Posts Tagged ‘buddhism’
It’s been a review and work month for books, but I’m still eager to keep finding those titles that are breezy-easy reads, that engage me fully, and that are extremely fun and satisfying to finish.
Here’s what I’ve been reading this month.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I picked up Partners In Passion: A Guide to Great Sex, Emotional Intimacy and Long-term Love from Cleis Press to be part of the blog tour for this book, but I was immensely impressed. Mark Michaels & Patricia Johnson have penned quite a few books on Tantra, and they teach extensively on the subject, but I believe this is their first more general book encouraging sexual engagement and interaction for couples ongoing. Bed death is another one of those topics that I am fascinated in, so I was very curious what they would say and what they recommend. It is an excellent read. I loved how they portrayed Tantra in that chapter, and the many chapters on experiments for couples, keeping sexy times alive, and ways to work through your own internal blocks are essential and fantastic. I appreciated the extensive amount of gender inclusion, including some testimonials and quotes from trans folks in very respectful and interesting ways, and of sexual orientation inclusion, too—I worried Michaels & Johnson would be very heteronormative in their work, but it didn’t feel that way to me at all. On the contrary, it felt like they were over for dinner at my house and they were just chit chatting about the very real challenges that I have faced in many relationships. (But in a deep, personal, open, insightful way, not in a superficial chit-chat way.) It was much more than I expected and I think everyone curious about enhancing your sex life, and your connection to your partner, should read it, and every one of us who teaches about sex, bed death, and maintaining erotics in a long term relationship should look to it as an excellent resource.
The Big Book of Sex Toys: From Vibrators and Dildos to Swings and Slings—Playful and Kinky Bedside Accessories That Make Your Sex Life Amazing by Tristan Taormino is not a new publication, but it’s new to me. I remember when it was released a few years ago and I just didn’t have time to pick it up and check it out, but because it’s Tristan, I knew it’d be good, and I figured I’d get to it eventually. I finally did, and glad I did. It’s not so much a bible of all available sex toys (perhaps you want Hey, Epiphora for that) but it’s an excellent primer on the types of toys available and highlights of some of the very best. Since the world of sex toys changes constantly (which is one of the reasons it’s fascinating, and one of the reasons it’s frustrating), the book is not comprehensive—but doesn’t claim to be. In addition, it is about SO MUCH MORE than just sex toys—it has excellent essays on communication, experimentation, and owning your own desires mixed in, almost disguised under the premise of sex toys, which is extra clever and a really good entrance point for people delving into more creative sexualities. It belongs up there with The Good Vibes Guide to Sex and Moregasm: Babeland’s Guide to Mind Blowing Sex.
I was severely disappointed with Madison Young’s new memoir Daddy. I expected it to be the story of her life, highlighting the daddies she had along the way (as the back cover blurb implied), and including her rise to her pretty famous position of “feminist pornographer.” She wrote about her family-of–origin father, and her partner-cum-dominant-cum-daddy James, but virtually nothing was said about her feminist politics, and very little was depicted or delved into about the sex work and porn that she is particularly famous for starring in and creating. I thought the conflation of her “daddy issues” with her biological father and the daddy role and play that she and her lover take on was irresponsible and cliche. I would have hoped for something more in depth, more thought out, and more, well, feminist, in that it would depict power dynamics with awareness and consciousness and show personal agency. Maybe it’s just because I know Madison’s story has so much more to it than what was shown in this book, but the many claims (two of them being “feminism” and “the many daddies”) just didn’t deliver.
Shanna Katz’s book Lesbian Sex Positions: 100 Passionate Positions from Intimate and Sensual to Wild and Naughty was one of those review books I mentioned, that I picked up because I have deep respect for Shanna, and because I have a kinda quirky fascination with sex positions. On the one hand, having sex in different positions seems like a kind of irrelevant thing to teach or know about, but on the other hand, it is an amazingly popular way that couples “spice up their sex life” and begin seeking more in the worlds of sexuality and toys and kink. It’s also incredibly useful to know about sex positions for people with different physical abilities, be that from injury or disability, and often useful for differing size issues, too, both “my partner is a full foot taller than me!” and “I weight a lot more/less than my partner.” Also, someone (Megan Andelloux I think?) once told me that she believed there are only four real sex positions, and all the others are variations of those four, and I’ve been trying to figure out which four those are ever since. So I was curious to see lesbian-specific ideas for positions. I was disappointed by the skinny-white-girl depictions of the positions, though I think I remember seeing Shanna say that herself too, and that she didn’t have any choice, it was the publisher’s decision. It doesn’t highlight Shanna’s extraordinary skills around disability and size and gender-diversity, so the book doesn’t feel like a very good representation of Shanna’s sex educator smarts. Still, her introductory essay is great (and probably the best part of the book), and I think it’s fascinating that there’s a market for gift books like this.
I’m really into Running with the Mind of Meditation: Lessons for Training Body and Mind by Sakyong Mipham. I devoured it from the library and then went out and bought my own copy so I could follow along with the stages of running (and meditation) that he talks about. I miss studying Buddhism—I haven’t found my place here in the Bay Area yet (mostly because I haven’t really looked yet). I love looking at running through the teachings of meditation, and I was moved, inspired, and curious about the ways he interweaves the two. He does say explicitly that though running can be meditative, it is not a replacement for a meditative practice—”running is not your meditation,” (I’m paraphrasing), “any more than meditation is your exercise.” This book made me want to run better and meditate more. Which is just what I wanted it to do.
I’m not sure what it is, but I have a small collection of funky queer coloring books. I don’t color in them (though maybe I should—I try not to treat my objects as too precious to be used for their intended purpose), but I seem to collect them anyway. I picked up the Sex Position Coloring Book as a review item because I am—what did I write up there?—quirkily fascinated by sex positions as a thing that sex educators teach, and I’m trying to figure out how it’s useful to my own teachings and workshops, particularly since I teach strap-on workshops so frequently. The book depicts only heterosexual cis male & cis female couples, but that’s one of the fun things about a coloring book: you could always add harnesses or other bodily modifications. In full disclosure: I also picked this up partly to inspire rife to possibly do some of his own coloring pages, maybe of sex positions even. That secret covert plan hasn’t worked yet, but I still have some ideas up my sleeve.
I’ve just finished Farm City: Education of an Urban Farmer by Novella Carpenter this week, so it just squeaked on to this list. I have TWO beautiful big photo books about beginning to grow food in your (urban) backyard, but I haven’t quite devoured them because, well, I’m still so intimidated by the process. I moved into the house I’m in now in August 2013, and we spent the winter prepping the yard and getting it ready to plant and grow more things. Now that it’s spring in the Bay Area it is clearly time to plant things and start planning. It’s exciting! The options feel limitless! And also, eek! We do already have quite a few things in the ground, kale potatoes peas tomatoes pumpkins, and some herbs, sage dill mint basil, and a wildflower patch and a jasmine bush and a satsuma orange tree in a container, but I want to know how to do it all better and want to play in the dirt. So, in order to get myself a bit more excited about these kinds of ideas, I picked up Novella’s book. She had an urban farm in Oakland actually not too far from my house, so I loved hearing about the changes in the neighborhood and the local events. She raised ducks, rabbits, and even pigs for meat, and I will absolutely not be doing that, but in comparison it sure makes growing kale seem easier. I love how extensively researched she is—every few pages she quotes another book, another writer, another hippie back-to-the-land philosopher who came before. I’m definitely more inspired to get out to my own backyard garden and see what I can help grow.
I’ve been devouring some business books lately, and Start Your Dream Business was one of them. It, unfortunately, is almost completely about motivating the reader to follow their dreams and pursue that wacky business idea that you might have, and it is not at all about the nitty-gritty how to do it. In fact, often the business profiles completely skip that part, going from “I had this great idea!” to “and now it’s a 6-figure business!” Great, good for you—and also, how’d ya do that!? Regardless, I picked up the book from the library because I was interested in the premise, and zoomed through it because it included so many people whose work I’ve been familiar with online (like Tara Gentile and … lots of others I can’t remember now). Sarah Wade is UK-based, so many of the references and business owners are not American, which honestly made it even more interesting, since I am mostly familiar with American methodologies of entrepreneurship. I still don’t feel like I’m a pro at this whole business thing, but it’s curious and I am enjoying the learning.
I picked up Switch by Astrid Knowles because it’s in that BDSM-novel genre of power dynamic romance that I have enjoyed picking up recently, because I zoom through them and sometimes they’re kind of fun and mostly I can ignore the problematic gender/power alignment assumptions. This one had a curious class premise—that the dominant the narrator meets and falls for is homeless and jobless at the beginning of the book—but other than that, it was pretty fluffy and not very memorable. I ran into a quote from this book about switching, which is what turned me on to it in the first place, but I might have put the book down before I got to the switching part, or just didn’t notice it. The writing is less than average, so I often skimmed through chapters.
Um okay so that’s all I have to say about that.
One more sidenote: I decided at the beginning of March that I would do my best to NOT read online, and to read books instead. It was interesting—it took a lot of discipline, and I noticed how many times, over and over, I clicked through to an article on social media or via email. I didn’t realize how much I was reading online every day, and how many of those articles had so much throw-away content—not things that were actually enriching my life, or teaching me things, but more sensationalized what’s happening in the world things. So that practice has helped me both focus on work more when I’m at the computer and read more books, which has been excellent. I aim to continue that habit.
You can support my reading habit, and encourage me to read and write book roundups like this one, by buying me gifts through my Amazon wish list! (Did I mention it’s my birthday today?)
Or, check out more books that I recommend:
What have you been reading lately? Any recommendations?
I’m obligated by the blogger’s code to let you know that the Sex Position Coloring Book, Daddy by Madison Young, The Big Book of Sex Toys, Lesbian Sex Positions, and Partners in Passion were all sent to me by the respective publishers as review books. My opinions on those books are solely my own, however, and they did not pay me or influence me in any way to write them. Pick up these books at your local independent bookstore, or, if you must, on Amazon.
2010 was the first year I was pretty diligent about using GoodReads to record what I’ve been reading, and it tells me I read about 50 books in 2010—I think that’s not quite right, but I’m going to try to be even better about it this year. In fact, I’ve made it a “goal” on GoodReads to read 100 books—given that I’m reviewing lesbian erotica for Lambda Literary Foundation, editing two books, am a judge for a literary contest, and my monthly book group, and just that is more than 50 books, I think I can make it.
Looking over the books I have listed on GoodReads as read in 2010, these are the ones that stand out. Not all of these are queer explicitly, though queer novels remain my favorite thing to read. And not all of them were published in 2010.
All are linked to Amazon for research purposes, but please do order and buy them from your local independent bookstore—Support booksellers! Support local culture!
In alphabetical order, because it’s hard to compare:
Aud Torvingen trilogy: The Blue Place, Always, & Stay by Nicola Griffith. I remember when Stay came out while I was working at the bookstore in Seattle (where I worked for almost 5 years as a bookseller), many people recommended it to me, saying I would like it. I think they assumed I would like it because I’m queer and it has a queer protagonist, but whatever. I (mistakingly) thought it was science fiction, and wasn’t so inclined to pick it up, but I finally picked up The Blue Place a few years ago (GoodReads says I read it in June 2009) and I was impressed. Well, first I kind of hated Aud Torvingen, the know-it-all, independently wealthy, accomplished-at-everything ex-cop turned private investigator who was trying to get her life together. But the end of the first book is so heartbreaking and good, I couldn’t just leave the characters suffering, so I had to read the other two in the series. I got hooked. And they just kept getting better. Easy, deep reading that I got lost in. I would read all of these again from the beginning.
Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow by Elizabeth Lesser. I’ve been a little obsessed with books about healing and trauma the past few years, and I ran into this in a bookstore and picked it up from the library right after. Frequently my favorite books in about this kind of thing take a very Buddhist perspective (like When Things Fall Apart, Radical Acceptance, and When the Past Is Present), and while I love that, I also know that until I had a pretty strong base in Buddhist philosophy, I didn’t quite understand what they were talking about, and I found them difficult to read. Not this one, though. Broken Open talks about trauma, loss, grief, and healing from lots of different perspectives, weaving in stories and techniques from her workshops over the years. Very readable and very inspiring.
Enlightened Sexism: The Seductive Message that Feminism’s Work is Done by Susan J. Douglas. It’s not out in paperback yet, so I’ve still got the hardback copy from the library and have renewed it about 25 times now. I keep thinking I’ll get to a full review of it on Sugarbutch, and so I should go back and look through my notes and dog-ears to figure out exactly what I want to say. So here’s the paragraph version: I have thought about this book often since I read it. The descriptions of the 1990s especially made me realize I grew up in a unique time, full of the closest we’ve gotten to the manifestation of the feminist and gender equality movements, and the 2000s have brought plenty of backlash—but in a more subtle, twisted way than the backlash of the 1980s and early ’90s. Now, the backlash makes feminism look like it is outdated. Feminism? Pshaw, who needs that, women are equal now! But through various examinations of entertainment, celebrity, films, TV, and other pop cultural artifacts, Douglas argues that it’s far from over. It changed the way I am looking at feminism, and gave me some new ways to talk about what’s going on now. Now excuse me, I want to go re-read it.
Lynnee Breedlove’s One Freak Show by Lynn Breedlove (Manic D Press, 2009). Just, awesome. I’m a fan, but I had no idea Breedlove is so funny! And readable, and smart, and clever. I identified with many of the struggles within the queer communities about gender, and loved the bits about cocks and sexuality. It was more than I expected, and made me feel like Lynnee is my buddy. I was able to be there when Lynn won the Lammy for in the Transgender category last year, and it was a thrill to hear a few of the best lines in the book delivered in person. My full review is up on LambdaLiterary.org.
Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation edited by S. Bear Bergman & Kate Bornstein (Seal Press, 2010). Things have changed since Kate Bornstein’s book Gender Outlaw, and this is the updated proof of the celebration and liberation that’s happening within the trans landscape right now, and the proof of how much further we have to go, and what else we need to work on. I would put this on my “required reading” list, and I bet a lot of other people out there would too. It’s a beautiful anthology. I especially love Bear and Kate’s introduction, which is a conversation via internet chat. My review on Sugarbutch and my companion piece, Ten Ways I am a Gender Outlaw.
Manhood for Amateurs: The Pleasures and Regrets of a Husband, Father, and Son by Michael Chabon. A personal account of gender and masculinity insights throughout life, with illustrations of various relationships—friendships, marriage, kids, parents. I really love his writing, he has such a beautiful way of constructing a sentence, and I was really moved by his descriptions of feminism. Though maybe I shouldn’t be, I was surprised to find a straight white cis man writing so eloquently about gender dynamics and providing insight into so many of the difficulties that are imposed upon us in gender roles, and I think his accessibility brought these concerns to a lot of people since this book was published. It’s a great starting place for examining masculinity in more depth (which is one of the things I hope to do this year, and I have about five books waiting for me).
Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence by Esther Perel. I didn’t expect to like this one as much as I did—I thought it would be pretty elementary, but it had some great insight into American culture and relationships. Perel is not American, and that outsider perspective was at times really interesting and useful. Of course, it is 99% heterosexual, and when she tries to include queer couples it doesn’t really account for any sort of difference in culture, but glosses over the difference and goes right to “all relationships have their difficulties, doesn’t matter if you’re gay or straight,” which I get, but I think there’s a little more to it than that and it’s a little bit of a privileged position to be able to dismiss the queerness as just a personality trait akin to liking sports or being into cooking. Nevertheless, the tips and consciousness around building a long term relationship that remains sexual are important, and I’m glad I read it. My full review on Sugarbutch.
Missed Her by Ivan Coyote (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2010). It wasn’t until I was telling a friend about the book that I realized that “Missed Her” is often mistaken as “Mister” in speech. What can I say about Ivan? She’s a masterful storyteller. She and I grew up in a similar region, and her tales about her childhood and her extended family feel so familiar and nostalgic and articulate in such a beautiful way. I love the descriptions of her new relationship love. I will continue picking up every book she puts out, and I’ve never been disappointed.
Mr. Benson by John Preston (Cleis Press, 2004). How is it possible that I did not read this book until last year?? I can’t believe I missed it. And now that I’ve read it, any time I mention it to queer folks—especially ones older than me—they all know about it, and know it well. So: It is a gay men SM novel first published as a serial in 1979, and then in full in the early 1980s. It’s from a time before the AIDS crisis. More good stuff on John Preston over at GLBTQ encyclopedia, if you want to know more context. The book is dirty and full of power and strength and dominance. The actual storyline is a little boring (I just wasn’t as invested in the human trafficking/exploitation part as I was in the beautiful D/s scenes), but the book does need something to keep it going. Apparently the book was so popular that there were both “Looking for Mr. Benson” and “Looking for Mr. Benson?” tee shirts all over in the ’80s, though of course they are not around now, at least not that I could find. I handed the book to Kristen as soon as I was done and she zoomed through it, then had a “Looking for Mr. Benson?” tee shirt made for me for winter solstice. It prompted me to think a lot about how I play with dominance, especially in my domestic life with Kristen, and we have talked about it frequently while trying to iron out difficulties between us in that play. And who knew piss play could be so awesome?
Origami Striptease by Peggy Munson (Suspect Thoughts Press, 2006). I’ve had this one on my shelf for a few years, not sure where I picked it up but I didn’t know much about it. I started reading it and was hooked: It is so ethereal, so surreal, at times it reads like poetry. The intention and clarity behind the word choices are so specific. It reminds me of Rebecca Brown or Jeanette Winterson, two of my favorite authors. I love getting lost in words and images like I did while reading this. Looks like it’s a little bit out of print now, which is too bad. Maybe the publisher still has it directly.
The Sealed Letter by Emma Donoghue. Historical fiction that recounts a divorce trial in the 1860s. I’m not so in to historical fiction, though on occasion I find it fascinating—particularly when I find it relevant, which, for the most part, I don’t find the genre, but I have found some of the recent books, like Sarah Waters’s novels, with lesbian content. I read this one for my book group, and I was skeptical—it took a while to really get into it. The first half of the book is elaborate descriptions of the two women’s friendship, and the details that lead up to the divorce, then the divorce trial happens for another 1/3 of the book (which I found terribly dull, though my lawyer friend thought was fascinating)—but the very end made it worth it. Though I was a bit triggered by all the psychological manipulation one of the characters continues to exhibit, I have still been recommending this quite a bit. It’s pretty fascinating to hear about the politics of marriage, family, cheating, and legality from 150 years ago—really not that long ago, but it exposes some of the ways we have directly evolved from those cultural standards.
Sometimes She Lets Me: Best Butch Femme Erotica edited by Tristan Taormino (Cleis Press, 2010). Call me biased if you like, because I have a story in this book, but this is my favorite erotica collection to come out for a long time. Not only because it’s butch/femme, but also because the stories are just good. Editor Taormino had a decade worth of Best Lesbian Erotica collections to pull from, and she picked the best of the best of the best, in my opinion. Plus, there aren’t very many explicitly butch and femme erotica anthologies, so I’m glad we’ve got one more. This one is still on my nightstand. My review on Sugarbutch.
Toybag Guide to the Taboo by Mollena Williams (Greenery Press, 2010). I’m a fan of Mollena‘s work in general, and when I saw her at the Lesbian Sex Mafia for her workshop Taboo Play and Working Through Extremes in early 2010 I admired her even more. This book is kind of the written version of her workshop, with many of the same stories and philosophies about what it’s like to be exploring the “taboo” sides of sexuality, like incest play, bestiality, force, and race play, and it is thoroughly thoughtful. Obviously Mollena has been thinking about these things for a long time, and it shows with her respect, care, and detail.
Follow my author profile over at GoodReads if you’d like to see more of the books I’m reading.
So let’s hear it: What were YOUR favorite books of 2010? What are you reading right now? What else do you recommend that I read?
I decided not to drink in August. I’ve done a few periodic breaks from alcohol over the last few years, but I haven’t done that recently, so it was about time to try it again.
I like to practice not drinking, not necessarily because I think I have a problem with alcohol, but because at times I can lean too heavily on it to curb the anxiety I sometimes struggle with. It does seem to work, but I’m not sure that’s the best way to deal with it. Well, I know it isn’t the best way to deal with it, but it’s an easy way, and pretty effective.
A quick whiskey on the rocks and I am good to go. That tightness in my chest, the clutch around my heart, the panic, the cloudy mind, all lighten and start disappearing.
Someone told me once that I should be medicated if New York causes me so much anxiety and stress. I snapped back that if it got to that point, it clearly wasn’t healthy for me to be here, and I would leave. And as much as I hate to ever think that she could have possibly had a point, I have to wonder if that might be true. Of course there are things one can do before one medicates. I can change my lifestyle, change my nutrition, change my daily habits, exercise more. I think I’ve been overcompensating with alcohol, trying to avoid the realities of the stress of this city and the lifestyle here.
I remember talking to my therapist about this at some point, wondering if I was drinking too much. I wondered if drinking every single night—not to the point of drunkenness, just to the point of subduing the panic—was something I should look at, be curious about. She said she was more interested in my lack of restful sleep.
Well, now I sleep restfully. Now I don’t have to get up at 7:30 am to commute to a corporate job, and I get enough sleep. The nightmares are less. The insomnia is less, usually. My mind quiets and calms at night, usually.
But I still drink.
Aside from detoxing, aside from possibly dealing more directly with my anxiety, I want to cut down on the calories I take in. You’ve probably seen Kristen’s Twitter stream, she bakes constantly, and cooks delicious food, and while that makes me very happy, it has not been wonderful to my waistline. I’m struggling to squeeze into my old jeans. I’m also 31 now, and I think something happens to the metabolism in the late twenties-ish time, and my body just doesn’t process like it used to. Plus, though I’m no longer sitting at a desk at a corporate job all day every day, that also means I’m not making time on my lunch breaks for a trip to the gym, and I think some of my habits have changed. I need some new ones. I joined a gym, I’m back to jogging and lifting weights, I’m trying to get a regular schedule going.
One of my favorite writing and life mentors, Tara Hardy, has a poem talking about her sobriety, and says “Ask yourself, what would it mean if we all got collectively un-numb? In touch with possibility daily? That’s what I’m asking. Put nothing between you and your disappointment, and your grief, and your rage, and what they want us to believe is dangerous: hope. Desire. Need. Meet your need naked.” I’m thinking about this as I’m nearing the end of week two of this cleanse, this voluntary brief temporary period of sobriety, and as I keep thinking how easy it would be to pop open that beer that’s in the fridge.
I’m experimenting with a more focused and deliberate Buddhist path, too, and one of the Five Precepts is to abstain from escaping from consciousness—traditionally, this stated as abstaining from alcohol, but it can be many things that we use to turn our brains off, from a video game to a joint to whiskey to working out to mindless tv to surfing the Internet. The sangha I attend most often has a very contemporary interpretation of the precepts, seeing them as not so much as rigid guidelines as much as attempting to see their essence, to get at what the rule was getting at, and to apply consciousness to the practice. So it’s not so much about abstaining from alcohol as it is being mindful of the reasons why we are drinking, often the same reasons why I watch episode after episode of 30 Rock, or surf around on tumblr for hours.
I know I use alcohol to escape my mind, my suffering, my emotions.
What would happen if I did that less? What would happen if I had to sit with it more directly? To sit quietly with that pain and suffering, with the dukkha?
So I guess this brief stint of sobriety is attempting to experiment with that, too.
I’m also doing a sacred intimacy/tantra workshop in the end of August, a similar one that I did last year, only this year I am coordinating the workshop and attending as a staff member. I’m thrilled about that, one of my intentions for this year was to deepen my tantra practice, and my involvement with the tantra school with which I’ve been studying for almost ten years now took a leap. Every time I do one of these workshops, they recommend doing a little bit of detox and not ingesting substances like drugs or alcohol for the few days around the workshop, and I often do about a week of sobriety leading up to one of them. This time, I figured I would extend the time to an entire month, as an experiment, and see what happens.
It’s easy to drink. It’s harder not to, it’s harder to sit with what I’m going through and harder to order club soda and lime at a bar, harder to breathe through the social anxiety or excitement or turn down a nice glass of wine at dinner with friends. But it’s temporary. And perhaps I’ll learn something.
I’m interested to know how you feel your masculinity and your perceptions of masculinity have changed over the time that you have been writing here, and by this name.—Miss Avarice, of Miss Avarice Speaks her Mind
My masculinity and perceptions of masculinity have significantly changed since I started Sugarbutch four years ago. Or, wait. Maybe it hasn’t exactly changed as much as bloomed, you know? It is different than it used to be, both my own presentation and my understandings of it, but I had the seed of it then, even the bud, I just couldn’t quite manifest it the way I wanted to. (I’d be curious what some photographs of me look like from four summers ago, to do a side-by-side contrast. A lot has changed since then!)
So, first part, yes, it has changed. But you asked how has it changed? That’s harder to pinpoint.
I’m not so apologetic about it anymore.
I’m a lot more confident in the differences between masculinity and misogyny and chivalry. I’ve learned to differentiate between consensual chivalry and forced chivalry, and actively read the (verbal or physical) communication around chivalrous attempts and acts.
I wear more vests and suit coats and belts and suspenders and french cuff shirts. I own a (small) cufflink collection and a (kind of unnecessarily large) necktie collection. I don’t receive flower-smelling bath products as gifts anymore. I donated that box of feminine clothing that I was keeping around because I never bothered to toss it out.
I pay attention to men’s style icons and got (more) serious about my haircut. I stopped feeling guilty for wanting my hair short and liking it short, I stopped saying I was going to grow it out again because wasn’t it compulsory for lesbians to be short-haired? and I didn’t want to be compulsory.
I claimed some firm ground on which I feel comfortable standing.
I researched butch icons and butch history and butch characters in tv shows and on films and in novels. I pay attention when the word butch gets used in articles. I challenge the way the word butch gets used in (many) articles.
I started dating femmes.
I always knew I wanted to, but actively partnering with femmes changed my masculinity, finally gave it something strong to forge itself against, to nuzzle into, to be protected by. Gave it a reason to be the protector, sometimes. Gave me a compliment, an understanding of the ways that I-in-this-form am received.
Plus there’s all those other identity labels I have been actively not only identifying with but developing, challenging, studying, and attempting to embody: like kinky, sadist, top, daddy, dominant. Even non-sexual words like misanthrope, HSP or highly sensitive person, buddhist. Plus that ever-evolving one: writer. And now, trying to make a living as a writer. Interacting with all of these various identities, spaces, versions of myself, and weaving them into each other, has all affected my masculinity and gender identity.
Studying tantra has changed the ways I think about masculinity, too. I’m far from an expert at tantra, I’m just beginning to study it seriously and take it on as a path, but I know that what we in the west have usually been presented as the concepts of yin and yang as feminine and masculine are too simplified and a bit misleading. It has very little to do with men and women, but rather different types of forces of life and energy, and it’s much more complicated than yin/yang = feminine/masculine.
Being in a new, serious relationship has changed my masculinity, has I think softened my edges, has inspired me to open up in challenging and messy ways. It has brought things to question, made me wonder how or if they are connected to my masculinity, and how or if they should change.
Just talking about my masculinity on a regular basis, through spaces like Sugarbutch, through my Carnal Nation column on Radical Masculinity, and through my friends and lovers in recent years, has changed my relationship to my own masculinity and to my observation of others’ masculinity. According to quantum theory, observing an object changes it (I can’t find out if that theory or principle has a particular name, though, and I’ve been reading through Einstein quotes and Googling “copenhagen interpretation” for a while now. If you know what this is called, pass it on, please? I have a whole theory about blogging based around this and I’d like to know what it’s called!)—and I think that’s true of gender and sexuality, too. Just the very act of observation, of watching oneself, of taking note of how one works, will bring about some change and movement and, inevitably, growth.
(Oh, also: For more on this topic, take a look at My Evolving Masculinity series from a few months back.)
Back when Sugarbutch was a little baby new blog (did you know it will turn 4 in April?!), I used to write a Sunday Scribblings prompt often. This week’s prompt was “the book that changed everything” and I already happened to have a halfway done list in my drafts, so I figured I’d go back to it and finish it up.
It was going to be a “new year, new you” type of post, which gives away that I started it in January, and which kind of explains the self-help-y list. But of course I couldn’t make a list and show it off here without adding some of my favorite sex books, too!
But first, the stuff to enhance your renaissance-man (regardless of gender!) fabulous self. In alphabetical order:
- The Art of Civilized Conversation: A Guide to Expressing Yourself With Style and Grace by Margaret Shepherd. Excellent for dating, deepening relationships with people you already know and like, and generally elevating the discussion around you. I especially remember the part about how conversations between two people should start with facts, move to opinions, and then and only then should you discuss emotions.
- How to Cook Everything (Vegetarian) by Mark Bittman. Whether or not you know how to cook, this is a fantastic resource. I got a copy of the vegetarian version over the holidays. Though Bittman isn’t famous for his desserts (pastries aren’t really his strong point, or, let’s be honest, so says Kristen) he has a little bit of everything in here and chances are, it’ll be a great starting point, if not an excellent recipe. Lots of great tips for technique, too.
- The Modern Gentleman: A Guide to Essential Manners, Savvy and Vice by Phineas Mollod and Jason Tesauro. I have dreams of writing a butch equivalent, but shh that’s a secret. This contains excellent thoughts about conducting oneself socially, manners, conversation, style, how to tie ties, how to order drinks, how to be suave on a date, all sorts of things that a gentleman would want to know. Not impressed with the sex part (cheesy!) but hey you can’t win ‘em all. Along with Dressing the Man: Mastering the Art of Permanent Style, this is one of the books about masculinity that I recommend most.
- The Power of Less: The 6 Essential Productivity Principles That Will Change Your Life by Leo Babauta. You probably already read Zen Habits, so you know Babauta’s style and simplicity. This book is a lovely collection of philosophies on productivity, minimalism, moving on, getting shit done, and focusing on what you really want to do. Along with The Four-Hour Work Week, this really changed my attitude about my time (a non-renewable resource!) and how I make decisions.
- There Is Nothing Wrong with You: Going Beyond Self-Hate by Cheri Huber. Huber is a buddhist monk, founded two zen monasteries in California, has written about twenty books, and travels widely. I found her writing when I was in high school and have been reading and re-reading ever since. It’s kind of self-help-y, yes, but there’s a lot of spirituality, philosophy, and psychology in it too, which the best self-help books contain. She has many other titles that I’d also recommend, The Depression Book: Depression as an Opportunity for Spiritual Growth literally changed my life when I first read it, and Be the Person You Want To Find: Relationships and Self-Discovery is a great book for those of us seeking long-term valuable love relationships. Speaking of love relationships, I can’t not mention If the Buddha Dated and If the Buddha Married by Charlotte Kasl. Both were very life-changing and eye-opening to my own patterns and tendencies, and very useful. Kasl is a buddhist quaker feminist psychotherapist, and her perspective is so full of lovingkindness and sweetness and understanding that you can’t not be drawn in, only to learn about yourself and your tendencies. Though it’s pretty hetero-focused in its example couples, I tend to change the pronouns (or pretend it’s a butch going by him/her and a femme). Kristen and I have been reading through it aloud and discussing it, which can be intense but has been great.
And because I can’t make a book list without having sex books on it:
- Moregasm: Babeland’s Guide to Mind-Blowing Sex by Rachel Venning and Claire Cavanah, founders of Babeland. I’ve already mentioned this book on Sugarbutch recently, but it’s worth mentioning again. Modern, fun, wide-ranging, inclusive, sexy, kinky, open, welcoming. And the design is just so damn cute. If I had coffee table books, this would be one of them.
- The Topping Book and The Bottoming Book by Dossie Easton and Janet W. Hardy. I recommend these books constantly to folks who want to get more involved in power play or topping and bottoming roles in their sex lives. So many of my philosophies come from these books, and they are incredibly full of useful tips and ideas about aftercare, safewords, top drop, negotiations.
- Urban Tantra: Sacred Sex for the Twenty-First Century by Barbara Carrellas. Tantra books are usually way too cheesy for me to even get through, and I have some experience with tantra. But this one is different. Carrellas (@urbantantrika) is as grounded as she is woo-woo, as queer and kinky as she is accessible and open. If you’ve always been curious about tantra, this is a great place to start.
- Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships by Tristan Taormino. There are very few smart books written about polyamory and open relationships (The Ethical Slut, now in a new edition, by the authors of the Topping/Bottoming Books, being the classic cannon), and this is the most recent. I’ve admired Taormino’s work for a long time, since her sex column at the Village Voice (collected into a book called True Lust), and she’s done some pretty amazing things in mainstream porn since then. I love that she’s bringing and underground queer feminist perspective to the things she’s doing, it makes her work even more complex and fantastic. Her most recent book (aside from Sometimes She Lets Me: Best Butch/Femme Erotica!) is The Big Book of Sex Toys, which I don’t have my hands on yet but will be reporting all about when I do.
- Exhibitionism For the Shy: Show Off, Dress Up and Talk Hot! by Carol Queen. The Amazon description says “[e]xhibitionism as a consensual erotic pleasure and a means to overcome shyness and body image issues” and I LOVE that idea! I’m not actually sure where my copy of this has escaped to, perhaps I lost it in a break-up, but there’s a relatively new edition from 2009 that I should get my hands on regardless. Want to feel more sexy, show off, but feel self-conscious? Pick up this book. In case you don’t already know Carol Queen, she’s the owner of the Good Vibrations toy shops and director of The Center for Sex and Culture in San Francisco. She also wrote one of my favorite erotica books, The Leather Daddy and the Femme.
Whew! Okay, that should keep you busy for the next few months, hm? I hope at least one of these is interesting and might enhance your life in some way. Books can be so magical like that.
I’ve included the links to Amazon, and while if you click through those links I do get a teeny tiny kickback from your purchases, I still encourage you to visit your local independent bookstore and support them by ordering these books through them. If you want them to be around next year, that means spending your money in their shop. I know they aren’t as cheap as Amazon, and probably not quite as convenient, but you’ll miss them when they’re gone. Or at least, I will. A lot.
So? What books changed YOUR life?
I started this series in the summer, nearly six months ago now. I have already written a post about some of what I dealt with personally in the late summer and early fall, and some of my point of part four I have already gone through – some of it was about me processing through what I was struggling with in light of masculinity and the ways that thinking about maturing my gender helped me overcome some of the hardships.
There were a variety of things I was struggling with—all of the major elements in my life were shaken, just a tad, and then there was a personal crisis (related to someone who I continue, somehow, to allow to haunt me) that was the straw that broke the Jameson glass. And I kind of lost it. I was full-on in crisis, fairly unable to keep myself stable. I have a lot of tried-and-true “coping mechanisms,” tricks that make me feel whole and solid and thoroughly like myself, and are comforting and grounding, but they were failing me too. Nothing was working.
Here’s what’s interesting: everywhere I went, in my own writing, in my conversations with Kristen, in my psychotherapy work, in my bodywork, I was hearing from everyone that I needed to be stronger. To contain more, let it out less. Hold my own better. To “man up,” in other words.
Part of me oh so resented that! I mean, excuse me? I am a dyke, by definition I overprocess! Are you telling me that because of my gender? Would the universe be telling a femme the same things?
But once I got over myself a little, I thought, what the hell. I can’t keep going like this, I may as well try anything because I can’t continue this way. So I tried some new things on. I tricked myself into being stronger for a while, to see what happened.
It’s kind of the psychic equivalent of holding your breath, and letting it out in a slow, controlled stream.
But – this is a double edged sword, isn’t it, for someone masculine? Hold back your emotions? Don’t express yourself? Handle it on your own, don’t ask for help? These are classic PROBLEMS with masculinity, not necessarily what should be encouraged in someone masculine.
But despite that, I was willing to give it a try, because I could tell I was in dangerous slippery territory and needed to get myself back to somewhere stronger. Things started shifting. I attended a yoga class where the instructor spoke about making the pose effortless, and I thought: that is my problem. I extend so much effort to everything in my life. What would happen if I didn’t? I mean, do I really need to extend so much effort in getting on the subway and commuting to my job daily? Or in meeting a friend for drinks? Or in writing, or meditating, or doing yoga, or preparing food? These things could be effortless parts of my life, why do I waste so much energy thinking they are hard and require so much work? They could be easier than I let them be.
And then there was the Modern Love column in the New York Times, Those Aren’t Fighting Words, Dear:
You see, I’d recently committed to a non-negotiable understanding with myself. I’d committed to “The End of Suffering.” I’d finally managed to exile the voices in my head that told me my personal happiness was only as good as my outward success, rooted in things that were often outside my control. I’d seen the insanity of that equation and decided to take responsibility for my own happiness. And I mean all of it.
And there was Nicole Blackman’s poem, You Are Never Ready:
You must change your life. You are never ready.
There were other things, too. The new Tori Amos album was comforting. I re-read Tim Ferriss’s article on Stoicism 101 and was reminded of my coworker who used to say, “I like to be stoic about my suffering.” I re-read some of my notes from a recent Buddhist class, and meditated on suffering, and on effort, and on lovingkindness.
Something started unraveling, and my grip on whatever this suffering was started to loosen. I started thinking myself out of my fear of the forward movement, and into what is really happening for me: I’m growing. And growth requires the temporary suspension of security.
I know what I need to do to get to where I want to be. I know how I want to spend my days, I know what I want to do with my time, I know the subjects which I want to study. I have a much better idea of how to get from here to there than I ever have. I have a trajectory, I have thoughts, I have aim, I have focus. And now I need … what? Patience? Or perhaps endurance, perhaps stamina. Sometimes I need to be able to trust that when I take that leap of faith, something will catch me. That is precisely the definition of a leap of faith, after all. And grace, I need more grace, by which I mean “the ease with which one handles crisis,” I need more of that too. I pull so heavily on buddhist teachings when I get in crisis, or when those I care for are in crisis, I think I should really deepen that practice to give myself even more tools with which to deal with hardships and suffering.
I had a Part Five planned for this series, which was titled “In Which I Grow Up,” but that page has been blank since I started this series. I’m not even sure I know what I’m trying to say here. Something about how “grown up” masculinity actually is some of those things that we think are “bad” about masculinity—like stoicism or containing our emotions—and yet it is precisely that which opens up a whole new level of being, of caring for ourselves and others. Something about how that is not the negative, awful, repressive thing that, as a feminist studying masculinity, I was always taught and told. Of course, there are buckets of problems with this … but it is not so simple as just being a 100% bad thing. There are benefits, too. I’m struggling to articulate the ways that it is beneficial, I suppose we are lacking language and theory on this in general. But perhaps this small series—and, now, my Radical Masculinity column—can be a springboard to my further studies which shed more light on the ways this is useful.
Now’s the part where I ask you what you think. Please do chime in on what you think about the evolution of masculinity—your own, or those whom you have witnessed:
What has your experience been with “grown up” masculinity vs a younger masculinity?
What changed for you when you grew up?
What is different? What evolves, if anything?
What kinds of qualities would you like to see masculine folks embody as we get older?
How does masculinity evolve?