2012 30 Apr

Inter-Generational Relationships; Another Pickup Artist Interview; Modesty; and more

In mid-December, I took on the role of editing the Sex + Relationships Section at the gender-lens site Role/Reboot. Role/Reboot is a nonprofit organization that is specifically designed to talk about gender issues with an audience that has little exposure to them.  This editorship has been a bit of an experiment for me, and there are aspects of it that I struggle with. The focus of the site has narrowed since I came on board; there’s less and less space for me to write and feature the kind of in-depth sexual analysis that I’m naturally inclined towards.

But these changes are part of the site finding its voice and its niche, and being accessible to a wide range of people. So while I struggle with it, I’m trying to go with it for now, and see what happens.

I don’t choose every piece that is published in the Sex + Relationships section, but I choose a lot of them. (My writers contribute to other sections, too.) Here are some of my favorites since early February, when I wrote my last post highlighting Role/Reboot articles:

* The Story of Leah and Vanessa, written by Rachel Swirsky (who is part of the team at Alas! A Blog). Rachel is an amazing feminist writer who actually won the Nebula award for one of her science fiction novellas. She writes with a lot of nuance; this piece is an examination of one cross-generational relationship that works, and the pitfalls of cross-generational relationships in general.

* I Taught Men to Pick Up Women: A Q&A with Former Dating Coach Mark Manson, by me! For this, I interviewed Mark, who features heavily in my book Confessions of a Pickup Artist Chaser. (Mark has his own site at PostMasculine.com). He’s a smart and empathic guy, and while I certainly don’t always agree with him, I always find his perspective interesting.

* Ask An Internet Sociopath, co-written by me and Internet Sociopath (who has a mind-bending Twitter account @AskASociopath). Internet Sociopath is one of my recurring commenters; those of you who have been reading for a while might remember some of his comments. I’ve never quite known what to make of him, but who could pass up a sociopath advice column?

* How Modesty Hurts Men Too, written by Sierra (who is part of the team at No Longer Quivering). I love Sierra’s work; she writes about her experiences leaving the evangelical Christian Quiverfull movement, and a while back I arranged for her piece on leaving for college to be reposted at Feministe. This article talks about how what she terms “the modesty doctrine” harms men as well as women. It follows her piece about modesty and self-harm, How Modesty Made Me Fat.

* Male Kindness Isn’t Always A Mask For Desire, written by a gentleman who called himself “Too Shy For This.” The gent asked not to publish the piece under his real name because he feels that it comes off as a bit arrogant. It’s a brief piece about how women often assume that male kindness = interest in sex, and what that might imply for many women’s wider perspectives.

Moving forward, Role/Reboot is specifically focusing on personal narratives and timely cultural critiques that are pegged to a recent news item. If you’re interested in pitching me your own work, or you know someone who is, please do get in touch with me: clarisse at rolereboot dot org.

2012 25 Apr

My Interview with World-Famous Pickup Coach Adam Lyons, and Updates to “Confessions”

Right after I released Confessions of a Pickup Artist Chaser, I met the world-famous pickup artist Adam Lyons at the SXSW-interactive conference, where I announced the book release and spoke on a panel about feminism and pickup artistry. I seized the chance to interview Adam and add his perspective to my book. You can read the interview below, and it is currently part of Confessions, but the process of updating the book was weird enough that I want to talk about that first. If you don’t care about the intricacies of ebook publishing, then you should skip down to the photo of Adam and his wife.

(Adam Lyons is not the same Adam as my partner in Confessions, by the way. They’re totally different Adams. If I’d known Adam Lyons before I published Confessions, then I would have given “my” Adam a different pseudonym. C’est la vie.)

I’m learning a lot of lessons from publishing Confessions of a Pickup Artist Chaser. It’s been so interesting and challenging … although I feel kinda bad for my readers, who are in the role of guinea pigs as I test new approaches! Thanks for your patience, folks. I promise that the release of The S&M Feminist: Best of Clarisse Thorn will go much more smoothly.

Publishing an ebook with Amazon Kindle can be frustrating, but Kindle is such a big platform that it can’t be ignored. The next biggest ebook publisher is Smashwords; unlike Smashwords, if I update the Kindle file, the change takes a while to register. What’s worse, if I make a change and I want the people who already bought the Kindle book to receive the change, then I have to email Amazon and ask them to allow those folks to download the new version. On Smashwords, a person who’s bought the book can download any version, anytime.

Anyway, I emailed Amazon around March 20th, telling them that I’d fixed some technical errors (a few footnote links) and added a new section. I asked Amazon to allow people who already paid for the book to download the new version. (This request was in line with their policy as I understood it from a previous email exchange.) I also asked them to let readers know that if they don’t want to download the new version of the book, they could find the extra section on my blog.

So this morning, I got a message from one of my readers, telling me that Amazon sent her the following message yesterday (April 24th — over a month after I filed the original request!):

We are happy to announce that an updated version of your past Kindle purchase of Confessions of a Pickup Artist Chaser: Long Interviews with Hideous Men by Clarisse Thorn is now available. The version you received had the following issues that have been corrected:

Significant editorial issues were present.
Also, new content has been added.

Then the email explains how to download the new version, with no further details about the changes. Sigh. Oh well. I apologize for the confusion. I thought it would be easy to update the book with my Adam Lyons interview, but it seems that the reality — even with e-publishing — is that a work should be treated as complete from the first day it’s on the market.

Anyway, if you bought Confessions before March 20th, then you should now be able to download the new version on either Smashwords or Kindle. (The physical copies are totally up-to-date; I released them on April 15th.)

And! Without further ado, here’s the section about Adam Lyons. It appears at the end of Chapter 6: Down The Rabbit Hole.

* * *

Adam Lyons with his wife, Amanda.

After I released this book, I was recruited for a panel about feminism and pickup artistry at the South-by-Southwest Interactive conference. It was a really interesting panel that included the famous PUA coach Adam Lyons. Naturally, I grabbed the chance to interview Adam Lyons so that I could add his perspective to this book. (Since the interview took place after this book’s initial release, you know you’re reading Confessions Version 2.0 if you’re reading this sentence right now.)

We met in an apartment that Adam Lyons rents for PUA training courses. The place contained a hefty amount of booze, a bunch of leftover pizza, and some instructors who were all worn out after a weekend of teaching. The guys invited me to go play Lazer Tag after the interview, but I regretfully had to decline.

Adam Lyons is one of nine coaches listed as “significant figures” in the Wikipedia entry for the seduction community. Compared to some other top coaches, he’s relatively new, but he got into the community when it was still pretty underground. “In maybe 2005 or 2006,” he told me, “The Game had just come out. I was halfway through reading The Game and I knew I had to try this. So I managed to find this bootcamp company and get in touch with them. My contact was like, ‘Come and meet me in a Chinese restaurant,’ so I took an envelope full of cash and I met him in a Chinese restaurant. He took the cash and counted it, and told me to meet the group in a particular bar later that week.”

“What did you learn?” I asked.

“In my first program, I learned the ‘fall on the floor technique,’ where you run up to a girl and you just fall on the floor. It was ridiculous.”

I laughed. “That would totally work on me. I’d think it was hilarious.”

“It can work surprisingly well,” Adam Lyons acknowledged. “But I once introduced a guy to my wife who then kept falling out of his chair, and it was so terrible. Anyway, most of the other ‘techniques’ didn’t work at all. For example, in that first program, they made me walk up to all these girls in the street and say, ‘I’m the kissing bandit — now you have to kiss me!’ It was so awkward.”

(more…)

2012 20 Apr

“50 Shades of Grey,” “Fight Club,” and the Complications of Male Dominance

This is a longer version of an article that originally appeared at Role/Reboot.

Much is being made of the highly successful S&M erotica novel 50 Shades of Grey. People are blaming feminism for making women into submissives, blaming feminism for preventing women from being submissives, blaming women for having sexual desires at all, and a whole lot of other boring and typical stuff that comes up in any conversation about women and S&M. News flash: it’s not the feminist revolution that is “causing” women to have fantasies of submission. S&M fantasies have been around since the beginning of time.

As an S&M writer, I hear a lot of allegations about how “all” (or “almost all”) women are sexually submissive and how this must Mean Something. This is echoed in the coverage of 50 Shades of Grey, in which everyone is demanding to know What It All Means About Women. I wrote a piece a while back called “‘Inherent Female Submission’: The Wrong Question,” in which I took on a lot of this stuff. But there’s another submerged question here — about men. There’s plenty of talk and stereotypes about how men are inherently violent, or more aggressive than women, or “the dominant sex.”

As I said in my previous article: I think it’s quite questionable whether women are “inherently submissive,” but my conclusion is that I don’t care. It doesn’t actually matter to me whether women in general are “inherently submissive” (though I really don’t think women are), or whether submissive women’s preferences are philosophically Deep And Meaningful (though I’m not convinced they are). What matters is:

1. How women (or any other people) can explore sexually submissive preferences consensually,

2. How women (or any other people) can compartmentalize submissive preferences so that their whole lives are safe and fulfilling and happy, and

3. How women (or any other people) can be treated well in arenas that aren’t even relevant to their sexuality — like the workplace.

This is also how I feel about these ideas of “inherent male violence.” I don’t buy that men are “the dominant sex” or that men are “inherently violent.” Based on what I’ve read, it seems quite clear that individuals with higher testosterone levels — who are, incidentally, not always men — often experience more aggressive feelings. Yet that’s a far cry from large-scale generalizations, and it’s also frequently irrelevant to questions about how people can best deal with those aggressive feelings. Plus, psychological submission can be a very separate thing from physical aggression levels.

Much of the time, when it comes to aggression, anger management is the answer, the same way a naturally shy or submissive person needs to learn to set boundaries. But there are circumstances where catharsis is completely acceptable. Lots of perfectly decent men have urges towards violent dominance; what do they do about it? How much do they agonize, like Christian Grey in 50 Shades of Grey, and how much do they explore their desires in a consensual and reasonable way?

I always thought that the late-90s movie Fight Club was fascinating primarily because of its lens on masculinity and violence. It’s not just about the violence men to do each other, but to themselves. Quotes include “You have to give up; you have to know that someday you’re gonna die,” and “The first rule of Fight Club is: you do not talk about Fight Club.” I first watched it before I knew much about S&M, but now whenever I think about it, I think about how the idea of a fight club — where people would get together and fight, for catharsis and community — is so very reminiscent of how a lot of people experience S&M. Fight Club even has safewords. Someone says stop, you stop. I obviously don’t support the endpoint of the Fight Club story (i.e., blowing up buildings), but the idea of establishing a men’s community via a fight club seems reasonable to me.

So, what are the practicalities of dealing with aggressive or dominant tendencies in the sexual arena? As an S&M person, I’ve experimented with dominance as well as submission, but because violence is so associated with masculinity, I turned to some egalitarian male S&Mers for advice. I believe that even for non-S&M people, their perspectives make a really good lens for ideas of gender and violence and power. Of course, the first thing one of my friends told me was: “I’m not sure I really see dominance in general as being particularly masculine. I don’t really think it’s a gender associated thing.”

That gentleman, who comments around the Internet under the name Scootah, went on to add: “I’ve certainly worried about my kinks in the past. I mean fundamentally, I get really, really turned on by grabbing someone by the hair, throwing them into the wall, backhanding them, etc. That’s a pretty disturbing thought for an egalitarian who’s worked with abuse victims. I spend a lot of time considering the ethics of my kinks; my partners’ enthusiastic consent is a major priority.”

Jay Wiseman, author of the famous S&M primer SM101, talks about his own early fears towards the beginning of that book. He writes about how he began having sadistic fantasies, and went to the public library to research them. All he could find was portraits of serial killers, which scared the hell out of him. He writes:

I decided to keep myself under surveillance. I made up my mind that I was not going to hurt anybody. If I thought I was turning into someone that would harm somebody else, then I would either put myself in a mental institution or commit suicide. And thus I lived, waiting and watching to see if I was turning into someone that I needed to shoot.

Fortunately, Wiseman found partners who were open to exploring S&M with him, and went on to write extensively about safety and consent and communication within S&M. Trying to communicate in an egalitarian way is arguably the most complicated part of any S&M encounter; as Scootah told me, “There are certainly elements that could potentially unbalance a relationship in my favor. I’m a big reasonably strong guy. I do usually make more money than my partners. I also have this whole sense of position in the local S&M community. I mostly just try to be aware of those things. I try to be very careful about not taking advantage of that and negotiate clearly and not pressure people.”

There are lots of ways to do clear negotiation, including asking open-ended questions before any S&M actually happens: “What are you interested in? Could you go into that more?” There’s also a huge emphasis on talking through the S&M encounter afterwards, as part of the post-S&M processing we call aftercare. As another gent who goes by Noir said: “It really helped me to have a few great, feminist S&M partners. Having that echo of ‘it’s OK, I want this,’ as well as the honest feedback when I do wrong really helped shape how I experience S&M, and with who. It’s meant I learned how better to read and grasp the people in my, er, grasp.”

Noir also noted, “I strive to use dominance and submission as a tool for helping my partners become stronger, in ways that also feed my S&M preferences. For example, I tend to form long-term interests with women who want a ‘safe space’ to extend and explore their ability to be sluts, with all that can imply. But in the process, we also explore how becoming more confident in one’s sexuality also can reflect into everyday life. Also, just coming to spaces in the S&M community can be a goldmine of information. All a dominant man has to do is read, listen, open up and understand. One thing I learned was that my fears about reenforcing our messed-up society were shared by women into kink… but also that my ways of approaching the topic, as ‘oh, we’re so controlled by society!’ were themselves pushing too much agency out of women’s choices. There’s a balance there that we guys who identify as both feminist and kinky have to respect, and that can come from listening to feminist women struggle with these issues, themselves.”

The alternative sexuality advocate Pepper Mint (who has his own blog) told me that in terms of putting gender on his experiences, “I am a bit genderqueer, and I personally experience dominance with either a feminine or masculine vibe from moment to moment. Certain activities — like punching — feel masculine, while others — like whipping — feminine in the moment. Also, I switch, meaning that I don’t always take the dominant role. Strangely, my most clearly masculine S&M activity is masochism. I always feel very manly while taking pain. I don’t think I can clearly explain why these things have attached to gender in my head, though presumably I’m being affected by cultural tropes to some extent.”

The consensus in general was that dominance, whether masculine or feminine, is something that happens in an encounter… not outside it. As Pepper put it, “New guys often want to play hard or do hardcore things, and will often boast and swagger. Kinky women almost always recognize this as dangerous bullshit. Learn to chill out and not take yourself too seriously, and learn to start with a light careful touch when playing with someone new. Learn to ask for help and guidance, both from others in your S&M community and from your partners.”

Scootah agreed: “The first mistake I see newbie doms make is trying too hard to be some kind of bad ass. Admit your inexperience. Be seen learning. Be modest and have a good time. Learn to communicate well, and to really be friends with your prospective partners.”

For me, the bottom line of these conversations is that questioning gender roles, and understanding gender complications, is an ongoing process. People have a lot of urges and preferences that are politically inconvenient and which we will never fully understand. Whether we’re shaped by biology or culture, those feelings will still exist for now, and we have to deal with them. There are ways to do almost anything such that people respect each other, though — whatever the implications for gender or power. Violence is complicated ground, but it can be used in balanced and consensual ways that end up bonding people together. 50 Shades of Grey and Fight Club are both examples, and I haven’t even touched competitive sports!

* * *

This piece is included in my awesome collection, The S&M Feminist: Best Of Clarisse Thorn. You can buy The S&M Feminist for Amazon Kindle here or other ebook formats here or in paperback here.

* * *

Linkbait time! Here’s what some other folks are writing about Fifty Shades of Grey:

(more…)

2012 17 Apr

Can We Make This More Complicated?

Things aren’t black and white. Life is complicated. I’d like to think that these are obvious truths, but how do we express them, how do we understand them, how do we work towards them? Especially while identifying as part of a movement that is, arguably, a blunt ideology … such as feminism?

Some of my most valuable feminist experiences arose from being trained as an advocate for sexual assault survivors. Advocates are called in for crisis counseling and to help survivors understand the options they have for dealing with assault. My training instructed me to foreground three themes while interacting with a survivor:

#1. I believe you.
#2. It’s not your fault.
#3. You have options.

The point is to help survivors cope, and help them find resources. But while these principles seem clear, it’s never even close to un-complicated. A survivor’s story is never reducible to stereotypes or easy choices. The advocate’s role is to be there and listen without judgment — to try and help find a path through a thicket of pain, confusion, stigma, medical problems, and legal issues — and to support the survivor in their choices even if the advocate doesn’t agree with them. The point is to understand, not to judge.

I’m pretty sure that this is the kind of activism I am best suited for: understanding, communicating, building. Telling stories, where appropriate (and keeping confidence, where appropriate).

Of course, there are plenty of people that it’s very difficult to feel empathy for, as a feminist. Rape survivors are a group that feminists are expected to have empathy for, and expected to recognize as having complicated stories; we all know that’s crucial. On the other hand, I recently published a book about pickup artists (a subculture of men who trade tips on how to seduce women), and I’ve taken heat from feminists who feel that I’m over-sympathetic to those guys. Don’t get me wrong: I’m certainly not an “advocate” for pickup artists in the same way that I want to advocate for assault survivors. But I believe that there’s value in empathy here, too.

As one of my feminist friends observed while we discussed the pickup artist book, I am arguably providing a valuable service by giving the men in that subculture a non-judgmental space to look at feminism. Also, by giving them — as my friend put it — “space to be ambivalent about some of the problematic things they do.”

When trying to encourage a person to question what they’re doing, it helps to understand that person first — and to offer them a sense of that understanding. I think there are a lot of icky things about the pickup artist community, and some terrible people in it. But it’s not black-and-white, and there are decent guys who learn the tactics too. If a guy is trying to learn tactics for seducing women, is he doing it out of loneliness? Or perhaps out of desire for a strange revenge on the “opposite” sex? What about both? How would these different motives change my interactions with him, perhaps even enable me to influence the way he thinks about women? With me, could he have the space to heal the damage he himself has retained from our broken social norms around sex and gender? And how does understanding his perspective make my own richer — how does it make things more complicated?

* * *

One of the exciting things about being an Internet writer is that my old writing never goes away. It’s always there, cached and mirrored and easily found by both friends and enemies. Obviously, this is also one of the most un-exciting things about being an Internet writer. It’s rare that I completely disagree with an older article that I’ve written; but there are some old articles that make me feel self-conscious, because I understand the complexity of those topics much better today, and my opinions have become much more nuanced.

An example would be the way that I’ve written about BDSM and abuse. I write a lot about my experiences with consensual BDSM — Bondage, Discipline, Dominance, Submission, Sadism and Masochism — and I’m a feminist, but BDSM has always been a controversial topic within feminism. Sometimes it’s been controversial enough that BDSMer-feminists have been silenced: an editor at the iconic feminist magazine Ms. once threatened to leave if the magazine published an article by a masochistic woman, and thereby successfully buried the topic. Sometimes it’s been controversial enough to inspire non-consensual violence: a group of radical feminists literally attacked a lesbian BDSM club with crowbars sometime around the 1980s, claiming that they did it in the name of ending violence against women.

So being a BDSMer-feminist makes for defensiveness, and I began from a defensive position. My first post about BDSM and abuse was called “Evidence that the BDSM Community Does Not Enable Abuse,” and outlined initiatives within the community that oppose abusive BDSM. Around the same time, I remember making comments I now regret, comments that I believed were critical but were actually harsh towards survivors — or comments that gave too sunny a view of the BDSM community, which is far from flawless. My next post on the topic, eighteen months later, was more empathic and complex. It was called “The Alt Sex Anti-Abuse Dream Team,” and outlined how I would personally create an anti-abuse initiative that was friendly to alternative sexuality abuse survivors.

Now, these posts seem simple to me, but I was growing out of my defensiveness. I started feeling like I was genuinely moving the conversation forward when I wrote a post called “Thinking More Clearly About BDSM vs. Abuse,” in which I wrote specifically about examples of abusive behavior within the community, and used radical feminist theory about abusive relationships to reflect on how a non-abusive BDSM relationship could look. Building bridges; creating synthesis rather than antithesis.

Women with strong and different sexual desires exist, and especially with the Internet, we can’t be permanently silenced. (Although even on the Internet, there are still some attempts; my comments are often deleted on sites associated with radical feminism, such as the Anti-Porn Men Project, though I do my absolute best to comment inoffensively.) But I try to push aside my self-righteousness, because I really don’t want this to be a fight where all I do is scream “BDSM can be feminist!” I want to acknowledge and deal with real problems, like how BDSM might be used as a cover for abuse and how we can deal with that. I want to be established in cooperation, not resistance. I want to move things forward; I want to make things more complicated.

(more…)

2012 15 Apr

Sappy Reflections

So, firstly, you can now buy Confessions of a Pickup Artist Chaser in physical form. Yes! A real paperback! It took a lot of work to fix Confessions up for print, but it was worth it. I’ve got the first copy on the table next to me right now, and it looks lovely. Buy it!

Also, over the last week, I’ve given a bunch of lectures, and I’ve had the opportunity to visit my old college campus and talk to my old advisor. And I’ve been working on formatting my upcoming Best Of Clarisse Thorn. (You can download a free electronic sample over at Smashwords; I included 12 of my favorite articles. I’ll eventually be selling a version with a lot more articles, both in electronic form and paper form.)

It all leads me naturally to thinking about how far I’ve come, and the people I owe thanks to.

By now, I’ve given my lectures and workshops in a lot of venues, from museums to conferences to universities. Different people have worked to bring me in, but it’s actually most common for university students to raise money to bring me to their campus.

And these students floor me. Seriously. When I was an undergraduate, I spent all my time daydreaming and playing Dungeons and Dragons and hanging out with my friends. (Okay, I did schoolwork too.) I had so little interest in activism or organizing. And there’s nothing wrong with that; I love my college friends, and my college experience was good for me. It helped me fix myself up post-high school, which was the worst period of my life. But I feel like I was pretty different from the students who are hiring me now, and I admire them.

I get the most amazing comments. I’ll meet students who stun me with their poise and drive, and then they’ll say things like “Clarisse, I can’t tell you how much your writing means to me,” or “I read your coming-out story every three months because it makes me feel okay about myself.” It’s amazing and, in a way, it’s nerve-wracking. I kind of feel unworthy, because I mess up my relationships plenty … I mess up my activism plenty, too. Sometime I feel like I shouldn’t be writing about anything, ever, because I don’t really know what I’m talking about. When I started running lectures and workshops and other events, I did it for free or super cheap; I was grateful for the opportunity to practice, to create more conversation around topics I believe are important. At first, I never imagined that I’d get to the point where people fly me in, where I charge money for it, where I’m selling books and articles.

But what’s really astonishing is that I’ve gotten legitimately good at it. I was especially happy with how my sexual communication workshop went down, this week — it was such a good group, such a good discussion. I felt so much pride, both in myself and in the people who were attending. Later, I went to my old campus and walked through the library and had lunch with my advisor, and I felt nothing but gratitude. (My advisor, by the way, is totally amused that I’m a feminist sex writer now. No one saw that coming.)

And yeah, I guess I’m different from these students who bring me in, but I’m so like them, too. The same way I’m so like a lot of my readers and commenters and the other bloggers I’ve worked with over the years. I wouldn’t be able to do any of this if I didn’t have their support. Your support. Not just financial and organizational, but intellectual too. So I wanted to give you all some sappy reflections. I appreciate it so much. Thank you.

2012 9 Apr

[classic repost] BDSM As A Sexual Orientation, and Complications of the Orientation Model

I originally published this post in slightly different form back in 2009. I decided to edit it a little for clarity, because I’m going to include it in the upcoming Best Of Clarisse Thorn … so here’s the edited version.

* * *

I love this image:

(The image is a list with “Homosexual Agenda” written at the top. There follows a list: “1. Spend time with family, 2. Be treated equally, 3. Buy milk.”)

I love that because it so perfectly highlights how preposterous all those right-wing accusations about “the gay agenda” are. Actually, gay people just want to live their lives like everyone else; the to-do list for most gay people looks a lot like most other people’s. (Apparently the image originated at a site called TopPun, and you can buy it in stickers and keychains.)

In a way, that sticker also highlights some problems with the very concept of sexual orientations — the way we sort ourselves into groups based on sexuality and its apparent innateness. Why do people have to insist on being so different from each other? A question that sometimes gets raised in BDSM contexts: is BDSM a “sexual orientation”? And I have such mixed feelings about that question. I feel intense BDSM as an incredibly important aspect of my sexuality, perhaps an innate one, but I don’t want us to fall into the same traps that beset homosexuality.

I remember the first moment it occurred to me to consider BDSM an orientation — the first time I used that word. I believe I was writing up my coming-out story at the time; I was discussing the way I freaked out when I came into BDSM, and I wrote: In retrospect, it seems surreal that I reacted so badly to my BDSM orientation.

I remember that I felt vaguely electrified at what I was saying, a little scared … but also comforted. At the time, I hadn’t had much contact with other sex theorists, and I thought I was saying something radical. I was scared that my words might appear too radical to be taken seriously. Also, since our culture mostly discusses the idea of “orientation” in regards to gay/lesbian/bi/transgender/queer, it seemed to me that — if I dared refer to it as “my BDSM orientation” — then a comparison with LGBTQ was implied in my statement.

Would the world believe that my BDSM desires could be as “real,” as “deep-rooted,” as “unavoidable” as the sexual orientation of a gay/lesbian/bi/transgender/queer person? Would I offend GLBTQ people by implying that my sexual needs are as “real,” “deep-rooted” and “unavoidable” as theirs?

I later found out that some LGBTQ people do get offended by it, and others don’t. Sometime you end up with ridiculous arguments like this one from a comments thread on an incredibly BDSM-phobic blog: one person says, “As a lesbian, I would like to say a sincere fuck you to people comparing BDSM to homosexuality,” to which another person replies, “As a queer person myself, I would like to say a sincere fuck you to people who claim that I ought to see my BDSM and my queerness differently.” As for me, Clarisse, I’ll be frank with you — I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t have a dog in that fight, and I’m staying out of it. I’m straight as the day is long, but I’ve also been invited to speak about BDSM at queer conventions and to write about BDSM on queer blogs. So I’ll hang out with the people who are cool with me, and everyone else can kick me out of their LGBTQ circles as much as they want.

But I used to feel a lot more worried about how I’d be perceived for talking about BDSM as an orientation. Still, as weird as the concept of “BDSM as an orientation” felt when I first thought of it, it also felt right. When I looked back at my memories and previous actions, it was quite obvious that I have always had these needs, desires and fantasies. Acknowledging this, and applying the word “orientation” to BDSM, helped me come to terms with my BDSM identity.

The “BDSM orientation” idea cleared a mental path for me to think of BDSM as a inbuilt part of myself, like my bone structure or eye color. BDSM became something that it was desirable to accept, come to terms with … even embrace. It was a hugely liberating way of thinking about it: if I thought of BDSM as an orientation, that meant I didn’t have to worry about or fight it anymore.

Since then, I’ve been so buried in sexuality theory and I’ve talked to so many BDSM people that — well, now the idea of a “BDSM orientation” seems kinda boring. I am reminded that it’s a radical concept only when I talk to people who don’t think about these things all the time. I think that the idea of BDSM as an orientation occurs naturally to people who think a lot about BDSM sexuality, because so many kinksters either know we’re BDSM people all along, or instantly recognize BDSM once we find it. Here’s an article about a BDSM-related legal case that quotes sexologist Charles Moser at the end, as he very eloquently describes how BDSM can be considered a sexual orientation:

When I talk to someone who is identifying as BDSM and ask them have you always felt this way, and they almost always report that ‘This has been the way I was all along. I didn’t realize it. I thought I was interested in more traditional male/female relationships but now I realize that I really like the power and control aspects of relationship.

… They are very clear often that, ‘my relationships which were vanilla were not fulfilling. I always felt like there was something missing. Now that I’m doing BDSM, I am fulfilled. This feels really right to me. This really gets me to my core. It’s who I am.’

… And so in the same way as someone who is homosexual, they couldn’t really change — they somehow felt fulfilled in the same-sex relationship — similarly in a BDSM relationship or scenario, they similarly feel the same factors, and in my mind, that allows me to classify people who fit that as a sexual orientation. I cannot change someone who’s into BDSM to not be BDSM.

That’s how I feel. Absolutely.

And yet I disagree with Moser on one key point: not all BDSM people are like this. I know that people exist who do BDSM, who don’t feel it the same way I do. They don’t feel that it’s been with them all along. It’s not deep-rooted for them. It’s not unavoidable, it’s not necessary, it doesn’t go to their core. They can change from being into BDSM to not doing BDSM, because it’s not built-in; it’s just something they do sometimes, for fun. There are also plenty of people who have equally strong feelings about their BDSM sexuality, but who have different BDSM preferences from mine. And that’s totally okay with me! I will always say that I’ve got no problem with whatever people want to do, as long as it’s kept among consenting adults.

But what does the existence of people like that mean for BDSM as an orientation? Are they somehow less “entitled” to practice BDSM, because it’s not as deep-rooted or important to them as it is for, say, me? No, that can’t be true. I’m not going to claim that my feelings are “more real” than theirs, or somehow more important, just because BDSM goes straight to my core but not to theirs. They’ve got as much right as I do to practice these activities, as long as they do it consensually.

So, where does that leave us? It means that BDSM is an orientation for some people, but not for others. I’m fine with that. Does that mean we’re done here? Well, no ….

(more…)

2012 3 Apr

April Fool’s Day… and some things I actually believe

Firstly, just in case anyone missed the update: my previous post was an April Fool’s joke. There is a long list of things that I don’t believe in that post, and I decided to write a post to cover the big ones.

Also, this picture is awesome:

Anyway! Things I Said In My April Fools Post That Contradict My Beliefs:

* The most important thing I don’t believe is that cheating is a good example of polyamorous leanings. While I’m sure some people resolve non-monogamous leanings by cheating, I see cheating in a monogamous relationship as a huge red flag, even if that person later decides to be polyamorous. This isn’t to say that people who cheat are Incontrovertibly Bad People, and I understand that relationships can be very complicated. I try to be empathic to people who feel trapped in relationships for whatever reason, even if they cheat. But the bottom line for me is that polyamory requires a lot of honesty and self-knowledge and integrity, and cheating is usually the opposite of those things.

I will freely admit that I have some intense personal baggage around this topic, but I’m not the only polyamorous person who espouses this view. Many poly people get especially pissed at people who cheat and then label “cheating” as polyamory; that is not okay. Here’s an excerpt from an excellent piece by Technomom called Coming Clean: Transitioning from Cheating to Polyamory:

Note: I use male pronouns in the following article for the sake of simplicity, but I’ve encountered both men and women in this situation. My advice is the same to both.

Frequently, newcomers to various poly groups introduce themselves with a tale of woe. Alas, after entering into a committed monogamous relationship (usually a marriage), the poor man has just discovered that he is, in fact, polyamorous. In most cases, the newcomer has already strayed into infidelity, and wishes to have his cake and eat it too now. He asks for advice regarding how he can convince his wife to accept the relationship with the new lover so that they can all live happily ever after.

The newcomer, who I’ll call Phil, is usually surprised to find that he is not, in fact, welcomed with open arms. Most of us are very hostile to people who cheat on their partners and call it polyamory, because that has absolutely nothing to do with how we are living our lives.

… In over 20 years of being polyamorous and knowing other poly people, I have never, not even once, known of anyone who has been able to move from an affair in a monogamous relationship to a healthy polyamorous relationship involving the same people. I’ve known of people who did cheat on their partners in monogamous relationships who later moved on to be polyamorous, but they did not salvage the original monogamous relationship.

I’ve known people whose spouses cheated on them in monogamous relationships who ended the monogamous relationship, then went on to explore polyamory very happily themselves. (That fact surprises a fair number of those seeking help in this situation.) What you have to realize is that the real issue between you and your spouse right now is not polyamory or sex. It is your betrayal of the agreements between the two of you. It is about your dishonesty and dishonorable behavior. You have broken her trust.

She then gives advice anyways, and I think it’s really good advice.

* My standards for consent and communication are not “too complex.” What does it even mean to have standards for consent and communication that are “too complex”?

* I don’t believe that “true submission” is about allowing your partner to dictate your life, and I think any statement about “what submission really means” is intensely problematic. Submission (and dominance, and every other type of S&M) is different for everyone; for more on this, there’s always my post BDSM Roles, “Topping From The Bottom,” and “Service Top”.

Sometimes, in the middle of a really intense BDSM scene, I will enjoy having my partner tell me to do something that I actually really hate … but this is not the norm for me, it requires a lot of trust and intense connection, and I certainly don’t think it’s a good norm for everyone. I explored this a bit in my post on Anger, Fear and Pain.

Also, while I accept that some people are cool with it if their partners demand major life changes as part of the S&M relationship … that’s not how I do things personally. And I have trouble imagining any situation in which I’d choose a man over my writing. If a guy really feels so threatened by my writing that he wants me to stop entirely, then we are a terrible match and I’m kind of surprised we started dating in the first place.

* I would never use the phrase “real man” outside a sarcastic context. It capitalizes on too many socially-inculcated male insecurities that I think are completely unfair. For more on this, I really like Charlie Glickman’s article Picking And Choosing From The “Act Like A Man” Box. I’ve also explored the topic of masculinity in many places, including my old “questions” series and obviously in my super awesome book Confessions of a Pickup Artist Chaser.

* I love the Beatles, but I was always skeptical of the quotation “Love is the answer.” I mean, love is awesome, don’t get me wrong; I’m very pro-love and pro-empathy. But … “the answer”? The answer to what? Does this mean we never have to work on our relationships or make space for each other because love will magically make everything work? My most problematic ex-boyfriend once told me “I just want to feel like you love me more than you love yourself,” which was the point that I should’ve walked out the door. Anyone who says something like that does not have your best interests at heart.

* Finally, “You have the second prettiest hair I’ve ever seen” is just not a very good neg, at least not for me. I like my negs served with epoxy, thank you.

The image at the top of this post shows a classical Greek-style picture of a couple at a table, except that the woman is smoking a cigarette and the man is reading a newspaper and the table is kind of Victorian-looking and there are coffee cups. I have no idea where it came from but I love it so much.

2012 1 Apr

I Found The Answer

I am surprised to find myself writing this blog post. But I always try to leave space for my feelings to evolve, and I’m really happy to say that I think I’ve come to a new and much healthier place.

Honestly, I’ve had a rough year. I broke my neck, I emerged from a toxic obsession with pickup artists, etc. At times I despaired of whether I could ever possibly find True Love.

But I’ve met this amazing man, and I know it sounds so cliché, and I am just embarrassed to be writing this right now. But like the Beatles say, “Love is the answer.” He caught my attention by saying that I have the second prettiest hair he’s ever seen, which showed me that he reads my work and can effectively throw a neg. He’s in a monogamous marriage, but he’s cheating on his wife with me, so it seems obvious that there’s room for this to develop into genuine polyamory.

And … this is so important, but I don’t know how to say it in a way that you will all understand. I’m going to give it a shot, though. I recognize now that my standards for consent and communication have been much too complex, and I need to just put all my trust in a real man. Actually, it makes me genuinely happy to be in a relationship where it’s my job to make him happy, no matter what. That’s what submission really means. I hope you all can support me in this decision, even if you don’t agree with it.

My partner doesn’t want me to blog about my sex life anymore, and obviously I will defer to his wishes. I’m hoping that maybe he’ll allow me to write about relationships in a more general sense — like giving advice on how to maintain a relationship and keep your man. Thank you all for reading my work for so long. I appreciate it immensely and while I know that I am taking a very different stand from my past writing, I hope that some of you will follow me if I get permission to write about my relationships again.

UPDATE, April 2: The above was an April Fools joke. :) Here’s what I actually believe about all this stuff.

2012 28 Mar

The Theory of an S&M Encounter “Gone Wrong”

A few months ago, I wrote a post called What Happens After an S&M Encounter “Gone Wrong”. (The comments on that post are great, by the way. My readers are so smart!) I intended it to be the first of two posts, and now, at long last, here’s the second half.

I’ve often thought that BDSMers should talk more about our “failed encounters”. Sometimes the best way to learn is through “failure”, or by looking at others’ “failures”. But when a BDSM scene “goes wrong”, it’s often highly personal for everyone concerned. So it’s really hard to talk about and really hard to write about — both for the dominant and submissive partners. This is just like any relationship, really. After all, people rarely talk about their most embarrassing or awkward or otherwise difficult “mistakes made” during vanilla sex, right?

(I use phrases like “failed encounter” and “gone wrong” and “mistakes” with caution, because I think these situations can often be viewed as learning experiences, and therefore they are successful for a lot of purposes! But certainly in the moment they feel like screwups, and a lot of the time they can make the whole relationship very difficult, and I think that most people who have been through them feel as though some kind of failure happened … whether it was a failure of understanding, communication, empathy, caution, or something else.)

Much of the problem, I think, is that people have such a hard time communicating after serious miscommunications and mistakes.

The following quotation is from Staci Newmahr’s Playing At The Edge, an excellent ethnography of the BDSM community. (I’ve changed a few jargon terms so I don’t have to define them for you, but I left two: “top” and “bottom”. A top is a blanket term for a dominant and/or sadist. A bottom is a blanket term for a masochist and/or submissive.)

Sophie had been engaged in a long and intimate S&M relationship with Carl, a friend whom she deeply trusted. During the encounter she describes below, Carl changed his approach, and Sophie subsequently felt that Carl was somehow not quite himself. Sophie and Carl never quite recovered from the incident; though they remained friends and tried to do S&M again, it was, according to Sophie, never the same.

Sophie says:

He was very much a rope top. That was his big thing, was tying people up. And he was excellent at typing people up. And our dynamic was always — I mean, yes, he would absolutely hurt me when the time came for that, but there was also always this element — even when he was hurting me, it was done in this incredibly, like, touchingly caring way. And especially when he was tying me up, it was this soothing, wonderful thing.

So one day … Carl starts an encounter with me. Carl had decided in his head, from all the things that he’s heard me say about how I play with another partner, that that’s what I really want from an interaction, in order for it to be the most gratifying and valuable. So we proceeded to have an encounter where Carl was not Carl. And I didn’t stop it because it was so like, I couldn’t understand what was going on. I couldn’t understand why it felt so horrible. And it wasn’t that I didn’t trust him, because I trust him completely. [ … ] I just couldn’t figure out what the problem is, I felt horrible through the whole thing. And he was so out of touch with me that he wasn’t even aware of how horrible I was feeling. The encounter went on for some time … and the second it was over, I … was just, like, you know, traumatized. And he was like, “Oh my God, what’s wrong?” [and] he carried me into the other room. I said something like, “Where did my Carly go?” and then he started to cry. [ … ] He’s like, “I was trying to give you this sadistic experience.”

In Sophie’s story, Carl’s risk backfires. … The risks were unsuccessful; each ended up emotionally distraught and distant. Ultimately, they sacrificed the relationship. (pages 179-180)

Man, that description is so intense. Let’s talk about it.

My previous post was about The Practice, and I gave a lot of concrete tips in that post. Now for ….

The Theory

Staci Newmahr suggests that one of the things BDSMers get from our activities is a “trust-risk-access” cycle, in which we take risks in order to create trust and intimacy:

In reveling in a trust-risk-access cycle, participants feel knowing of, and knowable to, another. When the scene fails, this intimacy fails; in SM, when the outcomes are unfavorable, participants feel like strangers to one another. Trust, on this level, is the trust that players deeply understand one another; it is destroyed when participants in a scene feel like strangers.

I don’t think all BDSM is quite so emotionally risky. For example, I think that there’s a lot of BDSM that’s focused on specific sensations. I’ve had BDSM encounters where my goal was simply to experience a new physical sensation, so I did that, and it was all very carefully bounded and discussed. In those encounters, there were no real risks except for the physical activity, and frankly, the vast majority of S&M activities are way safer than most people think. (A lot safer than riding a bike, I’d say.) The point of those encounters was to test my body and ride out the chemical surges that resulted.

But I do think that what Newmahr describes as a “trust-risk-access” cycle is a real thing, and that many BDSMers are seeking it.

More importantly, this trust-risk-access cycle is not even remotely unique to BDSM. (Newmahr doesn’t claim that it is … although she might disagree with me when I say that the cycle is at least a little bit present in almost all sexual interactions.) However, I do suspect that BDSM gives us a particularly useful window on trust-risk-access. In BDSM, participants are not only deliberately going through this cycle and talking about how to accomplish it — we are also usually compartmentalizing those boundary-tests.

In my just-released book Confessions of a Pickup Artist Chaser, I floated what I call The Theory of Strategic Ambiguity. (Read excerpts from reviews and learn where to buy the book by clicking here.) Briefly, the idea is that people look for a certain level of “strategic ambiguity” in relationships — also known as contrast, challenge, unpredictability or novelty. The urge manifests differently for different people. Some people do this by playing flirtatious games, some people do it with psychological S&M, some people do it by traveling to exciting new places, some people do it by having a challenging joint project like a business, etc.

(more…)

2012 26 Mar

Help Me Choose Past Blog Entries For My Upcoming “Best Of”

Aaaaaall riiiiiiight. I’ve been doing basically nothing but boring formatting work and promotion for Confessions of a Pickup Artist Chaser for weeks now … (By the way, it’s now available in every possible e-format over on Smashwords, and I’m working on formatting paper copies now.)

Next, I want to release a “Best Of” my blog so far — both as a nicely-formatted ebook, and a paper book.

I’m curious to know what you, my readers, think is the “best of” my blog. Or, alternatively: are there any posts that you think were good, but never got the attention that they deserved? Please do comment and let me know! If you’ve been reading for a while and aren’t sure you can remember it all, you might try glancing at my extensive Greatest Hits page. Thanks in advance.

Also, this:

The above image was created by Luke Surl. It depicts a page from one of those classic Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books: “As you journey along the path you meet an old man. He tells you that modern neuroscience has proved that all our actions and decisions are merely the machinations of a predetermined universe and that our concept of ‘free will’ is naught but a comforting illusion. If you agree with his hypothesis, turn to page 72. If you disagree, turn to page 72.”