Posts Tagged ‘feminism’

femininity & heterosexism

March 4, 2008  |  essays  |  3 Comments

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

February 24, 2008  |  miscellany  |  1 Comment

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?

Read More

the morning after

November 4, 2007  |  dirty stories  |  5 Comments

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

November 1, 2007  |  essays  |  1 Comment

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

September 10, 2007  |  essays  |  5 Comments

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 ([email protected]) 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.

why we need to examine our lives

August 30, 2007  |  essays  |  2 Comments

I went back and re-read the article Lina posted, and I’m pleased to say, it didn’t frustrate me nearly as much as it did the first time I read it. I have various responses at the ready and I feel like I could easily defend my position & claim.I would like to go through it and actually write out those responses, actually, but I just don’t have the time this week. Maybe soon.

During this gender discussion we’ve been having, I was reminded of this quote:

Nothing can be so amusingly arrogant as a young man who has just discovered an old idea and thinks it is his own.
- Sidney J. Harris

… and I think it is fitting in this situation for various reasons. This argument of “butch/femme as reproductions of the patriarchal compulsory gender roles” et cetera is old, nearly forty years old at least. It strikes me as ignorant and arrogant and young to go around spouting opinions about things which one knows very little. These are old ideas, they are not radical, they are recycled, get your facts straight.On the other hand: there is much value in observation. And there are many, many butches and femmes who – I believe – to fully pass judgement here – are NOT using these identities as subversive tools, but rather ARE reproducing the heteronormative paradigm (gasp! I said it!).

Mostly, I feel like I have no ability or right to draw conclusions about how other people occupy and use their gender. However, occasionally I get the chance to actually converse with someone about it, and I am often shocked at the ignorance and thoughtlessness.

So, here’s what I haven’t said during this gender rant exploration yet:

Sometimes, butch/femme is a reproduction, a mimicry. And honestly, I disapprove of that. I believe that because of the grand amount of gender injustice that happens, because of the prevalence and acceptance of misogyn, because of the objectification and damage done by compulsory gender rules, we must – MUST – do some deep searching and analysis as to how institutionalized oppressive structures function and effect our lives. Especially the big ones: race, class, gender, sexuality. It is life-altering to understand how they work. I honestly think feminism and women studies played a huge role in my dealing with my depression, and the shock of becoming an adult woman in this culture.

But I digress.

This help that gender analysis and theory offers is where feminism comes in. And 1907s US lesbian-feminism – also closely related to what I tend to call “white western feminism,” WWF – was limited in its view at times, dismissing all butch/femme representations as hetero or all hetero sex as rape (coughDworkincough). Obviously there are some issues with these limitations.

BUT!

Though this may be a mainstream understanding of What Feminists Think, it is not the only understandings of sex that feminists hold. And to dismiss feminism as only viewing things this way is also limiting.

So. In summary: sometimes butch/femme is a reproduction of the compulsory misogynistic heteronormative gender roles. This is why we must examine the hierarchical structures in which we operate and make conscious choices about how we participate or resist.

And, not everyone’s participation or resistance looks the same. That’s why I try to talk to people about this stuff. Ask questions, listen, be aware. I feel like that’s all I can do, is attempt to understand the wild and precious ways we all live our lives.

top 10 things I love about being gay

August 22, 2007  |  essays  |  6 Comments
  1. There’s that whole fucking women thing. Yeah, I like that.

  2. It challenges all sorts of compulsory hegemonic systems and encourages new ways of acceptance, tolerance, living, and loving

  3. The community! We have such fighters, artists, activists, lovers – I love our arts and culture, our philosophies, our theories

  4. Drag kings, drag queens, and queer burlesque

  5. That we are a lineage of kisses; because we do not inheret our legacies through our blood-related families, we must claim our heritage through our desire, love, play, and kisses

  6. Getting over the “ick factor” – which is what I’d call a lesbian’s aversion to men (and masculinity) or a gay boy’s aversion to women (and femininity) – and creating alignments with all sorts of genders within the queer spectrum

  7. The synthesis of feminism, gender, and sexual revolution

  8. The brilliance and hilarity of our (mainstream) queer celebrities – Ellen, k.d., Harvey Feirstein, John Waters, George Michael, Jenny Shimitzu, Rosie – and our media – Better than Chocolate, But I’m a Cheerleader, Bound, Queer as Folk, Brokeback Mountain, Will & Grace … and dozens more. They really are forging through.

  9. The Pride Parade & Dyke March. Stonewall. Knowing where I come from. Honoring traditions, and making new ones

  10. I do have a great toaster oven from all those young’uns I’ve converted …

what gender is

August 17, 2007  |  essays  |  12 Comments

… and the beginnings (continuings) of My Gender Manifesto.A little bit of conversation about femme (specificially) and gender (in general) is happening over in this last post, and I have some things to add, especially about a comment on “butch in the streets, femme in the sheets.”

Essin’ Em said: “I hate the phrase “a butch in the streets, femme in the sheets” because it places value on each…is there something wrong with being a Femme in the sheets?”

And, duh, you probably already know my response, at least to begin with. Of course there’s nothing wrong with being a femme in the sheets, let’s just make that clear.

I love femmes in my sheets. My favorite. Rawr.

But.

That’s not quite what this phrase is saying, or means, in my opinion. The implication that a “butch in the streets” would be a femme in bed is implying – and correct me if I’m wrong here! – that the butch was a bottom. Someone who didn’t have the gruff masculine throw-down take-charge style that is assumed to come with the butch gender identity.

Which comes from the assumption that all butches are tops.

Which comes from the heterosexual gender hierarchy, which tells us that men are the agressors, women are submissive. Men are in charge, women are passive. Men take, women receive. Et cetera, et cetera, ad infinitum.

But, see, these things are actually different. Being butch is a gender, and being a bottom is sexuality (a sexual orientation? What is that category?). And to assume that all butches are tops or all femmes are bottoms is to buy into That Infamous Heteronormative (and misogynist!) Paradigm.

With me so far?

And, it’s just not true! Femmes are tops AND bottoms AND switches! Butches are tops AND bottoms AND switches! And, there are tops and bottoms and switches who do not consider themselves either butch, or femme. One thing does not necessarily constitute the other.

This is absolutely one of those places where butch and femme should – and MUST, in my opinion – deviate from heteronormativity. Come on, we’ve gone through the sexual revolution and the gender revolution, for pussy’s sake. We can differentiate between biological sex, between-the-sheets sex, and gender.

I’m not sure “butch in the streets, femme in the sheets” would EVER be an accurate description of anyone, unless their gender actually changed while “in the sheets.” And I’m not sure how that would happen … would they put on lingerie? A dress? Heels? I might prostelitize that that person had a cross-dressing fetish, rather than becoming femme in the sheets – but perhaps that’s the same thing? I’m not sure about that.

And this leads me to another interesting point. What is gender, anyway? What is butch, what is femme? How to define these ever-elusive, ever-complex terms? And, as bird and I were saying just last night, how do we make these terms expansive, rather than limiting?

Here’s what I think.

Gender is about my physical body: how I appear, the clothes I wear, the accessories I choose. And, it’s part of the way that I communicate physically, and thus becomes a big part of my sexual life, which is all about my body communicating with another’s body.

My hobbies, interests, values, activities, and personality are not dictated by my gender. I refuse to let them be. Those are dictated by ME. My unique spirit, whatever hippie shit you want to use to describe my “essence.”

This was one of the hardest, hardest things for me, in coming out as butch, after I came out as queer. Because I’d grown up in a very feminist household that devalued gender, wrote it off as compulsory and constrictive. And, yes, absolutely, it has been that – women forced to wear skirts, men forced to keep their hair short, etc. But this is not where we are anymore.

There is still work to be done, don’t get me wrong – and, in fact, for me, this is the work, right here.

I can pick and choose what aspects of gender that I want to adopt. Some of them work; some of them do not.

I, for example, am really interested in processing, emotional intelligence, gender theory, feminism, psychology, sociology, how people relate to other people, group dynamics … and those have, at times, been interpreted to being “feminine” traits, yes? And reading, cooking, preparing nutritous meals, home decorating/interior design, organizing, collecting.

And when I came out as butch (which was a long process for me, it took about 4 years, much longer than it took me to come out as queer), I went through a long time period where I was really struggling with what it meant to adopt a butchness, to be butch at all. I loved the suave masculinity of collared button-down shirts, boy jeans, polos, tee shirts with cigarette packs rolled into the sleeve, vests, fedoras, pinstripe suits, wing-tip shoes, motorcycle boots … and I wanted it. I wanted to BE that. But I didn’t know how to BE that without being the rest of masculinity, too – the “tough guise” of machismo, of violence, of emotional miscommunication, of misogyny.

I guess I figured it out: I separated gender from personality.

Butch is a masculine presentation of the body.

Just as femme is a feminine presentation of the body.

And there is a whoooooole lot of room there, within “presentation,” in my opinion. I know butches who wear lacy thongs, I know femmes who have short hair. I know butches who wear heels and skirtsuits, I know femmes who rarely wear much more than sweatpants or jeans.

My test, then, I suppose, for the butch/femme sphere, is the Dress-Up Test. If I am getting fancied up, do I put on a suit and tie, or a dress? And some of us, of course, would say “it depends” — well sure, that’s a gender too. I guess that’s what I might call genderqueer, though we don’t really have much of a label for it. Somebody should create one. Hint, hint.

There are certain things that gender does dictate when it comes to action or personality, but that seems to be primarily set around chivalry, which is really that physical communication aspect of sex and relationships.

Ahem. For example:

I hold my hand out for a femme who is walking in heels next to me when we go down stairs, because I want her to have something solid to hold onto in those high heels. I switch sides of the sidewalk when I notice a grate or something she can’t walk over. I open the door for her because I don’t want her to ding up her fingernails that she spent two hours perfecting. I take her coat because her dress is tight and if she lifts her arms up above her shoulders it could actually damage the dress.

I am aware of the ways that her gender – her physical body – interacts with the world, and I want to enhance that presentation, cradle her, protect her, celebrate her ways of showing off her beautiful, sexual, powerful self.

Just like she does for me.

gender dynamics in the sexblog community

August 15, 2007  |  essays  |  9 Comments

Welcome to the community, Colleen and Jake. Even just a few months ago the dyke-run sexblogs were few and far between, but this little empire (car tires & chicken wires) of ours is growing. Have you seen my “Playin’ for My Team” sidebar list recently? Not all of those are exclusively sexblogs, but most of them are. But here’s a funny thing … almost all of these dyke-run sexblogs, though, are from self-defined femmes. Hey, all the better for me, really, but where are the butches?Similarly, I was at the Pervert’s Saloon Tea Party this past Sunday, and it was me, Jefferson, and six other women – Tess, Viviane, Calico, Selina, Rachel, and Lolita. (I missed Madeline, who has been there every other time I’ve been to a tea party, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one.) We were interviewed by Craig Collinson of Nobles Gate for his documentary “A Sex Bloggesy” about, um, sexbloggers.

That’s us. Anonymized in the interviewer’s monitor. Photo borrowed from Viviane.There was a question at some point about the imbalance of genders in the room – At one point, Jefferson said (about me), “Well hey, you’re the only man in the room …” This imbalance is in the sexblog community in general, too. We did some speculation as to why this is. The interviewer even brought up the idea that women are not as sexual creatures as men. I think, honestly, he was playing TO the stereotypes intentionally, though he was also asking us to defend/discuss it. I spent much of the interview biting my fist to keep from jumping up on the table and start proselytizing.

And, what is that about, anyway? That it is primarily women who are running sexblogs? Oh, I have some ideas.

  1. The mainstream audience for porn is, of course, men, so women are better able to get a handle or corner on the potential marketability of a sexblog.

  2. Because of the way patriarchy works (gasp, the P word), men don’t have to examine or question or explore sex in order to figure out how to get pleasure, how to get validation, and how to reconcile their identity as a sexual person, because it’s socially acceptable and, in fact, encouraged, for a man to be sexually explorative. This is still not true for women.

  3. Women, as a whole, do tend to be more verbal (whether it’s nature or nurture, we can have that argument another time), and also attach more emotion to sex, probably for biological purposes (and this has been proven by sociobiological scientists, not just stereotypes). Therefore the act of sex is potentially more complicated and problematic for women (?? … I’m brainstorming here, don’t mind my generalities).

  4. There has been a lot of work done by women on the gender of femininity in the last forty years (holy smokes, second-wave feminism was forty years ago?) because of the sexual and gender revolutions of the 1960s and 70s. Therefore, many many many of the limitations and constrictions that were previously placed upon women and femininity have been deconstructed and revalued, and, generally, quite successfully I think. This is NOT to say that I think feminism is over, or that we are now in a post-feminist state – only that women and the feminist movement have done a lot of work on the feminine gender, which may actually be leading to how women are able to take control of and elaborate upon their various sexualities via writing on the Internet. However, that work has not been done in the same way by/for masculinity and men. I would argue, in fact, that that is where the next gender revolution needs to come: from and for men, revaluing and deconstructing masculinity and the mandatory tough guise. However, because we are STILL in a patriarchy, and STILL value maleness more than femaleness, men haven’t been forced to do this – yet. I don’t know how I can help fuel this revolution-to-come, but I sure would like to.

  5. Hmmm … anything else? (I’m digging this list format. Feels like my ideas are more organized this way.) I’ll keep thinking about this question. So, riddle me this, folks: Why is the sexblog community dominated by women? And why are the queer women sexblogs primarily femme? Where are the gayboy sexblogs, anyway?

So, after the interviewers left, we went back to our regular fabulous Tea Party, catching up with each other, discussing and processing and catching up.Viviane, always the amazing host, made strawberry shortcake and mint juleps, along with watercress & goat cheese tea sandwiches. And delicious tea, of course, both iced and hot. Selina brought beautiful cups & saucers for our tea, Rachel ran out to get the proper milk, and looked gorgeous in her summery dress. Selina had some pretty fantastic heels on that she’d discovered in London, and Tess … well, Tess had heels on too. (Oh I’m such a sucker for stilettos.) Lolita had a beautiful new cutting by Jefferson Sharrin Spector (who wasn’t there, but Lolita gave me her link so I figured I’d include it. I’m kinda jealous, I want a cutting). Calico I met for the first time, who is a newcomer to this scene but is already making quite the impression. And Jefferson, of course, infamous Jefferson, was showing off his rubber ducky boxers by the end of the night.

What else happened at this tea party, you ask?

Well … After the girls said they’d gotten pedicures just so they could wear their fancy shoes, I mentioned that I cut my fingernails just for the party … to which of course Jefferson retorted, “What, did you think you were going to get laid?” … which was the beginning of the shenanigans.

Jefferson told me “what gender is” while we were in the kitchen devilling eggs. To be fair, I thought he was saying “ginger,” because of his cute little southern accent, which prompted me to ask what the hell he was talking about. Although ginger wasn’t actually that out of context considering we’d been discussing ginger butt fucking (apparently called figging?) just shortly before.

It’s true what they’re saying, I did get a little lesson in flogging from Lolita, as did Tess and Selina. I felt out of practice and incredibly embarrassed, actually. Because I am good at flogging. Actually, quite good. And I hated being seen, in front of a roomful of experienced people, of whom I was one of the youngest, as not experienced in something I am good at. It was very frustrating. Really, it made me draw the conclusion that I need to flog more, to be sure to keep my skills fresh. … perhaps I should seek volunteers.

Viviane did a bit of a roundup, Tess wrote about it, and Lolita did too.

One last thing: I really have NO idea what I said on camera, what quotes of mine (if any) will be used. The one thing I did really want to press was how much I believe that our discussions of sex, relationships, and gender in these online communities is actually an act of social change and revolution. That it helps and encourages open communication about pleasure, identity, and of course sex, all of which are still taboo. We’re makin’ history here, we’re paving the way for a more sophisticated, more particular, safer, happier, much improved cultural dealings with sex. And I am oh so grateful to be a part of that, even in the smallest way.

outdated questions on binaries

August 12, 2007  |  essays  |  9 Comments

I should be sleeping. And I have too many things to be writing about to be flying off the handle at some random thing, but I just ran across something that has me all … hot under the collar.The lovely Miss Avarice made some comments on my post about active surrender where I wrote about topping & bottoming, and who really has control. Fine, good. Sweet of her to link to me, actually, and I should’ve said that in my comments, but I got distracted, because someone commented by saying: why do lesbians hold true the male ideal of duality? male vs. female…masculine vs. feminine…i mean it is still a ridiculous battle and fight over nothing. still a struggle that is ultimately useless.

And oh my god I don’t even know where to start. Go read my very sloppy comments on the subject if you’d like.

You’re not going to go read the comments, are you? Okay, here’s what I wrote:

The dualisms absolutely can be confining, if you let what they’re “supposed” to be dictate who you are. But many people, and I include myself in this description absolutely, find categories and dualisms also extremely liberating, and celebratory. there is infinity inside of these dualisms, if one wishes to embody them that way.

Also: “the male ideal of duality”? Why would duality that be a male ideal? That makes no sense. Humans categorize, male and female and beyond and in-between.

But – I believe Miss Avarice was discussing topping & bottoming here in this post, which is not male vs female or masculine vs feminine. Which is also, perhaps, a duality, but you missed the point of the post: even when someone is bottoming, they are still in charge. so who is really bottoming? who is really in charge? who is really in control? who is really submitting? those lines are extremely blurry, and difficult to categorize, when you actually examine them.

I have two hundred more words I could say about this “struggle that is ultimately useless” and what is problematic about generalizing all lesbians as holding to dualisms. Makes me want to shake my fist and spit at the ground a little bit.

I have books and books to say about how, to start, the gender expressions of butch and femme are not reproductions of the heteronormative paradigm.Can everybody please just say that five times, out loud, right now? Butch and femme are not reproductions of the heteronormative paradigm. Butch and femme are not reproductions of the heteronormative paradigm. Butch and femme are not reproductions of the heteronormative paradigm. Butch and femme are not reproductions of the heteronormative paradigm. Butch and femme are not reproductions of the heteronormative paradigm.

But beyond actually even addressing this misconception, and further perpetuating this argument about how lesbians are reproducing heterosexual gender roles, there’s another issue here which is really the one irking me: are we really still asking these questions? I mean, really? Have we not addressed this, over and over and OVER?

And maybe that’s just me. Maybe I’m just fucken lucky that I’ve been examining gender expression and dynamics and paradigms, and the history of feminism and women’s liberation and sexual liberation, and kink and play and sacred sexuality, and so I take it for granted that I have done this work, and others still haven’t.

But goddammit, why why why haven’t these ideas prevailed? Why haven’t they permeated the general public’s consciousness, just a little more? What a fucken battle we’ve been fighting.

And! – I was at a round-table interview today with seven of the smartest sexbloggers I know (more about that later) and one of the things the interviewer postited was about how a woman’s sex drive is still (perceived) to be lower than a man’s.

I just had to bite my tongue. I mean, really? Are we seriously still believing that in this culture? In 2007? Women still aren’t sexual beings, when compared to men?

What. The. Fuck.

This is why we still need social change, and why writing about sex IS an act of social change and liberation, subversion and joy.

I have so much more to express about this, about my own personal story of coming to and coming to terms with my own gender identity, about my attraction to femmes and to the so-called “gender binary,” about why dualisms are fascinating and important and celebratory instead of limiting.

But.

Two things.

  1. If it doesn’t work for you, fine! If you don’t find a particular binary useful, don’t use it. But do try to understand it before you go around discounting and patronizing other people’s values and choices. (Or maybe that was the anonymous commentor being authentically curious about the reasons behind “the lesbians” supporting as-a-whole these dualisms? To me, it just came across as holier-than-thou aren’t-you-unenlightened belittling.

  2. … And this is a new thing, something I’m trying to remind myself of, and remember. I am under no obligation to educate any random person who comes along and challenges my beliefs. For some reason, I have kind of been operating under the assumption that I should, actually, engage with these questions, and attempt dialogue. I don’t actually have to do that. That feels like a weird thing to be realizing – and it lifts a sort of weight, whereas seeing a random post, on a friend’s blog which discusses some ideas that originated from me, makes me feel very much obligated to discuss and engage and argue and support and defend.And you know what, anonymous? You didn’t even leave your name, blog profile, ID, or email. Why would I discuss this with you when you clearly didn’t really want to engage in a conversation anyway? Why waste my time defending and defining parts of my fundamental identity to someone I don’t even know?

This is the difficulty, that I sometimes very much forget, of occupying space within these binaries. It’s somehow unlesbian, and therefore unfeminist, to be inside of those dualisms because they are supposedly originated from the heteronormative gender roles.Before I go to bed (because it is one am and I had just a weeeee bit too much bourbon tonight), I do want to say briefly (ha!) why it is that butch and femme are not reproductions of the heteronormative paradigm. And that is because of exactly the reason our anonymous misinformed friend over at Avarice’s place was saying that lesbians shouldn’t be adopting these “dualisms”: there is a wide, wide range of human gender expression. And these roles are taking certain organized human traits and playing with them, enhancing them, celebrating them.

This is such a huge topic, I could write (and have written) for hours on it. What is butch, what is femme, anyway? I would probably have to define those things before really examining their liberatory function. Honestly, the closest I’ve come to actually defining them really has to do with formal wear, and underwear: when I dress up, I wear a suit. It is how I feel most comfortable. When I wear briefs, I feel sexy. And that physical gender expression actually makes my actions, hobbies, and interests all the more interesting – I think – because they are not necessarily in conjunction with your perceived idea of who I will be, because of my gender expression. And that, right there, is an act of subversion.

Those are the moments in the binaries and dualities that are the whole purpose, to me. When two seemingly mutually exclusive things occupy the same space: boy and girl. Love and violence. Power and surrender. That is how things feel made whole, balanced, right.