A Hot Ride: Lovesong Playlist for Kristen

So I’m one of those people that makes a lot of mixes. It used to be mixed tapes (where I’d elaborately write all the tracks out in different color pens), then CDs, and now it’s iTunes playlists. I’m constantly downloading (and paying for!) new music, constantly updating my current “what I’m listening to” playlist, wiping it clean and starting again with whatever tone I’m currently craving.

I finished this playlist in December, for Kristen. It’d been a while since I’d made her a mix, probably since A Thousand Kisses in 2009, though I’d made some others that I’d shared with her, they just weren’t specifically for her. This one, though, is.

I love that I can share it—you can stream it on 8tracks, though I don’t love that 8tracks won’t let you play it in order. So I’m also uploading it to sendspace, you can download the whole thing there (though you’ll have to put it into your own playlist in order, I still can’t figure out how to include the iTunes playlist file).

a hot ride from mrsexsmith on 8tracks.

Cover image, if you want to download it, is here. And now, the tracklist:

A HOT RIDE playlist & liner notes, December 2011

Starling – Tori Amos
Gotta start out with a bang, y’know?

Safe in Your Arms – Paula Cole
Because there’s nowhere safer.

Sugar Buzz – kd lang & the Siss Boom Bang
Can’t help but think of you when I hear this song. (Also I totally mistype ‘Sugarbutch’ when I write out the title, every time. Such finger memory.) It’s like the song was made for us.

She’s Got To Be – Amy Ray
Though Amy Ray has said it’s about reconciling with an inner girl as a butch, it’s also a romantic love song about femininity & masculinity

Rich Woman – Robert Plant & Allison Krauss
‘Daddy everything is alright.’ love the rolling bass. So sexy.

Forever – Ben Harper
“Not talking about a year, no not three or four / I don’t want that kind of forever in my life anymore.”

October – Rosie Thomas
“Make her a flower in late december when the sun is not shining on her.” “Take photographs of her on brooklyn streets on october.” Love the simplicity of this arrangement, and her sweet voice

Sweetness – The Waifs
“Music gets me in the mood / it kicks in and I sit back / and think of you,” and “you mean stuff to me.” Yeah.

On Your Arm – Schuyler Fisk
“You always felt like come / you knew my favourite song / I love the way you say my name / I love just about everything.” and it just gets better from there. I first found Schuyler because of her Paperweight duet with Joshua Radin, and her solo work is really excellent too.

Beautiful – Meshell Ndegeocello
One of my all-time favorite love songs.

Make a Name for Me And You – Rachel Cantu
It kind of sounds like a sad song, but the refrain is about making a name for ourselves, and as we’ve started to talk about that this song sticks to me. “I know your vices and those are your choices / and I want to be there for you.”

Somebody Loved – The Weepies
It’s kind of amazing to be somebody who is loved so deeply, so well.

Snow Cherries from France – Tori
I think of this when I travel sometimes. But now you know I’ll always bring back snow cherries.

Crystalised – The XX
“I’ve been down onto my knees / so don’t think that I’m pushing you away / and you just keep getting closer / when you’re the one that I’ve kept closest / go slow.”

The Sweets – The Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Something about spinning and “how will you want something to hit” and “what’s your crime, what’s your crime” that has me growling and hot.

Only Girl in the World – Rihanna
I want you to feel like this, that you’re the only girl in the world for me, and especially when we’re together, that you’re the one I’m drawn to like a magnet. ‘I want you to love me like I’m a hot ride.’ Yeah. I do. But I want to make sure I show you that, too.

Fancy – Drake
It’ll just always be a song for you. Also can you believe he rhymes “concealer”? Impressive.

Sexy and I Know It – LMAO
Because you blush when this song comes on, and that makes me smile.

Open Thread: Empowering Femme Sources Needed

Here’s another question from the Ask Me Anything inbox, and I hope y’all might be able to help me out.

Dear Mr. Sexsmith,

As a new Femme, your blog has been VERY helpful. I am frustrated by, although I completely understand, the focus on femme invisibility. While it’s absolutely true, I need a more empowering story for myself.

As I spend more time with butches and listen to Ivan Coyote’s “To all the kick ass, beautiful, fierce femmes out there,” I have begun to think of femmes as modern day Robin Hoods. We femmes take power (given freely) from those who have it and help to redistribute it to those who have been denied it … sometimes by changing the way the world sees queer, sometimes by simply being changing/challenging how the world sees the person we are with, always by being purposeful about the way we see ourselves and how we accept and carry and use the power and privileges that are granted to us as we walk in, between, and among worlds.

Are there other empowering femme stories out there that I should know about?

—Kim

I humbly submit my own piece, A Love Letter To Femmes, to possibly add to your arsenal, which was published in Visible: A Femmethology Volume II.

I thought I published the whole thing on Sugarbutch but can’t seem to find it; if you follow this link you can download the mp3 of me reading it (thanks Dacia for recording it all those years ago, remember that?).

There are many femme books that I recommend, mostly ones that I have in my Amazon a-store, the classics of the femme canon. Persistence: All Ways Butch and Femme, A Persistent Desire, Brazen Femmes, Femmes of Power, Visible: A Femmethology Volumes I & II, The Femme’s Guide to the Universe, The Femme’s Mystique (that I mentioned in that Femme Invisibility & Beyond post) and more I’m sure.

I’d love some help here: What femme sources do y’all recommend? What was instrumental in coming to your femme identity or feeling a part of the femme world? What was part of your femme history? What should every new femme read?

Happy Third Anniversary, Kristen

Today is my third anniversary with Kristen.

Photo by Stacie Joy, September 2011

(Here’s the story of how we met (which I told on our first anniversary), our first date (which is the second most viewed post on Sugarbutch), second anniversary and what I got her, and what she bought me. I think there was a dirty story about last year’s anniversary (how could there not be, given what she was wearing) but I can’t seem to find it, I think I wrote it up later.)

I’m a little bit at a loss for words. I didn’t expect us to build this life together, to wrap around each other like we have. To be honest, I expected us to have a one night stand. But as Dan Savage says, sometimes partners are the one night stands who stay.

We knew from the beginning that we are sexually compatible, and that was certainly a very high priority for finding someone to build a life with. That we were long distance for six months meant that I had a chance to adjust my flight responses, to get used to the idea of being with someone again, after being skittish and afraid to get deeply intimate.

But it wasn’t scary with her. And in the three years since, I’ve grown and pushed myself and changed and made all sorts of progress with who I am, how I relate to the world, and where I’m going. I really think we’re more than the sum of our parts, more than just the two of us together, we are also this “us” that combines to strengthen and enliven each of us individually, too.

She’s so willing and eager to communicate, to grow, to change, and to integrate new information, and just that alone has been such a significant difference from any of my past relationships. We go together so well, with complimentary interests and overlapping values and similar ways of seeing the world. That’s not to say it hasn’t been hard, but we’ve been working so well on the things that have been a challenge, and we’ve made some serious, hard-won progress this year. The last few months have been particularly hard, but I think we’ve made it over that bump and I am really excited about where we’re going. I am significantly committed to keeping my sex life vibrant (I mistyped “vibrating”—that too) in something long term, and so is she, so lately we’ve been negotiating just how to have an experimental, fun, and dirty sex life while still navigating all the domestic things of sharing our day-to-day lives and an apartment and our daily stresses.

We keep coming together stronger and more loving than ever before, and it just keeps deepening, improving, getting better—our communication, our connection, and our sex.

Photo by Stacie Joy, September 2011

I love you, Kristen. Thanks for being on this incredible journey with me. I cherish every minute.

Photos were taken by Stacie Joy at Dark Odyssey this year. Thanks Stacie!

Dear West Coast, See You Soon

In prep for my trip, I had to of course go get cleaned up. Doesn’t Joey at Tomcats do an amazing job? I have never had a bad haircut there. I only wish I could recreate the height after I wash it … though I suspect in part it is because of the handfulls of product he adds to my hair.

I’ve been trying to grow it out a bit, let it get a little longer on top so I can go back to the pomp I’ve had in the past. Winter seems like a good time to do that. The length has been driving me nuts the past few weeks, but I put it off long enough so that it’ll be fresh and clean for my trip out West.

What trip out west, you ask? Well, the one where I’ll be starting a tantra training, the first of five weekends in Seattle over the next year, and then I head to San Francisco for the Outside the Boxes queer Body Electric workshop that has been in the works for the last six or so months. It is definitely happening and probably going to be full, in fact! We might even have a waiting list! And—good news—we are planning to do it twice in 2012, once in New York City and once in Toronto. I’ll let you know the exact dates as soon as I have them.

I’m doing a couple more things out west while I’m visiting—no wait, scratch that, it’ll just be one other event, a Talking Dirty workshop at Seattle’s Center for Sex Positive Culture, known in my day as the Wet Spot. I was going to have a workshop in Oakland but that looks like it’s fallen through, though I’m hoping to do it in the spring.

So I’ve turned on my vacation auto-responder, and my flight to Seattle leaves tomorrow afternoon. I may have some time to write while I’m gone, but things may be a bit quiet over here while I’m traveling. You can always follow me on Twitter or on Facebook if you want to know what I’m up to on a slightly more daily basis.

Giveaway: The RodeoH Harness Winner Is …

#11, sterhymeswithtree:

If you’ve got some time, read through the comment thread on the RodeoH harness giveaway. Everybody left really fun and amazing stories about first time strap on experiences, packing experiences, harnesses that are awesome, all that. It strikes me that these stories are incredibly fun to tell, but that it’s pretty infrequent that we sit around telling our friends about the first time we strapped on, or when our harness malfunctioned, or how we’ve never tried it but want to. (Or, I don’t know, probably some of you do. I do, but only sometimes.) It’s fun to have a place to express that small story, and have others read it.

Thanks so much, RodeoH, for doing a harness giveaway for us. I am excited to see the larger sizes, the boxer-brief style, and whatever they might come up with in the future. If you didn’t win, sorry. You can still go right now to the RodeoH online store and enter code “SexSmith” to get $10 off your purchase—usually $45, they’d be $35 for Sugarbutch readers. I’d be curious, if you get one, how you like it—if you want to let me know, I’d love to read your own review or reactions.

So Then There Was That Time I Left My Dick In the Laundry …

Folks who live outside of New York City, you might not quite understand this one, but here in this ridiculous metropolis, people rarely do their own laundry. That’s not actually true for me and Kristen, since we actually do have laundry facilities in our building (three of which have been broken for months, but that’s a different post), but at other apartments I’ve had, especially when I was working a full time job, it was about the same amount of money to do my own laundry at the laundromat three blocks away as it was to drop it off and pick it up, and the latter did not include three hours of my time or putting up with laundromat culture. So I dropped it off to have done.

That’s rare now. Probably less than half a dozen times in the four years I’ve lived at this apartment. But after the weekend at camp, and our week being completely packed, Kristen and I decided to drop our laundry off nearby and just get it done with.

When we went to pick it up yesterday, this happened:

Launderer: There was something plastic in there, I didn’t want to put it in the dryer.

Me: (Noticing my Pete packing undies tucked next to the plastic bag in the laundry basket) Uh, no problem.

Launderer: I just didn’t want to … Hurt it.

Me: (Kinda speechless, realizing it was more than just the undies) I’m sure it’s okay.

Kristen said, in the car on the way home, that I have frequently left cocks in my laundry basket, and she kind of likes that. Finding them in there. Clearly I’ve gotten too comfortable doing my own laundry, and need to go through it just a bit more carefully if I send it out.

It’s not that big a deal, and really I’m sure the person at the laundromat has had worse things show up in people’s laundry baskets, things I don’t even want to know about. And in some ways I bet this is almost explanable for her, that two lesbians come in and the “mannish” one leaves a soft packing dick in her clothes, because of course I want to “be the man.” I cringe at reinforcing that stereotype, and want to explain the more complexities of gender, but it’s almost, kind of, true.

Ah, the adventures of being butch in New York City never end.

The “Bring Down the Chandeliers” Winner

… is #23, Sabina! I’ll contact you individually to follow up.

Hope you all get a chance to see Tara Hardy perform, please do seek her out. Sabina, I hope you enjoy the book!

Sabina mentioned Tamiko Beyer as her favorite, another queer femme poet of whom I am a big fan. Tamiko read at Sideshow last year, and I’ve seen her perform a few times around the New York area. Actually, I have a piece in the literary journal that she edits, Drunken Boat, that you might recognize called Rocking Chair Blow Job.

On Cheryl’s Birthday, Femme Earrings, and Social Media

I’ve returned from Dark Odyssey’s Summer Camp, which was phenomenal and I have so much to say about it, like all the retreat/weekends I’ve been on lately—and since there’s so much to say it’s so much harder to say it, because I get overwhelmed, so I don’t write anything at all. The weather at Summer Camp—cloudy, sometimes rainy, not very warm—was excellent for my butch outfits (v-neck sweater or sweater vest over button down and a tie, suit jacket, leather jacket, jeans, boots) but not so excellent for Kristen’s outfits, who wanted to bring sundresses and the tiny little bow shirt but instead brought jeans and boots and sweater dresses, no less sexy but less exhibitionist fun perhaps. I mention that mostly because someone asked. But thankfully the sun was out when we had a quick portrait session with Stacie Joy, so there might be some shots of Kristen’s (gorgeous) tits in the future, we’ll see how they turn out.

My processing of the fourth amazing erotic retreat/weekend in three months is derailed a little bit by today’s date: it’s Cheryl’s birthday. Nicole Fix, who spoke at Cheryl’s memorial, wrote a lovely piece for GO magazine about it.

This weekend, at a lovely moment in bed, I don’t remember which one, Kristen was wearing these hoop earrings in square shapes, and I suddenly had a strong remembrance of exactly their source. I didn’t want to interrupt the moment, but I felt a strong surge of emotion, grief and sadness and the tragedy of it all.

Later, when we were just chatting, I said, “I love those earrings. Do you remember where they came from?”

She had shadows in her eyes right away. “Cheryl.”

“Yes,” I had taken them from Cheryl’s jewelry collection, when I was helping Kelli clean out Cheryl’s apartment, to give to Kristen. Cheryl was known for her hoops, one of her signature looks, along with her red lipstick, and I snagged a lot of the ones that Cheryl wore regularly. “But also, I gave them to her. On her birthday last year, you and I bought them together, but I picked them out. We brought them to Sideshow along with some little cupcakes.” I’m kind of good at picking out jewelry. I love that skill, love being able to provide just the right thing for the femmes in my life. I’m glad Kristen has some of her jewelry, but sometimes it’s shocking and catches me off guard.

We held each other in silence for a few minutes, remembering. That was such a great night. Sideshow was just starting to take off. We had a fabulous line up, Back to School. I miss Sideshow. Cheryl hadn’t been diagnosed with cancer yet. No one knew that would be her last birthday.

“Wasn’t that about a year ago?” Kristen asked. We couldn’t remember Cheryl’s exact birth date, but it was in the fall, right? Was it September or October Sideshow?

When I got back to my computer this morning, the first thing in my Facebook feed was all sorts of folks posting on Cheryl’s wall, “happy birthday!” as if they don’t know. As if they were wishing her to have a happy, celebratory day. I know that’s what Facebook does—”so and so has a birthday today, wish them a happy birthday”—and that’s how folks respond, by doing what a social network program automatically tells them what to do, so the response becomes “happy birthday,” regardless of the relationship or the knowledge we may have missed in the last few months.

I cringed, and teared up, but more than that feel protective of Kelli, and of Cheryl becoming some sort of public persona/domain figure which people don’t really know, but on to which they project. Apparently that is an ongoing problem for close friends who have died, especially in the queer/performance worlds. This is new for me.

Thinking a lot of Cheryl lately, and especially today. I miss her so much.

My favorite shot of us by Syd London

Mentor Series: Tara Hardy & Her New Book, Bring Down the Chandeliers

Tara Hardy has been a mentor and influence of mine since I first saw her perform in Seattle in 2000. I then went on to be one of her students for about five years, studying at Bent: A Writing Institute for Queers, where I eventually became a volunteer and substitute teacher, and where I learned a ton about performing, chapbooks, writing, queerness, butchness, femmes, and all sorts of other life things.

Anything But God by Tara Hardy, one of my favorite pieces of hers:

Her new book, Bring Down the Chandeliers, is published on Write Bloody and is brilliant. I have many of her previous self-published chapbooks, so I recognized some of these poems, but even familiar with her work I was thrilled to see them re-made and re-imagined for this new collection. I love how she’s edited them.

I bought an extra copy of her new book just so I could give it away here on Sugarbutch. Want it? Leave a comment with your favorite poet or poem or book of poems, or something else entirely, and I’ll pick a winner at random next week Monday when I get back from Dark Odyssey.

One of her recent chapbooks, Shoulder Slip Strap (which she probably has copies of if you email her or find her on Facebook), has this short but amazing piece in it that I have been chewing on ever since I read it.

Isn’t that just oh so perfect? I love how much is encapsulated.

She’s going to be touring in the Northeast in September and October, so if she’s coming to a city near you, this is your chance to see her perform. Do it. From her Facebook note:

Tara Hardy on the loose for 20 days in the northeast: 18 performances, 8 workshops, 1 rental car, more shoes than she shoulda, and lots & lots-o-copies of Bring Down the Chandeliers (for sale!).

*Thursday, 9/15: Amherst, MA, Smith College
*Friday, 9/16: Somerville, MA, Poets Theater (Arts at the Armory, 191 Highland Ave) 8pm
*Saturday, 9/17: Boston, MA, Jme Caroline’s kitchen, Time TBA
*Sunday, 9/18: Portland, ME, Rhythmic Cypher, Slainte Wine Bar (24 Preble St) 8pm
*Monday, 9/19: Portland, ME, workshop TBA, performance at Port Veritas (Local Sprouts, 649 Congress), Time TBA
*Tuesday, 9/20: Providence, RI, Providence Poetry Slam (AS220, 115 Empire Ave) 9pm
*Wednesday, 9/21: Day of rest, or rather, bookstore hop.
*Thursday, 9/22: Manchester, NH, Milly’s Tavern (500 Commercial Street) 8pm
*Friday, 9/23: New York, NY, Nuyorican Poetry Slam (Nuyorican Poets Café, 236 E Third St) 9pm
*Saturday, 9/24: Worcester, MA, Clark College Youth Performance, (location TBA) 7pm
*Sunday, 9/25: Worcester, MA, Clark College Workshop (location TBA) 2-4pm and Poets Asylum, (WCUW Front Room, 910 Main St) 7pm
*Monday, 9/26: New York, NY, LouderARTS (Bar 13, 35 East 13th Street) 7:30pm
*Tuesday, 9/27: Washington, D.C., Beltway Poetry Slam (The Fridge, 516 8th Street SE) 7:30pm
*Wednesday, 9/28: Washington, D.C., Busboys & Poets (5th & K Streets) 9pm
*Thursday, 9/29: Long Branch, NJ, Loser Slam (665 Second Avenue) workshop 8pm, performance, 9pm
*Friday, 9/30: Jersey City, NJ, JC Slam (location & time TBA)
*Saturday, 10/1: Richmond, VA, Richmond Slam (Artspace Art Gallery, 31 E 3rd St) workshop & performance, 5-7:30pm
*Sunday, 10/2: Day of rest, or rather, search for best vegan food in D.C.
*Monday, 10/3: Washington, D.C. Mothertongue (DC Center, 1318 U Street NW) workshop 6:30-8, performance, 9pm
*Tuesday, 10/4: New York, NY, Urbana Poetry Slam (Bowery Poetry Club, 308 Bowery) 7pm

When Peace Comes by Tara Hardy

Thank you, Tara, for all that you’ve done and all you’ve taught and all you’ve shared with the world. You’ve been a huge influence, and I wouldn’t be where I am if I hadn’t had your guidance and brilliance along the way.

Expansion & Contraction

I wrote 9 posts in August 2011, and today’s the last day of August, so unless I get a dozen up in one day (which I’m not about to do), this will be the least amount I’ve written on Sugarbutch since Spring 2007, according to the archives. (And the main reason those months have so few entries is because most of them were taken down.)

I have been writing. And I’ve been so busy. I’ve been traveling, and in the short weeks that I’ve been at home I have barely felt as though I’ve fully returned. I’ve been writing with Dacia frequently and watching as her book develops, feeling jealous and envious and elated and supportive and so thrilled to read it as it’s being birthed out of her, and wishing that I was working on a book of my own.

I do have these erotica anthologies coming out, but that’s not quite the same as a single-author full-length manuscript. Which I just ache to write, but can’t quite seem to get a grip on. Yet.

All the traveling has been exploding my brain with insight. The Pulse retreat was amazing. The Butch Voices conference was enlightening and enlivening and made me love my butch and moc bros even more. The Gender Outlaw retreat I just returned from felt like a gift on a silver platter … and I don’t even know how to start writing about it.

I crave blogging. I crave sitting down and telling you about my day, or my emotional insight, or the mind-blowing sex, or what I’ve been writing today. All of which have been happening. It’s a challenge to be that open and honest here, for lots of reasons. What used to feel like a sanctuary now feels like a podium and microphone in front of hundreds of people, so I psych myself out.

What do I even want to tell you? How do I begin to explain the last six weeks? What do you want to know? I’ll try to write a bit more. Perhaps a daily writing practice that goes here into this little wordpress box instead of into my journal for a while.

There are a lot more retreats and workshops coming up. I’m pitching to colleges now, trying to revisit some of the places I’ve been before, and lots more writing planned in the near future. I’m doing some new trainings, I’m looking toward the future. I keep noticing all these new opportunities to get credentials, like the SARs at the CSPH and I seem to remember there being a training starting in the fall at the Center for Sex & Culture in SF that caught my eye, but I can’t find any information about that now. (That’s the trouble with reading half of the internet every day.) So suddenly there are quite a few opportunities I’m curious to follow, but I’m having trouble coming up with enough cash. My unemployment runs out soon, actually.

I’m looking for work, possibly part-time, definitely things I can do from home. I’ve done some copy consulting lately and that has gone well; I’m still available to build websites and graphics in general. I am putting together some packages and things to offer more formally, but I would love to have a steady 20 hour a week type of gig so I can still travel. The freelance thing I’ve done for the past almost-two years has been working, kind of, I’ve been scraping by, but it’s time to have a bit more security. I’ll gladly take suggestions.

I miss writing here, but I do love being out in the world. It’s been a good couple months for events and growth and change. And hey, I’ll even have some photos to share (as soon as I get the proofs).

Winner! Double Panel Compression Shirt

Thanks to Random.org, the random winner of the double panel compression shirt is … Barrett!

Ice cream sounds like a great idea for this heat wave.

I had a couple of questions about the compression shirt in the comments & via Twitter, so I’ll try to answer ’em here. Seems like that review was kind of vague (sorry about that)—to be honest, I’m not an expert in compression shirts, so I might not be the best person to answer these. This is my first experience with one and I haven’t been wearing it much this summer, so that’s about all I know. But I’ll do my best to answer these with what I know!

This looks like something my butch partner would really like in her size. What I can’t figure out is, if you purchase this in your size and you are someone with large breasts — does this cover the breasts completely or does the shirt still show the top of your breasts? Either way, I’m sure it’s fine under a button down—but I’ve been searching for something that covers the butch rack completely (cause cleavage isn’t what she’s going for).

Basically, it covers your breasts completely. If you have larger breasts (like I do) it does give you a little bit of cleavage at the top, because in order to flatten it has to spread ’em out as much as possible. It is definitely fine under a button down. I’m not sure I would wear it by itself, but it is very easy to wear under a tank top or tee shirt and won’t give you cleavage.

I got a question about the compression shirt. Should I buy one in my size or a size smaller??—@C_Rod224 on Twitter

I bought a size M because that’s the size of men’s tee shirt I wear, but it did NOT fit. The XL is still quite small and for a minute, I thought maybe it wasn’t going to be big enough to fit, but it does—it’s just a challenge to get on and off. So I would try one size larger.

I’m not an expert at this, though—other folks who have binders: do you generally buy your same tee shirt size, a size larger, a size smaller? What’s the rule for this?

One more question … I wanted to buy her the frog bra you had mentioned before and apparently it’s been discontinued… Do you or any of your readers know of a place that still sells them or of something with a different name that achieves the same effect? thank you thank you!

Yeah, it’s discontinued. From my understanding, it’s pretty good if you’re a C-D cup, but it’s not great if you’re bigger than that. I’ve tried a LOT of athletic bras, aka binders, and the best thing that I’ve found that works for me is my favorite, the Enell bra. I’ve got about four of these now, and while the elastic does wear down, when they are fresh, for me, they are nearly as effective as the compression shirt.

Anybody else out there have opinions about bras/binders that work well for larger-breasted folks?

The double panel compression shirt was sent to me from Babeland for review. Pick up other sex toys from Babeland, still my favorite feminist, queer, friendly, educational neighborhood sex shop.

On Erotic Energy Retreat (Again)

Photo taken by me the first year I attended

I’m off, yet again, to a desert valley in New Mexico full of beautiful hot springs and a circle of women who are coming to delve into our erotic energy, power, and pleasure.

This year, the erotic energy school that I’ve studied with for about 10 years is going through some changes, and some of the facilitators and staff are meeting before the workshop to discuss the new directions we might take. I’m looking forward to having a part in shaping the women’s programs—I particularly want to bring in more genderqueer, trans, queer, and masculine of center focused programming.

It’s been a tough month here at Sugarbutch, you may’ve noticed that I haven’t posted much since Cheryl died. In part that’s because the stupid things seem so much more stupid … and also because I’ve been quietly grieving. The School was actually set up in part as a response to the AIDS crisis in the ’80s, so much of the structure of these workshops is actually created to make space for deep grief and loss. I’m not sure what will happen when I have a place to drain it out of my body and into the circle, through this work, but I’m curious about experimenting with the well of emotion that I have been occasionally falling into.

I’m also thinking a lot about sexual aliveness, igniting my first and second chakras especially, though igniting my entire column of energy, all of the chakras, as a way to be more connected with myself.

I’m still not done with the ask me anything questions from Sugarbutch’s 5th anniversary, though I’ve been working on three different questions that are all about how to get off faster or easier (with a variety of circumstances), and I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately. I too have some frustration that I can’t always get off easily in the particular way that I want to (meaning, strapped on and fucking), and I want to see if I can let go of that a little bit, or figure out how to ignite my energies in other ways. I don’t know what I mean by this exactly, but I want to go in there and explore. And hopefully report back about my experiences.

I wrote a bit about last year’s retreat, which was fairly difficult in some ways, though certainly still enlivening and strengthening and amazing. I learned a lot about my role in these circles, about holding space, and about what it’s like to bring masculinity into a space for women (although I’ve been learning about that ongoing for years, this was a slightly different experience with it).

This year, there are even more queer folks attending, and I’m packing some of the new gender expression toys I’ve been acquiring, like the Pete packing undies and the STP packer, and I’m looking forward to seeing what kind of edges I can push with my own masculinity, sadism, dominance, and feminine yang.

If you’re interested in knowing more about these retreats I coordinate, you can leave a comment with your email address or email me directly and I’ll be glad to add you to the (small, private) list I have, where I send out notifications of what’s coming up. We are working on a gender/queer base-level retreat sometime this fall in the Bay Area, and hopefully another base-level retreat for women of all/any type (not just queer) in the spring in (or near) New York City.

I’ll be back next week.

What I Read (For Cheryl)

Cheryl’s memorial was yesterday. More than two hundred people attended, brought food, and comforted each other, and fifteen people read some of their own thoughts and some of Cheryl’s work.

I hosted the event. It was the hardest reading I’ve ever done. I felt like I called on more of my tantra and energy/space holding abilities more than I used my reading host skills, though both of course were present. In putting together the line-up, I thought a lot about how much Cheryl has taught me about hosting readings, stage presence, how to order it, how to keep it moving, what to say and how to banter between readers. I learned so much in such a short time, she really knew what she was doing.

I had a pretty strict script so as not to babble, which, if you’ve ever seen me host a reading, you know I can tend to do. So here’s the part that I read.

Hello everyone. Thank you for being here at Dixon Place to celebrate Cheryl B.

We’re all here because we knew Cheryl, because she touched us in some way. Some of Cheryl’s accomplishments are listed in the chapbook/program, but we all know that she was widely anthologized, created three reading series in New York City in the last ten years, and performed all over the US, UK and Canada.

I’ve known Cheryl since I moved to New York in 2005. She was one of the first people I met in the literary performance circles. We kept being booked for the same readings, and eventually became friendly, then friends. She read at my chapbook release party in 2007, we started working together in 2009, and then started a reading series, Sideshow: the Queer Literary Carnival, together in 2010. I was there throughout her diagnosis of Hodgkin’s lymphoma last November, through the chemo treatment, which I even accompanied her to (once), and through her hospitalization.

What has struck me consistently in thinking about which story to tell about Cheryl here has been the transformation which happened after she was diagnosed. Cheryl had a dark, cynical sense of humor, and was private, often feeling alienated. But when she truly needed help from her friends and her larger community, you all—we—surprised her by offering up our support, our pies, our cars for rides, our wallets for Fresh Direct gift cards, our time, and our prayers.

I saw how much it meant to her that everyone rallied, throwing spelling bee fundraisers, offering research, and sending emails of support. Cheryl opened up and took in that love in a way that I’d never seen her do before.

Kelli told me that at the end, when she and Cheryl were doing some woo-woo aspirations that clearly were Kelli’s idea, Cheryl chose to say “I am thankful for my community,” and she didn’t even roll her eyes.

More than anything else, I’m so glad this event is an opportunity to get all of us together, all of us who loved and cared for Cheryl, and who love and care for Kelli, to look around the room and acknowledge what a community ourpouring of love looks like.

Tonight, you’ll hear some of her work read by some artists, writers, and friends, from Cheryl’s brother, and a few videos of Cheryl herself.

— Readers —

Thank you to all the readers for coming and being here today.

I’d like to conclude by reading one of my favorite poems, which has been a comfort to me lately. You’ll notice it’s not in Cheryl’s style, but I’d like to offer it up as a prayer, in whatever way that means to you.

The Summer Day by Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

Thank you all for being here. Thank you Dixon Place, thank you to the volunteers who helped us set up and will help us clean up, thank you United Stages and Kathleen Warnock for the beautiful program/chapbooks. Thanks to Genne and Bevin for helping to coordinate this event, thank you Kelli for your beautiful heart and friendship, to all of us.

There is a new writer’s fund set up in Cheryl’s name through the Astraea Foundation; you can donate on your way out. When there are more events to raise funds for the Cheryl B. Fund, you can find out about them on wtfcancerdiaries.com.

You are also welcome to take a book from Cheryl’s collection, we have a donation hat next to it if you’d like to contribute.

And please remember to support each other, tonight and ongoing.

Thank you for being here.

Living Gender

Ellie Lumpesse has been curating a Gender Celebration Blog Carnival, and today’s my day to participate. The topic is “living gender.”

You can check out a few of the other participants, if you like: Curvaceous Dee wrote about what makes her a woman; Sexpert Jane Blow wrote about her perceived gender; Eusimto wrote about gender anarchy; Dangerous Lilly wrote about labels and being politically correct. Still to come are neamhspleachas and Ellie.

I hope this Gender Celebration Carnival will keep going! I think it could drum up some great conversation.

I don’t know when it happened exactly.

One day I just woke up and felt good in my skin. I went to my closet and felt good about the choices of clothing I had to offer. I dressed and looked in the mirror and I felt good about my reflection. I saw a photograph of myself and I smiled, and saw me.

It wasn’t always that way.

I didn’t used to recognize myself in photographs. I didn’t used to feel good about the pieces of clothing I would pull on to pull together an outfit. But somewhere along the way, things started shifting, and improved.

I probably can’t even put my finger on it. Not an exact date or time.

I remember when I threw out most of my clothes that were purchased in the girl’s department, going through my closet and my drawers with each piece: where did this one come from? This one? This one? and sifting them all into neat piles. I remember bringing home bags full of button-downs and polo shirts from the thrift store to try to rebuild some new version of me, some version that had swagger and dated girls and knew how to fuck. I remember buying three-packs of undershirts and three-packs of briefs and trying to figure out from the packaging what size I would be.

I remember trying on various versions of these in photo sets, self-portraits I would take of myself on my bed, against a wall, with an upturned lamp pointed at my face. Sometimes with a timer, sometimes from arm’s length. I have found folders and folders of these photos recently, with titles like “playing butch dressup” and “self butch” and “new clothes” and “wife beater a-shirt.” There were others: “lipstick” and “cat costume” and “corset” and “cleavage,” all carefully labeled in folders, back in the digital day before Picasa and iPhoto would keep everything organized for you.

But it wasn’t all about clothes and presentation.

They say there are many components to gender: chromosomes, genitals, hormones, external presentation, internal sense of self, and yes, of course, socialization and performance. Gender is not all of any of these things, it is not all performance, it is not all socialized. Some of it is innate. Some of it is about genitals. I believe there are many factors.

Gender is also about energy.

I remember studying some classmates in college: the way they sat, the way they held their pens, the way they slung their bookbags over their shoulders and defiantly walked out of the classroom door, shoulders back head high chin up. A little daring, a little rebellious. They sat with their legs open, taking up lots of space. I mimicked them. I practiced sliding low in a chair and splaying my knees.

I noticed that these people got lower grades than I did for doing the same work, because they were perceived to be not paying attention.

And then, when I started mimicking them daily, when my mimery became mine and became a slightly altered version of a copy of a copy of a copy, I started getting ignored by those same professors, started getting glossed over when my hand was up, started wondering why I wasn’t perceived as the straight-A front row apple-for-the-teacher student that I was.

Oh. Right. My gender.

But it wasn’t always like that. It was easier to recognize a straight-A student as a girl, apparently. My board shorts and polo shirts were not proper enough to be seen as part of academia, but my brain hadn’t changed. Curiouser and curiouser.

(That was workable, however. All it took was a few office hours visits with those professors and my participation in class looked much different.)

The other thing that changed was the girls. Suddenly I was visible, a catch, someone dateable. I had three dates in a week, once, in college, and my mind was a little bit boggled. (I didn’t sleep with any of them, or rather, none of them slept with me, but hey, at least I was getting out there! At least I was being noticed!)

I got a Facebook message from the mom of one of my childhood friends recently that said, “You look exactly the same.” I’m not sure what she meant by that, because to me I look so completely different. But I think she was trying to express some gender validation, some gender celebration, telling me that though my external appearance may seem radically different, that there was a similarity, a thread running through all of my life experiences that was me, at the core.

What I want to tell you is that now, I recognize myself in the mirror. Now, I don’t get up and obsess about gender before I even put on my clothes. Now, I get my hair cut every three weeks and keep it shorn tight in the back and on the sides. Now, I don’t debate if it’s a cliche to keep my hair short, I don’t wonder if perhaps I should grow it back out because lesbians should have options, I keep it short because I know I want to. I keep briefs in my underwear drawer because I know all the options, and those are what I like. I collect ties and cufflinks. I shop unapologetically in the men’s department and I don’t even know my sizes translated into women’s anymore: I’m 8 1/2, 34/30, M, 16. I feel handsome and beautiful and attractive and at peace with my body—at least, most of the time. It has taken time, I’m 32, but I don’t think about my own gender, and wonder what it would be like, living daily, if it felt comfortable, anymore.

Cheryl B.

photo by Syd London

Cheryl B. died yesterday, Saturday morning. I’m not sure what I can say yet. A couple other people are able to be more articulate than me: Sassafras Lowrey at Lambda Literary.org, Kathleen Warnock at Too Many Hats. Edit: Here’s a few more, Anne Elliott on Ass Backwords, Rachel Kramer Bussel on Lusty Lady.

We made a little video for Cheryl at April’s Sideshow.

Sideshow Loves Cheryl from Sinclair Sexsmith on Vimeo.

I’d like to post some videos of her poetry soon. I miss her.

Piercing, Waxing, & Other Body Modifications as Sex Toys

EDIT: I scheduled this piece to publish today last week, when I was going through my drafts folder and discovered I’d never published it here (it originally appeared on Good Vibes Magazine). It seems a bit trite, after this weekend. More information about Cheryl is coming in the next few days, as we start planning what’s next.

Kristen and I drove to Philadelphia in February to see the piercing master Elayne Angel, to get Kristen’s nipples pierced and to have her pierce one of my cocks.

In all of the talk of piercing in the last few months since we both decided these piercings might be something we wanted to pursue, I started thinking about my tongue piercing again and that I would like to have it again. I had it pierced first in 2001 (ten years ago … is that right?! I think so) and then took it out in early 2006, only to have a piercer re-open the hole (which was only a tiny bit closed, so much easier the second time) in late 2007, and then took it out again in early 2009, which was before Kristen and I got together. So she never got the chance to kiss me with it. She said she’d kissed other people who have had one, but nothing more than that. And I had developed a few tricks with it, believe you me.

Of all the piercings I’ve had—and I’ve had 11 different ones, three below the neck, some of which I have had pierced more than once—my tongue is the one I like the most. But I have, as I tend to say, “a teeth thing,” which has in the past been a pretty serious dental phobia and now it just a former phobia (I think) and a general fear of breaking teeth or damaging teeth. So that doesn’t go very well with a metal bar through my tongue.

I took it out last time on a whim and then regretted it, wishing that I’d instead bought a spacer bar to keep it open instead of removing it entirely, or a bar with flat ends instead of the silver balls so it stays closer to my tongue and doesn’t click on my teeth when I talk or eat.

With all this talk of piercings, I started wishing I still had the bar in my tongue, and I decided about a week ago to see if I could get it through—and I could! It was quite easy, and while it was tender for a day or two it wasn’t more than adjusting, no actual damage. I found that I had actually bought a bar with flat ends (why didn’t I use that before? Not sure) and now that it feels back to normal, not swelling or sore, I slipped that in with the ball on top and the flat disc on the bottom just this morning.

It feels good. I like it.

I’ve noticed, in the week since I’ve had it in my mouth, that I am much more inclined to kiss Kristen with tongue, to touch it to her tongue, to get it into her mouth in some way than I was before. I wouldn’t say I dislike tongue kissing (at all!) but I do think generally people use their tongues too much when they kiss and that the lips are the good, best parts. But Kristen really likes tongue kisses generally … so this is a little bit different.

I’m also noticing that since Kristen got both nipples pierced that I want to touch them more. I can’t, really, yet, as they heal, for at least a week or so, but I find myself wanting to ask her to take her shirt off so I can see them, and wanting to touch or kiss or play with them already. She loves attention toward her tits, and probably generally I could do more of that, so this is a happy side effect of the piercing for her.

This morning, over breakfast, as we were discussing what we had to get done (on Kristen’s first real day off since her job started in early February), she mentioned she was going to get her pussy waxed. Which I love. Not because it’s something I expect her to do or require her to do or think is more feminine or part of any sort of beauty standard—I believe everyone has the right to sculpt or play with or explore their own body hair in whichever ways they want to, and that they can change that at any time—but because I love touching, kissing, playing with her pussy after she gets it done.

A friend of ours had hers waxed for the first time recently, and when I asked how it went she said, “My girlfriend could not keep her face out of my pussy for four days.”

Yeah. It’s like that. I see it all bare and I want to suck her lips into my mouth. Same with her nipples—I see them all pink and pert and I want to pinch them, lick them.

To Kristen this morning I said, “Between the waxing and the piercing, I’m going to have a hard time keeping my hands off you.”

Which, I expect, is at least part of the point! And which feels like a really good place to be in, given some of our recent complications.

It’s not that I expect any of these things—pierced tongue, pierced nipples, waxed pussy—to be something that anyone does, and if Kristen had showed no interest in nipple piercing or pussy waxing I never would push her to do either. But she was enthusiastic, interested in exploring what it would be like to modify her body in those ways, and personally, I think those are some significant ways to play with this amazing sexy tool of a body that we all have.

I don’t believe it should be a double standard, either—I too am responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of my own body hair, and in doing things that make her want to touch me or pleasure me. I’ve started to think of my gym routine as directly related to our sex life, because while it not only helps me build strength and stamina physically, it makes me feel stronger and more alive, with more confidence, something that can only help in the bedroom.

And I’m interested in enhancing my own body for sexual pleasure. I’m not sure if I’ll get another piercing. If I do, it’d be a clit piercing of some sort, probably a triangle, though I’m not sure about that. I’m especially not sure what it would be like to strap on and have a clit piercing, though I would hope it would make things better, which would be part of the point.

I often think of piercing as a way to enhance both sensation and attention toward a particular body part. Similarly to getting a tattoo—You may not notice someone’s forearms, but if they have a ring around it or a visual symbol of some sort, it draws much more attention to it. Plus piercings certainly give exhibitionists an excuse to take their shirts off (or lower their pants), since people are generally interested in how these things look and eager to say yes to an offer of, “Would you like to see?”

She’s definitely more willing to let out her exhibitionist these days. And given that she quite enjoyed the needle going through her nipples, I think she’s coming along quite nicely as a masochist, too. I referred to her as such at the dinner table last night, after the experience, and she protested. “Okay, a masochist-in-training, then,” I responded. That might be more accurate.

Rachel Kramer Bussel has a great recent piece about her experiences with waxing. I like looking at things like waxing that our culture files under “obligatory beauty regimens” as things that we actively choose, knowing full well what we are choosing (like the amount of time it takes to maintain hair removal is quite a lot), and that we choose because we like the way it looks or feels or the way it enhances our sex life. That is a perfectly valid reason to choose something.

Happy 28th Birthday, Kristen!

It’s Kristen’s 28th birthday tomorrow!

I am as ever grateful for her in my life. I’ve never been so in love, I’ve never been in a better relationship, and though we are in some rocky growth struggles, I am confident we’ll get through it and be better people because of it.

This is the third birthday I’ve been able to spend with her so far, and I love the ways that she is growing and blossoming and stepping into her power and doing amazing things in the world, and I know it’s just going to be more exciting to be with her as all her adventures continue.

Love you, darling. Happy birthday.

Returning from the Power, Surrender, and Intimacy Retreat

I’ve returned from retreat, a three-day workshop at Easton Mountain called Power, Surrender, and Intimacy (PSI) through the erotic energy school that I have studied with for more than ten years. I’m producing these workshops these days, as well as assisting, and while our numbers were a little bit low, the workshop was beautifully smooth and overall very successful. There are some shifts happening at the school, so I’m not sure how many more of these I will produce, but I’m really glad to have done this one.

Easton Mountain retreat center, aka gay sex camp, where the workshop was held

I’ve done PSI twice before, once as a participant in about 2002 and once as an assistant here in New York in about 2007. The first one I remember vividly—many of the different pieces of it—and I easily can point to that workshop weekend to say that that is when I discovered I was a top. The entire workshop centers around exploring dominance and submission, power and surrender. I found the surrender parts fairly easy but not particularly heated, and I was shocked to discover not only how I liked to be in charge, channeling power, but also that I had an inner sadist ready to be cultivated.

I couldn’t remember the second workshop very well. In the week up to this one I was trying to think of what I had taken away from it, what it had shifted for me, and as this weekend went on I realized that PSI was a huge tipping point in my study as an assistant, as a leader of this work and as someone who is able to hold, ground, and move erotic energy.

The difference between what I am capable of doing now and what I could do then is significant—I felt so connected, and so able to move the overwhelming emotion that came up for the entire group at various times. There were certainly moments where I nearly panicked with the expectation (that I set on myself, mostly) that I would be able to hold or move something, but generally when faced with that responsibility I could meet it gladly and capably.

The most significant moment of this was during two rituals on Sunday, when we started out with a wand of light tantric meditation (which I can’t seem to find any description of online) in order to raise some of our energies so we could go into the next ritual, which was transformative and about shadow, and very intense. The wand of light meditation starts at the root chakra and builds all the way up to the third eye, one chakra at a time, and I could feel it so intensely, especially toward the end, that I was kind of certain my head was going to come off as energy shot skyward and began exploding things.

I, as an assistant (and having had experienced this ritual before, which the other two assistants had not), was expected to go first in the second ritual. The facilitator described that we shouldn’t calculate what we were going to do, but that we would know it was time to come up when we felt a quickening. Oh, I felt it alright. I knew I had to go up there, and do something with this energy which was pulsing through my spine, but I wasn’t really sure what to do or how to do it.

Gravity by Nikki McClure. This image came to mind when I was trying to ground
I tried to describe it to another one of the assistants later. During the meditation part, I felt the energy rush up into me so intensely and come pouring out of the crown of my head that I layed down to get some better grounding, trying to remember that I was held by gravity, but even that didn’t work: instead of going up through my entire body, it started going from my root chakra through my pelvis and up into my cock, which became so incredibly erect and upright and felt like it was going to shoot off of me.

I sat back up, and tried to ground in other ways.

It dawned on me that this wand of light, this energetic connection to the earth, was there all the time, not just now—it’s something that I’ve dropped into numerous times at tantra workshops in recent years, and it always surprises me that it’s still there, and in fact it’s easier to access the next time around.

Realizing and deeply feeling this connection made me think of something another assistant had said on our ride up: that we are not living on the earth, but living in the earth, since the atmosphere is not actually part of space but part of our unique planet. We swim around in it. We would not survive outside of it. We are held upright to the earth by this magical gravity, but we are not separate. In fact, I felt like a puppet, like this wand of light was actually the earth creating me, coming up into me and animating me.

That is what I would have liked to express when I got up in front of the whole group to open the second ritual. But I couldn’t form words. As a writer and poet I find that extremely frustrating. The facilitator even asked: Are there words to go with this? I was shaking with every breath. Filling up with light and energy and then feeling it pour down my spine again as I breathed out, or pour up through the crown of my head. My hands jerked and felt electric.

“I feel like a column,” I managed to say. Really this energy felt penetrative. It felt like I was being fucked by spirit. It felt like it—and I—was rising out of the earth. It felt like the earth was using me to fuck the sky. I had no idea how to form words, it was all I could do to sit still and not explode.

“I don’t know if I can say more.”

And that was just about it. Three minutes were up, quickly, and I sat back down, unsure if my head was still attached. And then I started to panic. Oh fuck. What if I stay like this? What do I do with all of this energy? What is it going to do to me? It doesn’t seem to be working to just let it flow through me—and by “working” I mean it doesn’t seem to be calming me, but rather ramping me up. How do I calm this quickening? I have to work now, I have to assist and support others in their reveal, how am I going to do that?

Words from another facilitator came to mind: When you feel you can’t handle something, give it to the earth. She can handle anything. I would have tried anything right then. So I redirected all that energy that was coming up through me and thought of it pouring down into the ground, and immediately my head cleared. Immediately I felt so solid and stable and grounded. Immediately I no longer felt crazy but powerful, and powerfully alive.

The ritual poured through me, one person after another, and mostly I was so intensely connected and moved by it that tears just streamed down my cheeks for person after person, and I gave it all back to the earth. Help me hold this, thank you, thank you.

I feel like my reveal was sloppy, and that I was in a little bit of a state of panic when I went up there, but it’s clear that the energy was present and that I was a conduit for it. And the ritual happened, successfully, with the transformative energies we were seeking, so clearly something went right. I don’t know what I would have done if I’d been able to see outside of myself a little better, and it’s clear to me that what I did was the only thing I could have done at that moment. Perhaps it’s the performer in me who would have liked to have a better translation of my experience into my expression. But I can—or will try—to let that tiny sliver of regret go, and to not let it drive me.

What I learned about grounding was powerful, and I think that will stick with me.

There were a couple other fascinating things I’d like to report to you about, though they were not workshop content so much as things around the workshop that came up, like the debate over where female ejaculate comes from (the urethra) and where it is stored (the paraurethral sponge, I discovered). And the conversations around female/feminine sources of power and how easily that power can be mistaken or misused as manipulation instead of power, and how that flavor of power is even encouraged to be manipulation in this culture. And the conversations about butch identity with the facilitator and the other assistant—how there is a constant butch scale in our heads which compares and contrasts us to each other, and fears that we are the least butch of the group. There are many more things I could write about.

But it’s day three of being back, and I have so many things I need to accomplish, my email inboxes are too full, and I’ve been avoiding some regular tasks the last two days as I have been trying to take good care of myself for this re-entry. Perhaps I’ll write more about those things later, I promise I’ll try.

Meanwhile, I’ll get back to the Ask Me Anything questions, and start working on the next retreat, which is my favorite one (a five-day advanced retreat in New Mexico in late July).

I’m curious if you all might have questions for me about this retreat … do you want to know more about it? Which parts?

I’ve returned from the Midwest!

And along with myself, I’ve brought some jam from Lucille’s Kitchen Garden, thanks to Lori‘s suggestion. I am devouring the garlic pepper version right now on a grilled cheese sandwich. I would be eating the raspberry pepper kind, which apparently is the star of the bunch (their website quotes a fan saying, “I would eat my own arm if this was on it,” which I find hilarious), but we’ve already gone through more than half a jar since I brought it back on Saturday afternoon and I’m trying to save it for more goat cheese, or the garlic & brie recipe that uses it.

Apparently the jam is made by queers, too. Bonus! Midwest, I am very jealous that you have access to this at all times.

So of course, since I was gone for a week and really intently focused on the events and workshops and performance I was doing (I was only late to my own workshop once!), I have a million things to do now that I’m back in town. I have many deadlines coming up in early May, so forgive me if things are quiet around here for a bit.

Meanwhile, there are some great things to do in NYC if you’re nearby:

Special queer literary night:

Queer Literary Night (free!)
Wednesday April 27, 2011
8pm
Phoenix Bar, NYC (447 East 13th Street)
RSVP on Facebook

Come hear the wonderful queer literary talent of the Columbia University Writing MFA program, including poets, fiction writers, and nonfiction writers: Josh Edwin, Nadia Waggener, Eliza Schrader, Muna Gurung, Stephen Moles.

Also, our featured reader is David Ebershoff, author of “The Danish Girl,” “The Rose City,” “Pasadena” and “The 19th Wife” and Professor at Columbia University.

The event is free and open to the public.

For all of you butch appreciators out there:

L Boogie Productions Presents:
Boxers Off! An Evening of Butch Burlesque
The Spring-Has-Sprung April Show!
with emcee Lea Robinson as L Boogie
Stonewall Inn (53 Christopher St .)
Saturday, April 30th, 2011
7pm-10:00pm
Admission $10
RSVP on Facebook

April showers, may flowers, and pagan revelry! Which hot performers will help you shake off the winter chill? Performances will include new work by Drae Campbell, Laura Turley, Cal Trumann, Daddy TYE, Molly Dykeman, Susana Cook, Susan O’Dea, and Shelly Mars… And Mieke’s Go Go dancers will be there to get you in the mood.

And not to be missed in NYC in May:

New York launch of Persistence: All Ways Butch and Femme
Saturday, May 14, 2011
The Stonewall Inn (53 Christopher Street)
8:00PM
RSVP on Facebook

The Struggle for Growth

The couple’s therapy session last night went pretty well, and I think we’re going to see her again.

The therapist mentioned the stages of a relationship, first by saying, “What stage do you think you are in?” and later by reflecting back to us that she thinks (and I agree) we are in a conflict stage, which is completely normal, after 2+ years, for the development of a long term partnership.

I spent the morning looking up articles on relationship stages. I think most of us can pretty easily identify the Honeymoon phase, or the NRE (new relationship energy) phase, which is pretty commonly discussed in my world anyway. It’s clear Kristen and I are past that … though to be honest, I feel a little sad about that, even just writing down that we’re no longer in it, I don’t want to admit that, to myself or to you, I’d rather be one of those couples that says, “The honeymoon never ended,” and be all blissful and gooey eyed at each other. I think I am grieving for that loss a little. We stayed there for a long time, certainly longer than I’ve ever been in it before, and we even were able to get back into that blissful wrapped-up-in-each-other feeling for a good year and a half into our relationship, maybe even a little longer.

I have read many books on relationships and taken some relationship classes, so it kind of surprised me that I’m not more familiar with these relationship stage theories. Some of the articles I read have four stages, some have five, some have five or six, some have eight, but all of them mention this key stage of growth, which is where I think Kristen and I are, and most of them refer to it as The Power Struggle. One place writes that it is “sometimes also known as the “Growth Struggle” by those who like to think positively,” which I think is more apt, not just because I like to think positively but because growth requires the temporary suspension of security, and that as much as many of us gives lip service to wanting to “grow,” most people don’t seem to be capable of doing so. And “growth” is what the Power Struggle actually means—we are struggling against each other, with power dynamics, monsters, whatever, and if we can work through it, it will be a huge stage of growth for us, into the next stages.

So, before I keep going into my personal reactions to these stages, here’s what I understand from my readings to be the major relationship stages, as compiled from multiple sources.

1. The Honeymoon

New Relationship Energy, Bliss, Enchantment, Falling In Love, Romantic Love—this stage has many names, but all the models I read seems to be clear and in agreement about what it does. It brings two people together, blissfully, and makes everything seem great. Better than great—wonderful.

“When you see things that you don’t like, you might deny or at least minimize them. You tend to go above and beyond what is required or expected. You feel energized, alive, and filled with new dreams.” Dawn Lipthrott writes at The Relationship Learning Center. She also explains that, “Your brain is flooded with feel-good neurochemicals like dopamine and PEA (phenylethylamine). Like most endorphins, PEA increases energy, feelings of well being, positive outlook, and diminishes pain. It increases sexual desire. PEA is what allows you to skip meals and sleep. If you usually tend to be anxious, PEA may help you feel safe and calm. If you are usually depressed, you might have more energy and see things more positively.”

Seems like most of these places say it tends to last 6-8 months, but completely vary depending on the couple and can be longer or shorter.

2. Settling In

Some places have more phases between the Honeymoon and the Power Struggle, like Discovery, and Commitment, or Accommodation , but most of the others go right into the Power Growth Struggle.

But I think there is more to the beginning of a relationship than just the blissful honeymoon, and that most of the time, more things happen before going right into the Growth Struggle.

“The initial excitement of being together is subdued so you can actually discover who the other person really is. You and your partner begin to discover each other’s quirks and neurosis, and you uncover things that bug you about each other. You also begin to discover what you truly love and respect about one another. Your communication should deepen to a soulful level, where you begin to open up to each other,” love coach Rinatta writes.

“Roles are established, expectations are set and compromises are made,” Dr. Marty Tashman writes.

I think Kristen and I spent a bit of time in this, settling in to each other, building, working on foundations, having small fights but recovering, still holding that deep bond between us. In relationships I’ve had in the past, we skipped this stage, and I think it’s important for a strong foundation.

3. The Growth Struggle

“Eventually, for virtually all couples, the enchantment phase ends, the drugs wear off and are no longer secreted, the negative traits emerge with a greater impact, wounds and protections from childhood start being activated and the relationship moves into the “Power Struggle”. Where a partner once wanted to spend lots of time and energy in the relationship … now the partner is quiet, pre-occupied, unavailable. … Where a husband or wife was, in the Romantic Phase, kind and respectful and listening; now in the Power Struggle Phase, he or she becomes impatient, authoritative, unresponsive … somehow familiar from childhood or teen experiences. This can be very distressing and even frightening. At some point there is often the panicky thought, “What have I done? I’ve married my Mom!” from Stages in Love Relationships, Gary Brainerd

“This is the stage at which most couples split up. The power struggle can be a gut-wrenching, painful place for a couple to be. This can be a time of arguments or silence, a time that truly will test the couple’s love. Couples at this stage wonder how they got here since it can come on unexpectedly out of nowhere. This can be a shocking stage for a couple,” love coach Rinatta writes. She continues: “There are two prime stumbling blocks. One is that when couples get to this stage they do not realize it is a normal stage for all relationships, and that they can get through it. Instead, the couple thinks something is wrong – perhaps they are no longer compatible or they no longer love each other. The second stumbling block is that the couple can get stuck in this stage, with one or both partners being unwilling to move forward.”

Men’s relationship advice (I know, cheesy, but I’m only picking what I think is useful and, in my opinion, accurate) says that the Growth Struggle is “a troubled – but necessary (like puberty) – developmental stage.”

Aha—puberty, I like that correlation. Awkward, bumbling, coming of age, growing up, sometimes it feels like the world is ending.

“I like to call this stage, “The Invitation to Growth.” It’s also a struggle for protection. One of the biggest illusions in our culture is that Romantic Love will last forever, if you just find the right partner. We hear that love is supposed to continue happening ‘naturally’ and if you have to ‘work’ on it, it must not be real love,” writes Dawn Lipthrott at The Relationship Learning Center.

I think more commonly in my life there is a sense that “relationships take work,” but also a lot of confusion about how much work is okay, how much is good, and how much is too much. But I like the idea of this being an invitation to grow.

How easy it is to forget that conflict and problems are invitations for growth, change, and evolution in general! This is a basic principle of Buddhism that seems to pop up in my life frequently, but somehow I can’t seem to remember it before I am already dragged down into the mud of, “Oh my god this is never going to change this sucks argh stuck stuck stuck.”

“In this 2nd stage, you might start feeling anxious or disappointed. Things that you once liked about your partner have become sources of frustration and hurt feelings. … Anger and resentment can build. Sometimes it feels as if you are walking on eggshells. Little things seem to so easily turn into big things.” Dawn Lipthrott continues. “For some couples this stage can get to the point of desperation where you’ve tried everything you know and it seems the only option is to get out—temporarily or permanently. … This stage can be the door to deeper connection and intimacy, and a fulfilling relationship, if you learn and use some of the tools to transform it into the path to real love. Conflict is growth trying to happen to help you and your partner realize more of your potential as individuals and as a couple! Conflict can be a door to healing and personal growth. Conflict is NOT the problem. What you do or don’t do with it can be a big problem.”

“There are no simple solutions to a power struggle in a relationship. It’s a complicated phenomenon that is inevitable. But it is resolvable,” Rinatta writes.

“If your relationship is not completely compromised, this is where you need to get help! No, not well-meaning friends or a self-help book – what you need is qualified, impartial third party assistance. Choose [a] relationship counselor in your area,” writes Men’s relationship advice.

“The Power Struggle is growth and healing trying to happen,” writes Gary Brainerd.

I don’t know how people resolve this on their own. Some couples must be capable of it, but I know I can really use some assistance. I’m not sure if any of my relationships have moved out of this phase, to be honest. They always end here, often because, in the past, my conflict resolution skills have been awful, with my tendencies to shut down and run away. I am working hard on that in my individual therapy work, and I’m definitely in a new place.

Because I haven’t really gotten out of this, I’m not sure what the next stages are. But I’ll try to summarize and bring together as much as I can, according to what I’m reading.

It seems like there are two options from the Growth Struggle: unresolved, and resolution. I’m interested in what happens when people stay in an unresolved relationship, it probably would explain a lot of my parent’s marriage, for example, but I’m more interested in a model that I can possibly follow, and a place for which to aim. So you can go read up on the further unresolved stages, though I’m going to focus on what happens when a couple is working toward resolution in this particular relationship stages model.

4. Transformation

Assuming the couple makes it out of the Growth Struggle and stays together, which it seems most couples can’t, the next step is work, work, work. And developing skills. And developing a common language to talk about our individual monsters, our needs, and our relationship’s needs.

“Couples who choose this route will find themselves learning a lot about themselves, about their partner, about relationships,” writes Brainerd. “The emotional patterns of each are clear and they have established patterns of dealing with their differences. It is common for problems to arise in this stage, but because you have already experienced a great many shared challenges, you stand the best chance of working through these issues,” writes Tashman.

“This is the stage in which you not only recognize that your relationship can be more than it is, but also that you have the power to make real changes. You choose to become conscious and intentional, and begin a whole new chapter in co-creating the relationship you both dreamed of,” writes Lipthrott. “In this stage, when you use good communication skills, you can gain new information and insights about yourself, about your partner, and about the nature of marriage or relationship. You discover the hurts, fears and unmet needs that are the roots of conflict and you can find more effective ways to address the REAL problems, not just the symptoms. … you consciously practice the skills you are learning about communication, stretching into new behaviors, creating emotional safety, etc. You become partners in the healing and growth of the relationship, your self and your partner. You hold in your mind and heart the vision of the relationship you want and you work each day to make it a reality. You also find that you are realizing your potential more in other parts of your life.”

“It takes a lot of soul searching, self-discovery, intimacy work and deepened communication to break out of the power struggle and move beyond it. Now both partners must grow emotionally for the relationship to thrive. Those who are committed to their relationship do grow, no matter what may be required of them. Think of this period as your second chance to create the relationship you have always wanted with a partner you have always wanted to be with,” Rinatta writes.

“Beyond the power struggle, in the transformation stage you understand that avoiding conflict is not an option any longer, as it makes you angry and resentful, shuts you down, and breaks the trust. You realize that guilt trips, justifications, blame, criticism, sarcasm, and violent behaviors deeply damage your relationship, brake your partner’s heart and destroy her respect. As hard as it may be, you must stop wasting time on useless distractions (TV, games, shopping, pointless activities) and start spending time with YOURSELF. Walk, run, or sit in quiet meditation; let go of your mind and enter your heart – the answers you are looking for are here. It is time to find yourself again: your needs, your wants, your passions and your dreams. Write them down. Keep refining and upgrading the old ones until you feel ignited again! Little by little, you start seeing your partner with new eyes: she is your best friend and you are both in this together.” writes Men’s relationship advice

Does that ring a bell or what? It seems like I have almost written that paragraph here lately, at least from the part about wasting time and spending time on myself. I have been feeling a strong pull to do that lately, maybe it will help me pre-build this transformation stage. Or maybe we’re already starting to be in it, since we are finally breathing a little more freely around each other, and I know I feel more hopeful that we can get through this than I have before.

5. Gold

That’s how the therapist last night referred to it, anyway: as in, “you hit gold,” or “you’re golden.” I forget what she said exactly, but it’s The Point, I guess. Eventually. I don’t know how long it takes to get there—probably depends on the Growth & Transformation stages, and maybe even once you hit Gold you still go back and grow and transform sometimes again. That would make sense, given that life is ever-changing, ever-evolving, and that there are always crises to deal with.

“It’s not that there will never be hard work or hard times again, but you have reached a new stage in your relationship – a stage where you cherish and treasure each other, appreciate the good, and accept the bad. You have bonded, connected, joined. Now this is what love is all about. … Life happens to a more mature, seasoned, happy and vibrant couple. You move together and separately through your life and know when you need to connect and when you need time apart. You know how to meet each other’s needs and seek increasingly deeper connection. Your relationship is the rock, the wellspring of love in your life.” Rinatta writes.

“This is the stage of deep respect and cherishing of one another as separate and unique individuals without losing the sense of connection. It is a stage of joy, passion, intimacy, happiness and having fun together. It is the stage of living out the vision of true partnership, unconditional love and safety, and of coming to see your partner as your best friend. It is the stage of moving toward the spiritual potential of committed relationship the journey toward wholeness, the love in which you taste Divine Love in whatever way you imagine or language that,” writes Lipthrott.

“The final stage … is what is sometimes called “Realistic Love”. It is a much higher level of marital or relationship satisfaction, but unlike the Romantic Phase, it is based on a mature, realistic love that is grounded in understanding, healing and growth. It is a goal worthy of the best you have to offer,” writes Brainerd.

“The stage of real love, or blissful relationship, is what follows after the winded journey of discovering each other and consistent personal growth for mutual healing in committed relationships. According to researchers, if you reach this ultimate phase of complete acceptance and love you are part of the lucky 5% of the couples who make it. Much like the first infatuation stage, blissful love is full of joy, passion, fun, and deep physical and emotional intimacy. But unlike that phase of “no control and least awareness” you now live out your vision of collaborative partnership, deep respect, and true friendship,” via Men’s relationship advice.

I know I’m giving you a lot of quotes here, but I can’t write from experience about these stages as much. I can probably summarize them (and maybe I will condense this down and into my own words, and pitch it elsewhere, as I keep thinking about it) but I’m still now just trying to understand what the phases are and how we move through them. I have a much better sense of that evolution than I ever did before—not sure how exactly I’ve skipped this theory in all my readings on relationships, or maybe it just never quite resonated because I never got to the Growth Struggle phase and thought that I would actually get through it, and wondered what was next. It was so clear in past relationships that we weren’t going to get through it, so the struggle was simply to get out, rather than to move on.

Here, though, the struggle is to move forward, to open up, to face the growth and transformation, and to keep turning toward this wonderful person who has chosen me, as I’ve chosen her.