Queer Masculinity in Porn: Heavenly Spire, Stepfather’s Secret, & More

Weekly, rife and I have a private little ritual on Saturday mornings where we make pancakes and watch porn. I’m not sure exactly how it started, we probably did that one Saturday and decided we should do it again. (I have discovered that I don’t really like watching porn while I’m eating, it makes my mouth feel all weird. So the porn and pancakes are separate. Just in case you were wondering.)

I don’t have much of a history of boy-on-boy action, but being involved with this boy has made me more curious about gay porn. I’ve watched a lot of queer porn over the years, with lots of trans folks and genderqueer hotties and butches and femmes, but not a lot of cis guys. (Also, have you noticed that porn with trans women is kind of booming? Maybe it’s just because I started following Chelsea Poe, but I am really inspired by the activism and visibility that’s been happening. And the fucking hotness.)

So the boy and I have been exploring all sorts of fag porn, looking into the things we think we’d like, from leather BDSM porn to daddy/boy explorations.

So far, Stepfather’s Secret on men.com has been my favorite, though “Sexual Education” with James Darling and Allen Silver on Pinklabel also stands out.

I’m surprised how much tenderness is depicted. I suppose partly it’s because of the genres I’ve been primarily watching—leather and daddy/boy—I think those tend to be more tender than average. But I’ve been really touched by the variety of depictions of masculinity.

I’ve also noticed the wide range of types of bodies. Perhaps it’s that the big-ness of men and masculine bodies is what’s fetishized, while with women (and feminine bodies) usually the slightness, thinness, and smallness is fetishized, but I’ve been enjoying seeing the sizes depicted as desirable and sexy.

(I still struggle with this, personally, around my own body. Sometimes I can fetishize the size—that I’m kind of big, thick, heavy, whatever word you want to use—but most of the time I feel bulky and awkward. I know rife and other lovers I’ve had have specifically commented on my size or shape as desirable, so it’s not that I don’t exactly see it reflected, but I don’t feel it. I remember the relief of starting to shop in the men’s department: I went from an XL in women’s to a M or S in men’s, and that just felt like such a more accurate size for me. Plus, the clothes fit my body better, or fit my energetics better, or something, and wow it was such a relief. It’s been more than 15 years now since I officially made that transition to butch.)

Maybe the tenderness in gay porn shouldn’t be surprising, particularly as most of my critique of masculinity comes from the male gender role that tends to be heteronormative, but as a queer feminist butch dyke, I’ve often been critical of the gay depictions of masculinity too, and made assumptions that it was more like the normative male gender role than it was radical and transgressive. But hey, I like to be wrong about things like that! (And certainly there’s plenty of gay porn that reinforces normative gender roles—I just happened not to pick it up during porn and pancakes, apparently. I’ll try harder.)

Really my first introduction to depictions of masculinity in porn was through Heavenly Spire, launched in August 2010 by filmmaker Shine Louise Houston, the director and producer behind the revolutionary queer porn Crash Pad Series. Heavenly Spire is short films, released on Sundays (get it? Spire? Heavenly?) devoted to all kinds of men and their sexuality.

At the time, it was new, raw, and beautiful—and it still is. I don’t know about you, but watching it over the past few years has changed the way I think about male sexuality and erotics.

I interviewed Shine for Carnal Nation when it was first released, but Carnal Nation has since folded and the interview is now only found in the wayback machine. So here it is, reprinted, because the first volume of Heavenly Spire has been compiled and is available from PinkLabel.tv—and it is stunning.


Heavenly Spire: Interview with Shine Louise Houston

Reprinted from Carnal Nation, August 2010

Filmmaker Shine Louise Houston, who brought you the queer porn Crash Pad Series web episodes and the feature-length films Champion, The Wild Search, and Superfreak, has started a new online web project depicting masculine sexualities in a visual medium. Heavenly Spire began in late July. I gladly sat down for a long-distance chat with her about the new site, masculinity, the personal things that had to happen in order for her to embark on this project, and what’s next for her and her growing companies.

Sinclair: I’m excited about Heavenly Spire, the new project! I haven’t seen behind the scenes yet, but the stuff that’s up is lovely.
Shine: The format is different from Crash Pad Series; there are no interviews, no behind the scenes. I’m not too sure if I’m going to do that, I’m going to see how the site goes. We shoot lean on this project, there’s not a whole lot of extras.

What do you mean by lean? You don’t spend a lot of time sitting around, hanging out with them, asking them what they think about sex?
Yeah. The interviews I do for Heavenly Spire are more really about delving into what their sexualities are, what their turn-ons are, has it changed over the years, what do they do now, physically what do they like about themselves, or physically what do they like about each other. I’m approaching it from a totally different angle than I approached Crash Pad Series.

Is that angle also about a focus on masculinity?
Yeah, I really wanted to start thinking about masculinity, and asking whether masculine sexuality is different. Heavenly Spire is a personal project for me. Accepting my own masculinity has really allowed me to feel okay with desire for masculine people. Exploring it on the site really looks at male bodies the way I want to. Maybe not everybody feels the way I do, but this is good for me. For a long time, I just didn’t get guys. But as I got more comfortable, I realized they’re not that different, and they’re not all that scary, and actually they’re pretty cool. And actually, penises are pretty cool. But it’s been a long process, and eventually bringing that to the screen is just where the process is supposed to go.

It makes sense that you would take your own creative medium to explore that sort of thing. What about your own personal masculinity process? What has that looked like for you? Has it been a long time coming, have you always been a tomboy?
It’s been a long process, definitely influenced by time and location. I grew up as a tomboy, but I also remember having favorite dresses. In my twenties, I definitely knew that I liked girls, and I was into the dyke/lesbian identity, but at the time – this was the early 90s in southern California – it was very much anti-butch/femme, pro-androgyny, and that had an influence on me. It was a very cool scene, and things were very open about sexuality. But right after that, mid-90s, I moved to San Francisco, and at that time, it was this huge butch/femme revival.

I knew I was definitely not femme, but I felt a lot of pressure to be one or the other. So the kind of masculinity I kept bumping into within that community was this really intense macho masculinity. I realized trying to put on that performance, that I’m not very macho. I’m really a fag. I went through my fag period, where I dated other fag dykes, but then I think the next big jump for me was realizing that I was into femmes! I remember looking at this girl, and her earrings, and they were kind of … bouncing. And it clicked. So that started me exploring a more masculine, pansexual identity. I’m definitely on the more masculine side, I’m kind of swishy, and I definitely like femmes. In the last six or seven years, I’ve really become comfortable with where I am: my masculinity, my sexuality. I needed to have a strong root in masculinity in order to take on a project and not be freaked out.

Freaked out by worrying about what you were going to be depicting, or not being solid enough in it?
And just not being intimidated by guys! At this point I’m so comfortable with myself, I’m not intimidated to ask guys to take their clothes off.

Do you think the recent work on masculinity has set the stage for this kind of project to be launched? It seems time-specific to me, that maybe we didn’t have enough radical depictions of masculinity, especially not of male sexuality, even four or five years ago.
Yeah, the queer movement, the trans movement – all of the work is completely reshaping what we think about sexuality and how we manage that in our lives. There’s a lot more acceptance for genderqueer and performative genders. The project is a lot about timing—a lot of people have done tremendous work at softening up the ground for it to come along.

Going back to my personal experience, I’m affected by all the waves of thought that have been coming through the Bay Area. There are a lot of people in the porn community who are really changing how they depict sexuality, whether it’s gay, straight, lesbian, bi. This is a drop in the bucket of a larger movement that is sweeping across the porn industry. When I went to Berlin for the porn film festival, I really felt that. I’m not alone, this is going to explode across the industry. And when I got back to the United States, it seemed like maybe it wasn’t here yet, but it’s coming.

It definitely seems like we still need work on the depiction of masculinity in porn.
Definitely. There’s also a new project I’m going to start working on in August that’s definitely going to challenge male homophobia while at the same time satisfying homosexual desire in men who might not otherwise get to experience it. There’s going to be some interesting stuff happening in the next year.

Do you expect some backlash for this? Have you had backlash for including cis men, like Micky Mod, in Crash Pad?
We have a very polite question in the forums in Crash Pad Series, and before I even had the chance to respond, other members of the site said pretty much everything I would have said. And the person who asked the question responded, “Oh, okay.”

And that was it?
Yeah, that was it! I was at the last Feminist Porn Awards, in Toronto, and they screened that scene, Mickey and Shawn. And I answered some questions about them, everybody seemed to like it. But then it won the Viewer’s Choice Award! So I thought, okay, the audience is listening! They loved it.

I also wonder if this is more part of queer women’s culture, not necessarily gay culture. A lot of butch women are watching fag porn. When I started out watching porn, my favorite pornos were fags. This community has been able to really transcend their fantasies, so they can apply to any type of body. They aren’t restricted to just one. In gay culture, which I’m learning more about, they don’t watch dyke porn. We watch fag porn, but they don’t watch dyke porn. So there’s a realm that they haven’t gone into yet, they haven’t applied their fantasies to different bodies yet. Heavenly Spire looks at masculine people, but not every male has a dick. So this is about pushing their boundaries, pushing the male viewer boundaries. I bet they’ll think it’s hot. We’ll see—the site’s been up less than a month.

I’ve only seen the clips so far, and the clips are teasers, but it seems a little less focused on cock-centricity than I would have imagined.
Well—it’s definitely about cock. But what I really want to capture is a person having a good time, really having genuine pleasure, and to translate that into a visual medium. And it’s about building a narrative about the person’s relationship to their own body or to the other person that they’re having sex with. And I’m just having fun with visual language. It’s true, the trailers are very much teasers, and they don’t give you much.

But they’re beautiful.
The clips are, according to porn standards, a little short, but I’ve been struggling with length. So with this, I decided I’m going to cut it the way I think it should be cut, and I’m editing it so the viewer doesn’t get bored. Really picking out the best parts, and splicing the best parts together into a narrative. Sometimes I feel like, yeah, this thing is half an hour long, but is it pretty, and is it working? So this is a bit of a self-indulgent project, because I’m really letting myself go with my ideas, asking myself, how long should it be? What makes it good?

Do you anticipate it having lots of episodes, like Crash Pad does? Or is it a different structure?
No, we update every Sunday. It’s different from Crash Pad, because each week is something new, there’s no behind the scenes, just something new once a week.

If a new performer is coming in, how do you tell if they’re going to be a good porn star? Did you have a sense that Mickey Mod was going to stick around and be amazing?
Not really. Mostly, we have model applications and if we can make a date, we go for it. Some people who work with us find it fun and want to do it again. Dylan Ryan, Jiz Lee, Shawn [Sid Blakovich] all did Crash Pad, and are now doing awesome stuff. We’re the launching pad! Shoot with us, we’re good people, we’re a good place to start.

Is it easy to pair people together? Or do they do that themselves?
For Crash Pad, I work with a booking company who does all of that now. I used to do that, but it’s work. But Heavenly Spire is a different approach. With men, and a gay site, I’m really interested in getting couples who already know each other and already have that connection. People apply, so if you apply by yourself you’re going to be solo. If you want to perform as a couple you have to apply as a couple. I want to make sure the couples like each other. Especially since so much of the gay male porn is all about fucking, I want this to be about connection. I want to see two big dudes who are totally tender with each other.

Are you finding that guys are interested?
As viewers or as participants? We’ve had a decent amount of model applications. We paused the project for a while, but we started to get this influx of models, both trans men and cis men alike, both solo or couples. I have some speculation about viewers, but I’m not 100% sure who is going to be our audience for this new site. I kind of wonder if it’s not going to be straight guys. I think they’ll like it. But gay men, I’m not sure if they’ll like the format. Possibly straight women as well. I’m not sure how it’s going to shape up.

What else do you still want to film?
I have three features I’d like to do, but right now the company is growing, expanding, changing. We’re kind of in the teenage phase, not super big, but not tiny either. So in the future that’ll help us get more what we want with big features. Right now, we’ve got the web projects going on, short videos, and that’s setting the foundation to create these larger features. We’ve really pushed the limits of what porn is. It’ll be self-evident, when I actually announce those projects.

Do you have an over-arching mission for your work, or goals you set out to accomplish? Or was it born out of a love for filming people fucking?
When I first started filming I didn’t realize this was how the mission statement was going to be, but the mission statement came later: We’re dedicated to making really well produced, beautiful images that represent queer sexuality. That was the driving force, but I continue to push myself as a filmmaker, and pornographer (though I identify less with that word). I want to make good stuff, and I want to make good stuff about sex. Everything I do is moving in that direction.

Do you see it as political and social activism?
It is … and here’s the weird thing. I feel that if I approach it as social activism head on, I’m going to do it wrong. I’ll stick my foot in my mouth! So I internalize my own politics, and turn them to the creative mill, and then spit them out and use them in a project. And that way I fulfill certain goals. But if I say, first, that I’m going to do political activism, then I miss the mark of what I really wanted to accomplish. So I take the personal and churn it through my internal politics, and that moves me in the right direction.

Have you had trouble with BDSM being misconstrued as abuse in your work?
Not from people on the site, but at the film festivals. I was at the Hamburg festival, and people walked out. It seems like that’s prevalent in places where they’re not doing the same things we’re doing here. I get really weird stuff about race, and violence. But I feel like ten years from now, it won’t be a problem.

Do you struggle with taking the criticism personally?
I try not to … I think maybe every six months I Google myself. I can’t do it on a regular basis, I have a fragile ego and I’m harder on myself than anyone. There can be fifty great reviews for what I do, but if there’s one bad one, that’s the one I remember. I try to focus on what’s working. If we keep showing at festivals, and people keep downloading it, somebody must like it.

And if you’re satisfied with the work you’re putting out there, how your art is growing, and if you’re continuing to get opportunities, that might be a better scale. But it’s hard! Especially when the work is so personal, when the work we put out into the world is about our own bodies, and our own desires, and our own deepest, splayed open selves, it can be really easy to take in the criticism.
Yeah.

I ask about the problem with BDSM and abuse because I have actually seen queer porn that triggered me—I’m not easily triggered, it really surprised me. But I don’t see that in your work at all.
It might just be because I have such intense aversions to bleed over. Things stay very clear in my own life. I definitely pay attention. If I ever see something that makes me wince, I know it’s not quite right.

I think that exhausts my questions. Is there anything else I should know?
Check out the site! Check out Crash Pad Series, and the new Heavenly Spire.

I’m looking forward to seeing more on Heavenly Spire. It’s a pleasure to talk to you, thanks so much.

Fisting Day, Featuring Cyd & Essex

And now for something completely different …

Fisting Day was October 21st, and I’m not sure exactly what I was doing, but I didn’t get something up before it. I think Courtney Trouble did a great job with it, I love the resources collected on the Fisting Day blog. So if you’re curious about it, you should check it out.

Courtney sent along a fisting scene with Cyd and Essex from the new site FTM Fucker, from which I snapped that still above. I’ve been kinda out of the queer porn loop lately, but I am loving that there are more cis men and more depictions of masculinity.

The Sissy 2012 Wall Calendar

From artist Elisha Lim, who brought you The Illustrated Gentlemen calendar for 2011, the new 2012 calendar will be celebrating all things sissy: “every month brave and beautiful queers talk about sequins, glitter, femininity, insults, courage, happiness and femme pride.”

To help out with printing costs, I’m taking pre-orders. All pre-orders receive two free illustrated greeting cards (+ envelopes). This ends on October 10th, when the pre-orders will be mailed out.

Double the size! This year’s wall calendar is a full size 8×11″ wall calendar in bright glossy full-colour. This is also a Universal Calendar, so it doesn’t state weekdays and can be re-used to preserve special events every year.

This is about the international queer community, and models from London, Berlin, Montreal and Toronto each express their own identities, which I kept in their own words.

Get the new Sissy 2012 wall calendar on Etsy.

On Running Away and Boundaries

Just one more thing, then I’ve got to get focused on some other work today.

Hugo Schwyzer has a post up today called Why Men Run When They Lack the Words to Stay, and it resonated with me with some of the recent complications in my relationship with Kristen and with my emotional landscape history in general.

Give it a quick read, then come back and read my comments on it, which I’ll try to keep to a few.

For the record, Schwyzer divides this into men and women, and generally I think what he’s saying is true, but it may not be true for individuals, and it may not be neatly applicable to a butch/femme relationship—meaning the butch might not have the same experience as the man, in this scenario. And there are parts that he describes that apply to me, parts that apply to Kristen, parts that apply to neither of us. Still, I think it’s relevant in examining some of the over-arching things we get taught that run along the gender divides, and interesting to think about these dynamics in any relationship, regardless of gender.

I have certainly “submarined” a lot in my past. I think that mostly comes from having a history of abuse, though, not a history of me not being able to articulate my emotions and being overwhelmed by my partner’s, though there is a piece of that too. And even though I am a poet, and highly emotional, I haven’t always been able to verbalize what was going on for me, especially not in the moment it was happening. I’ve been working on that a lot in recent years.

I also really like the breakdown of iron vs copper, of using those words to talk about certain styles of boundaries (or lack thereof). Though I’ve done a lot of work on this too recently, I do tend to get overwhelmed by my surroundings, and sometimes I cope with that by running away or shutting down. And Kristen has some aspects of being copper too, especially in taking things personally. It’s interesting to think about those tendencies as a boundary issue.

I do take issue with Schwyzer’s work on occasion, especially around men, masculinity, and pornography, but I find much of his work fantastic and I encourage you to subscribe to and read his blog if you don’t already. Lots of food for thought.

Heavenly Spire

Yes, this is a bit of an advertisement for queer porn director Shine Louise Houston’s newest project Heavenly Spire, but it’s also a commentary on masculinity in porn.

I’m sure I don’t have to work too hard to convince you that for as many limited, limiting, stereotypical, heterosexist notions in porn that exist for women, there are just as many that exist for men. Men are portrayed as the domineering, dominant, in charge, virile, muscular, top character in virtually every way in the porn industry, a depiction that hurts and polices the vast range of male sexualities—just as depicting women as the receptive, passive counterparts is hurtful to women.

And while there is a huge world of queer porn out there, most of the ethical, thoughtful, gender-aware is trans or female, and there hasn’t been many explorations of masculinity through video and porn.

Until now!

Here’s some wording from the official press release of Houston’s beautiful Heavenly Spire project:

After making a name for herself directing beautifully shot dyke/queer porn, Feminist Porn Awards’ Visionary Director Shine Louise Houston has turned her sharp eye to the gays.

Vivid-Ed director Tristan Taormino touts Houston as “one of the most influential, groundbreaking and talented queer filmmakers of this century.” Advocating that women watch gay porn, Taormino enthusiastically took note of the new site, commenting: “It features a group of ethnically-diverse models and couples, genuine chemistry, and Houston’s signature stunning cinematography.”

By dedicating the site to masculine beauty and sexuality and how it manifests on different bodies, Shine Louise Houston pushes the boundaries of a new visibility in gay porn: HeavenlySpire.com equally casts queer males as it does transsexual men. This inclusion is a rarity in gay male pornography.

Models share an intimate interview where they disclose their personal fantasies, describe their sexuality, turn-ons, and what they physically like about themselves and one another.

While partially inspired by her love for gay male porn, Houston’s vision for HeavenlySpire.com came mainly from within. Says Houston, “Heavenly Spire is a personal project for me. Accepting my own masculinity has really allowed me to feel okay with desire for masculine people. Exploring it on the site really looks at male bodies the way I want to.”

It sounds all smart when described like that, huh? And yes sure, of course it is smart, it is intentional and thoughtful and the filming is just fucking beautiful. But let’s not forget that it’s also way hot.

Sometimes as a dyke I am a little hesitant to recommend porn with cisgender men in it, as I can frequently get the “ick factor” reaction from other dykes: “Ew.” But as someone who is increasingly cock-centric, and, I’ll admit, sometimes a bit fascinated to the point of fetishizing cocks, I have got to say that this site is not just thoughtful and beautiful but also fucking hot.

So thank you, Heavenly Spire, for being a sponsor of Butch Lab, and for bringing new and exciting visions of masculinity and a masculine sexuality into the porn world. I can’t wait for the DVD.

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.

Ask Me Anything: Standards of Beauty

While I was on the plane to Portland for Butch Voices this past weekend, I dug through my files and responded to the last of the questions from the Ask Me Anything questions from Sugarbutch’s 4th anniversary. Expect more of them posted throughout the week.

From some of your posts I think I’ve made an assumption that most of the women you date tend to be conventionally attractive/attractive by dominant culture’s standards of beauty (i.e. not fat, not particularly full figured, Eurocentric features, etc) So my first question is – is that accurate? And if it is, is that something you interrogate within yourself – as part of redefining masculinity (or the social concept that one way to prove your masculinity (in the dominant culture) is to have a (conventually) hot chick on your arm)?—J-Femme

No, that’s not acurate. I have dated girls of various sizes, with various ethnic backgrounds, who often have not fit into the dominant culture’s standards of beauty. I am definitely attracted to femininity, and those who are submissive in bed, but there are many unconventional qualities I look for in a date or a lover or a relationship, and the things I need in someone I date have nothing to do with conventional beauty—self-awareness, self-acceptance, empowerment, embodiment, expression. I date people I’m attracted to, and always have, regardless of cultural beauty standards (or, sometimes, regardless of what I know about my own orientations—which is how I have ended up dating femme tops, on occasion).

I haven’t always stated what the girls look like exactly, and I haven’t written about all of the girls that I dated in the last four years—some of them didn’t want to be written about, for example. I decided purposefully to leave out much of the physical body descriptions, partly because I was telling true stories from my dates and relationships, and, for a while, while I was still writing online anonymously, I didn’t want to expose myself. After I was out, and honest about writing about the people I was sleeping with (a lesson it did not take me long to learn), I asked permission to write about someone, and I respected what they wanted, which usually was to keep them as anonymous as possible.

Also, I decided deliberately to leave out many physical body descriptions about body size, shape, skin color, and hair qualities in order for the readers to superimpose themselves and their own experiences as much as possible onto the story. It’s a challenge to portray things like body size or ethnicity in writing without fetishizing it, in general and for me specifically, and especially as I started writing more and more erotica, I adopted that as a deliberate stylistic choice.

This policy of not describing women’s bodies in unconventional ways in my erotica hasn’t always worked the way I wanted it to, though. I’ve been criticized before for not including more full-figured women in my erotica. Sometimes I want to point out the stories that I’ve written and ask someone to point out where it says that they are thin—but I also recognize that by not stating it, I’m riding by on some assumptions. I’m letting people believe what they want to believe, and our brains tend to assume certain things, which usually line up with the dominant cultural norm, unless otherwise stated. That is not particularly effective activism.

But this is not necessarily activism—these are my fictional(ized) stories. This is art, and this is the thin line between art and activism. The activist in me wants it to be one way, driving home points about unconventional beauty and body size and features, but the artist in me reads those descriptions and cringes, because they feel unnecessary, surpurfluous, forced, awkward. I’ll keep flirting with that line, and hopefully find a place where the stories can rest, instead of pushing something into it that doesn’t belong, or ignoring an important opportunity for celebrating unconventional standards of beauty.

Secondarily: Yes, it is very important to me to interrogate the ways that the dominant culture views someone as more masculine if they have a conventionally beautiful woman with them. I have certainly done a lot of thinking about that in my relationships and my own orientations, and I’m frequently thinking about it in terms of what I’m representing through my erotica. My stories about Kristen have been criticized because of how I depict her multiple orgasms—people saying that most women don’t come like that, for example. Yes, I know that. I know that not only from the mountains of feminist and women’s sex books that I’ve read but also from my own experiences over the past ten years dating and fucking women. But here’s the thing: that’s what happens. Kristen is a real person and that is our real sex life, and that is the way she really comes. A dramatization or slightly fictionalized version of our sex life, sometimes, yes, but always based in truth.

Yes, I tend to be attracted to femininity. Yes, I tend to be most turned on by girls who are a little smaller than I am—I like to be able to throw them around. But I know butch tops who are really into girls who are bigger than they are, because it makes them feel all the more like a badass top. But there have been occasional femme tops who turn my head, some of whom I’ve dated. And there have been occasional butches or guys who got me all crushed out, too.

It’s a delicate balance between knowing myself and understanding that certain things just work for me more than others, and also being open to trying something if a sparkle comes along and surprises me. I don’t want my orientations—sexual, power, gender, or otherwise—to get in the way of a good fuck, or potentially good date or relationship. I try to keep myself challenged that way. It’s tricky because some of the things I am most oriented toward do line up with some conventional expectations—butch top / femme bottom, for example—but not because it is unexamined. In fact, it might be more because it is over-examined, because I know so much about gender and sexuality that I fetishize the conventional.

I don’t care about having a “conventionally hot chick” on my arm—what I do care about is having a girlfriend, a sexual partner, someone to play with that I am attracted to, with whom I can communicate, who is commited to our sexual growth, both separately and together.

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.)

Radical Masculinity: Reinventing Our Icons

“Have you seen the Dockers ads?” someone asked me recently at a conference, after I told them I write about masculinity. “A friend told me he liked those ads, because he is so unsure of what it means to ‘be a man’ right now. Everything has changed. There are no icons pointing men where to go, what to be like.”

I hear this frequently, and I have asked myself this often, too, in my own personal identity development process of coming to a female masculinity as butch. Where are the feminist men? Where are the radical depictions of masculinity? Where are the examples of health and strength and skill and honor that I can admire and emulate? Who can I look to? Who will be a mirror showing me my reflection so that I can push myself in the direction that best fits me? I speak to this when I talk about depictions of healthy relationships in the media, too—where are they? What does that look like? Where are the heterosexual couples with men treating women with respect, value, care? Where is the equality? Where are the conscientious, thoughtful dads?

Things are changing. That is my entire premise of this series of articles on Radical Masculinity: that we are at a precarious time, in transition, finally studying what it means to “be a man” in this culture, much like feminists and gender scholars have been studying femininity and women in the past forty years. Underneath the question of what it means to “be a man,” as queers and butches and trans and genderqueer folks are also asking, is what it means to be masculine. The concepts of masculinity have changed, and is still changing, and while there is no singular meaning (like perhaps the fictional version of the nuclear family and breadwinner in the 1950s), I’m finding that there is no shortage of masculine icons.

Read the whole thing over at my column on Radical Masculinity at Carnal Nation: Reinventing Our Icons.

Masculinity Icons: Happy Birthday, James Dean

Today, February 8th, James Dean was born in 1931.

I’m working on a piece for Radical Masculinity about masculinity icons, particularly American icons (though I do have some plans to explore masculinity in other places too, in other columns).

James Dean comes up frequently as an icon, both as a traditional icon of American masculinity and as a personal icon. Take a look at the James Dean Lives tumblr for more photos and information about him, if you’d like. Good stuff over there.

I’m gathering ideas and statements for my in-progress (and vastly overdue) column currently, so I have a question for y’all: Who, in your opinion, are traditional icons of masculinity? Who are your personal icons of masculinity? What kind of traits do these icons portray? What kind of traits do you think icons of masculinity should portray? What makes someone (a guy, a cis-gendered guy in particular) a butch icon, or a radical masculinity icon, or a traditional masculinity icon?

I love pondering this stuff.

My Evolving Masculinity, Part Four: Personal

See also: Part One, Introduction, Part Two, Yin & Yang, and Part Three: “Daddy”

I started this series in the summer, nearly six months ago now. I have already written a post about some of what I dealt with personally in the late summer and early fall, and some of my point of part four I have already gone through – some of it was about me processing through what I was struggling with in light of masculinity and the ways that thinking about maturing my gender helped me overcome some of the hardships.

There were a variety of things I was struggling with—all of the major elements in my life were shaken, just a tad, and then there was a personal crisis (related to someone who I continue, somehow, to allow to haunt me) that was the straw that broke the Jameson glass. And I kind of lost it. I was full-on in crisis, fairly unable to keep myself stable. I have a lot of tried-and-true “coping mechanisms,” tricks that make me feel whole and solid and thoroughly like myself, and are comforting and grounding, but they were failing me too. Nothing was working.

Here’s what’s interesting: everywhere I went, in my own writing, in my conversations with Kristen, in my psychotherapy work, in my bodywork, I was hearing from everyone that I needed to be stronger. To contain more, let it out less. Hold my own better. To “man up,” in other words.

Part of me oh so resented that! I mean, excuse me? I am a dyke, by definition I overprocess! Are you telling me that because of my gender? Would the universe be telling a femme the same things?

But once I got over myself a little, I thought, what the hell. I can’t keep going like this, I may as well try anything because I can’t continue this way. So I tried some new things on. I tricked myself into being stronger for a while, to see what happened.

It’s kind of the psychic equivalent of holding your breath, and letting it out in a slow, controlled stream.

But – this is a double edged sword, isn’t it, for someone masculine? Hold back your emotions? Don’t express yourself? Handle it on your own, don’t ask for help? These are classic PROBLEMS with masculinity, not necessarily what should be encouraged in someone masculine.

But despite that, I was willing to give it a try, because I could tell I was in dangerous slippery territory and needed to get myself back to somewhere stronger. Things started shifting. I attended a yoga class where the instructor spoke about making the pose effortless, and I thought: that is my problem. I extend so much effort to everything in my life. What would happen if I didn’t? I mean, do I really need to extend so much effort in getting on the subway and commuting to my job daily? Or in meeting a friend for drinks? Or in writing, or meditating, or doing yoga, or preparing food? These things could be effortless parts of my life, why do I waste so much energy thinking they are hard and require so much work? They could be easier than I let them be.

And then there was the Modern Love column in the New York Times, Those Aren’t Fighting Words, Dear:

You see, I’d recently committed to a non-negotiable understanding with myself. I’d committed to “The End of Suffering.” I’d finally managed to exile the voices in my head that told me my personal happiness was only as good as my outward success, rooted in things that were often outside my control. I’d seen the insanity of that equation and decided to take responsibility for my own happiness. And I mean all of it.

And there was Nicole Blackman’s poem, You Are Never Ready:

You must change your life. You are never ready.

There were other things, too. The new Tori Amos album was comforting. I re-read Tim Ferriss’s article on Stoicism 101 and was reminded of my coworker who used to say, “I like to be stoic about my suffering.” I re-read some of my notes from a recent Buddhist class, and meditated on suffering, and on effort, and on lovingkindness.

Something started unraveling, and my grip on whatever this suffering was started to loosen. I started thinking myself out of my fear of the forward movement, and into what is really happening for me: I’m growing. And growth requires the temporary suspension of security.

I know what I need to do to get to where I want to be. I know how I want to spend my days, I know what I want to do with my time, I know the subjects which I want to study. I have a much better idea of how to get from here to there than I ever have. I have a trajectory, I have thoughts, I have aim, I have focus. And now I need … what? Patience? Or perhaps endurance, perhaps stamina. Sometimes I need to be able to trust that when I take that leap of faith, something will catch me. That is precisely the definition of a leap of faith, after all. And grace, I need more grace, by which I mean “the ease with which one handles crisis,” I need more of that too. I pull so heavily on buddhist teachings when I get in crisis, or when those I care for are in crisis, I think I should really deepen that practice to give myself even more tools with which to deal with hardships and suffering.

I had a Part Five planned for this series, which was titled “In Which I Grow Up,” but that page has been blank since I started this series. I’m not even sure I know what I’m trying to say here. Something about how “grown up” masculinity actually is some of those things that we think are “bad” about masculinity—like stoicism or containing our emotions—and yet it is precisely that which opens up a whole new level of being, of caring for ourselves and others. Something about how that is not the negative, awful, repressive thing that, as a feminist studying masculinity, I was always taught and told. Of course, there are buckets of problems with this … but it is not so simple as just being a 100% bad thing. There are benefits, too. I’m struggling to articulate the ways that it is beneficial, I suppose we are lacking language and theory on this in general. But perhaps this small series—and, now, my Radical Masculinity column—can be a springboard to my further studies which shed more light on the ways this is useful.

Now’s the part where I ask you what you think. Please do chime in on what you think about the evolution of masculinity—your own, or those whom you have witnessed:

What has your experience been with “grown up” masculinity vs a younger masculinity?
What changed for you when you grew up?
What is different? What evolves, if anything?
What kinds of qualities would you like to see masculine folks embody as we get older?
How does masculinity evolve?

An Emasculating Truth

Update: This documentary is part of the recent ad campaign by Dockers about masculinity. I tweeted about these ads recently, Sociological Images has a good article on it too.

Bitch Magazine has a good post about the film, and I’m supposed to be running my last minute errands and getting ready to go away with Kristen for the weekend, so I can’t spend a lot of time fixing this post.

I did think the film’s perspective was a little questionable … Sounds like there might still BE a movie, but it’s clearly got a secondary agenda: aside from being sponsored by Dockers to some degree or another, it’s attempting to police masculinity as something fixed, limited, and engrained, and puts absolutely no value on the range of accepted masculine expression.

Man, this Dockers campaign is making the rounds, huh? I’ve got lots to say about it. But ack, I gotta go! I’ll be away for the weekend, but don’t worry, I have a couple posts set in my absence, so there will still be Sugarbutchery for you to read. Be back Tuesday.

A new film on masculinity, An Emasculating Truth, has just released the trailer. I have some skepticism about the perspective that this film takes, based on the clips in the trailer, but I am looking forward to seeing it.

Seems like there are a lot of people writing and thinking about intentional, radical masculinity these days! Or perhaps it’s just that I’ve stepped up my noticing of it, so it seems like there’s more. It’s a big, significant issue, and I like that there are more perspectives on it all the time.

Radical Masculinity: How to Make Masculinity Stop Hurting

It’s up!

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

radical-masculinity-hurting-big

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

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

And I thought, that’s radical masculinity.

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

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

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

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

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

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.

A Manifesto for Radical Masculinity (on Carnal Nation)

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

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

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

Read the whole thing over on CarnalNation.com.

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

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

Glee: Single Ladies (Video)

I admit, I haven’t seen a minute of the new TV show Glee yet. Seems like lots of folks are abuzz about it, and I am a big fan of Jane Lynch, so I figured I’d check it out eventually. I don’t have TV so I try not to be watching more than one or two series at a time, otherwise I’d just spend all my time doing that … and we all know I just finished My So-Called Life, and I’m working my way through The Wire (season 4 now), and there’s True Blood (though I hate the sexualized violence), and Mad Men, and Californication, and I haven’t quite finished Battlestar Galactica …

I ran across this clip from Glee tonight, and I’m thinking I should really move it up on the list.

There is something about the masculinity in this whole thing that makes me just … thrilled. I’m not sure I’ve put my finger on it yet, but I love it. It doesn’t hurt that I love that Beyonce video either – I mean who doesn’t? It’s one of those songs you just can’t help but sing along to, except with this one it’s dance along to it. I find myself flipping my hand and doing the I’m-a-little-teapot move without even realizing it.

Plus, I associate it with the first time I heard it, which was in the back of Jesse James’s car, with Violet, on our way to an amazing dinner, with Jesse singing along and knowing all the words and shaking her ring finger at Violet. (That was also the moment we both realized Beyonce might be the new Cher. I kept expecting her to make an appearance on Cherday, but not yet. So I guess this will do instead!)

“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.

My Evolving Masculinity: Part One, Introduction

Gender evolves and changes and shifts over time; what’s true for me today might not be true tomorrow, and the questions and puzzlements that plagued me a year ago may seem irrelevant and minor next year.

I don’t have a major attachment to my own personal, inner expectations of consistency such that I believe that who I am today will continue being who I am forever and ever ad infinitium, but at the same time, I recognize that I don’t struggle with my own gender identity, performance, or exploration like I used to. I have come to a very comfortable place, where I am content to swim around and chill – to continue exploring and deepening my own understandings of both my personal gender, gender theory, the social constructions of gender, and how gender evolves, of course, but I’ve come to a bit of a plateau.

Sugarbutch used to be the primary space where I asked gender – and sex, and relationship – questions about myself, about my community, about my friends, and about culture, where I worked through my questions and concerns, where I tried to make sense of what it meant to embody female masculinity, where I asked questions and toyed over ideas and tried things on (and took them off again). I’ve been writing in this space for more than three years, and it has served me quite well.

But I’m not struggling with these questions like I was. I still analyze, I still observe, I still look at, well, EVERYTHING, through the finely-tuned lens of gender theory; I still learn new things or have my mind blown or adopt and integrate new concepts, but even the new things are not as huge as they once were. They are minor shifts in a very large picture that is mostly in focus, now just waiting for the details. I’m not trying to say I’m done – it didn’t just take a three-year exploration and now it is complete. I’ve identified as butch for nearly ten years, though it’s only in the last five or so that I have been adopting and exploring a much more intentional identity around that term. And it has, in many ways, culminated here, in this medium.

That I’m not struggling with this in the same way has meant that the writings on Sugarbutch have changed. Surely you’ve noticed this, if you’ve been reading for a while. I miss the daily journal ramblings about my personal feelings and thoughts and observations on my life and relationships, but circumstance (and a still-increasing readership) makes this much harder these days. I miss sharing with you my struggles and complications, and believe you me there are still struggles and complications, but they are not so much about gender.

So I’ve tried some new things, in the past year or so. Like the On Butches and In Praise of Femmes pieces, and the short-lived magazine-style layout (that nobody except me seems to miss), and the more how-to style posts about masculinity and butch/femme.

This has brought a whole new set of issues, because it is hard – perhaps impossible – to speak for, or about, or of a community accurately. After the fallout from Top Hot Butches, for a minute I resolved I would no longer speak for the community. I would no longer attempt to represent the community, or share our secrets, or expose our weaknesses, or attempt to heal our rifts and heartbreaks. (Who is “The Community” anyway? Perhaps those of you who have followed the sub-plots of Sugarbutch know of the deep thread of queer interconnectivity and the ways that this community is so goddamn small that I keep running into people I don’t want to interact with everywhere I go.)

But as I’m coming into some new projects, and thinking about and moving into what’s next, I am realizing: we desperately need leaders in this community. We desperately need people representing us. We desperately need more representation and recognition and acknowledgment of our beautiful, true selves. We desperately need mentors, telling us stories of how they found themselves and making it easier for us to create our own paths.

I do want to be a part of that, so I do want to keep writing about gender, about theory, about butch/femme, about what it’s like to revalue gender in a heteronormative culture which reproduces compulsory gender roles which nearly destroy us and in a mainstream lesbian subculture which values compulsory femininity and androgyny. I know there’s a need here, and I breathe and eat and sleep and commute this stuff, I can’t not see it, I can’t not think about it.

I’m struggling a bit with the movement from intermediate to advanced: I am beginning to get some teaching materials together, gender workshops and such, a series of gender articles perhaps, things I’ve been thinking about for a while now but which I cannot seem to complete. I know this subject matter inside and out, but now I think I need to learn how to teach it, how to break down the concepts into tiny, easy, bite-sized pieces and present them on appetizing platters. I’m also struggling with the question of continuing to engage the more advanced gender explorers, those comrades and friends I’ve met along the way who continue to inspire and inform my work and my own explorations. I want to encourage those conversations to happen, too. I want to engage on deeper levels AND beginner levels.

So, my masculinity is evolving. I have some particular ideas about where it’s going, and what it means to move from adolescent masculinity into adulthood, which I think is part of what I’ve been going through (and upon which most of the rest of this series on My Evolving Masculinity will focus). I’m a little plagued by questions: How do I continue to become a leader? How do I make a safe space for people to explore this stuff? How do I encourage deeper, more intentional thought, without policing or restricting? How can we, as a community, as friends, as lovers, as allies, continue to reclaim and recreate and remake gender in ways that are liberating rather than limiting? How can I assist the big big energy of this movement that I have felt growing, and that I have helped to create, in moving to the next level?

I want to invite you to participate as I’m thinking about new directions and new focuses of this site, new uses for this space, and new approaches to my own masculinity. Do you have particular ideas for things you’d like to see here? Any particular features? Any concepts you wish I would write more about? Any directions you would love to see? I’m open to ideas and suggestions as I slightly refine the direction, and attempt to continue to further my work in this medium.

Watch for Part Two of My Evolving Masculinity: Yin & Yang, exploring some recent concepts from my tantra retreat on the balancing of transformative and stable energies, coming soon.

Top Hot Butches 2009 – official launch!

TopHotButches.com is live!

logo copy

Here it is, folks – the project we’ve been talking up on twitter for weeks now: Top Hot Butches 2009. I have SO much to say about the project, how it impacted me, the dozens of artists and activists that I have now been exposed to who I didn’t know about before, the act of putting a list together (and choosing an order!), what it’s like to see images of myself reflected, the shock of looking at real grown-up butches and transmasculine folks and how that gives me a specific, personal vision for how I might continue to grow up and grow older in my own gender. I forget how little I see myself reflected, and it’s so important to feel represented in culture.

I’ve been working on this for at least a week straight now, solidly, for hours a day, and it’s taken over a bit, so I’m really ready to let it go and let it have it’s own life.

Thank you, sincerely, to so many people who have helped with this project: the panel of judges: Leo, Fimg, Geekporngirl, Kristen, and Rodger; thanks to Alisha for compiling most of the photographs, thanks to Femme Fluff and to DJ Haha for consulting on the content of the list, thanks to the fifty or so commenters who left suggestions for who might be on the list, thanks to the people who have been proofreading the site over the last few days (I’m still incorporating your feedback, thank you!).

Here’s the press release:

For immediate release – June 22, 2009

Sinclair Sexsmith, the “kinky queer butch top” behind Sugarbutch Chronicles and the editor of Queer Eye Candy, has launched TopHotButches.com, a top 100 list in the spirit of AfterEllen.com’s Hot 100 and GO Magazine’s Women We Love, focusing on transmasculine queer people of all kinds – butch, tomboy, androgynous, masculine, AG, stud, dykes, queers, and transmen.

“There is a serious lack of transmasculine representation in mainstream lesbian culture,” Sexsmith said. “Even in queer-focused top 100 lists, masculine women and transguys are rarely included. This does damage in two ways: 1. it implies that the attractiveness and desirability of lesbians is based on the heteronormative gender role assumptions of femininity, and 2. it excludes two large groups – dykes who are attracted to transmasculine women and trans men, and the transmasculine women and transmen ourselves. Where are our desires on these lists? Once again we are rendered other, strange, deviant, not attractive. This list attempts to fill in that hole.”

The project features photographs and links for all the 100 people on the list, and profiles for the top 10. There is even an “honorable mention” category, with more than a dozen more names.

“I thought it would be hard to get 100,” Sexsmith said, “I thought, maybe we can get 50. But I had so many suggestions, and I had more names than I could fit on the list. There are more of us out there in culture than one might think.”

The list includes predominantly musicians, comics, actors, and writers, but there is a wide variety of professions represented, from athletes and tattoo artists to political activists, radio show hosts, and porn stars.

“Diversity was important in picking the final list, and in the order of the list. Not just profession, but also ethnicity, age, geography, and body size. I wanted a wide range of masculinities in this project, to show how many various ways female masculinity and trans masculinity manifest,” said Sexsmith. “It was also important to me to include trans men, as much as it might seem to be in conflict with the title of the project, because trans men are a significant part of this community, and have been a serious force behind the re-visioning the gender and masculinity in gender activism in recent years.”

The Top Hot Butches project may continue annually. Visit TopHotButches.com to see the full list, photographs, profiles, links, and further information about the project. Sinclair Sexsmith can be reached at aspiringstud[at]gmail.com for interviews and further comment.

Head on over there to see the complete list … there is a page for you to comment on the site, or you can leave comments here. Thanks for all the feedback, and for being a part of this!

Personal favorites, and more answers

More answers to questions (from bzzzzgrrrl of City Mouse Country).

What’s your favorite bit of smut you’ve written in the last three years?

The Sugarbutch Star stories in general, and probably Diner in the Corner (last year’s winner) and The Girl in the Red Dress (from this year) in particular.

I also really like the stories about Kristen, go figure (have I mentioned I kind of like this girl?) – like My slutty little girl and Wait for me on your knees. Look in the sidebar under the “popular” tab for more of the very top posts on this site – usually the readers and I agree about which ones are the hottest.

I’ve been working on getting a “best of” collection together, the page is still not up, but you can look through the “best of” tag if you want to get a sense of some of the other favorite things that I’ve written.

What’s your favorite bit of smut you’ve read elsewhere in the last three years?

I’ve read so much … if you follow my Google Reader shared items, you’ll see many, many of my favorite things that I’m reading in the sexblog circles. I am still reading a lot of smut and erotica books, too, but they are slower, and often not as good, as the good sexblogs – the online stuff seems more cutting edge, more real. Also probably because I get to start developing deeper relationships with these blog writers, I follow their stories through identity development or heartbreak or growth, so I become more invested.

So: what jumps to mind, and a story that I frequently come back to (and jack off to), is Jack Stratton’s story A Life Exposed and Amplified from his blog Writing Dirty.

I’ve also been really into Patrick Califia lately, and re-reading Doing it for Daddy and Macho Sluts. I also often re-read some parts of Carol Queen’s book The Leather Daddy and the Femme (like the gangbang, gawdamn).

What’s your favorite comment?

I don’t know if I could pick one single comment. I love the ones where people say they understand something about themselves, or about their lovers, better, because of what I’ve written. I love the ones that say someone is coming to a new identity, a new understanding, a more solid and improved place. Those tiny moments of transformation are huge, and I’m so thrilled to have any part of it, so glad that my stories resonate, at all.

What comment caused you to stop and think most?

I don’t know about which comment overall for the site caused me to stop and think the most, but lately, someone has asked about putting a warning label on potentially triggering stories (especially regarding BDSM and the ways that can possibly trigger survivors) and I’ve been thinking a lot about that. It’s why I put up the warning (“If you’re new here, you should know that this site contains BDSM, kink, gender explorations, and explicit queer sex. You may want to subscribe to my RSS feed, or not. This warning will self-destruct.”) which will go away after you visit the site 3 or 5 times or something, but I’m still wondering if individual posts need to be more contained and protected too. I have a lot of thoughts about why to do this, or why not to do this, and I’m still asking around and chewing on it.

What perspective do you wish someone else would write about, well?

I find it fascinating that women are the primary authors of sexblogs. I think this is for a few reasons, like for example that depiction of men’s sexual desire is not rare and perhaps perceived as not even interesting enough in this culture to read about or consume, and also that men do not have to create and re-create spaces for their desire to be explored and heard the same way women do. But I also think we’re in a transformational point in masculinity, which I’ve been thinking a lot about lately, and I think it’s really important for men to be writing about “the new male” gender stuff, defining it for themselves, talking about it. Like Figleaf’s Real Adult Sex for example, which is incredibly thoughtful and cutting edge, and always one of my favorite blogs.

Other perspectives I’d love to read more of: guys who identify as femme, butches (we seem to be on the rise, but there still aren’t as many as there are femme blogs out there), guys who identify as butch, gay guys (where are all of those sexblogs? I must be just totally out of the loop), butch bottoms, femme tops … there are so many different ways to identify and navigate and explore sexuality, I’m interested in just about all of them really. Especially the ones that are underrepresented.

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.

What do you call your butch?

Specifically, when she’s a top, what do you call her in bed? Sir? Daddy? Master? Boi? If she’s a bottom, what do you call her?

What do you call your butch in more casual flirtation? Slick? Handsome? Cowboy?

If you are butch: what do you like to be called? What greeting makes your knees weak, or makes you feel like king of the world?

I’m sure there are others, but these spring to mind. There are so many cute pet names for a romantic partner, but when playing intentionally with gender in a relationship, sometimes “baby” or “honey” or “sweetie” or “darling” are too feminine.

So: how do you address someone masculine in a pet-name kind of way? And why?

My Father’s Son

The GoatWhen I saw him in September we camped in his family’s cabin. My grandfather built it with his own two hands and gave it to his children; now his own two legs, the prosthetics he got after both were amputated below the knee from diabetes, are the legs of the cabin’s kitchen table.

My two younger sisters and I slept in the cabin’s only room on pillows and dusty weathered couches as Dad woke and stoked the fire. Mornings at the lake are chilly, even at the peak of heat in August when the summer has been baking the water to its depths and swimming is the best. I watched him add kindling and logs and sometimes dozed off. He spread another blanket over me. When I woke I saw a forlorn gaze in his eyes I’ve never seen. What was he thinking? Was he wondering how his oldest daughter evolved into this boy? This big-city dapper masculinity that is too faggy to fit in with him and his brothers and all my older boy cousins as they discuss elaborately the latest football game, the way they fixed their trailers and trucks, what they caught when out fishing, how to clean the geoduck, how to make a perfect sausage-and-egg breakfast for ten, how to put on a wedding, how to give away the bride.

Dad, are you wondering how I got here? How I went from that tree-climbing skinned-knee ragamuffin girl to this prettyboy? From that girl who worked through her teens in your sports card shop, flirting with the boys as my girlfriends came in to seek sanctuary from the juvenile delinquent park hangout across the street when their feelings were hurt, when someone dumped them (again), when they got caught smoking, when they were being sent tomorrow to rehab or summer camp or anorexia camp or gay camp or bible camp.

I never was your tomboy daughter, never got in fights with the boys in the neighborhood, never stood up to the bullies of my younger sisters. I was the artistic one, moody, on my own. Studying my peers as we metamorphosed into our adult bodies.

We used to go on drives sometimes. After dinner restless, this was when neither of us wanted to be home, neither could stomach my mother’s depression. We’d go on drives and this was when you first told me, “I want to open up a store, right there maybe,” pointing at the empty corner lot that used to be a restaurant bar, at the mall on the wharf. “But my dream space,” he whispered, leaning in, “is right by Foodland.”

That was back when we shared our dreams with each other.

It was on one of those drives, too, where he saw a little silver Saab for sale and said, “that’s the kind of car I want to buy you.” I was fourteen and wouldn’t have a license for nearly ten more years. I couldn’t see myself as a driver, just as I couldn’t see myself as a grown woman, a wife, a mother, a panic that plagued my teens.

Recently on a road trip I saw a blue 1970s GTO and remembered some photos from my mom’s college album. “Hard top, 1964,” my dad emailed back. “Midnight blue, the original muscle car. I got it up to 100 easy on the road out to the cabin. I called the car my “Goat.””

Once, I told a lover that I was considering taking T. She had a string of baby trannys, she knew how to break us in over her knee. “You won’t turn into Cary Grant,” she warned me, and stopped at a photo of my father in the hallway. “You’ll turn into him. Look. Is that what you’re thinking you’ll be?”

I didn’t grow up in my father’s footsteps, but suddenly I’ve found myself standing in his shoes.

And now, fifteen years later, he moved his store right next to Foodland, the only grocery store downtown. A prime spot for retail. He has all but retired from the environmental engineering business upon which our family was built and now sorts sports cards, comics, coins from his father’s collection, from when the store opens at noon – so he can sleep in – to six pm, every day except Monday. “I’ve worked enough Mondays for a lifetime,” I’ve heard him say.

Now, fifteen years later, I don’t drive much; I take the subway and taxis but I still miss the stick shift in my hand and the dance of the pedals, just like you taught me. Now fifteen years later I can imagine myself as my father’s grown daughter, this “man” I’ve become, your son.

Three daughters and your wife, our mother, all in one house for nearly half of your life. Did you ever wish you had a son, Dad?

I wonder what he’s thinking, as this fire, his fire, warms our morning. He smiles at me with a look I’ve never seen.

“I sleep just like that,” he says. “With my arm over my eyes. You look just like 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.

In Praise of Femmes: Hair & Shaving

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, now you:

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

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

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

If you are someone who tends to date transfeminine folks:

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

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

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

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. ]

tough guise: compulsory masculinity

This video, Tough Guise: Violence, Media, & the Crisis in Masculinity narrated by Jackson Katz, was something I first watched in college that significantly changed the ways I viewed masculinity and men.

I’m continuously thinking about masculinity, what it means, how we learn it, who enforces it, and this film was a key aspect to where I’ve come to in my understanding.

This is a small trailer version of the entire film. The whole thing may be kinda hard to hunt down, I’m not sure how to get hold of a copy aside from through the Media Education Foundation, but they’re priced for colleges and high schools, not individuals. Perhaps your library has it?

pumping: my homegrown dick

clitpump

One of the first things I thought, really, was, why the fuck does it have glitter and little hearts all over it? Doesn’t that seems a little ridiculous? Maybe it’s because generally I don’t buy vibrators (I have a few, ranging from a tiny Pocket Rocket to the grandmother of all vibrators, the Magic Wand, and honestly I don’t have any desire to add more to my arsenal of sex toys. Cocks, on the other hand … ) so I am unused to the stereotypical femininity of flowers and hearts.

Well, for that matter, why is this clit pump a vibrator?

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Shasta at Stiletto Diaries also has a review of this Vibrating Clitoral Pump, and her review was fairly negative – only one O out of a possible five. I suppose really it depends on what you’re looking to this clit pump for – if you want it as a sex toy, to aid in masturbation, it seems like there are quite a few superior things out there, I’m not sure why you’d want this. The vibration is semi-powerful, but the ring is made to go around your clit – maybe some people like that, but I tend to like things actually touching mine. When I’m getting off, that is.

But clit pumping … this little device has a particular purpose: to enhance bloodflow, and, ultimately, elongate the ligaments, in and surrounding your clit, making it – you guessed it – bigger.

When I went to Seattle in December, I came back in a mini-masculinity-crisis, perhaps you remember? One of the things that happened while I was there was that I got the updates from the trans conference Gender Odyssey that some of my friends had attended, and at which one had run a great workshop. Apparently the big buzz around the conference this year was pumping for trans men – enhancing your dick (i.e., clit on T, not necessarily a constructed penis) with pumping, which purportedly works, and could add an inch or two. Since then I’ve been vaguely curious about trying out one of those clitoral pumps (which I assumed would work better, for me at least, than an actual penis pump).

So I jumped at the chance to get this one.

Shasta is right, the suction is not all that powerful. In fact, a few times I wasn’t even sure it had created a suction – it’s a little hard to tell with the labia and such. (My friend & fluffer femme spy (you really need a tag of your own, considering how often I mention you, don’t you?) swears by the snake-bite kit, note to self, go get one.) I Googled clitoral pumping for trans guys – because, well, what else do you do when you want to know something? You go to the almighty Google gods – and I found an article from ’98 on pumping – Trans Sexuality: Gonna Pump You Up – that had a few interesting things:

About what will happen when you use it:

Growth will depend on how consistent you use the pump, what you had to start with, and genetics don’t hurt any either. I polled the mailing lists on the internet and received only one response, so there are basically no figures available as to what you can reasonably expect. I know that I gained a 1/2″ in diameter and near approximately 3/4″ in length before becoming rather lazy about pumping. These changes have been permanent and in my eyes worth the $80.00 that I spent.

Seems like they aren’t in the $80 range anymore, though I don’t know much about penis pumps, I’m mostly looking at clitoral pumps – they seem to be in the $20-30 range. I wonder if there’s better information about pumping now – I should ask my friend who was at the trans conference I guess. Doesn’t seem like there’s much online, that I could find.

The author goes through how to make a pump, how to buy a premade one, and finally, how to use one:

It is best to be sexually aroused before beginning to pump. You want blood flowing into the erectile tissue so as to enable you to form a seal. Place the cylinder on your erectile tissue. Once the cylinder is in place pump slowly and gradually until you feel pressure. If you feel pain, back off. An intense pinching sensation means that you either need to resituate the cylinder or it’s time to move up in size. If there is no pain, leave the cylinder on for so long as it feels comfortable, but do not exceed 5-10 minutes. You can expect to feel pressure or perhaps a very slight pinching sensation on the underside of your member. Release the pressure then rest for 5-10. Repeat once. As you get familiar with the device and the reaction of your body, you can work up to a second repetition … Go slow and easy. Soreness is an indication that you need to take a break for a day or so. It is imperative that you listen to your body. When you are done pumping . . . well, I don’t need to tell you how to scratch that itch.

(Quotes reprinted without permission.) Worth a try, or a few tries, I think.

After the first time, I can tell you: 1. it was definitely arousing, and I needed to beat off afterward; 2. I couldn’t tell how well the suction was working, and I wanted it to be stronger, but – 3. I’m a little sore afterward, in a way I am usually not after jacking off. I would assume this has to do with the pumping. Maybe it works after all! I’ll try to do this just about every day for a while and see if it makes a difference.

Re-Valuing Masculinity

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

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

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

Two things about that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And, I would argue, generally, it has.

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

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

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

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

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

whispers, after

I recorded audio for this piece, download the mp3 if you’d like to hear me read it.

“I really like the way you fuck me.”

“I’m not fishing, really, I don’t mean it like that – I’m genuinely curious – what do you like?”

It’s slow. Soft and slow, a slow steady build which means I am ready for more before you give it to me: a rarity, precious, because I open so rarely.

A desperation in my pelvis, my cunt, to be filled, to be broken down, to be taken apart into molecules and slowly put back together.

Then there’s that feeling of opening. Desperate, again, a desperate opening, something becoming wide and hungry.

And it’s all so slow and steady. So rock-steady, so solid. Makes my heart burst in my chest and I want to cry out, beg, ask for more, please, please, more, deeper, harder, faster, more, make me feel. I try to bite my tongue, here in this space, try not to let the desperation show. It seeps through the cracks of my eyelids and fingertips anyway. I know it is not hidden. I cannot quite access it with my voice, yet.

Instead, this is what my voice does: whimpers. Moaning with every exhale because my body is at such a vibration that the mere passage of air through my lungs and throat and vocal chords and mouth will exert sound. I cannot stay quiet. Oh oh oh at the very least and then there’s low hums of sound like ohhmmm and I remember what my yoga teacher used to say about the sound of the universe spinning and I feel my heart in orbit. I feel my atoms in orbit and I’m distilled down to the very sources of me, pooling on this bed, this floor, leaning against this wall, wherever, and you’re watching my eyes and I can feel the way you look through me, into me, and I think, this is what it feels like to be seen and it’s beautiful.

I like the way you surprise me with dominance, with force, with a sting or slap or bite. I love the rings of teeth marks on my biceps and inner thighs, the marks you’ve left, they’re fading now and I wish they wouldn’t, I wish they would always be there, wish for layers and layers of these bruises in different shades of yellow and blue and purple and the tender pink not yet deepened into black. I wish I could point to each one and remember the many days it took you to put them there. One a day for a week. For a month. A new way to tell time, a calendar on my arm.

It is not a threat to my masculinity that you wear a cock. That you fuck me with it. It has been, it could be, but you make me feel so boyish, despite your palmfulls of my breasts and twists of my nipples and the ways you say “oh I love the curves of your body,” and I know you mean the femininity, my hips, the way my ribcage gently tapers, my round full breasts I hide with binding and jog bras and button-downs.

Despite this – or maybe because of this, maybe precisely because you acknowledge my very female body, maybe precisely because you see me, really see me, really witness my soft underbelly, the vulnerable girl side of me that I have worked so hard to overturn, override, you see me and acknowledge me, too, actually speak about my body – despite this, you play with my masculinity with such respect and reverence, and it lives in such a solid place in me now, that it doesn’t hurt, it doesn’t contradict, it only affirms what I am already knowing in my body: the ways you witness, then acknowledge, then rejoice, in me.

The Houseboy’s Rebellion

For Datedyke, because she asked me for this story, with thanks for reading the early draft and commenting things like “Make my character more mean,” “Don’t say thank you,” and “Just take me down,” and for providing the details of her outfit, and picking out my tie. “Swift thrust of cock,” one of my very favorite lines, was written by DD, not me; and DD informs me that “Lea” is pronounced “Lee.”*

“Honey!” Lea calls from the bathroom while she’s doing her hair and makeup. “Which tie are you going to wear?”

I’m dressed, plain black slacks and a black button-down, sitting on her bed, fidgeting with three ties in my fist I know will fit her desired houseboy fare. I bring them to her, gaze at her in the mirror as she applies something to her eyes with a fine brush.

“Either this silver, or this dark purple, or the dark blue with the white dots?” I offer.

“No no. This one.” She turns around fast and points, chooses the silver, the one she bought for me over the holidays. I nod and set the other two on the counter, start to tie the silver one. She glances at me in the mirror, aware that I’m watching her, narrowing her eyes a little, then finishes with the brush, tosses it into her makeup case.

She’s a little annoyed. She doesn’t like it when I watch her get ready. “Hand me those earrings, will you?” I see small diamond studs on the counter and hand them over.

“Not those,” she says. She’s beginning to get stressed. Three of her closest friends will be here any minute. It is my first time as her houseboy for a group.

“Those,” she points again and I see favorite pair of gold hoops. Of course. They match the black heels with the gold trim that she has on with her cocktail dress.

I fetch the earrings and she fastens them to her ears. I attempt to kiss her shoulders, neck, slip my hands around her waist, touch the curves of her hips in her sleek black cocktail dress. She shrugs me off, turns around, kisses me swiftly, dismissively. “Darling,” she says, “You look great. Really. I’m excited for the party.” And then she’s gone, running downstairs to check on the kitchen, fuss over food and drinks.

I sigh at my reflection, take a breath. Check my eyebrows, my teeth, my perfectly messy hair. I’m nervous, but ready for this, excited to be shown off, a trophy boy, look at my tricks. I want to please her. I adjust the dimple in my tie and then my cock under my harness strap.

The Oscars start at four and her friends have one of those pools where they’ve all guessed the winners and someone wins the whole pot. Lea gives me significant glances when the doorbell rings and I take coats to the closet, take drink requests, and practice my sweet “hi, hello” submission as they come in the door. Her friends are dressed up: The Cuban Genius, BB, and the Butch Daddy.

BB giggles at my predicament and hugs me, eyes twinkling, flirtatious, amused. The Butch Daddy eyes me like we’re fags and she’s cruising. I feel myself stiffen and try to relax.

Lea shines, says hello, hugs and smiles and laughter and greetings. She is subtly maneuvering this whole interaction, sparkling in her element; her earrings catch the light, glitter, and her makeup is flawless, soft. Her dress flirts around her knees, off her shoulders.

I serve martinis and cosmos, smiling and making myself as unnoticeable as I can be while I watch her. My attention is tuned fully into her body language, her eye contact, her hands. Not only for her cues at service, but to see her, to observe, to take in. I admire her like this. That external expert persona of hers is so appealing, I see her through her friend’s eyes, strong, poised, capable. I am blessed to see the soft parts, too.

Conversation flows, they catch up on jobs, girlfriends, America’s Next Top Model, the weather for upcoming kayaking, hiking. I try to participate, but Lea keeps interrupting me with glances and gestures every time I sit.

“Boy! More wieners!” she calls while I’m in the kitchen fetching a glass of water for the Butch Daddy, and everyone laughs. She’s been waiting to use that command. I bring the next plate of cocktail wieners onto the coffee table with a bow and a smile, as if I’m in on the joke.

Lea brings one up to her lips and leaves it poised. “Mmm, I love wieners,” she says, winking dramatically. Everyone’s still giggling; BB is giving me suggestive glances, the Cuban Genius mimics Lea’s movement of a wiener to her mouth and gives it a mock blow job, eyes low, looking at the Butch Daddy. I blush and try to laugh, adjust my silver tie nervously.

Lea takes inventory of the living room. “Refill BB’s drink,” she whispers loudly, for everyone to hear, and I take BB’s glass. He gives me a smug flirty smile. I mix his martini like he said, three olives, and I am careful careful careful not to spill in the long walk from the kitchen to the couch, and hand it to BB.

“BB likes his martinis dirtier than that,” Lea hisses at me as I resume my perch on the edge of the chair. “Make it right next time.”

I look to Lea in a glance, apologetically and to see her face, to see what’s under these commands, pleasure or embarrassment, gratitude or heat, but she’s already engaged back in her conversation with the Cuban Genius, laughing about something, talking about someone whose name I don’t recognize, who is that, who are these people I don’t know? She feels me looking at her and glances at me briefly, and for just a fraction of a second I see her features soften with deep appreciation, lust, care.

Then it’s gone; her body languages changes and she holds her near-empty cosmo up at me. “You’ve got another one of these ready, right? I shouldn’t have to even be asking you.”

I duck my head, go back to the kitchen.

A few minutes later she’s calling me, but I don’t recognize the call of “boy” fast enough, don’t hear her for a moment too long. Finally she uses my name: “Sinclair!” And I look up, caught off guard.

She inclines her head quickly to mean, come here, with that look on her face of hard exasperation and displeasure. She’s sitting on the arm of her couch, it makes her feel taller, and I approach. “No, here,” she says as I stop, pointing at the space next to her.

“Take your cock out,” she says.

Trans vs Butch Identity

Excerpt from a letter I just wrote to one of my best friends in Seattle, after some conversations we had about butch & trans identities. I’m having a small (miniscule, tiny) gender crisis, and my week in Seattle opened up some very interesting ideas for me. I’ll be writing about it slowly here, as things get clearer.

I’ve been turning that conversation about butches & trans guys over in my head, especially the question of, what’s the difference between us? I guess I find it easy to understand that there are very few differences between you & me, specifically, because of the ways we get along & get each other, but when it comes to the broader categories of butches vs trans guys, I feel like there must be something different about those identities. I’d never given it that much thought, but it seems like I had always assumed that trans had more to do with this disconnection from the female body – but I guess it’s moreso a disconnection from the “female experience”? Butches have that too, I suppose, but perhaps in a different way.

So what the heck is the difference, then?

I feel like steps 1-10 of “how I became butch” are match steps 1-10 for “how I became trans” when I’ve compared the identity development process between myself and my trans guy friends, but then that crutial step 11 for them is “and then I’m trans,” and mine is, “and then I’m butch.”

So what is the difference? Why the different conclusions to the same process?

Also, when you asked me if I’d ever considered transitioning … man, I’ve been tripping on that for a week now. Honestly, I’ve almost never considered it. I feel like it’s just something I “knew” about myself – “oh, transitioning, that’s cool, but that’s not me” – without really questioning it or thinking too deeply about it.

It’s only in the past year or so that I’ve considered my own genderqueerness to be a sort of trans identity, this masculinity on a female body, and the ways I’m claiming it anew have made it feel like a deliberate crossing of boundaries and gender lines, which I really like. Funny, ’cause I feel like I’ve been writing about this for a long time, but am still just now really figuring it out and owning it.

Four of my closest friends and very favorite people ever in Seattle – you included – are masculine-identified in some form, ranging from boi to butch to trans, which is interesting because I’m really surrounded by femmes in New York City. I gotta make some more butch/FTM friends here.

Point being, I went away from my visit to Seattle with my brain just spinning with identities and masculinity, and I’ve been in a bit of a mini-teeny gender crisis since.

That sounds dramatic.

What I’m thinking about is bodies, and how much the body you have affects the way you move through the world, access, privilege, how people respond and treat you, all of that. It’s amazing how much we know about the ways our bodies work now, we can basically have the body we want, if we want to be blonde & blue eyed, we can do it, if we want to be a size 0, we can do it – I mean it takes a hellofa lot of work (or surgery), but it’s possible.

And gender, of course, we can change the way we present entirely. Given how much happens on and to the body, I think we should consciously choose the body we want to have, and work toward it, in whatever way is best for us.

But then … what is the body that I want? I have in the past noticed how some of my (masculine-identitified, female bodied, though not necessarily self-identifying as) butch friends covet male bodies, the little “bubble boy butt” for example, and I just never noticed male bodies with any sort of interest really, I guess I’ve always been pretty female-focused. I remember thinking, when these friends have said those things, “huh, interesting, I’ve never noticed that, I’ve never thought of guy’s pecs or biceps or thighs or butt” and wondering what that meant, for my own gender. I guess now I think it means that I’ve just never given it that much thought.

but now that I’m actively thinking about it, I think I would like some more masculine characteristics to my body. Which freaks me out and totally excites me at the same time.

a queer symbol, a pagan symbol


I have returned from Seattle, and there is much to write about. Most of my closest friends in Seattle are very masculine-identified, some of them have transitioned, and I have returned with some new ideas about butches, masculinity, transfolks, my own body, my own sense of self.Also, I got a tattoo. That white star on the underside of my right wrist that I’ve been talking about for a long time. It’s visible especially when shaking someone’s hand. I love it.

I still want the birds. They’ll be next.

The Sugarbutch Star contest is so close to done, I can practically taste it. I’ll have a roundup post coming, with excerpts from each entry and links to the full thing, to remind you of them, before we start voting. I’m hoping to to a reading (“Sinclair’s” first real appearance) of the finalists and announce the winner.