Quickie Blog Prompt From FetLife

PAIN – Are you into it? Do you hate it/crave it? Do you use it/take it as punishment, as pleasure, as an endorphin rush…

Is pain a part of your d/s or separate? Is it possible to have a d/s relationship without s/m?

Pain is an essential part of what I enjoy receiving, and what my honey enjoys giving. I see a priestly role in his domination, as he facilitates an altered state of spirit/consciousness for me through both bondage and pain. The intensity of the physical experience of pain, the endorphin rush, and the urging to surrender internally in order to move the pain through me – all are wonderful.

Our approach is is qualitatively different than any Christian based flogging I’ve seen, as we strive to have an innately embodied experience, and specifically reject ideas that we must leave or deny our body in order to find God. Our activity is not a debasement of the flesh, it is a celebration of the gifts of being in flesh… including the beautiful red and purple stripes that can decorate me sometimes.

I can be incredibly hard on myself in my daily life, so I often don’t ask for even more punishment in a kink setting – unless something has been hard for me to let go of, and I would find it cathartic to give myself over to a beating for said indiscretion.

FYI, there’s a fabulous social networking site (no, not a personals site) for kinky people over at FetLife (NSFW). The Lifestyle Blog Prompts comm is the source of these questions.

Healing

Before the furor over the Open Source Boob Project, one of the things that struck me was when the Ferrett wrote, “It was as though parts of me were being healed whenever I did it.” He experienced healing through being given (and giving himself) permission to ask to touch someone, and to actually touch them. Given our uneasy relationship with bodies, our own and others, it didn’t seem surprising to me that overtly making touch okay would be a deeply spiritual experience. When the only generally approved contexts in which we can experience other bodies is commercial, in conquest or in romantic relationships then the boundaries between us, necessary though they may be, become too rigid, too dense. We become isolated. We experience brokenness. Touch is a step toward healing that brokenness. Dismissing taboos against touch is a powerful action, as was evidenced by the backlash the Ferrett got from his post.

The responses he got that bothered me the most were the ones which dismissed his sense of healing. One commenter says, the experiment “doesn’t seem to be a way to make people healthier sexually.” Another commenter said, “live in a fucking woman’s reality with a gropey boss for a fucking week before you decide that a woman’s body is a tool for some kind of fucking mystical healing experience for men.” See, I think bodies are tools for healing. I think that’s part of what we are. That doesn’t mean that people have a right to use others for their own healing. No one has the right to say “But I’m broken and you can fix me” and demand action of another. It does mean, though, that people can choose to make use of their own bodies as instruments of healing. Healing isolation. Healing sexualities. Healing fears of intimacy. Healing fear of touch. Healing desire. We can do that.

That’s part of why I was so happy to see this post. Just as the Open Source Boob Project was experienced both as the delight of “Wow! We’re touching breasts, butts and other bits!” and “parts of me were being healed,” i-muse‘s experiences as a stripper are described as

You are powerfully shaking the shadow, digging in the dirt and casting light
AND
You’re just shaking your ass.

One doesn’t negate the other. They both happen in the same moment. What are the motivations of those involved? What are you aware of in the moment? What are you open to? Because you can see an ass so gorgeous you just want to bite into it, and at the same time feel an joyous ache at your core that you’re able to experience such beauty, such validation of desire. You can heal and be healed and turned on at the same time.

Feminism and Kink, pt. 2

You may remember part one way back here. Yeah, the grappling on this one has been time consuming. This series is born from: a) my discussions of feminism with some kinksters, b) my startled introduction to online feminism and my worry for the history and intentions that are getting lost, and c) my desire to strengthen the connective tissue between two parts of myself that I value: being a feminist and being a submissive in bondage play. I want to look at kink and feminism and ask myself, how are they liberating? How have they encouraged personal growth? How do they nourish me?

A fundamental element of my experience in feminist circles (and in religiously-oriented feminist academia) has been the concept of hearing one another into being. It is a style and goal of communication that involves:

  • nonviolent communication skills that embody shared power (“power with” each other)
  • conflict resolution actions based on “win-win” thinking and on honoring vulnerability
  • respect for the power of storytelling – how it transforms both teller and hearer to experience imaginative creation of meaning

Hearing one another into being means making space for one another’s unfolding selves. It’s about learning profound listening skills. It’s about building courage to speak, to share new language for authentic selfhood as we find it. It’s about all of us, of every gender, coming to know ourselves as subjects… coming to know more about how we feel than how we look. It’s about experiencing and knowing that there’s something sacred going on any moment where systems of oppression have been bested and self-disclosure and trust and authenticity have broken through. While it’s powerful to come to know something about ourselves, it’s transformative to embody that truth in public, amongst others that acknowledge and value that truth.

Hearing one another into being is, at its heart, an invitation to embody compassion. It comes from an expectation that interacting with others in nurturing ways also nurtures us. For almost all of us, it means learning new ways to communicate with one another in honest and loving ways.

Hearing one another into being is also an invitation to apply our highest creative skills to our own lives. It is respect for self-disclosure, for creative process, for imagination, for true play. It encourages existence based on creativity – on new states of beingness – not on victimhood and wound-based self-definitions.

Those of you who are kinky and have read this far may have noticed something. There is an element of spiritual exhibitionism and voyeurism built into hearing one another into being. Seeing and being seen are two of the most common kinks, and the erotic power that’s tapped is not lost among many of us who practice nurturing communication styles. I can’t speak from anyone else’s motivations, but I am enthralled by the ways I can share my sexual story, and experience that of others. I am transformed when others truly see me, and when I can see some part of the complexity of another person’s sexual self. I feel both an intense healing and a new creative impulse in sharing the beauty of sex. I truly embody and experience a new part of myself, a new archetype, a new kind of energy or a new story when I embody it in front of other people. Scenes and power exchanges create the same theatrical ritual that good communication does – it opens doors to let in new creation.

More to come. When I find the words.

Daycare Porn

Duke University is offering a class called “Sex Work: Economies of Gender and Desire” this fall and The opening sentences of the description of the class jumped out at me:

The phrase “sex work” strikes most of us as paradoxical, confusing what we imagine to be an act of intimacy and pleasure with the banality of a nine-to-five job. Indeed, from prostitution to “exotic” dancing, sex work is seen as breaching important social divisions between labor and leisure, public and private, necessity and desire.

So the idea is that people are made uncomfortable because sex is associated with intimacy, and blurring the line between intimacy and commerce is dangerous. I’m sure I could take this a lot of different directions, but the first parallel that came to mind was parenting. Parenting is a private, intimate act undertaken out of love (in its most ideal circumstances at least). So then the act of parenting would never be reduced to commerce as sex is with prostitution and porn, right? Yet millions of people rely on daycare workers to parent their children daily. Fewer rely on nannies. And this is seen as if not ideal then at the very least understandable, even necessary. People are paying surrogate parents to take part of the intimacy of raising a child. Daycare workers, babysitters and the like may not rank highly on the occupation ladder, but they don’t seem to get a cultural blame for the intricacies of raising a child.

While the ideas proposed above may be some of the factors in the demonization of sex work and sex workers I don’t think they can be seen as central, or else the conflation of intimacy, privacy, etc. with commerce would be discouraged across the culture as a whole. And from The Dating Game to Flavor of Love, from daycare to nursing homes that discouragement just does not exist. There’s something more fundamental to than the paradox and confusion put forth above.

Opening Up

Ok, it’s loooooong-past time for a new standard answer to the question, “I wanna learn more about open relationships; where do I start?” (see here for more ranting about that). Thank God Tristan Taormino’s been writing something for just such an occasion. And it’s wildly high-quality and invitational.

Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships is partly a taste of the great diversity of relationship styles that are out there, partly a workbook of skills that are valuable in many different kinds of loving bonds, and partly a counseling session on personal authority and giving ourselves permission to build the connections that are most nurturing to us. It is all roundly supported by the author’s deep respect for all kinds of styles of loving. This last is of paramount importance to me.

Here-ith ends my review of the book as a whole. Below are snapshots of parts of the book – portions of two posts I wrote elsewhere while reading (both made on June 14th). The first is about my primary disagreement with the book, and the second about the surprising resonance of one particular chapter. Yeah, plan to read with a notepad, cause there’s all kinds of creative juices that get flowing. I can’t wait for Gabe to read it so we can talk about it together.



This particular observation is brewing in my head in contrast to something presented in the book. I can’t criticize its existence in the writing, because it’s clearly a common theme in the interviews. I’ve also seen it just recently in an online poly group. But I really keep craving that people go deeper in their analysis on one issue, that they don’t stop where they keep stopping in the conversation. I want to go further.

Many times in the book, there are “reasons” given for why someone is polyamorous. In the online group, the question was just recently offered up “I am poly because of…” We all know I adore navel-gazing… but I’m not sure this is the best question to be asking. Most GLBT communities are no longer asking why people are of a different sexual orientation. It makes just as little sense to ask the question about relational orientation.

In many cases, valuable information is dug up as people answer this question… but I do believe it then gets mislabeled. The most frustrating thing for me is to read “Many people are poly because =>insert immovable reality of ALL relationships here<=." One example frequently lifted up in the 80 pages I've read is that many people are poly because no one person can fulfill their every need. Ok, there's not a relationship expert worth their salt on this whole freaking planet that doesn't take that as a given in human relating. No one - poly, mono or otherwise - can fulfill their partner's every need. That's not the issue. That's not the place to stop the analysis. Let's look at all those moments over the course of a relationship's lifespan... the elements of personality that arise in a person that their partner doesn't get. It may be a sexual kink they don't share, or it may be a spiritual theme or a political or communal concern that is baffling, or distasteful, or downright threatening to the other person. Monogamous people get no freaking immunity from this. Even those who believe their partner fulfills their every need don't get immunity. It will happen. The part I'm most interested in is... what now? What are growthful, expansive ways to proceed from there? How will the answer differ from person to person and relationship to relationship? I watched Gabe come to terms with his own polyamory from the viewpoint of a good friend - emotionally close and geographically distant. I came to the process with massive skepticism, from my own previous exposure to polyamory. There was nothing about the relationship he was in that gave me a clue to the reality of his inner landscape. There was nothing about the needs of his that weren't getting met (which were LEGION) that explained or convinced me of anything. What finally opened my eyes was simply knowing Gabe as long as I have, and really observing him interacting with the world. It was knowing his orientation to his environment that made it clear to me. There is no justification that is going to explain this part of him away, and poly folk everywhere do themselves a disservice when they try that tactic.


Ok, eight pages later and I need to post again. I just finished a chapter that convinces me this is a good book for anyone interested in healthy relationships of any kind.

Chapter Eight is “Solo Polyamory” – individuals who shape their multiple relationships in polyamorous ways, but that don’t have a primary parter, and essentially live the “single” life. Much of the chapter describes the stage of my life where I was intentionally single (though not seeing anyone). Tristan describes how much of our culture – including poly culture – works under the assumption that we want to be partnered, and how to live with that pressure as a single person. One person she quoted said this: I consider myself to be my primary partner. This is a very real label for me, not something that I adopt while waiting for “The One” to come along. I am my own husband and wife. I made that same decision myself, for a time span that lasted several years, and it was deeply powerful. It was an essential part of my spiritual journey. It continues to echo into the place I inhabit now in my relationship, as a healthy way to be by myself and whole (since I hadn’t learned that before then).

The whole chapter is filled with examples of healthy habits… and again, has such respect for a wide variety of relational orientations, including mono styles… that I strongly suspect it has value for anyone interested in relational health.

One of the things that struck me, now that I’ve read many profiles, case studies and stories of poly folk, is how often the introduction of polyamory coincided with the introduction of skillful communication in a poly person’s experience. This makes sense to me, as relieving the pressure of trying to be someone you’re not usually frees up a lot of psychic energy that can then be channeled into choosing and learning new skills. Honesty in one part of our lives usually expands out into others. I remember my first strong drive to gain communication skills and to explore assumptions I made about relationships came after intentionally releasing the role my mother had chosen for me in her life.

Feminism and Kink, Pt. 1


THIS IS WHY I’M NOT A COAL MINER:

The following are reasons I’m not a coal miner.
1) I believe that men and women are equal, with neither group being above the other.
2) I believe a woman has the right to make her own decisions about her life – including being a work-at-home wife or mom if she wants.
3) I have my own opinions about several topics, and I think for myself.
4) I believe sex is good, and I don’t believe porn is bad.

Since all these views are at odds with coal miners, I shy away from the word. Coal miners get screechy and separatist about their views, and the the very label makes me cringe. So, I will never use it.

*It makes just as much sense if you replace “coal miner” with “feminist.”

Somewhere, the word got hijacked. With the influx of weblife, and the advent of 24 hour news channels to fill, the rich history and current scholarships of feminisms is getting lost. Those of us who seek out beloved community with feminism as our door to it get FRUSTRATED YES FRUSTRATED.

I want to talk about two words – ‘kink’ and ‘feminism’. Not only are they intensely compatible, but they’ve got a lot in common, including having opponents that warp and distort the very definition of the communities, in attempts to destroy them. I think I’m going to be talking about it for a while, as the list of commonalities just keeps getting longer and longer. So let me start here and post this.

The first and most important part of both kink and feminism is that YOU are important. Your sensations, your experience, your history, your identity, your own understanding of your unfolding life is important, and you have the authority and agency to create you for yourself.

If you want to open your horizons with anything outside the mainstream of sexual behavior, dive in. Get educated. Find teachers. Explore for yourself. Thought about watching people? Being watched? Getting tied up? Playing roles? Being powerful, or powerless? There are ways to nurture and love and care for those desires. Don’t let confused guilt-ridden people stop you. Demand true health and the expansive self you deserve.

If you believe every human being deserves to be nurtured, that human community should benefit its members, and that gender doesn’t fully define a person, look into feminism. Look PAST the people who are screeching about it in the public sphere, on TV and the internet – they are opportunistic, or confused, or worse. Follow the liberation. Look for sensible, kind voices talking about ways to love each other. THAT’S why the movement took root. READ. Find people in real life. Start with Wikipedia’s most basic understanding that there is a whole world of ways to be a feminist, and a whole history of people who have fought hard to expand our potential and our spirits.

There are all kinds of movements of people who refuse to be crushed by falsehoods, who better the world by sharing themselves as whole people. I will be over here quietly and firmly claiming both of these labels, and the screaming idealogues can go fuck themselves.

Books on Polyamory

The background to this dilemma is: Gabe and I have been working on a virtual store, a store we can offer here that would essentially be an interactive bibliography of all our favorite books, toys, and supplies, as available through Amazon.com. It would be a virtual inventory, the kind of selection we could offer in our own center someday. I’ve been so very excited to build and fill it with wonderful resources destined to enrich more friends’ lives as we pass on word of how great they are.

That store has started. It’s accessible through this link – The Pornocracy.Orgy of Stuff from our main page – and from the banner on our site that gives you a little taste of what you’ll find there. Plus, the structure is in place so that if you buy anything from Amazon after clicking through our store, you are financially supporting Pornocracy’s continued existence. Thank you, thank you thank you.

Here’s the dilemma: filling the polyamory book section.

I have had my own struggle with poly lit as I’ve made my home in this partly poly relationship. I adore relationship analysis and psychology; I look to those who have traveled any possible element of my road, and written about it, to illuminate it. The trouble is, there is horrendous monophobia in poly lit, ALL OVER IT, especially the literature that is traditionally published. There’s nothing like opening up to the promise of new reflections on relationship, especially while in an emotionally tender place, only to find repeated, blatant references to what a fucking loser you are. It hurts like hell. It’s a horrible, destructive thing to have to manage in a situation like mine, and it’s painful to think that others have struggled with it, and more will continue to struggle, as the problem really hasn’t been solved yet.

I’m an academic with an (obvious) fondness for bibliography as art. I want to have the classics of this genre represented. More than that, I know what these books meant to Gabe when he first read them. They were evidence that he wasn’t alone. They were joyous finds of somebody else like him, somebody else on the planet who works that way. I know viscerally how powerful a force that is. That’s a hard thing to deny. Trouble is, there’s one classic that I detest enough to ask Gabe if we can just not carry it (that one is not only monophobic, but also has shitty analysis in it), and another I haven’t even read yet, out of fear, whose author has written downright offensive things about me elsewhere.

So, I struggle. The poly section is currently two books: the classic that offends me the least — mostly because I haven’t read more than about five pages, and a brand new book that promises to look at a variety of intentional relationship styles in a very thoughtful way. No, I haven’t read that one either. There’s also a big long disclaimer on that section that doesn’t currently feel strong enough, but that I haven’t yet rewritten.

*sigh* This is not an easy solution to be without. If you have any book recommendations to offer, I’d appreciate them on many levels.

Identity Fucking

Looking at Women’s Studies, Gay & Lesbian and Sexuality books at the big chain bookstore the other night reminded me of some questions that have been floating around in my head for a while. In the section of the bookstore labeled “Gay & Lesbian” there was all of one book about bisexuals and bisexuality. One. Elizabeth felt made invisible.

And I was left wondering if orientation is something you are or something you do. Also in the “Gay & Lesbian” books were The Joy of Gay Sex and On Our Backs Guide to Lesbian Sex (completely segregated from the rest of the sex books, which were kept in the “Sexuality” section), which made me wonder what constitutes gay and/or lesbian sex, and what constitutes straight sex and what other identities sex can have.

Elizabeth is bisexual. I am straight. When we have sex is it straight because she’s female and I’m male? How does our genderfucking come into play in defining our sex? Is the identity of a sexual act the same as the identity of the actors? That would mean we have bi-straight sex. Do bisexual men have bi sex or gay sex with each other? What if I, a self-identified straight boy, fool around with another guy? Or with a transwoman? What kind of sex is that? Yes, I could keep going, but you get the point.

As usual, I’m full of questions that I end up valuing more highly than their potential answers.

For the record, I did move copies of the above mentioned books to the “Sexuality” section.

Crass Commercialism

It seems like when addressing the acts (arts) that make up sex work, nearly everything written is looking at the most crassly commercial forms of those acts. Elizabeth and I were in the library yesterday looking at the 306.7s when we came across a book on paid phone sex. She took the time to browse through the volume sharing passages with me and we were both struck by the book’s focus on one particular subset of phone sex. The author(s) made the claim that the central factor of phone sex is the flatness of its fantasy with the patron being dependent on the operator portraying a character that is not real and cannot be real, that the patrons would not be able to use this service if they were confronted by the complexities of an actual human being on the other end. Instead the operators were to be a form onto which the patrons could project their fantasies and have them mimicked.

Our rather different experience with phone sex probably colored our negative reaction to this narrow view, and I can admit that. When your sexual and romantic relationship begins in a long distance context, things like phone sex become very important. So the exploration of phone sex only from the anonymous, highly mediated, mass-marketed commercial form seemed to be slighting the art that goes into constructing and sharing a fantasy and standing in the stacks looking through that book (and the few others on sex work) seemed a reminder that sexual arts are generally only addressed at their most commercial. Pornography is written about as a product far more often than an art, and the issues surrounding it tend to be based on porn-making being a job. Ultimately that leaves Elizabeth and I out of the conversation. Yes, we make porn. We like making porn. We like having phone sex, and doing so engages us in each other as real, fleshy, determined and deliberate, complex human beings.

See, looking at porn making and other skills that are used in sex work only from the point of view of the work, and writing about phone sex only focusing on one kind is… well, it would have been like if we went over to the 780s and only found books on Britney Spears. Yes, her kind of music is a tremendous cultural force, and must be taken into account, but to only talk about the music from the point of view of the industry leaves out so many forms of expression, like Defiance, Ohio who create beautiful, intense music from love, and give away much of what they create. Keeping the focus on the business of sex and the effects of sex as work (and I do enjoy commercial porn, so I’m not knocking that) means that the arts involved in creating that business are slighted.

I read someone like Ellie Lumpesse, who is brilliant and sexy and just generally amazing, and see that she offers phone sex sessions and I just can’t imagine that the people who have calls with her are doing so in order to project their flat fantasies onto her, to have her as a puppet to act out things without ever becoming too real. I have to think that the draw to calling Ellie is that she is very real, and she puts that reality out there for everyone to see, to respond to, and to engage!

Where is the literature dealing with sex arts that not only allow for, but depend on engaging one another? I know there are other consumers for whom the reality of the performers is an important part of the enjoyment. It’s seeing real people fucking, and not being able to deny that reality, that makes the experience so intense.

And even now, despite trying to move away from the commerce of sex and discuss the artistry of sex acts, sex work, I’ve gone back to the framework of consumers and performers. The language is insidious. Are Elizabeth and I performing in our writings, videos and pictures? Do the people who see, watch and read become consumers in that act? I tend to think of it in the moment as more participatory. We exhibitionists are rather dependent on our voyeurs. With Elizabeth posting some pictures recently to some communities on livejournal and on Chubby Parade I mentioned how important it was to me in those kinds of venues that posters respond to the people who comment on the posts. It’s that back and forth, that form of relating, that makes it so valuable to me. It takes pornography beyond the realm of producer/consumer and makes the act of creating, sharing and responding central, using porn as a mechanism of relating, much like many other forms of art.

So, while not dismissing the value of and issues raised by commercial sex I do want to find a language and literature of the arts and relationality behind that commerce.


I don’t want to distract from the post above and the focus on acts also used in sex work as art/relation/etc., but related to all of this from the perspective of commerce is “Naked, Naughty, Nasty” by Vicky Funari, from Whores and Other Feminists, ed. Jill Nagle which in part discusses the expectation on the part of customers at a peep show that the performances be “real” and her response to that expectation. What right do customers have to define what is real and expect that reality from the workers? I’ve also written before about ideas of real and fake, especially when applied to sex workers, and god knows Ren had had to deal with this supposed dichotomy in the many criticisms of her.