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27 Sep 14:00

Letting Go: How to Live With the Loss of a Loved One

by zenhabits

Note from Leo: This is a guest post from my friend, Suraj Shah, who wrote this post as a favor to me after a reader asked about how to deal with the loss of a loved one.

Suraj writes regularly about dealing with loss on his blog, Live With Loss.

I’ll hand it over to Suraj now:

Editor’s Note: Guest post by Suraj Shah.

In the midst of a busy life flooded with demands from all directions, the loss of a loved one can be striking enough to stop us in our tracks, forcing us to evaluate what’s important and question how to move forward in life.

But the months following the death of someone we care about can be filled with a whole array of emotions ranging from anger and sadness, through to guilt and even relief.

The grip these feelings have over us can leave us feeling stuck, confused and distraught.

The single biggest cause of this ‘stuckness’ is attachment – gripping firmly onto someone who is no longer in your life, and the pushes and pulls that make that relationship what it is.

Lets explore this root cause of the pain that you may be going through and discover a way to calm the volatile emotions.

1. Identify the attachments in your relationship

We can start by looking at the various types of attachments from your relationship.

What pains you the most about them no longer being in your life? What are the pushes and pulls that made your relationship what it was?

  • shelter: You may have depended on them to look after you, to care for your health, to keep a roof over your head.

  • companionship: You may miss them being in your life – someone to hang out with, to have a coffee with, to watch a movie with.

  • someone to confide in: They may have been one of the few people who you could talk to about anything, who you could trust to keep a secret, to help you work through problems in other areas of your life.

  • attending events: They may have been the one attending all events and social functions with you. You may be terrified at the prospect of now attending them alone – perhaps you’re even considering not attending social events at all.

  • doing work around the house: They may have been a master in the kitchen or the DIY expert. Now who will make your meals? Who will fix the leaky tap?

  • managing finances: They may have been the primary breadwinner, or perhaps contributed to your household’s monthly expenses. You may be concerned about how you’ll now manage.

  • organisation: They may have been perfect at keeping everything in order in your life or your business. Without them, you fear that everything will be up in the air.

  • humour: They may have been the playful mischievous one in the relationship – the one who kept things light when the world got too serious.

  • unresolved issues: Perhaps you had a fight before they died, or you both harboured resentment for many years and never managed to resolve it.

  • role of carer: They may have had a painful long term illness where you were caring for them. The role of carer may have been your identity for a long time. Now you may feel their pain has ended and you no longer have to care for them 24/7. Perhaps you feel relieved that you don’t have to be a carer anymore. You may even feel guilty about feeling relieved, coupled with confusion about who you are now that your identity of being the carer has been stripped away.

These are just a few ideas to get you thinking about the source of the feeling you may be experiencing. They’re there to help you work out what it is you may miss about them no longer being with you – and also what you feel now that they’ve gone.

2. Introspect the true nature of the relationship

Having identified the various attachments from your relationship, we can now start to take a closer look at the true nature of your relationship, and of the attachments that bound you to each other.

It’s time for some important and perhaps difficult questions. But if you can be sincere with yourself, you will be able to start to loosen the grip that these attachments and these emotions have over you.

Q: Were they going to live forever?

The various people we have in our lives, particularly those closest to us such as our parents, our siblings, our husband or wife, and our children – we think will be around forever.

We take them for granted. We expect that when we see them off in the morning and head to work or to school, that we’ll see them again in the evening.

But we know, from our experiences in life and from what we see in the news, that this isn’t always the case.

In life, death is inevitable. It is also unpredictable.

It’ll happen to us all, and to all those we are so fond of, but we just don’t know when.

We started with this question – probably the hardest to think about and to accept – but is one that is essential for us to look life straight in the eyes and say:

“Yes, ok, let me live fully now that I see life for what it is.”

Q: Was your attachment permanent or temporary?

Take a look at each of the attachments in your relationship and ask yourself: Was it permanent or was it temporary? While they lived, did you have that all the time, or did it come and go?

Lets delve into a few of the attachments we identified earlier:

  • attending events: Did you ALWAYS attend events together? What about before you met each other? What about when one person was unwell or just didn’t feel like going? Perhaps at times you went alone or with someone else. Did you manage ok? Now that the one you love is no longer with you, you could comfortably attend events alone or with someone else. You may even choose to reduce the number of events you attend from now on and start to do other activities and form a different social circle. Even that’s ok.

  • managing finances: Did you ALWAYS have them as a source of income for your household? Was there ever a point in your life where you managed ok financially by yourself? Did you ever get financial support from someone else in your life? The loss of a loved one can cause a large financial hit and this can add a lot of pressure to life. But there may be solutions available to help reduce this burden. It may mean temporarily receiving financial support, changing to a job that pays more and where you are doing the work you love, or minimising your outgoings.

  • role of carer: Although you may feel guilty at the relief that you don’t have to constantly care for them anymore, think back to a time when you didn’t have to care for them, when they were independently able to do whatever they needed. Were you ALWAYS a carer? Have you had other roles in your life? Think about what you might want to start doing again, or perhaps take on a new role doing something you’ve never considered before.

    “It might seem sad, but we are forced to reinvent our lives when a loved one dies, and in this reinvention is opportunity. Which I think is beautiful.” – Leo Babauta

You will find, as you introspect further, that you sought some form of happiness, comfort or control from each element of the relationship. But was any of this constant and long lasting?

You’ll see that it wasn’t. Throughout your entire relationship together, it came and it went.

Nothing in the world around us or in the relationships that bind us is constant or permanent.

Q: What is truly everlasting?

So if nothing in the world around us is permanent, then what is truly everlasting? What can you hold onto? What can you blend tightly with your heart?

It’s their qualities. Who they were at their core.

When I think about my mum, I remember what she gave that was everlasting and what I now hold firmly in my heart:

  • laughter and lightness
  • calm and patience
  • always present and a great listener

Recollect what you loved the most about them, what they taught you, what they have helped you to become.

Imbibe these in your life. These can stay with you forever.

3. Let go to cultivate life-lightening detachment

Letting go is a gradual process.

Take a good honest look at each of your attachments and gradually let each one go – allowing yourself the time and the space to appreciate the transitory nature of the world in which we live.

By introspecting on the true nature of your relationship, your pain and sorrow will gradually lift away. You will feel lighter.

This will bring about a type of detachment in all your relationships that keep them rich while together with someone, yet help you to experience less suffering when you naturally part ways.

“Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional.”

Wishing you calmer days ahead and clarity over the purpose with which you lead your life.

Suraj Shah is a bereavement support visitor, writer and speaker, based in London UK. Visit livewithloss.com for guidance to help you through your loss and lead a calm, purposeful life.

23 Sep 11:00

5 Ways Using Correct Gender Pronouns Will Make You a Better Trans* Ally

by Laura Kacere
Source: http://www.wikihow.com/Respect-a-Transgender-PersonPronouns are an important part of our language. Using the right pronouns in our own daily language and asking others to do the same isn’t enough to change the extreme transphobia, discrimination, and violence that trans* people experience, but it’s a simple way to use language to show respect for our friends, to make trans* issues visible, and to challenge gender-based oppression.
23 Sep 10:45

The Science of Stress, Orgasm and Creativity: How the Brain and the Vagina Conspire in Consciousness

by Maria Popova

“To understand the vagina properly is to realize that it is not only coextensive with the female brain, but is also, essentially, part of the female soul.”

“The more closely we analyze what we consider ‘sexy,’” philosopher Alain de Botton argued in his meditation on sex, “the more clearly we will understand that eroticism is the feeling of excitement we experience at finding another human being who shares our values and our sense of the meaning of existence.” But in his attempt to counter the reductionism that frames human sexuality as a mere physiological phenomenon driven solely by our evolutionary biology, de Botton overcompensates by reducing in the opposite direction, negating the complex interplay of brain and biology, psychology and physiology, that propels the human sexual experience. That’s precisely what Naomi Wolf, author of the 1991 cultural classic The Beauty Myth, examines in Vagina: A New Biography (public library) — a fascinating exploration of the science behind the vastly misunderstood mind-body connection between brain and genitalia, consciousness and sexuality, the poetic and the scientific. What emerges is a revelation of how profoundly a woman’s bodily experience influences nearly every aspect of life, from stress to creativity, through the intricate machinery that links biology and beingness.

Wolf writes:

Female sexual pleasure, rightly understood, is not just about sexuality, or just about pleasure. It serves, also, as a medium of female self-knowledge and hopefulness; female creativity and courage; female focus and initiative; female bliss and transcendence; and as medium of a sensibility that feels very much like freedom. To understand the vagina properly is to realize that it is not only coextensive with the female brain, but is also, essentially, part of the female soul.

[…]

Once one understands what scientists at the most advanced laboratories and clinics around the world are confirming — that the vagina and the brain are essentially one network, or “one whole system,” as they tend to put it, and that the vagina mediates female confidence, creativity, and sense of transcendence — the answers to many of these seeming mysteries fall into place.

Handcrafted vagina embroidery by artist Kira Scarlet

A pivotal player in this mediation is the female pelvic nerve — a sort of information superhighway that branches out from the base of the spinal cord to the cervix, connecting the latter to the brain and thus controlling much of sexual response. But this information superhighway is really more like a superlabyrinth, the architecture of which differs enormously from one woman to another, and is completely unique for each one. This diversity of wiring in the highly complex female pelvic neural network helps explain why women have wildly different triggers for orgasm. (By contrast, the male pelvic neural network is significantly simpler, consisting of comparatively regular neural pathways arranged neatly in a grid that surrounds the penis in a circle of pleasure.) This biological reality, Wolf points out, clashes jarringly with the dominant culturally constructed fantasy of how sexual intercourse is supposed to proceed:

The pornographic model of intercourse — even our culture’s conventional model of intercourse, which is quick, goal-oriented, linear, and focused on stimulation of perhaps one or two areas of a woman’s body — is just not going to do it for many women, or at least not in a very profound way, because it involves such a superficial part of the potential of women’s neurological sexual response systems.

Embroidery from the series 'Lessons from My Mother' by artist Andrea Dezsö

Another key component of sexual experience is the autonomic nervous system (ANS) — the puppeteer of arousal, controlling all smooth muscle contractions and affecting the body’s response beyond conscious control. It encompasses both the sympathetic and parasympathetic divisions, and ensures they work in unison. Because arousal precedes orgasm, the ANS first needs to do its own work before the complex pelvic neural network can work its own magic. Wolf writes:

For women, sexual response involves entering an altered state of consciousness. … In women, the biology of arousal is more delicate than most of us understand, and it depends significantly on this sensitive, magical, slowly calmed, and easily inhibited system.

To be sure, Wolf reminds us that it’s not at all uncommon for women to have a physiological response during rape, despite the enormous psychological pain and stress of the assault, but this response is not the same as the transcendent, dimensional orgasm that takes place when brain and body work in harmonious bliss. This also holds true in sexual situations that aren’t as violent as rape but still assault the ANS in one way or another:

If a woman’s ANS response is ignored, she can have intercourse and even climax; but she won’t necessarily feel released, transported, fulfilled, or in love, because only a superficial part of her capacity to respond has been made love to, or engaged.

In fact, the most fascinating aspect of the ANS, absolutely critical yet poorly understood, is that it is profoundly impacted by the mental landscape, steering the immutable interdependence between brain and vagina. The ANS, which serves as the translator between the psychological and the physiological, is thus particularly vulnerable to what psychologists call “bad stress.” (By contrast, the “good stress” many women experience in exciting or mock-dangerous sexual scenarios which they still control can be compelling and pleasurable.) “Bad stress” stems from the perceived lack of safety, and the presence of safety is absolutely essential to catapulting the female brain into the kind of “high” orgasm that is only possible in this disinhibited trance state. Wolf explains:

This biological, evolutionary connection for women of possible ecstasy to emotional security has implications that cannot be overstressed. Relaxing allows for female arousal.

Just as being valued and relaxed can heighten female sexual response, “bad stress” can dramatically interfere with all of women’s sexual processes.

[…]

“Bad stress,” researchers have now abundantly confirmed, has exactly the same kind of negative effect on female arousal and on the vagina itself. When a woman feels threatened or unsafe, the sympathetic nervous system — the parasympathetic nervous system’s partner in the ANS — kicks in. This system regulates the “fight or flight” response: as adrenaline and catecholamines are released in the brain, nonessential systems such as digestion and, yes, sexual response, close down; circulation constricts, because the heart needs all the blood available to help the body run or fight; and the message to the body is “get me out of here.” Based on [research insights], we now know that threatening environment — which can include even vague verbal threats centered on the vagina or dismissive language about the vagina — can close down female sexual response.

This notion that biology conditions consciousness and vice versa, of course, isn’t new. But the research Wolf cites presents compelling evidence that “bad stress,” especially rape and early sexual trauma, can have profound biological effects:

There is growing, if still preliminary, evidence that rape and early sexual trauma can indeed “stay in the body” — even stay in the vagina — and change the body on the most intimate, systemic level. Recovery is possible, but treatment should be specialized. Rape and early sex abuse can indeed permanently change the working of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) — so crucial for female arousal; and, if she is not supported by the right treatment, it can permanently alter the way a woman breathes, the rate of her heart, her blood pressure, and her startle reaction, in a manner that is not under any conscious control.

Even more strikingly, some studies have found that elevated SNS activation is linked to a variety of health hazards seemingly unrelated to sexual trauma, including vertigo, motor control and balance issues, visual processing problems, and elevated startle response. In other words, sexual abuse alters the brain in a way that sabotages multiple body systems and damages healthy stress response. Wolf recapitulates the implications poignantly:

Understood in this way, and with this significant evidence, rape and sexual assault, with their attendant trauma, should be understood not just as a form of forced sex; they should also be understood as a form of injury to the brain and body, and even as a variant of castration.

Demonstrating just how strong the connection between mind and body is, Korean researchers discovered that stress and sexual trauma actually affect, on a biological level, the very functioning of the vagina. Studying female rats, they found that “chronic physical stress modifies [sexual behavior] through a mechanism believed to involve complex changes in sex hormones, endocrine factors, and neurotransmitters.” What’s more, they were able to identify the precise biological mechanism responsible for this deep-seated interplay:

Evidently nitric oxide (NO) and nitric oxide synthase (NOS) play important roles in vaginal and clitoral engorgement — helping the smooth muscle of the vagina relax and the vaginal tissues swell in preparation for arousal and orgasm — and these chemicals and their actions are inhibited when females are negatively stressed.

The researchers found that the stressed-out female rats were less receptive and more hostile to their male partners, displaying measurable aggression and irritability, and ultimately refusing to copulate. Stress, it turns out, diminished the female rats’ ability to reach arousal by greatly impairing their genital blood flow. The scientists concluded:

In animal model studies, mental or physical stress increases the level of serum catecholamines, thereby causing vascular contraction, which in turn reduces blood flow and leads to sexual dysfunction. . . . Since stress is concomitant with an increased output of catecholamines in blood . . . it is reasonable to assume that blood flow to the genital organs reduces during periods of stress. . . . [W]e measured norepinephrine as an indirect index of catecholamine level and found that it increased in the stress group and decreased in the recovery group. This result indirectly supports the suggestion that stress affects female genital blood flow.

Most ominous of all was the projection that if such stress levels were sustained over time, the physiological changes they cause would eventually affect the vaginal tissue itself. Indeed, researchers tested those tissues after the female rats were dead and found “biologically measurable changes.”

Women, of course, are not rats, but this only means that the effects of such stress are even more profound. Wolf argues that besides impairing women’s ability to reach orgasm, “bad stress” also affects the overall capacity for joy, hopefulness, and creativity. Unlike rats, humans are also susceptible to forms of abuse beyond the physical — Wolf cites the tragically prevalent cultural tendency to deride the vagina and its owner, embedded even in the slang we have for female genitalia. She writes:

The role of manipulating female stress in targeting the vagina should not be ignored. This behavior—ridiculing the vagina—makes perfect instinctive sense. These acts are often impersonal and tactical—strategies for directing a kind of pressure at women that is not consciously understood but may be widely intuited, and even survive in folk memory, as eliciting a wider neuropsychological “bad stress” response that actually debilitates women.

She cites one particularly unsettling example:

In 2010, male Yale students gathered at a “Take Back the Night” event, where their female classmates were marching in a group, protesting against sexual assault. The young men chanted at the protesters, “No means yes and yes means anal.” Some of the young women brought a lawsuit against the university, arguing that tolerating such behavior created an unequal educational environment. Ethically they are in the right, and neurobiologically they are right as well. Almost all young women who face a group of their male peers chanting such slogans are likely to feel instinctively slightly panicked. On some level they are getting the message that they may be in the presence of would-be rapists — making it impossible to shrug off immature comments, as women are often asked to do. They sense there is a wider risk to them that is being threatened, and indeed there is, but it is not just the risk of sexual assault. If they are stressed regularly in this way, they will indeed depress the whole subtle and delicate network of neurobiological triggers and reactions that make them feel good, happy, competent, and as if they know themselves.

One study termed the complex and lasting effects of such stress, an increasingly recognizable medical pattern, “multisystem dysfunction” — and it can effect such a wide array of physical health issues as higher risk of diabetes and heart disease, hormonal imbalances, and fertility problems. But the most damaging consequences of these physical changes, Wolf argues, are cognitive and psychoemotional:

The female body reacts in the same way to “bad stress” whether the context is the birthing room or the university or the workplace. If the female brain senses that an environment is not safe, its stress response inhibits all the same organs and systems, regardless of setting. Many of the signals that either stoke or diminish female desire have to do with the female brain’s question: Is it safe for her?

So if a woman goes to work or to study in a sexually dangerous or threatening atmosphere day after day, she risks — because of the cumulative, long-term effect of that “bad stress” — having the letting-go, creative “relaxation response” inhibited even outside her work or school environment.

[…]

If you sexually stress a woman enough, over time, other parts of her life are likely to go awry; she will have difficulty relaxing in bed eventually, as well as in the classroom or in the office. This in turn will inhibit the dopamine boost she might otherwise receive, which would in turn prevent the release of the chemicals in her brain that otherwise would make her confident, creative, hopeful, focused — and effective, especially relevant if she is competing academically or professionally with you. With this dynamic in mind, the phrase “fuck her up” takes on new meaning.

[…]

The vagina responds to the sense of female safety, in that circulation expands, including to the vagina, when a woman feels she is safe; but the blood vessels to the vagina constrict when she feels threatened. This may happen before the woman consciously interprets her setting as threatening. So if you continually verbally threaten or demean the vagina in the university or in the workplace, you continually signal to the woman’s brain and body that she is not safe. “Bad” stress is daily raising her heart rate, pumping adrenaline through her system, circulating catecholamines, and so on. This verbal abuse actually makes it more difficult for her to attend to the professional or academic tasks before her.

Cartoon by Emily Flake from 'The Big Feminist BUT: Comics about Women, Men and the Ifs, Ands & Buts of Feminism.' Click image for more.

Yet despite the compelling scientific evidence, the most moving and encompassing point Wolf makes is an anthropological one:

The way in which any given culture treats the vagina — whether with respect or disrespect, caringly or disparagingly — is a metaphor for how women in general in that place and time are treated.

Vagina: A New Biography is absolutely fascinating in its entirety. For a less scientific but no less pause-giving take, complement it with The Big Feminist BUT: Comics about Women, Men and the Ifs, Ands & Buts of Feminism, then revisit Susan Sontag on sex.

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22 Sep 12:00

Leather Women

by Ohh
When asked about “leather culture,” one might conjure up images of black leather jackets, motorcycle clubs, strict hierarchies, and ultra-masculine men. In the world of kink, “leather” and “leather culture” can be a confusing and controversial topic. It’s a concept inundated with history and steeped in beliefs and practices that come from a variety of [...]
20 Sep 19:11

Something Borrowed

by Jack Stratton

I looked down at my phone for the hundredth time, then up at the train as it chugged back into its underground tunnel. People rushed to leave and in moments I was alone on the platform, turned on and scared.

“Take the L train to Lorimer, get out and walk two blocks west…” the instructions started.

I got out of the subway station, looking around the foreign streets of Williamsburg or Greenpoint, I wasn’t sure which. There seemed to be nothing but bars, pizza places, and trendy little boutiques.

Everyone on the street looked hip and pretty. I looked down at my somewhat fashionable jeans and my high heels and suddenly I felt a little like Sandy at the end of Grease, but I walked on. I took out my phone again, more as something to do than for information.

I knew what the email said, I’d been reading it over and over all day.

“I have this good friend, I want to lend you to him for the evening. Six to midnight, or when ever he’s done with you. You’re not to stay over. He’ll be safe, he’ll stop if you say “red” and he knows the things that you are not to have done to you. I’ve negotiated for you, so all you need to remember is “red” and that I am giving you to him for the evening,” I read and realized I missed my turn because the words made my whole body hot and confused.

“You’re my good slut and you will fuck and suck my friend. Maybe all of my friends. Maybe even people I hardly know. You’re such a good little slut I can’t keep you all to myself. What kind of person would I be if I didn’t share my favorite toy with my friends?”

He hadn’t even talked to me about it. Well, not really. We’d talking about it in the very theoretical, but we hadn’t actually spoken about the details face to face, which really made me crazy. I should have said no. I knew I could say no. I knew I could say no and I wouldn’t even get punished. He didn’t punish me for saying no to things or even stopping things once I said yes. He punished me when he wanted to hit me, not to train me, just because he liked it.

Reading the words over I got that warm feeling I always got when I read the word “good” next to the word “slut.”

I looked left to right and found the next street I needed to turn on to. I looked to see if anyone was near and then reached down and felt the crotch of my jeans and cursed because I was wet right through the denim.

The apartment was one of those big modern industrial looking deals in the middle of a row of ancient townhouses. I didn’t have room left in my brain to process what I thought about it. I pressed the code from the email into the keypad. The door clicked.

I climbed three flights of stairs and my heart raced the whole time. I didn’t know what the guy looked like. I didn’t know his name. I didn’t even know if he would be alone.

He was waiting with his door open and I only looked him in the eye for a second before looking down at my feet.

He was younger than I thought he’d be. Perhaps five years younger than Jake, which meant five years older than me. He moved aside to let me in, then he closed the door and locked the various locks NY city apartments always seemed to have.

He was a little shorter than me, a bit chubby but in a stocky solid kind of way. He was a brown haired, nondescript, white guy. He was wearing a Columbia sweatshirt and jeans.

He turned and looked me up and down. He stood motionless and looked very much like he was trying not to look nervous.

The apartment was a large studio. One big room with a bed and a couch and a window that looked out on a church. He walked past me and started looking through his drawers.

“You’re going to go into the bathroom and take a shower and shave your legs and your pussy. Shave it completely,” he explained without looking at me.

He opened and closed drawers, throwing things on the bed as he did. There was a clean looking towel, a pair of long socks still in their package, a small plastic bag of hair ties, a bottle of lube, a pack of condoms.

“When you’re done put these socks on, nothing else. They go up all the way to your thighs. Then put your hair in pigtails and come back to the bedroom,” he ordered as he handed me things.

There was a silence then, and I just stood there in this stranger’s apartment as he waited for me to follow his directions.

“Well?” he said expectantly.

The confusion was part of it; the pressure, too. I knew I could drop the stuff and tell the guy to fuck off and leave. Well, I was 99% sure I could do that. The 1% made me wetter than the 99%, honestly.

The shame of being “given” to this guy was like a drug. Actually better than most drugs I’d tried. He could be anyone. I was nothing more than a toy being passed around. I was a little fuck hole that was good enough that my owner thought his friend might like a try me out.

I liked that. I liked that so much. I watched as he eyed me and I could tell he was already hard. He rubbed his crotch through his jeans as he watched me. It was a perverted and completely honest move, something I guessed he would never do in front of someone, even before sex.

And I was going to have sex with him. This stranger. I knew it. So I turned around and headed for the bathroom.

“Wait,” he said and walked up to me.

He stood behind me and reached around me and felt my left breast. He made a little moan as he touched it. There was an almost high school awkwardness in the act. I realized he was probably just as curious and confused with the situation as I was. He was mauling my breast just to see if he could, to see what I would do.

He pulled up my shirt and I let myself be pushed and pulled by him. I stood up straight and let the upper half of my body become as limp as a rag doll. He pulled down the cup of my bra and rubbed my naked breast, pulling on my nipple possessively.

“Jake said you were a complete slut but I wasn’t sure,” he said half to himself.

“Fuck, I can’t wait for you to get out of the shower. I’m going to fuck you like twenty times. I’m going to use every inch of you until I have to give you back,” he growled as he pulled my other tit out of my bra and pulled at it.

He bit his lip, eyes locked on my tits, which made him look like a pervert. I should have been disgusted, but I was shaking with need.

“Take off your pants, I want to see your pussy before you shave it,” he said greedily.

He had the tiniest of a foreign accent I couldn’t place. He looked smart, his apartment was that of a professional computer something or other, lots of books, but there was an edge of Brooklyn bad boy to his voice.

It was weird taking off my pants while trying to hold on to the towel and socks he gave me. I got them off though and he pulled at my panties and then his hand was rubbing my thighs greedily.

“Fuck, you’re soaking wet. Such a fucking whore, fuck I can’t even wait. Why should I? I’ll fuck you fast then you shower and put on the socks for the second round,” he said taking off his belt.

The sound of the belt, as always, made me squirm with want. He didn’t notice. His eyes were still on my tits.

I looked around and saw a chair and dumped the towel and things onto it.

He took me, with my panties still around my ankles, and pushed me onto the bed.

He pushed the condom onto his cock and noisily squirted a glob of lube onto his fingers. He didn’t realize how unnecessary the lube was, but found out when he roughly pushed the cold wet stuff between my legs and into me.

“Jesus, you’re a wet little slut,” he said to himself.

Then he was on top of me and inside of me all at once and he felt thicker than he looked.

There was that newness of a new person, a new cock, a new body on top of me. He was fucking me, hands on my hips, fingers a little too tight, pushing himself deep a little too fast.

“Fucking tight, fucking slut, fuck, I can’t believe Jake just sent you here. Fuck. I’m going to fuck the shit out of you like a hundred times,” he said as he thrusted.

His hands were all over, on my tits, on my ass then up in my hair. As he closed a fist around the back of my hair and pulled the spark of pain made me go to that familiar dizzy place. The way his cock sort of hurt. The way he was pressing onto my clit with every thrust. I want to reach down and rub myself, but something inside of me reminded me that I was just there to get fucked and used. I was a toy. I was a stupid little fuck hole being passed around.

“Please,” I started saying, the embarrassment of dirty talk choking me a little, “please come inside me, sir,” I whispered.

It was a tiny little voice, I was guessing like the pigtailed pretend schoolgirl he was going to dress me up as. In saying it, in using those words with that voice, I was suddenly that girl. I let myself fall into the role. Innocent, stumbling into his big room, powerless as he used me.

He heard me. He let out a long hard gasp. Another “fuck” in the mantra the word had turned into as he pushed deeper into me.

“Fucking not going to take long with your tight, little, fucking, oh, fuck” and then he was thrusting into me hard, in that way guys did when their body just takes over because they’re near coming.

He was shoving me into the mattress hard and I swear I could feel his cock swell as he shot his come over and over.

Then he was next to me, gasping for breath.

“Fuck,” he said again.

“Go,” he said trying to catch his breath, “go shower and get ready,” he gasped, “we got a long evening.”

Then I was walking, past his little kitchen, which was small and minimalist and German looking.

The bathroom was spotless and high tech. The shower was cavernous and I was happy to be under the strong, warm, clean water.

I rubbed my now reddened and humming little cunt. I liked my tuft of brown hair. Jake had let me grow it out and for some weird reason it pleased me. As my fingers passed over the soft hair I wondered why the fact that a stranger was telling me to get rid of the little patch of hair was making my knees weak with pleasure.

I rubbed hard and found my clit then, as the water rained down on me. I liked a lot of pressure. I rubbed hard and thought about how much of a slut I was. I thought about going back out there and letting the little Brooklyn guy with no name fuck me over and over again.

I thought about sucking his thick cock and swallowing every drop of his thick come and I rocked my hips fast and rubbing myself hard and I came. I came all by myself, before I went out to let him use my body again.

Then a washed off my fingers and soaped up my legs and got ready to be a schoolgirl for the stranger who owned me for another five and half hours.

I felt, with every cell of my body, like a very good slut.

20 Sep 19:00

A Poem To A Master

by Leatherati
by David Stein I love the predatory way you eye me sometimes, like a tasty unclaimed morsel — the lone canapé on a plate or the last chocolate truffle — then swoop in and gleefully take me, using my throat or ass to get yourself off while keeping my tackle locked down, useless without your key.... Continue Reading »
19 Sep 19:18

Unpaid Emotional Labor

by Charlie Glickman

The amazing Sabrina Morgan posted this on Facebook today:

I don’t think there’s any doubt that had this driver’s passenger been a man, he’d never have dared to pull something like that. But there’s more to this that needs to be unpacked. It’s disturbingly common for men try to get women to smile for them. I get how annoying that is and I agree with Sabrina that it’s unpaid emotional labor. I think that more men need to look at why it happens so often.

I’ll admit that this is something that I used to do sometimes. I used to have real difficulties bearing witness to women’s discomfort, whether it was real or simply my perception of it. Knowing what I do now (and not in any way considering this an excuse), I can see that what was motivating me was the story in my head about what women’s discomfort meant. It had a lot to do with my family of origin and it wasn’t until I took a good look at that and did the work that I needed to do that I stopped wanting to “fix” women’s bad moods. For what it’s worth, I never did that to strangers. And I’d mostly stopped actually trying to get women to smile before I got my shit together, because I’d been told how obnoxious it was. But it wasn’t until I’d healed that part of me that I stopped wanting to do it.

This is a perfect example of a man asking or expecting women to coddle his emotional issues because he sees his comfort as more valuable than their labor. It’s one of the many costs of the Act Like a Man Box, the difficulty many men have with managing their own emotions, and the expectation that women will do it for them. I didn’t know how to lean into my discomfort and do the healing work that I needed to do. Instead, I tried to reduce my discomfort by controlling the trigger. In this case, that was trying to get women to stop expressing their negative feelings, even when they had nothing to do with me and despite the fact that they had every right to their emotions and their expressions.

Of course, this is hardly the only reason men do this. There’s also the fact that women are supposed to constantly be on display for men’s visual pleasure. This is sexual labor that women are expected to perform. Women are expected to be eye candy for any random dude who sees them walking down the street, and that’s ridiculous.

Women are also supposed to be accommodating and to set their own needs aside, even to a total stranger. This is another kind of emotional labor that women are expected to perform, and while the motivation may be different than the desire to not feel discomfort when we see women who seem unhappy, the way that men demand it looks pretty much the same. The impact of this is huge. A lot of men expect their desires to be more important than a woman’s needs, and that is the definition of privilege.

I’ve always found it really curious that most men, when confronted about this, will fall back on claiming that they just wanted to compliment her. They don’t see that trying to make someone smile is an attempt to control her. And while they usually deny any sexual component to their actions, I can’t help but notice how much more often it happens to women that these guys find attractive. If the frequency and tone of your compliments correlates with how attractive you think someone is, you don’t get to pretend that there’s nothing sexual about your motivations, whether you actually want to have sex with her or not. Expecting women you think are attractive to perform femininity for you is one of the many sexist microagressions that reinforce gender inequities. Stop it. You’re making the world a worse place.

And then there’s this specific situation, in which a man threatened reprisals for non-compliance. He extorted sexual and emotional labor because he could. He might have thought that he was being funny, without any intention of following through. But that’s like someone who’s big and muscular “joking” that he’s going to punch me in the face. My ability to protect myself is less than his ability to follow through on his “joke, ” and I don’t know if he’s actually going to do it. It’s a violation of trust that makes it harder for me to move through the world feeling safe. And what this driver did to Sabrina (and, I assume, does to other people) was much the same. She had to choose between compliance, confrontation, or the risk of retaliation.

That’s the deeper problem with this kind of thing. Whether the motivation is harassment, a desire for sexual validation by getting a woman to smile, or to avoid one’s own uneasiness with women’s discomfort, it’s all about controlling women. And when women don’t comply with that, they run the risk of reprisals. Women already walk through the world worrying about their safety from men, and there’s no way to know who’s going to lash out. This driver might have had no intention of following through on his threat, but how could she have known that?

So here’s my suggestion for any men who feel the urge to get a woman to smile for them. Stop and ask yourself if you would do the same thing if you were engaging with a man. If that person is your close friend and you want to help them out, then perhaps your answer is yes. Though I expect that in those situations, you’d probably ask them what was going on instead of demanding that they pretend that things are OK. If you’re training someone at work and part of their job is to smile to customers, or if you’re a photographer, then yes, telling someone to smile is a reasonable thing to do and it has nothing to do with the gender of the person.

But if you wouldn’t do it to a man, then stop it. It doesn’t matter what your motivations are. Stop it. Figure out why you expect women to perform unpaid emotional labor for you. Figure out what’s prompting you to try to control women’s emotions and behaviors and faces. Figure out why you think that’s ok. And then do what you need to do to change that about yourself so that you can be a better man. Do what you need to do to make the world a safer place. Because if you’re not making yourself part of the solution, you’re part of the problem and we don’t need that. Stop it.

Update: Stop Telling Women To Smile is an awesome art project by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh about street harassment. Check out the Kickstarter page and her video below.


The post, Unpaid Emotional Labor, is from Charlie Glickman's website.
04 Oct 16:40

9 Strategies For Non-Oppressive Polyamory

by blackgirldangerous@gmail.com

by Janani Balasubramanian

Sometimes when I explain to folks that I’m poly, they ask if I’ve read The Ethical Slut.  I tell them I’ve skimmed it.  However, I’ve been thinking about writing a counterpart: something like The Hella Problematic Slut.  We all fuck up dating/romance/love-wise, for sure.  It’s a constant learning situation, and I hope we (QTPOC especially) can hold space to be kind to each other in the face of those fuck-ups–the ones that aren’t outright abusive fuck-ups.  That’s not what this piece is about. Polyamory doesn’t get a free pass at being radical without an analysis of power in our interactions.  It doesn’t stop with being open and communicative with multiple friends, partners, lovers, etc. We’ve got to situate those relationships in broader systems of domination, and recognize ways that dating and engaging people (multiple or not) can do harm within those systems.  Our intimate politics are often the mostly deeply seated; it’s hard work to do.  But I thought I’d get some conversation rolling by destabilizing poly as a ‘more radical than thou’ thing.  To that end, here’s a list of ways to do polyamory without being awful and oppressive:

1. Don’t treat your partners like they’re less or more than one another based on super hierarchical divisions.  Numbering and ranking don’t make for resistive queer relationships; openness and compassion do.  Your secondary partners are not secondary people–they’re just not the folks you might devote the most time or energy to in a particular way.

2. Avoid creating situations in which your partners are competing for your affections, as if you’re a scarce capitalist commodity.  This is especially true if you have some position of power over most of your partners.  Like if you’re masculine-of-center and mostly date femmes.  Or if you’re a White person, and all your partners are POC, in which case you should question the ways your body has all these colonial legacies of beauty privilege attached to it.  Your partners aren’t ‘lucky’ because you’re dating them–this goes both ways.

3. Do not by any means claim your partners as social justice trophies.  Your dates have names, so you don’t need to introduce them as [XYZ marginalized person].  You don’t get ally points this way.

(continued below)


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4. Remember that polyamory doesn’t make you radical all on its own, regardless of which directions your desire is oriented.   We all have these preferences based on race, class, ability, gender, etc that need deep work and questioning.  Dating 5 White cisgender people at once isn’t necessarily a radical act.

5. Avoid the ‘gotta catch ‘em all’ theory of dating.  Being super non-consensually cruisy and privilege-denying doesn’t make for healthy communities.  Nor does refusing to be in community with folks if there’s not a possibility that you could date or fuck them.

6. Don’t police other people’s monogamy or other relationship structures. You can do your thing, but everyone else has their own circumstances too, often informed by class, ability, leisure time, and racialized ideas of sluthood–all of these might limit someone’s access to non-monogamy.  Not everyone wants to or can fuck/date multiple people.

7. Keep in mind that ‘poly’ is not a category of oppression in and of itself.  This is not a monogamist-supremacist world.  There are material privileges that support your access to the possibility of non-monogamy–ie the fact that you are able to make this choice.

8. Recognize that your non-romantic and non-sexual relationships are also real and valid! Keep your understanding of love broad and political accordingly.  Other folks might not need or want as many lovers as you because they’re engaged in different varieties of relationship-building.

9. Finally, remember that polyamory is not a new or edgy concept invented in the Western world.  It’s a millenia-old idea to have and value multiple relations.  Let’s avoid perpetuating that cultural erasure.

QTPOC! Got thoughts on polyamory? Share them in our Say That! section. Go here.

 

janani-pictureJanani Balasubramanian is a South Asian literary and performance artist.  Their work deals broadly with themes of empire, desire, ancestry, microflora, apocalypse, and the Future.  Janani is regular contributor at BGD and one-half of the spoken word duo DarkMatter.  They’re currently working on their first science fiction novel, H.  You can read more of their work at queerdarkenergy.com.

All work published on BGD is the intellectual property of its writers. Please do not republish anything from this site without express written permission from BGD. For more info, go here.

Get BGD creator Mia McKenzie’s debut literary novel, The Summer We Got Free. It’s the winner of the Lambda Literary Award.

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The post 9 Strategies For Non-Oppressive Polyamory appeared first on .

14 Sep 22:44

Notes on Smut: A Look at Lesbian Literary Erotics

by Diana Cage

In 2010 Google Instant began saving us two to five seconds per search. Before that time we were forced to type an entire word, sometimes even a whole phrase, before hitting send. Thankfully search engines now anticipate our needs, often before we’re aware we have them. Unless of course, your needs include looking up anything about lesbians. This is because lesbian, as a search term anyway, more commonly precedes a phrase like “gang bang” than it does “literature.” It may not be fair, but it’s true. It’s not that Google doesn’t want to help you find both pornography and lesbian literature; it just wants you to put in a little extra effort. This keeps mundane searches for “Les Miserable” and “Le Sport Sac” from sending you down a rabbit hole of live webcam pop ups.

The search term problem is just one little piece of the larger task of how to represent queer female desire in the text. We all want to feel special; like what we are looking at is meant just for us. So if everyone is used to objectifying women, like it’s just a thing used to sell toothpaste and jeans and trick us into watching rom-coms, how do you write about sex and the erotic in a way that only the intended audience is picking up what you’re putting down?

You make them work for it, that’s how. This is part of why sex in lesbian literature is often so heavily codified; it adds to the hotness. Maybe you thought suggestive conversation and heavy subtext were relics of sexual repression from which feminism’s third wave liberated us? No, turns out, all those signifiers still have a job to do: turn lesbians on while the rest of the world is flipping through the pages looking for the good parts.

Queer women’s sexual relationships are complicated because dykes eroticize all aspects of connection. Yes, even processing! I always think about the French term jouissance when I’m trying to describe lesbian sex. Jouissance means pleasure, but it also means orgasm. And sometimes it means the type of orgasmic feeling you get from understanding something complex. French theorist Helene Cixious, for instance, talks about jouissance as a transcendent state in which we understand and derive pleasure from everything all at once. That’s what lesbian sex is like, a polymorphous perversity that is equal parts body and brain.  So it makes sense that the hottest texts, the ones that offer the most textual satisfaction, are the ones that you really have to read. Engage me for fifty pages and I’m yours.

For the record, I’m talking about the erotic, but not erotica. Erotica is a whole thing. It’s alive and well and has its own Lammy category. There are entire presses dedicated to publishing only lesbian erotica. And that is wonderful! I love erotica. Bring it on! But reading erotica is like staying home and masturbating to Internet porn because you are too lazy to put on pants; it’s too easy. What I’m talking about right now is books that make you work for it.

With that said, below is a list of the hottest books full of lesbian sex I’ve read lately. It’s a short list, of course, because books are infinite and all you can ever hope to do is read a few at a time. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

Home in Three Days. Don’t Wash. by Linda Smuckler

9781889097008

Hard Press Editions

Linda Smuckler is the former name of the poet Samuel Ace. Home in Three Days. Don’t Wash. is one of those texts that everyone talks about all the time. It’s totally famous and if you haven’t read it you should do so immediately. This is pure, perfect lesbian sex; a description of butch desire that reminds me of every love affair I’ve ever been consumed by. It’s almost painful to read. You know the point in an affair when even a fleeting thought about your lover makes you need to lie down? The feeling of wanting someone so much you’ll forgo food and sleep and risk losing your job to stay another hour in bed; that’s what Linda Smukler has captured in this text.

9781558618374

Feminist Press

Testo Junkie: Sex, Drugs, and Biopolitics in the Pharmacopornographic Era by Beatriz Preciado

Testo Junkie is a mix of high theory and smutty narrative. Beatriz Preciado chronicles the effects of her experimental testosterone use while theorizing about sex and gender in our pharmaceutical-happy modern world. According to Preciado, drugs have rendered all human experience consumable. Moods are induced with Prozac, desire, with Viagra, and gender with hormones. Gender no longer has meaning, and is only relevant in the way it makes sex hotter. Her theories, like the testosterone she describes taking, are intoxicating; the graphic sex scenes are a bonus.

Inferno (A Poet’s Novel) by Eileen Myles

9780984295074

OR Books

Eileen Myles’s prose reads like a post-coital conversation, like the way you talk to someone when the walls are down and you just want to crawl inside each other. This is fiction that reads like memoir, the story loosely follows the details of Myles’s life—childhood in working class Boston, moving to New York in the seventies, becoming a poet and lesbian. It is weird, smart, sexy, and at times very funny, but it’s Myles’s willingness to go there emotionally that makes it all work. All the lesbian intimacy you’ve yet to find on OKCupid can be found in this book.

 

12 Sep 23:03

Let's Read Fifty Shades of Grey: Chapter 1!

by Cliff Pervocracy

Alright, I should have done this years ago, but since the meme is still not dead, I think it's not too late.

I'm reading Fifty Shades of Grey.  I'm going to write this as I read it, rather than finishing and going to the end, so you're getting my first reaction here.  I'm also going to put this all behind pagebreaks, so I can go on as long as I like and not shit up my main blog with glorified Twilight fanwank.

Let's begin. God have mercy on our souls.

I should be studying for my final exams, which are next week, yet here I am trying to brush my hair into submission.

Get it?  Get it?  Do you get it?
Therefore, she cannot attend the interview she’d arranged to do, with some mega-industrialist tycoon I’ve never heard of, for the student newspaper. [...] the enigmatic CEO of Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc.
Oh, those mega-industrialist tycoons. Always devastatingly handsome and in search of the one woman who can really understand them, am I right?

I guess all the cowboys, surgeons, firefighters, and anachronistically gentlemanly pirates were busy when the casting call went out.
The roads are clear as I set off from Vancouver, WA toward Portland and the I-5. It’s early, and I don’t have to be in Seattle until two this afternoon.
I-5 (it's not "the I-5") goes right through Vancouver, and if you're going toward Portland, you're heading the opposite direction from Seattle. This is a pretty minor thing, but I used to live in Washington State, and the setting failures in this book stick out to me like "I set off on the Brooklyn Bridge toward the island of Boston, heading east into the setting sun."
“I’m here to see Mr. Grey. Anastasia Steele for Katherine Kavanagh.”
Anastasia Steele. Her name is Anastasia Steele. That's excellent. I can't get over it.  There are literally tears in my eyes.  Anastasia Steele.
The elevator whisks me with terminal velocity to the twentieth floor.
The terminal velocity of a human being in freefall is about 125-200 miles per hour.  The terminal velocity of an elevator moving upward is THAT IS NOT WHAT TERMINAL VELOCITY MEANS.
I push open the door and stumble through, tripping over my own feet, and falling head first into the office. Double crap – me and my two left feet! I am on my hands and knees in the doorway to Mr. Flint Ironstag’s office, and gentle hands are around me helping me to stand. I am so embarrassed, damn my clumsiness.
See, a good romance author doesn't describe the narrator character in too much detail, so the reader can picture her however they want, or, in this case, as Kristen Stewart.

Also, for my own amusement, I am replacing all mentions of  "Christian Grey" with the fake names from that one MST3K skit.
So young – and attractive, very attractive. He’s tall, dressed in a fine gray suit, white shirt, and black tie with unruly dark copper colored hair and intense, bright gray eyes that regard me shrewdly.  It takes a moment for me to find my voice. “Um. Actually–” I mutter. If this guy is over thirty then I’m a monkey’s uncle. In a daze, I place my hand in his and we shake. As our fingers touch, I feel an odd exhilarating shiver run through me. I withdraw my hand hastily, embarrassed. Must be static. I blink rapidly, my eyelids matching my heart rate.
 I love scenes like this in books, because it plays as all sexually charged and stuff inside her head, but can you picture the scene from the outside?  She's stammering and flustering and twitching because a cute guy shook her hand.  It's less "lust at first sight" and more "do you need to lie down?"

I suppose that's one way to make the Designated Harmless Flaw for romance heroines into an actual flaw--exaggerate her clumsiness and awkwardness to the point where the reader stops going "oh, so cute" and starts actually worrying about her.
Apart from the paintings, the rest of the office is cold, clean, and clinical. I wonder if it reflects the personality of the Adonis who sinks gracefully into one of the white leather chairs opposite me.
Don't you mean the perfect marble-hard sparkling Adonis?  For shame.
“You sound like a control freak.” The words are out of my mouth before I can stop them.“Oh, I exercise control in all things, Miss Steele,” he says without a trace of humor in his smile. I look at him, and he holds my gaze steadily, impassive. My heartbeat quickens, and my face flushes again.
I'm supposed to be making more helpful comments than just "oh God I'm laughing too hard," here. I'm supposed to be witty and penetrating and stuff.  But oh God, I'm just laughing too hard.  This is the kind of innuendo that would embarrass James Bond. It would embarrass Roger Moore James Bond.
“Besides, immense power is acquired by assuring yourself in your secret reveries that you were born to control things,” he continues, his voice soft.
Dooooouuuuchebaaaaaag.

And seriously, this is just a puff piece for a student paper.  You're supposed to spend fifteen minutes giving a PR-brochure history of your company and talking about how you value education and... don't value... not-education.  You're not supposed to reveal what you whisper to yourself at night.
“Well, to ‘chill out’ as you put it – I sail, I fly, I indulge in various physical pursuits.”
Why does Buff Hardback talk like a vampire?  Not even an Edward Cullen vampire, either.  Like a Dracula vampire.
“Are you gay, Mr. BlastBody?” He inhales sharply, and I cringe, mortified. Crap. Why didn’t I employ some kind of filter before I read this straight out? How can I tell him I’m just reading the questions?
I remind you that this is all for a one- or two-page profile in the student paper because he's presenting the diplomas.
“Mr. PlankChest, forgive me for interrupting, but your next meeting is in two minutes.” 
“We’re not finished here, Andrea. Please cancel my next meeting.” 
Andrea hesitates, gaping at him. She’s appears lost. He turns his head slowly to face her and raises his eyebrows. She flushes bright pink. Oh good. It’s not just me.
Doesn't Andrea work with him every day? You'd think she'd be used to his megahot hotness by now, or at least a little better at controlling her reactions.  Does she get all "whoaaa... sexy... wha..." every time he asks her to make a phone call?  That seems like it would get old.

Also, something about the "we're not finished here" makes me want to remind Anastasia to make sure not to let Crud BoneMeal get between her and the door.
When I turn to look at him, he’s leaning against the doorway beside the elevator with one hand on the wall. He really is very, very good-looking. It’s distracting. His burning gray eyes gaze at me. “Anastasia,” he says as a farewell. “Dirk HardPec,” I reply. And mercifully, the doors close.
Aww.  It's like the end of The Empire Strikes Back.

"I loved our brief, awkward, and completely inappropriate interview."
"I know."
11 Sep 11:00

Neil Gaiman’s Advice to Aspiring Writers

by Maria Popova

“You have to finish things — that’s what you learn from, you learn by finishing things.”

Neil Gaiman knows a thing or two about the secret of the creative life. In this mashup of Gaiman’s Nerdist podcast interview and scenes from films about writers, video-monger Brandon Farley captures the essence of Gaiman’s philosophy on writing and his advice to aspiring writers — a fine addition to celebrated authors’ collected wisdom on the craft. Transcript highlights below.

Echoing E. B. White, who famously scoffed that “a writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper,” and like Chuck Close, who declared that “inspiration is for amateurs — the rest of us just show up and get to work,” and like Tchaikovsky, who admonished that “a self-respecting artist must not fold his hands on the pretext that he is not in the mood,” Gaiman argues that the true muse of writing lies not in divine inspiration but in unrelenting persistence of effort and force of will:

If you’re only going to write when you’re inspired, you may be a fairly decent poet, but you will never be a novelist — because you’re going to have to make your word count today, and those words aren’t going to wait for you, whether you’re inspired or not. So you have to write when you’re not “inspired.” … And the weird thing is that six months later, or a year later, you’re going to look back and you’re not going to remember which scenes you wrote when you were inspired and which scenes you wrote because they had to be written.

On the exhilarating joy of writing and the stalwart showing up that makes it possible:

The process of writing can be magical — there times when you step out of an upper-floor window and you just walk across thin air, and it’s absolute and utter happiness. Mostly, it’s a process of putting one word after another.

On grit as the driving force of creative growth, reiterating the third of his 8 rules of writing:

You have to finish things — that’s what you learn from, you learn by finishing things.

On why true creativity requires eclectic influences, wide interests, and cross-disciplinary dot-connecting:

If you like fantasy and you want to be the next Tolkien, don’t read big Tolkienesque fantasies — Tolkien didn’t read big Tolkienesque fantasies, he read books on Finnish philology. Go and read outside of your comfort zone, go and learn stuff.

Gaiman’s most important piece of advice, for the writer who has mastered basic technique and is ready to begin writing, echoes the fifth of Kurt Vonnegut’s 8 keys to the power of the written word:

Tell your story. Don’t try and tell the stories that other people can tell. Because [as a] starting writer, you always start out with other people’s voices — you’ve been reading other people for years… But, as quickly as you can, start telling the stories that only you can tell — because there will always be better writers than you, there will always be smarter writers than you … but you are the only you.

For more notable wisdom on the written word, see Elmore Leonard’s 10 rules of writing, Walter Benjamin’s thirteen doctrines, H. P. Lovecraft’s advice to aspiring writers, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s letter to his daughter, Zadie Smith’s 10 rules of writing, Kurt Vonnegut’s 8 keys to the power of the written word, David Ogilvy’s 10 no-bullshit tips, Henry Miller’s 11 commandments, Jack Kerouac’s 30 beliefs and techniques, John Steinbeck’s 6 pointers, and Susan Sontag’s synthesized learnings.

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10 Sep 19:57

How to Make a Sheath for a Knife (Or Anything Else)

by Darren Bush

DSC_6344

Sometimes you want an item close at hand: not in a pocket, but right there where you need it. A pocket watch, compass, knife, cell phone, or any other item you don’t want to dig for are all great candidates for a leather sheath. You might want to make something to hold a multi-tool or any specialized tool you may want to keep handy at all times. If you’re a widget lover and can’t find a case for your widget, just substitute widget wherever it says knife.

This article is useful for the knife you (might have) made, but also teaches the method of wet-shaping leather. When saturated, leather can be stretched and molded to fit different objects.

Materials and Tools

  • Leather, medium weight (5 to 6 ounces)
  • Rotary cutter or X-Acto knife
  • Pencil
  • Cardboard from file folder
  • Rowel wheel
  • Fid
  • Groover tool
  • Waxed artificial sinew or thread
  • Leather-stitching needles
  • Pie pan of water
  • Spring clips
  • Saran wrap
  • Tape
  • Dishtowel

How to Make a Leather Sheath

Step 1: Draw Your Pattern

DSC_6289

Lay the knife out on your piece of cardboard and roughly trace around the blade and as much of the handle as you want to cover with your sheath. The pattern is not symmetrical, as the back of the sheath has an extension that ultimately will be folded down and stitched in place to make a loop through which your belt will be threaded. Again, this doesn’t have to be perfect, and better too large than too small.

Step 2: Cut Out and Assemble Your Pattern

DSC_6292

Using a pair of scissors, do a rough cut to see how your pattern looks when the knife is laid out.

DSC_6295

If you’re happy with it, fold the pattern in half along the line that will make the back of the blade part of the sheath and trim the overlap so the pattern is symmetrical. Push the paper against the blade to see where it lies within the pattern. You can see in the photo a slight crease in the cardboard, which shows plenty of clearance between the edge of the cardboard and the blade.

DSC_6299

Next, use a little bit of adhesive tape to actually make the pattern the same three-dimensional shape as your leather will be. This allows you to make adjustments now while it’s easier.

DSC_6300

You can see that I have trimmed back the pattern to even it out and give the handle a little more exposure. A little more trimming and we’ll be ready to cut out the actual sheath leather. Cut the tape holding your pattern together, and flatten it out.

Step 3: Trace and Cut Your Piece of Leather

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Trace your pattern onto the wrong side of the leather (the fuzzy suede part). This is because a) it’s easier and b) it sets up the belt loop so the right side is facing forward. I tend to ignore the belt loop section of the pattern and use it just as a guide to trace a long piece using a ruler to make sure it’s long enough and straight.
Cut out your leather using a rotary cutter, but do not cut into the inside corners where the blade part of the sheath meets the belt loop, as you will over-cut and make unsightly nicks. Stop short of those spots and use an X-Acto or sharp knife to finish the cuts.

Step 4: Start Forming the Leather

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Wrap whatever your item is in plastic wrap, using plenty of it, and tape to tuck everything in nicely.

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Assemble your dishtowel, item to be sheathed, a pan of hot tap water, and your spring clips. Place the sheath part of your leather in the hot water. It will change color and bubble a little as the water seeps into the leather. Just a few minutes is plenty.

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Place your leather on the dishtowel and fold the towel over on the leather and push down to pat it dry and squeeze out the excess water. Place the knife on your leather and fold it over, forming it over the handle as you go. Using spring clips, clamp the leather in place and work the leather so it forms naturally around the blade and handle. You can form the leather with your fingers so it hugs the handle. Set it aside to dry, but I usually check it every five minutes for the first half hour to make sure the leather is moulding the way I want it to.

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You can work with your leather again after several hours (depending on the heat and humidity) or leave it overnight. When the leather is dry, remove the spring clips and you’ll be left with a sheath “husk.”

Step 5: Trim the Sheath and Prepare to Stitch the Seam

Using the rotary cutter, trim the sheath to size by taking off the rough edges and following the contour of the blade and handle. You’re cutting through two layers of leather that has been water-hardened so it’ll take a little more pressure. Go slow and don’t cut yourself.

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Using a leather gouge, cut a shallow groove into the leather following the edge of the sheath seam. You can do this freehand or use a gouge with a built-in guide.

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Mark your stitches in the groove using a rowel tool. Six holes per inch is fine. If you don’t have a rowel tool, you can do it freehand and go slow and careful-like.

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Place your sheath on a plastic cutting board and using your fid, create holes in the indentations you made with your rowel tool. Use a small mallet and tap your fid lightly. Once you have poked all your holes, lift the top layer of the sheath and do the same thing on the bottom, as your fid will have started holes on the bottom layer too. Make sure they line up or your stitching will not be fun. If you do not have a fid, you can use an ice pick or other pointy thing. Fids work a little better because they make a small slit, not a hole.

Step 6: Sew the Belt Loop in Place

It’s much easier to sew the belt loop now before stitching up the sheath. Fold your belt flap over to the front and adjust it so it’s the size you want, and trim it to size. It should fasten just below the top of the sheath. Any deeper and you may run into problems with the handle not seating well in the sheath.

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Using your four-prong punch, make a row of holes in both the end of the belt loop and the top of the sheath as shown. If you don’t have a leather punch, you can use a fid or ice pick or anything sharp and pointy. Trim excess leather, if any, off the end of the strap. Using your needle and artificial sinew, stitch the loop, going in and out until you have three stitches showing. Tie off your thread and cut your sinew close to the knot.

Step 7: Sew the Seam

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Using a single needle and sinew, start sewing from the bottom of the piece near the top of the sheath. Stitch the side going up through the leather and down through the next hole. You could use a double needle technique here, but for such a short seam, a single needle technique is fine.

Once you reach the tip of your sheath, turn around and go up from the bottom, doing the opposite of what you just did. The effect is to create a stitch that will not unravel, and with the groove in the leather, the thread is protected and sits flush or below the surface of the leather. Tie off your knots, then thread your needle in and out the end holes a few times, finishing by threading the needle through one layer of leather and then pull tight. Cut the lacing flush with the seam and it will be hidden.

Using the wooden end of your fid, burnish the seam of your sheath to even out the stitching and push the stitches down into the sheath.

Step 8: Insert Knife or Other Object

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Insert your knife. It should be just a bit snug — it will loosen just a little bit over time. Put it on your belt. Revel in the knowledge you made something cool.

 


    






02 Oct 05:00

Do You Need Spiritual Healing or Business Development?

by Mark

Heart of Business - Every act of business can be an act of love

orange-flowerI’m writing from St. Louis, after attending my niece’s Bat Mitzvah, the first of the next generation in my family to become a teenager! Just watching the years spinning by, evidently.

I’m going to make this short, so I can spend more of this last precious day with my parents, my sister, and her family.

The question I want to pose is: how can you tell if what your business needs is spiritual healing, deepening your connection to your heart and to love, and clearing away old blocks and patterns, or whether you just need some business know how, steeped in spiritual truth, of course.?

I ask because I’ve seen people spend a crazy amount of time, energy and money doing healing work on “issues” that really just needed to be resolved through learning some simple heart-centered marketing techniques. The healing alone without the learning would never have created the breakthrough.

I’ve also seen people consume a tremendous amount of business information, shelling out untold amounts to learn business skills and strategies, but never getting anywhere because they remained stuck in some emotional, spiritual, or family/generational dynamic that needed healing.

How can you tell which one you need? I often use my intuition and experience to make the call with clients, but there is a simple assessment you can use to figure out what would serve you best.

The name of the assessment is rather technical, but don’t let it throw you. It’s called the “Try one, then the other.” assessment. :-)

I don’t mean to swing wildly back and forth from day to day, or hour to hour, “spiritual-healing-business-development-spiritual-healing-business-development…” Instead, notice where you are most comfortable. Are you most comfortable doing emotional/spiritual processing, and uncomfortable facing business learning? Or are you most comfortable going through course after course learning business strategies, but not implementing any of it?

Whichever one you are most comfortable with, and probably have done more of, try the other.

Struggling to make the income you need, and have been doing all kinds of healing on your “willingness to receive”? Maybe there’s nothing terribly wrong with your willingness to receive, and you just need to learn how to do marketing and sales in a way that makes sense to your heart and to the clients.

So take a marketing or sales course (like our Momentum Course). See what happens.

Have you been trying and trying to make your marketing work, shifting up strategies, working extra hard, pushing, pushing, pushing? Maybe you are trying too hard. Maybe you aren’t as open to receive as you could be. Perhaps it’s time to stop learning, stop working, and do some spiritual and emotional healing. Let yourself process through the stuff that may be blocking you.

Spiritual healing doesn’t always work like magic, meaning you do a healing, and the money just falls from the sky. More often you notice that an unconscious pattern had you doing and saying things that were turning people off, pushing people away, instead of just letting them come to you.

My general philosophy is to start on the business side. I teach someone something. If it works, if they take to it easily, then great! We go to the next business thing.

If instead, some reaction comes up, then we stop and doing healing work. Once that’s clear, we move forward.

In Sufism we don’t do spiritual healing just for the heck of it. Okay, we do do spiritual practice just for the heck of it, because it feels so good. But the underlying philosophy is that yes it is for our own heart’s journey home. And, at the same time we strive, similar to the boddhisatva philosophy of the Buddhists, to be engaged and of service to the world. A quote in the Sufi tradition ascribed to the Divine says, “I love those of My servants most, who are of most use to My creation.”

This means that a tremendous amount of Divine love arises spontaneously, organically, from being of service in the world. If our hearts are hurt, blocking us from serving effectively in the world, then spiritual healing can bring us relief. As we heal, we feel inspired and free to take steps forward in service.

I’m curious to hear from you, what’s your intuition with any current struggle you’re having with your business? Do you think it’s a business development issue, or some persistent block or pattern in you that needs healing? Let’s inspire each other with our stories!

Peace,

Mark

Heart of Business Mark

02 Oct 20:22

Bright On: Five Years of Fable

by GIRL'S GONE CHILD
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When I was five years old I dressed up as Rainbow Brite. It was the first and last time I wore a "pretty" costume for Halloween - a lifetime of showing up at parties dressed as a werewolf, an old man, a young man, a chicken with rubber gloves for feet, a boy, a man, "Kevin" the rat, Hal...  I have always been uncomfortable in feminine costumes for whatever reason but that year? THAT YEAR I was Rainbow Brite. And I felt it.

One of my earliest memories is pulling those boots up over my shins and feeling... bright.  

There was something about her. She was beautiful, sure, but she was also fiercely independent. She was confident and spirited and unabashed. She wore rainbows on her face and in her hair and on her shoes. She was a loner, Dottie. A rebel. With a unicorn. She was magic. And I was... not. Not in real life, anyway.

I spent the early part of my childhood unable to speak publicly. To my teachers. And peers. I used to pray to whatever god was out there, for words to come out of my mouth so that I could say the answers out loud. It took three years for me to garner the strength to raise my hand in class. I was paralyzed with fear that if I opened my mouth to speak, everyone would hear my thoughts. And that they would hate them and me by default, so I bottled everything up and filed them away.

***

It's so hard to separate our own experiences as children. So much of the emotional complexity of parenthood stems from our own retrospection. It is impossible for us to know what our children are going through at any given time. And yet, we assume, because we have been children before, that we have been there in the same way. Because we are cut from the same cloth. Because apples don't fall far from trees. Because like mother like daughter. So we project. Mainly because it comes with the job description to be projectors. Of our experiences and our lessons, our philosophies and truths.

Sometimes, when I pick my kids up at school, I feel myself regress into the little girl hiding under the slide, the third grader unable to raise her hand, speak up, say SOMETHING. Anything. Please just open your mouth and say hello. I flatten myself against walls. Wait in the back. Sit on the floor.

Fable is the other side of that coin. She is a powerhouse. A hand-raiser. A sing-at-the-top of her lungs-er. A stand-up-for-herself-er. A leader in the classic sense. The opposite of invisible. The antithesis of afraid. Standing tall with flags in her hands, she is the very opposite of me.

She speaks with voice I spent years trying to pull from my gut and have spent my whole life trying to capture with my fingers. Without apologizing. Or feeling ashamed.

She is Fable and she roars. With opinions. And ideas.  And joy. And more artwork than I know what to do with.
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***

It's the first day of Summer Camp and we're waiting in line to check in. Fable spent half the morning artfully decorating her head with hair-clips. A rainbow on one side and a collage of bows and sparkly bobby pins on the other. Twenty of them, maybe? Thirty? She insisted on wearing them on this morning, in honor of camp. Archer and I waited outside the bathroom until she was done.

A couple of older girls stand in front of us and do a double-take when they see Fable step outside the line. She spins and sings a song to herself. Does a little hand-on-hip action, gets back in line.

"Look at that little girl's hair," one girl giggles, pointing. She's twice Fable's size and one of the oldest girls at camp.

"Is she being serious. Nice look."

Fable says nothing. She looks back at me and I smile, offer her my hand for a high-five, hoping she didn't hear them.

But she did. Of course she did.  I see it on her face. A... hesitation.
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I'm a mess on the drive home, like I just sent my kid into the lion's den. Like this is the beginning of the end of a moment in time where she felt free to be Fable. I am heartbroken. Crushed. I can barely see over the steering wheel I'm so small.

I picture her all alone, hair clips in her back pocket, wandering around the campus looking for spiders to name.

Because that would have been me.

I picture her hiding in the bathroom with her feet pulled up in the stall so nobody could see her feet.

Because that would have been me. 

And then something happens. I return to camp at the end of the day and can't find Fable anywhere. I ask Archer if he's seen her lately and he hasn't. He hasn't seen her all day, he says. We look in all of the classrooms and finally spot her through the open door of the auditorium, hand in hand with the same girls who were laughing at her earlier, hair clips still in tact, every single one.

They're dancing. Together. All of them.

I am stunned.

I shouldn't be. She's my kid and I know her by heart. And yet...

Because that wouldn't have been me, I feel jolted.

And relieved. And grateful. And idiotic. And amazed. And and and and...

"How was your day?"

"It was just amazing," she says, talking with her hands. "I drew so many princesses. "
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***

Fable used to tell me that in the years before she was born, she spent a lot of her time hanging out inside my leg. It is one of my favorite things I have ever heard and I regularly picture her balled up behind my knee, moving me forward. I imagine her there, in my calf, helping me navigate elementary school and then junior high and beyond... I imagine her there when I found out I was pregnant with her brother. When I married her dad. And until this day, five years ago, when she broke free and into my arms.

I imagine trace amounts of her there, still. In my legs and my gut and my head. What would Fable do, I think, in many instances. How would she handle this. 

I was so afraid of mothering daughters. I used to write about it all the time when I was pregnant with her and then in those months after she was born. I struggled with my own femininity for years. I still do in a way. But with Fable came a great love and respect for myself that was never there before. I looked into the eyes of my daughter and fell in love with womankind. She was my connection to the women before me and the women after her and the dominos fell one by one from there.

I took my hands out of my pockets and joined hands with my fellow sisters. Daughters once. Daughters always. Just like mine.
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***

Fable was honored yesterday at the Student of the Month assembly. Her first month at a big kid school and there she was, beaming on stage, holding her sticker and her certificate, like, "can you believe this?"

And of course I can. Of course I could. But also, wow. 

When Fable's teacher described why she chose her, it was this: "She's such a bright kid."

And I thought, YES. That is it! That is exactly what she is. She is brightness personified. Intelligent and interesting, wise and whimsical. Confident and mighty and colorful and creative and BRIGHT. 
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This year she's going as a rainbow for Halloween. She is the dream I had for myself when I was her age. But more importantly she is the dream she has for herself in this moment. The strong, self-aware, fiercely independent rainbow bright. 
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Fable was born with an innate ability to draw hearts around everyone, to be visible and open and generous with her light. To make friends with everyone she meets.

Instead of compromising who she was that first day of camp, instead of suppressing and bottling and hiding all of the things that make her different and unique and amazing, she wore those clips with pride. She wears ALL OF IT with pride. And joy. And brightness.

...Even when the older girls laugh.

Or tell her her socks don't match...

... that rainbow isn't a color. 

Even when she feels the sting of hesitationInstead of acquiescing to her critics, she dances with them. She takes their hands in hers and she dances.
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***

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GGC

01 Oct 15:51

Fifth Blogaversary Celebration… Scavenger Hunt!

by Kyle

In honor of five years of Butchtastic, let’s have a scavenger hunt!  Let’s have a winner and a prize!  Who’s in?

———– THE CONTEST —————————-

I’ll be collecting entries until Midnight, October 7th.  The most complete entry will be declared the winner and if I receive more than one completed and correct entry, I’ll draw names to determine the winner.  The winner gets….. I’d love to say I could fly to where they live and take them out for dinner but I don’t have that kind of budget, so I hope offering a signed copy of Salacious magazine with my story in it will be incentive enough. (if you already have a copy, we can negotiate and come up with a reasonable replacement prize).

Here’s what you do…

Scavenger ‘items’ to collect:

  1. On what date did I first reference Roxy in a blog post, and what was the blog title?
  2. What was Butches in the A.M.? Who were the cast members?
  3. When was the first Suburban Butch Dad Report posted, and what was the subject?
  4. What the heck is ‘Cock Soup’?
  5. What blog provided the key inspiration for Butchtastic?
  6. Where did Roxy and I meet?
  7. What is my favorite kind of liquor?
  8. What did I post as my first HNT?
  9. When did I post the first picture featuring my cleavage?
  10. What was the first picture I posted that was taken by Roxy?
  11. At what point did I come out as trans?
  12. Did I ever refer to myself as ‘she/her’ in a blog post?
  13. How old is Spawn1? How about Spawn2?
  14. In terms of my life history, who is Jaz?
  15. Who originated Microfantasy Mondays?
  16. BONUS:  a correct answer here is worth two others – What was the title of my first published story and where was it published?

You can comment here with your answers (I’m not going to approve the comment, because I don’t want to give away the answers) or you can email me at Kyle at Butchtastic dot net

Have fun!!!

(it’s possible I could be bribed for hints…. )

©2013 Butchtastic. All Rights Reserved.

.
01 Oct 13:00

Considering Trans and Queer Appropriation

by -julia
Within the activist circles I run in, I routinely hear people accuse others of appropriation, or claim that certain behaviors or endeavors are appropriative. I myself have written about how certain people (e.g., cisgender academics and media producers) sometimes appropriate transgender identities and experiences (discussed more below). So I am certainly sympathetic to the concept.


At the same time, however, I have seen the concept of appropriation used (or misused) in order to undermine marginalized groups as well. For instance, cisgender feminists have long accused trans women of “appropriating female dress” or “appropriating women’s identities”—indeed, if you click the link you will see that this was part of the justification for why Sylvia Rivera was kicked off the stage at a 1973 Pride rally in New York City. On Cathy Brennan’s anti-trans-dyke website “Pretendbians” (which I refuse to link to), the byline at the top of the webpage says: “We don't hate you, we hate appropriation”—the implication being that trans women cannot ever be actual lesbians, but rather we can only appropriate lesbian identities and culture.

Recently, on several occasions, I have heard trans people claim that cisgender people who perform drag, or who crossdress as part of a Halloween costume, appropriate trans people’s identities and culture. Such statements surprised me, in part, because they are so eerily similar to the aforementioned accusations of appropriation that trans-exclusive radical feminists have levied against us. But what struck me even more was how such claims represent a complete about face from the direction that transgender activism had been taking during the ’90s and early ’00s. During that era, we tended to celebrate binary-shattering activities. Trans activists didn’t merely discuss our own gender-non-conformity, but we emphasized the fact that most of us (whether trans or not) transgress gender norms at some points in our lives. Indeed, trans activists often encouraged forms of gender transgression in the cisgender majority, as it was generally believed that such expressions would help undermine binary gender norms throughout society.

And suddenly now in 2013, some trans people are essentially taking the exact opposite approach by discouraging cisgender people from transgressing gender norms (via accusations that such actions represent an appropriation of transgender identities and culture).


In the wake of all these claims, I have done a lot of thinking about appropriation over the last year. And I have come to the conclusion that the issue is way more complicated than the cut-and-dried “appropriation-is-always-bad” perspective that seems to predominate in activist settings. While we should be concerned about appropriation (especially certain manifestations of it), we should also be cognizant of some of the negative ramifications that can arise from the indiscriminate or overzealous use of the concept. In this essay, I will share some of my thoughts on this matter.


For the record, my main focus here will be accusations of appropriation with regards to gender and sexuality, and what they mean for transgender and queer (e.g., LGBTQIA+) communities and activism. Some of what I say may have import for thinking about other instances of cultural appropriation (e.g., with regards to ethnicity, class, religion, nationality, etc.). However, LGBTQIA+ identities and cultures are unique in a number of ways (which I will address toward the end of the piece), and this may limit the usefulness of applying what I say here to other such instances of appropriation.


What is “appropriation,” and why (or perhaps when) is it bad?


In the most general sense, appropriation occurs when we take something that somebody else has created and use it for our own purposes. For example, I can appropriate a certain chord progression others have previously used in order to create a new song. Or I could appropriate another person’s theory and apply it to a new problem. If I like your fashion-sense, I may appropriate your style. Humans beings are highly social animals: We are imitators, and we learn language, fashion, traditions, expressions, and ideas from one another. As the saying goes, there is nothing new under the sun. Almost everything we create has its origins elsewhere—we are constantly adopting, adapting, and repurposing other people’s past creations and reconstructing them in novel ways. So appropriation—in the most general sense—is an everyday part of human life.


Within social justice movements, we typically use the word “appropriation” in a more specific sense: to describe instances where a dominant and/or majority group takes up some tangible or intangible aspect of a marginalized and/or minority community. Sometimes it is the marginalized/minority group’s identity that gets appropriated—for instance, members of the dominant/majority group may claim that identity for themselves, or create their own depictions of members of that group (which typically resemble the dominant/majority group’s assumptions and stereotypes rather than the marginalized/minority group’s lived realities). Other times, it is the minority group’s culture (e.g., their language, art, beliefs, religions, traditions, rituals, and fashions) that gets appropriated. Often cited examples include when Western countries appropriate art and artifacts from nations they have colonized, or appropriate their spiritual practices and traditions (as seen with the popularity of Yoga and Buddhism here in the U.S.). Or in how white America has historically appropriated musical styles that had their origins in African-American communities (e.g., jazz, rock-n-roll, hip-hop). And so on.


So if appropriation (in the most general sense) is a basic human tendency, why is it considered to be bad when dominant/majority groups appropriate from marginalized/minority groups? I would argue that there are at least three non-mutually-exclusive reasons why this is so:


Erasure: Marginalized/minority groups have little power or voice in society. Therefore, when the dominant/majority group takes up their identities, ideas, and other cultural creations, it tends to undermine or erase the context in which they were created, and the original meanings and symbolism that underlie them. In other words, the dominant/majority typically takes up the marginalized/minority group’s creations while disregarding their perspective. Sometimes the fact that the appropriated items had their origins within the marginalized/minority group (rather than the dominant/majority) gets overlooked or forgotten.


Exploitation: Sometimes members of the dominant/majority group will materially profit from aspects or acts that they have appropriated from a marginalized/minority group without ever giving anything back to that community. This tends to further exacerbate economic disparities that may already exist between the two groups.


Denigration: This can refer to a couple different things. Denigration can mean “to treat or represent as lacking in value or importance; belittle,” which applies to instances where important or sacred aspects of the marginalized/minority group’s identity or culture are appropriated by the dominant/majority group in an irreverent or disrespectful manner. Denigration can also mean “to speak damagingly of; criticize in a derogatory manner; sully; defame: to denigrate someone's character,” which applies to instances where the dominant/majority group appropriates some aspect of the marginalized/minority group’s identity or culture in order to purposefully ridicule, parody, or insult members of that group.[1]


As I mentioned earlier, in my past writings (specifically in Whipping Girl), I have critiqued the way in which cisgender media producers and academic researchers have appropriated trans people in their art and theories, for instance, when they hold us up as examples of gender ambiguity or liminality.[2] Such instances are problematic because:
  • They erase the marginalized group’s voice and perspective (as trans people are depicted as merely symbols or metaphors, while our real-life circumstances and issues as a marginalized population are completely ignored). 
  • They exploit the marginalized group (as many a cisgender media producers have made lots of money capitalizing on the exoticness of gender variant lives, and some cisgender gender theorist have garnered success and built their careers upon interpreting trans people’s bodies and identities, without giving anything back to the trans community). 
  • They denigrate the marginalized group (in that cisgender media producers and academic researchers often outright dismiss or discount trans people’s self-accounts, fail to take trans people’s struggles seriously, and sometimes even blatantly ridicule or demean trans people in the process).

I believe that these three phenomena—erasure, exploitation, and denigration (or “EED” for short)—encapsulate most, if not all, of what typically concerns activists when they critique instances of appropriation.


Once we recognize EED, it becomes clear why dominant/majority groups’ appropriation of marginalized/minority identities and cultures can be a bad thing, but not vice versa. After all, marginalized/minority groups have relatively little power or voice in society, and thus are not in a position to erase or exploit the identity and culture of the dominant/majority group. And while marginalized/minority groups may choose to denigrate the dominant/majority group, it will only have a limited effect, as the dominant/majority group is already taken for granted, respected, and viewed as the norm throughout society.


Non-EED appropriation


Thus far, I have argued that appropriation is a bad thing when it leads to erasure, exploitation, and/or denigration of the marginalized/minority group. And most activists (including myself) would agree that instances of EED appropriation should be challenged and critiqued. However, there are other occurrences where appropriation (in the most general sense) occurs, but it does not necessarily erase, exploit, or denigrate the marginalized/minority group—I will refer to these instances as non-EED appropriation.  


Here are a few examples of non-EED appropriation of trans people:
  • A cisgender academic could carry out a research project that focuses on issues and obstacles that trans people are most concerned about. This project could be done in a way that respects trans people’s perspectives and opinions, and portrays us in a realistic manner (rather than relying on stereotypes or reducing us to metaphors). The final product (e.g., an article or book) could be described as appropriative in that it uses trans people’s realities, ideas, perspectives, and experiences, despite the fact that it amplifies trans voices and has the potential to create positive change for trans communities.
  • There have been several instances in which cisgender students have attended school crossdressed in order to show support for a transgender classmate. Such acts could be described as appropriative, yet they are done out of respect and in support of trans people. Much like students who shave their heads in support of a student who is going through chemotherapy, such acts can help de-stigmatize and lend legitimacy toward the marginalized/minority group in question.
  • Over the years, I have met a number of cisgender people who appreciate transgender perspectives and culture. For instance, they might have learned a lot from trans authors, and they may recommend those books to others. They might enjoy performances by transgender spectrum artists or patronize transgender film festivals. They do this out of genuine respect, and their actions do help to promote trans voices and to put money into the hands of trans performers and writers. Yet the person in question could be described as appropriating trans culture in a non-EED sense.
  • Cisgender people who are partners of trans people sometimes start their own support or discussion groups. While such groups may focus a lot on partner-specific issues, they will also discuss how to be supportive of the trans people in their lives and how to challenge societal cissexism. Such groups may have a net-positive effect on trans communities, by directly supporting relationships in which trans people are involved, and by demystifying and de-stigmatizing trans sexualities and relationships. Despite these benefits, some trans people may claim that the group members appropriate trans identities (by positioning themselves as “trans partners”) and/or appropriate the oppression trans people face by discussing how it impacts their own lives.

· 
Now it is quite likely that these four examples have evoked a range of feelings among trans people who read this. Some may have positive feelings about the cisgender people in question—they may be described as allies or advocates, and their actions (while arguably appropriative in the most general sense) may be welcomed with open arms. Other trans activists might have a negative view of said people, dismissing them as “tourists” who are privileged in ways that trans people are not, and who are reaping the benefits of a marginalized/minority population while not having to endure the harsh realities of actually being trans themselves. (Indeed, I have heard these latter critiques made with increasing frequency lately.)


In other words, while most activists would agree that EED appropriation is a bad thing, there is significant disagreement about whether non-EED appropriation is bad, neutral, or good. In thinking through these differences of opinion, it seems to me that whether a marginalized/minority group member has a positive or negative view of non-EED appropriation hinges on two interrelated axes: stigma-versus-acceptance, and integration-versus-separatism.


Stigma versus acceptance


The more highly stigmatized a group is, the less likely it is that the dominant/majority group will even attempt to appropriate aspects of their identity or culture, as doing so will only lead to them becoming tainted by said stigma. However, if the marginalized/minority group becomes more accepted over time, there will be less of a social price to pay for associating oneself with that group. Thus, as acceptance of the group increases, so do the chances that others will engage in non-EED appropriation.


From the marginalized/minority group’s perspective, non-EED appropriation is often welcomed when the group is highly stigmatized, as the group appreciates any genuine outsider interest and support they can get. But as the group becomes more established and accepted in society, such appropriation starts to feel more like an invasion, as more and more dominant/majority members seemingly want to associate with their identity and take part in their culture.


When I was a young adult (e.g., in the ’80s and ’90s), there was a ton of stigma associated with being trans—way more than there is today. Because of that stigma, very few cis people would have dared to go to a transgender event or taken part in a trans-related demonstration, as the cisgender majority would likely have viewed them as suspect as a result. The rare cis people who were willing to associate with trans people back then were often viewed in a positive light and welcomed into the community. For instance, the first transgender spectrum support/social group that I belonged to had the phrase “and friends” tacked onto the end of the title, and partners, family, and friends were regularly welcome to attend meetings.[3] Even in the early ’00s, when I was active in the San Francisco Bay Area’s trans community, there was a sense that cis partners and close friends of trans folks were a part of our community too, and they would often take the stage at trans events. I’m sure today that some people would dismiss this as “cis people using their privilege in order to take up space at trans events,” but that would overlook the very different reality of that time. Back then, very few people supported trans people, and those that genuinely did were embraced as part of our community.


Things are very different now. There is still quite a lot of cissexism out there, but in certain segments in our culture (e.g., especially in queer, feminist, and social justice circles) there is an acknowledgement that trans people are legitimate, and that cisgender people should be good allies to gender variant folks. In such settings, being aware of transgender politics and culture may be seen as a sign that a person is a good progressive or activist. Indeed, this may lead to an increase in what might be called “faux allies”—people who are not especially concerned with trans people and issues, nor personally invested in trans communities, yet who nevertheless regard themselves as allies of trans people because to do otherwise would potentially garner disdain from other progressives or activists.


Furthermore, the fact that we currently exist in an era where there is a mix of both societal cissexism and trans acceptance—and where the former is viewed as conservative and close-minded, and the latter viewed as progressive and open-minded—means that an awareness of trans culture and politics can allow a person to be seen by others as worldly, cutting edge, or “hip.” Thus, just as hipster straight folks began to appropriate aspects of gay and lesbian identity and culture during the ’90s and ’00s, more and more cisgender people are now appropriating aspects of trans identities and culture.


It would be relatively easy for someone like myself, who lives in a very progressive part of the country, to pan the influx of cisgender people who suddenly seem interested in trans people and culture. While it may potentially be annoying, it is also a sign of our increasing legitimacy in the eyes of society. And frankly, having lived through the past, I would much rather be in our current situation than where we were several decades ago (or where other trans folks in more conservative parts of the country remain today) where trans people are viewed as pariahs, and nobody wants anything to do with us, appropriation or otherwise.


Integration versus separatism


Activists who have a positive or neutral view of non-EED appropriation often imagine the ultimate goal of their activism as being the complete integration of their group within mainstream society. By integration, I mean that the group’s identity, perspectives, and culture are viewed as unique, but also as a legitimate part of the culture at large.


One can see examples of integration in how certain groups that have immigrated to the U.S. from other countries are now seen as both distinct yet legitimately part of the culture. For example, I am of Italian (father’s side) and Irish (mother’s side) heritage. A century ago, when my grandparents and great-grandparents lived in the U.S., they were highly marginalized. The dominant/majority (primarily Protestants of Northern European ancestry) blatantly discriminated against them with regards to employment and housing, and used derogatory slang terms to refer to them. They were routinely ridiculed for their religion (Catholicism), and stereotyped as criminals, drunkards, lazy, etc. Some of my older relatives have told me about how, when they were young, neighborhood parents wouldn’t let their children play with them because of their ethnicity. Even during my parent’s generation (in the ’50s), many in the dominant/majority wouldn’t have approved of their children marrying someone of Irish or Italian descent.


Nowadays, Irish- and Italian-Americans are generally seen as part of U.S. culture, and this integration is due to both U.S. culture rubbing of on Irish- and Italian-Americans, as well as Irish- and Italian-Americans influencing U.S. culture.[4] Americans of various persuasions eat at Pizza parlors and drink at Irish pubs; we all watch Martin Scorsese films and celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. While such activities are clearly examples of non-EED appropriation, they are not viewed by most people (both within and outside of Irish- and Italian-American communities) as “appropriation” in the negative sense. Rather, they are viewed more as “cultural appreciation” than “cultural appropriation.”[5]


One can also see this integration and growing cultural appreciation in mainstream attitudes toward gays and lesbians, at least in some sectors of the country. The first Gay Pride events in the ’70s were far more like protests or demonstrations rather than celebrations, and the average straight person wouldn’t dare set a foot anywhere near them. Nowadays, Queer Pride parades are (for better or for worse) endorsed by mainstream corporations, covered by the mainstream media, and many (if not most) of the audience members are straight (not unlike the countless people of non-Irish heritage who show up to New York’s annual St. Patrick’s Day parade). This non-EED appropriation/cultural appreciation can also be seen in the rise in popularity of gay-themed TV shows and movies, the embrace of gay artists and celebrities, and so on.


As these examples illustrate, when marginalized/minority groups are highly stigmatized (as Irish- and Italian-Americans were in the early 1900’s, and as gay people were in the ’60s and ’70s), they tend to be relegated to their own communities, and there is not much culture permeability between them and the dominant/majority group. But as stigma lessens and integration begins to occur, the marginalized/minority group and the dominant/majority groups inevitably become somewhat culturally permeable. And non-EED appropriation plays a major role in this process, as both a contributing factor to, and the net result of, that permeability.


Of course, not all members within a particular marginalized/minority group will strive for integration, or welcome the cultural permeability that comes with it. Some individuals may feel that their unique identities, language, and traditions are being watered down or made impure by mainstream non-EED appropriation. Such people may want to keep their culture pure via taking a more separatist stance, such as discouraging or limiting the dominant/majority group’s access to their culture. Such people are way more likely to critique non-EED appropriation as “oppressive appropriation” rather than “cultural appreciation,” and to view it as just as bad as (or as merely an extension of) EED appropriation.


It should be noted that people who take on more separatist stances typically look down upon members of their own group who strive for integration, often dismissing them as being “assimilationists.” For example, separatist-oriented queers who complain about straight mainstream folks who appropriate Queer Pride and queer culture more generally are also likely to dismiss LGBTQIA+ people who dress gender-normatively, or same-sex couples who seek out legal recognition of their marriages, as being assimilationist. This usage of the word “assimilationist” is meant to be pejorative, and synonymous with the words “sell out” or “traitor.”


This conflating of integration with assimilation is rather off the mark. After all, true assimilation would be to completely blend in with straight culture—to be “closeted” or “stealth.” In contrast, someone who moves through the world as an out queer person (regardless of how they dress), and who is part of a visibly same-sex marriage, isn’t engaging in assimilation by any means. Rather, they are part of an integration process.


So one might ask: What purpose do these accusations of “assimilation” serve? It seems to me that they are meant to undermine members of one’s own community who strive for integration, by insinuating that such individuals are traitors, and thus illegitimate or inauthentic members of the group. This sort of identity policing helps to maintain a level of cultural impermeability between the marginalized/minority group and the dominant/majority group. Indeed, understanding this allows one to recognize that accusations of “assimilation” and non-EED “appropriation” are essentially flip sides of the same coin: the latter maintains cultural impermeability by delegitimizing members of the dominant/majority group who cross identity or community boundaries, while the former delegitimizes members of the marginalized/minority group who are perceived as doing the same.


Now, I could make some grandiose claim like, “Integration is the righteous path, whereas separatism will ultimately lead to our doom” (or vice versa), but I am not about to. In my book Excluded: Making Feminist and Queer Movements More Inclusive, I decry such one-size-fits-all approaches to activism. The truth is that both approaches have some negative drawbacks. Separatism generally favors sameness over difference, and in doing so, it leaves behind many members of the marginalized/minority group in question. For instance, separatist-oriented queers who decry assimilationists and instances straight people engaging in non-EED appropriation seem to want to preserve some kind of idealistic notion of queer culture that they have experienced, enjoyed, and/or felt empowered by in the past. That version of queer culture probably resonated with them because they were accepted within that culture. In contrast, while I am politically queer, I have never felt fully welcome in queer communities and spaces, mostly because I am a transsexual woman, but also because I am bisexual and femme—three identities that often lead me to be dismissed as an inauthentic or illegitimate queer in those spaces.


Of course, I could turn around and create (or participate in) femme, or bisexual, or trans woman separatist movements. But even if I did feel welcome and empowered in such communities, there would inevitably be many other members of my marginalized/minority group who would feel excluded from them


While I tend to fall on the integrationist side of the spectrum, I do understand why separatist tendencies exist. Some marginalized/minority group members may feel irrevocably injured or violated by the dominant/majority group, and as a result, they may not want to have anything to do with them. As a result, they might view people (like myself) who seem to blur strict distinctions between queer and straight (on the basis that I am bisexual, femme, and/or trans), and who strive for integration rather than separatism, as potentially threatening because we “undermine the movement.” (And of course, whenever people refer to “the movement,” what they really mean is “their movement.”)


Furthermore, while I will never feel welcome or relevant in certain queer spaces—such as the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, which explicitly excludes trans women from attending—I nevertheless recognize that such separatist communities do develop their own unique culture, and that the cultural permeability that comes with integration and non-EED appropriation would inevitably change that culture. While I might view such an evolution in a positive light, I understand that others would view it negatively, and perceive any such changes as a loss of the original culture that they very much cherished.


So rather than frame integration and separatism in terms of a good-versus-bad binary, I believe that it is more useful to recognize them as two general tendencies that always seem to arise within marginalized/minority groups. And while we (i.e., integrationists and separatists) might agree that EED appropriation is a bad thing that should be challenged, we will invariably view instances of non-EED appropriation very differently.


The case for cultural permeability with regards to gender and sexuality


While disagreements about integration versus separatism exist within most marginalized/minority groups, there are a few additional reasons why those of us who are marginalized because of our genders and/or sexualities should think twice before enforcing cultural impermeability via accusations of non-EED appropriation.


The first has to do with what I refer to in Excluded as the insider/outsider myth. The myth assumes that some of us (for instance, members of a particular LGBTQIA+ subgroup) are legitimate members of the group—that is, “insiders”—who are allowed to freely participate in queer cultures, whereas other people (e.g., the straight majority) are “outsiders” who can only appropriate our identities and culture.


This sort of insider/outsider mentality may make some sense in thinking about cultural appropriation based on nationality, ethnicity, religion, etc., where some people are born into and socialized within that culture, whereas others are not. Of course, even in such cases, there will always be people who are of mixed nationality, ethnicity, religion, etc.—people who Gloria Anzaldúa famously described as living in the borderlandsbetween two identities or cultures.


However, this insider/outsider framing completely falls apart when considering the identities and cultures of gender and sexual minorities. After all, almost all of us grow up in straight families and communities. While we may have experienced ourselves as different from the straight majority in some way as young children, we did not initially have LGBTQIA+ identities or culture to help us make sense of our lives. Rather, we tend to discover these identities over time: We hear someone mention the identity, we seek out books and websites to learn more about them, we try these identities on for size ourselves, we connect with other people who we believe are “like us” in that way, and so on. The first time we enter a particular LGBTQIA+ space (whether it be a gay bar, a trans support group, or an asexual online discussion group) we often feel like outsiders, and we experience a steep learning curve in trying to understand the language and customs associated with the group.


In other words, we discoverLGBTQIA+ identities and cultures. And one could say that all gender and sexual minorities are appropriators, as virtually all of us have adopted identities and participate in cultures that others created before us, and which we were not initially socialized into. Indeed, the onlypeople who are immersed in queer cultures from the start of their lives are children of queer parents, and the majority of them turn out to be straight!


Permeability between straight and queer identities and culture is essential for LGBTQIA+ self-actualization and empowerment. Furthermore, when a straight person engages in a stereotypically queer activity, it may be an act of appropriation, but it could also be experimenting or questioning on their part. I have heard queer people accuse straight people who make out with one another of “queer appropriation”—when I do, I often reply, “Well how do you know that neither of them will come to identify as gay/lesbian or bisexual someday?”[6] And even if the people in question do end up being straight, isn’t the fact that nowadays people can engage in same-sex kissing without being ostracized a sign that that heterosexist norm is eroding?


Along similar lines, don’t instances where cisgender people crossdress or engage in other forms of non-EED gender-non-conformity help to deteriorate binary gender norms? Shouldn’t we be celebrating such instances of permeability between genders and sexualities rather than condemning them as appropriation?


And if we do decide to call out certain people’s genders and sexualities as “appropriative,” then where exactly do we draw the line? And who gets screwed as a result? Doesn’t the claim that heterosexuals-shouldn’t-appropriate-queer-culture pretty much leave bisexual/pansexual folks especially vulnerable to accusations of appropriation? And doesn’t the claim that men-shouldn’t-appropriate-women’s-oppression leave trans women especially susceptible to similar criticism?


This leads us to another crucial point: Accusations of appropriation are essentially claims about authenticity.[7] Specifically, they create a binary wherein certain people (i.e., the marginalized/minority group) are considered to be authentic when they engage in a particular activity, whereas others (i.e., the dominant/majority group) cannot authentically engage in that same act. Rather they can only appropriate it.


This specter of “inauthenticity” isn’t nearly so troubling when it comes to other forms of cultural appropriation. For instance, the implication that white folks/Westerners are “inauthentic” when they perform reggae or practice Yoga is not meant to be an indictment of their natural abilities. After all, nobody is born performing reggae or practicing Yoga—these are leaned skills and traditions. Rather, the “authenticity” that is invoked simply refers to whether one was socialized within the culture that originally created these practices versus whether one was raised in an outsider culture and only discovered and took up such practices later in life.


In sharp contrast, there is ample evidence that sex, gender, and sexuality naturally vary in the population, not only because of culture and environment, but also because of biological variation.[8] And all of us are socialized into cultures where there are a multitude of different expressions of gender and sexuality. Some of these expressions may be considered feminine, masculine, or androgynous. They may be described as queer or straight, or as unusual or normal. But regardless of what labels and meanings others might project onto these different gender and sexual expressions, all of these variations exist within the society in which we are raised. They are arguably all a part of our culture.


While sex, gender, and sexuality naturally vary within the population, we live in a world where such expressions and identities are highly policed. And they are primarily policed via the tropes of “authenticity” and “naturalness.”


In the culture at large, feminine gender expressions and attraction toward men are viewed as authentic and natural when expressed by women, but not by men. Masculine gender expressions and attraction toward women are viewed as authentic and natural when expressed by men, but not by women. Penile-vaginal penetration sex between monogamous partners is viewed as the only authentic and natural form of sex, whereas most other sexual interests and acts are dismissed as inauthentic and unnatural.


The concepts of “authentic,” “natural,” and “real” lie at the heart of almost all manifestations of societal cissexism. The notion that transsexuals are not “authentic” women or men, or that genderqueer people have not chosen an “authentic” gender, enable the cisgender majority to dismiss our identities as “inauthentic,” and thus misgender us as they see fit. The “trans panic” phenomenon is steeped in assumption that trans people are deceivers who pose as an “inauthentic” gender while hiding our supposed “real” gender. It is commonly presumed that people who partner with trans people do not experience “authentic” attraction to us, but rather that they are driven by some kind of “fetish”—a word derived from the Portuguese word for “artificial.”


The point is that, while gender and sexuality naturally vary, sexual- and gender-non-conformity is rigorously punished in our society via accusations of inauthenticity, whether it be claims that trans people’s gender identities are “inauthentic,” that asexual/bisexual/lesbian/gay people’s sexual attractions (or lack thereof) are “unnatural,” or that straight cisgender people are not “real women” or “real men” because of some relatively minor gender transgression they may have committed (e.g., not shaving their legs, expressing too much emotion, or having a gender atypical occupation). And calling someone’s non-EED expressions of gender or sexuality “appropriative” is really just another way of dismissing them as “inauthentic” (which is precisely why trans-exclusive radical feminists so frequently accuse trans women of appropriation, as it depicts us as merely fakes, pretenders, impersonators, and imposters).


There are no “authentic” expressions of gender and sexuality. There are merely those that are deemed legitimate in society and those that are dismissed as inauthentic. While I understand why some LGBTQIA+ people might be inclined to describe non-EED acts of sexual- and gender-non-conformity as “appropriation” (especially when the person engaging in them appears straight, cisgender, etc.), I fear that such accusations may only perpetuate the real/fake, natural/unnatural, and authentic/inauthentic binaries that are so often used to undermine our own genders and sexualities.


Conclusion


This essay was intended to illustrate that the concept of appropriation is way more complicated than many people seem to realize, and that non-EED appropriation is not necessarily a bad thing, depending on your politics and perspective. Furthermore, I hope that people will recognize that cultural permeability is an absolute necessity for LGBTQIA+ communities to exist and flourish, and that claims that certain non-EED expressions of gender or sexuality are “appropriative” will only lend support to existing binary gender norms and to the false notion that certain genders and sexualities are more “natural,” “real,” or “authentic” than others.


Moving forward, I believe that we should continue to critique instances of EED appropriation, but it would help if we were more explicit about why such instances are bad. Specifically, rather than simply crying “appropriation” (which often conflates EED and non-EED appropriation, and can also implicate acts that merely resemble those that occur in marginalized/minority groups), we should explicitly discuss how such acts either erase, exploit, and/or denigrate the marginalized/minority group in question.


Notes:


1. Definitions from Dictionary.com.


2. See WhippingGirl, pages 195-212.


3. For the record, the group did occasionally have closed meetings where only trans folks themselves could attend. But many, if not most, of the meetings were open to partners and friends as well.


4. It must also be said that these groups were more easily able to integrate because they are both white and Christian, and thus they did not have to overcome the entrenched racism and Christian-centrism that continue to proliferate in the U.S.


5. I have appropriated the phrase "cultural appreciation" from Susan Scafidi, Who Owns Culture?: Appropriation and Authenticity in American Law (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2005); see pages 6-11.


6. Here is a real life example of this: Way back before my transition, I played in a band. And on a few occasions, a male friend from another band and I would make out on stage during our set. We did it primarily for the same reason that Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic of Nirvana famously kissed on national TV—to make homophobes uncomfortable, to challenge heterosexism. I suppose that some people in the audience could have viewed us as two “straight dudes” who were trying to garner “indie-cred” by appropriating queerness, but in reality, both of us had been sexual with men previously and we both eventually wound up identifying as bisexual.


7. This is discussed in great length in Scafidi, Who Owns Culture?, especially pages 52-66.



8. See Excluded: Making Feminist and Queer Movements MoreInclusive, pages 138-168, and references therein.

30 Sep 18:08

181/100

by GIRL'S GONE CHILD
photo
I had no idea I was a huge Jack Johnson fan until I got into the car Friday afternoon and this song was playing and OH, HEY, NAILER OF LYRICS, SINGER SONGWRITER OF MY DREAMS.

If you add us up 
then subtract my lack of sleep. 

I didn't sleep much last week for reasons that have no rhyme. And I'm a little embarrassed by my flare for the dramatic. It sucks being a human being sometimes. And there are plenty of times when I wake up and I'm like "NOOOO! Why did you write that thing?"
photo-1
I've been erasing. 
Rewrote the second half like this 
So my protagonist 
might find his way back home. 

Anyway, this week I promise not to take myself so seriously. But first, because it's Monday, a song.


Found my foundation
It was underneath me all along

Sing it, Jack Johnson. Fist to the chest. Feet on the floor. 
photo-2
181. As I was Saying by: Jack Johnson 

***
IMG_8395
TGINewWeek. 

GGC

29 Sep 04:48

Used, Using, Endless

Today I pushed her head against the mattress and shoved her onto her side. I got on top of her and got off, rubbing hard against her full hip. She’d undone my jeans and tried to touch me, but I held her down. “I want you underneath me, silent,” I said. “Use me,” she said. Her voice told me to keep going. Her breath fluttered. Now there were no more words, just sounds. Sweating, grunting, panting. I climbed her. Over and over. My feet kicked around for a better angle. I spread my thighs wide. My hips thrust hard against her again and again. Grinding against her hip. Not caring if this hurt her. Ignoring what she might want. Right now she wants this. I felt sure. She wants me to take whatever I want.

I stared at the sweat on her face. Her hair was curling, wet on her forehead. I held my face above her and looked at my splayed hand pushing her head down. I held my thumb to her lips and she opened wide. “That’s right,” I whispered, “Show me.” She teased my thumb inside her, sucking and licking. Lightly dragging her teeth against my skin. I pulsed my thumb slowly in and out of her mouth. My own lips hung open just above her. Spit pooled under my tongue and threatened to drip.

I let my head fall into her neck. My hand pushed harder on her head, pressing her down. I was loud. Forceful. My lungs filled fully with each deep breath. I felt myself crashing up against an orgasm so explosive I thought I might hurt her. I might kick or punch her hard. One knee was bent and pressed against her ass. One knee twisting and stretched near her belly. She lay beneath me on her side and I rode her hard. Fucking for my own pleasure. Thinking only about the feeling under my jeans. My cunt, so warm and wet. Enjoying how good and still she was beneath me. I held her there. She stayed in place while I ground my clit hard against her. Raw and swollen in my jeans. Her stillness moved me.

I came loudly. Hard. All my weight forced against her. She groaned beneath me. Both of us drenched in sweat. Her face was wet. My shirt stuck to me. I rolled off of her, breathing hard for a long time. She stared at me. She watched me recover. My belly inflating like a balloon with each rapid, deep breath. My back arched and stretched as pleasure still wound its way all through me.

She traced my lips with her fingers. Smiling. “We’re always fucking,” one of us said. She took a bath and I read on the bed. Resting. I was dropping her off at the train station an hour later. I told her I wanted to fuck her again. “Why don’t you,” she asked and spread her legs apart before shoving my hand inside her panties.

It never ends. Not ever. Not this.

30 Sep 17:14

No More “Allies”

by blackgirldangerous@gmail.com

by Mia McKenzie

I’m kinda over the term “ally.” Between Tim Wise’s recent (but not new) bullshit, a recent visit to a college where some so-called allies don’t even understand basic racism 101, and the constant cookie-seeking of people who just can’t do the right thing unless they are sure they’re gonna get some kind of credit for it, I’m done.

Allyship is not supposed to look like this, folks. It’s not supposed to be about you. It’s not supposed to be about your feelings. It’s not supposed to be a way of glorifying yourself at the expense of the folks you claim to be an ally to. It’s not supposed to be a performance. It’s supposed to be a way of living your life that doesn’t reinforce the same oppressive behaviors you’re claiming to be against. It’s supposed to be about you doing the following things:

  1. shutting up and listening
  2. educating yourself (you could start with the thousands of books and websites that already exist and are chock full of damn near everything anyone needs to know about most systems and practices of oppression)
  3. when it’s time to talk, not talking over the people you claim to be in solidarity with
  4. accepting feedback/criticism about how your “allyship” is causing more harm than good without whitesplaining/mansplaining/whateversplaining
  5. shutting up and listening some more
  6. supporting groups, projects, orgs, etc. run by and for marginalized people so our voices get to be the loudest on the issues that effect us
  7. not expecting marginalized people to provide emotional labor for you

This is by no means a comprehensive list. But most “allies” aren’t even getting these things right.

So, henceforth, I will no longer use the term “ally” to describe anyone. Instead, I’ll use the phrase “currently operating in solidarity with.” Or something. I mean, yeah, it’s clunky as hell. But it gets at something that the label of “ally” just doesn’t. And that’s this: actions count; labels don’t.

(continued below)


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“Currently operating in solidarity with” is undeniably an action. It describes what a person is doing in the moment. It does not give credit for past acts of solidarity without regard for current behavior. It does not assume future acts of solidarity. It speaks only to the actions of the present. Some other options:

  • showing support for…
  • operating with intentionality around…
  • using my privilege to help by…
  • demonstrating my commitment to ending [insert oppressive system] by…
  • showing up for  [insert marginalized group] in the following ways…

These are all better ways of talking about–and thinking about–allyship because they are active, and because they require examples. This is key. Why? Because, as I and countless others have said many, many times, allyship is an every day practice. The work of an ally is never ceasing. As long as the isms are functioning–and they are functioning at full capacity every hour of every day–then the action of allyship must function just as perpetually, just as fully, just as tirelessly.

“Ally” cannot be a label that someone stamps onto you–or, god forbid, that you stamp on to yourself—so you can then go around claiming it as some kind of identity. It’s not an identity. It’s a practice. It’s an active thing that must be done over and over again, in the largest and smallest ways, every day.

Sounds like a lot of work, huh? Sounds exhausting. Well, yeah, it ought to. Because the people who experience racism, misogyny, ableism, queerphobia, transphobia, classism, etc. are exhausted. So, why shouldn’t their “allies” be?

Maybe how exhausted you are is a good measure of how well you’re doing the work.

bgdbwsmaller

 

Mia McKenzie is an award-winning writer and the creator of Black Girl Dangerous.

 

 

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28 Sep 17:17

New Book! “BDSM & Culture: 50 Shades Of Stereotype”

by Clarisse

My new book is available now — I love the cover so much:

Everyone knows what a dominatrix is. We all know what Fifty Shades Of Grey is about. Or do we? If you want to know about the real scandals, visionaries, history, and culture that shape BDSM, then this book is for you.

Buy it on Amazon for Kindle, or in other ebook formats at Smashwords. Tell your friends!

* * *

I decided to write BDSM & Culture when I suddenly realized that lots of my knowledge was wrapped up in my lectures, workshops and events.

I realized that I had not written much about BDSM history, for example. And I wanted to compile all the most interesting BDSM cultural reference points in one place.

My blog and its associated book, The S&M Feminist, is personal and philosophical and contemporary. My book about pickup artists is, well, about pickup artists. I’ve got an anthology about rape in virtual worlds; an erotica novella; and even a story based on Indian mythology.

But I’ve never simply compiled all my knowledge about BDSM stereotypes, cultural tensions, community issues, and other contexts. So here it is — for all the people out there who are as nerdy about sexuality as I am. Enjoy! And if you have any questions left when you’re done, feel free to leave comments.

I’m thinking that this book will be part of a series — the sex+++ series about sexuality and culture. I have some other topics lined up and I’ve been talking to other writers. Stay tuned!

BDSM & Culture: Fifty Shades of Stereotype
* Amazon page for Kindle version
* Smashwords page for other ebook formats

25 Sep 13:30

We deserve to be celebrated

by Jen
Good morning good morning. This morning I was up early, at quarter to five, and managed to actually pull my body from the bed in order to write. Yesterday, too. Maybe I am entering a new (old) creative circadian rhythm. … Continue reading →
07 Sep 15:05

When Leaders Fall

by Loren Berthelsen
Not surprisingly, we expect our leaders to be selfless, tireless and above reproach.  Unfortunately we all too often find out they’re just human, with all of the nasty foibles and faults of ordinary people, which leaves us feeling angry and disillusioned.  Their act of betrayal consumes our focus often obliterating all of the good which... Continue Reading »
05 Sep 21:05

The least you can do.

by Mollena Williams

salvador-dali-time-crashI recently started getting to know a man, having recently met online. Anyone who has done this square-dance knows how tough it is to establish sufficient mutual interest on a dating site and then establish, rather quickly, a pattern of contact and interaction comfortable and reasonably sustainable for all involved parties. Add to that distance and it gets to be quite a complex emotional ecosystem.

This man has, thus far, been good about returning email, we started on Skype, and have been in some sort of contact daily….that is, until he mentioned he was going to have a really packed couple of days of business and travel and would be back in touch toward the end of the week. I thought it was pretty cool that he mentioned it beforehand, and wished him well in his business.

Then, of course, because I’m me, I went into circular loops of ridiculous hyperspeculation where I froze and microtomed and analyzed each and every cell-layer within our interactions and tried to figure out how to survive TWO WHOLE DAYS without an epic rambling Skype chat. It is funny how quickly one can grow accustomed to and desirous of contact with someone, eh?

Upon returning from his trip today and before going to sleep, he took the time to catch up for a few minutes. I couldn’t figure out why I was so surprised and touched, but I was grateful for his taking the time, despite being tired and having shit to do, to stop to say hello and inquire as to how I was doing. When I thanked him for doing so, he replied “It is the least I can do.”

Then it came clear: he was right. If you are trying to get to know someone, or maintain a relationship, it IS the least you can do to respect the desire of the other person to do the same. And yet…I am so, so accustomed to men not even doing “the least they could do” to solidify and nurture our relationships, this small but significant gesture is something that surprises me.

It is not impossible to shift your life around when it means getting what you want. And yet some folks expect other people to do so to suit their needs without the thought of reciprocity. If a friend said to you “I want a car. But I am not willing to budget and save money for it, I don’t want to pay for insurance, gas or maintenance and I want it to run whenever I want it to.” you’d laugh in their face. And yet, in the context of Power Exchange relationships, we see this all of the time.

Dominants are often under the impression that they are free to remain calcified and static and let submissives turn themselves inside out in order to please them because that is the nature of submission, of slavery, of ownership.

I remember the slow, crushing sense of devastation when a dominant to whom I had submitted was finding it frustrating that we had to have some Big Talk go down in order to re-align things that had fallen off-track in our relationship. “I thought slaves were supposed to make your life easier!” he joked. Of course. For me, this was a tricky moment because my first reaction was to think “He is right. I am being too high maintenance and I should shut up and shut down.” My second reaction was to say “Hold on…Prime Directive” here…I am supposed to bring issues to his attention. Especially when the issue is that he is not keeping his word on having these heart-to-heart talks and that is impacting the foundation of our trust. Shit.”

The least we can do when we are trying to build trust to create relationships, to let someone know we wish to be there for them is to actually make time. Time is, hands down, THE most PRECIOUS commodity one owns. And to have someone offer me that is a gift I do not take for granted. And I hope none of us in power exchange relationships ever, ever forget that.

You are intrinsically worthy of time and attention from your partners. You ought not to have to “earn” that and you sure as hell are not “needy” or “high-maintenance” (I loathe this being used as a pejorative. High-maintenance often means high-performance) because you crave and NEED to attention and affection of a partner. Isn’t that WHY we form these relationships in the first place? Our need for attention? Affection? Contact? Love? To be seen and valued?

Anyway, who can say if things with this new Swedish dominant will flourish. Maybe, maybe not. I can however, already say I am grateful to have had the reminder that even “the least you can do” can carry some weight, and warm the heart of someone who has been a bit bruised in the past.

20 Sep 06:24

if trans women aren’t welcome, neither am I

by sexgeek

The question of whether or not to include trans women in women’s sexuality-based events is old and tiresome, but it still comes up with some regularity. I recently responded to a discussion on this topic and I realized that it might be useful to post my thoughts here, as I don’t know that I’ve ever done so in full.

I see a few main underlying assumptions come up in these discussions, and I’d like to counter them. Some of these arguments are stated outright, while others seem implicit in the language people tend to use. Most counter-arguments I’ve seen focus on the stated arguments, but I’d like to incorporate the underlying ones too, which makes the discussion a bit broader.

Comments are welcome, as always. That said, I realize that comments on posts like this often veer into the territory of flame-war pretty quickly. As a result I’m going to keep a tight rein on the comments here, and I may shut down comments fairly early in the game if only because so much of what might come up has already been said and I don’t think it’s worth rehashing lots of it here. This post is a position statement, not an invitation to a grand debate.

***

Assumption 1. There exists such thing as a “safe space.”

I feel strongly that the idea of safe space is a really dangerous one, no matter who’s claiming it for what space. It seems like there’s an underlying assumption in some comments that safe space does indeed exist or that it’s something worth striving for. For me, as soon as the concept comes up, whether this precise term is used or it just seems to be implied, I immediately become super uncomfortable and feel very concerned about how people will behave in whatever space is being discussed. I’ve seen this idea used as a battering ram, essentially, in way too many contexts, usually as a way to police behaviour in a mean-spirited manner or to exclude people or create an “in-crowd” of people who “get it.” Doesn’t really matter whether it’s an activist space, a party, a conference, whatever. Almost universally, it’s about people buying into a fantasy of safety that simply does not match reality—and making a lot of people quite unsafe by using policing-style behaviour.

In reality, you are only “safe” from things that might make you uncomfortable or triggered if you stay at home where you have absolute control over everything that happens (and even then, not always). Each person’s idea of “safe” is different, and therefore a group space cannot possibly be “safe.” “Safe” isn’t real, and as such I believe it’s not worth investing energy in. It’s much better, in my opinion, to create spaces where there are a few clear rules for acceptable behaviour (which does *not* depend on identity or status of any kind, gender or otherwise), a stated expectation of kindness and goodwill, and one or several people who are in charge of smoothing things out if they go wrong.

Assumption 2. We all have the right to expect to be comfortable in sexual space.

Speaking as someone who’s spent well over a decade attending group sexual events large and small in dozens of cities all over the world, I can say that no matter what the gender rules are for a given space, it is best for me to go into them not expecting to feel comfortable, *ever*. I’ve felt horribly uncomfortable at “women-only” events, and super comfortable in totally gender-mixed spaces. And vice versa too. The factors in that comfort level include people’s attitudes in general, the vibe and layout of the space, the level of alcohol consumption, temperature, the level of privacy, the loudness or nature/content of a scene or sex happening nearby, the organizers’ style, whether or not there’s pressure to play or fuck, the music, how high or stoned people are, what kind of porn is screening, the racial or age or body size or gender mix of the crowd, the presence or absence of one or two specific people… all of these things come into play in terms of my own comfort level, and they are not things I can know or expect going in.

I think we need to stop expecting sexual spaces to be comfortable in the first place, and understand that a thing that makes one of us feel right at home might make someone else feel sick to their stomach. (An intense blood play scene in the middle of the room… the presence of lots of butches… the opportunity to get high… Can you guess which one of those make me feel comfortable and which I find hard to handle? There is at least one of each. Do you think I would accurately guess your response to the same criteria?)

Most crucially, we need to remember that the exclusion of trans women is not the primary standard of comfort for everyone, or even for most people, or even for most cisgender dykes. When we expect a given space to make us feel comfortable in the first place, and then we reduce this question of comfort to a question of whether or not trans women are there, we are functioning from a very skewed picture of what actually makes a space comfortable for anyone outside our own selves, and making a lot of really unfounded assumptions about what works for everyone else around us too.

Assumption 3. One person having a trigger is a legitimate reason to exclude someone else from an event.

Here’s a list of some of the triggers and squicks I’ve encountered among the people I’ve met in the last few years as a travelling sex educator and event organizer: seeing someone taking off their belt; being touched on the belly; seeing porn; hearing the terms “fat,” “ugly,” and “stupid”; seeing blood; hearing a deep voice; seeing a masculine-presenting person fucking a feminine-presenting person doggy-style; seeing testicles (though a penis would be fine); military uniforms; finding out someone is bisexual or not a “gold-star” lesbian or gay man; watching age play or being in the presence of “littles”…  I could go on. The thing about a trigger is that it’s deeply personal, by its very nature. Sometimes it’s about past trauma, sometimes not. I know that for me, if I saw someone do a food play scene, I’d have to either leave the room or vomit, and I couldn’t tell you why—that’s just how it is.

Regardless of what it is, it’s super important that we take responsibility for managing our own triggers and squicks rather than expecting spaces to be set up to accommodate us, and all the more so when our trigger is about someone else’s looks, presence or behaviour. Outside basic rules of good behaviour, or specific event attendance rules for specific purposes—for instance, this event is only for people in full-time M/s relationships, or this is an event where everyone is expected to dress head-to-toe in red—it’s really not fair to ask others to curtail their behaviour or hide pieces of themselves in order to be welcome. I would never think of asking someone not to do food play in front of me. My squick, my responsibility to manage.

Assumption 4. Trans women have penises, and I will see those penises if they’re at a sex party.

***Added 2013/09/23: I want to preface this bit by stating in no uncertain terms that the configuration of a person’s genitals is none of my/your/anyone’s business unless you are about to engage in some kind of sexual touching that would require that knowledge. It’s also not a legitimate factor in whether or not someone should be considered to “really be” the gender they say they are. The World Professional Association for Transgender Health takes a strong stand against requiring any kind of surgical modification for someone to “qualify” as their stated gender, and everyone from governments to party organizers should take a cue from them. As well, I want to make it clear that many (most?) trans women don’t refer to their pre- or non-op genitals as “penises.” Some say clit, some say girl-dick, some say strapless – there’s a long list. Women’s individual choices about what they call their bits take precedence over any externally imposed words. Mostly, though, as with the question of what someone’s genitals look like, what they’re called is also none of anyone’s business unless you’re getting sexual together. The following paragraphs cover some basic information about genitals that you can find in a range of trans-101 resources, as well as in the zine I link to in point 9. I’m putting it here purely to counter the misinformation that this particular assumption is based on – not to imply that it’s anyone’s actual business to know what’s going on with any individual trans women’s genitals. ***

I think that a lot of people who are triggered by the idea of penises are *very* unlikely to be upset by most of what they’d see at an event that includes trans women. For starters, a lot of trans women get bottom surgery—I’d say at least three-quarters of the ones I’ve met in dyke contexts, though that’s anecdotal of course. It is much more common for trans women to opt for, and prioritize, bottom surgery than for trans men to do so (which is surely at least in good part due to cost, but also due to expected results).

The women who don’t have bottom surgery yet, but who are planning to, rarely want to show off or use their genitals in public space the way some cisgender men might. For them, the whole point of surgery is that they don’t want to have a penis at all, let alone wave it around in public, even less so among people who may be uncomfortable with that.

Among the trans gals who haven’t had bottom surgery and don’t plan to, the vast majority don’t have genitals that look like what most people would understand or immediately recognize as being a penis—the use of hormones makes the genitals much smaller and softer, and it’s usually not easy to get an erection or ejaculate. If you’re basing your idea of trans women as “chicks with dicks” you may have been watching too much shemale porn—and understand, please, that even in that kind of porn the trans women in question often have to use Viagra to get it up at all, and still often can’t come or ejaculate, and are in many cases keeping their penises for the moment only because porn is a way to earn enough money for bottom surgery. So it’s a bad place to judge from, even though it’s the easiest and quickest place to go if you want to see images of trans women’s non-surgically-altered bits.

Last but not least, there is the rare trans woman who has a dick and who understands it as such and is both capable of and interested in using it in typically “male” ways. All I have to say about that is that if I had one—a dick, that is—so would I! I think a lot of women feel the same if the popularity of strap-ons is any indication, to say nothing of the well-known dyke fascination with gay male porn. I’ve never actually seen this happen at a sex party, in all my travels, and as such I might be a bit surprised if I did. But if I can handle watching countless cis-dykes pound away at each other with dicks they’ve purchased at a store, surely I can handle watching a dyke use one she happens to have grown. We “allow” trans men the freedom to use the parts they were born with to achieve pleasure—surely we can extend that same acceptance to the very rare trans woman who wants to do the same. It seems a very strange thing to start judging, especially when we’re a community of people who gets off on a rather stunning variety of sexual practices to begin with.

And for people who equate “penis” with “ability to rape or assault” and are therefore triggered by the possibility or the reality of seeing one… first, see point 3. Beyond that, maybe your parents were a lot more specific about this, but my mom always told me to watch out for men, not for penises, if I wanted to avoid rape. But this same logic meant that nobody really told me to watch out for women who assault and rape. I know it’s a shitty thing to have to face, and I know a lot of dykes don’t like to talk about it because it damages their sense of safety in community… but I have met plenty of women who have had experiences of sexual assault or domestic violence with other women (cisgender and otherwise). At play parties and sex parties and bars, at home alone with a partner, with someone they’ve dated for a little while, with someone they’ve married… it happens, and way more than we’d like to think. Pretending that assault and rape are only perpetrated by men, or only done by people with penises, allows women and people with vaginas to get away with it that much more easily.

Rape and assault are not about penises. They are about someone’s sense of entitlement to touch another person’s body without consent. We need to stop projecting our fears onto a body part (regardless of who’s sporting it) and start looking at how people actually behave. It will make us *feel* less safe to acknowledge this, but I think it will make us actually *be* safer if we can talk about it openly.

Assumption 5. Trans women are aggressive in a way that makes people uncomfortable.

To me this sounds a whole lot like “black people are all so angry!” or “women are so over-emotional and hysterical!” or even “gay men are so effeminate!” It’s a stereotype, pure and simple. It’s especially similar to those other examples because it’s a stereotype that focuses on the way someone expresses themselves. We expect these behaviours or expression styles because we fear them – oppressive white people are scared of angry black people, men who are taught not to feel or deal with emotions are scared of women expressing emotions, people who are taught that masculinity is precious and fragile and absolutely necessary to their survival are terrified to see how easily someone can “lose” their masculinity, and so forth. From there, if we see these things happen in real life once or twice, we believe them to be true of everyone in a given group all the time. Then it becomes really easy to *only* see those things, and to miss or simply ignore—or, in this case, *deprive ourselves of the opportunity to see*—people in that same category behaving in other ways too. Which they/we do, because we are human. We need to get past this, plain and simple.

Assumption 6. Trans women are all the same.

We need to make sure, when we’re talking about trans women just as with any other group, that we aren’t speaking as though they were all the same. Trans women are as different from one another as any other people are. Some are aggressive, some soft and sweet. Some big, some small; some butch, others femme, others genderqueer, and so forth. Some lesbians, some straight, some bi, some queer. Every imaginable racial and ethnic background. Every imaginable profession and economic status (though statistically more likely to be poor and underemployed, regardless of their education level, due to rampant systemic transphobia). Some pre-op, some post-op, some non-op (bottom surgery). Some on hormones, some not. Some who “pass” easily, some who don’t and won’t ever. Some who have breast implants, some who don’t. So anytime you start a sentence with “trans women are…”, think carefully about what you’re going to say next and whether it’s true all the time or not.

Assumption 7. The term “woman” or “women” is by definition about cisgendered women.

In my world, when we talk about women, that includes trans women, because trans women are women. If we’re trying to say something specific about women who were assigned female at birth and are still happy to be referred to that way today, we call them cis or cisgendered women. If we’re trying to say something specific about women who were assigned male at birth but later transitioned, we call them trans women, or possibly women with a history of transition. But “women” on its own doesn’t imply anything about how someone was born. There’s nothing offensive about any of these terms unless they’re applied to someone inaccurately or with intent to shame or hurt.

For me personally, I don’t love being called a cis woman, not because there’s anything wrong with the term or because I think it’s pejorative, but because I am actually not always comfortable living in a female body and I feel like I float in a middle space between several genders. “Woman” I’ll accept, though only barely, and I wish I had another option than either that or “man.” But when someone calls me “cis,” to me that makes me feel they are making some very mistaken assumptions about me, and *that*—not the term itself—can be offensive. (Same as being assumed straight, or femme, or able-bodied… nothing wrong with those terms, they’re just inaccurate when applied to me.) But even then, I can still recognize that most of the world, most of the time, sees me as a woman, and that I get certain privileges because of that. So being *perceived* as a cis woman still gives me advantages, even if I don’t apply the term to myself. As such it’s still a useful term.

Assumption 8. Trans women aren’t really women, because they weren’t socialized as women.

This one falls apart on several levels.

First, it assumes that all women were socialized the same way. This makes no room for the vastly diverse types of socializing we each go through. A past butch partner of mine, for instance, refers to her childhood as being a “boyhood”—she played sports, spent time with her dad learning about woodworking and was never forced to look or dress girly. I, on the other hand, was very much socialized to be a girl, with all the expectations and prohibitions that come along with that. This is a pretty stark difference in childhood gender-socialization experiences despite how we were both raised in white, Ontario-based, heterosexually-parented, middle-class families with religious mothers and multiple siblings. As soon as we start adding on other differences—race, economic status, geographic location, age, number and configuration of parents, sexual orientations within the family, religion, schooling and so forth—we multiply the ways in which our gender socialization might change.

Second, it assumes that the way we are socialized “sticks” the same way on everyone. I would argue, for instance, that probably none of us who are queer were socialized as children to be queer. Most of us who are gender-independent weren’t taught to be that way by our parents. And I’ve only rarely met people who are what I’d call second-generation poly—as in, they had openly non-monogamous parents and are themselves non-monogamous. Possibly even more rarely than that have I encountered people whose parents were openly kinky such that they were socialized from childhood to be perverts. (And certainly, I was never taught, as a girl, to be a dominant or a top!) I could say similar things about feminism—I don’t think, for instance, that I’m any less “real” or “legit” a feminist because my mother and father most certainly aren’t feminists. And I can assure you that I was never socialized to work primarily at night, or have a freelance career, or to do a PhD—I’m the only one in my entire family doing any of those things, and they are huge pieces of how I understand myself as an agent in the world and of how I live my everyday life. And so on, and so forth. So it’s very odd to see people who’ve made life decisions that for the most part radically depart from what they were taught to do as children try to argue that on this singular point—the question of gender—socialization trumps choice, trumps our innate sense of who we are and trumps all the efforts we make to do about that. It just doesn’t work that way. Of all people, we should know.

Third, the socialization argument dismisses and disrespects the enormous challenges that trans women have to go through to understand themselves as women, and to assert themselves as such in the face of huge social forces that tell them they are not and cannot be what they are. There are plenty of trans women who never felt like men in the first place, for whom existing in an assigned-male body was a horrific experience of dysphoria and disconnection, for whom being raised and socialized as male was deeply damaging to the point of leading them to depression and suicidality, or for whom the presence of a penis and the lack of a vagina (for those who haven’t had bottom surgery) is an ongoing source of trauma, not a free pass into male privilege. If we can understand our own struggles to self-define, to make sense of our desires and identities and bodies, surely we have it in us to understand others’ when they are arguably even more complex and more strongly discouraged by the world around them.

Last but not least, this argument also assumes that trans women are not treated as women by the world at large. It is true that some trans women are not read as women by the world around them. In those cases, they are often shunned, assaulted and disrespected—as “failed” women, as “failed” men, or as freaks in general. In this sense, trans women who don’t “pass” are punished in much the same way as cis women are punished when they fail to do “woman” right. For being too fat, or too hairy, or not passive enough, or too smart, or too capable, or not straight enough, or too slutty, or too frigid, or not curvy enough, or whatever else.

Trans women know exactly what it’s like to be told they’re not doing it right, and cis women know exactly how much that hurts because it’s done to many of us too. Trans women who do “pass,” on the other hand, are subjected to the same kinds of bullshit that many cis women are just for being women, even when we are doing “woman” right—essentially, lots of misplaced entitlement. People, especially but not exclusively men, feel entitled to comment on or touch or fuck our bodies, to expect our sexual interest, to measure their masculinity by how different it is from our femininity, to get paid more than we do, to be aggressive and active to our receptivity and passivity, to be physically strong to our weakness, and so forth. And beyond all this… trans women who sometimes “pass” and sometimes don’t get the unenviable privilege of being on the receiving end of *both* these kinds of bullshit, both of which are clearly linked to being a woman, if from different angles.

So I call bullshit on this socialization question. It just doesn’t hold water.

 

Assumption 9. The “cotton ceiling” is a way for trans women to bully cis women into having sex with them.

The idea of the “cotton ceiling” is intended to draw attention to how even in spaces that are politically and socially welcoming of trans women, transphobia often retains its influence on how we understand who is sexually desirable and who isn’t. It’s no different from other politicized criteria for desirability—people who are, for instance, fat or disabled are also often welcomed into queer women’s space but not seen as desirable compared to those hot slim, muscular, able-bodied sorts. This isn’t our fault—our entire culture tells us what’s sexy and what’s not, 24 hours a day, and that definition is terribly narrow. But it is really easy to forget how much influence advertising propaganda and social pressure can exert on what gets us wet and hard, and to let the mainstream’s terms dictate our desires.

It is possible to read the idea of the cotton ceiling as being about pressuring people to change who and what they desire. And that pressure can feel unwelcome. With that in mind, I would challenge those who feel it that way to look very carefully at the message that’s being delivered. Is it actually about you being told you need to go out and fuck people you’re not attracted to? Or is it about someone asking you to think about how much of your attractions are based on an underlying assumption of cissexism? Or perhaps, might it be about challenging women-centred sexual spaces to talk openly about trans women’s bodies and how to safely and enjoyably have sex with trans women—a topic about which it is ridiculously difficult to find solid information? (Try Mira Bellwether’s awesome zine, Fucking Trans Women, if you are in search!) Or perhaps it could be about challenging the producers of dyke sexual representation to include trans women as objects of desire—in porn, in art, in erotica—which is only barely beginning to happen?

This is a difficult line to walk in terms of messaging—there is a subtlety to the argument that can easily be misunderstood. And to be fair, some people delivering the message about the cotton ceiling may not be doing it in a skilful way. But I think mostly the misunderstanding here comes from people who are very attached to a body- or genitals-based understanding of gender and very threatened by anything that comes along and challenges that.

Fundamentally, it doesn’t do anyone any favours for a person to fuck someone for political reasons without genuine attraction. I really hope nobody goes out and fucks anyone just to prove a political point or make a statement about how wonderful and open-minded they are. I certainly wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of such false desire, and I would feel pretty disappointed in myself if I noticed I’d started to collect a list of sexual partners who conveniently belonged to stigmatized minority groups so that I could brag about it.

Fundamentally, it also doesn’t do anyone any favours for a person to pressure anyone else to have sex, for political reasons or otherwise. So if a trans woman cruises you with a line like, “Hey, you should have sex with me to prove you’re not transphobic,” you have every right to say, “Uh, no thanks.” Failing that highly unlikely situation, though, I think a lot of cis and otherwise non-trans gals need to ratchet down the defensive reaction and take the opportunity to really examine how much of our desire rests on cissexism, and how much of the sexual culture we create and consume excludes trans women, even if we’re not doing it on purpose. That thought process may never change our physical attractions, and it doesn’t have to. But on the other hand, it might, and we shouldn’t be afraid of that. For a bunch of politicized people who are committed to resisting the patriarchy, fighting racism and advocating for accepting our bodies at any size, and then going ahead and representing those various bodies in all their delicious glory, this one really shouldn’t be a big stretch. And at the bare minimum, whether it changes our sexual practice or not, it could possibly help us to change a culture of exclusion such that the people next to us at that sex party—cis, trans and otherwise—can more easily access the kind of sex they’d like to be having.

 

Assumption 10. Trans men are a lot like women.

This one comes up as a counterpart to the “socialization” argument, specifically when people argue for the inclusion of trans men in women’s spaces as a counterpart to arguing against the inclusion of trans women in those same spaces. This is especially unhelpful to trans men.

A significant percentage of trans men are, well, men. They look like men, smell like men, identify and move through the world as men. If they’re told they’re allowed to attend a women’s event because they’re not really men, that’s pretty insulting.

Of course, *some* trans men are gender-fluid, or strongly attached to their history as dykes or as women, or see their transition as an extension of their former or current butch-ness and still prefer to date queer women, or what have you. So as such, some of them feel at home in queer women’s spaces, and it would be very sad and hurtful to exclude them. I totally get this. But let’s be clear that we are not talking about all trans men here. It’s a very specific range of trans men, and there’s a whole other range of trans men out there for whom such inclusion would be unwelcome at best and outright damaging at worst.

There are lots of trans men who never felt like women in the first place, for whom existing in a female-assigned body was a horrific experience of dysphoria and disconnection, for whom being raised and socialized as female was deeply damaging to the point of leading them to depression and suicidality, or for whom the lack of a penis (for those who don’t get bottom surgery) is an ongoing source of trauma, not a free pass into women’s space. Please let’s not disrespect these guys by assuming they’re “one of us” because they have vaginas. That’s what the rest of the world has been doing to them forever and sometimes it quite literally kills them.

***

This post is mostly about analyzing a set of arguments, sometimes in ways I’ve seen done by others, some less so. But in addition to the argumentation piece, I’m writing this to publicly say, in no uncertain terms, that as a woman who’s not trans, I fully support events that include trans women and tend to feel personally way more comfortable when trans women are welcome than when they’re not. For me, events that include trans women create a baseline of respect for people’s chosen gender identities—my own included—where I can breathe at least somewhat easier, instead of worrying about people making misguided assumptions and applying them to me and others. It’s a statement that clearly says “who you are is important, not who the world tells you to be.” This isn’t just symbolic. It makes a real difference in the vibe of a space, in my experience, and makes a lot more room for me too.

***

P.S. Adding this a day after first posting: I want to acknowledge an additional assumption that underpins everything I’ve tried to challenge here. This is the assumption that there is an “us” made up entirely of cis and otherwise non-trans women who are in charge of all women’s sexuality-based events and who get to make the decisions about including “them,” the trans women who’d like to attend. In fact my experience has been quite different from that. Trans women have been around for decades – “they” aren’t a sort of perpetually new part of “our” community, but rather a part of the fabric of it, of its history and its present and absolutely of its future. Several generations of trans women, and their contributions, long predate my own organizing efforts, for instance – so it’s a testament to the persistence of transphobia that somehow I, when I started organizing events in my early twenties, still understood that it was my job to “let” the trans women in (or bar them access). To me this feels like the height of disrespect – that some parts of the dyke world are still stuck on whether or not to include people who’ve been around since, y’know, the middle of last century. Many of the trans women in my community are older, wiser and more experienced than I am. I am fortunate to have many smart, powerful trans women as my elders – as scholars, as SM players, as dykes, as organizers, as role models, as writers and artists and activists. I’m grateful for their presence, their persistence in the face of discrimination, and for *their* willingness to let *me* in, to whatever extent they have.


29 Aug 11:00

The Hardest Part of Grieving: Actually Allowing Yourself to Do It

by Sara Alcid
Source: TumblrOftentimes our reaction to the death of a loved one is to scramble to regain normalcy. But stunting the grieving process will only compound the wall of bricks that you probably already feel like you’re carrying around on your shoulders. So here are a few nuggets of insight from someone who has realized how important it is to feel comfortable with the discomfort of grief.
27 Aug 02:54

‘Freak of Nurture’ by Kelli Dunham

by Courtney Gillette

There’s something you’ll get from Kelli Dunham’s book of essays that other comedians’ books don’t always include: heart. In Freak of Nurture (Topside Signature), Dunham offers a wide array of comedy, storytelling, observations and advice. Having spent portions of her life as a nun, a house boi, a volunteer childcare provider in Haiti, an emcee, and a registered nurse, there’s no shortage of life experience to spill on the page.

Some of her essays will read like her stand-up comedy material. In “The ABCs of Adventure in Gender,” she shares dozens of episodes of confounding people’s love of the gender binary, getting mistaken for a prepubescent boy, a drowning boy scout, a lost child, and Clay Aiken. Her punchlines are sweet and humble. When she discovers an internet meme using her photo and the caption “Dave Matthews with boobs,” she Googles a picture of Dave Matthews and has to concur: she does kind of look like Dave Matthews with boobs. Her comebacks are always noteworthy and hilarious: when rescued on a white water rafting trip by a boy scout troop and forced to spend the rest of the river run on their raft, one boy ventures to ask her which troop she’s from. “A drag troupe, okay?” Dunham huffs.

Many of Dunham’s essays read like transcripts of a comedy routine—you can practically hear the pauses for laughter—and others read like those hilarious, tell-it-again-please stories that some people have. While an entire collection of these choppy anecdotes would be one thing, the strength of Dunham’s collection is the diversity of its essays. She’s partial to themed lists and short pieces, and some of the writing is cute satire: Dunham parodies the children’s book Alexander and the No Good Terrible Very Bad Day, retelling it from the perspective of a repressed, kinky queer nun. Other essays slip easily into memoir-like long form, and these are where Dunham and her big heart shine.

In her romantic life, Dunham falls in love with a fabulous queer woman who happened to have a fatal bout with cancer. A few years later, Dunham falls in love with another fabulous queer woman, the late Cheryl Burke, and loses her to complications from Burke’s cancer treatment. It’s a kind of show-stopping tragedy that many writers—and most comedians—would clamp tight about, but when Dunham gets real, it’s the most eloquent and effective writing of the whole collection.

In “Pudding Day,” she narrates the whole chronology of her relationship with Heather, who died after a long battle with cancer through assisted suicide, with Dunham and a host of loving queers and partners and friends and family present. “Lulu The Cat Says Screw You” is equally as wrenching, sharing her loss of Cheryl Burke through the only inheritance she gets in the wake of her death—Burke’s stubborn cat Lulu. Comedic relief is never far from Dunham’s reach, though. It’s her teenage nephew who wryly observes about the cat-inheritance, “That’s the most lesbian thing in the world.”

It’s one thing to be funny, to share anecdotes and jokes about being a gender queer in the world, about how appalling the media coverage of the 2009 earthquake in Haiti was, or what it’s like to navigate being a big ol’ homo at Thanksgiving dinner. But Dunham’s gift is that she goes beyond funny. Her writing can be dynamic, generous and sharp, especially in the longer essays where she stretches her anecdotes into whole scenes, where the human heart of her experiences beats strongly. Dunham’s conversational tone will welcome any reader, whether they come for the laughs, the loss, the queerness or the altruism that Dunham shares. The book’s title comes from some hate mail Dunham receives, calling her a freak of nature. “You don’t know me,” Dunham writes, “you don’t know my family, or you would know I am a freak of nurture.” She means it as a pun on the nature/nurture debate, but its meaning multiplies throughout the collection. No one can nurture life, love, queers, friends, jokes or family the way Dunham can. She’s freakishly outstanding.

 

Freak of Nurture
By Kelli Dunham
Topside Press
Paperback, 9781627290012, 202 pp.
May 2013

23 Aug 10:45

10 Rules for Creative Projects from Iconic Painter Richard Diebenkorn

by Maria Popova

“Do search. But in order to find other than what it searched for.”

On a recent visit to the Richard Diebenkorn: The Berkeley Years, 1953-1966 exhibition at San Francisco’s De Young fine arts museum, I was taken with a small, simple sheet of paper handed to visitors, printed on which were the artists’ ten rules for beginning a painting — a sort of manifesto that applies in various degrees and various dimensions to just about every creative or intellectual endeavor, making a fine addition to these favorite manifestos for the creative life. Friend-of-Brain Pickings and frequent contributor Debbie Millman, who knows a thing or two about hand-lettered wisdom and typographic poetics, has kindly rendered Diebenkorn’s script here in her signature script — please enjoy:

Complement this with Salvador Dalí’s creative credo. The Diebenkorn exhibition, fantastic in its entirety, can be experienced remotely in the companion book.

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20 Aug 11:00

“That’s Racist Against White People!” A Discussion on Power and Privilege

by Jamie Utt
Source: Getty ImagesThe language that denies systemic oppression they are using must be called out as problematic. Because while we fight tooth and nail to make powerful change to systems of oppression, we need to ensure that if people who benefit from these systems are not actively acting in solidarity, at least they aren’t in the way. And this is primarily the work of other people of privilege.
09 Aug 05:55

Impeccable Service

by Jack Stratton

There was a peace in the courtyard of the hotel that he thought was gone from the world. A good strong pot of coffee wordlessly placed on his table, fresh fruit and fresh croissants, pristine white tablecloths under wide cerulean umbrellas which were in turn under a wide and cloudless azure sky.

He took his breakfast there every morning and between sips of coffee closed his eyes and listened for the not too distant sounds of the river. Waves lapping ancient stone bridges, the lonely cries of sea birds.

She came to him as she did every day, in her crisp white blouse with the pearl buttons and her black pencil skirt. She had a blue scarf neatly tied at her neck and she did not speak. She replaced the pot of coffee at the precise moment the first had become too cool.

Her hair was chocolate brown, her skin was a Mediterranean olive, and she was very beautiful. She was fine boned, fragile with a humble dignity and an aura of skill and professionalism. She, more than even the crispness of the newspaper and the tart finish of the very good coffee, made his morning ascend from mere loveliness to something nearing divinity.

Until the tourists came.

The family was multigenerational, garishly dressed, and cacophonous. The older three were brassy tuba guffaws. The younger three were trumpets of profanity and laughter. The two adolescents were flutes, flourishing through arpeggios of annoyance.

He removed his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose, mourning his perfect morning. Looking up, he saw the rich brown eyes of the the woman in white blouse empathize.

He gave her a tight lipped smile of thanks and took his paper back up to his room.

After a long hot shower, he hoped long enough and hot enough to wash the ruined breakfast away, he heard a firm knock on his door. He tightened the belt of the almost obscenely thick robe and opened the door, to find the woman standing primly, arms at her sides.

She, again, said nothing. She looked up at him, being nearly a foot shorter, and smiled kindly, raised a hand and turning her palm, motioning to the inside of the room. It took him a moment to understand, but he stepped aside and let her enter, confused but intrigued.

She walked into the bathroom, which was still densely fogged with steam. She looked over her shoulder at him and he followed her, feeling a strange intimacy being in the impressively large, but still private, space.

She raised a hand to his face and he suppressed the strange reaction to flinch. She rubbed his cheek, her hand smooth and cool, her thumb against the bristles of his stubble. He leaned into her touch. He was hers in that moment.

“May I shave you, sir?” she said in almost a whisper.

He’d heard her voice before, but not in a while. She had a rather high sweet voice with traces of a British education. She sounded younger that he remembered, but looking at her closely he saw she was perhaps twenty-five. Her seriousness gave her the gravitas of someone much older.

He nodded affirmative.

A single droplet of sweat beaded on her forehead, the bathroom being uncomfortably warm from the shower. She turned on the faucet of the sink and pressed the chrome handle of the stopper. As the large basin filled with water her hands went to her pearl buttons.

He watched her in the half opaque steamed mirror. She undressed adeptly, removing each article of her clothing, folding them neatly and placing them next to the neat pile of towels. Her skin looked darker in contrast to the light brown of her untanned breasts and the triangle of her mons. Her breasts were large for her frame, aureoles unexpectedly puffy and nipples thick.

She turned off the water and scanning his supplies neatly arraigned on the counter above the sink. She took his heavy nickel badger brush and soaked the bristles. She then opened the small pot which contained his shaving creme and twirled the brush in the thick white soap.

She put the soapy brush to the side and soaked a hand towel in the hot water, bringing it to his face. He closed his eyes and let himself sit down on the commode. She leaned down, slowly rubbing the cloth over his skin.

He opened his eyes as she brought the brush to his cheek and expertly applied the shaving creme.

Though there was a solemnity to the undertaking his eyes were unable to escape the loveliness of her form. As she lathered him his hand moved slowly to her thigh. She took no notice. He shivered at the smoothness of her leg and his heart raced a little as he ran his fingers from her knee to her hip.

She put down the brush and took his safety razor from the porcelain. The metal glinted in her perfectly manicured hands, her nails a dark burgundy and her fingers small and delicate.

She had obviously shaved men before. He wondered if it was her father or a lover. Her strokes were economic, precise, and quick. He knew that with the blade at his neck it was perhaps not the best time, but his fingers moved to her inner thighs and he smiled a little as she opened her legs slightly to accommodate his exploration.

As she continued, he felt the soft manicured patch of hair between her legs and sighed.

She paused and her hips shifted slightly, pushing his fingers into the neat slit, his touch meeting wetness. Then she finished the last few bits of soapy skin, moving to soak the towel once more and clean off his face.

He looked up at her and she smiled as she put a cool towel against his reddened cheeks and then dripping some of his aftershave into her cupped palm she rubbed his neck and face and he relished the bracing sting.

She massaged his face firmly, then moved her hands to his neck. She massaged his shoulders and neck and then straightened the collar of the robe and stepped back to examine her work.

“Is there anything else I can do for you, sir?” she said, her voice a little deeper.

He pondered then the exact boundaries of her visit. He wondered if it was some penance for the disturbance of his breakfast. Looked from her angelic face, to her generous breasts, to the curve of her hips he thought it would be most disrespectful to deny her atonement.

“Yes,” he said, his tongue thick and his voice unsteady.

“I’ll need you in the bedroom now,” he explained and she nodded obediently.

“May I take your robe?” she asked politely.

He stared at her, his eyes growing slightly hard and the silence of the moment seemed to echo in the white tile room.

“Sir?” she added, correcting her lapse in protocol.

“Yes, thank you,” he said, standing.

She pulled at the knot in his belt, then slipped the robe off his shoulders, letting it fall to the floor. She moved towards him, his erection slidding against the softness of her skin as she kissed his collar bone and look up into his eyes.

She took his hand and led him the his bedroom where, as with all things, her performance exceeded his expectations.

06 Aug 11:50

Dominant Savant…?

by Mollena Williams
photo by stacie joy

photo by stacie joy

The idea of a savant – someone who exhibits a particular exemplary skill while somehow presenting with a seeming deficit in other areas – is fascinating to me. I’ve an affinity for those who are outliers, removed from the standard, separate from the mainstream. And that attraction slipped naturally into place when I came out on the BDSM and Leather Communities. I felt that I was finally coming home and had found “My People.”

Well, not so fast, rabbit.

There are factions, fragments, fickleness and fissures within the “Community” up to and including those who won’t even use the word “Community” to refer to the loose confederation of alternative people who practice Kink / Leather / BDSM. IN fact, I’ve taken to calling it The Pervert Confederation. Closer to accurate, methinks.

One of the more pronounced rifts is between those who are very spiritually focused in their kink vs. those who really love and deeply experience the sensation, but refuse to ascribe a deeper spiritual connectivity to the BDSM practice. I have the interesting perspective of not belonging firmly to either camp and that is because my kink is amoral. I don’t really go in much for assuming I will have a deeply connected spiritual experience across the board with everyone with whom I play. I’m not wired that way. Neither do I assume that, just because the skies opened up for me, and I called The 42 Sacred Names for G_d, that the person administering the treatment that got me to that point is also on the same spiritual wavelength.

In fact, it is usually best that they are not.

Someone has to steer the ship.

Which brings me to the idea of “Dominant Savants” and the double-edged scimitar that this particular idea presents.

If you accept that there are people who possess an astounding skill in one particular aspect of life, but lack it in another, you are with me in the beginning of this thought process. Someone who is a stellar whipmaster, bondage aficionado, piercer, what have you, may be able to act as your guide throughout an incredibly earth-shattering experience, but you would be absolutely making a dangerous assumption if you automatically piggyback a deep spirituality to their expertise. It may be there. It may not. It may be there for one partner and not for another. This doesn’t intrinsically make them a shitty player. It means you have to know what is happening for them. It means doing your fucking homework. It means listening to your gut. And yeah, absolutely it means taking risks and falling flatsplat on your face, alone, and having to get your shit together your damned self.

But YOU NEED TO DECIDE if that risk is worth it it TO YOU.

Read it again, my friend.

The rituals and emotional trips and triggers of BDSM have deep resonance for some, and not for others. And it is all good, so long as, when you come together to play, you are all reading the same fucking playbook.

A Priest may break the bread, bless it, and present it, but it is the Catholic worshiper’s personal belief in Transubstantiation that makes it “the body of Christ.” Same with the wine to blood thing. The ritual is part of it but the supplicant is doing most of the work there, frankly. No matter what the fuck the Priest does, without the worshiper’s belief and buy-in, ain’t no holy moment. Just some cheap-ass sour fucking wine and a bit of stale weird cracker thing.

If the dominant is, in this analogy, leading the service, the individual spirituality of the supplicant, or bottom, can be entirely personal. I am not saying it always is, but I am saying, without judgment, is that it can be.

And my surprising realization is this: I am fine with that.

So long as I know what I am doing, who I am dealing with, and I fully take responsibility at the end of the ride for myself, a brilliant “dominant savant” whom you share little or no spiritual connection outside of the scene can be a midwife to your own experience. If you can respect their skill and accept their different approach, I believe that this can be a very successful type of power exchange.

I spent over year bottoming to and, for a while, submitting to someone who would have been, at the time, hard-pressed to tell you exactly why he enjoyed BDSM. In my case, I’m a person dedicated to self-analysis and tasting, nibbling, stirring, sniffing and dissecting what takes me, again and again and again, to the depths of profound humiliation and the out-of-body-highs of intense sensation play. In his case, he just … liked it. This, of course, made me a “bit” obsessively fascinated by his approach to BDSM.

No matter how I framed the line of inquiry, I got the same baffling opaque non-response time after time. This eventually made me bat-shit crazy until I realized something critical:

It doesn’t fucking matter.

See, my experience is mine. As reflexively silly as this sounds, it is the thing that cut through my need to cling to the idea of connection that I so desperately craved. It was an idea I created pretty much on my own and guess what? It does not always translate well to real live people.

If I go horseback riding, jump on a roller-coaster, swim in the ocean, I don’t expect to process that with the horse, the Cyclone, or the Pacific. I experience these things, perhaps even in a profoundly spiritual way, and I let it become a part of my experiential self.

And if I fall off of the horse, or get stuck on the Cyclone in Coney Island, or get pulled by an undertow, I have to take care of myself.

This is, I think, the way I have experienced “dominant savants.” Those who can take me on startling journeys but are not, for whatever reason, on my wavelength emotionally and spiritually. It does not negate, diminish, or compromise the play / scene / relationship we have. But it does define and demarcate it.

In the year plus of this intense play relationship that was particularly marked by this interestingly connected disconnect, I had quite a few people either pull me aside to “Make sure I was okay.” or to straight up ask why I played with this person. Many, many people with whom he’d played vowed they wouldn’t ever do so again as they just couldn’t deal with the feeling of being the rawhide chew toy for some brutally rough play that did not have, as the upshot, an emotional connectivity they needed within and as part of aftercare for the scene.

At first I worried that I was also broken. That I was allowing myself to be emotionally damaged in a way that I was, somehow, missing. But I concluded that was not the case then and in retrospect, I still do not think it is now.

I believe that people come into your life for various reasons and those reasons aren’t always apparent at the time. In this case the benefit was clear. I played with a particular freedom I hadn’t enjoyed before, and very rarely since. I felt safe. Regardless of the reality, I felt. safe. And that is no mean feat to pull on me when I am, in fact, doing some crazy shit.

I sure as fuck have had deeply connected and spiritually conscious play with people. I prefer it. It is that core need for deep connection that motivates my journey in Leather. But as I slowly reprocess the past couple of decades, I realize that the vast majority of play I’ve done falls into the category of submitting to the universe, to god, to my journey, to life, by way of a guardian who facilitated this and gained a measure of pleasure from it themselves, but remained essentially unchanged. I have yet to have a top or dominant share with me that the scene we did altered their perception of kink, of who they were, or their role in life, and that they felt a kinship that defied explanation due to what we shared in terms of our play. And yet I have, in some way or other, expressed these very sentiments to several people in my life. Perhaps this is because dominants “just don’t do that.”

I was hashing this out with my dear friend, Rabbi Heidi Hoover one night and was tossing out analogies. I drew a parallel between playing in this “dominant savant” arena and messing around on a volcano.

See, we have plenty of empirical data letting us know that volcanoes sit there all cool and slope-y, looking sexy, but will, on occasion, fuck you up and all of your shit, too.

And your goats.

So whose fault is it you get burned? You have no business being there if you know it is a fucking volcano.

Of course, some volcanoes pop outta nowhere and are all like SURPRISE BUTTSECKS!! and, if they fuck you up, it’s not your fault.

Still sucks to be you though.

But more often than not you have warnings. Rumbles. Shifts. Stinky gas. And if you stick the fuck around and wind up Pompeiied, we can’t really feel bad for you.

“Aha, but people do live on volcanoes,” my Rabbinically Enhanced friend pointed out. “And after an eruption, the soil and the land created is extremely rich and beneficial, and so it attracts people back to it despite the risk.”

Yes, of course. People live in dangerous fucking places. On volcanic islands. On huge fucking fault lines. In the path of annual monsoons, floods, hurricanes. On floating shanties atop of piranha infested waters. But you live there in hope. In hope that the benefit you derive from your location will outweigh the possibility of loss, damage, death, devastation.

I accept the risk, I do my best to choose people I trust, and I am prepared to accept responsibility – personal responsibility – for taking this risk. Ownership has its privileges. And I feel privileged to take these amazing, dark and illuminating rides on my terms, with skilled and bold partners.