Sexual Autonomy & Freedom

Written for the 15th Feminist Carnival of Sexual Freedom & Autonomy. Thoughts in response and reflection to my own call for contributions.

Let me say this: I don’t think, in this culture which vilifies sex and punishes especially female sexuality, that I will ever be “done” reaching my own space of sexual freedom and autonomy. It is probably an endless task, a lifetime battle.

Let me also say this: I have crawled up out of shame by my bloodied fingers and I am not going back. I stand on my own two legs, strong-cunted, and I am not going back. I drive the engine of my body hard, glide it through passageways I have previously thought unnavigatable, and I am not going back.

Maybe ignorance is bliss, but knowledge is freedom.

I would not have had the sexual awakening I’ve had if it wasn’t for feminism: the feminist health movement, the theories of consciousness raising, the lesbian sex wars of the 80s that produced porn and smut and BDSM with theories of liberation at their roots.

I am so grateful for all the things that have contributed to my gaining of sexual autonomy and freedom, to my sexual awakening. Nancy Friday’s book My Secret Garden: Women’s Sexual Fantasies. My high school boyfriend telling me kink was great and fun and he respected me, too. Cunt: A Declaration of Independence by Inga Muscio and Cunt Coloring Book by Tea Corrine and Femalia and Nothing But The Girl; The Blatant Lesbian Image and the entire series of Best Lesbian Erotica (especially 1998). Kitty Tsui and that one scene in Breathless with a knife. S.I.R. Video and Hard Love / How to Fuck In High Heels and Sugar High Glitter City. Babeland, which taught me more than I thought there was to know. Body Electric, which woke me up to my own power, and still does. The Topping Book and The Bottoming Book. The Ethical Slut, which changed how I see relationships. Pink & White, which finally made porn I wanted to own and watch over and over again. My academic studies and my degree in women studies which taught me how social change works. Dan Savage and Savage Love.

The fucking INTERNET. From BBSs to chatrooms to the web to Wiki After Dark to Scarleteen to RAINN to the amazing sexblog communities. The connection to marginalized community despite distance and fear.

Let me say this: I don’t know how any woman grows up and develops her sexual autonomy and freedom, let alone a queer woman, let alone a genderqueer butch or femme. These are not things that are built into us, no matter how progressive our families, no matter how much our parents loved us. There are so many layers to the damage, and the length of the legacy is long and wide, the depth of those wounds are long and wide.

Let me also say this: for me, the first step had to be seeing those wounds, recognizing the damage. By beginning to feel what a “healthy sexuality” (uh, whatever that is) felt like in my body, I could more easily differentiate between the damage and the strength. And I learned to use erotic energy to heal those places in me still reeling, still healing.

Why do you think gender dynamics are so erotically charged for me? I was damaged as a girl. As a girl, I was damaged. And I don’t mean “I was abused when I was young” but rather, that this culture hurt my girlhood. That’s why I turned to feminism as soon as I began to understand the power of social conditioning and gender roles: to learn how to undo the damage.

And why do you think I love femmes something fierce? Our wounds run parallel. We are the same, but opposite; opposing, complimentary, full of traction and friction when we rub against each other. Lay your wounds here next to mine, they fill and warm and comfort each other.

Why is gender so erotically charged for me? Because it has been the site of so much discomfort, so much damage. Not just for me: for my friends and lovers, for my sisters, for my parents, for the one boy I ever slept with, for our collective unconscious. So when I take it and corral it and tame it, when I become the Gender Whisperer and see the thoughts in its head despite our different languages, when I learn its language and teach it mine, I become strong. I take the lead. I win.

I know, I’m supposed to be writing about sexual autonomy and freedom – so let me tell you this: I cannot untangle gender from sex from power. They are all the spiraling sugar-phosphate backbone in the DNA of my sexuality, and it wasn’t until I unlocked my gender that my sexual liberation truly lived in my body, that my sexuality was truly realized and in practice. It wasn’t until I had a cock – no: it wasn’t until I had a girl who knew what to do with my cock.

My gender is the language of my desire, my attraction. The ways I communicate physically.

Say gender is a drag, but also say this: I wasn’t me until I discovered my own gendered space. Butch – but not just butch, high butch – but not just high butch, capital-H High capital-B Butch. My body has never made as much sense as it does, now, in button-downs and ties, in sweater vests and cufflinks, hell, even tee shirts and jeans feel right now that I buy them in the department that cuts them to fit my body, square, even lines, corners, dark colors.

It’s not that I want society at large to treat me as male. It’s not that when I put on men’s clothes, I liked the way I was subsequently treated differently – though I was. But the difference was greater than that: I gained autonomy. I gained agency. I gained my own voice, my own stride, my own body, my own control. And I love the disconnect that most people see – female body, masculine presentation – I love witnessing the subtle struggle of random passers-by.

Just by living in the world, walking down the street, I set out a challenge. I work hard to make this masculinity, this presentation, an acceptable way for a woman to live.

Say gender is constructed, but also say this: something in me lines up and sees clearly when I get to express myself just the way I want to. I know how to deconstruct – I know how to break down and examine and look from various angles and research and consciousness-raise and bounce ideas around. And I’m learning how to construct, how to create, how to make myself anew from the inside, all the way out.

Call for Contributions: Feminist Carnival of Sexual Freedom & Autonomy

The Feminist Carnival of Sexual Freedom and Autonomy, edition #14 is up at Silent Porn Star, and Sugarbutch is hosting the next Feminist Carnival of Sexual Freedom and Autonomy, edition #15, here.

That means, I am on the lookout for links about sexual freedom and autonomy. Email them to me to submit your site to the upcoming Carnival, which will be posted – here! – on Monday, January 26th.

That gives you almost TWO WEEKS! to write something. Get crackin’.

UPDATE: Deadline for submissions for the January 26th Feminist Carnival of Sexual Freedom and Autonomy #15 is this Friday, January 23rd. This’ll give me the weekend to read and compile the posts. Thanks!!

So, I am thinking about sexual freedom and autonomy. What does that really mean? How does that apply to feminist butches and femmes, to queers in this particular time (and place), to this community that I’m involved in of lesbian feminists exploring gender within the sexblog community?

I’m into words, so I have to start with what these terms mean.

Sexual Autonomy

Google helps me out with the definition of “autonomy”: personal independence; the capacity to make an informed, un-coerced decision; a person’s ability to make independent choices.

I’ve thought a lot about autonomy and choice, especially in terms of gender roles, of butch/femme, and the ways that exploring these gender dynamics often appear to be reproducing a compulsory gender hierarchy. One particular thing about choice that I want to reiterate is that I believe that all options have to be empowered and equally valued in order for it to be a real choice. The consequences to both choices have to be comparable.

If someone says, “Either you can eat this pile of dog poo, or you can eat this pile of carrots,” uh, that’s not really a choice.

So, sexual autonomy has to do with the ability to make choices based on all options being empowered, instead of having sexuality dictated upon you by cultural or gender stereotypes. Sexism is rampant, and androgyny is somewhat required in queer communities, so butch/femme roles are misunderstood, mistrusted, belittled, seen as archaic, and dismissed.

But autonomy in choosing to explore gender can come through 1) deconstructing the cultural expectations, identity alignment assumptions, and compulsory roles, especially regarding the ways that those things are destructive, hierarchical, and marginalizing; and 2) reconstructing selective parts in ways that have inner resonance, that “just make sense,” and are empowering.

I’m talking about gender autonomy here, I guess, not so much sexual autonomy – sexual autonomy would more be along the lines of … what? Choosing your sexual partners? Coming out? Claiming a kinky sexuality? The concept of autonomy automatically calls to my mind questions and issues about gender development and identity, perhaps because I feel that is more fragile than sexual autonomy – I think there is more discourse on sexual autonomy, claiming your own sexuality, learning yourself and your own sexual needs, etc.

Sexual Freedom

What does this really mean? What does it mean to be “sexually free”? The stereotype that would perhaps come to mind is someone promiscuous, sexually “liberated,” who has a lot of sex. And hey, that person might be sexually free, sure, but that’s not necessarily true, and definitely not the only way to look at it. What other ways are we able to exercise our “sexual freedom?”

So, considering these two concepts – sexual autonomy and sexual freedom – I have some questions for you:

What does “sexual autonomy” mean to you? What does “sexual freedom” mean to you?

Are there any particular stories you want to tell about gaining (or losing) your own sexual freedom or autonomy?

How does your knowledge of feminism play into the concepts of sexual freedom and autonomy?

How does your sexual autonomy or freedom conflict, interact, or engage with your feminist beliefs?

Any other questions or ideas you might have about these concepts?

I’m open to all sorts of posts – your submission to the Feminist Carnival does not have to specifically answer these questions. In my ideal dream world, here’s a list of folks who I would hand-pick to contribute to this conversation. Please consider writing something on these questions – or, at least, submitting something that you’ve worked on during the month of January.

Leo McCool
Freedomgirl
Butchtastic
Green Eyed Girl
Natt Nightly
Packing Vocals
Femme is my Gender
Queer Fat Femme
Fatgirl Femme
Just Like Jesse James
Ladies in Waiting
Miss Avarice
Femmeinist Fucktoy
Lesbian Dad
Jess I Am
Tina-cious
Don’t Let’s Talk
Essin’ Em
When or If
The Femme Show

(These are some of my favorite blogs, if you didn’t get that, so if you aren’t reading them already I highly recommend them. These folks keep me thinking, engaged, and conversing about sex and gender in ways that make my head twist in knots and light up and feel alive. Send my love to ’em all.)

Let’s queer (and butch/femme) up this Feminist Carnival of Sexual Freedom and Autonomy.