I’ve been in Dallas with Kristen’s family for the last few days for the Thanksgiving holiday. We did a Dirty Queer Sex Tour reading on Tuesday that Lillith Grey helped put together, which was fantastic—it is so fascinating to me how each of the Dirty Queer Sex Tour stops have been so different. I think (hope aim for) it reflects the local culture well, which is great, because as much as I’d love to introduce the Say Please book around to all the different folks who might be interested in it in all the different cities, the cultures of BDSM and queerness are actually slightly varied depending on where you are. Having interacted with those cultures primarily on the internet for the last oh, fifteen or eighteen years, I didn’t really know that until I started touring more. And when I go around and visit colleges in various different cities, I get a small taste of local culture, but usually it’s more like the local college culture, which isn’t quite the same.
I wish I could explain how each of the readings were different, but it’s hard to put my finger on it exactly. Sometimes it seems like one is more butch/femme, one is more genderqueer, one is younger, one is old school, one is more trans focused, one is darker in material and content, but I also don’t really want to generalize that specifically about identities, because I don’t really need to draw the conclusions that therefore the city that that reading was in is therefore more trans or genderqueer or butch/femme. But the differences have been big, and are really interesting.
This particular reading was at VerLes, and they have a really great selection of leather goods and whips and percussion toys that I kept fingering and coveting while I was there. We did a giveaway for a beautiful photograph from one of the readers, CR Kirven, and a dirty cross stitch that Lillith made, and a copy of the book, and a few other goodies, and it was a blast.
Thanks to photographer Amy Price for these beautiful photos from the Dallas Say Please reading! I don’t know if that Facebook link will work but I think it will—check it out. We had a beautiful sexy lineup and the store looks so pretty.
Lillith and her partner Synn (who is the 2012 International Ms Leather!) took us around to the Dallas Eagle and to the Round-Up, which was a gay boy bar (with very mixed company) that has two stepping and line dancing pretty much every night. Kristen and I don’t really know how to two step (though I did okay following while Synn led, and I led Kristen around the floor in a circle at least once), but we have taken some east coast swing and it was so incredibly fun. She and Lillith and some of their friends also had so much fun line dancing. I did a few songs—but when they get really complicated, it’s so hard to keep up. We vowed to go out to Big Apple Ranch more frequently.
Oh and speaking of IMsL—it’s official, and I can announce it now: I’m going to be a judge for the 2013 International Ms. Leather contest! So I’ll be in San Francisco in April 2013. 2012 was the first year I attended, and it was very memorable and fun, and I definitely felt like the folks there were my people. I’m really looking forward to meeting more of the folks who make the contest run and to seeing behind the scenes a little bit—always my favorite way to see an event.
Kristen and I did a lot of other things in Dallas, aside from hang out with her family and eat delicious food, like go around to Kristen’s old haunts, her favorite restaurants, her high school, her old house. It was great to see where she came from. I love having a sense of a city. We rented this little zippy car, some Volvo sports car that I didn’t even know existed, not that I’m really a car person, and it was so fun to drive. Driving around a city gives me a much better sense of it and I loved that I got to experience it.
I didn’t get any gigs in Dallas, aside from the Dirty Queer Sex reading, but maybe I will get some interest from some of the local colleges and come back another time.
Kristen and I are better. Things have improved since that big explosion and I think that couple’s therapist will be helpful. I’ve been containing my feelings much more, haven’t been lashing out, haven’t been quite so wildly all over the map with my feelings. Or rather, I have still been, but I haven’t been showing it as much. This is not quite the same as bottling them up—it’s more like, I know that bringing things up to Kristen doesn’t result in greater understandings right now. I’m making note of things that are difficult or upsetting, and trying to breathe through it and put it aside at the moment, and work through it later with the couple’s therapist or some other moderator because Kristen and I can’t seem to get out of our patterns well enough to actually discuss things to a healing conclusion lately. It’s not a long term solution, this lack of sharing, but it is a temporary solution, and the most important thing right now is to stop fighting. It does seem to help to just not share my feelings—and to not talk about the other people that she’s dating. There are still some issues here, things I don’t know how to resolve, but our couple’s therapist basically said that right now isn’t the time to resolve them, isn’t the time to go into the deep patterns and try to rewire them, because we’re both feeling so defensive and attacked, both feeling pretty wounded, so we need some time to just be with each other and be kind and take time to do things that feel good before we can get to a place where we have enough energy and patience and flexibility to do more excavating and fixing of the patterns and ruts that we’ve developed.
I still don’t know where that will bring us, ultimately. But I am trying to breathe and focus on the “healing power of pleasure,” which is one of the core Tantra principles. I keep asking myself, and Kristen, whenever we are stressed or overwhelmed with all these emotions: What would feel pleasurable for your body right now? I think that focus has been helping us relax and enjoy each other.
I’m in Houston now, and I’ll be visiting Rice University on Thursday, but aside from that I’m visiting with Rife. We’re outside of the city actually, on his family’s ranch, and at the moment, he and his dog are out doing something with the horses, a little practice training, it looks like. I’m sitting in the very pleasant breeze looking out onto a pasture with beautiful old trees and a wind chime nearby. I have a cup of coffee and my pen and notebook and my computer (and wifi!), and the only things on my agenda today are some hours of work, some reading, some walking around this beautiful land, some play with Rife, some good food, some stargazing later if it’s clear. The more time I spend away from cities, the less I seek to go back to a city. I love the grass under my bare feet, love the sounds of the wind in the trees and the birds and the chimes. I’m soaking up as much of it as I can.
My question is more on the philosophical/political side of things.
Do you feel that, as I am a male, it is exploitative for me to enjoy queer porn so much?
Porn is filled with many different dynamics, and it is within it’s nature to exploit the ‘exoticism’ of anyone who appears in it. We’ve seen this a thousand times, especially with Asian-American women ( forced to play up an exaggerated stereotype in order to get work ), and I wonder if I myself am guilty of such a thing. Queer porn is this amazing, foreign thing to me. I love it dearly. And I understand that, as far as the exploitation from the production side goes, it is nearly nonexistant, but I worry.
I’m always on the road to improving myself and trying to further myself from the patriarchy, and this question has kind of been tickling my brain as of late.
And, since we’re on the subject: Favorite porn star? Like, if you’re given the chance to have one night of just no holds barred fuck, who are you choosing?—Erudite Hayseed, Confessions of a Southern-Fried Kinkster
I think only you can answer whether you’re being exploitive by enjoying queer porn. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with enjoying porn where the people in it are an orientation or sexuality or gender identity that you are not—I have watched my fair share of gay male porn, and I don’t think that makes me exploitive of them or their sexualities at all.
I think the exploitation comes in perhaps about how you interact or react or treat queers outside of consuming our porn. If you look at queer people and see nothing but our sexualities, that might be a bit of a problem. If someone was consuming queer porn in secret and feeling guilty and gay-bashing, uh yeah, that’s a problem. But paired with some understanding of queer culture or history or struggle, and as an ally of this movement, I don’t think anyone should feel guilty about watching the kind of porn they like to watch.
Being the analytical & processing person that I am, I would probably ask myself what it is about this kind of porn that is so appealing. Other folks in the kink community might disagree with me about this—some people say we just like what we like and do not need to come up with an explanation for it, and in fact should not examine it too hard, nor ask others to explain the ‘source’ of where their desires come from. Plenty of desires don’t have a ‘source,’ so perhaps that’s a worthless pursuit, regardless. But when it comes to really loaded play, or the consumption of certain types of porn, like for example, as mentioned above, exclusively watching Asian-American women in porn, I think it’s probably worth asking the question of why. Why is this something that I am consuming? What do I get out of this? What am I projecting? Someone may uncover the racial assumptions or associations they are making, which may be good to untangle.
This could also be true of consuming queer porn, or porn of other orientations. Perhaps a queer person always consumes straight porn because they have some hang-ups about their own sexuality. Perhaps a lesbian always consumes gay male porn because gay male porn tends to depict no-strings-attached fucking, and this lesbian has experienced lesbian sex as too emotional and not hot and lusty enough. These are untrue assumptions, however; they are based in stereotypes, and though they may be
I don’t know if I want to speculate on what a straight cis male consuming queer porn could mean. I do know plenty of “lesbian” porn is geared toward straight men, and often those porns are pretty gross, in my opinion, and I could take a few guesses at what the straight men who consume that type of porn are looking for. But I’m not sure what a straight, kinky, cis guy consuming the recent smart queer porn means … aside from that that is some of the very best porn available, in my opinion. Don’t discount the possibility of the answer being “nothing,” too—it might just be what you enjoy, and that’s fine.
Also, take a look, if you don’t already, at Jack Stratton’s Writing Dirty, since he’s a mostly-straight kinky cis guy who does occupy some space in the queer worlds, and does it quite well, and respectfully, in my opinion. (Besides, his writing is just good, and hot.)
And to answer your second question …
That’s a tough one. Madison Young, Dylan Ryan, Carson, and Joline Parton all come to mind. How could I choose between them? Carson is pretty damn toppy, so probably I’d rather chose someone who is a bottom. Dylan is quickly becoming a friend of mine, and after a certain point, fucking a friend is kind of weird for me. So that leaves two beautiful, curvy redheads, Madison & Joline. Madison would probably be incredibly intimidating, since she’s so experienced and so into pain, so I might go with Joline, she seems a little more shy, and I like that. It seems like she’d be great to throw around, she’s got great curves, great legs, and that cute mouth. Okay, final answer.
How do you reconcile your feminism with your sadism and desire to (gulp) hurt women? (In a completely consensual manner, of course.)—Cold Comfort
The closest thing I’ve come so far to explaining this was in that essay from December 2009 called Reconciling the Identities of Feminist and Butch Top, but this question, about sadism, is slightly different, and I have the impression I haven’t quite answered it all the way.
“Butch top” is very much related to “sadist” for me, but that’s just because that’s my particular version of butch topping, into which my sadism is built. In fact, it’s only been recently that I’ve been unpacking sadism from topping, being with someone who is much more submissive than she is a masochist. Point being, much of that essay is exactly about reconciling those identities.
Yet still, I don’t feel like that is an adequate explanation on this topic. Besides, the culmination of that essay is basically, “How did I reconcile these identities? I don’t know, I just thought about it a lot and then it was better.” There must be something more articulate to say about that.
I hit on it a little more in the essay Yes, No, and Consent too, about agency, in feminist terms. It has to do with the very simple distinctions between BDSM and abuse, even if they are equated by many anti-porn feminists. And it has to do with the Platinum Rule—not the Golden Rule, the “do to others what you would like to be done to you,” but the “do to others as they would like to be treated,” and the acknowledgement that how you want to be treated and how another wants to be treated may not be the same thing, especially when you add in the complexities of relationship through sex, BDSM, sadism, and masochism.
But, if someone wants me to treat them a certain way and something about it feels funny to me, I trust that, and I take a break and pause and ask questions (hopefully without over-processing or projecting), until I feel like we have resolved whatever was coming up or until I decide there’s too much there to open up without adequate containment or backup.
To go back to the Platinum Rule: for a pop-culture simplistic example, consider the Love Languages! Which, cheesy as they are superficially, I think are a very useful system to think about the ways that myself and my partner may be seeking the same things (like love, comfort, security, passion) but may be in different ways (through words of aspiration, quality time, physical touch, acts of service, and receiving gifts). I think we all have some relationship to all five of those ways (and possibly more), but many of us are more focused on some of those ways than others.
All of us are seeking similar things, like love and sex and companionship, but we may be seeking to play with those things in different ways. And figuring out what my own preferences are in playing with those things, and in being in a relationship, figuring out how I best communicate, who I’m attracted to and what qualities I most prefer in someone else, and how to reconcile differences or misunderstandings between us, has been a huge journey, and has been a huge piece of being able to articulate that I want to play with deeper, heavier BDSM, like pain or humiliation, and to trust someone enough to believe that when they say they want to play with that on the receiving end, they mean it, they know themselves well enough to know what they want, they are experienced enough to understand what they’re asking for, they are in touch with themselves enough to tell when they have reached a limit, and they are strong enough to be able to communicate with me around whatever is going wrong (or right).
I’ve worked a hell of a lot on my own issues, particularly on being able to say what I’m thinking, to stand up for myself, and to not get swept up in someone else’s psychology and psyche. I’ve been in therapy for about four years now, and that has helped me greatly with my communication. I’ve also done all sorts of “alternative” methods of healing, such as massage therapy, physical therapy, acupuncture, tinctures, supplements, nutritional counseling, bodywork … I’ve done a lot of work on myself and my own issues, and I am continuing to work hard to improve the ways I communicate and relate.
So, this is how I would reconcile feminism & sadism:
- Acknowledge that people want different things. For example, your desire to hit someone is bad when the person you are hitting doesn’t want to be hit, but when the person you are with wants to be hit, in a playful, controlled, conscious way, that’s called consent and it’s (probably) great. Consider the distinctions between BDSM and abuse, and trust yourself when you know you are on one side or the other. Listen to your lovers when they give you feedback about how your behavior affects them.
- Play with people whose consent you trust, and don’t take responsibility for other people’s consent. And, if they consent, then later uncover that it was actually bad for them, they didn’t like it, or blame something on you, you can certainly apologize and take responsibility for whatever your part of it may have been, but it was not your fault that they consented to an act that you then did. Be willing to process a scene after playing, and listen carefully, but know that trying to retroactively revoke consent is a dangerous move.
- Seek out and understand the background and history and texts on BDSM. Find mentors (if you’re in a city big enough to have a BDSM scene) and take classes, or join online BDSM groups and learn. There is a rich history of writings and teachers who discuss what it’s like to go into these deep, dark realms of physical sensation and psychology, and many of them hold important explanations for how this play works. Studying these arts makes us more aware, which can make us more conscious, and more intentional, and better able to be present in our play.
I’ve always, for as long as I can remember, had a deep connection to feminism. And I believe in it the way I believe in psychology or democracy—that even though there are plenty of people out there fucking it up, there is a kernel, a spark, a rawness at its core that I believe is important, necessary, and is deeply aligned with me and my sense of purpose in this world. I don’t believe that because some people are taking these things and claiming them to mean some things that I disagree with that I need to then step out of the ring and let them take it over. I’m glad that there can be multiple perspectives coming from one singular idea, it strengthens the idea to have multiple angles, I think (even if sometimes I believe they are so very wrong).
I know there are plenty of people who say they are not a feminist, especially those who work in various aspects of sex, and that there are plenty of feminists who would probably say that I am “not a feminist” because of my BDSM play or my masculinity or whatever. But I have enough sovereignty around my feminist identity that I know that their version of feminism is simply different from mine, and that mine is no more wrong than theirs is.
So that’s my last prescription for reconciling feminism and sadism: Ask yourself what your definition of feminism is. If you start digging to discover that you think feminists never, ever hit someone, or humiliate someone, or call someone a bitch, or shove a cock down a girl’s throat, well then, you are going to have some trouble reconciling those two identities. This is where the #3 Research on BDSM will come in handy, because BDSM circles know the difference between play and real life. We know that rape is absolutely not the same thing as playing with consent, as someone yelling out “no no no” during a scene. We know that the things that we play with during scenes, like pain, like giving or receiving pain, are not fun to experience in real life. I would never want someone to spank me or beat me or slap me in the face for real! I would never want someone to do that to my girlfriend! But under the umbrella of play, it takes on other qualities. It might look the same, a slap across the face vs a slap across the face, but the motivation, intention, control, and outcome are completely different.
Growing involves seeing more than the black or white definitions that labels, identities, and systems of thought often prescribe. Lots of feminists have written about how oppressive the sexual culture surrounding the subordination of women is; and that’s important to learn. However, equating ALL acts of some kind of sex, happening between consenting adults, that you or “feminists” deem inappropriate with oppression or non-consent is denying a key part of sex play: agency. Hurting someone, especially sexually, is something (some) feminists shun, but when you add consent into that mix, you’ve entered into something that is not black or white. And perhaps not even gray, since consent puts any act in a whole new category.
Did that adequately answer your brief but loaded question? Are there other follow-up questions from what I’ve posted here?
Here’s the thing.
People have told me—in comments, in emails, sometimes even my friends in person make little comments or raise their eyebrows incredulously—that if my relationship with Kristen needs this much processing, perhaps there is something fundamentally wrong with it, perhaps we just aren’t “meant to be.” This argument usually continues with something like, “My girlfriend and I have been together for x years and we never need as much analyzing as you do,” or, “Real couples don’t need to work this kind of thing out so constantly, I should know, I’m in a relationship and we don’t do that,” et cetera.
First of all, these comments have discouraged me from posting the analyzing, which I’ve been realizing lately I’ve been a bit nervous to do, precisely because of this occasional feedback. But not posting them publicly doesn’t actually solve this complaint, and isn’t actually a rebuttal to this argument.
And I just flat out don’t agree: I know that I am in a good, solid, beautiful relationship, and it is incredibly important to me. I’m not about to end it, certainly not because a stranger says my relationship is no good, and certainly not because we process (according to someone else’s standards) too much. But, yes, we do tend to talk (and talk and talk) about our inner psychological landscapes, about our feelings and histories, as a way to work things out, both individually and within our relationship.
So I got to thinking about that.
I think some people are just more or less analytical than others. I think perhaps we have some sort of “processing orientation,” that some people want to talk and process and analyze interactions and emotions constantly, and others despise doing so, and would even see that as a sign of an unhealthy relationship.
I don’t think one or the other is any more healthy—I think it’s just the way an individual works, or doesn’t work. I do think it’s important to be able to express our emotions, of course, especially to our partners, especially when there’s something bugging us, be it about our partner, about our relationship, or about our life in general, such that the relationship and our partner can be a bit of a sanctuary for us, but that looks differently for everyone.
Given that we all have a slightly different orientation toward processing and analyzing, then, what is important is not whether or not the analyzing and processing is happening, but to what degree, and whether the two people in the relationship are satisfied with that degree.
Despite our frequent verbal processing and analyzing, Kristen and I still have very different processing styles. She likes to talk quickly and immediately about what is going on, and I tend to let things sit, settle in, and to go over it all in my head or on paper before being able to express it to her. She figures things out as she talks, and I talk only after I’ve figured something out. It’s really hard for me to talk through something that I don’t feel I already know. Sometimes, that is really infuriating for Kristen, or so I’ve gathered, as she wants to talk now now now and I am still off in my own land of my head.
(I’m working on this—both by accepting that that’s the way I tend to work and by attempting to be more communicative when I’m off in my own head, even if it’s just to say, “please, can we talk about this a little bit later, I need a bit of time to think.” And by attempting to talk through things, even if it’s not entirely comfortable of my preference, when it is very important to her, and recognizing that it’s not pressure, it’s just part of how she works.)
It’s not as if it’s a perfect system, this human communication thing. We all bring so much to the table, and no matter how much we unlearn, no matter how much we practice being in a state of absolute Bodhicitta, there is so much in our minds, so many complicated moments folding over onto themselves in my muscles and tendons, in the grey matter of my brain.
And sure, it is possible, even (or perhaps especially) for those of us who are inclined toward emotional processing and psychological analysis to overdo it, to spend entirely too much time going around in circles micro-articulating every little thing. Sure, I’ve been guilty of this in the past, even in the past as recently as yesterday. I’m not trying to say that every aspect of processing and analyzing is necessary, just that perhaps we all have different levels of tendency toward these skills, that some of us see the world in a more analytical way and seek to understand our own emotions, psychology, and relationship in these ways. I’m certainly trying to find that balance, that place where I am understanding and expressing my emotions in clear, healthy ways, while not being indulgent or repressing how I feel. Where I am listening and being open, coming to new conclusions or altering my understanding of the situation as needed, and then, and perhaps this is the key part, moving on. (Sometimes it’s easy to just stay in the analysis part.)
So yeah, maybe I do have a tendency toward over-analyzing or over-processing. It is certainly possible that I process or analyze more than you do. Maybe you think it’s unimportant or that I am dwelling or making things harder than they have to be. But just know that we all have different levels of our tendencies to do this, and just because mine is not the same as yours doesn’t make mine or yours any better: it just makes it different.