Posts Tagged ‘pro-sex outreach’

2010 15 Oct

The S&M Feminist Reloaded

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

Original post follows:

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

* * *

2010 2 Oct

Available lectures, workshops and events from Clarisse Thorn

I recently told everyone that I’m back in America and available for lectures or events, but it’s come to my attention that it’s hard to know exactly what kind of sex-positive events I offer without going through my entire blog archive. Sorry about that! I’m fixing it right now by giving you a short list of what I’ve done.

* Leadership in the Bedroom: A Sexual Communication Workshop. Down-to-earth tips and ideas on how to communicate clearly about sex. This workshop was originally requested by the University of Illinois at Chicago, but I’ve given versions of it at other venues as well. It was one of the first workshops I ever designed, and I’m currently working on streamlining it and making it more interactive. I can do it in an hour, but prefer longer.

* BDSM Overview. Imagery deriving from bondage, discipline, dominance, submission, and sadomasochism (BDSM) is becoming commonplace — and we all know (or think we know) what a dominatrix is — but most people don’t have much idea of what BDSM actually involves. Although it is increasingly accepted as an alternative sexual orientation, BDSM remains surrounded by stigma, scandal and occasional legal action. This presentation covers the basics of BDSM (however, it’s not a how-to lecture — you aren’t going to learn how to use a whip, though you’ll learn where to go to find out!). I prefer to poll the audience to see what they want to cover on top of that — BDSM history? cultural landmarks? BDSM & feminism? legal issues? I’ve got it all! I have given this lecture at New York’s Museum of Sex and Chicago’s Northwestern University; it was actually the subject of my first-ever blog post. It can be squished into an hour, but I prefer two hours, or even longer.

* Sex-Positivity for Everyone! Including the Mens! What is masculinity or male advocacy as a movement, and how is it in dialogue with contemporary feminism? Can it be incorporated into feminism, or can the values of the sex-positive feminist community speak to its concerns? What does positive, productive talk about masculinity sound like? I talk about all this in a short lecturette and then facilitate small discussions on kinky male sexuality, men in the pickup artist community, and men who buy sex. This workshop was originally requested by the University of Chicago, and based on feedback from that experience, I have been adapting it slightly for my upcoming Reed College appearance on October 5. It should take about 90 minutes.

* The Sex+++ Film Series at Jane Addams Hull-House Museum and related film screenings. I have now overseen many many screenings of sex-positive documentaries, and facilitated followup discussions afterwards. In the past I have done this primarily to accomplish my own activist educational goals or to raise funds for deserving institutions, but I’d be happy to run a screening or two upon request. Please note, however, that I don’t own the rights to all the films I’ve screened, and so if you want me to run a screening for you, you may need to budget extra in order to cover the rights. Here’s a list of the original film line-up for Sex+++.

I would certainly be willing to design a new workshop or lecture upon request — in fact, two of the above events were created at the request of the institutions that invited me. If you ask me to create a new event, though, please keep in mind that it will be an event I’ve never field-tested before! Still, feedback on my events has generally been good, even on the brand-new ones. And I am planning to start handing out feedback forms to everyone who attends one of my workshops, so I can get ever-more-precise input.

UPDATE: Right, my location! Currently I’m in San Francisco (and about to travel to Portland to give this talk at Reed, obviously). I will probably be here for about another month. If you’re anywhere near California and want me to travel to you, then it would be in your interest to schedule now, since my travel costs would be lower. I will return to Chicago in about a month, probably, after which I’m more available to the midwestish area. And I have family in New York, so I’ll head out that way by late December if not before.

If you represent a super-deserving group, like for example a domestic abuse organization that wants advice on differentiating abuse from BDSM or on being alternative-sexuality friendly, then we can definitely negotiate my honorarium.

2010 30 Jul

Sex Communication Tactic Derived from S&M #3: Journal-Keeping

I’d like to thank all the brave pioneers of the BDSM community, for plumbing the depths of human sexuality, and coming back with maps.
~ an unsourced quotation provided by commenter Motley on my gigantic manliness thread

* * *

I’ve already written about S&M checklists and S&M safewords, and how both those things can set really great examples for everyone’s sex life — not just us BDSMers. This entry will be about journal-keeping!

Some BDSMers play with really, really strong power dynamics. A good example of this is couples who choose a “24/7 dynamic”: one partner is dominant and the other is submissive … all the time. I attended a workshop once with Sir Top and slave bonnie, two wise BDSM educators, where I learned that slave bonnie was only ever allowed to disobey orders of two kinds:

* Suicidal orders,
* Orders that would cause financial ruin.

The rest of the time, bonnie obeyed Top — all the rest of the time.

Obviously, relationships like this are totally cool with me as long as they are — say it with me, everyone — 100% consensual! Such relationships can also encourage the use of interesting communication tactics, because many of the usual tactics don’t feel right to the participants. For example, these relationships often take place between people who feel such a strong power dynamic that it would be almost impossible for the submissive to feel comfortable safewording — safewording can feel disconcertingly like a form of resistance.

One way of dealing with this problem is for both partners to keep journals that are open to the other partner. (With some couples, only the submissive keeps an open journal.) They talk about their romantic feelings, they process their sexual encounters, they articulate anxieties, etc. Here’s an example of some great submissive journaling prompts. The idea is that it’s easier to express these things when there’s a designated space for it outside the relationship; the journals mean that partners (especially submissives) can talk about what they need without fearing that they’re undermining the power dynamic.

I find the concept of simultaneous journals intriguing for a number of reasons. One is that I’ve used similar tactics myself; I kept a private journal for many years, and once in a long while I’d give entries to my partners when I needed to explain something complicated about my feelings. I only did this a few times, ever, but it was really effective when I did.

Later, I took to writing love letters that I noticed were very similar to both my journal entries, and to the simultaneous relationship journals suggested for Master/slave couples. I realized that I was writing letters because, at the time, I felt more comfortable writing about my desires than talking about them. I’ve gotten a million times better at talking about my sexuality honestly and shamelessly since then; but back then, there were definitely things I wrote to my partners that I couldn’t have said aloud. I also wrote because — just like Master/slave couples — I wanted to communicate my feelings outside the anxiety-inducing frameworks of the “serious discussion”, the bedroom, etc.

So when I developed my sexual communication workshop, I encouraged love letters. I gave two suggested points of departure for a love letter:

1) Describe what happened during a sexual encounter you had together, with particular emphasis on what your partner did that you really liked — and what you liked about it. (“I love it when you fuck me” is a great thing to say, but you give much more information to your partner if you say “I love it when you fuck me from behind,” or even better, “I love it when you fuck me from behind and it feels amazing when your balls hit my clit.” This blog does not necessarily reflect the desires or encounters of Miss Clarisse Thorn.)

2) Describe a fantasy you have. Bonus points if you explicitly put your partner in it. (“I like to imagine you sinking your teeth into me until I scream.” This blog does not necessarily … oh, who am I kidding.)

* * *

Check out the previous posts in this series, Sex Communication Tactic Derived from S&M #1: Checklists and Sex Communication Tactic Derived from S&M #2: Safewords and Check-Ins.

* * *

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.

* * *

2010 3 Jul

Sex Communication Tactic Derived from S&M #2: Safewords and Check-Ins

Everyone knows about BDSM safewords … or at least, everyone thinks they know about safewords. But one of the initial moments that really impressed me about my current boyfriend was when I asked him, many moons ago, if he knew what a safeword is. He paused, then answered, “I think I’m familiar with the idea, but I probably don’t know much more than a stereotype, so I’d like to hear you define it.” Humility and open-minded curiosity are so incredibly hot!

Righto. Hot boyfriend aside, I’m here to explain safewords and check-ins, and how those concepts can exemplify excellent sexual communication for everyone — not just S&Mers — in a world that doesn’t do a good job teaching anyone how to communicate sexually.

When two (or more) people have a BDSM encounter together, generally they set a safeword — a word that anyone can say at any time to stop the action. (Sometimes people don’t use safewords. This is their choice and I totally respect it. I would not recommend going without safewords for anyone who doesn’t know their partner extremely well, and I would be seriously sketched out by anyone who pressured a partner to go without safewords.)

When I give advice about setting safewords, I usually offer the following:

A) Some people like to say that it’s good to use a safeword that’s jolting, and is likely to make your partner feel totally unsexy. Isn’t there a “Family Guy” episode in which Lois & Peter’s safeword is “banana” or something?

B) In my experience, the generally accepted safewords in the S&M community are “safeword” and, more commonly, “red”. I consider it useful to go with the “public standard” because that means that in the future, you’re likely to be attuned to the correct word if you practice BDSM with other partners as well. (It also means that if you ever do S&M in a public space such as a dungeon, everyone in the place will recognize your safeword if you scream it.)

C) At first I wasn’t that excited about this, but I’ve grown to love the fact that the safeword “red” also sometimes encompasses “green” — and “yellow”. That means that if I’m in the middle of an S&M encounter, I can say “red” and my partner will stop; I can then catch my breath and say “green”, which means “by God keep going!” Or, if I’m a little uncertain about the territory but don’t actually want my partner to stop — if I just want my partner to be a little bit cautious — then I can say “yellow” (and, of course, I can move to “green” if I become really psyched, or shift to “red” if I really want my partner to stop).

I know that this probably doesn’t sound sexy at all, but it totally can be! Consider the following example: during my last vacation to America, I had an S&M encounter with a dude I’ll refer to as Klark. (It’s not my fault. He requested the pseudonym.) At one point, Klark was experimenting with hurting me, and I had my eyes closed and was whimpering / crying out in a totally glorious way. (The poor overnight desk clerk. He was only one short flight of stairs away from us.) I think Klark was legitimately having trouble detecting whether I was enjoying myself, though — understandably, because we had only just met, and I enjoy sinking myself into dramatic masochistic misery — so he leaned over me and said, in a low dark voice, “Red, yellow, green.” Immediately, I gasped back “Green”. Because he spoke in a gritty and dominant voice, and the check-in was quick, we were able to maintain the mood — and it was actually kind of hot in itself.

Which brings me to the other thing: check-ins. Sometimes, you want to check in with your partner. Which can be easy: you can just say, “Hey, how does this feel?” or, as a more precise example, “Give me a rating of 1-10 on how good this feels (or how much this hurts).” But if you want to do it quickly and without shifting the mood, you can do it as I outline above in the Klark example. Or even quicker, as for example with the hand-squeeze system, where the participants agree ahead of time that you can squeeze another person’s hand twice and expect two squeezes back — and if there aren’t two return squeezes, it’s time to stop and figure out what’s going wrong. (Squeeze system: also very helpful when gags are involved.) (And here’s a literary example of check-ins in a vanilla encounter.)

Sometimes submissives will have a hard time safewording — whether out of pride, inexperience, or eagerness to please — and that’s another reason check-ins can be good even when there’s a set safeword. If you aren’t sure how to read your partner’s reactions and you suspect ze may be uncomfortable with what you are doing, then you might consider checking in even if ze hasn’t safeworded, because your suspicion may be right.

What I love about safewords and check-ins:

1) Hypothetically, mainstream society acknowledges that anyone could say no at any point during sex, but in practice, this is really hard. A variety of forces — girls socially pressured not to be so-called “cock-teases”, boys socially pressured to supposedly “prove their manliness”, and everyone anxious to please their partners — work against people’s capacity to say no; and while there is a vague understanding that “no means no”, that vagueness is as far as it gets. There’s no explicit framework in place for how to say “no”, and no understanding of how to continue an encounter (or relationship) after one’s partner says no. Even worse, there’s an assumed linear progression of sexual activity — the best example is the “base system”, which places sexual interaction on a metaphorical baseball diamond where “first base” = groping and “home base” = penis-in-vagina sex. Have I mentioned that I hate the base system?

So anyway, the biggest moral of the story with safewords and check-ins is that consent does not only happen once. Consent is always happening, and can always be renegotiated or withdrawn. Adapting my understanding of sexuality to reflect this — even in my non-BDSM sex — might have been the best thing that ever happened to my sex life.

2) On a related note: Good sex is not about entitlement. If we acknowledge that anyone can safeword out of any sexual act at any time, then we acknowledge that no one is entitled to any kind of sex from a partner — ever. If your partner loves you but doesn’t want to have sex with you? That’s a respectable choice. If you’re really turned on, but your partner can’t stand the idea of having sex right now? That’s a respectable choice. Those two are easy, I think, but how about these?

+ If your partner used to do something with you a lot, but doesn’t want to do it anymore? That’s a respectable choice.

+ If you are married to your partner, but ze doesn’t want to have sex? That’s a respectable choice.

+ If your partner performed a sexual act with another partner but would prefer not to do it with you? That’s a respectable choice.

+ If you know your partner likes a certain kind of sex, but they don’t want to do it right now? That’s a respectable choice.

+ If you think a certain act is “mild” and “taken for granted”, like kissing or tickling, but your partner doesn’t want to do it? That’s a respectable choice.

By the way, if you (like I once did) feel as though your partner is entitled to sex of any kind, I encourage you to re-examine that feeling. Ditto if you’ve got a little voice in your head telling you that you “ought to” be up for sex all the time just because you don’t get it very often … or that you “ought to” be up for sex if you’ve done it with your partner before … or whatever. The other best thing that ever happened to my sex life was when I finally, finally, finally internalized the idea that my partners don’t ever “deserve” sex for any reason — that there’s no reason I ever “should” be having sex — and that the only reason I should ever, ever, ever do anything sexual is because I legitimately want to.

Of course, if you truly believe that you need a certain kind of sexuality in your life, then you’re absolutely entitled to ask your partner to consider it — and you’re entitled to leave the relationship if ze isn’t up for it. But this doesn’t mean that you “deserve” to do that act with that person, or that your partner “owes” you a certain act.

And hey, if your partner isn’t down with one specific sexual act, then that means you’ve got the chance to explore all kinds of other sexuality. Another other best thing that ever happened to my sexuality? Quite possibly, it’s my current boyfriend — whose religious adherence has drastically limited our physical sexual options.

* * *

Check out the previous post in this series, Sex Communication Tactic Derived from S&M #1: Checklists, not to mention the next post in this series, Sex Communication Tactic Derived from S&M #3: Journal-Keeping.

* * *

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.

* * *

2010 14 Jun

Sex Communication Tactic Derived from S&M #1: Checklists

I’ve often written that the BDSM community encourages really excellent sexual communication, and I’ve been meaning to write further about specifics for … um … years. (Oops.) So I’m finally getting around to describing one of my personal favorite sexual communication tactics: checklists!

S&M checklists are long lists of different acts that sexual partners can use to discuss different acts and measure each others’ interest in those acts. Here is an excellent example. Each act on the checklist usually looks something like this:

FLOGGING — GIVING __________________ O O O O O
FLOGGING — RECEIVING ______________ O O O O O

Each partner rates each entry by filling out 1-5 bubbles, with 1 darkened bubble meaning “Not interested” and 5 bubbles meaning “I crave this!”

I think this concept is brilliant because:

1) Too often, it’s assumed that “sex” encompasses certain acts, and if you’re interested in a sexual relationship you must be interested in all those acts. Or there’s assumed to be a kind of linear progression, as exemplified in the “base system” — you know, where “first base” is groping and “home base” is penis-in-vagina sex. (Man, I hate the base system.) Talking about each sexual act as its own self-contained idea short-circuits those problematic ideas about sex and makes it easier for couples to turn down some of the “assumed” acts (e.g., if I don’t want oral sex but I do want penis-in-vagina …).

2) It provides an easy way to communicate desires — if a person is nervous about saying, “Hey, is it okay if I flog you?” then the couple doesn’t even have to talk about it right away. They can just sit down, fill out their checklists and compare results without getting too worried about how to bring up certain desires. I mean, at some point of course they’ll hopefully talk about it, but hopefully the checklist framework makes it easier and lower-pressure.

3) Concurrently, it provides an easy way to turn down acts — it’s much harder to reject a lover’s proposition when ze says, “Darling, can I flog you?” than it is when you simply fill in one bubble on the “Flogging — Receiving” section. In the past, I’ve certainly felt a lot of anxiety when I wanted to turn down partners, and it’s nice to imagine a set-up that would have made me feel less anxious.

In fact, I love the checklist concept so much that when the University of Illinois at Chicago had me design my sexual communication workshop, I created a “vanilla” version of the checklist that had entries ranging from “oral sex” to “sex in public” to “tying up / being tied up”. (Okay, maybe it wasn’t entirely vanilla … well, I wanted to encourage people to voice things they weren’t sure about!) You can download my vanilla-ified checklist here. Also, Scarleteen has their own version of a vanilla sexual checklist, which is way more comprehensive than mine!

I just love the principle of the thing — the principle that a couple can have a lot of fun just by sitting down and talking about every conceivable sex act, being presented with some options that they maybe haven’t thought of before, and honestly describing how into each idea they each are.

If you want to learn more about how I’ve actually used checklists, here’s my article about sex communication case studies.

* * *

Check out the second post in this series, Sex Communication Tactic Derived from S&M #2: Safewords and Check-Ins.

* * *

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.

* * *

2010 6 Apr

How to start your own local sex-positive meetup

I’ve been reminded that tonight is the one-year anniversary of Pleasure Salon, the sex-positive meetup I co-started in Chicago; a reporter from Columbia College Chicago called me (all the way in Africa!) to chat about it. And over the last few months, I’ve received a number of inquiries about how people can start their own Pleasure Salons in their own cities. Which means it’s time for a blog FAQ!

I obviously haven’t been to Pleasure Salon in quite some time. It sounds like it’s still going strong, at least from what people tell me, but I don’t really know. Still, I remember the process of starting it pretty well ….

* * *

PLEASURE SALON: THE FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS!

(Readers may also be interested in the FAQ I wrote about Sex+++, my sex-positive film series, which gives advice about how to start your own!)

On the very night that I first announced my sex-positive film series, Serpent Libertine of the Sex Workers Outreach Project got in touch. Serpent is really passionate and outspoken; it was delightful to talk with her about how we could collaborate. One idea that we began tossing around was, in her words, a low-key “bar night”. She fondly remembered sex-positive socials privately conducted by past community leaders; for my part, over the next few months I really got into the community discussions at my film series, and it always seemed a shame that we had to wrap them up within an hour or two.

On a trip to New York a couple of months later, one of my film contacts invited me out to Pleasure Salon NYC. Pleasure Salon was exactly like what I’d been picturing — and the name was pretty cool too — so I requested permission to use it and start a Pleasure Salon Chicago! (Note: I have edited the last sentence because it said that I requested permission to “license” the Pleasure Salon name, which confused some people. I did not need to get a license to use the name. I just asked Selina Fire for permission.)

The two big steps were:

1) Getting together a good group of hosts.
2) Finding a good venue.

* * *

Hosts

We wanted to recruit sex-positive leaders who would encourage their followers to attend the Salon. Selina Fire from Pleasure Salon NYC advised, in fact, that we at first promote the Salon entirely through our co-hosts and let it grow organically via word-of-mouth — the fear being that otherwise it could get out of control, fast.

In the end, we did do most of our promoting via the community leaders telling their friends; but we also posted the Pleasure Salon announcement to listhosts (for example, I sent it around some BDSM community listhosts, and I also posted it to the Sex+++ listhost), created a Pleasure Salon Facebook page using the Sex+++ icon (you are invited to become a fan!), and promoted the event in various other public online venues (for example, my favoritest swinger couple, The Ultimates, put an announcement on Meetup.com). And just recently, Serpent emailed to let me know that Pleasure Salon has an exciting new website and blog.

I think this approach should work fine if your area already has a bunch of different sex communities or sexuality discussions, but if it doesn’t — if it’s hard to get a lot of sex-positive community leaders — then you should choose a few hosts based solely on how well they can conduct discussions or get a group to gel. Then I guess you can just promote in alternative communities, liberal spaces, or whatever: odd bookstores, hipster coffeeshops, your local branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, your local Unitarian church, your local Gender Studies university department — all good examples! You might consider having discussion topics, too, though this is something we never bothered with at Pleasure Salon Chicago.

* * *

Venue

Pleasure Salon NYC takes place in a really cool speakeasy-style space, with a nice little reception podium in front of a long corridor that widens out into a big room with booths and a bar. The hosts, including Selina Fire, chill out in front to receive new people, hand out nametags to everyone, and help confused new people figure out what’s up. Every night they pass around a jar for donations, and then use those donations to buy snacks and stuff (I think people pay for their own drinks at the bar). I don’t actually know the details of how they arranged this, so maybe Selina can leave a comment explaining.

In Chicago, our primary concern was that the venue be central — Chicago is pretty spread out, and we wanted the place easily reached by folks on the South Side, the North Side, whatever. We also didn’t want the organizers to end up responsible for details like snacks (we did intend to have nametags, but we kinda forgot …), so we wanted a venue that served food. And drinks too; some people have told me that they don’t attend Pleasure Salon because alcohol is served, but certainly when I was around it never got crazy or anything. (The time slot being 6 PM-10 PM helps with that, I think.)

Also important: the venue should have at least one night per month that’s quiet. That way they’ll be really glad to have you around, and — while a few non-Pleasure Salon people will probably show up (unless you can manage a setup like Pleasure Salon NYC) — it’ll still make a good safe space for pro-sex talk. And on that note, the venue should know what Pleasure Salon is and be cool with it. This is really key: don’t hide the subject matter from the venue. That could cause a world of trouble later. Chances are high that the venue really won’t care that you want a group of people to come around and chat about sex once a month as long as they know what to expect (that, for example, an attendee might accidentally leave her copy of Flogging For Beginners behind at the end of the night).

In Chicago, Villains Bar & Grill was great because it was super-quiet on Tuesday evenings from 6-10; it’s in the South Loop, right in the middle of the city; and they were already hosting a swinger meetup once a month, so they didn’t bat an eye when we told them what Pleasure Salon is all about.

It’s a good idea to have one or two backup venues in mind at all times, though. You never know when an awesome venue will suddenly start getting busier, or change management, or close its doors, or whatever — best to be prepared to move on, rather than panicking or (even worse!) having to shut down your Pleasure Salon!

* * *

That’s it!

On the night of Pleasure Salon, be sure that your hosts are ready and willing to stick around for the whole span of the event so that they can greet new people, introduce them around and help them integrate into the group, oversee the vibe, and (of course) get in some time relaxing with their friends.

When people come in the venue door and stand around awkwardly, they’re probably looking for you.

* * *

What’s next for Pleasure Salon?

The reporter who called me today asked an interesting question — So this is the one-year anniversary. What’s next? Obviously I no longer consider myself to have much power over Pleasure Salon, being as I live in Africa and all, and I won’t be back in Chicago for a while. But I do have opinions that I will, as always, happily share.

I’m a pro-sex activist — I obviously think it’s important to destigmatize sexuality in as many ways as possible. Pleasure Salon does a bit of that, I think. But I’ve also said before that I think it would be cool if the sex-positive community had more of a group consciousness; if BDSMers and sex workers and polyamorists and swingers and LGBTQ and, well, all of us pro-sex people saw ourselves as being on the same side. If Pleasure Salon fosters that kind of community attitude, I think that’d be awesome. If Pleasure Salon creates a kind of grassroots political will, I think that’d be cool too. I know that Pleasure Salon NYC has done very limited sponsorship-type stuff — for instance, I do believe they’re a sponsor of CineKink, the Really Alternative Film Festival. I would hope that Pleasure Salon could be the kind of place that doesn’t just sponsor events but politically supports sex-positive change, et cetera.

But (as I emphasized on the phone with the reporter today) I also think that if Pleasure Salon becomes political at the cost of being friendly and approachable, then the cost is too high. Because the biggest strength of Pleasure Salon, to my mind, is the fact that it not only networks and connects different sex-related community members but creates a safe space for hesitant new folks to come learn more. It works best as a low-key conversational space that’s open to everyone, where people who wouldn’t feel comfortable going to a sex club or a BDSM workshop — or even a sex toy store — can just show up and chat (or listen) about sexuality.

For the same reason, I don’t think it’s a good idea for Pleasure Salon to start offering sex-related demos or sex parties — at least not as part of Pleasure Salon itself. If people promote, say, upcoming bondage demonstrations at Pleasure Salon then that sounds good to me; even if there’s a string of Pleasure-Salon-sponsored bondage demonstrations, that’d be awesome (though Chicago already has a fair number of BDSM events); but I think that if people conduct bondage demonstrations there, that stands a good chance of wrecking the approachable-to-newbies vibe.

* * *

Read the comments!

I’ve asked Serpent, Selina, and the rest of the Pleasure Salon crew to leave comments here if they think of anything I didn’t cover — and if you’ve started a similar sex-positive meetup group in your area, please feel free to leave a comment as well! Even if you don’t have any advice to give, I’d love to hear about your group and how it’s going — or any questions you may have. If you’d prefer to ask questions via email, I’m always available at [ clarisse dot thorn at gmail dot com ].

2010 16 Feb

My S&M coming-out story — published at last

“Time Out Chicago” has published my S&M coming-out story to their website. It’s probably one of the most important things I’ve ever written, at least on a personal level, and it’s a little strange to see it finally out there.

I wrote the first half — everything up to the line, “Still, for a moment I wished …” — in early 2006. I wrote it for catharsis more than anything else, though I did submit it to one venue for publication on a whim — but after I submitted, I sharply regretted it. I remember that I was totally terrified it would be accepted. What would it mean if I published something like that? At that point I had no real experience in the BDSM community; I was finally starting to break out of my near-continuous freakout from discovering my sexuality, but I was still drowning in stigma. And I’d simply never written anything so personal before. When I received the rejection letter, I felt the typical burn, but I also heaved a sigh of enormous relief.

I left the piece alone on my hard drive for a long time, healing and adjusting all the while. In late 2007 — towards the end of my relationship with Andrew — I decided to add the second half, though I had no real idea what I’d do with the finished product. I was living in a huge building with communal kitchens at the time, and I remember that at 2AM one morning I went downstairs for a bagel. In the kitchen I came upon another artist, a filmmaker. He’d been living there for months, but we hadn’t talked much. Still, in each other we instinctively recognized the stamp of late-night obsessive artistry. “You’re a writer, right?” he asked. “What are you working on?”

“I don’t talk about my work,” I said. He was very insistent, so I finally told him, “I’m working on my S&M coming-out story.” I figured that would shut him up, but it didn’t — he started wanting to read it. “I don’t talk about my work,” I said firmly, and left the kitchen with my bagel.

“Wait!” he shouted after me. “I’m not done with you yet!” I didn’t look back. A few minutes later, after I’d settled myself in my room — lying across my mattress on my stomach, reading a book — he showed up.

Unmoving, I rested my chin on my hands and looked up at him. He crossed his arms. “Send it to me,” he said. “You know you’re going to need feedback and criticism and stuff.”

“I’ll think about it,” I said.

A few weeks later, I finished the piece. Then I sat and stared at my computer screen for a while. Had there been any goal besides catharsis? What was I going to do with the damn thing? I couldn’t figure it out, so I sent it to the filmmaker.

He was a remarkable man. Is, I should say. He was the first reader of my coming-out story, and he sent me pages upon pages of the most brilliant critical feedback I’ve ever received. I was stunned when I read his emails — had I really been living with this guy for months? How had I failed to notice him? I think he, upon reading the piece, had a similar intense reaction; and his reaction helped convince me it was good. Maybe it was inevitable that we’d fall terribly in love. Or at least that I would fall for him. I owe him a lot; our relationship was confusing and dramatic and the breakup was awful, but when we were done, I found that he’d really helped release me from my remaining BDSM-stigmatizing patterns. That was when I established myself in the wider Chicago BDSM scene (though I’d obviously been practicing BDSM for some time, I’d only made brief forays into various communities before, usually in foreign cities), and began to volunteer at the Leather Archives. And soon after that I started the Sex+++ film series, and this blog.

After my experience with the filmmaker, I became nearly promiscuous with my coming-out story. I sent it to a lot of new partners so they’d have an idea where I was coming from, and I also showed it to number of friends for feedback. I considered publishing it in a feminist anthology. My comfort with sharing it skyrocketed. Indeed, as I finally started to seriously research the subject of SM, I discovered that pieces like mine are practically old hat — even “Ms. Magazine” will apparently publish “I freaked out about being a submissive feminist, but now it’s okay!” pieces.

So at this point, it’s nearly an anticlimax to have my coming-out story in public. No bated breath, no terror about what it means. Thank God.

* * *

I’m just coming home from a visit to Chicago, and towards the end of my visit I hung out with Richard. To me our relationship feels fragile and fraught, just as it always has, but maybe it is stronger than it was. He’s definitely a friend — a good one — and we’ve even continued to do BDSM together on a very occasional basis. He has joked that I call him whenever I break up with my boyfriends, which is kind of true.

He’s so smart, and he’s very interesting to talk to, and I am still attracted, but even though I’ve adjusted to my BDSM identity — even though I’m no longer so angry, or in denial, about my attraction to him — it can be hard to be around Richard. I sometimes feel as though we are still constantly renegotiating our relationship, even now. I remain afraid of emotionally attaching to him, although these days we can sit around and talk very openly for hours; although we’ve had a few, a very few, BDSM encounters in recent years that felt like there was no distance between us at all.

I sent Richard himself my coming-out story only about a year ago. It took some nerve, but not a lot — it had been such a long time since those events, and by then I’d already shown it to a number of people. At the time, he responded with a rather brief message, saying that it was interesting to get my perspective and that his own sense of that time had been very different. When we talked a few days ago, though, “Time Out” had just published and I got a better sense of Richard’s feelings. I guess the piece is a bit difficult for him — understandably; it’s not easy to see yourself at the center of someone else’s panicked and agonized identity crisis, especially when (he says) it wasn’t clear to him how I felt at the time.

I’ve often thought that of everything I’ve written in my life, this is probably the most unflattering to someone who’s important to me. I tried to be fair to Richard when I wrote it, and in fact — as I’ve aged and my perspective has evolved — it’s undergone a number of edits to make it fairer. But my coming-out story is about me and my panicked agonized identity crisis. It’s true that I don’t want to objectify him, but to some extent, that piece has to be about the way I experienced him. Not about him.

I’ve asked Richard to write something about how he felt when he read it, and maybe about our experiences together as well; I’d like to give my readership his perspective. He said he’d think about it. I really hope he takes me up on it.

* * *

Publishing this piece with “Time Out” is a personal triumph. It’s online, which means it’s widely available and I can link people to it whenever I want. It’s in a mainstream publication, which means that it might educate or assist people who’d be unlikely to encounter it in a feminist anthology or sex-positive site or whatever. It also marks the beginning of what I hope will be a long and fruitful relationship with “Time Out”: we are negotiating the terms of a contract by which they intend to hire me as a freelance blogger. Basically this means that I’ll be writing the same stuff, but more frequently and probably in a more luser user-friendly way (like, I’ll probably start using pictures more and attempt to shorten my posts, though that’s hard for me). Not sure when that transition will happen — probably a month or two.

I’ve always got a backlog of ideas to post, and I’m reminded of some of them by my coming-out story. I’ve been meaning to write a piece about stigma: where did I absorb BDSM stigma? How does our culture express it? Why did I freak out so much about my desires when I live in a world where even “Cosmopolitan” winks about whip usage? I’ve also been meaning to write a piece about angles: I think our sexual desires are often, largely, defined not by the acts themselves, but the angles by which they come at us. What was the difference in slant between the man who tried to do light BDSM with me in 2003, and Richard? Was it Richard’s forcefulness, his greater grasp on dominant dynamics? How have my BDSM desires evolved since then? And what are the implications of these things?

But I’ve got a lot of catching up to do now that I’m back in Africa, too. It was a 40-hour journey. I am somewhat overwhelmed and jetlagged, and very hot. My trip to the USA was incredible — yet very hard, because it reminded me of all the things I miss (not many BDSM clubs in southern Africa). I have to settle in, get back into the swing of things here, and remind myself that I can survive without BDSM. We’ll see how that goes.

2010 7 Feb

Chicago-area pro-BDSM, sex-positive events this week!

Now that I have successfully ambushed my good friends in their home, I can break my semi-secrecy and announce that I am home in Chicago! This week only! (My favorite part was when I dashed into a close friend’s room, threw my arms around him from behind and was already squeaking with joy by the time he realized it was me and shouted “Holy shit holy shit!”)

Because I am me, I have arranged a host of sex-positive, pro-BDSM events for your pleasure even though I am only here for a week. Note that all these events are free and open to the public (though one comes with a suggested donation)! Check it out:

* * *

SEX+++ DOCUMENTARY FILM SERIES: “SLUT” (2004)
Tuesday, February 9, 7 PM — NOTE: THIS EVENT WAS RESCHEDULED TO 2/16 DUE TO SNOW. CLARISSE WILL NOT BE PRESENT AT THE 2/16 SHOWING.
Jane Addams Hull-House Museum, 800 S Halsted

Every town has one. She was notorious in your high school. The girls harassed her; the guys had her. Or did they? Who is the slut? Can one be both virgin and whore? What does the word actually mean and why is it often shrouded with invention and intrigue? And should “slut” be added to the ban on “7 dirty words” from radio and television broadcast? Come out and join us at the ongoing Sex+++ Film Series for delicious documentary and discussion, and also some fascinating snacks! Chicago’s own sex-positive activist Clarisse Thorn, the original Sex+++ curator, is visiting from her work in Africa and will facilitate the post-film discussion.

* * *

QUICK BDSM OVERVIEW
Wednesday, February 10, 3.20-4.20 PM
Northwestern University, Ryan Auditorium, Tech Building (near corner of Noyes & Sheridan)

Imagery deriving from bondage, discipline, dominance, submission, and sadomasochism (BDSM) is becoming commonplace — and we all know (or think we know) what a dominatrix is — but most people don’t have much idea of what BDSM actually involves.  Although it is increasingly accepted as an alternative sexual orientation, BDSM remains surrounded by stigma, scandal and occasional legal action.  In this presentation, pro-BDSM activist Clarisse Thorn will describe the basics of BDSM (however, it’s not a how-to lecture — you aren’t going to learn how to use a whip, though you’ll learn where to go if you want to find out!).  She’ll also poll the audience to see what else they want to cover — BDSM history? cultural landmarks? BDSM & feminism? legal issues? we’ll have to see!  This event is generously hosted by the Northwestern University Department of Psychology.

* * *

SEX-POSITIVITY FOR ALL! INCLUDING THE MENS!
Thursday, February 11, 7-9 PM
University of Chicago, 5710 S Woodlawn Meeting Room

What is masculinity or male advocacy as a movement, and how is it in dialogue with contemporary feminism? Can it be incorporated into feminism, or can the values of the sex-positive feminist community speak to its concerns? What does positive, productive talk about masculinity sound like? Feminist, pro-BDSM activist Clarisse Thorn — currently on vacation from working in Africa — will discuss the above questions in a short lecturette and then facilitate small discussions on kinky male sexuality, men in the pickup artist community, and men who buy sex. This event is generously hosted by University of Chicago student group The Feminist Majority.

* * *

LEATHER ARCHIVES & MUSEUM PRESENTS “GRAPHIC SEXUAL HORROR” (2008)
Friday, February 12, 7.30 PM
LA&M, 6418 N Greenview Ave

Graphic Sexual Horror” takes a peek behind the facade of Insex.com, a notorious bondage website, exploring the mind of its artistic creator and asking hard questions about personal responsibility. Original Insex footage, behind-the-scenes interactions, and interviews with website creator PD, models, members, and staff reveal deep fascinations with bondage and sadomasochism that run parallel, and in fact become irreversibly entwined with the lure of money. InSex was shut down by federal prosecutors, but its story asks questions that are still relevant. Can paying a BDSM partner distort his or her consent? Why were prosecutors so easily able to force a legal business to fold? Director Barbara Bell is coming to town for the post-film discussion, which will be moderated by pro-BDSM activist Clarisse Thorn. This event is a fundraiser for the Leather Archives & Museum, and we are requesting a $5-10 donation from attendees. Special thanks to our sponsors: Sex+++ Film Series at Jane Addams Hull-House Museum; and ShibariCon, Chicago’s own rope bondage convention, coming up in May!

* * *

And just in case you were directed to this page by a friend or something and have no idea who I am, here’s my adorable small bio:

Clarisse Thorn is a feminist, sex-positive educator who has delivered workshops on both sexual communication and BDSM to a variety of audiences, including New York’s Museum of Sex, San Francisco’s Center for Sex and Culture, and several Chicago universities. She created and curated the original Sex+++ sex-positive documentary film series at Chicago’s Jane Addams Hull-House Museum; she has also volunteered as an archivist, curator and fundraiser for that venerable BDSM institution, the Leather Archives & Museum. Currently, Clarisse is working on HIV mitigation in southern Africa. She blogs at clarissethorn.wordpress.com and Twitters @clarissethorn.

2009 30 Dec

Sex-positive women aren’t out to steal your man

Note: This post is a bit feminist-theoretical.

Radical feminists* attack BDSM (and many other marginalized sexual identities) on a variety of ideological grounds — usually claiming that it’s Patriarchy Stockholm Syndrome (an assertion that is not only unproveable but is also usually stated in really hurtful terms, thereby serving mainly to drive kinky people away from feminism or guilt-trip kinky people into suppressing their desires). But another tactic many radical feminists use against us is slut-shaming, including resentful declarations that sex-positive feminists are getting all the sexual attention. (They often patronizingly call us “fun feminists”, as if we wouldn’t hold our opinions if we weren’t trying to be fun! fun! fun! As if our opinions can’t be serious, and/or aren’t worth taking seriously.)

If I make the mistake of announcing that I’m into S&M in an unfamiliar vanilla group, then yeah — it’s true — I do get hit on more. Because the stigma around BDSM is particularly sexualized. But that kind of attention isn’t actually what I want, and it frequently takes really unpleasant forms. For instance, before I left Chicago I went on one of my friend Ken’s Chicago Sex Tours. Because it was a sex-related event, I introduced myself to the tour group as Clarisse the S&M activist. Immediately, people had questions, which is fine and great — that’s part of why I’m an activist: to answer those questions. But they also had assumptions — most obviously the man who grabbed my ass while I was ahead of him in a stairwell. Obviously, that dude’s tiny mind was thinking what most similar dudes (and many radical feminists — but I’ll get to this in a minute) think: “Woohoo! A girl who’s into S&M! She must have no boundaries at all! Clearly I can grab her ass with impunity!”

I didn’t want to make a huge scene at Ken’s event, so I just twisted away and told the guy in a freezing tone: “If you do that again without my consent, I’ll kick your ass.” And avoided him for the rest of the tour. (God, what a complete assmonkey. I get angry all over again just thinking about it. I’d like to believe that he realized he was being an ass and won’t do something similar again, but I’ve encountered too many asshole men like him to be sure that he internalized the point. In fact, I bet that if I had decided to make a scene and confront him directly, he would have been all injured innocence. “But you’ve been talking about crazy sexual acts all night! What do you mean I wasn’t supposed to grab your ass? You can’t blame a guy for being a little confused! She was wearing a short skirt, Judge!” Argh. But I’m getting distracted. Let me return to the main point.)

(edit Really, maybe I should have made a scene. To his credit, Ken read this post and Direct Messaged me on Twitter to say, “I am so sorry that happened on my tour! Had I known I would have kicked his ass. I had no idea.” At the time, I just didn’t want to disrupt the space because I was enjoying the event, etc. Who knows? Even in hindsight it’s hard to say. But again, back to the main point. end of edit)

Which is: so how was that dude similar to some radical feminists? Because there are radical feminists out there who describe sex-positive women as “freely sexually available” — usually in tones of rage, resentment and disgust. Yes, they use that phrase. They’re so angry at us for daring to indulge our badwrong sexuality that they fall into the exact same patriarchal trap that Tour Dude did. It doesn’t seem to occur to them that sex-positive women have boundaries and preferences, too. Radical feminists of this stripe are (as Renegade Evolution deconstructs in the aforementioned link) actually part of the problem, because they reinforce the awful dialectic around sexuality that they claim to oppose. They are basically stating that any woman who dares to freely express her sexuality thereby sacrifices her right to sexual boundaries. They are declaring us infinitely rapeable — throwing out our rights to bodily integrity just as Tour Dude did.

Why must they do this? Why?!

When I think back to my pre-BDSM days — the days when my opinions were considerably more stereotypical-radical-feminist than they are now — and when I look around the Internet, here’s one of the reasons I find: such feminists actually believe that we don’t have any boundaries, which — combined with some really awful social conceptions of men — makes them feel threatened. The ladies who call kinky women “freely sexually available” are freaking out partly because they feel like we’re setting up some kind of crazy “standard” for how to behave that they can’t match. One example collected from the Internet: these comments about how sex-positive women are stealing men from more virtuous ladies. But a better example comes from my own life:

I clearly remember the sexual anxiety from my undergraduate days. For one thing, I had no real idea of what my sexual needs were; I knew they weren’t being met, but I tried not to think about it because I didn’t even know where to start, so thinking about how I wasn’t getting what I wanted just made me feel awkward and confused, like I’d failed as a liberated woman, plus I thought my boyfriends would resent me if I said something like “I’m not satisfied and I need to explore more, though I have no idea what direction to go in — will you help me?”,** and anyway I figured that the sex I was having was good enough. I mean, at least I was having sex, right? At least I had a boyfriend, right? And since I’d been deemed Worthy Of Having Sex And A Boyfriend, my first responsibility was to Please My Man, right? I clearly remember feeling sick and hurt whenever I watched porn because I knew it wasn’t what I wanted, and yet I couldn’t believe that my boyfriends — who I knew were watching porn, and were all watching the same porn, because everyone knows all men watch the same porn, right? — I couldn’t believe that my boyfriends were happily “settling” for me, if those images were what they chose to get off to when they were alone. I couldn’t believe that I would still be desirable to a man who was used to porn. I couldn’t believe that a man wouldn’t secretly be let down by me in bed, because I couldn’t “match up” to women in porn. And I therefore felt like there was a cage of social pressure closing around me, stifling me: telling me that I had to “perform” like women in the porn I saw, whether I liked it or not; telling me that the only way to be good in bed was to act the way porn women did, even if it didn’t feel like that behavior was right for me at all.

It was awful. It hurt. A lot. I still remember all that mixed-up anxiety and pain with a shudder.

What cured me was (a) realizing that there are many different kinds of porn out there and that different people have very different tastes; (b) properly exploring my sexual needs — especially my repressed BDSM identity — and learning exactly what it means to have sexual fantasies that hold no bearing on how I feel about my partners. But I still remember feeling sick, watching those porn actresses enact a script that didn’t feel right for me. And I can imagine a very short jump from how I felt then to how a woman might feel, if she thought that “all men want the same thing” and her own sexual preferences didn’t fit that script — how such a woman might feel if she were confronted with women who professed to like those things, and even to like all kinds of crazier more perverted things …. Indeed, women who want “super-perverse” things would probably make such a woman feel like we’re setting an “even worse standard” than porn, because everyone knows that all men (those slobby hungry beasts) will always desire the most perverse possible thing, right? For such a woman, surely other women who enjoy the acts she doesn’t want to do would seem like a pressure-cage; the same way porn felt like a pressure-cage for me, once upon a time.

(I’m not saying all radical feminists feel this way. I’m just saying, I suspect that some feminists who attack sex-positivity are just trying to break out of those awful societal pressure-cages in their own way. And I sympathize. But that doesn’t make it okay to tell me I ought not realize my own sexuality in the way I want, the way I need to realize it.)

And this has brought me to the other big problem. Another thing disappeared by these awful ideas — women being “freely sexually available”; sex-positive women “stealing men”; men all preferring a certain stereotypical idea of porn — what’s disappeared here is the fact that men have different sexual desires. In other words, these attitudes can only persist as long as one has a really narrow view of men in general. Yes! A man who desires you, my lady, may very well not desire porn sex — or may very well not desire me, the crazy kinky girl! It’s true! People are sexually different! Even men are sexually different! Who would ever have thought?

As a matter of fact, my BDSM identity makes it considerably harder for me to find partners. Really! Yeah, it means that folks hit on me more, but that’s only because they’re operating on a stereotype that doesn’t truly come close to describing me. In reality, most men — like most women — are basically vanilla; and even if they’re into S&M, they’re into very mild S&M. I dated one man for two years who was initially attracted to me partly because I was just discovering BDSM, and he wanted to explore it with me … but ultimately, one of the sorest spots that developed in our relationship was that I needed experiences way more hardcore than he wanted to give. (This experience made me decide to never, ever again date a vanilla-but-questioning guy, because they don’t know what they want and they’ll only break my heart. I am not very good at following this dictum.)

To wind up this post, I’ll share one more example: a former friend of mine who I’ll call Bert. Bert was hitting on me aggressively after he found out about the BDSM thing; he was making all kinds of S&M-ish innuendoes. At the time I was lonely and confused and I’d just had a nasty breakup, so I thought, okay, why not? I told him to write me a letter describing what he wanted to do. Here’s what he wrote:

so i was thinking silk ties or scarves to bind the the other one’s hands and 10 minute intervals of hedonistic pleasure taking turns pushing, pulling and releasing each other’s buttons, knobs, valves, etc…? i.e. fingers do the walking, thar she blows, abc, cum here, hummmmmmmmmmmmmmmm, omg.

This letter had the effect of making me smile ruefully and shake my head. Why? Because it is not even close to what I’m into. Restraints don’t usually even enter my fantasies at all, but when they do, they ain’t flimsy little silk scarves — they’re being used to actually hold someone (often, me) down. Someone who’s screaming in agony. Someone who’s begging for mercy.

I wrote back:

Oh, dear.  I was imagining something significantly more painful.

… and Bert never hit on me again. Heaven only knows what would have happened if I’d explicitly told him what I’m into. He’d probably hide in the corner every time I entered the room.

* This is not to say that there aren’t lots of radical feminists who are careful, tolerant, open-hearted people and whom I really admire. Honestly, I have a lot of radical feminism in my own outlook.

** Indeed, when I finally got up the courage to say this to a partner in my late teens, he told me that he didn’t feel that assisting me with sexual exploration was his job and he was perfectly satisfied with the way things were, thank you very much. Ladies and gentlemen: the portrait of sexual entitlement. Not that I’m bitter or anything.

2009 9 Dec

Manliness and Feminism: the followup

In late October I posted a three-part series under the title “Questions I’d Like To Ask Entitled Cis Het Men” (Part 1: Who Cares?; Part 2: Men’s Rights; Part 3: Space For Men). These posts kicked up more of a furor than I anticipated, with a bunch of cross-postings and responses on other blogs.* It all gave me a huge number of new perspectives to synthesize, which is part of why it took me so long to post this followup … but here I am!

I really want this followup to be readable to people who didn’t bother with the initial three posts, so please let me know if I fail!

* * *

Introducing myself, and One Correction

Please allow me to introduce myself. I think those posts probably make more sense (as will large swaths of this one) if you know who I am, and they got linked around to so many non-regular readers that most of the audience now doesn’t.

I go by Clarisse. It is not my real name, because I am a sex-positive and, in particular, pro-BDSM** activist, and being all-the-way-out-of-the-closet about kink can have serious, long-term repercussions for someone’s life (the most pressing for me, right now, being employability: my immediate superiors here in Africa know about my BDSM identity, but the larger rather conservative organization sure as hell doesn’t). Identifying as feminist and pro-BDSM can be really fraught territory — many avowed feminists regard BDSM with suspicion and some, on the more extreme end, with outright hatred. (Famous German feminist Alice Schwarzer once said, “Female masochism is collaboration.” Many feminist spaces have a long tradition of excluding or marginalizing BDSM, like the Michigan Womyn’s Festival, which incidentally has a similar history with trans people. Nine Deuce, a popular radical feminist blogger, has been known to assert that sadists are morally obligated to either repress their sadistic desires or kill themselves. For example.) In her post “Healing My Broken Feminist Heart”, Audacia Ray talks about how much it hurts to identify as a feminist and yet be told, often, that the way you realize your personal sexuality is unfeminist; I’ve been meaning to write a response to that post for ages, because boy do I know how that feels. (I swear, I have the biggest crush on Audacia Ray. I want to be her when I grow up.)

I am Chicago-based in that I lived there for years before I moved here to Africa in order to work in HIV/AIDS mitigation, and I suspect I’ll move back there when my contract ends. In Chicago, I lectured on BDSM and sexual communication, and I created and curated a fabulous sex-positive film series and discussion group that it broke my heart to leave. (The film series was so successful that a group of loyalists gathered, formed a committee, and have continued it without me! Yes!)

My feminist history isn’t very “official”, though I was raised by two very feminist people. For instance, I haven’t read most of the classic feminist authors. My degree is in Philosophy, Religious Studies and Studio Art, not anything gender-related — and when I was in college I remember that I often viewed hard-line feminist assertions with suspicion. I would irritably characterize them as “conspiracy theories”: these people seemed to think there was some secret society of evil men sitting around and plotting to ruin their lives, which clearly was not the case! Ah, youth … :grin: The problem is, of course, exacerbated by the fact that definitions of feminism have become so varied and so many different issues have been attached to feminism by different people.***

In other words, almost my entire gender/sex background is idiosyncratic and self-trained. I certainly can’t hope to match the massive theoretical background that many Internet gender commentators have. And I am very familiar with having my experience discounted and dismissed in a feminist context (“Sorry, BDSM is abuse. Period. If you enjoy BDSM, you’re mentally ill or you have Patriarchy Stockholm Syndrome”). These are some of the reasons I tried to spend my entire Entitled Cis Het Men post series asking questions, rather than making assertions.

The posts weren’t intended to be prescriptive — I don’t have much of an agenda beyond “create more conversations around sex and gender”. There is of course my agenda (shared by almost every human alive) of “convincing people to agree with me” and “getting people to join my cool club or at least admire it from afar”, but I don’t personally have any pressing Grand Policy Goals. One commenter who went by Sailorman over at Alas said, on the third post: I read this thread with interest, but it is of course basically a very extended and well written TPHMT argument? I don’t know what the acronym means, but I’m honestly sort of annoyed by any attempt to boil those three posts down to a single argument, because I tried so hard to make it clear that a single argument was not my intent, with that series. I really am just interested in exploring various and often very discrete masculinity-related questions. No, really, I am. No, really, I am.

(more…)