The Four Stages of Topping

When I started topping, I was self-conscious, nervous, easily crushed, and full of bravado and swagger. (I’d like to think that all of that was somewhat subtle, and that I was being at least a little transparent and honest about all of it, though when I look back at my old writing I think there’s more nervousness than I’d like to think.)

Sometimes, some beautiful girl would come along and our chemistry would be so amazing and the whole evening would just … flow. Then, I felt like there was no game, it was all just authentic interaction, following my energy and hers. Those were the nights I grabbed on to and scrutinized (and often wrote up, play by play, as a way to study them), trying to learn what it was that went well and how I could harness that.

As I gained more confidence, the way that I topped shifted a bit. I started wanting to control more, to push more, to play with more edges. I started wondering why I was so drained after I’d had a scene, and realized I wasn’t getting fed energetically in a way that felt replenishing.

That was mostly my fault, for the record; I wasn’t open to receiving, I was too focused on (fueling my ego by) giving.

I’ve really opened up since then. My style is really different, and I’m a lot less delicate. I have more confidence and certainty in what I’m doing. This is at least in part because I started identifying the kind of topping I was doing, and playing with other styles of topping.

In trying to articulate my own journey from a nervous I-wanna-be-a-top to an actual top (and beyond), I’ve noticed some patterns, and come up with a list of some of the different kinds of topping that we can play with. If you want to become a better top, I’ve found that it’s really useful to identify the area you’re primarily playing in right now, and the areas you’re interested in exploring. That way, you can start to feel your way along the path from where you are to where you’d like to be, and start identifying the barriers to being where you want, the places you need to focus and explore, and the next steps to get you there.

This is box title

Please note!

I’m using the word “stages,” but they’re more like “flavors,” different kinds. The stages aren’t necessarily linear. My goal is to make the unconscious more known, so we can start actually deciding if we do want to do the topping (or dominating or daddying or mommying or parenting or mastering or whatever verb you want to use for the person-in-charge) more intentionally. This is not comprehensive.

The Stages of Topping

1. Service Topping from the Bottom’s Palette of Pleasure

In service topping, the bottom lays out the things they like (what I’m calling a “palette of pleasure”), and the top then does those things. The top is the person who is doing the action, and the bottom is receiving, but the bottom is the one basically in charge of the actions that are happening.

Sometimes the negotiations are very specific, like: “So now that you told me what you like, I’m thinking that in this scene, I’m going to spank you over my lap with my hand, then get out the cane, then start fingering you, and keep using my hand on you until you come. How’s that sound?”

Sometimes the palette is picked up through conversation, like: “I really like my hair pulled.” “I can’t wait to suck your cock.” “Please make sure to bruise me up before you get me off.”

Either way, all actions have a specific green light from the bottom for the top.

It’s not that the bottom dictates each move play-by-play: “Okay, now put your hand there. Now hit me this hard. Now flip me over and fuck me hard!” Some folks would call that “topping from the bottom,” which is often meant to be an insult. (More about that another day.)

Sometimes the palette is picked up through conversation, like: “I really like my hair pulled.” “I can’t wait to suck your cock.” “Please make sure to bruise me up before you get me off.”

It can be such a huge relief for a top to have a palette to work from. Topping can be nerve wracking as you’re getting the hang of it: we have to make split second decisions about what to do, when to change something, when to stop or when to keep going, and what else to add. Figuring out what actual things to do on top of all that other stuff can sometimes make us freeze up. Having a palette can help this!

When service topping, the top is not necessarily (and sometimes neglectfully) attending to what they are feeling or what pleasures their body would like. The bottom’s needs are being attended to and they are being played with, but sometimes, service tops crave … more. (I certainly did.)

When I work with new tops who are trying to up their game, this is most often the stage they’re stuck within.

2. Topping from the Top’s Palette of Pleasure

Shifting the focus from the bottom’s palette of pleasure to what the top specifically wants to do right in the moment can be a big mind-fuck for the top. It seems simple, but having to make decisions or be in touch with what we want while also Being In Charge can cause our minds to lock up. If you’re the kind of top who goes along just fine and then when your bottom says, “I’ll do whatever you want; what do you want?” and you draw a total blank, this one might be for you to play in.

Step one here is to start brainstorming about what’s on your “palette of pleasure.” What acts do you totally love and would be thrilled to bust out to do at any given moment—assuming, of course, that you have the permission to do so? You need more than “blow job” on the list, buddy. See if you can come up with 10 things, then see if you can come up with 10 more. These might be things you love having done to your body, or things you love doing to the bottom’s body.

The more comfortable you are with a broad list of options, the more likely you are to come up with the exact right thing to do in the moment, based on consent and what tools you might have with you and the energy between you both.

Even when pulling from all those beautiful favorite things that the top loves, you still has to practice making decisions about what to do in the moment, which can be incredibly hard when there’s a lot of pressure on us, and especially hard when all of the blood is flowing in places other than our brains.

What’s on your “palette of pleasure”? What acts do you totally love and would be thrilled to bust out to do at any given moment—assuming, of course, that you have the permission to do so?
This is still a negotiated, consensual palette of sex acts and kinky explorations, and the bottom is explicitly involved in determining what’s on the palette. But the difference is that the top generates the ideas, and the bottom gives consent (or crosses them off the list).

Of course, a top’s and the bottom’s palettes of pleasure might completely overlap. On the one hand, that’s amazing and you’re very compatible. On the other hand, it makes exploring more complicated power dynamics a little harder. Some power dynamics and authority-based play revolves around being “forced” to do something one doesn’t want to do, but will do because it’s what the top wants.

So let’s talk about playing with edges.

3. Topping the Bottom’s Edges

Once you’ve built some trust, you’ve had lots of sexytimes, you are consenting to each other, you’re both dirty kinky folks who just want to do all sorts of things together, and you’ve done all the things on the top’s palette and the bottom’s palette—twice—but you still have some domination hunger … where do you go from there?

Here’s where edges come in. Find some edges to work. Identify some places where you’re curious. Have your bottom make a list of the 10 most favorite times he ever had sex, and talk about it, see if you can make any connections. Then have the bottom you’ve been playing with make a list of 10 things he’s never tried, but is curious to try. Talk about those, too. Delve into them with your smarty brains and see what is nervous but exciting about them. Read up on those kinks. Learn how to wield a flogger or a cane or a knife or whatever object they’re curious about. Learn how to punch with a roll of quarters in your fist for a deeper hit. Find a topping mentor to show you how. Have some threesomes. Go to a play party. Go to a kink retreat conference.

Whatever those edges might be, take it upon yourself to gently push them, making it a safe experience—emotionally and physically.

This takes a lot of trust, and a lot of ability to tell each other what’s going on between you, verbally and non-verbally. Always be more aware and cautious when playing in new arenas of play that are more unfamiliar. Cultivate impeccable aftercare skills.

When I’m playing with someone else’s edges, by which I mean when they are edges that the bottom has handed to me and asked me to play with, I think about it like this: I have consent to go this far, so I slowly approach that edge, and then back off. Then I do it again. And again. Each time I approach the edge, there is an opportunity for something new to open up, for that place to become a little less edgy and for it instead to be more fun and interesting and playful. Or maybe it doesn’t ever get easier, it stays hard, but it becomes a little less scary just by actually being there with it.

Cultivate impeccable aftercare skills.
I think of that process as somewhat like making an orgasm more intense. If I get out my vibrator and start going at it, I’ll slowly raise energy and pleasure in my body until eventually, most likely, I will come. It’ll be fine, but probably won’t last very long or be particularly memorable. But if I get close to coming, but pause just before I actually do, and then get myself close to coming again—if I edge a few times before I actually let myself get off—my orgasm will be longer lasting and more intense. I’ve inflated my capacity to hold energy and pleasure just a little more, so I end up with a bigger experience.

I think of it that way around kink and top/bottom edginess, too. If I work an edge by approaching it and then letting it dissipate, I can build it up again and again, and get to a greater capacity.

pleasureovertime

Illustration by rife

4. Topping the Top’s Edges

It might be easier to work your own edges than to work your bottom’s, or it might be easier to work your bottom’s—just depends on who you are and what your style is like. For me, it was much easier to work someone else’s edges (hello, control issues plus stone identity).

Regardless of the order you’re playing with, another palette to play with when you’re enhancing your own topping skills is with your own edges. Make the same lists: make a list of the 10 most favorite times you ever had sex, and see if you can make any connections. Make a list of 10 things you’ve never tried, but would like to. Make a list of areas of topping and sex and kink that are challenging for you, but that you’d like to be better at.

This is a place where your bottom gets to hold and witness some of your vulnerability with you. It takes more trust and transparency than some of the other stages. But to quote Sini Anderson: “Ask yourself how well you really know them. If someone you know really well asks you to trust them, try to trust them.” The best way to work your own edges is to have other folks there who are willing to support you while you’re taking small or big leaps toward what you want to be doing.

Say, for example, that you want to get better at humiliative dirty talk. Your partner has been asking for it for a while, and loves it whenever you can squeak out something diminutive, but it’s so hard for you to channel that kind of talk because you’re a nice person and you don’t necessarily like to say those kinds of mean things. But, since your partner is super into it, you’ve noticed that it makes you really, really hot to play with it. And it makes your partner hot. So you want to get better at it. But … it’s so scary and hard and edgy.

Make a list of the 10 most favorite times you ever had sex, and see if you can make any connections. Make a list of 10 things you’ve never tried, but would like to.
So maybe you co-create a scene with the bottom you’re playing with and they give you a list of ten different things you could say that are dirty and humiliating. You might even keep the list by your bed or on a post-it so you can reference it if you get stuck. They know that you are trying to get better at this one skill, so they are going to give you lots of positive feedback whenever it shows up in the play. And they are going to wear just the right outfit and say just the right things to encourage you to play your part.

Then after, they cuddle you and assure you that they loved it when you said those things, and that they know you are actually really nice and didn’t mean them and are very good and loving.

Really, we should all cultivate impeccable aftercare skills, tops and bottoms alike.

That’s just one example, but bringing in the bottom’s support and aftercare and ideas is a really good way for a top’s edge to be worked.

Working with your own edges can often be a place to seek if you want more satisfaction in your topping.

There are dozens of styles of topping

Of course, and there’s no one right or wrong way. I don’t mean to say that any of these are better or worse than the others, just that they’re different, and for the most part, we call all of them “topping.” Where are you at in your topping journey? Where would you like to be? Which are really easy for you, which are really challenging? Hopefully by identifying and talking about it, we can identify some of the places where we might be stuck or unsatisfied, and get to a stronger, more conscious, and more fun place to play and explore.

A Dirty Excerpt from Carrie’s Story [Blog Tour]

carriesstoryToday is my day on the Carrie’s Story blog tour. I devoured this book in the beginning of March as some escapist fiction, hoping for something easy to read that was easy enough to digest without a lot of deep thinking. And while it is easy to read and easy to digest, it isn’t without it’s deep thoughts. Carrie has very little experience with kink and submission at the beginning of the book, but by the end she is an auctioned slave, having gone through trainings from her (temporary) master and trainings from the Madame of the slave auction herself.

I love the little moments where Carrie submits, not because she is comfortable being taken by this person or that person, but because she trusts the woman who created the entire system. And by submitting to the system, she is submitting to that woman in particular. It’s a beautiful explanation of how M/s is larger than D/s, and how M/s is not about individual interactions.

I’ve been more and more interested in M/s theory lately. I’ve got a lot of thoughts about how D/s and M/s are different, and I’d love to write about that more soon here—mostly I’m still chewing on the differences and formulating thoughts. I’ve read through Raven Kaldera and Joshua Tenpenny’s book, Dear Raven and Joshua: Questions and Answers About Master/Slave Relationships, which is amazing and which I may turn around and re-read from the beginning right away. It’s long and detailed, well-organized and easy to read in a Q&A format. Unfortunately (and fortunately) it’s been teaching me a ton of things that I’ve been doing wrong … but I’ll leave that thought for the moment and share you some more details about Carrie’s Story. I highly recommend the read.

Excerpt from Carrie’s Story

Day one had begun with the very chic fortyish woman holding me tightly by the nipple and telling me, “We will all want to use you during these trials, but first, we will want to know how obedient you are, how much self-discipline you have. You are accustomed to being in restraints?”

“Yes, Madame Roget,” I said.

They all laughed a little at this, and she told me that they didn’t believe in that sort of thing for these trials. “We would not mar the woodwork of this pretty room with any of those little hooks and eyes, I think you call them. You will do everything we command, and you will be beaten, and bear it beautifully, without any collars or cuffs, without being tied or held in any way.”

I gulped. “Yes, Madame Roget,” I agreed, though I was terrified at the thought of not being tied down while being beaten. Too bad we couldn’t rig up something using all the hardware hanging off the jacket of her Chanel suit.

Quel jour. I had no idea if I could really do it, and I wasn’t perfect by any means. Twice, that I can remember, and maybe more times than that, my hands flew up to my breasts to protect them. This was at least one of the “technical” things Jonathan hadn’t thought of. He, of course, loved to think of crafty ways to embed hooks and eyes all over his house and so, stupidly, hadn’t realized that the rest of the world might not. I think what got me through it was that I was so pissed at him for not considering that this might happen, and so determined to best the situation in spite of him. Thanks a lot, coach, I remember thinking, seeing him out of the corner of my eye, over there on his delicate little chair. I thought of that creep who brought those terrified little four-foot-eight-inch American gymnasts to the Olympics, to be entirely outclassed by the Russians and Romanians.

That day ended very abruptly, or at least I thought so. I was on my knees in the center of the room, having just thanked the board, one by one, and very sweetly and clearly, though in a bit of a choked voice, for a brisk beating they’d just administered to my breasts and thighs. (Oh, and in French—we switched to French for the afternoons.) And, no, they didn’t hold up any cards with little numbers on them to rate my performance. They hardly acknowledged me at all, in fact, but Madame Roget turned to Jonathan and curtly said, “Bring her around tomorrow at ten, and we’ll continue.”

“Thank you, Madame,” Jonathan replied, getting to his feet and hurrying to help me up. “I will. Thank you all.” He spoke like the well-brought-up little boy he must have been once. And I realized that part of the entertainment, for him, and maybe for me as well, was that he was on trial too.

When we got back to the hotel room, he grabbed me, and, very uncharacteristically, pushed me onto the bed practically into a backward somersault, pulled up my skirt, and started fucking me. My shoes went flying, and I felt a garter unsnap painfully against my thigh. Against my cunt, my belly, my legs, I felt his pants zipper and a million buttons and buckles digging into me. It was silly, clumsy, uncomfortable, but I understood. It was what I needed, too. The long, horny, ritualistic day of trials, subtleties, pain, performing, and politesse had gotten to both of us, and what we both wanted was mindless, exhausting, low-tech vanilla fucking. In and out. Bang bang bang. Friction. I closed my eyes and came a lot, moving however I pleased and making lots of noise and trying to forget that there were such things as rules or form or sensibility.

Still, you don’t forget a year of slave training just like that, so a long while after, when I had recovered enough, I crawled to the foot of the bed and knelt there at attention (although I was unsure what to do about the skirt that was still up around my waist and the stockings down around my ankles). Jonathan looked at me for a while. Then he frowned, sighed, and finally said, “Oh hell, Carrie, I don’t think I can maintain any rules tonight, not after watching those pros do it all day. Let’s just take showers and zone out. Are you hungry? Want to do room service?”

Which was how we passed the next three evenings. We’d come back from the trials, pull off our clothes, fuck real hard, and then eat. During some break in the second day trials, Jonathan had gone out, found an English-language bookstore, and scooped up a shopping bag full of mysteries and sci fi. We weren’t following rules anymore, which meant we could say anything we wanted. But we were afraid of saying wrong or embarrassing things to each other. At least I was. So the books kept us busy during those weird, wired, exhausted, polite, and oddly companionable evenings. We’d dive into them, every so often one or the other of us finishing one, maybe briefly recommending it, or tossing it across the room, proclaiming it a “turkey, guessed it halfway through, don’t bother.”

On the fourth evening, the rock ’n’ roll/cyberpunk story I was racing through reminded me of thrash music and I thought of my Primus T-shirt, packed up with my stuff at Stuart’s. I decided that if I passed the trials I’d tell Jonathan he could have it as a good-bye present. Thanks for the memo- ries, I guess, and for the strange intimacy, even if we’d only had about four real conversations in the space of a year and a half. Good-bye, and thanks, also, for finding me a job that was not just a job but an adventure. So long, accomplice, collaborator, coconspirator.

Just then, there was a knock at the door. Jonathan went to get it. There were two European guys in suits and short squared-off haircuts, looking like the cops in La Femme Nikita. They were from the auction committee, though, and they were here to tell us—well, Jonathan, really—that I’d passed the trials. I could hear that much anyway, though the one of them who was doing the talking, the only one who knew English I think, was speaking very softly. I heard Jonathan tell him, “I’ll fax them the papers within an hour. And I’ll get her for you now.”

I hadn’t known they came for you in the middle of the night. And I don’t know if Jonathan had either. He walked over to me—I was sprawled on the bed in a hotel bathrobe and a pair of his socks—and pulled me to my feet. “You’re in,” he said, “and you’re not allowed to speak anymore.” So much for the T-shirt idea. Or for even a so long. “Take off your clothes,” he continued in an expressionless voice. “You’ll go with these gentlemen.”

They were standing by the door watching without much interest. I felt a little sorry for them; this had to be the dullest master/slave scene they’d ever barged in on. I pulled off the socks and robe, folded my glasses on top of the open book, and walked over to them. They produced a pair of high heels and a trench coat and helped me into them. Then, silently, they hustled me out of the room and shut the door behind them.

 * * *

From Cleis Press: 

Carrie’s Story is regarded as one of the finest erotic novels ever written—smart, devastatingly sexy, and, at times, shocking. In this new era of “BDSM romance,” à la Fifty Shades of Grey, the whips and cuffs are out of the closet and “château porn” has given way to mommy porn. Carrie’s Story remains at the head of the class. Imagine The Story of O starring a Berkeley Ph.D. in comparative literature who moonlights as a bike messenger, has a penchant for irony, and loves self-analysis as much as anal pleasures. Set in both San Francisco and the more château-friendly Napa Valley, Weatherfield’s deliciously decadent novel takes you on a sexually-explicit journey into a netherworld of slave auctions, training regimes, and enticing “ponies” (people) preening for dressage competitions. Desire runs rampant in this story of uncompromising mastery and irrevocable submission.  

Molly Weatherfield, the pen name of Pam Rosenthal, is also the author of Safe Word, the sequel to Carrie’s Story. A prolific romance and erotica writer, she has penned many sexy, literate, historical novels. She lives in San Francisco. You can find Molly on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/MollyWeatherfield and on Twitter at @PamRosenthal (https://twitter.com/PamRosenthal).

Blog Tour Schedule

March 24 – Shanna Germain
March 25 – Lelaine
March 26 – Alison Tyler
March 27 – Romance After Dark
March 28 – Romance Junkies and Amos Lassen
March 29 – Sinclair Sexsmith
April 1 – Rachel Kramer Bussel
April 2 – Kissin Blue Karen
April 3 – Dana Wright
April 4 – Erin O’Riodan
April 5 – Lindsay Avalon
April 6 – Laura Antoniou
April 7 – DL King

Gaga Feminism Giveaway Winner

Thanks for all the great book recommendations and thoughts in the Gaga Feminism interview blog tour thread, folks.

Someone commented, “I’m just kind of surprised with all the thinking you do on gender studies and feminism you are uncritically endorsing gaga feminism.” I’m not sure I’d say I am “uncritically endorsing” gaga feminism—but I did like reading the book, I think there was a lot of interesting content, and a lot of things to think about and chew on. I’m not sure I agree with everything in the book—but hell, I don’t agree with everything I wrote on this website. I don’t think that I have to agree with everything. I still think it was worth reading and interesting, especially the parts about how gender studies and feminist thought are evolving to include a less binaristic view of gender, the indicators of that in popular culture, and how we as queers and genderqueers and other outlaws can continue to encourage that binaristic breakdown.

I’m not a theorist, so I’m not going to go through the whole book and write up the parts I think need broken down further or that I disagree with. It’s kind of an interesting intellectual exercise to do so, but frankly, I don’t have time. I’d rather be having kinky scenes that I can write about later, or writing love letters, or planning for my next classes.

So! Hey, there is a winner of the giveaway …

Congrats Emily! Thanks, Beacon Press, for providing the books.

See You At the Femme Conference

So I got my hair cut at Tomcats, Kristen painted her nails with black-white-and-blue stripes and a red heart (wonder what that means?) on her fourth finger, the car is full of gas, I’ve perused the schedule, I’ve got a list of folks I want to make sure to connect with, the catsitter is booked—I think this might mean I’m ready for the Femme Conference tomorrow.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my goals in attending, or my purpose in going. I’m not presenting anything, not doing any official workshops or meetups or events near the conference. So aside from going with the intention of having fun (which I definitely am), and supporting my femme girlfriend by both showing up, participating, and learning things about identity (which I am eager to do), what do I want to get out of it?

I adore identity theory. I love the way we construct ourselves. I love these labels, despite the fact that labels seem oh-so-gauche right now. I love the history of butch and femme (and butch/femme) and I love how the queer communities are exploding gender in all 360* directions right now.

The first Femme Conference I went to in 2008 was themed “the architecture of identity” and I wrote up just about everything I learned about that when I got back. I am still so curious about what constructs femme identity. Earlier this year, in New York, as preparation for the Femme Conference, there was a femme event here called Beyond Visibility, and I am really curious about that, too—about what femme identity issues there are beyond the ever constant issue of being recognized and visually categorized as queer.

I’ve written On Femme Invisibility & Femme Invisibility & Beyond—I don’t want to give the impression I’m not sympathetic to that issue, I get that it is a huge hurdle. And I also know, from femmes in my own life who have been exploring femme identity for a while, that they get bored with that issue and want to move on.

So what are the other issues around femme identity? What is beyond visibility? What else gets discussed at a Femme Conference, anyway? I know plenty of that stuff isn’t exactly for me, as an ally and someone not femme identified, but as someone who loves the construction of identity and how these identities in particular work in this current culture in this current era, what else is going on?

I suspect the Mean Girls topic is a big one, considering some of the conversations I’ve had leading up to the conference. I know there are some topics like cultural and racial diversity, sex positivity, and parenting that have come up, but those seem fairly universal and not necessarily femme specific—then again, what is the take on those through a femme lens? I’m sure there will be many, many other interesting things. I have been kicking around a theory about the connection between masculine privilege and femme invisibility, maybe I can see if I can hash that out any further. Autostraddle has a great write up today called Beyond Lipstick that I want to read over again and think through. And I’m sure there will be dozens more things to ponder and chew on, once I get there.

My goal is to have fun, first and foremost. To support my girlfriend. To connect with the people that I know and adore and don’t get to see very often. To hopefully attend some good sessions and have some good conversations, to meet some new folks with interesting things to say. And to continue being curious about identity building theory in general, and about femme identity construction in particular; I’ll do my best to take copious notes and write up some thoughts about what happened and what I learned when I get back. (You can always follow my twitter feed @mrsexsmith to hear my immediate thoughts.)

And, oh yeah: to appreciate the brilliant firecracker amazingness that is femmes.

See you at the Femme Conference!

Reconciling the Identities of Feminist & Butch Top

Queer Memoir: Butch/Stud Through the Years was fucking EPIC on Friday night, and I’m so honored and thrilled to have been there and to be a part of it. There was the story of the kid’s game “hide and go get it” in Kentucky! There was the revelation of belonging somewhere and that “here take a sticker” moment—”because even though you’re in New York City, you might still be isolated.” There were discussions about feminist topping! There was deep appreciation for butch friends and community and support! There was a fucking marriage proposal!

This is the piece I read, slightly updated from the December 2009 version, about reconciling the identities of feminist and butch top, and what it means to be a masculine person who is also dominant. It is relevant as ever and I still struggle with the intersection of these identities. I have a lot more to say about it, and reading this piece again made me think about what I’d add and what more there is to say, so I’m working on it. Meanwhile, here’s the text of what I read.


A few years ago, a girl I dated wanted me to slap her. To hit her face. She asked for it specifically, I still remember the conversation on the subway and the precise way that she looked over at me and said, I want you to hit me. Something big swelled in me and I wanted to, I wanted to feel the sting of impact on my palm and see her recoil, to do it again before she was ready, to push something so sensational onto her experience that she was jolted to the edges of her skin and had to feel, to feel herself, to feel me, to be fully present.

This girl and I had already done some other light percussion play, using my hand, or even a paddle, me hitting her ass and thighs, the fleshy parts that I couldn’t possibly do damage to beyond some light bruising. She liked it, we both did. It made sense to escalate, at the time, to something new; we were deepening both our romantic relationship – our trust in each other – and our power dynamic, and it was time to push a little, to see where we could go.

I was terrified. After she asked, after we talked about it extensively, I even tried, a few times, when we were in bed and she said, hit me, now, please, and I couldn’t, I’d bring my hand up and chicken out.

I was terrified of what it would mean for me, as a masculine person, as a butch, to be more dominating in bed. To like it. To like to cause someone pain. To like to cause a woman pain. To hit someone in the face. To hit a woman in the face, to sexualize that act and that power dynamic specifically.

I was paralyzed by that terror – I wanted to do it, the idea, the very thought of it, the discussions with her, turned me on, the girl I was dating wanted me to do it, but I couldn’t.

Beyond wanting to do it, this was the kind of sex act that was in the sex life I was dreaming of having. This was what haunted my fantasies and what I looked for in porn that I watched and erotica that I read. And I was on a very serious quest to figure out how to have the sex that I wanted. I’d just gotten out of a bed-death relationship. I was committed to studying sex hard, to figuring out: what I wanted, how to get what I wanted, how to build a relationship with that as an element, how to maintain something sane and hot over a long period of time. That’s precisely why I started Sugarbutch.

I now know that I’m a sadist, and a top. That means I like to dominate. And already there are conclusions being drawn by some of you out there who think well of course you like to dominate, you’re masculine, and that’s prescribed for you or in other words you misogynistic asshole, I already knew you were one of “those” butches who needs to make up for your inadequacies by dominating women. Because that’s what we think, isn’t it? Maybe not consciously, but a little bit, somewhere in our brains, we associate these particular identity alignments – butch equals masculine equals top equals dominating equals men’s prescribed gender role. We’re relieved when they line up how we think they will, or maybe we are challenged and uncomfortable – though perhaps in a stimulated way – when they misalign.

There’s something supposedly anti-feminist about wanting to dominate. There’s something in the feminist rhetoric which says we are all equal especially in bed, so that means I-do-you-you-do-me, or that means we have sex neither above nor below each other, and with no reproduced heteronormative misogynistic patriarchal power dynamic.

But I didn’t want that. I’d had that, with other girlfriends, but it didn’t keep things hot enough to sustain a relationship. And secretly, I wanted to top and control and hit and demean and humiliate and restrain and force and take.

Power dynamic theory—stick with me for just a paragraph here—has many similarities to gender theory. Like the gender identities of butch and femme are not reproductions but pastiche copies at best of prescribed societal gender roles, putting on and taking off power roles in power sex play is a pastiche reproduction of power in our lives, of which there are thousands of examples of interaction on a daily basis. And when we can put on and take off these roles intentionally, the act of adopting becomes further proof that the power positioning in our lives is not inherent, or “real,” or immobile, or prescribed, or “normal,” but part of a hierarchical society of social power that can be deconstructed. In that, we can more easily have more power and control in the beneficial ways, and less power and control in destructive ways, as we play with it and engage with it.

As in my experience with coming to a butch gender identity, when I finally came to a power identity that really deeply aligned with something inside me that just clicked and make sense, I felt like I was coming home to myself in a way I hadn’t experienced previously. Through my personality and tendencies and psychology I have my own set of quirks and workings and functions, and for whatever reason, it makes a lot of sense to me to let out some of my power and control issues in the bedroom by being dominating. It is deeply satisfying the way a glorious meal or a delicious book is satisfying, one of my life’s greatest pleasures. I’m not sure I understand why I like what I like, but what I like does not harm others, and is consensual, and I know myself well enough to accept what I like as what I like – and to let that be a simple truth.

How did this change for me? What happened between the time when I was terrified to slap a girl in the face and today, now, where I am fairly comfortable in my identity as a top, and even as a sadist, as someone who enjoys causing extreme sensation (aka hurting) someone else?

Little by little, I had lovers who pushed me, lovers who were more experienced as bottoms than I was as a top, lovers who wanted more from me and who could take more than I was able to give who made enough space for me to walk into a bigger version of myself and occupy it, try it on.

I did come to a reconciliation with my feminist self and my top self. Phrases like men should not hurt women or rather masculine people should not hurt feminine people, or even more broadly that people should not hit each other and violence is bad bad bad … I had accepted those phrases as Ultimate Truths, and I started to understand deeper the ways that sensation was not violence, and hitting was a way to be sparked into the present moment, to release whatever our musculature was holding onto, and to deepen trust between people and in a relationship.

I didn’t realize how little trust I had in others until I started playing deeper with BDSM. Because I would tell myself, it’s okay, she wants to do it, but then I would think, does she really? Maybe she wants to because I want to. Maybe she wants to because society tells her she should want to. Maybe she wants to for fucked-up reasons, like she thinks it’s okay for her to feel humiliated and less than me because of her own internalized misogyny … but that was me not trusting that what she said was true. That she wanted me to hit her face. And that was me, further controlling both myself, her, and our relationship, in unhealthy ways, because I didn’t trust her.

This was an issue of agency, in feminist terms – my not trusting my lover to communicate with me what she wanted, to explain to me how far I could go, and my not trusting that she would let me know if I was going too far or too hard, either with her physical communication or her words or both, was me not trusting in the agency of my lover. I have to trust that she will tell me, she will let me know, if I am going too far. And I have to listen, apologize, understand what I did, and trust that she will accept that it was an accident, a mistake, and that I’ll do whatever she needs to feel safe again.

When I started playing out my control issues in BDSM, in the bedroom, in sex play, the control issues I had in my relationships began to heal.

In learning my way into being a top, I had many, many conversations about consent and intention and communication, I talked to my lovers when things broke down or didn’t seem to work and I learned more about my own tendencies when things went well. I figured out that sometimes, it was really hard for me to be with someone who bottomed so well, and who I trusted so deeply, that I did harder, scarier, bigger things with them that took me even deeper into my topping and dominance and sadism and power, and sometimes that meant I needed to be comforted afterward, to be told I liked that, and that wasn’t too much, and you didn’t hurt me, and that was what I wanted and thank you. Hearing those things is always a relief.

(I give good aftercare too, of course. But top aftercare is less common in the BDSM world – we don’t frequently talk about the toll it takes for the dominant to dominate.)

I practiced, a lot, to be bold and trusting through my topping. I tried scary things and it turned out they weren’t so scary, they were in fact incredibly hot. I got to know myself, and I learned more about the things I wanted to play with, and I talked to smart people whose experiences were similar to what I was going through and who assured me it was possible to come out the other side of it a masculine, queer, butch, sadistic, feminist top.

On Femme Invisibility

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Passing: In/visibility to the Straight World

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recognition: In/visibility to Queers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Proof: In/visibility to Oneself

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

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

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

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

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

A few more things …

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

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

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

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

Define: Unthought Known

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sadism, and the Study of Pain

i have noticed elsewhere online that you have added ’sadistic’ to your lineup of adjectives. i was very interested in your explanation of how you came to claim those words as part of your identity (forgive me if this is not accurate), and would be interested in hearing a similar description of how you came to claim sadistic as well.

Yes, I have added “sadistic” in a couple of my taglines or bios or descriptions recently, and it is an identity label that I claim, at least to a degree. I think the identity of “sadist” is understood much less – outside of kink communities and circles – than the other identity tags I use (queer, butch, top), and it can be incredibly off-putting for folks who don’t understand it.

There’s just so much stigma around it – you like to give others pain? You enjoy that, you get off on it, it turns you on? That’s seen as, well, kind of fucked up by a lot of people.

And it kind of is fucked up, if that’s the way you’re looking at it. But the details of how sadism works a lot more complicated than that – at least, it is for me.

It’s taken me a long time to come to claim a bit more of a sadistic identity, and it’s still something that I say with a little bit of reservation or even shame, partly because I don’t want it to come on too strongly and freak someone out.

First: playing with sadism, for me, must be consensual and intentional. I do not enjoy being cruel in general, and actually it is sometimes very difficult for me to treat someone I love with humiliation or damage, to hit them, to slap someone in the face. I’ve had to go through the feelings of top guilt and, to a greater extend, sadist guilt, when I started exploring this. Those feelings aren’t completely gone, but I know what I’m doing more now and I have more confidence in my perspective and standpoint, so I don’t have as much guilt about it.

I remember precisely when I realized I was a sadist: it was 2002, and I was in a Body Electric workshop called Power, Surrender, and Intimacy. (This is going to get a little bit sacred sex/spiritual, just to warn you.) We had been discussing power, dominance, and sadism – and receiving that with surrender, submission, and masochism – and had been doing exercises all relating to tapping into those feelings. We were in the middle of a ritual (I won’t go into details) when someone had a very strong reaction, and began crying. I was going through my own experience and starting to really feel myself come into some power and dominance in a new way, and I was flooded with the witness of her release. It was a solo ritual, so we weren’t working together or touching, and she probably wasn’t even aware of me, she just started sobbing, loudly, in her own world of release, and I felt the energy as the grief and emotion flooded through her, I was so attuned to the shifts of energy in the room, and started realizing that I was incredibly turned on by her release. It was beautiful – pure and unhindered, just letting go of some really deep things that she’d been carrying and holding on to for who knows how long. I wanted to coax her through it, support her, and in my mind I was soothing her, cradling, holding the space around her so that she herself could have room to be safe and release. I loved the feeling of doing that for someone (even though I wasn’t really doing that for her, I was just imagining the scenario where I would do that) and I got such a rush and release myself from witnessing someone else get into that space of deep release, deep surrender, and then come back, smiling and whole.

So there’s a lot of psychology to it for me: we carry around all sorts of grief, pain, shame, anger, rage, distrust, disassociation, and guilt, especially about our physical bodies and our sexualities. And one of the ways that BDSM and power play and pain play taps into that is through acknowledgment and, ultimately, release – which is why we can feel renewed, refreshed, energized after a deep scene.

We also just don’t have very good tools for release and replenishment available to us. We’re not exactly taught how to remake ourselves and let go of some of our deep grief, and I believe this kind of emotional release is one of those ways.

Aside from the psychology, I also like pain. And as much as I talk about being a sadist, I have spent many years as a masochist also – I’ve been beaten, flogged, caned, whipped, pierced, cut, and slapped; I’ve had 13 piercings (only one of which I wear anymore); I’ve had some experience submitting and surrendering, and using pain as a way to get more present in my body, and then to let go.

There’s a degree to which, though, at this point, I feel like I’ve had enough of that kind of release, I seek something else now. I know how to get myself into a state of deep body release, mostly through yoga or meditation or masturbation or running, and I wanted to explore other things related to that kind of bodily release – namely, guiding it in others. I get more out of the experience of taking someone through it than I do going through it myself, these days. I don’t expect that to be permanent, but I don’t expect it to change either – for now, I know I’m a top who really likes to play with my sadistic side, and that really works for me.

So, after this series of revelations and after some further investigation, and being very sure that I wanted to get deeper into this kind of play, I began studying it more intentionally: how to get someone into that state, how to keep them safe when they’re there, how to encourage the release (but not overwhelmingly so), and how to bring them back from it.

There’s also that moment … how do I describe it. Where put your hand in water and you can’t tell if it’s super hot or super cold – how our senses cross-fire sometimes when sensation is so deep and heavy and stimulating that we can’t tell if it’s pain or pleasure.

I love playing with that line, partly because it is a way to practice pain without suffering – a way to practice pain without being hurt, but to experience it as a release, change, and growth. I think pain play can do a lot of that, too, and it is very interesting to me, as someone who is interested in algology (the study of pain), and someone who studies the cessation of suffering, how to encourage these moments of transformation where pain becomes pleasure, useful, and a methodology of study.

What I’m saying is: sadism is the intentional use of pain, discomfort, and other dark emotions to find deep release, move energy, and renew the self. As someone who is deeply interested in dark emotions, the messy stuff, the hard stuff, and personal transformation and self-awareness, this is a tool that I find incredibly useful.

A Love Letter to Femmes

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

So what would I write?

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

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

Hope you enjoy it.

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

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

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

Cock Confidence and the KinkForAll Conference

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

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


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

1. What is cock confidence?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And this is where gender discussions as foreplay come in.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that’s how I get my cock confidence.

Any questions? Class adjourned.

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

Gendered Sources of Physical Power: Beauty vs Strength

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Feminist Carnival of Sexual Freedom & Autonomy #15

carnivalWelcome to the 15th Feminist Carnival of Sexual Freedom & Autonomy! I’m your host, Monsieur du Sexsmith, as we wander around the sex, feminist, queer, and gender blogospheres to bring you some amazing reading, writing, introspection, self-reflection, and inspiration on the subjects of sexual freedom and sexual autonomy.

[If I missed your link, I’m so sorry – it was a challenge to keep all of these organized! Email it to me, aspiringstud at gmail dot com, or leave a comment with your link in this post. Thanks!]

I’m going to start with a reproduction of the entire poem from pomegranate pen called temararious. Don’t worry, I won’t reprint everything in its entirety, but this was particularly beautiful and I have such a soft spot for poetry. It’s so incredibly sexy and I really felt the inner conflict of BDSM, of coming to one’s own with power and surrender. Make sure you leave comments over on pomegranate’s blog. (ps: I had to look up temerarious. What a fantastic word.)

    you make me want to do
    what i shouldn’t,
    which is to give

    in. to stay up all night
    for the company of your warm and breathing body,
    to keep my eyes open in case

    you should want to meet my gaze.
    you make me want:
    to succumb. to surrender, hands above my head.

    (reckless abandon,
    they call it,
    i think.) you

    force me to my knees and
    you
    make me feel every second
    in my body –
    we are connected –

    every atom suddenly becoming
    something of us
    the sharp focus of my eyes
    and your breath filling my lungs
    my own blood pounding
    faster with each place you touch and
    my hips leaning slowly

    in –

    these are the things you do to me
    from across rooms and rivers
    (you make me want to do
    what i shouldn’t
    and you make me want to whisper

    please.)

I asked some very specific questions about sexual freedom and autonomy, and these are the 18 particular responses to that question. I know that’s kind of atypical of these feminist carnivals, but I have long thought that this carnival was full of fascinating concepts and was hoping to get some of the folks in my queer sex & gender circles to participate.

I was incredibly touched reading each one, witnessing people’s stories of coming to their own sexual power and understanding their own sexual journeys. Writing and examining our own stories is such an incredibly powerful way to witness our own lives unfold, and that is one of the reasons I adore the writing medium of blogging so much.

I have so much to say about each of these contributions, each of which held revelations for me. But I’m going to let them speak for themselves, with a small excerpt from each piece.

Without more fanfare: let’s get on with the contributions and excerpts.

When or If: When Your Heart Holds You Back

A friend asked that I write about sexual freedom, and being as I am a pretty sex-positive queer kid I figured I’d write about how I got my freedom. What obstacles I’ve overcome to reach the place in my life where I feel free to express my sexual desire, show off my sexuality. … But I couldn’t. I can’t write about that, because it hasn’t happened.

Running Away with the Spoon: Crossing Over

Earlier in our relationship, after we have talked about fucking, we wander into a conversation about how I am her woman, and I say, uncertain of her response, “I want you to be my man.” She pauses for a second, a little surprised, and then says evenly “I am your man. You are my woman and I am your man.” My heart jumps. I have so longed for this, someone willing to cross over into that genderfucking territory with me. but I can see that this is new for her to vocalize, new words for her to speak. So we tread slowly.

Butch Girlcat: Sexual Freedom, Autonomy, & Stone

I accepted the label of stone around the same time I embraced the identity of butch. In both cases it seemed like a matter of accuracy. I’ve written pages and pages now about being butch but very little about being stone. Which only makes sense. We do silence well. She does give me pleasure, oh my god she does, but you won’t hear about it from me, not even if you’re standing next to the bed. I know my face gives me away to her. That’s my version of surrender.

Freedomgirl: Some Thoughts on Sexual Freedom

The word ‘freedom’ is incredibly powerful and meaningful to me, hence the title of this blog. I titled it, and myself, at a moment when my life changed completely; I was realizing just how unfree I had been, for a stretch of time in my relationship, and more largely during my whole life. Unfree to be me, unfree to want the things that I oh so much wanted, unfree to express my sexual desire. […] it’s more than just opening the chains of my relationship; it’s also removing the limitations that I imposed on my own mind and my own desires. Sexual freedom is the new joy in my own body that I’ve found this year. It’s claiming my sexuality for myself, not for my partner or in opposition (or conformity) to some societal ideal.

Miss Avarice: Sexual Autonomy & Sexual Freedom

For me, Sexual Autonomy means having age-appropriate access to the wealth of information that exists about different types of relationship styles, different sexual activities, fetishes, and interests, as well as safer sex practices and contraception. I think this will only happen when we live in an environment that encourages open communication, mutual respect, and an understanding of the important role that sexuality plays in every person’s life.

Uncommon Curiosity: Straight Talk

At this point, keeping track of all the gradations of gender involved in living my life would take an accountant, three maps and a well-trained sheepdog. But I only say “pretty much” because there is still a small spot in my heart that yearns to join the club, to earn my queer patch – if only so the 11-year-old inside me could make it right.

Tina-cious: Freedom is Rarely Free

I thought, at first, [this was] a no sweat kind of question. Turns out, it wasn’t as easy as I thought. Truth is — my sexual “freedom” hasn’t – for the majority of my life – been mine at all. What it had been was the will of my lovers. … All of a sudden I knew what it meant to be allowed to have a say in what sex meant to our relationship. My ideas for new things to try all of a sudden were met with enthusiasm. EVERY sexual deviance I could come up with was open to me for the taking. I just had to vocalize them. Games, role playing, toys, positions, apparatus, anything. All of a sudden I actually felt sexy. Wanted. Lusted after.

Jess I Am: Then And Now

True sexual freedom came to me when I started fucking women. I was the initiator, the aggressor, the top. I felt like a whole new world of possibilities opened up for me and soon after, it did. I discovered the online queer community and before I knew it my inner perv resurfaced and I began to own my sexuality and my body once again. I started to come to terms with my gender identity and understand that sex was going to be something I would only enjoy if I was doing things that I desired. I realized that I could experiment with role play, kink, and even a bit of pain. To this day, there is still so little that I am not open to trying, and there is nothing about sex to fear because everything I do is on my terms, and I am 100% in control of it all, even when I choose to surrender that control.

Femme is my Gender: Shame

When I came out in my twenties I felt myself very liberated. And in some ways I was. However, shame was certainly preventing me from exploring my sexuality freely and in its entirety. I did make progress in some areas though. … Now in my forties and in the ridiculously late flowering discovery of my essential sexual nature, I feel less shame than ever before. That is not to say I am freed from it, but it certainly withers as my confidence grows.

Packing Vocals: What If

So what does “sexual autonomy” and “sexual freedom” mean to me? It means that I can enjoy, appreciate and express my sexuality and gender without fear of rejection or ridicule. It means that I finally have the access to knowledge, the experiences of others and the support to explore my emotions, fears and desires. It means that instead of standing still and stagnating, I can move forward, learning and growing as a person. It means I can be me.

Don’t Let’s Talk: “One of the virtues of not being puritanical about sex is not being embarrassed afterwards.”

[H]aving sex with girls has given me the freedom to access other aspects of my sexuality. Because coming out as gay was easy, but being gay is what gave me the ability to come out (at least to myself) as slutty, kinky, and maybe a little less than gay.

Butchtastic: Don’t fence me in

For me sexual/gender autonomy and freedom are ultimately about self-determination. We should each have the freedom to not only choose our identity labels at any given time, but change them as we wish. I don’t know about you, but my notion of who I am has changed a helluva lot since I came out as a lesbian at seventeen. For the first part of my sexual life, that label and the expected behaviors associated with being a lesbian fit me. I had no desire or need for men in a sexual way. At the same time, I also didn’t relate much to ‘butch’ because of what I saw as a restrictive set of behaviors associated with that label: being less open sexually and emotionally, and taking on what I saw as mostly negative masculine behaviors.

The Verbosery: Finding my Pieces

A woman who personifies the masculine spirit but still craves being fucked like a woman? To me, personally, that’s just about hotter than the surface of the sun. … Part of my journey in understanding my personal relationship with femme was coming into the realization that the stereotypical femme bottom role did not apply to me. I had to come to terms with the fact that femmes top, too. Not only that, but I had to revisit my own personal understanding that I don’t, have never, fallen neatly into given categories. I have always endeavored to forge my own trail, to find the pieces that fit best and felt right for me, personally.

Three-hole Punch Me: On Sugarbutch Chronicles, Sinclair Asked …

To me, sexual autonomy and sexual freedom are synonymous with “owning” my sexuality. This means that I am responsible for putting myself into sexual situations as well as removing myself from those situations when I need to. It means that I decide when I want to have sex, and what kind of sex I want to have. No one else pressures me into it, and I am not forced to do things that I don’t understand or don’t want to do. It means that I am honest with myself and honest with my partner(s) and that we communicate openly and honestly about what we will do together and what the boundaries are. It means that my partner asks for my CONSENT and I do the same for the other person.

Green-Eyed Girl: Sexual Freedom

If asked a couple of years ago what my thoughts on sexual freedom were, I would have laughed and said, “A whip, silly. A whip in one hand and my fingers wrapped around your hair, pulling tightly – that is when I feel most sexually free.” That’s the person I used to be – very much in control & a touch on the violent side (sexually). I don’t know when it changed, I can’t give a specific time when I came to the realization that I am no longer that person. I am fully aware of it though, this huge difference in my sexual behavior. I am also fully aware that it is because I trust her and that is the reason why I have shifted from being a top to a bottom.

A Feminist View: Freedom & Autonomy, Part 1: All Places are Not Alike

[M]y journey to sexual freedom (and autonomy?) is synonymous with my discovery of consensual and safe BDSM sex, and of consensual D/s relationships. With reference to my own past, it is clear that I had no freedom or autonomy as I grew up, and it was only when I came to understand other ways of seeing what was innately in me that I came to have any sense of having control over my own sexuality – that I could own it in every sense of the word. [Also check out part two.]

Sugarbutch: Sexual Autonomy & Freedom

I’m supposed to be writing about sexual autonomy and freedom – so let me tell you this: I cannot untangle gender from sex from power. They are all the spiraling sugar-phosphate backbone in the DNA of my sexuality, and it wasn’t until I unlocked my gender that my sexual liberation truly lived in my body, that my sexuality was truly realized and in practice. It wasn’t until I had a cock – no: it wasn’t until I had a girl who knew what to do with my cock. My gender is the language of my desire, my attraction. The ways I communicate physically. Say gender is a drag, but also say this: I wasn’t me until I discovered my own gendered space.

… and yes, I know this is the longest post in the history of long posts on Sugarbutch, but it’s worth it, I promise.

Read about 20 more posts after the cut.

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.

Marriage is so gay*

Last week, I dreamt of my future wife.

That’s a strange thing to write down and admit, actually, especially publically; but I thought exactly that when I woke: that was my future wife. I still know exactly how she tasted, smelled, how her waist felt in my arms.

I’m not sure how I feel about marriage, really. My mom has always said I should wait until I’m 30 to get married, and thinks too many people get married too young. I don’t really think the government should have anything to do with my personal relationships, and I don’t think the government should value certain kinds of relationships over others – one man + one woman? What about a triad, a lesbian couple, co-habiting straight men? Who cares how people make a household work, as long as they do?

But: I do believe in commitment, in stating publically that you love someone, in gathering friends & family in a ceremony that celebrates and affirms the difficulty, the support, the community around a relationship.

Since I came to be aware of the inequalities of queer relationships in the eyes of the law in, oh, I don’t know, high school? middle school?, it has just been a given that I couldn’t “actually” get married.

“Whatever,” I told myself. “Like I would get married anyway. Like I want The Church + The State involved in My Relationship.”

And the activist circles I ran in were skeptical of marriage as The Gay Rights Issue: “There is so much to be done!” we argued. “Marriage is such an issue of privilege. What about hate crime legislation, discrimination policies for the workplace, queer homeless youth, AIDS, suicide rates, the drinking/drug problems in the queer communities? What about foster kids and adoption and simply BEING KILLED because of gender and sexual orientation? What about cissexism and trans advocacy?”

Unfortunately, the momentum of queer activism isn’t necessarily in the radical queer youth & college students – it’s with the money. And mostly-white mostly-middle-class homos have already decided what The Gay Issue is: marriage.

It’s a symbol, really: not just a symbol for normalcy, but a symbol for a relationship. And that’s what is at the heart of this movement, the heart of the difference in sexual orientation: the right and ability to choose whom we love, with whom we partner.

While my personal beliefs are still a bit more radical than that, I’ve studied the history of social change enough to know that chnage happens gradually, in pockets, a little bit at a time. I also feel like gay marriage activism is a limited scope – like aiming for the mountaintop instead of the sky – because it still defines marriage as two people, right, we’re still talking about working within the monogamy system here. So while many of our poly friends are going “rah rah gay marriage! And PS, what about us?” the gay marriage activits are kind of saying, “Shhh, we can’t talk about your issues right now.”

But then again, it’s easier to go little-by-little than to overhaul the whole system. It’s a classic social change model conflict – after observing a system of oppression, do we a) work from within it to attempt to change it, or b) throw it out completely and start over? My radicalism wants marriage to be thrown out. I mean really, what good is it? But I feel the same way about other institutions that seem to matter to some feminist theorists and reclaimists, such as Christianity. I don’t personally have any investment in the system of Christianity, so I can’t imagine going inside of it to fix and change the oppression and hierarchical marginalizing structures that are in place – but others do have that investment, and are doing the work to include women in clergy, to research the history of more women saints, of queer history in the church, etc. Lesbian and feminist priests and nuns and churchgoers – what they find in the practice must be worth the work of reclaiming and rebuilding, for them.

Actually, I can draw a parallel here: for me, it is language. I am a poet at heart and never cannot be. People ask me why I use language they deem offensive – dyke, fag, pussy, cunt, slut, butch, femme, queer – and I try to explain it is because I love these words. As if they were delicate glass boxes filled with mud, I pick them up from being buried in the compost heap and wash them, dig the dirt from their creases, make their silver shine, make them see-through again. I am invested in the system of language, even though within it -built into the very makeup – is a hierarchy that says certain people are better, best.

Which brings me to my next point: words. Of course “marriage” is not the same thing as “civil union” or “domestic partnership” – the words are different. “Beautiful” is not the same thing as “cute” or “gorgeous” or “attractive” or “stunning” or “elegant” or “handsome,” right? Those all have slightly different connotations, even if their definitions are overlapping and very similar.

I am a poet. I’ve worked hard to say that sentence. I eat words for breakfast and fall asleep with book after book open on my pillow. I theorize language and meaning and definitions and semantics, revive words that are suffering, influse love and equality and value where I can.

It doesn’t matter how many rights there are in a “civil union” or “domestic partnership,” they will never be marriage, because they are not the same word.

Period.

Mark Twain wrote, “The difference between the almost right word & the right word is really a large matter – it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”

It is the difference between fire, and a firefly.

Words are not some static, fixed thing. They are living, they have lives and evolutions, they are manifestations of the culture from where they come, in which they are used. We can change them. They do change and evolve and grow to suit the needs of culture – they reflect a culture, but they also shape a culture. A new concept, term, or phrase can define a movement, a change, activism.

Researching all this information about the state of gay marriage in my country recently has really got me thinking about my own future. I don’t come from a very traditional family, I’ve never thought I would have a very traditional wedding – bridesmaids, groomsmen, white dress, any of that. I’ve received some amazing, beautiful, moving photographs from queers over the last few days, and I find a part of me is craving to have some beautiful party, some celebration, where my love and I can costume up and wear cool clothes and be surrounded by our friends looking dashing.

So I have some ideas forming about what I’d do for my own ceremony. No real dealbreakers, just ideas that I like. Although I am really attached to the idea that our first dance would be choreographed – let’s hope my future wife knows how to swing. (Let’s also hope next time I’ll dream her phone number or URL, so I’ll figure out how to contact her.)


* I hate this common use of “gay” and not infrequently call people on it when I hear them say it. But the tension in this sentence – calling marriage “gay” – cracks me up. Kind of like the bumper sticker I saw at Little Sister’s Bookstore in Vancouver, BC many years ago, which read, “Straight people are so gay.” Hah!

8 Against 8: 8 bloggers – 8 days – as much money as we can raise to defeat Proposition 8 in California. Vote no on Prop 8!

On Pronouns, Mine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Praise of Femmes: The Architecture of Identity

This is what I learned at the Femme Conference.

Oh, the Femme Conference. I have so much to say about what happened there, both personally and in relation to this gender work. Oh yeah, and I have some hot stories to tell y’all, too.

First: THANK YOU, everyone who donated money to help me attend. I was able to go because of this website. I may not have gone otherwise because I really can’t afford to travel. Thank you.

The theme of the conference was The Architecture of Femme, and as such many of the panels explored the construction, deconstruction, and reconstruction of femme identity. As my background is in social theory and social constructionism, I tend to come from the place that says femme is constructed primarily physically, on the body, that all gender is performative. This means through symbols of femininity – shaving, long hair, skirts/dresses, heels, jewelry, makeup, etc.

One of the major themes I’ve come across in running Sugarbutch is femmes who feel invisible – that they are not read as queer because lesbians are not feminine, femininity is a constructed gender role within the heteronormative paradigm, and the perceived notion that a femme is really either bi or straight.

This misconception has to do with physical symbols of gender, and required alignment of sexual orientation and gender.

The first keynote speaker at the conference, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, said: femmes are not invisible, you don’t know how to look.

And this is point number one that I want to make. I’ll pause here to let that sink in for you.

Femmes are not invisible, the lesbian community just doesn’t know how to look.

That deeply resonated with me. I feel I’ve been trying to say that to femme friends and lovers for some time now – “well, I found you, didn’t I? Do you not go to the clubs, do you not get dates? Of course you’re queer.”

I know it’s not this simple, really – I know there is much difficulty when someone is not recognized by their own community because they are being true to their own sense of gender. That’s not an easy contrast to reconcile, and I don’t move through the world that way so I can’t really speak to the daily experience of what that’s like.

Before the conference, I started a conversation about femme eye candy – remember this? I’ll get back to that in another post more fully, but the relevance is that Muse & I were discussing requesting photos along with some text about how the femme in the photo queers femininity – how her femme-ness is coming through in any particular way that indicates that she’s femme, not straight.

[TO BE CLEAR: this is NOT be about proving queerness whatsoever. I am working on the details of how to write this up, and will explore this much more in-depth in another post soon.]

The point is to use the femme eye candy as a visual lexicon of physical symbols, as an attempt to notice any emerging patterns and begin to record the physical markers of femme identity.


DEFINE: Markers: physical details which indicate that the person is using their fashion and style to construct a queer identity. Examples of usage: Femme markers, butch markers, queer markers, hippie markers …


I have some ideas about what these markers might be – vintage and pinup clothes, hyper-femininity, high contrast, for example – and I must thank Sam and Maggie from Toronto who did a wonderful workshop at the conference on the construction of femme identity through fashion and style, where many of my thoughts on this were refined.

The discussion at the workshop quickly went from “what are some of the femme markers” to “what are ways that femmes construct identity besides through physical markers?”

I kept thinking about these things throughout the weekend at the conference: the markers, and the ways femme is constructed besides markers.

Five things stand out greatly from the discussions as ways to construct femme:

  1. In contrast to butch – the classic in some ways, the stereotype in others. We all talk about how butches lend visibility and how different a femme is perceived and treated alone verses with a butch. The conference brought up the issue of femme history, too, and how hard it is to find femmes, and one of the ways to do so is to find the butches’ visible queerness and search for their partners.I think this is an incomplete, problematic, and outdated construction of femme identity generally, but it is relevant historically and it still applies at moments. Plus, for some of us our own sense of identity is so greatly magnified when in contrast to our particular desire orientation – I am not just a butch, for example, but I am a butch who loves, desires, and partners with femmes, and that is also a key component to my identity.
  2. In community – Maggie, the beautiful dancer and wicked smart femme behind the Femme Show (who has a wonderful girlfriend, I was disappointed to hear, as I developed quite the crush on her over the conference) spoke of how when she is in queer spaces, she expects that she should be read as queer. It should just simply be a given. It is not a given that the feminine girl at dyke night is queer, because the lesbian community is still closed off to the ideas that feminine girls are lesbians. I mean, in some ways that is being shattered – maybe that’s one good thing the L-Word has done for the lesbian communities – but in practice, many many queer women still don’t recognize femmes.(I could also speak to how this is probably engrained in butches especially, in butches who are attracted to femininity, from a young age, because we do tend to go for the straight girl or the L.U.G.s and end up getting our hopes up and our hearts broken when she, inevitably, leaves us for a guy, because, well, she’s straight. I still watch butches go through the realization that femmes exist – that femininity exists in a queer context – and wow that sure can be a revolutionary realization. But this is another topic to discuss later, too.)
  3. Through language – Someone commented to say she has no particular physically queer markers, and in fact she prides herself on that, and would rather constantly construct her queer identity by constantly coming out verbally. But even if a femme does see herself as using many queer fashion and style markers, there is still always an element of constructing identities verbally and through language.This brings up one other idea, which is that I think all of these ways of constructing femme identity happen for everyone, that it isn’t just one or another, that some are stronger for some femmes than others, that there are many different combinations of them that make up each unique femme expression of each person.
  4. Through fashion and style and through markers. There are hundreds – thousands probably – of ways to construct femme through physical feminine presentation. The conference was amazing that way, to see as many different representations of femme as there were femmes in attendance. I loved seeing the similarities, the differences. There was such an amazing array from the fanciest drag-queen femme to the pencil-skirt-and-glasses femme to the pinup girl femme to the punk rock femme to the tomboy femme to the sundress-and-cardigan femme.And the SHOES! Oh good lord, I could write an entire post on the shoes at the femme conference. (Swoon.)Honestly, I never cared for fashion until I began discovering, uncovering, and creating conscious and intentional butch/femme gender understandings. I wish I had a better grasp on fashion and the history of fashion sometimes, some folks were saying very interesting things about the evolution of women’s clothing options during the conference.
  5. Through theory – feminist theory, gender theory, power theory, BDSM and kink theory, postmodern theory, historical contextual theory. The intellectualizing of my own gender has been a key component to constructing my own gender identity, and this resonated strongly at the conference.

I’m going to have to work on the butch version of this idea, the ways butch identity is constructed, though I imagine it is in many ways similar: in contrast to femmes, in community, through language, through markers, through theory. But perhaps there’s more to add, perhaps butch and femme are constructed differently? Ill keep thinking on that; please do add your two cents if you’ve got ideas on this topic.

Two specific questions for you, at the end of this looooong summary of what I learned at the Femme Conference about the architecture of femme:

  • What are some other tools with which you construct your identity, femme or otherwise?
  • And what do your markers look like?

queer bodies in psychotherapy conference

QUEER BODIES IN PSYCHOTHERAPY CONFERENCE
www.ciis.edu/publicprograms for more information.

Queer Bodies in Psychotherapy calls attention to queer sexualities, identities, and practices that are inadequately addressed in both psychodynamic and somatic psychologies.

The Queer Bodies in Psychotherapy Conference is an opportunity for LGBTQI and straight therapists, queer theorists, somatic therapists and practitioners, members of various queer communities, scholars, activists, and educators to surface questions, develop theories, share case examples, and explore best practices in this emerging field. The Somatic Psychology Department at CIIS and The Center for the Study of the Body in Psychotherapy are organizing this conference as part of our ongoing commitment to exploring issues of embodied difference, marginalization, and the sociocultural understandings of somatic formation.

DETAILS

October 17 – 19, 2008
Hotel Whitcomb
1231 Market Street, San Francisco, CA

$225 for full weekend
$25 for Tim Miller Event (if not attending conference)

FEATURING

Tim Miller
Jewelle Gomez

Alzak Amlani, PhD
Matthew Bronson, PhD
Richard Buggs, PhD
Randy Connor, PhD
William F. Cornell, MA, TSTA
Dossie Easton, MFT
Karen Erlichman, MSS, LCSW
Zachariah Finley, MA, MFTI
Connie Hills, PhD
SJ Kahn, MFT
Kristin Kali, LM, CPM
Betsy Kassoff, PhD
Keiko Lane, MA, MFT
Janet Linder, LCSW
Connors McConville, MDiv, MA, MFTI
Elena Moser, LCSW
Rev. Trinity A. Ordona, PhD
Vernon A. Rosario, PhD, MD
Shoshana Simons, PhD
Steven Tierney, MA, EdD
Dylan Vade, PhD, JD
Center For Nonviolent Education and Parenting

COSPONSORS

Community United Against Violence
Jewish Mosaic: The National Center for
Gender and Sexual Diversity
Maia Midwifery and Preconception Services
New Leaf: Services For Our Community
Pacific Center
The Psychotherapy Institute
Visual Aid
Women’s Therapy Center

Visit us on the Web!
Go to www.ciis.edu/publicprograms or call (415) 575-6175 to register

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.

Gender 101 (Excerpt)

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

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

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

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

This is how it starts:

What the heck is all this gender stuff about?

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

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

– read it all over at Eden, Gender 101

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

Creating Conscious Gender

Seems like I kinda stepped in it with this entire intentional gender thing! Lots of comments and emails about that one.

(Almost as bad as I stepped in it when I suggested something like “I noticed your gender from across the room” as a pickup line. Yes, it sounds ridiculous. But there’s just no other way to say that without a) objectifying, and potentially offending or b) assuming a person’s gender and potentially offending. Though perhaps that’s speaking more to my underlying Issue of not wanting to offend people than it is speaking to getting someone’s attention by using gender as a flirtation device. Maybe the more appropriate line for most folks is just, “hey, I think you’re hot.”)

I think the mention of “unconscious” vs “conscious” gender are more accurate descriptors than “intentional” vs “natural” gender. I’ve already mentioned this, but: modern gender theory does not believe gender is “natural” at all, it says gender is socially constructed. It can be constructed consciously, or it can be constructed unconsciously.

But there are ways that I can be more conscious about the ways I carry myself. There are ways that I can study and understand how gender works in this highly, highly gendered society, and figure out and choose the ways I operate within it.

So, here’s a bit of a story about what that process looked like for me:

I was raised in a very feminist household. The rejection of traditional gender roles was instilled in me from very young, by my mother especially, who didn’t take my father’s name, never shaves, never wears makeup or dresses or skirts or heels, was primarily the one to mow the lawn and help me with my math homework, etc.

Though this was deep within my family values, I was particularly susceptible to cultural standards as a teenager (I think we all are, and I have some ideas about why I was in particular, but I won’t go into that here), and I ended up fairly gender-conformist, nearly married – to a cisgendered guy – for five years. I think I had to prove that for me, the model of grown-up relationships really wouldn’t work, that all that society says is actually untrue. Of course, for some people it works just fine to be female-bodied, feminine, and attracted to men – clearly, not so much for me. I think it was precisely because I suspected that this wasn’t true that I had to really prove it for myself.

I’m also firmly based in second wave feminism insofar as I believe every person’s unique life experience is valid and important. I believe each of us is already an expert on our own gender, our own lives. I believe we all have valuable, thoughtful things to add to the conversation of gender (or sexuality, or relationships) regardless of our supposed credentials or expertise or level of study.

That’s the thing about gender – we all have it, we all live in a particularly gendered society, we all have been raised with its influence.

Consciousness-raising groups (in my understanding) started for because there was no formal study of women or the female experience. (I can’t really even imagine a culture that assumed that women’s experiences were included in the male norm, a culture that had no feminist cannon, such a lack of sources to study and know and experience. Thanks, foremothers, for women studies, for feminist studies, for all the work you did!)

So C-R groups created their own sources, using the experiences of the women in the group themselves, treating each like a text, a source, from which they could learn, from which understanding could arise and blossom and grow.

This is how I see this writing project, this community, and all of you who participate and who engage with me – as part of a large consciousness-raising group, where we are all sharing ideas, resources, and experiences to gain greater understanding of our selves, our communities, and the world as a whole.

This too is where my love for narrative fiction overlaps, where reading someone else’s story enhances my understanding of the world, where I feel less separate and more connected and, ultimately, where every story has value, especially the voices to marginalized communities, experiences, bodies, and lives.

So: growing up in a feminist household with rejection of gender roles, then going out into the world and living in a hetero relationship where we were playing out very stereotypical gender roles, then coming out as queer – all this lead me to start studying feminist, queer, and gender theory, seeking out language, concepts, and similar stories to help me explain my own experiences. And within gender theory and studies, I finally found places to get some of my questions – gender roles, gender compulsivity, gender norms, gender within relationships, the intersection of sex & gender – articulated, and then answered.

Such as:

What is gender?
How does it work?
Why are we confined to a binary? Why don’t we have three or eight or fifteen genders?
How does the sex/gender binary function?
What purpose does it serve?
Who benefits? Why, how?
How does it get enforced?
How has it changed over the years?
How is it connected with race, class, sexuality, nationality, religion, etc etc?

And once I started getting ideas about how to answer these questions, I started asking more personal questions of myself, and where I fit in to this huge, permeating, practically invisible system of hierarchy, power, and value.

Such as:

How do I feel comfortable?
What makes me feel powerful?
How do I want my hair?
What looks good on my particular body?
What fits with the way I carry myself, how I treat others, how I see myself?
What type of gender am I attracted to?
How does this relate to my sexuality?

I was simultaneously starting to come into my own as butch, partly because of the lesbian initiation process of rejecting femininity and cutting off your hair (which worked for me, though certainly doesn’t work for all lesbians who go through this), and partly because I started immediately liking femmes who dated butches and who recognized a sort of masculine ‘energy’ in me.

Actually claiming the label and identity category of butch was a more difficult quest for me, one I’ve written about a few times, specifically in terms of masculine posturing and rejecting – as a feminist and lesbian – the things that I see are so problematic with compulsory masculinity in both cisgendered men and in masculine-identified women. (More on that another time.)

Regardless of my questions and hesitations about butch/femme roles and labels, the process was definitely underway. And as it has unfolded deeper and deeper, in more and more aspects of my life, I have found such a home in it, in ways that have been seriously transformative to the ways that I operate in the world.

The basic feminist principles of inherent equality, the wide range of human experience, and celebrating the self as it is are applicable to many, many aspects of gender exploration. But I’ve found that these principles aren’t quite so active in most of the lesbian communities. Yes, there are people doing this work, but we are not the majority – compulsory gender in lesbian communities is usually a sort of gender rejection, an androgyny.

And that works for many people – which is excellent! I will always say you should go with what feels good to you, what makes you feel sexy, powerful, beautiful. For many of us, it is not androgyny that makes us feel good about ourselves, it’s another type of gender expression. There’s a huge gender galaxy out there, a huge range of expression and celebration, and so much to play with.

I don’t pretend that I have all the answers to questions or issues on gender. I have concepts, ideas, and resources, and I have reached some understandings, about both the world and system at large (macro) and my own personal place within it (micro).

I also don’t think my answers will necessarily be your answers.

I encourage you to find your own answers. To ask these questions, to decide consciously where you want to be within this pervasive system.

There have been many of you who have emailed me or commented about my recent writings about conscious vs unconscious gender, and here’s the part where I start to actually take an opinion on this: I think it’s very important to discover, stumble upon, find, or create a conscious gender. Doesn’t matter how you come to it, really, but it does matter to me that we do.

What that conscious gender might look like, of course, is highly varied – perhaps all it’ll take is a moment’s consideration, and a recognition that yeah, I’m where I want to be, that’s enough for me. Maybe it’ll take years of deep exploration and personal omphaloskepsis and meditation and therapy. Maybe it’ll take reading lots of books about the subject, or lots of blogs. Maybe not.

I don’t pretend to know what that process looks like for everybody, all I know is how it looks for me – and how important it has been for me to go through that process, which is, obviously, why I am encouraging it in others.

Look, I know not everybody has the interest in this that I do. And I don’t think everyone needs to start a blog (that becomes their part-time job) and dedicate a big portion of your free time to studying how gender works and what it means to you personally, but I really do think we would begin to move forward if we have some small moments of awareness about gender, about compulsive behavior and categories, about discriminating against butches or femmes or trans folks or androgyny.

When we understand (at least a little) how the system works so that we can begin to see how we fit inside it, and we can be empowered to make the choices that are in our own best interests, rather than in the best interests of those for whom this system is designed to benefit.

But it’s not just that. It’s also because when everybody does better, then everybody does better. It’s also because sometimes I’m lonely out here doing gendered work with a small handful of community. It’s also because, though some small circles of consciousness-raising activists are happening, most gender is still compulsory and not letting up anytime soon. It’s because this binary compulsory gendered system hurts us. It’s because trans and gay kids are getting beat up and murdered. It’s because boys who wear dresses are shamed. It’s because tomboys who want to run around shirtless are shamed. It’s because women are not safe walking alone on the streets of Manhattan at night. It’s because I am not safe walking alone on the streets of Manhattan at night. And we should be able to be safe, I want us to be safe, all of us.

And plus? Underneath some of the hard work here, it’s really fun. It’s dress-up, it’s activism, it’s subversion, it’s sexy. It’s a deep celebration of you, of me, of our interaction with the world, and with each other.

Intentional vs ‘Natural’ Gender

I did not ever mean to attempt that there is some hierarchy in having an “intentional gender” verses a “natural gender.” Actually, I’m kind of mad that anything I wrote even sparked those two differentiating terms, I really don’t like that distinction.

Contemporary gender theory says that there is no such a thing as “natural” gender, that all gender is a performance of some sort of impression of what gender is, of what physical cues for mating, attraction, sex, and physical communication between people.

Some people spend time studying gender, some do not. One of these things is not better than the other. I am not better because I study gender than someone who does not. It’s just something that I do, something others do not do.

I find it to be a fascinating, near endless, relevant, and insightful pursuit. But others may disagree with me – others, still, say that flyfishing, or American football, or taxidermy, are fascinating, near endless, relevant, and insightful pursuits; I don’t necessarily find that any of those things resonate with me, so I don’t study them.

But in choosing a romantic partner, a sex partner, a (dare I say it) girlfriend, I have some requirements. Yes, I know my standards are probably ridiculously high. But what can I say; I haven’t been single all that long (Callie & I broke up just over a year ago – it continues to feel like it’s been five years, three years, two years at least!), and I am not in any hurry to get heavily involved (read: monogamous) with someone. One of the requirements that I have – at this point – is that someone I date have things to add about all of this gender stuff that I kick around on a near-daily basis. I’d like those conversations to be collaborative, or at least complimentary. A slow building of an understanding of how this specific language of physical codes and symbols works.

I’m going to say it again, here, just in case it wasn’t clear enough: there’s nothing wrong with not being “intentional” with one’s gender.

I mentioned Penny’s lack of intentional gender not with judgment but thinking that this is something that I require in my relationships, and that perhaps it is not an interest she wishes to spend her time on and explore. We are both interested in sex, my interest and expertise is gender, and her interest and expertise is in relationships (she wants to go into couple’s counseling). Actually, I probably know about as much about relationships as she does about gender – I know quite a bit, in some ways, I’ve read many books, I’ve taken classes, I’m even familiar with much of the psychological theory, but it’s less my field of focus. Ditto to her and gender. She’s read the books, taken the classes. But it’s not necessarily a tool she uses to see the world on a daily basis.

As a small footnote, I had that difficult conversation with her on Friday, and we spent a lovely weekend together. We talked openly, things deepened, we got closer. I was half-expecting things to end, but instead, they got much better.

I’m working on writing up some sex stories from the weekend. I’m increasingly impressed with Penny’s kink, eager exploration, drive, and sexy fucken mouth … as a friend of mine said tonight, not only is she keeping up with me, she’s giving me a run for my money.

authority on the internet

“Believe nothing, no matter where you read it or who has said it, not even if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.” – Buddha

I’ve quoted that before, but I’m reminded of it again recently. It’s a quality that I always seek in those from whom I wish to learn.

I’ve been using the internet actively for the past fifteen years, since I was fourteen, and that’s not actually exaggeration; I caught a little bit of the BBS days, but really got my feet wet with the telnet chatrooms that were gaining popularity. I’d use the public library’s telnet system and my dad’s engineering computer to chat – live! with people from all over the world! – in Coffeehouse and Shadowlands.

And, as many have said, including Audacia Ray in her recent study of sex on the internet, new technologies are always first used for porn and sex. So, as a teenager, not only discovering a new technology, but also discovering a new sexuality, my primary sexual awakening was online – writing, corresponding, typing out fantasies, and asking questions to a hive mind of various perspectives and orientations and kinks.

I didn’t experiment a lot in person, it wasn’t appealing; but online, I could do anything, and it was safe. Of course, it wasn’t always safe. But I did pretty well for myself. I learned lessons, got smarter.

I started my first personal web pages in 1996, and have had open diaries, livejournals, javascript notebooks, and finally, blogs, online ever since then, in various forms of anonymity. Sometimes totally anonymous, sometimes under my real name. I understand how these communities build and fall and swell and fade, I’ve watched many of them, I’ve built some of them, I’ve heard stories from others who are interested in these things.

In 2000, two major things happened for me: I went back to college after taking four years off after high school, and I came out as queer. At college, I further my informal studies of feminism with gender studies, queer theory, and postmodern theory. I have two degrees, one in Gender Studies with an emphasis on social change, one in English with an emphasis on creative writing.

I’ve spent hundreds of hours reading books, watching films, going to workshops and conferences, seeking out mentors, reading blogs of personal expeirences, going to feminist sex toy shops, talking to friends, about gender dynamics, their personal relationships, queer oppression, social change, labeling, sex, sex techniques, sex toys, seduction, pick-up artistry, androgyny, lesbianfeminism, the 1980s sex wars, intersexuality, transitioning, binding, packing, taking T, putting on makeup, shopping for dresses or bathing suits or earrings or purses, shopping for ties or cufflinks or slacks or a tuxedo, radical acts of subversion, generational differences, strapping on a cock, the history of gender in the US, kink, domination and submission, rope bondage, BDSM, and uh all sorts of other things.

Not to mention that I, personally, have experience with these things in my relationships, my life, and my communities.

When I think about it, all of that history makes sense that here, fifteen years later, I’ve finally settled into this small niche of my varying interests – writing, inner emotional landscapes, sexuality, queer theory, gender theory, feminism, butch/femme dynamics, self-awareness, love, and relationships.

I’m not writing this to brag.

I’m writing this to show where my authority on these subjects about which I write come from.

Sometimes I wonder if I’ll continue with all this research into these topics if or when I meet someone and develop a successful, fulfilling relationship, I’ll be disinclined to continue, because I can simply live it, instead of theorize about it all day every day. Perhaps I’ll move on to my next obsessive research subject – building alternative families or aging or performance poetry or who knows what. Perhaps all this has just been my own research into How To Be Me – chivalrous kinky writer, queer butch top, and feminist lover of femmes – In This World. Sometimes I feel like once I “figure it out,” I won’t have to be constantly doing all this work all the time.

Of course, there’s no easy way to simply figure this out, and once it’s “figured out” it’ll probably change, anyway, because it’s increidbly fluid; not only my own understanding of it, but the cultural understanding as well. It’s amazing how much has changed in the past ten years – even five years! Things are moving and growing, and I want to be a part of this activism, this forward motion, this quest for us all to be our highest, best selves, accepted by the world in our freakery.

(I digress.)

My point is, I was reminded recently how easy it is to get online and create yourself as an authority about something on which you are not. And it’s sad to me, and disappointing, how easy it is for people to get sucked into something so false.

I know the internet. Know these blog circles quite well, I correspond with hundreds of people, read intimate, detailed blogs, have friends that I’ve never met but whom I’ve followed for years online. There are some amazing, lovely folks here who are using these tools, this digital medium, to express what is the most true and beautiful and real about them.

But that’s not true of everybody. I find I can usually spot those who are not authentic; they stand out, somehow, I go to their site or read their work and think, something’s just not quite right. It puzzles me, because I don’t use the internet that way, and because there’s such a better way to use this digital tool to connect, so why would you do it the other, less effective and more inauthentic way? Probably out of pure ignorance, frankly – but I don’t really know.

For y’all out there reading, especially about things as completely personal and delicate as your butch/femme gender and sexual identities, this is just a reminder not to believe somebody unless you have reason to do so, don’t take them purely on their word, wait until they prove themselves to you. Identities are fragile, and can get damaged so easily when we don’t have adequate support and validation around them. It’s so easy for one big, painful misunderstanding to put someone off of something entirely, when in fact it is not indicative of how it could potentially function.

Dan Savage had a great call on his Savage Lovecast last week (seriously, it’s now the #1 podcast on the internet, and you’re not listening to it yet?) about developing a bionic bullshit detector, which has also got me thinking about all of this.

Many of us place our trust in people too easily. And when it comes to the very personal and delicate subjects, such as what I discuss here on this site, I really hope you do (respectfully) disagree with me sometimes, I hope you don’t assume I always know what I’m talking about, I hope you question me sometimes, I hope you ask who the man (ahem, “man,” don’t get the wrong idea) behind the site is, I hope you check authority credentials and expect proof of authorty.

I also hope I’ve earned it, from you, from visitors to this site, from readers, from friends, from acquaintances, because I work hard to do so, to stand behind my philosophies by living inside of them, to have a consistent personal narrative, to have reliability in my character, to admit what I don’t know, to speak on things that I know well. In some ways, I’ve made a formal study of these things too, since the one particular ex who manipulated me into such a frenzy.

There’s no easy way to know who’s conning you and who is authentic except to be cautious, I think. (Dan Savage and his caller had a few ideas, too; see, now you really have to download the podcast, don’t’cha?)

As much as I have made a semi-formal study of these topics, and as much as I do have some authority here, I also will always say that everyone needs to figure it out for themselves. I’m thrilled that my process is useful to others, and I’m curious about the processes that don’t look like mine, too. This is me, doing this work, going through the processing, reaching these identities for my own self – now, you go do yours.

On Butch Breasts, Binders, & Bras

I’ve returned to earth – mostly – from the altered state of consciousness of the Power, Surrender, & Intimacy workshop by Body Electric that happened here in New York City over the weekend. I have so very much to say about it, but that’ll have to wait for now, I need more time.

What I do want to write about is breasts. Specifically, mine – more generally, butch breasts.

Last week, I went for one day without my binder, which is really just a tight sports bra that clasps in the back rather than being a solid over-the-head slip-on. I wanted it laundered for the workshop, since I’ve been wearing it practically every day since I bought it.

I wore a backup bra that day, and all day long I didn’t recognize myself in the mirror, in storefront reflections, in my button-down work clothes, or when I looked down. I remembered how I used to hate the uniboob problem, which many of my friends and lovers deemed unsexy or mannish, and it’s not that I like the uniboob look particularly, but as my gender has changed and grown and dropped into itself, the uniboob doesn’t look like a uniboob anymore: it looks like a chest.

It is not that I want to do away with my breasts. Don’t misunderstand me here: I think breasts are butch, just as I think the menstrual cycle is butch and pregnancy is butch and cunnilingus is butch – everything the female body does can be butch, because butch (in my use of the word*) has to do with masculinity on a female body.

And because I believe that the things a female body does are butch, and because my gender philosophies are deeply rooted in love and acceptance of my body as it is and in not classifying human experiences as owned by one gender or another, I have been holding back my desire to delve farther into my own masculinity. I’m afraid of it. I’m afraid it means I’ll be leaving my roots in female-ness behind, I’m afraid of being seen as reproducing the heteronormative paradigm or embodying penis envy. I’m afraid of being rejected by feminist and lesbian communities for being too masculine, for becoming the ‘enemy,’ for rejecting femininity instead of reclaiming it.

Breasts are a big piece of this fear for me. Mine are not so small – part of why I rarely pass: a 36DD, and have been since middle school. I’ve said since I was a teenager that a breast reduction is the only surgery I would consider. I read about Jess’s surgery – or others’ surgeries and body alterations – and I’m jealous.

But I’m afraid of what it means to want that alteration, to want to physically change my body to better fit a gendered idea.

After that day last week of wearing a regular bra, I started wondering: why do I even have this in my closet anymore? Why do I own this? My exploration of my own masculine/butch/boy/male embodiment is young – I’ve been calling myself butch since 2001, but only in the last three years have I really embraced it and actively, consciously developed it. And now, the farther I get into my explorations of gender, the farther I want to go.

It takes time to cycle through a wardrobe, and I don’t quite have the disposable income to go purchase all new bras – but I certainly won’t be buying any regular ones anytime soon. I’ve gone through this with my underwear already, years ago now, have cycled through all the old girl undies and haven’t owned any of those in years, only have boxers and briefs now. But that feels less obvious than binders and sports bras – no one can tell I wear only briefs except my lovers, I guess, but everyone can tell I bind my chest.

And see, what’s what it is now: my chest. Very different than boobs, breasts, tits. I have those, sure, but they’re underneath, they’re the other layer, the inner ring, something that now gets protected and covered, not out of shame or denial but simply out of layering, complexities, performance, a rich inner life, a duality, a whole person – me.

* Some say men can be butch, that “butch” is a term for a queer masculinity, or a non-traditional, progressive masculinity. I’m not certain I agree, but we definitely lack language to discuss different types of masculinity, and I have definitely observed some men who have a sense of butch energy.

Femininity & Heterosexism

Figleaf did an interesting experiment with Google over on Real Adult Sex, putting in “attractive,” “beautiful,” and “worthy” along with “man” or “woman” and comparing results.

He wrote about what sparked this idea, saying he noticed a particularly attractive woman:

I thought it must be inconvenient to attract so much attention, and then wondered what it would be like if I could attract that kind of corner-of-the-eye attention, and then I started thinking about the old “men first initiate, women then decide” courtship convention and wondering about how that creates a perhaps unnecessary imposition on women to attract attention (since they weren’t allowed to simply ask for phone numbers). […] [G]rowing up male it’s unspoken but totally obvious that women are about attracting us; meanwhile we grow up blind to the also-unspoken molding to be worthy. The climax of the Sleeping Beauty fable says it all: she’s not only beautiful but *in a coma!* He needs his shining armor to reach her through the thorn-overgrown castle. His kiss awakens her.

Man o man. Very well said. This makes my head spin a little, and strikes me as relevant to this discussion about femmes passing that we’ve been having lately – particularly, to answer the question of why femmes attract male attention, which leads to the sometimes-necessary conversation of outing onesself, which leads to the potentially dangerous situation of having been seen as ‘deceptive.’

Of course, it’s because femininity is seen as an invitation, a deliberate request for male attention.

(And this is precisely why using femininity to attract other women is a subversive identity. It messes with the entire premise, the entire purpose, of gender roles.)

Even though we’ve come a long way, baby, and women can now ask for phone numbers, can come on to men, can wear trousers! can vote!, some of these old subscriptions about how men and women must work are still carved deep into our subconsciousnesses. And one of those things is that the purpose of femininity is to attract men, male attention, the male gaze, the general hetero mating process.

So really, hitting on a feminine girl – queer or married or otherwise – taking how she looks as an invitation – is a form of heterosexism. It’s the foundation of the “she asked for it” defense.

Of course, some girls want to be hit on. I don’t mean to discount that femininity is used for attention – it’s a powerful tool that women (and some men, yes?) have in this heterosexist society. And most people are flattered to be noticed if the hitting on is done with respect, right? I mean, it’s a compliment – the problems arise when the guy (or whomever is doing the hitting-on) is relentless, won’t let up, pushes boundaries and doesn’t take hints. I suppose this is the place where the hit-ee needs to be firm and direct, as opposed to kind, though of course that doesn’t always work.

Maybe this small insight seems obvious – sure seems obvious to me, now that I am writing it out – but I appreciated the sociological perspective Figleaf added to my explorations of the subject.

Nostalgia for the Butch/Femme Dynamic

Sometimes I hear people say they wish they lived in the 50s and 60s so they could experience the butch/femme dynamic, or they “miss” it even. Team Gina has that line in their song: “Sometimes I miss the butch/femme dynamic / ’cause only girls in carharts make me panic.” When I think about it, it’s kind of odd, coming from a couple of twenty-something girls. It’s an interesting sort of nostalgic feeling for a time that we didn’t actually witness.

Can you really miss something you didn’t actually live through? Seems like there’s a better word for it than “miss” or “nostalgia,” because it’s actually longing for another time. But it’s deeper than that – it’s a historical connection to that time, an inhereted lineage that I really do miss and sometimes long for.

Though the gender revolution/s that are currently happening – especially around butch/femme – are a resurrection of something of the past, maybe it’s actually more more accurate to call it something new – a similar idea resurfacing in a new way.

I certainly didn’t grow up with any sort of model of the butch/femme dynamic, not in my own family – where actually there was a strong rejection of gender roles, falling on the not-rare 70s feminist argument that gender inequality is based on gender difference and gender expression. And yet, I feel connected to the butch/femme dynamic, I feel like a part of it, both currently and along some sort of historical axis.

I’ve been reading Riki Wilchin’s book Queer Theory, Gender Theory lately, and one of her major arguments (so far) is that gender activism got pushed out of both the feminist and gay liberation movements of the mid-1900s because of the ways that the conservative right backlash was using gender deviation as personal attacks against the people in the movements. Now that both of those movements have come so far, and been so successful, we are finally able to unearth this genderphobia that has been prevalent all along and attempt some activism around that.

What’s interesting about that to me is the ways that genderqueerness had to go underground, hidden, shameful, through these liberation movements, and now we – quite often it’s the folks like me, twenty-something, queer, children of the revolution movements of the 60s and 70s – are picking up the torch in our own, new way. And hell, the gender revolution happening seems more radical now than that butch/femme nostalgic time for which some of us long – look at the trans movement, the trans rights, the genderqueer and intersexual activism and knowledge that is getting more and more mainstreamed.

On Privilege & Gender (Part Two)

One more thing:

To Belle, and to the femmes I’ve dated and fucked and longingly admired: Thank you.

Thank you for swooning over my neckties and collared shirts, my perfectly messy short hair, my heavy belt buckles and swagger and the way I order wine for you. Thank you for having my favorite whiskey at your house for me, just for me, thank you for dressing up and looking your best, celebrating the costume of femininity, for putting time into your hair and makeup and outfit and shaved legs and stockings and lingerie straps that bite into flesh and shin splints from high heels and freezing legs from short skirts and the eyelash batting and the way I feel like a million bucks when I’ve got you on my arm.

I appreciate your gender expression, deeply, because I make more sense when I’m next to you. To quote Cody: “Let’s be honest: we need femmes.” I didn’t get who I was until I started dating femmes. This identity does not exist in a vacuum, and, for me, requires the duo dynamic inherently.

I have so much reverence for the femme aesthetic. Am I occasionally jealous of your ability to pass? Yes. But I understand – at least a little – the burdon of it, too, and I want you to share that with me. Femininity is assumed to be for the benefit of straight men, and to subvert that can sometimes mean consequences.

Yeah, I get tired of being on the front lines of visibility sometimes. But when I have a femme on my arm, strutting down the street, freshly fucked and we’re melting into each other, everyone who sees us knows what we are, and I love the second glances we get. I love the tiny revolutions that happen in the faces of strangers passing by.

Passing is not always a privilege. Some femmes I know have even said to me that passing is never a privilege, in fact. (I’m not sure I agree entirely, but I understand the argument.) To force someone to admit that it is a privilege is to force a hierarchy, such a power play, such an insecure I’m-better-than-you kind of move.

I’ve joked occasionally that femmes and other passing queers get to hear what straight people say when they don’t know a queer is listening. My lovers have occasionally told me stories of what they heard at work or school and I’m shocked – especially in PC-Seattle where I used to live, I never heard people saying homophobic – or even homo-ignorant – remarks around me, because I am visibly queer, they knew I was listening. As a writer, as an activist, as an observer of human character, I am fascinated by those conversations and interested in access to those places where I cannot go. Likewise, I sometimes find I have access to intimate (bio-hetero-) male conversations, where they let me in as one-of-the-guys and bitch about their wives, tell sexist jokes, or fawn over girls at the bar. A straight girl – and probably femmes – would probably not have access to these conversations.

I’m remembering a conversation I had with my friend and femme spy once upon a time, where she strongly asserted that there is no privilege in passing as straight, especially because sometimes, when she is presumed straight and then outs herself, she actually finds herself in more danger than she was previously and, I believe she argued, she’d be in more danger than someone visibly queer – a butch – because of the perception that her passing was actually deception.

I definitely see her point there, and it makes me feel highly protective and posessive of femmes, to think of the occasional dangerous situations they may be in. I still think there is some privilege in the femme identity – as there is some in the butch identity, some in an androgynous or genderqueer or any other gender identity, isn’t there? If there was no benefit, what use would it be? I suppose “privilege” here though is not the same as “benefit;” one implies a hierarchical gain within social structures.

Maybe I need to back up here. What is privilege? How do we define it? How do we know when we have it, when we don’t? And what, if anything, do we do with it when we have it? What are our responsibilities with privilege, how do we meet them? How do we avoid abusing our privileges?

Uh, I’ll think about that and get back to you. Chime in your two cents if you feel inspired, please.

Ultimately, though, I really want to stress that comparing degrees of oppression is fruitless and purposeless. Who does it help? Do you really feel better after forcing someone to admit that they have privilege? It’s one thing to have a discussion about it, to acknowledge the intricate complexities within identity hierarchies – it’s another thing to play these I’m-better-than-you games.

Passing, Privilege, & Butch/Femme

In response to what Belle wrote about privilege, guilt, and butch/femme:

I can’t speak (write) for all butches, and I do get that some of us have awful things to say about femmes and passing and privilege. I don’t know what to tell you about all of that, except that I think that it’s bullshit. It comes from a misogynistic bullying place where the one who is bullied and oppressed turns around and bullies the femme who is littler than you.

This is male privilege. This is the heteronormative hierarchy.

I don’t feel “more oppressed” than any given femme, and I resent that game of who has more hardship than whom. Division and in-fighting are ways that our marginalized communities stay broken apart instead of banded together. C’mon, remember Lord of the Rings?

Yes, butches are more visible, and therefore, in some situations, easier targets. But femmes are targets, too, and discriminated against. Hell, there are so few of us who even fall into this butch/femme dynamic – why make enemies of each other?

This past week I appeared as a guest on the Diana Cage Show on Sirius OutQ radio, and she’d had a whole segment of conversation before my part (where I performed some poetry and chatted about breakups, smut, and femmes, what else) where she was talking about “butch training,” I shit you not.

“Who trained you?” she asked me.

“I don’t think I was ‘trained’ … do all butches get trained?” I was confused.

“Oh yeah,” she answered.

“What about femmes?”

“Oh, no, they don’t need to be trained.”

Oh man, did my mind boggle. I don’t think she’s right about that, but let’s say, for a minute, that she is. In what do we need training? Was I doing something wrong? Did I need to be trained? Had I already been, and didn’t know it? Who had trained me?

“I’m not sure I was trained …” I said skeptically.

“Yeah, true, you’re a chivalrous butch. An old-school butch,” she said, as if this meant maybe I didn’t need ‘training’ after all?

“Yeah, I am. And a feminist, hardcore.” But I kept thinking. “Maybe my first big love trained me,” I said. She was the first femme I knew and she whispered in my ear, I think you’re butch, and I came a little and threw up at the same time. I watched how she wished her girlfriends would treat her and tried to be that.

And when I thought about it more later, I think it was my mother, my parents, who probably most deserve credit for “training” me in the ways that I take care of myself and others. Isn’t that what we’re speaking of? How we love, how we care, how we expect the partnership dynamic to work? And, fundamentally, if I may interpolate here, I think the “training” refers to those butches who often have grown up tomboys, one-of-the-guys, with a socialized masculinity. Those butches that treat femmes – and women – and, hell, people – with disrespect and dishonor, and I think it has everything to do with the “tough guise” of masculinity.

My point is, this is often the same type of butch (as much as I shudder to sub-categorize) I’ve heard this “femme privilege” argument come from, too. And I resent it, deeply. It saddens and angers me. I don’t know how to encourage a more wholistic, human range of experience in that type of butch (again, I shudder), wish I did.


But. This is what I have to say to Belle, or to any femme who endours that forced guilt about femme privilege:

Yes, passing is sometimes a privilege, but not always. Just like my visibility is sometimes a privilege, but not always. Tell me about times it was a privilege for you, and times it wasn’t, and then ask me about my stories, too. Tell me what it’s like to walk in your shoes. Let me learn from your experience. It’s hard sometimes to be a queer in this heterodominant society, and it’s hard to be a butch or femme in a lesbian community rooted in androgyny and which associates gender oppression with gender expression.

Fuck, can’t we share this burdon? Can’t we pass this weight around, let it be a little lighter between us? I mean, I know I’m a hippie-feminist-do-gooder-pacifist and all, but I believe in the power of community, deeply.

The Gender Code

I’ve been reading up on gender recently, especially the “gender spectrum” (which, of course, implies a linear and hierarchical classification) and the recently introduced term “gender galaxy.” I graduated from college in 2005, but I am still apparently not up on the theory that is still unfolding and progressing – which makes me wish I was in school, actually.I keep reading articles about the sex-gender distinction and the ways it is disempowering, about gender binaries, gender definitions, gender this, gender that, gender flavors of ice cream. Lord! There’s a lot going on with this gender stuff, I miss studying it within a community and formally. I guess that’s part of the purpose of this project, now isn’t it?

All this is to say, these articles keep saying how useless the gender binary – the categories of male/female or man/woman – is, and that incombination with a disruption of the sex/gender distinction got me thinking: what would it look like if we no longer had these systems in place? Could we classify 6 or 8 or 12 genders instead? Could we categories people without that distinction at all?

I wonder what some sort of Gender Code would look like, something like the late-90s Geek Code (or one of its many spinoffs). Categories would include bodily adornment with makeup and nail polish, body modification with tattoos and piercings, footwear choice, hair – both hair length and body hair, physical features like breasts (including options for falsies) and cocks (ditto), hormones perhaps (as if that is easy to measure), accessories, preferred pronouns … what else? What other things are included in one’s gender?

So I’d end up with a code like this:

G++v^c+d++m–j*t+x-e++

And that would be my gender.

Hmmmm. I’m just playing with this idea really, I’m don’t think I’d propose something like that. I mean, what use would it really have?

But I still kinda like the idea, in a way. I like the “secret code” part of it, that you have to either be very familiar with the symbols, or you have to stick it into a decoder. If I had all sorts of extra time to make a form that would generate a Gender Code, I would make one, just for fun.

Motivations behind my butch identity development process

Yes, it’s true, I said “how do I get THAT kind of girl?” when looking at the femmes, and have studied the butches that they have been with. But it’s much more than that. Here’s some of the other reasons.

  1. I hated shopping until I discovered the men’s department. The clothes actually fit the way my body is built – my broad shoulders, for example. I could never find something simple, plain, butch enough in the girls’ section, even when I was a kid I hated the back-to-school shopping because I hated the way my body looked and felt in the girly clothes.

  2. Chivalry: a big piece of butch identity, for me, is chivalry, and the ways that I get to spoil femmes – and other butches, straight women, gay boys, and, hell, straight men – by opening doors, pulling chairs out, helping to put on a jacket, stepping aside. This trait makes sense for the ways that I navigate the world, as a particularly strong observer. Could I be a chivalrous femme (or genderqueer or androgyne)? Absolutely, and I know a few gals who identify as such. But for me, the combination of the masculine presentation and chivalry is explosive, and particularly comfortable. I love the sweetness that comes from chivalry and the hardness that comes from the masculinity.

  3. I love the butch accessories: big ol’ belt buckles, leather bracelets, motorcycle boots, wingtip shoes, golf umbrellas, flasks, cufflinks, vests, suits, ties. Ohh the ties. They make sense to me – I know how to put it together, and I not only have confidence that it actually does look good, looking this way also feeds into my confidence.

  4. Contradiction: I find contradiction particularly sexy. I wonder if that has influenced my combination of female-bodied with masculine/butch stuff. I like that it doesn’t necessarily go together, I like that it is inherently subversive because it disrupts the sex/gender paradigm.

  5. Femininity never came easily to me. Yes, I wore skirts and dresses, but I never felt comfortable, solid, capable. I have wondered if this is because that was primarily the time when I was an adolescent and young adult – doesn’t everyone feel that way during this time? I guess I don’t know. All I know is, though femininity never came easily, masculinity has felt like slipping into a second skin, and has felt more comfortable – and more vulnerable – then any feminine expression ever did.

  6. The cock. I’ve been asked by two different places recently to write about my relationship to my cock, so iI’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. This is absolutely a major piece of my butch identity. But let me clarify: though my butchness is somewhat dependant on my cock, I don’t think the cock is dependant on being butch. And, would I still be butch if I could never – for whatever reason – use a cock anymore? Yep. No question. So, more on my cock relationship soon.

  7. I love that it is subversive to be a butch woman in this time and place and culture. I think it’s important to support all sorts of gender expressions, no matter what the biological sex of the person is, but that is actually still a radical act. Also, it is in vogue to reject labels (“they’re so limiting,” “I’m just me,” etc) in the dyke/queer communities, and if I can speak intelligently and clearly about the reasons behind my choices, I may be able to pave the way for someone else to exercise his or her or hir preference to dress or act the way he or she or ze wants, someday, in the future.

  8. Identity politics, though controversial and arguably outdated and problematic, and gender theory, are fucken hot. They challenge, excite, give language to concepts that are incredibly difficult to articulate, and are, ultimately, a sort of poetry for the inner self. I just love all parts of it.

  9. It’s hard to describe, but I just make more sense this way. I don’t know why it took until I was twenty to come to my butch identity, and why for others it happens from the time they’re toddlers. I just know that from the time I started understanding what who butches are, and what they (we) looked like, and what this identity meant, I was fascinated, and coveted that presentation. I was scared of it all, too, and stared open-eyed at any butch walking by, wishing I looked like that. I wasn’t sure I could ever really be that myself – but I was definitely going to try. And I did. And here I am.

There are more reasons to my being butch than simply gaining the attention of femmes who, I have come to realize, are where my primary compass of attraction points. It’s more internal than that, too – it has to do with the way that I move through the world, my actions on the sidewalk, on the subway, in the elevator, at the restaurant. And it has to do with activism, and social change, and smashing the gender binary, and human evolution, and trans politics, and even fucken revolution.

More on Butch Identity, Mine

An old friend of mine sent me an email recently, and said I could post it & my responses.

So I’ve been following your Sugarbutch blog for quite some time now and the whole Gender Identity thing certainly confuses me. I mean, some of it I get, ok, a fair bit of it I think I get. I mean, for instance in life [my wife] is a goodly deal more masculine than I am and I’m a deal more feminine than she is.

I think you’re speaking of these terms differently than I would. By “more masculine/more feminine” you mean she takes charge, does the outward, social, money things, and you are more domestic, yes? You don’t mean that you bat your eyelashes and coo and wear skirts? She’s in charge, perhaps, yes, but that is not the same thing as masculine. That’s sexist, in fact; aligning all things in control with masculinity.

Do correct me if I’m wrong, but these are different things in my head.

When we’re in the bedroom we reverse that dynamic. I dom and she subs and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Those things are separate from gender to me, too. That’s power, rather than gender. And really that all sounds very similar to my own makeup – I want a femme girl who is extremely powerful, especially socially, partly because I prefer to be the observer, to fall back and watch. But I want to take her down in the bedroom.

However…..the extent that you discuss it…it sounds like a LOT of work. I mean really. a LOT. I guess for me I figured out who I was and my wife figured out who she was, we figured out who we were together and we have this sort of…be-ing. We just are. I mean…am I missing something?

It is a lot of work. You’re right. And here’s why, and why it’s okay: for one, the work is fun. I so get off on this. The work is not necessary – at least, it is not consistently necessary, there is a degree to which I’d say it is necessary – for just going about my day. But I enjoy this kind of exploration of sex, gender, kink, and sexual dynamics, and I’ve made a formal hobby of it, you could say.

I understand what you’re saying about how you “just are” and I think that’s great. Me, however … I have been doing a bit of a life overhaul, what with the two major breakups in the last year, and I need to make a study of myself, the way I function in relationships, and the things I want, because I was with the wrong girls. Now this is not to set up a hierarchy and say that you are where I wish I was, that your place in this is better than or superior to mine. It is only different, we have our own paths.

One of the reasons our paths are different, I’d bet, has to do with the ways that our genders are so different because I’m queer/butch and you’re hetero/male. It took me a long time to figure out who I was – and while I’m sure it took you a long time, too, I still bet you knew all about your gender in high school, or earlier. And after I came to my own gender, it took me a while to learn that I wanted to be with a femme – a femme bottom, no less. My particular flavor/brand of desire took me 25-27 years to come to full fruition.

And because I am in a marginalized place, with few real mentors, all of my moves and identities and gender development took longer, and was more complex and tumultuous than a more mainstream, less oppressed or marginalized identity.

ALso, re: this is my hobby: this is also my passion. Sugarbutch is a culmination of what I studied in college: social change, gender, writing – all wrapped into one.

One of the things that kind of threw me for a loop in reading was the comment you made that part of your inspiration was when you asked “what do I need to do to get a hot girl like that?”. To me that just smacked of what most boys go through in high school. Most boys change radically who they to get the hot girls. My friend Dustin for example. He told me once, while extremely drunk, that he used to be nice, sensitive, blah blah blah just like I was but he wanted to get laid and so he changed everything about himself. And then I read about how you want to up the notches on your bedpost. …

Here’s the thing. I changed, yes, but I did not become an asshole who no longer respects myself or the people I’m with. I became more myself than I’d ever been. My butch identity development – as related to wanting to be with femmes – was less like your high school friend and more like me finding my ideal perfect job I wanted to have the rest of my life, then researching where it was that the people who got that job came from, how they got there. I am still nice and sensitive. I will not – I refuse to – sacrifice my personality on the basis of any gender. I separate those things, actively, intentionally, in my approaches to gender.

When someone first said to me, “I think you’re butch,” I nearly fell over. I wanted to be, so badly. I wished and wished and then worked my ass off when I got more confident, more capable. And I spent years feeling “not butch enough” – and I got increasingly interested in the social policing of gender, and identity construction, and the places gender & sexuality intersect, all of that.

Re: “notches in my bedpost”: it’s true, I do want this. But it is about gaining experience and knowing myself better, not about some macho conquest thing. I tend to fall for girls I sleep with, at least a little, but I want to learn to have casual sex. I want to find out what I really want and like so I won’t get stuck in another awful soul-crushing relationship. I want to know what’s out there. I don’t want to settle.

I know that you must get extremely tired of “expalining yourself”, so I apologize. And really you probably don’t HAVE to explain. I love you anyway and that goes beyond any lack of understanding, at least by my reckoning. So this is just an “I’m slightly lost” kind of thing.

I will always gladly answer any questions, and I am flattered you feel comfortable enough to ask. I hope this explains a little better, and I hope it doesn’t feel like any sort of attack against you or your identity. This is really hard for me to articulate, I’m just trying to work through it.

Why we need to examine our lives

I went back and re-read the article Lina posted, and I’m pleased to say, it didn’t frustrate me nearly as much as it did the first time I read it. I have various responses at the ready and I feel like I could easily defend my position & claim.

During this gender discussion we’ve been having, I was reminded of this quote:

Nothing can be so amusingly arrogant as a young man who has just discovered an old idea and thinks it is his own.
– Sidney J. Harris

… and I think it is fitting in this situation for various reasons. This argument of “butch/femme as reproductions of the patriarchal compulsory gender roles” et cetera is old, nearly forty years old at least. It strikes me as ignorant and arrogant and young to go around spouting opinions about things which one knows very little. These are old ideas, they are not radical, they are recycled, get your facts straight.On the other hand: there is much value in observation. And there are many, many butches and femmes who – I believe – to fully pass judgement here – are NOT using these identities as subversive tools, but rather ARE reproducing the heteronormative paradigm (gasp! I said it!).

Mostly, I feel like I have no ability or right to draw conclusions about how other people occupy and use their gender. However, occasionally I get the chance to actually converse with someone about it, and I am often shocked at the ignorance and thoughtlessness.

So, here’s what I haven’t said during this gender rant exploration yet:

Sometimes, butch/femme is a reproduction, a mimicry. And honestly, I disapprove of that. I believe that because of the grand amount of gender injustice that happens, because of the prevalence and acceptance of misogyn, because of the objectification and damage done by compulsory gender rules, we must – MUST – do some deep searching and analysis as to how institutionalized oppressive structures function and effect our lives. Especially the big ones: race, class, gender, sexuality. It is life-altering to understand how they work. I honestly think feminism and women studies played a huge role in my dealing with my depression, and the shock of becoming an adult woman in this culture.

But I digress.

This help that gender analysis and theory offers is where feminism comes in. And 1907s US lesbian-feminism – also closely related to what I tend to call “white western feminism,” WWF – was limited in its view at times, dismissing all butch/femme representations as hetero or all hetero sex as rape (coughDworkincough). Obviously there are some issues with these limitations.

BUT!

Though this may be a mainstream understanding of What Feminists Think, it is not the only understandings of sex that feminists hold. And to dismiss feminism as only viewing things this way is also limiting.

So. In summary: sometimes butch/femme is a reproduction of the compulsory misogynistic heteronormative gender roles. This is why we must examine the hierarchical structures in which we operate and make conscious choices about how we participate or resist.

And, not everyone’s participation or resistance looks the same. That’s why I try to talk to people about this stuff. Ask questions, listen, be aware. I feel like that’s all I can do, is attempt to understand the wild and precious ways we all live our lives.

What Gender Is

… and the beginnings (continuings) of My Gender Manifesto.A little bit of conversation about femme (specificially) and gender (in general) is happening over in this last post, and I have some things to add, especially about a comment on “butch in the streets, femme in the sheets.”

Essin’ Em said: “I hate the phrase “a butch in the streets, femme in the sheets” because it places value on each…is there something wrong with being a Femme in the sheets?”

And, duh, you probably already know my response, at least to begin with. Of course there’s nothing wrong with being a femme in the sheets, let’s just make that clear.

I love femmes in my sheets. My favorite. Rawr.

But.

That’s not quite what this phrase is saying, or means, in my opinion. The implication that a “butch in the streets” would be a femme in bed is implying – and correct me if I’m wrong here! – that the butch was a bottom. Someone who didn’t have the gruff masculine throw-down take-charge style that is assumed to come with the butch gender identity.

Which comes from the assumption that all butches are tops.

Which comes from the heterosexual gender hierarchy, which tells us that men are the agressors, women are submissive. Men are in charge, women are passive. Men take, women receive. Et cetera, et cetera, ad infinitum.

But, see, these things are actually different. Being butch is a gender, and being a bottom is sexuality (a sexual orientation? What is that category?). And to assume that all butches are tops or all femmes are bottoms is to buy into That Infamous Heteronormative (and misogynist!) Paradigm.

With me so far?

And, it’s just not true! Femmes are tops AND bottoms AND switches! Butches are tops AND bottoms AND switches! And, there are tops and bottoms and switches who do not consider themselves either butch, or femme. One thing does not necessarily constitute the other.

This is absolutely one of those places where butch and femme should – and MUST, in my opinion – deviate from heteronormativity. Come on, we’ve gone through the sexual revolution and the gender revolution, for pussy’s sake. We can differentiate between biological sex, between-the-sheets sex, and gender.

I’m not sure “butch in the streets, femme in the sheets” would EVER be an accurate description of anyone, unless their gender actually changed while “in the sheets.” And I’m not sure how that would happen … would they put on lingerie? A dress? Heels? I might prostelitize that that person had a cross-dressing fetish, rather than becoming femme in the sheets – but perhaps that’s the same thing? I’m not sure about that.

And this leads me to another interesting point. What is gender, anyway? What is butch, what is femme? How to define these ever-elusive, ever-complex terms? And, as bird and I were saying just last night, how do we make these terms expansive, rather than limiting?

Here’s what I think.

Gender is about my physical body: how I appear, the clothes I wear, the accessories I choose. And, it’s part of the way that I communicate physically, and thus becomes a big part of my sexual life, which is all about my body communicating with another’s body.

My hobbies, interests, values, activities, and personality are not dictated by my gender. I refuse to let them be. Those are dictated by ME. My unique spirit, whatever hippie shit you want to use to describe my “essence.”

This was one of the hardest, hardest things for me, in coming out as butch, after I came out as queer. Because I’d grown up in a very feminist household that devalued gender, wrote it off as compulsory and constrictive. And, yes, absolutely, it has been that – women forced to wear skirts, men forced to keep their hair short, etc. But this is not where we are anymore.

There is still work to be done, don’t get me wrong – and, in fact, for me, this is the work, right here.

I can pick and choose what aspects of gender that I want to adopt. Some of them work; some of them do not.

I, for example, am really interested in processing, emotional intelligence, gender theory, feminism, psychology, sociology, how people relate to other people, group dynamics … and those have, at times, been interpreted to being “feminine” traits, yes? And reading, cooking, preparing nutritous meals, home decorating/interior design, organizing, collecting.

And when I came out as butch (which was a long process for me, it took about 4 years, much longer than it took me to come out as queer), I went through a long time period where I was really struggling with what it meant to adopt a butchness, to be butch at all. I loved the suave masculinity of collared button-down shirts, boy jeans, polos, tee shirts with cigarette packs rolled into the sleeve, vests, fedoras, pinstripe suits, wing-tip shoes, motorcycle boots … and I wanted it. I wanted to BE that. But I didn’t know how to BE that without being the rest of masculinity, too – the “tough guise” of machismo, of violence, of emotional miscommunication, of misogyny.

I guess I figured it out: I separated gender from personality.

Butch is a masculine presentation of the body.

Just as femme is a feminine presentation of the body.

And there is a whoooooole lot of room there, within “presentation,” in my opinion. I know butches who wear lacy thongs, I know femmes who have short hair. I know butches who wear heels and skirtsuits, I know femmes who rarely wear much more than sweatpants or jeans.

My test, then, I suppose, for the butch/femme sphere, is the Dress-Up Test. If I am getting fancied up, do I put on a suit and tie, or a dress? And some of us, of course, would say “it depends” — well sure, that’s a gender too. I guess that’s what I might call genderqueer, though we don’t really have much of a label for it. Somebody should create one. Hint, hint.

There are certain things that gender does dictate when it comes to action or personality, but that seems to be primarily set around chivalry, which is really that physical communication aspect of sex and relationships.

Ahem. For example:

I hold my hand out for a femme who is walking in heels next to me when we go down stairs, because I want her to have something solid to hold onto in those high heels. I switch sides of the sidewalk when I notice a grate or something she can’t walk over. I open the door for her because I don’t want her to ding up her fingernails that she spent two hours perfecting. I take her coat because her dress is tight and if she lifts her arms up above her shoulders it could actually damage the dress.

I am aware of the ways that her gender – her physical body – interacts with the world, and I want to enhance that presentation, cradle her, protect her, celebrate her ways of showing off her beautiful, sexual, powerful self.

Just like she does for me.

This week’s gender discussion: roundup

What’s been going on with this huge ol’ gender conversation, you ask? Well, here’s the roundup.This particular conversation this week was sparked by an anonymous comment on Bottoming is topping and vice versa, where the commentor asked, “why do lesbians hold true the male ideal of duality?” (and etc.)

I then wrote a post on the outdate questions on binaries where I wanted to address precisely why butch and femme are not inherently reproductions of the heteronormative paradigm (seems like folks kinda liked that phrase, it got picked up a lot).

Around the same time, Miss Lina posted A Gay Shame, a reproduction of an article in her local gay rag about the butch/femme dynamic and how outdated/heteronormative/etc that it is, and I nearly fell outta my chair with frustration.

I realized that it was actually incredibly difficult to explain precisely why I thought that butch and femme weren’t simply imitations of the straight world, even though I believed firmly that that was true. So I quoted from the GLBTQ dictionary and listed some further resources, brought it up to some of my butch & femme buddies, and cracked open my ol’ gender theory books to see what I could find.

I got a lot of comments, some of them extremely wonderful and helpful as I was attempting to sort out my own ideas on the subjects. And other writers began posting their own thoughts on these complex subjects.

Dylan wrote about checks and balances: “For me, a constant system of checks and balances keeps everything aligned and when it is not I am the first to make myself accountable. Examining where stray thoughts, decisions or actions might have originated from, I am able to not only challenge if my own beliefs are ones I want to continue to uphold, but more so, why I hold them to begin with.”

Bird on the Wire wrote on queer politics, and the places that she overlaps with the queer community, and places where they have been exclusionary and offensive “i identify as queer or gay, but in reality i am bisexual. granted, all but one of my relationships was with a woman. i find both men and women interesting and attractive and would hate to close myself off to any potential amazing experiences just because society prefers me to date men exclusively and the gay community prefers me to date women exclusively. i find it offensive to suggest that i am “straddling a fence” as if this is a choice i consciously make any more than anyone else. i find it offensive to suggest that i am any less gay than a lesbian who would never consider the possibility of sleeping with a man. i came out at 15, i suffered the same hardships, the same ostracizing, the same heartbreak, the same political battles.”

Miss Avarice, in continuing to work through her femme identity, wrote about femme-ism: “Here’s the riddle: I embrace my femininity when it attracts women, and I reject my femininity when it attracts men.”

I started compiling my ideas and posted further points on gender, then on the places where butch & femme are incredibly subversive, and why.

Just for fun, I published something I’d written weeks ago, but that seemed relevant, which was a little list on the care and feeding of a butch (ahem, that would be me), and a little gender play on the ever-so-popular lolcats format.

I still have a lot to say about gender, resistance, social change, the heteronormative paradigm, subversion, butch/femme identities and (so-called) “role playing” … and I’ll do my best to type up more of that today.

It’s been a hellova week here in sexblog world … I am really loving being part of this. I’ve spent more time on Sugarbutch, writing things for Sugarbutch (you should see how many draft posts I have right now), writing in the margins of my books and printouts of various articles on gender, and journalling about my own personal beliefs. It’s one of the reasons I put up those ads in the sidebar – I’m torn about it, but as I’m spending more & more time keeping up with this website, I want to encourage, and even request, some compensation for my time. If only I could just sit around and have these discussions on sex, gender, sexuality, and relationships all day every day. I’d have revolutionary theories in no time. Hmmm, I should find out who would pay me to do that kind of thing.

(If I missed your post on gender, sorry about that – let me know & I’ll gladly add it.)

Butch/femme as a Disruption of the Heteronormative Paradigm

This whole sex/gender conversation has had me skipping around today & yesterday with the singsong voice, saying, my readers are smarter than yours.Seriously though … I love love love that I am part of this conversation. Thanks for contributing, bouncing ideas off of me, bringing your thoughts.

Talk nerdy to me, baby.

I fucken love gender theory. This is reminding me of just how much. I did some reading yesterday and today, reminded myself of some of the other arguments in the dialogue on the butch/femme disruption of the heteronormative paradigm.

  1. The butch identity, particularly, though both the butch and femme genders, can be argued as an illustration for the deconstruction of the sex/gender alignment – that is, the assumption that gender and sex are the same thing, that gender comes from some sort of “essential” place based in biological sex – because if the codes and symbols of masculinity can be adopted by women (who, it could be argued, in some cases, can perform gender “better” than biological men), then gender is therefore something learned, not something innate. And thus butch/femme is a disruption and subversion of the hegemonic paradigm
  2. The femme identity particularly, but both the butch and femme genders, also draw attention to the performatibility of gender and how the symbols and codes can be adopted and learned. Specifically, since femme is a verison of femininity and is used not for the attraction of men but for the attraction of other women, femme challenges the very basic function of the feminine gender (attraction/pleasing of men), which, we are taught, is the sole purpose for these essentialized characteristics of the sex/gender binary.
  3. As much as the butch/femme dynamic is subversive to the dominant sex/gender system, I actually believe that it is also an imitation, at times. It must must must be extensively analyzed and carefully adopted because of the ways that the gender hierarchy can infiltrate our own sexual and relationship dynamics, and honestly, I might be more second wave about this than others, but I do strive for equality, I do strive for equal value in a relationship. I want to play with the power and gender and submission and control in sex, sure – but when it comes to value within the relationship, I do think it’s important to be on equal ground.

Okay, this concludes my gender rant for today. I have more to say – much more – and will write more on this as my thoughts get clearer. Thanks again, though, to those who have contributed to this conversation. Let’s keep it going, eh?

Further Points on Gender

  • When myself and my partner are both women, we are inherently breaking from heteronormativity just by the fact that we are both women.

  • Arguing that butch/femme reproduces compulsory heterosexual gender roles assumes that heterosexual gender roles ARE the source, and the norm, from whence butch/femme came. What if all of these gender roles are pulling from a different force – say, some sort of universal life-force, uniquely expressed in a wide variety of ways?

  • Sometimes butch/femme roles ARE a reproduction of heterosexuality, and that is where trouble comes into my paradise. If only they never were. That is absolutely one of the reasons why it was extremely difficult for me to come to a butch identity – because I’d grown up believing that gender roles were confining, and limiting. But they don’t have to be. I’m working on the details of that argument, but – for now – it’s similar to how a poetic form can actually liberate a poem, or an idea, rather than limit the expression of it.

  • I don’t like the argument that we should be “beyond roles” or beyond definition. Defining ourselves gives us power, and language, to articulate who we are. The problems arise when we are confined to the definitions, when we can no longer re-make or re-claim the words to accurately describe ourselves, or when we grow and move and change and are holding on to something that is no longer true. Categories should never be so rigid that there is not room to manouver inside of them.

  • Claiming a particular label or gender identity or expression also situates me within a particular history. There is a heritage of women who refused to be confined to femininity, many of them butches in the queer community. And I come from them. They are my heritage, I am part of that lineage, I want to claim and celebrate and align myself with what they did, because I am so fucken lucky to be sitting in a corporate office in midtown Manhattan, with my boycut #4 and my polo shirt, black boy slacks and loafers, Hanes briefs and a pocketwatch, wearing Old Spice and American Crew pomade, and my coworkers don’t care. I claim that heritage by claiming my identity to be butch. I stand on their shoulders. I am not alone here.

  • Gender, for me, is an expression of my sense of self as played onto my body, but it is also a sex toy. It is a way that I play and have fun and enhance the friction and traction between myself and my lover. It’s about contrast, holding myself up against someone else to see where we overlap, where we divide, where we collide.

someone slightly more articulate

[O]ral histories have demonstrated that butch-femme couples were seen in America as far back as the turn of the twentieth century [… But] the lesbian feminist movement beginning in the early 1970s, dismissed butch-femme culture as politically incorrect. […]

Criticism of butch-femme was usually based on the claim that these identifications are an attempt to replicate heterosexuality by designating one member of a couple as male (the butch) and the other as female (the femme). Even today this argument is frequently aired. However, it is highly problematic because of its own underlying assumption of heteronormativity–that is, the tenet that heterosexuality is normal, and that all other forms of sexuality are only weak imitations of it. Butch-femme need not be an imitation of anything; it is a unique way of living and loving.

from the entry for Butch/femme in the GLBTQ encyclopedia

See also:

Brazen Femme: Queering Femininity by Chloe Brushwood
Butch Is a Noun by S. Bear Bergman
Dagger: On Butch Women edited by Lily Burana, Roxxie, and Linnea Due
Femme/Butch: New Considerations of the Way We Want to Go by Michelle Gibson and Deborah T. Meem
The Persistent Desire: A Femme-Butch Reader edited by Joan Nestle
… and don’t forget the upcoming Visible: A Femmethology edited by Maria Angeline

more gender frustration

Did you see the post about gender binaries over at My Name is Lina?I’ve got all sorts of reactions. Mostly frustration. I feel inarticulate, like I can’t possibly explain this such that others will understand. I’m going to re-read some gender theory and butch/femme celebration books and see what I can come up with.

I like what Joy just said in a comment on my last post, how these dualisms/binaries are also about archetypes and patterns and mythology, about interesting ways to interpret and understand our lives.

Is that not enough?

Ranting about Gender Binaries & Stereotypes

I should be sleeping. And I have too many things to be writing about to be flying off the handle at some random thing, but I just ran across something that has me all … hot under the collar.The lovely Miss Avarice made some comments on my post about active surrender where I wrote about topping & bottoming, and who really has control. Fine, good. Sweet of her to link to me, actually, and I should’ve said that in my comments, but I got distracted, because someone commented by saying: why do lesbians hold true the male ideal of duality? male vs. female…masculine vs. feminine…i mean it is still a ridiculous battle and fight over nothing. still a struggle that is ultimately useless.

And oh my god I don’t even know where to start. Go read my very sloppy comments on the subject if you’d like.

You’re not going to go read the comments, are you? Okay, here’s what I wrote:

The dualisms absolutely can be confining, if you let what they’re “supposed” to be dictate who you are. But many people, and I include myself in this description absolutely, find categories and dualisms also extremely liberating, and celebratory. there is infinity inside of these dualisms, if one wishes to embody them that way.

Also: “the male ideal of duality”? Why would duality that be a male ideal? That makes no sense. Humans categorize, male and female and beyond and in-between.

But – I believe Miss Avarice was discussing topping & bottoming here in this post, which is not male vs female or masculine vs feminine. Which is also, perhaps, a duality, but you missed the point of the post: even when someone is bottoming, they are still in charge. so who is really bottoming? who is really in charge? who is really in control? who is really submitting? those lines are extremely blurry, and difficult to categorize, when you actually examine them.

I have two hundred more words I could say about this “struggle that is ultimately useless” and what is problematic about generalizing all lesbians as holding to dualisms. Makes me want to shake my fist and spit at the ground a little bit.

I have books and books to say about how, to start, the gender expressions of butch and femme are not reproductions of the heteronormative paradigm.Can everybody please just say that five times, out loud, right now? Butch and femme are not reproductions of the heteronormative paradigm. Butch and femme are not reproductions of the heteronormative paradigm. Butch and femme are not reproductions of the heteronormative paradigm. Butch and femme are not reproductions of the heteronormative paradigm. Butch and femme are not reproductions of the heteronormative paradigm.

But beyond actually even addressing this misconception, and further perpetuating this argument about how lesbians are reproducing heterosexual gender roles, there’s another issue here which is really the one irking me: are we really still asking these questions? I mean, really? Have we not addressed this, over and over and OVER?

And maybe that’s just me. Maybe I’m just fucken lucky that I’ve been examining gender expression and dynamics and paradigms, and the history of feminism and women’s liberation and sexual liberation, and kink and play and sacred sexuality, and so I take it for granted that I have done this work, and others still haven’t.

But goddammit, why why why haven’t these ideas prevailed? Why haven’t they permeated the general public’s consciousness, just a little more? What a fucken battle we’ve been fighting.

And! – I was at a round-table interview today with seven of the smartest sexbloggers I know (more about that later) and one of the things the interviewer postited was about how a woman’s sex drive is still (perceived) to be lower than a man’s.

I just had to bite my tongue. I mean, really? Are we seriously still believing that in this culture? In 2007? Women still aren’t sexual beings, when compared to men?

What. The. Fuck.

This is why we still need social change, and why writing about sex IS an act of social change and liberation, subversion and joy.

I have so much more to express about this, about my own personal story of coming to and coming to terms with my own gender identity, about my attraction to femmes and to the so-called “gender binary,” about why dualisms are fascinating and important and celebratory instead of limiting.

But.

Two things.

  1. If it doesn’t work for you, fine! If you don’t find a particular binary useful, don’t use it. But do try to understand it before you go around discounting and patronizing other people’s values and choices. (Or maybe that was the anonymous commentor being authentically curious about the reasons behind “the lesbians” supporting as-a-whole these dualisms? To me, it just came across as holier-than-thou aren’t-you-unenlightened belittling.

  2. … And this is a new thing, something I’m trying to remind myself of, and remember. I am under no obligation to educate any random person who comes along and challenges my beliefs. For some reason, I have kind of been operating under the assumption that I should, actually, engage with these questions, and attempt dialogue. I don’t actually have to do that. That feels like a weird thing to be realizing – and it lifts a sort of weight, whereas seeing a random post, on a friend’s blog which discusses some ideas that originated from me, makes me feel very much obligated to discuss and engage and argue and support and defend.And you know what, anonymous? You didn’t even leave your name, blog profile, ID, or email. Why would I discuss this with you when you clearly didn’t really want to engage in a conversation anyway? Why waste my time defending and defining parts of my fundamental identity to someone I don’t even know?

This is the difficulty, that I sometimes very much forget, of occupying space within these binaries. It’s somehow unlesbian, and therefore unfeminist, to be inside of those dualisms because they are supposedly originated from the heteronormative gender roles.Before I go to bed (because it is one am and I had just a weeeee bit too much bourbon tonight), I do want to say briefly (ha!) why it is that butch and femme are not reproductions of the heteronormative paradigm. And that is because of exactly the reason our anonymous misinformed friend over at Avarice’s place was saying that lesbians shouldn’t be adopting these “dualisms”: there is a wide, wide range of human gender expression. And these roles are taking certain organized human traits and playing with them, enhancing them, celebrating them.

This is such a huge topic, I could write (and have written) for hours on it. What is butch, what is femme, anyway? I would probably have to define those things before really examining their liberatory function. Honestly, the closest I’ve come to actually defining them really has to do with formal wear, and underwear: when I dress up, I wear a suit. It is how I feel most comfortable. When I wear briefs, I feel sexy. And that physical gender expression actually makes my actions, hobbies, and interests all the more interesting – I think – because they are not necessarily in conjunction with your perceived idea of who I will be, because of my gender expression. And that, right there, is an act of subversion.

Those are the moments in the binaries and dualities that are the whole purpose, to me. When two seemingly mutually exclusive things occupy the same space: boy and girl. Love and violence. Power and surrender. That is how things feel made whole, balanced, right.