes inside is super uncomfortable for my body. It’s a lot larger than others, and that doesn’t work for me. Others have told me the same thing. But if your girlfriend likes that feeling of being filled, it may not be an issue!

Edited to add: Vixen has just come out with a new vixskin (their ‘realistic’ line of silicone) double, called the Peacemaker. I haven’t tried it yet, but given their superior material, it basically automatically goes to the top of my list as The Best. (I can’t speak to why it has the dual-color thing though. Maybe it’s to make sure you know which end goes inside you? Maybe the creator just really likes purple? The other end comes in their usual vanilla, caramel, chocolate colors.)

Which harnesses to try

Personally I’m not a big fan of the RodeoH because I like really rough sex, and I like my harness to rub against me to keep myself the most stimulated. The RodeoH is too elastic-y for that. It might be a great one to start with, though, and one can always change it up to a material which is stronger! I know it is extremely well liked by most folks, particularly because it can be very comfortably worn under clothes. It works okay with double-ended cocks like Share + Feeldoe, but the o-ring is limited on the RodeoH. It still accommodates up to about 2″ (which tends to be the largest girth that most queer/women companies make their cocks), but the o-ring sits pretty high, which makes it hard to get the o-ring lined up with the double. But it’s stretchy, so some folks have no trouble making it work!

Part of the issue about harnesses and doubles is that the o-ring is in a very particular place, and the double comes out of a very particular place, and often they are not the same. So the best fix for this is to have a harness where you can change the length between the straps, the part that goes between the legs. Mostly that’s leather and other non-leather, rather than the underwear-type harnesses. Highly recommend: the leather pleasure harness, and the commando harness, both by Aslan Leather. Commando rides very low, which is helpful for doubles. Leather pleasure is highly convertible; the “driver pad” behind the dildo base comes off, it’s convertible to a 1-strap, and all the strap lengths and o-ring are changeable.

However, both those harnesses are a little harsh for bigger bodies — it can sometimes dig into my sides and that can be painful. For bigger bodies I highly highly recommend the spareparts Joque, it’s stretchy enough to be comfortable but still firm enough for rough sex … the straps (like a jock, not like a g-string) are changeable easily to move the hole down for doubles.

Hope this helps!

Purchase these toys at your local favorite women-positive queer-positive sex toy store, or at through these fine links. Most links in this post are for She Vibe, because they have an amazing selection. Some links are elsewhere if She Vibe doesn’t carry it. I get a little kickback if you buy anything through my links, but none of this was officially sponsored by She Vibe.

You can be your strongest self AND a power bottom

From the moment I met Casey*, it was clear that they were a powerhouse. They ran a non-profit, were involved with leather community events, managed a Facebook group for queer survivors that had thousands of members, and kept up an amazing vegetable garden. I saw them work a room at a kinky happy hour, and I was impressed. They were charming, funny, generous, and so welcoming — and it wasn’t even their event. Casey just naturally exudes confidence and ease, and it’s infectious.

I immediately thought they were a top.

“Everybody always thinks that,” Casey told me later that night, sitting next to me at the bar, both of us waiting for another drink. “I can’t tell you how many times bottoms have tried to pick me up. But I’m not. I’m submissive. But people don’t see that in me, because they expect submissives to be cowering in the corner waiting for a dominant to tell them what to do.”

Casey was so eloquent, speaking about their desires for submission. (And you know me, I’m a sucker for somebody who can use words to articulate what they want and how they work. Yum.) But still, I went away from that thinking, Casey is absolutely right … there is a huge difference between having a submissive personality and having the desire to submit to someone in bed. And I played into those social expectations, too, by assuming their outgoing behavior meant that they were a top.

(I try really hard not to assume people’s power orientation, though it’s pretty much human nature to speculate and put others into categories we understand. I try to lead with questions, rather than assumptions, and to keep any surprise to myself, as best as I can.)

I’ve heard this complaint about being assumed to have passive personalities from lots of other submissive folks, too: from leather girls who are worried that their job is too high-powered, that daddies are all scared off by it. From subs who are convinced that no one can ever tell they are submissive, because they are in charge of too many social groups. From bois who believe deeply that their masculinity will always be read as dominance, and that they will always have to explain that they’re not a top.

I call it …

The Bad-Ass/Bottom Paradox

Based on kinky stereotypes, it seems like being a bad-ass and being a bottom are contradictory. But they’re not — just like being a sweetheart and being a top are not contradictory. Having a core of concern and emotional care for someone else makes that person even better qualified to be a top, just like having a strong sense of self, direction, and desire makes someone an even better bottom.

Submissives are often seen as weak, passive little creatures who don’t have a brain of their own, and whose head gets filled with their dominant’s every whim. Or, perhaps worse, as doormats who are being taken advantage of, controlled, and manipulated.

While this might be true for some folks — toxic relationship behavior and abuse can and does happen in D/s relationships, just like any other — most submissives I know are actually bad-asses. They aren’t empty vessels; their heads are full of managing their own lives — car payments, asking for vacation time off, calendaring the next social events, keeping up with knitting trends on Pinterest (and often, parts of their dominant’s lives, too).

On the other hand, I heard from Jake*, a queer boy who took Submissive Playground, that he was pretty sure he was submissive, but he’d never done much psychological play, though he craved it, because he thought he’d have to give up parts of himself, or make himself smaller in order to be “good” at it.

No. On the contrary.

I actually think submission can help make someone even more of a bad-ass than they already are. Healthy, functional submission requires knowing oneself, holding boundaries, communication, being vulnerable about desires, having good recovery skills when things go wrong — and so many more advanced communication skills. Folks who do have submissive personalities can find themselves gaining inner strength, self-worth, and fortitude after exploring submission deeper.

Submission does not require someone to make yourself small, to turn off your desires, to cater to someone else’s every whim (you know, not unless you negotiate that — but that’s way down the line. Or, way up the power escalator**). It really is possible to be a total bad-ass, and turn your ass up to get spanked, or turn over authority to someone you trust and love. In fact, it’s not only possible — it’ll give you a leg up.

* Not their real names

** As related to the relationship escalator, I use the term “power escalator” to mean that in relationships based on authority exchange or power play that often, both parties assume that as trust builds, they will play with more and more power exchange, but that is not always what the people ultimately want. Stopping anywhere along the ‘power escalator’ is valid, and going all the way to total power exchange 24/7 M/s is not the most “real”, or better, or any more valid than any other place.

Thanks to Crash Pad Series for the image, from Episode 149 with Alani Pi and Nikki Darling


Like this? Want more? Submissive Playground registration opens Monday, September 19th. Download the free Submissive Starter Kit for a sample submissive journal prompt from the course, as well as a video and kinky desire map.

Femming the Strap-On, Guest Post by Artemisia FemmeCock

I used to think I wasn’t gay enough to have a cock.

I cringe at that now, wondering what the hell it even means to be “gay enough” for anything. My 16-year-old self had some very ingrained assumptions though, assumptions that formed an identity radically different from the one I inhabit so comfortably today.

It seems natural to introduce myself as a “queer femme dyke” now, but to my newly-out teen self, those were three very incongruous things: queer was a slur, femme was the counter-identity to masculine, and dyke was a term reserved for only the most visible, butch lesbians.

These were conclusion influenced by the community I found when I first came out as a freshman in high school, a community that assured me I was a lesbian without ever asking because I am a cis woman attracted to women. It was like a scratchy, ill-filling sweater, but amongst the many other discomforts of high school, it was warming to feel welcome somewhere.

However, this meant that an identity was crafted for me before I could even begin to claim one for myself. Part of that identity was my presentation as a femme woman who was dating a butch woman, which coded me as the submissive and receptive partner, while they were perceived as the dominant, the pleaser, the one who wore the strap-on.

We were swathed in binary stereotypes by others, queer or not, and there were endless jokes about how gay my partner was for being a visible butch woman. The most vivid being when a group of friends attempted to quantify our collective “gayness.” It was decided that my partner constituted two whole gays, while I could only claim one half. I don’t like math to begin with, but when that math is based on the idea that sexuality can be calculated from one’s appearance, I really don’t like math.

I played into this role of “half gay” though, laughing along with jokes that dismissed my sexuality because of my femininity, about being hit on by men or asked if I had a boyfriend because I didn’t “look gay,” and accepting generalized assumptions about my relationship and sex life.

I was so compliant because many of their assumptions were true: I could have had a billboard above my head that read “I’m fucking GAY” and I would still hear the dismissive rhetoric “but you’re too pretty…” and “are you sure?” In my relationship, I was submissive and my partner was dominant, I chose the cock but she always wore it, and she didn’t enjoy being penetrated while I did. Presentation and sex became linked in my mind, and I conceded to the stereotypes.

It wasn’t until I went to college and saw unabashed, gender fucking, non-binary femmes that I began to see my identity as more than half: the half gay, the receiving half, the other half of butch. I started to understand that my presentation isn’t complimentary, it’s individual and multi-faceted. I can like, do, dress, and fuck however feels right to me. So I took off the itchy sweater and all the assumptions that were pinned to it.

From there, I started playing with my femmeness, seeking to reclaim my body as strong and loud and queer. I grew out my body hair and dyed it pink, I gravitated towards bold lip colors and nails, and I found power in ritual: taking time to get dressed, do my hair, apply copious amounts of glitter. I embraced my femmeness in my sex life too, savoring snapshots of deep red lipstick smudged on a silicone cock, masturbating with nails that matched the color of my vibrator, and styling the cutest pony tails to be pulled on.

I found a partner who has shifted and changed with me over the past two years, and though our journeys of sex, sexuality, and presentation are undeniably different, we’re able to express our needs and wants in dynamic ways. For so long, I just didn’t have the language or references or support to communicate in that way, and a large component of my shift in understanding is centered around exchanging that sweater for a strap-on.

femmecock1

femmecock2

My first cock was a milky pastel pink that coordinated so well with my mint and pink lace harness. When I put it on, the wispy hairs on my thighs, two chubby bumps for knees, and slightly pigeon-toed feet all defocused, obstructed by that new view. I began to bob and sway as my hips swung and my legs lifted off the ground. I danced around in my new naked, the weight of my cock against my pelvis, brushing my skin as I shook and spun. It was like the queerest tampon commercial dance montage you’d ever seen, and I would have gladly accepted a trampoline to complete the image.

There was reclamation in that cock, feeling my queer femmeness in something that I had known as a symbol of masculinity and dominance. That was years ago, and since then, wearing a cock has become an ever present part of my life. Literally, it’s in my name, but it’s also my identity. Albeit, a very condensed identity, but it took me years of unlearning a selfhood formed by others in order to get to the point where it seems comfortable to join “femme” and “cock” together in a declaration of who I am.

How I Became A Daddy

I came to be a Daddy in a dominance/submissive context somewhat reluctantly. For years, I’d heard about this kind of play in kinky relationships — particularly among my gay male friends. I felt a certain charge about it whenever it came up in conversation, but my charge mostly felt very negative: Why would people play with that? How was it sexy? Wasn’t it glorifying incest? How was it not about child abuse, on some level?

I remember very clearly the first direct conversations about it, which was about fifteen years ago now: my friend Greg was giving me a ride home, and somehow it came up in conversation. He was (probably still is) notoriously slutty, and always chatty about his sexcapades and adventures. In my memory, he’s the one who brought it up, but it could’ve been me — I’ve often been the one to eagerly stick my foot in my mouth around kink, asking all kinds of personal questions no matter how appropriate. But I like hanging out with other folks who like to talk about kink, and generally, they answer my questions.

“What is up with all this daddy stuff!?” I asked him. “I mean, how is it not about incest?”

Greg, level-headed and at least fifteen years older than me, answers slowly: “Well … it kind of is about incest. But it’s also about having an older male figure, in the gay boy communities. About having a positive male role model, and how so many of us lacked that as young boys, and how we still crave it.”

I sat with that answer for a good eight years, devouring all the lesbian erotica I could find, my favorites of which had daddy/girl overtones. Why do I like this so much? I’d ask myself. This isn’t something I want, it’s just something I like to read about, for whatever reason. My dirty little secret, the erotica I would never tell other people that I like. It’s wrong, I can’t justify it. But still … I must like it, I keep coming back to it.

For a while, a close friend of mine was a femme girl looking for a butch daddy. I remember those conversations with her clearly, too — and I was still pushing, asking poking questions. It seems obvious now that I was deeply drawn to the dynamic and couldn’t look away, but that I was also trying to work it out for myself.

“But what is it about the daddy/girl dynamic that makes it, you know, not incest?” I’d ask her incessantly.

“It’s just different,” she’d answer, somewhat vaguely. “It’s not about that, for me. It’s about power, and strength, and feeling taken care of, and submissive.”

That language, at least, I could grok. She’s the one who insisted I read Carol Queen’s book The Leather Daddy and the Femme, and that helped me get it even more.

Then, a conversation with a femme who identified as a babygirl I had a few brief dates with helped cement it for me. “Think of it as two different definitions,” she told me. “Like the word baby. We don’t mean literally ‘you’re a baby’ when we call our lovers ‘baby.’ But we invoke the sweet tenderness that word implies. Same with daddy. We don’t mean definition one: the man whose sperm helped conceive you, we mean definition 2: a masculine person who nurtures and cares for you, usually in the leather communities, where sex may or may not be part of the exchange.”

As a word person, it helped to parse the two definitions apart. It helped to start conceiving of this whole separate definition of what a “daddy” is, and how that relationship dynamic worked.

That babygirl femme and I didn’t date long, but our conversations around those concepts were a big turning point for me. I knew I wanted to explore them more. I finally thought, oh, I think I like that, that’s why I’ve been so drawn to slash repulsed by it all this time. Amazing how repulsion and desire can sometimes be two sides of the same coin.

So when Sarah and I got together, shared a lot of our fantasies with each other, and started to explore the realms of kink that we’d always wanted to or hadn’t yet, being a daddy came up for me early on.

“I know it’s something that I want,” I told her. I was dating other people when we got together, and I told her I was interested in exploring polyamory. “I’m not saying that it’s something we have to do together. But I am saying that it’s something I want to figure out if I like, and how I like it. I know it’s something I want in my erotic toolbox, so to speak. If that’s not something you feel willing to play with me, that’s totally okay, but I might want to do it on my own elsewhere.”

It wasn’t an ultimatum, but I did think that it might end up being a dealbreaker.

“I just don’t get it. I mean why would I want to invoke my dad during sex?!” she said.

“It’s not about that. It’s only about you and me. And, in my opinion, we already have the kind of sex and play that I’m talking about. I nurture you, I call you baby and girl and sometimes little girl. You like all that stuff.”

“Yeah. I really do,” her eyelashes fluttered. “Really a lot.”

I grinned. “Honestly I think the only difference between what we do now and what I’m asking for is that one word: daddy.”

She looked pensive. “I’ll think about it,” she said.

The next time it came up, in a different discussion about kinks and explorations, and I mentioned again that I was interested in exploring it, she said, “I’ve been thinking about that. And I think I might just … say it, during sex, sometime.”

I had thought it was never going to happen with her. She’d been pretty clear about her disinterest.

She looked at me sideways, slyly. “We’ll see.”

It was a tease, but it totally worked.

A few weeks later, she did it: just casually let it slip from her mouth into my ear while she had her arms and legs wrapped around me, fucking her slow. It tipped me over the edge and I shuddered inside her, grabbing at her hair, toes curling, coming hard.

After catching my breath, she giggled. “I guess we know what you like!”

It was almost embarrassing, so vulnerable to be known and seen like that. To be splayed wide open, even in front of someone I trusted most in the world. But her eyes were warm and I could see that she liked it, too, and that we were in this together.

Introducing View From The Top: My BDSM Journey

I’m so excited to have started writing a column over on Autostraddle called “View From The Top,” detailing my BDSM journey from being a bottom (before coming out) to being a master (and monogamish and partnered with a boy/boi and happier than I’ve ever been).

Over on the first column, which just came out and is called “I Started as a Bottom,” I kind of came out as a master. I mean, I know I’ve written about it here sometimes, but mostly kind of buried in posts and I haven’t written about it too too directly (yet). It’s scary! It’s a big word, a very loaded word to use and claim, and I hesitate to use it without a whooooole lot of back story to explain where I’m coming from, that I’m part of a community that uses those terms, etc.

So of course, in the comments of the article, there were questions about the use of the terms master and slave, particularly by someone white. I want to highlight my comment and rife’s, too, because I think this is a really interesting issue of semantics, language, and social justice, and I don’t feel 100% good about it, though it’s the best I have right now.

I wrote:

As the author of the post, to be honest, I’m completely uncomfortable with it. It’s something that I struggle with, precisely for the reasons you stated—primarily because I’m a white person and we have a particular, very very recent history of slavery in the US, where I live, the effects of which still benefit white people and me, specifically, and contribute to systemic racism.

There are quite a few folks who use pairings like Owner/property or Dom/sub instead of Master/slave, precisely because of their discomfort with those particular terms.

I’m about 5 years in to this exploration of what it means to be master and slave, and what it means to be part of that community, and it has been incredibly valuable to learn these skills and actually take part in that community. (Maybe I’ll go into this in a future column? Short version: This set of skills is something I’ve done in relationships unconsciously for a while, which was bad; and now that I’m doing it consciously, things are way better.) I resisted the particular words for a while, but after being part of the M/s world for longer and longer, I’ve grown more comfortable with it because of the difference in definition and usage.

I don’t see a lot of consciousness about this issue in the M/s world, which is predominantly white, though. Which I don’t like and am very uncomfortable with, and try to bring up and point out racist language and microagressions when I can (as I do in pretty much all communities I’m in, but I push myself to speak up a little more in this one).

For now, because it’s the most accurate words I have, I’m choosing to use them … but I’m not entirely unconflicted about that.

As a word lover, I think words can grow and change and morph definitions over time. While I do absolutely recognize the particular history that directly affects me, I also know that the words and concepts of master and slave are not a new invention in human history. The enslavement of African folks is just one of myriad examples throughout history. So I think that is one of the main arguments I hear about it—that the experience of ‘slavery’ is not so unique to that one part of history.

I use these words is because these are the most accurate words we have right now. I’m still new to this community and seeking to recognize others and find more friends who know about this stuff, so I’m using the words that are recognized by others so that we can find each other.

Identity words are complicated—some of them just *fit* better or differently than others. And these particular words fit what my boy and I are doing, particularly within the parts of the kink communities that practice them.

Also, if you ever have the chance to hear sex/BDSM educator Mollena do her workshop on taboos, which includes some of her philosophies about M/s languaging, I highly recommend it.

I think pursuing M/s is very complicated … There are many folks who don’t have an objection to those words based on race, but rather on the fact that enslavement is wrong. It’s complex to start unravelling fetishes that are on one hand, ‘morally wrong,’ but on the other hand, totally get you off and satisfy your life in a way that other things never have and in a bone-deep way you feel you need. I think in the RACK——”risk aware consensual kink”—camps, I understand that when things are done with full enthusiastic consent and taking responsibility for what happens, then it’s okay to fantasize and play. Personally, I want it to be done with a lot of consciousness and in a way that aligns with my values, but I also have to balance that with what sustains me, too.

rife wrote:

As a (white, American) who is identified as a slave, I initially struggled with the word, a lot.

What finally brought me around to it (I mean, other than my obvious erotic orientation to that kind of structured ownership fetish) was the realization that slavery has a long, long history. It has been around almost as long as humans. In some iterations, it was even consensual/contractual, like with certain Roman dynamics.

What I do has nothing to do with race play (although there isn’t anything *inherently* wrong with that). And honestly, if a black person told me they found my use of the word disrespectful, I would probably switch back to the more generic “property” descriptor. But here’s the thing: They haven’t, and I’ve had many soul-searching discussions with black friends, many of whom identify this way as well.

Let’s be clear: unconsensual slavery is abhorrent. Consensual slavery is fine. The two are very, very different. Just like rape is awful and consensual sex (even playing with faux-assault) is fine.

Here’s the other thing: it’s the best word for the job, despite its loaded cultural connotations. What else do you call a human who is owned? If we had another word for that, which wasn’t loaded with the unconsensual cultural history, maybe I would use that. But, we don’t. So I’ve made my peace with it.

I hear that it’s not a relationship structure you’d like to be in, fair enough! But be careful not to judge a relationship’s morals by how much you don’t want to be in it. :)

Though I’ve been stewing on this series for a while, and have already written 4 of the columns, I’m surprised and pleased at the impact it’s had so far and I think it’s bigger and more revealing than I expected. I kind of feel like I’m taking on the task of encapsulating my BDSM journey over the last, oh, 15-20 years, and trying to put it into ten or twelve columns to make a story. Feels a bit daunting, and very exciting. The folks at Autostraddle have been super supportive and the editing has been excellent, I so love working with good editors.

I really appreciate all the comments over there, and I’ve been replying to quite a few. (I miss that kind of comment conversation, where folks check back and actually reply—it’s been quite a few years since that’s happened on Sugarbutch, but I have some guesses as to why.)

If you have any particular questions or ideas of what you’d love to see me write about as I keep writing through this journey, I’d love to know. Questions or comments or ideas welcome.

On the Importance of Queer, Women Centered, & Feminist Sex Toy Shops (Map)

When I was traveling around to toy stores and bookstores across North America for the release of Say Please, I started keeping a list of the best of the best.

And eventually, I made a map of as many as I could find.

This is a totally US-centric map! Mostly because that’s where I live & work. I’d love to add more—what shops did I miss? Which should I add? Tell me in the comments + I’ll include it!

Link to the Google map of queer, women-centered, & feminist sex toy shops (just in case it doesn’t load up there)

I came out in Seattle in 1999, and I was lucky enough to be in close proximity to the first Babeland brick and morter store, where I started attending their workshops and smut readings, and I would go in with my scrimped ten bucks and get the best vibrator I could find. It took a long time for me to fully invest in quality silicone, or a real leather harness, but eventually, Babeland (which also has two stores in Manhattan & Brooklyn), and other stores, like Feelmore 510 in Oakland, became places that I frequented and invaluable resources.

The staff at women-centric, queer-friendly sex toy stores are often not just paid sales staff, but educators. The folks who work there know about safer sex practices, what lubes are good if you’re prone to yeast infections, and what kind of toys go with what kinds of lube or condoms. They can recommend different toys based on your body and your needs. I often find that they have a lot of knowledge about people of size, differing ability, body support, and other kinds of access needs. They often have tried out the newest toys and are up on all the latest goodies, so they can recommend all kinds of stuff.

These kinds of stores are well-lit, honest, out in the open, and sex-positive. There’s no flickering florescent blubs and weird backlit rooms for previewing porn videos (I don’t know about you, but that kind of thing was the sex toy store of my youth—and the only kind of sex toy store I knew about, until I found Babeland).

These kinds of stores often have all sorts of knowledge about women’s pleasure, about owning your own desires, about sustaining longer orgasms, about whatever kind of little pickle (ha ha) you might be dealing with in your own sex life. If you bring them your sex puzzles, they will help, is what I’m saying.

Good Vibrations has a Customer Service 800 number—(800) 289-8423 M-F 8am-5pm PST—which has made it into some famous erotica stories (see: this Herotica volume 3 collection from 1994 that I may or may not have read over and over and over and over. MAY OR MAY NOT), and which is staffed by sex educators who will eagerly help you figure out what toy to buy or how to get what it is you’re looking for.

This stuff goes way beyond “retail store” and far into the purpose of “community center” and “resource center.”

Plus, there are often classes and workshops, or erotica readings, at stores like these. If one of them is in your area, I highly suggest you get on their mailing list and keep up with their goings on.

I’m hoping that creating a map like this will be an easy resource for folks who are looking for the great sex-positive sex toy stores near them, and that also it will inspire us to keep patronizing these stores. They are so important + valuable to the sex worlds, and I really want to see them thrive.

If you’re not anywhere near one of these, you could check out some of these amazing shops online, too: Good Vibrations which has many different shops around the San Francisco Bay Area, JT’s Stockroom in LA, Early 2 Bed in Chicago, She Bop the Shop in Portland, Oregon, or Babeland.

Here’s the link to the Google map of queer, women-centered, & feminist sex toy shops that I have so far. Did I miss any? Please leave info on them in the comments & I’ll check them out! Make sure that they are:

  • Welcoming to all genders
  • Discerning about what kind of toys that they carry (e.g., they don’t carry toys made of plastics that are bad for the body)
  • Inclusive of and centered around women’s sexuality
  • Bonus points if they are queer- or woman-owned!

Microagressions & Misgendering: “Right this way, ladies.”

Interacting with service industry folks—in restaurants, at retail stores, at airports, schools, or health care offices—can be daunting and exhausting for genderqueer folks like me. It is so, so common for me and the group of queer folks I’m with to be referred to as “ladies” (which tells you that I don’t spend a lot of time with genderqueer or cis or trans men, which is true actually, I’m very much in a dyke bubble), and I feel so deflated when that happens.

No, no. It’s not just ‘deflated,’ though yes that’s part of it. It’s also a very real microagression. It’s a very real way that the larger culture, made up of thousands of individuals, gender polices us into binary categories and reminds anybody outside of those categories that we are wrong, unseen, invisible, and unimportant.

This has happened to me for years. It’s kind of related to the thing that happens when genderqueer folks have to pee in public and get hassled in both the women’s or the men’s bathrooms (and there’s a variety of pieces of activism and public awareness happening around that one, too—see, for example, Ivan Coyote’s recent Tedx talk We all need a safe place to pee). But while I can actually hold out and only pee in certain (single-stall) bathrooms, and I can have some control over peeing in public, it’s much harder to just not go interact with any service people, so as to avoid this issue.

Look, I get it. Caring that I’m addressed as “miss” or “ma’am” or that friends and I are called “ladies” sometimes seems like a very small thing on a trans activism scale, especially when so many trans women were murdered in 2015. Sometimes I think this issue of language is a tiny, “politically correct” thing that I should just let go and stop caring so damn much.

And I’ve heard folks say, “Hey, I don’t care if they call me/us ‘ladies,’ because at least they’re being nice to us and not kicking us out of this restaurant.” Which also tells you that I have primarily been queer and genderqueer and visibly different in cities and liberal small towns not so much in places more dangerous to queers.

This issue of gendering groups as a microagression has a certain amount of privilege in it. Absolutely.

And, as someone who continues to move in liberal circles, in large urban areas, in trans- and queer-centered communities, this hurts my feelings. Frequently. Daily.

Gender Perception & Getting a Thicker Skin

Part of the answer, I think, is actually to get a ‘thicker skin’, and I think in general folks who are outside of the mainstream do need to develop a good, solid sense of self, bolstered by community and lovers and theory and random strangers on the internet, to just deal with the reality that not everybody gets us. And for genderqueer and gender non-conforming and masculine of center and feminine of center folks, and trans folks who aren’t exactly ‘passing’ to some cis standard, developing a thicker skin is important. I think we also just need to be very discerning about when we want to offer some education, or feedback, and when we want to just go about our lives. Sometimes it’s exhausting to try to change the world all the time, to come up against gender norms, to fight against the binary system. And sometimes I just need to buy some eggs and get off to my meeting, and who cares what that person sees me as or thinks of me or what words they use.

That’s kind of about “gender perception,” right—the idea that part of your gender identity is how you are perceived by others. (The Gender Book has a great page on gender perception, click on the image in the 4th row 1st column here.) Personally, I’ve struggled with this—not that there’s some way I want to be perceived and am not, but rather I’ve struggled with the idea that what other people think of you matter or should affect one’s sense of self at all. It’s taken me some time to see how important it is, and to go through some of my own identity developments where my identities are then somewhat invisible, and aren’t perceived by others, and to have that really piss me off, has helped me understand how valuable it is at times in people’s lives.

Sometimes, I think how others perceive me is very important. Especially if it’s someone I interact with all the time—my family, my friends, my close community; even someone who works somewhere that I regularly frequent. Those are all important, and I do tend to (eventually) say something about gender, or make a comment about my pronouns. But for the person who is checking me out at the grocery store, or the server at a restaurant I rarely (if ever) go to? Most of the time, I just don’t have the energy to have that conversation. I used to, I suppose, but after more than 15 years of this happening? I just don’t anymore.

Okay wait: a note on class

This kind of misgendering most often happens in the service industry, so I want to write something here about class. I hope we are being aware of the class implications of speaking up or attempting to shift the way a server or service provider is gendering you/us. As a working/artist class person my whole life, I am acutely aware of how we treat folks in the service industry, and I think it’s SO important to enter into conversations with service folks with respect. The amount of pejorative, condescending language and tones that are used with service folks is horrible. And there’s a lot of unexamined privilege in folks who have never really been in a service position, or who have been out of the service industry for a long time. They’re a person, you’re a person. So I just want to encourage us all to watch our conversations here, and to do some examining about what we think of the service industry, and to ask ourselves if that’s really true. (For example: That everyone who works there isn’t smart enough to get a job anywhere else, or must have failed at other jobs, or must not be very good at anything. Probably none of those are true, but they are common stereotypes about service folks.)

Also: as a genderqueer/GNC person, I know that I don’t always have the patience and clarity it takes to interact in moments of microagressions with lots of respect and precision. I just don’t—sometimes I snap and it comes out yucky. Which is another reason, I suppose, why I’ve kind of stopped speaking up in most of these moments of misgendering—because I don’t want to be rude to someone who is just doing their job.

But sometimes, I do want to say something. And I do love how there are some new options (I’ll get to that in a minute, I swear—down at the bottom of this post) for conversations and becoming more aware of gendered language.

Ultimately: I want to strive for respecting folks when I am consuming their services, and be aware of the class implications.

Oh hey, here’s another question: I assume servers at restaurants and cashiers at shops aren’t trained to say “ladies” and “guys,” right? I’ve never actually been a server (though I’ve been a cashier for many years), so I’m not totally clear. It’s so SO so prevalent in the restaurant worlds that sometimes I think it must be in the handbook! But maybe it’s just in the culture? Unspoken, uninforced, but somehow we all absorb it? I’m curious about that.

Download the Gender-Neural Language Sheet

So this is a new possible way to interact with this service/misgendered language issue: the Queer Resource Center in BC adapted a card into a “gender neutral language sheet”, and you can download them for free here.

Toni Latour released “Hello There” cards earlier in 2015, in collaboration with Jenny Lynn and James Alexander Kelly. She’s not the first person I’ve heard who had this idea—in fact, when I first saw the image, I thought, drat, I wasn’t fast enough. I’ve had this thought many times, and I even remember sketching up a draft of it in Oregon on a road trip with rife in 2013. But Toni Latour is the one who made them and printed them up.

And now, the BC Queer center adapted Latour’s “Hello There” cards to be more inclusive and less “ladies” specific. Latour’s cards read:

Hello-2

When greeting customers, instead of saying ladies, gentelmen, ma’am, sir, girls, guys, and the like, please consider using gender neutral language. Here are some options: “Good morning folks.” “Hi everyone.” “Can I get you all something?” “And for you?” “Thanks friends, have a wonderful night.” Why? Shifting to gender neutral language respects and acknowledges the gender identities of all people and removes assumption. Join the movement to be more mindful of language. And if you make a mistake and misgender someone, it’s okay, say sorry once and move on. Thank you for making an effort!

The revised cards from QBC read:

hellothere

When greeting others, avoid ladies, gentlemen, ma’am, sir, girls, guys, etc. Consider using instead: “Thanks friends, have a great night.” “Good morning, folks!” “Hi, everyone!” “And for you?” “Can I get you all something?” Why? Shifting to gender-inclusive language respects and acknowledges the gender identities of all people and removes assumption. Be mindful of language.

A note about “guys.”

A lot of folks have said that they use “guys,” and that that is gender neutral. I just want to go on record and say that I disagree, actually, it is not. I do understand that in this culture, we very often hear groups of various gendered people referred to as “guys,” and that it’s presumed to include everyone in the group, not just the young-ish men. I do understand that it is intended to mean “everyone” or “people” or “hey you folks over there.” However, in the realities of language, it is not neutral: it is masculine.

That this society treats the masculine, the male, the man, as the default and indeed as the ‘neutral’ is precisely one of the most sexist issues at play here. When something as fundamental as our language says that men are the norm and the default, and women are the other and the strange, then it affects every other aspect of our culture, too. (There are many writings and resources on this concept out there, I’m sure … I remember studying it extensively in language & gender studies classes in college in 2002. I’m not sure where to point you for more on it, though. Anybody have a good resource to recommend?)

I can often default to calling everybody “guys,” especially when talking to masculine of center queers and genderqueer folks, but I try not to. It’s inaccurate, and frankly it perpetuates the notion that masculinity is the norm, and I don’t want to do that. But, I’m a total nerd about language and gender, so I know that not everybody wants to do that kind of work on how they see the world and interact with words. I’m hoping, though, since you are still reading, that you have that interest and intention.

On Standing Up for Someone Else

Funny enough, this whole thing just happened this weekend, when the server referred to our table—two butches and a femme—as “ladies,” and I had a similar conversation about what we can/should do about it. The femme who was there asked us what our reaction was to it, and if it felt appropriate for her to say something, which I really appreciated. Honestly, when I’ve been in mixed gender groups, often it’s the folks who do not identify as ‘ladies’ who speak up the least, and sometimes having someone else speak up on my behalf makes me feel even more tired and exhausted and segregated and spotlighted—which doesn’t feel good. I think it has in the past made me feel very taken care of, and protected, but these days, it makes me feel annoyed and too singled out to have someone say something on my behalf.

I mean, if you want to speak up about this because it bugs you, by all means please do so, and I got your back. But if you want to speak up because you think that I am insulted and deflated and am now reacting to a microagression and want/need/would appreciate someone else speaking up for me, please don’t.

So if you’re someone who wants to speak up on behalf of someone else, perhaps you could just check in with them and make sure that you are acting in their best interest, and not just projecting your discomfort onto them.

Is this conversation completely among trans/masculine people?

I’m glad that the edits between the first “Hello There” cards and the new Gender Neutral Language Sheet have moved from being less lady-centric, but it makes me wonder: How does this happen in the service industry for folks who are not masculine of center or trans masculine? I imagine similar things happen, getting addressed as “gentlemen” or “guys,” but maybe not? I’ll have to ask around and see what I can find about that.

Most of the dialogue that I’ve seen already around this is dominated by trans masculine folks, so I wonder how we can take up a little less space and ask more questions and talk about this in ways that are relevant to other folks. Or maybe it’s just a very trans masculine issue, and there’s nothing wrong with that really—it just could mean that the conversation is a bit different.

Regardless, I’m curious about why this is so centered on masculinity, and if that’s because of old fashioned sexism and overvaluing the masculine (which is my guess). Still gathering more data about this.

I’m also curious about server’s experiences of this, if you all have been corrected and what you’ve done about it, and where that form of address comes from.

This is not a conclusion

This is not the end of my thoughts about this, but it’s a start. I am curious to see these cards gaining in popularity and making the rounds, and glad to see a second version of them made. I definitely plan to carry some around with me.

The Best Queer Sex Blogs

A friend of mine emailed me this week asking for recommendations for other queer erotica online. I emailed her back with some links off the top of my head, but I’ve been pondering this question since then … where ARE all the queer sex bloggers? The ones who write erotica, I mean, not the ones who are writing sex commentary (because there are certainly some of those) or about butch/femme culture (ditto some of those) or who are reviewing toys (also some good ones) or are actual video/photographic porn (yay, but not erotica) or who aren’t writing anymore (there are a few who haven’t updated in years).

Kinkly has a top sex bloggers ranked list, but they don’t specify if they’re queer or not, or what kind of sex blog it is—and most of the ones at the top are sex toy blogs.

So here’s some recommendations of my personal favorite places to go read smutty erotica words written by and about queers. Am I missing anyone? Leave comments with recommendations, please!

1. BD Swain, www.bdswain.com

stare-hard-1

From the micro-stories on her Instagram to the longer works on her blog, BD Swain has written some of my favorite smut ever. Mostly butch/femme, but switchy, and includes some other pairings occasionally.

Excerpt from Stare Hard:

My fingers on her panties, pushing between her lips, feeling the wet lace between her legs. My own wet fingers on my belt buckle. Feeling like there’s no time. Not enough time. For hours, all night, not enough. Her skin is so soft. I stare down at her as I trace the outlines of her body with my fingertips. Sliding my fingers down each leg and back again to her pussy. “Spread your legs wider,” I say, bending over, “Let me smell you.”

Also, if you like BD’s dirty photos, pick up her custom deck of poker cards. So hot.

2. Xan West, xanwest.wordpress.com

ShowYourselftoMe

Mostly they write about writing erotica, and there are not as many actual erotic stories on their site, but there are excerpts from their upcoming novel “Shocking Violet.” Definitely check out his new book Show Yourself To Me (there’s one story from that book on Sugarbutch, called “The Tender Sweet Young Thing”).

Excerpt from A Tease from Shocking Violet:

She laughed. “So you want a free show, hmm? Well let me do it right, then.” And she slowly peeled off her high-necked black cat sweater. Jax stilled, stopped breathing. A couple of thick straps held up a gorgeous neckline. He could see her bare throat, and her arms. All that skin and ink. And her cleavage…damn. Fuck if she didn’t shimmy again for him, all tease and arched back, a wicked grin on her face.

“Don’t forget to breathe, honey,” she drawled.

She was right. He wasn’t fucking breathing. He licked dry lips and tipped his glass to her before taking a swallow of cool water.

3. Words Can Be Sexy, wordscanbesexy.com

queer quickies

Written by non-monogamous, trans, queer femme Olivia Dromen, hir work is incredibly sexy and detailed and well-written and full of genderqueerness. This is a new link for me, so I’m excited to dive into the archives and devour it all.

Excerpt from [Short] Overwhelmed:

“Take off your panties and lay down across my knee.” Zir voice is very calm, as if this is something we do every day.

It isn’t.

Ze pats zir knees with both hands.

4. Kyle, www.butchtastic.net

cropped-KyleBrowngradient

Butch/femme, butch/butch, writings about gender … Kyle has been one of my favorite bloggers since he started Butchtastic.

Excerpt from I Know What You Been Doing:

“I found your magazines, girl. Found your nasty magazines with their sticky pages. I know what you do with those magazines.” My hips are pressing a little harder against your ass. The hand around your waist has dropped a bit lower, my hand now resting on your thigh. My other hand is tightening slightly across your throat. You squirm against me with a groan. ”You like lookin’ at those men with their cocks hangin’ out, don’t you? You look at those dirty pictures and rub your naughty cunt, don’t you?”

“Daddy… I’m sorry… what… what are you going to do to me?” The mixture of anticipation and fear in your voice makes my clit pulse.

5. Trans Fag Sex Journals, transfagssexjournals.blogspot.com

From the description: “two transfags of color living in a big city, exploring safe anonymous play with bio-boys.” This is new to me, and doesn’t have updates since 2014, but the archives are rich and interesting.

Excerpt from the threesome:

we move to my bedroom. i lie back and my regular begins sucking me off. bottom boy drops his cock into my mouth and i blow him. then they switch places i suck my regular’s cock while bottom boy blows me. i grab condoms. my regular moves between my legs and pushes into me. i sit up so i can suck his boy’s cock while he fucks me. this goes on for a while then my regular asks bottom boy if he wants to fuck me. he nods.

67. Rebekah Weatherspoon, www.rebekahweatherspoon.com/blog

Rebekah doesn’t have a lot of stories online, but she has tons of ebooks and they’re fantastic. Her book “At Her Feet” is a Mommy/girl story, and it’s fantastic. She’s also an avid erotica reader and has tons of recommendations of other titles, and also runs WOC in Romance, highlighting romance written by women of color (not queer, but important!).

7. Kiki Delovely, kikidelovely.wordpress.com

Kiki’s work is mostly in erotica anthologies, but she does have some excerpts on her blog.

Excerpt from Yes, Daddy:

“I’m going to have to shove my big, hard cock inside of you and fuck you until you’re screaming out in pain, our guests watching and waiting. After that, I’ll leave you to them, allowing them to do with you as they please.”

“NO, Daddi!” I cry out before I can catch myself. Your free hand lands severely on my ass, harder this time, my body uncontrollably releasing a violent jerk as I swallow the pain.

“You will take your punishment like a good grrl.”

8. Jen Cross, writingourselveswhole.org

Jen has run Writing Ourselves Whole, writing workshops “at the intersection of sex and trauma,” for a decade, and her work is phenomenal. She doesn’t have a lot of her erotic writing online, but she did undertake a masturbation May project, We Can Come Home, a few years back and that is fascinating to read. Her work explores the very complicated intersection of desire and healing, and much of it is explicit.

Excerpt from Opening the Throat:

Today I did it the new way, me in my shower, back bent against the porcelain, shower head switched to massage and held between my legs, the water hot as I can stand it. I say, Good morning, body. This is for us today. I say, thank you. I float into the conversation with my mother, then pull myself back. That was last night, that was another moment, that is not what I’m here for now. Now I’m in the bliss of your mouth (the water is so much easier to make into a mouth than the vibrator — a new development for my fantasy life), maybe we’re at a fancy bathroom at a fancy party and you shift aside my long skirt to find stockings, garter belt — and nothing else. Then you are asking me to sing, and I moan into the white quiet of my bathroom. I get loud, breathe hard, cry out, oh my god oh my god oh my god. This is a new way, too.

9. Jack Stratton, www.writingdirty.com

Jack writes mostly m/f erotica—and some of my very favorite smut of all time—but he also has a variety of gay erotic pieces, which I find complex and interesting. Not exactly a queer erotica writer, but he’s pretty queer, and you might find things you like in his extensive archives.

Excerpt from The Shaving Lesson:

“You just keep watching her finger fuck herself. You keep your eyes on her and then it doesn’t make it gay that I’m jerking you off,” Adam teased with a cruel laugh.

Henry felt the fear mix with a little anger. It felt like Adam was reading his mind and laughing at him.

“I’ll let you know when I think of an excuse that will keep you straight while you suck my cock.”

10. Benji Bright, Underwear Tales

Benji-Bright-by-Johnny-Murdoc-1
Benji Bright’s work was recommended to me by Xan West, and I’m very glad to have discovered it. He has many stories in anthologies and, recently, his own short story collection Boy Stories.

From He Doesn’t Want to Call It What It Is:

He doesn’t want to call it what it is. The words nag at him, but it is easy to shake them off when there’s someone else’s tongue pressed hard against him, slavering, and using the mouth to which it’s attached in order to shape filthy words: ‘I’m going to use your hole,’ ‘I’m going to fill you up with my spit and cum,’ ‘I’m going to fuck you like the beast you are.’

11.

Giselle Renarde, Donuts and Desires

giselle
I adore Giselle Renarde’s work. She is in dozens of anthologies, and has an elaborate page of free smut online at her blog.

From Prude’s Failsafe Advice for Eating Ass:

With a giggle and a growl, Gloria went at my hole like crazy. She licked it up and down, then swirled around in circles. She was forceful about it, too. When she thrust her tongue into my ass, my soul just about jumped from my body. I watched her do it, and still I was in disbelief. If it wasn’t for that slip of latex separating her from me, I’d never have let her do this. I didn’t mind so much, though, knowing she was tasting raspberry and not me.

Gloria made happy noises as she lunged at my ass, fucking me with her tongue. It felt fat inside me, with far more girth than her finger. As she went at me, I reached for my clit and found it engorged, my pussy dripping with juice.

Bonus

  • Also check out the guest post section here on Sugarbutch – mostly the guest posts include the authors I’ve mentioned above, but you still might find something exciting.
  • Someone suggested Archive of Our Own, which is primarily fan fiction but includes quite a bit of queer erotica if you’re willing to dig through the archives.
  • There are a few internet archive sites of erotica that include queer work, like Nifty, which is exclusively LGBT, Literotica, and Lust Stories, but the quality is very hit-and-miss.

There MUST be other gay boy erotica blogs out there, but I don’t know them. I mean there must be other queer erotica blogs in general—please tell me this list is incomplete! Honestly, I have been looking and asking on Twitter & Facebook and this is the best of the best that I can come up with. Who have I missed? Do you write erotica & share it online?

Please let me/us all know in the comments!

The Exact Right Word: National Coming Out Day and Chosen Identities

For #nationalcomingoutday, here are some words I use to describe myself and some identities that I have actively cultivated:

white
butch
queer
writer
survivor
genderqueer
masculine of center
poet
teacher
bookworm
introvert
HSP
hedonist
working artist
social activist
able bodied
Pacific Northwestern American
Daddy
Master
cock-centric
college educated
2nd generation woo
Buddhist
foodie

For a while, I kept a list of words in the back of my journal, making a note to myself anytime I heard myself say, “I’m a _____.” I would write it down and think about it, pondering if I really am that thing or if it was a passing moment of identifying as such. Some of the words that came out of that are survivor, introvert, and hedonist, as well as the more often-used social justice ones, like butch and queer and dyke and gendequeer.

There are some other words—like lesbian, dyke, and trans—that are almost the right word, and which I sometimes use and sometimes identify with, but that aren’t always precisely right.

There are a few more that are complex and I hesitate to list, like yogi and tantrika, because while I do practice yoga and tantra, I haven’t quite been able to reconcile the cultural appropriation that surrounds me with those activities enough to be comfortable to use the identity labels to refer to myself. (So for now, I go with 2nd generation woo.)

There are a few more that I aspire to, but don’t quite have yet … like gardener and runner, which are identities in progress but not quite integrated. I do have a garden (finally!!), but I frequently forget about it. And I did run two 5k races in the past two years (hurrah!) but again, that habit doesn’t feel consistent, and isn’t quite an identity yet, just an occasional burst of interest.

And what’s the word for someone who tends to be depressed, or who struggles with depression? I don’t quite want to say neurodivergent or depressive, those seem too intense. Something a little more mild that says that I tend toward internalizing emotions rather than externalizing, and tend toward feeling down rather than feeling up (anxious). Or maybe this is a case where I have to reclaim a word, or use something that seems overly harsh and is misunderstood (like depressive).

There’s a lot to think about on National Coming Out Day … I’m particularly interested in identities, and what we call ourselves, and how we claim our power in these words and communities, but I also recognize that for many people, being associated with the identities that have marginalized them feels an awful lot like being marginalized all over again.

I believe that we should find the precise right words that are big enough to contain all the multitudes of us, and not sacrifice our selves to fit into labels which constrict. I believe the identity should conform to us, that we shouldn’t conform to it. And I believe that labels and identities and words that describe ourselves should always be the starting place, not the ending place, of the conversation—a place of opportunity to know more and ask questions and listen, not a place to fill in our own assumptions and determine the truths of others.

I’ll leave you of the Mark Twain quote: “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between the lightning and the lightning-bug.”

What identities do you claim? What words do you use to define yourself?

“Submission is mine to define for myself.” Interview with Miss Piggy

Miss Piggy was a player in Submissive Playground in 2014, and is signed up to join us again. She is the Social Activities Director of the Society of Janus in San Francisco.

What did you like about the course? What parts of it stand out?

There were a lot of things I liked about the course, but the first that stands out for me is that I felt like Mr. Sexsmith led me through a lot of pondering that I hadn’t done yet, about a variety of topics. I was still/am still very new, and it gave me an organized, thoughtful approach to my own kinks and interests. The quality of the materials was very high – the videos were very informative and entertaining, and I haven’t seen that caliber elsewhere. Mr. Sexsmith and rife are also “informative and entertaining” – you can really see how beautiful and thought-out their relationship is and how that shapes their perspectives.

The other aspect that was very special was the camaraderie with subs from all over the world. Everyone was so different in terms of their dynamics, orientation and interests, but each person was more fascinating that the last! Having people video chat and tell their stories was so cool. I might pay to do the class again just so I can learn from all the next group’s stories.

What drew you to Submissive Playground? Where were you before you took the course?
I was a fairly new submissive when I found out about the Playground. I was reading everything I could get my hands on, taking classes, and getting involved in the local scene. But I needed more, and everything I read pointed me to the Submissive Playground (especially the idea of homework).

What was your favorite part of the experience?
Hearing from submissives of every gender and orientation from all over the world. Having someone share a deep, dark scary secret and several of us all piping in “ME TOO!”

What did you learn?
I learned that I am ok as the submissive I am, and I can strive to become the submissive I want to be. It’s not about the end game, it’s about the journey. The Playground was an important part of that journey.

What kind of skills did you build?
Discovering what kinds of service are important to each of my partners and following through on those things, instead of making myself crazy trying to be perfect with things they couldn’t care less about. And flirting with Tops and Sadists and Dominants (oh my!) while still feeling submissive.

What changed with your relationship to submission?
Realizing it was mine (and my partners) to define for ourselves – there isn’t a right answer.

What changed with your relationship to your dominant?
Watching the assigned videos with Him, or sharing specific readings, was the best part. Further opening lines of communication – me finding my voice to say that something wasn’t working for me (bad pain versus good pain, suffering for His pleasure versus being miserable). Even for a strong, alpha submissive like myself, those are hard things to say aloud to a partner.

What in you feels stronger now than it did before the course?
My trust in my own gut to know when a relationship or scene isn’t right for me. My confidence that as a fat, middle-aged masochist submissive cis-woman, I am a hot catch for the right people and anyone who earns my service or submission better be damn worth it.

How & why would you recommend this to other submissives?
While I got lots of answers to my unresolved questions from this class, I felt more focused on the wonderful questions it brought to my attention. I found myself wandering my neighborhood caught up in a question that came up on a phone call or in one of the videos.

If you are intelligent, thoughtful, submissive (or might be), curious and ideally witty, I think you’ll get a lot out of it, even if it’s not what you think you’ll get out of it. It’s really a bit of a journey – I’m glad I took it seriously.


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7 Tips For Flirting As A Submissive

One of the most common questions I get asked from submissives is, “How do I flirt with dominants!?” And while learning some basic flirting tips (like: be curious and ask questions, give compliments, be honest) can be helpful, when you add D/s into the equation sometimes the rules are a little bit different.

Part of the confusion is that we associate flirtation with assertion—someone comes along, declares interest, and asks for what they want. Those can be seen as dominant traits. But it is absolutely possible for a submissive to do them, and to still come across as submissive and respect the dominant’s authority as a dom.

So, assuming that you’ve already established that you are submissive and the person you’re flirting with is a dominant, here’s some tips. (These are some of the things that would work for me.)

1. Establish whether or not they want to be flirted with.

This might seem obvious, but it’s multi-faceted. You gotta figure out if they are available or not—if their relationship allow for flirtation with other people. It might be as simple as figuring out whether or not they are single, but being partnered doesn’t necessarily mean that they can’t flirt—it just depends on whether their relationship allows for flirtation or not. And you might also see whether their relationship only allows flirting, and not going any farther than that—which may change your opinion on whether or not you want to flirt, depending on what the goal of your flirting is.

Secondly, you have to figure out if they are available or not right now, meaning if the timing is right. If I’m about to teach a workshop, for example, I am way less likely to respond well to flirtation than if I’ve just ended a workshop. How do you know if the timing is okay? Well, you can always ask—”So, is this a good time to flirt with you?” “Got a minute to flirt with me?” “Hey, if this isn’t a good time, could we set aside some time later and flirt maybe?”

2. If they have a submissive already, befriend them.

While you’re asking around about whether they’re available, also ask whether or not they already have a submissive—then, make friends with the sub. Ask if there’s any service you can do, if there’s some interesting talent or skill you can offer, or what other expression of interest would be welcome. If you establish yourself as aware of the hierarchy in the relationship that already exists, you’ll be a lot less threatening to the submissive, and they are way more likely to hook you up with tips and tricks to get the dominant’s attention.

3. Offer to be of service.

“May I ____ for you?”

As a friend of mine put it, “May I ____ for you?” This is where your keen observational skills can give you big points: if you notice some of the things they always do and offer to do it for them, you put yourself in the position of being very helpful. If being observational isn’t your strong point, offer some of your own impressive skills or talents: May I black your boots, may I gift you some peanut butter cookies that I made.

4. Use their title.

Using words that remind you both of the hierarchies that you like to play with can be a big turn-on, which is always a bonus when you’re trying to be flirtatious. Do some observation, and ask around, and see what kind of titles this person likes to use.

But, don’t use their relational titles. Some people have titles that they only use with a particular person, and those can be way too personal and intimate to use with a new person. Then again, some folks have “Daddy” or “Mistress” right there on their name tag or in their Fetlife user name, and everybody refers to them as such.

There’s no hard and clear rule about which titles are relational and which are respectful, so you kind of have to feel it out for yourself. In general, I’d say “Sir” and “Ma’am” are the most widely acceptable, but those are not universally liked by everyone. You can always slip it into a sentence and then ask permission: “I’d love to get your drink, ma’am—may I call you ma’am?” Hopefully, they’ll respond with the thing they would like to be called, if you guess incorrectly.

5. Be willing to be wrong.

Be willing to hear no. Be willing to be corrected if you make assumptions or mistakes. You might call them by a title and they might correct you—that’s okay. Say, “Sorry about that; thank you for the permission to call you sir.” Being corrected means you are worthy of correction, and it’s a good sign.

Putting yourself out there means taking risks, and when you’re the person who is initiating the flirtatious interaction, it’s kind of up to you to put yourself in a vulnerable position first.

6. Ask for what you want.

And be honest! Don’t ask to black their boots if that’s not your thing, don’t ask for them to beat you if you’re not into receiving sensation. Ask for what you actually want.

It’s always okay to ask for something, but it’s important that you are willing to hear any possible answer to your ask.
The context of your ask is important. If you can do that thing right there and then and it’s appropriate, it’s appropriate to offer it or to ask for it. So if you’re at a kink retreat, it is probably appropriate to offer a blow job or request to receive a spanking, but it wouldn’t be appropriate to ask for those things if you’re out at a bar (unless, you know, being crass and direct is one of your tactics—in which case, it could work! But know that it’s higher risk.)

It’s always okay to ask for something, but it’s important that you are willing to hear any possible answer to your ask. Of course, we want the answer to be an emphatic “yes,” but it isn’t always. If you’re going to get a little crushed if they say no, perhaps pre-plan the ask to have a friend around after who is willing to comfort you or perk you up.

Use your keen powers of observation and assess what kind of person this dominant is: Do they have public scenes at parties, or are they mostly private? Do they flirt and socialize a lot, or do they tend to keep to themself and their close people? Tailoring your asks to what you notice about the dominant makes it more likely for them to say yes.

7. Offer your contact information.

Assuming you are flirting now with the intention of following up for even more later, offer your info: Your Fetlife account, your cell number, your email address—however you want them to get in touch with you. Giving them your contact information gives them the power to follow up or not. Plus, it puts your vulnerability into a sexy framework: the potential to continue the flirtation, and possibly even more.


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Featured image from Crash Pad Series Episode #188, Valentine & Ember.

You’ll Never Find the Perfect Dominant

You’re right: You won’t ever find a dominant who is your most perfect match.

If you listen way down deep, there’s a voice telling you that. You have very particular needs, desires, cravings, and your submission is demanding, sometimes feeling endless. You want and want and want, and who can fill that up with anything that leaves a mark? You won’t ever find someone as good as your ex. You won’t ever find someone as good as the person who introduced you to submission, who whispered those most perfect dirty things in your ear and told you to get on your knees. You will come on too strong to the next sexiest person you’ve ever seen and they will whisper to their friends about how much you “aren’t a real submissive” or are “topping from the bottom.” You are too much. Too big. Too thick. Too mouthy. Too bratty. You will never get your needs met. You will never find someone who matches your particular specialties in submission, your unique perspectives on service and masochism and giving over your body and will and all the dirt under your fingernails. Your dirty hands are too dirty. Your dirty mind is too dirty. Your next dominant just wants to sit on the couch and have you pour more wine, and where does that leave you? You have to wait, to beg, to crave touch, to sit still with skin hunger that may feel like it will devour you, to be disappointed.

You won’t find the perfect dominant for you.

Unless you Do The Work.

Look at the parts of yourself that are yours and only yours. Excavate some of those unknown places until you can see around them and know why they’re there. Acknowledge what it is that you want and what it is you just won’t settle for, and you will have a much better chance to find (and be) the right partner. Until you know what you want, you may not find it. Until you look deep at your part in your patterns, you will probably keep repeating them. Until you fill your own holes, you may continue to have a bottomless pit of desire and need that you think can only be filled by another person. Define your own cosmology of icons and worship and desire. Define your own dictionary of touch and connection and intimacy. Write the perfect love letter to the universe detailing all of the amazing things you secretly wish hope dream for in a lover and mail it off on the wind to fall and float down a waterfall. You can do it. You have wells of untapped strength.

Submissives are the strongest people I know.

Your demands are reasonable. Your desires are reasonable. Your wants are reasonable. Your unique particular weirdo gender is reasonable, and beautiful. Your too-much-ness is exactly the reason why you will be wanted, why you will be craved when you are not around, why someone who doesn’t even know you is craving you right now.

There is nothing wrong with you, or with the kind of submission that you most secretly, way down in your bones, seek.

I do actually believe that. But you have to believe it, too.

And then you have to go after it, with such vigilance that you won’t accept no for an answer, and your own no is an eager blade to get anything not serving your journey out of the way. Take up arms. Take up protest. Take up your favorite friends as armor, as council, as confidants. Take up your rightful space in the room. Take more dessert than you were served. Take the most amazing gift of yourself to the person who really could use it, right now, today.

Take the next step.

Queer Masculinity in Porn: Heavenly Spire, Stepfather’s Secret, & More

Weekly, rife and I have a private little ritual on Saturday mornings where we make pancakes and watch porn. I’m not sure exactly how it started, we probably did that one Saturday and decided we should do it again. (I have discovered that I don’t really like watching porn while I’m eating, it makes my mouth feel all weird. So the porn and pancakes are separate. Just in case you were wondering.)

I don’t have much of a history of boy-on-boy action, but being involved with this boy has made me more curious about gay porn. I’ve watched a lot of queer porn over the years, with lots of trans folks and genderqueer hotties and butches and femmes, but not a lot of cis guys. (Also, have you noticed that porn with trans women is kind of booming? Maybe it’s just because I started following Chelsea Poe, but I am really inspired by the activism and visibility that’s been happening. And the fucking hotness.)

So the boy and I have been exploring all sorts of fag porn, looking into the things we think we’d like, from leather BDSM porn to daddy/boy explorations.

So far, Stepfather’s Secret on men.com has been my favorite, though “Sexual Education” with James Darling and Allen Silver on Pinklabel also stands out.

I’m surprised how much tenderness is depicted. I suppose partly it’s because of the genres I’ve been primarily watching—leather and daddy/boy—I think those tend to be more tender than average. But I’ve been really touched by the variety of depictions of masculinity.

I’ve also noticed the wide range of types of bodies. Perhaps it’s that the big-ness of men and masculine bodies is what’s fetishized, while with women (and feminine bodies) usually the slightness, thinness, and smallness is fetishized, but I’ve been enjoying seeing the sizes depicted as desirable and sexy.

(I still struggle with this, personally, around my own body. Sometimes I can fetishize the size—that I’m kind of big, thick, heavy, whatever word you want to use—but most of the time I feel bulky and awkward. I know rife and other lovers I’ve had have specifically commented on my size or shape as desirable, so it’s not that I don’t exactly see it reflected, but I don’t feel it. I remember the relief of starting to shop in the men’s department: I went from an XL in women’s to a M or S in men’s, and that just felt like such a more accurate size for me. Plus, the clothes fit my body better, or fit my energetics better, or something, and wow it was such a relief. It’s been more than 15 years now since I officially made that transition to butch.)

Maybe the tenderness in gay porn shouldn’t be surprising, particularly as most of my critique of masculinity comes from the male gender role that tends to be heteronormative, but as a queer feminist butch dyke, I’ve often been critical of the gay depictions of masculinity too, and made assumptions that it was more like the normative male gender role than it was radical and transgressive. But hey, I like to be wrong about things like that! (And certainly there’s plenty of gay porn that reinforces normative gender roles—I just happened not to pick it up during porn and pancakes, apparently. I’ll try harder.)

Really my first introduction to depictions of masculinity in porn was through Heavenly Spire, launched in August 2010 by filmmaker Shine Louise Houston, the director and producer behind the revolutionary queer porn Crash Pad Series. Heavenly Spire is short films, released on Sundays (get it? Spire? Heavenly?) devoted to all kinds of men and their sexuality.

At the time, it was new, raw, and beautiful—and it still is. I don’t know about you, but watching it over the past few years has changed the way I think about male sexuality and erotics.

I interviewed Shine for Carnal Nation when it was first released, but Carnal Nation has since folded and the interview is now only found in the wayback machine. So here it is, reprinted, because the first volume of Heavenly Spire has been compiled and is available from PinkLabel.tv—and it is stunning.


Heavenly Spire: Interview with Shine Louise Houston

Reprinted from Carnal Nation, August 2010

Filmmaker Shine Louise Houston, who brought you the queer porn Crash Pad Series web episodes and the feature-length films Champion, The Wild Search, and Superfreak, has started a new online web project depicting masculine sexualities in a visual medium. Heavenly Spire began in late July. I gladly sat down for a long-distance chat with her about the new site, masculinity, the personal things that had to happen in order for her to embark on this project, and what’s next for her and her growing companies.

Sinclair: I’m excited about Heavenly Spire, the new project! I haven’t seen behind the scenes yet, but the stuff that’s up is lovely.
Shine: The format is different from Crash Pad Series; there are no interviews, no behind the scenes. I’m not too sure if I’m going to do that, I’m going to see how the site goes. We shoot lean on this project, there’s not a whole lot of extras.

What do you mean by lean? You don’t spend a lot of time sitting around, hanging out with them, asking them what they think about sex?
Yeah. The interviews I do for Heavenly Spire are more really about delving into what their sexualities are, what their turn-ons are, has it changed over the years, what do they do now, physically what do they like about themselves, or physically what do they like about each other. I’m approaching it from a totally different angle than I approached Crash Pad Series.

Is that angle also about a focus on masculinity?
Yeah, I really wanted to start thinking about masculinity, and asking whether masculine sexuality is different. Heavenly Spire is a personal project for me. Accepting my own masculinity has really allowed me to feel okay with desire for masculine people. Exploring it on the site really looks at male bodies the way I want to. Maybe not everybody feels the way I do, but this is good for me. For a long time, I just didn’t get guys. But as I got more comfortable, I realized they’re not that different, and they’re not all that scary, and actually they’re pretty cool. And actually, penises are pretty cool. But it’s been a long process, and eventually bringing that to the screen is just where the process is supposed to go.

It makes sense that you would take your own creative medium to explore that sort of thing. What about your own personal masculinity process? What has that looked like for you? Has it been a long time coming, have you always been a tomboy?
It’s been a long process, definitely influenced by time and location. I grew up as a tomboy, but I also remember having favorite dresses. In my twenties, I definitely knew that I liked girls, and I was into the dyke/lesbian identity, but at the time – this was the early 90s in southern California – it was very much anti-butch/femme, pro-androgyny, and that had an influence on me. It was a very cool scene, and things were very open about sexuality. But right after that, mid-90s, I moved to San Francisco, and at that time, it was this huge butch/femme revival.

I knew I was definitely not femme, but I felt a lot of pressure to be one or the other. So the kind of masculinity I kept bumping into within that community was this really intense macho masculinity. I realized trying to put on that performance, that I’m not very macho. I’m really a fag. I went through my fag period, where I dated other fag dykes, but then I think the next big jump for me was realizing that I was into femmes! I remember looking at this girl, and her earrings, and they were kind of … bouncing. And it clicked. So that started me exploring a more masculine, pansexual identity. I’m definitely on the more masculine side, I’m kind of swishy, and I definitely like femmes. In the last six or seven years, I’ve really become comfortable with where I am: my masculinity, my sexuality. I needed to have a strong root in masculinity in order to take on a project and not be freaked out.

Freaked out by worrying about what you were going to be depicting, or not being solid enough in it?
And just not being intimidated by guys! At this point I’m so comfortable with myself, I’m not intimidated to ask guys to take their clothes off.

Do you think the recent work on masculinity has set the stage for this kind of project to be launched? It seems time-specific to me, that maybe we didn’t have enough radical depictions of masculinity, especially not of male sexuality, even four or five years ago.
Yeah, the queer movement, the trans movement – all of the work is completely reshaping what we think about sexuality and how we manage that in our lives. There’s a lot more acceptance for genderqueer and performative genders. The project is a lot about timing—a lot of people have done tremendous work at softening up the ground for it to come along.

Going back to my personal experience, I’m affected by all the waves of thought that have been coming through the Bay Area. There are a lot of people in the porn community who are really changing how they depict sexuality, whether it’s gay, straight, lesbian, bi. This is a drop in the bucket of a larger movement that is sweeping across the porn industry. When I went to Berlin for the porn film festival, I really felt that. I’m not alone, this is going to explode across the industry. And when I got back to the United States, it seemed like maybe it wasn’t here yet, but it’s coming.

It definitely seems like we still need work on the depiction of masculinity in porn.
Definitely. There’s also a new project I’m going to start working on in August that’s definitely going to challenge male homophobia while at the same time satisfying homosexual desire in men who might not otherwise get to experience it. There’s going to be some interesting stuff happening in the next year.

Do you expect some backlash for this? Have you had backlash for including cis men, like Micky Mod, in Crash Pad?
We have a very polite question in the forums in Crash Pad Series, and before I even had the chance to respond, other members of the site said pretty much everything I would have said. And the person who asked the question responded, “Oh, okay.”

And that was it?
Yeah, that was it! I was at the last Feminist Porn Awards, in Toronto, and they screened that scene, Mickey and Shawn. And I answered some questions about them, everybody seemed to like it. But then it won the Viewer’s Choice Award! So I thought, okay, the audience is listening! They loved it.

I also wonder if this is more part of queer women’s culture, not necessarily gay culture. A lot of butch women are watching fag porn. When I started out watching porn, my favorite pornos were fags. This community has been able to really transcend their fantasies, so they can apply to any type of body. They aren’t restricted to just one. In gay culture, which I’m learning more about, they don’t watch dyke porn. We watch fag porn, but they don’t watch dyke porn. So there’s a realm that they haven’t gone into yet, they haven’t applied their fantasies to different bodies yet. Heavenly Spire looks at masculine people, but not every male has a dick. So this is about pushing their boundaries, pushing the male viewer boundaries. I bet they’ll think it’s hot. We’ll see—the site’s been up less than a month.

I’ve only seen the clips so far, and the clips are teasers, but it seems a little less focused on cock-centricity than I would have imagined.
Well—it’s definitely about cock. But what I really want to capture is a person having a good time, really having genuine pleasure, and to translate that into a visual medium. And it’s about building a narrative about the person’s relationship to their own body or to the other person that they’re having sex with. And I’m just having fun with visual language. It’s true, the trailers are very much teasers, and they don’t give you much.

But they’re beautiful.
The clips are, according to porn standards, a little short, but I’ve been struggling with length. So with this, I decided I’m going to cut it the way I think it should be cut, and I’m editing it so the viewer doesn’t get bored. Really picking out the best parts, and splicing the best parts together into a narrative. Sometimes I feel like, yeah, this thing is half an hour long, but is it pretty, and is it working? So this is a bit of a self-indulgent project, because I’m really letting myself go with my ideas, asking myself, how long should it be? What makes it good?

Do you anticipate it having lots of episodes, like Crash Pad does? Or is it a different structure?
No, we update every Sunday. It’s different from Crash Pad, because each week is something new, there’s no behind the scenes, just something new once a week.

If a new performer is coming in, how do you tell if they’re going to be a good porn star? Did you have a sense that Mickey Mod was going to stick around and be amazing?
Not really. Mostly, we have model applications and if we can make a date, we go for it. Some people who work with us find it fun and want to do it again. Dylan Ryan, Jiz Lee, Shawn [Sid Blakovich] all did Crash Pad, and are now doing awesome stuff. We’re the launching pad! Shoot with us, we’re good people, we’re a good place to start.

Is it easy to pair people together? Or do they do that themselves?
For Crash Pad, I work with a booking company who does all of that now. I used to do that, but it’s work. But Heavenly Spire is a different approach. With men, and a gay site, I’m really interested in getting couples who already know each other and already have that connection. People apply, so if you apply by yourself you’re going to be solo. If you want to perform as a couple you have to apply as a couple. I want to make sure the couples like each other. Especially since so much of the gay male porn is all about fucking, I want this to be about connection. I want to see two big dudes who are totally tender with each other.

Are you finding that guys are interested?
As viewers or as participants? We’ve had a decent amount of model applications. We paused the project for a while, but we started to get this influx of models, both trans men and cis men alike, both solo or couples. I have some speculation about viewers, but I’m not 100% sure who is going to be our audience for this new site. I kind of wonder if it’s not going to be straight guys. I think they’ll like it. But gay men, I’m not sure if they’ll like the format. Possibly straight women as well. I’m not sure how it’s going to shape up.

What else do you still want to film?
I have three features I’d like to do, but right now the company is growing, expanding, changing. We’re kind of in the teenage phase, not super big, but not tiny either. So in the future that’ll help us get more what we want with big features. Right now, we’ve got the web projects going on, short videos, and that’s setting the foundation to create these larger features. We’ve really pushed the limits of what porn is. It’ll be self-evident, when I actually announce those projects.

Do you have an over-arching mission for your work, or goals you set out to accomplish? Or was it born out of a love for filming people fucking?
When I first started filming I didn’t realize this was how the mission statement was going to be, but the mission statement came later: We’re dedicated to making really well produced, beautiful images that represent queer sexuality. That was the driving force, but I continue to push myself as a filmmaker, and pornographer (though I identify less with that word). I want to make good stuff, and I want to make good stuff about sex. Everything I do is moving in that direction.

Do you see it as political and social activism?
It is … and here’s the weird thing. I feel that if I approach it as social activism head on, I’m going to do it wrong. I’ll stick my foot in my mouth! So I internalize my own politics, and turn them to the creative mill, and then spit them out and use them in a project. And that way I fulfill certain goals. But if I say, first, that I’m going to do political activism, then I miss the mark of what I really wanted to accomplish. So I take the personal and churn it through my internal politics, and that moves me in the right direction.

Have you had trouble with BDSM being misconstrued as abuse in your work?
Not from people on the site, but at the film festivals. I was at the Hamburg festival, and people walked out. It seems like that’s prevalent in places where they’re not doing the same things we’re doing here. I get really weird stuff about race, and violence. But I feel like ten years from now, it won’t be a problem.

Do you struggle with taking the criticism personally?
I try not to … I think maybe every six months I Google myself. I can’t do it on a regular basis, I have a fragile ego and I’m harder on myself than anyone. There can be fifty great reviews for what I do, but if there’s one bad one, that’s the one I remember. I try to focus on what’s working. If we keep showing at festivals, and people keep downloading it, somebody must like it.

And if you’re satisfied with the work you’re putting out there, how your art is growing, and if you’re continuing to get opportunities, that might be a better scale. But it’s hard! Especially when the work is so personal, when the work we put out into the world is about our own bodies, and our own desires, and our own deepest, splayed open selves, it can be really easy to take in the criticism.
Yeah.

I ask about the problem with BDSM and abuse because I have actually seen queer porn that triggered me—I’m not easily triggered, it really surprised me. But I don’t see that in your work at all.
It might just be because I have such intense aversions to bleed over. Things stay very clear in my own life. I definitely pay attention. If I ever see something that makes me wince, I know it’s not quite right.

I think that exhausts my questions. Is there anything else I should know?
Check out the site! Check out Crash Pad Series, and the new Heavenly Spire.

I’m looking forward to seeing more on Heavenly Spire. It’s a pleasure to talk to you, thanks so much.

“Healing comes through sex.” Sinclair Sexsmith interviews Sophia Chang

How do I know if this kind of dirty kinky sex is *good* for me? What are the healing aspects of D/s play? What kind of biophysical basis for healing does kinky sex have? And how can the sacral chakra and cellular memory assist with healing, and give your sex life even more power and oomph?

These are the kinds of questions I asked Sophia, and we talk about all this and more in the second video in the Sugarbutch series on mental wellness and kink.

Watch it now!

Can’t get enough of Sophia Chang? Here’s more: http://facebook.com/thesophiachang | http://www.sexmoneyuniversity.com

And if THAT’S not enough, Sophia + I are doing a special Q&A version where we’ll talk about wellness, kink, mental health, liberation, feminism, queerness, straight sex, and even chakras (if you ask). Come join us!

Thursday January 8, 2015
6pm PST, 9pm EST
On Spreecast (link will be sent to you the day of the webinar)
Free! Just sign up below:

(PS: There will probably be flirting.)

Turn Your Rough Fantasies into Responsible Reality

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Everyone has them: Those rough fantasies that involve some sort of thing that you aren’t sure you would ever actually do, but that really, really does it for you. And maybe, just maybe, you would like to explore some of them.

Maybe you even feel a little guilty for liking it so much.

Maybe you really have to shove aside your inner feminist that tells you that the force play and the kind of rough, degrading sex that fill up your rough fantasies are bad and wrong. But there are ways to play with these rough desires that your mind keeps circling around to, and to play with them in responsible, ethical, contained, and safe ways.

Here’s some things to keep in mind.

1. Everybody Fantasizes!

It’s true. Men, women, genderqueer folks, trans and cis folks, lesbians, gay guys, dykes, queers of all flavors and stripes—pretty much all of us have some sort of inner erotic life where we fantasize. I’m of the opinion that anyone who tells you they don’t fantasize is either lying—or, of course, asexual. And it is really, really common to fantasize about things that we might not even want to do, or might not be possible to do.

Still not convinced? Here’s your homework: Read this book—My Secret Garden by Nancy Friday came out in 1973 and details hundreds of women’s fantasies. It’s totally eye-opening, and will help you see how common rough fantasies are.

2. Fantasizing about rough, dangerous things is normal!

Why do we love rough fantasies? Because power. Because the inner wild sexy animal beast isn’t necessarily tamed, and you don’t necessarily want it to be. Because playing deep in your physical body makes us feel really alive, which is really, really sexy.

3. Comfort Your Inner Feminist With Consent & Agency

Consider these concepts: Agency is the ability to have control over your own self, and to decide what happens for yourself. Consent is usually taught as the ability to say no, but it also includes the ability to authentically say yes. And if you buy into these two feminist concepts—which I most certainly do, and which I believe are the foundation of good rough fantasy enactment—you gotta believe that when someone is authentically saying yes to something, authentically and resoundingly consenting, and you trust their agency, then the things the two of you are doing together are not wrong or anti-feminist, but are in fact deeply within a feminist framework. (See what I did there?)

4. Get Brazen & Bold

If you want to turn more of your rough fantasies into reality, it’s really important to figure out how to communicate openly about sex and desire. You gotta be able to talk about what you fantasize about in order to make it happen. If you don’t do this at all right now, start slow—go to a kinky class at your local sex toy store, or read an erotica book aloud.

5. Get Further Involved with the Kink Communities

It helps to feel like this is a normal things to crave, desire, and pursue when the people around you have similar fantasies. And let me assure you: No matter how rough or dirty or perverted or “wrong” your fantasies might be, there is somebody out there with much more rough dirty perverted and wrong fantasies. It is much more likely that you are in the middle of the bell curve, and that your rough fantasies are quite a bit like everybody else’s.

6. Sharpen Your Kick-Ass BDSM Skills

Take it from Napoleon Dynamite: “Girls like guys who have great skills.” (Substitute “people” here and that’s more what I mean cuz I am a queermo like that.)

You can actually do some damage when you’re doing dangerous rough fantastic sexytimes play. Don’t use impact toys that you don’t know how to use, don’t do dangerous play that involves breath or cutting the skin without getting some training. People out there in the kink communities are very, very skilled and experienced, and they can teach you.

If you’re a bottom, and fantasize about wanting to receive some of those dirty dangerous things: Play with trustworthy tops. Build trust slowly before doing extremely risky scenes, or play in public.

7. Don’t Forget Aftercare!

Especially when you’re playing with rough, risky (emotionally or physically), or edgy fantasies, make sure everyone feels good afterward. Check in with each other, schedule some cuddle time or chatting time or casual fun time to connect and bring things up if anything needs talked about. Talk about ways to comfort each other and how best to

Rinse, Lather, and Repeat!

Keep experimenting with your own pleasure. Follow the heat. You may not know where it leads ultimately, but you can usually figure out just the one next step. Listen to your body and your mind and that special inner place in you that knows stuff.

If you learn how to do these rough fantastic things you fantasize about, and communicate openly with folks who will be willing play partners and collaborators in your fantasies, you’ll be responsible AND have some fun hot sexytimes. It really is possible!

Photo from Unsplash


Bonus PS … I am still jerking off to Lust Cinema, my December sponsor on Sugarbutch. Did you find any good ones over there yet?

Follow your own Kinky Desire Map

This past summer, while rife and I were running the Submissive Playground ecourse (which is open for registration for the January 2015 session, btw!), we kept talking about the path that folks take to discover and enhance their kink identities. For example, what sparks the pursuit of kink? How do we go from a dabbler to a connoisseur? How do we make it a priority in our lives in order to get and keep deeply satisfying erotic relationships? Why do so many people struggle to prioritize it? What is the process that happens?

Always the visual processor, rife drew and took notes and drew some more, until he came up with this: the Kinky Desire Map. It’s a map of the process—to the best of rife’s and my ability to express, anyway—of developing a kinky identity and coming into prioritizing kinky desire. This isn’t the process everyone takes, of course, and it’s not necessarily linear, or exhaustive—but I do see a lot of common progressions with all the folks I’ve talked to about identity and kink, so we’ve tried to capture that here.

So how does it work? Let’s break it down! Start at the lower left corner, and follow along.

Subplay kink_exploration
[Download the big version of rife’s image here]

1. Interest! Spark!

This is where it all begins. For so many people, their way into kink is witnessing some sort of kinky act in a book, or a film, and it gets our erotic wheels turning. Sometimes it’s a partner who sparks our interest in something, by making suggestions for ways to play. Or it could be our own mind that comes up with something dirty—who knows where it came from, but it’s just always been there. This is the part where we’re saying, “I’m curious about _____.” The interest could be a secret desire that has been held for a long time, or could have just happened this morning like whoa. The interest and curiosity leads to …

2. Experiments!

This is the time where you play play play, and follow your desire. Sometimes called a “slut phase,” the newness of everything is part of the appeal, and trying even more new things can be a thrill. Experimenting can make more sparks of interest happen, and then you get to experiment with the new spark. Once you’ve done a variety of experiments in a variety of situations with a variety of people, they can lead to actually making conclusions about our desires, what we like and don’t like, and how we’re wired. So this is the phase when we start making declarations: “I like _____.”

3. Pursue your interests!

Find the right tools for the right job.
This is where you know what you like, so you start building your skills and experience. Watch porn. Go to workshops. Take an ecourse. Read erotica. Practice. Find the right tools for the right job. Find a mentor. This is when we can start saying, “I’m pretty good at ____.”

4. Become yourself!

Sometime in here (though not necessarily in this order), some of us start realizing that this isn’t just a thing I do, it could possibly be a thing that I am, and start forming some identity around it. So this is when we start telling others about it in new ways, explaining that I’m not just a weirdo who likes rough sex, I’m a dominant (for example), and I am actually part of an entire rough sex community. Figuring out how you fit into the kinky communities that are out there is part of this. Then, we also start integrating this kinky aspect of ourselves into our identity as a whole. We start saying, “I am _____.”

5. Prioritize your preferences!

This is when we start saying, to ourselves and others, “I need my partners to be ___.”
This is hard, but completely necessary if you’re going to stop dating in the general population and start filtering specifically for your kinks. You’re not nearly as likely to find a submissive girl at the gay bar, for example, as you are if you go to a kinky D/s meetup for queers. If you are prioritizing your preferences strongly, you’ll have to start making some choices about who you want to be playing with and who you’re looking for in the long run. (Of course, some of us are in open relationships, so that “long run” thing applies a little differently.)

6. Pursue it!

Life happens. We don’t stay the same. While we might have one very well-formed kink identity for a while, it might shift. Your partner’s might shift.
If you keep prioritizing your preferences, pursuing your interests, and building your skills, you will find people who can meet you. Don’t settle. You can If you’re going at this kink thing solo, ask yourself: What will I pursue? What will I say yes to? What will I turn down? If you’re in a relationship and trying to pursue more kink, ask: How do our kinks fit? How do I find the overlaps? What do I do about the places where we are incongruous? Talk to each other about what’s going on. Express and share fantasies and keep experimenting and stay open and watch for the changes. Because of course, life happens. We don’t stay the same. While we might have one very well-formed kink identity for a while, it might shift. Your partner’s might shift. Integrate change as best as you can and keep going.

7. Practice, practice, practice!

Life continues, and your Kinky Desire Map does, too. You might have a big breakup—go back to identity and prioritizing yourself and your preferences. You might spice it up with more experiments. You might reach some stagnation and have the identity, but not enough play. Add more experiments! Go back to pursuing interests and keep learning. You’ll find new sparks and start all over again, but this time with more resources, and more foundations. You might fall in love again. You might uncover a whole new slew of kinks you want to pursue. Keep practicing, and advancing your practice, and studying yourself and how you work. Only you are the expert on all of this in your own mind and body and energy, and if you continue to prioritize it and use it as a muscle and a skill, you’ll keep it healthy, and keep growing.

So … Where are you on the map?

Where do you want to be? Where have you been in the past? Maybe it’s time for you to make your own Kinky Desire Map. Figure out where you’ve been, and where you are, and that can help you get to where you want to go.

Secret PS … Thanks to Lust Cinema, my December sponsor on Sugarbutch. If you’re into beautiful feminist women-centric erotic films (cough*porn*cough), go check ’em out.

Things I, as a white sex educator, do to foster inclusivity in this community

On Facebook recently, Mollena asked: “White ‪#‎SexualityEducators‬: what are you doing to actively foster inclusivity? Diversify your audience? Support your Peers of Color?” [link.] I’ve been writing and writing and thinking about all of the things I’ve been reading and digesting around #blacklivesmatter and race and inclusion, and this question got me thinking hard, and answering with some clarity, and identifying some places I need to keep working.

1. Read, read, read.

And listen. And pay attention. And shut up. And witness. And try to learn, and unlearn.

2. Pay attention to whose voices I amplify.

I have a small reach, a small field of folks who read what I share, and I pay attention to what I put into that sphere and recommend. When I don’t pay attention, I tend to stay within my white privilege bubble and retweet, link to, and recommend other white folks. This is not because people of color are not saying things that are relevant to me (and to you all) or that they are not brilliant—because duh, they are. Rather, I think I do this because of my personal (and often invisible to me) bias of whiteness. It takes conscious work for me to not default to whiteness, but I want to change that. So I pay attention to who I share and follow and who I surround myself with.

3. Decline to participate in (unconsciously) all-white spaces and events and publications and projects.

To be fair, I’ve only declined a few times, and this is something I’m working on improving. I don’t always think to ask who else is in the book or on the panel before I say yes, especially if it’s something I know of and admire. But recently, a sex education book came out with twenty photos of the white faces of contributors on the back, and Aida Mandulay called it out and WOC Sexual Health Network followed up, it is incredible to me that nobody noticed that before publication, or that if they did, nobody worked to change it. However, I am sure I have been in anthologies that were all-white, but since most of my publications are erotica, photos of the authors are included very rarely. And the sexuality education field is incredibly dominated by white folks (because most fields are, because racism). Personally, I have noticed often recently that many of my small group collaborations are all-white, and I need to think about that more (and to keep noticing that most of my communities are white, and work on the underlying issues of why that is).

4. I pay attention to the language I use.

As a genderqueer non-binary person and a feminist queer, I know how much language matters. I pay deep attention when someone talks about racist language—mine or others—and I do my best to pay attention to the words I use, their origins, and their uses.

a) I love reclaimed language, but when there are words that have been used against a minoritized group, I recognize that I don’t have a claim to use them. I can reclaim words that have been used against me. As such, there are certain words I just don’t use, whose histories are too controversial, and whose communities I respect.

b) There are a lot of words that have snuck into our language which have oppressive and racially-based origins, and often I’ve just never thought about it or made the connection. Recently, with the protests in Oakland and Berkeley, my neighbors and I have watched a lot of the live feeds, and have seen the police show up with “paddy wagons,” and then we all had a brief chat about how that is a derogatory slur referring to Irish folks, and tried to figure out what else to call them instead. And when I hear folks use the word “gypped” to refer to being ripped off (which happens more often than I’d expect) I remind them that comes from the oppression of Roma people. Often, people reply with things like, “Oh yeah, right, I never really thought of that …”

c) Know the words I use and where they come from. The queer reading series I co-hosted and -produced with the late Cheryl B from 2010-2011 was called “Sideshow,” and once, a colleague pointed out that the “sideshow” has a pretty terrible history of showing off the “freaks,” and that they wouldn’t be participating. I liked the feel of it at the time, but I wouldn’t use that word again on a project. Especially because I recognize that as an able-bodied and generally mentally well person, it is not my word to reclaim (see 4A), it is my word to respect and stop using (see 4B). See also: Strange Fruit PR Firm [Changes Their Name] After Getting a History Lesson From Twitter.

d) Very deeply engrained in the english language is the dark/light dualistic binary and the use of the concepts of “shadow” and “dark” for bad, unknown, dangerous, and uncharted territory, and of “light” as all things good and holy. I would guess these concepts have more to do with the human psyche than race—however, when used in a racist culture, they reinforce racism subtly and intrinsically. I want to know more about this and do a bit more research on language and archetypes. Meanwhile, though, I am doing my best to avoid the dark/light dualism to stand in for bad/good, particularly when there are thousands of other more thoughtful and interesting metaphors to use.

Language is always changing, and I try to stay flexible in my relationships with words, even if I happen to love them (or have used or over-used them in the past, see 4D). Recently I’ve been discussing the usage of “minoritized” instead of “minority,” for example (still working on that distinction and curious about the reasonings). I’m curious how language changes and moves, how it both reflects and changes culture. This is some of my favorite language-nerdy stuff.

5. I call myself on my privileges.

When I talk about identities as concepts, and my own concepts, I don’t just give my marginalized positions (like queer, kinky, genderqueer, working class, survivor) but I also share the areas where I have privilege and am working to have more awareness (like white, able bodied, american, college educated).

6. When I’m up in front of a group or workshop, I listen when someone challenges my positions, and I call participants out.

I particularly listen when someone challenges me in areas where I am less expertise or have privilege and am less aware of how those oppressive dynamics work. I don’t always know I try to notice it when someone says something that expresses a bias or privilege, and to say something, to call them on it. That’s pretty hard for me and I’m not perfect at it, and I often freeze up or get caught in holding the space of the workshop, and I can’t think of what to say. So I’ve taken to at least saying exactly that: “I heard you just say ___ and I can’t really think of what to say, but I think you have some bias there.” Then I try to move on.

7. I call out (or call in) when I see something.

I do call out when someone I know and feel some closeness with has done something I think has some overlooked bias in it, but I mostly do that privately and offline. I don’t spend much time calling out in the general conversations online, or chiming in when someone else has been called out. I sometimes fear that I should and have some guilt that I should participate in that more, but I also know how I am deeply introverted and more witness is better than more conversations for my energetic ability. I witness other’s calling out constantly and I read read read and listen and try to learn what went wrong, what was going on, and to apply that to my own work. With some folks I’m close to, we have spent a lot of time digesting and thinking about the project and how to do better in the future. See also: Calling In: A Less Disposable Way of Holding Each Other Accountable.

8. When I fuck up, I apologize, listen, fix it (if I can), and do better next time.

There’s a fine balance: I am trying to recognize that we’re all human (including me) and I fuck up sometimes, but not to dwell in the fucking up so much that it makes me paralyzed to keep trying, and to still do the best I can to make up for, apologize for, and understand for my mistakes. I am a creator and I want to make art and writing that reflects culture and my inner world, and a huge piece of that is my desire to make it better through social activism. And because I am making things, not just witnessing and critiquing, I have messed up before and I will mess up again. I am doing my best to be okay with that inevitability, and to know that messing up is a necessary part of the process of trying and improving. I have strategies to both protect myself (and my highly sensitive person / high reactive / intuitive empathetic poet self) but also to listen, learn, back up, integrate changes, apologize, and move forward.

I’m sure there’s more I could do.

I am always pondering the ‘more’ of activism and the new, previously unknown parts of my own privilege to which I am still blind. But for now, this is what I’m doing, and I see a lot of room for growth in just what I’ve laid out here and what I’m already doing.

It’s been very interesting to reflect on what I am doing, actually. Reading the original thread on Mollena’s Facebook page gave me lots of ideas and more insight into how I engage the way I do, and what is good for my particular personality and skills. I’d love to hear what you all are doing, too, if you feel like sharing.

10 Tips for Tops

There are many styles of dominance, mastery, and topping, from the paternal to the viciously mean, but regardless of where you are, I believe you can be better. I believe this exploration of power dynamics can be a spiritually fulfilling path, and that it can lead us to many lessons and areas of growth.

Those of us who are on this side of the D/s slash, we who are the People In Charge, have a lot of challenges to building a healthy version of this identity, particularly when we are doing it in a context of social activism, intersectional oppression, and general awareness of institutionalized power imbalances. Here’s some of the best tips I have for folks who want to up their topping or dominance game, and be stronger, more resilient, and more compassionate while they are pursuing this work.

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Image by rife of Rowdy Ferret Design & Illustration

1. Create a Palette of Permission

If it’s hard for you to figure out what to do in a scene, or if your perfect submissive looks up at you and says, “I’ll do anything you want!” and your mind goes blank, this is a good thing for you to focus on. Create a list, on your own or brainstorming together with your submissive, of things that you know you have permission to do, in general, in periods where you are both your fit and healthy selves. (They may not apply when one or either of you are having an off day, are sick or physically unwell, or in different states of consciousness—like asleep or playing with some substances. They probably also only apply in certain places, like when you two are alone or in kink-friendly events. Check in.) Make a Top Ten list of things that generally your sub really loves and could do over and over and over. Trust that you can return to each of these things hundreds of times before either of you will get bored. There are infinite variations. Bonus tip: Make a wishlist of things you want to include in your Palette, but don’t currently know how to do, and start learning!

2. An On Switch For Your Dominance

Use your favorite words or positions that make you both feel empowered, deliberate, and sexy.
Many tops and dominants who play with power exchange during scenes, but whose reach and sphere of control don’t extend into other areas of their submissive’s life, need a way to have an “on switch” for their dominance (and an “on switch” for their submissive’s submissiveness, too). Consider building a D/s ritual that will, eventually, when repeated enough times, serve like a kind of Pavlovian symbol for you two stepping into those roles, something you both have a visceral response to. This ritual can be things like: You stand and your sub kneels at your feet; Your sub picks three toys and lays them out on the bed, then gets into a “present” slave position, and you enter the room; You recite a back-and-forth agreed upon (simple) phrases or promises to each other. Use your favorite words or positions that make you both feel empowered, deliberate, and sexy.

3. Receiving as a Dominant

Sometimes it seems incongruous to receive sexual touch or services from the top or dominant position. I assure you: this is common and makes a lot of sense. It’s difficult to feel “in control” and also at the same time to relax and receive. (Sidenote: This is at times very related to one’s gender, and one’s amount of stoneness. Most cis male doms—as a stereotype—don’t seem to have a problem receiving blow jobs, for example, do they?) One of the best ways you can work on this is by being very vocal with what you want to receive, and continuing to give orders and corrections and suggestions throughout the process. You also might want to work with physical levels, where you are physically above your submissive, to remind yourself that you are still in charge, even if their fist is in your hole. And read the essay How to Top Your Master by Raven Kaldera. Though it’s directed more at submissives, there are many useful things in there for dominants.

4. Got Guilt? More Aftercare

If you feel guilty after your scenes as a dominant, check in about it. Ask yourself: Did I really want to be doing that? Was I having a good time? Was my partner having a good time? Did we all come away from the scene generally glad the scene had happened? Scenes aren’t always perfect, of course (and aren’t always full of happy smiles and sunshine and rainbows). But generally, did it go well? Did you want to be there? Because honestly, if you feel that much guilt, maybe you didn’t. Maybe you’d be better suited to less psychologically intense play. But if that’s not the case, and you really do want to be there (and your partners eagerly consent, of course), then you gotta deal with that nagging guilt from an internalized prescription of egalitarianism. It’s okay to create the relationship you want to be in. Normalize it for yourself by seeking more D/s community and sharing your experiences with others. And make sure you get enough aftercare yourself. You might need down time after, or quiet private time, or reflective time where your sub tells you all about what they liked and how all those dirty things you did made them feel. Or maybe cuddles. Experiment, and find your best aftercare methods.

5. Build Trust Slowly

Build the trust you need from your submissive to know that they are honest and they can follow through on what they agree to.
D/s and power dynamics are completely built on trust. Thats part of what I love about it: It requires so much deep knowing and intimacy. It takes work to keep it safe, protected, and intact. When the relationship is going well, the work can feel effortless. But this trust doesn’t just show up when a submissive kneels and offers themself to you. You gotta build this trust between you slowly. Most of us do this intuitively, but it’s helpful to do it consciously too. Not only are they building the trust they need from you, since they are putting their body and psyche into your hands, but also you are building the trust you need from them, which includes the ability to trust that they are honest with you if they get overwhelmed or need to stop, trusting they mean what they say, and trusting for them to reach out for support. Trust builds slowly and is earned over time. Don’t rush it.

6. Two-footing a Scene

This is a concept I learned from Xan West, which is the idea that generally, in a scene, the top is completely “in” the scene and present while still holding the boundaries of the negotiated agreement and some awareness of the surrounding space (though whether you’re at a busy dungeon or home alone would make that slightly more or less challenging)—that’s two-footing, being both in the scene and in the reality. Most of the time, it’s just a given that the top is the one who is doing this two-footing. But some activities really cause us tops to lose our footing. (Has that ever happened to you?) Make a list of activities that you think could cause you to tumble so deep into the scene that you have trouble keeping a hold on reality. Lean on your submissive for support, perhaps ask them to hold the boundaries and negotiations of the scene so you can lose yourself. Bonus: Make a list of realities that keep you so engaged that its hard to dive into the scene at all, like for example a crowded dungeon.

7. Recovering from Fuck-ups

Some of us have really strong reactions to fucking something up. We beat ourselves up about it, our confidence crumbles, and we shirk away from whatever it was we fucked up for a long time after. If you want to up your dominant game, you gotta get good at fucking up, because here’s the thing: You will fuck something up. I don’t mean something huge and irreparable (hopefully not), but more so small things that will stop or delay a scene for a while until you can get things back on the rails. The measure of someone (a dominant or partner or sub or just about everybody, I think) isn’t whether or not they fuck up, it’s what they do and how they respond to that fuck-up. So ask yourself: Do you take responsibility? Sincerely apologize? Understand what went wrong? Integrate that into your being so you will remember not to do that same thing again? And then, when the other folks involved are ready to move forward, can you let it go? Work on your ability to recover from fuck-ups and your scenes will be smoother.

8. Dive Deep into Theory

Read all the books and blogs you can get your hands on. Find your local resources and study those, too.
The power exchange subject isn’t an abundant one, but there are books out there, and really good theorists who from whom you should absolutely learn. Raven Kaldera runs Alfred Press, and they have dozens of books about cooperative power dynamics, limitations, and real scenarios for living D/s and M/s. Andrea Zanin’s writing is largely compiled at sexgeek.wordpress.com and every piece is worth reading. (She also has a fantastic list of kink resources, including many specific power dynamic books.) I highly recommend these: 1) Dear Raven and Joshua: Questions and Answers about Master/Slave Relationships by Raven Kaldera and Joshua Tenpenny, 2) Slavecraft: Roadmaps for Erotic Servitude – Principles, Skills and Tools by a grateful slave with Guy Baldwin 3) The Marketplace Series (The Marketplace, The Slave, The Trainer, The Academy, The Reunion and The Inheretor) by Laura Antoniou.

9. You Are Not An Asshole

If you—like me and like many thoughtful, feminist, and sensitive dominants—have fear that what you are doing is “bad” and “wrong” and difficult to reconcile with your moral code, here are some ideas. First, make sure you really understand the concept of agency. You fully trust someone’s no, right? You can trust their yes, too. You can trust that they, not you, know what they want. Second, remember that everyone fucks up, and work on your ability to recover; don’t expect to be perfect and never make mistakes. Third, take a good, strong look at what you think being an asshole in this context would be, and actively work toward not being that. Remember: Most people who actually are assholes do not spend much time worrying about whether or not they are assholes. That you are concerned and aware tells me that it’s 95% likely that you are not an asshole. (That other 5% is for folks who are not so self-aware. So hey, build that muscle, and follow Socrates: Know thyself.)

10. Masturbate More

Are you getting stuck building scenes, finding creative new ways to use the toys you have, or creating dirty experiments for your sexytimes with your submissives or playmates? There’s an easy place to start for that one: Masturbate more. Spend more time with porn and erotica to fuel the fires of your erotic self, but also make sure you spend some significant time letting your mind wander into erotic territory and exploring whatever may show up there. Take notes and highlight things you’d actually like to try!

Long Live the Butch

I sit in shock at my desk, though I knew it was coming, knew Leslie Feinberg was sick, and know how deadly lyme disease can be is.

I sit feeling the shock of grief: Leslie Feinberg died this past weekend.

And today is the Trans Day of Remembrance, and that of itself gets me all weepy about all of those we’ve lost, all the hate, all the fear, and how far we have left to go. It makes me think about “butch flight” and the relationships between butch identity and transmasculine identity. It gets me thinking of my lineage, the legacy I am a part of, and where I came from.

For me, Leslie’s book Stone Butch Blues invented butch identity. If I had the word before the book, it was only as a slur, only as something nobody should want to be. If I had the word before Jess’s story and her tortured restraint of passionate love, it was only used to describe ugly women, unattractive and unwanted. It wasn’t until I read Stone Butch Blues that I realized it described me.

I’m not sure I wanted it to, but I knew that it did. That book made me feel exposed, like someone had found me out. Vulnerable, like someone could come along and pluck my heart from my unguarded chest to do with as they pleased. But also, strangely, it made me feel powerful. I could feel the power that came from being butch, the paradox of growing up a girl and then becoming the suited partner of a beautiful woman, the torture of being such a social outcast, and the deep craving hunger for being accepted.

“My life, forever changed because of Stone Butch Blues. And Leslie Feinberg.”
—Felice Shays
I wasn’t even 20 when I read it, wasn’t identifying as butch yet myself, though I was starting to realize that was growing in me. I was barely out as queer. I recognized myself so much in that book that I hid it in the back of my bookshelf and didn’t pick it up again for almost ten years.

But it is potent, and it seeped into me. It inescapably linked the words butch and stone, and for years I thought that being stone was the only way to be butch. It still feels like the butch/femme culture overly values stone in butches, that the stone—by which I mean, not receiving sexual touch—is one of the measures of the amount of gender dysphoria felt, and therefore the more stone a butch feels, the more butch they are. There is so much belittling in queer culture about masculine-presenting folks who want to be touched in bed, or—gasp!—are bottoms, and they are so often chided for not being a “real butch.”

I have been fighting fighting fighting this for years, both as a queer cultural community wound and internalized in my own body.

I have heard so many butches cite this book as their coming out root, as finally recognizing who they are by reading Jess’s story (Leslie’s story), and so many femmes cite this book as finally feeling like they could be queer and crave a masculine partner, or that it’s the “heartbreaking holy grail of butch perspective.” They have told me they see themselves in Theresa’s butch devotion. For so many of us, Feinberg’s book made our secret budding desires make sense.

“Were it not for Stone Butch Blues, I’d still be stranded on a lonely island of inexplicable gender and sexuality. Many of us would.”— Tara Hardy
Stone Butch Blues came out in 1993, but was set in the 1960s, and I wonder if it wasn’t one of the major seeds which planted 1960s butch/femme nostalgia into our heads while so many of us were coming out in the 1990s. It contributed to how we crave the supposedly thriving butch/femme culture of yore.

I understand being nostalgic for a time that is now romanticized—not only in queer culture but in butch/femme lore and history. Beyond that, it is romanticized in the larger US culture as well, as it is the time post-WWII where this country was thriving, and idealized visions were planted in our collective (un)consciousness. But I also want to remember that while it might seem like butches come from that time, and thrived in that time, what we have now—and the myriad gender identity, expression, and presentation options available to us—is much improved.

“Losing Leslie Feinberg is a gut blow. Hir work has been instrumental in my own life, & the lives of so many queer & trans folks.” — Corey Alexander
Because here’s the thing: There are a lot of problems with those idealized versions of butch/femme relationships. A lot of problems. Beyond the linking of stoneness with butchness, there is an overvaluing of queer masculinity and undervaluing of femininity. This isn’t just in Stone Butch Blues, though it is there—it is all over mainstream culture, and we queers haven’t escaped it: it has permeated queer culture to the core. It has at times felt present even in the articles I’ve read about Leslie Feinberg’s death, where her partner, poet Minnie Bruce Pratt, has often been skipped over. The scholars I know who are studying femmes have a hard time locating them in queer archives, and have often best identified them by looking for their more visible butch partners. This is not good. This is a version of butch that puts femmes as an accessory, as a tool to validate and enhance butch masculinity.

I adore the butch/femme culture. As someone who highly identifies as a femme-oriented butch who is currently dating a trans boy, I adore it even more, and as I have a bit more distance now that I’m a little bit outside of it, I see copious places where the butch/femme culture reinforces the cultural binary gender roles, where it pigeonholes people into boxes of expectation, where people are shaved down to fit labels and not the other way around.

Stone Butch Blues may have invented butch identity for the current queer cultural movements, but we need a reinvention.

We need the new butch.

We need a butch identity where the masculine gender role is criticized and reinvented to include access to all aspects of emotionality, psychology, caretaking, feeling, hobbies, interests, and play.

We need a butch identity where we actively work toward undoing the racist culture that keeps people of color oppressed, their voices marginalized, and their bodies under attack. We need a butch identity which recognizes that butch has been historically a white identity, and that radical queer masculinity looks differently in other cultural contexts.

We need a butch identity where any kind of surgery and hormone taking and body modification is acceptable, supported, and celebrated without commentary on how we knew that butch was “trans all along” or that they are “betraying their womanhood” or teased, “another one bites the dust.”

We need a butch identity where the identity expands to fit who those claiming it, rather than those claiming it shrinking to fit inside of it.

We need a butch identity where it is okay to transition. We need a butch identity where it is okay to wear a dress. We need a butch identity where “butch” is just the starting point of the conversation, and where nobody assumes they know anything about you just because they know you are butch.

We need a butch identity that doesn’t assume topping and dominance as the norm, and that doesn’t put down butches who bottom, who receive touch, who submit beautifully and skillfully and with agency, who crave giving over, who crave being owned. We need a butch identity that doesn’t assume femme partnership as the norm, and that recognizes butches loving butches as a real and valid desire.

We need a butch identity that sees femmes as more than accessories, and that values femininity as solid, legitimate, and radical. We need a butch identity that doesn’t joke that femmes are having “a butch moment” if they fix something or play sports or act tough.

We need a butch identity that embraces the myriad mashup versions of in-between genders, of genderqueerness, male feminity, fagginess, swishiness, and fabulousness. We need a butch identity that rocks glitter and leggings without shame, that encourages purses and boas, and that never makes fun of someone’s “girly drink” or pink button down shirt.

We need new butch icons, we need new butch events. We need to show up at events where butch and femme genders are celebrated and made visible (there are many already out there! Go to them! Participate!). We need to stop prioritizing and privileging masculine versions of queerness. We need to read femme authors like Minnie Bruce Pratt (seriously, have you read S/he? It is one of my top 5 of all time, it’s stunning), we need to work on dismantling white privilege. We need to read trans women like Julia Serano and Janet Mock, we need to listen to Laverne Cox, we need to listen to Ceyenne Doroshow and watch things like the Red Umbrella Project documentary about sex workers, we need to keep refining our activism, we need to work on our own privilege, we need to stay alive.

We need new butch clothes, despite Saint Harridan and Tomboy Tailors and all the other dozen (more?) creators of clothes for dapper queers that have popped up in the last few years, not because we don’t look good in those (damn, we do) but because most of those are suit-and-tie shops, and there are so many more ways to be butch than with a suit-and-tie. Let’s reinvent dapper fashion, let’s never be limited by the narrow masculine options that have existed so far, let’s go farther, let’s have it all.

Even as attached as I am to the word “butch,” we probably need new words. Language evolves as we do. We may even end up turning butch over for some new way to talk about the in-between space we occupy, that tortured passionate place of wanting, that marginalized place of vision and truth.

I wish we had our own words to describe ourselves to connect us. I don’t want another label. I just wish we had words so pretty we’d go out of our way to say them out loud.” —Jess, p254 in Stone Butch Blues

As much as I would like butch to thrive and live forever, and as invested as I am in this identity, it has roots in dangerous masculine and white culture. I see so much fear that butches are “a dying breed” or that butch/femme culture is dying. I still think it isn’t—Long live the butch!—but if it is, perhaps it is at least a tiny bit in part because we are in a queer culture now that is working to decenter masculinity and whiteness. Perhaps when we fear we are losing butches or losing butch/femme, we are really losing the cultural way we have privileged masculinity and butchness. Perhaps along with this reinvention, we are losing the huge amount of body shame we are forced to carry as butches. Perhaps we are losing the social ostracization that came with butch masculinity and femme femininity.

Perhaps we are moving toward something new, and even better.

The Four Stages of Topping

When I started topping, I was self-conscious, nervous, easily crushed, and full of bravado and swagger. (I’d like to think that all of that was somewhat subtle, and that I was being at least a little transparent and honest about all of it, though when I look back at my old writing I think there’s more nervousness than I’d like to think.)

Sometimes, some beautiful girl would come along and our chemistry would be so amazing and the whole evening would just … flow. Then, I felt like there was no game, it was all just authentic interaction, following my energy and hers. Those were the nights I grabbed on to and scrutinized (and often wrote up, play by play, as a way to study them), trying to learn what it was that went well and how I could harness that.

As I gained more confidence, the way that I topped shifted a bit. I started wanting to control more, to push more, to play with more edges. I started wondering why I was so drained after I’d had a scene, and realized I wasn’t getting fed energetically in a way that felt replenishing.

That was mostly my fault, for the record; I wasn’t open to receiving, I was too focused on (fueling my ego by) giving.

I’ve really opened up since then. My style is really different, and I’m a lot less delicate. I have more confidence and certainty in what I’m doing. This is at least in part because I started identifying the kind of topping I was doing, and playing with other styles of topping.

In trying to articulate my own journey from a nervous I-wanna-be-a-top to an actual top (and beyond), I’ve noticed some patterns, and come up with a list of some of the different kinds of topping that we can play with. If you want to become a better top, I’ve found that it’s really useful to identify the area you’re primarily playing in right now, and the areas you’re interested in exploring. That way, you can start to feel your way along the path from where you are to where you’d like to be, and start identifying the barriers to being where you want, the places you need to focus and explore, and the next steps to get you there.

This is box title

Please note!

I’m using the word “stages,” but they’re more like “flavors,” different kinds. The stages aren’t necessarily linear. My goal is to make the unconscious more known, so we can start actually deciding if we do want to do the topping (or dominating or daddying or mommying or parenting or mastering or whatever verb you want to use for the person-in-charge) more intentionally. This is not comprehensive.

The Stages of Topping

1. Service Topping from the Bottom’s Palette of Pleasure

In service topping, the bottom lays out the things they like (what I’m calling a “palette of pleasure”), and the top then does those things. The top is the person who is doing the action, and the bottom is receiving, but the bottom is the one basically in charge of the actions that are happening.

Sometimes the negotiations are very specific, like: “So now that you told me what you like, I’m thinking that in this scene, I’m going to spank you over my lap with my hand, then get out the cane, then start fingering you, and keep using my hand on you until you come. How’s that sound?”

Sometimes the palette is picked up through conversation, like: “I really like my hair pulled.” “I can’t wait to suck your cock.” “Please make sure to bruise me up before you get me off.”

Either way, all actions have a specific green light from the bottom for the top.

It’s not that the bottom dictates each move play-by-play: “Okay, now put your hand there. Now hit me this hard. Now flip me over and fuck me hard!” Some folks would call that “topping from the bottom,” which is often meant to be an insult. (More about that another day.)

Sometimes the palette is picked up through conversation, like: “I really like my hair pulled.” “I can’t wait to suck your cock.” “Please make sure to bruise me up before you get me off.”

It can be such a huge relief for a top to have a palette to work from. Topping can be nerve wracking as you’re getting the hang of it: we have to make split second decisions about what to do, when to change something, when to stop or when to keep going, and what else to add. Figuring out what actual things to do on top of all that other stuff can sometimes make us freeze up. Having a palette can help this!

When service topping, the top is not necessarily (and sometimes neglectfully) attending to what they are feeling or what pleasures their body would like. The bottom’s needs are being attended to and they are being played with, but sometimes, service tops crave … more. (I certainly did.)

When I work with new tops who are trying to up their game, this is most often the stage they’re stuck within.

2. Topping from the Top’s Palette of Pleasure

Shifting the focus from the bottom’s palette of pleasure to what the top specifically wants to do right in the moment can be a big mind-fuck for the top. It seems simple, but having to make decisions or be in touch with what we want while also Being In Charge can cause our minds to lock up. If you’re the kind of top who goes along just fine and then when your bottom says, “I’ll do whatever you want; what do you want?” and you draw a total blank, this one might be for you to play in.

Step one here is to start brainstorming about what’s on your “palette of pleasure.” What acts do you totally love and would be thrilled to bust out to do at any given moment—assuming, of course, that you have the permission to do so? You need more than “blow job” on the list, buddy. See if you can come up with 10 things, then see if you can come up with 10 more. These might be things you love having done to your body, or things you love doing to the bottom’s body.

The more comfortable you are with a broad list of options, the more likely you are to come up with the exact right thing to do in the moment, based on consent and what tools you might have with you and the energy between you both.

Even when pulling from all those beautiful favorite things that the top loves, you still has to practice making decisions about what to do in the moment, which can be incredibly hard when there’s a lot of pressure on us, and especially hard when all of the blood is flowing in places other than our brains.

What’s on your “palette of pleasure”? What acts do you totally love and would be thrilled to bust out to do at any given moment—assuming, of course, that you have the permission to do so?

This is still a negotiated, consensual palette of sex acts and kinky explorations, and the bottom is explicitly involved in determining what’s on the palette. But the difference is that the top generates the ideas, and the bottom gives consent (or crosses them off the list).

Of course, a top’s and the bottom’s palettes of pleasure might completely overlap. On the one hand, that’s amazing and you’re very compatible. On the other hand, it makes exploring more complicated power dynamics a little harder. Some power dynamics and authority-based play revolves around being “forced” to do something one doesn’t want to do, but will do because it’s what the top wants.

So let’s talk about playing with edges.

3. Topping the Bottom’s Edges

Once you’ve built some trust, you’ve had lots of sexytimes, you are consenting to each other, you’re both dirty kinky folks who just want to do all sorts of things together, and you’ve done all the things on the top’s palette and the bottom’s palette—twice—but you still have some domination hunger … where do you go from there?

Here’s where edges come in. Find some edges to work. Identify some places where you’re curious. Have your bottom make a list of the 10 most favorite times he ever had sex, and talk about it, see if you can make any connections. Then have the bottom you’ve been playing with make a list of 10 things he’s never tried, but is curious to try. Talk about those, too. Delve into them with your smarty brains and see what is nervous but exciting about them. Read up on those kinks. Learn how to wield a flogger or a cane or a knife or whatever object they’re curious about. Learn how to punch with a roll of quarters in your fist for a deeper hit. Find a topping mentor to show you how. Have some threesomes. Go to a play party. Go to a kink retreat conference.

Whatever those edges might be, take it upon yourself to gently push them, making it a safe experience—emotionally and physically.

This takes a lot of trust, and a lot of ability to tell each other what’s going on between you, verbally and non-verbally. Always be more aware and cautious when playing in new arenas of play that are more unfamiliar. Cultivate impeccable aftercare skills.

When I’m playing with someone else’s edges, by which I mean when they are edges that the bottom has handed to me and asked me to play with, I think about it like this: I have consent to go this far, so I slowly approach that edge, and then back off. Then I do it again. And again. Each time I approach the edge, there is an opportunity for something new to open up, for that place to become a little less edgy and for it instead to be more fun and interesting and playful. Or maybe it doesn’t ever get easier, it stays hard, but it becomes a little less scary just by actually being there with it.

Cultivate impeccable aftercare skills.
I think of that process as somewhat like making an orgasm more intense. If I get out my vibrator and start going at it, I’ll slowly raise energy and pleasure in my body until eventually, most likely, I will come. It’ll be fine, but probably won’t last very long or be particularly memorable. But if I get close to coming, but pause just before I actually do, and then get myself close to coming again—if I edge a few times before I actually let myself get off—my orgasm will be longer lasting and more intense. I’ve inflated my capacity to hold energy and pleasure just a little more, so I end up with a bigger experience.

I think of it that way around kink and top/bottom edginess, too. If I work an edge by approaching it and then letting it dissipate, I can build it up again and again, and get to a greater capacity.

pleasureovertime

Illustration by rife

4. Topping the Top’s Edges

It might be easier to work your own edges than to work your bottom’s, or it might be easier to work your bottom’s—just depends on who you are and what your style is like. For me, it was much easier to work someone else’s edges (hello, control issues plus stone identity).

Regardless of the order you’re playing with, another palette to play with when you’re enhancing your own topping skills is with your own edges. Make the same lists: make a list of the 10 most favorite times you ever had sex, and see if you can make any connections. Make a list of 10 things you’ve never tried, but would like to. Make a list of areas of topping and sex and kink that are challenging for you, but that you’d like to be better at.

This is a place where your bottom gets to hold and witness some of your vulnerability with you. It takes more trust and transparency than some of the other stages. But to quote Sini Anderson: “Ask yourself how well you really know them. If someone you know really well asks you to trust them, try to trust them.” The best way to work your own edges is to have other folks there who are willing to support you while you’re taking small or big leaps toward what you want to be doing.

Say, for example, that you want to get better at humiliative dirty talk. Your partner has been asking for it for a while, and loves it whenever you can squeak out something diminutive, but it’s so hard for you to channel that kind of talk because you’re a nice person and you don’t necessarily like to say those kinds of mean things. But, since your partner is super into it, you’ve noticed that it makes you really, really hot to play with it. And it makes your partner hot. So you want to get better at it. But … it’s so scary and hard and edgy.

Make a list of the 10 most favorite times you ever had sex, and see if you can make any connections. Make a list of 10 things you’ve never tried, but would like to.
So maybe you co-create a scene with the bottom you’re playing with and they give you a list of ten different things you could say that are dirty and humiliating. You might even keep the list by your bed or on a post-it so you can reference it if you get stuck. They know that you are trying to get better at this one skill, so they are going to give you lots of positive feedback whenever it shows up in the play. And they are going to wear just the right outfit and say just the right things to encourage you to play your part.

Then after, they cuddle you and assure you that they loved it when you said those things, and that they know you are actually really nice and didn’t mean them and are very good and loving.

Really, we should all cultivate impeccable aftercare skills, tops and bottoms alike.

That’s just one example, but bringing in the bottom’s support and aftercare and ideas is a really good way for a top’s edge to be worked.

Working with your own edges can often be a place to seek if you want more satisfaction in your topping.

There are dozens of styles of topping

Of course, and there’s no one right or wrong way. I don’t mean to say that any of these are better or worse than the others, just that they’re different, and for the most part, we call all of them “topping.” Where are you at in your topping journey? Where would you like to be? Which are really easy for you, which are really challenging? Hopefully by identifying and talking about it, we can identify some of the places where we might be stuck or unsatisfied, and get to a stronger, more conscious, and more fun place to play and explore.

Dear Tops: Say Thank You

coachred

Dear tops,

When someone corrects your technique while fucking, set your ego aside and say thank you.

Thanks for telling me.
Thanks for making that clearer.
I like knowing your body better, thanks.

You are lucky that she* spoke up—it is a good thing. It means she is capable of communicating about what feels good for her body during sex! I assume—I hope—we can agree that that is an important foundation of good sexytimes.

It also means that she knows what feels good on her body. Believe it or not, this is not a given. Many folks have not had the trust in a relationship (or their own body, or their gender) that it takes to really be able to show up fully feeling their bodies and just play, just explore. It’s rare.

But it doesn’t always feel like a good thing at the time, does it?

It feels like you were doing something wrong. Or it feels like you were being careless or unobservant. Maybe it was your best move, and now it feels like your mad skillz don’t work on this person, so what if the rest of your mad skillz don’t work either?

Or, if you’re doing some sort of power play thing, perhaps it can feel like she is “topping from the bottom,” trying to instruct you on what to do?

Being corrected or given even a little instruction can cause us tops to spin out in our heads with fear and anxiety so easily.

But it doesn’t have to.

It used to happen to me, more often than I care to admit. And even now, when I’m touching someone and they express some request for something to change or for me to stop, sometimes I feel hurt. But I guess I kind of set that aside (and perhaps, if I need it, request some (top) aftercare later), because in the moment, I remember my rule about it: To say thank you.

Even if I don’t say it aloud, I say it in my head. Thank you for telling me. I can relax in the script of what I’m supposed to say and how I’m supposed to react—based on my own morals, not on some imposed social code. That one little “thank you” can sometimes be a stand in for things like: of course, you know your body the very best and only you are feeling what it’s like to feel that, so I would be honored to know more about what works best for you.

I want it to be okay in sex play situations for everyone to speak up and request some sort of change if they need it. Faster, slower, harder, deeper, shallower, not so much on the nipples, you’re pulling my hair too hard, ow your knee is digging into my thigh, ease off the slapping please—whatever it is, I want to know, and I do not want to be so blinded by my sore ego that I make it seem like they shouldn’t say those things.

So I say an enthusiastic thank you, and I mean it.

Any questions? …

But what if you have some sort of power play in place?

So, in a dom/sub situation where the sub is just supposed to “take it” and you, the dom, are doing whatever you want to them, perhaps it’s a little different. But her discomfort isn’t any less important, and it isn’t running the scene any less: The entire point is that she is going to be uncomfortable.

(Some people are into that, myself included. It’s a game of trust and body literacy and self-knowledge and communication, and I find it exhilarating and fun and sexy as fuck. Not everybody’s into this, of course. And if you’re playing with power like this, play safe—negotiate, use safewords, play with folks you trust, check in after, and make sure everyone goes away from the experience feeling good.)

Why would a sub want to just “take it”? Maybe because they want to really play the part of being a good sub, or a good boy, or slave, or pet, or girl, or fucktoy, or kitty, right? Maybe she loves to feel overwhelmed with sensation and needs that kind of push to get her there. Or maybe because she’s trying to earn jerk off rights for the week, or maybe she wants to encourage you in your own edgy dominant territory.

I’m sure there are some other reasons, too. Feel free to leave them in the comments. What’s hot and sexy about “taking it” from your perspective?

From a dominant’s point of view, especially doms who are still getting their sea legs under them, causing someone else deliberate discomfort, for one’s own pleasure, with the disregard for that other person’s feelings or, gasp, physical pain … that can be so incredibly edgy. And some submissives love to play in edgy dominant territory. Still, it is a hurdle that is so hard to reconcile for many dominants and tops. (I’m not going to go too much into reconciliation here, but it’s related.)

So your job as the top in a “take it” discomfort scene (or at least one possible job—there are dozens of ways to do this, I’m sure!), is to find that edge of discomfort and ride it. And what better way to do that than by listening? Start by finding the places where there is so much pleasure, do all those things that you know her body just adores, and then do them just a little too much, or just a little too hard. Ride that edge and play with it, go from the pleasure into the discomfort and back, see how far you can push the discomfort while still bringing them back into the pleasure.

If you enter into the discomfort slowly, each time you cross back into it, you can explore farther, and then you can both get off on how much she is “taking it” just for you.

So when she expresses some sort of discomfort or makes a request—assuming she’s not saying, “Okay stop this, I want out of this scenario now,” or red or yellow or other some such safeword, of course, because you’re not a jerk—you aren’t obligated to do the change she is requesting, but it is always good to have the information about her body and how she expresses. This is a sensitive place for a very careful, calculated move, however, and it takes a lot of confidence and trust in each other to play with this edge. If I’m in a D/s scene and they make a specific request or correction, I usually ask myself, is there still pleasure going on with what I’m doing? If I lose track of the pleasure, most of the time I have basically kinda sorta I have lost the scene. It’s not ruined, but it needs some mending.

So I’ll follow the pleasure, and possibly go back to what I know is very pleasurable for us both. Or, I might keep doing what I’m doing for a couple more blows or heartbeats, just to prove that I can, and throw some dirty talk in to make remind her that she’s mine and I get to do what I want, at least for right now. Y’know, if that’s the dynamic. But I can’t not hear what she said, still. And I do care what it was. So I often still say “thank you,” if only in my mind.

Because see, you don’t just want her to “take it” from you, you also want her to trust you. Building trust is probably the most important thing in a D/s relationship. All that power we’re playing with is based on trust.

But regardless of whether it’s D/s or a one night stand, when she is expressing discomfort or has a request to do something different … set aside your ego, and say thank you.

On Gender Perception, or: Break Your Eyes Open to Genderqueers

This essay, as with pretty much everything I write, is purely my own experience and my best understanding. I’m not trying to tell you what you should or shouldn’t care about, just sharing what my process has been around gender perception and genderqueerness.

For a little more than three years, I’ve been using they/them/theirs/themself pronouns. Notice that I’m avoiding saying that I “prefer” they/them pronouns, because, as many gender activists have been discussing lately, it’s not exactly a “preference.” I prefer green grapes to red grapes, I prefer almond milk to soy milk. But the accurate pronoun for my gender identity is they/them/theirs/themself.

Using a pronoun outside of the standard gender binary is a lot of work on a daily basis. Sure, I do spend most of my time inside of genderqueer and trans communities, and many of those folks are super smart about gender and either ask about pronouns or already know mine, and like to call people what they like to be called. I’m surprised how good it makes me feel when people get my pronouns right, actually. And because often I don’t hear people talking about me—which is the only time they really refer to me in the third person—I don’t hear it very often. The recent Sweet & Rough blog tour is a thrilling example: it pretty much brought tears to my eyes every time the folks on the tour referred to me using they and them. My inner kid—you know, the one who thinks I’ll never be understood or seen or valued—gets all hopeful and touched, and feels vulnerable and seen. I think things like, “Really? You see me like that?” and “You get it! Omg you get it!” and “Are you just humoring me? Or do you really get it?” and “Ergh, I hope it isn’t too much trouble for you to understand that!” and … I feel such relief. My shoulders relax and my body lets go of just a little bit of the tension I always carry.

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Am I mad at the system? Fuck yes. Am I working on changing it? Absolutely.
Every day I encounter a world that doesn’t see the in-between, and that either addresses me as “sir” or groups me in as part of the table full of “ladies,” aka queers of sometimes five different gender identities. I suppose worse still is “miss,” but that just gets me on a feminist rant about women having multiple honorifics dependent on their marital status and all men are addressed as “mister.” And then I remember that the second wave popularized “Ms”—oh right, we already fought this fight, except that clearly it hasn’t permeated society enough because this guy in front of me is still calling me “miss.”

Am I mad at the system? Fuck yes. Am I working on changing it? Absolutely. Are these moments microagressions? Fuck yes. Do the little needles that are microagressions add up, becoming a seeping wound by the end of any given day? Yeah. Could I just take my toys and go home and become a hermit to avoid dealing with this? Yeah. And sometimes I do, and sometimes I really want to.

But after three years of really claiming the identity of genderqueer … honestly? Being misgendered doesn’t bother me as much anymore.

I rarely correct the pronouns people use for me. I tell them if they ask, absolutely. I have lots of conversations about why they/them is the best choice for me, why I use it rather than ze/hir or other gender neutral pronouns, or why it’s grammatically correct despite the rules saying it is plural.

(Short version: I believe language is fluid, and our uses of it change over the years. I find it to be the least awkward in speech and written flow because we’re already used to it as a pronoun in other contexts. If people want to prioritize holding tight to grammar rules instead of smashing the gender binary and evolving our language to reflect the changes and include thousands of folks who are in-betweeners, well then, I guess I have to reevaluate just how close I want to be with that person. As much as I get a boner for really strict grammarians, to see the rules as so rigid that they cannot be malleable to include folks who are marginalized out of our language is not the kind of poet activist I want to be.)

When all those folks out there in the world out there misgender me, calling me sir or ma’am or ladies or she or bro or miss or whatever they might be using, I let it go. It might prick me for a moment, so I store that away as fuel for my activism, and then I try to remember: I don’t need their validation.

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It might prick me for a moment, so I store that away as fuel for my activism, and then I try to remember: I don’t need their validation.
I have so much validation from my genderqueer and trans communities, from my family of origin, from friends far and wide, and from folks I never would’ve expected to step up and be an ally. I feel so seen and honored, so often. I recognize that my position is possibly a unique one, where I really haven’t had any fallout from coming out genderqueer to my family or at my job (which, ahem, is what I’m doing right now). I know many folks don’t have that kind of acceptance from their families of origin, or their closest friends, or coworkers, or the communities in the cities where they live, or even sometimes their partners. But many of us do get lots of support, too.

Because I have so much validation from my close, inner circle communities, and even validation from broader queer worlds, and hell, from more and more people even outside of my inner circle, I don’t need the validation of the bus driver or the guy at the deli counter or the barista at the coffee shop. I just don’t. They don’t see me as genderqueer? Okay, whatever. Or hey, maybe they DO see me as genderqueer, but they don’t really have language and words for it, and even though they’re feeling that hey-you’re-not-quite-the-usual-kind-of-person-with-breasts thing, it doesn’t occur to them that that means not to use the term “lady” to address me. I am interested in doing more activism to educate folks in service professions to use words that aren’t so starkly gendered to address people who are in-between. (I even have a super secret project in the works about this.)

But I don’t need them to understand my gender in order for my gender to be real, seen, valid, and honored in the world.

It’s the difference I suppose between “gender identity” and “gender perception.” It’s only in the last 100 years that the concept of one’s “sex” has been divided into “sex and gender.” As gender theory has evolved, there are many words within the concept of “gender” and what it is. Gender identity is generally (I mistyped it as “genderally”) the identity that I see myself as. For example, I see myself as genderqueer, trans, and butch. Gender expression is usually how you’re expressing your gender verbally and with energy, and gender presentation is usually how you have decorated your body and the visual presentation of it. For me, that’s usually butch and masculine.

Gender perception is how others see your gender.

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“Gender Perception” page from The Gender Book

I do understand that gender perception is a serious source of distress for many folks, feeling that if the world doesn’t see and reflect that I am a certain gender, then I am not that gender. It can be devastating to not be recognized, I do understand that. But for whatever reason, it’s not that important to me.

Or wait—let me rephrase that. It’s very, very important to me to be seen and recognized and understood by my communities and my lovers and my family, and sometimes it takes a lot of work to educate and inform and correct and encourage folks to do so. But it’s not that important to me that the world at large understand and get my gender identity and pronouns right this minute. I just understand that the majority of people haven’t deconstructed the gender binary in a way where they can even see beyond it.

Remember that part in the HBO series Six Feet Under, where Claire, in art school, is trying to “break her eye open,” to see new perspectives and outside of her habits? Most people haven’t broken their eyes open to see more genders, yet.

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Most people haven’t broken their eyes open to see more genders, yet.
When it comes to my communities and inner circles, seeing me and reflecting that they see me is important to me. And that’s partly because of validation, yeah, but it’s also because of intimacy. The more they really see me, the more I feel like we are close and that they really get who I am and how I work in the world. That makes me feel vulnerable, touched, and honored. So really, my genderqueer identity and in-between marginalized place and pronoun use mostly matter for intimate relationships and moments.

I want to encourage that process of breaking your eye open to see more genders for everyone, not just within my communities of radical sex and gender minorities. But the frustration I feel when the larger society doesn’t get my gender stems from my unrealistic expectation. In a way, it’s just arguing with reality.

I’d love to figure out a way to address those misgenderings more easily in the moment, but usually it takes more than just, “hey, don’t call me lady,” for someone’s eyes to break open.

Right now, I can’t change this thing—this problem that the larger culture hasn’t broken their eyes open to more genders yet. I’m doing what I can, and being part of movements that are trying to get that culture broken open, and it is happening right now, the effects are huge and frequent. I can’t change this thing, but I can change my relationship to this thing. I can choose to funnel the pinpricks of not-belonging into more activism and work. I can keep encouraging people to break their eyes open to myriad genders, and I can look to my communities as a source of my validation and intimacy around my gender identity.

Illustration of “Gender Perception” by The Gender Book, reprinted with permission