Vortex Poem, Or: What I learned these last 15 years of studying embodiment

Most of the time, my body has the answer. My own body, this vessel, this corporeal flesh with pulses and nerves and bone, these muscles that move me around and enable me to jump and reach and grasp and squat and pump. This unexplainable, inimitable machine that lets me experience the world through my senses, that gives my brain input about taste and smell and texture.

I’ve learned that there are many more senses than the five we tend to focus on: taste touch smell sight sound. There’s also thermoception, the ability to tell temperature. And magnetoception to sense the magnetic fields around us. And nociception—how our bodies sense pain.

If I can just find silence deep enough so that I can listen to what the synapses and blood cells are saying, I have found that my body has the answer. Sit still, she sometimes whispers to me. Or, Get up and move and move and move. Don’t stop. Keep going. Or, Goddamn, you need more root vegetables in your mouth. Make it happen.

The process of transformation is so minute, and so slow. I want it on a time-lapse like an bud opening into a huge white lily and then wilting to drip pollen all over the table. Maybe then we’d actually see how the light inside starts to seep through all the cracks, we’d see the ways that lightening strikes the same place over and over. Maybe it would make me laugh and laugh. Maybe I would feel that itch in my bones like when I am too tired to sleep but my body is overspun and needs dreams to recharge.

So I don’t really know how to explain to you what happened when I went into my first 3-day long weekend workshop when I was twenty, and how that paved a way to the path I’m on right now. I don’t know how to explain how hard it was to save $300 from my $60-week personal assistant job that usually covered my groceries but barely, and that I saved it anyway, and saved up every year after that, to make sure that I got to go back to that space. That space where there were women of all ages (these were all-women’s workshops, before there were queer options offered) took their clothes off and talked about their relationships to their bodies, the trauma and pleasure and amazing things that they have done, like birth and nurse babies, or how they create transcendent orgasmic experiences. I found a circle of women, and while I dabbled in studying wicca and feminism, and I knew hypothetically intellectually the power of women’s circles, I hadn’t actually experienced them until then.

And now I still go back. I crave the clarity that comes in circle, that feeling like I am sitting on top of a volcano and it is filling me from the bottom up, spilling out of the crown of my head and I am part of all that is. I crave the power that is generated by a group—so different and impossible to recreate when alone. We have so much energy in our bodies, so much power and potential that only needs the right outlet to plug into so it can be released, so it can be used to light up an entire city block.

I don’t just go back, though—now I spend a significant amount of my time studying how these circles work and how to lead and how to create the circumstance where the container of the circle is strong. I don’t just show up as a facilitator or an assistant, I create it for days before and close it for days after, spending time in meditation and in masturbation gathering and cultivating my own energy to try to form some temple out of thin air.

Maybe it’s hard to believe, from this point of view, but I have not always been able to ask for what I want. I have not always been able to take and allow and accept and give and receive in the beautiful ways that felt soul-nourishing like diving into the perfect clear mountain lake with shiny colorful soft pebbles at the bottom. At first it was just murky cloudy water, grey like the color of a sky when it can’t decide whether or not to rain. But everything got clearer as my connection to my body got stronger. I can feel more, I can tell what I want, I can tell when I’m hungry or when I’m thirsty, I can tell when I need touch and what kind of touch would be the most satisfying, I can tell when my arms get thick and my shoulders get tight that I just want to bust out my flogger and wail on someone for as long as they’ll let me. I can tell when I crave piercing skin or sliding in slow or being filled as thick and swollen as I can take.

The transformation, that’s the part that’s hard to put my finger on. I can tell you about the before and after, though. I can tell you how scary it used to be to tell a lover that I wanted something else, more, different, in bed. I remember listening to women in workshops talk about what they wanted and who they were and their growing edges, and I wanted what they had, I wanted to be that, to know what they knew. I didn’t know how to become someone who knew what I wanted, but I saw the next stone, the next step in the path, the next light down the way, and I followed and listened and followed, and when a sign post came up that said, Pssst, something useful is down that way, I took it seriously. I invested time and money and energy. I carved out the space, because I needed it, I needed a new way to be me in the world, a way that was less apologetic and desperate, that was more whole and holy and aligned and attuned.

Maybe that’s what I wanted most of all: the state of being so attuned to someone else that I’d feel psychic, or transparent, like all my thoughts were swirling around me in some sort of deconstructed vortex poem. That kind of physical attunement when our cells know each other, where our pulses swell and release at the same rhythm, where our blood pressure matches because we spent so much time with our hearts pumping next to each other. And I wanted that skill, that ability to dive so deep into someone else’s body.

I wanted to learn trust my body to tell me secrets like a conch shell. It’s not like that’s ever done, check, figured it out, it’s more like a work in progress, a pathway I strengthen every day. But at least now, I know what it is, what it possibly could be.

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.