Written for the 15th Feminist Carnival of Sexual Freedom & Autonomy. Thoughts in response and reflection to my own call for contributions.
Let me say this: I don’t think, in this culture which vilifies sex and punishes especially female sexuality, that I will ever be “done” reaching my own space of sexual freedom and autonomy. It is probably an endless task, a lifetime battle.
Let me also say this: I have crawled up out of shame by my bloodied fingers and I am not going back. I stand on my own two legs, strong-cunted, and I am not going back. I drive the engine of my body hard, glide it through passageways I have previously thought unnavigatable, and I am not going back.
Maybe ignorance is bliss, but knowledge is freedom.
I would not have had the sexual awakening I’ve had if it wasn’t for feminism: the feminist health movement, the theories of consciousness raising, the lesbian sex wars of the 80s that produced porn and smut and BDSM with theories of liberation at their roots.
I am so grateful for all the things that have contributed to my gaining of sexual autonomy and freedom, to my sexual awakening. Nancy Friday’s book My Secret Garden: Women’s Sexual Fantasies. My high school boyfriend telling me kink was great and fun and he respected me, too. Cunt: A Declaration of Independence by Inga Muscio and Cunt Coloring Book by Tea Corrine and Femalia and Nothing But The Girl; The Blatant Lesbian Image and the entire series of Best Lesbian Erotica (especially 1998). Kitty Tsui and that one scene in Breathless with a knife. S.I.R. Video and Hard Love / How to Fuck In High Heels and Sugar High Glitter City. Babeland, which taught me more than I thought there was to know. Body Electric, which woke me up to my own power, and still does. The Topping Book and The Bottoming Book. The Ethical Slut, which changed how I see relationships. Pink & White, which finally made porn I wanted to own and watch over and over again. My academic studies and my degree in women studies which taught me how social change works. Dan Savage and Savage Love.
The fucking INTERNET. From BBSs to chatrooms to the web to Wiki After Dark to Scarleteen to RAINN to the amazing sexblog communities. The connection to marginalized community despite distance and fear.
Let me say this: I don’t know how any woman grows up and develops her sexual autonomy and freedom, let alone a queer woman, let alone a genderqueer butch or femme. These are not things that are built into us, no matter how progressive our families, no matter how much our parents loved us. There are so many layers to the damage, and the length of the legacy is long and wide, the depth of those wounds are long and wide.
Let me also say this: for me, the first step had to be seeing those wounds, recognizing the damage. By beginning to feel what a “healthy sexuality” (uh, whatever that is) felt like in my body, I could more easily differentiate between the damage and the strength. And I learned to use erotic energy to heal those places in me still reeling, still healing.
Why do you think gender dynamics are so erotically charged for me? I was damaged as a girl. As a girl, I was damaged. And I don’t mean “I was abused when I was young” but rather, that this culture hurt my girlhood. That’s why I turned to feminism as soon as I began to understand the power of social conditioning and gender roles: to learn how to undo the damage.
And why do you think I love femmes something fierce? Our wounds run parallel. We are the same, but opposite; opposing, complimentary, full of traction and friction when we rub against each other. Lay your wounds here next to mine, they fill and warm and comfort each other.
Why is gender so erotically charged for me? Because it has been the site of so much discomfort, so much damage. Not just for me: for my friends and lovers, for my sisters, for my parents, for the one boy I ever slept with, for our collective unconscious. So when I take it and corral it and tame it, when I become the Gender Whisperer and see the thoughts in its head despite our different languages, when I learn its language and teach it mine, I become strong. I take the lead. I win.
I know, I’m supposed to be writing about sexual autonomy and freedom – so let me tell you this: I cannot untangle gender from sex from power. They are all the spiraling sugar-phosphate backbone in the DNA of my sexuality, and it wasn’t until I unlocked my gender that my sexual liberation truly lived in my body, that my sexuality was truly realized and in practice. It wasn’t until I had a cock – no: it wasn’t until I had a girl who knew what to do with my cock.
My gender is the language of my desire, my attraction. The ways I communicate physically.
Say gender is a drag, but also say this: I wasn’t me until I discovered my own gendered space. Butch – but not just butch, high butch – but not just high butch, capital-H High capital-B Butch. My body has never made as much sense as it does, now, in button-downs and ties, in sweater vests and cufflinks, hell, even tee shirts and jeans feel right now that I buy them in the department that cuts them to fit my body, square, even lines, corners, dark colors.
It’s not that I want society at large to treat me as male. It’s not that when I put on men’s clothes, I liked the way I was subsequently treated differently – though I was. But the difference was greater than that: I gained autonomy. I gained agency. I gained my own voice, my own stride, my own body, my own control. And I love the disconnect that most people see – female body, masculine presentation – I love witnessing the subtle struggle of random passers-by.
Just by living in the world, walking down the street, I set out a challenge. I work hard to make this masculinity, this presentation, an acceptable way for a woman to live.
Say gender is constructed, but also say this: something in me lines up and sees clearly when I get to express myself just the way I want to. I know how to deconstruct – I know how to break down and examine and look from various angles and research and consciousness-raise and bounce ideas around. And I’m learning how to construct, how to create, how to make myself anew from the inside, all the way out.
17 thoughts on “Sexual Autonomy & Freedom”
"Lay your wounds here next to mine, they fill and warm and comfort each other" that takes my breath away.
Ah Sinclair – what powerful words, sometimes I am overcome with love for this community! fimg x
Brilliant! as always
As always, Sinclair, you express so well that which is difficult to express. I also struggle to untangle my inner sence of what gender means with all the externally influenced meanings. This especially resonated with me:
"And I love the disconnect that most people see – female body, masculine presentation – I love witnessing the subtle struggle of random passers-by.
Just by living in the world, walking down the street, I set out a challenge. I work hard to make this masculinity, this presentation, an acceptable way for a woman to live."
I can relate to that strongly. Just by being who we are, we are making a huge statement. The more confident we are in ourselves, the stronger that statement is and we will have an effect on those who witness us.
Thankyou for your pride.
you always impress me.
Thanks for this post,and the ripple effect with other posters (Tina-cious). I enjoyed reading what empowers you and how you came to claim it. It prompted me to think about my own story…Thanks for that
sinc, i feel the same way about my own genderfuck, my sexuality, my cock. i know i became the person i am because of my own way of looking at things and doing things that make me comfortable. i am comfertable being the butch i am. it's that simple for me.
great post, and lots of stuff to think about. i agree, recognizing the damage is a huge first step, and once i started looking at this damage to my sexuality, to my girl/womanhood, i had to grieve for a long time. i still grieve for the unashamed, proud sexy girl/woman i could have been. i do think i'm on the road back, but i also agree that i might never get all the way there. but i think accepting the damage as our due is ultimately akin to death.
This is really, really wonderful. Sinclair, thank you so much for writing it and putting it out there for all of us. I have printed it up as a reminder of where we have come from, and the possibilities of where I can travel.
I find myself continuously reevaluating the damage that I receive; the wounds morph with life’s experience and the process feels endless. We now have a structure that enables us to heal and change, and as a 54 year old woman I appreciate those resources more than you can imagine. When the lesbian sex wars of the 80s were happening, I had turned my back on activism and was getting clean and sober. On Our backs, Carol Queen, Tribe 8, and Patrick Califia (Public Sex changed my life) were the main forces (and they definitely count as powerful forces of nature!) that called me back into the feminist & dyke community and into activism in the early 90s. I was ecstatic to discover that there was a now a growing framework for all me to change, heal, and question gender, sexuality, and power. And now, at 54, I am rediscovering the butch faggy self that I was when I was 23. Fucking hallelujah baby, hallelujah!
I think the butch/femme experience is often parallel. I grew up as a girl and stayed one, but I never felt like a girl — ever — until I met a butch dyke. Nothing made sense — not a single romantic movie or song, not the stupid crushes of my girlfriends, none of the weird behavior that is inspired by lust and vulnerability. Certainly, boy/girl roles were out — I only wanted to compete with boys and have them see me as an equal at all times. I approached all of my straight relationships logically. I never understood falling in love.
I honestly thought everyone was faking this stuff — love, lust, insanity. Or, everyone was just really idiotic. Or both.
And then I met a girl who looked like a boy and I wanted her to carry my umbrella. I wanted her to push me up against the bookshelves and kiss me. I wanted to wear a dress for her. I wanted to be the girl. Not a brainy, competitive person whose gender you should ignore. No, I wanted to be a feminine, vulnerable, pretty girl. For her.
And then, I realized I had been the big idiot. All those stupid crushes, all that crazy high school behavior — all real. I was the one who was blind. I stopped making fun of straight girls and their makeup. I stopped making fun of straight boys and their awkward attempts to be men.
My lesbian relationships have been far more gendered than my straight ones. The women I've dated have sometimes been more macho than my feminist friends could stand. So, I had to stop making fun of people for their lustful choices. I had to stop making fun of people for their political inconsistencies.
In short, until I came out as femme, I understood nothing about sexuality or relationships and I was a pretty uncompassionate person. I'm not sure I was fully human. It hasn't been an easy ride — stupid choices are painful no matter what — but I don't regret kissing that boyish girl in the bookstore. It was way too much fun.
Simply stunning. Really.
You put words to my thoughts and feelings like I could never have expressed myself.
This is so well said.
And this really rings true for me:
" Let me say this: I don’t know how any woman grows up and develops her sexual autonomy and freedom, let alone a queer woman, let alone a genderqueer butch or femme. These are not things that are built into us, no matter how progressive our families, no matter how much our parents loved us. There are so many layers to the damage, and the length of the legacy is long and wide, the depth of those wounds are long and wide."
As a genderqueer femme who was raised in an extremely liberal household (my parents were ex-hippies and swingers), it still took me a long time and pain and hurt, to come into my sexual autonomy. It's not that my parents wouldn't of embraced and supported my sexuality if I had been able to come into it at a really young age. I just had to find it myself, and that took quite a bit of work. Like you, I used books and magazines and the internet quite a bit to help me. I remember reading BUST magazine and feeling very empowered by it. It's not a queer magazine per se, but it is a feminist magazine. I have almost every copy of BUST.
Thank you for writing this glorious blog which I'm sure helps a lot of people come into their own sexual autonomy. It must make you feel so good to be able to do that for others, as others have done for you.
As a long time lurker, it was this post that pulled me out of the quiet and into the conversation for the first time. Entering my 31st year on this planet, I find myself searching and seeking for a vocabulary and community that reflects who I really am and how I want to be. Sugarbutch Chronicles has given me access to more wonderful people, theories, and resources than I possibly have time to read and explore. I am so very grateful to you for that. For your courage in bringing us all in to your journey, for sharing your experience and your thoughts, for making a safe space to question, and wonder, and explore.
I’ll be posting my own thoughts on sexual autonomy and freedom on my brand-new baby blog after I’ve had time to reflect, but I did want to thank you for what you write and who you are.
I'm blown away. Thank you.
I am lost, and you sound so confident, secure, and found. I want to be there too. I long to have your sense of self and knowledge of who you are. You write so eloquently, I am taken to another place as I read your words and feel your intensity. You inspire me to find myself… And I will continue to try until I can say that
"I have crawled up out of shame by my bloodied fingers and I am not going back. I stand on my own two legs, strong-cunted, and I am not going back. I drive the engine of my body hard, glide it through passageways I have previously thought unnavigatable, and I am not going back."