Posts Tagged ‘storytime’

2013 8 May

How My Self-Published Book About Pickup Artists Made Me Famous In Germany

On April 27th, I returned from a week-long trip to Berlin, and I’m still kinda shell-shocked. Over that week, I spent hours every day being interviewed by all sorts of people: Europe’s biggest newspaper, for example. The German edition of Andy Warhol’s magazine, Interview. Four different German television stations. (Seriously. Four.)

This is all because my first self-published book, Confessions of a Pickup Artist Chaser, has been acquired by a “real” German publisher. The German translation of Confessions will soon be available in many German-language stores.

Perhaps oddly, this is my first deal with a traditional publisher. I started out as an obscure subculture blogger/activist, and then people started calling me an expert, and then I started selling articles and getting speaking engagements, but all my books have been 100% self-published and self-promoted until now. I used the constellation of platforms that we now call “social media” to aggressively promote my ideas, but I certainly did not expect my self-published book to captivate Germany. I don’t even speak German!

I am handling such complicated feelings. It is taking me forever to write this. But my first TV interview just aired — the channel is Taff on Pro7, and the German translation of my words has occasioned much discussion on my Facebook wall. Unfortunately the interview cannot be viewed from the USA, but there was also a recent article in a well-respected German newspaper, Zeit. (I hear that Zeit is analogous to the Sunday Times.)

There’s been other coverage too, plus a lot more on the way. So I guess now is the time to put this out into the world.

* * *

Where to begin?

The translation deal began with a piece of fan mail last year, early 2012. The message came from Jennifer Kroll, who bought Confessions on Amazon after the book hit #1 in two categories. She found me on Facebook and wrote: “I don’t think I have ever recommended a book that frequently to anyone before, and I work in publishing.”

We talked, and then we talked more. She flew me to Berlin, and then she flew me to Berlin again.

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2013 22 Apr

Meet me in Berlin

I don’t know why I haven’t written this post before now. I’ve been busy, of course. But I think it’s actually because this all feels unreal. Also, I was trying to update my site design before I got to Berlin, and there were technical difficulties — but it’s done now! I apologize in advance for hiccups while the site transitions.

But I’m getting ahead of myself, aren’t I? Plus, my new site is beside the point. The point is: I’m in Berlin. If you’re in Berlin, then you should totally meet me at the Liberate, 7pm Wednesday evening (April 24th). And the news gets bigger: I have a translation deal with a real German publisher, and I’m in Berlin on a real promotional tour.

Yes indeed — my little self-published book has been picked up by a real German publisher, and my publisher has flown me to Berlin! Check out the German-language cover for Confessions of a Pickup Artist Chaser:

I laugh with excitement whenever I look at that cover. It is soooo European and amazing! The title is not a direct translation of Confessions of a Pickup Artist Chaser — it translates instead as Evil Guys?: Out And About With Pickup Artists. A Close Encounter / Experiment.

I’ve only been here in Berlin for a couple days so far, but I have already interviewed at BILD — Europe’s largest newspaper — and I guess that article is going live soon. There’s another interview with me in the April 15th issue of NEON Magazine — I don’t know what the interview actually says because they translated it into German, but my publisher told me it came out great. I’ve also interviewed at FluxFM, an alternative radio station — the sound clip starts with the host introducing me in German, but the interview is in English because I don’t speak German. I have a ton of other interviews this week, including TV appearances. I am both terrified and thrilled.

I’m sharing my terror and thrills on Twitter, as always. If you’re in Berlin, then again, please come meet me at 7pm on Wednesday the 24th. And I’ll write more when I’m less jetlagged. I have a lot to share. I can’t believe I didn’t write about this sooner. It’s just that I was so busy at home, and then I’ve been so busy in Berlin. And this didn’t feel real until now.

2012 25 Nov

[storytime] Cat Marnell & “Fifty Shades”: Why I Can Be A Kinky Feminist and a Messy Human Being

This was originally published at The Frisky.

* * *

A few years ago ….

Today, in 2012, I avoid him as much as I can. But my friend (?) Richard used to joke (?) that I only called him when I broke up with my boyfriends. Kinda true, kinda false. Regardless — a few years ago — I don’t even call him this time, I just end up at his apartment for some small party.

He scents the pain in me, and suddenly we’re in a back room, alone. One of the reasons he’s so good at this is that he smells vulnerability like a shark smells blood. I don’t remember whether I ask him to hurt me, or he just grabs me. “Something’s close to the surface,” I tell him, while he leaves bite-shaped bruises on my upper arm. He knows me; he doesn’t leave bruises in places I can’t cover with a t-shirt.

“What is it?” he asks, and I choke on it. I’m already starting to cry. We’ve only been doing this for a moment.

“Red,” I say. The safeword. I’m sobbing. “Red.” Richard stops immediately. “Tears,” I say. “Tears were close to the surface.”

We’re on the floor now. I’m curled up in his lap. I tell Richard that the guy I broke up with last year — the worst breakup in my life — I tell Richard that this other guy met me two nights ago, specifically to tell me that he never cared about me. Almost a year after the breakup, my ex decided to inform me that he lied every time he said “I love you.” He could not have chosen a better way to re-break my heart. Why did he have to do that? Maybe he was doing it defensively, to mess with me … and the thought that he would go to the trouble leads me towards perverse, momentary relief. Then it starts hurting again.

“There are other fish in the sea,” says Richard.

“Thanks,” I say. I’m too devastated to say it with the sarcasm I intend. Yet I’m grateful for the attempt.

Richard’s quiet for a moment. Then he says, “I really enjoy doing S&M with you. Your reactions are so familiar.”

“Even when I break so quickly? Even when I safeword in less than a minute?” I ask. I’m feeling the masochist’s insecurity: I thought I could hold out. I’m so pathetic.

“Even then,” Richard says gently.

It’s these moments that make me think it might be safe to trust him, but the moment never lasts. For years I’m relieved that I never made the mistake of actually dating him, that I don’t rely on him for anything. Every time he stomps on some girl’s heart I shrug and say, “That’s how he is,” with a secret and shameful tinge of pride. And then one day I will realize that I do expect his support, when I’m almost killed in an accident and he outright ignores me. I will feel betrayed and simultaneously blame myself. I’ll decide that we are just fucking done.

But on this night, that hasn’t happened yet, and I’m surprised by how close I feel to Richard. I wipe the tears from my cheeks, then go to the bathroom and wash my face. Pull myself together so I can return to the party. My eyes meet my reflection’s; I’m not sure what I see.

I think I feel better than I did before Richard broke me down, but I don’t have time for genuine emotional processing right now. My chest feels heavy. Did he do me a favor?

* * *

The S&M novel Fifty Shades of Grey, by E.L. James, is full of bad messages about romance and S&M. The drugs-and-beauty writer Cat Marnell had a recent and spectacular public breakdown, which has been profiled all over the media. You might think that I’m cynically exploiting Hot Google Trends by bringing the two together — and okay, maybe I am. But for me, they’re similar because they both make me jealous.

Sure, I’m jealous of Marnell’s fragile beauty and James’s million bucks. But that’s the least of it. The writer Sarah Hepola says she’s jealous of Marnell’s writing skill, but me, I’m jealous of what those two get to write. They get to write about a self-destructive edge; about putting oneself in danger.

For the last few years, I have written mostly about S&M. I write about other things, too, but I’ve focused on S&M because I know it well. Because it’s important to me. Because I believe that S&M can be life-affirming and intimacy-building and can coexist with feminism, with justice. Indeed, the available psychological research shows clearly that consensual S&M is not, in itself, harmful.

But as I’ve written about feminism and S&M, I’ve also known the rules about what I get to write. I’m not sure how I internalized these rules, but I know them like I know my face in the mirror. When I write, I’m supposed to emphasize the emotional health of my relationships — both with my lovers, and (separately) with my parents. I’m supposed to emphasize my physical health, decent diet, and exercise habits — although it’s okay to mention it if I’m injured, because that’s not my fault. I’m allowed to mention being an outcast in high school, but God forbid I talk too much about the emotional impact. I must stress excellent communication with my partners. I always, always have to mention safewords.

I am a politician. The arenas for debate are both my mind and my body. The personal is political, indeed.

I didn’t know I was waiting for it until it came, in Cat Marnell’s most recent column: doing S&M and then blaming it on drugs and self-destruction. She writes:

This is amphetamine logic: I am eroticized by pain. And that’s a lie. How turned on could I have actually been?

Marnell describes being hit in the jaw until she saw stars (and by the way, folks, there are safe ways to slap people and then there are unsafe ones; if a person is seeing stars, that’s a bad sign). In Fifty Shades, it’s a similar dangerous narrative: the dominant guy is scarily stalkerish, the relationship is packed with bad communication.

Fifty Shades was written to let people enjoy the hotness without taking responsibility for emotional safety. Without asking the dangerous question of whether S&M might be part of a loving relationship.

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2012 13 Nov

[review] Burning Man 2012

This is a slightly longer version of a piece that was originally published at The Point, a Chicago-based print journal on contemporary life and culture. It will also be printed in Issue 6, and here’s the Issue 6 Annotated Table Of Contents.

* * *

BurningManWhen I wake up at the hotel in Reno, my memories are a messy pastiche. I reach for an image to encapsulate my review of Burning Man, but everything I grasp feels like a flat cliché. Dancing beside a fluorescent art deco bus and a fire-belching metal octopus. Bonding with a new friend by solving a maze’s secret doors. Randomly encountering a fake film crew composed entirely of trenchcoated noir buffs, who welcome me into their game. Accepting, with gratitude, the recitation of a poem about self-awareness and another about kissing. Walking to the edge of a desert dance floor to stretch and greet the dawn with an exhausted grin.

Each of these are all of it, and yet the smallest piece. So I’ll start at the beginning.

* * *

I am in a garage with a neuroscientist, a sales executive, a teacher, a bike co-op manager, and some dude whose deal I don’t know. Me, I’m a feminist sex writer specializing in S&M and moonlighting as a new media consultant. We’re loading a truck with toolboxes, barrels, bicycles, and more. This camp’s theme is watermelons; the garage is strewn with watermelon umbrellas, and we pack in a bike rack painted to look like a giant watermelon slice. Unknown Deal Dude doesn’t recognize it for a full minute. “Ohhh! It’s supposed to look like a watermelon!”

“Maybe that’s a sign that the theme has become too abstract,” I say to Bike Co-op Manager.

“Maybe it’s a sign that it’s become abstract enough,” he says serenely.

I wander into the back and pick up a plastic bag full of sequined watermelon pins. “Where did these come from?” I ask the teacher. She shrugs. In the corner, someone is wrapping a cooler packed with dry ice in a Mylar space blanket. The plan, apparently, is to transport an ice cream cake to the desert. Apparently, there will also be many watermelons.

The executive is “working from home” during the 40-hour drive, using a batch of car chargers and a cellular uplink. As he clicks away on his laptop, we discuss the philosophy of social networking sites; the neuroscientist’s latest research on rat brains, and her anxieties about handling her undergraduate mentees; the people in our lives who we wish we hadn’t lost touch with; the ethics of eating human meat; plus the spiritual usage of psychedelic drugs.

I learn a new phrase: “thinky thoughts.” The co-op manager tells me that it describes “thoughts one has on acid that seem really deep, and are.”

A few hours in, we pull up at the “World’s Biggest Truck Stop.” (Their words, not mine.) I wander through the place with Unknown Deal Dude. We are floored and astonished by this culture clash. I am so floored that I text my best girlfriend.

Me: Sold here: wolf and horse t-shirts; confederate flags, “don’t tread on me” snake flags, “mess with the best die like the rest” US marine flags; John Wayne DVDs; auto tags for “redneck girl”; infinite self help books

Her: I’VE BEEN THERE OMG

Me: Is there any vegan food?

Her: Haha.

Me: Fritos it is!

Me: Dude, on the way out I noticed the door says “support independent truckstops.”

I emerge, slightly shell-shocked. “That place is confusing,” I say to Bike Co-op Manager.

He grins. “Confusion is an important state of mind.”

* * *

Burning Man began in 1986 when the founder Larry Harvey decided, on a whim, to Burn a wooden Man on a San Francisco beach. Five years later, Harvey had acquired some dedicated co-conspirators and the event had morphed into a bigger, artier free-for-all in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert. Twenty years after that, it’s an internationally-famous camping-out festival that drew over 50,000 attendees in 2012.

I first heard about it as an Internet junkie in the 90s; one of my online friends enthused about the explosions and gun usage, another about the drugs. Apparently, when the Burner population got too large and a basic “no gun” rule was instituted, some folks felt this was an unacceptable infringement of their freedoms that made it not worth going anymore. But plenty continued to attend, and the sheer size of the crowd led to further mild regulations and infrastructure. This included the development of a circular layout with street signs, a medical station, a Department of Mutant Vehicles, a post office, radio stations, an airport, etc. The year 2000 marked the creation of the Temple, which became one of the most important structures: a space to meditate, reflect, and mourn loss. The temporary city of Burning Man — which is only fully-realized for a single week per year — is called Black Rock City.

In 2004, Larry Harvey tried to pin down Burner culture by laying out “ten principles.” These are:

Radical Inclusion: Anyone is invited and welcome.

Gifting and Decommodification: The event is devoted to “unconditional gift-giving.” Thou shalt not engage in commercial transactions, sponsorships, advertising, or barter.

Radical Self-Reliance: “Burning Man encourages the individual to discover, exercise and rely on his or her inner resources.”

Radical Self-Expression: Do as thou wilt, but don’t hurt anyone.

Communal Effort and Civic Responsibility: Collaborate, cooperate, and take care of each other. Oh, and don’t break the law.

Leave No Trace: Don’t hurt the earth, and especially not the federally-protected environment of the Black Rock Desert.

Participation: “We make the world real through actions that open the heart.”

Immediacy: “No idea can substitute for this experience.”

There are critiques to be launched. So many critiques. Perhaps those of you who share my Advanced Degree In Social Justice Snippiness, claws honed by hundreds of Internet catfights, spotted critiques in my first few paragraphs. For example, while Burners may Leave No Trace upon the surface of the desert, an awful lot of fossil fuels are burned to get there. Scarce resources are used when — say — transporting an ice cream cake in a dry ice freezer. And my spidey sense for “Third World exploitation” was tweaked by those cheap, beautiful, mass-produced sequined watermelon pins.

Plus, the Burning Man organization charges for tickets, which arguably puts a cramp in Radical Inclusion. To be fair, the event has enormous costs to cover, like a $750,000 land usage permit. There are also “low-income” tickets available for a mere $160 apiece (most 2012 tickets ranged from $240-$420), but the bigger individual costs are equipping oneself and getting there. You can already see certain demographics represented in the crew I drove out with — and in our reaction to the World’s Biggest Truck Stop. All my campmates had degrees from prestigious universities, and included a doctor and a Google engineer. Also: I can count the number of people of color I met on one hand.

According to 2010 statistics from the Burning Man census, 20 percent of Black Rock City makes over $100,000 per year (compared to 6 percent of the USA’s general population). A bit over 30 percent of the city makes under $30,000 (compared to a bit over 50 percent of the general population). As a writer, I myself wouldn’t have gone if my journey weren’t heavily subsidized and I hadn’t been given a free ticket by generous, well-heeled friends. And let’s face it: I may not be at my friends’ earning level, but I’m still in their social class. Offering me that access isn’t nearly as Radically Inclusive as offering it to Joe the Plumber would be. But here we have the perennial problem of class segregation: none of us know Joe the Plumber.

Burning Man came from San Francisco, and to San Francisco doth most attendees return. 1986-2012 has seen San Francisco shift from hippie beach town and radical sexuality haven to Silicon Valley boom times. If a bomb hit Black Rock City, then the Valley would need a new crop of CEOs. My understanding is that even the art of Burning Man reflects this evolution. The hippie and radical sex elements remain, but attendees who have watched for ten years say it’s shinier now, costlier, with an “engineered” feel to it.

A worthy comparison might be the super-hippie Rainbow Gathering, which stemmed from a late-60s San Francisco group and first came together in 1972. The Gathering moves from forest to forest each year, is free to attend, does not have a single leader at the helm, and is considerably more working-class than Burning Man. There’s less art at the Gathering and more environmental issues; the Burning Man organization purchases a permit that helps the government deal with its impact on federal land, something the Rainbow Gathering has apparently resisted. On the other hand, the Gathering seems to help genuinely down-and-out folks, like marginalized homeless kids.

With all that said: our Advanced Degrees In Social Justice Snippiness are important, but if I lay mine aside for a moment, I can’t help liking Burning Man. A lot of things are just plain cool, like the art. I love the whimsy of bringing an ice cream cake, even though it uses lots of resources. But most importantly, despite my considerable grumpy skepticism, the festival keeps surprising me.

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2012 11 Oct

Why I’m Not (Yet) Out Of The Closet About S&M

No one was surprised when Ricky Martin came out of the closet as gay.

Today is National Coming Out Day. I cried when I saw Milk and I think outness can be an important political act, but I’m not coming out.

Not yet.

I’ve been writing under a pseudonym for a long time.

In 2008, I decided to take all my theories about S&M — and all my confused feelings — and use them for sex-related activism. I started Sex+++, my sex-positive film series in Chicago, which was an unexpectedly huge success. I volunteered at the Leather Archives, the world’s only S&M museum. I began writing this blog. Soon I was getting speaking engagements. Then I started publishing articles in big outlets. Always under the name Clarisse Thorn.

I had several reasons for writing under another name:

1) I thought I might want to explore a career path at a conservative company. In fact, I spent the first two years of my Clarisse-Thorn-time working for bosses who would not have been okay with the fact that I’m a decently well-known S&M writer.

The social climate now is somewhat liberal — it’s mostly okay to be gay, for example, or at least it’s more okay than it has been for hundreds of years. But S&M is something else. Less than ten years ago, a prominent U.N. employee named Jack McGeorge was publicly attacked in the media because he was an S&Mer. And while you might think times have changed, a sex blogger who called herself The Beautiful Kind (real name Kendra Holliday) lost her job in 2010 when her boss found out.

BDSM — and sexuality in general — is still very stigmatized. People who write openly and personally about sex are taking huge risks with their employability.

2) I’m lucky because my parents are both very analytical, liberal thinkers; they’re deeply interested in gender politics, and they think my work is awesome. However, there are other people in my social network who would not be cool with Clarisse Thorn. For example, one of my closest friends comes from a hardcore religious family. I like her family. I’ve been to their house for Christmas. They’ve told me that they think I’m “a good influence” on their daughter, although they understand that I’m pretty liberal. But if they knew I was kinky, God knows how they’d react.

Another example: a former boss of mine is very, very conservative. In fact, he’s a Tea Party member. This boss has always been incredibly kind and generous to me; I visit him occasionally even though I don’t work for him anymore, and he’s told me that he thinks of me like a daughter. Would he “disown” me if he knew about Clarisse Thorn? I don’t know.

Some people who work in sexuality say: “Well, I wouldn’t want to work for someone who can’t accept me as I am,” or “I wouldn’t want to be close to someone who wouldn’t be okay with my sexuality.” Maybe that’s true for them. But people are complicated, and the world is a nuanced place, and I’ve drawn a lot of comfort and joy from these relationships, even if I disagree with those folks in some ways.

3) I hope to have kids at some point. In USA culture, the most efficient way to go about that is usually to get married. I don’t want a potential husband to be in a position where people will assume he’s perverted just because he’s marrying me; if he wants to be out, then that’s fine, but I don’t want outness to be a precondition. I don’t want to risk his employment along with my own. And if I’m going to meet a fiancé’s family, I’d rather they had the opportunity to get to know me as a person before they Google me and discover this. I mean, I’ve dated men whose families would have had trouble adjusting to the relationship because I was white. Imagine if they knew that I was a pervert.

And my poor potential kids! I mentioned Kendra Holliday earlier; her son has definitely caught some flak at school. I’m pretty sure the famous S&M writer Janet Hardy stayed in the closet, writing under the name Catherine Liszt, until her children were grown — I seem to recall seeing something she wrote where she described kids as “hostages to social stigma,” although I can’t find it now. (Update: Janet did stay in the closet until her kids were grown, but she doesn’t recall saying anything about hostages; see comments.)

There are other reasons for being closeted. I am, in fact, nervous about having everyone in the world know details about my sex life (even though my writing is fairly vague and emotional and political, compared to most sex writing). Personal safety worries me, too.

There is something shadowy and romantic about having a “secret identity” — and as a dedicated child of the Internet since 1996, when anonymity was the norm, I always liked playing identity games. But this is more inconvenient and stressful than romantic. I mean, earlier this year I spoke at the biggest new media conference in the world. Imagine attending a four-day social media convention while preventing yourself from being photographed or identified. It was intense.

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2012 12 Jul

You Can’t Date Half A Couple

This was originally published at the girl-power site Off Our Chests. The comments on the original are great.

I currently approach my relationships as polyamorous, meaning that I prioritize being able to have multiple lovers and discussing the relationships honestly with everyone concerned. A while back, I wrote a piece called My Top Questions About Dealing With Multiple Lovers, in which I mused about some confusing thoughts I’ve had in pursuit of polyamory. My first question was:

What are my responsibilities towards my partners’ other partners? A lot of poly people will tell you that if you get into a relationship with, say, a married polyamorous man, then you must also expect to interact with his spouse. In other words, don’t assume that your relationship means you only interact with one half of a couple. I’m totally fine with this, but on occasion I’ve felt like I was getting sucked into the couple’s problems, or like I was expected to have no individual relationship with my partner — that I always had to go through his primary partner.

Sometimes, polyamorous people put this much more succinctly: “You can’t date half a couple.” If you’re emotionally involved with one person, you’re involved with their other partners by default … even if you’re not having a sexual or romantic relationship with their other partners.

A couple years ago, I dealt with a striking situation along these lines. I was careless … but I think my partner was pretty careless, too. He and I were highly attracted to each other from the start. He had a girlfriend, but I thought they were polyamorous. So I brazenly flirted with him in front of her, and got his contact information. She seemed calm and collected as she watched it happen; I really didn’t think there was a problem.

Boy, was I wrong. I went out to dinner with that guy later in the week — I’ll call him Ken — and we scheduled an S&M date. Ken and I agreed that we wouldn’t have any genital contact, although we planned to hit each other with things and inflict some pain and make out a bit. (Lots of people who are into S&M sort of separate S&M feelings from sexual feelings, but it’s different for everyone.)

Ken and I had fun together. But there was one thing I didn’t know until after the date was over: it was the first time in their relationship that Ken had ever done a private encounter with a different partner! And he hadn’t been very thoughtful with his girlfriend about it, either.

I found out the next morning, when Ken mentioned offhandedly that he was a little worried about his girlfriend. “How come?” I asked.

“We’ve never done this before,” Ken said. “I mean, we talked about polyamory a little bit, but we hadn’t decided to do it until you came along. So last night, she knew I was meeting you, and she’s probably been anxious about it all night.”

I got a sick feeling. I realized that Ken and his girlfriend had fallen into the “monogamous-now, polyamorous-later” trap. One of the big problems with being “monogamous now” and thinking about “polyamory later” is that if a potential Other Partner comes along, it forces the issue. Then, if the couple decides to be polyamorous, and it feels difficult for anyone … then the Other Partner can receive a lot of the bad feelings because the Other Partner is seen as the “interloper.” And I was now the Other Partner.

“Oh my God,” I said to Ken. “You mean you weren’t polyamorous when I met you?”

“No,” he said. I remembered how I’d blatantly flirted with him in front of his girlfriend, and I felt careless and cruel.

“I wish you had told me,” I said. “I wish you’d mentioned that this was your first time meeting someone outside the relationship. I would have suggested that you call her late last night to reassure her, or something like that. Do you want to call her now?”

Ken shook his head. “It’s nice to know that you would have been cool with that,” he said. “But now it’s the morning, and I’ll just wait until we’re done with breakfast before I call her.”

I thought about saying, She should be your top priority. I thought about saying, Maybe you shouldn’t date other women if you’re not sure whether they’d be cool with you calling your primary partner … but I held my peace. I decided that it wasn’t my relationship or my place to criticize him.

I felt a little uneasy about Ken, but I liked him a lot … so he and I thought about having a longer-term relationship. I decided that if we were going to continue, I wanted to do things right. I invited his girlfriend out for a one-on-one lunch so that we could talk.

It was hard to schedule lunch, but I was determined. I went all the way across the city to see her. When we met, she was nice enough … but standoffish. I asked if I could give her a hug, and she said, “No.” Then she said, “I’m sorry,” and told me that it was all a bit new for her.

We talked for an hour. I tried to make it completely clear that I didn’t want to be a threat to their relationship. But I also didn’t want to get sucked in to talking through their problems with her, and there were a few difficult moments where she told me about relationship issues. So I also tried to say, as gently as I could, that I didn’t want to be in a role of “relationship therapist” for their partnership. Although I felt open to talking to her and understanding her concerns, I really didn’t want to be in a position where I advised her about her relationship with Ken. I thought that could create conflicts where there didn’t have to be any conflicts.

By the end of lunch, Ken’s girlfriend said that she felt better and less anxious. But I kept feeling like I was barging in on a situation that was even more complicated than it seemed on the surface. I kept feeling like she blamed me, a little bit. Even though she seemed willing to deal with it, I was uncomfortable.

Although he wasn’t even there, that lunchtime meeting was the major reason I didn’t pursue things much further with Ken.

2012 3 Jul

I’m Not Sure Why I Want To Have Children, But I Do

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

I’m not the kind of woman that most people imagine when they imagine a woman who wants to have kids. I’m a starving artist writing often about my experience with S&M and open relationships. When I think of long-term relationships, I want them to be polyamorous and flexible in other ways, too. The boyfriend I most recently felt serious about had a job that sent him on business trips for months at a time … which was fine with me, because I like doing the same thing.

Obviously, children would change my lifestyle a lot, and I’ve thought extensively about the necessary changes. To be honest, it’s not clear to me why I want to have kids, given the enormous hassle. I just know that I do. When I was a teenager, I liked babysitting (at least I liked babysitting smart kids), but I never had much interest in actual babies, and the desire to have children made no sense to me. Then suddenly, around age 18 or 19, it was like a switch flipped. My feelings about other people’s children remained the same … but I wanted to have my own kids. Like, I really wanted kids. I suddenly had this bone-deep knowledge that if I never had kids, my life would feel incomplete.

The “switch flip” phenomenon appears to be common, though not all women get it. It’s creepy; the desire for kids feels so separate from my brain, from my intellectual knowledge about myself. I’m grateful that the switch flipped early, though, because I’ve noticed that sometimes it hits mid-thirties women just as fast, and they can be caught unprepared. (And then there are women who expect to want kids, but who never seem to contract that bone-deep necessity, like Adaya Adler. So then they’re surprised when the switch never flips!)

A couple mid-30s friends of mine recently had a conflict because she suddenly realized she wanted kids. But when they got married, in their late 20s, he made it clear that kids weren’t part of the deal. Their mutual lives aren’t set up for kids in any way. They broke up for a while, then got back together, and eventually she concluded that she had to let go of the desire for children. The whole situation sounds incredibly harsh, but it also wasn’t anyone’s fault.

That’s the thing, isn’t it? These things are rarely anyone’s fault. It’s more a question of trying to work around them. But this delicate, contextual process can feel so high-pressure, especially for women, since we’re on the clock ….

And then there’s sexuality. Everyone knows that having kids changes your sex life, but it’s super unpredictable; the change is different for different people. Since I’m a sex writer and sex is obviously important to me, that’s terrifying. I spoke to a mother recently who told me that she was into S&M before she had kids, but post-kids, the desire for S&M vanished. Of course, there are also S&Mers who have kids and never lose that desire, and I suspect that I’m among that group, because my S&M preferences feel at least as deep-rooted as the desire for kids. Yet I could be wrong.

Being in my late twenties makes me feel stereotypically panicked about all this. Why aren’t I married yet! Why do I keep attending weddings as a single lady! How will I ever find a father for my children!! Then I remember that my breakups have all been for excellent reasons. I believe it would be best to marry (polyamorously, I hope) before having kids, if only to have a teammate for all the logistics. But when I’m honest with myself (as opposed to panicking), I don’t have any exes who I believe I should’ve stayed with.

I heard that one of my recent exes will probably break up with his current girlfriend because she doesn’t want biological kids. Of course that pricks my heart, but while he’s a great guy and I think he’ll make a great father, I don’t think we’d make a great long-term couple; we had no chemistry. Another ex-boyfriend recently told me that he thinks I’ll make a good mom, which was wrenching, but I still think it was a good call to break up with him.

Part of me worries about how very wrenching it felt. It took me a while to see how unsettlingly strong my reaction was when he told me that, and how strongly it made me reconsider our relationship. Have I become easy to manipulate in this regard?

Compromise is necessary for relationships, of course, but how far am I truly willing to compromise? As Bailey Elliott recently observed on Role/Reboot, “Some of the people who have said the worst things to me [about being single] are the ones in the most dysfunctional relationships: married to a raging alcoholic who abuses pets while drunk, a patronizing and controlling man, or a man who refuses to communicate in any real way.”

Also, being in my late twenties means that my dating pool now contains divorced men. It’s a jarring reminder that life contains zero guarantees.

(more…)

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 25 May

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

“What?” I said. “Are you serious?”

(more…)

2012 15 Apr

Sappy Reflections

So, firstly, you can now buy Confessions of a Pickup Artist Chaser in physical form. Yes! A real paperback! It took a lot of work to fix Confessions up for print, but it was worth it. I’ve got the first copy on the table next to me right now, and it looks lovely. Buy it!

Also, over the last week, I’ve given a bunch of lectures, and I’ve had the opportunity to visit my old college campus and talk to my old advisor. And I’ve been working on formatting my upcoming Best Of Clarisse Thorn. (You can download a free electronic sample over at Smashwords; I included 12 of my favorite articles. I’ll eventually be selling a version with a lot more articles, both in electronic form and paper form.)

It all leads me naturally to thinking about how far I’ve come, and the people I owe thanks to.

By now, I’ve given my lectures and workshops in a lot of venues, from museums to conferences to universities. Different people have worked to bring me in, but it’s actually most common for university students to raise money to bring me to their campus.

And these students floor me. Seriously. When I was an undergraduate, I spent all my time daydreaming and playing Dungeons and Dragons and hanging out with my friends. (Okay, I did schoolwork too.) I had so little interest in activism or organizing. And there’s nothing wrong with that; I love my college friends, and my college experience was good for me. It helped me fix myself up post-high school, which was the worst period of my life. But I feel like I was pretty different from the students who are hiring me now, and I admire them.

I get the most amazing comments. I’ll meet students who stun me with their poise and drive, and then they’ll say things like “Clarisse, I can’t tell you how much your writing means to me,” or “I read your coming-out story every three months because it makes me feel okay about myself.” It’s amazing and, in a way, it’s nerve-wracking. I kind of feel unworthy, because I mess up my relationships plenty … I mess up my activism plenty, too. Sometime I feel like I shouldn’t be writing about anything, ever, because I don’t really know what I’m talking about. When I started running lectures and workshops and other events, I did it for free or super cheap; I was grateful for the opportunity to practice, to create more conversation around topics I believe are important. At first, I never imagined that I’d get to the point where people fly me in, where I charge money for it, where I’m selling books and articles.

But what’s really astonishing is that I’ve gotten legitimately good at it. I was especially happy with how my sexual communication workshop went down, this week — it was such a good group, such a good discussion. I felt so much pride, both in myself and in the people who were attending. Later, I went to my old campus and walked through the library and had lunch with my advisor, and I felt nothing but gratitude. (My advisor, by the way, is totally amused that I’m a feminist sex writer now. No one saw that coming.)

And yeah, I guess I’m different from these students who bring me in, but I’m so like them, too. The same way I’m so like a lot of my readers and commenters and the other bloggers I’ve worked with over the years. I wouldn’t be able to do any of this if I didn’t have their support. Your support. Not just financial and organizational, but intellectual too. So I wanted to give you all some sappy reflections. I appreciate it so much. Thank you.