Posts Tagged ‘masculinity’

2012 23 Jul

[postsecret] Manliness, Relationships, and Erections

Those of you who have been reading for a while will know that I kind of love PostSecret. It’s a community art project; people send in postcards featuring a secret they’ve never told anyone. I first heard about it when an ex emailed me the URL in 2004, saying that he was certain I’d love it. Since 2004, I’ve graduated university; gone through a number of jobs; come into my S&M identity; lived in three US cities and two countries overseas; broken hearts and had my heart broken. And I still occasionally read PostSecret.

At some point I started saving the postcards I really liked to my hard drive. I’ve done it sporadically and I have no idea which year each postcard is from. But! New feature around these parts: I will be sharing PostSecret postcards occasionally, with a tiny dollop of commentary. And of course all are welcome to share thoughts in comments.

“Every time you lose an erection, I panic for our future.”

(Based on the picture, and probably also because I’m a heterosexual cisgendered lady, I am assuming that this postcard was written by someone who identifies as a woman. But that might not be true, and alternative interpretations or extra layers are welcome.)

This postcard strikes me as sad and fascinating not just for what it says about men’s gender roles, but about women’s. A man who can’t get an erection risks being seen as “unmanly” … but there’s also this terrible cultural message that men aren’t attracted to women if they lose an erection in bed with them. Also, there’s a pervasive idea that “real” sex must include a man’s erection, and that sex/eroticism doesn’t really exist without that. Stir in the fact that women often feel as though the only real way we can prove our worth or contribute to a relationship is by being sexy. And somewhere among all those threads is the woman who wrote this postcard. I imagine her feeling unwanted and desperate to prove her worth — and I also imagine her partner feeling both inadequate and guilty about how she feels.

(Please note that there are many PostSecret books available for purchase, including A Lifetime of Secrets, and Extraordinary Confessions From Ordinary Lives, and Confessions on Life, Death and God, and others.)

2012 10 Jul

Lots About Relationships; A Transgender Story; and an Intervention

For the last six months or so, I’ve been the Sex + Relationships Section Editor at the gender-lens site Role/Reboot, which meant that I both wrote regularly for the site and picked up other content for it. (I haven’t chosen everything in that section — some was selected by the managing editor — but I’ve chosen a bunch of it.) I was attracted to Role/Reboot because its mission is to make sex and gender issues accessible to a broad range of people outside the “usual suspects;” I saw an opportunity both to reach a new audience, and to promote work by writers who I don’t think get as much attention as they should.

As the site has developed and my writing has continued to develop, my sense of both has evolved — and Role/Reboot’s own sense of itself has evolved, too. One result has been that I’m no longer picking up extra content for the site. I will continue to contribute regularly for a while, but I have other ideas and projects that I want to focus on, and Role/Reboot simply isn’t the ideal destination for the majority of my work. So that’s going to conclude, too. I want to emphasize, though, that I think the intent of the site is good, and I’m glad I had a chance to contribute.

In the past, I’ve given you folks lots of links to my favorite content that I found for Role/Reboot. Here’s a final roundup:

* Bad With Men: Where I Was When Obama Was Elected, by Dana Norris (who runs the ongoing Chicago event Story Club, where I will appear on August 2!). Dana is writing a series of articles about her dating experiences after a huge breakup, and this is probably my favorite — she’s so self-aware! Favorite quotation: “I apologize for having deliberately wasted his time with my grief-motivated flailings for male attention.”

* I Will Not Get Married Just To Please My Family, by Adaya Adler (who blogs at My So-Called Polyamorous Life). This piece is exactly what it sounds like, and it’s awesome.

* I Intervened On A Man Yelling At A Woman: Did I Do The Right Thing? by Richard Jeffrey Newman (who’s part of the blog team at Alas! A Blog). I’ve always appreciated Richard’s thoughts on manliness and masculinity; this is a perfect example of his nuanced, careful writing on the topic.

* What To Do When You Know About An Affair, by Rob Dobrenski (who blogs at ShrinkTalk.net). Rob’s thoughts on how to deal with your friends when you know that one is cheating on the other mirror my own, which is why I chose this piece. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’ve given this exact advice in the past.

* Journey Home: My Life As A Transgender Man, by Justin Cascio (who is an editor at The Good Men Project). I asked Justin to write this because I think it’s important to have more testimonials of what it’s like to go through major hormonal changes — including mental and emotional effects. He’s been taking testosterone for more than 12 years.

If you have been following my involvement at Role/Reboot and were hoping to contribute at some point, then do not despair! You can still submit something to me and I’ll put you in touch with the right people. The relevant email address is clarisse at rolereboot dot org.

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 30 Apr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2012 25 Apr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

Adam Lyons with his wife, Amanda.

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

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

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

“What did you learn?” I asked.

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

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

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

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2012 20 Apr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

* * *

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

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2012 3 Apr

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

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

Also, this picture is awesome:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2012 20 Mar

Remember Britney Spears? Men’s Visual Sexuality and Women’s Presentation

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

Remember Britney Spears? Oh, that’s right, Britney Spears: one of the most famous recording artists in the world. I gotta admit I don’t think about her much, although it turns out she’s still going strong — the music video for her latest #1 single even includes a dubstep-ish interlude during which she boxes a high-heeled clone of herself. But as absurd and/or awesome as that is, it’s not the reason I’ve been thinking about her. I’ve been thinking about Britney Spears in the context of male sexuality because I just read a deeply sexist 2008 interview written by Chuck Klosterman of “Esquire”. During the interview, she was photographed wearing little besides underwear and pearl necklaces — yes indeed, pearl necklaces — which sounds like fun times to me. (Dear “Esquire”: Anytime you want to photograph a woman wearing exquisite sexual puns, call me.) On the other hand, Klosterman is kind of an asshole to her, and every word he writes about her drips with contempt. So I’m in this conflicted place where the interview is deeply sexist, yet I also found it tear-jerkingly funny … and … possibly … even … illuminating?

Although the interview makes me cry with laughter, I could give you a whole column on Klosterman’s obvious, deep-rooted resentment for Britney Spears in particular — and, probably, women in general. But let’s take the embedded misogyny as a given, and examine the main point he sought to communicate with the article. I present to you a quotation:

Over the next ninety minutes, I will sit next to a purportedly fully clothed Britney and ask her questions. She will not really answer any of them. Interviewing Britney Spears is like deposing Bill Clinton: Regardless of the evidence, she does not waver. “Why do you dress so provocatively?” I ask. She says she doesn’t dress provocatively. “But look what you’re wearing right now,” I say, while looking at three inches of her inner thigh, her entire abdomen, and enough cleavage to choke a musk ox. “This is just a skirt and a top,” she responds. It is not that Britney Spears denies that she is a sexual icon, or that she disputes that American men are fascinated with the concept of the wet-hot virgin, or that she feels her success says nothing about what our society fantasizes about. She doesn’t disagree with any of that stuff, because she swears she has never even thought about it. Not even once.

“That’s just a weird question,” she says. “I don’t even want to think about that. That’s strange, and I don’t think about things like that, and I don’t want to think about things like that. Why should I? I don’t have to deal with those people. I’m concerned with the kids out there. I’m concerned with the next generation of people. I’m not worried about some guy who’s a perv and wants to meet a freaking virgin.”

And suddenly, something becomes painfully clear: Either Britney Spears is the least self-aware person I’ve ever met, or she’s way, way savvier than any of us realize.

Or maybe both.

As one of my (male) friends observed upon reading the above passage:

The article makes me think Britney Spears is kind of awesome. Two quotes: “Either Britney Spears is the least self-aware person I’ve ever met, or she’s way, way savvier than any of us realize,” and “Interviewing Britney Spears is like deposing Bill Clinton.” I don’t think Chuck Klosterman quite realizes what high praise that is.

Chuck Klosterman came out of this encounter and described it as “deeply weird.” But is it? Look at the comparison to Bill Clinton. Say what you will about Clinton, but even his detractors recognize that he’s a political genius. Why would talking to Britney about her sexiness be like deposing Bill Clinton?

A person might argue that Britney is an unparallelled master of strategic ambiguity, which some theorize is a crucial component of flirtation. A person might also argue that if Klosterman aggressively and snidely hit on Britney even half as much when he spoke to her as he did when he wrote about her, then it would make sense if she decided to “play dumb” and ignore it. I sometimes choose to ignore men who hit on me snidely and aggressively, because often, when they realize that they can’t get a reaction, they leave me alone.

But here’s a third way of thinking about it: Bill Clinton faced enormous penalties if he didn’t say exactly the right thing during his deposition. Britney also faced enormous penalties if she said the wrong thing about her sexiness.

There’s a high-profile radical feminist blog called “I Blame The Patriarchy,” with which I frequently disagree, and which has occasionally attacked sex-positive feminists somewhat like myself. (I have only once tried leaving a — very careful — comment there, and the comment never appeared, from which I infer that my slutty kinky self is Not Welcome.) However, “I Blame The Patriarchy” can still be a great source for scathing feminist critiques. That Britney Spears interview made me think of one post that ends thusly:

There’s a femininity tightrope that all public women are forced to walk …. Whenever a public woman fails to balance the following factors just right, then splat she goes. To wit:

Public women should be X amount feminine, X amount motherly, X amount hot, X amount beautiful, X amount young, X amount confident, X amount helpless, X amount exotic, X amount educated, X amount intelligent (required: the last two values < the men in the office), X amount gay (the last value almost always = 0). The ratios are fluid, shifting from day to day at the whim of public sentiment, so that a woman may think she’s got it pretty well sewed up, only to wake up one fine spring morn to discover that the parade being thrown in her honor has suddenly vanished. Later she finds out it’s because she stupidly forgot she was a member of the sex class, and had dared to imagine that she would be judged on merit rather than her ability to do femininity right. Eventually we all fall off the rope.

Britney’s been on this tightrope for a long time. She’s had a whole lot more of these conversations than Bill Clinton.

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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 27 Feb

Feminist S&M Lessons from the Seduction Community

This article was originally published in three parts over at the Good Men Project. I’m really close to finishing my book Confessions of a Pickup Artist Chaser: Long Interviews With Hideous Men, and believe me, you will all know as soon as it is done. The book is way awesomer than anything you can imagine. It also has many more fun anecdotes and is less academic in tone than this article.

Update! The book is out now!

Before we get into the article, here’s my absolute favorite comic on the topic of seduction. Description and transcript at the end of this post. Click the image to embiggen:

There is an enormous subculture devoted to teaching men how to seduce 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.”

Pickup artists — also known as the “seduction community” — exchange ideas in thousands of online fora, using extensive in-group jargon. One pickup artist site lists “over 715 terms, and counting.” There are pickup artist meetups, clubs, and subculture celebrities all over the world. There are different ideological approaches and theoretical schools of seduction. Well-known pickup artist “gurus” can make millions of dollars per year: they may sell books; they may sell hours of “coaching”; they may organize training “bootcamps” or conventions with pricy tickets; they may run companies full of instructors trained in their methods. The community even generates its own well-thought-out internal critiques.

I am a sex-positive feminist lecturer and writer. I write primarily about my experiences with sadomasochism, but I have a general interest in sexuality. I first encountered pickup artists when smart ones started attending my educational events and commenting on my blog.

Some aspects of pickup artistry are hugely problematic; many parts of the community showcase and encourage misogyny. While exploring the PUA jungle, I observed things that turned my stomach and brought tears to my eyes. On the other hand, I had to admit that some pickup artist perspectives were very interesting. Some had fascinating insights about gender theory and social power. I also felt drawn by their exploits. Learning seduction, and watching hypothetically-dazzling Casanovas run a courtier-like game, sounded like an extremely fun way to spend my time.

I started my journey by talking to a few pickup artists and reading their fora. By the end, I had given a lecture at a seduction convention, and I had decided against developing my own coaching business. Within the next few months, I plan to release a pop-feminist book online titled Confessions of a Pickup Artist Chaser: Long Interviews with Hideous Men. In the meantime, I can offer a quick synopsis of my own history, and why I became so interested in PUAs. I will break down some elementary distinctions among the men of the seduction community. Finally, I will offer a few PUA-influenced thoughts on feminist goals.

* * *

I was an awkward little bookworm of a child, but at least I was creative. I liked to draw, invent games, and run amateur social experiments. When I was in high school, most of my friends were on the Internet; I did not date a real-life boyfriend until college. I was inevitably teased by my peers, but even when treated well, I rarely engaged with the social hierarchies around me. I had difficulty grasping how social mechanics were “supposed” to work. A lot of things seemed obvious to other people that were not obvious to me.

For example, in sixth grade, a female friend of mine teased me about flirting with a boy. “What was I doing?” I asked. “Come on, you were flirting!” she responded. While I thought I almost understood what she meant, I was unsure — so I set out to poll everyone I knew about what constitutes “flirting.” Responses were inconsistent. One person said, very definitely: “Giggling.” Others cited examples such as “intense looks” or “making jokes.”

By the end of this experiment, I concluded that no one seemed able to explain “flirting” in terms of consistent behaviors; there were few commonalities in my final list. From what I could tell, flirting could only be explained in terms of invisible interpersonal dynamics. I found this both entertaining and frustrating.

I sometimes wonder what would have become of me if the modern pickup artist community had existed back then, and I had discovered it. PUAs devote a lot of time to understanding seduction in terms of observed behaviors. They have terms for social tactics that run the gamut from creating rapport, to encouraging trust, to building sexual tension, to shifting social power. But although the purpose of these social tactics is to manipulate emotion, the tactics are typically described as concretely as possible. Some PUA coaches provide long memorized “routines,” but it is more common to talk about particular social actions or broader strategies.

One famous PUA tactic is called the “neg.” “Neg” stands for “negative hit”, and one site defines a neg as “a remark, sometimes humorous, used to point out a woman’s flaws.” Like many PUA terms, the deeper meanings and usage vary from PUA to PUA — but there is an especially dramatic range of meanings with “neg.”

Some PUAs see negs as friendly teasing: a way for the PUA to show that he is paying attention to the girl, without appearing needy or overeager. I can offer a cute example of this approach from my own life. I was sitting in a café with a former PUA, and he gazed deep into my eyes.

“Wait a minute,” he said slowly. “Are your glasses held together by epoxy? It looks like you had to repair them at the corners.”

“Yeah,” I admitted.

He grinned. “Everything about you just screams ‘starving artist’, doesn’t it.”

This made me laugh for quite a while. I think it worked because he understood that I have chosen (for now) to be a broke writer — but he also recognized the tension I feel about that choice. So this gentleman was demonstrating that he correctly discerned my priorities; that he is not bothered by a choice that makes me feel self-conscious; and that he is confident enough to tease me.

Also, at a moment when I thought he might compliment my eyes, the former PUA shook up my expectations by breaking the romantic pattern. Often, effective flirting involves offering the right mixture of confidence plus charming novelty plus paying attention.

Some PUAs see negs more strategically, as a way of passing a woman’s “tests” or breaching her indifference. They argue that this is necessary for women who are very high-status, very beautiful, etc. They argue that some women develop a kind of immunity to compliments, and that some women actively prefer feisty, faux-adversarial flirting. Most PUAs only advocate using negs on women who meet a certain “minimum” level of attractiveness, or who seem particularly feisty. Neil Strauss, a famous PUA and author of the bestseller The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists, once wrote that:

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