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.

On Masculinity, Mine

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

I’m interested to know how you feel your masculinity and your perceptions of masculinity have changed over the time that you have been writing here, and by this name.—Miss Avarice, of Miss Avarice Speaks her Mind

My masculinity and perceptions of masculinity have significantly changed since I started Sugarbutch four years ago. Or, wait. Maybe it hasn’t exactly changed as much as bloomed, you know? It is different than it used to be, both my own presentation and my understandings of it, but I had the seed of it then, even the bud, I just couldn’t quite manifest it the way I wanted to. (I’d be curious what some photographs of me look like from four summers ago, to do a side-by-side contrast. A lot has changed since then!)

So, first part, yes, it has changed. But you asked how has it changed? That’s harder to pinpoint.

I’m not so apologetic about it anymore.

I’m a lot more confident in the differences between masculinity and misogyny and chivalry. I’ve learned to differentiate between consensual chivalry and forced chivalry, and actively read the (verbal or physical) communication around chivalrous attempts and acts.

I wear more vests and suit coats and belts and suspenders and french cuff shirts. I own a (small) cufflink collection and a (kind of unnecessarily large) necktie collection. I don’t receive flower-smelling bath products as gifts anymore. I donated that box of feminine clothing that I was keeping around because I never bothered to toss it out.

I pay attention to men’s style icons and got (more) serious about my haircut. I stopped feeling guilty for wanting my hair short and liking it short, I stopped saying I was going to grow it out again because wasn’t it compulsory for lesbians to be short-haired? and I didn’t want to be compulsory.

I claimed some firm ground on which I feel comfortable standing.

I researched butch icons and butch history and butch characters in tv shows and on films and in novels. I pay attention when the word butch gets used in articles. I challenge the way the word butch gets used in (many) articles.

I started dating femmes.

I always knew I wanted to, but actively partnering with femmes changed my masculinity, finally gave it something strong to forge itself against, to nuzzle into, to be protected by. Gave it a reason to be the protector, sometimes. Gave me a compliment, an understanding of the ways that I-in-this-form am received.

Plus there’s all those other identity labels I have been actively not only identifying with but developing, challenging, studying, and attempting to embody: like kinky, sadist, top, daddy, dominant. Even non-sexual words like misanthrope, HSP or highly sensitive person, buddhist. Plus that ever-evolving one: writer. And now, trying to make a living as a writer. Interacting with all of these various identities, spaces, versions of myself, and weaving them into each other, has all affected my masculinity and gender identity.

Studying tantra has changed the ways I think about masculinity, too. I’m far from an expert at tantra, I’m just beginning to study it seriously and take it on as a path, but I know that what we in the west have usually been presented as the concepts of yin and yang as feminine and masculine are too simplified and a bit misleading. It has very little to do with men and women, but rather different types of forces of life and energy, and it’s much more complicated than yin/yang = feminine/masculine.

Being in a new, serious relationship has changed my masculinity, has I think softened my edges, has inspired me to open up in challenging and messy ways. It has brought things to question, made me wonder how or if they are connected to my masculinity, and how or if they should change.

Just talking about my masculinity on a regular basis, through spaces like Sugarbutch, through my Carnal Nation column on Radical Masculinity, and through my friends and lovers in recent years, has changed my relationship to my own masculinity and to my observation of others’ masculinity. According to quantum theory, observing an object changes it (I can’t find out if that theory or principle has a particular name, though, and I’ve been reading through Einstein quotes and Googling “copenhagen interpretation” for a while now. If you know what this is called, pass it on, please? I have a whole theory about blogging based around this and I’d like to know what it’s called!)—and I think that’s true of gender and sexuality, too. Just the very act of observation, of watching oneself, of taking note of how one works, will bring about some change and movement and, inevitably, growth.

(Oh, also: For more on this topic, take a look at My Evolving Masculinity series from a few months back.)