“Using Boobs”

How many images do you figure you’re surrounded by every day? How many do you “ingest”, directly or indirectly?

Who creates all those images?

What various agendas and motivations might those creators have for making these images and showing them to you?

I believe these questions are important to everyone, but if you have a worldview that includes particular criticisms of our culture — the idea that there are fundamental ways that our cultures devalues bodies, as one example — then these questions become even more important.

This is why I enjoy blogs like Sociological Images, which I’ve linked to before. The SI writers have some worldviews that differ significantly from Gabe’s and mine; we have some differences in our basic operational definitions, and we likely see the path to healing or improving our world to be very different. But SI consistently puts forward some very thought-provoking ideas, and encourages its readers to flex their own critical thinking muscles on the world around them. I appreciate that.

I found this recent post of theirs to be truly fascinating: Using Boobs To Sell Car Insurance. They have posted three foreign commercials, all of which they consider to be objectification of women. I invite you to visit the site now, watch the videos and notice your own responses before reading further. What do you see when you watch those videos? What responses do you have, and why do you think you have those particular responses?

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Now, here’s mine. To clarify from the start, I don’t believe that the depiction of a body, female or otherwise, is inherently objectification. That basic assumption threads through my response. While there’s plenty to be said about power dynamics in media construction, I don’t find that issue to be specifically relevant to my responses here, and so I have not addressed it.

I am especially fond of the first commercial. Having vehicles painted on boobs puts me in mind of the tenderness I feel in my own relationship to my car — it is a “body part”, an extension of personality for many of us, on some level. The shell we ride in dangerous, modern, high speed traffic is oftentimes a reminder of our bodies’ softness and fragility. There is a playfulness in the short film that I enjoy very much, as various hands collaborate on a dance reminiscent of Annie Sprinkle’s performance art piece “Boob Ballet”. Many of the SI comments on this commercial focus on a perceived threat in the brief struggle between two pair of hands. I got none of this message, as the posture of the women does not transmit to me concern or danger. Other comments found the lack of heads to be disturbing. I found the piece worked better without splitting our attention between faces and breasts; I also don’t feel a need to value a head more than other parts of bodies, which are just as full of personality and uniqueness as the faces we usually interact with. I saw erect, beautiful torsos playing a game that I was delighted to see.

I found the second commercial more problematic. Though it’s a personal opinion, there was not much aesthetically that I found pleasing, so I was left to focus on the characterization of individuals actually working for this airline. While I don’t find the sexy car wash girl inherently problematic as a character, to overlay that character onto every single female flight attendant actually working for the airline is to remove a lot of personal autonomy and individual choice. That’s not cool for me. Perhaps someone else can add to this?

The last commercial? It is absurd, and humorous for that reason. A scantily clad, oontz-filled dance to sell tires? I don’t know that the absurdity was intentional, but it’s fun. I’m aware that the lead dancer is rounder than the vast majority of Caucasian dancers in US media, and I enjoyed the small amount of diversity of bodies shown. The dancers are talented, but I can’t tell how much imagination the creators really put into their use of our time.

The Broadest Community Possible

It occurred to me after writing my last post that I have some intentions and attitudes I could clarify for you. I talk a lot about how the connections between the mono and poly communities are shaping up, particularly around counseling theory and technique. And I have a lot of opinions about it. Here’s a little explanation of where I’m coming from in that opining.

I look at conversation about polyamory and/or monoamory through two lenses. The first is as a counselor. How does what you are saying inform counselors across the board who want to serve various populations? How does your theorizing and defining contribute to the bank of information available to everyone? If you’re narrowly defining the needs you’re meeting, that’s fine with me. Detailed work is as important as broader picture theory, and both can’t be served simultaneously by an individual project. But build your work in a way that it can fit into a larger picture peaceably. Give your colleagues something useful to work with. Don’t allow biases and restrictions to choke your work off from being included in a larger perspective.

That’s where the second lens comes in. I’m a Christian in a multifaith world. There’s a reason why my ministry was in chaplaincy. By experience and inclination I deliberately place myself in a larger picture and demand of myself that I live peaceably in that larger picture. I choose very intentionally to focus on Christianity in my personal faith life. But if I build within myself a Christianity that cannot play well with other faiths, I am limiting myself, choking off the Holy, and fucking over the rest of the world. That’s not cool.

So, I’m going to keep being the one telling relationship authors of all stripes to be less biased and restrictive. Do the work you want to do, in whatever broad or narrow stripe you want, but allow it to inform as many other people as possible. Find your biases and eliminate them. Find the ways you’re choking off conversation and expansion and loosen them. Leave the door open to feeding others besides yourself.

And yes, I’ve got a book I’m working on myself, so there will be at least one done my way. It’s in what you might call pre-production.

New Blog from Deborah Anapol

There is a new blog about polyamory starting up, from a high profile author. Debora Anapol is credited with writing one of the two earliest books on modern poly, Polyamory: The New Love Without Limits. She is now a new regular blogger on Psychology Today’s website. She also has a new book coming out, mentioned in the blog.

I considered reading her previous book, opened it up to a random page and found that single page dripping with anti-mono bias. She is very New Agey, and polyamory is literally her definition of being enlightened. Soon the whole human race will be enlightened enough to be poly just like her; won’t that be great? So I set the book back down.

I can’t say I’m impressed with her first column either; while she gives polite lip service to intentional mono living, her philosophy is still “polyamory is enlightenment” with a thin veneer over it. Let’s take a look at the following, with an eye toward what her words reveal about her systematic counseling assumptions (this is in the context of defining precisely what polyamory is):

To me polyamory is a philosophy of loving that asks us to surrender to love. Polyamory leads us to ask, “What is the most loving and authentic way I can be present with these people and with myself at this time?”

While there’s nothing inherently untrue about these sentences, they (along with several badly worded references to mono throughout her first column) reveal to me an ignorance that Anapol is still apparently carrying around. Saying “polyamory is one way of living out a philosophy of loving…” will fundamentally change her starting point in relating to non-poly people. But that, I strongly suspect, would be a fundamental shift away from a major bias she has. Without that phrase, the author is making invisible anyone who does not identify as poly and has done the work to commit themselves to the transformative power of love. Since she’s writing this blog to a mainstream audience who will represent many relational orientations and be overwhelmingly mono, this will be a liability to her communicating effectively.

And while the second sentence is certainly true for many people, it’s also unnecessarily narrow. There are all kinds of life experiences that get people asking that question, and a poly nature is not required to do that work. The sentence structure still reveals that Anapol is not expanding past her own specific truths to find out how non-poly people love… that’s a shitty place to start a philosophy that’s supposed to apply to everyone, and it’s a dangerous blindness for a woman who markets herself as a relationship coach.

Still, a blog devoted to polyamory on a mainstream health website is pretty cool. I suppose.

Here’s the link: New Blog: Love Without Limits

Kinky/Queer/Straight

Scarlet Lotus has posted a fantastic piece at The Femmeinist Fucktoy entitled Kinky vs. Queer vs. Straight Sex

So what’s the big difference between queer sex and straight sex? Aside from the usual definition of the sex of the partners (but that also brings into question is it the sex or the gender that matters?) it’s subtle, and may have a lot to do with intention. Can queer hetero sex include missionary sex? I say of course! The wonderful thing about the orbit(/label) queer is that it is very open to interpretation.

Most often the participants of queer sex are queer people, but that brings into the question of what makes someone a queer person. I’d argue that anyone outside of the norm of society is queer in some way, although not everyone would see it that same way. Queer is an important label for same-sex/gender-loving people to embrace, definitely, but I also think queer moves beyond that label as well.

If we define queer as what it’s not, meaning not normal, just about everyone would be able to be labeled queer. I’m not sure if I’ve ever met a normal person in my life, society perpetuates this idea of normalcy, but that doesn’t mean it exists anywhere, and usually those who think they are normal would not be considered normal by others, so where does that leave us?

Seriously, just go read the whole thing.

I ended up leaving a rather long response to the post, and I think it bears reposting here with some modifications.

Despite my rather interesting relationship to gender, and my kinks, I’ve never been comfortable claiming the word “queer” for myself. I’ve always been too worried that if I identified with it I’d be appropriating, or at least stepping on the toes of those who have claimed that word before. After all, I’m sexually attracted to women nearly exclusively. Even with the pink hair I pretty much look like a dude. I’d worry that by declaring myself queer I’d be cheapening the shit other people have had to deal with. My shit’s something else, and I don’t want to feel like I’m claiming something that’s not mine. And, well, I don’t want to say I’m queer then have to explain to people that, no, I mean something different by that. I understand “queer” as an invitation to dialogue, but it’s not something I think would work for me.

At the same time, however, I want a banner under which gender and sexual outsiders can gather, and “queer” seems poised to be that. I identify with what I’ve learned of queer theory and gender theory. I rally behind anti-assimilationist queers and Gay Shame and Bash Back (if only in my mind). I want to see more people for whom sexuality is deliberately a central part of life, and that seems to be a common thread in the type of queer with which I identify. It’s deliberate. It recognizes that there’s something broken in our culture, and wants to stand apart from it. That’s the queer I’m looking for. It’s not sponsored by Anheuser-Busch. It’s not the nice professional gay couple in the suburbs who are “just like you.” It’s not any sort of veneer of the normalcy of which Scarlet Lotus wrote. But I feel like I don’t have the right to make those distinctions, because I don’t feel like the word belongs to me.

But we just bought my partner her first cock, and we’re looking forward to getting to know it better. I’ve complained elsewhere about the association between pegging and Femdom, and we don’t plan to fall into the prescribed roles of power exchange between penetrator and penetrated. We’re deliberately challenging both the norms of sex and the norms of non-normal sex. That feels pretty damn queer.

She asks “Is anything you do really only kinky the first time, because after you do it that desensitizes you to it, making you think less of the kink factor of it and more of the enjoyment of it?” I don’t think that kinky sex gets less kinky. I think it can for those who don’t feel that kink is an integral part of their sexuality (like those who use blindfolds and handcuffs as “spice” or who just think it’s fun to be “naughty”), but I find that going deeper and deeper into my sexuality doesn’t mean I get more kinky, but that my kinks go deeper, and I’m more infused by them.

I don’t know how much of my sex is queer or kinky. I think kink is present even in my most vanilla looking sex in the subtleties of power exchange, the slight uses of pain.

I do wonder about the flipside, can sex between people of the same gender or sex be (relatively) non-queer? If it lacks deliberateness. If it seeks to approximate normalcy. If it’s driven by fears of sex. I can’t answer that, but it’s something to wonder about.

Monoromanticism, Masculinity and More

Gabe and I have been working on unpacking an issue together this weekend. Here are some of the data points I’m gathering about it.

  • Gabe has long been seeking space to discuss his experiences of masculinity and male sexuality and get respectful feedback from others. This search has rarely been fruitful. Even in situations where gender is already being questioned, his experience as a male is rarely welcome.
  • I’ve run into a lot of monophobia in poly lit and in poly culture. Often, the behavior of romantically loving only one person is defined explicitly as unenlightened.
  • I recently had a conversation with a kinky friend who defined vanilla activity as “unexamined.”

Here’s some wording from Gabe that clarifies one part of this for me: anything that is normative is assumed to be understood completely, and not worth discussing or exploring. There is a fundamental yet faulty assumption that normative equals understood.

Now, it’s true that a lot of mono people are making these assumptions. And there’s lots of unreflective men and women that don’t question gender roles they’ve been given. And the same goes for some people having vanilla sex – many of them are not thinking much about why they do it, or what alternatives there are. To be honest, I don’t intend to invest much energy in these populations, and in several others – not when I see that they are mainstream but when I notice they are unreflective. There are a hell of a lot of folks that don’t really question anything. The key to transformation is in their hands and they’re not using it, and no amount of work on my part will change that. If they don’t have a deep need, a drive to think critically, they’re sure as hell not going to start with my agenda on gender or sexual activity or orientation.

Then there’s people who have gone through shit to be who they are. I feel a certain kinship with many of these people. There’s often that drive I mentioned, that craving to understand the dynamics that shape who we are and how we think. For the bulk of us in alternative communities, it’s been a survival mechanism.

It is these people that I hold to a higher standard, and I don’t apologize for that. I do it intentionally and from a desire to nurture myself and my communities. It comes from my background in counseling and my training as a minister and religious leader. We all deserve to be the best we can be. We all deserve encouragement to nourish our continuing development as people of thought and compassion. The analytical skills that saved my life can better my community, if I continue to reflect and examine my actions and thoughts; and the same holds true for others.

Look again at the situations above. In every one of them, it’s a non-mainstream individual or group that is the source of the prejudice. Seeing one particular characteristic that can be named as the “norm,” they equate it not just with being unenlightened and thoughtless. They also frequently equate it with already being understood, and being unworthy of further reflection. Gabe’s maleness and my mono nature get similar treatment in this regard.

I invite us all in alternative communities – all of us with investment in kinky and poly and feminist communities – to expect diversity, not just otherness. I invite us to expect that valuable, thoughtful, reflective experiences will sometimes be of a kind that we perceive as “the norm.” I invite us to be aware of dismissive actions that have hurt us in the past, and make it a prioirity not to inflict those on others. I invite us to cultivate a hunger for others’ reflective experiences. I invite us to see that not just rejecting the norm, but exploding and expanding ideas of it, is an essential part of freedom for many of us.

Apparently men are sexually diverse

I know, shocking right? Men are just dumb beasts who are aroused automatically, and only by cookie cutter Playboy bunnies.

Turn-ons, turn-offs, desire varies widely among men

Many men said feeling confident and good about themselves often led to feeling sexually aroused (while “feeling scruffy” had the opposite effect). And for many men, a self-confident partner was also more desirable than one who didn’t feel good about herself. In addition to a nice body and a pretty face, many men found intelligence “really attractive” and “a big turn on.”

Mood and feeling emotionally connected also influenced arousal for men, while a woman’s scent was key for some men, but not others. However, an “overwhelming majority” said that being outdoors, for example on a camping trip or having a picnic, boosted their sexual desire and arousal.

Taken together, the findings provide a much more nuanced picture of men’s sexuality than is promoted by men’s magazines, Janssen pointed out. “There’s huge variability among men in how easily they’re turned on or turned off, how easily they experience sexual desire and arousal,” he explained. “The differences among men and the differences among women are much larger than the average difference between the sexes in almost anything sexual.”

In fact, the researcher added, as many as 30 percent of women may be more easily sexually aroused than most men. “This study’s challenging the idea that men are simple,” he said.

I sarcastically say “Thank you, Captain Obvious!” except that apparently to a huge number of people this actually needs to be said.

Label

My spiritual director (who is kink-friendly) offered me a word today in our session, a word for a role I play in kink activities – supplicant. Right now I’m resonating with that above all other words in the bottom/sub genre of labels.

‘Submissive’ is a large word with little context for me. I embrace it uneasily as the best word in common usage that I have found for what I do. But it’s not quite right for me. It’s often thrown at fundamentalist women as an ideal for them to embody. Sometimes, I get angry at the thought that I would be submissive to anyone but God. Another problematic aspect for me is that it is often conflated with “slave” in the bdsm communities, a word I have absolutely no interest in going near.

‘Supplicant’ is the word for one who prays, one who brings forward a prayer. It is related to the word ‘beseech’. A supplicant is actively pursuing the fulfillment of her desires. She has a role worthy of honor, respect, and contemplation through the ages. She is a seeker. She may come as a blank slate, looking for direction, or she may come with particular blessings or questions in mind. But she comes with thirst. And that thirst touches the officiant’s agency, or touches the Divine directly, and drives what happens next. The supplicant has a powerful heart, and is also open to being filled by God.

The posture I immediately think of for supplicant is on one’s knees, head down. The “prayer position” for some Christians… or Child’s Pose in yoga. I like that position. It’s centering. The supplicant is submissive, entirely dependent on God, and she has faith that this humility will make her stronger.

Not all of Gabe’s and my play is religious in nature… but it is indeed all in a context of our relationship, which has deep roots in Spirit. So there is always this feel of consecrated activity going on just under the surface. I think that may be the 24/7 kinky thing that we feel, but don’t have language for.

Hospitality

It’s always been really important to me to create space for vulnerability. All of the healing, all of the true connection in my life has come from someone being vulnerable… from offering up to others something that is tender and not yet ripe. Something that may make us feel silly or weak. Something that may be hard-won self-awareness. Something that may be ripe, that we may be certain of, but is still so central to who we are that it’s threatening to say it out loud. Something that we know is important, and is risky to show to another human being.

Stories are a most important part of that something. The ways we make meaning in the world are literally who we are. Others may advocate for fundraising or political change or broader awareness of critical issues in the world. I advocate for vulnerability, for sacred space, for time to speak and ears that hear the power behind stories. Listening – true listening, deep listening – is a lost art, and there are very few places left to learn it or witness it being done. Listening is hospitality, it’s making space for another person to be themselves. Listening has brought me such amazing gifts. Listening was the primary appeal of the last job I had, a job I quit (for reasons too complicated to relay here). I miss it. I’m glad for the chance to do it online, when I find blogs that offer up sacred stories. I’m so glad when writers – especially bright, reflective writers – open themselves up to being vulnerable, and I’m thrilled when they quiet themselves enough to make space for others’ vulnerability. Intelligence is valuable, but hospitality to vulnerability is the real jewel.

Gabe’s already mentioned Ellie’s questions about masculinity over at Lumpesse.com. I’m really enjoying them.

Musings on Masculinity

Ellie has recently started a series of posts on masculinity, consisting of answers from male/masculine identified folks to a series of questions she asked. This is going to be fascinating, I think.

My answers were posted today, and the series was started with a set of anonymous answers.

If for some reason you’re not already reading Ellie, what the hell is wrong with you?!? Go! Add her feed to your preferred reader! Now!

 

Third Time’s a Charm

This is the third time I’ve tried to write this post, as Elizabeth alluded to earlier. It’s turning out to be very difficult, both because there’s a whole series of related topics that are involved and because the emotions surrounding it are rather strong.

So let me try to list the issues.

1) Boys’ bodies are not sexy.
2) Boys are assumed to have good relationships with their own sexuality.
3) Society is geared toward “male sexuality.”
4) That “male sexuality” is one dimensional and threatening.

At the very least those are the ones I’ve been able to isolate. And I’m not sure how to address these systematically, or even how to draw the lines from one to the next, but they bring up the same set of responses in me and thus are intrinsically linked in my experience.

Let me tell you about some of the things that have me thinking about this. First is my general desire for exhibition and the related desire to be found hot. But other things I’ve been reading have helped me to keep processing this.

Amber Rhea quoted from and linked to this

And for christ’s sake don’t you even dare talk about taking pole dancing classes and how that’s personally empowering for you given your working class, Southern, conservative, Christian upbringing. There are more important things in the world and obviously poverty supercedes that.

I can totally get this. It’s like Elizabeth and I were talking about with the attacks on porn focusing on how it damages women, how it leads them to be pressured to be like porn stars. But what about when porn is a tool of liberation? It has been for her. It has been for me. That’s why we started making porn. That’s why we started this website. Things that we’ve experienced like others have with the pole dancing classes have been the pictures and video we’ve released here, Bourbon Street flashing during Mardi Gras, being open and writing and talking about our sexual experiences. Each of those serves as an affirmation of our bodies and of our sexualities. We reclaim the sexuality we were told not to have, not to develop, not to relish, and we put it back in the central place that we feel it deserves in our lives.

And it makes me happy to look around and see more and more venues where people can be seen. What’s been especially nice has been what I’ve perceived as a move toward creating more room for people of varying body types to present themselves as sexual beings, especially for those who have been treated as though their bodies preclude them from being sexual. I’m thinking specifically of online forums like Chubby Parade and of the endless variations of folks in the BDSM scene. But it’s not just that. It’s the pole dancing classes, or strip aerobics, or even fucking Girls Gone Wild. While there are plenty of limitations there seem to be more and more arenas in which sexuality is seen as a central factor of human existence. And this is fantastic for people like us. We find healing in embracing our sexualities and making them public.

But do you notice that the vast majority of these opportunities are geared toward women? If I lift my kilt on Bourbon Street I’m much more likely to get arrested than if Elizabeth takes off her top. Penises are a threat. They’re obscene. No one wants to see that. Some would likely even take issue with my statement that I am told not to have, develop or relish my sexuality. I am a man after all, and all sexuality in the public arena is male centered. But the sexuality I’m allowed to have is predatory, uncaring, based on conquest, selfish. Or else it’s based in my own bumbling idiocy because I start to drool and stop thinking every time I see a tit. But to work on a sexuality that is centered in my body and the way I relate to other bodies? There’s not even a dialogue around that. Men are assumed by the culture at large to have only one kind of sexuality and anything else is a joke or a lie.

Over at Feministe there’s been a discussion going on about Feminist Porn, whether it exists, what it looks like, what it’s effects are. It’s been remarkably civil. One part of the original post was a list of links to feminist porn sites. The focus of most of these is women producing the porn they want to be in, which is great, but it led some to question who was producing the porn that (hetero or bi) feminist women want to see. In short, where are the naked men?

shy says:

What about men expressing their desire to sexually please others? What about men reveling in their own beautiful, natural bodies for the enjoyment of others?

But for some reason, hetero men don’t seem to get the same enjoyment out of taking it off for women that many of the feminist porn producers espouse. I believe they have not been trained to see themselves this way, as women have been trained since birth. An no matter how progressive and gloriously un-photoshopped feminist porn is, it’s still women seducing the camera, not men.

And And Sungold says:

Like Friction and Shy and a few others here, I too went looking for the guys. I don’t have a problem with the sites KaeLyn listed featuring mostly women. But where are the men?

And I mean *men,* not boys. A couple of these sites do show men. They’re quite young. No Fauxxx, for instance, is specifically soliciting male models, but they’re calling for “boys.”

This might cater to a very small subset of hetero women, but it looks much more like they’re following certain conventions in gay porn.

So where, please, is the porn featuring attractive *men*? I don’t think we can speak of real feminist porn until there’s serious turnabout, with women authorized to enjoy the visual pleasures of adult male bodies on our own terms – to look, as well as be looked at.

These are issues I’ve been wondering about lately as well, as I’ve mentioned. I’m one of those guys who does enjoy “taking it off for women,” but when I actually try to find ways to do that, then I’m often left feeling stuck, with no models to turn to that actually reflect my sexual reality. What images there are of men for women are of ripped abs, chiseled jaws, eternal five o’clock shadows… Or it’s guys taking up close pics of their cocks. (And if you look for images of men for men, then it seems to be most often young, hairless, small guys in horrendously ugly underwear.) So figuring out what to take pictures of and how to present them can be a challenge. And more than that, seeing as we’re working from a relatively non-commercial porno model here, once the pictures are taken, how do we find an audience? Are there women out there looking for sex blogs with naked men? Where are they talking about this? Where can I learn about what their drives are and what they want to see.

Because yes, I blog for myself, but if I didn’t want to share something of myself with others then I’d just keep a journal and a photo album. And if I didn’t want responses I wouldn’t allow (or, more accurately, beg for) comments.

Shy comments on “seducing the camera,” and I think of the ways that I have been taught to be seductive from this body that I have. They’re not about my body. They’re about money (expensive dinners, jewelry). They’re about wearing, not removing, nice clothes (everyone loves a man in a suit, right?). Sometimes they’re about artistic attempts (songs and poems). They’re about signifiers surrounding me. As much as women may be reduced to only the sexual uses and desirability of their bodies, men’s desirability is so often removed from their bodies. No, I’m not wanting to get into a “who’s more damaged” competition. I’m just sharing from my experience.

So where are the men? I think we’re wanting to find out what works for us in the expression of our own sexuality, and in communicating that to an appreciative audience. But we can’t do it by ourselves. We need to hear from our audience. We need to hear that there is an audience. From the comments I’ve gotten here, and those I’ve gotten from friends, the audience is there. If you’re part of that audience I’m asking you to chip in, telling us what you find sexy and what you want to see. If you’re a guy who wants to be the subject of some boyporn, then tell us about yourself. Put yourself out there to be found.

And to those ends, I’m calling for a monthly (or so) sexy naked nerd boy roundup. And I know I wrote this from the point of view of a hetero guy appealing to women, but that’s who I am. This isn’t limited to just straight boys, though. I want to see variety. I want to see new ways of being sexy. Anyone male-identified is invited to participate. Post your sexy self all over your blogs, let me know about it (iamthegabe at gmail dot com being the easiest), and I’ll gather links to all the posts for the month in one place. If people want to see us, we’ll give them an easy way to find us.

Now we just need a catchy name.