Every time I see “you’re not queer enough” or “you’re not kinky enough” all I want to is put up another sign on my proverbial front lawn that says “have the sex you want, with the people you love, and if you have the energy create the space for others to do the same.”
Sometimes I also want to stand on my front lawn and scream “who the hell cares!” But I don’t, because sex is actually really important. And group belonging can be very important. So this whole thing breaks my heart from all directions. And then I remember that time a friend and I had an argument about it, and he was sitting on the stairs later, trying to pacify me I think, and he says “it’s bad for everyone but for some people the good outweighs the bad.” And that’s true, but what he missed was that my heart broke in that moment. Sex is powerful and intimate and beautiful. It has the power to connect us and make use feel whole. People risk beating and jail time for the right to have sex they want with the people they love. And you want to take this precious, beautiful thing and put it in a place that’s “bad for everyone”? No. We can do better.
That friend was defending the BDSM scene. But then I see people who realize that the BDSM scene is sorta a cult of personality, or it’s broken in some way. Specifically it’s broken in that it hides abuse and puts itself out there as the only place to have safe kinky sex at the same time. So people try to break away from that, but then they police their new borders even more thoroughly. It’s the lavender menace all over again.
So I guess what I really want to say is that people have been trying to tell others how to have sex for 5000 years. Just because they are a leather title holder or they are a radical anti-bdsm queer fairy, doesn’t give them any more say-so about what you and your partner do wherever you do it.
Another friend told me a while back that “there is no such thing as radical sex.” You can work for cultural change, you can try to change social views such that everyone feels accepted and open about their sexuality. You can work to educate people about consent and change the frameworks we use to talk about it. But when the bedroom door closes, whatever you do, it’s about you and the person or people you’re with, and it’s normal and perfect.
I’m thinking about the ways I’ve changed, and the things I notice now too. Yesterday I went to a small experimental electronica dance party – it was lovely and perfect. Hope you all are having a good weekend
“I want to be whatever you need me to be.” I ground myself in this thought, allow it to shape my approach to you. Wait for whatever subliminal cues I create from this to form. Wait for you to read them in my body. I know how you like to have sex, I am waiting to see if you tell me again. If you will own your secrets and let me give your fantasies to you. Do you trust me?
I want to curate the things you thought were hard to find, and lay them out before you. I don’t really care what those things are, I’m just here to facilitate. Believe it or not, that turns me on.
It used to be confusing as well – you, in this scenario are usually submissive. The things you want – painful, embarrassing, perhaps unfair. For the casual observer, I am taking, not facilitating. I get off on taking too, but that is different. This is about creating the space you thought could not exist. This is my healer mood.
I’m shy about it, because the healer requires hurt to exist.
I watch him watching him tie her up. We are talking, I think, about marketing. He isn’t making eye contact with me, he is watching a scene he wishes he was a part of. I am bored.
I didn’t expect to be bored. Having resurfaced the healer, used her to find what’s core to the sex I enjoy, I was hoping to keep that energy. To roll this thing that was going well forward, and use it to spark something fun. I thought perhaps this wouldn’t work and I would find the event as a whole deeply upsetting. This too didn’t happen. I am simply bored. The kind of bored that sometimes happens at cocktail parties organized by professional conferences. After you’ve caught up with your colleagues, said appreciative things to the day’s speakers, and had a pleasant chat about Big Data with…someone. You just look around, drink in hand, and wonder “would anyone notice if I slip out to watch a bit of porn in the hotel room?”
I ask myself if I would like to have a sexual experience with someone in this space. Perhaps the young man who works in publishing. Or the other gentleman who did make eye contact while discussing ad placement. I don’t. I don’t in this space. This space is not designed to support the way I want to have sex. This is fine, it is designed to support that way people who like to have public sex like to have sex.
I want to have sex with you, with the scary secret parts of you, behind closed doors. I want to create the space we inhabit with intentionality and purpose.
I’m not sure what to do with this space, so I prepare to leave. I run into people whose company I would enjoy over a beer in some other context. I look for a diplomatic way to answer “will you be here tomorrow,” realizing eventually that those asking don’t much care – I can just smile, say “maybe,” and move on.
The next day I buy myself a fancy coffee and wonder as to what sexuality and sensuality look like in private, away from those public sex spaces I’ve been taught to think of as the pinnacle of sexual empowerment.
I suspect you’ll be able to read it on my body.
I wrote a ton about suicide, but I put it all in a notebook I can’t find because I moved cross country. The piece I remember best is this idea of concentric circles of grief. I did not get to mourn, in a direct sorta way, for Conor. I got to hold his daughter and wash dishes for the person who was not washing dishes because she was talking to his widow. And because I was washing dishes for the person who was talking to his widow my friends finished my packing for me, and so it went in ever expanding circles of impact. I held the people I love. The person I was most worried for called me and we sat on the phone silent, him in Philadelphia and me in Maui, unsure if the other knew, not wanting to be the first to say.
Someone wrote a behind the scenes piece about how depression is a disease and most of us aren’t doctors, which I read, and reread, and watched my friends read. We shared lists of mental health resources with the people who were left who probably weren’t the people who needed them. I tried, and probably failed, to not ask personal questions – tried to give Conor and his family the privacy and dignity they deserve. I thanked the person who came over when I was at my lowest, and reflected on how very lucky I was to pull out from depression. I had a fight with an ex about the nature of suicide and how I relate to it. I had a fight with an ex who thought I was wishing it away, when I was, sadly, preparing for it to happen again.
I moved my stuff, and carried boxes, and rebuilt furniture, and missed – and still miss – my tribe.
So I read this thing, which actually sounds like a lot of other things I read, and like a lot of things I read it positions the sex the writer enjoys having as “SO MUCH KINKIER” than the sex I enjoy having. And each time I read something about X being kinkier or queerer, or generally all around nicer than Y, I have two reactions. The first gut reaction is one of, hmm, not anger, defensiveness perhaps? “My sex is kinky enough thank you very much” defensiveness. Or if I’m in the so much more group, a reaction of “don’t use me as your banner, person who doesn’t know me.” It’s a gut reaction.
The second, the brain reaction, is twofold: 1) you have just defined More Kinky(tm) as the goal state or more desirable state, why? Is being kinky is personally important to you? Basically, it’s a reaction of “you seem hurt by this game, why are you trying to win by the rules that are hurting you?” And 2) Meh, other people’s gradations of how kinky something is doesn’t matter. I’m not sleeping with them, they can be the most kinky, or the least kinky, or the differently kinky, it’s cool. Ok, also 3) Huh that got my hackles up, I wonder if I have more identity tied in with kink than I’d like to? Probably. This caught me, sorta like a rough nail on fabric, not anything particular, just noticing my own reaction.
It made me think of readers who might feel that way, and what I want to say to that is: have the sex you want with the people you love. Revel in the joy of it and in that coming home feeling of being seen in your entirety whatever that means for you. Don’t apologize for the sex you do or don’t want to have, in fact, if you’re a woman, take stock of how often you apologize for existing in the world, you might be surprised. If it’s important to you to be So Much Kinkier, then you are that. But when you get there, ask yourself why that’s important and what gatekeeper told you you weren’t kinky enough. Be what you need to be, but don’t become the gatekeeper – that way lies madness (and the status quo).
EDIT: Actually, wait, someone went out of their way to write about the sex that is fulfilling and exciting to them. Yay. May it be everything they want and need it to be; hot, loving, radical, or whatever rings true to the people involved.
A little more than a year ago, I was sitting in a beer garden with some friends, a couple of people I was dating at the time, and maybe even some new kids I didn’t know well, and we were talking about, academically, marginalized youth. Actually we were talking about traveler kids, punks, and different ways of being poor or in poverty. And what it meant to be “in” with an out group.
Someone mentioned facial tattoos. In the early days of punk rock, when things were more radical, and probably still today for people who are much more radical than I will ever hope to be, a facial tattoo was a way of affirming one’s commitment to the edge. You have not only opted out of the status quo, but you have effectively shut the door on ever being able to access it again. This made sense. In fact, I had always wanted a facial piercing, but hadn’t gotten one because I had also wanted a job.
The day after that though, I was in the bathroom, looking in the mirror, and I realized I had reached a point in my career where no one will ever question my competence or right to be there based on a facial piercing. So I got my eyebrow pierced. I joked that it was my job security piercing and I adored the cross-signals it was sending.
Unfortunately, today I had it checked out, and sure enough it is growing out. Eyebrows are surface piercings so this is not entirely unexpected. I can re-pierce it after a few months if I’d like, but before I leave the west coast – and my piercer – I have to get it removed. I’ll miss my little symbol of not-belonging. For both reasons actually: as a celebration of my career and as visible deviance. For now I’m thinking about what role this little bit of surgical steel plays in my identity.
I’m also thinking about what it might feel like to be so sure of a thing, so passionate and committed to it, so as to close the door on all the comforts and privileges of a past life.
This morning I came across yet another article about how only 3 in 100 accused rapists see any jail time. This is riding on the coat tails of yesterday’s annoyance about creepy reddit so I am, not unexpectedly, annoyed. Or disgusted. One of those for sure
And I’m also annoyed because I really freaking love the Predator Alert Tools that maymay and Co. created. Specifically, I love the Facebook add-on which scales the protective behavior I already do, and the OkCupid app because it’s an easy at-a-glance alert. What I’m pissed off about, is that like many a technical solution to a human problem, adoption was spotty. Actually, from speaking with the creator, it wasn’t spotty so much as not attempted – the tools were a proof of concept.
Proofs of concept, however, don’t reach the regular Jane, and social tools need high conversion rates early on to be seen as worth while, and in this case, to generate the content needed to protect users from sexual assault. It’s ok, I’m not saying the people working on this suck or anything, these tools were made in a metaphorical garage with minimal resources (you can help). If Google+ can’t cope with the roll out/adoption challenge and it has the backing of an Internet mongrel, I’m surprised small social enterprises happen at all.
What I am saying, however, is that this absolutely hands down matters. For OkCupid less so, because you can piggyback off of OkCupid’s existing community since all the questions are crowd sourced but from the general question pool, not from specific PAT-OkCupid questions. Here you have a direct link between people who install and run the plug-in and people who are helped by it. The challenge you have is easier, really you just need to get the influencers in college dorms (and with age of first marriage going up, urban book clubs and wherever mid-20s women gather) to try it out. If they tell their friends, or better yet, use it while a friend is shoulder browsing, you’re 75% of the way there. PAT-OkCupid is a technical challenge, make it fast enough and non-obtrusive enough and it’s worth a try. Roll out a feature that lets users add specific filter questions on their version only (he wants kids, he loves dogs, whatever) and you can alert users to potential sexual predators while they’re using a better filtering convenience tools.
The Facebook app is harder. It requires users to give a little in order to function. User generated content is hard to bootstrap already, I can only imagine how hard it is to bootstrap such private and sensitive content. I have to say, I was royally miffed when this was marketed as “by survivors for survivors,” but people who identify publicly and conscientiously as survivors are most likely to create this kind of content. Unfortunately, that framing is extremely off-putting to most outside the social justice clique. I hate to say it, but this is a fantastic engineering solution that was incubated in too niche a bubble and missed it’s mark. Well, actually, that may not be true – if it’s target has always been social justice die hards who want to share their story and help each other heal it’s probably spot on, it just doesn’t address my problem: how to we proactively flag inappropriate sexual behavior and put preventative information in all women’s hands?
Again, I have to applaud the creators for doing so much with bare bones resources. The tools themselves are a solid foundation, they achieve their goal of being proofs of concept, and they certainly spark conversation. Where they miss the mark, in my mind, is on adoption and market growth – areas the creators weren’t interested in to begin with.
Anyway, back to the if I ruled the world scenario (I just love that scenario!) You have these tools that from a technical perspective are really cool, and they use technology to scale an existing human behavior, and they help women avoid sexual predators: that’s awesome! But they seem pretty niche, which is less awesome because it means fewer women will use them to avoid sexual predators. So, what would I do if I had a dev team and all the money in the world (or the mythical million dollars which runs a small team for one year…)
- Focus development on making the tools faster and more reliable. I hate to say this, but faster browsing today beats avoiding coffee with a douchbag tomorrow
- Position the tools as convenience or information sharing, not as a crusade against sexual assault or a survivor support group. Most rapes are not reported, there are a lot of reasons for this not least of which is a desire to move on with one’s life. We also have some pretty negative perceptions of what walking through the world as a survivor means even when we are trying really really hard to not blame the victim and to give them space to heal. Finally, and I know this sounds weird, but sometimes doing the things you’re supposed to do to not get raped feels dis-empowering. Just think about all the times women are told not to wear that, or not to walk there, you get the idea.
- The people who are most invested are most invested for a reason – they’re also the most likely to be butt hurt when it doesn’t match their vision. That’s why I’m up to 930 words on the topic, but it’s also why there is soooo much chatter about every little detail of these tools from the choking question (come on dude, haven’t you used Yelp before!) to moderation (because you clearly don’t realize that these conversations happen already). Which gets me to the point: cultivate the passive users too. This is harder for the Facebook app, again cause content, but rather than going after every evangelist in the social justice scene, grow a large user-base of folks who just want a better flagging mechanism. 1) They’ll be helped from day one, and 2) you can rally them later around a big issue, or slowly over time.
- Build relationships with the sites themselves, with college rape crisis centers, and with consumer brands. This is a serious blue sky if I ruled the world thing. It’s not what the creators of these tools are about, and I know and respect that. I also know they’ve reached out to the sites themselves and didn’t get a response (shame on you OkCupid). However, this is my blue sky solution and in that solution I want Jezebel to promote it. I want mid-range women focused brands (brands like Healthworks, which recently partnered with rape prevention programs to offer self defense classes) to sponsor the damn thing, and then I want OkCupid to be pressured or shamed into integrating this and other rape prevention methods (perhaps post-date reporting) into their services. By the way, some of this is way far out, but other things, such as promoting PAT-OKC on college campuses, is the easiest place for you to get involved (there’s a list of groups to reach out to here, but PiratePad is down as of this writing).
It’s easy to theorize about how a thing should be different when someone has already done the hard work of making it to begin with, so what concrete, non-theoretical, things can we do today to make sure that rapists have nowhere left to hide?
TL:DR – You fucking douchbags how are you not outraged?! Here, this person did a thing, go do things like that.