“I’m surprised more people don’t talk about biting. It’s pretty practical – I think it should be a conscious part of a dom’s tool kit. When I first apply pressure, her whole body goes tight like a bowstring. It makes me feel like I control every inch of her in that moment, and she’s balanced, waiting for my next decision. All this without any equipment, with both hands free? Awesome.” —K
I love biting during rough sex. Love it.
It’s something I do so automatically that I’ve learned I need to make sure to explicitly ask anybody I mess around with in a BDSM/play context or a sexytimes context a) whether or not they like to be bit and b) if it’s okay for me to leave bite marks. And if it is okay to leave bite marks, to be clear precisely where those marks should or rather should not be left. This negotiation is also about the time that I request that if I do leave marks, that they send me pretty pictures of them the next day. (That’s my favorite part. Well, that, and the actual biting part.)
I basically learned all of that the hard way—messing around with girls and starting to bite, then having them stop me mid-bite with some anger or frustration or safeword. Don’t do it that way. Ask if you can bite. You don’t have to sit them down before you start kissing and say, “So, I really like to bite, preferably somewhere on the fleshy part of your chest or on the top of your shoulder, how do you feel about that?” You can do it while you work your mouth on their neck, shoulders, fingers, mouth. You can do it when you start to go get gloves or condoms or your cock or flip the lights off (or on).
You should ask about hickeys and leaving marks from sucking on someone’s skin, too. Don’t leave marks unless you know you can. Figure out how to suck to leave marks and how to suck to not leave marks. Practice on someone who will let you practice on them. And remember, each person’s skin is different, and marks differently. What marks on one person may not mark the next, and vice versa. So go slowly. Learn to recognize the way skin looks when it starts changing, and be smart about it. Stay within consent.
Okay, enough of that leaving marks / consent PSA. You get the point, right?
Oh! Another thing I love about biting is that I always have the tool with me, my mouth, and I can use it anytime anywhere. I don’t need to set it up or get it out or do anything special, it’s just right there, and conveniently placed. It’s a wonderful tool for a sadist, or for someone who wants to display some possession—either by leaving marks or by making them squeal and squirm and stay in a submissive space through some masochism. A good bite at the right time can tip somebody over the edge and make them come that much harder. But, there are some things to be cautious about.
So, let’s say you have a green light of consent, that this person you’re messing around with in whatever way loves being bit. How do you do that? What are the safety risks? How do you cause maximum pleasure (or pain)?
Where to Bite
Technically, you can bite anywhere on the body, but some places are more suited for deep bites than others, and some places are pretty dangerous if you bite hard. You can cause internal damage, and nobody wants that. Generally, if you know about impact play and where to hit somebody, you can translate that to biting: The places on the body with big muscles and lots of flesh are best to bite, the places with less flesh and more bone or less padding on the organs are not good to bite.
If you haven’t taken a beginner BDSM class that teaches the places on a body to impact, I highly recommend that. Most BDSM groups have a Safety Orientation type of meeting. Go to it! Meet some cool people, while you’re at it.
And because I couldn’t find a decent image of the Where To Impact Body Map online anywhere, rife made a beautiful drawing and color coded it to indicate where and where not to bite.
Click to make it bigger!and/or Click here to buy a print!
This is not necessarily meant to be a comprehensive chart, and please consult a BDSM educator AND YOUR PLAY PARTNER for the places their body likes and doesn’t like to have heavy impact. Each person is different. Use caution and your best judgment.
Personally, I find the places that my mouth kind of naturally lands to be the best places to bite, and for me that tends to be the upper chest, shoulders, and upper arms, and the inner thighs and butt. I have a tendency to bite when I’m coming while strapped on and fucking someone, so that often means their my mouth is in line with their shoulders, either their upper chest if we’re face to face or their upper back if I’m behind them. I know how to gauge my bite in this position, either biting a little recklessly and hard or just a slow close down of my mouth so I have something to do with my jaw while coming.
But, those are all examples of biting for my pleasure. Perhaps you’re doing it as part of a display of possession or more from a service topping perspective, which is also awesome. The first thing you want to do there (after the 0 step of CONSENT of course) is to find the bite.
“Finding the bite” is something kd diamond spoke of when we talked about biting tips when I was hanging out with her in New York City last weekend. The idea being that while you explore their body with your mouth, you start upping the impact of your teeth, starting with some nibbles, and if they seem responsive to that you keep going, and you find the spot on their body that yields well, and that they give you a very noticeable response (moaning, sounds of joy and pleasure, leaning in to your mouth). Once they do that, you know you’ve found a good spot, and rather than moving on, bite deeper right there.
How Hard to Bite
Deeper? How much deeper should you go? As with everything else, it depends on the person, so always listen to them and their body.
I attended Felice Shays’s Playing in Dangerous Neighborhoods: Advanced Rough Sex workshop through LSM in New York City when I visited last weekend, and she had some great things to say about biting. We talked about it a bit after, too, and I took notes.
First, she stresses the difference between speed and intensity. Most of us tops or sadists or dominants or D-types want to have maximum impact when we’re doing something thrilling like biting, and so often we do that by going really fast, but that actually taps out the receiver much quicker than if we do something slow and deep. Slow and deep can open up new channels and let the s-type bloom into the submissive space. Quick and hard can be shocking, cause flinching and even panic. Felice highly recommends intensity over speed.
Which is not to say that speedy hard bites are never okay to do—they can be, sure. Just know that it’ll be a different impact on the person you’re biting than if you go slow and deep. Depends on what the purpose of your bite is.
So once you’ve found the bite, and you want to go slow and deep, what do you do with your mouth?
Different Ways to Bite
Let’s distinguish between a couple different kinds of bites:
- Slow bite: Close, then sink your teeth slowly. You can go deeper with this kind of bite, because you are slowly upping the intensity and letting the receiver of the bite get used to it. If they start having more of a pulling away reaction than a leaning into it reaction, that’s your cue to back off a little (or stay right where you are) and not up the intensity any more.
- Dragging teeth: This was a good tip that Felice mentioned specifically about biting genitals. Genitals are amazing sensitive places and some people really like them being bitten, like a lot. A) Consent (duh), and B) every body is different, and C) if you’re going to be putting your teeth directly onto someone’s genitals, you should have some conversations about being fluid bonded. But after that: Go for it. This is probably not a very good place to chomp, and not a very good place for a deep slow close (though some places, like the inner thighs or the pubic mound, might be okay for that). But delicately clasping their bits in your teeth, and then dragging your teeth, could be immensely pleasurable.
- Chomp: That’s the speedy hard bite I was just mentioning. With little or no warning, you just open your mouth wide and chomp down on someone’s body. This can be lovely and have a wonderful effect, particularly if the person you’re biting likes to be surprised, likes the big adrenaline spike of pain, and likes to feel the bruise throb after you remove your mouth. But generally, I wouldn’t suggest this with someone you haven’t played with much, and with someone that you don’t know likes this kind of bite. The people who like it really like it, but I think I’d argue it’s the least universally enjoyed type of biting.
- Other kinds of bites? I imagine there are many more kinds (like “love nibbles”), but these are three of them. Got more ideas?
As the Receiver of Biting …
You can help the person biting you by being honest about your reactions, not enduring things you don’t like (unless enduring something is your fetish, but that’s a slightly different conversation), and giving lots of feedback, either verbally or with your body language.
If you can, use the numbers or colors systems to give feedback, by rating a bite 1-10, 1 being “I barely felt that” and 10 being “that is as much as I can take bordering on STOP RIGHT NOW.” Remember that what feels like a 6 today might feel like a 3 tomorrow and a 9 next Thursday, and depending on where you are in the scene, and how erotically stimulated and aroused you are, bites (or any kind of body impact) can feel different. Keep your feedback coming, however you can.
The colors system is using the words red-yellow-green to let your biter know how you’re doing, like a traffic light: Green means go, yellow means caution (and often means “pause / back off / please stop what you’re doing but don’t stop the scene”) and red means STOP everything now and check in. It’d be very useful to hear “yellow!” if a bite was getting waaay too deep and you needed it to stop, or if you were really enjoying a deep slow bite to hear “green green greengreengreen,” as an indicator that you are requesting the biter keep going.
When During Sex to Bite
Depends … people like different things, of course, so check in with the person you’re playing with. (I know, I know, that’s my constant disclaimer, but it remains true. For that matter, you probably shouldn’t ask me when during sex or where on their body they want to be bit—ask them. Ask them. No seriously, ask them. I know it’s hard to bring up, but talking about it is so important.)
I’d say there are two main times during the sexytimes act that I’d encourage biting: Toward the beginning, during the ramp-up to bigger, rougher, deeper play, and during orgasms.
In the beginning of the play, biting can be a great way to explore someone’s body. Often as we’re warming up and making out and getting into more and more foreplay, we do a lot of kissing of the neck and shoulders, sometimes the chest, so that can be a great time to try out some light biting and to slowly ramp it up.
And if you know you have someone who likes moments of sensation or release as a way of tipping them over the edge, you can strategically place a bite on one of those places you found before when they are getting closer and closer to orgasm, and it could sometimes be the thing that sends them over the edge. It probably takes some practice to do this, but the reaction and release (and beautiful bruise you may get to see later or the next day) is an amazing reward.
Bruises from biting on rife. Left: bite marks on his upper chest and upper arm (bruises on his chin are not from biting). Top: Bite marks on his upper back. Bottom: Bruises on his ass from punching and paddling, and one big dark bite mark.
Dangers of Biting & Safety Tips
There are some places on the body you don’t want to bite hard, both for safety (like the possibility of damaging an internal organ or tendon) and for pleasure (biting down on the tendons of the neck is not pleasurable for most recipients, for example). Take a Where To Impact On The Body kind of class, ask your local BDSM pervert educator, and know the person you’re playing with.
Do not bite arteries or tendons. That is unpleasant, and dangerous. Aim for the fleshy, meaty, bite-able parts of the body.
There is also the risk of breaking the skin if you are a hard biter. Breaking the skin is bad. The human mouth is generally a very dirty place, with all sorts of bacteria, and a human bite can be more easily infected than a dog bite.
Know your mouth. Notice if your teeth are generally completely flat on the bottoms, or if some of them have edges or chips or points. Those teeth are more likely to break skin. For example, I’ve never full-on broken skin with a deep bite, but I have one particular tooth that is very pointy (my “vampire tooth” canine) and it often leaves more of a red mark than the others and has drawn a teeny tiny bit of blood in a puncture on a rare occasion. Know which teeth are sharp. Do you have braces? That’ll change your impact as well.
If you do break the skin, clean it well and monitor it closely. If anything looks out of the ordinary, see a doctor. Get it checked out. It’s an easy treatment, but it can be bad if not treated.
What about bruises?
Bruises are not necessarily bad for you, not harmful to you or your muscles, and will heal well on most people without much specific care. But again, know your body. If you’re anemic, you may bruise a whole lot easier than someone who is not, for example.
Some people swear by things like Arnica, a homeopathic cream meant to help heal bruises and bumped tissue. After Miss Calico did a bruising and Arnica experiment a few years ago I’ve been more skeptical of Arnica’s value, but as the kid of some hippie parents, I still often take it orally if I’m trying to heal my body from bruising.
Keep an eye on the bruises as they heal. Usually, healthy bruises will go from a slightly red mark at the time of impact to dark purple or black as they bloom, and then fade to shades of lighter blue, sometimes green, yellow, and back to your regular skin color. It’s harder to see the fading process on people with darker skin, easier to see the fading process on people with lighter skin. Know your body. Get to know the process of how you bruise and how you heal. If anything looks out of the ordinary, get it checked out (preferably with a kink-friendly doctor so you can say things like “happily consensual!” with a big smile and they will get it). It is normal for a bruise to “travel” a little bit as the tissues and blood vessels slowly repair.
If the bruise gets lumpy or hard, get it checked out. If it stays dark and doesn’t seem to be fading, get it checked out. If anything seems out of the ordinary, get it checked out. And share the knowledge that you learn with the people/person you are playing with—it’s helpful for them to know your body, too!
In Conclusion ….
Biting is one of my favorites. For control, sadism, possession, sensation, and leaving marks, it’s a fantastic tool, and one I use often. Get consent. Know your body, and get to know your play partner’s body. Every body is different, but if you get to know each other you can figure out what will cause maximum pleasure (or pain) (or both) and impact and beautiful bruises. Know the risks that you’re taking and keep yourself and your partner as safe as you can.
That about covers my thoughts on bruising! What are your thoughts? Do you love it, hate it? Agree with my tips, or think I’m wrong? Did I leave something critical out? Any other types of bites or safety tips or things I’m missing? I’d love to know.
What’s your relationship with sugarbutch.net and Sinclair?
I’ve been reading you on and off for about four years now. I love your erotic writing and, as a fellow butch, have felt a kindred sense of discovery with you as I’ve come into my own. It’s refreshing to read your perspective as it mirrors some of my own experiences.
PS: I saw that you were attending QI in Hartford. So am I, and fuck, I’d love to suck your cock.
What advice would you give your younger self about sex, gender, or relationships?
—Kat Heatherington — http://yarrowkat.livejournal.com
What one resource has had the most impact on you, and why?
—Kat Heatherington — http://yarrowkat.livejournal.com
What’s your relationship with sugarbutch.net and Sinclair?
Keep doing what you are doing. I know you have had a tough run of it lately, but I admire you for staying true to who you are, what you want/need, and wearing your scars for everyone to see.
— PolyAnna/Josette Sheridan, http://lookingthrough.us/
What advice would you give your younger self about sex, gender, or relationships?
2. Don’t even bother trying to date somebody who isn’t kinky; it’s not going to work.
3. Being attracted to trans men, after some years of only being into butch women, is okay and doesn’t change your fundamental self. You can still keep your queer card and just love who you love. Most of your ex-girlfriends will eventually turn into men, anyway.
4. If you’re in a D/s relationship with someone who breaks down your self-esteem and violates your boundaries, that’s not D/s: that’s abuse. Even if they buy you shiny presents.
— Anne Campbell, https://www.facebook.com/riverbend
—Cathlin Star, http://cathlinstar.blogspot.com/
And then I would give her a hug and tell her that it was going to be ok.
— Clara S., http://thethirdrose.tumblr.com
— Tonja Hewlett, https://www.facebook.com/EnterprisingFae
What one resource has had the most impact on you, and why?
Maybe this is just as much about the book as the editor…. I’ve met Joan (she lives in Melbourne, Australia) and her partner Dianne and find her to be such a valuable elder to have in the community. I love the way her writing is so political, and that class and race are made so relevant. I also love that although Butch-Femme influences her whole life, it’s not in such predictable ways and has changed and morphed as she’s gotten older/grown.
Shes so involved in movements around Israel/Palestine and I see her out at refugee rallies monthly. She’s so engaged with the younger queer community here still and puts in so much time, for this and many other reasons I really respect her and she has taught me a lot. <3
In an attempt to look more queer and attract more attention from people that I thought I wanted I really played down my femme side to look as “queer” as possible so I guess I’d like to tell my younger self that there would be someone who would love your femme side and wouldn’t read you as any less queer for it. More specifically, would know all the ways that you were sexy just for her.
—Kachina Addison, http://www.facebook.com/kachina.addison
Rounderwear contacted me offering products for review, and while their bubble-butt gay boy underwear is pretty cute, I wasn’t sure it was for me exactly. Then, the Body Tank sections caught my eye, and I requested to take a look at the Jam Body Tank.
Glad I did. I’ve worn it frequently since it arrived.
I really don’t like full-on compression shirts. They make it hard for me to breathe. They knock the wind outta me after walking a block or two, or up one flight of stairs. They shove my chest up into my collarbone and sometimes make me feel like my neck isn’t free enough, like I’m suffocating. They make my stomach feel all weird (and some other digestion things you probably don’t want to know about). I don’t like the feeling of wearing one.
I sure do like how my silhouette looks when I do, however.
So, I picked up a “muscle shirt” a while ago, which is basically a regular tee shirt on top and then an elastic band that covers the stomach, and I wear that over my usual binder (aka sports bra—my current pick being Enell) when I want to have a smoother silhouette, or when I want to wear a button-down. It’s not as intense as my compression shirt, but it still makes a difference.
This Jam Body Tank is a lot like that, except instead of being half-shirt half-elastic, it’s all elastic. It’s a lot more comfortable than a compression shirt, but it’s not quite as effective. It doesn’t create the same straight(er) lines that a compression shirt does, but it does still help, AND I can breathe! Yes!
Here’s the description from the Rounderwear site:
Seamless compression tank that provides back support and definition to the muscles. Its detailed design and construction help pull back the shoulders, straighten the back and slim down the waist.
92% Polyamide Sorbtek 8% Elastane
• Improves shape and posture
• Slims down
• Reduces back pain
• Controls body temperature
• Machine wash
I don’t feel it pulling back the shoulders or straightening my back, but maybe I already have good posture? Kind of doubt it, since I’ve got a long history of shoulder trouble. I also haven’t noticed any sort of “body temperature” control, but maybe it knows something I don’t.
What does seem to be true is that it “provides support” and “improves shape” and “slims down.” Basically, it’s Spanx for men. And butches, and whomever might want to slim down their curves into a more linear shape.
I’m very glad to have something other than that compression shirt to wear to “slim down” my shape and make it a bit more masculine, especially for long conference days like I had this past weekend. Wearing the compression shirt for a whole day (or two or four days in a row) is hard on my body. I’m glad for the chance to review it, I didn’t realize products like these are out there and I’m going to keep an eye out for more like this.
As I’ve been exploring deeper into power theory, like D/s and M/s, and as I’ve been trying to understand how my relationship with Kristen went wrong and in what ways power played into that, I’ve been thinking more and more about responsibility.
I’ve been meditating on the basics: What is it? How does it work? How does one “take responsibility”? What kind of responsibilities does one have—as a partner, as a lover, as a Daddy, as a dominant, as a friend? How does responsibility shift and changes when circumstances are not ideal, such as when someone is grieving (you know, hypothetically)?
Raven Kaldera and Joshua Tenpenny, whose books on M/s I have been recently devouring and whose theories I astutely agree with, mention in one of their books that a dominant’s hunger for responsibility must be equal to or greater than their hunger and lust for power. That resonated deeply with me, so I have been chewing on how to act from a responsible place, how to behave responsibly, how to hunger for responsibility, how to be responsible with my power.
We commonly use “responsibility” to mean our obligations—the things we have agreed to do, or the things other people have put on us to do that we may or may not have agreed to—and how we cope with those obligations. It is my responsibility as a cat owner to make sure my cat is fed, for example.
But when it comes to interpersonal relationships, what our responsibilities are vary greatly from person to person, and from culture to culture. My responsibilities to my parents might mean, to me, calling them on their birthdays and going to visit once a year, but to another person, their responsibilities to their parents might be visiting them every day, or might be sending one holiday card annually. Same with lovers and partners: I might think my responsibility is to respond to texts or emails from lovers is to respond when I can get to it, but my lover might think it rude and irresponsible of me not to reply right away (especially when now, with iMessage, you can see when your texts have been read). I suspect some of the expectations in relationships are built on our love languages (quality time, acts of service, gifts, physical touch, words of affirmation).
The expectations we place upon responsibilities of those around us are often unspoken and unconscious, and therefore difficult to make clear. Making those clear is a key piece of good communication, I believe.
But that’s just one piece. We also use the word “responsibility” to talk about one’s behavior in any given situation, such as, “They’re not being very responsible,” or, “they’re not acting very responsibly.”
I started breaking down the word responsibility into its two parts: response and ability. Response-ability. And that led me to my first conclusion about it: responsibility is your ability to respond to any given situation. But how does one “respond”?
Most of the time, I think we are reacting, not responding. Reacting is the knee-jerk impulse our combination of body, mind, experiences, emotions, and self tells us to have. We get an email from a boss with some critique, we feel insulted. Our lover asks something taxing of us, we feel put out. Not everybody has the same reaction, of course—depending on our unique histories, unique bodies, unique patternings, we react in different ways; many of us have different reactions to the same emotions, too. Some people feel insulted and fight back, some people feel insulted and become paralyzed, some people feel insulted and run away.
I think that responsibility is your ability to take the reaction you have, process it through your thoughtful higher self who wants the best for everyone involved and can see many perspectives, and choose your response and your next actions intentionally.
Let me put that another way. My ability to respond well to a situation, to be responsible in my role or job or relationship, depends upon my ability to notice my knee-jerk reaction and use that as one piece of the data that I gather before I decide what to do next. Other pieces of data you could use as you analyze the situation include:
- What would the high wise imaginary counsel inside your head, made up of all of your mentors and favorite people, advise you to do?
- What would your counsel of very favorite people advise you to do? (Perhaps you should call them to ask?)
- What would the best possible outcome for all people be?
- What would you say if you were really telling the truth about this situation?
- How do your ethics ascribe you to behave?
- What would yourself in ten years say about this situation?
- How do your spiritual or religious beliefs guide you in this quandary?
- Where are the places where your ego, pride, or stoicism are getting in the way?
- Where can you use your great strength to be more vulnerable in this situation?
- Where do you feel this pain, sorrow, longing, anger, or frustration in your body?
- What does your bodywork or therapy point you toward?
I’ve been chewing on this difference, between reaction and response-ability, for at least a year now, trying to figure out how to be sure I am exploring what it means to be responsible with the privilege and power that I hold. Because, as the cliche saying goes, “with great power comes great responsibility,” and as I’ve been seeking more and more great power, I want to make sure I have the great responsibility part down as well. I don’t think “responsibility” dictates a code of behavior specifically so much as it dictates an intentional response, and that is a comfort to me, as I try to continue to sort our my own wounds, heal my own heartache, and continue to pursue my lust for power.
Interview with Amber Dawn
Q: The format of How Poetry Saved My Life (prose pieces mixed with a variety of poetry forms) deviates from what readers might have come to expect from the literary memoir form. Sections “Outside,” “Inside” and “Inwards” hint at a narrative arc, though the overall structure remains more loose and thematic than chronological. Why did you choose to tell your story this way?
Amber Dawn: I have a great deal of admiration for authors—especially ex-sex workers—who write their memoir as a chronological journey. Some books I’ve had the pleasure of reading recently are Whip Smart, by Melissa Febos and Candy Girl: A Year in the Life of an Unlikely Stripper, by Diablo Cody. I doubt I’d have the wherewithal to sit down and write my own story in this manner. How Poetry Saved My Life encompasses nearly fifteen years of collected writing. I wrote each piece for different reasons. Some poems had more therapeutic or cathartic beginnings, harken to the book’s title. Some prose I wrote to present at sex worker conferences or forums. It took a while before I realized I had an entire book’s worth of writing, and a bit longer still before I felt brave enough to release these collected stories and poems publicly. I view the account of my experiences as more of an emotional journey, rather than a chronological one. Through this approach I hope readers will make there own personal connection to the book, even if they’re life experiences are different from my own.
Q: The book represents nearly fifteen years of collected writings. You’ve had a very diverse writing career—you’ve edited horror and porn anthologies and dipped into the magical realist genre with your first novel Sub Rosa. How did you come to write a non-fictionalized memoir?
A: I believe a voice is a powerful and privileged resource to possess, especially when it comes to something like sex work, which is constantly silenced and stigmatized. Through performing on both small and larger stages, I’ve found that in every audience there is at least one woman (or man) who not only relates to my story, but feels almost desperate to have silence around sex work and survivorship broken. I feel a duty to speak up.
Q: Is there a piece of prose or poetry in the collection that was particularly difficult for you to write or realize, and in turn share with readers?
A: “Lying is the Work” is a personal essay that juxtaposes a bad date I had during the last year of working in the sex trade with my grandfather’s story of joining the Navy at age 17 to fight in WW2. This is one of very few examples where I bring my family history into my work. I love my family and want to protect and spare them of triggers or “digging up dirt.” While I’m proud of who I am, I acutely understand that survivors and sex workers are stigmatized and that this stigma can impact families and loved ones.
Case in point, recently, my grandfather disowned me when I married my wife—a ceremony that everyone in my family attended but for him. Therefore, I feel I can tell a bit of the story between my grandfather and I—in a dignified and objective way—without worrying about him reading it. As an Italian-American immigrant and Navy veteran he has a tremendous story of survival. It’s bitter sweet that I relate to him as a survivor and yet we have no present-day relationship. This makes the personal essay very difficult for me.
Q: RADAR Productions recently awarded you the 2012 Eli Coppola Memorial Poetry Chapbook Prize for “How I got My Tattoo.” How does the title poem of that particular collection fit into your personal narrative in How Poetry Saved My Life?
A: What an honour to win the Eli Coppola Memorial Poetry Prize, and just before I launch How Poetry Saved My Life! I have a quite a few titles like How Poetry Saved My Life and “How I Got My Tattoo” that are posed like answers to questions. Sex workers and survivors get asked questions all the time. I could over-simplify all these questions to essentially, “How did this happen to you.” I hate that question—the question implies that being a survivor or being a sex worker is outside the norm and needs explanation—when in fact these experiences are very common. Nonetheless, I also sympathize that people need to ask questions and discuss. The titles that I’ve written as answers to questions are there to promote discussion in a proud and creative way.
Q: In the book you cite author Jeanette Winterson and “powerful women whose voices have been cut short” among your inspirations. Would you tell us more about how you have been influenced by literary and activist voices in your life?
A: I was in my teens and early 20s in the 1990s, and was gobsmacked by the Riot Grrl movement. My first serious girlfriend introduced me to the feminist music and zine culture and listing to Team Dresh and Bikini Kill gave me the idea that I too had something to say. Not only where these voices powerful, but they were accessible. I didn’t need education to understand the feminist politicking of Riot Grrl. But after being introduced to feminist art and literature, I wanted to learn more. This was probably the first time I ever wanted to learn or read anything. I began reading Jeanette Winterson, Beth Goobie, Larissa Lai, Evelyn Lau, Sharon Olds, Lucille Clifton, Michelle Tea, Sarah Schulman. Finally, I understood the comfort and solidarity that could be found through books.
Q: You’ve toured with the Sex Workers Art Show, created short films, as well as performed at a variety of venues including the Vancouver Art Gallery. How does your performance and film background compliment or deviate from your writing?
A: Performing at galleries or appearing in my own films has helped me get into my body. Like many survivors, I’m inclined to live in my head, my imagination is a real sanctuary. Performance art has allowed me to embody the themes and emotions of my work and connect more closely with audience. I really feel the work when I’m hurling my body around a stage. In turn, this has helped me sink into a deeper connectivity to my written work.
Q: You now teach creative writing classes—some to queer and at-risk youth. Can you say more about the potential of art to be a survival skill and lifeline to others?
A: Something very palpable occurs when a person writes their story. It doesn’t have to be for future publication, but simply to put memories on paper and/or to read them in a room full of safe, supportive listeners. It’s an investment in one’s self. It’s an act of acknowledging one’s worth. It’s making the unspoken, heard. This can have life-changing impacts on people who have been shut down or silenced. Each time I run a creative writing workshop I see a little bit of change happen. “Thank you for listening,” my students always say to me. They don’t need to thank me; they should thank themselves. They do transformative work when they use their voices.
BUTCH Voices is still looking for volunteers for the Steering Committee, Board, and some sub-committees if you’re interested in helping make the 2013 conference run. It’s great experience and a great way to build and deepen community. Check out the job descriptions and opportunities available.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
PLEASE FORWARD WIDELY
Contact: Sinclair Sexsmith
Media representative, BUTCH Voices
+1 (917) 475-6316
“Conversations Build Communities”:
BUTCH Voices To Hold 3rd Biennial National Conference in Oakland August 15-18, 2013
February 26, 2013
Oakland, CA – The BUTCH Voices 3rd biennial National Conference will take place in Oakland, CA at the Oakland Marriott City Center August 15-18, 2013. The BUTCH Voices Board and Steering Committee are excited to continue our core initiatives: focusing on community building, social and economic justice, and physical and mental health.
The mission of BUTCH Voices is to enhance and sustain the well-being of all women, female-bodied, and trans-identified individuals who are Masculine of Center.* We achieve this by providing programs that build community, positive visibility and empower us to advocate for our whole selves inclusive of and beyond our gender identity and sexual orientation. Our community is vast and growing and we have many identifications that resemble what the world knows as our “butchness.” We recognize our diversity as having a foundation rooted in butch heritage. We welcome the on-going development of movements intentionally and critically inclusive of our gender variant community. BUTCH Voices is a social justice organization that is race and gender inclusive, pro-womanist and feminist.
The official conference theme is “Conversations Build Communities,” which is an extension of our off-year regional Community Conversation gatherings. We have had Community Conversations in Boston and San Francisco, and in March in Seattle. There are gatherings in progress for Dallas, New York, Toronto, and others TBA. These community conversations in local cities will continue to encourage the elevation of discussion around these identities leading up to the national conference.
“The conference will be an amazing event for masculine of center folks and our allies to convene nationally and discuss issues relevant to our lives today, share our stories, network, attend workshops, sessions, social events, and performances,” said Board Chair and Founder Joe LeBlanc. “It’s an incredible opportunity to come together and be a part of the larger conversation, and witness the myriad of masculine identities. It is life changing for so many of us to attend a gathering of this size, and take these conversations, resources, and connections back home to our local communities and beyond.”
A call for workshop presenters, performers, artists, and other contributors for the national conference will be announced soon. The BUTCH Voices Board is still seeking more members for the national conference Steering Committee, which will help produce and oversee the conference. If you’re interested, visit http://www.butchvoices.com/opportunities-available-with-butch-voices/ to view the opportunities available with BUTCH Voices and get in touch.
Subscribe to the BUTCH Voices newsletter online at BUTCHVoices.com to stay informed of the future conference announcements.
Further inquiries can be sent to Sinclair Sexsmith, Media Board Chair, at Sinclair@BUTCHVoices.com
* Masculine of center (MoC) is a term, coined by B. Cole of the Brown Boi Project, that recognizes the breadth and depth of identity for lesbian/queer/womyn who tilt toward the masculine side of the gender scale and includes a wide range of identities such as butch, stud, aggressive/AG, dom, macha, tomboi, trans-masculine etc.
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In addition to teaching workshops and traveling everywhere, one of my other major jobs recently has been working as the Media Chair on the board of BUTCH Voices, gearing up for the 2013 national conference. It’s starting to pick up—we’ve got a lot of stuff going on, and there will just be more between here & the conference.
Most notably, the BUTCH Voices website has a facelift!
Doesn’t it look great? I wish I’d taken a full-screen screenshot of the old website, it looks so different. I’m now the web editor there, and still looking for folks to work with me on the Media Team. I’m really excited about the conference and this is a unique opportunity to work behind the scenes to make it happen, and gain some experience and expertise in the web and media fields.
Media Team (Reports to the Media Chair)
Benefits include: cultivating butch community, discounted entrance into the BUTCH Voices 2013 National Conference in August, service to your community, volunteer time, media experience of all kinds (social media, web content management, print media), working directly with Sinclair, and more!
You should be: masculine of center identified, trans-positive, coming from an anti-oppression framework; have some time to volunteer, self-motivated, able to work on tight deadlines, have a reliable computer & internet access where you can stay in touch at least on a weekly basis.
Tasks include, but aren’t limited to:
- Responsible for completing tasks relating to the website, social media (Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, etc), newsletter
- Design components for print and web using BUTCH Voices branding standard colors, fonts, and logos
- Respond promptly and keep in contact
- Available for last-minute tasks and able to complete assignments within 24-48 hours
- Timely and efficient, hard working, able to take direction and ask for clarification, able to work in a team environment digitally from a home office
- Reliable internet access, computer access; some HTML skills, WordPress, CMS, text editing, Photoshop, and graphic design skills are a plus
- Keen eye for detail
Interested? Contact me, email@example.com, with your resume and a few brief paragraphs about why you’d like the job and what you can offer. I’m excited to get this team going, to practice my management skills, and to make the BUTCH Voices 2013 conference excellent.
1. What insight about polyamory/open relationships would you share with your younger self?
Don’t assume that because someone you are dating is poly and one of their partners gets tested regularly, that your partner in common ALSO gets tested (or is STI-free for that matter). Do not make ANY assumptions about people’s sexual health; bring it up! If someone doesn’t want to talk about that with you, run far away! And if it’s you that feels nervous because you’re a n00b and you don’t know what poly etiquette is because you’re not the primary/spouse/etc., BRING IT UP ANYWAY. This will help you take care of yourself and your future partners PLUS it will show that you are a mature, responsible individual. In a relationship, unless explicitly negotiated otherwise or something, you can and should ask questions (albeit respectfully).
Even if boundaries make sense, make sure to ask and/or be explicit about the reasoning behind them, so when someone makes decisions on the spot and needs an educated guess to proceed, they have all the information they need.
Also, remember that poly is something you need to work on and think about even when you’re not “actively” pursuing/seeing other people. Think of it as exercising the love muscle.
2. What has been the hardest thing about navigating multiple relationships, and how have you overcome that?
When it’s me juggling multiple partners, it has come down to time-management and making everyone feel valuable while not being able to give everyone equal time. My calendar is busy as is, and when trying to stick in multiple romantic/sexual relationships, it can get pretty wild. The only way it works is because I have BusyCal/iCal/GoogleCal and I’m not afraid to use it.
When it’s a primary partner expanding their relationships, it has been confronting seemingly irrational, sudden feelings of sadness and jealousy. This actually happened recently, when my long-term primary partner began to explore outside our relationship after a long time of not doing so. I felt this intense possessiveness and it was deeply uncomfortable for everyone involved. It’s easy for me to say “heck yeah!” to partners dating others when I LIKE and know the people they’re dating, but when it’s a random person I’ve never met or someone I don’t particularly like? I get uneasy and nervous about it. The reasons could be different depending on the relationship, but in this case, it wasn’t a fear of being abandoned or replaced or anything … it was a fear that the “outsider” wasn’t good enough; it was about not wanting to feel out of control, like the outside stuff would progress regardless of how I felt about it; and it was the discomfort with having to “share” my partner with someone I didn’t necessarily like when I ALREADY was only able to see them one or two days a week.
I consider myself a level-headed and logical person capable of compersion, so in the instances when I reacted very negatively or surprisingly, it really shook me. I have high standards for myself in every way, and not being able to be the partner I want to be (or that my partners deserve) is upsetting. Add that guilt/feelings of temporary weakness/failure to the feelings of jealousy/sadness over whatever the situation is and it’s a pretty shitty situation. The way I’ve dealt with it has been to WRITE MY HEART OUT; have lots of honest, open, and difficult conversations; and cry. Part of it has also been re-reading things I’ve written about polyamory in the past, revisiting blogs I consulted when I was first getting into this, talking to other people going through some rough times, and just immersing myself in the issue instead of trying to avoid it. It’s also been about trusting my partner.
Speaking in general, though, part of it has been unlearning some of the more ingrained ideas about what love, commitment, and relationships are “supposed” to be like. There was a LOT of unlearning and deconstructing when I embarked in my first relationship with a poly (and married) man, but I still find myself unlearning things to this day–things I didn’t even realize were part of those “packaged” notions. I’ve found it’s also about being able to come to terms with those things I DO want and feeling no (or little!) shame about them, since there are ideas floating around about what “perfect poly” is like and how “evolved” some models are, and there’s pressure to conform to those ideals.
3. What has been the best thing about being open/poly?
Aside from the obvious “being able to let relationships take their own individual courses without having to fit into a perfect mold” and “fulfilling more needs in multiple places,” I think another super cool piece of it is being able to feel New Relationship Energy and those exciting sparky feelings of flirting with (and/or crushing on) people many times throughout my life (while still maintaing steady relationships). Furthermore, being able to share that with another partner (whether it’s because I’m feeling NRE or they are for someone else that we both like) is fantastic.
Also? It was AWESOME having a loving support system (in the form of my primary partner) when I went through a rough breakup. Having him around as I grieved/dealt with the debacle of that other relationship and its roller-coaster ride helped immensely. It was nice to know someone still loved and supported me in that situation! In fact, my partner even helped me process and think through a lot of what happened, giving me perspective and reassurance when my morale was low.
4. Anything else you’d like to add?
Read up on the Love Languages. Figure out what your style is, and think about what ways you like to communicate. Make sure your partners are aware of their own style, and that you all communicate about this.
Finally, it’s okay to want a label for yourself and your relationships. So much focus gets placed on exploding binaries and breaking categories down that sometimes we forget how labels can be HELPFUL and comforting, how they can help people carve a space for others in their lives and vice-versa. The trick is to figure out what those labels actually MEAN on your own terms and to be intentional about those definitions.