Posts Tagged ‘blogosphere’

2012 31 Oct

Blog Hop: Q&A about Writing, plus Links to Other Writers

Richard Jeffrey Newman asked me to participate in a Blog Hop in order to intro­duce new authors to new read­ers. If you’ve come here from the link posted on Richard’s blog, wel­come! If you’re a reg­u­lar reader of mine or came upon my blog by chance, I’m about to talk about my upcoming projects and then link you to some other writers.

Oh and also, Happy Halloween! I’m Selina Kyle this year (the new Anne Hathaway version). And I get to be in San Francisco for Halloween 2012, which is my favorite place to be for the holiday, and also my favorite holiday. I’m in such a great mood. So before I answer questions about my writing, I want to show you one of my favorite costume pictures:

An image from Kirsty Mitchell’s Wonderland series of photographs. Click the image to embiggen, or go to her site to see much larger versions of many photos.

* * *

Now for questions!

What is the work­ing title of your next book?

The title is smartsex: S&M For Everybody or maybe smartsex: S&M Overview.

(Anyone have better title ideas? Let me know in the comments if you do! I’m so bad at titles.)

Where did the idea come from for the book?

It’s the first in a series of short ebooks, and I’m not writing them all myself — I’m recruiting some talented writers to work with. When I published The S&M Feminist: Best Of Clarisse Thorn earlier this year, I went through everything I’ve written about S&M, and I was struck by how much I know about the topic that has never made it into my articles. I also sometimes present a long S&M Overview lecture, and people have suggested that I make it into a webpage or something.

Plus, I’ve had an interest in larger cultural issues for a long time — a lot of the essays in The S&M Feminist aren’t actually about S&M or feminism; instead, they’re about polyamory or HIV or manliness or some other gender/sex topic. So I’ve been looking for ways to branch out. For example, I just co-edited an anthology called Violation: Rape In Gaming that talks about both S&M and feminism, but mostly talks about Internet culture and game technology and virtual identities.

So I was thinking about my desire to branch out, and I came up with this idea for a series of short ebooks about sex and culture from various perspectives. The series is tentatively titled smartsex, and right now I’m working on the S&M overview essay, which will include S&M cultural observations and S&M history, and also the usual basic S&M communication questions, et cetera. As near as I can tell, there aren’t any comprehensive S&M 101 documents that cover all those different things at once.

And I want to do the same kind of thing for other sexuality topics — I won’t reveal what else is in the works right now, but I will say that I’m excited to see it all come together. I think that readers will be surprised by some of the topics I’ve chosen.

What genre does your book fall under?

I always have to put my books in categories for marketing purposes, and it can be surprisingly difficult. For example, I put Confessions of a Pickup Artist Chaser in Amazon’s “Feminist Theory” section, and then I wasn’t sure what to pick for the second section, so I picked “Sexual Instruction.” The book is about investigating a subculture of men who trade tips and tactics for seducing women. It’s also about my own concurrent and relevant experiences with sex and relationships. So it’s not like other books in the “Sexual Instruction” section … but the category kinda works? (The Smashwords version is easier to label, because they have a “Sex & Culture” section.)

Anyway, I guess the S&M overview will probably go in “Sexual Instruction” too. Not sure about other categories yet.

Which actors would you choose to play your char­ac­ters in a movie ren­di­tion?

I always thought that if a movie is made of one of my books, I want to play the main character myself. But I guess they probably wouldn’t let me do that. I suppose I’d settle for Nicole Kidman … especially if she wears that incredible red dress that she wore for Moulin Rouge. Or Anne Hathaway. You know, if you twisted my arm. ;)

What is the one-sentence syn­op­sis of your book?

Between Rihanna and Fifty Shades, it seems like S&M is everywhere we turn nowadays; learn the basics about its history, culture, and complexities from sex educator Clarisse Thorn.

Will your book be self-published or rep­re­sented by an agency?

I’ve been doing well with self-publishing (not that I’d turn down a major book deal). The smartsex series is also great for self-publishing because each piece will be short, yet thematically linked to the others. Incidentally, if you’re interested in self-publishing, then you should totally read my primer on how to do it.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your man­u­script?

Still working on it. There’s a lot of awesome, intense stuff going on in my life right now — I hoped to be done with this by now! — but I really should be done with the first draft sometime next week.

What other books would you com­pare this to within your genre?

I have a list of recommended S&M books on my S&M resource page, and I continue to stand by all those recommendations.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

There are lots of amazing books and educators discussing S&M, and I owe a debt to so many of them. I try to give credit where credit is due, to thank the people who have gone before me, and to promote the work of others. But — this is going to sound so corny, but when I really have to thank someone, I try to thank my audience. I receive the most incredible feedback at my lectures, in comments on this blog, and from fans around the Internet. It keeps me sharp and motivated.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s inter­est?

People consistently say that my work is very interesting even for people who aren’t into the things that I’m into. (My favorite review of The S&M Feminist is titled “20 Things You Can Take Away From The S&M Feminist Whether You’re Into S&M Or Not.”) I have always believed that there are huge lessons to be drawn from S&M — general lessons about culture, relationships, and non-S&M sex. I hope that non-S&Mers will be willing to read and learn from this piece.

Here are the writ­ers whose work you can check out next:

Andrea Zanin — S&M, polyamory, general sex geek

Charlie Nox — feminist pickup artist guru

Kitty Stryker — sex worker, S&Mer, activist

Ozy Frantz — feminist masculinity writer

Peter Tupper — S&M historian

* * *

2012 18 Sep

Reaching People: A Parable with Bookstores, Libraries, Museums, and the Internet

Regular readers won’t be surprised to learn that I’ve worked in more than one bookstore. I read obsessively when I was growing up; I wrote constantly, and I wrote so compulsively that it didn’t occur to me to write professionally until my twenties. I didn’t see writing as work — it was just something I had to do. Stories were sacred. The name Clarisse came from Ray Bradbury’s classic anti-censorship tale of book-burning, Fahrenheit 451.

At my second bookstore, I was working behind the counter one day when a middle-aged Black woman came in. “Is this a library?” she asked.

“No,” I said. My tone edged on rudeness. Wasn’t it obvious that this was a bookstore and not a library? It was a city storefront — whereas libraries have nice façades and sometimes pillars, right? I mean, my library did. I had seen libraries without pillars, but I figured that at least they made an effort, perhaps with elegant doors or incised stone signage.

“Sorry,” she said, and left.

An antique postcard depicting the pillared edifice of Chicago’s Blackstone Library branch (only a few blocks from Obama’s house!). The image came from this Chicago postcard history website.

A year later, someone else came in and asked the same question. This time, it was a Black gentleman. I was less snide this time, and more puzzled. He, too, left when I said “No.”

There were other differences in how many (though not all) Black customers interacted with the store. For example, Black customers would often ask for Philosophy but leave empty-handed if I showed them the gigantic section containing Kant, Kierkegaard, Heidegger. One of my coworkers eventually solved the mystery by asking which authors the customer sought; we learned that when most Black customers came in and asked for Philosophy, they’d be looking for authors we shelved in our tiny New Age & Occult section.

After years of working at that store, I thought I knew all the bookstores in the neighborhood. We even kept a directory of neighborhood bookstores on the counter, so that people could do a bookstore tour of the area. But one day I was out with a boyfriend grabbing brunch at a place we didn’t usually go, and we passed an entirely different bookstore. When I went in, I discovered that it stocked crystals and incense and books by authors I’d never heard of; a lot of the authors were New Age. I browsed for an hour. Not a single other White person came in.

That store? Was maybe four blocks from the store where I worked. It wasn’t in our bookstore directory. My boss had never heard of it. And it had been around for years.

A while after that, my boyfriend and I were driving across an area of the South Side where we didn’t normally go, and we passed a book-lined storefront that sported a laser-printed sign: LIBRARY. “Oh my God,” I said. “Pull over right now.”

“In this neighborhood?” he asked.

“Pull over,” I insisted, and I jumped out of the car before he was even done parking. I ran into the storefront. “Is this a library?” I demanded at the counter, although I could already tell from the spines of the books on the walls.

“Yes.”

“This is a branch of the Chicago Public Library?” I couldn’t believe it. It was a storefront.

“Yes,” said the Black librarian patiently.

I left, exhilarated by the discovery, but also humbled. I wished I could go back in time and apologize to the woman who’d asked: Is this a library? I hadn’t said anything overtly rude, but my entire demeanor had been rude. I’d thought that my answer was obvious, but she’d been accustomed to libraries in storefronts, whereas I’d never heard of such a thing. The truth was, I had responded to a perfectly reasonable question by being patronizing and cruel.

This was one of my first concrete lessons in accessibility.

* * *

I told this story to my friend Lisa, who works at the amazing Chicago social justice site Jane Addams Hull-House Museum (which incidentally hosts my glorious Sex+++ Documentary Film Series). In return, Lisa told me a story she’d heard about the Smithsonian, one of the most famous and established museums in the world. The Smithsonian offers free admission and it happens to be located within walking distance from some very underprivileged neighborhoods. But the museum collects demographics from attendees, and people from those underprivileged neighborhoods almost never go to the museum.

Lisa was recently involved in curating an exhibit (now open) about the history of a Chicago gang, the Conservative Vice Lords. Brilliantly, the exhibit was placed — not at the Hull-House Museum — but rather in an urban activist gallery that has neither a nice façade nor any pillars. The exhibit includes “pop-up” sections that move around to different places in the Conservative Vice Lords’ original neighborhood. In other words, it goes to the community whence the Conservative Vice Lords came. This is especially important because that’s not a community which is accustomed to having space in a museum, and isn’t likely to go visit one.

So here is a useful moral about making something accessible: outreach is part of accessibility. If an exhibit, or a piece of art, or whatever is really intended to be reached by the public, then sometimes it has to seek out the public.

The Conservative Vice Lords exhibit did not yet exist in 2009, when I went to work in sub-Saharan Africa. But I’d already heard Lisa’s parable of the Smithsonian. It was much on my mind as I spent time in one semi-rural African town; I sought out their library within my first 24 hours. I started feeling like something was wrong as soon as I looked at their books.

The books were mostly in English. That made sense, for that particular area, because books in the local language were scarce and the local language was rarely written anyway. (The newspaper was in English, too.) But the actual books that were stocked … well, there were some African writers, like Chinua Achebe. But the majority of books in the library were donations from the USA.

I found a cheesy thriller featuring a suburban housewife who falls for a handsome kidnapper. I found an obscure novel by my favorite fantasy author, Tanith Lee. I found old books by the early-1900s British humorist P.G. Wodehouse; he sets many of his novels on gently rolling lawns with golf, or in high-class townhouses with butlers. I sat around that library a lot, and my instincts were confirmed when I did not see a single local person read those books. They came in for shade, and conversation, and for newspapers and magazines.

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2012 25 May

My Mom’s Rape Story, and A Confused Relationship With Feminism

This was originally published at the girl-power site Off Our Chests.

* * *

My mother is a rape survivor. In 1970, when she was in her twenties, she came home alone one day with the groceries. As she was opening the door, a man came up behind her and forced her into the apartment, where he violently assaulted her. For years afterwards, my mother had Rape Trauma Syndrome — a type of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder that affects rape survivors — but neither RTS nor PTSD had yet been identified, and psychiatrists didn’t know what to do with her.

Later in the decade, my mother dumped one of her boyfriends. He then came to her apartment one night, broke in, and raped her. As he got in bed, she was in the middle of a flashback. She cried and said “No,” and he had sex with her anyway. When she tried to tell him later that what he’d done was unacceptable, he informed her that because she’d pursued him during their relationship — because she was the one who originally asked him out — a rape case would never stand up in court.

My mother met my dad many years after these incidents. Mom first told me that she’d been raped in my late teens, because she was considering telling her story to our church congregation, and she wanted me to know before she did that. The full stories came out during intermittent conversations in my twenties. I love both my parents with the fire of a thousand suns, and let me tell you, I’ve spent an unreasonable amount of time fantasizing about murdering the men who attacked my mother. I doubt I could find the first guy, but I could probably find the second, and in my early twenties I often imagined shooting him in the head. (Don’t worry, Mom, I don’t think about that anymore.)

Within the last few years, I started thinking about asking Mom’s permission to write about her experiences and my reaction to them. I always shelved the idea because I felt that it wasn’t my story to tell. Last year, the topic came up in conversation, and I finally asked permission; she said yes immediately. I double-checked her consent twice this year, and she said yes both times. Still, I was hesitant, and I only got around to it now — for Mother’s Day. I also asked her to review this piece, and to feel free to veto anything within it.

I am doing my best not to co-opt or appropriate my mother’s story. But her story and her life have shaped mine, intimately — including my views on gender issues, and my course as a feminist activist and writer. A few years ago, a widely-read Harper’s article by established feminist Susan Faludi asserted that the relationship between younger feminists and older feminists is like a battle between girls and our moms. I read the article with interest, but also with a sense of displacement. As a teenager I fought with my mom all the time, but she and I rarely argue anymore, and we never argue about issues of feminism or sexuality at all. If “young” feminism is about rebelling against our mothers, then I missed that boat completely.

In fairness, my mom’s not easy to rebel against. When I was 15, I asked her what she’d do if I ran off with a Hell’s Angel. She laughed. “I’d probably be jealous,” she said.

* * *

I started blogging in 2008 because I wanted to write about sexuality, particularly S&M. However, I identified myself as a feminist from the start, because I wanted to make it obvious that S&M and feminism are not mutually exclusive. The conflicts of feminism and S&M have been a major theme throughout the Feminist Sex Wars. I tend to repeat myself when I write about this, so I’ll just mention my favorite quotation on the matter; it comes from the German radical feminist Alice Schwarzer, who said that “Female masochism is collaboration!”

When I came out of the closet to my mom, I had been freaking out about my S&M identity for a while — but quietly. I told my parents about my sexuality because I wanted to go into therapy, but I wanted a Kink Aware therapist who wouldn’t shame me for my S&M preferences. The specific therapist I preferred was out-of-network for my health insurance, which meant I needed help paying for it. My dad was cool with it, but he didn’t say much. My mother paused when I told her… and then she explained that S&M is part of her sexuality, too.

I was shocked. I was also incredibly relieved. If my brilliant, independent mother was into S&M, then suddenly I felt much more okay about being into it myself. It turned out that she had explored S&M late in life — and she went through the same anxiety about feminism and S&M that I’d felt. “You’re not giving up your liberation,” she told me.

Mom also acknowledged the stereotype that S&M arises from abusive experiences. “I once worried that being raped made me into S&M,” she said. “But I remember having S&M feelings when I was very young, long before I was raped. I was like this all along.” When she said that, I caught my breath in recognition.

This is another topic I often repeat myself about, but that’s because it’s important. As it happens, the biggest and best-designed study on S&M found that there is no correlation between abusive experiences and being into S&M. There’s also plenty of anecdotal evidence within the S&M community that a lot of S&Mers, though not all, feel our S&M identities to be innate (sometimes described as an “orientation”). This is not to say that there’s anything wrong with understanding or processing abuse through consensual S&M. The psychologist Peggy Kleinplatz once published a scholarly article called “Learning From Extraordinary Lovers: Lessons From The Edge,” which discusses how therapists can help their clients by studying alternative sexualities. Kleinplatz included a case study of a couple whose S&M experiences helped them process their histories of abuse. However, abusive experiences should not be seen as the usual “creator” of S&M desires. (For more on this, check out my article on S&M and the psychiatric establishment.)

The stereotype that S&M “comes from” abuse is another reason I worried about writing this article. Basically, this is a prettily-wrapped gift to Internet commentators who enjoy writing posts or hate mail about how fucked up I am, or about how dysfunctional S&M is. I guess there’s no help for that.

* * *

“I’m fascinated that you’ve adopted feminism so thoroughly,” my mother told me once. “I never felt like I was into feminism like you are.”

“What?” I said. “Are you serious?”

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2011 22 Dec

On Change and Accountability

This was written for and originally published at Role/Reboot, where I became the Sex + Relationships Section Editor on December 15, 2011. For more of the Role/Reboot Sex + Relationships section, click here.

Do we actually believe that people can change? If so, how do we want them to show us they’ve changed? Is absolution possible? Who decides the answers to these questions?

I very rarely weigh in on Internet Scandals. This is partly because I’ve got lots of stuff to write that I believe has longer-lasting value than the latest flavor of the moment. It’s also because I have much less time and patience for internet flamewars than I once did. I seem to recall that at some point flamewars were kind of … fun? But these days they just feel predictable, tiring and unproductive.

As it happens, though, I unintentionally found myself in the middle of one this week. I feel exhausted and trapped by the whole thing. But I hope I can dim the flamewar into a lantern to illuminate issues that actually matter.

Specifically, I interviewed Hugo Schwyzer, a prominent writer on gender issues, who identifies as a male feminist and teaches gender studies in southern California. Hugo has a very complicated history that includes incredibly problematic behavior: drug addiction; compulsive and destructive sexual behavior, including sex with his students — and one attempt, over a decade ago, to kill both himself and his girlfriend during a drug binge. He has since, in his own words, “cleaned up”; chosen sobriety; recommitted to his religion; confessed his history; and attempted to make amends to the people he feels that he wronged.

Because of Hugo’s history, a lot of people really don’t like him. When I posted the interview at Feministe, one of the top feminist blogs, the comments exploded. Pretty soon, the comments had nothing to do with the interview at all. Some commenters were making amateur psychological diagnoses of Hugo, and other readers were emailing me privately to express shock at how ugly the discussion had gotten. So I closed down the discussion, making it impossible to continue commenting in that particular forum. As a result, I have now received more hate mail from other feminists than I ever have from anti-feminists. (Note: I have not received a small amount of hate mail from anti-feminists.)

In this situation, people seem to expect me to take a position that is primarily political. People seem to believe that I can either “prove my loyalty to feminism” by throwing Hugo under the bus — or I can “prove my loyalty to Hugo” by claiming that everything he’s done is A-OK. Like many political problems, neither of these options are fully human. Both of these options are stupid, limited, and do not get us any further in our lives.

I certainly do not always agree with Hugo, and I have occasionally pushed him to reconsider certain things. But, full disclosure: my experiences with him have been incredibly positive. Hugo was one of the first high-profile bloggers to promote my work — and occasionally, he took heat for doing so when I wrote about controversial topics. Hugo invited me to guest lecture in his class when I passed through Los Angeles, and he’s given me extensive feedback on and encouragement about my work. Even though I don’t always agree with him, and I believe that a lot of feminists’ critiques of his work are valid … a number of Hugo’s pieces make me want to cheer, like his article “The Paris Paradox: How Sexualization Replaces Opportunity with Obligation”. Perhaps ironically, when I once wrote an agonized post about moral accountability and how to deal with friends who have done really bad things, the most thoughtful and nuanced response came from Hugo. (He’s also written about the problem of how too many people will excuse some sexual predators, even within feminism itself, just because those predators do good activist work.)

Other feminists have been angrily emailing me, Tweeting at me, etc with things like “FUCK YOU FOR PROTECTING THIS WOLF IN SHEEP’S CLOTHING.” But I have seen no evidence that Hugo hasn’t made an honest and sustained effort at recovery and accountability. I have seen no evidence that Hugo’s religious re-conversion was dishonest. And I have seen no evidence that Hugo continues problematic behavior.

I am telling you this partly to explain where I’ve been coming from during this particular Internet Scandal. But more importantly, I’m telling you this to lend shape to the ethical problems I see underneath it — problems that are intimately intertwined with how I think about gender and sexuality. I’m actually not very interested in picking apart Hugo himself, whether positively or negatively. I believe that the politics of this situation are mostly a cheap distraction from truth and honor.

For me, the interesting and important questions that emerge in cases like this are:

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2011 28 Oct

Marriage, Singledom, Social Evolution, and that Kate Bolick piece in “The Atlantic”

Okay, so. Since I am a Feminist Commentator ™, many folks have asked my opinion on a piece that recently ran in “The Atlantic” called “All The Single Ladies“, by Kate Bolick. Many of you have probably already seen Bolick’s piece — I’ve got a roundup of a few relevant links and snips at the end of this post. Here are my thoughts about the article, in order:

1) Wow, I dealt with many of these issues and did a better job several weeks ago, when I wrote my piece: “Chemistry“. I’m also going to examine a lot of these issues in my upcoming eBook Confessions of a Pickup Artist Chaser: Long Interviews With Hideous Men. (I know, I’ve been plugging the eBook a lot lately. What can I say — I’m a starving artist and I use the platforms available to me.)

2) Well … okay. I’ll try to be more fair. I am coming at this question from the perspective of a 27-year-old woman, who is just starting to think about getting married — and I have considerable experience in liberal sex subcultures. Kate Bolick is coming at this question from the perspective of a 39-year-old woman who has clearly thought a lot about getting married — and who was somewhat influenced by second-wave feminists like Gloria Steinem … but is clearly uncomfortable with liberal sex-positive feminist perspectives.

(If Bolick weren’t uncomfortable, then when she tried to get a grip on the modern dating scene she might have talked to lefty feminists, rather than speaking only to the relatively conservative Susan Walsh. As a matter of fact, Susan Walsh has openly insulted and attacked a number of high-profile modern feminists, including women who I greatly respect. Personally, I find Walsh to be somewhat interesting and mostly harmless; during our brief exchanges, I’ve gotten the impression that she feels the same way about me. I have found some of Walsh’s critiques of sex-positive feminism echoed in my own experiences, and I try to take such critiques into account during my ongoing project of building more flexible and universal sex-positive feminist theory. But I 110% disagree with where Walsh takes those critiques — for example, Walsh has been known to assert that we ought to do more slut-shaming. Which is just no. The last thing we need is more slut-shaming.)

3) Given that Kate Bolick is a bit more conservative than I am, and given that she has very different experiences, it’s not surprising that she has taken such a different journey in her thoughts about this topic. What’s more interesting is that she arrives at very similar conclusions. Like many other commentators, I liked where Bolick was going at the end of the article, when she talks about potentially building collective lives with like-minded people, rather than depending on marriage to create our family structures.

Unlike many other commentators — and unlike Bolick, apparently — I already have a great deal of experience with collectives and cooperatives. I don’t usually write about this, because it’s not directly relevant to sex & gender, but I’ve mentioned it before, like for example in my old post “Grassroots Organizing for Feminism, S&M, HIV and Everything Else“. I hate to sound like a true believer, but I really think that cooperatives can be the wave of the future … if we let them.

Building an intentional living community with like-minded people is very difficult. But there are thousands of examples of cooperatives around the world — some dealing with housing, some dealing with other matters. Most of my experience is with housing cooperatives, and I can attest that participating in even a very functional housing cooperative can be infuriating, heartbreaking, and scary by turns. But functional housing cooperatives have also taught me an enormous amount about humanity, relationships, grassroots action, interdependence, efficiency, and sharing. (Awww. I know. It’s so sweet.)

And I fully expect that my experience in building intentional “family” will be great for me as I grow older and my life takes me either into marriage, or not into marriage. Cooperatives are living communities that do not depend on these outmoded ideas of nuclear families. And, by the way? Living in a cooperative does not preclude marriage. Plenty of married couples live in cooperatives together. Some have kids in the cooperatives!

I wish that Bolick had wound up her article by doing some serious research on the cooperative movement. But she didn’t, so I’m going to give you some resources off the top of my head right now. If you want to learn some basics, then definitely check out the website for the non-profit organization North American Students of Cooperation (NASCO).

As it happens, NASCO is about to host its yearly educational Institute, which is a totally awesome opportunity to learn more. I wish I’d thought to post this sooner, because I just realized that today is the last day you can register for NASCO Institute. The conference will happen from November 4-6 in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Another great resource is an old article by a gentleman named Jim Jones, who used to work for NASCO. This article is called “Death in the Co-op” and it’s a brilliant exposition of Jim’s thoughts on why co-ops go under — what the potential weaknesses of co-ops are. As far as I know, this paper has basically been passed hand-to-hand for years, but has never been posted openly on the Internet. I view it as required reading for anyone with a serious interest in housing cooperatives, so I’ve put it up on my own site for download.

4) Aaaand back to Kate Bolick’s article. Do I have any other thoughts? Just one: at least it wasn’t another article by Caitlin Flanagan.

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2011 2 Jan

Men Who Don’t Deserve the Word “Creep”

The article below was originally published on October 1, 2010 by AlterNet; the AlterNet editors titled it “Why Do We Demonize Men Who Are Honest About Their Sexual Needs?” I have no idea how many people linked to it, but it caused enough of a stir that I got hate mail from a man on the very same day it appeared, and also some of my sister feminist bloggers became upset. I have linked to my favorite responses around the blogosphere at the end of this post. I’ve also included some minor edits in this version of the article, for the sake of clarity.

* * *

This is an article about men, but I’m going to begin by talking about women’s experiences. Many of us women go through our daily lives fending off unwanted male attention; most of us have worried about being attacked by men. So it’s completely understandable that we’re all on high alert for predatory expressions of male sexuality.

But, while certain situations and certain people deserve our disdain — like, say, the guy who once leered at me as I walked out of the public library and whispered, "I can smell your pussy" — most guys really don’t. The pressure put on men to be initiators, yet avoid seeming creepy or aggressive, leads to an unpleasant double bind. After all, the same gross cultural pressures that make women into objects force men into instigators; how many women do you know who proposed to their husbands?

So how can a man express his sexual needs without being tarred as a creep? After all, the point of promoting sex-positive attitudes is for everyone to be able to be open about their needs and desires, right?

When I was 23 years old, I was still coming to terms with my S&M orientation, and so I posted to an Internet message board about how "illicit" desire was messing up my life. Soon, I received an email from a guy in my area. He accurately guessed the cause of my anxieties: “If I had to guess as to your kinks, I’d guess that either you want some BDSM play, or you maybe want to add other partners into a relationship. How close am I?” He then offered to fulfill all my wicked, dirty lusts. In fairness, the guy actually referred to himself as creepy during our text-only conversation — but I still feel guilty that when I told the story to my friends, we all referred to him as "the creep."

I obviously had every right to turn down my Internet Lothario. Still, I shouldn’t have called him a creep; all he was doing was being overt and honest about his desires, and he did it in a polite — though straightforward — way. If he’d emailed me with "Hey bitch, you obviously want me to come over and dominate you," then that would have been impolite and unpleasant. But he emailed me a quick and amusing introduction, then asked what I wanted. After a few rounds of banter, I called a halt, and he respected that.

I think the word "creep" is too vague and prejudiced to mean anything anymore. But if I were willing to use the word, I’d say my Internet suitor was the opposite of a creep.

* * *

Although I’ve become more aware of it recently, I think I’ve always had the sense that men are particularly vulnerable to the judgment of “creep." Over a year ago, I wrote a series of blog posts on the problems of masculinity, and in Part 3 I noted that — unlike men — "I can be explicit and overt about my sexuality without being viewed as a creep."

Of course, I could be labeled a slut, which could damage me quite badly. There’s a reason I do all my most explicit writing under a pseudonym. We feminists often say that men’s promiscuity is lauded while women’s is stigmatized, and one point of this argument is purely linguistic: "stud" is a complimentary word for a promiscuous man, while "slut" is a hurtful word for a promiscuous woman. Besides, our culture hates sex, no matter who’s doin’ it — even vanilla, consensual, heterosexual, private sex between cute white married adults is hard for some folks to acknowledge!

But in fact, men aren’t merely enabled to be promiscuous — they’re pressured to be getting laid all the time. This influences situations ranging from huge communities devoted entirely to teaching men how to pick up women, to tragically callous dismissal of the experiences of men who have been raped.

And while there’s immense cultural repression of all sexuality, there’s also a fair and growing amount of modern TV, movies and feminist energy that seek to enable female sluttitude in all its harmless, glorious forms. The stud vs. slut dichotomy is worth discussing, but it has one flaw: it entirely ignores the word "creep," whose function appears to be restricting male sexuality to a limited, contradictory set of behaviors.

(more…)

2010 15 Oct

The S&M Feminist Reloaded

UPDATE, 2012: In the years after I wrote this post, I actually released a whole book called The S&M Feminist. Read it and enjoy!

Original post follows:

* * *

I’ve written before that I don’t typically directly discuss feminist issues, partly because I think other feminists are covering the bases better than I can. Recently I’ve been proving myself wrong, though.

Firstly, I got interviewed about BDSM and feminism on the adorable blogtalk radio show Casual Sex!
Show host David Ortmann is a San Francisco psychotherapist and founding member of the Community-Academic Consortium for Research on Alternative Sexualities. He knows a lot about BDSM, has been around the BDSM community much longer than me, and asked great questions. You can stream my interview off the Internet or download it by clicking the extremely easy-to-miss iTunes icon on the streaming bar.

Secondly, I wrote a guest post at the awesome group blog Feministe called The Alt Sex Anti-Abuse Dream Team.
The article is all about abuse in the BDSM community: toxic dynamics within the community, current anti-abuse initiatives within the community, and how I personally would go about building an anti-abuse team aimed at altsexual abuse survivors if I got a grant or something (keep dreaming, Clarisse). There are some great comments.

Thirdly, I also wrote a guest post at the awesome Ms. Magazine blog about the Anti-Porn Men Project.
I wanted to like the Anti-Porn Men Project, because although I’m pro-porn, I’m also all about discussing and analyzing the problems of porn. Unfortunately, the Anti-Porn Men Project seems to be intellectually dishonest and to disrespect the experience of many actual sex workers and porn models. I’m hoping that they’ll come to reconsider their current narrow focus and confront their biases.

Note that if you want to keep up with all my writing on other sites in real-time, you might consider subscribing to my Time Out Chicago blog, “Love Bites”. “Love Bites” disseminates bite-sized bits of sex & gender news, including the headlines of all my own projects.

* * *

The above image of Trinity from “The Matrix: Reloaded” is from this gallery of girls in “The Matrix”. When this movie came out, my boyfriend and I drove nearly an hour to see it. I attended in a floor-length lace-up vinyl ballgown. I am not lying.

* * *

2010 29 Sep

Please oppose the new Internet censorship bill

If you’re already convinced that the new Internet censorship bill is totally nuts, then:

* If you’re an American citizen, write to your senator.

* Whether or not you’re an American citizen, sign this petition. It only takes a second, and when you’re done there are also handy instructions on how to call your senator.

Haven’t heard about the bill? Read on ….

YouTube.com, the video-sharing website, receives 2 billion views per day. Users upload 24 hours of video per minute. My 65-year-old mom is constantly sending me YouTube links. And YouTube wouldn’t exist if a censorship bill known as COICA, currently in committee, had passed five years ago.

COICA, or the “Combating Online Infringements and Counterfeits Act” (S. 3804), is an incredibly broad piece of work that was introduced last week by Senator Patrick Leahy due to the demands of the entertainment industries. It’s intended to protect intellectual property, but it’s awfully vague. This bill could end up affecting not just creative sites like YouTube, but edgy political blogs or storage sites that are used by everyday people to send photos to their grandparents and back up their files. In fact, this bill is so vague that if it gets its foot in the door, it could ultimately be used to censor nearly anything. Sex bloggers — like me, for example — should be worried, and so should everyone else.

What kind of collateral damage will we accept in the campaign to stop copyright infringement?

Another major problem with COICA is that it sends a pro-censorship message out from the USA to the rest of the world. Americans are justly proud of our country’s emphasis on free speech. We criticize governments like China, which restrict their citizens’ access to the Internet. But with this bill, the United States risks telling countries throughout the world: “Unilateral censorship of websites that the government doesn’t like is okay — and this is how you do it.”

Finally, COICA won’t work. I’ve spent much of the last few days hanging out with engineers and hackers who have already thought their way around the bill’s potential Internet damage. So not only is it a crazy censorship bill, but it actually won’t do what it’s purportedly supposed to do.

Please take a moment to do one or all of the following:

* Get the word out! Cross-post this post, or link people you know to it. Link people to the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Open Letter From Internet Engineers to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

* If you’re an American citizen, write to your senator.

* Sign this petition. It only takes a second, and when you’re done there are also handy instructions on how to call your senator.

Free speech, folks. It’s kind of one of the most important things going, you know?

(Thanks for some quotations and lots of inspiration go out to some of the amazing people at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, especially this blog post.)

2010 19 Sep

The S&M feminist

UPDATE 2012: I’ve now published a collection of my best articles titled The S&M Feminist: Best Of Clarisse Thorn.

* * *

Readers of my blog have told me that my actual feminist opinions are sort of unclear. So have people who know me in real life. I don’t blog about straight-up feminist issues here, at least not very often.

One reason for that is that I’m more interested in appealing to a general audience than to a specifically theory-oriented audience. To some extent I can’t help the fact that I have a very analytical mindset; that I often, instinctively, use big words; stuff like that. But still, in an ideal world, I’d like every post I write to be quite accessible to any smart newcomer. So I spend a lot of energy thinking about how to make my posts less jargon-y, and more interesting to random people. Sometimes I fail, but I like to think that most of the time I succeed.

Another reason is that other bloggers have already written about feminism, including the fraught topic of S&M and feminism. And they’ve done it so intelligently that I honestly don’t feel that I have much to add to the conversation. My introduction to the S&M blogosphere actually came about because I was Googling something-or-other and I came upon the blog SM-Feminist, at which point I was so filled with awe and delight and recognition that I sat and read the archives for hours upon hours upon hours. I’ve never been so enthralled by any other blog. (Just a note: the writers at SM-Feminist don’t, I think, share my concerns about being generally accessible. It’s possible that it won’t be easy for non-feminists to read, but I actually can’t tell.)

The major problem with SM-Feminist now, I think, is just that the easy posts went first, in 2007. So the more recent posts (the ones on top, and on the front page) tend to be a bit complex, and probably less exciting for newcomers to these debates. Of course, the other major problem is that almost all the writers have pretty much stopped writing, even the incredibly prolific Trinity — who gets a place in my personal Pantheon of Awesomeness — and who now focuses her efforts in other areas.

Recently I was going through the SM-Feminist archives looking for a couple of posts to cite in a piece that I’m working on, and I was stunned to see how much of it overlapped with things I’ve written — even though I’ve specifically tried not to recapitulate what’s already been said over there. Some examples:

* This post basically encompasses everything I said in my old post BDSM As A Sexual Orientation and Complications of the Orientation Model, except that it’s more complicated, and also touches on some points I made in my more recent post 5 Sources of Assumptions and Stereotypes About S&M.

* The post How a Girl Learns to Say No elegantly makes one of the major points from my post on safewords and check-ins.

* This post on the term “vanilla” is a more complicated and interesting take on a question that I first started considering way back when I started blogging, in my post Vanilla: Dissection of a Term. It even encompasses all the things I meant to write when I wrote the followup to my post, you know, the followup that never actually happened.

And then there are the SM-Feminist posts that say things I’ve either never gotten around to saying, or that I simply haven’t bothered to blog about because I know they said it better. I’ve even cited some of these posts in lectures. Here’s a (doubtless incomplete) list of those posts:

* BDSM and Self-HarmI want to make this perfectly clear. I don’t think that SM is wonderful for everyone at every point in their lives. I do believe that some people use SM to self harm. I do believe that some people bottom or submit because they believe that they are inferior or unworthy. I also believe that some people use sex and sexual pleasure, whether from SM or from non SM sex, in ways that are unhealthy for them.

However, I believe that this is all beside the point.

… Yes, for some people SM is a maladaptive coping strategy. But this does not mean that SM sex is fundamentally about self-harm, any more than sex, as a whole, for all humans is about self-harm. I’m sure we’ve all met someone who we at some point thought was using his sexuality in a way that was ultimately damaging to him. But very few people would say that he needs to give up sexuality. That therapy designed to make him asexual is wise.

* Why BDSM?Radical feminists are quick to point out to any kinky person who feels uneasy hearing that her fucking is just standard heteropatriarchy that they’re not trying to control what anyone does in bed. “I’m not trying to take your whips away,” etc. They’ll be extremely careful to mention this, and understandably irritated when someone goes “They’re trying to make me hang up the whips and go home,” given how clear they are that this isn’t what they want to do.

What I don’t understand is exactly what good the theory does at all, if they’re not trying to change people.

* OppressionIn discussions of SM and feminism, I frequently see the following coming from anti SM people:

“People who do BDSM are not oppressed. When you complain about how people treat you, whether that be other feminists or mainstream society, you’re insulting people who really are oppressed. It’s as if oppression were a fad that you want to be a part of, rather than a brutal reality in the lives of members of subordinated groups. “

I was always sympathetic to this view. I always figured that most of us have life pretty easy, at least as far as SM goes.

Then I realized something. Not about how bad we have it, but about the words and concepts we’re using. I realized that I don’t actually know what the word oppression means. I know how it’s used. I know roughly what we mean when we say it. But I don’t know an official definition, such that it’s possible for me to clearly delineate its boundaries. I know the paradigm cases of oppression, but I don’t have a decent enough definition to be sure which cases aren’t close enough to the paradigm to qualify.

And I started to realize that without that definition, my assertions that SMers are not oppressed were merely based on intuitions about how bad we have it compared to the paradigm oppressed groups, such as women, people of color, transgendered people, people with disabilities, etc.

* Safer Communication PracticesThere are these words that get tossed around subculturally, like “safeword” or “safe, sane, and consensual”. And sometimes they’re tossed around as some sort of talisman to ward off evil, and sometimes they’re tossed around as contemptible nonsense, and neither of these things gets into the reasons that the concepts exist, why they were created, what they’re attempting to express.

Last but not least, I’m just going to list the titles of some posts on BDSM and abuse:
* Wut About The Abuuuuzers?
* Not Your Usual BDSM and Abuse Story
* Confession
* The Nature of Abuse

The influences on my post Evidence That the BDSM Community Does Not Enable Abuse are obvious.

So there you go, folks. Right there, in the above links, are actually most of my major theoretical influences as a pro-SM feminist (and, indeed, as a general S&M practitioner). Someday I might find something to say about S&M and feminism that Trinity (and her fellow bloggers, occasionally) haven’t already said five times, better ….

… but I’m not holding my breath.

REMINDER from 2012: I’ve now published a collection of my best articles titled The S&M Feminist: Best Of Clarisse Thorn.

2010 23 May

Exciting new “Time Out” blog; reflections on blogrolls and blogospheres

I’ve been hired as a professional blogger! I’ll be keeping my personal blog here, but I’ll be posting quick links and even quicker commentary over at Time Out Chicago: Love Bites.

While setting up my Time Out blog, I found myself thinking about one of the more headache-inducing aspects of blogging: the Blogroll. You can see my blogroll on the right side of this page, and that’s where the Time Out editors put my Time Out blogroll as well. Blogrolls are sticky and interesting because there are definite social conventions surrounding them, but those social conventions are not well-defined, and different people use very different approaches.

* Some people just post links to whatever blogs they like or consider interesting. Some people work really hard to screen blogs for their blogrolls and figure out whether they really want to link them or not; others just glance over blogs and add them if they seem interesting. And others avoid the whole problem by not having a blogroll on their site at all.

* Some people are straightforwardly tit-for-tat about blogrolls: they do “link exchanges”, which means that you post a link to someone’s blog in your blogroll, and in exchange they post a link to you. This means that not only will people maybe find your blog through that other blog, but that hopefully your PageRank will improve. (PageRank is Google’s measurement of a given page’s importance. For example, my blog has okay PageRank, which is why it’s usually on the first or second page of Google results if you search for the name “Clarisse”, even though there are over two million total results for that name.) I’ve accepted offers for link exchanges occasionally, though I obviously only do it with sites that I appreciate.

The sex toy website EdenFantasys, which also has an online magazine known as SexIs, recently got in a big heap of trouble because the links from their sites have been modified so that they don’t increase recipients’ PageRank. This is particularly scandalous because EdenFantasys will often email sex bloggers soliciting link exchanges, so basically, the evidence indicates that they’re trying to scam us for publicity, being dishonest about what they offer in return.

* I remember that when I started talking to one popular sex blogger, I asked hir if ze would be willing to link to me. Ze hesitated, saying, “Well, I’d like to meet you in person at a convention or something, before I link to you.” As it happens, we have now met, and hir site now links to mine. But I’ve thought a lot about the privilege inherent in that particular approach. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it, really — but it does profoundly limit the circle of people who will be publicized by that person. It means that ze only promotes people with the particular contacts and background to meet hir — and it also means that ze assumed I would have the money, time, etc. to end up at a sexuality convention.

* * *

So, what to do with my own blogroll? Up until now, I’ve played fast and loose with mine — I’ve linked to cool people when I remembered to do so, and I’ve often forgotten to link blogs that really deserved attention. But while I was thinking about which blogs to feature on my Time Out blogroll, I decided that I need a better process.

I want to link to people whose writing I like, but I want to acknowledge a wide range of people, too. Now that I’ve established my blog well enough to have decent PageRank, I feel as though I should Use My Power For Good and help lots of new voices gain exposure, whether they’re my friends or not.

And then there’s the fact that the blogosphere can get surprisingly insular. It’s not that sex and gender bloggers aren’t open-minded people, it’s just that a surprisingly small amount of crossover happens within all blogospheres. (I’ve even read scholarly papers about how very well-separated some Internet divides are — from what I can tell, progressives and conservatives never read each others’ blogs.) One reason I’m excited about my new Time Out blog is that it will help me reach out to a new audience that wouldn’t normally discover my writing, and to give them exposure to the things I think are important. I’d like to think of other ways to increase the linkages and crossover among different online communities.

But I also don’t want people to just ignore my blogroll because they see it as a morass of themeless “whatever”.

It’s so confusing! Positively anxiety-inducing, I tell you! But now I have two blogrolls … which increases my options!

Here’s what I’ve come up with. On my Time Out Chicago blog, I’m linking to sex & gender blogs that have seriously impressed me with their even-handedness and insight, including a number of sex & gender activists that I know personally. There’s probably a slight emphasis on S&M blogs … hey, I never claimed not to be biased.

But here, on my good ol’ personal blog … it’s gonna be a free-for-all. If you want a link, you got it. Even if you don’t want to do a link exchange, I’ll link to your blog upon request (although obviously, I would be pleased and flattered if you linked to me).

Unless you’re a spammer, of course. Real bloggers only, please.