Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Stupid Human Tricks.

The other night, I was topless and locked in a cage at a party.

Funny thing is, it wasn't very sexy. And I don't mean that in a bad way. It was relaxing, being curled up in an enclosed space. It was playful, hanging on the bars and acting like an animal. It was sociable, being in an area where people could come by and chat, have a seat on my cage and say hey. And, not to deny the kinkiness of it all, it was also a submissive experience having my freedom of movement cut off and being okay with that.

But hot? No. My undies were dry, my body relaxed, my mind not on sex. It was nothing to masturbate over, nothing to get you breathing heavy. It was just good clean fun.

Kink, for me, divides into two very distinct types. There's kink as a rollercoaster, a wild escape from the world and from the bounds of sensation itself, a feeling that has me screaming and groaning and losing my grip on reality and flying through endorphins and pleasure and agony. And then there's kink as a Stupid Human Trick.

It's obviously a bit context-dependent and idiosyncratic what qualifies as what, but for me, flogging is a rollercoaster; fireplay is a Stupid Human Trick. Punching is a rollercoaster; elaborate ropework is a Stupid Human Trick. Biting is a rollercoaster; fisting is, though a very intense sensation, not an intensely kinky one for me, and thus a Stupid Human Trick. Being dominated during rough sex is a rollercoaster; being dominated to "go make me a sandwich" is a Stupid Human Trick.

I probably shouldn't say "stupid" human trick, because they're not stupid at all. They're lots of fun. But they're more about "interesting ways to play with bodies and minds" than about being swept away by an all-consuming wave of sexual power. Maybe the clearest difference I could draw is that I think you have to be innately kinky to like rollercoaster kink, but anyone with an open mind can understand the appeal of Stupid Human Tricks kink.

This is of more than academic interest to me. It helps me get a handle on a problem that's been bugging me--namely, why I don't like receiving pain in most BDSM situations, and yet I fantasize and crave about receiving pain. It's not just because I'm hopelessly fickle and inconsistent. It's because there's two very distinct headspaces I associate with kink, and I only enjoy pain in one of them.

It takes a very particular sort of chemistry to get me ready to ride the rollercoaster that is pain. But I'm almost always up for the kind of kink that's more like "hey everybody, check out what I can do!"

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Praises of Phases.

(Programming note: I live, as many of you are aware, in the Boston suburbs. It's starting to get a trifle stormy up here. If my power or cable are knocked out or my home is damaged, there may be some interruption in your Pervocracy service. As opposed to the usual "I slept late and then I totally had to, like, do a thing" interruptions.)

I've been through some goofy phases in my life. Various things I have been, and am not now:
-Animal rights advocate
-Hardcore liberal
-Hardcore libertarian
-Anime fan
-Fanfic reader and writer
-Horror fiction writer
-Indie filmmaking nerd
-Shapeshifter roleplayer (don't judge me!)
-Observant Jew
-Obnoxiously condescending atheist
-Eclectic pagan (okay, still sort of this)
-Definitely gay
-Definitely straight

Sometimes I worry that things I see as fundamental parts of my identity now--kinkiness and masculinity, in particular, but really all of it--are just phases. I was kinkier a year ago, and girlier. (Then again, I can look at this entry from four years ago and see that this isn't my first time feeling uncomfortable with the trappings of girlness.) But sometimes I worry that even thinking about these things is just my youthful exploration. What if all of my current identity--gender and sexuality and beliefs--turns out to be some goofy phase? What if, ten years from now, I've "grown out" of all this and I'm totally "normal"?

Then I will have had a great ten years. And I'll know so much, too! The awesome thing about going through a lot of phases is that even if the convictions don't stick with you, the knowledge does, so I'm a non-fan who can tell you all about OTPs and Mary Sues and plot bunnies, a non-observant Jew who can tell you which bugs are kosher and what the prayer is for going to the bathroom (you thank God that none of your holes are closed up), and a non-filmmaker who knows what to do if the best boy sends you to the grip truck to get a box of F-stops (punch him). If I'd had one cohesive identity from birth to death, I don't think that my knowledge and experience of the world would be as broad as it is right now.

So "just a phase" shouldn't be used to discount things that were genuine parts of your life and self but didn't happen to be permanent. You were real then and you're real now, no matter how different; and you'll be real tomorrow no matter what changes. I'm embarrassed of some of my past identities, but it's an "I was pretty annoying, huh?" embarrassed, not an "I wasn't expressing the real me" embarrassed. It was the real me.

Is all this just a passing phase? Maybe it is. That's okay. It's real right now.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Four years!

Today is my fourth bloggiversary! That's 1264 posts spanning across 5 homes, 4 relationships, 3 jobs, a move across the country, and a massive refocus from "my vagina: let me tell you about it" to "my vagina: it is a tool for liberation." Also, 43 issues of Cosmo.

I'm looking back at my archives from the very beginning, and it strikes me, to the point of cringing, just how much I've changed. Changing minds is something I wonder about a lot--sometimes I worry it can't be done at all, that people who are now assholes will be forever assholes.

So it's good to see that I used to be an asshole. Not a complete one, but I used to be a very different person, and I learned and changed. There was no one moment where someone said something to me that made me go "holy shit, I've been wrong all along, and I must change everything!" Instead, it was water dripping on a stone; over time, though I often looked very resistant, I was changing bit by little bit until I'm so different I don't feel like the early entries are my own voice any more. (And not just because I used to throw out "lame, retarded, crazy" insults like they were candy. Sorry about that.)

I mean, look at this asshole:
I feel like sexuality has no legitimacy unless you're hot. If you're hot it's sexy, if you're ugly it's just ridiculous.
Sure, she admits that she's voicing her own insecurities, but those insecurities are leaking out into judgement of everybody on some completely unspoken beauty standard, and people who don't meet that... aren't allowed to be sexual? Christ, past-Holly.

Or, oh jeez, what was she thinking?
There's a well-known sex/BDSM club with a relatively low skeeve factor in town and I've visited a couple times. I suppose I should join but I just never make the commitment. Partly because the median age is kind of "hi there, dad," but partly because I don't want a community. I like being a little furtive, a little unhealthy, a little freaky. Nothing ruins the illusion of being an outlaw like going to a "spanking enthusiasts social."
Not only is she being incredibly snobby about age (and not even correct about the demographics, as it turns out), but she's so dedicated to feeling like an "outlaw" that she won't deign to talk to her own community and get actual friends and allies who understand what she's doing. Is her little fantasy really more important than learning anything or connecting to anybody? Cripes.

And then there's this post where she really gets going:
Call me a rich white het cis privilegebunny, but I don't feel very oppressed. Sometimes insulted, sometimes worried, sometimes concerned for the oppression of people in other places, but in my own life I just don't feel the boot on my neck. At work, at school, socially, nobody acts like I'm less than human or tries to enforce the Patriarchy on me directly. For me, in my daily life, I don't feel like being female is difficult or painful.
I still have my issues with the concept of "privilege," but I don't just disdainfully make fun of it and then deny that there's any oppression of women as well. I mean, we've got the vote and everything, right? What more could you need once they let you vote?

Overall, though, there's less in the old entries that's "asshole," and more that's just "ouch":
Sometimes I think that if I were strong enough to say "I'm not seeing you unless you treat me well, and I'm not fucking you unless you treat me like a goddamn princess," my relationships would go a lot better. But the problem is that I'm so damn happy to be seeing/fucking the guys at all, I can't stand to withhold it for any reason.
It's incredibly clear that she knew from the beginning that Benny was treating her horribly. I thought there was a "honeymoon," some sort of time when the relationship was going well, but there really wasn't. The first entries about him make it clear that he's a huge jerk but at least he'll deign to fuck her. That she stuck with him for years until he actually assaulted her is... a major source of shame for me and frankly one of the reasons I'm hesitant to talk much about it. I don't think she "should have seen it coming"--who does?--but I think she should have long since dumped him for all the other reasons.

I can't believe she went and just threw this in as an embarrassed little parenthetical (well, I can, but I feel terrible for her):
(Benny, always happy to be on the worse side of any comparison, once actually fucked me against a "no," and not in scene or anything--we were just hanging out naked in bed and he got on me and I wasn't really ready and said so and he started anyway. Again, it was mere moments until things got sorted out, but... I could swear I was audible the first time, goddammit.)
Holy shit, past-Holly.

I'm not here to lick the wounds of my past. I'm here to marvel at just how much growth and change and learning is possible. I'm here because what I said here was my belief and no longer is:
I've been a little wary of feminism, because my initial exposure was way too academic and way too unrealistic. No, I don't feel that my life is unbearably suffused with phallic energy, and no, I don't believe that the world used to be a utopian matriarchy, and no, I don't think that having sex with boys--including nasty filthy sex, including sex on camera--is betraying the Sisters.
So I stand as living proof that people aren't lost causes if they don't agree with you, and they aren't lost causes if you try to teach them and they spit it back at you. Change is something that happens on a person's own schedule and not on yours, and often when they do change you won't even hear about it, but it happens. People really can learn.

I hope that what I'm writing now will embarrass the hell out of me in another four years.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Feels good.

When we had D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse something something don't do it kids) at my elementary school, they talked about reasons kids might start doing drugs: peer pressure, low self-esteem, media glamorization, dealers getting you hooked. There was one glaring, obvious omission from that list and from every other discussion in D.A.R.E. - drugs get you high.

Drugs, at least all the ones I've tried, feel good. Alcohol helps you laugh and socialize more easily. Cigarettes simultaneously wake you up and calm you down. Amphetamines make you euphoric and energetic (and skinny). Opiates make you utterly relax and feel like all is right with the world. Marijuana makes you think that you're really smart and deep and insightful, and so is everyone else here, oh my god we are like so connected you know right now and we're like connected to the Earth too you know, maybe connection itself is what connects us, whoa.

Obviously, I'm not saying to do drugs. Everything listed above comes with catch-22s ranging from "you should do it with caution and infrequently" to "you could seriously die." But I'm acknowledging that the temptation is real--that although they're not good for you, even dangerous drugs (maybe especially those) feel good. Because you just look like a liar who can't face up to the obvious if you don't admit that. The conversation on pros and cons is hopelessly stifled if you can't be honest about the pros.

When I had my first sex ed class, they told me that the man would get an erection and put it in the woman's vagina. (They did not tell me about other configurations, which is kind of a shame considering how much those other configurations have become a part of my life. It's like taking an Auto Shop class that has a moral stance against any discussion of the radiator.) What they didn't tell me was why people would do such a thing. To have kids, okay, and... peer pressure? Low self-esteem? Media glamorization? Dealers?

By the time sex ed rolled around again, I'd gone through puberty. (And gotten an Internet connection.) I understood quite well now. And I also understood that the teacher, being post-pubescent and married herself, probably was also familiar with those funny feelings that make you want to do the baby thing. And yet those funny feelings didn't come up at all in sex ed class this time either. In a room full of people who more or less all knew full well what it feels like to have a boner or get wet or masturbate or have a wet dream, we spent an entire semester pretending to wonder why people would do such a thing. Peer pressure, perhaps...

This stalwart denial of the bleeding obvious is still following me around as an adult. Almost every discussion about sex--even the ones by the "good guys"--seems to footnote pleasure if it doesn't ignore it altogether. We can talk about freedom and safety, but we rarely get direct about what exactly we want to be free and safe to do, and why it matters so much to us. Why am I kinky, why am I poly, why am I slutty, why do I support sexual diversity and self-expression, why do I think and write and talk about sex all the time?

Gosh. Peer pressure?

Saturday, August 20, 2011

"No means no."

[Possible trigger warning for sexual assault]

When I had my first sexual encounter, he didn't ask. We were just friends and we were hanging out in his basement watching movies, and then he put his arm around me and I didn't object, and then he put his hand on my breast and I didn't object, and then he started rubbing my vulva and I didn't object.

I'm making that sound worse than it was. I didn't object because I had a total crush on him and it felt great and I was happy and excited this was happening. But I didn't say any of that--I was 15 and extremely socially awkward and had absolutely no idea of how to respond to sexuality, so I was completely silent and frozen. Silent, frozen, and happy, as it turned out. But he had no way of knowing that. All he knew was that I didn't stop him.

Would he have stopped if I said "no"? Almost certainly. But... almost certainly. Some other factors to bear in mind: I was at his house, which was not close to any bus route and was about ten miles from my home. We were alone in the house. He was much bigger, stronger, and older than me. He owned weapons. He was more or less my only friend at that time in my life. And he was not someone who could maturely talk through conflict--I never saw him get violent or threaten violence, but he tended to go to direct to TantrumVille without stopping in CommunicationTowne.

I want to stress again that I just liked having my pussy stroked; none of this was running through my head at the time. But I wish it had been running through his. Because if I had been doing the rape math in my head, if I had been going along with it out of fear or obligation, he wouldn't have known. He didn't rape me--but it would have looked exactly the same to him if he had.

That's the problem with "no means no." There's a lot of reasons someone might not say "no," and being into the sex is only one of them.

Is it "really" rape if you don't know the person isn't consenting? Probably not legally, but in terms of the effect on the person who's being used sexually while they're paralyzed with fear, might as well be. Accidentally shooting someone isn't murder but it leaves them just as dead.

Anyway, this question ought to be irrelevant. Whether fucking someone who doesn't want it but doesn't object is rape or not, it's crappy and it's avoidable. It's not like good sex ever comes out of a situation where one partner is silent and immobile.

There's a little more finesse than just asking--you need to ask in a way that makes it clear "no" is an acceptable answer, and be sensitive to the difference between "...okay" and "OH YES"--but even without finesse, just asking makes 90% of the difference.

I know why he didn't ask. He didn't ask because he thought I might say "no." But this doesn't mean that he wanted to rape me. What it means is that he was afraid I was in some sort of strange, precarious mental state in which I would have to say "no" if I was asked, even though I really did want it, but once I had said "no" he couldn't do it.

Unfortunately, this mental state does exist--although far less often than people think, really--and I lay the blame for that squarely on slut-shaming culture and the myth of "spontaneous" romance. I lay it on every romantic drama where one character forces a kiss on another but it's okay because it was the kiss of true love and they understand as soon as they get into the kiss. I lay it on every teen sex comedy where the girl who says "let's fuck, baby" is gross-out comic relief and the girl who says "ooh, I shouldn't" is the real sexy one. I lay it on every girl who thought it was coy to say "no" when she meant "yes" and every guy who told the whole school that his date said "yes" too quickly. I even lay some of the blame on Cosmo and all the times it describes sex as something that spontaneously breaks out when the mood is right, like laughter or a bad case of the contagious yawns.

Until "yes" means "yes, sex would be lovely right now" and not "yes, I am an icky slut with no sense of romance," it's going to be hard to live in a world where only yes means yes.

But it's not all down to society. In my personal world, yes means yes fully and right now--Rowdy and I still ask before we fuck and we still take nos gracefully and unenthusiastic yeses with "we can just cuddle and that would be fine," and enjoy the enthusiastic yeses that much for it. I haven't fixed Western culture yet, but I've fixed my bedroom, and that's a start. If enough people can just say that, maybe the culture can change a little after all.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Cosmocking: September '11!

Red cover! Also a white cover and a... nother white cover! They are all of Dianna Agron in different outfits! One is "elegant sexy," one is "wild sexy," and one is "badass sexy"! You're supposed to pick your favorite! So that's exciting! "What Your Va-jay-jay is Dying to Tell You!" Why is it okay to say this and not "vagina"? I can understand not saying "pussy" or "cunt" on the cover, but I think "va-jay-jay" is actually ruder than vagina! And it is all the same damn body part anyway! "The Smile That Gets You What You Want!" I would prefer to be the person getting smiled at since that seems like the position with the real power if you think about it!

Talk Dirty To Him
But none of that generic "Oh, right there, that's it" stuff. Instead, describe in detail what you want him to do to you, using specific verbs and anatomy. Guys are action-oriented, so giving him an "assignment" ("Put your ____ in my ____"; "____ that ____ harder") guarantees that he'll stay mentally checked in.

Cosmo really can't get through the simple things without sweeping gender-wide generalizations, can they? I don't know what "action-oriented" even means, though. I guess different from "sensation-oriented"? Which is why dudes hate passive sensory stuff like receiving backrubs and blowjobs.

Also, is there really more than one way to fill in those blanks? I guess there's a few synonyms (and the always-available juvenile option of "Put your anteater in my Velveeta" etc.), but I don't think you can really do much with those beyond some variation on "put your wanger in my cooter" and "slam that ladyflower harder." Fingers, mouths, and asses? Probably not asses.

When I was a teenager, I thought "harder" was just a generic expression of enthusiasm, and didn't realize the guy would take it as an actual instruction to, you know, go harder. We had a few "Oh, harder, harder" and "for chrissakes, I'm going as hard as I can" exchanges before I figured that one out.

White Lies You Should Tell Your Guy
The White Lie: "Nope, I've never done that in bed before either."
The Truth: You totally did that with your ex... a lot.
Why It's Worth It: No guy wants to be reminded that he isn't your first.

But he's not. I get that most guys don't want to hear "my ex did XYZ in bed" all the time, but claiming that I've never done something seems beyond the pale. If I'm dating a guy whose reaction to "I love doing XYZ in bed!" isn't "ooh, let's do that" but "ugh, you slut, I don't want to imagine you having an independent existence before I came along"--I'm dating the wrong guy.

I'm using "XYZ" for flexibility, but I suspect Cosmo's using it because of a lack of imagination. Given the incredibly limited repertoire in this magazine, what could you possibly not have done unless you're a virgin?

Put your nipples on his testicles, I suppose.

[On dating a slacker] Just because a guy lacks a regular paycheck doesn't mean he lacks ambition. It just might not be immediately apparent--a guy who seems to be screwing around on his iPhone may be brainstorming killer apps of his own. A guy who plays Xbox all day might be working out an idea for a video game.
Oh please. I've dated unemployed guys before and not had a problem with it--if he's an interesting person and fun to be around, where he gets his money is his problem--but I didn't delude myself. I'd rather date a guy who said "yeah, I'm pretty much a big slacker right now" than one who said "honey, I'm hard at work researching trends in gaming." (For one thing, if that's the case, he should be doing more reading and writing about gaming than actual gaming.) The first guy is playing Xbox all day; the second guy is playing Xbox all day and he's full of shit.

I like it when my guy touches my clitoris during sex, but is it too much "work" for him?
Really? Oh, come on. To be fair, the A to this Q says pretty much the same thing, but the idea that someone (even a presumably fictional someone) was so self-effacing she didn't want to burden her partner with wiggling his finger a little is... kinda horrifying.

I'm not much of a clit person, but if getting me off during sex is too much "work," then having sex with you is, well, work, and I'd expect to be paid market rates.

Q: How many times a week do men like to have sex?
A: Live-in GF: four or five. GF we don't live with: five or six.


I guess there's some implication here that living with someone makes you not lust for each other anymore (because the only attractive partner is a mysterious sultry stranger who's also a virgin, and every deviation from that takes the sexometer down just a little more), but how does this make sense logistically? Seems like there's a lot more opportunities when you're sharing a bed every night.

Q: How do we know if you're having sex or making love?
A: If the guy is focusing a lot on your pleasure, it's probably more than "just" sex to him.

Then I never, ever want to have "just" sex. Sort of weird to hear that I made love with that dude off craigslist, though.

Famous Bad Boys:
James Dean, Jack Nicholson, Steve McQueen, Mick Jagger, Han Solo, Matt Dillon, Johnny Depp

Uh... Cosmo? I don't know how to break this to you, but... Han Solo isn't a real person.

I know, I know, it broke my heart too when I found out.

You can thank--or blame--our cavewoman ancestors for [women's supposed attraction to "bad boys"]. They noticed that these types would do whatever it took to protect them from danger and put mammoth burgers on the table, even if it meant pissing off other cavemen.
I've actually been skipping over "cavemen" (and "neurotransmitters") in this issue because I feel like I've pounded those issues into the ground, but for fuck's sake.

First of all, pissing off other people in your tribe probably created way, way more danger than any external threat possibly could.

Secondly, "mammoth burgers" were probably a rarity in most climates compared to fruits and seeds and boring ol' root vegetables.

And thirdly, if he's doing these things at the expense of other people in your tribe, he's probably being not just bad but evil, and my longtime experience with "he's such a bad person, but he's a total sweetie to me" types is that they just haven't been evil to you yet. As soon as you displease them--and in any lasting relationship, you will--they'll treat you just like any other person who displeased them.

Are Some Guys Just Not Wired to Marry?
[...]Maybe not, according to a new study from Sweden's Karolinska Institute. Researchers discovered that there's a particular gene variant linked to men who resist marriage.

This is one of the rare cases where Cosmo gives enough detail to find the specific study they're talking about. And here it is! (Or at least here's a press release that's one fewer game of "Telephone" away from the actual study.)

Genetic variation in the vasopressin receptor 1a gene (AVPR1A) associates with pair-bonding behavior in humans

"The team found that men who carry one or two copies of a variant of this gene allele 334 often behave differently in relationships than men who lack this gene variant.
The incidence of allele 334 was statistically linked to how strong a bond a man felt he had with his partner. Men who had two copies of allele 334 were also twice as likely to have had a marital or relational crisis in the past year than those who lacked the gene variant."

So while Cosmo's sort of in the ballparkish region of what the study actually said (and to be honest, I'm impressed), "ballparkish" hardly seems like justification for writing a full-page article on how some men just don't have the magic marriage gene.

Also, all this has me wondering if women, too, could have genes! Some day perhaps science will address this Medical Mystery. I guess it's just taken for granted that women all want to get married, because, you know, women.

A recent University of Michigan study found that whenever people washed their hands after making a decision, they were less likely to second-guess the choice they had already made than those who skipped sudsing up did.
Uh... wow. Fascinating idea for a study, Professor Pilate.

You want to.. make a tough decision
The trick: Hold a heavy object, like a paperweight.
You want to... figure out the next step in your career/love life/etc.
The trick: Lean your upper body forward.

Presented without commentary. Oh Cosmo.

The Habit: Leaving the lights on all the time
The Cost: $250/year
What You Could Have Bought: Seven digital cameras

I've already taken Cosmo to task for their "instead of spending money on something stupid, spend money on something stupid!" theory of household budgeting, so I'll just ask... who buys a $35 digital camera? Isn't that going to be worse than the one on your phone?

(In the incredibly unlikely event that a Cosmo reader doesn't already have a cameraphone, you can get one for $250. Or, you know, a decent camera.)

Your new guy wants to show you off to his posse at an upcoming house party. What do you wear?
A numbered pinny and judging clipboard?

A. A slinky bandage dress that lets you flaunt your sick bod
B. Skinny jeans, a tank top, and ankle boots
C. The sexy mini your man loves you in plus a trendy tee

The correct answer is C. If it's A you're clearly too slutty and if it's B you're clearly too prudish.

I'm really starting to wish this slut/prude stuff came with diagrams. If you want to slut-shame, fine*, but at least tell me what a slut is! If dressing like a slut is so terrible, can we establish some universal standard of what that even looks like? It's irrational enough to say "these are the good clothes and these are the naughty clothes," but when you extend that to "you mustn't wear naughty clothes and you should just know which those are," you completely break my brain.

I guess I'll go to the party wearing my usual party outfit: shorts or underpants and my own exceedingly comfortable skin. See, no "slutty" clothes at all!

...unless my shorts are a little too short, I guess, or my underpants are black or lacy or something. That could look sort of slutty.

*not actually fine

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Pink just isn't my color.

A question I've been mulling over: Is the reason feminine things make me uncomfortable because I'm unfeminine, or because feminine things suck?

Makeup, for a forinstance. Am I annoyed by it because I don't like the way it makes me look and feel? Or is it a legitimate problem that women are expected to spend significant amounts of time and money masking their faces, often with an underlying message that their real face isn't good enough?

Do I like wearing men's clothes because they're generally more comfortable, practical, and dignified--or because I like dressing up in men's clothes?

Did I hate pink things and dolls as a child because boy's toys were more interesting and more empowering, or because I wanted to play like a boy?

Did I idolize (and dress up as) male superheroes and action heroes because they got all the best parts, or because they were hypermasculine?

Am I bothered by being called a "girl" because it's infantilizing, or because I don't want to be a girl?

I don't like being treated like a woman. But sometimes I don't see how anyone would like being treated like a woman, the way we treat women.

I think that it's some from column A, some from column B. Which is why I'm a feminist, and also, unrelatedly, unfeminine. I haven't yet decided on a label for my unfemininity--for right now, let's just go with "unfeminine woman."

(I also realize that my inability to distinguish has ticked off some happily-feminine people, probably even in this very post, and I'm sorry about that.)

Or... here are some things that I really haven't confessed to anyone, even Rowdy, but I guess I'll just have out with them. I've been, at home or out when I wouldn't run into anyone I know, binding my chest and packing. Just to see what it was like? And what it was like was... kinda gleeful. It made me happy. Some of that was just "I'm doing a different and unusual thing!" happiness, which I certainly do get. I don't know if it all was.

I know what my name would have been, if I were born male. I really like it.

Sometimes I pee standing up.

I don't know what this means, if anything. I'm really, really hesitant to say "hey everybody, I'm a guy now!", for about a million reasons. I don't feel strongly, certainly male. Although I'd love it if my overall body shape was more masculine--and in fact I lift weights partly for this reason--I'm fairly happy with my vagina. I've had some masculine tendencies for a long time, but this hardcore gender uncertainty is a relatively recent thing for me. And I sort of feel like I'd be trivializing trans people by taking myself super seriously when this is more like "a thing I've been fucking around with lately" than "a thing I have to do."

I keep wishing there was some kind of test you could take to determine your gender, but then I keep thinking that if I need a test and don't just know, it must not be that big a deal to me. (Also, I found several such tests, and they were all like "do you like pink and flowers, or do you like blue and trucks?" See the first half of this post...)

So... "unfeminine woman." At least for now. Holly, she, her, and retaining the ability to thunder at Cosmo, "Why, I'm a woman, and I never..."

I'm a woman, and uncomfortable with a lot of the crap that comes with that, and some of that's me, and some of that's the crap.

I've gotten through this whole post without really facing the question of what "feminine" or "woman" even mean, but that's just because I don't have any freaking idea.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Relationship Ed.

I'm glad schools teach Sex Ed, even if they do make an awful mess of it; knowing how your sexy parts work, what risks sex carries, and how to use contraception are important life skills. They're skills the kids may need right away, or may not need until they're married, but either way, they're safer and better prepared.

But one of the things I'm realizing lately is that for all the drama and angst and danger it can entail, sex is easy. Love is hard. So here's a message I wish kids got:

"Our society sends a lot of confusing messages about love, and you may feel pressured to fall in love. And that's a natural urge; it's okay. But you have to be careful. Make sure you're ready for love. Make sure you're doing it with the right person, and for the right reasons. And above all else, make sure you're being safe."

Of course, I would never advocate abstinence-only Relationship Ed. So here's some other things I'd like to see on the curriculum:

-The different types of relationships that you can have. This would include mention of sexual orientation, but wouldn't mainly be about that. It would be about the spectrum from a casual date to a lifelong love commitment, and the many, many options in between. We'd talk about how one relationship script--even an "enlightened" one, Science Club members, I'm on to you--can never work for everybody and there is no "ideal" relationship.

-How to negotiate, communicate, and argue with your partner. The biggest focus here would be on the difference between "an argument" and "a fight." You know the way you talk to a guy talking shit about your mom, or the way you talk to a customer service agent who's not giving you what you want, or the way you talk to a cop who's pulling you over? None of these are how you talk to your partner when you disagree.

-How to identify a destructive relationship. This would include a lot of discussion about abusive relationship dynamics, but not only that; it would also go through the warning signs of a relationship that's turning to crap or ruining your life even if there's no abuse involved. If it was me teaching the class, I don't think I could get through this unit without a screening of Twilight.

-How to not abuse someone. "Don't hit them" would be mentioned but wouldn't be the focus. The focus would be on "don't try to control them." We'd talk about the fears relationships can stir up--fear of cheating, fear of losing their respect, fear of losing the relationship--and appropriate and inappropriate responses to these fears.

-How to end a relationship. Students would be given a script for ending a relationship peacefully, if not painlessly; for separating from someone even though they don't hate them. Maybe more than anything, they'd be told that it's normal and okay for a relationship to end, and that a relationship can be meaningful even though it's temporary.

-"It's okay to be single." This wouldn't be pushing singledom, but it would be destigmatizing it. Now, class, let's talk about some bad stereotypes of people who are single, and why those are wrong. Let's talk about how a romantic relationship can be a good thing, but it can never complete you. Let's talk about how whether you're a "real" man or woman is defined by you, and not by the relationships you have. Let's talk about why--especially at your young age, but really any time--it's better to be single than to be in a relationship just for the sake of being in a relationship.

These are all crucial skills, yet they're ones that most people have to learn by trial and error, from the dubious and pseudoscience-ridden mess of self-help books and websites, or when they're already in therapy. If we really want to prepare kids for the adult world of sex, dating, and even marriage, teaching them how to put on a condom is the very tip of the iceberg. Teaching them how to say "I don't agree with you and I'm not changing my mind, but I still love you"--now that's a life skill.

This isn't just fuzzy stuff. It's public health. Good relationship ed could cut down massively on teen pregnancy, STI transmission, intimate partner violence, suicide, and sexual assault. Knowing how to have a respectful relationship isn't just about self-help. It can save lives.

Thursday, August 11, 2011


When did "sin" become synonymous with sex?

The Bible has a few commandments relating to sex--no adultery, no gay stuff, no fucking sheep, no letting the sheep fuck you, no... oh come on you guys, you can't do that with a sheep either, what's wrong with you--but honestly, it's got more to say about humane treatment of livestock than it does about sex. (And, in the case of sheepfucking, there's some overlap.)

If you open the Bible to a random page, odds are very good the message on it will be one of the following:
1) "God is a really really super important big deal."
2) "Love your neighbor, give to the poor, and be a generally decent person."
3) "Want to hear about Mediterranean political intrigues from 2000 years ago? Course ya do!"

Odds are extremely low it will have anything to do with sex, and lower still that it'll be explicit directions for sexual morality. The Bible's a lot of things, but a sex manual's not one of them.

So why are the "culture wars" between religion (well, Christianity) and secularism in this country almost entirely about sex? Why do the "turn from your sins and follow God" sign-holder guys show up at Gay Pride and not at trade summits? (Or slaughterhouses?) Why are the most religiously divisive issues things like homosexuality, "modesty," marriage, gender roles, and abstinence?

To be honest, I'm not enough of a politics/history/psychology wonk to fully answer that question. But I do know that it lies in politics, history, and psychology, and not in religion. Jesus saved adulterers and prostitutes. He didn't see their sins as some special extra sin that was worse than pride or cruelty or the generally sinful life of any mortal.

And yet in modern American culture, sex is practically the only sin there is. When's the last time a Christian kid got thrown out of the house because they coveted others' possessions or they made fun of a homeless person? When's the last time a Christian lawmaker made hyperbolic, slightly-unhinged-sounding promises to a church group to fight the sin of avarice? When's the last time churches protested a movie because it depicted violence? This attitude has even been sardonically co-opted by the pro-sex folks; strip bars don't have names like "Club Sin" because you can go bear false witness against your neighbor there.

I think a lot of people assume that kinksters and sex-positive folk are all atheists, maybe pagans. The truth is, a lot of us are still in Judeo-Christian traditions. (I've prayed with other kinky Jews.) And more of us would be if those traditions were open to us. I spent several years as an atheist based on feeling, essentially, that religion was all about how you were allowed to fuck. Coming back into spiritual life required a lot of reconstructing it to be about the virtues that I could uphold--only to find out that those were the original virtues all along. I'm still not a good Jew and I don't really intend to be, but I'm a believer in the sacred, and I don't think the sacred gives a good goddamn if I have a little fun with my friends.

The religious hang-up on sex is horrible because it destroys families, because it leads people to hate themselves, and because it drives people away from a religion that otherwise might bring them peace and meaning. Not only does it harm the "sinners" it casts out, but it harms the religions themselves. When you close your church to people who fuck funny, you close your church to people who might strengthen it as a community center, a support network for its members, and a contributor to charity. Faith-based programs do genuinely good work in this country and abroad, and if they directed their energies away from policing sexual "sin," they'd be able to do so much more.

He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?

I don't see a "but it doesn't count if you have dirty sex" anywhere in there.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Condom Failure.

Here's another interesting statistic from my medical textbooks: the failure rate of condoms in preventing pregnancy is 2% (over a year) with perfect use. It's 10-18% with typical use.

Holy shit! Condoms fail up to 18% of the time! That's pretty bad! I wouldn't get in a car that crashed 18% of the time! Condoms must be pretty crappy birth control!

Well, no. Condoms are 98% effective. The catch lies in the concept of "typical use" as opposed to "perfect use." It makes it sound like "perfect use" is some theoretical expert condom application, where the condom is applied with absolute precision by a team of professional condomifiers in a way that mere "typical" civilians could never replicate.

Nope. All "perfect use" means in the case of condoms is using them every time, and using them for the entire duration of PIV sex. There's a few more catches--you shouldn't reuse condoms, you should throw them away instead of turning them inside out if you put them on wrong the first time, you should use lube but nothing oil-based, and you shouldn't double-bag--but honestly, most of those are statistically minor. The biggest factor in "perfect use" of condoms is actually using them.

So what's "typical use"? Well, if someone says that condoms are their primary method of birth control, but only uses them sometimes, they're counted as a "typical" user. When they get pregnant, they go in that 18%. The number one cause of condom "failure" is not using a condom.

It's sort of amazing to me that people would use condoms only sometimes and expect that to work, but I know from work (we talk about condom use with STI and Pelvic Inflammatory Disease patients) that it's not uncommon. People don't have a condom handy and they go "aw fuck it," boyfriends complain that it doesn't feel as good for them, women try to do a kind of half-baked rhythm method only using condoms when they think they're fertile, people have sex drunk or high and forget about condoms, and some people really just seem to only use them when they feel like it.

In large part, this is an educational problem. We're sending two very dangerous messages in regards to condoms:

1) "Condoms are for dirty sluts." Hell, there's places where condom possession can be used as evidence of prostitution. There's long arguments about whether making condoms available in high schools--or even colleges!--will cause kids to have sex, which would be terrible because sex is dirty. Women's magazines run articles on how a guy will think you're a slut if you open up your bedstand and there's a lot of condoms. Many drugstores keep condoms behind locked doors to add even more awkwardness and embarrassment to the purchase. (I know this is often because of shoplifting, but in practice, it does increase the shame factor.)

When everyone is shamed for using condoms, and women are extra-shamed, then people are less likely to have them around when they have sex, and more likely to go ahead with it anyway.

2) "Condoms fail all the time." This one is enshrined and exaggerated in abstinence-only education, but not limited to it. I've had a doctor tell me that condoms alone aren't "really" birth control. Hell, until I did more reading, I believed this one myself. And of course condoms aren't perfect--but they're a lot better than I thought.

The problem with this one is that it encourages fatalism. If a condom doesn't really help, why bother? Might as well have unprotected sex and take your chances, since you're taking them anyway. Abstinence-only education has been repeatedly shown to discourage condom use, and this is one of the reasons--when they say "condoms don't work," they aren't telling kids "don't have sex, even with a condom." They're telling them "don't have sex with a condom."

In this way (and it affects adults too), the 18% statistic is feeding itself. The more people believe condoms don't work, the more often people who use condoms for birth control won't really use them. The more people feel like condoms are a crapshoot, the more comfortable they'll feel taking real crapshoots.

Condoms are great! They're cheap, completely confidential and anonymous, involve no hormones or other funny chemicals, require no prescription, and they work really really well. All you have to do is use them.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Barnacle Bill.

When I was in high school, they showed us a slideshow of various sexually transmitted infections. All of the pictures were outrageously gruesome and their sole purpose was to scare us out of having sex. Everything was red and swollen and dripping and crusted and ew--because sex is dirty and if you have sex you'll be dirty, kids! There was one in particular they called "Barnacle Bill." It was a penis covered in warts--warts upon warts upon warts until it didn't look like a penis anymore. Poor Bill was nothing but barnacles. We laughed but we also cringed. "Now who in this class thinks it's a good idea to have sex?"

The other day at work, I was leafing through a dermatology textbook. Right there, somewhere in "Infections and Infestations," was old Barnacle Bill! It was the very same picture. Except this time, it had a caption.

Human papillomavirus in an immunosuppressed patient. Patient suffered from dementia and was unaware of the progress of the infection.


That changes the moral of the story a bit, doesn't it? It's no longer a matter of "this is what sluts look like under their slutty pants!" It's more like "sometimes life is cruel for no good reason."

Sometimes life is cruel for no good reason, and then after you're (probably) dead someone uses the most embarrassing picture imaginable of your body to lie to schoolkids and make them associate pleasure with filth.

I'm sorry, Barnacle Bill.

Friday, August 5, 2011

A head cold.

I have what I will freely admit is very mild and very occasional depression. But it had been hitting me kinda bad the last couple weeks. I started taking antidepressants and now the fog's finally starting to lift.

What helps me the most--both as a person with rather unreliable neurology and as someone who works with psychiatric patients in the ER--is to think of it as a cold. Or if it's chronic and bad, something more like pneumonia. An ordinary physical disease. You can't make a cold go away by recontexualizing it, but if you've been thinking "ugh, it's so gross and inconsiderate of me to cough all the time; why can't I just use a little willpower and decide to not cough?" it helps to know the coughing is a reflex. Likewise, knowing I'm depressed won't make me stop feeling sludgy and miserable, but it'll stop making me thinking that feeling is justified. It'll stop me trying to "snap out of it" and getting frustrated when I can't just decide to be perky. My brain isn't being an asshole; it's coughing.

When I was about 11, I got a wicked case of pertussis. I'd had the shot, but I got it anyway--the vaccine is 85% effective and I was in the lucky 15%. I spent a good six weeks on the couch hacking and wheezing. My sister couldn't stand it. The coughing grossed her out, it kept her up at night, it made her worry she was going to get sick. So she'd scream at me, "Stop coughing! God, just stop it!"

This is what I aspire not to do to the psych patients in the ER, or to the people I know with mental illness. It's not necessarily that I accept their illness; but I accept that it is an illness. When they annoy me or offend me or confuse me, it's not about me. It's not even about them. It's about the fact that telling someone with mania to settle down, or someone with schizophrenia to stop being so weird, is like saying "just stop coughing." It's not just insensitive but totally ineffective to treat a symptom like a choice.

(I also think it's important to never lose sight of the magic phrases "significant distress or impairment" and "danger to self and others." Because these are the things we treat in mental health--when someone is suffering, when they're unable to do their daily tasks of living, or when they are harming or likely to harm themselves or someone else. What we don't treat is being wrong. Someone can be wrong all day long--can think they have five arms and the CIA has put a chip up their butt--and as long as they're okay with their life and getting enough to eat and not hurting anyone, it's really none of our business. The point of mental health care is to promote wellness, not enforce the correct reality. Nobody has the job title Clinical Philosopher.)

The person is separate from the illness--and this doesn't mean that the person is blameless or without agency. Mentally ill people come in all flavors, including being really nice or really rotten people. Their disease has changed their brain, not replaced it. They're able to make choices. But whether to be mentally ill isn't one of those choices.

The best things in life.

I'm in bed with Rowdy, half-asleep, curled up against his warm skin, his head on my arm and my other hand on his belly, and I can feel his breathing deepen as he falls asleep and softly snores. I untied him before he fell asleep, taking off the thick black rope that had been bound around his chest and shoulders, the rope I'd held while we fucked, at first using it to tease and restrain him and then losing all control and just hanging on as he pounded me into ecstasy.

And I don't want to cheapen this. It's a wonderful feeling--the best feeling--to share physical and emotional joy with someone I love, and I don't want to make it be about anything else. Trying to apply some dry ulterior motive to this, making it all be about economics or competition or gender dynamics or reproductive urges, just feels to me like the ultimate party pooping. Making sex into a rational transaction is the "why go trick-or-treating when you can just buy a bag of candy?" of armchair sociology.

Is this an anti-science, anti-intellectual, "fuckin' magnets, how do they work?" sort of thought? Maybe it is. Maybe it'll advance human knowledge to analyze sexual desire and interaction in ways other than "gosh, sexual desire and interaction are so beautiful." But that knowledge should never take the place of the beauty. If I learn that, say, smell has a place in sexual attraction, I don't want to throw that out because it doesn't fit my personal ideology--but I also don't want to run my fingers through Rowdy's hair and think "really, this is all just about smell." There is still some magic left in it.

Rowdy's skin is smooth and freckled and feels like electricity everywhere it touches me. This isn't something I won. This isn't something I bought. This isn't the mindless, joyless enactment of hormonal urges or sexual politics. This is just awesome.

Thursday, August 4, 2011


I haven't mentioned this on the blog before, but I was in the process of applying to nursing school for the last couple months. It was iffy, because my work experience is great but my academics are a bit patchy.

I just got in.


Monday, August 1, 2011

This ass is (not) money.

On my list of Things That Seriously Need To Stop, somewhere below "violence" and "hatred" but well above "having the Ducktales theme in my head, whooo-ooo," are conversations in which attractiveness is described as the female equivalent of wealth. It's a concept formally described as "erotic capital", the "economy of sex", and various other euphemisms for "whoreswhoreswhores."

For starters, the entire concept of a "female equivalent" gets my hackles up to begin with. I prefer to think that the female equivalent of a suit and tie is a suit and tie, the female equivalent of working on your car is working on your car, and the female equivalent of money is money. To say--about almost anything--"it's not the same, but it's the lady version!" is a cop-out, a way to assign fixed gender roles while pretending it's "fair." Equivalence is the enemy of actual equality.

This is a particularly evil equivalence, though. In fact, it's so evil that it contains almost all of sexism folded up inside it. Let's see, we've got:
-"Women are only useful for their bodies."
-"Women are only important as they relate to men."
-"Women don't need/deserve their own money."
-"Women's bodies are a product with monetary value."
-"Women are never really attracted to or aroused by men."
-"Women's beauty can be objectively judged."
-"Women are worthless if they're ugly."

and a bonus dish of:
-"Men's bodies can't be sexy, and men's personalities can't be lovable."
-"Men are all johns."
-"Men can't think straight when they're turned on."
-"Men are worthless if they're poor."

and an extra bonus dish of:
-"Everyone's heterosexual, right?"

and an extra extra extra bonus dish of:
-"Love? Attraction? Companionship? Do not confuse me with your strange Earth emotions!"

But the biggest problem is liquidity. Financial wealth almost always includes some very liquid assets--ones that you can turn into dollars, and then into groceries or rent or toy dinosaurs, today and at market value.

A woman's purported "assets," on the other hand, are extremely illiquid. (And, in many people's opinions, rapidly depreciating.) There may be a ready "market," but making the sale is... well, it's so unlike making a sale that the metaphor falls to complete pieces around here. The options are:

1) Prostitution. Illegal, stigmatized, sometimes dangerous, and not really that well-paying. To develop a prostitution business that brings in an amount comparable to a "successful" ordinary job, you have to be a pretty good businessperson, schmoozer, and self-promoter--at which point you're profiting from those skills more than you are from your raw attractiveness.

2) Dating or marrying a rich guy. This can get you money--but unless you divorce him and you do very well in court, it's not really your money. The nice house you live in isn't your house and ultimately you're only there at his pleasure. You have luxury, but not power.

3) Modeling or acting. These are both heavily skill-dependent and crapshoots, and there's only room for like a hundred women to be really successful in each field. Lots of extremely beautiful models and actresses are living on ramen.

If any of these sound as easy, straightforward, and reliable as going to the ATM, then I guess a woman's beauty really is her wealth.

Otherwise... sorry, sexists, but we do need money when we look like that, honey.