Posts Tagged ‘interviews’

2012 6 Nov

Clarisse Thorn Talks Porn: Censorship, Sex Workers’ Rights, & More

A writer named Justin Cascio just interviewed me for an article about porn. I enjoyed answering his questions, so I thought I’d share my answers with you, too.

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The Worst Part About Censorship is [scribbled out]How do you define pornography?

A famous lawmaker was once asked to define porn. He said: “I know it when I see it.” That definition makes me uncomfortable because it’s so unclear. Unclear legal definitions only serve the interests of people in power, and they create a bad environment for everyone else. Unclear definitions force creative people to guess whether their work will fall into an illegal category, and thus they create what activists call a “chilling effect” on free speech. This means that people censor themselves even when they aren’t doing anything wrong, because they basically don’t want to go anywhere near things that might be illegal.

It’s especially important to note that anti-porn legislation and censorship has consistently been used to silence a broad array of people, including sex writers like me who create theoretical or political material. Here is one very mild example: I get tons of emails from people who can’t access my blog because I’m censored by their university or whatever. That’s messed up; I mean, for God’s sake, I’ve lectured at some of these universities! If we must legislate porn differently from other types of media, then it should have a clear legal definition.

However! For everyday folks who aren’t lawyers or judges, the definition of “porn” is quite fuzzy. (Definitions are often fuzzy with sex-related issues.) I don’t see a big difference between porn and erotica, or between porn and romance novels for that matter — except that they have different target audiences. In that sense, I suppose that I think of “porn” as “visual media showing explicit sex, which is usually (but not always) aimed at stereotypical heterosexual cisgendered men.”

I’ve been talking about my new anthology a lot lately, but I want to mention it again because it’s totally relevant here. I just collaborated with an amazing tech writer, Julian Dibbell, to create an anthology called Violation: Rape In Gaming. The anthology collects different essays and perspectives about sexual assault in all kinds of games — video games, roleplaying games, etc. (I also wrote an introduction that explains different types of games, so if you’re not a gamer, you can still understand the anthology.) I think that this volume really gets at the heart of some porn-related issues, and hints at some of the definitional problems; if you’re interested in problems of porn, you should definitely check it out.

What is the ugly side of the porn industry, and how are regular users responsible?

The important issues of porn are the same as the important issues in all types of sex work. Did the participants consent? Are they working in a respectful, safe environment? I recently read an excellent article about cam girls by Sam Biddle, and I love that article because it talks about both the super-empowered wealthy Western women who make great money and live a fairy-tale life … and also the women, often in the Third World, who are clearly unhappy and exploited.

One thing I particularly appreciate about that article is how it points out that exploited cam girls are much harder to speak with directly than rich, self-employed cam girls. I firmly believe that there are many sex workers who freely chose and enjoy their jobs, but the following facts must be acknowledged:

1) Less privileged sex workers — people who are at a disadvantage because of their race, class, gender identity, or whatever — are more likely to be exploited and abused and silenced, because their disadvantages will be used against them. For example, a poor person is obviously more likely to do work that they hate because they’re desperate for money.

2) Less privileged sex workers are less likely to have the time, education, or knowledge to effectively articulate their experience. Sidenote: please check out the Speak Up! trainings, which are intended to educate sex workers on how to deal with the media, and help sex workers describe their own experience.

3) As a result of these factors, the discourse is often dominated by privileged sex workers. This is a serious problem. The activist Audacia Ray, who is a personal hero of mine, has an article about this. When you look at porn, this means that a lot of the sex workers we hear from around the online gendersphere — maybe most? — are having an awesome time.

And I certainly think that privileged sex workers should talk about that as much as they want! Shout it from the rooftops! But I also think we must be cautious about drawing conclusions based solely on those voices. I particularly appreciate privileged sex worker writers who both love their jobs and make an effort to highlight less-privileged voices.

So, what are a porn consumer’s responsibilities? I would be absolutely thrilled if more porn consumers would boycott porn whose employees are exploited. I acknowledge that it’s not always easy to tell whose employees are exploited, and whose aren’t — especially given the three considerations I listed above. Years ago, I published a two-part interview with a BDSM pornographer named Tim Woodman, and the most interesting part was the second half, because that was where he responded to audience criticisms from the first half. Tim received questions like: “If some porn models are being paid hush money, then how are consumers supposed to know which porn is okay?” And his answer was, honestly, that it’s often difficult and nuanced. (The male feminist writer Thomas MacAulay Millar wrote a response piece called “I Can Never Tell.”)

I have often thought that it’s past time for “fair trade sex work,” where ethics becomes a selling point. I have also often thought the most feminist thing I could do would be to open a brothel where the employees are treated well. Honestly, if it weren’t illegal in my home country, I might have done this already. (Which, incidentally, highlights one of the problems of making sex work illegal: making sex work illegal mostly chases away ethical people, whereas unethical ones don’t mind so much.)

In the meantime, there are feminist pornographers who work really hard to put out ethical porn. I couldn’t possibly name them all, but it’s worth checking out the Feminist Porn Awards, as well as the documentary Hot ‘n’ Bothered: Feminist Pornography. Here’s a nice piece called “The Five Hallmarks of Feminist Porn.” And for those with an interest in BDSM, I recommend the challenging documentary Graphic Sexual Horror — it really gets at the meat of these issues.

Extra credit: the male porn star Tyler Knight has some excellent writing about his emotional difficulties, like this piece. Just in case you were thinking that everything is peaches and cream for male porn stars.

Can porn use become a problem?

Anything can become a problem. I don’t have time for people who claim that sex-related stuff is more likely to become a problem than other stuff that feels good.

When I’m with people who are capable of starting the conversation from an agreement that “sexuality is not necessarily bad” and “people have different sexual preferences,” I sometimes have interesting conversations about porn use being a problem. But you have to start there.

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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

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2012 7 Jun

“The S&M Feminist” NOW AVAILABLE, plus: reading tomorrow in Berlin!

At long last!

I’ve learned from my previous experiences. This time, I’m releasing all formats of The S&M Feminist: Best Of Clarisse Thorn at the same time.

* Click here to buy it for Amazon Kindle for $5.99.

* Click here to buy it for other ebook formats at Smashwords, also $5.99.

* And click here to buy it in paperback for $14.99.

* Also! If you’re in Berlin (or you know someone who is), I will be reading from The S&M Feminist and answering questions at Schwelle 7 on Friday at 8pm. Here’s the event on Facebook. I have totally gone international!

For this collection, I included all the articles that readers requested, and many more; I’ve written quite a lot since I started in 2008. There are 48 pieces in all, plus introductions describing the context in which I wrote them and thoughts I’ve had since writing them. Plus cute “study guides” in case you like that sort of thing! I recommend S&M resources, too, and have a glossary of common S&M terms.

The amazing adult sex educator Charlie Glickman, of Good Vibrations fame, has already posted a great review of The S&M Feminist. Excerpt:

Clarisse isn’t afraid to talk about her own experiences with BDSM, relationships, and sexual politics. But she’s also not afraid to explore some of the issues around consent, violence, and safety that a lot of the kink cheerleaders would like to sweep under the rug. She brings a refreshing honesty to her writing that is often lacking. Add to that a deep commitment to feminism and sex-positivity, and you have an amazing combination.

The tension between kink and feminism is a tough one to hold onto and most people end up firmly in one camp or the other. What makes Clarisse’s writing phenomenal is her steadfast refusal to avoid doing that. The clarity with which she discusses both sides without resorting to caricatures or stereotypes is simultaneously inspiring and challenging. If you’re interested in either or both, I can’t recommend her enough.

Thank you, Charlie! And on Facebook, the writer Alyssa Royse said:

I’m not especially into S&M and struggle with the word “feminist.” But Clarisse’s writing about autonomous sexuality is second to none. She can help you find peace and power in your own ideas of sexuality in a way that few can, simply by being brazenly and powerfully true to herself, in the gentle way that only someone who isn’t trying to please anyone else can be.

Now just for completeness, here’s the full book description:

Clarisse Thorn is a sex-positive activist who has been writing about love, S&M, sex, gender, and relationships since 2008. Her writing has appeared across the Internet in places like The Guardian, AlterNet, Feministe, Jezebel, The Good Men Project, and Time Out Chicago — and this is a selection of her best articles. Also included is Clarisse’s commentary on the context in which she wrote each piece, the process of writing it, and how she’s changed since then. Plus, there are “study guides” to help readers get the maximum mileage from each section!

Clarisse has delivered sexuality workshops and lectures to a variety of audiences, including museums and universities across the USA. In 2009, she created and curated the ongoing Sex+++ sex-positive documentary film series at Chicago’s historic feminist site, Jane Addams Hull-House Museum. In 2010, she returned from working on HIV mitigation in southern Africa. She has also volunteered as an archivist, curator and fundraiser for that venerable S&M institution, the Leather Archives & Museum. For anyone with an interest in activism, S&M, polyamory (open relationships), dating dynamics and/or sex theory, this book is guaranteed to give you plenty to think about.

Yes! Buy it! Kindle. Or Smashwords. Or paperback. And tell your friends. Your lovers. Your reading group. Your local dungeon. And anyone who’s anywhere near Berlin. (San Francisco, I’m coming for you next ….)

2012 1 Jun

A Sugar Baby Leaves The Business

This is a slightly longer version of an article that was originally published at Role/Reboot. It also appears in my new collection, The S&M Feminist: Best Of Clarisse Thorn, which you can buy for Amazon Kindle here or other ebook formats here or in paperback here.

* * *

Previously on Role/Reboot, we ran an interview with my friend Olivia, a 25-year-old graduate student who had just started having sex for money through a “sugar baby” website called SeekingArrangement.com. In the interview, Olivia covered a lot of topics. She mentioned that she usually feels powerful in her relationships with her clients. As she put it, “When I show up, I don’t feel like — here is this rich, powerful person who is about to bestow wealth upon me. I feel like — here is this person who is a bit sad and lonely, and maybe I can make their day better.” Olivia also noted that her negotiations can be delicate, because some men are quite squeamish while discussing money. And she explained that she’s married — but it was already an open relationship, and she doesn’t see having sex for money as different from the other kinds of sex that she and her husband were already having with other people. To deal with it, they’re sure to communicate clearly. As Olivia said, “We just have to talk about it.”

In the months since that interview, Olivia and I have hung out occasionally to talk about her experience with sex work. She’s traveled across the city to meet me, and often bought me coffee; non-judgmental social support for sex workers can be rare, and I’ve seen more of her since she started the job. Although she really enjoyed the work at first, there were tough times too, especially after the novelty wore off. Recently, Olivia decided to stop seeing clients. We talked it through and she gave me permission to write about it. (She also reviewed this article pre-publication.)

Obviously, there were logistical complexities from the beginning. Taxes were a nightmare. Olivia wanted to pay them, but it’s not the easiest proposition. Then there was the question of paying off her debts. Some were simple enough, but then there were loans co-signed by her parents, and there was no way she could make any headway on those loans without talking to her parents… so Olivia had to maintain the fiction that she couldn’t pay.

That was nothing compared to the complexities of feelings and communication, though. I’ve already shown you how hard it was, sometimes, for Olivia to talk about money with her clients. There are other, subtler problems that are hard to handle with empathy: for example, creating the Girlfriend Experience persona.

I’ve talked to sex workers who enjoy creating a “sexy dreamgirl shell” on behalf of their clients. One of them said to me: “I create that persona for my boyfriends anyway. It’s nice to be paid for it.” But as a feminist sex writer who’s spent years working to understand my own sexual authenticity, this freaks me out a bit. I think it would feel terribly toxic and inauthentic for me.

It often felt inauthentic to Olivia, for sure, and that got harder and harder. “These men are very invested in believing that I’m super into this,” she told me once. “I have to keep up the front, and make them feel like I’m interested all the time. It’s literally my job to do that. When they tell me how happy I am, or when they inform me that I’m enjoying myself, I can’t really contradict them, even if it’s not true. Some of them use words like ‘magical’ to describe me, but the person they’re describing is not really me. Sometimes I think these guys pay me because in a non-professional relationship, a woman might push back when he says those things. She might contradict his idea of her too much.”

In fairness, Olivia naturally fits one glam stereotype of the middle-class sex worker: the sexually adventurous young student. It’s such a widely-promoted stereotype that experienced sex worker activists speak derisively about it, and some escorts lie and say that they fit the profile when they don’t. Presumably, clients enjoy believing that a girl is a sexually adventurous college student because it capitalizes on images of “sexy coeds” — and convinces the client that she’s not being emotionally harmed by the work. (I’ve often thought that it’s way past time for “fair trade prostitution,” where sex trade ethics are made into a competitive advantage. I’ve also thought that the most feminist thing I could ever do would be to open a brothel where all the sex workers are treated well. Too bad it’s illegal.)

Of course, SeekingArrangement.com actively encourages the idea that a “real relationship” can emerge from these arrangements. (In our previous interview, Olivia pointed out the SeekingArrangement blog post “Sugar Baby & Sugar Daddy: The Modern Day Princess & Prince?” Another interesting one is called “Sugar Babies Do Fall In Love.”) While some guys on the site really do just want to pay for straight-up sex, some become emotionally invested in the women whose company they buy. And we can tell from Olivia’s experiences negotiating payment that a lot of guys don’t like thinking about how they’re paying for it.

Bottom line: more than one of Olivia’s clients were into her for real, and she felt more and more uncomfortable about it as time passed. One man took a surreptitious photo of her and hung it on the center of his otherwise-bare refrigerator. Another client made faux-offhand wistful comments such as, “If you weren’t already married, haha….”

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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 8 Mar

“Confessions of a Pickup Artist Chaser” NOW AVAILABLE

Sex.
Love.
S&M.
Ethics.
Seduction.
Feminism.
Polyamory.
Pickup artists.

(Cover image copyright © 2005 Beautiful Disasters Photography. Thanks so much to Beautiful Disasters for giving it to me. Cover image description: A girl in a corset with a bowler hat tipped down over her eyes.)

I have basically been running a marathon with my brain in order to release this ebook in time for the SXSW-interactive conference, and I’m a little stunned that I succeeded. You can click here to buy the book now for Amazon Kindle!

UPDATE, March 24: Thanks to everyone who bought it so far! It really made a splash! Within two days of release, the book hit #1 in both the Amazon “Feminist Theory” and the Amazon “Sex” category … and it stayed at #1 in both categories for a week. It’s at full price now, and as of this update, it’s still #1 in “Feminist Theory.” You can now also now buy the book on Smashwords, which offers pretty much every possible e-format.

UPDATE, April 15: Now you can buy the book in paperback form at CreateSpace!

Here’s the Amazon description of the book:

There’s an enormous subculture of men who trade tips, tricks, and tactics for seducing women. Within the last half-decade or so, these underground “pickup artists” have burst into the popular consciousness, aided by Neil Strauss’s bestselling book “The Game” and VH1’s hit reality show “The Pick-Up Artist.” Some men in the seduction community are sleazy misogynists who want nothing more than power and control. Some are shy wallflowers who don’t know how to say “Hi” to a girl. The one thing they all have in common is a driving need to attract women.

Clarisse Thorn, a feminist S&M writer and activist, spent years researching these guys. She observed their discussions, watched them in action, and learned their strategies. By the end of it all, she’d given a lecture at a seduction convention and decided against becoming the next great dating coach. In “Confessions of a Pickup Artist Chaser,” Clarisse tells the story of her time among these Casanovas, as well as her own unorthodox experiences with sex and relationships. She examines the conflicts and harmonies of feminism, pickup artistry, and the S&M community. Most of all, she deconstructs and reconstructs our views on sex, love, and ethics — and develops her own grand theory of the game.

Also: you should totally become a fan of Confessions on Facebook! I encourage discussion there, and in comments here. I’m very curious to see what people think of it all.

Right now I’m here in Austin for the conference, and even though I’m completely exhausted, I’m also psyched. I’ve been recruited for a panel on pickup artists and feminism that’s being run by Kristin Cerda — it features myself, the female dating coach Charlie Nox, the pickup artist coach Adam Lyons, and the well-known feminist Amanda Marcotte. The panel will take place on Saturday March 10 at 6.30 PM. If you know anyone who will be at SXSW, you should totally tell them to attend!

* * *

Reviews and Testimonials
(I’ll update this as more come in)

I lived and breathed the PUA world for years and I honestly thought I had seen everything. But Clarisse brought some fresh and interesting perspectives, which was really cool.

~ excerpt from interview with pickup artist coach Mark Manson

I found her book to be insightful, thoughtful, engaging, and very well-balanced. She talks about all sides of the community, the positive, negative, and horrendous, and she draws larger lessons about society and human nature.

~ excerpt from Psychology Today interview by Scott Barry Kaufman

Clarisse’s analysis is as interesting, easy-to-follow and well-laid out as it is in all of her writing, but the most compelling thing in this book is not the analysis itself (which I was expecting), but the way in which Clarisse uses memoir to supplement her analysis. Clarisse is a brilliant sex writer with what appears to be (on the page, at least) an unflinching ability to reveal personal information. That talent is highlighted here as Clarisse fleshes out scenes that create a parallel emotional and intellectual journey, allowing the reader to travel with her through the insights and frustration of her time on the fringes of the pick-up artist community. Her intelligent writing about S&M and polyamory help establish her presence in the text as someone with a subaltern point of view, and place pick-up artistry within the context of other sexual subcultures so that the book’s criticism is grounded in an almost ethnographic framework which works to keep the text from becoming sensationalist or exotifying.

~ excerpt from review by feminist science fiction writer and Nebula award winner Rachel Swirsky

Gutsy, troubling, messy, and great

~ Jonathan Korman on Twitter

This is a very good book. Putting hideous in the title implied to me that it was a man bashing book or a condemn all the evil PUA dudes to hell kind of read. However, being a knowledgeable member of the PUA community, i was still intrigued enough to check out the Amazon Kindle preview.

Hello! Finally, somebody — male or female, it didn’t matter to me — has taken this whole PUA seriously and made a real study of it. This book is more like 5 or 10 books in a good way. Tons of great insights, ideas, interviews, stories, etc. A very generous sharing by the author. … And to be completely honest, the really serious student of PUA will want to get this book and read it cover to cover to learn how to be even better at his craft — lots of valuable clues in here (sorry, Clarisse, but you really did spill a lot of beans… thank you :)).

~ excerpt from Amazon review by Turiyananda

I think this is going to become a very important piece of modern feminist literature.

~ Bianca James in a quick review

Clarisse is unflinchingly honest (radically honest, even) about the occasionally hot, often tormented, and chronically analytic headspace she experienced as a sex-positive feminist investigating the bizarre subculture of pick up artistry. She risks endangerment of her sanity, her feminist paradigm, and her person to stalk, interview, and, yes, flirt her way through the underworld of geeks and sleazebags of pick up artistry. … After outlining and explaining this disturbing world, she tore it to shreds in a dissection that is too honest to completely please anyone involved: pick up artists, feminists, and innocent bystanders will all leave with a lesson or two.

~ excerpt from Amazon review by Katy Huff

The book is intense, mesmerizing, disturbing, and sometimes downright terrifying. It’s also amazing: there’s tons of information that I use every time I interact with a partner.

~ a gentleman Facebook commenter and early reader

Clarisse’s big strength in Confessions is her empathy. A lot of times people only understand their little corner of the gendersphere and have ideas that are at best strawmen and at worst outright lies about the other corners. But Clarisse understands why men might take up pickup, and how it would help them, and how it can become destructive. She understands the eroticism of power, both in vanilla and kinky sex. She understands actual sex-positivity, not the caricatured version of “we are all SLUTS because it is EMPOWERING” that idiots continually push.

Clarisse Thorn understands that shit is complicated.

~ excerpt from review by feminist Ozy Frantz

I really enjoy how Clarisse’s writing makes it seem she’s telling me this over coffee. ♥

~ Lidia-Anain on Twitter

If there’s an overriding message, I think that’s it: that whether it’s feminism, or BDSM, or polyamory, or PUA, these are all dangerous, complex, conflicted territories, some perhaps more treacherous than others, but difficult to navigate all the same. Where we stop, who we meet, how prepared we are, how our fatigue and weariness affect us, who we have as our traveling companions, what we bring with us to comfort us, what we encounter that frightens us, what reminds us of home and what reminds us that we’re no longer there… all of these things are of account.

All of them, always, in ways that we know and recognize, and in ways that we don’t, sometimes early enough to correct, and sometimes only too late.

~ excerpt from review by Infra

* * *

If you want to review the book, then I would obviously love that. Just let me know and I’ll post a link to your review. In the meantime, here are some of my past posts on pickup artistry:
* Feminist S&M Lessons from the Seduction Community
* [guest post] Detrimental Attitudes of the Pickup Artist Community
* Ethical Pickup Artistry

OK but seriously, buy it now for Kindle or buy it on Smashwords … or buy it in paperback form at CreateSpace.

* * *

2012 9 Jan

One Blurred Edge of Sex Work: Interview with a “Sugar Baby”, Part 2

(This interview was completed for and originally published at Role/Reboot.)

* * *

Sex work is a controversial and polarized topic, and there are many perspectives on it. My position is complex — but for me, when it comes to how we actually interact with sex workers, one important factor is whether they enjoy their jobs. I am absolutely in favor of giving better options to sex workers who do not enjoy their jobs, and I am horrified by the idea of a person being trafficked or coerced into sex that they don’t want to have. But I also know people who have sex for money 100% voluntarily, and I do not want to deny their experience.

My friend Olivia, a 25-year-old graduate student, recently started advertising her services on a “Sugar Baby” site called SeekingArrangement.com. I think it’s important for more people to understand these kinds of experiences, so I asked to interview her. Many people have pointed out that once a person starts thinking about the definition of “prostitute”, it’s a bit difficult to define what exactly a prostitute is. Some of my sex worker friends have asked the question: what exactly is the difference between a person whose partner buys her a fancy dinner after which they have sex — and a person whose partner buys sex with money? Olivia has thought at length about this, and I’m grateful to her for sharing her perspective.

Please note that Olivia is exceptionally privileged. What you are about to read is a portrait of what the sex industry looks like for a person who is very privileged: she comes from a white upper-middle-class background, she is not desperate, she is being paid a lot of money, she does not have a drug addiction. Many other peoples’ experiences in the sex industry are different.

The interview went long, so we posted it in two parts. Part 1 is available if you click here. In Part 1, Olivia told us that she usually uses the site SeekingArrangement.com to find clients; she described the nature of a “sugar baby” site, and she talked about some things she’s learned about gender roles. Now for part 2:

Clarisse Thorn: In Part 1, you mentioned that you feel powerful in your relationships with these men. But there are issues of your safety, right?

Olivia: I think there are issues of safety anytime a person meets someone they don’t really know, especially if they plan to spend time in private. And especially if you’re dealing with topics as sensitive as sex or money. There may be more issues of safety with this because some people really do believe that money can buy them anything. But for the most part, when I meet people they seem very respectful.

Things I do to increase my safety are that I tell my husband and my friends where I’m going to be, I tell them exactly where I am. I’ll do things like take down a client’s license plate number and text it to my husband. I’ve been thinking maybe I should look at each client’s driver’s license too, and text the client’s name and driver’s license number to my husband. I think some clients might feel threatened by that, though.

The most important thing for my safety is that I’m willing and able to walk away from situations. I’m not desperate — I won’t starve or die if I don’t do this work. I meet all my clients in public first for a meal, and if someone sketches me out, I leave. I’m not so desperate that I’ll get into a situation that scares me.

I guess I am at risk if I meet a really crazy person who wants to chop me up and put me in a dumpster. But I could meet a person like that during a normal night at a bar, too.

The major risks that I see include that I might catch an STD — but I use protection. I might end up alone with someone who believes that the money he’s paying actually gives him the entitlement to do whatever he wants to my body, but I’ve never encountered anyone like that. The thing is, as I said before, I haven’t met anyone who I think would actually describe themselves as paying for sex. The terms on which I continue to see these men are probably less explicitly negotiated than an escort’s terms would be. I don’t have flat rates, for example.

I’ve heard escorts complaining that people who use sugar baby sites are unprofessional, and I think that from an escort’s perspective they probably are.

Clarisse Thorn: If people are unwilling to actually talk about sex for money, it must be hard to negotiate your encounters. Do you have a set of steps for negotiation?

Olivia: I haven’t been doing this for very long. It’s varied so far. Usually, I meet them for some kind of meal, and we chat. We have a perfunctory conversation, like — “How was your day?” Then one of us will say something like, “Tell me a bit more about what you’re looking for. Why are you on the site?”

Then we’ll explain our deal to each other. Like, he might say: “I’m divorced, I’m looking for companionship.” At some point, money comes up. I am always extremely vague when I talk about money. I’ve found a good deal of variation in how squeamish people are about money.

(more…)

2012 5 Jan

One Blurred Edge of Sex Work: Interview with a “Sugar Baby”, Part 1

(This interview was completed for and originally published at Role/Reboot.)

* * *

Sex work is a controversial and polarized topic, and there are many perspectives on it. My position is complex — but for me, when it comes to how we actually interact with sex workers, one important factor is whether they enjoy their jobs. I am absolutely in favor of giving better options to sex workers who do not enjoy their jobs, and I am horrified by the idea of a person being trafficked or coerced into sex that they don’t want to have. But I also know people who have sex for money 100% voluntarily, and I do not want to deny their experience.

My friend Olivia, a 25-year-old graduate student, recently started advertising her services on a “Sugar Baby” site called SeekingArrangement.com. I think it’s important for more people to understand these kinds of experiences, so I asked to interview her. Many people have pointed out that once a person starts thinking about the definition of “prostitute”, it’s a bit difficult to define what exactly a prostitute is. Some of my sex worker friends have asked the question: what exactly is the difference between a person whose partner buys her a fancy dinner after which they have sex — and a person whose partner buys sex with money? Olivia has thought at length about this, and I’m grateful to her for sharing her perspective.

Please note that Olivia is exceptionally privileged. What you are about to read is a portrait of what the sex industry looks like for a person who is very privileged: she comes from a white upper-middle-class background, she is not desperate, she is being paid a lot of money, she does not have a drug addiction. Many other peoples’ experiences in the sex industry are different.

The interview went long, so we’re going to post it in two parts. Here’s part 1:

Clarisse Thorn: Hey Olivia, thanks so much for being willing to talk about this incredibly complicated topic. Could you start by defining a sugar baby site? What is it?

Olivia: I use the site SeekingArrangement.com. I don’t actually know how many sugar baby sites there are, but I get the sense there’s more than one. It’s very hard to pin down exactly what it does. I guess it connects people, usually with a big age gap, who are interested in exchanging some kind of material goods or financial resources for some form of companionship that is often sexual — but not always.

As far as I can tell, the site’s founder is very against the claim that this is prostitution. He puts out a lot of publicity claiming that this site has nothing to do with prostitution. At first I thought that he was trying to evade legal consequences, but I think he actually probably believes that. The site has a blog that he controls, and you can look at it to get a sense of what he’s thinking. One post I think is really interesting is called “Sugar Baby & Sugar Daddy: The Modern Day Princess & Prince?“, which compares being a sugar baby to a kind of “happily ever after” princess fantasy.

So far, no one I’ve talked to seems remotely interested in hiring what they see as a “prostitute”. They seem to want to be having sex with someone they find very attractive who is also someone they feel like they can respect, whose intelligence they respect. For example, someone I see occasionally — the last time I saw him, he gave me money at the end and he said that he felt good about giving me the money because he knew I wouldn’t spend it on, quote, “a designer handbag.” He seems to think that I am reasonably ambitious and have my shit together, and he seems to feel more comfortable giving me money because he knows it goes towards my grad school costs and credit card debt. My ability to write with proper grammar, without overusing emoticons, appears to be my biggest sales point. Men have told me this outright.

That guy also mentioned feeling more comfortable because he thinks I’m from the same social class as he is. There are a lot of class issues coming up in these encounters, I think. Being white and from an upper-middle-class background may help me get clients. My background has also given me a ton of confidence that puts me at an advantage when negotiating. I do not think I radiate “take advantage of me,” and I (nicely) tell guys who start doing that to go away.

The guy I was just talking about — he also mentioned that he feels like he doesn’t want to have sex with someone that he doesn’t feel at least a little bit connected to. There’s a distinction between meaningless sex and casual sex. I think these guys want casual sex — maybe they aren’t at the point where they want to deal with having a partner, or they’re really busy at work, or they already have another partner — they want casual sex but not meaningless sex.

(more…)

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:

(more…)

2011 13 Jul

[random] Lost And Found Man

This piece has basically nothing to do with sex and gender. I originally wrote it a while back, pondered trying to get it published, made some desultory attempts at doing so, failed, and then forgot about it for a while. I still like it, though, and I’ve got no idea what else to do with it, so here it is. Maybe I should set aside one post each month for Random Non-Sex, Non-Feminism, Non-Gender Tangents.

* * *

My friend Ryo Chijiiwa turned down an offer from Facebook to work at Yahoo, and later moved to Google. Then, in 2009, he bought an isolated plot of land in the northern California woods — 6 hours by car from San Francisco — and built his own small house. His property, which he calls Serenity Valley, is positively covered with gorgeous trees and attractive outlooks onto the mountains. The nearest Internet access is in a town half an hour away, where Ryo occasionally goes for supplies.

Ryo has shoulder-length hair and wide dark eyes, and he wears no-nonsense clothes full of pockets. I first met him in August 2010 at the San Francisco meetup known as Burning Man, but I already knew him by reputation. Our mutual friends spoke admiringly of his intelligence and — unusually — frugality: his apartments had always been Spartan, and he built his own bedframe, even when he was receiving an excellent salary as a software engineer. (Ryo later insisted he’s not actually that frugal: “It’s just that I spent all my money on easy-to-miss things, like travel and guns.”)

Burning Man, in all its chaotic artistic glory, was my reintegration into America. I’d just returned from working in rural southern Africa, and I was a bundle of confused emotions. [1] I loved the brilliant lights, libertine community, and sheer creative energy of Burning Man — but sometimes it was a bit much to deal with. Sometimes I wanted someplace more peaceful and less self-consciously hedonistic. If I hadn’t been drawn in by Ryo’s good-natured intelligence, then the minute he spoke about living quietly in the woods I would have been hooked. Of course, it didn’t hurt that I thought he was cute.

* * *

I’m still not sure how I convinced Ryo to take me to Serenity Valley, but here we are, driving out. Rather, he’s doing most of the driving, and I’m asking questions about his childhood across three countries. Ryo was born in 1980, and his family moved from America to Japan when he was 7. When he was 10, they went to Germany, and there he stayed until age 18. The family always spoke Japanese at home.

(more…)