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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Turn Your Rough Fantasies into Responsible Reality

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

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

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

Here’s some things to keep in mind.

1. Everybody Fantasizes!

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

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

2. Fantasizing about rough, dangerous things is normal!

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

3. Comfort Your Inner Feminist With Consent & Agency

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

4. Get Brazen & Bold

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

5. Get Further Involved with the Kink Communities

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

6. Sharpen Your Kick-Ass BDSM Skills

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

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

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

7. Don’t Forget Aftercare!

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

Rinse, Lather, and Repeat!

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

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

Photo from Unsplash


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

Let’s Talk About Bleeding While Butch

I have always had very heavy periods. Lots of blood, serious cramps that vary from keeping me flat on my back watching movies until I can stand up again to drugging myself heavily to throwing up from the pain. They’ve always been very regular (which is one of the things that rules out PCOS), and because any conventional doctor I have had wants to put me on supplemental hormones (like the pill form of birth control, usually containing heavy doses of estrogen), and I immediately say no, I’ve never been treated for this well. (I must not be adequately expressing how much pain I’m in when I’m actually talking to the doctor. They dismiss it so easily.)

I’ve tried all the things—from hot baths to raspberry leaf tea, from supplements to hot water bottles to yoga to orgasms. (The orgasms kind of help.) None of it really hurts, but all of them only take the edge off, they don’t actually help the pain. Menstrual pain is kind of like curing the hiccups: everybody has an opinion on how best to do that, but your body may or may not take to any of them. I have routines, my best ideas of what work (most of which involves taking lots of Aleve and watching favorite childhood movies and not talking to anybody), but I’m coming to realize that it’s not enough.

Things have changed a lot for me lately. In the past year and a half, since moving to the San Francisco Bay Area from New York City, my system feels very different. My grieving process has mostly passed, at least the most intense of it has, I’m pretty sure; and I’m no longer in a very high-stress and high-conflict relationship. I’m also no longer living in one of the most high-stress cities on the planet, trying to make it on a shoestring artist budget. Now that my day to day life is significantly less anxiety- and depression-producing, I’m noticing this other thing happening: I am significantly affected by hormonal mood swings. Depression, anxiety, and wacky all-over-the-place emotions in the few days up to when I start bleeding. (Usually, when the bleeding actually starts, things settle a bit.)

I’ve tracked my monthly cycle on and off for the whole twenty years that I’ve had it, and it’s almost always very regular and consistent. It’s also almost always been like this: heavy, with big repercussions on my mood, outlook, energy, and body. The feminist communities I ran around with when I was in my teens and early 20s were very encouraging of things like charting one’s cycle against the moon phases, which I still do and find very fascinating and comforting. It helps me see the Quiet Days coming, the days before I start bleeding when sometimes I am entirely too sensitive to be interacting with people in any significant way.

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So lately, the past year that I’ve lived in this sweet little house with my boy and my cat and the boy’s dog and a little garden and a really good kitchen and a bedroom slash temple, I’ve been tracking. I started being treated by an herbalist in May of this year and that has helped, that has changed things. But even after three solid months taking herbs, my cycle hasn’t really changed, and my periods are still harsh, interruptive, heavy, and affect me deeply.

A few weeks ago, the last time I was bleeding, when I was in tears on the way to an event (and eventually ended up staying in the car crying instead of going to participate because it hurt less to lay flat), I said to rife, “I don’t think I can do this anymore.” I’ve been exploring some other options, and I keep worrying about the side effects, but really? The side effects might be worth putting up with if it helps me with the heavy bleeding and the pain and the moods. I’ve been doing a bunch of reading on the menstrual cycle since I’ve been looking into this lately, and it’s funny: I can’t quite tell what is off-balance in my cycle. Too much progesterone, too little? Too much estrogen, too little? Something other than hormonal releases? I just don’t know, and most of the primary care type of OBGYN doctors I’ve seen aren’t hormone experts enough to be able to tell me.

And then there’s the trans/genderqueer thing, too. I went to get an annual pap exam a few weeks ago (thank you, Obamacare) and as I was waiting in the Women’s Clinic, I thought: What if I didn’t have to go to the “women’s clinic” anymore. Why am I still going to the “women’s clinic”? Am I still not trans enough? What is worth it to me that I don’t go out of my way to go to the places that have good trans care? I almost always went to Callen Lorde, the gay community health center, in New York City, and honestly I got (and witnessed) some pretty shitty care there around my (and others’) gender identity, so it’s not like it’s exactly a given, but it’s a step at least. (I found out after my appointment that the San Francisco clinic, Lyon Martin, takes my insurance and has openings next week. So, yeah, I’ll be there from now on kthanksbye.)

(I could so easily slip into a rant about health care and trans-ness and my experiences and what I’m struggling with, but I’m trying to keep this on topic to bleeding while butch.)

I’m considering an IUD—an “intrauterine device” that would be inserted into the uterus and affects the menstrual cycle. It’s primarily used as birth control, as it’s very effective at getting the egg not to implant, but it’s also good for a variety of other things: like significantly reducing the blood flow during a menstrual cycle (because the uterine walls don’t get a chance to build up blood) and reducing cramps. I’ve been doing research about forms of birth control that don’t interfere with hormones like estrogen and testosterone that the body produces, and long term birth control options that are safe for trans men (or genderqueer folks like me) to use. (I’m not taking testosterone, but I don’t necessarily want to change the hormones in my system. I like my goatee and my sex drive, thanks.)

I’ve come across one in particular that seems to come highly recommended these days: Mirena. It’s progesterone-only, which doesn’t interfere with the estrogen or testosterone in the system, and it’s based in the uterus (as opposed to the implant in the arm or pills, which affect the whole body) so it’s localized. I’m seriously considering it, especially now that I have health insurance (thank you, again, Obamacare).

Aside from that, I have also found a couple of really good tools that I want to recommend if this by chance resonates for you.

Recently I bought a new menstrual cup. This is the third I’ve had in about fifteen years, having started using them when I was about twenty, when the only option was the Keeper, made from rubber. It lasted me about six years, until it started having a smell that I could not boil or tea tree out of it, which seemed to be a common problem. I upgraded to the Diva cup, the only other option on the market (that I knew of, anyway) around 2006. It was better—silicone, and absorbed less scent, but after about eight years it too got a little too stained. It is almost clear silicone, so it started getting stained, which visually started being … just not good enough to continue using. I tolerated the stain for a while, but when it started building a scent, I was done.

So I went online to possibly reorder the Diva cup, and while I was researching it, I realized that the landscape of menstrual cups had changed significantly since 2006 when I last bought a cup. I found a few other options like the Lunette and the Fleur, but the one that got me this time was the Sckoon. I LOVE it. I like that it’s marketed in significantly less feminine ways, and I like the design: They really took into account some of the other design flaws in the Diva and Keeper and Fleur, and they made bigger air holes (so it creates less suction) and fewer ridges (which are hard to clean). I like that it comes in colors, too (mine is red).

The thing about a cup, however, is that I don’t have to buy menstrual products every month. That might seem like kind of a small thing, but the process of buying them really was sometimes dysphoric for me. It’s not that I don’t acknowledge and celebrate that my body and sex is female—I do—but having to engage in realms that are marketed for the socialized feminine gender role just makes me so frustrated and angry and sad sometimes. On my best months, I roll my eyes and just do it, like paying a parking ticket or overpriced gas bill. Argh, but okay. It’s just part of it. But on the bad months … it can send me into a tailspin. Especially with all the hormone-induced mood sensitivities (see above)!

Menstrual cups generally come in two sizes: before childbirth, and after childbirth. The “after” is slightly larger, as you can imagine. But until I saw the Sckoon literature about the difference being how much liquid the cup holds (23 vs 30 ml), it didn’t occur to me that getting the larger size cup would, perhaps, enable me to sleep through the night without having to get up to empty the cup (sometimes more than once). Of course! Heavy flow = more blood! And if I have a slightly larger cup, I don’t have to change it as often!

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Even the small size cups you don’t have to change as often as tampons. But this new larger size of cup has been making a big difference. I didn’t really think about it as one of the things that supports genderqueer and trans folks who have a menstrual cycle and don’t want to deal with all that “feminine hygiene products” crap, but it has been a really excellent tool for me to use.

Yes, I have to use my fingers and touch my cunt (and the blood). Yes, I have to deal with emptying it in public restrooms, so I have to either be willing to bring the cup to the (communal) sink and empty it and rinse it, or to make do in a stall with a toilet paper wipe. Yes, it is not the most comfortable thing in the world, but whatever—my public bathroom experiences are already full enough of weird looks that I’ve just said fuck it, and gone for it. People are kind of trained to keep to themselves in bathrooms, so I’ve never had a problem, and very rarely has anybody even really looked at what I was doing. Yes, they are kind of expensive—but a $30-40 investment has lasted me 6-8 years in the past, so it’s definitely worth it.

So now you’ve got a couple of my secrets to how I have this monthly blood ritual of bleeding while butch:

  • A moon chart
  • A menstrual cup
  • Quiet Days

… And maybe Mirena, the IUD, in the near future, though I’m still weighing my options. I had some bloodwork done and will hopefully be able to talk to some folks who have more expertise about hormones and the cycle and trans stuff than I do. That stuff is fascinating to me, but come on, my main knowledge is my own body and that one Psychobiology of Women class I took in college—there must be experts I can talk to.

What about you? What are your secret tools for bleeding (while butch, or otherwise)?

Ask Mr. Sexsmith: I struggle with my feminist beliefs and my bedroom preferences … help!

Dear Mr. Sexsmith,

I am a strong, opinionated, sometimes bossy, lesbian. I have a huge passion for the empowerment, education and advocacy of women. I volunteer as a sexual assault advocate and have been involved as a Planned Parenthood educator. I am very vocal about breaking the cycle of female oppression in our culture.

I feel a personal conflict, as I also identify as femme and am very much a bottom in the bedroom. I like to be dominated and controlled in sexual play and I very much get off on fantasies that boarder on roughness and non-consent. I guess my struggle lies in the dichotomy between my feminist beliefs and my bedroom preferences. I do not consider myself to be a weak or oppressed female, but in the bedroom I love to be controlled, punished and made to serve. Is there a way for the two to be harmonious? I fight for women to have power and to stand up for themselves. Can you help me sort this out?

Tara

I hear you.

I too have come up within the lesbian feminist movements (and in their wakes) with a strong passion for smashing the patriarchy and a vehement dedication to working on less pain for the various gender minorities in the world. And I too like to do dirty, “perverted,” un-politically correct things in my erotic life. I struggle with reconciling my own feminist beliefs with my desire for sadism and wanting to physically cause “pain,” and with my masculinity and dominance and the ways that both masculinity and dominance are seen as corrupted ways of having power in some feminist’s views. I was asked just this morning about my consumption of porn, and my candid talk about how porn is fun and can be useful and good and valuable, and how I reconcile that with feminism. And, oh yeah, I forget that’s a part of that feminist reconciliation process too.

And all of these took a long time, and were long processes.

I have had lots of judgment about sadism, masculinity, dominance, and porn in the past. Some of it was a reaction formation, at least in a minor way, I think. I had reactions and judgment both about other people’s visible execution of these things, and the tendencies in myself—my own desires. I struggled to reconcile those tendencies and how they went with my feminist commitments to gender liberation and my sensitivities to surviving abuse and being in a rape culture.

I think it absolutely is possible to reconcile, to sort this out.

Here’s some of the ideas that I kicked around—for years and years, with trusted friends, at kink conferences, with lovers. It was not an immediate process. It required adopting a new kind of feminism, I think—a BDSM- and kink-friendly feminism that is rooted in agency and consent, and that understands the difference between play and abuse.

Consider these things:

1. Bottoming, service, and surrendering control, comes from a place of great strength and power.

[Bottoming] is absolutely making yourself vulnerable. But vulnerability is not about weakness—it comes from a place of great strength.

People have the idea in their heads that bottoming is weak, but I think that is not true at all. Bottoming is incredibly powerful. Being able to know where your own boundaries are, hold yourself safe, be able to speak up for your own needs, ask for what you want, and negotiate trust with a person who is going to assist your body and self on a journey takes a lot of skill and sovereignty. People who do it well have an extensive amount of intelligence, self-worth, and self-knowledge.

It absolutely is making yourself vulnerable. But vulnerability is not about weakness—again, it comes from a place of great strength.

The notion that bottoming, receiving sensation, and submitting to someone else’s desires is weak comes from a twisted version of what those things really are, versions that show only the completely non-consensual and abusive sides of these experiences. But when done consensually, the gift that is bottoming to another is precious and strong. It’s amazing to serve someone else; we serve community, family, friends, and other valuable relationships all the time. We give our power or authority, or cede our control, away intentionally in order to empower others in a variety of contexts, and we can get great pleasure from doing so. And when we find someone worthy of our trust such that we will put our body into their hands for intense sensation, cathartic release, and the deep pleasure of being in the present moment with whatever is happening … how does that not come from a place of power?

The difference, in my opinion, between it coming from power and strength or from oppression comes down to some simple traditional feminist concepts.

2. Consent makes all the difference. All of it.

When done within a framework of consent, I believe it is possible for just about anything to be empowering.

I would guess that you do not have a fetish for a scenario where you are forced to serve against your will, when you were thrown around aggressively and had your body played with when you didn’t want it. Fuck no! But what you do want is within a safe, negotiated relationship, to be “forced” to serve, to play with giving over your will entirely.

Consent changes experiences completely. In the activist cultures around female oppression, we often talk about consent in a “no means no” way, and stress the value of enthusiastic consent and the “just because they didn’t say no doesn’t mean there was consent!”

But I think an incredibly important piece of examining the feminist concept of consent is also that YES MEANS YES, and that the consent itself is what makes the act possible or okay.

Let me give you an example: I like playing with Daddy/girl and Daddy/boy role play in my sex life. I know that is something kind of extreme to some people, and many people misinterpret it as incest fantasies, which it is and it isn’t (more on that another time). Sometimes I hear people say things like, “But what if you/I/someone crosses the line with an actual young person!”

But for me, that would not happen.

I do not have a fetish for sleeping with and playing roughly with people under eighteen. I have a fetish for sleeping with and playing roughly with adults who adopt a younger persona (usually temporarily) with enthusiastic consent. It’s not about actual incest or actual under-18 youths. No no no no no. It’s about adults tapping in to other parts of ourselves, to open up new experiences.

The consent is actually an essential part of that fetish.

And likewise, I would guess that for you, Tara, you do not have a fetish for a scenario where you are forced to serve against your will, when you were thrown around aggressively and had your body played with when you didn’t want it. Fuck no! But what you do want is within a safe, negotiated relationship, to be “forced” to serve, to play with giving over your will entirely, to be punished for doing something “wrong,” to be used for someone else’s pleasure.

There is a huge, huge difference between the actual thing and some sort of play consensual version of the thing.

3. BDSM—and being punished, controlled, and made to serve—are completely different from abuse and oppression.

And consent is a key piece of that, yes, but there are a lot of other specific, clear, and measurable differences, too.

Read the “BDSM is Not Abuse” list released by the Lesbian Sex Mafia, one of the oldest women’s BDSM groups in the country, based in New York City. I think it articulates things very well:

This is box title
The Difference Between BDSM and Abuse

SM: An SM scene is a controlled situation.
ABUSE: Abuse is an out-of-control situation.

SM: Negotiation occurs before an SM scene to determine what will and will not happen in that scene.
ABUSE: One person determines what will happen.

SM: Knowledgeable consent is given to the scene by all parties.
ABUSE: No consent is asked for or given.

SM: The “bottom” has a safeword that allows them to stop the scene at any time should they need to for physical or emotional reasons.
ABUSE: The person being abused cannot stop what is happening.

SM: Everyone involved in an SM scene is concerned about the needs, desires and limits of others.
ABUSE: No concern is given to the needs, desires and limits of the abused person.

SM: The people in an SM scene are careful to be sure that they are not impaired by alcohol or drug use during the scene.
ABUSE: Alcohol or drugs are often used before an episode of abuse.

SM: After an SM scene, the people involved feel good.
ABUSE: After an episode of abuse, the people involved feel bad.

Souce: lesbiansexmafia.org

Because they are so different, I sometimes think the hyper-articulation of different language is important. It’s one of the reasons that people sometimes use the phrase “consensual non-consent” instead of “rape play,” for example.

The difference between BDSM and abuse goes back to consent, yes; but it goes back to all sorts of other things, too. Like trust, and skill, and agency.

4. Trust in your own agency. Trust in your own experience.

If you negotiate with a lover to get what you want, have an experience, and then everybody feels good after … as long as the experience is “doing no harm” in the world, then I say FUCKING GO FOR IT.

Have some play. Have some ecstasy. Have some screaming release. Have a big bold messy weird experience that maybe other people would judge but it just felt so goddamn good for your body and your mind and your emotions and everything sings a little brighter the next day.

You get to say what happens to your body. You get to have your own experience, and then decide if that was pleasurable or not, enjoyable or not, and whether you’d want to do it again, with this person or with a different person or in a new way or not at all. You get to have your experience of a non-ordinary thing and then, if you feel like fuck yes that was amazing! More more more please! then you can trust that that is real and true. Agency is trusting the answer that you come up with, authentically, when you ask yourself: Does it feel good or bad? Am I left with icky residue or release and joy? Do I feel closer to my play partner, or farther away?

Of course, not every BDSM scene is that easy to evaluate—but some of them just are. Start there. Start with the ones that are easy to tell. Start with trusting your own consent, and agency, and your own deepest experience of what you like or don’t like.

If it matters to you that other people do sometimes see these things you want as contradictory, seek out feminist kink communities. They do exist! This was a topic that came up in the Submissive Playground ecourse quite frequently, actually, and we had a lot of lively discussions about the feminist reconciliation process.

I actually have a dozen more notes about things to say around this process of reconciliation, but this is already more than 2,000 words, so I’m going to call it good for now. Feel free to ask more about specific things in the comments and I’ll do my best to reply!

I hope that gives you lots of places to start. If you’re still stuck, remember, I do one-on-one coaching sessions, and I would be very happy to help you with resources, experiments, ideas, support, or just talking in depth through this reconciliation process. Contact me for more information and pricing.

Got a question for Mr. Sexsmith? Ask it here!

Comment Zen …

Readers, do you relate to Tara’s question?

If you do, would you share your own story about your relationship to feminism and kink? Did you reconcile the two? What was the process like? Slow, fast, hard, simple? What kind of resources helped you on your journey? Books? Anything to recommend for others who are going through this? Do you have any recommendations for feminist kink Fetlife groups?

Leave your story anonymously if you like; your email address will not be published, and if you don’t want your usual “gravitar” picture of you to show up, just type “+sugarbutch” in your email address (like mrsexsmith+sugarbutch@gmail.com) and I’ll know you want to be anonymous.

Gaga Feminism Giveaway! And Q&A with Jack Halberstam

I—like, I suspect, many of you—was first introduced to Jack Halberstam’s work in college, where I read Female Masculinity in a gender studies class. Jack’s work has been largely influential on the gender binary critiques and to many people that I have studied and read since, and of course influential on my own ideas about gender and performance and masculinities too.

And, he’s got a new book out! The book is called Gaga Feminism: Sex, Gender, and the End of Normal and it’s published by Beacon Press, officially released yesterday, September 18th. It’s an incredibly readable book—like Jack said in my interview with him for Lambda Literary Foundation earlier this year, it’s on an unacademic press and intended for a wider audience. So even if you’re not a theory buff—and I’m not, though I do love theory—it’s a very good read.

A Few Quick Questions for Jack Halberstam

(It’s intimidating to interview one of your mentors! Thanks Jack!)

1. When you discuss the concept of “gaga feminism,” which you say is a feminism “that recognizes multiple genders, that contributes to the collapse of our current sex-gender systems, [and is] a feminism less concerned with the equality of men and women and more interested in the abolition of these terms as such,” (p25), I find myself identifying deeply. I run in many communities which are more invested in that than in the analyzation of the male-female binary, and often feel disillusioned with the mainstream feminism movements which have less concepts of breaking down the system and more that seem to maintain it. How can gaga feminism help queers and genderqueers and other marginalized communities get our message farther into the mainstream, to continue to influence the larger culture? What barriers keep our gaga feminist perceptions of gender from reaching the mainstream, and do you have any suggestions for how to continue the activism of working to break down those barriers?

Great questions Sinclair! As you say, it is frustrating to see so many people acting as if male and female are totally stable categories and as if all the changes in technology, in social formations, in sexual identities and in the visibility of queer bodies have made no difference whatsoever! I hoped and still hope that GAGA FEMINISM would have some appeal as a more mainstream and readable book and that it would be able to circulate complex ideas about sex, gender and fast-changing technologies of gender in an accessible and fun way. That said, there have been a few books out recently like How To Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran, The End of Men by Hanna Rosin and Marry Him by Lori Gottlieb that purport to be feminist analyses of men, women, marriage, work, love and family but actually they mostly shuffle around the same old cliches about hetero reproduction and hope for the best. GAGA FEMINISM begins with the premise of taking a longer tradition of anti-marriage, anti-capitalist feminism seriously and joining it to new queer theory and queer forms of life.

2. I loved your writings about The Kids Are All Right (which start on p54). I enjoyed that film quite a lot and have had many elaborate conversations about its construction, but you articulated some new things I hadn’t heard. I am especially curious about what you said about depictions of relatively sexless long term (lesbian) relationships, as I have been theorizing a lot lately about keeping the spark going in a long term commitment. You’ve been with your partner for many years now—do you have any tips or suggestions about staying sexually connected and satisfied while building something long term?

Well, my point there was that straight culture likes the idea that lesbian long-term relationships are more prone to “fizzle out” that others because women are the kindling rather than the spark when it comes to romance…pardon the metaphor but you get my point. Heterosexual mainstream conversations about desire love to depict women as the ones who create an environment for love and romance and men as the ones who set the whole thing on fire. For this reason, when you have two women, the old narrative goes, you have a lot of love and cuddling but no real…spark! So, The Kids Are All Right feeds into that narrative and assigns all the sexual energy to the sperm donor dad. But that was just one of many reasons I found the film disappointing. As for tips on staying sexually connected etc…sorry dude, I am a terrible advice columnist!!

3. You talk quite a bit about butches and butchness in this book (p86). I do a lot of organizing around butch identity and community, including some work for the BUTCH Voices conferences (and of course your book Female Masculinity has been a huge influence on my understandings of genders). You mention the concept of stone and melting the stone in particular, which is something that I discuss and think about often. I tend to define stone as “having control over how one’s body is touched,” which is not quite the same as impenetrable or not ever receiving sexual pleasure or stimulation. Have you noticed that the caricature of stone butches as “rigid or immobile or frozen” (p86) has changed as we are entering an age of gaga feminism, with more depth of understanding and multiplicity in our definitions of gender roles in general? How can we continue to break down those frozen stereotypes and build something unique and open, with more room for people to be expressing themselves authentically and not feeling stuck in limitations of labels?

Yeah, definitely. I was just using the example of the stone butch in GAGA FEMINISM in order to say that we assign pathological narratives to masculine behavior when it appears in the butch (inflexibility or impenetrability becomes neurotic) but not when it appears in a man. If the man does not want to be penetrated, then he is, well, normal! And in fact, if he does want to be penetrated, then he is suspect. I think GAGA FEMINISM is about recognizing the rapidly generated new forms of desire, embodiment, orientation that proliferate all around us and developing new systems for naming them, owning them and inhabiting them.

**

J. JACK HALBERSTAM is the author of four books, including Female Masculinity and The Queer Art of Failure. Currently a professor of American studies and of ethnicity and gender studies at the University of Southern California, Halberstam regularly speaks and writes on queer culture and gender issues and blogs at BullyBloggers.

Giveaway! I have one copy for one lucky commenter …

Thanks to Beacon Press, I’ve got an extra copy of Gaga Feminism: Sex, Gender, and the End of Normal to give away. I’ll pick a number at random on Monday, the 24th of September, and the corresponding commenter will get the copy.

In order to enter, simply leave a comment on this post and tell me one influential book you’ve read about feminism, or one book about gender, or something you love about Jack Halberstam, or something else entirely. Make sure you leave a valid email address; anyone can enter. I prefer to mail the book to someone in the US, because I’ll be paying for postage—so if you are outside the US, I might ask you to kick me a few bucks to cover the cost of mailing you the book.

Tomorrow’s Gaga Feminism Blog Tour post will be at The Qu—check it out.

Gaga Feminism was sent to me from Beacon Press to review. Thanks Beacon! Pick up your own copy at your local feminist queer bookstore, or, if you must, from Amazon.

Reconciling the Identities of Feminist & Butch Top

Queer Memoir: Butch/Stud Through the Years was fucking EPIC on Friday night, and I’m so honored and thrilled to have been there and to be a part of it. There was the story of the kid’s game “hide and go get it” in Kentucky! There was the revelation of belonging somewhere and that “here take a sticker” moment—”because even though you’re in New York City, you might still be isolated.” There were discussions about feminist topping! There was deep appreciation for butch friends and community and support! There was a fucking marriage proposal!

This is the piece I read, slightly updated from the December 2009 version, about reconciling the identities of feminist and butch top, and what it means to be a masculine person who is also dominant. It is relevant as ever and I still struggle with the intersection of these identities. I have a lot more to say about it, and reading this piece again made me think about what I’d add and what more there is to say, so I’m working on it. Meanwhile, here’s the text of what I read.


A few years ago, a girl I dated wanted me to slap her. To hit her face. She asked for it specifically, I still remember the conversation on the subway and the precise way that she looked over at me and said, I want you to hit me. Something big swelled in me and I wanted to, I wanted to feel the sting of impact on my palm and see her recoil, to do it again before she was ready, to push something so sensational onto her experience that she was jolted to the edges of her skin and had to feel, to feel herself, to feel me, to be fully present.

This girl and I had already done some other light percussion play, using my hand, or even a paddle, me hitting her ass and thighs, the fleshy parts that I couldn’t possibly do damage to beyond some light bruising. She liked it, we both did. It made sense to escalate, at the time, to something new; we were deepening both our romantic relationship – our trust in each other – and our power dynamic, and it was time to push a little, to see where we could go.

I was terrified. After she asked, after we talked about it extensively, I even tried, a few times, when we were in bed and she said, hit me, now, please, and I couldn’t, I’d bring my hand up and chicken out.

I was terrified of what it would mean for me, as a masculine person, as a butch, to be more dominating in bed. To like it. To like to cause someone pain. To like to cause a woman pain. To hit someone in the face. To hit a woman in the face, to sexualize that act and that power dynamic specifically.

I was paralyzed by that terror – I wanted to do it, the idea, the very thought of it, the discussions with her, turned me on, the girl I was dating wanted me to do it, but I couldn’t.

Beyond wanting to do it, this was the kind of sex act that was in the sex life I was dreaming of having. This was what haunted my fantasies and what I looked for in porn that I watched and erotica that I read. And I was on a very serious quest to figure out how to have the sex that I wanted. I’d just gotten out of a bed-death relationship. I was committed to studying sex hard, to figuring out: what I wanted, how to get what I wanted, how to build a relationship with that as an element, how to maintain something sane and hot over a long period of time. That’s precisely why I started Sugarbutch.

I now know that I’m a sadist, and a top. That means I like to dominate. And already there are conclusions being drawn by some of you out there who think well of course you like to dominate, you’re masculine, and that’s prescribed for you or in other words you misogynistic asshole, I already knew you were one of “those” butches who needs to make up for your inadequacies by dominating women. Because that’s what we think, isn’t it? Maybe not consciously, but a little bit, somewhere in our brains, we associate these particular identity alignments – butch equals masculine equals top equals dominating equals men’s prescribed gender role. We’re relieved when they line up how we think they will, or maybe we are challenged and uncomfortable – though perhaps in a stimulated way – when they misalign.

There’s something supposedly anti-feminist about wanting to dominate. There’s something in the feminist rhetoric which says we are all equal especially in bed, so that means I-do-you-you-do-me, or that means we have sex neither above nor below each other, and with no reproduced heteronormative misogynistic patriarchal power dynamic.

But I didn’t want that. I’d had that, with other girlfriends, but it didn’t keep things hot enough to sustain a relationship. And secretly, I wanted to top and control and hit and demean and humiliate and restrain and force and take.

Power dynamic theory—stick with me for just a paragraph here—has many similarities to gender theory. Like the gender identities of butch and femme are not reproductions but pastiche copies at best of prescribed societal gender roles, putting on and taking off power roles in power sex play is a pastiche reproduction of power in our lives, of which there are thousands of examples of interaction on a daily basis. And when we can put on and take off these roles intentionally, the act of adopting becomes further proof that the power positioning in our lives is not inherent, or “real,” or immobile, or prescribed, or “normal,” but part of a hierarchical society of social power that can be deconstructed. In that, we can more easily have more power and control in the beneficial ways, and less power and control in destructive ways, as we play with it and engage with it.

As in my experience with coming to a butch gender identity, when I finally came to a power identity that really deeply aligned with something inside me that just clicked and make sense, I felt like I was coming home to myself in a way I hadn’t experienced previously. Through my personality and tendencies and psychology I have my own set of quirks and workings and functions, and for whatever reason, it makes a lot of sense to me to let out some of my power and control issues in the bedroom by being dominating. It is deeply satisfying the way a glorious meal or a delicious book is satisfying, one of my life’s greatest pleasures. I’m not sure I understand why I like what I like, but what I like does not harm others, and is consensual, and I know myself well enough to accept what I like as what I like – and to let that be a simple truth.

How did this change for me? What happened between the time when I was terrified to slap a girl in the face and today, now, where I am fairly comfortable in my identity as a top, and even as a sadist, as someone who enjoys causing extreme sensation (aka hurting) someone else?

Little by little, I had lovers who pushed me, lovers who were more experienced as bottoms than I was as a top, lovers who wanted more from me and who could take more than I was able to give who made enough space for me to walk into a bigger version of myself and occupy it, try it on.

I did come to a reconciliation with my feminist self and my top self. Phrases like men should not hurt women or rather masculine people should not hurt feminine people, or even more broadly that people should not hit each other and violence is bad bad bad … I had accepted those phrases as Ultimate Truths, and I started to understand deeper the ways that sensation was not violence, and hitting was a way to be sparked into the present moment, to release whatever our musculature was holding onto, and to deepen trust between people and in a relationship.

I didn’t realize how little trust I had in others until I started playing deeper with BDSM. Because I would tell myself, it’s okay, she wants to do it, but then I would think, does she really? Maybe she wants to because I want to. Maybe she wants to because society tells her she should want to. Maybe she wants to for fucked-up reasons, like she thinks it’s okay for her to feel humiliated and less than me because of her own internalized misogyny … but that was me not trusting that what she said was true. That she wanted me to hit her face. And that was me, further controlling both myself, her, and our relationship, in unhealthy ways, because I didn’t trust her.

This was an issue of agency, in feminist terms – my not trusting my lover to communicate with me what she wanted, to explain to me how far I could go, and my not trusting that she would let me know if I was going too far or too hard, either with her physical communication or her words or both, was me not trusting in the agency of my lover. I have to trust that she will tell me, she will let me know, if I am going too far. And I have to listen, apologize, understand what I did, and trust that she will accept that it was an accident, a mistake, and that I’ll do whatever she needs to feel safe again.

When I started playing out my control issues in BDSM, in the bedroom, in sex play, the control issues I had in my relationships began to heal.

In learning my way into being a top, I had many, many conversations about consent and intention and communication, I talked to my lovers when things broke down or didn’t seem to work and I learned more about my own tendencies when things went well. I figured out that sometimes, it was really hard for me to be with someone who bottomed so well, and who I trusted so deeply, that I did harder, scarier, bigger things with them that took me even deeper into my topping and dominance and sadism and power, and sometimes that meant I needed to be comforted afterward, to be told I liked that, and that wasn’t too much, and you didn’t hurt me, and that was what I wanted and thank you. Hearing those things is always a relief.

(I give good aftercare too, of course. But top aftercare is less common in the BDSM world – we don’t frequently talk about the toll it takes for the dominant to dominate.)

I practiced, a lot, to be bold and trusting through my topping. I tried scary things and it turned out they weren’t so scary, they were in fact incredibly hot. I got to know myself, and I learned more about the things I wanted to play with, and I talked to smart people whose experiences were similar to what I was going through and who assured me it was possible to come out the other side of it a masculine, queer, butch, sadistic, feminist top.

On Non-Monogamy, Guest Post by Kristen

A piece by Kristen about our open relationship, dating other people, sex, a leather family vision, and BDSM. Follow her on Twitter @kitchentop.

You know where some of my fear came from when we dipped our toes into polyamory last fall? That Sugarbutch readers would make all kinds of judgments about me, think I’m some kind of doormat, judge our vision and our path for our relationship. But we came to poly from a place of deep strength, not out of weakness. That isn’t to say it hasn’t been difficult; it’s been very difficult, but that’s because we’re intense people with high standards for our lives and big dreams. And what makes it the hardest is not jealousy, it’s that there’s little support for dating other people while you have a long-term partner in this culture. We have to build on the narratives that people before us have created—and create our own.

And in fact, as soon as I looked around, I saw examples of sparkly poly couples—many of whom we already knew—who quietly date multiple people. And I probed deeper, and I realized there’s an entire network of kinky queers who fuck each other and each other’s friends, if you just look below the surface. Sinclair sent me a link about cabins to rent in New York, and I got a vision of five or six or seven of us, cooking and fucking and lazing around near a lake, and I thought, “Maybe that’s what people mean by ‘leather family.’ That’s the kind of adulthood I want.” Because for many of us, that white picket fence—even a gay white picket fence—just isn’t in the cards.

And y’all, I like sex too much to limit myself. I love fucking. I LOVE it. It keeps me grounded and helps me fly all at once, and I can’t really imagine fucking one person the rest of my life, as amazing as the person I spend most of my time fucking is. You’ve met a few guest stars (there have been about eleven in the last three and a half years, not counting erotic energy retreats) – and I would like to continue doing that. I was surprised, yes, when Sinclair’s interest in rife expanded beyond a one-time fuck, and I was even more surprised when that connection went beyond a sexual one. But it’s been just over six months since we had that first conversation, and I’m sold. The details are complicated, and the growing pains have been difficult, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t choose poly. What it actually means is that we are so steeped in monogamy in this culture, and the cultural walls around monogamy are so rigid, that it took me months (and fucking someone else, if we’re gonna be really honest here) to feel really solid.

We need MORE support around this, not less. Think about when you came out: I, for one, had many years of culture telling me queer was wrong, and I needed backup from homos around me reminding me it was okay to be a big dyke. After a few years, it was no big deal, but I teared up at my first pride parade. Maybe I should go to poly pride. Or maybe I should just have a lot of poly sex and I won’t need a parade. Or maybe after I have poly sex I should wave my hands around spirit fingers style and give myself a parade.

So what’s it like? It still feels sort of dangerous, honestly, because I still have a little bit of this “traditional relationship” lens that tells me fucking someone else is cheating. But it’s not—it’s consensual—and it’s incredibly exciting. What’s fun? I flirted before, but flirting with the possibility of actually playing with someone else is different. It challenges me to see myself more independently than I did before, and that’s both fun and nerve-wracking. (It’s much easier to fuck someone else when your Daddy arranges it for you than when you’re in a bar with your friends and you have to make the first move—or when you’ve played with someone once and you want it to happen again.)

Here’s the other thing: before I met Sinclair, dating was a lot more desperate, because I have a really high sex drive and I wasn’t getting fucked especially well. Now that I’m dedicated to my boyfriend but looking for people to play with, I can be very selective about who I choose, and I’m much narrower in what I’m looking for. I’m not going to go home with someone randomly because they’re the best option and I want to get laid, I’m going to hone in on exactly what I’m looking for and see what I can do to find that. I have much, much better boundaries, and I’m able to fuck friends or become friends with someone I’ve fucked (Hi Gabrielle … and the rest of y’all). Part of that is just maturity, but it’s also about a redefined vision of relationships. We don’t have to love everyone we fuck, or maybe we do, but it’s a different kind of love. Love is bigger than “date them fuck them live together get married pop out babies.” Sometimes when I’m feeling stuck between two options, Sinclair tells me, “There are always more than two choices.” This is a lovely example of that concept. There are always more ways to live than you might think. And it is so fucking beautiful that we get to redefine how we love. Our relationship gets to evolve, and we get to go through the hard stuff together, and we get to play with space and restrictions and sex and pain in a conscious, consensual way—which is far beyond what I’d ever imagined.

P.S. The BDSM in our relationship is a slightly different topic (and an old conversation), but rest assured, our relationship is consensual. For what it’s worth, I love getting punched, and that doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with me or us. It comes from a place of very deep trust.

Which Side Are You On? (The New Ani Difranco Album)

I’m pretty excited about this album. I caught the preview when it was up at whichside.net and it came out yesterday, now it’s $3.99 on Amazon for the mp3 download if you’re into that kind of thing. And considering I’m trying to figure out what to do with my massive CD collection that is doing barely anything more than collecting dust, I’m not buying any new CDs anytime soon. Even Ani CDs.

I keep seeing write-ups that say—essentially or literally—”I think it’s safe to say at this point that the Ani many of us grew up on and love dearly (the self-titled/Out of Range/Dilate Ani) is dead and buried.” I find this kind of insulting, like saying that Tori Amos’s newest album isn’t Little Earthquakes, or my mom saying, “my little girl is gone” (hypothetically—my mom would never say that). I guess growth is important to me. These aren’t the only comments being made: in this Bitch Magazine interview says, “As I grew up and went on to college, Ani’s music came with me. ” But I hear the other kind of commentary more frequently.

I think there is a larger point attempting to be made with comments like that above, which is if you let go of your old expectations and really listen to the music she’s creating, there are some amazing things here, too, but I guess we as queer communities are holding too closely to the idealized Ani from the 90s. Personally I loved her dissonant sounding string of Evolve, Educated Guess, and Knuckle Down, I loved Reprieve, though I didn’t listen to Red Letter Year much. Not because it was happy, but because the lyrics and music seemed so thin.

But this one … more dense, more things to sink my teeth into. I’m glad to hear her use the word “feminism” in a song, though I question a little bit the nuance of her conversation in “Which Side.”I guess I like seeing the grey in-between things, and less worried about which side of the black or white.

Maybe I’ll get a more nuanced understanding of it after I spend more time with the album. I just downloaded it last night and look forward to having it on repeat today. Curious what your thoughts are—do you love the old Ani? Do you, like Jesse James, think her edge ended when she sang “I’m not angry anymore”? Are you looking forward to this album, do you like what you’ve heard?

Review: Salacious Magazine #2, Voyeurism

The second issue of Salacious, a queer feminist sex magazine that sports “radically sex-positive thought-provoking super-hot porn,” is just as delicious as the first issue—and then some. The format is just a slight bit smaller, but—that’s not true, it’s just the same size, though for some reason as soon as it came I thought it was smaller. I guess the first one was just so bountiful I thought it was bigger than it really is— the beautiful color images don’t lose their luster. I love that they have incorporated illustrations and stories into their content, and I’m sure that’s at least in part because KD Diamond, one of the folks at the helm, is a visual artist, and her illustrations are some of my favorites in the whole magazine.

Issue #3 is due out soon, but you can still get #2, which focuses on the theme of Voyeurism, online or in stores.

Salacious issue #2, Voyeurism, was sent to me from Salacious to review. Thanks!

AT: Mini-Interview

AT, Psychologist, Writer, Jock, Artist, Blues & Swing dancer.

1. What is your relationship with the word or identity “butch?”
Butch says it as no other label can. Butches, for the most part, present tough and perform tender. I love the word Butch as it well characterizes the stuff of Butch.

2. What kind of words and labels, if any, do you use to identify yourself?
Butch guy and Transmasculine.

3. What do you wish you could tell your younger self about sex, sexuality, or gender?
Thanks to me as frequently I give my younger self a big pat on my back for having never once wavered throughout my entire life in my presentation and performance of my identity, sexuality and gender as a Butch guy and Transmasculine. Everywhere I held fort, as a former teacher, getting my graduate degrees and later, in my years of private practice. I strutted my stuff and swaggered and loved special women all as the jock I was, athletic prowess and all taking my space the same as I did as a teenager able to kick a high and distant spiral while barefoot. The same too I did at thirty-something at Jones Beach out in the ocean far from shore, with my swimsuit tied around one ankle and swam naked in the deep ocean. It was my return to shallow waters and the shore fearing each time I would reach down to my ankle and discover my swimsuit no longer there. :-( It takes guts to live Butch!

Bonus: Anything you’d like to add?
Feminism near destroyed Butch and Femme, their attempts to bury us deep in a graveyard and to be forgotten and dismissed. Feminism failed at that, notwithstanding the years of pain and suffering on the part of so many Butches and Femmes forced underground, their presence denied during the many years of Feminism. Remember: only Butch and Femme existed pre feminism! I am deeply appreciative to the Butches today whose persistence of who they are validates our identity, gender and sexuality. It is the zing of the strings in my heart!

Friday Reads: Favorites from 2010

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.

2011 Reading Challenge

Sinclair has

read 16 books toward her goal of 100 books.

hide

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?

Chains and Containment in “Black Snake Moan”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And, the chains …

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

I thought it might be time to break those out.

Yeah, so that was a good idea.

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

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

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

The product description reports:

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

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

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

You know, maybe.

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

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

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

Have you seen it? What did you think?

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

Reconciling Feminism & Sadism

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

How do you reconcile your feminism with your sadism and desire to (gulp) hurt women? (In a completely consensual manner, of course.)—Cold Comfort

The closest thing I’ve come so far to explaining this was in that essay from December 2009 called Reconciling the Identities of Feminist and Butch Top, but this question, about sadism, is slightly different, and I have the impression I haven’t quite answered it all the way.

“Butch top” is very much related to “sadist” for me, but that’s just because that’s my particular version of butch topping, into which my sadism is built. In fact, it’s only been recently that I’ve been unpacking sadism from topping, being with someone who is much more submissive than she is a masochist. Point being, much of that essay is exactly about reconciling those identities.

Yet still, I don’t feel like that is an adequate explanation on this topic. Besides, the culmination of that essay is basically, “How did I reconcile these identities? I don’t know, I just thought about it a lot and then it was better.” There must be something more articulate to say about that.

I hit on it a little more in the essay Yes, No, and Consent too, about agency, in feminist terms. It has to do with the very simple distinctions between BDSM and abuse, even if they are equated by many anti-porn feminists. And it has to do with the Platinum Rule—not the Golden Rule, the “do to others what you would like to be done to you,” but the “do to others as they would like to be treated,” and the acknowledgement that how you want to be treated and how another wants to be treated may not be the same thing, especially when you add in the complexities of relationship through sex, BDSM, sadism, and masochism.

But, if someone wants me to treat them a certain way and something about it feels funny to me, I trust that, and I take a break and pause and ask questions (hopefully without over-processing or projecting), until I feel like we have resolved whatever was coming up or until I decide there’s too much there to open up without adequate containment or backup.

To go back to the Platinum Rule: for a pop-culture simplistic example, consider the Love Languages! Which, cheesy as they are superficially, I think are a very useful system to think about the ways that myself and my partner may be seeking the same things (like love, comfort, security, passion) but may be in different ways (through words of aspiration, quality time, physical touch, acts of service, and receiving gifts). I think we all have some relationship to all five of those ways (and possibly more), but many of us are more focused on some of those ways than others.

All of us are seeking similar things, like love and sex and companionship, but we may be seeking to play with those things in different ways. And figuring out what my own preferences are in playing with those things, and in being in a relationship, figuring out how I best communicate, who I’m attracted to and what qualities I most prefer in someone else, and how to reconcile differences or misunderstandings between us, has been a huge journey, and has been a huge piece of being able to articulate that I want to play with deeper, heavier BDSM, like pain or humiliation, and to trust someone enough to believe that when they say they want to play with that on the receiving end, they mean it, they know themselves well enough to know what they want, they are experienced enough to understand what they’re asking for, they are in touch with themselves enough to tell when they have reached a limit, and they are strong enough to be able to communicate with me around whatever is going wrong (or right).

I’ve worked a hell of a lot on my own issues, particularly on being able to say what I’m thinking, to stand up for myself, and to not get swept up in someone else’s psychology and psyche. I’ve been in therapy for about four years now, and that has helped me greatly with my communication. I’ve also done all sorts of “alternative” methods of healing, such as massage therapy, physical therapy, acupuncture, tinctures, supplements, nutritional counseling, bodywork … I’ve done a lot of work on myself and my own issues, and I am continuing to work hard to improve the ways I communicate and relate.

So, this is how I would reconcile feminism & sadism:

  1. Acknowledge that people want different things. For example, your desire to hit someone is bad when the person you are hitting doesn’t want to be hit, but when the person you are with wants to be hit, in a playful, controlled, conscious way, that’s called consent and it’s (probably) great. Consider the distinctions between BDSM and abuse, and trust yourself when you know you are on one side or the other. Listen to your lovers when they give you feedback about how your behavior affects them.
  2. Play with people whose consent you trust, and don’t take responsibility for other people’s consent. And, if they consent, then later uncover that it was actually bad for them, they didn’t like it, or blame something on you, you can certainly apologize and take responsibility for whatever your part of it may have been, but it was not your fault that they consented to an act that you then did. Be willing to process a scene after playing, and listen carefully, but know that trying to retroactively revoke consent is a dangerous move.
  3. Seek out and understand the background and history and texts on BDSM. Find mentors (if you’re in a city big enough to have a BDSM scene) and take classes, or join online BDSM groups and learn. There is a rich history of writings and teachers who discuss what it’s like to go into these deep, dark realms of physical sensation and psychology, and many of them hold important explanations for how this play works. Studying these arts makes us more aware, which can make us more conscious, and more intentional, and better able to be present in our play.

I’ve always, for as long as I can remember, had a deep connection to feminism. And I believe in it the way I believe in psychology or democracy—that even though there are plenty of people out there fucking it up, there is a kernel, a spark, a rawness at its core that I believe is important, necessary, and is deeply aligned with me and my sense of purpose in this world. I don’t believe that because some people are taking these things and claiming them to mean some things that I disagree with that I need to then step out of the ring and let them take it over. I’m glad that there can be multiple perspectives coming from one singular idea, it strengthens the idea to have multiple angles, I think (even if sometimes I believe they are so very wrong).

I know there are plenty of people who say they are not a feminist, especially those who work in various aspects of sex, and that there are plenty of feminists who would probably say that I am “not a feminist” because of my BDSM play or my masculinity or whatever. But I have enough sovereignty around my feminist identity that I know that their version of feminism is simply different from mine, and that mine is no more wrong than theirs is.

So that’s my last prescription for reconciling feminism and sadism: Ask yourself what your definition of feminism is. If you start digging to discover that you think feminists never, ever hit someone, or humiliate someone, or call someone a bitch, or shove a cock down a girl’s throat, well then, you are going to have some trouble reconciling those two identities. This is where the #3 Research on BDSM will come in handy, because BDSM circles know the difference between play and real life. We know that rape is absolutely not the same thing as playing with consent, as someone yelling out “no no no” during a scene. We know that the things that we play with during scenes, like pain, like giving or receiving pain, are not fun to experience in real life. I would never want someone to spank me or beat me or slap me in the face for real! I would never want someone to do that to my girlfriend! But under the umbrella of play, it takes on other qualities. It might look the same, a slap across the face vs a slap across the face, but the motivation, intention, control, and outcome are completely different.

Growing involves seeing more than the black or white definitions that labels, identities, and systems of thought often prescribe. Lots of feminists have written about how oppressive the sexual culture surrounding the subordination of women is; and that’s important to learn. However, equating ALL acts of some kind of sex, happening between consenting adults, that you or “feminists” deem inappropriate with oppression or non-consent is denying a key part of sex play: agency. Hurting someone, especially sexually, is something (some) feminists shun, but when you add consent into that mix, you’ve entered into something that is not black or white. And perhaps not even gray, since consent puts any act in a whole new category.

Did that adequately answer your brief but loaded question? Are there other follow-up questions from what I’ve posted here?

e[lust] #4: Reconciling Butch Top + Feminist in the Top Three!

Thanks to the lovely judges over at e[lust], my post Reconciling the Identities of Feminist & Butch Top is featured this week in the top three.

I’m glad somebody stepped up to fill the shoes of the former Sugasm. This’ll keep me busy on this freezing cold New York pre-January afternoon.

Welcome to e[lust] – your source for sexual intelligence and inspirations of lust from the smartest & sexiest bloggers! Whether you’re looking for hot steamy smut, thought-provoking opinions or expert information, you’re going to find it here. Want to be included in e[lust] #5? Start with the rules, check out the schedule in the site’s sidebar and subscribe to the RSS feed for updates!

This Week’s Top Three Posts

  • Interrogation – I looked up at him, feigning cluelessness. “I know you can understand me. So I ask you again. Where are the lenses?” Another strike. I crumpled into the bench.
  • Reconciling the Identities of Feminist & Butch Top – There’s something supposedly anti-feminist about wanting to dominate. There’s something in the feminist rhetoric which says we are all equal especially in bed, so that means I-do-you-you-do-me….
  • Fire and IceThe rain comes down harder around us, the freez­ing drop pelt­ing what­ever skin lies exposed over the sur­face of the water.

e[lust] Editress

  • By the Twinkling Lights… – His lips found my nipples and I forgot about the cold. If a car were to drive by and the passengers were to look past the twinkling lights on the tree, they would have seen a naked woman’s rear end pressed against the glass wall..

Featured Post (Lilly’s Pick)

  • Ronjazz: Late Night Rendezvous – Meet me in the parking lot at the post with the broken lamp. 10PM sharp! Do not be late! Stand facing the post, eyes closed. Wear a flimsy dress and heels – nothing else!

See also: Pleasurists #58 and #59 for all your sex toy review needs

All blogs that have a submission in this edition must re-post this digest from tip-to-toe on their blogs within 7 days. Re-posting the photo is optional and the use of the “read more…” tag is allowable after this point. Thank you, and enjoy!

Reconciling the Identities of Feminist & Butch Top

I received quite a few questions about my recent post, Kristen’s Homework, especially around how the power imbalance asymmetric balance of power works when adding our gender dynamics into the mix. It’s really hard to explain, and sometimes hard for me to feel like what I’m doing is in question. I do want to keep writing about how my relationship with Kristen is evolving, and this is precisely one of the reasons I haven’t been writing about the sex we’ve been having as much as I used to – because we have entered into some domination and submission in lots of aspects of our relationship, and I’m just not sure how to express that well, yet.

But I would like to try. I’m working on an introduction to what we do, and our basic relationship assumptions, as we explore d/s more and more, so hopefully that will fill in some gaps.

Meanwhile, here’s some more back story to how I got to where I am.

I wrote this piece for Shira Tarrant‘s recent Feminist Sex reading for her book Men & Feminism (Seal Press, part of Seal Studies) at Bluestockings radical activist bookstore here in New York City. In brainstorming about the concept of “feminist sex,” most of what came up for me was the conflict around being a feminist and being someone kinky, specifically someone masculine, a top, and a sadist. This piece begins to try to explain how I’ve reconciled those identities. I do feel like I’ve made peace with their coexistence in me, but I am still struggling with how to articulate how that happened and what it means now.


Feminist Sex: Reconciling the Identities of Feminist & Butch Top

A few years ago, a girl I dated wanted me to slap her. To hit her face. She asked for it specifically, I still remember the conversation on the subway and the precise way that she looked over at me and said, I want you to hit me. Something big swelled in me and I wanted to, I wanted to feel the sting of impact on my palm and see her recoil, to do it again before she was ready, to push something so sensational onto her experience that she was jolted to the edges of her skin and had to feel, to feel herself, to feel me, to be fully present.

This girl and I had already done some other light percussion play, using my hand, or even a paddle, me hitting her ass and thighs, the fleshy parts that I couldn’t possibly do damage to beyond some light bruising. She liked it, we both did. It made sense to escalate, at the time, to something new; we were deepening both our romantic relationship – our trust in each other – and our power dynamic, and it was time to push a little, to see where we could go.

I was terrified. After she asked, after we talked about it extensively, I even tried, a few times, when we were in bed and she said, hit me, now, please, and I couldn’t, I’d bring my hand up and chicken out.

I was terrified of what it would mean for me, as a masculine person, as a butch, to be more dominating in bed. To like it. To like to cause someone pain. To like to cause a woman pain. To hit someone in the face. To hit a woman in the face, to sexualize that act and that power dynamic specifically.

I was paralyzed by that terror – I wanted to do it, the idea, the very thought of it, the discussions with her, turned me on, the girl I was dating wanted me to do it, but I couldn’t.

Beyond wanting to do it, this was the kind of sex act that was in the sex life I was dreaming of having. This was what haunted my fantasies and what I looked for in porn that I watched and erotica that I read. And I was on a very serious quest to figure out how to have the sex that I wanted. I’d just gotten out of a bed-death relationship; I felt like I barely escaped a noose. I was committed to studying sex hard, to figuring out: what I wanted, how to get what I wanted, how to build a relationship with that as an element, how to maintain something sane and hot over a long period of time. That’s precisely why I started this site, Sugarbutch.

I’m a sadist, and a top. That means I like to dominate. And already there are conclusions being drawn by those of you out there who think well of course you like to dominate, you’re masculine, and that’s prescribed for you or in other words you misogynistic asshole, I already knew you were one of “those” butches who needs to make up for your inadequacies by dominating women. Because that’s what we think, isn’t it? Maybe not consciously, but a little bit, somewhere in our brains, we associate these particular identity alignments – butch equals masculine equals top equals dominating equals men’s prescribed gender role. We’re relieved when they line up how we think they will, or maybe we are challenged and uncomfortable – though perhaps in a stimulated way – when they misalign.

There’s something supposedly anti-feminist about wanting to dominate. There’s something in the feminist rhetoric which says we are all equal especially in bed, so that means I-do-you-you-do-me, or that means we have sex neither above nor below each other, and with no reproduced heteronormative misogynistic patriarchal power dynamic.

But I didn’t want that. I’d had that, in early girlfriends, but it didn’t keep things hot enough to sustain a relationship. And secretly, I want to dominate. In bed. I wanted to top and control and hit and demean and humiliate.

Power dynamic theory has many similarities to gender theory. Like the gender identities of butch and femme are not reproductions but pastiche copies at best of prescribed societal gender roles, putting on and taking off power roles in power sex play is a pastiche reproduction of power in our lives, of which there are thousands of examples of interaction on a daily basis. And when we can put on and take off these roles intentionally, the act of adopting becomes further proof that the power positioning in our lives is not inherent, or “real,” or immobile, or prescribed, or “normal,” but part of a hierarchical society of social power that can be deconstructed.

As in my experience with coming to a butch gender identity, when I finally came to a power identity that really deeply aligned with something inside me that just clicked and make sense, I felt like I was coming home to myself in a way I hadn’t experienced previously. Through my personality and tendencies and psychology I have my own set of quirks and workings and functions, and for whatever reason, it makes a lot of sense to me to let out some of my power and control issues in the bedroom by being dominating. It is deeply satisfying the way a glorious meal or a delicious book is satisfying, one of my life’s greatest pleasures. I’m not sure I understand why I like what I like, but what I like does not harm others, and is consensual, and I know myself well enough to accept what I like as what I like – and to let that be a simple truth.

How did this change for me? What happened between the time when I was terrified to slap a girl in the face and today, now, where I am fairly comfortable in my identity as a top, and even as a sadist, as someone who enjoys hurting someone else?

Little by little, I had lovers who pushed me, lovers who were more experienced as bottoms than I was as a top, lovers who wanted more from me and who could take more than I was able to give who made enough space for me to walk into a bigger version of myself and occupy it, try it on.

I did come to a reconciliation with my feminist self and my top self. Phrases – like men should not hurt women or rather masculine people should not hurt feminine people, or even more broadly that people should not hit each other and violence is bad bad bad – I had accepted those phrases as Ultimate Truths, and I started to understand deeper the ways that sensation was not violence, and hitting was a way to be sparked into the present moment, to release whatever our musculature was holding onto, and to deepen trust between people and in a relationship.

I didn’t realize how little trust I had in others until I started playing deeper with BDSM. Because I would tell myself, it’s okay, she wants to do it, but then I would think, does she really? Maybe she wants to because I want to. Maybe she wants to because society tells her she should want to. Maybe she wants to for fucked-up reasons, like she thinks it’s okay for her to feel humiliated and less than me because of her own internal misogyny … but that was me not trusting that what she said was true. That she wanted me to hit her face. And that was me, further controlling both myself, her, and our relationship, in unhealthy ways, because I didn’t trust her.

When I started playing out my control issues in BDSM, in the bedroom, in sex play, the control issues I had in my relationships began to heal.

This was an issue of agency, in feminist terms – my not trusting my lover to communicate with me what she wanted, to explain to me how far I could go, and my not trusting that she would let me know if I was going too far or too hard, either with her physical communication or her words or both, was me not trusting in the agency of my lover. I have to trust that she will tell me, she will let me know, if I am going too far. And I have to listen, apologize, understand what I did, and trust that she will accept that it was an accident, a mistake, and that I’ll do whatever she needs to feel safe again.

In learning my way into being a top, I had many, many conversations about consent and intention and communication, I talked to my lovers when things broke down or didn’t seem to work and I learned more about my own tendencies when things went well. I figured out that sometimes, it was really hard for me to be with someone who bottomed so well, and who I trusted so deeply, that I did harder, scarier, bigger things with them that took me even deeper into my topping and dominance and sadism and power, and sometimes that meant I needed to be comforted afterward, to be told I liked that, and that wasn’t too much, and you didn’t hurt me, and that was what I wanted and thank you. Hearing those things is always a relief.

(I give good aftercare too, of course. But top aftercare is less common in the BDSM world – we don’t usually talk about the toll it takes for the dominant to dominate.)

I practiced, a lot, to be bold and trusting through my topping. I tried scary things and it turned out they weren’t so scary, they were in fact incredibly hot. I got to know myself, and I learned more about the things I wanted to play with, and I talked to smart people whose experiences were similar to what I was going through and who assured me it was possible to come out the other side of it a masculine, queer, butch, sadistic top feminist.

And whatdayaknow, here I am.

Visions of Sexual Freedom

Need a fabulous gift this holiday season? Don’t know what to get your (least) favorite boss or your Grandma? Well! Here ya go: the New York City Sex Blogger 2010 Calendar: Visions of Sexual Freedom.

You’re welcome.

This year’s calendar features 16 bloggers, including myself, Audacia Ray, Calico Lane, Abiola Abrams, Jamye Waxman, Rachel Kramer Bussel, Melissa Gira Grant, Elizabeth Wood, and plenty of other hot pinups, and benefits Sex Work Awareness, a fantastic non-profit organization that puts on the annual Speak Up! media training workshop.

This year, I was photographed with Audacia Ray by Amanda Morgan and featured in April – which has my birthday, Sugarbutch’s inception date, and Dacia’s birthday.

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Me, my photo in this year’s calendar with Audacia Ray (photographed by Amanda Morgan), and Kristen (and her amazing princess dress) at the Sex Blogger Calendar Party in New York City. Photo by Nick McGlynn (thanks!), more photos from him in this set.

The theme for this calendar was “SEXUAL FREEDOM,” and while Dacia and I were discussing what to do, we both were inspired to feature something very New York-y, since New York has been a big part of sexual awakening for both of us. I moved here almost five years ago now, and my sex life and sexuality has changed significantly since I did.

We talked about iconic photographs and couples that we could imitate or reproduce, and eventually settled on the famous shot of the sailor kissing the nurse in Times Square. Amanda was totally game for it (though she insisted that we shoot early in the day so we’d have the best light), I hunted down a sailor suit, Dacia queered up her nurse outfit, and voila, there’s the shot.

Vj_day_kissThe original photograph, V-J Day in Times Square by Alfred Eisenstaedt, was taken just after the radio announcement that World War II was over – that the US had “Victory over Japan” – on August 14, 1945. This is a significant time period particularly for queers in the US, as World War II brought people massively congregating in coastal cities like New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. For the first time in US history, more people lived in urban environments than in rural environments, and suddenly, queers were finding dozens, hundreds of others like us. This led to those sudden “oh my god I’m not alone” revelation moments, the increasing recognition of the systematic marginalization of us because of our sexuality, and, ultimately, activist organization and the birth of the gay rights movement!

Post-WWII and the subsequent activist movements – like the second wave of feminism – also gave rise to all sorts of new sexual activism, which is absolutely the root of the work I do today. Safe sex, STI information, sexual health, sexual choice, sexual advocacy, sexual agency, ability to have control over how many children we have and how far apart they are, birth control, knowledge, BDSM skills, gender theory, power theory … all of that is built upon earlier movements. And all of those movements, and their intersections, allowed me a significant study of gender and sexuality that has lead me here, to Sugarbutch, and to the 2010 New York City Sex Blogger Calendar.

I bet you can think of a couple people on your holiday list who have been nice enough to get a gift like this calendar, hmmmm?

All proceeds from the calendar, don’t forget, go to Sex Work Awareness which puts on the annual Speak Up! media training workshop. Help support the efforts of this wonderful and much-needed organization through the purchase of a calendar!

Calendars ship upon order and cost $20 a piece plus $3.25 for shipping. And – as a special holiday bonus – through the holiday season, when you buy the 2010 Sex Blogger Calendar you will also get a free MP4 download of the 25 minute director’s cut of Audacia Ray’s film Dacia’s Love Machine, which debuted last year in Berlin. (Link to download will be provided on checkout.)

Radical Masculinity: How to Make Masculinity Stop Hurting

It’s up!

My second Radical Masculinity column for Carnal Nation is titled How to Make Masculinity Stop Hurting. Here’s the beginning:

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My dad’s best friend died last week. Heart attack. He was 60, barely older than my dad, not old enough for his heart to give way. They’ve been friends for 35 years, longer than I’ve been alive. I got a heartbreaking email from my father about how they met, where they’d traveled together, and his favorite joke (What did the Buddhist say to the hot dog vendor? Make me one with everything).

In his eulogy, his son wrote that he was “a devoted family man, one who extended the term to cover a great many individuals, supporting and caring for those who needed him.”

And I thought, that’s radical masculinity.

How does one learn how to be that? How do you grow up into a masculinity, a maleness, an adult manhood, despite this culture’s obsession with bad boys and lunkheads, to be a caring protective provider, to make effective, positive changes in this world, to build something that will last, to be generous with your heart and mind and love and time?

Traditional, limitational masculinity says don’t talk about your feelings. That masculinity says be strong all the time. It says a “real” man is tough, and the worst thing you can be is a sissy, a pussy, a girl, feminine, weak.

Radical masculinity says: I am listening. Who do you want to be?

Read the whole thing over at Carnal Nation, and read my other pieces there, too.

Suggestions or requests for the third column are very much welcome! Got any good ideas? What were your favorite parts of the first two that I could perhaps expand upon? Anything about masculinity that you’ve been dying to hear my opinion about? Please do let me know.

A Manifesto for Radical Masculinity (on Carnal Nation)

I’ve got a new column on Carnal Nation called Radical Masculinity, and the first one went up two weeks ago. Here’s an excerpt:

Remember back in the Spring of 2009 when two young boys committed suicide within a week of each other, both eleven years old? Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover of Massachusetts and Jaheem Herrera of Georgia were both being subjected to unbearable anti-gay bullying at school. Whether or not these boys were actually gay, using homophobia to police masculinity is practically the oldest trick in the book. In the aftermath of these suicides, and in the discussions that ensued on the Web and in print, there was extensive lip service given to gender and the inevitable complaint that boys have it so hard, that feminism has stripped men of their manliness, that men don’t know how to be men anymore, that we’ve got a Crisis In Masculinity.

That might seem like anti-feminist rhetoric, but I agree with it—at least in part. I agree that masculinity is changing, for some in dramatic, drastic ways. I have witnessed and observed cultural changes around the masculine and male gender roles which are shifting, yes, as a direct result of the recent feminist and other gendered social change movements.

Read the whole thing over on CarnalNation.com.

The premise of this first article is to introduce some of the concepts of this so-called “crisis in masculinity” and my perspectives on them. I think there’s some stuff brewing behind changes and evolutions in masculinity, and I want to tease them out. I also had a pretty tough time coming to my own masculinity, but I feel like I have come into my own, and I want to attempt to explain how that worked for me and how I adopted a masculinity that was both intentional and actively works to not be painful or hurtful, to me or others.

It’s a really complicated topic and I’m looking forward to exploring it. The second column is in progress – they’ll be monthly. If you have any particular requests for topics I should explore, I’d love to know.

Review: Barcelona Sex Project (DVD)

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The fabulous Blowfish has just released the Barcelona Sex Project, a documentary-style porn which interviews subjects about their lives, their interests, their sexualities, their turn-ons and turn-offs, before filming them (beautifully, in fact) while they masturbate.

Kristen & I watched it a few weeks ago, after the DVD arrived, and I have to say, I was not so impressed. We fast-forwarded through the last few because we lost interest. It is beautifully filmed, and a really interesting idea that gives the viewer much more of an intimate experience with the visual erotic images of this person getting off than most porn does, which is new and interesting. Yet … I guess my main complaint is the lack of diversity represented. ALL five of the people in the film – the guys and the girls – are completely clean-shaven, for example. Everyone is very “ideal” in terms of body size – pretty slim and fairly muscular. There wasn’t much a range of gender representation, either – the girls were girly, the boys were masculine.

I do admit that I fast-forwaded the end, though, so perhaps there was some content that I missed, more queerness or genderqueerness that I didn’t catch because I got a little bored. So maybe there’s more on here than I realize.

It’s beautifully filmed, I do have to say that. The interviews are interesting, the cinematography is sparse and quite beautiful. I like the way the masturbation scenes were filmed, mostly with very minimalist props or furniture, which was visually interesting – and at times stunning. The girls did use some vibrators, but I didn’t see any actual dildos or much kinky stuff. But hey, what about a range of age? Everyone was so young. What about a range of race or ethnicity?

This brings up the question for me, though, which I think about in terms of Sugarbutch a lot – what responsibility do artists have to represent many experiences or a wide range of diversity? I know I have a fairly slim representation of girls on my site, for example, partly because I know what I’m attracted to and I tend to write about my experiences with those girls (who are femme, duh, and bottoms, duh again, and tend to be smaller than I am). I explain that by saying that this is a personal project – so maybe I should look at Barcelona Sex Project the same way? As a personal representation of what the filmmaker would like to see, and not necessarily as a representation of all of Barcelona or all sexualities and genders or all folks who are into sex. Of course, it couldn’t really be a representation of all of those things, there is way too much inside of sexuality & gender to fully represent anything.

Maybe diverse representation of human bodies and sexualities is not a realistic expectation for a DVD … folks like Pink & White do it, but they also have dozens of clips and dozens of models and actors involved in their work, which makes it easier than working with only six.

Interesting things to think about, I suppose. Regardless, it’s quite unlikely that I’ll be watching this again, and I wouldn’t really put it on for jack-off material or in the background to set a mood. Still, it’s beautifully done, and a new interesting concept which combines a lot of intimacy and destigmitization with erotica/porn and masturbation, which I’d like to see more of in general. Perhaps that makes it worth checking out.

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Swiped this image from Urban Junkies Barcelona (thanks!)

About the Barcelona Sex Project, new from Blowfish Video:

Barcelona Sex Project is a smart, funny documentary about half a dozen sexy twenty- and thirty-somethings living in Barcelona, Spain. Director Erika Lust is adept at drawing them out, getting them to tell their life stories (including cross-continental moves, divorces, sexual fantasies fulfilled, career dreams and career realities, etc.). While there’s a fair bit of talk about sex, the emphasis isn’t exclusively erotic… until the sex scenes, of course. These are people you’ve gotten to know through their interviews, making it that much more real when they strip off their clothing and masturbate. There are three men and three women, all of them quite beautiful and relaxed when it comes to self-pleasure for your viewing pleasure. Cute, pierced, and tattooed, 20-year-old Silvia is adorable in stripey stockings and oversized headphones, while Brazilian transplant Dunia has a delectable dark and luscious body, and geek-girl Irina enjoys herself with a toy. The boys are all buff, smiling, and well-hung. Stripper Joel is the most theatrical, stroking himself before a full-length mirror and finishing with a cumshot on his own reflection, while the unselfconscious Joni has a sweet session and finishes by spurting on his own belly. It’s a masturbation video with a twist, providing a fascinating look into the psyches of the subjects before you get a look at their more physically intimate moments. Nominated for the 2009 Feminist Porn Awards.

Trailer: QuickTime formatWindows Media Player format. (2008, 112 min.)

Also check out Barcelona Sex Project.com for more information, clips, and photos from the film.

Her dirty talk got me off. Twice.

“So,” Kristen said, arms around my neck, looking up from under me, my legs between hers but bent and wrapped around each other, both of us naked, skin to skin, sheened with sweat and still a little bit out of breath. “I guess we figured out what gets you off.”

Not that I – and she – and, let’s be honest, the entire fucking internet – didn’t already know what I like: blow jobs, strapping on, fingering a girl until I make her squirt. But this was different: I came twice in the few recent hours we’d been fucking. Probably mostly thanks to what Kristen was saying.

We’d talked about it the day before. “I want to be used,” she’d said. “Just … fucked with no regard for my pleasure.”

And so I did. And we liked it, a lot, both of us.

“Fuck my hole,” she whispered, “take me, fuck me hard, pound your big cock in me deep. I’m your slutty little girl.”

Just typing that makes my knees go a little weak. Why does that turn me on so goddamn much? Makes my head spin. I feel guilty for it, really, somewhere, just a little, a small piece of me that fears that treating a beautiful, smart, strong woman like that – objectifying, humiliating – is bad and wrong. I know fantasies and role play are so much more complicated than that, that the problematic power play and gender play that we oversexualize for pleasure is just that – oversexualized – in a very specific context, and it doesn’t mean I would ever do those things outside of that context. In fact, the context is what makes them hot at all – the consent – the way she asked for it, explicitly and specifically.

I’ve known this is what deeply gets me off. This isn’t new. I discovered that I could come while strapped on and fucking with Callie, and this is precisely what we used to play with, precisely the language we used, precisely the kind of thing she wanted. I had trouble with it, sometimes, partially because I wasn’t sure I could trust her (go figure) and because of how she demanded it, and that if I didn’t deliver correctly there were consequences.

So this kind of play does open me up in sensitive places, triggers me a little bit, pulls on old wounds of trauma.

I’ve known how much these concepts, this play, turns me on, but I haven’t really brought it up with Kristen before. Well – no, that’s not entirely true. We’ve been building to this, been learning each other and building trust and playing with consent and dirty talk and power play. We’ve been building to this, and it’s of course I wouldn’t have come to her on the first date – or in the first month! The first three months! – and say, I want to take you down like this. I want to fuck you until I get off and disregard what you feel, whether you like it or not. I wouldn’t say that! Even now, I have trouble writing it out – it’s more complicated than that being what I want, what I crave, because while it is, I just can’t get there to do that until I know for certain that my respect and honor for her are in place – and that I know she knows that, too. That I know some of her history and why she craves to be degraded in these ways. I need the trust to be there, and a deeply feminist understanding of sex and power play such that the issues of consent and degradation are clear, understood between us, and ultimately irrelevant to the way we play.

So I didn’t say it first. Honestly, it never occurred to me to this extent – if it had, I might’ve brought it up. We have played with elements of this, but nothing quite so specific or elaborate as we did yesterday. But I so needed that extra little piece of consent, that explicit permission which came from her – so I know I didn’t coerce her into it – that says take me. Overpower me. Use me.

We talked about this a bit recently – I wrote about it – about how hard it was for me to get off and how much she wants – we both want – me to get off more, and one of my major conclusions in exploring that has been that I pay so much attention to her, how she feels, what I can read from her tones and moans and body language, that I forget to pay attention to myself. It’s a strength of mine, to be observant, thoughtful, to pay attention to the person I’m with, I think it makes me a good lover and friend, but it doesn’t always serve me well: I loose myself sometimes, in ways even that I don’t always recognize at the time.

(I wonder how this relates to my history with Callie too, the ways I lost myself so totally and terribly with her. Maybe my getting off (easily) with her wasn’t actually deep connection with myself – or perhaps that’s unfair, since honestly that’s precisely the benefit that I took from that relationship: knowing that I needed to learn to deeply trust myself. But maybe the ways I came with her were about something else. Regardless, whatever connection to myself I began culminating with her was so challenging to keep while dealing with her neuroses and insecurities.)

And that’s precisely what Kristen brought up when we talked about it later: it makes sense that it is a big relief, and release, for me, when I stop doing that. When I no longer put someone else’s needs above my own, and in fact allow myself to override theirs with mine. I never do that, sometimes to my own determent. So being able – and being asked explicitly – to do that sexually is a huge, huge turn-on.

What I’m trying to say is, Kristen & I opened up something deep and wounded and complicated and beautiful and fucking powerful yesterday evening. It brings up guilt, it triggers some old wounds, brings some of my issues of overattentiveness to the surface, and makes me feel so strong and powerful, like the king of the world.

I know you want to know more about what it was we actually were saying, those dirty, filthy things that got me to come inside her twice while strapped on, during a blow job, during a punishment spanking for her being such a dirty girl, during some intense fucking with her ass in my hands and her legs in the air. It’s taken me all day to get through this, unfortunately, so I’ll have to write up the dialogue tonight and get it to you tomorrow.

Did I mention how much I am just totally loving my life? I can’t believe what an amazingly dirty filthy sexy hot freak I’ve found. And? She likes me as much as I like her. Grateful, grateful, grateful.

Feminists & Porn

Are you bored at work? Do you love taking surveys? Do you think research about feminism & porn is important?

Cool, glad we cleared that up.

So: go take this survey about feminists’ use of porn:

Hi, My name is Hayley, and I’m a 44 year old MA Women’s Studies student [at Ruskin College Oxford]. I am currently involved in my dissertation year and am doing research into feminists who use pornography. I have an interest in women’s sexuality and sexual expression. I also have had an interest for some time around the notions of sexuality and women’s bodies as sites of oppression and/or liberation.

I am looking for feminist respondents to complete this questionnaire as part of my MA dissertation. This dissertation will be viewed by my MA markers at Ruskin, and may in part or in full at some time be published. In order to preserve people’s identities, I request that you use a pseudonym.

After the survey, there will be a Facebook group you can join to talk to other people who have completed the questionnaire and offer any feedback about it.

If there are questions you would prefer not to answer that’s fine. If you want to explain why you object to them, that’s fine too.

Thanks in advance for your help.

Take the survey here.

(Thanks to Jess at The F-Word for the survey call.)

Feminist Carnival of Sexual Freedom & Autonomy #15

carnivalWelcome to the 15th Feminist Carnival of Sexual Freedom & Autonomy! I’m your host, Monsieur du Sexsmith, as we wander around the sex, feminist, queer, and gender blogospheres to bring you some amazing reading, writing, introspection, self-reflection, and inspiration on the subjects of sexual freedom and sexual autonomy.

[If I missed your link, I’m so sorry – it was a challenge to keep all of these organized! Email it to me, aspiringstud at gmail dot com, or leave a comment with your link in this post. Thanks!]

I’m going to start with a reproduction of the entire poem from pomegranate pen called temararious. Don’t worry, I won’t reprint everything in its entirety, but this was particularly beautiful and I have such a soft spot for poetry. It’s so incredibly sexy and I really felt the inner conflict of BDSM, of coming to one’s own with power and surrender. Make sure you leave comments over on pomegranate’s blog. (ps: I had to look up temerarious. What a fantastic word.)

    you make me want to do
    what i shouldn’t,
    which is to give

    in. to stay up all night
    for the company of your warm and breathing body,
    to keep my eyes open in case

    you should want to meet my gaze.
    you make me want:
    to succumb. to surrender, hands above my head.

    (reckless abandon,
    they call it,
    i think.) you

    force me to my knees and
    you
    make me feel every second
    in my body –
    we are connected –

    every atom suddenly becoming
    something of us
    the sharp focus of my eyes
    and your breath filling my lungs
    my own blood pounding
    faster with each place you touch and
    my hips leaning slowly

    in –

    these are the things you do to me
    from across rooms and rivers
    (you make me want to do
    what i shouldn’t
    and you make me want to whisper

    please.)

I asked some very specific questions about sexual freedom and autonomy, and these are the 18 particular responses to that question. I know that’s kind of atypical of these feminist carnivals, but I have long thought that this carnival was full of fascinating concepts and was hoping to get some of the folks in my queer sex & gender circles to participate.

I was incredibly touched reading each one, witnessing people’s stories of coming to their own sexual power and understanding their own sexual journeys. Writing and examining our own stories is such an incredibly powerful way to witness our own lives unfold, and that is one of the reasons I adore the writing medium of blogging so much.

I have so much to say about each of these contributions, each of which held revelations for me. But I’m going to let them speak for themselves, with a small excerpt from each piece.

Without more fanfare: let’s get on with the contributions and excerpts.

When or If: When Your Heart Holds You Back

A friend asked that I write about sexual freedom, and being as I am a pretty sex-positive queer kid I figured I’d write about how I got my freedom. What obstacles I’ve overcome to reach the place in my life where I feel free to express my sexual desire, show off my sexuality. … But I couldn’t. I can’t write about that, because it hasn’t happened.

Running Away with the Spoon: Crossing Over

Earlier in our relationship, after we have talked about fucking, we wander into a conversation about how I am her woman, and I say, uncertain of her response, “I want you to be my man.” She pauses for a second, a little surprised, and then says evenly “I am your man. You are my woman and I am your man.” My heart jumps. I have so longed for this, someone willing to cross over into that genderfucking territory with me. but I can see that this is new for her to vocalize, new words for her to speak. So we tread slowly.

Butch Girlcat: Sexual Freedom, Autonomy, & Stone

I accepted the label of stone around the same time I embraced the identity of butch. In both cases it seemed like a matter of accuracy. I’ve written pages and pages now about being butch but very little about being stone. Which only makes sense. We do silence well. She does give me pleasure, oh my god she does, but you won’t hear about it from me, not even if you’re standing next to the bed. I know my face gives me away to her. That’s my version of surrender.

Freedomgirl: Some Thoughts on Sexual Freedom

The word ‘freedom’ is incredibly powerful and meaningful to me, hence the title of this blog. I titled it, and myself, at a moment when my life changed completely; I was realizing just how unfree I had been, for a stretch of time in my relationship, and more largely during my whole life. Unfree to be me, unfree to want the things that I oh so much wanted, unfree to express my sexual desire. […] it’s more than just opening the chains of my relationship; it’s also removing the limitations that I imposed on my own mind and my own desires. Sexual freedom is the new joy in my own body that I’ve found this year. It’s claiming my sexuality for myself, not for my partner or in opposition (or conformity) to some societal ideal.

Miss Avarice: Sexual Autonomy & Sexual Freedom

For me, Sexual Autonomy means having age-appropriate access to the wealth of information that exists about different types of relationship styles, different sexual activities, fetishes, and interests, as well as safer sex practices and contraception. I think this will only happen when we live in an environment that encourages open communication, mutual respect, and an understanding of the important role that sexuality plays in every person’s life.

Uncommon Curiosity: Straight Talk

At this point, keeping track of all the gradations of gender involved in living my life would take an accountant, three maps and a well-trained sheepdog. But I only say “pretty much” because there is still a small spot in my heart that yearns to join the club, to earn my queer patch – if only so the 11-year-old inside me could make it right.

Tina-cious: Freedom is Rarely Free

I thought, at first, [this was] a no sweat kind of question. Turns out, it wasn’t as easy as I thought. Truth is — my sexual “freedom” hasn’t – for the majority of my life – been mine at all. What it had been was the will of my lovers. … All of a sudden I knew what it meant to be allowed to have a say in what sex meant to our relationship. My ideas for new things to try all of a sudden were met with enthusiasm. EVERY sexual deviance I could come up with was open to me for the taking. I just had to vocalize them. Games, role playing, toys, positions, apparatus, anything. All of a sudden I actually felt sexy. Wanted. Lusted after.

Jess I Am: Then And Now

True sexual freedom came to me when I started fucking women. I was the initiator, the aggressor, the top. I felt like a whole new world of possibilities opened up for me and soon after, it did. I discovered the online queer community and before I knew it my inner perv resurfaced and I began to own my sexuality and my body once again. I started to come to terms with my gender identity and understand that sex was going to be something I would only enjoy if I was doing things that I desired. I realized that I could experiment with role play, kink, and even a bit of pain. To this day, there is still so little that I am not open to trying, and there is nothing about sex to fear because everything I do is on my terms, and I am 100% in control of it all, even when I choose to surrender that control.

Femme is my Gender: Shame

When I came out in my twenties I felt myself very liberated. And in some ways I was. However, shame was certainly preventing me from exploring my sexuality freely and in its entirety. I did make progress in some areas though. … Now in my forties and in the ridiculously late flowering discovery of my essential sexual nature, I feel less shame than ever before. That is not to say I am freed from it, but it certainly withers as my confidence grows.

Packing Vocals: What If

So what does “sexual autonomy” and “sexual freedom” mean to me? It means that I can enjoy, appreciate and express my sexuality and gender without fear of rejection or ridicule. It means that I finally have the access to knowledge, the experiences of others and the support to explore my emotions, fears and desires. It means that instead of standing still and stagnating, I can move forward, learning and growing as a person. It means I can be me.

Don’t Let’s Talk: “One of the virtues of not being puritanical about sex is not being embarrassed afterwards.”

[H]aving sex with girls has given me the freedom to access other aspects of my sexuality. Because coming out as gay was easy, but being gay is what gave me the ability to come out (at least to myself) as slutty, kinky, and maybe a little less than gay.

Butchtastic: Don’t fence me in

For me sexual/gender autonomy and freedom are ultimately about self-determination. We should each have the freedom to not only choose our identity labels at any given time, but change them as we wish. I don’t know about you, but my notion of who I am has changed a helluva lot since I came out as a lesbian at seventeen. For the first part of my sexual life, that label and the expected behaviors associated with being a lesbian fit me. I had no desire or need for men in a sexual way. At the same time, I also didn’t relate much to ‘butch’ because of what I saw as a restrictive set of behaviors associated with that label: being less open sexually and emotionally, and taking on what I saw as mostly negative masculine behaviors.

The Verbosery: Finding my Pieces

A woman who personifies the masculine spirit but still craves being fucked like a woman? To me, personally, that’s just about hotter than the surface of the sun. … Part of my journey in understanding my personal relationship with femme was coming into the realization that the stereotypical femme bottom role did not apply to me. I had to come to terms with the fact that femmes top, too. Not only that, but I had to revisit my own personal understanding that I don’t, have never, fallen neatly into given categories. I have always endeavored to forge my own trail, to find the pieces that fit best and felt right for me, personally.

Three-hole Punch Me: On Sugarbutch Chronicles, Sinclair Asked …

To me, sexual autonomy and sexual freedom are synonymous with “owning” my sexuality. This means that I am responsible for putting myself into sexual situations as well as removing myself from those situations when I need to. It means that I decide when I want to have sex, and what kind of sex I want to have. No one else pressures me into it, and I am not forced to do things that I don’t understand or don’t want to do. It means that I am honest with myself and honest with my partner(s) and that we communicate openly and honestly about what we will do together and what the boundaries are. It means that my partner asks for my CONSENT and I do the same for the other person.

Green-Eyed Girl: Sexual Freedom

If asked a couple of years ago what my thoughts on sexual freedom were, I would have laughed and said, “A whip, silly. A whip in one hand and my fingers wrapped around your hair, pulling tightly – that is when I feel most sexually free.” That’s the person I used to be – very much in control & a touch on the violent side (sexually). I don’t know when it changed, I can’t give a specific time when I came to the realization that I am no longer that person. I am fully aware of it though, this huge difference in my sexual behavior. I am also fully aware that it is because I trust her and that is the reason why I have shifted from being a top to a bottom.

A Feminist View: Freedom & Autonomy, Part 1: All Places are Not Alike

[M]y journey to sexual freedom (and autonomy?) is synonymous with my discovery of consensual and safe BDSM sex, and of consensual D/s relationships. With reference to my own past, it is clear that I had no freedom or autonomy as I grew up, and it was only when I came to understand other ways of seeing what was innately in me that I came to have any sense of having control over my own sexuality – that I could own it in every sense of the word. [Also check out part two.]

Sugarbutch: Sexual Autonomy & Freedom

I’m supposed to be writing about sexual autonomy and freedom – so let me tell you this: I cannot untangle gender from sex from power. They are all the spiraling sugar-phosphate backbone in the DNA of my sexuality, and it wasn’t until I unlocked my gender that my sexual liberation truly lived in my body, that my sexuality was truly realized and in practice. It wasn’t until I had a cock – no: it wasn’t until I had a girl who knew what to do with my cock. My gender is the language of my desire, my attraction. The ways I communicate physically. Say gender is a drag, but also say this: I wasn’t me until I discovered my own gendered space.

… and yes, I know this is the longest post in the history of long posts on Sugarbutch, but it’s worth it, I promise.

Read about 20 more posts after the cut.

Sexual Autonomy & Freedom

Written for the 15th Feminist Carnival of Sexual Freedom & Autonomy. Thoughts in response and reflection to my own call for contributions.

Let me say this: I don’t think, in this culture which vilifies sex and punishes especially female sexuality, that I will ever be “done” reaching my own space of sexual freedom and autonomy. It is probably an endless task, a lifetime battle.

Let me also say this: I have crawled up out of shame by my bloodied fingers and I am not going back. I stand on my own two legs, strong-cunted, and I am not going back. I drive the engine of my body hard, glide it through passageways I have previously thought unnavigatable, and I am not going back.

Maybe ignorance is bliss, but knowledge is freedom.

I would not have had the sexual awakening I’ve had if it wasn’t for feminism: the feminist health movement, the theories of consciousness raising, the lesbian sex wars of the 80s that produced porn and smut and BDSM with theories of liberation at their roots.

I am so grateful for all the things that have contributed to my gaining of sexual autonomy and freedom, to my sexual awakening. Nancy Friday’s book My Secret Garden: Women’s Sexual Fantasies. My high school boyfriend telling me kink was great and fun and he respected me, too. Cunt: A Declaration of Independence by Inga Muscio and Cunt Coloring Book by Tea Corrine and Femalia and Nothing But The Girl; The Blatant Lesbian Image and the entire series of Best Lesbian Erotica (especially 1998). Kitty Tsui and that one scene in Breathless with a knife. S.I.R. Video and Hard Love / How to Fuck In High Heels and Sugar High Glitter City. Babeland, which taught me more than I thought there was to know. Body Electric, which woke me up to my own power, and still does. The Topping Book and The Bottoming Book. The Ethical Slut, which changed how I see relationships. Pink & White, which finally made porn I wanted to own and watch over and over again. My academic studies and my degree in women studies which taught me how social change works. Dan Savage and Savage Love.

The fucking INTERNET. From BBSs to chatrooms to the web to Wiki After Dark to Scarleteen to RAINN to the amazing sexblog communities. The connection to marginalized community despite distance and fear.

Let me say this: I don’t know how any woman grows up and develops her sexual autonomy and freedom, let alone a queer woman, let alone a genderqueer butch or femme. These are not things that are built into us, no matter how progressive our families, no matter how much our parents loved us. There are so many layers to the damage, and the length of the legacy is long and wide, the depth of those wounds are long and wide.

Let me also say this: for me, the first step had to be seeing those wounds, recognizing the damage. By beginning to feel what a “healthy sexuality” (uh, whatever that is) felt like in my body, I could more easily differentiate between the damage and the strength. And I learned to use erotic energy to heal those places in me still reeling, still healing.

Why do you think gender dynamics are so erotically charged for me? I was damaged as a girl. As a girl, I was damaged. And I don’t mean “I was abused when I was young” but rather, that this culture hurt my girlhood. That’s why I turned to feminism as soon as I began to understand the power of social conditioning and gender roles: to learn how to undo the damage.

And why do you think I love femmes something fierce? Our wounds run parallel. We are the same, but opposite; opposing, complimentary, full of traction and friction when we rub against each other. Lay your wounds here next to mine, they fill and warm and comfort each other.

Why is gender so erotically charged for me? Because it has been the site of so much discomfort, so much damage. Not just for me: for my friends and lovers, for my sisters, for my parents, for the one boy I ever slept with, for our collective unconscious. So when I take it and corral it and tame it, when I become the Gender Whisperer and see the thoughts in its head despite our different languages, when I learn its language and teach it mine, I become strong. I take the lead. I win.

I know, I’m supposed to be writing about sexual autonomy and freedom – so let me tell you this: I cannot untangle gender from sex from power. They are all the spiraling sugar-phosphate backbone in the DNA of my sexuality, and it wasn’t until I unlocked my gender that my sexual liberation truly lived in my body, that my sexuality was truly realized and in practice. It wasn’t until I had a cock – no: it wasn’t until I had a girl who knew what to do with my cock.

My gender is the language of my desire, my attraction. The ways I communicate physically.

Say gender is a drag, but also say this: I wasn’t me until I discovered my own gendered space. Butch – but not just butch, high butch – but not just high butch, capital-H High capital-B Butch. My body has never made as much sense as it does, now, in button-downs and ties, in sweater vests and cufflinks, hell, even tee shirts and jeans feel right now that I buy them in the department that cuts them to fit my body, square, even lines, corners, dark colors.

It’s not that I want society at large to treat me as male. It’s not that when I put on men’s clothes, I liked the way I was subsequently treated differently – though I was. But the difference was greater than that: I gained autonomy. I gained agency. I gained my own voice, my own stride, my own body, my own control. And I love the disconnect that most people see – female body, masculine presentation – I love witnessing the subtle struggle of random passers-by.

Just by living in the world, walking down the street, I set out a challenge. I work hard to make this masculinity, this presentation, an acceptable way for a woman to live.

Say gender is constructed, but also say this: something in me lines up and sees clearly when I get to express myself just the way I want to. I know how to deconstruct – I know how to break down and examine and look from various angles and research and consciousness-raise and bounce ideas around. And I’m learning how to construct, how to create, how to make myself anew from the inside, all the way out.

Marriage is so gay*

Last week, I dreamt of my future wife.

That’s a strange thing to write down and admit, actually, especially publically; but I thought exactly that when I woke: that was my future wife. I still know exactly how she tasted, smelled, how her waist felt in my arms.

I’m not sure how I feel about marriage, really. My mom has always said I should wait until I’m 30 to get married, and thinks too many people get married too young. I don’t really think the government should have anything to do with my personal relationships, and I don’t think the government should value certain kinds of relationships over others – one man + one woman? What about a triad, a lesbian couple, co-habiting straight men? Who cares how people make a household work, as long as they do?

But: I do believe in commitment, in stating publically that you love someone, in gathering friends & family in a ceremony that celebrates and affirms the difficulty, the support, the community around a relationship.

Since I came to be aware of the inequalities of queer relationships in the eyes of the law in, oh, I don’t know, high school? middle school?, it has just been a given that I couldn’t “actually” get married.

“Whatever,” I told myself. “Like I would get married anyway. Like I want The Church + The State involved in My Relationship.”

And the activist circles I ran in were skeptical of marriage as The Gay Rights Issue: “There is so much to be done!” we argued. “Marriage is such an issue of privilege. What about hate crime legislation, discrimination policies for the workplace, queer homeless youth, AIDS, suicide rates, the drinking/drug problems in the queer communities? What about foster kids and adoption and simply BEING KILLED because of gender and sexual orientation? What about cissexism and trans advocacy?”

Unfortunately, the momentum of queer activism isn’t necessarily in the radical queer youth & college students – it’s with the money. And mostly-white mostly-middle-class homos have already decided what The Gay Issue is: marriage.

It’s a symbol, really: not just a symbol for normalcy, but a symbol for a relationship. And that’s what is at the heart of this movement, the heart of the difference in sexual orientation: the right and ability to choose whom we love, with whom we partner.

While my personal beliefs are still a bit more radical than that, I’ve studied the history of social change enough to know that chnage happens gradually, in pockets, a little bit at a time. I also feel like gay marriage activism is a limited scope – like aiming for the mountaintop instead of the sky – because it still defines marriage as two people, right, we’re still talking about working within the monogamy system here. So while many of our poly friends are going “rah rah gay marriage! And PS, what about us?” the gay marriage activits are kind of saying, “Shhh, we can’t talk about your issues right now.”

But then again, it’s easier to go little-by-little than to overhaul the whole system. It’s a classic social change model conflict – after observing a system of oppression, do we a) work from within it to attempt to change it, or b) throw it out completely and start over? My radicalism wants marriage to be thrown out. I mean really, what good is it? But I feel the same way about other institutions that seem to matter to some feminist theorists and reclaimists, such as Christianity. I don’t personally have any investment in the system of Christianity, so I can’t imagine going inside of it to fix and change the oppression and hierarchical marginalizing structures that are in place – but others do have that investment, and are doing the work to include women in clergy, to research the history of more women saints, of queer history in the church, etc. Lesbian and feminist priests and nuns and churchgoers – what they find in the practice must be worth the work of reclaiming and rebuilding, for them.

Actually, I can draw a parallel here: for me, it is language. I am a poet at heart and never cannot be. People ask me why I use language they deem offensive – dyke, fag, pussy, cunt, slut, butch, femme, queer – and I try to explain it is because I love these words. As if they were delicate glass boxes filled with mud, I pick them up from being buried in the compost heap and wash them, dig the dirt from their creases, make their silver shine, make them see-through again. I am invested in the system of language, even though within it -built into the very makeup – is a hierarchy that says certain people are better, best.

Which brings me to my next point: words. Of course “marriage” is not the same thing as “civil union” or “domestic partnership” – the words are different. “Beautiful” is not the same thing as “cute” or “gorgeous” or “attractive” or “stunning” or “elegant” or “handsome,” right? Those all have slightly different connotations, even if their definitions are overlapping and very similar.

I am a poet. I’ve worked hard to say that sentence. I eat words for breakfast and fall asleep with book after book open on my pillow. I theorize language and meaning and definitions and semantics, revive words that are suffering, influse love and equality and value where I can.

It doesn’t matter how many rights there are in a “civil union” or “domestic partnership,” they will never be marriage, because they are not the same word.

Period.

Mark Twain wrote, “The difference between the almost right word & the right word is really a large matter – it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”

It is the difference between fire, and a firefly.

Words are not some static, fixed thing. They are living, they have lives and evolutions, they are manifestations of the culture from where they come, in which they are used. We can change them. They do change and evolve and grow to suit the needs of culture – they reflect a culture, but they also shape a culture. A new concept, term, or phrase can define a movement, a change, activism.

Researching all this information about the state of gay marriage in my country recently has really got me thinking about my own future. I don’t come from a very traditional family, I’ve never thought I would have a very traditional wedding – bridesmaids, groomsmen, white dress, any of that. I’ve received some amazing, beautiful, moving photographs from queers over the last few days, and I find a part of me is craving to have some beautiful party, some celebration, where my love and I can costume up and wear cool clothes and be surrounded by our friends looking dashing.

So I have some ideas forming about what I’d do for my own ceremony. No real dealbreakers, just ideas that I like. Although I am really attached to the idea that our first dance would be choreographed – let’s hope my future wife knows how to swing. (Let’s also hope next time I’ll dream her phone number or URL, so I’ll figure out how to contact her.)


* I hate this common use of “gay” and not infrequently call people on it when I hear them say it. But the tension in this sentence – calling marriage “gay” – cracks me up. Kind of like the bumper sticker I saw at Little Sister’s Bookstore in Vancouver, BC many years ago, which read, “Straight people are so gay.” Hah!

8 Against 8: 8 bloggers – 8 days – as much money as we can raise to defeat Proposition 8 in California. Vote no on Prop 8!

In Praise of Femmes: Hair & Shaving

Thanks, all, for your thoughtful responses and life stories about butch hair in the last post.

Here’s a few of my thoughts about femmes and femininity and hair, and then I’ll ask some questions and open it up to whatever you’d like to say about the subject.

I want to distinguish here between options and personal preference – I talk a lot on this site – especially in terms of femmes and femme identity – about what I like, and I want to make it clear that those are usually my personal preferences, and I’m not trying to say that I think that’s what all femmes should be or that femmes who are not like that are not valid or are not “real” femmes or any of that crap. I hope that’s not how it comes across.

So, let me first say this, about my basic philosophies on hair: hair is a personal choice. It is also a major marker on the physical body used to distinguish gender differentiation in contemporary culture. Short hair on men, long hair on women; shaved legs and underarms on women, hairy men. This of course was not always the case; it used to be seen as very masculine for men to grow their hair long. Hair presentation, length, and social conformity are based largely on culture.

In my (unofficial, limited) cultural observation in the recent years, these differences are just getting more pronounced, although with the inclusion of gay male culture in mainstream men’s fashion, the rise of beauty products for men, the addition of “manscaping” and the metrosexualizing of fashion and beauty, beauty standards for men and masculinity are on the rise. It is not unusual for hetero/cis-women to expect their hetero/cis-men to keep their chest hair under control, to get eyebrow waxes, to keep their hair groomed.

But just because the beauty standards for men are raising doesn’t mean it’s okay for us to keep unobtainable beauty standards for women – or for anyone, for that matter. Honestly I believe we’ve got to turn the beauty culture inside out on our own personal journeys into our own gender identities, whatever flavor they may be, whatever area of the gender galaxy, to really examine what the culture dictates and unlearn the compulsory standards that can be exhausting, unobtainable, and even harmful to our bodies.

What the body does is natural, normal, acceptible, sexy – where hair grows, the stretchmarks, the veins that show through the skin, the moles and freckles, the thickness of the muscles or the tendons or the thigh or the waist or the hair. All these things are beautiful, and real.

And, in my humble opinion, are also turn-ons: the celebration of the beauty of the human body.

If you’ve never explored the potential damage and compulsory standards of beauty culture, take a look at:

So: once we start undoing society’s standards, and treating every possible option as valid and valuable for different reasons in order to make a true choice, we can start exploring what it is that we personally prefer. What turns us on, how our bodies feel the most sexy, what the soft animal of our body loves.

My initial thoughts about femme hair always go to the hair on your head, and the ways it’s worn. Being that I am very attracted to femininity, I do like long hair generally, though I know plenty of femmes who totally rock the chin-length cuts or the boycuts, I’ve even known a few with shaved heads.

I wrote once upon a time about how much I love it when femmes wear their hair up, and specifically the idea that “a woman’s hair is for her husband.” I wrote, “I know there are deep problems with this idea of a husband owning a wife’s hair, but I love the idea of it being so sexual, such a turn on, when a femme lets her hair down, that it’s private, saved for me and me alone.” And that’s just it exactly.

About body hair on femmes … honestly, my personal preference is basically bare. Very little hair, everywhere. I find shaving sexy, I find the rituals of beauty sexy (when they are done with intention and sexual connotations especially). I like to shave my lover’s legs, actually. That’s a scene I haven’t played out in a long time, but I find that intensely erotic.

I do have some guilt about liking the reproduction of traditional femininity. I know I could write pages about how it’s not compulsory, it’s resistance, celebratory, and intentional, but still sometimes I wonder if what my block is that I wouldn’t find hair particularly attractive. But I suppose I can attempt to justify this by saying that I absolutely think it should be culturally acceptible – I hate that it’s dictated as necessary by the beauty rules – but that my personal preference is skin, skin, skin. Is that because of the dominant cultural beauty rules? Yeah, probably. I can’t escape it, I was raised in it, I live in it every day. But I recognize that it exists, what it means, how it operates, and I fully support people who reject that rule and who prefer to have their hair wild and free, or trimmed and neat, or completely bare. All options should be valid.

So, now you:

I know you’ve already got a ton of things to say about femme body hair, but here’s some questions to get started:

If you’re in the transfeminine area of the gender galaxy:

  • Do you shave, wax, pluck, shape? Underarms, legs, thighs, stomach, chin? Why or why not?
  • What was your process in coming to do the hair sculpting and
  • How do you make choices about your hair? Based on sexual preferences? Cultural standards?What your lovers like?
  • How do you keep your pubes? Trimmed, waxed, shaved, au naturale?
  • What comes to mind when you see women who don’t shave?
  • Do you sexualize shaving or body hair removal?

If you are someone who tends to date transfeminine folks:

  • Do you have personal preferences when it comes to hair on the femmes you date?
  • Do you sexualize shaving or body hair removal?
  • Do you prefer hair on her head worn a certain way? Do you tend to be attracted to very specific hair cuts, styles, colors?

I’m also very curious about folks who live outside of the US – clearly my perspectives are very US-centric, and I’m not really sure what gets culturally dictated or compulsorily reproduced in other places. I have impressions, but being an outsider to culture in other places, I won’t presume to speak on it.

Please do elaborate however you’d like. And thank you, for reading and for your comments, I really like that we’re conversing here more and more, getting input from all kinds of people who live in all kinds of ways.

The Difference Between Romance and Chivalry

What’s the difference between romance and chivalry?

Colleen and I had an interesting discussion a while back. The two can look nearly identical, we thought – bringing flowers, pulling out a chair, taking a jacket – but something separates them.

I do think some things are not so chivalrous and are exclusively romantic – candlelight dinner, gazing into each other’s eyes, promises of love + affection – but pretty much all the chivalrous actions seem to fall under a romantic umbrella. Like a sub-set of romance.

But see, sometimes chivalry is purely kind and thoughtful, with no romance whatsoever. When I hold the door open for a stranger, or for my mom or sister or a straight girl friend, I do it with no romantic intent.

Ah – so perhaps that’s what differentiates the two: intention. That’s what Colleen and I concluded.

Chivalrous actions are done purely for the sake of doing the action – kindness, thoughtfulness, observation of something that would assist someone else.

Romantic actions, however, are done with a particular purpose: of wooing the other person. Romance does want something in return, and when the relationship changes to “just friends” or ends, the romantic gestures cease.

So the gestures of romance and chivalry can appear the same, but are given with different intentions.

So (here’s the part where I get personal), I’ve always been a romantic. Big time. Love poems, handmade gifts, mix cds, sweet nothings. (I know, you’re shocked.) Lately I have been extremely suspicious of romance and the webs of seduction it spins, but I haven’t let go of chivalry. In fact, my chivalrous impulses have gotten stronger.

Trouble here is, I think my chivalry is often misinterpreted as romance. Paying for dinner, holding her door. I’m told these aren’t things that many transmasculine folks do, so they can be interpreted as grand gestures, even though honestly that’s just how I am.

As with everything else in my dating life, it seems, I need to make my intentions clearer in matters like this. I’m learning, I guess – to have better boundaries, to trust they are in place, to be clear, to listen to others and hear when they are not accepting of the boundaries I have.

Sometimes I feel like the boundaries I have in place are too strong, too much, too thick. Huge cement walls with barbed wire instead of lines in the sand. But the strange thing is, it isn’t until my huge cement walls are accepted – really accepted and acknowledged – that I can start putting up a chain link fence instead, then a picket fence, then a hopscotch chalk line.

The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change. – Carl Rogers

Update: I also wrote about chivalry on the post for March’s masthead, bringing butch back – specifically the ways that I approach chivalry as deeply feminist.

Define: Transmasculine

I’ve been adopting the word “transmasculine” to use to describe, generally, folks who were assigned female at birth who are male-identified, masculine, and/or masculinely presenting, in some way. I tend to stumble over this in these writings here – “butches and other masculine-identified females” or “butches and trans guys and bois and other girls who are boyish,” et cetera – and ugh, it gets messy to describe it that way.

So let’s start using the term “transmasculine,” okay?

I’ve been hearing it knocked around in the gender/queer communities more and more lately, but it’s from the TransMasculine Community Network that I am adopting this definition:

Transmasculine refers to any person who was assigned female at birth but feels this is an incomplete or incorrect description of their gender.

That’s quite broad – considering the “masculine” element in the word, I would probably say it’s more used as in, “an incomplete or incorrect description of their gender and they have some leanings toward the masculinity areas of the gender galaxy,” but in some ways I do like how inclusive their definition is. Regardless, I tend to use it to mean those of us butches, bois, trans guys, faggy femmes, and all sorts of other genderqueers. I’ve found myself using it in a few different articles I’m working on, so I wanted to be sure to introduce a definition.

I imagine the idea of butch as a trans identity is not so hard to grasp, and I’ve written about femme as a trans identity. The inclusion of the word “trans” as part of it feels touchy to me, because while I do agree that “trans” could – and probably should – be used as a great umbrella term for many gender descriptions, it also calls to mind for many an adherence to a strict gender binary – that if you are masculine, and female bodied, that you must be “actually” trans, not butch or masculinely female, as those spaces sometimes feel discounted. But that’s not how I intend to use it here.

Actually, I think I used to use “butch” in this way – as a catch-all phrase for anyone born female who leans toward masculine performance. But as my gender studies have gone on, I’ve come to accept and use a concept like transmasculine (for which I hadn’t had a term until now) as much more accurate, as I see “butch” as actually a very specific sub-set of being transmasculine. For me, butch is very much tied together with chivalry, a classic style of masculinity, feminism, and a sort of romance.

I of course think people should define these terms for themselves, but the more I do get involved in the genderqueer/transmasculine discussions, the more I see commonalities in those of us who identify as butch, and I see why some bois or other transmasculine folks don’t necessarily see that as their identity. I think in the past I’ve been much more inclined to say things like, “there is room for you in ‘butch’!” And it’s not that I take that back – certainly, if your lips tingle a little at the idea of calling yourself butch and claiming a butch identity, there is room for you in that identity and I think you should go for it, try it on, see if you like it, if it fits – but I’m seeing the ways that butch is actually more specific than I used to think it was.

Fascinating, how these things evolve. There’s so much to still create and discover and uncover and remake and expose about how gender works, what it means, our relationship to it. Man, I love this work.

psst … post script, on eye candy

Part of the deal of me posting eye candy is that you, as readers and appreciators of the butch/femme dynamic, which I assume you probably are if you are visiting this site, are required to comment about how hot the butch is.

Hey, it’s hard to be objectified as “eye candy.” It’s hard to be judged purely on sexiness and looks and hotness and female masculinity appeal. So we must give these butches lotsa love.

And Dani is particularly hot. See what I’m getting at? There should really be more than two comments on that post.

I’m not usually toppy or controlling about comments, but part of the entire point of posting photos of butches is to celebrate female masculinity, especially in the face of a community that often villifies butches with nothing short of blame for the entire oppression of women, feminists, lesbians, dykes, etc. Cause that’s all our faults, you know. If we were only a little more of a “real woman” (read: conforming to our prescribed societal gender role) we wouldn’t be so oppressed.

So please, spoil the eye candy, will ya?

I’ve been thinking lately about how to do an equivalent of femme eye candy series. It might be called something like “femme not straight,” but I’m not exactly sure how to do that without it becoming “photos of pretty girls” which, though that’s awesome, is I think a cheap blog trick. Any interest or ideas?

Speaking of eye candy, I’ve got some good ones coming up. A filmmaker, and a butch on a motorcycle, great photos both. Keep sending ’em in, or tag ’em sugarbutch on flickr.

Choice feminism & compulsory gender roles

Lady Brett has a new post over at her fabulous blog Don’t Let’s Talk about feminism and housewifery, and I left a rather long-ish comment, and still find myself with strong feelings on the subject.

So hey, why else do I have a blog but to write impromptu non-fiction personal essays about gender and feminist theory?

1. The Value of Domestic Skills

I believe there’s nothing inherently unfeminist about keeping a home, doing domestic things, taking care of people you love, cooking, cleaning, decorating. Those are important, learned skills and talents, often very complicated arts, time consuming, and things which make a big difference in the quality of life.

There’s been quite a bit of reclamation around “women’s work” throughout the second wave and third wave feminist movements, which has revisioned and revalued the work that goes into domesticity as complex, learned skills, difficult, and often incredible works of art.

(See, for example, the art of Judy Chicago, in particular – The Dinner Party in particular, but there’s lots more in that vein. Also see the book Manifesta by Jennifer Baumgartner & Amy Richards. Anyone else have examples? Leave ‘em in the comments.)

Domesticity & housewifery can go against feminist principles when it is compulsory: not optional, expected, unrewarded, and unrecognized as hard work or valuable. The problems come in being forced into this role, when you’re only doing that if what you’re doing feels like what you’re “supposed” to do and not what you really want to do. Figuring out what actually suits you best, your particular talents and personality and inclinations – that is subversive, and empowering.

2. Choice Feminism

Recently, there’s been a rise of this idea of choice feminism, which claims that being a housewife or househusband, staying home to raise the kids and keep the house, is an option available to people if they so choose, and that there is nothing inherently wrong with this choice.

Makes sense, right? Some people – men or women or butches or femmes or genderqueers or whomever – think it would be great to have the luxury of having a partnership (or triad, or whatever) where enough income was being generated by another person (or another source) that someone could stay home and prepare good food and take care of their living space, take care of the kids or plants or animals. To others, this sounds like nothing they’d want to do themselves, they’d hate to be cooped up all day and would much rather go out into the world and socialize, feel like a ‘productive member of society.’

So in theory, it would be great if someone was able to say, hey, I’d really like to be at home, and their partner would say, that’s great, because I’d like to go to work and make enough money to support our family. And then the negotiation of details would happen, and wow, everyone has a great time with their lives, yay.

There are so many factors that go into building this as an option to begin with. For one, it takes a certain amount of education (and therefore access to education), economic capability, and stature in order to be in a relationship that can rely on a single income (and/or a lot of thriftiness!). The folks who have the ability to stay home and take care of their domestic life have to have a certain amount of economic privilege, by definition – they are able to survive without having a traditional, typical 40 hour a week job.

Point being, this isn’t an option everyone has, so it can’t be a “choice” for everyone. Some people cannot ever choose this choice, because of the ways we have been set up inside of economic systems. (If I had more time to research, I would include : all sorts of things on credit card theory, loan sharks, economic poverty, the working poor. Got specific resources for this? Links, books, documentaries? Leave ‘em in the comments.)

I bet someone staying home and claiming the housewife/househusband/etc role works really well in some relationships, and that those choices are totally legit and based in love and care and self-knowledge for the relationship, family, themselves, and their partners.

Problem is, there are still real social consequences to choosing the socially unacceptable, rarer, less compulsory choice. And it isn’t until both options are empowered with equal weight that we’ll be able to actually make these choices fully, and as long as society still deems one choice over the other, presenting it as an “option” sometimes feels to me as more one more way to force people into it compulsorily.

I think it is possible for these particular choices to have equal weight. Both should be equally valued, in my opinion, and it is possible for them to be in the current culture.

Whether or not they do actually have equal weight, however, would largely depend on a person’s perspective, family, culture, friends, and social status. Some people would experience rejection, marginalization, othering, belittling, or outcasting, if they decided to stay at home and “only” take care of their family’s domestic life. Others would experience peer pressure and gender policing for not doing so, for attempting to say that housewifery is valuable, especially when saying this to someone for whom housewifery was compulsory, and whom resents the lack of choice that she herself had.

Two examples:

A) Mona Lisa Smile
The film Mona Lisa Smile, set in the 1950’s at a women’s college, has a major theme of choice feminism throughout, as Joan, a student, struggles between pursuing law at Yale or getting married and starting a family. Her art teacher, Katherine, tries to encourage her to examine both options equally, even saying she doesn’t have to choose, she can have both.

Quote from the scene where Joan tells her art teacher that she’s going to choose to be a housewife:

Joan Brandwyn: It was my choice… not to go. He would have supported it [if I’d chosen to go].
Katherine Watson: But you don’t have to choose.
Joan Brandwyn: No, I have to. I want a home; I want a family, that’s not something I’ll sacrifice.
Katherine Watson: No-one’s asking you to sacrifice that, Joan, I just want you to understand you can do both.
Joan Brandwyn: Do you think I’ll wake up one morning and regret not being a lawyer?
Katherine Watson: Yes, I’m afraid that you will.
Joan Brandwyn: Not as much as I regret not having a family, not being there to raise them. I know exactly what I’m doing and it doesn’t make me any less smart.
[Katherine looks down] Joan Brandwyn: This must seem terrible to you.
Katherine Watson: I didn’t say that.
Joan Brandwyn: Sure you did. You always do. You stand in class and tell us to look beyond the image, but you don’t. To you a housewife is someone who sold her soul for a center hall colonial. She has no depth, no intellect, no interests. You’re the one who said I could do anything I wanted. This is what I want.
Katherine Watson: [hugs Joan] Congratulations. Be happy.

(source: Wikiquote)

It seems Joan is attempting to make the major point of choice feminism, that Katherine does not think housewifery is a legitimate choice for women. But I’m skeptical of this, because we don’t ever see Joan go through an awakening out of the compulsory gender role, realizing and fully understanding the limitations of her socially prescribed feminine/wife/mother role. Without really knowing that, is it possible for her to consider rejecting it as a legitimate option?

B) Sex and the City, season 4 episode 7, Time and Punishment

In the episode Time and Punishment from the fourth season of Sex and the City, Charlotte is newly married, and informs the girls that she’s thinking about quitting her job so she can begin her domestic duties. They react with significant glances at each other, though nobody says anything overly disagreeing with Charlotte’s news. The next day, Charlotte calls Miranda.

Miranda: Hello?
Charlotte: You were so judgmental at the coffee shop yesterday.
Miranda: Excuse me?
Charlotte: You think I’m one of those women.
Miranda: What? One of what women?
Charlotte: One of those women we hate who just works until she gets married. … The women’s movement is supposed to be about choice. And if I choose to quit my job, that is my choice.
Miranda: “The women’s movement”? Jesus Christ, I haven’t even had coffee yet.
Charlotte: It’s my life and my choice.
Miranda: Okay, Charlotte? This isn’t about me, this is your stuff.
Charlotte: Admit it! You were being very judgmental.
Miranda: I’m dripping all over my bathroom and you’re calling me judgmental. lf you have a problem with quitting your job…maybe you should take it up with your husband.
Charlotte: See, there it is, “your husband.” There’s nothing wrong with having a husband!
Miranda: Charlotte, I’m hanging up.
Charlotte: Don’t you dare hang up! And stop saying Charlotte like that. I am quitting my job to make my life better… and do something worthwhile like have a baby and cure AIDS.
Miranda: Oh! You’re gonna cure AlDS? Good for you. Just don’t be too disappointed if all you wind up with is a pretty ceramic mug with Trey’s name on it.
Charlotte: Take that back!
Miranda: I’m hanging up.
Charlotte: Don’t hang up! I’m interviewing girls to replace me… and I really need you to get behind my choice.
Miranda: You get behind your choice.
Charlotte: I am behind my choice. I choose my choice.
Miranda: I don’t have time for this. I have to go to work. Some of us still have to go to work.
Charlotte: I choose my choice!

(quoted from script of Time & Punishment.)

Problem for me here is that Charlotte is “the traditional one.” The most conservative, the one who blushes at the slightest of sex talk, the one who, throughout the series, is in serious husband-hunting mode. Has she really examined all her choices? Is she buying into the gender role that she’s presenting because she “chooses” it, or because it is compulsory for her?

But even though I am skeptical and questioning these women’s ability to make their own choices, I do come from the perspective that everyone has their own agency. I try – very hard – to let go of my own judgment about what would or wouldn’t be a good choice, and to really believe that another person is the only one who will really know what is in her own best interest.

But while I believe in agency, I also believe in things like laws of self-protection – seat belt laws, helmet laws, fast food regulation laws – because society has proved that people are susceptible, that we do not always make the choice that is in our best interest because of social, political, advertising, or any other number of pressures, and that educators, policy makers, and activists have the responsibility to protect and look out for others. That we are all interdependent, if you will – and that when everyone does better, everyone does better.

So how do we figure out how to have more agency in these complex situations of choice? How do we assure that all options do have equal weight for ourselves, in our own personal lives, even if they do not have equal weight in the eyes of society? How do we take a decision that used to be compulsory – like being a stay at home mom (SAHM, or Shit Ass Ho Motherfucker, if you’re a dooce reader) or, to connect it further to the Sugarbutch Chronicles subjects, adopting an exaggerated presentation of gender like butch or femme – and legitimately choose it?

3. Knowledge & Education

How can we make these choices have more equal weight?

Educate yourself. Study feminism. Study the history of compulsory gender roles, compulsory gender presentation, compulsory heterosexuality.

We can’t make any of these choices without understanding of where they came from, what they mean, what cultural, historical, and political contexts the choices sit within.

In a society that still has so much compulsory roles for men and women, it’s never just as simple as “I choose to be a housewife” or “I choose to work a full-time job outside the home.” There are so many factors – economic status, cultural and familial expectations, personal interests and pursuits, background, education, community.

I guess this is the part where we’re on our own, where we have to figure out the solution to our own gender problems, where we have to take responsibility for our own enlightenment.

One of my favorite quotes about gender is “femme is knowing what you’re doing.” My take on that is not that “all femmes know what they’re doing all the time,” but more like the implications that femme – or femininity, or gender expression in general – becomes an active choice, something that has a context and a history and a cultural understanding for the choices we’re making.

And it is possible to learn those things. Read into the history of gender studies, of compulsory gender roles and gender “deviance,” gender activism, butch/femme culture and society, the women’s and gay liberation movements. Get a sense of yourself & your gender in a larger sociological, historical, political, cultural, geographical context.

I see feminism as quite similar to how I am beginning to understand Buddhism: as philosophies, as world views. That it is a container, a baseline of explanation and understanding for how you see the world, interactions, social hierarchies, marginalized communities, value.

And as such, I really believe that everyone has a place within feminism. That everyone is affected by compulsory gender, by gender policing, by gender roles which oppress and restrict and encourage us to be less than full, open people, with access to the entire range of human experience. And therefore, everyone has the possibility to be liberated by studying the ways that these unspoken rules operate on the very personal, private aspects of our lives.

Here’s some suggestions of tools that have helped me along this search for knowledge and understanding. Add your own in the comments if you have further resources that significantly helped your perspective.

Feminism is For Everybody, bell hooks – amazing basic course in what feminism is, what it means, and where else to start looking. I’ve bought this for various people over the years. Completely accessible and wonderfully written.

The Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan – the classic feminist text about compulsory domesticity. Though it’s dated, if this isn’t something that you’ve examined overtly, it might be time to read it.

Creating a Life Worth Living, Carol Lloyd – an artist workbook that guides you through figuring out what kind of life you want to live, what your values are, how you want to be spending your time, and helps you set goals to do that. Might be helpful & empowering in this particular issue of choosing to be a housewife, in that it might help you see where you particular strengths are, and what ways of spending your day will make you the happiest.

Manifesta, Jennifer Baumgardner & Amy Richards – I’ve already mentioned this, but if you haven’t read it I highly recommend it. Very accessible and fun to read.

The Dinner Party by Judy Chicago – is an art exhibit currently housed at the Brooklyn Museum in the feminist art wing. Problematic and highly criticized for it’s white and western-centric focus, but still an amazing piece of art which elevates traditional female domestic duties such as table settings, needlepoint, and ceramics and presents them in the context of a long history of powerful, strong, capable women.

It’s all a long process, right? Of getting to know oneself, of examining the world around us and seeing where we fit in, where we don’t, what we like, what we don’t. Of becoming self-aware. And, ultimately, of finding the bliss that makes our own lives uniquely worthwhile.

4. Let The Soft Animal of Your Body Love What It Loves

Eventually, this is the integrated goal of this process, I think: to “let the soft animal of your body / love what it loves.”

It comes from one of my favorite poems of all time, and is a line I often quote. With care and consciousness, I believe this concept of letting myself love what I love to be at the core of my feminist beliefs. And I believe it’s possible to operate from this place, and within a feminist context, with feminist philosophies and outlooks on life.

It isn’t until I unpack all the societal gunk that I can really see, really understand, what it is that the soft animal of my body loves, and what it is that I should do with my wild and precious life.

Wild Geese
Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Telling Her What to Wear

I have in the past thought it kind of funny that girls would ask me to tell them what to wear. My feminist/analytical brain would pipe in with interpretations of beauty, insecurity, self-worth – but I really don’t see it that way anymore.

I see it as part of the larger conversation of gender as a fetish, as a performance, as a subversive display of sexualized gender presentation. And I see it as a very specific toppy/bottomy play, more specifically butchtop/femmebottom play.

It has also at times made me uncomfortable when girls wear things – or buy things – specifically for my tastes. I do have a couple particular enjoyments when it comes to femme clothes & shoes, and it is quite a gift when girls work to dress up for me.

I’m not sure why it’s hard to accept. Possibly because it’s hard for me to accept gifts in general, that giving is easier for me than receiving (I am resisting the connection here to my top identity, though I’m sure you already went there). Possibly also it is hard for my desires, and for me, to really be seen, heard, witnessed, acknowledged, because if I never let you know what I really want, you can never withhold it from me.

But my heart is more open than that old wound and lesson, generally. I like to practice revealing myself. I like to practice being vulnerable, I do find great strength and connection there.

And lately, I’ve had much better language, palette, for my particular desires. This website has helped that tremendously, as has playing with multiple girls over the past two years. I’ve been actually trying to notice and articulate when I find myself aroused into a state of desire; to be mindful of when my internal butch cock stirs and to ask why, to take note of the answer.

So when a girl asks me what kind of femininity display I like, I try to tell her. I explain – without pressure or expectation – what really does it for me, what gets me going, turns my crank. Underlying this conversation is also both of our acknowledgment that femininity – and indeed masculinity – is performed for the purpose of attracting and turning on your partner/lover/date.

And taking it a step farther by telling her what to wear is a step saying, this is how to turn me on. This is how to drive me wild all night. This is how our clothes are tools for flirting, this is how gender is subtle cues and clues and a language for sexuality.

It is a top/bottom game, if looked at this way, and I see it as very empowering to a bottom (you know, assuming being told what to wear is a game she likes playing, and doesn’t feel like it is controlling or patronizing or condescending behavior).

So, where is a bottom’s power? At least in these two places: 1) in enticing desire, and 2) to (actively) giving her power over to her top. In enticing desire, she turns on her top to the point of excruciation, to the point of bottomless desire and power. And when she gives over of her power, she places her power on a silver platter and presents it to her lover on her knees.

(This is why power play is deliberate: the bottom gives her power to the top, the top does not take it without permission. Unless, you know, that’s part of the scene, in which case there is still some sort of underlying permission, some level of giving freely.)

So: I (as a butch top) tell you (as a femme bottom) what to wear on our date (a short skirt, bare legs, strappy sandals, something white). You give power to me by giving up your own choice in what you wear, by obeying a request of mine (something that always turns me on), and by wearing something enticing that follows an aesthetic I particularly enjoy.

This is perhaps where power and surrender for the top and/or bottom gets blurred. Who has the power here? She does – the bottom – because all night I am uncomfortable and turned on because I got what I wanted, writhing at the sight of her in those lovely clothes, turned on by our gender and power foreplay. And then comes a turning point in the night where I stop feeling so reactive and (have to) surrender to the power she’s giving me, to the power and sexual energy I feel building. I give over to it, let it flow through me, let this be a way to tap into my particular well of it.

I love these kinds of power exchanges. I love the push-pull, giving in, giving back, empowering each other to feel sexy, desired, wanted, powerful, beautiful.

[ What I’m really trying to say here is: I have a blind date with a girl who sent me a wonderful photo of her in strappy sandals, and this was my complicated reaction. ]

why not buy a new cock?

So we all know I <3 Babeland, right? They are a feminist, sex-positive, not scary sex toy store that includes all sorts of gender-forward products and information, their employees are educated and informed (and often dykes or queers), and their selection of toys is really wonderful for building a sex toy box – they’ve got all the basics.

For another week, Babeland’s got a sale of a few of their Vixen Creations silicone toys. Vixen makes some of the best cocks on the market, in my opinion, and if you’re looking for a new one to play with, now’s a good time.

(Plus, when you click through from my site and purchase things, I get a weee little bit of commission, which helps support my work – specifically, in July, any commissions and donations are going toward sending me to the Femme Conference in Chicago in August. And you want to hear hot stories about femmes in Chicago at the conference, right? Sure you do.)

Creating Conscious Gender

Seems like I kinda stepped in it with this entire intentional gender thing! Lots of comments and emails about that one.

(Almost as bad as I stepped in it when I suggested something like “I noticed your gender from across the room” as a pickup line. Yes, it sounds ridiculous. But there’s just no other way to say that without a) objectifying, and potentially offending or b) assuming a person’s gender and potentially offending. Though perhaps that’s speaking more to my underlying Issue of not wanting to offend people than it is speaking to getting someone’s attention by using gender as a flirtation device. Maybe the more appropriate line for most folks is just, “hey, I think you’re hot.”)

I think the mention of “unconscious” vs “conscious” gender are more accurate descriptors than “intentional” vs “natural” gender. I’ve already mentioned this, but: modern gender theory does not believe gender is “natural” at all, it says gender is socially constructed. It can be constructed consciously, or it can be constructed unconsciously.

But there are ways that I can be more conscious about the ways I carry myself. There are ways that I can study and understand how gender works in this highly, highly gendered society, and figure out and choose the ways I operate within it.

So, here’s a bit of a story about what that process looked like for me:

I was raised in a very feminist household. The rejection of traditional gender roles was instilled in me from very young, by my mother especially, who didn’t take my father’s name, never shaves, never wears makeup or dresses or skirts or heels, was primarily the one to mow the lawn and help me with my math homework, etc.

Though this was deep within my family values, I was particularly susceptible to cultural standards as a teenager (I think we all are, and I have some ideas about why I was in particular, but I won’t go into that here), and I ended up fairly gender-conformist, nearly married – to a cisgendered guy – for five years. I think I had to prove that for me, the model of grown-up relationships really wouldn’t work, that all that society says is actually untrue. Of course, for some people it works just fine to be female-bodied, feminine, and attracted to men – clearly, not so much for me. I think it was precisely because I suspected that this wasn’t true that I had to really prove it for myself.

I’m also firmly based in second wave feminism insofar as I believe every person’s unique life experience is valid and important. I believe each of us is already an expert on our own gender, our own lives. I believe we all have valuable, thoughtful things to add to the conversation of gender (or sexuality, or relationships) regardless of our supposed credentials or expertise or level of study.

That’s the thing about gender – we all have it, we all live in a particularly gendered society, we all have been raised with its influence.

Consciousness-raising groups (in my understanding) started for because there was no formal study of women or the female experience. (I can’t really even imagine a culture that assumed that women’s experiences were included in the male norm, a culture that had no feminist cannon, such a lack of sources to study and know and experience. Thanks, foremothers, for women studies, for feminist studies, for all the work you did!)

So C-R groups created their own sources, using the experiences of the women in the group themselves, treating each like a text, a source, from which they could learn, from which understanding could arise and blossom and grow.

This is how I see this writing project, this community, and all of you who participate and who engage with me – as part of a large consciousness-raising group, where we are all sharing ideas, resources, and experiences to gain greater understanding of our selves, our communities, and the world as a whole.

This too is where my love for narrative fiction overlaps, where reading someone else’s story enhances my understanding of the world, where I feel less separate and more connected and, ultimately, where every story has value, especially the voices to marginalized communities, experiences, bodies, and lives.

So: growing up in a feminist household with rejection of gender roles, then going out into the world and living in a hetero relationship where we were playing out very stereotypical gender roles, then coming out as queer – all this lead me to start studying feminist, queer, and gender theory, seeking out language, concepts, and similar stories to help me explain my own experiences. And within gender theory and studies, I finally found places to get some of my questions – gender roles, gender compulsivity, gender norms, gender within relationships, the intersection of sex & gender – articulated, and then answered.

Such as:

What is gender?
How does it work?
Why are we confined to a binary? Why don’t we have three or eight or fifteen genders?
How does the sex/gender binary function?
What purpose does it serve?
Who benefits? Why, how?
How does it get enforced?
How has it changed over the years?
How is it connected with race, class, sexuality, nationality, religion, etc etc?

And once I started getting ideas about how to answer these questions, I started asking more personal questions of myself, and where I fit in to this huge, permeating, practically invisible system of hierarchy, power, and value.

Such as:

How do I feel comfortable?
What makes me feel powerful?
How do I want my hair?
What looks good on my particular body?
What fits with the way I carry myself, how I treat others, how I see myself?
What type of gender am I attracted to?
How does this relate to my sexuality?

I was simultaneously starting to come into my own as butch, partly because of the lesbian initiation process of rejecting femininity and cutting off your hair (which worked for me, though certainly doesn’t work for all lesbians who go through this), and partly because I started immediately liking femmes who dated butches and who recognized a sort of masculine ‘energy’ in me.

Actually claiming the label and identity category of butch was a more difficult quest for me, one I’ve written about a few times, specifically in terms of masculine posturing and rejecting – as a feminist and lesbian – the things that I see are so problematic with compulsory masculinity in both cisgendered men and in masculine-identified women. (More on that another time.)

Regardless of my questions and hesitations about butch/femme roles and labels, the process was definitely underway. And as it has unfolded deeper and deeper, in more and more aspects of my life, I have found such a home in it, in ways that have been seriously transformative to the ways that I operate in the world.

The basic feminist principles of inherent equality, the wide range of human experience, and celebrating the self as it is are applicable to many, many aspects of gender exploration. But I’ve found that these principles aren’t quite so active in most of the lesbian communities. Yes, there are people doing this work, but we are not the majority – compulsory gender in lesbian communities is usually a sort of gender rejection, an androgyny.

And that works for many people – which is excellent! I will always say you should go with what feels good to you, what makes you feel sexy, powerful, beautiful. For many of us, it is not androgyny that makes us feel good about ourselves, it’s another type of gender expression. There’s a huge gender galaxy out there, a huge range of expression and celebration, and so much to play with.

I don’t pretend that I have all the answers to questions or issues on gender. I have concepts, ideas, and resources, and I have reached some understandings, about both the world and system at large (macro) and my own personal place within it (micro).

I also don’t think my answers will necessarily be your answers.

I encourage you to find your own answers. To ask these questions, to decide consciously where you want to be within this pervasive system.

There have been many of you who have emailed me or commented about my recent writings about conscious vs unconscious gender, and here’s the part where I start to actually take an opinion on this: I think it’s very important to discover, stumble upon, find, or create a conscious gender. Doesn’t matter how you come to it, really, but it does matter to me that we do.

What that conscious gender might look like, of course, is highly varied – perhaps all it’ll take is a moment’s consideration, and a recognition that yeah, I’m where I want to be, that’s enough for me. Maybe it’ll take years of deep exploration and personal omphaloskepsis and meditation and therapy. Maybe it’ll take reading lots of books about the subject, or lots of blogs. Maybe not.

I don’t pretend to know what that process looks like for everybody, all I know is how it looks for me – and how important it has been for me to go through that process, which is, obviously, why I am encouraging it in others.

Look, I know not everybody has the interest in this that I do. And I don’t think everyone needs to start a blog (that becomes their part-time job) and dedicate a big portion of your free time to studying how gender works and what it means to you personally, but I really do think we would begin to move forward if we have some small moments of awareness about gender, about compulsive behavior and categories, about discriminating against butches or femmes or trans folks or androgyny.

When we understand (at least a little) how the system works so that we can begin to see how we fit inside it, and we can be empowered to make the choices that are in our own best interests, rather than in the best interests of those for whom this system is designed to benefit.

But it’s not just that. It’s also because when everybody does better, then everybody does better. It’s also because sometimes I’m lonely out here doing gendered work with a small handful of community. It’s also because, though some small circles of consciousness-raising activists are happening, most gender is still compulsory and not letting up anytime soon. It’s because this binary compulsory gendered system hurts us. It’s because trans and gay kids are getting beat up and murdered. It’s because boys who wear dresses are shamed. It’s because tomboys who want to run around shirtless are shamed. It’s because women are not safe walking alone on the streets of Manhattan at night. It’s because I am not safe walking alone on the streets of Manhattan at night. And we should be able to be safe, I want us to be safe, all of us.

And plus? Underneath some of the hard work here, it’s really fun. It’s dress-up, it’s activism, it’s subversion, it’s sexy. It’s a deep celebration of you, of me, of our interaction with the world, and with each other.

review: Bonk by Mary Roach

You may remember Mary Roach from the book Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, which made a big splash a few years back, especially relating to her ability to make scientific research incredibly readable and interesting to average folks. She also wrote Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife. (Her titles, though clever, now after book 3 seem slightly formulaic.)

Now, in Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex, she tackles sex. I was intrigued! And what I remember from Stiff is still true: her work is incredibly readable. She makes pig inseminations in Denmark, penis reconstructive surgery in Thailand, and sexual reflex studies in Cairo seem relevant and interesting. I read through chapters on testicles, erectile dysfunction, and penis implants, amused by her stories and laughing, following along with Roach’s investigation of human sexuality.

I kept wondering when gay people would start coming up. Especially when she starts discussing a guy whose genitals were “the size and shape of a navy bean,” (p159) I started wondering if that person was probably in fact intersexed, born with ambiguous genitalia. From what I can tell, this account was in the early 1900s, but I expected Roach to launch into some explanation of why someone might be born with small-to-minuscule genitalia and what and how they would be dealt with today (which would probably be with surgery, although that would depend on the awareness of your doctor). But no: no mention whatsoever of any sort of intersexuality or between-sexes options.

She discusses penile reconstruction and again, no mention of the science behind sex change surgeries like phalloplasties. Page 67 is the first place she even mentions homosexuality, and it’s only in passing, in describing Princess Marie whose husband, Prince George of Greece, was “a latant homosexual.” By page 188, her 2nd mention of homosexuality in parenthesis – “He had never had sex, never had a girlfriend (or boyfriend)” I was beginning to suspect that Roach doesn’t think of homosexuality as more than a tiny side-note.

Then, after reading through three chapters on male reproductive functions specifically (testicles, erectile dysfunction, and penis implants), we get to two chapters on women, “The Lady’s Boner: Is the Clitoris a Tiny Penis?” and “The Prescription-Strength Vibrator: Masturbating for Health.” She mentions a clit pumping device, and I found myself yet again thinking, wow, this subject leads directly into the field of trans men who opt against genital surgery but whom enhance their genitals – often their clit – with a small penis pump (or large clit pump) and encourage their clit to get larger, to become a tiny penis. That stuff is fascinating, and wouldn’t it be great if she lent her investigation, research, and accessible writing skills to that subject?

But again, no. No mention of anything remotely related. I know, these topics could absolutely be books unto themselves, but that she either a) ran into the material and deemed it completely unimportant, as to not even warrant a mention, or b) did not run into these studies or material at all, makes me think that she either wasn’t looking very hard or was deeply heterocentric in her research. If she did run across it, why not mention it? She didn’t have to go into the subjects in depth, especially because the topics of trans, gender, and homosexuality obviously intersect in well, pretty much every single place along the study of sexuality, but simply some acknowledgment of these things existing is, I think, necessary.

So, this is what I’m thinking about halfway through the book. I keep reading the chapters on the female genitals, and then the science of orgasm, and I come across female ejaculation in a footnote. I kid you not, the ONE AND ONLY time she mentions female ejaculation is in a footnote. A FOOTNOTE! A long footnote, comparatively, but still! Isn’t there more science to female ejaculation than simply one footnote? Maybe not – maybe that one footnote is seriously the only scientific study she could find on female ejaculation. But hey, isn’t that significant? Isn’t that an interesting cultural commentary on sexuality, where she’s spent almost an entire chapter on male ejaculation, sperm count, what it is made of, how far it shoots, how much comes out?

But Roach skips over all of this.

She does note, in a footnote again, on p197, that there are “351 ways to say penis … and only three for clitoris: bean, button, and the little man in the boat.” She goes on to make note that the “authors [of this study] felt this reflected society’s disregard of human pleasure, which is probably true, but I simply bemoan the lack of useful synonyms.” Well, the reason there aren’t ‘useful synonyms’ reflects the value in the culture, doesn’t it? It’s not as though we have any shortage of small, round objects in our lives – pennies, marbles, pearls, gemstones, pebbles come to mind. So what does it reveal about a culture that we don’t have a language to describe the primary source of female sexual pleasure?

That’s not what Roach is writing this book for, though, clearly. As I got into the last third of the book, though, I had to wonder: why is Roach writing this book? What’s her point? She doesn’t seem to do much except summarize scientific sex studies with a distinct lack of feminist, gender-positive, sex-positive (see chapter 10, “Masturbating for Health,” and her implied judgment when mentioning “Mr. Fred Jelly Dongs” and “Vibrating Port-A-Pussies” as examples of sex toys), and trans-inclusive perspectives. As I kept reading, I found myself wondering why it was I was trusting this person’s perspective, considering that clearly our values were in such different places.

By the end of the book, much as I had enjoyed her witty writing, I was convinced of it. She begins the last chapter describing a Masters and Johnson study called Homosexuality in Perspective in 1979, which actually addresses directly what lesbian and gay men do in sexual partnerships and how it compares to hetero couples. The penultimate paragraph, though, takes a turn for the worst when Roach writes:

Sadly, the main thing people recall about Homosexuality in Perspective … is that Masters and Johnson spent the second half of the book touting a therapy for helping homosexuals convert to heterosexuality. The team went out of their way to assure readers that they screened clients carefully, accepting only those who had turned to homosexuality after a traumatic experience with heterosexuality (rape or abuse, for instance).

… But let’s give Masters and Johnson their due. … The laboratory study of sex has never been an easy, safe, or well-paid undertaking.

Yes, they are due some credit in modern sexuality studies, certainly. But hey, why don’t we address this blatant homophobia? Is Roach assuming that we are so far beyond homophobia in our culture, and in her readership, that we don’t even need to address how damaging and dangerous perspectives like those are? Perhaps Masters and Johnson were under other pressures from homophobic fundors, perhaps there were political difficulties getting human subjects review board approvals for seemingly “encouraging” homosexuality – there could be various explanations for why they spent half of their book discussing the “cure” and how to “convert” homosexuals.

And then, to end the entire book with these paragraphs, given the blatant disregard of gay and lesbian sexuality, sex-positivity, or progressive gender understandings, leaves me with an awful sense of injustice.

Mary Roach, I love your writing. I really do. But there were many ways to validate and acknowledge perspectives that you do not understand without actually incorporating our experiences into your study of human sexuality. You were so very broad that you missed some huge, gaping holes. Hope your next study is more honed, thoughtful, and inclusive.

authority on the internet

“Believe nothing, no matter where you read it or who has said it, not even if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.” – Buddha

I’ve quoted that before, but I’m reminded of it again recently. It’s a quality that I always seek in those from whom I wish to learn.

I’ve been using the internet actively for the past fifteen years, since I was fourteen, and that’s not actually exaggeration; I caught a little bit of the BBS days, but really got my feet wet with the telnet chatrooms that were gaining popularity. I’d use the public library’s telnet system and my dad’s engineering computer to chat – live! with people from all over the world! – in Coffeehouse and Shadowlands.

And, as many have said, including Audacia Ray in her recent study of sex on the internet, new technologies are always first used for porn and sex. So, as a teenager, not only discovering a new technology, but also discovering a new sexuality, my primary sexual awakening was online – writing, corresponding, typing out fantasies, and asking questions to a hive mind of various perspectives and orientations and kinks.

I didn’t experiment a lot in person, it wasn’t appealing; but online, I could do anything, and it was safe. Of course, it wasn’t always safe. But I did pretty well for myself. I learned lessons, got smarter.

I started my first personal web pages in 1996, and have had open diaries, livejournals, javascript notebooks, and finally, blogs, online ever since then, in various forms of anonymity. Sometimes totally anonymous, sometimes under my real name. I understand how these communities build and fall and swell and fade, I’ve watched many of them, I’ve built some of them, I’ve heard stories from others who are interested in these things.

In 2000, two major things happened for me: I went back to college after taking four years off after high school, and I came out as queer. At college, I further my informal studies of feminism with gender studies, queer theory, and postmodern theory. I have two degrees, one in Gender Studies with an emphasis on social change, one in English with an emphasis on creative writing.

I’ve spent hundreds of hours reading books, watching films, going to workshops and conferences, seeking out mentors, reading blogs of personal expeirences, going to feminist sex toy shops, talking to friends, about gender dynamics, their personal relationships, queer oppression, social change, labeling, sex, sex techniques, sex toys, seduction, pick-up artistry, androgyny, lesbianfeminism, the 1980s sex wars, intersexuality, transitioning, binding, packing, taking T, putting on makeup, shopping for dresses or bathing suits or earrings or purses, shopping for ties or cufflinks or slacks or a tuxedo, radical acts of subversion, generational differences, strapping on a cock, the history of gender in the US, kink, domination and submission, rope bondage, BDSM, and uh all sorts of other things.

Not to mention that I, personally, have experience with these things in my relationships, my life, and my communities.

When I think about it, all of that history makes sense that here, fifteen years later, I’ve finally settled into this small niche of my varying interests – writing, inner emotional landscapes, sexuality, queer theory, gender theory, feminism, butch/femme dynamics, self-awareness, love, and relationships.

I’m not writing this to brag.

I’m writing this to show where my authority on these subjects about which I write come from.

Sometimes I wonder if I’ll continue with all this research into these topics if or when I meet someone and develop a successful, fulfilling relationship, I’ll be disinclined to continue, because I can simply live it, instead of theorize about it all day every day. Perhaps I’ll move on to my next obsessive research subject – building alternative families or aging or performance poetry or who knows what. Perhaps all this has just been my own research into How To Be Me – chivalrous kinky writer, queer butch top, and feminist lover of femmes – In This World. Sometimes I feel like once I “figure it out,” I won’t have to be constantly doing all this work all the time.

Of course, there’s no easy way to simply figure this out, and once it’s “figured out” it’ll probably change, anyway, because it’s increidbly fluid; not only my own understanding of it, but the cultural understanding as well. It’s amazing how much has changed in the past ten years – even five years! Things are moving and growing, and I want to be a part of this activism, this forward motion, this quest for us all to be our highest, best selves, accepted by the world in our freakery.

(I digress.)

My point is, I was reminded recently how easy it is to get online and create yourself as an authority about something on which you are not. And it’s sad to me, and disappointing, how easy it is for people to get sucked into something so false.

I know the internet. Know these blog circles quite well, I correspond with hundreds of people, read intimate, detailed blogs, have friends that I’ve never met but whom I’ve followed for years online. There are some amazing, lovely folks here who are using these tools, this digital medium, to express what is the most true and beautiful and real about them.

But that’s not true of everybody. I find I can usually spot those who are not authentic; they stand out, somehow, I go to their site or read their work and think, something’s just not quite right. It puzzles me, because I don’t use the internet that way, and because there’s such a better way to use this digital tool to connect, so why would you do it the other, less effective and more inauthentic way? Probably out of pure ignorance, frankly – but I don’t really know.

For y’all out there reading, especially about things as completely personal and delicate as your butch/femme gender and sexual identities, this is just a reminder not to believe somebody unless you have reason to do so, don’t take them purely on their word, wait until they prove themselves to you. Identities are fragile, and can get damaged so easily when we don’t have adequate support and validation around them. It’s so easy for one big, painful misunderstanding to put someone off of something entirely, when in fact it is not indicative of how it could potentially function.

Dan Savage had a great call on his Savage Lovecast last week (seriously, it’s now the #1 podcast on the internet, and you’re not listening to it yet?) about developing a bionic bullshit detector, which has also got me thinking about all of this.

Many of us place our trust in people too easily. And when it comes to the very personal and delicate subjects, such as what I discuss here on this site, I really hope you do (respectfully) disagree with me sometimes, I hope you don’t assume I always know what I’m talking about, I hope you question me sometimes, I hope you ask who the man (ahem, “man,” don’t get the wrong idea) behind the site is, I hope you check authority credentials and expect proof of authorty.

I also hope I’ve earned it, from you, from visitors to this site, from readers, from friends, from acquaintances, because I work hard to do so, to stand behind my philosophies by living inside of them, to have a consistent personal narrative, to have reliability in my character, to admit what I don’t know, to speak on things that I know well. In some ways, I’ve made a formal study of these things too, since the one particular ex who manipulated me into such a frenzy.

There’s no easy way to know who’s conning you and who is authentic except to be cautious, I think. (Dan Savage and his caller had a few ideas, too; see, now you really have to download the podcast, don’t’cha?)

As much as I have made a semi-formal study of these topics, and as much as I do have some authority here, I also will always say that everyone needs to figure it out for themselves. I’m thrilled that my process is useful to others, and I’m curious about the processes that don’t look like mine, too. This is me, doing this work, going through the processing, reaching these identities for my own self – now, you go do yours.

On Butch Breasts, Binders, & Bras

I’ve returned to earth – mostly – from the altered state of consciousness of the Power, Surrender, & Intimacy workshop by Body Electric that happened here in New York City over the weekend. I have so very much to say about it, but that’ll have to wait for now, I need more time.

What I do want to write about is breasts. Specifically, mine – more generally, butch breasts.

Last week, I went for one day without my binder, which is really just a tight sports bra that clasps in the back rather than being a solid over-the-head slip-on. I wanted it laundered for the workshop, since I’ve been wearing it practically every day since I bought it.

I wore a backup bra that day, and all day long I didn’t recognize myself in the mirror, in storefront reflections, in my button-down work clothes, or when I looked down. I remembered how I used to hate the uniboob problem, which many of my friends and lovers deemed unsexy or mannish, and it’s not that I like the uniboob look particularly, but as my gender has changed and grown and dropped into itself, the uniboob doesn’t look like a uniboob anymore: it looks like a chest.

It is not that I want to do away with my breasts. Don’t misunderstand me here: I think breasts are butch, just as I think the menstrual cycle is butch and pregnancy is butch and cunnilingus is butch – everything the female body does can be butch, because butch (in my use of the word*) has to do with masculinity on a female body.

And because I believe that the things a female body does are butch, and because my gender philosophies are deeply rooted in love and acceptance of my body as it is and in not classifying human experiences as owned by one gender or another, I have been holding back my desire to delve farther into my own masculinity. I’m afraid of it. I’m afraid it means I’ll be leaving my roots in female-ness behind, I’m afraid of being seen as reproducing the heteronormative paradigm or embodying penis envy. I’m afraid of being rejected by feminist and lesbian communities for being too masculine, for becoming the ‘enemy,’ for rejecting femininity instead of reclaiming it.

Breasts are a big piece of this fear for me. Mine are not so small – part of why I rarely pass: a 36DD, and have been since middle school. I’ve said since I was a teenager that a breast reduction is the only surgery I would consider. I read about Jess’s surgery – or others’ surgeries and body alterations – and I’m jealous.

But I’m afraid of what it means to want that alteration, to want to physically change my body to better fit a gendered idea.

After that day last week of wearing a regular bra, I started wondering: why do I even have this in my closet anymore? Why do I own this? My exploration of my own masculine/butch/boy/male embodiment is young – I’ve been calling myself butch since 2001, but only in the last three years have I really embraced it and actively, consciously developed it. And now, the farther I get into my explorations of gender, the farther I want to go.

It takes time to cycle through a wardrobe, and I don’t quite have the disposable income to go purchase all new bras – but I certainly won’t be buying any regular ones anytime soon. I’ve gone through this with my underwear already, years ago now, have cycled through all the old girl undies and haven’t owned any of those in years, only have boxers and briefs now. But that feels less obvious than binders and sports bras – no one can tell I wear only briefs except my lovers, I guess, but everyone can tell I bind my chest.

And see, what’s what it is now: my chest. Very different than boobs, breasts, tits. I have those, sure, but they’re underneath, they’re the other layer, the inner ring, something that now gets protected and covered, not out of shame or denial but simply out of layering, complexities, performance, a rich inner life, a duality, a whole person – me.

* Some say men can be butch, that “butch” is a term for a queer masculinity, or a non-traditional, progressive masculinity. I’m not certain I agree, but we definitely lack language to discuss different types of masculinity, and I have definitely observed some men who have a sense of butch energy.

Gender Frustrations and Clarifications

I haven’t been posting much of substance here since the heated discussion On Misperceiving Someone as Femme or Butch and the follow up post. This lack of posts has been intentional. I’ve been frustrated, dissuaded.

I feel like every time I attempt to go a little farther, get a little deeper into the nuances of these discussions on gender identities and gender self-labeling, I get pulled back to square one by a barrage of emails and comments saying, “But wait! I’m offended! What about this other thing? What about people who don’t identify? What about me? What about my expeirence?”

And I want to have individual communications with everybody, to go into each detail of what they’re asking and what I’m saying, to break down the moments where I’m being misperceived, to communicate in open discussions about these fascinating issues from various perspectives.

But I can’t – mostly, I just don’t have time.

This is one of the challenges of a blog format of writing, actually: it’s not linear, it’s not one chapter building on another, it is be more of a jump-in-anytime type of format. Unfortunately, with a subject as completely personal, as totally misperceived, as dangerously controversial, and as heated as gender identity in lesbian communities, it’s very difficult to jump right in without adequate explanation as to where I am coming from in my philosophies and explorations.

I’m working on an Official Disclaimer for my discussions of gender, to put some foundations in place to which I will point. There’s so much I want to say about it, and I barely even know where to start. I have began to write this post about why that discussion frustrated me ten times, and I still get overwhelmed and my head gets chaotic when I begin to sit down to write it.

Right now, I want to make a few things in particular abundantly clear:

I do not seek to encourage others to identify as butch or femme. It is not my intention to impose butch/femme gender identities on anyone else, ever.

I seek to break down what it means to be “butch” or “femme.” I seek to apply the deconstruction of feminist methods of sexism, gender roles, and gender restrictions to lesbian gender identities, such as “butch” and “femme.”

I seek to broaden our ranges of experiences, with the underlying goal of encouraging people to be more comfortable in themselves, to come more fully alive, Yes, it’s a lofty goal. But I aim for it, and no less.

If it ever seems otherwise, if it seems like I am saying that someone should identify as butch/femme, or that it’s not okay to reject gender roles and identities, or anything along the lines of gender policing or gender enforcing or gender proselytizing, please do ask me about it. I will clarify, as well as I can.

But please keep in mind that I never operate from that space. Please consider giving me the benefit of the doubt, and come from a place of kindness – and perhaps not defensiveness – when you ask me to clarify things I’ve written.

The very foundation of my beliefs about gender is that our binary compulsive gender system is limiting to our full range of human experiences. I believe we should self-identify, should dress and act how we wish, how we most feel like ourselves, how we are most comfortable and most celebrated.

Period. Always.

And, of course, all of these writings are my own personal experiences, observations, and studies of butch/femme and variations of gender expression. It was a long hard road through the gender police checkpoints to get where I am now; I learned a lot about myself, about queer theory, postmodern theory, and feminist theory on the way to where I’m at, and I seek to share my stories in hopes that they can be helpful.

Ask Mr. Sexsmith: Butch Identity & Misogyny

4. leo asked: i have a question about butch identity. you’ve written so eloquently about the concerns you faced in reconciling feminism and your gender identity, and especially about rejecting misogyny as a necessary element of masculinity. but you’ve also written that you wanted to throw up (i think?) when someone first called you butch. was that all about feminism? if not, what other feelings (positive or negative) and concerns have been central to the development of your sense of butch identity/female masculinity? did it frighten you at all, apart from the feminism issue, or was it love at first sight, or some combination?

I definitely had a love/hate relationship with what I perceived to be butch identity in the beginning. It appealed to me, but at the same time I saw such misogyny and disrespect coming out of these butches mouths – often the very objectification and trivialization of women that felt so reminiscient of the stories I heard in feminist classes and texts. But, at the same time, I wanted to be more masculine than I presented – I was just very torn about how that identity would be possible without the deep misogyny.

It was the first girl I was in love with – a femme, who, when we were discussing gender, whispered in my ear, “I think you’re butch.” And I did want to throw up a little, but also felt like I’d probably come right then & there if she put any single finger on me. The feeling of sickness and fear was about being seen, being visible, having tapped into something that I wanted so deeply that I was afraid to let anyone know I wanted it at all, for fear of failure I suppose. It wasn’t so much that I was afriad of the identity itself, but I was afraid that it wasn’t me or that I wanted something unreachable.

The feminism confliction with my butch identity was actually a very short-lived argument in my head. Of course I can be butch and be a feminist. Of course I can display and embody a sort of intentional, respectful masculinity. But then: how?

I did have to re-invent masculinity for myself – I actually used to make long lists of “masculine traits” or interests or hobbies, and I had a system of symbols (stars, circling, highlighting in different colors) that would denote different aspects of the identity – things I already was, things I wanted to be, things I rejected about masculinity in general, things that masculinity could be but that I didn’t want for myself.

In the beginning, I distinguished heavily – and still do – between ideas of “external gender” and “internal gender” (for lack of better terms, at the moment at least). External gender meaning what I put on my body, my clothes, my haircut, my physical communication, my physical presence. Internal gender, then, meaning emotional styles, interests, hobbies, personality – I don’t believe those things are or should be dictated by gender.

Gender theorists don’t believe that there’s any sort of “innate” gender, something that comes from inside – but that doesn’t seem to be how most people really experience gender. “I just know,” they say. “I just feel butch,” or “I just feel femme,” or “I just feel like a woman.” Theorists would say there’s no such thing as a woman, actually. But that experience doesn’t necessarily translate to praxis – putting theory into action.

I actually think there is some sort of “gender energy,” something that comes inside of someone that will tell you that’s a butch in a dress or that femme sure looks tough in those overalls, installing those 2x4s. I’m not sure how this is different than “internal gender” or innate gender, but I do think it is slightly different.

That’s a bit of a tangent. Back to your question:

Another reason why butch was difficult for me was because I had very few representations of butch, and what little I did have I basically flat-out rejected. Why would I want to emulate something, to be something, that I had no good model for? But somehow, I persisted in this, I recognized some sort of value in the identity – and some sort of me in the identity – even if I wasn’t sure how to identify it, or identify with it.

I think a huge part of this is because we, as a culture, still need a masculine revolution – a remaking of masculinity much as we’ve had a (successful!) remaking of femininity since the Second Wave feminist movement.

And honestly? It’s no small feat, and it sounds kind of pie-in-the-sky, or maybe cocky as hell, but that’s part of what I consider myself to be doing by claiming a butch identity: revolutionizing masculinity.

Femme Outfits, Fantasy, and more Q&A

I offered up answering any question that was asked today – you can still ask a question until, oh, let’s say, midnight tonight. These are some of the answers, posted as they’re coming in.

1. muse asks: what is your archetypical, eroticized gender-performance-y, fuckable femme outfit, from head to toe, outside in?

First: nothing too tight, I prefer movement in the fabric. Especially in skirts. Something form-fitting can be lovely and fun, yes, but I so prefer the hint of thigh that comes from the swing in the fabric.

So, this is a bit fancy, the dressed-up going-out showing-off outfit. Funny how much I feel hesitant to get super specific, because I love oh-so-much the display of femme in its many forms. But if we’re talking about archetypical, eroticized, most fuckable gender performance, (gulp) here it is:

Hair – up. I don’t care how, but pulled up off the neck. For one, I love to see the lines of the neck and jaw (very sexy), but also, I want to be the one who rips your hair down, later. I remember watching Ally McBeal as a teenager and being so overwhelmed by Nelle Porter (Portia De Rossi) and the way she wore her hair – she only ever wore it up in the office, but she would sometimes take it down when she was out in the bar after hours. It was so, so powerful and sexy. I also remember reading an erotica story (S Bear Bergman’s piece called “Silver Dollar Afternoon” Best Lesbian Erotica 2006): “I fall in love with her when anyone asks her why she doesn’t wear her beautiful long hair all the way down and she says, with just a hint of coolness: “A woman’s hair is for her husband,” which makes me remember every time she has unpinned her hair for my delighted eyes and even if I’m not quite a husband I still shiver in my blue jeans without fail.” I know there are deep problems with this idea of a husband owning a wife’s hair, but I love the idea of it being so sexual, such a turn on, when a femme lets her hair down, that it’s private, saved for me and me alone.

Dress – or skirt, but something like this flirty hourglass dress from White House Black Market – not necessarily this exact dress (I’m not crazy about the bold pattern, though I can see how it’d work) but this type of shape of skirt, maybe even a little longer, below the knee, not necessarily above. Not necessarily strapless either, I just couldn’t find a good example of what I’m trying to describe other than this one. (Anyone know if there’s a particular name for this kind of skirt?) Layers of skirt are pretty fantastic, too – muse keeps making fun of me for a comment I made, something like, “but oh, it’s nice to be buried in crinoline.”

Shoes – You already know this one: the ribbons around the ankle fucken kill me. They don’t have to be too slutty, as some have told me that shoes like these are – the shoes Missy beautifully modeled are much more subtle and tasteful. (I’ve seen a few girls wearing this type of shoe around lately, but I cannot find them online – any help with links?) Strappy sandals work too. I prefer a couple inches of heels, though honestly, it’s more about how the sole of the shoe – the heel – fits in my hand.

Underneath – bare legs with some of those soft, thin thin thin panties that practically feel like skin, or a garter belt & stockings of any damn variety (preferably without undies). Those panties Belle modeled with the lacing up the back was also particularly impressive, but to tell the truth, aside from a thigh-high stockings of any sort, a garter belt, or freshly shaved bare legs, the details of the lingerie are often lost on me. I prefer simple lines, things that show off the curves of the body. I’m not crazy about bows or lace, but hey, anything can be fun – and everything is so pleasing, by the time we’re at the point where my hands have removed the rest of this lovely outfit.

2. green-eyed girl asks: Is there something that you have really wanted to do sexually but haven’t yet? What is it?

Two things come to mind – tantra, and some of the heavier topping skills. For example, I’d like to learn how to throw a singletail, I’d like to learn how to do play-piercing, I’d like to play (more than I have) with knives.

Both of these things require a longer-term lover who I deeply trust, and honestly, I’ve never actually had someone I could do that with.

3. saintchick asks: Can you please list a new & improved sex music mix? I know that you are dying to update it. Also what perfume is to be worn with above said outfit?

I’ll have to tell you about my updated sexmix from home later, but I off the top of my head: I’ve distinguished between a “sexmix,” which is usually really damn hot songs about sex or which sound like sex (Sexual Animals by Sarah Fimm, that techno French Kiss song, Sexyback – yeah, I said it) and a mix of songs that I want to fuck to, which are often much more subtle, and about crooning voices and excellent rhythm. Right now, my fucking mix technique is a shuffled playlist of many different albums, including Me’Shell N’degeOcello’s Bitter, as much Morphine as I have on my hard drive, and Chris Isaak’s album Heart Shaped World.

I’ll show you my revised sexmix later.

Perfume – I don’t have a specific preference to one scent. Everybody is so distinct, and even the same perfume smells different on two different people. But I do love a signature scent, so whatever you find and like, wear it – every day, continuously, for a long period, like a year at least. Then, eventually, even if you no longer wear that perfume, if I smell that perfume again, it’ll remind me of that time period. I love that creation of sense memory.

I’m not crazy about getting a mouthful of perfume while kissing your neck; not sure if there’s a better place to apply it (behind the ear?) or not – we should ask a perfume expert about this. Some girls do tend to do this more than others – or perhaps their perfume just tastes worse. Sometimes it unfortunately can be quite the buzzkill.

4. leo asked: i have a question about butch identity. you’ve written so eloquently about the concerns you faced in reconciling feminism and your gender identity, and especially about rejecting misogyny as a necessary element of masculinity. but you’ve also written that you wanted to throw up (i think?) when someone first called you butch. was that all about feminism? if not, what other feelings (positive or negative) and concerns have been central to the development of your sense of butch identity/female masculinity? did it frighten you at all, apart from the feminism issue, or was it love at first sight, or some combination?

See ask me anything: about butch identity.

5. Mm asks: How does one (or more appropriately two) keep passion from waning in a long term monogamous relationship? It’s been done, but how?

6. Dosia asks: What would you say is the best way for a girl to approach a hot butch in a bar/at a dyke march/behind the counter in a cafe/in class? How do we make those connections — not just for sex, but for friendship? Hell, it doesn’t have to be specific to butch/femme dynamics, how does it work, this meeting other queer women?

7. Cyn asks: Do you have a day job and what is it? Yes – sadly, Sugarbutch doesn’t support me (yet). I work as a graphic designer at a finance firm in Midtown Manhattan, so I commute into the city with the nine-to-five office crowd, in my almost-blending-in business casual.

Who is your fav band/musical artist? I am a very big Tori Amos fan (at perhaps some points in my past the word “fanatic” may’ve been more appropriate). My top artists (according to Last.fm) are Tori Amos, PJ Harvey, Patty Griffin, Ani Difranco, Morphine, KD Lang, Ingrid Michaelson, Jack Johnson, Joshua Radin, Melissa Ferrick, Imogen Heap, Kinnie Starr, Regina Spektor, Holly Williams, Erin McKeown, the Beatles – and that about covers it. I’m a bit of a music collector, though, and in fact have over 10,000 tracks in my iTunes library recently.

What is your fave dyke/queer blog? I’ve been reading Pure as the Driven Slush by Heather Corinna for years, and have had a crush on her for at least as long. She’s femme, partnered with a guy for the past few years, and completely brilliant. She doesn’t update much anymore but she’s still one of my top queer blogs ever. I aspire to write like Mark Morford’s column (he’s queer, isn’t he? I’m pretty sure. If he’s not, he’s an honorary queer). Those are blogs I’ve been reading for years – more recently, I particularly enjoy Dorothy Surrenders and Lesbian Dad. I don’t read many good gay boy blogs – any recommendations?

Why, as a butch, do you … post butch eye candy on your site? Do you know/believe most of your readers to want/desire butch eye candy? The butch eye candy is, at least in part, about my own ego, because femme readers fawn over the lovely butches, and I breathe a sigh of relief in the validation and desirability of displays female masculinity. Yes, the majority of my readers (or, at least, the majority of the readers who are in contact with me) are femme-identified in some way (perhaps I’ll do a survey one of these days), and they do seem to appreciate the eye candy.

The reasons I started featuring eye candy, though, are specific: there was a particularly nasty thread on New York Craigslist a while back bashing butches – and all masculine-leaning lesbians – and so, posting photos of the butch aesthetic started as a way to celebrate the displays of masculinity. Eye candy got such great feedback, though, that I pursued it, turning it into a regular feature. I especially liked when my straight female audience started emailing me all hot-&-bothered under the collar, saying how hot the eye candy photos are … my response is twofold: “Yes! That’s right!” and also, “Hey wait! There’s not enough butch to go around, we’re for the femmes, dammit.”

8. Duck asks: Could you explain how the remaking of femininity has been “successful?”

Man, these are good questions! I’ll keep working on the answers, didn’t have time to do any writing tonight. Will post these tomorrow.

The Sadistic Impulse

me: I want to smack your ass
her: that’s exciting to me. how do you feel when you’re doing that?
me: strong, powerful. hard and wanting.
me: but also? completely inadeuqate and in awe of such beauty.
her: that’s incredibly sweet …
me: more in awe than inadequate; in reverence.

That moment of inadequacy is so hard to describe (especially via text message, what was I thinking?) – it’s less about the hierarchy between us or my own self-worth (that ‘inadequate’ implies) as it is about awe and reverance, like looking at the Milky Way and witnessing its spinning, a deep wonder at the beauty before me – and then a deep desire to bite into a destroy something so precious.

What is that impulse? My mom, who works with elementary school kids, speaks of it often – spending a few hours on a beach building a sand castle or a rock pattern only to have some of the fourth grade boys come trampling through and destroy it all. Sure, maybe once in a while there is a girl who does this – and sure, there are boys who never would (do forgive my oversimplification of gender roles here) – but by and large, the kids who do this are boys, and boys alone.

It reminds me of what I’ve read in feminist scholarship about pre-Christian matriarchal and goddess-centered cultures of which we have so little record. Some theories discuss how men were (and still are) so much in awe of a woman’s strength and power in sexuality that their impulse was to put it under lock and key, to control, to regulate. What they could not have themselves, they longed to own, occupy, colonize.

And in moments like my date on Saturday night, with girls like her, I deeply understand this feeling.

What is that? Where does that come from? It is similar to the impulse of destruction I’ve hinted at, the witness of something so perfect, so flawless and lovely, so fresh and baby-green and precious, trembling with new life like the leaves on the trees right now, that after a moment of quiet awe and appreciation I want to caress it, touch my hand gently to it, then wrap my fingers closed around it and squeeze the life out until I hear the last gasp of breath. I want to rip it from it’s branch like meat from a bone.

I don’t like this impulse much, I’m suspicious of it. I’m a pacifist, a feminist – but I’m also a sadist. I get off on the intentional release of pain. That also makes me a healer.

I have control of this impulse, to a point. I don’t actually crush baby leaves, or destroy flowers or people. But there have been times, that I can count on one hand, where I’ve been so deeply in sync with a lover, where they’ve sensed this impulse in me and provoked it, where I’ve nearly tipped over the edge and given in. I don’t really know what would happen inside of it, I’ve never trusted someone else – or myself – enough to find out.

Maybe this is one of the ways that I seek balance on a fairly extreme scale.

This too is why I like classic femininity in my lovers, in femmes: I want to see that supposed innocence. It riles me up, incites in me this impulse to take, to conquer, to overthrow, to destroy.

Consensually, and with such reverance and care, of course, of course.

The Red Tie Night, Six Years Ago

I ran across some photos this week of me and jesse james and georgia from almost exactly six years ago – I remember that night vividly. Aside from georgia’s very grabable curly hair, spaghetti strap tank top, and long string of gin+tonics (that I kept drinking for her), my gang of friends – including jesse james, and Maverick – decided we’d go out “in drag” that night, which meant slacks, button-downs, binding our breasts, ties.

(Interesting how men’s business wear is drag for masculinity, and women’s lingerie is drag for femininity – clearly some cultural values coming through there eh?)

I took many photos that night as we got ready to go – even the preparations were significant, the rituals of masculinity, hair slicked back, knotting and re-knotting my tie. It was one of the first times I wore a tie and packed out in public; in the photos I’m wearing a black shirt, black slacks, and red tie. I’m not even sure where I got that tie, now that I think about it. It just seems like I’ve always owned it. A red tie, solid – my favorite.

Interesting how, then, it was drag, it was rare, it was deliberate performance – I was so self-conscious going out like that, I felt stared at, noticed, in a new way. And I was, particularly by georgia’s attention, the clear lust in her eyes and fingertips as I lit her cigarettes and held her drinks and attempted to kiss her (with little luck – she had a girlfriend back then).

Looking at these photographs from six years ago, though, I catch a glimpse of the gender I grew into – I don’t always recognize myself in photos from that time, but in those … yeah, I think, that’s me.

It took such a long time for me to come to comfortably sit in this butch identity, for me to (if we’ll continue the metaphor) navigate the gender galaxy, and find a comfortable orbit around an identity label. Some of us don’t ever settle into that – some of us are radical little spaceships that explore treasures from all sorts of different worlds and words that we orbit. I guess the trick is, in my opinion, to simply find the routes that are the best to navigate (not necessarily the easiest, but the most satisfying), the orbits where there is plenty of oxygen, the alliances that create treaties and share resources and have excellent adventures.

We basically have to make our own gender galaxy maps. And while some gender mapmaking tools – queer theory, gender theory, postmodern theory, queer literature, smut and the language of lesbian desires – while some tools help immensely, I still couldn’t quite escape the praxis, the application of the theory, because of the ways that the social constraints and social policing affected my own process deeply.

The same friends who went out with me on that infamous red tie night – jesse james & Maverick – were very influential, and I had a lot of criticism about how they performed their own flavors of female masculinity. I don’t remember a lot of discussions about the label/term/identity of ‘butch’ specifically, but we definitely knocked the term around sometimes – mostly I remember saying, “I don’t know. If I’m butch, then am I all these other things that come along with compulsory masculinity – like misogyny?”

I remember one particular time when jesse james and Maverick were joking about attending a community class for and about femmes – identity, privilege, passing, visibility. And they kept speaking of it like it was a place to go pick up chicks – I eventually snapped at them: That’s a special place for femmes! That’s not a convenient pick-up ground! You’re like the boys who heh-heh-heh and sign up for women studies.

[I know it says “women studies” and not “women’s studies,” and that’s deliberate. The apostrophe implies that these studies belong to women, that it is women who study them. When it’s women studies, singular, then the implication is that it is the study of women. This is how my undergraduate Women Studies department operated & how I still describe that particular academic discipline.]

I’m not sure if they got it; maybe they did. I quickly gained the reputation as the hard-core feminist of the gang, and jesse james especially loved to push my buttons about it, to get a rise out of me, to make me laugh, to frustrate me with a scenario. They used to tease me endlessly.

But looking back at it, it was an integral part of my gender identity development. Because feminism, and deep respect for women, and deep rejection of the “oppressive male gaze” and gendered hierarchy, came first, I was terrified of objectifying women, of disrespecting women – and, most importantly, of adopting misogyny as part of a masculine identity. And I kept wondering, over and over: If I reject misogyny as part of masculinity, part of “butch,” then what’s left? Masculinity is, in so many ways, simply defined as not-woman; what else does that identity hold? And what does it mean for me to adopt it, to become it, to be it?

My solution, at least temporarily, was that I could look butch – hence the ties and button-downs and packing – but that I would maintain my hard-core feminist values, my inner emotional landscapes, my interests and personality traits. I didn’t know how far I could take this new idea of a masculine gender. For years, my friends & peers would say, “well, yeah, but you’re not really butch.” I didn’t like that, but I didn’t know how to only pick and choose the traits that I wanted, intentionally, within masculinity. I didn’t know it would mean to have be butch in other ways – for example, emotionally.

Even still, this puzzles me. There is something inward about gender, a sort of “gender energy,” internal traits that run through displays of female masculinity – but I still struggle with articulating that. It starts to run into the grey areas of where gender overlaps with personality, and I start feeling cautionary, not wanting gender to dictate things like hobbies and interests.

I’d like to figure this out, though. It’s on my list of Things to Explore Further.

Incidentally, jesse james – formerly known as The Closet Musician here on Sugarbutch – was known as Ice (from Iceman) back then; Maverick and Ice even had flight suits for Halloween one year. Then we had Mitchell, who joined our gang on occasion, and there were the femmes, Pepper (Maverick’s girlfriend and, later, wife) and Lola (who I was madly head-over-heels about). Who knew all those nicknames were such fabulous practice for anonymous writing?

I never had a nickname that stuck, I always wanted one. Perhaps that’s part of why I created Sinclair all these years later.


Donate to RAINN & let ‘em know I sent you – add “GBBMC2008: Mr. Sinclair Sexsmith” in the information box. (Why?)

Clitoral Anatomy: Make a Wish on That Bone

At the Body Electric workshop during the last weekend of March (about which I haven’t written yet, I know, but I will), I was reminded about how little we are educated about female anatomy – especially in regards to the clit.

This is a video of sex educator and badass Betty Dodson drawing the cunt from the inside out – starting with the internal parts of the clitoris (did you know it’s got a shape like a wishbone?) and then drawing layers out to the external.

The book to which Betty is referring is The New View of a Woman’s Body, and many writings on feminism account this book as the first official medical reference to the internal clitoris -it’s definitely the first one I ever came across. The drawings in it are still fascinating to me, and definitely worth studying.

Ah, sex ed is so fun.

(I won’t ruin the end for you, but I just want to say, I like it.)

It has also been speculated that the so-called “g-spot” or “urethral sponge” are actually part of the clitoris, as well. Rebecca Chalker writes about this in her book The Clitoral Truth, though man, doesn’t it seem like this is important knowledge? Doesn’t it seem like somebody would’ve studied this by now, and figured it out? Even just a few months ago, I remember yet another study coming out saying “aha! We’ve proved the G-spot exists!” and I thought, huh. Pretty sure somebody already did that, for one. And for two, I’m pretty sure what you’re calling the Gräfenberg spot – named after the man who discovered it, of course – is actually that little bitty organ with 8,000 nerve endings that you’ve thought was smaller than a dime all these years.

I guess it goes to show you there’s a lot of work to do in sex studies, still.

request: feminist sex resources

Jess over at the F-word blog in the UK is interested in compiling some sex resources from an explicitly or implicitly feminist perspective. Read on for the request:

Following on from Laura’s post at The F Word about the poverty of sex education in the UK, we got thinking about ways to fill in those gaps (and then some) for adults.

Me and Laura are looking to compile a listing of resources on safe, pleasurable, consenting sex, relationships and sexuality, for the over 18 set, who can no longer benefit from whatever wisdom HMG and the national curriculum might impart. Can you help us?

Of course, we’re particularly interested in anything which is coming from an explicitly or implicitly feminist perspective. And we’re interested in making this as inclusive as possible. That means regardless of/aimed at all levels of experience (beginner to advanced!), sexuality, gender, kink or lack thereof, etc.

Book, blog, website, workshop, feminist/women’s sex toy store, DVD, audio tape – whatever it is, we’re interested! Not porn though, at least partly because that gets into contentious territory we’re not really interested in for this one.

A few words on why you are making the recommendation would also be great. You can tell us anonymously if you so wish in the comments on the blog post we put together announcing this.

I sent this list, which is somewhat American-centric, I admit, but that’s all I got:

books 

s.e.x by heather corinna

the strap-on book by a.h. dion

fetish sex by violet blue

sex for one: the joy of selfloving by betty dodson

the good vibrations guide to sex

the topping book & the bottoming book by easton & liszt

erotic bondage handbook by jay wiseman

SM 101 by jay wiseman

the ethical slut by easton & liszt

websites 

scarleteen.com

sexuality.org

the savage love podcast

sex-positive & feminist sex stores

babeland.com

goodvibes.com

early2bed.com

blowfish.com

stockroom.com

workshops

the body electric school – level one is “celebrating the body erotic”

Additional resources to add? They’re not looking for feminist smut, but rather for resources & knowledge. Add ’em in the comments (I’d love to know, too!) or leave them in F-word’s comments.

march masthead: bringing butch back

A few weeks back, Muse & I went to a meditation group and I held her jacket for her when we were heading outside. She dipped down to let me more easily slide the coat up onto her shoulders, and I laughed.

“You’re not supposed to move,” I said. “Just let me do the work. This chivalry thing is designed to make you look good.”

She laughed too. “Ah, right. How would I know that? Nobody holds my coat for me. You’re bringing butch back.”

I like that. I like the alliteration, three b’s in a row, and the second epitrite of poetic meter in the phrasing. I really can’t take credit for bringing butch back – honestly, I don’t think it ever went anywhere, I think if anything it just went a bit underground during the gay and women’s rights movements, and many folks are now reimerging to problematize and celebrate gender, myself included. And youth these days are more open to gender and sexuality differences than we ever have been, so aside from some old-school activists coming out of the woodwork, the youth also have a hand in opening up these conversations, refusing to be limited by labels or definitions, and yet finding value in the historical contexts of labels and words as well.

Chivalry is deeply feminist to me. When in femmes, I expect femininity to be deliberate, done with the whole knowledge of the compulsory heteronormative restrictions which dictate that women must be and do certain things, particular that we must wear high heels, delicate cloth, restrictive clothing. Femininity is not made for comfort or movement, it is made to accentuate the sexualization of a woman’s body – and that’s why things like holding her doors open (so she doesn’t dirty her white gloves or expensive manicure), pulling her chair out (so she doesn’t have to awkwardly move a bulky piece of furniture, and risk getting it caught on her skirt or stockings and ripping something) or holding her coat (so she doesn’t have to reach around and risk ripping the tight seams in her shoulders or upper back) are necessary to me, as an acknowledgement of how restrictive femininity can be, and of how difficult it is to walk around the world in these clothes, as a celebration of the beauty of femininity on the body, and with deep respect for the courage to costume and perform femme to begin with.

There’s a long history of these gender roles, these accentuations of the body as a flirtation, as a mating ritual, as peacocking, to attempt to attract a lover.

All this is to say, I’m really not taking credit for “bringing butch back.” But I like the phrasing, and I’d like to think that I’m encouraging it. I’ve written it before (& I’ll write it again): I would never tell someone what their identity is, I would always wait for them to tell me how they choose to identify. But because I’ve found such play and liberation and fun and self-empowerment inside of butch, I do want to encourage and support it.

So, I made a masthead. Those are my hands and the bird tie, in a portrait taken last summer by Bill Wadman. With a nod to dooce, in theory the mastheads will rotate monthly with a different tagline. 

I tend to follow the wheel of the year, so I wish you a happy spring equinox today:

The Spring Equinox celebrates the return of life and growth to the thawing earth.  For the first time since the Fall Equinox, the time of light and dark in a single day are equal. From this day forth, Spring will arrive, and with her, a wild spurt of growth begins. Shoots of young grass appear, leaves sprout on trees, birds and their songs return. Winter and the dark time have finally been put behind us, and the season of growth has begun. This holiday is truly a celebration of life and nature.

Since the Spring Equinox represents new life and growth, this is the perfect holiday for planting seeds of your own on the path of your life.  New ventures may be aided by the spirit of life and growth that abound, and many people decorate eggs at this time with symbols of fertility. All is new and possible. In addition, this holiday is an ideal time to break the last of the chains that may halt our growth.

So that’s what I’m thinking about today: what chains may be halting my own growth, and how to let them instead be little sprigs of pure green.

In Response to a Rant Against Female Masculinity

Dear Angry Anonymous Girl on Craigslist,

The Closet Musician is so right about thickened skin. Reading your posts, I feel the hatred you carry, but only down to a certain level before it just simply stops. Your words hit my bullet-proof armor and don’t penetrate any further. And that armor is made up of years of self-examination, of friend’s and lover’s support and care, of gender theory and feminist theory and queer theory, of reading memoirs and listening to my community’s stories. I haven’t internalized any of what you’ve said about female masculinity, about butches, bois, tomboys, about ME – which is good, that’s an improvement.

Perhaps sometimes I’m not as sensitive as I think.

But I know that you’ve hurt others, deeper than me. I know how fragile it is to come to and then embody this female masculinity, how fragile these gender identities are, how easy it is to sometimes tear them down. You’ve hurt my friends, my lovers, my people, and that is not okay.

In the tone behind your words I can tell you really mean what you’re saying. You actually believe this hatred, you actually believe that masculine-identified female-bodied folks are responsible for discrimination against lesbians, that this type of female masculinity is ugly. That surprises me – that kind of deep-seated hatred always surprises me, on anybody, for any group.

This post of yours, the subsequent comments on Craigslist and on the various lesbian blogs, have reminded me how radical it still is to exist outside of gendered norms. How subversive it is to break the sex/gender assumption that dictates that female-bodied folks must be feminine and male-bodied folks must be masculine. How dangerous it is for me to walk around in men’s clothes, get my hair cut at a barber shop, buy cocks and pack.

Gender is still the dirty little secret in the worlds of activism and social change. It is still possible to deflate a female women’s rights worker by calling her “mannish,” still possible to discredit gay male activists by calling them “flaming” or “fairy.” There are consequences to subverting the paradigm of the sex/gender binary.

And you know what? That must mean that us activists, us queers and butches and bois and femmes and drag queens and fags and radical fairies and trans guys and girls and genderqueers – we must be doing something right. We’re a threat. If we were that easy to dismiss, if we were that marginalized and insignificant and deviant, we would not have to be called out as “ugly” on a public forum by a cowardly anonymous genderphobe.

That revelation I feel in my bones, past that armor, all the way down to my defenseless bloody organs. A vibration of hope, a vibration of power.

Last night, I said to The Closet Musician that I was grateful for all the comments that have come after the original post, I’m grateful that my community of genderqueers are not taking this lying down. I’m grateful for all of the comments here on Sugarbutch, for all the reactions of surprise and love and care, for all the angry rants and the articulated defenses. Here are a few:

It’s in the way that they are both gallant…and in / private moments raunchy, sexy and hot, that makes me shudder / It’s the Butch Mystique, which I would never pretend / to know, but that I understand and love.

It’s too bad you can’t appreciate the beauty of female masculinity, the amazing variety of genders in the queer “community”, and the sheer fun of fucking with gender.

I know for a fact that there are plenty of attractive, femme women who love their butches. Objectively hot women, even by glossy magazine “normal people” heterosexual standards. … Even hot women are occasionally rejected (there’s always another hot one somewhere down the line) so the argument that someone would like a butch for no other reason than she can’t do any better really doesn’t work. And what makes you think butches aren’t picky?

For many of us, there is simply nothing hotter than a really butch woman.

u don’t like masculine women but who died and said u can dictate who a individual is and how they should look. … im not a butch but I LOVE THEM because they are the bravest of our kind to put themselves out there and be who they are. I think you should find out who you are and stop judging what u don’t know. Remember lesbians in general have to struggle to be accepted and its more than effed up to kno that 1 of our own is holding us back. I hope ur proud of yourself ur famous.

The entire post was pure internalized homophobic spew. Nothing sickens me more than a member of a disenfranchised community further discriminating against others … we are the ones on the front lines, as much now as then. … It has been our fight, our visibility and our scars that have allowed you to have increased freedom and safety. … The next time you want to put down butch, maybe you ought to think a little harder about your history.

But even so, I wish we were at the point where even though you are thinking these awful, prejudiced things about female masculinity, you would never, never voice them to others, because gender discrimination would be a faux pas, so politically incorrect that you would never put it out there into the world, because there would be huge social consequences.

Wait, I just realized something. What you’re saying is hate-speech. It’s prejudice against a group of people, and it violates Craigslist’s Terms of Use:

You agree not to post, email, or otherwise make available Content: a) that is unlawful, harmful, threatening, abusive, harassing, defamatory, libelous, invasive of another’s privacy, or is harmful to minors in any way; […] c) that harasses, degrades, intimidates or is hateful toward an individual or group of individuals on the basis of religion, gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, age, or disability.

Like many of the posters have said, I don’t care if you aren’t attracted to butches. Just like I don’t care if you are or aren’t attracted to men, to redheads, to big breasts, to high heels. Attraction is personal, yours is yours and that’s just fine. But I do care that you’re taking your personal preferences and turning them into hate speech, to discrimination. Your hatred is fuling gender discrimination and transphobia, both of which have very serious consequences in our society. I am so tired of seeing yet another headline for a trans person murdered in a hate crime, and your hate crime, your post, is precisely the same kind of misunderstood, misguided hatred that fuels these crimes.

But, like they say, karma’s a bitch. If you have any desire to cover your ass, I suggest you educate yourself. Figure out your own internal shit. Live and let live. Stop spewing such hatred. And while you’re at it, donate to the Gender Public Advocacy Coalition, a non-profit organization that “works to ensure that classrooms, communities, and workplaces are safe for everyone to learn, grow, and succeed – whether or not they meet expectations for masculinity and femininity. As a human rights organization, GenderPAC also promotes an understanding of the connection between discrimination based on gender stereotypes and sex, sexual orientation, age, race, and class.”

Perhaps I will practice some lovingkindness meditation and think of you – may you live in safety, be happy, be healthy, live with ease. Maybe through that practice I’ll come to some new place of generosity and be able to forgive your ignorant prejudice. I’d like to be able to do that. I’d like to be that generous.

For now, I wish you peace in your heart.

Sincerely,

sinclair

Femininity & Heterosexism

Figleaf did an interesting experiment with Google over on Real Adult Sex, putting in “attractive,” “beautiful,” and “worthy” along with “man” or “woman” and comparing results.

He wrote about what sparked this idea, saying he noticed a particularly attractive woman:

I thought it must be inconvenient to attract so much attention, and then wondered what it would be like if I could attract that kind of corner-of-the-eye attention, and then I started thinking about the old “men first initiate, women then decide” courtship convention and wondering about how that creates a perhaps unnecessary imposition on women to attract attention (since they weren’t allowed to simply ask for phone numbers). […] [G]rowing up male it’s unspoken but totally obvious that women are about attracting us; meanwhile we grow up blind to the also-unspoken molding to be worthy. The climax of the Sleeping Beauty fable says it all: she’s not only beautiful but *in a coma!* He needs his shining armor to reach her through the thorn-overgrown castle. His kiss awakens her.

Man o man. Very well said. This makes my head spin a little, and strikes me as relevant to this discussion about femmes passing that we’ve been having lately – particularly, to answer the question of why femmes attract male attention, which leads to the sometimes-necessary conversation of outing onesself, which leads to the potentially dangerous situation of having been seen as ‘deceptive.’

Of course, it’s because femininity is seen as an invitation, a deliberate request for male attention.

(And this is precisely why using femininity to attract other women is a subversive identity. It messes with the entire premise, the entire purpose, of gender roles.)

Even though we’ve come a long way, baby, and women can now ask for phone numbers, can come on to men, can wear trousers! can vote!, some of these old subscriptions about how men and women must work are still carved deep into our subconsciousnesses. And one of those things is that the purpose of femininity is to attract men, male attention, the male gaze, the general hetero mating process.

So really, hitting on a feminine girl – queer or married or otherwise – taking how she looks as an invitation – is a form of heterosexism. It’s the foundation of the “she asked for it” defense.

Of course, some girls want to be hit on. I don’t mean to discount that femininity is used for attention – it’s a powerful tool that women (and some men, yes?) have in this heterosexist society. And most people are flattered to be noticed if the hitting on is done with respect, right? I mean, it’s a compliment – the problems arise when the guy (or whomever is doing the hitting-on) is relentless, won’t let up, pushes boundaries and doesn’t take hints. I suppose this is the place where the hit-ee needs to be firm and direct, as opposed to kind, though of course that doesn’t always work.

Maybe this small insight seems obvious – sure seems obvious to me, now that I am writing it out – but I appreciated the sociological perspective Figleaf added to my explorations of the subject.

Sex Work, Trafficking, and Human Rights

Sex In The Public Square Presents:
Sex Work, Trafficking, and Human Rights: A Public Forum

New York, February 20, 2008 – Ten prominent sex worker advocates, writers, researchers will be publicly discussing the issues of sex work and trafficking from a human rights and harm reduction perspective, February 25 – March 3, on SexInThePublicSquare.org. The week-long online conversation will conclude with a summary statement on March 3, International Sex Worker Rights Day.

Sex work and trafficking are two issues that must be discussed as distinct yet intersecting, and we’ve invited some of the smartest sex worker advocates we know to help sort out the complexities. “This forum is not about debating whether or not we should be using a harm reduction and human rights approach instead of the more mainstream abolitionist and prohibitionist approach to sex work,” explains Elizabeth Wood, co-founder of Sex In The Public Square and Assistant Professor of Sociology at Nassau Community College. “Instead our goal is to create a space for nuanced exploration of the human rights and harm reduction approach so that we can use it more persuasively.”

Wood explains: “The human rights and harm reduction approach seeks to reduce the dangers that sex workers face and to stop human rights abuses involved in the movement of labor across borders, a movement which occurs in the service of so many industries. We want people to be able to learn about this perspective, and to develop and refine it, without having to dilute that conversation by debating the legitimacy of sex work.”

Questions and themes include:

Defining our terms: Is the way that we define “porn” clear? “Prostitution”? “Sex work” in general? What happens when we say “porn” and mean all sexually explicit imagery made for the purpose of generating arousal and others hear “porn” as indicating just the “bad stuff” while reserving “erotica” for everything they find acceptable? When we say sex work is it clear what kinds of jobs we’re including?

Understanding our differences: How do inequalities of race, class and gender affect the sex worker rights movement? Are we effective in organizing across those differences?

Identifying common ground: What are the areas of agreement between the abolitionist/prohibitionist perspective and the human rights/harm reduction perspective? For example, we all agree that forced labor is wrong. We all agree that nonconsensual sex is wrong. Is it a helpful strategic move to by highlighting our areas of agreement and then demonstrating why a harm reduction/human rights perspective is better suited to addressing those shared concerns, or are we better served by distancing ourselves from the abolition/prohibition-oriented thinkers?

Evaluating research: What do we think of the actual research generated by prominent abolitionist/prohibitionist scholars like Melissa Farley, Gail Dines, and Robert Jensen? Can we comment on the methods they use to generate the data on which they base their analysis, and then can we comment on the logic of their conclusions based on the data they have?

Framing the issues: What are our biggest frustrations with the way that the human rights/harm reduction perspective is characterized by the abolitionist/prohibitionist folks? How can we effectively respond to or reframe this misrepresentations? What happens when “I oppose human trafficking” becomes a political shield that deflects focus away from issues of migration, labor and human rights?

Exploring broader economic questions: How does the demand for cheap labor undermine human rights-based solutions to exploitation in all industries, including the sex industry?

Re-Valuing Masculinity

It is no secret that I like identity categories. Anyone who has read around on Sugarbutch knows I identify strongly with some of these labels – hell, even if all you ever read here is the masthead, my chosen categories are listed right there – kinky queer butch top – which is also the chronology of their development.

Kinky and queer came easily to me. Well, let me clarify. Not easy, exactly, but without much social stigma. It took me a few years to get out of the relationship with my high school boyfriend and come out, for example, but once I was out, I was out and didn’t really look back. Kinky, too, was generally easy to adopt.

Butch was much harder for me. I’ve written about that some, and many folks have pondered and asked me about the amount of work that I seem to put into it, as if questioning whether or not all this work is worth it. These questions asked to me are often followed by things like I just don’t get it, I am what I am, I’m just me, I don’t fit any one category.

Two things about that.

First, I like the work. I get off on it, I find it hot and engaging and fascinating, and interconnected to so many of my interests.

Also, I don’t fit into any singular thing either. I have a long string of identity labels – and even still, the whole is more than the sum of its parts, right? So even if I told you I am also a pianist, a photographer, a yogi, an Ears with Feet, you still don’t actually know me. You have to meet me, interact with me, see me in different situations, hear my history and future aims.

I wouldn’t ever force labels on anyone else. Call yourself or don’t call yourself whatever you like; just because I feel strongly connected to these things doesn’t mean I think you have to. I study post-identity politics, I understand that identity categories have issues.

I recognize that I am in the minority here, and even that I have a gender fetish. I love these categories and language that they provide when discussing gender. It is tightly connected to activism, for me, and I strongly believe in the ways that gender diversity is liberating and subversive. (Back to that in a minute.)

I run into many people, lesbian and queer women especially, who say, “I don’t fit in,” “I don’t know what I am,” “I don’t want to limit myself,” “am I femme/butch if I _____,” “I’m not really femme/butch, look at the ‘real’ femmes/butches out there, I don’t look like them.”

I would never presume to put my gender fetish on you. If I want to reject the labels and categories, or if you want to call yourself and your gender “blue” or “leopardish” or “the eleventh hour” or nothing at all or whatever, I don’t care. Do whatever you like, do whatever feels good to you.

And, if it feels good to you, I will gladly talk to you about it, explore it, lay down some of my concepts like the gender galaxy and the dress-up test and my theories on separating gender from personality.

The people I’ve done this with have generally been very interested in gender play and categories and theory, but were wary of being policed by the community about it. They don’t feel femme “enough,” or like a “real” butch.

Quite often, I find that the people who want to talk to me about this stuff want to identify with a gender identity category, but fear the social policing. Maybe it’s just part of human nature – to organize, categorize. I’ve said before, I don’t think one should conform to a label – any label, especially not gender – I think the label should conform to you.

All that said: generally, I do want to encourage more dykes to adopt the labels of butch femme – if they want to – primarily because I know how liberating it has been for me.

But I also want to encourage gender identity labeling, specifically butch/femme dynamic – because the primary contrary argument I hear to these labels is that they are limiting.

And this is where the activism comes in: I believe we need to go inside these labels and expand them.

We’ve actually done a pretty good job re-valuing feminine/female/femme in this culture, which has (in my opinion) everything to do with the three waves of the women’s liberation movements, and, especially, the Third Wave feminism of the 80s and 90s that questioned the notion that gender causes oppression, which was a major assertion of the Second Wave, and instead said that hierarchizing the male/female binary meant that femininity was inherently defined as “not as good as,” which should be examined and changed.

And, I would argue, generally, it has.

For more on that I suggest Manifesta by Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards – a very readable feminist book covering third wave politics and theories.

But: We have yet to have a gender re-valuing for men and masculinity. It is starting – and the fags and butches and drag kings and FTMs are on those front lines, for sure – but it is far from full force. This is, I think, particularly why there are so many more femmes than butches out there in the queer communities these days – to quote Team Gina, “there’s like one of them and thirty of us.”

We need this. Men and fags and butches and FTMs and people need a revaluing of masculinity.

And this is why I want to encourage more lesbians to identify as butch – because the more who do, the wider the understanding of the label becomes, and the more range the label has. If we say, I’m not that, because butch is this tiny limited thing, and that’s not me, then we are allowing it to be this tiny limited thing instead of going inside of it and exploding it, opening it up.

And that’s one way to add more acceptance to the range of masculinity.

the morning after

I had a date last night, which went quite well really; we had fabulous conversation over dinner, then made our way over to the Brooklyn promenade that overlooks the shimmering buildings in downtown Manhattan, the Statue of Liberty, the Verrazano bridge, and the Manhattan bridge.It was quite a view. I hadn’t been over there before. She wore these really cute shoes with straps that tied.

I was going on about topping, and the ways that feminism – and a general respect for other people – makes me hesitant to get involved in some particular sex play, like humiliation and name calling, and that I would actually like to push myself as a top and play with those things, but that it’d have to be with the right person, someone who wanted to specifically explore those things, not just as passing take-it-or-leave-it but really want it. I’d like to push myself as a top, I think was my point.

And that was when she gave me those eyes. You know the ones.

We had a fantastic first kiss, full of restraint and passion and air and deliberate hesitation, a slow building, perfect timing for going deeper, a little more crushing tender against teeth.

So, yeah, the date went well. Trouble is, I’m not particularly interested in purusing more with her – partly because she’s not what I’m looking for (I could go into detail here, but it’s not terribly relevant), and partly this is because I suspect that she likes me already, and is interested in pursuing things, maybe even in a relationship.

And I just can’t do that.

That sounds so predictable, so playboy, so “aspiring stud” of me, doesn’t it? You wouldn’t expect any less of this persona of mine, this Sinclair characature of myself, she should be the player, the heartbreaker, the one who takes girls home on the first date and has sex all night only to cut things off the morning after, right?

But that’s not me, that’s never been me. I’m not even sure how I got to this place sometimes, and I don’t want to continue to do this. What do we really get out of it, either of us? Sex, I suppose, which hey, that can be very important. But this day-after agony is not worth it. I’m too overly conscienscious of hurting her feelings.

And this is why I really shouldn’t be dating right now, at all.

I’m still just barely to the place where I’m pursuing dating. There have been some opportunities, and I haven’t turned those down … but it’s just starting to occur to me that I probably should be.

I said recently to Bee, my sister and roommate, that if I came across somebody that I really felt connected to, who I could potentially have a relationship with, I’m not even sure what I would do – I’d sabotage it, maybe, or I’d run the other way, or I just wouldn’t even recognize that that was possible with her right now, because I don’t want it. Everything in me says you’re not ready.

Do I wish I was ready? Yes. Am I working on becoming ready? Yes. Am I ready now? No.

And this, coupled with the difficulties I’ve had lately communicating with even my closest friends, let alone a random date, has made it clear to me that I’m in no place to even date. Hell, I am barely in a place where I can interact successfully with anyone else, it feels. Forget the extra added complication of emotion.

She didn’t stay over last night, though it was a struggle for me to ask her to go. How do you do that and not sound like an asshole? Eventually, I guess I had to not care that I sounded like an asshole. And I’m going to have to not care about that again today when I contact her to say that I had fun, but that we won’t be doing that again.

Lord. There is just no easy way to say it. There is no easy way to reject someone. Okay, so it’s not easy, fine: what is the kind way? What is the ‘right’ way?

I have one more date on Tuesday, and I have a sex date (much less complicated) with Belle today. I am tempted to cancel Tuesday’s date because really, why am I going? What do I hope to get out of it? I don’t want a relationship, not dates or sex or another person in my life.

This girl on the date last night, she is a lovely woman. Gorgeous and fun and smart, good in bed, and she has perhaps the most beautiful eyes I’ve ever seen, a green-gold shade that with her dark hair is just stunning. I had fun.

Why don’t I just stop doing this altogether, before somebody really gets hurt, instead.

If Mick Jagger was a literary, 30-something woman

Speaking of places where Sugarbutch was mentioned, Susan Mernit called me “The Toppe” in her BlogHer Sex Bloggers 101 article:

Another New Yorker, this lesbian feminist writer/sex educator has so much heart — and the daring and passion to make her chronicles very, very interesting. If Mick Jagger was a literary, 30-something woman, instead of whatever he’s become, Sinclair might be the one to get those comparisons — judging by this blog’s good ideas and juicy stories, she’s a rockstar.

Well, thank you! I might quote you on that, Susan, if I may. (Susan & I haven’t actually met, but I hear tell that we are going to be in the same place at the same time sometime next month. Can’t wait.)It’s a little weird to be described as a “lesbian feminist” since that calls to mind a very particular time and ideology. Of course, I identify as feminist – and I wouldn’t disagree with someone calling me lesbian, but I don’t tend to use that term to describe myself. It feels almost clinical – like vagina instead of cunt.

Funny, how much those lables mean, and how much variation there can be within the smallest changes in terms.

Also, for the record, I’m still 20-something for a few more years.

Butch & Trans In Conversation: Interview with Cody

When I went on that gender tirade back in August, Cody & I talked a bit about the butch/femme identities, and I was really curious about the ways that my arguments translated into arguments for why trans identities are subversive genders as well. He was graceous enough to agree to be interviewed about his gender opinions. Here’s the transcript.

Sinclair: I’m looking over the transcript of the chat we had a few weeks ago about butch/trans identity…

Cody: Okay. Are we beginning the interview? Should I put on my game face? Not that gender is a game or a construct. I wouldn’t want anyone to think that Id joke about something so serious.

Sinclair: That’s a great place to start. If gender is not a game or a construct, or a “role,” what is it?

Cody: Well, Actually, I was kidding. I think it’s all of those things, and none of them really. Gender is whatever you make of it. I also think (and I’m going to get a little woo woo here so bare with me) that gender is also this internal thing something you feel, some, internal energy that informs you about yourself. This is obviously informed by outside forces etc. But not completely. Does that make sense?

Sinclair: That absolutely makes sense. I’ve been writing a lot on Sugarbutch about the ways that butch/femme are not reproductions of some sort of heteronormativity, and I came up with a couple of major arguments about why those genders, though appearing to be hetero, are actually subversive of the whole sex/gender binary, and compulsory gender as a whole. And while I was writing this stuff out I kept thinking, you know, I bet these same arguments apply to the trans identity as well. It’s frustrating – I still hear so much transphobia kicked around in the queer/dyke communities.

Cody: Yeah, there’s a lot of that. But watch out, we all THINK about kicking back now and again.

Sinclair: Oh yes. I kick back, that’s for damn sure. So my question is, how do you think those arguments translate? More specifically, how is the trans identity subversive? Because it appears to be a heteronormative reproduction, especially (obviously) when the trans man is straight, or dating femmes or straight girls.

Cody: Well, the simple answer is that simply by the nature of my physical body [my trans identity] is subversive. And when I am dating femmes, the identity is subversive for a lot of reasons, but if we want to get down to bones here, I’d say the ways in which we have sex are subversive. Also, here’s something I realized the other day that made me laugh: I can never ever have straight by the book hetero-sex. It is physically impossible for me to do so. If that doesn’t make me fucking goddamn subversive I don’t know what does!

Sinclair: I love it! Hell yeah!

Cody: To get back to the question: what I mean about the nature of my physical body, is actually something I’ve been having a weirdly large amount of dialogue with folks about lately. This discussion of my junk (and by junk I mean my genitals) because that’s really what it comes down to in most discussions about trans shit: “What have you got between your legs?” Which has, frankly been making me very angry lately. Because, hell, I’m not a shy dude, but when people (even people in my queer community) are asking me about my dick (or my cunt) I feel kind of well, a little put out. But then again, this is how we end up understanding each other. By our genitals and how we use them to fuck, and how all of this informs who we are presenting to the world (meaning our gender).

Sinclair: Interesting – so that equation is, genitals plus fucking equals gender presentation. That seems accurate, although I would say that’s not everything that goes into gender.

Cody: No, of course not. But for the purposes of this particular vein, yes.

Sinclair: Would you tell me more about what you said about the nature of your physical body? I’m not sure I understand what you mean by that yet. By the nature of a trans body? Born into one sex, but altering it physically?

Cody: Yes. I mean, the fact that I’ve altered or am merely presenting my body in a different way from which I was told upon birth it was, makes the mere nature of it subversive. I mean, it’s a small part. But it’s an argument I like to use, because it’s easy to understand, and If people make you feel uncomfortable (which you totally aren’t, just an example) it’s a good shut down.

Sinclair: Ah I see. And it’s subversive because our sex/gender binary paradigm says that your body informs your nature? Or – your biology informs your self, perhaps is a better way to put it? I don’t want to put words in your mouth here.

Cody: Exactly! No you’ve got it. The binary says that my body should inform everything, right? So if I change my body, I’m fucking with the entire paradigm!

Sinclair: I like that. I know what you mean, I feel that way about the butch identity, too. And that’s one piece of that “butch/femme are not reproductions” argument, definitely. That it fucks with the sex/gender paradigm, by its very nature.

Cody: Definitely. The fact that it is NOT what it seems on the surface makes it so subversive.

Sinclair: Are there places that you feel the trans identity does become reproductive, perhaps sometimes in a negative way?

Cody: There are all kinds of ways that the transmale identity can become negatively heteronormative.

Sinclair: You mentioned before that you have noticed trans men rejecting the butch identity when they transition, perhaps because butch never fit them, and yet that’s something that you have held onto.

Cody: Yes! [I did not] reject the butch identity in favor of my trans identity. It’s more about embracing it because it INFORMS my trans identity. I figured about butch stuff (re: myself) around a similar time in my life that I was discovering trans stuff.

Sinclair: The identities seem closely aligned – or can be. Some of my best trans guy friends have explored so much about butchness with me.

Cody: Its funny, my best friend and I would sit down, and he would tell me about butch stuff, and it was SO HARD for me to understand it (because I was scared I think) and I would explain Trans-ness to him and he would balk. Now, well, now we are both butch trans men.

Sinclair: What changed? Was there a moment when butchness “clicked” with you?

Cody: Well, I think we were both scared, of all of it, of identity politics. Of talking about all of this. I don’t even think we knew at the time, that what we were talking about was so huge. We were just trying to work things out with ourselves and the people we cared about. God, saying that makes me feel like it used to be so much easier before we had to worry about a whole community, too! I mean, it wasn’t suddenly I passed the butch test with myself, but over a period of time, things started happening that helped me to nurture that part of myself, and understand that’s what I was doing. The other thing [that happened was] that I started meeting femmes. Something that I had never really experienced before. Where I grew up there was an incredibly small pool of queers.

Sinclair: How did that start altering your identity?

Cody: While now my butch identity is strong enough to stand alone, in the beginning [of its development], in order to build yourself up, let’s be honest, we need femmes. Let’s be really honest and say, butches need femmes all of the time. [What changed was that] I stopped feeling so ashamed of the ways in which I was masculine, and the ways I wasn’t. I worked out how to feel less shame about being a butch, and about being a man. The man part took way longer.

Sinclair: What was different about the man part & the butch part?

Cody: The butch part I think was easier, because honestly I had more support from those around me about it. The man part, well, I got a lot of shit about. The man part made me into a patriarch. Dykes, butch dykes, femme dykes, lesbians, straight feminists… In the small community I was working shit out in, the backlash was INCREDIBLE. I didn’t call myself a ‘man’ until I had been out as trans for years, partly because of that. I identified almost exclusively as a Butch-Trans-Boy

Sinclair: That [backlash] is so sad. We need to be allies!

Cody: It is [sad]! I had this idea, that if I didn’t align myself with the identity of being a man, I didn’t have to take responsibility for any misogyny.

Sinclair: Yes! I think that’s the same reason it took me so long to come to a butch identity, because I was picking and choosing very carefully what traits of masculinity I wanted to adopt, and I was scared as hell about betraying my feminist politics and enlightenment.

Cody: Funny, when you are trans, when your gender is male, no matter your history, you’ve got to ‘step up to the plate’ about it. It was like, white guilt. Plus, being a boy is all about fun and flirting and whatever. It’s easy!

Sinclair: That’s a huge concept. So, dare I ask? How does one do that? Step up to the plate about it?

Cody: Take fucking responsibility for yourself! Stop forgetting about your feminism because you have passing privilege. I think it’s almost more subversive to be butch, or to be a man, and be a feminist, if you are stepping up to it.

Sinclair: I like that. Is this why we have a serious lack of butches (and/or trans feminists) but we have this new fad of “boi” and “bro”? So many dykes I meet who I would perhaps label as butch tell me they don’t identify as such, but sometimes do identify as boi.

Cody: I think so. I think that’s a big fucking part of it. It’s fear. It’s [seen as] not hot to be a butch, or a man. Because you have to work for it.

Sinclair: It amazed me how much I felt socially policed while I was still coming to this butch identity. All those comments from other butches about toughness, competition, objectifying women. I still get those comments – they just don’t effect me as they used to. One comment would throw me for a loop for days.

Cody: Every time someone put down my butchness, or my male-ness, I regressed like YEARS in my discovery and comfortability with it.

Sinclair: [Masculine identities are] so sensitive! I wonder if this is also what teenage boys go through, all that fag/pussy-bashing stuff.

Cody: Homophobia: the deconstruction of masculinity. Homophobia is all about the construction of masculinity. It’s more about gender than sexuality – sexuality is a part of it, but its more about gender. It’s all about ‘othering’

Sinclair: And [it’s about] misogyny. I would say that’s perhaps because masculinity has historically been defined as not-woman, not-female, not-feminine, and as the gender revolution opens up more and more places for women to occupy, and expands the definition of feminity, that the space that masculinity can occupy becomes smaller and smaller.

Cody: Instead of cutting out any way that it’s okay to be masculine, why can’t we just look at better ways to be masculine?

Sinclair: Which is why I still think we need a masculine-gender revolution. It’s brewing, I think, and trans guys are at the forefront.

Cody: I think you are so right! But we aren’t alone, I think butches are up there on the line with transdudes about this masculine gender revolution. I think we have to hold each other up. This may all sound very idealistic, and utopian, but you’ve got to dream right?

Sinclair: Absolutely. This is what I aim for, even if I feel that it’s going to be a hard bumpy road to get there.

Cody: Oh, man, is it EVER.

Sinclair: So how do we encourage the butches & trans men to be aligned? For some reason, we are often so threatened of each other.

Cody: I think by doing what you and I are doing right now: by fucking talking to each other. By realizing that we’ve got a lot in common, even if it’s scary. By being okay with the fact that this doesn’t mean either one of us is presenting ourselves wrongly. Trans men aren’t ‘abandoning’ the community, and butch women aren’t too scared to ‘man up.’

Sinclair: Well said – that neither of us are presenting ourselves wrongly. That’s a big part of the intimidation factor, isn’t it? That these identities are so fragile, so hard to grow and to maintain, but then when we see someone with something so close to us but very different it becomes a worry that somewhere I’ve made a mistake.

Cody: Exactly. Also, we’ve got to keep in mind, that for some trans men, the ‘trans’ part of our identity fades once we have passing privilege and we’ve all got to respect that. I think that the queer community has a serious peter pan complex going on. Butch ‘bois’ and tranny ‘bois.’

Sinclair: So, you’re talking about respect a seeming rejection of queerness?

Cody: To be honest, there isn’t a cut and dry answer to it (which I think you know and is why its so hard). Every single trans man is different. Sometimes, it IS about rejecting queerness.

Sinclair: Of course. I definitely agree with you about the Peter Pan complex – especially when it comes to the butch/male/boi/tranny boy identities. It’s safer to stay young, perhaps? Not as much examination of identity is required?

Cody: Exactly, and its CUTE, right?! It’s so cute to never grow up.

Sinclair: It’s safer, too. And cute means not threatening. Because when women move into a masculine identity, they are moving UP in the hierarchy, which is threatening.

Cody: Uh huh. Not threatening means no need to examine masculinity means no responsibility. “Oh! Isn’t it cute that that little butch boi just called his partner a bitch?” Gross.

Sinclair: That’s an aspect of masculinity that I don’t want to take on, that I have worked SO HARD to reject. This is why we need a masculine manifesto and revolution!

Cody: You are very right! Also, the word revolution gives me such a hard-on for change!

Sinclair: Oh, that is seriously hot.

Cody: Of course! T-shirts anyone? Also, I really appreciate you even asking these questions about how to not hate on the trans. :)

Sinclair: Thanks! And likewise I really appreciate you answering my questions! I suppose the last thing I want to ask you is something I hesitate to bring up, which is that idea about trans-ness as a fad. it is definitely becoming more prevalent, and it does make me sad to loose the butches, and I am concerned about it as a ‘trend’.

Cody: Mm…Okay. Well, I want to tell you first that I’m glad you brought it up. It’s a hard question to answer/dialogue about.

Sinclair: It is hard to talk about. ‘Cause, you know, I don’t want to invalidate anyone’s identity. But it definitely comes up in conversation; at least, it does with the dykes. Not so much when I’m talking to trans guys.

Cody: Because I think this is why butches and transmen have a lot of disconnect sometimes, this issue puts us all on the defensive.

Sinclair: But at the same time, I know people who have transitioned and then transitioned BACK, I know people who have ALMOST transitioned and then at the last minute decided not to. It makes me nervous that younger and younger kids are doing this seemingly on a whim.

Cody: Here’s the thing. I think that in some ways it is becoming a fad. Just like when all the girls in high school I knew were bi. Yes, I’m comparing the two. This is VERY controversial of me to say and if a lot of dudes read this they might vote me off the island. But sometimes I feel like my personal struggle is getting fucked with and devalued because dudes are making this whole trans thing into a big goddamn joke. Like its something fun. Here’s the secret: Being trans ain’t fun most of the time. It’s not fun to realize that you feel fucking uncomfortable in your skin, or uncomfortable with the way your gender is in the world. It SUCKS. It ain’t fun to get your shit cut open and cut out and stick yourself with a needles every two weeks for the rest of your life. But, young (and by young I mean, new to transition) dudes are making it all into this GAME. It makes me very …well, it makes me very angry. My fucking life and experience isn’t a game, and it ain’t fun. It wasn’t EASY for me to, figure shit out, to be alone, to find a doctor who would give me T, to pay for surgery, etc. Also, I think its GREAT when people fuck with gender for themselves, when they work out how they feel most comfortable, I think that’s AWESOME ‘cause that’s what I did, am doing. But don’t make me feel like shit ‘cause my struggle doesn’t align with your PARTY.

Sinclair: So what is that other part for you – you don’t align with the party?

Cody: I just got so hot under the collar. Okay, I guess what I’m saying is, when people turn all of this gender business into a big game, it’s a way in which they aren’t willing to examine their privilege. Because that’s hard, right? My struggle don’t play. My life is hard, and I’m down for it. I’m down to work on it.

Sinclair: Ah, so it’s about privilege and examination? That makes sense. That’s exactly the places where gender is the most frustrating for me, skating by on some sort of butch/masculine privilege without even realizing that’s what it is, no examination, no understanding of what you’ve taken on.

Cody: It’s like walking around with a bandana tied over your eyes, and putting your nasty little fingers everywhere.

Sinclair: I don’t know, maybe for some people this identity comes more “naturally”? I just feel like I really really had to WORK at mine.

Cody: I mean, its all ‘natural’ in a way, cause it ends up making sense and feeling like you are at home when you work it out. It takes a much stronger person to realize something about their identity, feel comfy in it, finally! After all of this time! And then KEEP working on it, to keep improving upon what is there and makes you feel good.

Sinclair: Yeah, it really does take constant work, I definitely agree. Everything can be refined, everything is a process, all that. And gender is so complicated! We live within this huge gender system, and it is the source of major agony/pain for pretty much everyone involved, in my opinion. Those places where gender is liberational, and subversive, and fabulous, they are worth navigating the fucked up system for. But man that takes a lot of work.

Cody: Very, very true! All of it. Why can’t we take the shit we need to work on, plop it right down into a comfy space, get out the glue sticks and go at it?

Sinclair: Glue sticks! I love it. I guess first we have to MAKE a comfy space, for everybody involved, right? A forum in which to discuss these things, for as many people as possible. Which is definitely one of the goals of Sugarbutch — to bring this stuff TO LIGHT so that people feel more comfortable exploring, sharing, and articulating to begin with.

Cody: Which is hard, cause we are an exclusive goddamned bunch, aren’t we? Our communities are so INTENTIONAL, that I’m not willing to compromise. But, if we keep creating dialogue and space for those we WANT to work on this with, it will bow out. Get bigger. We are talking grass roots here. But that’s where I operate best. With my hard-knuckled fists working the wood of the problem. Yo! That’s why we butch! That’s why femmes are femme! Because we WORK.

Sinclair: It’s that old quote from Airen Lydick: “Femme is knowing what you’re doing.” As in, being aware and conscious of the identity you are developing and presenting and taking on. And maybe that comes back to other gender questions I have, too, about how to view these roles as celebratory rather than confining, as liberational rather than limiting — by creating dialogue and space to explore all aspects of these complicated identities.

Any closing thoughts?

Cody: Just that this is the beginning of the conversation. Include my email address (codycoquet@gmail.com) and my blog address (codycoquet.blogspot.com), and encourage people to write if they want to discuss/ask anything of me.

Sinclair: Thank you, so much, for the conversation.