Posts Tagged ‘literary quotations’

2011 22 Nov

[advice] How To Break Up and Take It Like A Champ

Eventually something you love is going to be taken away. And then you will fall to the floor crying. And then, however much later, it is finally happening to you: you’re falling to the floor crying thinking, “I am falling to the floor crying,” but there’s an element of the ridiculous to it — you knew it would happen and, even worse, while you’re on the floor crying you look at the place where the wall meets the floor and you realize you didn’t paint it very well. ~ Richard Silken

I do my best to maintain a healthy sense of irony about everything. Including death, taxes and breakups.

But breakups are terrible and soul-searing; I’ve been observing some breakups lately that make me feel gun-shy about ever wanting to be involved with another human being. Also, I’m never sure what to tell my friends in these situations. I find the above quotation to be a totally awesome description of how I feel after a nasty breakup, but it doesn’t contain much actionable advice.

There are two resources I’ve found that had the best breakup advice ever. One was aimed at women, and one was aimed at men, but both of them work for people of all genders. The one aimed at men is shorter, and I’ll reprint the whole thing in a moment here. The one aimed at women is more hilarious.

Here are those resources, plus some advice from me. And also, if you’re going through a breakup, then you have my sympathies. Virtual hugs, my friend.

* * *

Resource #1

The lady breakup guide is the book Exorcising Your Ex by Elizabeth Kuster. Here is one of my favorite excerpts. This isn’t one of the advice parts of the book; it’s solely funny. Even if you have broken up lately, it will hopefully make you laugh:

… This seems as good a place as any to share with you the best (or worst, depending on how you look at it) story about post-breakup stuff that I’ve ever heard. It came from a woman who initially professed not to have any post-breakup stuff. Naturally, I was skeptical. The ensuing conversation went something like this:

Me: You are sure you have absolutely nothing around the house that reminds you of your ex? Nothing he gave you?
Her: He didn’t give me anything.
Me: No cards? No letters? No pictures?
Her: No. Well … there is one thing, but I’m not sure it counts as “stuff” the way you mean it.
Me: Aha! I knew it! What is it?
Her: Well … I have my ex.
Me: What?
Her: His ashes.
Me: What?
Her: In an urn. On my mantel.
Me: What?!

Turns out that she once dated a guy for two weeks. A few months after she broke up with him, he died in a motorcycle accident. She had to handle all the funeral arrangements, since his brother — his only living relative — lived thousands of miles away and couldn’t deal. So she had her ex cremated, as he’d wished, and then she called his brother to find out when he was coming to get the ashes.

“I can’t right now, because I’m in the process of moving,” he told her. “Can you hold on to them for a while? I’ll call you as soon as I’ve settled in.”

“That was two years ago,” she says. “I still have the ashes, because I don’t know what to do with them. It’s really getting me down. I haven’t dated anyone since this happened, and sometimes I think that the spirit of my ex is preventing me from getting dates.”

… It would take a very sick person to find anything funny about this story, so let me assure you that I am that person. … I suddenly remembered an article I’d clipped from the “Dallas Morning News”. The title of the article was, “Can’t Part with Fido? Freeze-Dry Him”, and it was about a Colorado Springs company that freeze-dries dead animals into “lifelike” poses so that their owners can keep them for all eternity. … I, of course, immediately wondered if it would work on people.

I made a quick call to the company (Timberline Taxidermy, in case you’re interested), and was informed that, theoretically, it would. All they’d have to do is ice your ex’s corpse until it reached 180 degrees below zero, and then put it into a vacuum chamber and suck all the moisture out of it.

The process is expensive — freeze-drying a 9-pound pet costs $550, so freeze-drying a 200-pound ex would cost about $110,000 — but think about the possibilities. You could have them pose your ex so it looks like he’s begging for forgiveness. You could have them pose him in a sitting position, put him on the couch and tell your parents you’re married. (They’ll be none the wiser, especially if you insert a remote into his lifeless hands.) (pages 118 – 121)

I frequently quote Ms. Kuster’s line where she says “It would take a very sick person to find anything funny about this, so let me assure you that I am that person.” It’s kind of my favorite quotable quote ever.

* * *

Resource #2

Aaaand now for the dude breakup guide. It originated on the forums at the classic Internet dude site, SomethingAwful.com. The user who originally wrote this guide called himself Lushka16. Lushka16’s advice has been reposted across various nerd sites, so I might as well mirror it here.

Here it is:

~~~

Being dumped sucks.

It is rarely a good experience — no matter how long you’ve been going out, what the nature of your relationship was, or how it ended. The very idea that someone does not want to spend his/her time with you is a pretty big blow to the ol’ ego.

I have been dumped on many occasions for many reasons, for over nearly a decade. I understand that there are many who have never had a girlfriend, many on their first relationship, and many more with little experience with being dumped. Take my advice as you will, but I can guarantee you that when the day comes (and it probably will), you will be better prepared for it, and hopefully won’t end up being a huge whiny turd.

I give to you:
Lushka16’s guide to being dumped, and taking it like a champ

Rule 1: The relationship is over.

This is the most important rule of all. You need to go back to it at least once every minute in the aftermath of being dumped. It is the most difficult part, yet it is also the foundation for healing. The day you come to terms with it, is the day things start getting better.

In my experience, there are three basic parts to being dumped: Premonition, Dump, After-Dump.

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2011 22 Oct

[litquote] The shadow of a flame, the colour of a kiss

My favorite author is named Tanith Lee. She is an unbelievably versatile writer with a varied body of work. I don’t love all her work, but some Lee books overwhelm me. I think of those books as articulating the baseline of my own emotions … or establishing that field of inquiry one might describe as the philosophy of love.

I once read a critic who called the French author Colette “a corsetiere of love”. If Colette is a corsetiere, then Tanith Lee is a surgeon with a scalpel — or rather, a more artistically violent profession, perhaps a sculptor with a knife.

My favorite of Lee’s short stories is called “The Glass Dagger”, which is part of the compilation The Book of the Dead; I don’t like the other stories in that book nearly as much. My favorite of her novels is Biting the Sun, although that could just be because I discovered it at age 14, and I felt like the main character was exactly like me. I have never felt able to satisfactorily quote these works, so they aren’t represented below. When recommending Lee’s work to newbies, I usually suggest starting with the compilation Dreams of Dark and Light and the fantasy sequence the Flat Earth novels, beginning with Night’s Master. There’s an incredibly awesome, detailed bibliography of Lee’s work at a website called Daughter of the Night.

I would give a lot to interview Tanith Lee, but I hear she’s reclusive. I’d direct you to her own website, which was once a tacitly lovely and sideways place; but it looks like tanithlee.com has been snagged by domain squatters.

* * *

Once upon a time there was a princess, outside whose high bedroom window a nightingale sang every night from a pomegranate tree.

While the nightingale sang, the princess slept deeply and well, dreaming of wondrous and beautiful things. However there came a night when the nightingale, for reasons of her own, did not sing but flew far away.

In the morning the princess summoned a gardener and told him to cut down the pomegranate tree. The man protested; the tree was a fine one, young, healthy and fruitful. But the princess would not relent. For as she said, all that one previous night a nightingale had perched in the branches, and the princess’s sleep had been very much disturbed by her song.

[from Disturbed By Her Song]

* * *

Love is everywhere … and the death of love. And time, which is built of the histories of death and love. Death and time I had always conceded, and acknowledged. And now I see plainly what love is. Not in you, pretty, mortal child. But in my arms that comfort you for wounding me, in my hands which soothe you for it, in my words which say to you, in despite of me, Do whatever you must. This lesson I will not remember. Nor shall I ever forget.

[from Delirium’s Mistress]

* * *

A rose by any other name
Would get the blame
For being what it is —
The colour of a kiss,
The shadow of a flame.
A rose may earn another name,
So call it love;
So call it love I will.
And love is like the sea,
Which changes constantly,
And yet is still
The same.

[from The Silver Metal Lover]

* * *

[This last one is both sad and cruel. You’ve been warned. The main character is a late-1800s gentleman who has stopped off at a village during a long, long train ride. We do not know where he was traveling to. In this village, he has just seduced a girl named Mardya. ~CT]

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2011 30 Sep

[storytime] Chemistry

Thank you, all my readers, for your patience. To make up for the long wait, here’s an extra-long post.

* * *

It’s a long story and a short one, but I guess all of them are.

I’m 27. It’s about that age: A lot of my compatriots are getting married lately — most monogamously, some to a primary polyamorous partner. I myself have a stack of relationships in my past. Some were monogamous, some polyamorous. Some have been on-and-off; some short-term; one that lasted six years. Lately I’ve been processing some tough questions about polyamory, but I’d like to stick with it.

And I’ve been thinking a lot about what I want in a primary polyamorous partner. The kind of guy I could marry. I wonder if I’ll ever get to that point. I wonder if I’d know him if I saw him.

* * *

I met Mr. Ambition at one of the aforementioned weddings. Several people recommended that I talk to him, and we liked each other right away. Mutual friends used words like “zealot” to describe him; let’s just say he’s got an intense history of dedicated activism. Charisma, integrity, and pure energy pour off him. His words are almost always articulate and challenging. He can socially dominate a room without thinking. He works a challenging job ten hours per day; exercises two hours; socializes several hours; sleeps and eats when he can. He gives hugs easily, laughs easily, hands out compliments like candy.

Mr. Ambition is most definitely not a neutral personality. Of course, neither am I.

At the time, I was just coming out of the worst stage of my research on pickup artists — a subculture of men who trade tips on how to seduce women. Also, I’d just had one of those breakups where I was too busy feeling stupid to properly understand how hurt I was. (Don’t you hate those?) You can read all about those Dramatic Events in my upcoming book Confessions of a Pickup Artist Chaser. In the meantime, suffice to say that I felt … flattened.

Arguably, I should have had a sign taped to my forehead that read: “Emotionally Unavailable.”

I went to dinner with Mr. Ambition later that week. At the end of the meal, he sat back and looked at me. “You’re so authentic,” he said.

“I haven’t felt very authentic lately,” I said frankly, but his words felt good. Like a balm. Like I was healing.

* * *

We got along excellently, had a lot in common, etc. Typical this-relationship-starts-well stuff. One evening, after we’d been out to eat in a big philosophical group, Mr. Ambition noted the hotness of my intense theoretical bent. “When you were discussing social justice and ethics tonight,” he said, “I wanted to reach across the table and grab you.”

He mentioned marriage within weeks. “This has never happened before,” he told me. “I’ve never dated someone I thought I could actually marry.” Whoa, tiger, I thought, but I had to admit that he hit a lot of my Ideal Characteristics as well. Intelligence, drive, charisma, and morality: it’s hard to argue with that.

Our sexual chemistry was okay, but not climb-the-walls stellar. We’ll develop that, I told myself. He’s less sexually experienced than I am, and we’ll learn each other just fine. Fortunately he’s got some experience with polyamory, but in terms of S&M, he’s another of those vanilla-but-questioning guys (I never learn). When we did S&M, I had to monitor the situation extra carefully because it was so new to him.

And for all his intelligence, it was really hard to talk to him about emotions. It wasn’t that he was cold or distant; on the contrary, he’s one of the most fiery people I’ve ever met. But he had a lot of difficulty explaining what was going on in his head. Indeed, he told me that he had a lot of difficulty knowing what was going on in his head. He did things like laugh when a friend hurt his feelings, then deny that he was hurt, even though I could plainly see the stricken look behind his eyes.

I wasn’t surprised that he was more physical than verbal about S&M. Very straightforward: throwing me around, pulling my head back, digging his hands into my skin. He’s incredibly strong, and sometimes I called my safeword simply because his strength scared me.

There was one particular S&M encounter … early in the evening, I called my safeword because I wasn’t sure he was into it.

“Red,” I said, and he stopped. “Is this okay with you?” I asked, and he nodded.

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2011 8 May

Towards my personal Sex-Positive Feminist 101

There’s an aphorism from the early 1900s literary critic André Maurois: “The difficult part in an argument is not to defend one’s opinion but to know it.” Even though I identify as an activist and genuinely want to make a real impact on the world based on my beliefs … I often think that much of my blogging has been more an attempt to figure out what I believe, than to tell people what I believe. And sometimes, I fall into the trap of wanting to be consistent more than I want to understand what I really believe — or more than I want to empathize with other people — or more than I want to be correct. We all gotta watch out for that.

But I’m getting too philosophical here. (Who, me?) The point is, I am hesitant to write something with a title like “Sex-Positive 101”, because not only does it seem arrogant (who says Clarisse Thorn gets to define Sex-Positive 101?) — it also implies that my thoughts on sex-positivity have come to a coherent, standardized end. Which they haven’t! I’m still figuring things out, just like everyone else.

However, lately I’ve been thinking that I really want to write about some basic ideas that inform my thoughts on sex-positive feminism. I acknowledge that I am incredibly privileged (white, upper-middle-class, heteroflexible, cisgendered etc) and coming mostly from a particular community, the BDSM community; both of these factors inform and limit the principles that underpin my sex-positivity. I welcome ideas for Sex-Positive Feminism 101, links to relevant 101 resources, etc.

This got really long, and I reserve the right to edit for clarity or sensitivity.

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2011 1 May

[litquote] The stories we tell ourselves about relationships

The following quotations are from the beginning of Phyllis Rose’s unusual and very interesting Parallel Lives: Five Victorian Marriages. Rose, who knows an amazing amount about the personal lives of famous Victorians, starts the book with general insights about relationships — not just marriage, really — and then goes on to describe the marriages (Thomas Carlyle, John Ruskin, John Stuart Mill, Charles Dickens and George Eliot) in a charming and continuously insightful manner.

There are things here that I don’t agree with, or that I would frame differently. In particular, it seems to me that Rose probably doesn’t have much exposure to BDSM, and especially to explicitly-negotiated power play. She says a lot of things about power in relationships, how that power functions — and how it is disguised — that seem limited to me, as someone who plays with power on purpose very frequently. Nevertheless, I’ve drawn insight from those parts too, and generally think it’s all pretty brilliant.

Pickup artists may note similarities between Rose’s ideas and pickup frame theory.

* * *

In unhappy marriages … I see two versions of reality rather than two people in conflict. I see a struggle for imaginative dominance going on. Happy marriages seem to me those in which the two partners agree on the scenario they are acting, even if … their own idea of their relationship is totally at variance with the facts. I speak with great trepidation about “facts” in such matters, but, speaking loosely, the facts in the Mills’ case — that a woman of strong and uncomplicated will dominated a guilt-ridden man — were less important than their shared imaginative view of the facts, that their marriage fitted their shared ideal of a marriage of equals. I assume, then, as little objective truth as possible about these parallel lives, for every marriage seems to me a subjectivist fiction with two points of view often deeply in conflict, sometimes fortuitously congruent. (page 7)

* * *

… like Mill, I believe marriage to be the primary political experience in which most of us engage as adults, and so I am interested in the management of power between men and women in that microcosmic relationship. Whatever the balance, every marriage is based on some understanding, articulated or not, about the relative importance, the priority of desires, between the two partners. Marriages go bad not when love fades — love can modulate into affection without driving two people apart — but when this understanding about the balance of power breaks down, when the weaker member feels exploited or the stronger feels unrewarded for his or her strength.

People who find this a chilling way to talk about one of our most treasured human bonds will object that “power struggle” is a failed circumstance into which relationships fall when love fails. (For some people it is impossible to discern the word power without adding the word struggle.) I would counter by pointing out the human tendency to invoke love at moments when we want to disguise transactions involving power. … [W]hen we resign power, or assume new power, we insist it is not happening and demand to be talked to about love. Perhaps that is what love is — a momentary or prolonged refusal to think about another person in terms of power. … [W]hat we call love may inhibit the process of power negotiation — from which inhibition comes the illusion of equality so characteristic of lovers. If the impulse to abjure measurement and negotiation comes from within, unbidden, it is one of life’s graces and blessings. But if it is culturally induced … then we may find it repugnant and call it a mask for exploitation. Surely, in regard to marriage, love has received its fair share of attention, power less than its share. … Who can resist the thought that love is the ideological bone thrown to women to distract their attention from the powerlessness of their lives? Only millions of romantics can resist it — and other millions who might see it as the bone thrown to men to distract them from the bondage of their lives. (pages 7-8)

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2011 21 Jan

[litquote] S&M stereotypes, parenting, and community action

The following quotation is from an essay that tears apart awful BDSM stereotypes, and also makes a great case for coming together as a community and living our lives without shame … all in the context of parenting. It’s called “S/M Fetish People Who Choose To Parent,” and it was printed in the anthology Speaking Sex To Power by one of my all-time heroes: the brilliant and inimitable Patrick Califia.

The state does seem to have a vested interest in preventing anyone who is sexually different from raising a child. Over the years, I’ve heard many stories of custody battles involving polyamorous people, pagans, transsexuals, sex workers, and members of the BDSM-fetish community, not just lesbians and gay men. The people who go through these battles usually do it alone, and they usually lose. But that story can change when there is enough publicity to generate community support.

In early 1995, members of the BDSM-fetish community in the US and Canada were appalled to learn that a couple in the scene had had their children taken away. The Canadian fetish magazine “Boudoir Noir” established a defense fund for the unlucky pair, known as the Houghtons. As we had for the Spanner defendants, the community banded together and raised enough money to allow Steve and Selina Houghton to hire a decent defense attorney. Selina ultimately pled guilty to a disorderly conduct charge, and her husband to one count of endangering the welfare of a minor, a Class E misdemeanor. They were also ordered to continue to receive family counseling …. Although they did not receive jail sentences, their privacy and home life had been badly damaged by the intrusive actions of the police. When the Houghtons got their kids back, they moved suddenly, disappearing from the scene, probably to protect themselves from further persecution.

This tragedy occurred because the pair had made a videotape of a scene they did at a dungeon party in a bordering state. A family member and friend who babysat for the children apparently unlocked the box where the tape was kept, revealed its contents to at least one of the Houghtons’ children, told them their father was abusing their mother, and sent a copy of the videotape to the police. No minors were featured in the videotape, and S/M activities did not take place in the Houghtons’ home. Nevertheless, the videotaped evidence of kinky sex was enough to bring down the wrath of Child Protection Services, who removed the 7- and 12-year-old and kept them in foster homes for more than a year. This was in spite of testimony by one of the law guardians, who told the court the children would be better served by returning them to their parents.

… It’s interesting to think about how we might feel about being parents if we lived in a society where S/M was not stigmatized. … One of the smartest things I ever heard about S/M was uttered by a gay man, Steven Brown, who used to pair up with me to do educational lectures about the scene. He once said, throwing up his hands in despair about the suspicious grilling we were getting, “I do this because I am a loving person. I love and respect the people I play with. And that includes being able to embrace parts of them that are supposed to be unlovable.” This foundation of acceptance and empathy seems to me to be potentially quite useful to a parent, who must be able to see things from a child’s point of view, and deal with a lot of behavior that is extremely trying.

As a top [i.e. a dominant/sadist], I’ve learned how to communicate in terms that will make sense to the other person. I’ve learned patience. I have a deep love for the vagaries of human nature and respect for the wisdom of the body. I am able to create a positive experience within a framework of limitations handed to me by another person. Of course, some idiot will probably assume that by making this list I am saying that I am going to somehow top my child. That would be asinine. I’ve learned how to keep my intense sexual experiences from spilling over into parts of my life where that kind of role-playing would not be appropriate. That is, if anything is, the First Principle of participating in these kinds of erotic fantasies. In order to be a responsible, safe player, you have to know when to be your scene-self, and when to be your mundane self.

I still remember how crushed I was when I read Story of O and Return to the Chateau [two famous BDSM novels] and came to the ending, where Sir Stephen loses interest in O and tells her to kill herself. I can also remember being furious with the way Nine And A Half Weeks (the book, not the movie) ends. The submissive woman has a public breakdown. She begins to cry hysterically, and is abandoned by her master, so that strangers have to obtain help for her. One of the cruelest stereotypes of S/M people is that we don’t love each other, that there is something about our sexual style that makes our relationships mutually destructive and predisposes us to suicide. We are supposed to be content with existing as two-dimensional caricatures of vanilla people’s erotic paranoia, emerging from our warrens only after dark, always clad in body-hugging fetish gear, having no real lives outside of public dungeon clubs and “violent” pornography. What’s really sad is the fact that a number of us buy into this insane picture of how a “real sadomasochist” is supposed to behave. It’s a good way to end up burned out, disillusioned, and in exile from the realm of pervery.

2010 24 Dec

[litquote] Sex workers and whore stigma in southern Africa

I read a lot when I was in Africa. One of the most interesting books available was Catherine Campbell’s Letting Them Die, which describes a community HIV/AIDS project that took place in a South African community called Summertown (not the community’s real name). It is really an exceptional description of the difficulties inherent in the promotion of sexual health. It’s also got a lot of interesting discussion and commentary on sex work and whore stigma, and the experience of sex workers who were interviewed for the study.

I want to emphasize right now that I don’t always agree with the writer’s approach, though I always find it interesting. This is a loaded topic, and there are some issues with the following quotations. However, I think there is a lot of wisdom as well. Quotations follow:

* * *

A key reason why people agreed to discuss their stigmatized work so openly in the baseline interview study lay not only in their growing fear about the epidemic, but also because, in setting up the interviews, much emphasis was laid on the fact that the interviewers regarded sex work as a profession like any other, and had no desire to criticize or judge anyone for their choice of work. [page 81]

* * *

How do people deal with having a spoiled identity, the stigma of a shameful profession? … One way was through a series of justificatory discourses. Predominant among these was the discourse of “having no option”.

S: “I give my clients respect by telling them I don’t like doing this job. I tell them I only do it due to poverty.”

W: “This is a job that lowers our dignity. We discuss this often, that we should look for other jobs. But the truth is that there are no alternatives.”

Virtually every woman said she had been “tricked” into starting the job. They all spoke of having been recruited by friends, who tempted them away from their rural homes with stories about jobs in Johannesburg, without telling them the nature of the work. They spoke of arriving and initially refusing to sell sex. Eventually they had been forced into it by a combination of hunger and the lack of transport money to return home.

… In a paper reporting on similar interviews with sex workers in Gambia, the authors use somewhat judgmental language, variously describing sex workers’ accounts of their lives as “lies”, “fiction” and accounts that “could not be trusted”. Possibly this was also the case in the Summertown study. Peoples’ stories of being tricked into sex work were remarkably similar.

… In relation to sexual health-promotion among this group, however, the objective veracity of their accounts is not the most interesting or key feature of the life histories. What is more important is how people reconstruct and account for their life choices, given that these accounts reflect the social identities that are crucial in shaping sexual behavior. In this context, the main interest of these stories of origin lies in the role that they play as a strategy of coping with a spoiled identity — the way they are used by women to distance themselves from this stigma in as many ways as possible.

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2010 28 Oct

[litquote/storytime] There It Is

This was originally posted on October 18, 2010, over at Feministe. The comments on the original version are mostly excellent, though some are ridiculous.

* * *

A quotation from Michelle Tea’s Rent Girl, a memoir about her experiences as a sex worker:

Marina [a sex worker] had been abused by her dad when she was a girl, and she’d do coke and tell [a client] about it as he jerked off.

Marina! I gasped.  I was astonished.  She didn’t really care.  It gave me flutters of anxiety, her blasé admission, the idea of the creepy man getting off on the rehashing of a child’s abuse.  Maybe the anti-sex industry feminists were right, maybe this was evil work, work that tore the fragile scabbing of every wound a girl ever got, again and again, till pain felt regular, felt like nothing.  Maybe we were encouraging the worst of men, helping blur their already schizophrenic line between fantasy and reality, what they’re allowed to have and what they’re not.  I knew that some girls thought we were actually preventing rape and incest by giving the men a consensual space to act out their fantasies, and it grossed me out beyond belief to think that I was fucking would-be sex criminals, but I believed them.  What I didn’t believe was that any of us, with our cheesy one-hour sex routines, would be enough to keep these men from hurting a female if that’s what they wanted to do.  And what I secretly wondered was, were we empowering them sexually to go and do just that.  Go and do just anything they wanted.

I love this quotation (I’m loving this whole book and I’m not even done yet).  Here’s why: because I can relate.  Oh yes, I think it’s full of problematic negative stereotypes about men, so I’ll note that up front.  (Though this book sure makes it easy to understand where those stereotypes come from.)  And I’ve never done sex work myself, so I don’t want to come across as co-opting Michelle Tea’s experience, or saying things about it that she didn’t mean.

But I believe I recognize those anxieties, because they come up for me sometimes, as a sex-positive feminist woman who can’t stand the idea of actual non-consensual sex.  Hell yeah, I get angry about sexual abuse, and it hurts to think about it.  Hell yeah, it kills me to think about sex workers who are trafficked or abused or desperate, who don’t get into the industry willingly (unlike so many sex workers I know who freely chose, who enjoy their jobs).  And this quotation, its worries about cultural masculinity and sexual power dynamics, most reminds me of the unease I once felt so terribly about my own S&M sexuality.  Unease that still surfaces sometimes, somehow, against my will.  Surfaces, for example, when I hear about tragic cases like abusive relationships that masquerade as BDSM relationships.

How to reconcile being an S&M submissive?

Encouraging the worst of men.  Fucking would-be sex criminals.  Empowering them to go and do just anything they want.

Those words have their teeth in my heart. Have always haunted me whenever I thought of BDSM, sex work, sometimes even sex itself … things that can be warped into something so very damaging.

Like any woman, I’ve got my stories of male sexual co-option.  My experiences have been mild compared to the rape and abuse that are too many people’s awful reality, but my experiences are also real, and shaped me profoundly.  The stereotypes of sexuality that made me into a teenage girl who couldn’t seem to think or communicate my way out of giving blowjobs to a man who categorically refused to return the favor.  Who faked orgasms because I couldn’t figure out how to have them, and because I felt that I had to give the fragile male ego the all-important reassurance that I was coming “for him”.  Who just smiled when a boyfriend I’d actually been honest with told me how convenient it was that I didn’t know how to come: I was good in bed, he informed me, partly because “I don’t even need to give you an orgasm.”

(Those exact words, he said them.  And the crazy thing is that I do believe he was in love with me; he thought he was giving me a compliment.  Somehow, being in love with me still didn’t enable him to see what kind of bind I was in, what kind of screwed-up encouragement he was giving me to suppress and wound myself, when he told me something like that.)

I wrote a whole 20-page paper at age 18 about what I referred to as the “self-guilt-trip”: what many women end up doing to ourselves in a society where sexual stereotypes have nothing to do with what we want.  I spent so long guilt tripping myself into having — even initiating — sex I wasn’t that into, because that was the image of sexuality that I had.  What I thought was expected.  What I thought I had to do, had to be, in order to be sexual with another person; to be sexually liberated; to “earn” a sexual relationship.

God yes, I hate that.  And I hate the reality of rape and assault and harassment, almost always performed by men against women — although other genders get raped too and their experience should never ever be erased.  But here’s the thing.  I also hate the fact that in this world, merely being okay with sexuality — and, for me personally, being okay with my BDSM sexuality — is such an uphill battle.  Rational arguments like “it’s all okay if it’s among consenting adults”, or “it’s stupid to stigmatize and criminalize marginal forms of sexuality because that just makes the situation worse for people who are abused and want to get out” … these arguments are so important, but they don’t always quiet my massive internalized fears.

I tell myself it’s just stigma, and that helps.  Sometimes.  Stigma is abstract and nobody’s fault, and it’s something I can think about and be interested by and thereby almost get past how it screws with me all the time, every single day.

You know what helps most, though?  Having a really good BDSM encounter.  If I go without intense BDSM for a while, I almost kinda sorta forget how incredible it can be, though shadows of it always weave through my fantasies and dreams.  After a while, I almost start to wonder why I want it so much.  I start questioning whether it’s worth doing all this emotional labor just so I can feel okay about wanting BDSM.  And then.

Recently I had dinner with a guy I met at a random event.  Not even an S&M event!  Not at all an overtly S&M guy!  He wears hipster clothing and he likes relatively mainstream music — not the typical S&M signifiers, obviously — and I went out with him more because he seemed smart and entertaining than because I expected fireworks.  Towards the end of our night out, I laid it all on the table: he’d mentioned S&M so I turned to him and asked, “What kind of experience do you have with that?”  And he knows about my writing, he’s read some of it, so I guess he compared himself to what he’s read and said: “Mostly playful.  Not really intense.”

I shrugged internally and offered to go home with him.  It was a Monday in San Francisco, so I figured: whatever, maybe we’ll talk for a while, maybe I’ll try making out with him and exit if there’s no energy.  In which case I’d still have time to go dancing at Death Guild!

(I mean, sure, I can enjoy vanilla sex, and I even seek it out sometimes.  It’s just that the best vanilla sex I’ve had was about ten zillion light-years away in awesomeness from the best BDSM sex I’ve had.)

I did not expect to come close to tears; to end up with bruises that forced me into t-shirts for several days.  (I don’t think he expected it either.)  His instincts are extremely good, and either he read me well or he has very compatible preferences.  And there it was.  As pain streaked brightly across my mind, as I spiraled down into the blankness of submission.  He did a few things I don’t even normally like, but everything else was so right, I’d gone far enough under not to care.  (Even to enjoy those things because I didn’t want them, but he did.  Oh yes, consent can be complicated.)

There it was.  I felt the tears building, gasps torn from my throat, I felt myself starting to fall apart and reform: around him, around his guidance and force and demands.  Almost unable to think.  Until finally he relented and said my name, and said softly, “Come back,” and ran his hand reassuringly down my hair.

There it was: the reason I want it so much.

(A lover asked me recently to describe how it feels when I go under.  It took me a long time to come up with words.  I feel blank.  I feel dark.  Desperate.  Engaged.  Transcendent.  If it’s good enough, I can’t communicate.  If it’s good enough, then it becomes hard not to fall in love.  “Huh,” he said when I was done.  “That’s a strange collection of words.”  I had to laugh, and tried to say I was sorry for my lack of clarity, but he didn’t let me apologize, which is just as well.)

I got dressed and walked home across the city, feeling as though I was on fire.  Alight.  It lasted the whole next day; a friend ran into me in the morning and I said “I’m in a great mood!” and she said, “Yeah, it’s pouring off you.”  I got home (well, I got back to where I stay when I’m in San Francisco), and I sat down on the couch and stared blankly at my laptop and I had to remind myself: I am not in love with this man.  I just met him.  It was only one encounter.  This is merely New Relationship Energy.  I’ll get over most of the effect within a few days.  But how could I help loving him, just a little, for where he’d taken me?

(And, since awful stereotypes of men are such a big part of typical anti-sex anxiety, I feel compelled to note that he was unprepared for the scene as well.  That he didn’t expect any of it either; that he had to stop a couple times to process what was happening, that I had to reassure him about what he was doing with me.)

Of course it wasn’t perfect; it wasn’t even close to the most intense scene I’ve experienced.  I’m sure other things affected how it went: I’d been eating properly, was in good physical shape, I’d had a spectacular weekend vacation just before.  My mood and body were well-shaped to create a good scene.  And I sure as hell did my part in communicating my side of things to him.  But he was the one who took me there, and it felt like such a long time since I really got into that place.  Some people warn new BDSMers: “Be careful, you may feel like you are falling in love with your partner when you are really in love with the BDSM.  Be careful.”  This warning also applies to people who have gone without for a while.  Obviously, it applies.

And there it is.  There, right there.   In the way it makes me feel.  In the connection it creates.  That’s why BDSM is worth it.  Worth the stigma, worth the effort of explanation; worth identifying as my gin-you-wine sexual orientation.  It’s worth the emotional energy and determination required to maintain my wholeness when people try to tell me this is wrong, that it’s bad for you or bad for your partners or bad for feminism or bad for society.  This is one of the big reasons I believe that anti-sex feminists are fundamentally wrong, especially when they outright conflate consensual acts with abusive ones.  (The other one being that censorship and criminalization and other anti-sex policies actually end up putting women at risk.)

Because nothing consensual that feels so good, that creates such a connection, that is so genuinely transcendent … nothing with such potential should be so hated and feared.

2010 25 Sep

[litquote] How being good in bed is most of all about attentiveness

I would never deny that certain inborn qualities or skills can make sex a lot better. It’s true that size does, generally, matter. But I really do believe that these things matter a hell of a lot less than open-hearted and open-minded attention to one’s partner. And that’s why I love this quotation from Haruki Murakami’s Sputnik Sweetheart.

The summer vacation of my freshman year in college, I took a random trip by myself around the Horuriku region, ran across a woman eight years older than me who was also traveling alone, and we spent one night together.

… She had a certain charm, which made it hard to figure out why she’d have any interest in someone like me — a quiet, skinny, eighteen-year-old college kid. Still, sitting across from me in the train, she seemed to enjoy our harmless banter. She laughed out loud a lot. And — atypically — I chattered away. We happened to get off at the same station, at Kanazawa. “Do you have a place to stay?” she asked me. No, I replied; I’d never made a hotel reservation in my life. I have a hotel room, she told me. You can stay if you’d like. “Don’t worry about it,” she went on, “it costs the same whether there’s one or two people.”

I was nervous the first time we made love, which made things awkward. I apologized to her.

“Aren’t we polite!” she said. “No need to apologize for every little thing.”

After her shower she threw on a bathrobe, grabbed two cold beers from the fridge, and handed one to me.

“Are you a good driver?” she asked.

“I just got my license, so I wouldn’t say so. Just average.”

She smiled. “Same with me. I think I’m pretty good, but my friends don’t agree. Which makes me average, too, I suppose. You must know a few people who think they’re great drivers, right?”

“Yeah, I guess I do.”

“And there must be some who aren’t very good.”

I nodded. She took a quiet sip of beer and gave it some thought.

“To a certain extent those kinds of things are inborn. Talent, you could call it. Some people are nimble; others are all thumbs …. Some people are quite attentive, and others aren’t. Right?”

Again I nodded.

“OK, consider this. Say you’re going to go on a long trip with someone by car. And the two of you will take turns driving. Which type of person would you choose? One who’s a good driver but inattentive, or an attentive person who’s not such a good driver?”

“Probably the second one,” I said.

“Me too,” she replied. “What we have here is very similar. Good or bad, nimble or clumsy — those aren’t important. What’s important is being attentive. Staying calm, being alert to things around you.”

“Alert?” I asked.

She just smiled and didn’t say anything.

A while later we made love a second time, and this time it was a smooth, congenial ride. Being alert — I think I was starting to get it. For the first time I saw how a woman reacts in the throes of passion.

The next morning after we ate breakfast together, we went our separate ways.

2010 14 Aug

[litquote] “Allowed to feel horny and fucked-up at the same time”

I’ve had some wrenching personal decisions and transitions lately, and it put me in mind of other times in my life when I felt in flux. I love this quotation from Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity, which I first wrote down when I was coming into my BDSM identity.

* * *

I wake up around dawn, and I have the same feeling I had the other night, the night I caught on about Laura and Ray: that I’ve got no ballast, nothing to weigh me down, and if I don’t hang on, I’ll just float away. I like Marie a lot, she’s funny and smart and pretty and talented, but who the hell is she? I don’t mean that philosophically. I just mean, I don’t know her from Eve, so what am I doing in her bed? Surely there’s a better, safer, more friendly place for me than this? But I know there isn’t, not at the moment, and that scares me rigid.

I get up, find my snazzy boxers and my T-shirt, go into the living room, fumble in my jacket pocket for my fags and sit in the dark smoking. After a little while Marie gets up, too, and sits down next to me.

“You sitting here wondering what you’re doing?”

“No. I’m just, you know ….”

“‘Cause that’s why I’m sitting here, if it helps.”

“I thought I’d woken you up.”

“I ain’t even been to sleep yet.”

“So you’ve been wondering for a lot longer than me. Worked anything out?”

“Bits. I’ve worked out that I was real lonely, and I went and jumped into bed with the first person who’d have me. And I’ve also worked out that I was lucky it was you, and not somebody mean, or boring, or crazy.”

“I’m not mean, anyway. And you wouldn’t have gone to bed with anyone who was any of those things.”

“I’m not so sure about that. I’ve had a bad week.”

“What’s happened?”

“Nothing’s happened. I’ve had a bad week in my head, is all.”

Before we slept together, there was at least some pretense that it was something we both wanted to do, that it was the healthy, strong beginning of an exciting new relationship. Now all the pretense seems to have gone, and we’re left to face the fact that we’re sitting here because we don’t know anybody else we could be sitting with.

“I don’t care if you’ve got the blues,” Marie says. “It’s OK. And I wasn’t fooled by you acting all cool about … what’s her name?”

“Laura.”

“Laura, right. But people are allowed to feel horny and fucked-up at the same time. You shouldn’t feel embarrassed about it. I don’t. Why should we be denied basic human rights just because we’ve messed up our relationships?”

I’m beginning to feel more embarrassed about the conversation than about anything we’ve just done. Horny? They really use that word? Jesus. All my life I’ve wanted to go to bed with an American, and now I have, and I’m beginning to see why people don’t do it more often. Apart from Americans, that is, who probably go to bed with Americans all the time.

* * *

Why do I love it? I love it because it simultaneously acknowledges that sex can be awkward and weird and intersect with negative emotions, and then deftly points out that this isn’t a problem or argument against sexuality in itself.

Also, I can’t help noting that the only guys I’ve hooked up with who seriously used the word “horny” were British.

(This passage is from the book, not the movie. Alas, the movie version of this scene wasn’t nearly as good.)