14 ways of looking at New York

  1. Fall is absolutely my favorite time of year. Fall is New York’s very best season. Let me always visit New York in the fall.
  2. There are so few dogs in New York City. This makes me inexplicably sad.
  3. I can’t write about New York without talking about New York as an ex-lover, as a former sanctuary that now is only causes pain when I think about it.
    a) It is easier for me to be in a relationship with NYC when I’m alone. My favorite times here were wandering the city alone, engaging, observing; the smells, the energy, when my attention is really devoted to the city. Maybe I am monogamous with cities. Maybe I should live in a city that has no soul such that I can have richer human connection.
    b) Sometimes it feels like NYC is the root of all of my bad decisions, all of the ghosts that haunt me.
    c) … Something as of yet unarticulatable.

  4. I ache for the past, but I don’t miss the drama.
  5. I miss New York City. I could live here. Could I live here? It’s not as scary as I remember. Except the fear, destruction, dysfunction are lurking under the surface, I know they are.
  6. And then I walk around a corner and the entire wall of some high-end sunglasses store is a motherfucking SHARK that is about to attack and I will never survive here. And I can’t even take a picture because your phone is dead and this wouldn’t translate.
  7. The bar for what behavior is “crazy” seems so much lower. “Well, that dog [on the subway] looks well fed, even if it is wearing a superman halloween costume (though it’s well past halloween) and has a pacifier around it’s neck. That homeless woman muttering to herself whom it’s attached to probably treats it okay.”
  8. The cliche of it all. Cabs honking in Times Square, traffic stopped in the intersection as the light changes. A thick male Jersey accent yells: “Shaaaat Aaaap! Knaaak it aaaff!” And everyone around me laughs. “That was perfect!” a woman with a Long Island accent next to me quips.
  9. I think I should only go to musicals alone. They make me cry and cry and cry. They are always, always worth the money. I never regret it.
  10. When the exit is at the opposite end of the train platform, I feel like an amateur.
  11. When someone passes me, walking faster than I am, on the subway platform or sidewalk, I feel like an amateur.
  12. I love New York. I’m not sure I realized it.
  13. I hate New York. I could never afford to live here again.
  14. Maybe if I lived here again, I wouldn’t be trying to figure out all those things I figured out the first time: gender orientation butch/femme lust/longing how to fight how to fuck how to heal how to survive. Maybe the next time I’ll have a vision for how NY and I could collaborate, and I wouldn’t become this hollowed out version of myself, waiting for a strong wind to blow down the Hudson and reanimate me.

The Ten Sugarbutch Cock Commandments

I’ve been teaching strap-on workshops for about six years now, and I’ve been strapping on for about fifteen. I also coach people to have more cock confidence (and to find the perfect cocks & harness for what they need). With all of this experience, I have some pretty strong opinions and philosophies about strap-on cocks and strap-on sex, and I have a lot of knowledge about what works for people and what doesn’t work.

But hey, remember that these are just my best ideas for strap-on play and philosophy at the moment. I reserve the right to change my mind and evolve my opinions about them later. Your best ideas may be different, and you might disagree with some of these—that’s a-okay by me. Just take what applies to you, and let go of the rest. If by chance I missed your personal favorite Cock Commandments, I invite you to leave them in the comments!

So here they are …

The Ten Cock Commandments

1. All bodies have holes

Male, female, men, women, queers, trans grrrls, trans fags, genderqueer folks, butches, femmes, fairy boys, bears, leather daddies, lesbians, bend over boyfriends, pro doms—whoever we are, all of our bodies have holes. All of our bodies have things that can fit into those pretty little holes, too: like tongues, fingers, toes, or even factory-installed dicks (if by chance you have one of those). And, because technology is awesome, we have dozens and dozens of options of sexytimes tools that we can add to our adult play time that might possibly feel good in those holes. Playing with penetration doesn’t make you straight, it doesn’t make you gay, it doesn’t make you masculine, it doesn’t make you anything that you aren’t—it only means you like to play with penetration.

Though we all have holes, not all of us like the sensation of things in our holes, for whatever reasons. Some people like lots of big huge things shoved in all their holes at once; some people like only teeny tiny things in this hole, but big things in that hole; some people like only this one hole touched on the outside. The trick is to find what sizes and sensations are just right, for you and for your lovers, and then respect the shit outta that.

2. Use sexy words to talk about it

Just like our factory-installed genitals, we all have different words that resonate for us and that really, really turn us off. Figure out which words work for YOU, share that with your partner, and then call it what you (and they) like to call it.

Here’s some tips: I would suggest against using words like “fake,” “pretend,” “faux,” “plastic,” and “dildo.” While they might be technically the correct terms for the item, once it becomes an extension of your (or your beloved’s) body, let me assure you: it can feel very real, and using words that support that connection rather than separating it can be empowering and validating. Some people like to give it a name—I just heard a poem where a femme kept referring to her cock as “Miss Big Red,” and then later, just “Red,” which was really hot. Some keep the name that the cock came with (Vixen Creations has some awesome names, like “Outlaw” and “Buck” and “Maverick”). Talk about it with your lovers and use the words that you—and they—find sexy and exciting.

3. It is an extension of your body

This tool is more than a toy: It can become an extension of your body. My advice? When you put it on, take a few deep breaths and feel into it. Put your finger on the very tip and see if you can feel your energy all the way into the shaft and weight and length and girth of it. Wear it around the house when you are doing chores or doing homework to get used to it. Put it on and jerk off with it, play with it, include it in your solo explorations. The more you get used to having it on your body, the more easily it’ll feel like an extension of you.

4. Fake it till you make it

But what if you just don’t feel it, don’t feel connected to it? Well, for now, I suggest you just fake it. Don’t lie about it—but make up in your head what it would feel like if you could feel it, and go from there. Experiment. Channel your favorite porn star and the way they drive their beautiful tool with such grace and ease and respect. (Don’t have a favorite porn star who straps on and plays? Maybe you should do some research, and find one!) Really feel into it and see what kind of sensations you can feel, and focus on those. A lot of strapping on and playing and “feeling” a strapped-on cock is mental, so be curious and open to expanding what you thought was possible.

5. A cock can be a top OR a bottom

Just because you’re the one wearing the cock doesn’t mean that you have to be the one in charge of the fuck, or the top or the dominant. Bottoms wear cocks, too! Being tied down to the bed and watching your lover lower themself down onto your shaft, riding and thrusting away on your cock, which is all exposed and hard and ready for the taking? That can be a very submissive place to play with. And if your dominant wants you to strap on and fuck them, aggressively, hard, with fervor? Well, do your service really well and perform just how they ask. Just because you’re the one doing the penetrating doesn’t mean you’re in charge.

6. Wrap your tool

Safer sex protocol applies to playing with strap-ons, too. Know your status, get tested, and increase your awareness of STIs and how to talk to lovers and play partners about them. If you’re monogamous with your partner, you may not need to wear a condom every time, but it’s still a good idea to do a deep clean every once in a while, and make sure you do a quick soap and water wash before you use it, and preferably after, too, to keep your materials in good shape. If you’re a (self-proclaimed) slutty slut and like pick-up play, or if you play with multiple partners, wear condoms on your dick and clean them between partners. Make sure you get good silicone cocks that can be easily boiled. You might want to get harnesses that clean more easily, like rubber, or machine washable materials like spandex and cotton and nylon.

7. Get your own cock

Couples sometimes shop for sex toys together. It can be a fun, sexy outing to go visit the nearest (hopefully queer-friendly, feminist, independent—if you’re lucky enough to have one of those in your area) sex toy store and look at all the goodies. But that often means that the sex toys expire when the relationship does.

Cocks and harnesses can be a little bit different than that. Often it’s not just a cock, it’s your cock. Perhaps you want it to match your particular style, in color or decor or shape. Or you might want to get one that compliments your body frame, your weight, your size, or your skin tone. Keep in mind that making it match your body frame might actually mean that you get a much, much smaller cock than you might ideally want (which is one of the most exciting things about being able to strap on and store your dicks in a drawer—you can have more than one!). Same with harnesses: It is often best to get one that fits for your body, and what is best for your body might not be best for your partner’s body.

I know finance is sometimes a limitation to getting the exact right product for you when you’re in a partnership; of course it’s totally fine to share toys. These products are expensive! But when you do invest as a couple, be willing to have a conversation about what will happen to the dick and harness if and when your relationship ends. Whose will it be? Will you have a little ritual and recycle it through a sex toy recycling program? Will you split up the harness and the cock? Be clear about it. And if you have the means, invest in your own cock.

8. You have a dick, but don’t BE a dick*

Much of the sexual assault and violence perpetrated in this culture is about violating people’s holes. I don’t say that to be a downer and to ruin the sexytimes mood of all this strap-on fun stuff, but rather to encourage you to be mindful and sensitive about strapping on and playing.

It is a rare and intimate thing, to cross the barrier of someone’s skin and actually go inside of them. There are so few places where we do that, generally our skin is a very effective boundary. Doctors, dentists, health care, and sex play are really the only places that happens.

Keep in mind that you never, never have the right to enter another person’s body. When you are lucky enough to have the permission to do so, you better come from a place of deep respect and reverence. I don’t care if you have a 24 carat gold-plated dick, they are giving you a beautiful, intimate, vulnerable gift by letting you come inside their body, and you better respect that. Be kind, be aware, and be responsible.

* For the record, I think we should abolish using the words for genitals to insult people, because I think it tends to reinforce cultural norms that our genitals are dirty and bad. But please forgive me this one time, since I couldn’t resist the word play of that particular title!

9. Your orgasm is your responsibility

Your dick is not a magical instrument that will give people orgasms just by touching them, or just by putting it in and out of their hole. Most of us don’t have bodies who can come from penetration alone, regardless of the hole that is penetrated. Fuck yes, it can feel good, and can lead to a whopping big explosive orgasm, but most of us need some sort of other stimulation at the same time. Maybe it’s a vibrator on our clit, or a mouth on our factory-installed dick, or some dirty words whispered in our ear, or some physical restraint to struggle against. That’s the fun part: What do your lovers need in order to get them tipped over the edge? Ask them, discuss it with them, and experiment!

If you are the one strapped on, you probably won’t come just from having the base of a strap-on pounding against your pubic mound. Experiment with sensation and see if you can reproduce your favorite ways to get off. Do you need something inside you? Something in your ass? Some vibration? More direct stimulation on your clit? There are ways to make that happen and strap on at the same time. You just gotta be creative, and try some things out.

Either way, you’re the one who best knows how you get off and what feels good for your body. Ask your lover to help get you tipped over the edge, but know that your orgasm is your responsibility, and you are way more likely to get what you want if you’re able to articulate what would feel pleasurable for your body.

10. Use the right tool for the right job

Or, at least, make sure you have the right expectations. The different holes on our bodies have different capacities, and what one hole can take might not translate to what another hole can take. Same for multiple partners—some people can take a lot, some people can not take as much. Can you afford ten different cocks so you can pick and choose a long, slender one when you want to do some ass play with this person, and a different thinner, shorter one when you want to receive blow jobs, and a big giant thick one for that one lover who is a size queen? Then lucky you! But most of us can’t afford that. So get a really good, solid, average-size cock (I usually suggest something in the range of 1.25”x6.5”), and adjust your expectations: You might only get to use the tip of it in one hole, or the first half of it in another, and you might want to supplement with some fingers for the hungry holes (or start with your dick and upgrade to your fist, if they really need more).

There are dozens and dozens of cocks, harnesses, and accessories for strapping on and playing. I’ve got a huge archive of reviews here on Sugarbutch, so browse through those to get a feel of what might be the right tool for YOUR specific jobs.

Is genderqueer (or butch) a stepping stone to transitioning?

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Question: if you had been assigned male at birth, all else remaining constant, do you still think you would have identified as genderqueer? i.e. how much of it do you think is an innate identity inherent to who you are, and how much of it political? In a hypothetical society where we actually had full gender equality and the boxes of ‘man’ and ‘woman’ were much wider than they currently are, do you think you would still consider yourself genderqueer, or would you then be comfortable being one or the other?

I’m a trans guy who used to identify as genderqueer, but for me it was more of a stepping stone because I was afraid to come out all the way (like gays who falsely identify as bi at first). A lot of what you’re saying resonances with my own gender history, so I’m curious where the difference lies, given that I’m someone who continues to be uncomfortable with misogyny and male privilege but still wants very much to be seen and treated as male. Or is *that* the difference?

—ASQ, on Coming Out Genderqueer

It is definitely true that I don’t have investment in being seen and treated as male, but I DO have investment in not being seen or treated exclusively female. There’s a subtle difference there. And sure, maybe that is the difference between me and a trans guy. Definitely a few of my close trans guy friends have a very similar gender history to mine, too, and then at the final step 128 or whatever, mine says, “and that’s why I’m butch!” and theirs says, “and that’s why I’m a guy!” Being seen or treated as male doesn’t feel important to me or my sense of self, at least not currently. I reserve the right to change my mind on that at any point, if and when it shifts, but that’s been true for almost fifteen years now, so I am starting to relax into thinking it will remain true for a while. Butch feels good. Genderqueer feels good. Trans feels good, but mostly as an umbrella descriptor, as a community membership. More trans-asterisk (trans*) than capital-T Trans, but either are okay. (Kind of like how lesbian and dyke are okay, too, almost good, but mostly just adequate, though not quite accurate.)

I have a LOT of thoughts about all of this—especially how I identify, and my own gender journeys—that are way more complicated than the “Coming Out Genderqueer” article above. That article is purposefully distilled, attempting to talk to people who aren’t in any gender worlds. It’s a rough sketch beginning of all of that, at best, and sometimes broken down more simply than I mean to for the sake of accessibility.

Honestly, there’s no way I could answer “if I had been born male would I still be genderqueer” etc etc. I have no idea. For as much as I study gender constantly, I’m not really sure what being born male would have changed. Everything? Nothing? I just don’t know. I have speculations, but it seems unnecessary to entertain to me. And “if we had full gender equality and the boxes of ‘man’ and ‘woman’ were much wider than they currently are, do you think you would still consider yourself genderqueer, or would you then be comfortable being one or the other?” I have no idea. A society which had wider expression of gender than ‘man’ or ‘woman’ wouldn’t be where I live, so how many other things would have to change too? I’m a buddhist, I believe in interdependence—I don’t think we could change one big thing without a whole lot more changing, too.

I’d say that my most important identification is in being in-between, or outside of, a binary system. Would that still be true if I was male? I don’t know—probably. Assuming that I would have roughly the same personality, would still be a writer, would still really love satsuma oranges, would still crave the ocean, would still get stunned looking at the stars, would still find so much joy in swing dancing—assuming all those personality things were still true, then yes, I assume I would still crave being on the outskirts of things, the margins, where the weirdoes live, on the borderlands (to borrow from Anzaldua). I like the view from here. I get a better view, though it disenfranchises me a bit, too. The edges of things, more than anything else, seem to be where I am drawn. Not to one particular thing—masculinity, or genderqueerness, or transness. It isn’t about those things so much as it’s about being on the edge, for me.

And, a part of me is softly hurt by your comment, of yet another person asking me yet again, basically, if or when I am going to transition. Or rather, if butch is a stop over on the train to maleness. Or, if I was male, would I “have to” be genderqueer. I can’t tell you how many dozens (hundreds?) of people—butches trans men femmes, genderqueer agender androgynous queers, all sorts of genders, over the years, friends and lovers and people who talked about me rudely behind my back, so many of them at one point or another said something, either directly or indirectly, about my—and often, EVERY butches’—inevitable transition. I think butches get this all the time.

I think it’s quite a common story for many trans guys to spend some time presenting as butch, or as masculine identified women in some way, or as genderqueer, or as rejecting gender in some way. Like you wrote—(like gays who falsely identify as bi at first). Yes, that is sometimes part of the story. But it doesn’t apply to everybody all the time, and just because it happens sometimes doesn’t mean that there aren’t people who find a butch identity and stay there, people who never transition to male, who never secretly wish for maleness, or to be seen and treated as male.

Folks in the bisexual identity—to continue to borrow your example—get this all the time too, with people around them assuming, at least for quite a while in the beginning, that bi will be a stopover to gay town. Sometimes it is. But sometimes, it isn’t.

So, is genderqueer a political identity for me? Fuck yes it is. Is it an innate identity? Uh I mean how can we know what’s “innate” and what’s learned, especially when it comes to gender? But say, for a minute, that I do know—I would answer, Absolutely yes. Which one is more powerful? Fuck, I have no idea. That’s like asking me to rank my oppressions, or tell you whether I identify as an Alaskan or a writer first. I can’t hierarchize those. It is a radical, political act to reject the two-party binary gender system, and I like radical acts. I get off on ’em. It also feels like home in my body in a way my body never felt like home when I was dressed up more femininely, and never felt/feels like home when people refer to me by he/him pronouns. They/them and genderqueerness and in-between feels like all kinds of parts of me can be acknowledged—not “the man and the woman,” because for the most part I feel like those don’t even apply. None of the above. But the writer and the Alaskan, the swing dancer and the cockcentric top, the pretty good cook and the freelancer, the stargazer and the reader, the masculinity and the love of ice cream. The traits that I have that are traditionally masculine, the traits that I have that are traditionally feminine, and whatever in between.

I want to be able to pick + choose whichever ones suit me from whatever possible category. And I want others to have that ability, too, should they want it. I think it’s possible.

Also, I’m sorry—I don’t mean to be snappish about this, and I explicitly DID say, go ahead and ask questions. So, thank you for asking. I’m trying to answer honestly as best as I can, and honestly? Part of me is frustrated with that question, and the commonness in the queer worlds. I am heavily invested in butch as an identity all its own, regardless of the other genders or identities that that person carries too. I am invested in butch identity not only politically, not only for other people, but for my own sake. I am invested in my butch identity. Am I going to always be butch? I don’t know. Do I have secret longings to be male that are unrealized? Not currently, from the best that I know about myself, no.

Do I reserve the right to decide otherwise in the future? Fuck yes.

But … I hope, if I do decide I want to transition, to identify as male, to be perceived as male and treated as male, that I will honor the 35+ years (or, I suppose, arguably, the 15+ years, since I was mostly some other figuring-out-puzzling-frustrated version of me until I was about 20) I spent as a female genderqueer trans masculine butch. One of my most touching moments at BUTCH Voices in New York City in 2010 was when someone, during our ritual/keynote, held up a stone and offered: “My commitment to my trans voice is to honor the butch woman I was for 40-some years.” I know that many trans men were never butch, that if they were a masculine-presenting-woman for some length of time it might’ve been part of their transition, part of their path to male, part of survival, the only option they had, or who knows what kind of other things, and perhaps they never fully occupying the claimed identity of butch. And, similarly, some butches are never secretly wishing to be men.

I only speak for myself, but I, for now, am eagerly comfortable and loving the in-between of genderqueer.

The Gender Book’s crowdfunding campaign is funded! But you should still go buy a copy for yourself right now

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I am extraordinarily excited about the official launch of printed, finalized copies of The Gender Book!

The Gender Book is a project by Robin Mack, Jay Mays, and rife (yes, my rife), who have been working on it for years, literally years, along with hundreds of folks who have contributed and offered constructive criticism along the way. The whole project has been released one page at a time for anyone interested in commenting and giving feedback. Because of that, it’s more than just one book written and illustrated by three folks—it’s a community collaboration, one that has been generated (I mistyped “genderated,” hah) by the communities that the book attempts to explain.

This is a big deal.

I have never seen another book like this out there. There are no genderqueer or trans or nonbinary primers in the way that this book attempts—and in my opinion, succeeds—in being.

Robin, Jay, and rife don’t have any specific gender credentials. They don’t have gender degrees, they don’t get paid to study this stuff. This book was a community service. They looked around and saw that there was a significant lack of a clear, concise primer on non-binary gender, and decided to take on the project to make one. Partly because they didn’t have their own research to rely on, they turned to the communities, and launched surveys to get content for the book. Hundreds of people responded to the surveys, and the book has been slowly built from the data, and from the experiences of rife, Jay, and Robin’s lives in the genderqueer and trans and gender non-conforming communities—with their friends and lovers and acquaintances.

See first, they made a mini Gender Book, now called the Gender Booklet. It was just a quickie, but that was so successful they decided to make a full-length full-color book. The book has been available as a PDF download for free from thegenderbook.com since the first draft was complete, though it has never been available in print.

Drumroll please … Until now!

Pre-order the book now, and support their crowdfunding campaign to get this

Here’s The Gender Book’s origin story according to the creators:

Three years ago, my friends and I noticed a ton of discrimination and just a general lack of education around gender in our worlds. We said, “Why isn’t there just a book you can hand your therapist and say here, read page 29 and you will understand, see you next week.” Based on your site’s content, I think you know what I mean. We thought there should be a resource you can read in one sitting. It should be illustrated and as fun as a kid’s book while going into some real depth and true stories. The book should help people come out and educate their friends and family. Surely a book like that exists, right?

Nope … It didn’t at the time. We (a writer, an editor and a genderqueer artist-that’d be me!) decided to make our own book. After three years and countless hours of work, drawing, researching, editing and coloring pages, the manuscript is now complete and we’re ready to go to press.

The Gender Book is launching a crowdfunding campaign in December to get printed hardback and paperback copies of the book made available to those who want pay for one.

The final book is 94 pages, includes the original, updated Gender Booklet as a tear-out, some reprints of the original surveys the book is based on, and more. It’s made to be accessible to everyone—from queers inside the gender nonconforming communities to gay guys and lesbians who don’t understand the new politics of gender to your grandma.

Check out some of my favorite images from the book:


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There are other perks, too. Like for example, some prints of the creator’s favorite pages from the book, custom art, coffee the creators—all sorts of things.

And, if you are so enamored of this project that you want to support it and help out, you can become a Gender Scout, which is the super exciting Gender Book street team, who earns badges doing things like writing poems about gender, making videos, or writing articles (like this one) to help spread the word about the book. I’ve had fun contributing things like this:

This is one of my favorite videos from The Gender Book, which shows the processing of making a page from start to finish, and is basically rife’s creative process sped up 200 times to see it in fast-forward (make it full screen to get the full effect):

Also! As an added bonus, everything donated TODAY Dec 3rd will earn extra $$ from Indiegogo’s #givingTuesday campaign. Sweet!

OH WAIT! UPDATE: The Gender Book has been fully funded! Holy crap you guys. I’m so excited to hold a book in my own hands in the spring!

(Also, did I mention that I bought the very first copy?! I’m so proud.)

(Also, did I mention that after the first 100 donors, rife did 100 pushups while our friend read out the first 100 donors’ names? Hottt.)

BUT while that means that—whew—I won’t be posting every day about how you should fund The Gender Book, you still should STEP ON IT and donate to get your copy of the book. This is the main (only?) way to get a copy, I don’t know if it’ll be printed again.

So go donate, & get your copy!

Coming Out Genderqueer: An Open Letter to My Family & Friends

As published on Facebook, where I could tag at least 20 of ’em.

Dear family & friends,

Especially friends from my childhood and high school years who have found me for whatever reasons on Facebook, and family with whom I’m not particularly close, and coworkers from previous jobs who I have perhaps never had this chat with:

THE “GENDERQUEER COMING OUT” PART

I have something to tell you: I’m genderqueer. That means I live my day-to-day life somewhere between “man” and “woman,” often facing all sorts of daily interactions where the general public doesn’t “get” my gender, from kids in the grocery store asking, “are you a boy or a girl?” and their mom hushing them and turning away, to little old ladies in the women’s room staring wide-eyed and backing out of the restroom slowly, only to then return with a confused and self-protective look on their face, to service industry folks saying, “Can I help you, sir? Uh, ma’am? Uh … ?”

That confusion, that in-between state, is precisely it. That’s who I am. I’m neither, and both. I’m in-between.

You may already know this about me, just from following me on Facebook and doing whatever sleuthing you’ve done about my projects. You probably know I’m queer. But, if you want to know, I’m going to explain a few more things about my gender for a minute.

ON GENDER

If you want to delve a little deeper into my particular gender, I consider myself butch, I identify as masculine, and I consider genderqueer part of the “trans*” communities, using trans-asterisk as the umbrella term to encompass, well, anybody who feels in-between. I’ve been identifying as “butch” for a long time—perhaps you’ve heard me use this word, an identity I consider to mean a masculine-identified person who was assigned female at birth. I consider myself masculine, but as I delve further into gender politics and theory and communities, the boxes of “woman” and “man” feel too constricting and limiting for me to occupy them comfortably.

I have for years thought that it was extremely important for people like me—masculine people with a fluid sense of gender and personality traits, who don’t feel limited by gender roles or restricted by gender policing—should continue to identify as women as a political act, as a way to increase the possibilities of what “woman” can be. That’s really important. And I still believe that is true, and heavily support that category.

Problem is, “woman” has never fit me. I had bottomless depression as a teenager (perhaps some of you remember I was sent to the principal’s office once for “wearing too much black”), plagued often by the idea of “woman” and adult womanhood. I could not understand who I would be in that context. And honestly, I still can’t.

But—even though it is in some ways harder, living outside of the gender norms—this in-between makes so much sense to me.

ON PRONOUNS (This part is important.)

For a few years now, I’ve been stating, when asked, that I prefer the third-person pronouns they and them when referring to me. That means, if you’re speaking of me in a sentence, you’d say, “They are about to walk the entire Pacific Crest Trail, it’s true,” or “Did you hear they just published another book?” or, “I really like spending time with them.”

See? Easy.

Lately, when people ask what my preferred pronoun is, I have been saying, “I prefer they and them, but all of them are fine and I don’t correct anybody.” I don’t mind the other pronouns. They don’t irk me. But when someone “gets” it, and honors the they/them request, it makes me feel seen and understood.

There are other options for third-person pronouns which are gender neutral—or rather, not he or she. “They” is the one that I think, as a writer, is the easiest for me to integrate into sentences. I completely believe in calling people what they want to be called (that has always been one of my mom’s great mom-isms), so I always do my best to respect pronouns, but I still struggle with the conjugations and the way those words fit in a sentence.

Some people—particularly those (ahem like me) who were English majors and for whom grammar rules are exciting—think the “singular they,” as it’s called, is grammatically incorrect. But it’s not. It’s actually been used in literature for hundreds of years. Here’s one particular article on the Singular They and the Many Reasons Why It Is Correct. Read up, if that intrigues you.

WHY THE BIG DEAL?

I haven’t sat any of my family—immediate or extended—down and said, Hi, I’d like you to use they/them pronouns for me. I don’t generally tell people that unless they ask. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about why I haven’t told you, what I’m afraid of, and what is keeping me from this conversation.

I’m not particularly afraid that you won’t “get it” or that you won’t honor it. If you don’t, that’s actually okay. I am part of some amazing trans* and genderqueer and gender-forward communities full of activism, respect, advocacy, and understanding, and I’m very lucky to feel whole and respected in that work.

And really, I believe that the very vast majority of you actually really wants to know, wants to honor my choices. I think you are probably curious about this. But for whatever reason, my (and probably your) west coast sensibilities are keeping us from having a direct conversation.

So, here ya go. It’s not particularly personal, but it’s the beginnings of something, and it’s my offering to you to talk about this, if you want to.

See the thing is, by not having this conversation with you, by not giving you the opportunity to respect my gender and pronouns (even if you think it’s weird-ass and strange and don’t get it), I’m limiting our intimacy. I’m not giving you all the chance to really know me. And maybe … you want to. Maybe this will open up something new between us.

Or maybe you’ll just go, “Huh. Okay. Whatever.” That’s fine too.

If you have questions, or want to talk about all this gender stuff, I am open to that. Ask away. (You don’t always get a free pass to ask weird questions, so you might want to utilize this opportunity.) But before you do, you might want to check out The Gender Book for some basic terminology, concepts, and ideas.

Sorry I haven’t told you yet. I’ve been telling myself that it “isn’t that important,” but actually it’s been a barrier between us, in some minor big ways.

Sincerely,

That kid who was in English class with you in high school,
Your former coworker,
Your cousin,
Your nibling (did you know that’s the gender neutral term for neice or nephew??),
Your grandkid,
The older sibling of your childhood friend,
Your best friend from 6th grade,
That queer who was crushed on you before they knew they were queer,

Sinclair

PS: Feel free to steal this idea for your own Facebook pages.

Review: Jam Body Tank, aka Compression Tank, aka Faux-Binder

jamrws01-tank_1Rounderwear contacted me offering products for review, and while their bubble-butt gay boy underwear is pretty cute, I wasn’t sure it was for me exactly. Then, the Body Tank sections caught my eye, and I requested to take a look at the Jam Body Tank.

Glad I did. I’ve worn it frequently since it arrived.

I really don’t like full-on compression shirts. They make it hard for me to breathe. They knock the wind outta me after walking a block or two, or up one flight of stairs. They shove my chest up into my collarbone and sometimes make me feel like my neck isn’t free enough, like I’m suffocating. They make my stomach feel all weird (and some other digestion things you probably don’t want to know about). I don’t like the feeling of wearing one.

I sure do like how my silhouette looks when I do, however.

So, I picked up a “muscle shirt” a while ago, which is basically a regular tee shirt on top and then an elastic band that covers the stomach, and I wear that over my usual binder (aka sports bra—my current pick being Enell) when I want to have a smoother silhouette, or when I want to wear a button-down. It’s not as intense as my compression shirt, but it still makes a difference.

This Jam Body Tank is a lot like that, except instead of being half-shirt half-elastic, it’s all elastic. It’s a lot more comfortable than a compression shirt, but it’s not quite as effective. It doesn’t create the same straight(er) lines that a compression shirt does, but it does still help, AND I can breathe! Yes!

Here’s the description from the Rounderwear site:

Seamless compression tank that provides back support and definition to the muscles. Its detailed design and construction help pull back the shoulders, straighten the back and slim down the waist.

92% Polyamide Sorbtek 8% Elastane

• Improves shape and posture
• Slims down
• Reduces back pain
• Controls body temperature
• Machine wash

I don’t feel it pulling back the shoulders or straightening my back, but maybe I already have good posture? Kind of doubt it, since I’ve got a long history of shoulder trouble. I also haven’t noticed any sort of “body temperature” control, but maybe it knows something I don’t.

What does seem to be true is that it “provides support” and “improves shape” and “slims down.” Basically, it’s Spanx for men. And butches, and whomever might want to slim down their curves into a more linear shape.

I’m very glad to have something other than that compression shirt to wear to “slim down” my shape and make it a bit more masculine, especially for long conference days like I had this past weekend. Wearing the compression shirt for a whole day (or two or four days in a row) is hard on my body. I’m glad for the chance to review it, I didn’t realize products like these are out there and I’m going to keep an eye out for more like this.

Outside the Boxes: Celebrating the Queer Body Erotic in Philadelphia March 1-3

boxesI’ve been working with The Body Electric School since 2000, since I was just barely out and hadn’t even slept with a girl yet, since the year after I left my high school boyfriend of six years right before I had an abortion and decided that was how certain I had to be in order to become the me I was meeting in dreams.

Body Electric changed and formed and forged my adult sense of both sexuality and spirituality. It has interwoven the two of those things, my callings and my desires, my body and my understanding of god, such that I can almost not untangle them anymore—my sexual explorations are a way to deepen my spirituality and sense of energy and self on the planet, my love of and relationship with the planet is a way to fuel my relationships with and energetic exchanges with (read: fuckfests) other people.

Since I got involved almost thirteen years ago, the work has been divided into “men’s workshops,” “women’s workshops,” and “men and women’s workshops.” But the teachers that I’ve been learning from and am coming up under—Alex Jade and Lizz Randall, namely, who are both queer and genderqueer, Alex being on the dandy masculine side of things and Lizz being a femme—along with my friend and butt buddy (long story) Amy Butcher, the coordinator in San Francisco, and I have all decided that we want to bust open the binary gender system within BE, create more room for trans and genderqueer folks to be able to be included in this work, and to start doing more work with those populations.

And voila, the Outside the Boxes: Celebrating the Queer Body Erotic workshop was born.

It is based on the Celebrating the Body Erotic (CBE) workshop model, which is a finely honed workshop that builds on itself from very gentle interaction on Friday night to an intense community experience on Sunday afternoon. It is a clothing-optional workshop where some erotic touch is invited and possible. Everything is done with deep consent, with lots of checking in with one’s self and lots of trust that the others in the workshop are doing that too, and the work is deeply trauma-informed, meaning that we know and expect that we hold a lot of trauma in our bodies, and when we are working specifically on our bodies and our genitals and our relationship with them, we know many things come up. Feelings of shame, fear, being threatened, memories. Lots of things that we may have the ability to actually bring up in a safe enough container that we can let it go. That, to me, is part of the essence of the healing.

But, the integration of new gender policies into the larger Body Electric School has been very hard. The organization is majority run by gay men and serves gay men, probably 80% of the workshops are men’s workshops, and yes, that pretty much means cis men.

We are trying to change this.

The women’s teams have made the decisions to go forward with the women’s workshops as including ALL WOMEN, all trans women regardless of body or surgery or whatever, and all people born female who can bring our female or women-identified parts into the circle. There will be an ALL MEN’s workshop coming soon, hypothetically, that BE is working on. And as we are offering more “mixed gender” workshops, like the Power, Surrender, and Intimacy workshop I’m doing in New York this fall, we are making it “all genders” instead of “mixed,” and inviting anyone with a body to come.

And of course, there’s the Outside the Boxes workshop. It (or another CBE or equivalent) is a prerequisite for any of the more advanced or intermediate workshops. It gives an amazing introduction to how this work is done and what we do with it. It teaches all sorts of basic tools, like consent and breath, and encourages deep embodiment.

I am so in love with this work. I have been working so, so hard to bring this work to my people—you genderqueer trans queer genderfluid gendernonconforming folks whom I adore and whom I am dying to be in erotic circles with. Please come. There are still spaces available in this workshop, though we are going to cap it at 24 to keep it a manageable and good size. Please come. I know it’s expensive, but it is worth every dollar and probably more, and we made it a sliding scale so that we can get as many people there as possible. Please come. Prove to the Body Electric School that this work is worth it, is lucrative, is needed in the world, and is received when we offer it. Please come.

Dear universe, please send a full, abundant, explorative group of people to explore this work in Philadelphia in March. I cannot wait to meet them all. I want more colleagues on this path, and I want more playmates, and I want more support as I pursue this work. I believe so deeply in the power of this to heal us, and I know that my people need this healing as much or more than anybody. It is my calling. I know it’s important in the world. Please send abundance. Love, Sinclair.

Are you buzzing? Are you intrigued? Get in touch with me, even if you aren’t sure if you’ll do it or not. I can tell you more about it. I want to give it to you, want to give you this gift of this work. Are you feeling called? Listen to that place beyond the “oh I can’t make that happen logistics logistics” “ugh it’s too expensive” “I don’t know I’m so scared!” chatter, and see if it’s time.

Here’s the details on the workshop. Please share this widely with friends and folks you might know near Philadelphia!

Facebook event

Qcbe postcard 2013 rev

Your gender. Your body. Your energy. Your beautiful self. How often has the world tried to force you into the gender binary, asked you to assure it that your pronouns matched what it saw rather than what you felt, required that your genitals conform to expectations, demanded that you deny the complexity of all that is you?

What if you could come into a community in which all expressions were possible? Where gender, sexuality and expression were aligned according to your truth? Where no one assumed what parts would go where? Welcome to Out of the Boxes: Celebrating the Queer Body Erotic!

Come explore your erotic potential through the mind, the body and the heart using conscious breath, movement, process work and massage. Awaken the erotic energy that lies within all of us. Through a queer tantra lens, explore archetypal masculine and feminine energies and the myriad ways they can be expressed. Break down silos of gender and sexuality.

This workshop focuses on the entire body and is conducted in a container that is playful, safe and reverential. Using carefully designed experiential embodiment practices participants will:

  • explore the innate wisdom of your body
  • expand awareness, sensation and pleasure through conscious breath, movement, touch, and communication, where each person’s choices and rhythms are honored
  • learn how to more deeply tune in to your body, mind, heart and spirit
  • to receive more fully from yourself and others, and to give without losing yourself
    learn to give and receive full-body massage and to focus on the healing potential of sensual/spiritual energy
  • learn from your own and others’ unfolding, and feel awed witnessing and supporting our uniqueness and commonalities

Out of the Boxes: Celebrating the Queer Body Erotic is a 2 1/2 day workshop (Friday evening, all day Saturday and Sunday), often clothing-optional, for those who are ready to vigorously explore new levels of feeling and aliveness, both within themselves and within a community of queers. Space is limited, so please register early.

NOTE: Couples are welcome to attend Out of the Boxes: Celebrating the Queer Body Erotic and have the option of working together or with the other participants.

WORKSHOP FEE: $250-495. This workshop offers a sliding scale fee dependent upon personal financial circumstances. We believe the work is important and those who need it be considered. Please contact the Coordinator to discuss.

March 1-3, Philadelphia, PA: contact Sinclair Sexsmith, mrsexsmith@gmail.com
October 11-13, Oakland, CA: contact Amy Butcher, bayarea@b-e-school.com

Register on the Body Electric website.

Review: Sexing the Transman XXX DVD

“Buck Angel, master of redefining gender, brings you never revealed secrets of transmen sexuality. This groundbreaking educational adult film consists of interviews and jack-off scenes with four different transmen (aged 20-35). Each scene starts with an interview in which the performers share intimate details about who they are and why they transitioned from female to male. Removing their clothes, they take you on a thrilling journey as they show you how their sexuality has been supercharged by testosterone.”

Finally sat down with Kristen to watch this video. It’s not the kind of thing I would turn on to get off to—and that is generally what I look for in my porn—so I wasn’t sure how to respond to it, but now that it’s been a week or two, I am still thinking about it and chewing on it. I loved the honest, openness in each of the scenes. I love how bold Buck is to ask probing, intimate questions about gender, sexuality, orgasm, bodies, pleasure, transition, and more. And then I loved how each of the guys in this video answered his questions in their own way. I loved seeing each of them do their thing, touching their body in their own way. It’s quite an interesting study in trans male sexuality. Looking forward to seeing the other non-XXX version, and in seeing whatever Buck does next.

Living Gender

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

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

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

I don’t know when it happened exactly.

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

It wasn’t always that way.

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

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

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

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

But it wasn’t all about clothes and presentation.

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

Gender is also about energy.

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

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

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

Oh. Right. My gender.

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

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

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

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

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

Nominations Needed for Top Hot Butches

With the relaunch of the Top Hot Butches project, I am including different people than last year, in a totally different way.

I think this is some of the confusion about including cis men. The Top Hot list is not a top 100 butches list like it was last year. I’m not that interested in hierarchizing everyone based on hotness. Hotness is all relative, anyway.

What I am interested in is community, and bringing people together who experience similar gender identities. I’m also interested in the word “butch” itself, and how it scares many people, how many of us have such a strong reaction to it, like it’s a slur, as it has been used against many of us for lifetimes. And how it becomes a strong, defining word for others, a major hook on which we hang ourselves and by which we define ourselves. Many different kinds of people use this word to talk about who they are, and I’m curious about that.

The new site is more community-focused, with a whole blog component, Tumblr site, and Symposium, as I mentioned the other day. And there is still a Top Hot section. It’ll be more like a database of people you can go browse through and find their work and be inspired by, not a numbered list. Just people, doing good work, going about their lives, with a butch or masculine of center gender.

I’m much more inclined to include women than men, and it will be harder to find men to include, since I am restricting the men included to being butch-identified (more about that below).

I am especially looking for trans women who identify or present as butch, men (cis or trans) who self-identify as butch, and people of color along the masculine spectrum. It’s been easier to find the white butch dykes than anyone else, but I know there are a lot of other folks out there!

Check last year’s list to see who was on it before you nominate somebody. Everyone from the list last year, unless requested otherwise, will be included in the new project.

Rules for nominations:

ALL nominees:

  • Must be active in the public sphere of some sort, or a leader, and well known, in their field. Performers, writers, and activists are particularly easy to point to, but anyone notable in any field is applicable. Yes, this means your girlfriend/boifriend/boyfriend might not qualify. No, having a blog is not necessarily qualification enough.
  • Must have been doing work at some point in the last decade. There are plenty of people we can dig up who are no longer alive, or who were notably butch or visibly masculine women from decades past, but this project is about what’s going on now. Perhaps at some point in the future we’ll tackle Top Hot Butches pre-Stonewall, but for now, let’s focus on who is around now.
  • Can be of any age, though generally we’re talking about folks who are post-puberty, and even more frequently folks who are post-Saturn return, as it sometimes takes quite a bit of time to really know oneself enough to come to an alternative gender identity and expression like these. Age doesn’t matter.
  • Can be of any race, religion, ethnic background, or sexual orientation. That probably goes without saying, but I’ll make it clear anyway.

Inclusions of women, cis or trans:

  • It would be GREAT if they self-identify as some some of masculine of center identity: butch, macha, stud, ag, tomboi, genderqueer, etc.
  • If they do not self-identify this way (or they have a level of fame where they wouldn’t reply to an email asking if they do or not), they will be considered for inclusion based on these things: 1. rejection of traditional femininity, including but not limited to dress, style, and hair; tendency to shop in the men’s department and display a masculine gender expression most of the time; 3. swagger, meaning some sort of masculine energy in their movements; and 4. are out as queer. Some exceptions will be made to the requirement that they are out as queer, such as in the case of Katherine Moennig, where she is very clearly queer but has not made official statements regarding such.

Inclusions of men, cis or trans:

  • Must self-identify as butch. Either you know that they identify as butch, because they’re your friend or you’re aware of their work, or they have made some sort of public statement that says they identify as butch.

Inclusions of genderqueer folks that identify as outside of the binary:

  • Should self-identify as some of masculine of center identity: butch, macha, stud, ag, tomboi, etc., and be interested in being included in a database of butches.

How to nominate:

Email me, or comment on this post, with the following:

  • Name of the person you’re nominating
  • What they do (writer, performer, activist, lawyer, whatever)
  • Link to or attached recent photograph, at least 640×480 (landscape) and better yet, cropped to 700×400
  • Link to their website, Myspace, Twitter, or other web presence for more information about their work

Aside from Top Hot Butches, I am also compiling a list of butch-identified bloggers. If you are a butch-identified blogger, or if you read a blog by someone butch-identified who you like, will you please leave a link to them here and I’ll add them to my list. I have quite a few that I know of, of course, but I’m sure I don’t know you all! Even if you think I probably have yours, leave it anyway just to make sure?

And a huge thank you for your help with this project! It is coming together, and I’m really excited to show it to everyone.

Ten Ways I Am A Gender Outlaw

Today is the last day on The Great Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation Blog Tour, and I’m closing it out. Thanks, Kate and Bear. Thanks, Seal Press.

It’s a fantastic book. I laughed, I cried. Would you expect anything less?

There were a lot of pieces about trans experiences, not as in one singular trans experience, but people writing about their lives and what it’s been like to have the experience being gendered like they are in the world. A few other pieces were by cisgender femmes—but I have yet to read a piece in there talking about butch experiences. Now, it is a book focusing on trans identity, primarily, so maybe stories and essays about butch experiences don’t even belong here. That’s okay, I don’t have to see myself reflected in every single book about gender, sometimes it might not fit.

But it got me thinking: what’s my relationship to the term and identity “trans?” Is butch a trans identity? And what are the ways that I am a gender outlaw?

I do see butch as falling under the trans umbrella, as a sort of trans identity, because butch is a masculine identity on a woman (or, should I say, “woman”), and that is not what our culture defines as what a woman does. I am trans in that I transcend the binary, I transform the binary. I believe in more than the binary, and partly because of that I also believe that a masculine expression on a female body is a completely legitimate expression of “woman,” and that therefore it may not be a trans identity.

However … that’s not the dominant cultural acceptance of the way woman-ness can be expressed, that’s for sure. And I have learned more about gender—both mine and cultural systems of gender—from the trans movements than anywhere else. I find my gender has more in common with many trans folks than it does with anybody else, in part because of the intentionality and thoughtfulness behind it. So I still have an identification with trans. Though not without hesitation—which is why I say “a sort of trans identity” whenever I’m talking about it. I do understand how it could be, and I understand how it could not be. I guess I fall somewhere in the middle, sometimes feeling more trans than not, sometimes feeling not trans.

Regardless, though, a butch identity is outside the law, and is an outlaw. In this case, it’s not necessarily that I’m outside of the actual legal law, though we could talk about the ways that we still haven’t passed an ERA (wtf?) and that my sexuality in this country makes me a second-class citizen, but we’re not talking about sexuality here: we’re talking about gender.

And my gender, though perhaps not outside of the legal law, as it is no longer dictated that I wear at least five pieces of women’s clothing (can you imagine!? It was not so long ago), is outside of social law. Society has certain laws that I break all the time, by crossing back and forth between “male” space and “female” space, by presenting masculine in this world, by passing sometimes and not passing other times, by dating women, by being a feminist, by challenging misandry and misogyny and other ways that masculinity is constructed.

Here’s some other ways I’ve been thinking about that make me a Gender Outlaw:

10. I shop in the men’s department. I know this seems both like a given (duh) and like not a big deal, it actually can be. Getting a salesperson to help me is pretty difficult. Making a decision to either use the dressing room in the men’s department, or carry everything back to the women’s department, or not try on anything and make my shopping trip twice as long when I need to come back to return the things that don’t fit, can take up more space in my head than it needs to. Sometimes I get shoo’d out of the women’s dressing room, or at the very least I get disapproving and confused glances by other shoppers—both in the men’s department, women’s dressing rooms, and at the check-out. It’s more complicated than one would expect to keep shopping for men’s clothes, to crossdress, basically. And at this point, the only thing I don’t buy in the men’s department is binders (bras).

9. I visit a barber once a month. Inserting myself into traditionally men’s spaces is tricky, sometimes dangerous. Though I live in a very tolerant city, I still come across plenty of men in these spaces who are skeptical, giving me shifty sideways eyes, at best, and outright homophobic at worst. I continue to walk in there like I belong and request the same services (at the same price—which is also sometimes a problem) that any of the guys get. Aside from the barber, I get my shoes shined, I sometimes get my nails done or my eyebrows waxed—yes, I admit to a certain level of metrosexuality that goes with my masculinity. But it’s all for sex, people. I do it for the sex. And the pure joy that comes with a dapper presentation.

8. I disrupt the assumption that misogyny comes standard with masculinity. I treat women well, and I take that seriously. I do not believe femininity is any easier (or harder) than masculinity, and I do not believe it should be in a hierarchy of any time. I strive to not only believe that, but to live that belief.

7. I like what I like—I don’t let my gender dictate my interests, hobbies, or personality. I enjoy cooking, yoga, reading books, amateur astronomy, meditation, the psychotheraputic process, building community, and I don’t really like sports, or monster trucks, or remote control cars, or many of those “typical” masculine hobbies. I challenge the idea that any hobby belongs to any gender. These are human experiences, and human expressions, and human things to do, and I can choose from any one of them.

6. I research the butches and genderqueers and other masculine-of-center folks who came before me. I know I’m not alone in this lineage, this way that I walk the world, and even though sometimes it feels like I made it all, I only made myself in a long context of many others, and I pay homage as often as I can with respect and props.

5. I read everything I can about gender, keeping up with the latest books (like Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation!) I (try to) keep up with the myriad of butch and masculine-of-center blogs online, to keep hearing people’s stories, to watch as they unfold, to keep up with the conversations. I feel lucky that I have so many stories to read!

4. I see a gender identity as a beginning, not an end. As with any identity, the minute someone tells me they identify as a certain thing—femme, butch, genderqueer, gender-fluid, trans, male, female, whatever—I take that as a starting point, and I am curious to know more, not as the end point, where I fill in my own assumptions about what that means. I keep my assumptions in check. I keep my inner gender police in check, and instead of expressing anything like, “Whut? You don’t seem x to me,” I ask, “Oh? What does that mean to you?” It’s a starting place, a jumping off point, not something to close down the conversation.

3. I make friends with straight men—or at least, I’m friendly with them—to challenge their assumptions about masculinity (and butch dykes). I don’t see them as the enemy. I don’t assume they’re all the same. I challenge misandry in the queer circles. Marginalized communities, especially those who have come up from the lesbian and feminist histories, have a lot of man-hating built in to them. (I know, I’m not supposed to say that, but it can be true.) There is a difference between challenging a system of patriarchy vs challenging an individual man, who may or may not be as much of a subscriber to feminist beliefs as any of us are. Aside that, many queers are skeptical of masculinity—I have seen that as I get further into my identity as butch, and I’ve seen it happen to many of my trans guy friends. I do my best to challenge it when I see it, and ask what’s behind that comment, jab, or joke. Gently, and kindly, but still, to challenge.

2. I am a fierce feminist, and see the intersectionality of many different kinds of oppression and do my best to analyze and check my own privileges while standing up for those that are marginalized and oppressed. I think most homophobia and transphobia is still about a basic, fundamental sexism that believes men are better than women and therefore masculine-identified people are better than feminine-identified people, and I think the feminist theories can be a way to untangle those underlying cultural beliefs systematically.

1. I love my body. I just heard Tobi Hill-Meyer read a piece at the spoken word performance at Butch Voices Portland about how much of woman-ness is tied to hating one’s own body, and it really resonated for me. Despite being raised a bit non-traditionally, despite growing up into a butch gender, most of us are taught by this culture to hate our bodies, and I continue to treat myself with care, respect, and love, in the face of a culture which would have me buff, pluck, shave, cut, dye, powder, or hide the skin, stretch marks, and “flaws” of my body.

What do you think, y’all? Did I forget something? What are the ways that YOU are a gender outlaw?

Don’t forget to pick up Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation at your local queer feminist bookstore.

Countdown to the Femme Conference: Two Weeks

The Femme Conference 2010: No Restrictions in Oakland is two weeks away! And in honor, Sugarbutch is counting down to the Femme

Conference, featuring some important femme books that I highly recommend if you haven’t read them already. Femme is part of an ever-evolving, big, knowable lineage, and if you love this identity in any way—if it’s yours, or if it is the gender to whom you are oriented, or if you appreciate it—you should know where it comes from, where it’s been.

The book Femmes of Power: Exploding Queer Femininities was put together by femme Swedish cultural anthropologist Ulrika Dahl and photographer Del LaGrace Volcano, published by Serpent’s Tail in 2009.

I met Ulrika Dahl at the Femme Conference in 2008, and was excited to get my hands on this lovely book when it came out. It features profiles and essays about femme identity, photographs of femmes with all sorts of varieties of presentation, and discussions of what femme is like in different contexts. It’s a beautiful book, almost a coffee table book, that you can flip through and stare at all the beautiful photographs of femmes. Or you can delve deeper into the text for complex depictions of queer gender identity.

From the synopsis:

What is femme? French for woman? A feminine lesbian? A queer girl who loves to dress up? Think again! Going beyond identity politics and the pleasures of plumage, “Femmes of Power” captures a diverse range of queerly feminine subjects whose powerful and intentional redress explodes the meaning of femme for the 21st century. “Femmes of Power” features both every-day heroines and many queer feminist icons, including Michelle Tea, Virginie Despentes, Amber Hollibaugh, Itziar Ziga, Lydia Lunch, Kate Bornstein and Valerie Mason-John. “Femmes of Power” unsettles the objectifying “male” gaze on femininity and presents femmes as speaking subjects and high heeled theorists.

More information about the book is over on the Femmes of Power Myspace page, and of course you can always order it through your local independent bookstore, or, if you must, Amazon.

“There’s a Man in the Woman’s Room NOT” by Kelli Dunham

I can’t resist posting this. Kelli Dunham, comic, former nun, friend of mine, and nerd extraordinaire, posed a question on her Facebook page about what genderqueer folks do when needing to pee at Penn Station: go into the woman’s room, and get yelled at? Or brave the men’s room’s grime and row of urinals?

In response, a friend of hers suggested she write a catchy song, and voila, she did. Here’s the whole explanation, and the song, in the video:

Check out more Kelli Dunham online at kellidunham.com and on Twitter at @kellidunham.

If you’d like to see her live, she’s got a show coming up with Cheryl B. (who you may know as my co-host from Sideshow), Katie McCabe, Elizabeth Whitney, and Lea Robinson, aka the Famous Lesbian Comedy Roadshow* (*famous lesbians not included) at Stonewall Inn this Tuesday, July 6th. It’s the DIRTY FILTHY RED HOT SUMMER SHOW, clearly not to be missed.

Review: Lesbian Cowboys (Book)

“‘Cowboy’ is a calling, a vocation, not a gender,” starts the book Lesbian Cowboys: Erotic Adventures by Sacchi Green and Rakelle Valencia, published by Cleis Press. And the first review of it I saw online (which now of course I can’t find) said, “This book has nothing to do with gender.”

But of course, I have to disagree. It has everything to do with gender.

I know what they both mean, though—they mean men and women, they mean cowboy does not necessarily mean a cisgender man. But this collection of erotica is full of genderqueer cowboys, dykes, crossdressers, even possibly a trans guy, though the characters in these stories never identify themselves as such, partly because some of the stories are period and set in a time when this language didn’t exist. Possibly also because the authors, or even the characters themselves, do not have this kind of language.

None of the stories came across as particularly smart about gender theory or politics or identity, but all of them have specific life experience of what it’s like to be different, masculine and a “woman” in a man’s world and a man’s profession, or feminine and a woman in a man’s profession. There are femmes and butches, women who pass and those who don’t want to, women who feel the need to prove themselves capable despite their gender, trans male characters who go by he and him as his chosen pronoun, even a leather “phallus” strap-on in a scene in a brothel.

I am quite fond of “The Hired Hand” by Delilah Devlin, which is sexy and tense, about a woman who comes looking for work at a ranch and proves she is just as capable as any man would be. In many of the stories, I like the tough American accents, vaguely southern but also just western, I like the descriptions of the landscapes and rodeo circuits, the mountains and connection to the land.

It’s a lovely collection, and if you like gender play (and butches or masculine women) in general, there aren’t a lot of lesbian erotica collections exploring those dynamics, and this is definitely one of them.

And, as an exciting side note, this collection won the 2010 Lambda Literary Award in the Lesbian Erotica category!

Pick up Lesbian Cowboys: Erotic Adventures by Sacchi Green and Rakelle Valencia directly through Cleis Press, the publisher, or through your local independent bookstore.

Review: Deluxe Packing Pouch

As of 2/8/16 This product is no longer available at Babeland

“Excuse me, could you pass me my penis?”

This is something NOBODY wants to say, especially not in a men’s bathroom, especially not in a women’s bathroom, especially not in ANY bathroom to any stranger whatsoever. And if you, like me, have used those lovely cute little soft packers to have that extra weight and bulge in your undies, you may have experienced that little phenomena that happens when you pull your pants down and they roll and tumble right out of their nice little packed spot and … onto the floor.

Oops. Man that sucks. Not only do I not want to put it back in my pants before cleaning it (bathroom floors, ew) but now I might have to either ask someone in the next stall to pass it back to me, or go in there and fish it out myself.

(I don’t think I’ve actually ever lost my packer in a public restroom. But I will totally admit to having had that nightmare, and even the occasional jiggle when I am trying to piss makes me nervous as hell.)

Point is: I love packing straps! I’ve had the cock sock for many years now, it was an easy cheap investment for like fifteen bucks that makes me feel sooo much better about wearing a packer. The Mr. Right packing strap is out there, too, but only really works with Mr. Right, which is a little bit hard for me personally to pack with (see my review here), I like the squishier packers, they’re more comfortable.

So when I saw that Babeland had a new packing strap—well, this one is a pouch, it doesn’t strap around your waist—I definitely wanted to try it.

I was kind of skeptical. It attaches with velcro to the front of your underwear, and that seems a little weird. I want my packer to feel like it’s attached to me, not to my underwear. And I wasn’t sure the velcro would be enough—is just a regular underwear elastic enough for velcro to grab onto?

Turns out, yes. It doesn’t go anywhere when you just give the velcro a little press. I tend to use not the smallest (mini) but the small soft packer, and it was pretty easy to get into the pouch and is comfortable to wear.

I think I prefer the other packing strap called the Cock Sock a little more than I like this one, just because I prefer that it’s attached to me and not to my underwear, but then again sometimes if I’m already dressed and decide that I want to pack it is kind of a pain to get it on (either I have to stretch out the elastic to pull it over my jeans, or I have to undress. Annoying), and with this Packing Pouch I can just slip it in whenever I think of adding it to my outfit. Both are easily hand washable, and while I can’t say how long the Pouch is going to last, I know the Sock has lasted for quite a long time and it seems that the Pouch is slightly higher quality material. Hm, it’s a toss up, I’m not sure which one I like better.

Definitely worth trying if you like to pack, and if you use the soft packers.

The Deluxe Packing Pouch was sent to me from Babeland for review. Pick up other sex toys from Babeland, still my favorite feminist, queer, friendly, educational neighborhood sex shop.

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.

On Femme Invisibility

G at “Can I Help You, Sir?” asked about femme invisibility recently, and the topic has gone around the gender/queer blogs a bit, with some great posts and thoughts.

First, and probably most obviously: I am not femme. So I am writing from a perspective of having dated and known many femmes in my life, but I do not experience visibility directed at me, but through stories and my witnessing. I am only an indirect, at best, expert on this. But these are my thoughts on femme invisibility, i.e. femmes not being recognized as queer because of their gender presentation.

This is a real thing. Femmes everywhere and from all parts of my life have told me this. One of my first femme mentors, Tara Hardy, has multiple poems about femme identity, one of which quotes: “I no longer get sad if they ask me at the door if I know it’s dyke night: I get mad. I mean, how much pussy do I have to eat before you let me in the club?”

And early on, I knew I was attracted to femininity, knew I wanted to date femmes (though I wasn’t quite sure how). The revelation that there are gay women who like to be feminine, and that I don’t have to chase straight women who will, probably, by definition, leave me to date men, was a relief. But I know that that’s not so easy to grasp for many people.

At the Femme Conference in 2008, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha said in her keynote address, “Femme invisibility is bullshit. You just don’t know how to look.” And I wanted to stand up and scream FUCK YEAH, because sometimes when femmes say “I feel so invisible” I want to say, but I SEE YOU! But I know I don’t always, not every single time, and I know I don’t make up for the other thousands of people who don’t see you, or for the discrimination and rejection from the queer communities that seems to continue, despite that femmes are a very significant part of queer communities.

One of the bottom-line issues about femme in/visibility, for me, is that it is a form of gender discrimination. When someone refuses to recognize a femme as queer, that person is saying, straight women are feminine, dykes are not, therefore your gender presentation trumps anything that might come out of your mouth about how you identify or who you are, and I am more right than you are about your identity. The sex-gender assumption is too strong and too fundamental for many people to be allowed to be overridden.

And gawd if that doesn’t get my boxers in a twist.

Especially since, let’s be honest, I fetishize the theorization of gender a little bit (or, um, maybe a lot), so the verbal explanation of gender and sexuality that femmes are pretty much required to do (because the sex-gender assumption is so strong) is all the more hot to me, and even sometimes MORE valid than the androgynous or rejection of femininity presentation of many other dykes and queers. Because, I mean, your strappy sandals are really hot, don’t get me wrong, but if you can’t use words to talk about femininity and sexuality and dykeness and a claim to queer culture and an acknowledgment of the complications of living in a culture which heteronormatizes femininity, are you going to get my blood pumping? Probably not. The femininity without the intention behind it is less appealing – to me, personally – than the ability to explain it.

From what I can tell, the issue of femme invisibility is at least threefold: visibility to straight folks, visibility to queer folks, and visibility to femmes themselves.

Passing: In/visibility to the Straight World

Not being seen as queer and recognized as radical by straight folks is a common complaint I hear from femmes. There is an added burden of constantly having to come out verbally, constantly having to remind the folks around you that you are queer, constantly having to deflect and defend yourselves against unwanted straight male attractions, since in this culture the display of femininity is presumed to be for the attraction of men, men’s gaze, men’s sexual advancement. It is seen as an invitation to being hit on, in fact. A girl out on the town and all dressed up in heels, dresses, lipstick, must be trying to “catch a man.” Of course, this isn’t true. Whoever this girl is, she could be wearing those things for all kinds of reasons, for her boyfriend, for her friends, for herself, for her wife.

And this is constant. Walking down the street, catching a cab, on the subway, at work, at a party, at a play, at a concert, in a bar – everywhere a femme goes, her femininity is assumed to be for men and to attract a man.

(This is also, in fact, one of the reasons femme-ness is subversive, and feminist: it re-creates femininity not as a tool to catch men, but as an authentic mode of expression for onesself and for queerness, disrupting this idea that femininity is “natural” for women.)

This is also called “passing,” and though I have had femmes tell me they like that they get to hear what people say when they don’t know someone gay is listening, I think generally passing carries with it a great burden, not privilege. The burden is that of constantly coming out, constantly having to argue with folks, constantly having to defend one’s orientation as gay when the sex-gender assumption does not line up.

There is also, as some femmes have mentioned to me, the problem that, after coming out verbally to someone (especially a man who is attempting to hit on you), you are sometimes in more danger than you were before, or than someone masculine- or androgynously-presenting is, because the person feels “tricked.” (I’ve written about this before, a little.) This defense is often cited in trans hate crimes, also – this notion that the trans person was presenting some other way than how they “really” are, therefore the hater was “duped” in some way.

Honestly, I don’t know what femmes can do about this particularly, aside from continue to come out. We – if I may speak for queer and gender and feminist activists – are trying to reach the straight world, we are trying to raise visibility and disrupt the idea that femininity is an invitation, but that is going to take some time. I hope there can be some assurance, regardless, that femme femininity is valid and not intended to be a tool of attraction for everyone, but for whomever it is you choose for it to be for. You can’t choose who sees you when you walk down the street – you put yourself out there in a semi-public domain and you can’t pick who you interact with on a daily basis. But you can choose what those interactions mean. And here, you just have a more advanced sense of this sex-gender assumption than they do. You are right. They are not.

Recognition: In/visibility to Queers

The second issue here is the visibility of femmes to queer communities. This, I think, is more personal and more of a vulnerable topic, since femininity (and expression of gender), to some degree, indicates desire and sexual signaling, and when those symbols of gender are not recognized as being symbols of attractiveness or attraction, that can be incredibly invalidating and disheartening.

It is a vulnerable process to put oneself out there, to make oneself available for rejection, to get dressed up for an event, to walk in and think, “my people!”, only to have them not recognize you as one of them. It hurts. It is a constant struggle.

It’s also frustrating to be hitting on people you are interested or attractive to and to have them not recognize what you’re doing as an invitation, or to resist or be skeptical of the validity of the invitation.

I understand the resistance, being on the other side of that equation, of a masculine-presenting person who has been taught over and over not to get caught up with straight women. I know a lot of butches and transmasculine folks who have a history of dating straight women, and the heartache of that inevitable loss is one we learn early. It is also dangerous – plenty of societal factors will jump in to police any attempts to “convert” a straight women to our lecherous queer ways, be it the girl’s boyfriend, friends, parents, or complete strangers, and because of the masculine presentation, the threat of violence is implicit or, sometimes, direct.

Not that this is an adequate excuse for the refusal to recognize femmes as queer, especially after a femme says “I’m queer” in some form or another.

I mean HELLO – butches and transmasculine folks and all of you queers and fucking everybody, while I’m on the subject – can we please just start to practice believing a feminine woman when she says she’s queer? Stop questioning her agency. Stop forcing her to defend herself. Stop being an ignorant idiot and realize that femmes exist and are real and valid queer identities. Any time you call a femme’s queerness into question, that is what you are doing.

Yeah so some of you might’ve had your heart smashed by a feminine straight girl in the past. I know. That sucks. You might be skeptical that you could get hurt again. Yep, okay, that’s valid. Entering into any relationship requires you to put yourself out there a little, and involves some risk. But regardless of her orientation, you might get hurt. Regardless of whether you marry this girl or date her for ten years or one year or just have a one night stand or just buy her a drink or walk away in one minute, she could hurt you. (No wait – she could reject you. You can choose whether or not that rejection is painful. But that’s a slightly different topic.)

Also: I’d like to put out there that, when in a queer space, it is okay to assume that the people in attendance are queer. Now, this does not mean that everyone is there for your own personal pleasure, and that it’s okay to blindly hit on anyone and everyone, so the “don’t be an asshole” rule obviously still applies. But if there’s a feminine person over by the jukebox at the dyke bar, it is more likely that she is gay than not. She still might not be – but if she’s in a dyke bar, and you are nice and thoughtful and polite and reasonable and respectful, it isn’t a problem to assume that she’s gay and to ask her if you can buy her a drink or tell her that you like her shoes. If she’s not gay, okay, depending on your goals of the evening (to pick someone up vs to converse with interesting people vs something else), be polite. If she is gay, that still doesn’t mean she’ll sleep with you. You might not be her type. She might be taken. You might be her type and she might not be taken, but she still might not sleep with you because for whatever reason, she doesn’t want to. Oh well! If you can, don’t take it personally, and move on.

Proof: In/visibility to Oneself

In the post Alphafemme wrote about femme invisibility, she touched on something very interesting:

It starts with not being able to see myself. That must be at the very root of it. As a little girl … I loved tea parties and dollhouses and dresses and patent leather shoes, I loved American Girl dolls and dress-up and imagining my future wedding. I was obsessed with … figure skaters and ballerinas. I fit snugly into my gender box. No questions asked. … it took me quite a long time to come out to myself. … There was no way I was gay. It just didn’t make sense. I was a girl. I was supposed to like boys. That was that. … Understanding of sexuality is so, so so tied up with gender. That’s really what makes femmes so invisible. To ourselves as well as to others. There often aren’t any outward signs that we digress from the norm. They’re all inward. And society tells us (all of us, not just femmes) all the time that the inward things? Are figments of our imagination. … So unless you look different, unless there’s some physical proof of it (whatever it is), there’s plenty of room for people to doubt you. And judge you. And feel justified in doubting and judging.

What a complicated, heartbreaking, turning-ourselves-inside-out that coming to a new identity process is. And when it is not marked by physical proof, when someone looks the same, there is no particular indication that Something Big Has Changed, so how do we know? By speaking of it, by talking about it, by documenting it in some form. Still, so much of the data we take in is visual, so even when our minds take in that something is different, if we don’t see the physical proof, it might not register the same way. I think this is also partly why the process of coming out as a dyke often involves things like cutting one’s hair off – which is the rejection of femininity and the association that femininity is performed for the attraction of men, yes, but also a physical marker that something has changed.

These are just things that are “true,” according to our culture: femininity is a tool for the attraction of men; dykes reject this and therefore don’t have to perform femininity; if you are a dyke, you also come to a more androgynous gender identity as part of your dykeness. Sexual orientation and gender presentation are so tied together – that is the sex-gender assumption in a nutshell.

It is a radical and subversive thing to occupy an identity that disrupts these social “truths.” It is hard. It is a constant battle. I think it does change, though, in two ways: we come to a more accepting, understanding place about our own identities, with a lot more sovereignty, so we don’t have to constantly feel defensive and at war with the world; and culture is changing, too. Culture is not a static fixed thing. Queer culture is advancing like mad. We are pushing the edges of it, calling into question the sex-gender assumptions in big ways. I think society is getting more accepting and understanding, as time goes on, and we do come to more solid places within ourselves, and we do get to know more and more people who are like us the longer we explore these identities.

A few more things …

Femme invisibility is gender discrimination based on the sex-gender assumption. It is not about you, it is about a culture-wide unspoken societal rule that says femininity is for the attraction of men and feminine women are straight.

Don’t take it personally. I know that’s more easily said than done, but I still think it’s true. There is not some magic femme symbol that, if you were wearing it, or if you were more gay, or “really” gay, they would have recognized it. This is their problem, not yours. There are many, many of us who recognize femme as a completely legit queer identity, as one of the cutting edges of queer identity in fact, and who know how difficult it is and how deep it runs. Your experience is valid, your orientation is valid.

Of course, femmes don’t always go through the process of invisibility. Lady Brett wrote a piece about the relative newness of invisibility in her life, and growing up a tomboy. There are so many ways to experience femme-ness and queer community involvement and recognition, and while claims to overarching truths can be called into question, our own experiences are always valid and real.

Chime in on this conversation, if you like. What do you think about femme invisibility? What has your experience of it been? What’s it like for you? How do you transcend these frustrating moments of invisibility, both to other queers, the straight world, and yourself? What have you witnessed in your femme partners or lovers or friends? How do you give a secret nod or wink to other queers?

Bent Mentor Showcase in Seattle

If you live in Seattle, don’t miss the Mentor Showcase at Bent: A Writing Institute.

I studied at Bent for almost six years, when I lived in Seattle and was going to college at the University of Washington getting degrees in both Creative Writing and Social Change. I have been quoted saying that Bent taught me just as much, if not more, about writing than my entire undergraduate degree in creative writing, and Bent’s founder, Tara Hardy, has been one of my most influential mentors. So much of what I know about gender, sexuality, trauma, healing, artistic pursuits, and writing comes directly from my studies with Bent and Tara.

If you’re in Seattle, or passing through, I highly urge you to check out some writing classes or Bent performances.

BENT_showcase_final_lores

“All of the LGBTIQ community should lift our ears to receive Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha,” says Bent founder, Tara Hardy. “Her vision stands to rearrange the ways we approach community, creating art, and loving. Every time I’ve heard her read I’ve come away new.”

Bent’s unique Mentor Showcase has become a fall tradition in Seattle. Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, a queer Sri Lankan writer, teacher and performer joins a fabulous line up of Bent writers for this year’s annual Showcase. Piepzna-Samarasinha’s work explores the interconnection of systems of colonialism, abuse and violence. Bent is America’s only writing institution for queers.

Tara Hardy has once again assembled the comic, the tragic, the downright magical and wildly diverse Bent writers who join Piepzna-Samarasinha on the Museum of History and Industry stage November 13th and 14th. The annual Showcase production is a wonderful opportunity to experience great writing before it hits national tours. Each of the Bent writers brings a unique voice, history and insight to the stage. Now in our 8th year, the showcase has grown from a class in Hardy’s living room to become a highly anticipated and life-changing community event.

Bent & Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha
Museum of History and Industry, 2700 24th Ave. E, Seattle, WA
Friday November 13 & Saturday November 14
Doors 7:00pm / Curtain 7:30pm

Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha Mentor Writing Workshop
Lifelong AIDS Alliance, 1002 E Seneca, Seattle, WA
Saturday, November 14
11am-1pm

Tickets: Brown Paper Tickets

LEAH LAKSHMI PIEPZNA-SAMARASINHA:: Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha is a queer Sri Lankan writer, performer and teacher. She is the 2009-10 Artist in Residence at UC Berkeley’s June Jordan’s Poetry for the People program, a 2009 Sins Invalid performer and the co-founder and co-artistic director of Mangos With Chili. Her one woman show, Grown Woman Show, has toured nationally, including performances at the National Queer Arts Festival, Swarthmore College, Yale University, Reed College and McGill University. The author of Consensual Genocide, her writing has appeared in Yes Means Yes, Visible: A Femmethology, Homelands, Colonize This, We Don’t Need Another Wave, Bitchfest, Without a Net, Dangerous Families, Brazen Femme, Geeks, Misfits and Outlaws, Femme and A Girl’s Guide to Taking Over The World. She has performed her work nationally, in venues as diverse as the National Queer Arts Festival, La Pena, the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, Bowery Poetry Club and Asian American Writers Workshop to immigrant rights protests, queer youth center benefits and strike lines. She is finishing her second book of poetry and her first memoir, and is happy about the forthcoming publication of The Revolution Starts At Home: Transforming Partner Abuse Through Community Accountability, which she co-edited with Ching-In Chen and Jai Dulani, by South End Press in 2010.

BENT: Bent Arts, a non-profit organization, is the only queer writing institute in the nation. The mission of Bent is to promote and encourage written and spoken word among LGBTIQ people and in our communities. The concept and work of Bent began August 2000, in the living room of Tara Hardy, Seattle-based writer, performer, and Slam Champ. Since, Bent has grown to a full institute, having served over 200 students, offering a variety of weekly classes and local and regional performances.

MENTOR SHOWCASES: These annual spoken word showcases are a chance to see Bent students, whose works are generating much attention both locally and nationally, perform alongside a writer whose work they look up to and have chosen to honor. Moreover, they are a chance to bring underrepresented voices to our greater communities. The showcases are Bent’s largest annual fundraiser. There have been six other sold-out showcases and workshops since June 2003, with standing-room-only crowds and growing student rolls. The last showcase was housed at Piggot Hall at Seattle University, met with two packed nights and critical acclaim. In these prior showcases, Bent has honored queer writers and mentors: Kate Bornstein, D. Blair, Dorothy Allison, Buddy Wakefield, Juba Kalamka, Justin Chin, Michelle Tea, Ivan Coyote, and Sini Anderson.

This event supported by Poets & Writers, Inc. and GLAmazon

My Evolving Masculinity, Part Two: Yin & Yang

Part Two in a series of five. See also: Part One, Introduction

Beyond the Concepts of Yin & Yang

I was introduced to many new concepts at the 5-day tantra retreat I attended over the summer of 2009, but the one I’ve been constantly chewing on and talking about and sharing and using to analyze myself and others has to do with yin and yang.

Most of us are familiar with the concepts of yin and yang – and many of us who study gender may call bullshit immediately, saying it is a binaristic, dualistic system that does not account for the gray areas, just the black and white. But as much as postmodern theory wants to deconstruct the binary and create and celebrate a multitude of options, there’s a part of me that thinks outright dismissal of the binary is just unrealistic – we are bipeds, we have a long human history of constructing the world in twos, in binaries, in this-and-not-this. Yes, we need more than two options, do not get me wrong. Especially when it comes to gender, there are so many more expressions and experiences than ‘man’ and ‘woman.’ But that said, there is something basic about the binaries – light/dark, in/out, hot/cold – that is useful to structure the world around us.

Most of us are familiar at least in a broad way with the yin and yang concepts. Yin is receptive, dark, fluid; yang is penetrative, light, pointed. Yang enters, yin receives. Yang inquires, yin observes. Associating feminine and masculine with yin and yang is a challenge because I do not want to seem prescriptive – if you are feminine, you are not required to be yin, for example. Gender expression does not necessarily line up with these types of energy breakdowns.

Yin is traditionally associated with femininity, and yang masculinity. It’s probably clear why: the penis/vulva intercourse description inherent in the penetrative/receptive delineation easily dictates how the energies are divided. Together, yin and yang are called the Stabilizing Energies, as they need each other in order to be strong. Without something to hold, yin is empty; without somewhere to rest, yang cannot stand up by itself.

When broken down, yin and yang Stabilizing Energies are the Masculine Yang and the Feminine Yin.

The second type of energies, which was the part of this that is all new to me, are the Transformative Energies, which are the Masculine Yin and the Feminine Yang.

The Feminine Yang is also called spanda or shakti in tantra, the equivalent of ‘life force.’ But not life force in an ommmmm prana/breath way – more like a violent life force, the ripping open of legs and cunt to push a baby to be born. The spontaneous expressions of joy and energy that overcome us. A lava flow, a rushing river of rapids. Pure force, pure energy, intense and wild.

Her counterpart is the Masculine Yin. He is the riverbank to her river. He is the container, the thing that keeps her safe. But not in a controlling, overbearing way (that is perhaps indicative that the masculine yin in someone is imbalanced or poorly developed) but in the way a father coaxes a wild child to redirect their energy, like martial arts, taking the opponent’s force and deflecting it, using it against them. The Masculine Yin is a firm, nurturing hand, the container in which the feminine yang can rest and grow and feel safe. Without the container, she is explosive, sometimes wild. She needs the gentle guidance to be transofrmative.

Though these qualities are associated with gendered words, they are by no means prescriptive or restrictive, and in fact tantra presses that everyone needs to have a balance of all of these energies, and even has some methods by which to develop the areas where one is weaker.

Personal Revelations

Because, well, this is my personal online writing project (a.k.a. “blog”), I am going to take a minute to explore these four categories and how they relate to me and especially my evolving masculinity.

Feminine Yin – Growing up the child of two feminist hippies, and discovering things like Ms. Magazine, wicca, and feminism as a teenager, gave me a very strong base in the feminine yin. I did not grow up a tomboy like many transmasculine folks, I wore dresses and skirts and makeup (much to my feminist mother’s chagrin) in my teens. When I did begin taking on masculinity, my respect for femininity stayed steady and firm and did not really change – what changed was only my own presentation. I still saw a lot of value in the caretaking qualities of the feminine yin. In fact, perhaps more than feminism (which, one might argue, sometimes values the feminine yang over the feminine yin), my base with the feminine yin comes from my mother, who is an early childhood educator and extremely receptive, sometimes to a fault. And while there are some ways I could improve my feminine yin receptivity (i.e. sexually – though I’d rather have a different kind of sex, more on that later), for the most part my issue here is that I am too receptive, too hyper-sensitive, too eager to take in the world around me. I don’t necessarily have a deficit, then, but I do perhaps have an overabundance.

Masculine Yang – I have spent at least the last five years very intentionally developing my masculine yang. That is the energy that more than any others was left out of my family, so I didn’t know intuitively how to reproduce it, and the examples in culture are generally negative, overbearing, misogynistic, even dangerous. I took a lot of time learning how to penetrate, how to be inquisitive, how to investigate, how to externalize my desire. I even moved to arguably the most masculine yang city in the United States – New York. So much forced learning happens here, at times painfully. I don’t think New York creates problems so much as it exacerbates and explodes what is already there, and in my case, New York would not let up, would not let me turn away, and I had to develop and strengthen my masculine yang to keep myself safe and whole. I feel good about the changes I’ve made – I was clearly lacking some masculine yang, and I think I’ve adopted it in ways that are strong and stabilizing, not necessarily in offensive, violating external ways.

Masculine Yin – When I first heard about this concept, this is the one that clicked. Oh. Fuck. That’s what I need. In fact, that’s what I’ve been trying to develop recently, for a few years now even, though I never had a specific name for it. The funny thing is, I am very skilled at being a container and holding space in many aspects of my life – I would say this site does a lot of that, for example: creating a safe space for people to come and interact and explore complicated, personal ideas. I do it in my sex life all the time, pushing the girls I sleep with to a bigger, deeper release, and then holding them through it and bringing them back to a place of safety and care. This happens with Kristen especially quite often; I feel blessed and privileged that she trusts me that much, and that she’s willing to let me guide her through some of these dark, complicated, occasionally painful places, and as our sexual relationship continues to deepen I think we’ve both been able to explore the ways that I contain her and hold space for her experience in bed in bigger ways. And yet … and yet. I can’t seem to do this for myself in the ways that I want to. I sometimes get frightened of my own capacity for “big-ness” and hold back because I’m not sure I can contain it. I need to have better corral over many aspects of my life (my paperwork, my clutter, my calendaring, my obligations) and I know I need a firmer, heavier hand to come along with gentle strength and say no, no, no, to more things than I do now.

Feminine Yang – I’m not sure I trust my feminine yang. I feel it bubbling up in me sometimes, but I’m not sure I – or the world or my partner or my friends or my community – can hold the bigness and chaos that I fear will spill out of me. At the tantra retreat, for example, when I was thinking beforehand about my intention and what I wanted to get out of it, I really wanted to leave my New York crazy life behind, to forget my to do list and the million things that were weighing on my mind, and really find some deep calm and be able to be present in that new delicious space. That, however, wasn’t a problem at all – the whole world and my whole life dropped away from me as soon as I entered the beautiful zen center hot springs space, and I stepped into a deep calm and sense of self that was just under the surface. The challenge, however, was with what came out of that deep calm – this overwhelming power and strength and WHOOSH that sometimes took my breath away. I always felt like I had to back off from it, to not indulge or give in to it, but to contain and control it. I don’t think I ever quite let it out. So I do need more practice with this one, definitely.

If I think about it, it seems to make sense that in a butch top/femme bottom sexual relationship the butch top would occupy more external, explosive yang and that the femme bottom would take in the receptive, containing yin. But in our case, she is feminine in both ways, in both the reception and the explosivity, and I am masculine in both ways, in the penetration and simultaneous containing. I think this is at times one of the frustrations of our sex life, one of the ways it limits us, because I’d like to be able to be more explosive and big in the feminine yang, and for her to be able to hold me through her own masculine yin. We’ve had this conversation, we’ve discussed it in depth and it continues to come up as we explore all sorts of other things, and as I explore my evolving masculinity.

How I Need To Grow

One of the tantra teachers on the retreat shared with me this story, when I went to her specifically about the Masculine Yin, saying, that. Yes. That is what I need. How do I get that?

She said that as her masculine side was pretty weak when she began this work, and specifically did some rituals to strengthen it. At some point, after a ritual, she was so heavily embodied in the Masculine Yang that she felt like she would just fuck anything that moved. She immediately went back to her teacher and said: “help! I am definitely embodying masculine yang, but it feels like I am an out-of-control teenaged boy! How do I control and contain this? What happens between the ages of sixteen and thirty, for men, in their masculine development, that they can handle this wild energy?”

Her teacher said: we grow our balls.

That was such an A-ha! moment for me. Yes, of course: Masculine Yin is all about balls, and, as a dyke, I have a particular aversion to balls, and most of my strap-on cocks don’t include them.

Balls are the literal counter-weight to the cock, the thing that keeps the cock grounded and balanced and in check.

I know my Masculine Yang. I feel pretty good about the ways I occupy it, too. But as my masculinity is evolving, I need to move into a more adult, grounded, Masculine Yin sense of masculinity, and I think if I could embody that more completely and wholly, my masculinity would feel better, and I would feel better.

The next part of the My Evolving Masculinity series is Part Three: “Daddy”, to be posted in the next week.

Bucking the System: Buck Angel Q&A

Buck Angel, the FTM transsexual porn star known as “the man with the vagina” (who has given his permission to be included in the Top Hot Butches list as #62), has started a new show called BUCKING THE SYSTEM where he is taking all sorts of gender and sexuality questions.

The video is also interpreted in ASL by Elayne Angel, who I believe is Buck’s wife and also a master piercer. In fact, I have entertained the idea of traveling to her in order to get a triangle piercing (do I have to warn you? that link is NSFW), which is a kick I get on every year or two. I would really like one, but the healing time (which probably means no strap-on sex) and the things that could potentially go wrong have been preventative so far. I hear she pierced Dacia recently. Also, I want to read her new book.

I haven’t actually seen a lot of Buck’s porn films, though I’m curious – my impression is that it’s mostly gay male porn, not very lesbian, and while I appreciate the, erm, gusto, with which gay men have sex on camera, it’s not what I tend to turn to when I want to get off. But he’s got many, many of his videos over on the Sugarbutch VOD through Hot Movies For Her and I look forward to taking some of them for a spin.

Did you catch Buck on episode #124 of the Savage Love podcast earlier this year? I was impressed with what he had to say about gender and sexuality. I’m looking forward to this Bucking the System series. Subscribe to Buck’s YouTube channel or follow @BuckAngel on Twitter.

“Is it a trans characteristic to wear a cock?”: Cock-centricity and Gender Identity

Back in April, for Sugarbutch’s third anniversary, I offered up an “ask me anything” thread where readers could ask any burning questions that they’d like for me to answer.

is it a transgender characteristic to wear a cock (with anatomically accurate balls) and feel more complete or like yourself when you are a biological female? you self ID with a lot of labels, but trans isn’t one of them. have you explored this idea? – reader

There’s two parts of this question I’d like to explore: first, my personal identity, and my relationship to “trans”; second, gender’s relationship to cocks, and my personal thoughts on that, too.

I do identify with the term “trans,” to some degree. That’s complicated, because I am not transitioning, and I do not identify as male. I feel strongly that it’s important for me to be female, a woman, lesbian-identified, and to behave and look the way I do (i.e., masculine). But insofar as people with my biological sex most often have a feminine gender presentation (setting aside the societal compulsory prescription of the feminine gender presentation), and I do not, I feel as though I am transgressing gender boundaries by my claim to masculinity and by presenting in a way that is seemingly in conflict with the (societally prescribed) sex/gender assumption. I – me personally, my identity, my work, my discussions – defy rigid, polarizing gender norms, and queer gender. I believe in taking this and that from any sorts of presentations around us and re-creating onesself in ways that make us feel good, empowered, strong, sexy, expressive, and authentic. I think we can all transcend our prescribed roles – no matter what they are, gender or familial or societal – and become ourselves in larger ways.

I don’t usually include “trans” in my list of identity descriptors. When I refer to myself as trans, it’s usually very couched in other things, like “my particular kind of genderqueer masculine-identified trans-ness.” I guess I feel like my use of trans and my inclusion in the trans communities is a bit controversial, as there are plenty of people who will jump (and have jumped) in to correct my use of this term, saying that my use of it invalidates the experiences of “real” trans people who are FTM or MTF and who are transsexual, transitioning fully from one gender to another.

So I tend to claim butch, whole-heartedly and fairly simply, really, and leave it at that. Because that’s what I am (right now, anyway, not that I anticipate that changing, but who knows, it could), and though I do think that the identity of butch includes a sort of trans-ness or a genderqueer-ness of occupying more than one gendered space at once, ‘butch’ accurately describes me much better than the term trans.

Now: about cocks.

Specifically, about cocks with anatomically accurate balls, about realistic cocks, about flesh-colored cocks and really feeling it and claiming it as MY cock, about having a cock as someone whose body doesn’t quite have one, not in the same way that other bodies have one.

I want to disrupt this idea that cocks specifically and penetration in general is a male, masculine, or man’s trait. I mean I get it: when considering human genitalia, the man is the one with the penis, the woman is the one with the vulva. But men have holes that feel good when penetrated, too, and women have fingers and tongues and sometimes clits big enough to penetrate, and a long history of dildoes, and then of course there’s the strap on cock, for when we really want to feel what it’s like to swing from the hips.

I was at a sex blogger tea party here in New York City maybe two years ago, discussing cock-centricty, when I believe Chris of Carnal Nation said (something like): “I know I’m a guy and all, but I’m not as cock-centric as you are. When I fuck, it’s with my hands, or my mouth. I don’t identify with it the same way you do, and it’s not my central sex act.”

This seems like a rather rare perspective for cis men, especially given that our entire (American, white, dominant) sexual culture is pretty much built around penises and penetration and the male erection, etc, but I think it’s more common than we’d expect.

Likewise, I have known some femmes who have been some of the most cock-centric people I’ve ever met. They drive a mean strap-on, as they say. And I’ve known some butches and trans men who are not cock-centric at all, despite that it would seemingly align with their masculine gender to be so.

Maybe this perspective of mine is also partly as a result of coming out as queer into a lesbian community which questioned cocks constantly. I have absolutely heard girls say, “If I wanted to get fucked with a cock, I’d date a man!” (Who I, duh, didn’t sleep with. More than once.) So coming to my own desire for using a cock and my own cock-centricty, while at the same time coming to a butch identity though not transitioning to male, I claimed cocks as a certain sex act that I separated from any particular identity.

Because anything two lesbians do in bed is lesbian by nature of the definition, no matter what act it is.

Unless, you know, it’s not – I certainly don’t want to devalue the experience of being in lesbian relationships and doing a whole lot of cock-centric activities, and for one of them to later come to a male identity. Perhaps for folks who go through that, the act was not exclusively lesbian, but was also male in a way. My point is, I want to squelch the fear that lesbians can’t use cocks in their sex play because it’s “not lesbian.”

That is not to say that strapping on or identifying with a cock is genderless. It interrelates to gender identity, presentation, and celebration – but which ways it interrelates depends on the individual. For me, it absolutely plays on my gender fetish and the way I see myself as embodying a masculine gender, and I LOVE to play with that during sex (as, uh, the entire Internet knows). And femmes who strap on cocks and play with them have told me that they see cocks as part of their gender, too – that part of the turn-on awesomeness of the whole experience is that it supposedly misaligns with their gender, that their sparkly pink harness and dick is all the more sexy to them because it’s femme.

I suppose there are a few kinds of cock-centricty, right – because I’d say Kristin is fairly cock-centric, but she isn’t into wearing one and fucking with one the way I am. For the most part I’m referring to folks who want to be the wearers here, who identify with it as a part of them.

If you’re cock-centric, you’re cock-centric; I don’t think that necessarily should dictate your gender identity. Cock-centricity is not necessarily a masculine or male trait. Gender identity may be totally related, somewhat related, or not related at all – I think that just depends. For me, the interplay of gender and my cock is important, and I love the way it feels to use it, the way I feel when I’m packing, the way it feels to get off while fucking with a cock, the turn-on of dirty talking about my hard dick, the ways it drives me wild to get a blow job. It is part of my masculine sexuality, but I have many other parts of masculinity that are not necessarily sexual, and I’ve explored the line between butch and trans enough that, for now, I know I’m pretty firm where I’m at. I still struggle with some descriptors like “girl,” “woman,” and “daughter,” but the other options of “son,” “man,” and “boy,” don’t fit either. So, for now, I’m sticking with butch.

I’d love to hear what some cock-centric (or non-cock-centric) gay boys have to say about this, I’m not sure how it translates (though I have some guesses). I will have to ask around.

Definitions of Butch & Femme

Way back in April, for Sugarbutch’s third anniversary, I offered up an “ask me anything” thread where readers could ask any burning questions that they’d like for me to answer. Given that I’m writing so much these days my pencils are worn down to nubs, and that this summer has been a challenge, I’m behind on answering many of those questions.

Here’s one that I’ve thought about since I read it.

What are your working definitions of “butch” and “femme”?

I know that’s a tricky and possibly annoying question; I ask because I’m currently moving into the recovery phase of a recent gender panic/gender identity crisis. I’m in the process of moving to a more masculine gender presentation and (hopefully?) social role (thank God), and my girlfriend is femme (and I pretty much only like femmes), but then I don’t feel like my gender issues and vibes are very similar to those of the butches I know, and… I’m just really confused.

– Daisy

I do have somewhat of a working definition of these terms: usually I say, in the broadest sense, butch and femme are intentional reclamations and recreations of gender. There’s more to it than that, of course, and these identities are policed by all sorts of social and gender forces. But that’s a start.

But that’s just my brief two cents. I want to know: what are your interpretations of these butch and femme? What are your working definitions?

Say you run into someone who has no knowledge of what being part of butch/femme culture and what identifying as butch or femme means (which, I don’t know about you but, is very frequent for me). Or someone who has only come across these terms as pejorative? What do you tell them?

Or, think about it this way: living in New York City has taught me the strong value of the elevator pitch. Everybody’s busy, everybody’s got somewhere else to be, someone else to talk to, which is more interesting than you. So you’ve got to hook them in with something strong and solid.

So what’s your butch/femme elevator pitch? How do you explain the basics in one sentence?

I’ll have to keep thinking about mine. I’ll chime in in the comments.

A Butch Roadmap

Ivan Coyote (#6 in the Top Hot Butches list), has just released a piece on his column for xtra.ca called A Butch Roadmap, and it really is a must-read. Here’s a snippet (reprinted with permission):

The word for you is butch. Remember this word. It will be used against you.

The word for you is butch. Your history is one of strength, and survival, and largely silent. Do not hide this word under your shirt. Do not whisper it, or sweep it under the basement stairs. Let it fill up your chest and widen your shoulders. Wear it like a sleeve tattoo, like a medal of valour.

Learn to recognize other butches for what they really are: your people. Your brothers or sisters. Both are just words that mean family.

Other butches are not your competition, they are your comrades.

Be there when they need you. Go fishing together. Help each other move. Polish your rims or your chrome or your boots together. See these acts for what they really are: solidarity.

Do not give your butch friend a hard time about having a ponytail, a pomeranian, nail polish, or a smart car. Get over yourself. You are a rare species, not a stereotype.

Trim your nails short enough that you could safely insert your fingers into your own vagina, should you ever want to.

It makes me want to write my own butch roadmap, my own tips and tricks and suggestions and ideas for being butch and pursuing this identity. I’ll have to think on this idea for a while, let it percolate.

What about you – what kind of things would be on your butch roadmap? Or femme roadmap?

Label me, Genderstats

Hello
My name is
Mr. Sinclair Sexsmith
My identity is
academic, activist, BDSM, bookworm, buddhist, butch, compassionate, dominant, dyke, empowered, faggy, female-bodied, female-born, feminist, femme-fucking, femme-loving, Green, genderqueer, gentleman, guy, hippie, intentional, introvert, kinky, lesbian, lover, meditator, metrosexual, open, pervert, poet, prettyboy, pro-label, queer, reclamation, romantic, sacred whore, sadist, sadomasochist, service top, sexsmith, sir, stud, sugarbutch, tantra, theorist, top, transbutch, transmasculine, vegetarian, yogi, wordsmith, writer
What’s yours?

I ran into this Yay genderstats! fill-in-your-own-gender form from a Genderfork link a while ago, I think, but haven’t been able to find it again – I wanted to give the link to the folks at the Northwestern University in Chicago when I did the F*cking with Gender workshop but didn’t find the link. (I still have to write up the workshop notes and resources, which I’ve started, but haven’t finished. Coming, I swear!)

The description says “There are exactly 939 options here, and a total of 4.6469×10282 or 4.6 trenovemgintillion possible combinations, more than there are elementary particles in the universe.” Statistics for this project are also fascinating – 43% of the over 2,000 genderform labels generated included “female” or “intelligent,” but only 6% included “butch.” However, 12% included “femme” – twice as many as butch. Maybe if one added up ALL the femme-like words and ALL the transmasculine butch-like words, they’d be slightly more even, but I think it’s interesting comparing just those two words. More people included “submissive” (21%) than “bottom” (18%), but that claiming those words are more common than “top” (13%) or “dominant” (16%).

Interesting! I mean that’s not exactly a scientific study, but from my experience that is an accurate reflection of the queer communities.

Actually, recently I said I thought it was more common – from my experience only – to run into femmes who are tops, but I’m rethinking that now. (I think I just notice it in a different when a girl is a top, because it means we’re probably not compatible in bed.) Maybe it’s closer to 50/50.

Looking over the list of words, organized in alphabetical order and by frequency, I’m struck that though there are dozens (hundreds?) of words for gender, lots of things about religion and spirituality, lots of general terms for human emotional experiences, some for relationship orientation, but there are very little for class or race. Those things are highly influential to gender identities, too, and should be included, I think. I may just email the creator about that and suggest some additional sections or words.

Have you filled in your own gender/identity yet? I’m not sure my comments will let you paste the whole table into it and publish it accurately, but if you want to paste just the labels part into the comments, I’d be curious to see what other people list. Please share!

Define: Unthought Known

The “unthought known” is a phrase that I first heard through my therapist, when we were talking about trauma and memory specifically. But immediately, I recognized it as extremely useful to identity development, especially in that many of us feel that we’ve always been this way (whatever way “this” might be – queer, kinky, gendered), but never really knew that we were.

That’s basically the definition – something you’ve always known but have never thought about, have never really known that you know.

I remember going through these realizations multiple times as I developed a feminist identity, then a queer sexuality, then a butch gender. As soon as I had those moments which really “clicked,” I was almost confused as to why I hadn’t gotten to this sooner. It was so familiar on a cellular, deep-gut level, and yet it was never how I’d been previously.

One of my former writing mentors used to say, art is a way to get to know what you don’t know that you already know, and I think that’s related – or, maybe more specifically, art is one of the techniques that we can use in order to get the unthought known to become the thought known, as sometimes the creative process can take us to new places and uncover connections to things that are already inside of us, but that are not quite conscious.

I did some research online trying to find more references to it, and there is not a whole lot. It’s a psychology term that was coined in 1987. I did find one interesting essay – Embeddedness, Reflection, Mindfulness and the Unthought Known by Michael Robbins – which is worth reading. Only 4 pages, and it discusses some very interesting concepts related to the unthought known and mindfulness.

What then is the “unthought known”? Christopher Bollas first coined this provocative phrase in 1987 (Bollas, 1987). Basically it refers to what we “know” but for a variety of reasons may not be able to think about, have “forgotten”, “act out”, or have an “intuitive sense for” but cannot yet put into words. In psychoanalytic terms, it refers to the boundary between the “unconscious” and the “conscious” mind, i.e. the “preconscious mind.” In systems-centered terms, it refers to the boundary between what we know apprehensively, without words, and what we know, or will allow ourselves to know, comprehensively with words. (In many ways, although the methods are very different, the psychoanalytic goal of “making the unconscious conscious” is equivalent to the systems-centered goal of making the boundary permeable between apprehensive and comprehensive knowledge.) [… W]e conceptualize the unthought known as what we already know but don’t yet know that we know.

Embeddedness, Reflection, Mindfulness and the Unthought Known by Michael Robbins

I find it really useful to think about in terms of gender and sexuality, since so much of those identity concepts are deeply, deeply embedded but often completely subconscious. What do you think? Are there particular things in your life that have been “unthought knowns”? How did you get them to be thought knowns? What was your identity development process around them?

Poll: What do you think about labels?

You might want to vote in the poll before you read me yammer on about my own thoughts on labels and identity, so I don’t unfairly influence your answers.

[poll=3]

I realize this is a very non-scientific poll, somewhat limited to the visitors of this site, and therefore not a very good sample of the queer communities’ attitudes toward labels … but hey, you gotta use what you got, right? And this is what I got.

So please, leave comments with more explanations (or feedback on why my poll sucks) about your relationship to labels, and read my own thoughts about labels and identity below.

In pursuing this work of identity, specifically gender and sexual identity, one of the first and deepest and most difficult things I come across is the concept of labels.

I see questions about these things all the time: why do we have to label ourselves? Why is the lesbian community so into labels? Why can’t we move beyond labels? What good are labels? Why do I have to conform to someone else’s idea of what I am or am not? Why can’t I just be me?

One of my “gender rules” (something I’m working on, hopefully more on that in the next few weeks) is that everyone is the expert of their own gender, and so thus to always respect however another person feels about their gender. So if you want to reject labels, and that is the way you feel most like yourself, most liberated, most outside of this confining system of gender, then I say go for it and more power to you.

That’s not the case for me, though, not really. I find a lot of liberation inside of the labels – I don’t feel restricted by them, I feel more free to be more myself than I was before.

So I find this curious. I don’t want to be prostelytizing about how everyone needs labels, and I don’t assume that what works for me works for everyone – or anyone – else. But I do know it works for me, and as I’m developing my own gender theories, I’m struggling a bit to explain why.

There is a perception, espeically of the lesbian communities I think, that lesbians are really into labels. From the outside, a lot of words are thrown around connected to lesbianism and queer women, like butch and femme, dyke, homo, queer, bisexual, I actually think the dominant attitude in lesbian communities is very anti-label, very much a rejection of gender identity and sexual identity words. It seems to me that the heat of the community – the visible folks, the young and activist-oriented – are embracing the word “queer” very strongly, which is a much more inclusive term than many of the others, a huge umbrella under which bi, poly, trans, gay, kinky, genderqueer, non-conforming, et cetera, all can come together and find a place.

What I’m saying is, I think it’s interesting that from the outside, this community appears overly obsessed with labels, but once you get inside of it, there are a lot of ways that the dominant discourse discourages labels and micro-identity development.

But when I started thinking through that, I wondered: maybe that is just true for me and not necessarily a truth about the community as a whole. Perhaps that’s just unique to my experience (and, to be fair, the experience of many other butches and femmes, as I’ve heard stories of gender identity development from many of us and they are similar) and perhaps the dominant community thinks something else. But, I thought, it’s not like there is a study I can turn to about what percentage of queers embrace labels!

And, gee, if I can’t use my blog for research like this, then what the heck is it good for?

I hope the options give a wide enough range of your relationship to the concept of “labels” that one of them fits pretty well for you. If it doesn’t, please do leave a comment and tell me, more specifically, what you think about labels, identity, and you personally.

For every girl, there is a boy …

I don’t remember why, but at some point this weekend I thought, “I should find that Gender Subversion poster and put it on Sugarbutch.” Probably to talk about the difference between gender and personality, which I’ve been kicking around in my head lately (i.e., well: they are not the same).

And then, while catching up on my reader today, there it was, on Fourth Wave Feminism.

crimethink

Buy this poster on Crimeth Inc. & support their wonderful work.

A Love Letter to Femmes

Maria See put the original call out for the Femmethology literally years ago, and ever since I first saw it I knew I wanted to contribute something to this unique anthology on femme identity. But what? I didn’t feel like I could necessarily speak from a place of authority on What Femme Is, there are hundreds – thousands! – of versions of femme, and no matter what I know about femme or how many femmes I’ve interacted with, I am an observer, a witness of femme, I don’t feel like I create it myself.

So what would I write?

I wrote a few pieces, brainstormed, but nothing I really loved. Nothing really got to the heart of what I was trying to say, which was … what? I wasn’t sure.

But it hit me on the very last day the editors were accepting submissions, and I sat down and wrote this Love Letter in one long sentence, and spent the rest of the day editing and polishing. I’m not going to reproduce the text here (you’ll have to buy the book for that) but I will present you, here, with a recording of me reading the love letter that appears in Visible: A Femmethology Volume Two.

Hope you enjoy it.

Download the mp3 here if you’d like to keep it.

Thanks very much to Audacia Ray for recording and producing this mp3!

In case you missed it, see more information about the Femmethology here.

On Butch Eyebrows: waxed or natural?

That’s the question I posed to the hive mind an hour ago. And like all terribly important dilemma questions, I got a slew of responses:

eyebrows2

I especially like what Janie said – that eyebrows “should be sculpted minimally to best feature one’s eyes.” Uh, so, how does one do that?

And you’re going to have to educate me I’m afraid: wtf is this “threading” business? I thought it was similar to waxing. Why recommend it in particular for butches? What’s the difference? I’m confused.

PS: I promise I won’t turn this blog into a mirror of what I’m doing on twitter. There are much smut and omphaloskepsis and media reviews and gender explorational writings in progress.

Pumping: How to Grow a Dick

I wrote about clit pumping in February 2008, and since then, I’ve researched pumping a bit more.

Pumping is most well-known, probably, for endless spam emails: Make her feel your Wang! Make Your Meat-Stick Massive! Give Her Real Lovefest! Turns out, the more you engorge your cis-cock with blood, the bigger it becomes. Similar to working a muscle, I suppose – this is the way you work that particular muscle.

And about two years ago now I heard from a friend that clit pumping was all the rage at a particular trans conference they had attended. Reeeeeally, I asked. How does that work?

Apparently, quite well. Some guys grow inches on their clits from pumping. I did a bit of research (i.e.: googled it, and tried to avoid the nasty sites), which is how I stumbled across a clit pump that I reviewed a year ago, and then a great sex toy store asked me to review multiple pumping products and compare them together.

I feel a bit like Goldilocks and the Three Pumps, trying these out – which one will be just right?

The Clit Pump:

This is the same clit pump I reviewed before – I didn’t realize until it arrived that they were the same. It comes highly recommended, though, now, from multiple sources, so if you’re looking for a clit pump, this is probably a good one.

It was interesting enough that I sought out more information on pumping, but ultimately I wanted more suction and pressure than this little thing could offer.

I’m still not really sure what the appeal of a clit pump is for gals who aren’t looking to enlarge their clits – or, why you would want to enlarge it, I guess. Is it simply an extension of the penis pump? Someone just assumed a woman might want a bigger clit? Bigger = better, etc?

Generally, this pump is weak in pressure, and not deep enough in the cup. The plusi s that it is actually made for my anatomy and thus fits easily over a clit, unlike the penis pumps, whose openings are 2″ wide. On to those next.

penispumpThe Large Pump:

More pressure, more depth in the shaft of the device – depth indeed! Like 12″ of depth! Maybe a bit overkill, I certainly don’t need more than two inches max. The opening is big, too – 2″ around, with a plastic sheath inside – and kind of a challenge to find the seal on the suction. In fact, I often felt like I was pumping my labia as well as my clit, because it’s hard to get a seal just around my clit without getting the labia in there too.

It’s a bit unweildly, feels awkward to have this huuuuge long thing protruding from my clit, so it was kind of uncomfortable. After I got the hang of the suction, it got easier to actually pump: I squeeze the little bulby thing to the point of pressure (not pain) and hold for a few minutes (five, not twenty). The squeeze-pump style is alright, but sometimes felt like it was letting out air rather than making the seal tighter.

So, this one is better with suction … but uselessly too long for a clit, and awkward.

penisheadThe Penis Head Pump:

Aha! Maybe this will solve it – still has the pressure of a “real” penis pump, but it’s smaller, not quite as GIANT and awkward. Let’s see.

Suction: still difficult. This one has a bit of plastic built around the edge of the opening to make sure the seal happens, but that’s, again, only useful if you’ve actually got something to stick inside of the pump itself, which I don’t. Once I get the hang of it, once I get the placement right one time, I can usually get it again and it gets easier. But I’m still pumping my labia (not what I want – at times, that’s painful for my labia piercing) in order to get a seal, and I’m not crazy about that.

Pumping action: This has a squeeze-trigger type of pumping action instead of a squeeze-bulb, which I like better. Easier to add precisely the amount of pressure that I’m aiming for, the bulb feels like it lets some of it out sometimes.

Size: Fine … better than the huge one, easier to wield, but still feels like it wasn’t made for my anatomy. Because, uh, it wasn’t.

In conclusion … Oh yeah – there’s an important question I missed here: does this work? YES. My clit is definitely bigger than it used to be, not so much when unaroused, but it definitely gets larger than it used to when aroused. And this is, well, fun.

The Penis Head Pump is the one that I would keep using, were I to keep using a pump. But, I might not continue pumping very often. After a few months of trying out all three of these in various capacities, I’ve noticed that my clit, though noticably bigger, is also, I think, decreased in sensitivity. I’m having a harder time coming now than I ever remember coming in my life. I’m not sure why, but it could be related. So I’m going to back off for a while (of pumping and of my hitachi, sigh) and see if that helps me get off easier.

Have you tried pumping? What was it like for you? Are you interested in doing so? Leave your two cents in the comments.

Cock Confidence and the KinkForAll Conference

I had a wonderful time at the KinkForAll conference at the LGBT Community Center yesterday. Major thank-yous to Maymay and Eileen (remember her story? mhm I do too) and all the unorganizers and folks who brought food (oh my lord what were those sticky chocolate wafer things?!) and attended and presented – I left with a lot of things on my mind and a lot of ideas to take home.

Some of my favorites? Calico‘s presentation on “Dirty Sexy Money” – I thought we’d talk about sex work, but in fact we were talking about money play and the ways that money can enhance power differentials in role play scenarios. That definitely got my mind going. And also, in Jason’s “What Can’t You Do with Vet Tape?” presentation, I learned that you can’t really use vet tape to beat someone up, but oh boy can you ever use it to tie someone down. I liked the blindfold/gag demo and I am very inspired to pick up some of that. A #kfanyc investigation on twitter reveals that jeffersequine.com is the place to pick it up online. And Barbara Carrellas lead a quick sex magic/tantra presentation that had the whole room breathing, visualizing what we wanted. I will definitely be looking up her workshops and trying to catch one full-length, I’ve heard wonderful things about her and her work for years but have yet to attend.


I did my own presentation as well, and at the last minute called it COCK CONFIDENCE in a butch/femme context. I had some notes, but was also not feeling very well, and twenty minutes goes by so fast!, so I had a lot more to say about the subject that I didn’t get to. Here goes.

1. What is cock confidence?

Particularly, what is it in a genderqueer context, with a strap-on as opposed to a cis-cock?

Most of us who strap on have had those moments of awkwardness when we go from the hot-and-heavy making out to “oh my god, this is really gonna happen,” then the sudden realization: “oh shit, when (and how) do I whip it out?”

Cock confidence is knowing when and how, and doing it smoothly so it doesn’t ruin the mood. This does not necessarily mean taking yourself (or your cock) incredibly seriously, sometimes a little bit of camp and sillyness can be totally appropriate and keep you laughing and connected to the hot lil piece of ass that you’re about to fuck.

(I happen to be a particularly serious lover, so it didn’t even occur to me that taking it seriously was separate from having confidence, though I think those are two different things.)

2. How do I get (more) cock confidence?

Two particular things come to mind here: you can develop confidence solo, with yourself, and you can develop it with a lover.

Lots of us have lovers, but they don’t necessarily validate our cock confidence, or perhaps our cock confidence is so low that we want to gain some of our own before we bring it into play with a partner. Do this on your own! Get to know your cock, get it out, wear it, put it on, clean the house, watch your weekly tv show while you’re wearing it. Get off with it on and see how that feels. Incorporate it into your own self-luuuuv rituals.

The more comfortable you are putting it on and taking it off, the more practice you have at it, the easier it will be to do with a lover present too. You’ll struggle less with the buckles and snaps if you have done it a dozen or fifty or a hundred times already. You’ll get the feel of how long it takes when it goes smoothly, so it won’t feel as long and endless of a process when you’re doing it in front of someone else.

Secondly: practice cock confidence by getting with someone who respects the way you want to wear and wield your cock. This, in my experience, is best done by talking to the person you’re fucking, either the one who you are already sleeping with (an ongoing partner, perhaps) or the one you are trying to get in bed, preferably before you’re in bed together.

And this is where gender discussions as foreplay come in.

I’ve written about gender as foreplay before, but let’s see if I can’t go into a bit more depth here. I find it rather easy to bring up gender during a date, it’s often one of my early talking points when I meet someone new (“What do you do?” “I’m a writer, mostly of smut and gender theory.”), but I’m not sure exactly how it comes up or what I use in order to discuss it.

If I’m on a date, I start a conversation about chivalry and the ways that I use it as courtship and interest, as a way to enhance the gender differences between us, and as respect. Chivalry is so connected to gendered interactions, it leads automatically into a discussion of gender. I like to ask about someone’s gender, about how they came to the gender they’ve got, to tell their gender story.

The gender story is a big one – how I came to be the way I am – it tells so much about where a person is at, their past loves, past heartbreaks, what they’ve learned from relationships and what they know now to be true about themselves.

Someone asked me how to make this gendered conversation sexy, or sexual – foreplay rather than analytical conversation. The short answer is, I’m not sure I know, since the analytical conversations about gender really do turn me on.

The longer answer is … what about gender turns you on? Talk about that stuff. Does it turn you on to talk about cocks and cufflinks and gender as a form of power play and femme markers like stockings, earrings, makeup? Talk about that. Is it suits and dresses? High heels and combat boots? Or is it some other version of femme and butch, of not conforming to gender, of wearing boxer briefs under a mini-skirt, of genderqueer or head-shaving and how liberating it is to not have any hair, plus it feels good, run your hands over it. It’s more than just physical markers, too, of course. So talk about that – what does your “inner gender” mean, say, feel like? What makes you feel the most like you, the most sexy, the most wanted, the most desire?

All these discussions of sex and gender are absolutely to determine what kind of chemistry and compatibility you might have with this person once you get in bed, to determine whether or not it’d be a good match. You might be very physically attracted to them, but that doesn’t necessarily make you a good match in bed – I’m sure this is not news to most folks, but it doesn’t hurt to reiterate.

I mean, I don’t really fuck without a cock. I joked about this at KinkForAll – “I mean, what would I DO?!” Of course, I don’t really mean that (and I hate to perpetuate the idea that lesbians don’t have anything to do together in bed, since there’s no cock involved). I have plenty of ideas about what to do with my hands, mouth, fists, without involving a cock.

But that’s not the kind of sex I prefer.

(Obviously, you already know that, if you read this site.) I prefer strapping on. I prefer a submissive femme girl on her knees gulping my cock down her throat, I prefer throwing her onto the bed before shoving my hand between her legs. And conversations about gender, and how I use gender as part of the sex play, are key to knowing whether or not a girl would be into that before we really start to get it on.

I watch what happens when I mention my cock. I watch her reaction, I watch her eyelids flutter as she checks to see if maybe, just maybe I’m wearing one right now (I am). I watch her skin flush on her neck as heat comes to her body.

And that’s how I get my cock confidence.

Any questions? Class adjourned.

PS: Lolita got a shot of me during the Cock Confidence workshop, thanks Lo!

On Butches: Coming Inside

The truth is, it feels embarrassing, really, to come while strapped on and fucking. The amount I have to let go and risk is sometimes too much for my heart to open up.

It isn’t fair to say that she doesn’t have to do the same amount of risk and letting go when I throw her down onto the bed, shove my hand between her legs, push my fingers inside until she’s screaming and thrashing under my forearm holding her down.

But it’s different, isn’t it?

Let’s not say one is harder than the other, it isn’t about hierarchy: only that one is not the same as the other. But, why? Maybe because that’s the way her body is “supposed” to work, biologically it is built to take inside, to be invaded, to tilt the bowl of her pelvis up and open the hinge of her hips back.

I don’t like making generalized statements like that: “women are made to x because biologically, bodies are built like y,” there is so much unfinished in that statement, and there is some sort of deeper, inner sense of gender and self that is discounted because of our binary system of classification under biology.

But there is something, something about the ways that entering inside, being permitted to come inside, being permitted to invade, to be permitted to take and thrust and enter, is not what my body is made to do, so I am on shaky ground, out of synch with what my cells know. There is something so vulnerable about having sex organs (like a silicone cock) outside the body, something so exposing about the ways I get … hungry, desperate for a safe haven, so dependent upon another for fulfillment and satisfaction.

And there is the moment of orgasm: shuddering and losing control momentarily and I don’t even know if my eyes are rolling back and my mouth is lolling open, such a moment of unconsciousness when I usually have such precise purpose when I am on top, fucking her, sliding in and out, rocking against her. I know exactly how this feels and exactly where to put my hands and such confidence in the ways that I am moving. But in that moment I lose that and all I can think of are those guys, those stupid guys in every bad movie where they are completely lost in their own world and the girl is looking up at them with a face like, really? Really. You’re just going to keep going and you can’t even tell that I’m totally disconnected, and that might be my worst fear, that I am alone in those moments of pleasure, so wrapped up in how my dick feels in her pussy that I don’t even know the ways she is not enjoying this.

And then I am spent and small and soft and dribbling and drained.

I know there’s more to it than that. I know.

But there’s a tiny aspect of it that infiltrates my mind when I find myself close, when I feel my cock tighten and balls lift, muscles pinching. I can’t do that, I can’t let go.

Maybe that’s why it has been nearly impossible to come while strapped on with anyone since Callie. It happens, sure, but it is inconsistent and unpredictable, which makes it all the more embarrassing and exposing. Maybe I haven’t trusted enough. Maybe it’s all mental. Maybe I am still terrified to expose myself, now that I see how easily I have lost myself in the recent past. On the inside of every cell wall in me has YOU CAN’T HAVE ME written a hundred times in tiny print. But maybe I need to go in there with a delicate eraser and figure out what pen it was I used, and write something else. Or maybe I need to leave the walls blank and clear so I can see right through them.

Because when I come inside her, and then come back to myself, and to her, like I did on Sunday morning, nearly falling off of the bed, sheets and blankets completely askew, light coming in the slatted blinds behind us, and she looks at me with those blue blue eyes with so much clarity and witness, so much reverence and strength, though there is a part of me that panics, there is also a part of me that has come home.

Gendered Sources of Physical Power: Beauty vs Strength

I don’t know exactly where I first heard it, but somewhere I read once: men want to feel powerful, and women want to feel beautiful.

Now: calm your “oh my god social construction of genderrrrr!” self and let’s start with some further clarification. Women feeling beautiful, in this expression, is also actually a source of power; and men feeling powerful, here, actually means “feeling physically strong.” At least mostly. Agreed?

So really, it’s saying that men want to feel strong, and women want to feel beautiful. These are two – of many – major sources of power based in the physical body.

I know this is a cliche. I probably read it in the context of gender deconstruction and the socialization process of gender. I know this goes along with conventional, normative, often damaging gender role assumptions that value men for their physical strength and women for their physical beauty.

And as much as I am aware that those concepts are socially constructed, I also have seen the ways that they are played out and real for many, many people. So maybe we’ve internalized the values of the culture. This is one of the problems with social constructionism in general – if something is created socially, then in theory it can be uncreated socially, right? But just because something is done socially – rather than biologically, say – doesn’t make it any less real or “authentic” or deeply ingrained in many of us.

And this gendered source of physical power is amplified, I think, in butch/femme culture, where we go inside these roles with purpose to explode them, exploring the socialization and de-essentializing traits said to be inherent in biology. Is it as easy as explaining that we are continuing to internalize the compulsory mutually exclusive gender paradigm? I don’t know, maybe. Certainly that probably accounts for (to pick a completely arbitrary number) 45% of it. But there is something else in there, something deep-seated underneath in me that swoons and grows and stretches its wings and feels so greatly alive when she whispers, “you are so strong, so strong” like she did last night.

And I remembered all the times I gazed in awe at her beauty (every time I see her) and remember the ways she swoons to be seen, femme and whole and holy, and I wondered if I should be saying more about strength and less about her physical attractiveness. Am I just buying into what the culture tells us we should be or say or value?

[ Yet – oh I do tell her I value her other qualities (don’t I? Yes). The depth of her calm understanding and respect feels like such a gift each time I encounter it. I fear it could so easily go the other way, yet she has the connection to the world at her core which means she values others’ experiences. And she’s strong enough in herself to know that my feelings are not about her, and to accept that with grace and clarity. And then there’s her wonderful good moods, her energy, her interest in keeping the spark lit behind her eyes. Her deep ability to feel, to observe, to respond. Her analytic skills, and how she can dissect things into pieces (while still respecting the whole!) and look at how it all fits together. There is much more to her than her beauty, heaven knows I know this. ]

And yet: in the deeply intimate moments, this is what comes out of my mouth: pretty girl, pretty girl. you are so gorgeous. I love the curves of you – here, and here. your skin glows so beautiful in the morning light.

And in that moment last night, when she commented on my strength, my heart swelled and burst like a wave cresting, and the inner cavern of my chest was smooth as a sandy beach, just for a minute, perfectly even, soft, made up of a thousand tiny grains, the breakdown of everywhere I’ve ever been.

I don’t know why it matters so much that I am seen as strong. But it does, it does.

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.

Define: “butch in the streets, femme in the sheets”

I ran across the phrase “butch in the streets, femme in the sheets” (again) the other day, and it bothered me (again, still). So I started thinking:

It generally means – and correct me if I’m wrong – that this supposed “butch in the streets,” once taken to bed, liked to or wanted to get fucked.

This is operating on an identity alignment assumption: that butches are tops.

This notion comes from old-fashioned sexism: that if you are a man – or masculine – that therefore you are dominant. Period always end of story.

But come on – we know this is not always the case. We know butches can be – gasp! – bottoms.

It may be statistically most likely (even if by a small margin) that masculine folks are tops, it may be a stereotype (which, let’s be honest, often exist for a reason), it may be quite possible. But it is an assumption based on identity and presentation, not based on an individual’s personality and interests and unique manifestation in this body, on this planet, at this time, in this life.

Don’t let sexist stereotypes dictate how you see another person. Can we please move beyond that? Can we please work a little harder to obliterate these sexist assumptions in our own radical, progressive communities?

Define: Identity Alignment Assumptions

An identity alignment assumption is the assumption that one’s identity categories align with what is either a stereotype or a dominant compulsory cultural norm.

In modern western cultures, for example, it is assumed that men are aggressors and women are passive, that men are in charge and women give in. This is of course not true in every instance, but it has become a prevalent cultural norm, and – in some circles more than others – socially policed to assure that those alignments will be adhered to.

This particular cultural norm translates into a common identity alignment assumption in queer communities to presume that a femme is a bottom and a butch is a top.

It’s also a common identity alignment assumption that lesbians are feminists, that queers are democrats or liberals, that sex bloggers are slutty … ah, the list goes on & on.

Any particular identity alignment assumptions that have been especially challenging for you in your life? Any that you commonly assume, which still surprise you when they end up not being true? Share in the comments.

Bring it on: Ongoing call for Queer Eye Candy

Let’s have it, folks. Email photos of your beautiful genderqueer selves to queereyecandy@gmail.com or add your photos to the Queer Eye Candy group on Flickr which myself and the lovely Alisha are monitoring.

I’ve been slow to ask for femme eye candy, but ever since we started that discussion I’ve planned to get back to it, planned to ask for submissions of femmes. I was, for a minute there, concerned that asking for femme eye candy would turn into a strange way of objectifying women and femininity, but honestly? I’m over that. There are dozens – thousands! – of ways to be femme, and I want to see ’em.

And recently I posted a bunch of eye candy photos of couples getting married, and I really liked that. There is such beauty and love in those photos. I want to see more of those, whether you’re married or not, I want to see photos of you and your beloved, locked in embrace or laughing or arguing or crying or in awe of some beautiful bit of the natural world or with your neices & nephews or with your cats … or anything! Couples, groups, communities, friends, your drinking buddies, your pool game.

Let’s have it.

Let’s go beyond butches and femmes (though I will always have a soft spot for that particular aesthetic, sigh) and make it a call for any sort of gender-queer-ness out there.

Andro dykes, trans guys, trans women, bois, babyqueers, grrrrls, transfeminine, transmasculine, no-gender, two-spirit, three-spirit, cowboy nerds, working-class, high-class, high femme, high butch, gentleman butch, feminist, cross-dressers, all of you queers: what do you look like?

Here’s what you’re going to include:

[Required] Names of people featured in the photograph (can be initials/pseudonyms):

[Required] Caption:

[Required] Tags: [Can be anything – queer, genderqueer, nothing, just me, butch, femme, dapper dandy, high femme princess, dolly parton drag queen, andro butch-leaning dyke – anything!]

[Optional] Photographer:

Photos must be high quality – preferably at least 600×400. Tasteful nudes are okay, but should be much more on the art-photography side and not the explictly-naked side. Yes, this is a sexblog, but I try to keep the images safe for reading at work.

So let’s have it.

C’mon, bring it on.

This country is afraid of us, but they don’t know who we are. We’re hot, we’re fierce, we’re vulnerable, we’re beautiful, we’re in love, we’re horribly ugly, we’re scared, we’re tender-hearted, we’re dog mommies and daddies, we’re parents, we’re children, we’re neices and nephews, we’re married, we’re bachelors, we’re rednecks, we’re blue-collar, we’re construction workers, we’re political pundits, we’re musicians, we’re drag performers, we’re community organizers, we’re angry, we’re activists, we’re just us.

Let’s show off who we are. Let’s show those who don’t know what we look like, let’s show off who we love and who we spend our time with, let’s show off our joyous communities and our heartaches and our hardships and our work and our play and our joy.

Let’s celebrate ourselves, just as we are.

On being a (gender) freak in New York City

I am not noticed much in New York City. My recent trip to Washington State’s Olympic Penninsula reminded me of this and I’ve been more observant of it ever since.

Honestly, to most subway commuters, shoppers, service industry employees, I just don’t register on their freak radar. I dress quite conservatively, usually, for one. I’m often in slacks and button-downs, kakhis and a polo, with a gadget bag and an iPod when I am commuting to and from Manhattan, and I just don’t account for as much attention as someone soliciting for money, someone homeless sleeping on the train, someone with a boa constrictor, someone in a wedding dress.

[Maybe it’s a class thing – upper class and working class are noticed, middle class is generally anonymous and neutral?]

I have often noticed that I pass as male here – that people, service employees especially, call me “sir.” But in watching this a little closer I have noticed that it’s not that I’m passing necessarily, I think people are just not paying close enough attention to me – it’s quite obvious I’m female upon just the slightest attentive glance, and I don’t think most people are consciencious enough of genderqueer-ness to call me “sir” by default.

My freak is not in my display of clothing, my costuming, my visible markers – my freak is that my clothing is on this body, that my gender presentation breaks the sex/gender assumption of my societally-instructed gender role. And honestly, the survival skills of New York mean that you don’t – you can’t – pay too much attention to the average Pats and Jamies around you, because you will either: a) get completely overwhelmed by the input, or b) miss observing the dangerous freak and find yourself in harm’s way. It is a skill that, as an empath, observer, and writer, I have had much struggle learning, as I want to be able to observe and notice the things going on around me, and indeed that is one of the best things about New York City, this huge, constant swirl of energy and life. But while it is energizing in small doses, to live inside of it constantly we must develop thick, massive boundaries as to not take in all of the constant comedy and tragedy around us.

When I dress up for a date or for a photo shoot, New York’s reaction to me is slightly different. This is when my masculinity becomes deviant and subversive, even aside from the body it is performed upon, because I start looking like a fag, I add elements of flair and sissy and dress-up and vaudeville, and that is not quite the same conservative masculinity that gets scanned over and does not set off anyone’s freak radar.

So my masculine gender is only “freaky” when it starts to be more feminine, more faggy, more queer. This makes sense now that I’m thinking of it – I just never thought about it like that.

My identity is largely marked by the construction of clothes, costuming, and physical appearance, as I think many butches are, as that’s the most obvious adaptation of the non-normative and subversive gender, and of rejecting the compulsory gender. But strangely I’ve gotten to the point where my construction of this notion of my identity is so “natural” that it doesn’t set off freak radar anymore. It’s only when I take my adopted gender role to more queer places – camping it up, making it more feminine with traditionally feminine colors, adding bold accessories and high contrast – that I start standing out in this city.

upon returning, a small complaint

I was out of town last week, and now have returned from the other coast, the coast where the sun sets correctly into the water rather than over land, where I was in the Pacific Northwest primarily visiting my very large extended family for five days. I have all sorts of ideas about family and heritage and where I come from, about having kids and having a traditional structure, about how much my sisters and I are the freaks of the family.

Also strange to be referred to as niece, daughter, sister, granddaughter. Those words have never felt so ill-fitting. At some point I went to the bathroom and the door was labeled LADIES and I nearly stopped right there and turned around.

I am not a “lady,” not really. It’s not that I’m necessarily offended by it – I feel lucky to be part of groups of ladies at times, I love that I’m in women’s circles and women’s groups and women’s friendships, but even that word – woman – I’ve never quite felt right about it. I never refer to myself as such.

It’s not that I’m offended by it, it just doesn’t fit. Like too-big clothes or trying to put a hippie in black goth lipstick.

I have a friend who tells childhood stories that always start, “When I was a little girl …” and it struck me when I noticed it that I never refer to myself that way. I’ll say “kid,” as in “when I was a kid.” These days, I say “guy” – “I’m that kind of guy” – when referring to myself. Sometimes I use dyke or queer or butch I suppose, but I don’t ever use woman, lady, girl, or even sister, daughter, niece.

Still, it’s not that I’m transitioning – I’m not – and it’s not that I don’t identify with the lesbian/feminist communities – I do. Maybe I’m too much the poet, too much the semantics theorist, but some of these words just don’t fit.

I suppose this is just one of those frustrating gender binary things, and yet another of the reasons why butch is a trans identity of sorts. And yet another reason why I am still, continuously, inspired to keep doing this work, to understanding gender and creating new language to adequately describe myself and others, to contributing to the community and lifting each other up.

So there was a wedding in the Pacific Northwest, which is what prompted the large paternal family reunion. There are few events that are more gendered than a wedding. I thought it was going to be a small family wedding, as a few of the others had been, but the 20-something family members were actually in the minority and the community of friends and colleagues were abundant. At the church, I got sneered at by the small-town strangers. I was a bit flamboyantly dressed – pink button down, black argyle vest, no tie (I didn’t think it was going to be so formal!). But certainly I was not the only one dressed up, it was a freakin’ wedding!

Just served to remind me that I’m an outsider. I forget that, in New York City, where I don’t generally get noticed walking down the street unless I have a particularly good hair day. I fit in, I don’t stand out really.

The throwing the bouquet / throwing the garter felt like very strong gender-defining moments in the evening. No way in hell I was going to go out there and catch the bouquet – and actually I’m not sure I have ever been to a wedding where one was thrown, now that I think about it. But I did get out there when it was time to throw the garter. I couldn’t stay, though – I was too much on display in a room-full of too many people who had been giving me too many bad looks throughout the day.

I was little more than The Dyke From New York City all weekend.

I’m lucky, I suppose, is what I should take away from that experience – if I lived there, I would not dress as I do, would not have the fun I do with my hair and pink button-downs and vests and ties and belt buckles and cufflinks and jackets. I’m glad I have that opportunity, that I live in a place that not only accepts it, but encourages and, at times, demands it.

I didn’t expect it to be the reason, but really, I came to New York City so I could learn how to dress. Nothing has taught me fashion or style like this place.

Sometimes it is so uncomfortable to not conform to gender roles.

PS: I’m tremendously behind on email and correspondance, forgive me as I catch up.

On Pronouns, Mine

I’ve had almost half a dozen people ask me in the past few weeks about my pronoun of choice, so here’s the deal.

When referring to me as Sinclair Sexsmith, I go by the masculine honorific – by Mr. Sexsmith. That, I do feel strongly about. Pronouns have generally then followed, so I am often referred to as “he” and “him.” That’s fine, and I think the masculine character that I have cultivated here as my alter-ego fits quite well with masculine pronouns. I didn’t expect it to happen and I didn’t quite plan it, and I don’t know if I ever would have asked for my friends or lovers to play with male pronouns in my personal life, and I very much like it, more than I thought I would.

But, female pronouns in referring to me as Sinclair are also totally fine. In fact, in some ways, I like that some people refer to me with male pronouns and some with female pronouns, because I firmly am occupying both spaces. In some ways I like the gender neutral pronoun options like ze and hir (pronounced “here”). The Gender Intelligence Agency introduced the pronouns pe (pronounced “pay” not “pee”) and per, short for person, which I quite like but which is proving incredibly awkward in speech. Maybe I’ll try to write a story with them in it sometime, just to try it out, get more used to it.

Problem with pe and per is that it doesn’t have a third possessive adjective version of the pronoun – the “his/her/its” version. I guess that would be per, again? To borrow wikipedia’s structure, it looks like:

Pe laughed.
I called per.
Per eyes gleamed.
That is pers.
Pe likes perself.

Yeah, I like the philosophy behind that. But looking at the fifteen different gender-neutral pronouns that wikipedia lists as potential options, I hesitate to think that we need more of them. I guess we keep making them because the others don’t quite work, yeah? I kinda wish there was more consensus, but some part of that has to come about organically, about what gets put into use in daily life for a significant piece of a community.

In my offline life, I do not go by male pronouns, at all. As things go on, that is becoming more strange, actually – my sister referred to me recently as her sister, and I thought, oh yeah, I’m a sister to someone. I’m a daughter. Someday I’ll be an aunt, a mother. I think lesbian dad is rubbing off on me that way, in that I don’t know if I’ll ever be “mama.”

I do go by sir, sometimes boy, and other masculine words like that in a sexualized context … but there really aren’t very many of those words for butch tops in bed. But that’s a slightly different post.

So yeah, did I make that clear? Either pronoun of the main two pronouns are fine, neither of them fit exactly – but please do use the masculine honorific (and thanks to jesse james for finding that word for me).

Masculinity Depictions in Disney Films

I ran across this short film about depictions of masculinity in Disney films recently and was interested and impressed. Of course there are all sorts of problematic things happening with gender roles in popular media, and Disney films have no shortage of criticism written about them in general, but most often I see those critiques from the perspective of femininity and women, less so with the emphasis on masculinity and men.

I’m glad this work is becoming more commonplace, we really need more revisioning and reclamation of masculinity in our culture.

On Butches: Hair

I am a butch who shaves.

Not my legs, inner thighs, stomach, underarms (though I’ll get to those in a moment), but my face. Chin, mustache, sideburns. Every day.

It has taken me years to admit this, to celebrate this. I started shaving my chin about ten years ago, at eighteen, when my-ex-the-boy and I got into a fight and he used it as leverage against me. It was toward the end of our five-year high school relationship and he was increasingly paranoid that I would leave him to come out (which I did), so we used to fight about my perceived dykeness all the time. We were in his car in our driveway, just home from somewhere, yelling at each other. I have no idea what the context was, but I still remember the way he looked over at me and said: “I mean, you have more hair on your chin than me!”

I’m sure I’d noticed the hairs on my chin and upper lip, I’m sure they’d been there for years. I was at that time in denial about most of what my body did, how it looked. I spent as little time as I could with obligatory lipstick and mascara – the only makeup I could master without feeling like a clown, I never could figure out foundation or blush or eye shadow, despite the hundreds of beauty magazines that I studied, attempting to discover and reproduce the secrets of femininity.

It wasn’t until he said that, though, that I thought I should pluck, wax, shave, something, anything, so as not to give away my gender deviancy and gender defiance that seemed to be so certain that it would even come through in my biology. I’m a hippie after all – deep down I believe whatever the human body does is ‘natural’ and that all the hair policing was perpetuating unobtainable standards of beauty for women.

But this wasn’t about beauty, suddenly. It was about gender. It was about being revealed, when I didn’t even realize I was.

I promptly went upstairs, shut myself in the bathroom, took my razor from the shower, and shaved my chin smooth.

That was 1999.

It was only very recently that I let the hair on my face grow, even for a day or two. I’ve often seen dykes in the lesbian communities who sport peach fuzz mustaches, goatees, sideburns, but it never really occurred to me that it would happen if I didn’t run the razor along my face daily.

It was Callie who mentioned it first. It came up with Datedyke, too. I didn’t quite get the appeal at first. It felt gross, even shameful. No, they said. An indication of masculinity.

Oh yeah. Right.

I buy men’s razors now. Made for the contours of a face, not the smooth line of a shin bone or inner thigh. I enjoy buying products so masculine. I do it, head high, boldly; I challenge what the clerk thinks. I am not shy about it. It is a small act of gender celebration, gender defiance, gender activism.

Sometimes I even like my five o’clock shadow. I’ve developed the habit of scratching my chin like the boys do. Feeling when I need a shave. Letting it grow on weekends, on weeks when I don’t have work. When I was in Mexico I didn’t touch it once. Ten days without shaving, I am sure a personal record. I didn’t even know my hair would grow that long, that dark, that thick.

Sometimes, I even like it.

Okay, so, body hair.

Well, here’s the deal. I believe hair is a potential enhancer of sex. A sex toy. That it can be used to increase sensation, both tactile and visual. That the key decision about the hair on my head is for a sexual purpose. That running fingertips from ankle to cunt feels different on an unshaved leg – for both the person to whom the hand belongs and the person to whom the leg belongs. That it is different to fuck with a full bush as opposed to a brazillian.

Whether or not one is better than the other is a purely personal preference. Clearly there are some cultural preferences that correspond with gender role and expectation, but when all options have been examined and stripped of their social meaning and compulsory prescription, we can actually have an opinion about what we prefer, and make a choice.

I’ll get to femme body hair another time. I want to talk about butch hair, here, a bit more.

I know transmasculine folks who shave and who don’t. Who grow their hair long and who buzz it off nearly completely. I know a butch whose hair grows in so light she doesn’t have to shave – though she hates body hair, and would if her own wasn’t so light. I know a butch who had a contest with her friends to see who could grow their hair the longest.

Sure, I personally have preferences – I keep the hair on my head short, #2 on the sides, two fingers on top. I do this for sex, and for gender: I love the feel of buzzed hair under some girl’s fingers. Love how it makes me feel boyish. Love how there’s still enough for her to grab and pull on the top, in the back. Love the physical sensation of her desire as she pulls on it suddenly, when I do something and she responds, a physical communication between us.

I don’t shave my legs or underarms. I like the cultural masculinity of it. I like the surprise and occasional understanding of strangers. I do “manscape,” as the kids are calling it these days. Trim where it grows long, sculpt a little. I figure I sculpt and trim the hair on my head, I can do that for other places too. It is for sexual purposes really. And goodness knows there’s a lot I’d invest for sexual benefits.

So: I covered options, now let’s talk preferences. What kind of hair do you prefer on your butch? Butches & other transmasculine guys, how do you keep your hair? Au naturale? Waxed? Plucked? Is it leftover compulsory hair depletion from your gender-conformist days, or have you examined all your options and made the choice you prefer? Femmes, do you love it / hate it when a butch shaves? When she buzzes her hair or grows it out? When she keeps a mustache?

[ I know there’s a ton to say about femme identity and body hair too – let’s keep this to butches, for now. Start thinking, though, the femme equivalent discussion is forthcoming. ]

Gender 101 (Excerpt)

It took a long (loooong) time, but I finally finished writing an article on Gender 101 for Eden Fantasys.

From the beginning I knew I could do it. I knew I had the information in me. But I had such a hard time organizing it, writing it down, figuring out what to omit and what to include. I got carried away. I went off on tangents that lasted for thousands of words, and were ultimately irrelevant. It took a lot of revision, a lot of thinking, a lot of conversations with all sorts of people – my mom and the Muse and Jesse James and Essin’ Em and my writing group all come to mind – before I figured out how to really refine my focus.

Problem was, I’m not talking about gender roles or heterosexism. I’m talking about variations within the gender galaxy, about the many, many finer points of gender identity and presentation.

The benefit to the huge struggle it took to get through writing this article is that now I have a much better idea about where to start, what to cover, and how to write gender 101, and I hope to do more of that in the future.

This is how it starts:

What the heck is all this gender stuff about?

Men and women, right? Boys and girls, males and females? But is there more to it than that? How does it work? If we talk about gender, are we talking about “The Gays,” like men who are effeminate, women who are masculine?

Why yes, there is that … oh, but there’s so much more. I’m here to give you a brief tutorial on what gender is, and provide an introduction to the studies of gender.

– read it all over at Eden, Gender 101

I’d love your feedback, and if you love the article and think Eden should do more things like this, please do let them know. I may write for them again in the future.

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. ]

On Butch Style: Briefs

I still remember the day I had an awakening about my underwear, much like my butch breasts / bras moment a few weeks back, where I found some girly undies in my drawer and wondered why I even owned any like this anymore.

This was years ago, now, and any time I bought new undies, they were always briefs – not “boy briefs” from the girl’s section, but men’s briefs. And pretty soon I had a whole drawer full of ’em, save a few that were my favorites. But then I discovered those few favorite pairs, back in the back, lacy or silky or whatever they were, and I realized I hadn’t worn them in years, and that I couldn’t forsee myself wearing them in the future.

So I got rid of them. I haven’t missed them once.

These days, I’m a briefs kind of guy. Yes, sometimes it’s awkward to be the only girl (“girl”) shopping in the men’s section, and I do get looks or stares or scoffs from both other male shoppers and the sales people. That used to bother me, but I’ve come to the realization that I have just as much right as they do to be there, to be shopping there, to buy clothes that I like on my body, and as I’ve developed more and more comfort in this gender-bending space, I see their responses as their issue, not mine.

I do like boxers, but generally I wear them as pajamas or kick around the house kind of wear, not so much underneath slacks or jeans, I find them too bulky. And perhaps because I’m not particularly thin, the hybrid boxer-briefs aren’t really comfortable either, they tend to ride up and I notice them, I tug at them, they itch, they annoy me. And I don’t know about you, but really, my main goal for most of my clothing is that, once I put it on, I don’t really notice it again. I’m not so into fashion, though, that I want people to notice my clothing – I would rather someone look at me and think, “Hey, Sinclair, you look great today,” rather than, “oh wow, Sinclair I love your shirt.” KnowutImean?

So, these are some of my favorite briefs that I’ve found in recent years. Comfortable, cute styles, affordable – briefs I wouldn’t mind wearing on a date. I’ve had a few questions about where I shop for my underthings lately, so here’s the rundown.

Gap basic briefs
$16 for a 3-pack
White, grey, or black

I don’t remember them being this cheap, but that’s what the website says – the ones I have are slightly different, grey and white, and I remember them being more in the $12 each range. I like these three-packs, I may have to go pick some up.

Their fabric is very, very soft, that’s the best thing about the Gap over other brands.

(Real men wear pink.)
American Apparel Baby Rib Men’s Brief
$12 each, 30 colors, XS-XL

Forgive the (cis) boy shot, you know I don’t generally do that. But the awesome colors and white lines of the American Apparel briefs make them still some of my very favorites.

Plus, you can get matching tee shirts for pretty much any of the colors that the briefs come in. Once upon a time, I read an article that claimed that these matching briefs-and-tee-shirt combos from AA are pretty much the lingerie of boy wear, meaning that girls kinda go nuts for it.

And I have to say, in my experience? This has pretty much been true.

H&M’s men’s briefs
Various colors & styles
(photo from andreasmarx on flickr)

H&M is the third store that has my favorite briefs. Unfortunately, they don’t have an online store, and they are pretty limited in their stores around the country (I don’t think they’re on the West Coast at all).

They’ve got some really excellent patterns, great solids, really cute stuff. The fabric is a bit thinner and feels more synthetic than the other two, but they are still smooth and fit well. They carry a lot of boxer-briefs too, actually many more boxer-briefs than regular briefs, so those of you who dig that style might be particularly fond of this place.

Men’s underwear guy has a review of H&M briefs with some decent photos.

So that concludes my brief post (hah) on butch style.

Alright, butches (and other masculine gals) out there: How about you? Boxers or briefs? Where do you buy your undies? Favorite brands or styles?

Femmes (and other folks who date masculine gals), what are your favorite undies to see your boi in? What do you love, what do you hate? What do you always buy your butch for holidays that she never wears? What do you wish she wore? What do you love that she wears?

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.