Do rough sex fantasies compromise your sex-positive ethics?

This new essay is also the introduction to my new book, Sweet & Rough: Sixteen Stories of Queer Smut, available September 15th. Preorder it on Smashwords now!

I firmly believe that there is nothing wrong with my personal rough sex fantasies, nor is there anything wrong with your dirtiest fantasies. I believe that because I trust that you and I are adults who understand that fantasy is different from reality, and while we may think one thing to get ourselves off, we probably conduct our sex lives slightly differently.

Erotic stories are fantasies, yes, but they can be more than just that—they can show us a piece of the path, and encourage our erotic selves to blossom. So what’s my responsibility as an erotica writer to make the stories that I write down ethical and responsible?

I am both a sex educator and a smut writer, and sometimes those worlds seem to conflict. For example, in the BDSM and sex education worlds, educators and advanced practitioners stress consent in play scenes. And not just consent—we stress enthusiastic consent, not just an absence of “no” but a ready joyous abundance of informed and eager “yes.” We also stress safer sex practices, barriers, knowing your status, and sexual health and wellness. We stress responsible scenes, and warn about playing while intoxicated.

In some of my erotic fiction stories, these practices that are deeply held values in my personal life aren’t readily apparent. That’s because my stories are fantasies—you know, the things you close your eyes and think about when you’re getting off all by yourself, not necessarily (though perhaps sometimes!) the things you do with lovers. The characters in my stories sometimes don’t negotiate or have a conversation about safer sex, not because things like safer sex or negotiation are unimportant, but because the main purpose of the story is to turn you, the reader, on.

Frequently, in the sexuality education communities and conversations, we talk about how porn and erotica are different from sex education. I discourage people from learning how to give or receive a blow job from porn videos, for example, where deep throating and playing with ejaculate are overly common. (See Cindy Gallop’s online project Make Love, Not Porn for a variety of other examples of the difference.) Similarly, I discourage people from learning about power dynamics from Laura Antoniou’s book The Marketplace (though I happen to love the whole series), and would never suggest recreating a scene from 50 Shades of Grey (don’t even get me started). Both of these books are worlds away from the people who pursue and practice power dynamics, ownership, dominance, and submission in their personal relationships.

But the fantasies? We, as readers, love devouring them. We love the fantasies even more than we love the reality. The reality is messy, with STI scares and condoms breaking. The fantasies are escapist, sensual, and by definition not real.

I think when we start coming into our own sexually, when we start realizing that there’s more to sex than what our completely antiquated and puritanical sex education system taught us as kids, we start familiarizing ourselves with some of the most basic topics in sex positive communities. We learn about consent, agency, negotiations, communication, and safer sex. When we don’t see that reflected in the erotica or porn that we are consuming, sometimes it can seem like the erotica or porn fantasy is discouraging that kind of sex positive responsibility.

I am explaining all of this to you because I don’t want my erotic fantasies to discourage you from being responsible in reality.

I know that the educational workshops I teach encourage sex positive responsibility. But in my erotica? That issue becomes a little more nuanced and complicated, because of the aspects of art and fantasy. For example, I am aware that there are some points in the Sweet & Rough collection of stories where characters protest or resist or drink a lot of whiskey. I think there is nothing wrong with playing with resistance and force, consensually and carefully, but I also think that requires a lot of negotiation, a lot of trust, and safewords, in order to be done responsibly in the real world. That part of the story often isn’t revealed. Like the porn scene that cuts out the part where the fluffer comes on stage and someone else adds more lube, the erotic story often excludes the getting-to-know-you, the subtle body language communication, the character’s histories with each other, and what they have negotiated “off screen.”

I deeply believe that the personal is political and that being transparent about one’s life is a spiritual path. Since writing Sweet & Rough, I have shifted some of my erotica writing to be much more consciously inclusive of things like negotiations and safer sex. Most definitely because that stuff is hot, but also because I want to show more of the reality and less of the fantasy.

However, those things are frequently excluded from Sweet & Rough. And here’s why: These stories are collaborations. Most of the stories in this collection were written and published on Sugarbutch between 2007-2009. Many of them came out of the “Sugarbutch Star Contest” where readers sent in some basics about a scene (who, where, what the characters did) and I wrote up the story.

It was a huge period of growth for my writing, and I pushed myself hard to write the fantasies that were outlined for me. Sometimes, they were much more forceful than I’d usually write, although they more closely resembled my own private fantasies. I am aware of my access to privilege and unconscious entitlement as a masculine person and as a dominant, and it is important for me to stay conscious in my sex play, especially when it comes to gender or power dynamics.

Often, my early drafts of these stories included a lot of internal processing and negotiations, but the fantasies of my collaborators challenged me. I remember when writing “The Houseboy’s Rebellion” (which is a b-side story included on the USB version of Sweet & Rough), when the collaborator read the draft of it, she said, “No way. Make my character more mean. Take out all this negotiation. Just take me.”

Because of how strong the service top in me is, and because I liked it, I followed her desire. And I believe that story—and others, when I received similar feedback—are stronger for it.

The stories in Sweet & Rough are fantasies. I know fantasy erotic writing still greatly influences our real sexualities, and I don’t dismiss that connection. But these fictions are not necessarily models of sexual responsibility. Some of it is “problematic,” and I wouldn’t claim otherwise—but they still have so much value, and can jump-start our erotic engines or show us how much more can be incorporated into our erotic lives.

I encourage you to continue practicing being a responsible, ethical, sex-positive kinkster who operates from integrity. And I encourage you to read erotica stories that are edgy, full of force and lust, from authors whose ethics you trust, and to believe that the responsibilities are filled in behind the scenes, just off the page, stripped out so you can enjoy even more of the sweet sex and rough play that gets you going and gets you off.

Sweet & RoughYou have just read the introduction to my new book of erotica short stories, Sweet & Rough: Sixteen Stories of Queer Smut. It is all ready to go and will be released on Monday, September 15th! Preorder your copy on Smashwords, or if you are attending the Catalyst Conference in LA this weekend, I’ll have special pre-release copies on a USB drive (which will have a special, USB-only b-side story included!)

Free eBook Download: BDSM murder mystery about dogs & neighbors

During the month of November, in celebration of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), author (and my good buddy) Amy Butcher is giving away ebook copies of her award-winning Nanowrimo novel Paws for Consideration.

Of course, if you get the ebook version, you will miss out on the awesome flip book—illustrated by Amy—in the upper corner of the book, which features Daisy the person zooming around in her wheelchair while Skittles the dog pees on the page numbers.

From Amybutcher.com:

Paws for Consideration won the Gay Category at the 2013 San Francisco Book Festival. That now makes Paws for Considerationan “award-winning novel” . . . who knew?

It’s also National Novel Writing Month. Another cause for celebration not only for all the crazy writing happening but also because that’s where Paws for Consideration got it’s start.

So throughout November, you can download a free copy of Pawsthrough Smashwords. Enter your email in the form [on Amybutcher.com] and we’ll send you the download code. And if you enjoy, please give a shout out on Goodreads.”

Paws is an easy fun read, full of jaunts all over the Mission and Castro in San Francisco. I read it on a plane in basically one sitting last year when it came out, and I laughed out loud and cried when Skittles was found and was moved as the neighborhood characters found a way to come together and puzzle through someone’s death. I like how Daisy navigates through the heretofore unexplored world of BDSM in the Castro, the perspective is sweet and curious and accepting.

Oh yeah, there are play parties and sex and masturbation and flogging scenes and leather dungeons in this book too. And also lots of dogs.

It starts like this:

This is box title
For the briefest of moments, a question hung in the air between two damp noses. Daisy-the-person joysticked her electric wheelchair a little closer to Daisy-the-dog. Daisy-the-dog danced one cautious step backwards in response, slid a long tongue across the tip of her nose and tasted the dampened air, trying to decide if this hulking combination of vehicle and person was to be trusted. Daisy-the-person snorted too, and wiped a sleeve across her own muzzle. “Come on over here, you cutie, and give me some love!” she said, beckoning low with an outstretched hand.

The voice of Daisy-the-person carried way beyond the dog in front of her. She was the morning wake-up call for her neighbors, as regular as the bells ringing out from the steeple of Mission Dolores, only higher pitched. She patted her generous lap again, encouraging Daisy-the-dog to come closer.

To the canine, it wasn’t clear where chair began and person ended. The way this creature moved, the wheels and the whir, were disconcerting. But she smelled good—of oily chicken scents and warm lint—and she wasn’t moving now. Daisy-the-dog decided to take a chance.

Now, don’t you want to read the whole thing? Go download it now.

The hottest parts of the hottest parts of the stories: The Big Book of Orgasms

If you’re a fan of reading erotica—and chances are high that you are, if you’re following Sugarbutch—you probably know Rachel Kramer Bussel‘s work. She’s one of the most prolific erotica editors and writers currently curating and creating dirty books and stories for us to read and explore, and I’m a huge fan of her work.

She’s included stories of mine in a variety of her anthologies, and I’m in a brand new book of hers called The Big Book of Orgasms: 69 Sexy Stories which also features many of my favorite queer erotica writers, including BD Swain and Xan West.

The Big Book of Orgasms joins a few other “big book” anthologies of short-short dirty stories, including Girl Fever and Gotta Have It and Frenzy (the latter two I have stories in), and they continue to be some of my most favorite anthologies. They’re so easy to read. It’s like the “good parts” version of other erotica anthologies, where in this one, the writers only have a couple of pages to give you the point of the story, which is usually the hottest part of the story.

The hottest part of the story isn’t always the orgasm part (very often the tease is what does it for me, for example), but it’s definitely one of the hottest parts. So basically what I’m saying is, this book is the hottest parts of the hottest parts of stories. Amazing.

So next week, on Wednesday November 6th, I’ll be reading at the Polk Street Good Vibrations toy store in San Francisco, along with a handful of other contributors to the book, to celebrate the release of The Big Book of Orgasms!

Details:

bigbookThe Big Book of Orgasms: 69 Sexy Stories (Cleis Press) is editor Rachel Kramer Bussel’s latest and greatest erotica anthology. This climactic collection of pansexual short shorts are perfect for bedtime reading to a lover or on your own. Whether getting off from exhibitionism, voyeurism, hot wax, dirty talk or a very special pair of blue jeans, the characters in The Big Book of Orgasms go all out for the Big O. From vanilla to kinky, and everything in between, there’s something for all erotic readers here. At this special reading, Bussel will be joined by contributors Lily K. Cho, Malin James, Crystal Jordan, Donna George Storey, B.D. Swain, Virgie Tovar, Sinclair Sexsmith, Jade A. Waters and Xan West for an evening of steamy stories that’s sure to leave you hot and bothered.

FREE!
Time: 6:30 – 7:30pm
Where: Good Vibrations Polk Street Good Vibrations Polk St. store 1620 Polk Street (at Sacramento Street), San Francisco, CA 94109
http://events.goodvibes.com
https://fetlife.com/events/201391
https://www.facebook.com/events/186231794893318/

… The only problem is, I’m not entirely sure what to read. This book includes a story about Kristen, and traditionally, at book release parties, it’s customary to read the story that is included in the book. But I don’t think I can read a story about how good she is at sex and how much I loved fucking her, in public, right now. Maybe someday I can, maybe it’ll feel like fiction again, or like my own writing, but right now it just feels like ouch.

So what do I read?

Options are … well … I could read a different piece, something about rife or something more fictional. I could read someone else’s story from the book. I could write to Rachel and ask her what she recommends. I’m not sure what the best option is, for this one.

Suggestions?

And while you’re at it, if you’re in or nearby to San Francisco, why don’t you come see me read, and get a copy of the book signed by some of the amazing contributors? It’s been a while since I’ve had an erotica reading, I’m looking forward to it.

Writing your story is “an investment in one’s self,” and more from Amber Dawn

howpoetryI published a note about me & Amber Dawn reading some poetry this week earlier today, but I forgot that I have this lovely little interview from Amber Dawn’s publisher, Arsenal Pulp Press.

Interview with Amber Dawn

Q: The format of How Poetry Saved My Life (prose pieces mixed with a variety of poetry forms) deviates from what readers might have come to expect from the literary memoir form. Sections “Outside,” “Inside” and “Inwards” hint at a narrative arc, though the overall structure remains more loose and thematic than chronological. Why did you choose to tell your story this way?

Amber Dawn: I have a great deal of admiration for authors—especially ex-sex workers—who write their memoir as a chronological journey. Some books I’ve had the pleasure of reading recently are Whip Smart, by Melissa Febos and Candy Girl: A Year in the Life of an Unlikely Stripper, by Diablo Cody. I doubt I’d have the wherewithal to sit down and write my own story in this manner. How Poetry Saved My Life encompasses nearly fifteen years of collected writing. I wrote each piece for different reasons. Some poems had more therapeutic or cathartic beginnings, harken to the book’s title. Some prose I wrote to present at sex worker conferences or forums. It took a while before I realized I had an entire book’s worth of writing, and a bit longer still before I felt brave enough to release these collected stories and poems publicly. I view the account of my experiences as more of an emotional journey, rather than a chronological one. Through this approach I hope readers will make there own personal connection to the book, even if they’re life experiences are different from my own.

Q: The book represents nearly fifteen years of collected writings. You’ve had a very diverse writing career—you’ve edited horror and porn anthologies and dipped into the magical realist genre with your first novel Sub Rosa. How did you come to write a non-fictionalized memoir?

A: I believe a voice is a powerful and privileged resource to possess, especially when it comes to something like sex work, which is constantly silenced and stigmatized. Through performing on both small and larger stages, I’ve found that in every audience there is at least one woman (or man) who not only relates to my story, but feels almost desperate to have silence around sex work and survivorship broken. I feel a duty to speak up.

Q: Is there a piece of prose or poetry in the collection that was particularly difficult for you to write or realize, and in turn share with readers?

A: “Lying is the Work” is a personal essay that juxtaposes a bad date I had during the last year of working in the sex trade with my grandfather’s story of joining the Navy at age 17 to fight in WW2. This is one of very few examples where I bring my family history into my work. I love my family and want to protect and spare them of triggers or “digging up dirt.” While I’m proud of who I am, I acutely understand that survivors and sex workers are stigmatized and that this stigma can impact families and loved ones.

Case in point, recently, my grandfather disowned me when I married my wife—a ceremony that everyone in my family attended but for him. Therefore, I feel I can tell a bit of the story between my grandfather and I—in a dignified and objective way—without worrying about him reading it. As an Italian-American immigrant and Navy veteran he has a tremendous story of survival. It’s bitter sweet that I relate to him as a survivor and yet we have no present-day relationship. This makes the personal essay very difficult for me.

Q: RADAR Productions recently awarded you the 2012 Eli Coppola Memorial Poetry Chapbook Prize for “How I got My Tattoo.” How does the title poem of that particular collection fit into your personal narrative in How Poetry Saved My Life?

A: What an honour to win the Eli Coppola Memorial Poetry Prize, and just before I launch How Poetry Saved My Life! I have a quite a few titles like How Poetry Saved My Life and “How I Got My Tattoo” that are posed like answers to questions. Sex workers and survivors get asked questions all the time. I could over-simplify all these questions to essentially, “How did this happen to you.” I hate that question—the question implies that being a survivor or being a sex worker is outside the norm and needs explanation—when in fact these experiences are very common. Nonetheless, I also sympathize that people need to ask questions and discuss. The titles that I’ve written as answers to questions are there to promote discussion in a proud and creative way.

Q: In the book you cite author Jeanette Winterson and “powerful women whose voices have been cut short” among your inspirations. Would you tell us more about how you have been influenced by literary and activist voices in your life?

A: I was in my teens and early 20s in the 1990s, and was gobsmacked by the Riot Grrl movement. My first serious girlfriend introduced me to the feminist music and zine culture and listing to Team Dresh and Bikini Kill gave me the idea that I too had something to say. Not only where these voices powerful, but they were accessible. I didn’t need education to understand the feminist politicking of Riot Grrl. But after being introduced to feminist art and literature, I wanted to learn more. This was probably the first time I ever wanted to learn or read anything. I began reading Jeanette Winterson, Beth Goobie, Larissa Lai, Evelyn Lau, Sharon Olds, Lucille Clifton, Michelle Tea, Sarah Schulman. Finally, I understood the comfort and solidarity that could be found through books.

Q: You’ve toured with the Sex Workers Art Show, created short films, as well as performed at a variety of venues including the Vancouver Art Gallery. How does your performance and film background compliment or deviate from your writing?

A: Performing at galleries or appearing in my own films has helped me get into my body. Like many survivors, I’m inclined to live in my head, my imagination is a real sanctuary. Performance art has allowed me to embody the themes and emotions of my work and connect more closely with audience. I really feel the work when I’m hurling my body around a stage. In turn, this has helped me sink into a deeper connectivity to my written work.

Q: You now teach creative writing classes—some to queer and at-risk youth. Can you say more about the potential of art to be a survival skill and lifeline to others?

A: Something very palpable occurs when a person writes their story. It doesn’t have to be for future publication, but simply to put memories on paper and/or to read them in a room full of safe, supportive listeners. It’s an investment in one’s self. It’s an act of acknowledging one’s worth. It’s making the unspoken, heard. This can have life-changing impacts on people who have been shut down or silenced. Each time I run a creative writing workshop I see a little bit of change happen. “Thank you for listening,” my students always say to me. They don’t need to thank me; they should thank themselves. They do transformative work when they use their voices.

Seven years ago, I started this project named Sugarbutch

the very first Sugarbutch avatar
the very first Sugarbutch avatar
Once upon a time, I was struggling to become a butch. My first girlfriend called me “Sugarbutch” and it stuck. Though my college girlfriend and I talked the talk of gender and sexuality, we were stuck in lesbian bed death—not that lesbians own bed death, exactly, any couple of any gender or sexuality can go through spells or years of time where they aren’t having sex, but lesbians have a particular corner on that market. (I have some theories about that, for another time.)

We were together four years, and had sex six times in the last two years. Six times! I counted! I was going crazy, tearing my hair out with desire and want, getting off in secret and feeling guilty, feeling depressed and anxious and unmotivated. I wasn’t writing. I couldn’t write anything without writing I want out of this relationship but I wasn’t ready to face that. I couldn’t get sex off my mind. So I decided that anytime I wanted to have sex, I would either go to the gym, or I would write erotica.

… So of course I wrote a lot of erotica (and didn’t really go to the gym). At first, the writings were all what I wished we’d done, what I was daydreaming about.

avatarYou did this little twist with your hips this morning that made me want to press you to the wall, hard, and take you right then.” … “Mouth open eyes closed, fingers pinching your nipples, working every lingering inch of me inside you. It didn’t really happen this way but it could have.” … “I can’t even hold a conversation with you anymore because every word in my mouth is clouded with why are we not kissing right now?

I started writing things, sentences, syntax that I actually kind of liked. And as I started breaking through, I started discovering what was inside the block: a deep unknowing—on both of our parts.

I was struggling to become butch, but I was also struggling to become myself.

So I did what I knew to do with writing I kind of liked and was afraid to own: I put it online. I wanted to study myself, more than anything else: to study sexualities, genders, and relationships. To make a graduate study of these things, to read all the books and read all the blogs and listen to all the podcasts and ask all the facilitators I could find what their best philosophies are for these tricky topics. It became a sanctuary, a writing prompt every day, a practice, a deepening of what I knew about myself and how to be me in the world.

It has been a personal study. This place has been the place where I’ve become me.

with Rachel Kramer Bussel during the Sex Bloggers Calendar photo shoot, 2008. first time I showed my face online
with Rachel Kramer Bussel during the Sex Bloggers Calendar photo shoot, 2008. first time I showed my face online
Of course, my college girlfriend (here known as “The Ex”) and I broke up. When I started writing and telling the truth to myself again, I couldn’t stay. It was a mess. I didn’t know how to leave. I didn’t know that not having good sex in a monogamous relationship was enough of a reason to leave, but I now do believe it is. I fell in love, hard, and got burned. I started healing, and grieving. I dated and explored and studied, I wrote and wrote, I started teaching. I fell in love again. There’s a lot more to all of those stories, but you can mostly read those for yourselves in the archives.

Somewhere along there, I started asking myself: “Now that I got everyone’s attention, what do I have to say?

I’ve been puzzling through that, trying desperately to make a living to enable me to keep doing my work these past few years, which is part of why you haven’t heard as much from me. I’ve been trying to come into integrity, into integration, bringing who I am offline together with the vision of myself I came to know through words. I’ve been struggling to create myself a life I can settle into, one that is sustainable, that can last, that can feed me and carry me into the work that I know I have to do in the world.

I haven’t figured that out entirely, yet, but I am getting closer. My life has been radically restructured in the past year, and I need some retreat and some quiet and some inner work so I can feel into what the new mission of my work is here beyond my own personal liberation. Telling my own story has been and will continue to be an important part of it, but there is more to it than that. I seek structure and vision in a bigger way, and I don’t quite know what that means yet, but I can feel that I’ve been moving steadily toward it.

Thank you for reading. Thank you for all of your comments and support. Thank you for your emails (even when I don’t have time to write back as thoroughly as I’d like). Thank you for coming to my workshops and buying my books. Thank you.

I love my job.

7thbirthdaySome of the other anniversary posts:

(The anniversary of Sugarbutch starting was Monday, April 29th, but that was my first day after a long 6-day training and the day before I left for a two-day trip to Madison, Wisconsin, so it took me a few days to get to it. Now I’m hitting “publish” from an airplane 30,000 feet up, zooming back to the Bay Area. We live in the future.)

The Act of Creating Something

“Initially, I entered the field of writing through a desire to heal, but what’s been surprising is that while sowing my own transformation, my work seems to aid others’ healing,” Tara Hardy says in GO Magazine’s 100 Women We Love. “And what a privilege to be part of people healing themselves. Call me a zealot, but I believe this is a central opportunity offered by the act of creating something.”

Yeah. That.

Meditating on that today, sitting with it, swishing it around in my mouth to get every last flavor burst. I’m losing sight of my goal, my intentions, in doing this work a little bit these days. I struggle to find the right words. My life is so full, always so much going on … but I am so called to this, this writing, this way of working out my world, this way of making sense of what’s around me. The Internet and communities online are so rapidly changing, I can’t keep up, though I am trying. I’m moving toward more coaching and one-on-one work with people, and doing more workshops and teachings, but I want to keep up my writings here. I know—and Kristen is constantly reminding me—that the only way through is through, but still I struggle with being stuck.

So thanks, Tara, for that quote, and reminding me that there is a “central opportunity offered by the act of creating something”: that it aids others, as well as my own, healing.

I’m thrilled to see Amber Dawn, Miss Indigo Blue, Patricia Manuel, Jessica Halem, Sassafras Lowrey, and Shanna Katz—in addition to Tara Hardy—and other folks in my communities on the GO magazine hot 100 list this year. Congratulations.

Mentor Series: Tara Hardy & Her New Book, Bring Down the Chandeliers

Tara Hardy has been a mentor and influence of mine since I first saw her perform in Seattle in 2000. I then went on to be one of her students for about five years, studying at Bent: A Writing Institute for Queers, where I eventually became a volunteer and substitute teacher, and where I learned a ton about performing, chapbooks, writing, queerness, butchness, femmes, and all sorts of other life things.

Anything But God by Tara Hardy, one of my favorite pieces of hers:

Her new book, Bring Down the Chandeliers, is published on Write Bloody and is brilliant. I have many of her previous self-published chapbooks, so I recognized some of these poems, but even familiar with her work I was thrilled to see them re-made and re-imagined for this new collection. I love how she’s edited them.

I bought an extra copy of her new book just so I could give it away here on Sugarbutch. Want it? Leave a comment with your favorite poet or poem or book of poems, or something else entirely, and I’ll pick a winner at random next week Monday when I get back from Dark Odyssey.

One of her recent chapbooks, Shoulder Slip Strap (which she probably has copies of if you email her or find her on Facebook), has this short but amazing piece in it that I have been chewing on ever since I read it.

Isn’t that just oh so perfect? I love how much is encapsulated.

She’s going to be touring in the Northeast in September and October, so if she’s coming to a city near you, this is your chance to see her perform. Do it. From her Facebook note:

Tara Hardy on the loose for 20 days in the northeast: 18 performances, 8 workshops, 1 rental car, more shoes than she shoulda, and lots & lots-o-copies of Bring Down the Chandeliers (for sale!).

*Thursday, 9/15: Amherst, MA, Smith College
*Friday, 9/16: Somerville, MA, Poets Theater (Arts at the Armory, 191 Highland Ave) 8pm
*Saturday, 9/17: Boston, MA, Jme Caroline’s kitchen, Time TBA
*Sunday, 9/18: Portland, ME, Rhythmic Cypher, Slainte Wine Bar (24 Preble St) 8pm
*Monday, 9/19: Portland, ME, workshop TBA, performance at Port Veritas (Local Sprouts, 649 Congress), Time TBA
*Tuesday, 9/20: Providence, RI, Providence Poetry Slam (AS220, 115 Empire Ave) 9pm
*Wednesday, 9/21: Day of rest, or rather, bookstore hop.
*Thursday, 9/22: Manchester, NH, Milly’s Tavern (500 Commercial Street) 8pm
*Friday, 9/23: New York, NY, Nuyorican Poetry Slam (Nuyorican Poets Café, 236 E Third St) 9pm
*Saturday, 9/24: Worcester, MA, Clark College Youth Performance, (location TBA) 7pm
*Sunday, 9/25: Worcester, MA, Clark College Workshop (location TBA) 2-4pm and Poets Asylum, (WCUW Front Room, 910 Main St) 7pm
*Monday, 9/26: New York, NY, LouderARTS (Bar 13, 35 East 13th Street) 7:30pm
*Tuesday, 9/27: Washington, D.C., Beltway Poetry Slam (The Fridge, 516 8th Street SE) 7:30pm
*Wednesday, 9/28: Washington, D.C., Busboys & Poets (5th & K Streets) 9pm
*Thursday, 9/29: Long Branch, NJ, Loser Slam (665 Second Avenue) workshop 8pm, performance, 9pm
*Friday, 9/30: Jersey City, NJ, JC Slam (location & time TBA)
*Saturday, 10/1: Richmond, VA, Richmond Slam (Artspace Art Gallery, 31 E 3rd St) workshop & performance, 5-7:30pm
*Sunday, 10/2: Day of rest, or rather, search for best vegan food in D.C.
*Monday, 10/3: Washington, D.C. Mothertongue (DC Center, 1318 U Street NW) workshop 6:30-8, performance, 9pm
*Tuesday, 10/4: New York, NY, Urbana Poetry Slam (Bowery Poetry Club, 308 Bowery) 7pm

When Peace Comes by Tara Hardy

Thank you, Tara, for all that you’ve done and all you’ve taught and all you’ve shared with the world. You’ve been a huge influence, and I wouldn’t be where I am if I hadn’t had your guidance and brilliance along the way.

How Do I Let Go of a Past Hurt?

After some strong realizations about what really is the strength and foundation of my relationship with Kristen, I’ve been thinking a lot about healing past wounds, especially in terms of former lovers and broken hearts.

I often notice some sort of snag or conflict come up between Kristen and I, and using those things I mentioned are the super strong foundations of our relationship, we can usually talk through it, understand where we’re both coming from, and explain how we got there.

My part of that often looks like this: “You did x, and x is very familiar to me because in my past relationship x had this kind of role and did this kind of damage to me, so it’s really hard for me when you do x, because I feel triggered and panicked.”

Another important part of this is: it’s pretty likely that she wasn’t intentionally doing x, or at least she certainly didn’t mean to hurt me; I do keep that in mind. Probably it was a by-product of her attempting to do something else. And usually she can express that explanation and I can hear her and I don’t get mad at her for doing it, generally I understand what she was trying to do.

But somehow I am still stuck in this past relationship, this past me, where that feeling was true and x meant something specific and my reaction is to PANIC. And I am starting to ask myself: is that happening in this relationship, right now? No, usually it isn’t. That is something else, that is in my past, that is an old wound that this new thing is pulling on, but it’s not the same wound. I am not becoming re-wounded there. I am not at danger of falling back into that wound.

So. Clearly, I need to “let go” of that old reaction. But how does one do that? How do you let something go when it feels like it’s so fucking hard-wired into the way my brain works? How do I not be scared and feel triggered and panicked when these things come back up?

This is what I’ve been contemplating lately, as things between Kristen and I are improving after another brief panic. One of the things about relationships that I deeply believe, indeed one of the POINTS of being in an intimate, loving, romantic, sexual relationship, is that they teach you things about yourself that you perhaps wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to learn, and if they are strong and founded and good, they also can be the space in which you have enough support to actually practice the growing, someone who is patient with you and who recognizes how hard you’re working to rewire yourself, who can gently remind you when you’re falling back into old patterns, and who can support you and encourage you as you try on new ones. Plus, they provide endless opportunities to use those new patterns, since conflict and difficulty and triggers from old broken hearts come up in relationship all the time. Isn’t that lucky!

I think what I’m talking about, in this question of “how do I let go,” is becoming more aware, becoming more mindful of what triggers what and what means what, especially in my relationship. I’m tired of all these old ghosts coming up. I have done a shit-ton of work to put these ghosts to rest, but the pathways in my brain are still carved out in many ways.

So I guess it kind of looks like this:

  1. I have a reaction to something that’s happening in my relationship (usually a negative, bad, “unreasonable” emotional reaction)
  2. I realize where my reaction is coming from (usually a past lover, wound, broken heart)
  3. Let go of the old reaction, be in the present (instead of gripping onto and explaining myself through the past). How to do that?
    1. Well first, I need to be able to release my grip on #2, to be able to ask myself, How did I come to this reaction? Where did it come from, and how did it serve me? What remains unacknowledged about this old wound that means I still think I need this protection? Can I heal that wound and know I no longer need that protection? What is asking me for acceptance?
    2. Then, I need to be in the present. I’ve noticed myself grasping at these old stories, justifying my high emotions, so much that I am not sitting with what is. So I must learn to ask myself: What is happening now? Is this old pattern that I fear actually present?
  4. After letting go of that old reaction, I can have a reaction to what’s happening now, with Kristen, with me, and aim, as always, to respond and react with lovingkindness and care and awareness and openness and love.

That seems fairly straightforward, actually. I think that is possible.

I spoke with a lovely friend and mentor recently about this exact problem, and she suggested a fairly simple rephrasing of relationship needs. I think that too will help in conquering this “how to let go” question. For example, if I notice this process happening, and get to step #2, realizing that I’m being triggered because it’s relating to a past hurt of mine, if I go on to say, “Okay, I need you to not be x like my ex,” that brings a lot of baggage into the conversation, a lot of layers and complicated past ghosts and old wounds and old ways of working and whoa suddenly it’s a whole lot more than just me and my beautiful girlfriend trying to talk through a little snag in communication or interaction.

Let me be a little more specific for this example, I think it’ll make more sense that way.

So one of the things that triggers me heavily is when someone in a relationship with me is withholding. It reminds me of my former lesbian bed death relationship, among others, and I get panicked that I’ll never again know what’s happening in her head and will spend years trying and it will eat me up. Ahem.

But this plays on other ways I work too, especially in that I am a very insightful, observant person who often knows what’s going on with another person’s emotional landscape even better than they do (especially if they aren’t too self-aware), and I have the tendency to constantly check in with them (silently, emotionally) to see where they’re at. If they aren’t telling me where they’re at, and in fact are deliberately putting up a wall and withholding that information, saying “I’m fine,” or “I don’t want to talk about it,” when I ask, I tend to assume something is brewing and will bubble up and explode later, which makes me way anxious.

I know, this is a totally unique situation that nobody else has ever been in, right? Nobody else has this problem, ever.

So, instead of having the reaction of “I need you to not be withholding like my ex!” I can rephrase it to something like, “it’s really important for me to know what’s going on with your mental/emotional landscape.” Not that we have to spend hours processing that, but I can briefly explain why I need that, and if she can just say, “oh, I’m feeling anxious about work, but I don’t want to talk about it,” that’s enough. Some broad-stroke explanation of what “that feeling” is that I am reading on her face but she’s not expressing.

Knowing what is going on with someone else’s emotional landscape one of my basic relationship needs, in fact! And in some ways it has nothing to do with my ex, it has to do with ME. It just reminds me of a time when this basic relationship need wasn’t met (and was probably taken advantage of), and what’s important is that the need be acknowledged and get met, not that there was a time in my past when it wasn’t met. (I mean, that’s important too, but I have done enough healing to hopefully not stick a rock in that wound to keep it open.)

Whew. That feels like a lot, but it feels like a relief, and like I’ve hit on something important.

One of the things about the ways that I work, and the ways I grow and change and get over capitol-i Issues that plague me, is that generally, as soon as I can articulate what’s going on for me and write—that’s the key here, WRITE—out a possible solution, or at least a path to try, I often find that I can rewire myself through that process. By time I articulate it, by time I name it and label it and say OH that’s what’s going on, and OH here’s what I can do to do that differently, those skills and awareness have kind of already integrated. This isn’t a 100%-true-always theory, but I have noticed that this tends to be true, and that too feels like a relief.

Okay so: how about y’all? How have you addressed this problem of past hurts in your current relationships? Any tips for me? Any tricks to keeping your own mindfulness and awareness up while dealing with things that are triggering and hard? Anything I might be missing here? Does this make sense? Can you relate to it? Or does it seem like I’m way off base?

PS: A teeny colophon note: I’ve been making some changes to this site’s sidebar and structure in general. A little bitta spring cleaning, if you will. And as such, the category formerly known as SSU has been renamed Critical Theory. It might change again, there are an awful lot of C categories over there in the list, but that works for now. Do not be alarmed, it’s still there.

Also, if you aren’t following my Tumblr log, mrsexsmith.tumblr.com, you might be missing out on some of the things I used to frequently put on Sugarbutch, like for example calls for submission for queer and kinky and feminist anthologies, eye candy photos of hot butches and femmes, media like youtube videos, announcements for other events, and more. It’s easy to subscribe by RSS or pop over there and check out what’s going on.

Cal For Submissions: Headcase

HEADCASE: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, And Queer (LGBTQ) Writers and Artists on Mental Illness Edited by Teresa Theophano, LMSW

Headcase will be an anthology comprised of 15-20 nonfiction pieces by writers and artists both established and new, exploring the theme of mental health, mental illness, and mental health care in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer or questioning (LGBTQ) community. The book is currently being considered for publication by a major queer press.

The anthology seeks essays, poetry, and comics by queer consumers of mental health services or queer individuals who have been diagnosed, but do not identify as patients, with mental illness. Works should explore the intersection of queerness and mental health and can include topics such as psychotropics; Gender Identity Disorder and its acceptance or rejection as a legitimate mental disorder; conventional v. holistic treatment; experiences in therapy, groups, and/or institutions; how race and ethnicity, class, sex, gender identity, age, and disability impact access to treatment; addiction, self-medicating, and recovery.

Modest compensation provided upon publication to contributors whose pieces are chosen.

Guidelines:

* Pieces should be between 750 and 1500 words (approximately 3 to 5 double-spaced pages).

* While the deadline for a 2010 publication date has not yet been established, submitting your piece by December 1, 2009 is recommended. Descriptions of pieces in progress are also welcome.

* Submissions should be sent as a Microsoft Word document, double-spaced, 12 pt. font, Times New Roman font.

* Please provide a brief (100 words or less) bio with your submission

Teresa Theophano is a licensed social worker, out queer mental health consumer, and the author of Queer Quotes (Beacon Press, 2004).

Please send submissions/project descriptions to her at headcase_anthology (at) yahoo.com

a couple things to clarify

Re: why we need to examine our lives:I do not think that heterosexual relationships are bad. All I’m trying to get at is that in this culture, in this time and geographic location, we have culturally dictated gender roles for men and women, males and females, masculine-types and feminine-types. And any or all of us can buy into these gender roles, reproduce them, and limit ourselves and our loved ones by forcing us all into positions of responsibility that detract from our Selves, our unique beings, our authenticity, our integrity. This happens for everyone, because of the ways that gender is so extraordinarily prevalent in every single aspect of our culture.

In that examination of gender dynamics in the queer (specifically, lesbian) communities as a reproduction of male/female gender roles, the point I’m trying to make is that just because one is butch or femme doesn’t mean that one is not reproducing these roles. Sometimes we are. There is a lot of nasty garbage that comes along with compulsory gender, for heteros or queers or anyone in between, and if we don’t examine how gender works and functions and interacts, I don’t believe we will get to the place where gender is liberatory, as opposed to limiting.

Re: top 10 things I love about femmes:

One of the things I wrote is: “The struggles with not being visibly out, which also brings the privilege of hearing what people say when they don’t know someone queer is listening.”

Here’s what I am getting at: the bottom line is, as a butch, as a visible queer, I don’t have this ability. I don’t hear what people say when they don’t know somebody gay is listening to them, and that has made for some fascinating conversations with my (femme & passing) lovers & friends. I find it interesting. It’s a place where butches and femmes differ greatly, and that’s all I was trying to acknowledge – unique pieces of a femme identity. By writing that post, I tried to say, hey, I see you, I notice you doing this, I actively witness you: I validate your identity.

I got a bit of grief for this statement. I used words like envy and privilege, which I definitely understand are loaded. I do not want to glamorize this aspect of femme identity, which I do absolutely understand is very complicated, and which is the source of pain and sorrow and frustration.

Okay, that’s all for now. Just a few clarifications. I hate being misunderstood. It is one of the biggest reasons I am a writer: to make myself clear.

a study of my own character

Sometimes we all wonder how things come to be. A chain of events: A leads to B leads to C leads to Z. Each life is made up of big decisions and each day is made up of a million little decisions. What shirt to wear, what street to walk on, what to eat for lunch. Now all of these seemingly inconsequential choices may change your life forever. But who can handle that kind of responsibility? It would paralyze you to think about it. So you have to trust your instinct, what the Greeks might call your character. You better pray to whatever god you believe in that your character knows what the hell it’s doing.

– opening monologue from the 1997 film Playing God

I’ve been thinking a lot about character lately. Not only because one of my long-term goals, especially now that I’m getting back in touch with my own life path and am less preoccupied with throwing all my emotional/mental/creative/romantic/leisure energy to someone else, is to write fiction – by which I mean novels. More than one. And I love character studies, it’s one of the reasons I love writing, reading, psychology, drama, humans, living.

That sounds cheesy, perhaps, but it’s true. Sometimes I realize how much all my interests come together to aid me in what I really believe is my own life’s ‘higher purpose’: writing. And encouraging personal expression. (I have lots more to say about that, but I’ll save it for another time. Most if it is still formulating anyway.)

So, I’ve been reading Getting Into Character: Seven Secrets a Novelist can Learn from Actors by Brandilyn Collins, and it’s not just any actor from which to learn these secrets, but the famous Stanislovsky “method acting” approach. Very interesting stuff, I tell ya.

(I’m also reading Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose which I’d also highly recommend. Trying to keep myself inspired literarily. It seems to be working, though I haven’t been generating much work that I would call particularly notable.)

And I think I’ve also mentioned that I’m in therapy, and have been seeing the same therapist since mid-April or so. I really like the idea of long-term therapy, but I’ve never actually been with a therapist longer than a few months. I tend to get discouraged because I’m pretty good at being able to put together a narrative for my life, I’m pretty good at drawing my own conclusions and making my own connections, which I think is what most people get out of therapy. So I’ve been trying to wrap my head around what it is that I could get out of therapy, how to approach it, what the ‘arc’ of the story with my therapist would look like.

Combined with this recent, more serious literary focus of mine, I’ve begun to see therapy as a form of character study for my own self. The point isn’t so much to change myself, at least not at this stage. The point is first to watch my own stories, to listen to my own stories, to notice the patterns and recurrences and sticking points and issues and whatever else might come up. To begin to bring to the forefront some of my unconscious character traits, the ones that I am so far inside of that I don’t notice.

You know, like how you have to leave your home country – or, hell, your home state – to begin to understand and notice what the localized culture was where you grew up? I have to have some new perspective, a fresh glance, at my own self, in order to get an accurate gauge of my character.

I think getting a new perspective on your own character, re-setting or re-defining your own character, is why people like falling in love so much – or, at least, maybe it’s why I like falling in love. I get to tell my best life stories all over again. I get to explore and express my views and outlooks and ideas about life and love and worship and desire in slightly new, sightly refined ways each time. I get to see someone else’s life presented to me in a beautiful way, and get to shine my own life back at her. It’s a personal study of character: mine, and someone else’s, someone who is particularly interesting, and intriguing.

Problem is, I suppose, that sometimes those character studies are terribly inaccurate. What we present is a selective view of ourselves, of course. Sometimes we present ourselves under false pretences. Sometimes we have even fooled ourselves into believing that we are something we aren’t. Sometimes those guises can be kept up for a long time.

And sometimes, someone else can seem so appealing, so shiny and authentic and intelligent and connected to me, deeply, that I begin to believe her, rather than believing myself.

I know, I know: you all have told me that I’ve listened to myself all along. And you’re not wrong, I know I’ve been voicing my suspicions from the very beginning of this relationship. But there’s still something there I can’t quite put my finger on. Because, see, despite my voicing my concerns, I was so high, soaring so high and felt so limitless with Callie. My own character developed in serious, shattering ways, ways that I feel like I’ve been waiting for for years. In some places, I was willingly torn down, willingly built back up. In other places, she attempted to tear me down and I wouldn’t allow it – there we had conflict. Yet other places in me she put a springboard underneath and I flew, I soared, I rocketed up to a new level, felt things I never expected to feel.

Maybe I’m being vague here. I’m talking about sex, and gender. I’m talking about the ways that I felt like such a powerful, strong, capable top with her. The ways that I was able to take control, harness desire, my own and hers. The ways that I was butch. The hundreds of tiny moments in our interactions where she was femme and I was butch, and I made so much sense, I made so much sense to myself, sometimes for the first time. I’ve always done these things – I’ve always taken care of the women around me, my friends and family, I’ve always been the one to open doors and flag down the waiter and refill a water glass, but suddenly it had purpose, it had reason, it had some sort of intense sex and gender play behind it, and it was so, so hot.

I should be grateful to her for all that growth in me, but it’s still hard to actually feel it, not just know that I should feel it. I’m still too angry. It was as if the lenses all came into alignment over the last four weeks or so of our relationship and then everything became painfully clear.

And there’s still something here I can’t let go of. I hate that she continuously bubbles up to my conscious thoughts when I’m doing nothing, walking down the street, reading a book, sitting on the train. But there’s something underneath all of this that I haven’t figured out yet, and so I haven’t let go.

What is it?

Something to do with my own character. Something to do with figuring out who I am in the world, who I am as an adult, a woman, a caucasian queer/homosexual/lesbian/dyke, an American, a butch, a top. She helped me make shifts in my very identity make-up, shifts I’ve always wanted to make, but she changed other things too – and now I am having difficulty navigating the world, making all those millions of tiny daily life decisions unconsciously and trusting my character to pull through, because I’m so skeptical of what she has left me with.

How much of my changing was conscious, and intentional? How much of it was for me, and how much was for her (under false pretenses)? How do I figure out what she has changed in me? Sometimes I fear it has run deep, deep within, where I gave her so much permission to go. Where are the places that I wanted to change, where are the places she changed for her own gain?

So, I am beginning an official character study of myself. Through therapy, through writing. I’ve always done it through writing, really, but now I’ll just call it “official” and maybe it’ll get me somewhere new.

Meanwhile, like the buddhists and yogis say, I’m still trying to remember to breathe into where I’m already at, and accept it.