Archive for January, 2008

a million things to do
January 28, 2008

So it would appear that the next month is the absolute perfect time to be living in both Toronto and Montreal, because there’s a ton of cool and sexy stuff going on. Luckily I’m sorta doing both these days, even if I’m only paying rent in one place. Here’s a quick summary of my personal picks; details are posted, in order, below. Even if you’re not much one for event listings, I do endeavour to make this kind of post entertaining, so go ahead and read the first part and skip the later details if you just want a bit of leisure reading!

MONTREAL

February 2-3: The Vagina Monologues! Trust me, people. There is nothing quite like being in an auditorium full of people who love vaginas. I’ve done it three times now and it’s been one helluvan experience every time. Especially when they get to the “moan” piece. It’s worth going just for that. (The “militant bisexual moan” is a treat not to be missed if you can’t make your own, or even if you can.) Plus, there’s almost two weeks worth of related activities – workshops, film screenings, open mics, and the like.

February 7: Condoms and HIV: A Cultural History, a free lecture given by Paula Treichler as part of Concordia’s HIV/AIDS lecture series. Can I tell you how much I’d like to be attending this? Cultural history is so much fun. I’m way jealous. I only get into town a couple of days later. If you go, I want your notes…

February 9: Meow Mix. But not just any Meow Mix. The second annual King Size Meow Mix, with Montreal’s most fabulous drag kings taking over the stage and getting us all worked up. I can’t wait. (Do you think Rod Screwheart might wink at me this time? I keep hoping…)

February 9 and 10: Phobophilia, a new and intimate play by Montreal’s own gender-bending 2boys.tv. You know I’m always intrigued to learn about new fetishes and kinks… I knew of this one, but it never occurred to me that its name would be so cool. Phobophilia: arousal due to fear. Neato. This is a play for tiny audiences – they’re only selling 20 tickets for each performance, so at three shows per night over two nights, that means reserve now if you wanna get in at all. I’ll be reviewing the show here afterwards, but by then it’ll be all over, so you’ll just have to take my word for it that Studio 303 has really cool programming and the 2boys have an excellent reputation for doing amazing theatre work. I very much look forward to my first experience with them… see you there?

February 12: Vaginal Vernissage, a vaginal art show and silent auction that “celebrates the strength and delicacy of women.” Well, I know lots of women who don’t have vaginas, and vaginas who don’t have women, not to mention lots of both that are not particularly delicate, but whatever. The gal who’s organizing this is a fabulous trannygirl so I don’t think her politics are as essentialist as this might otherwise sound. Besides, how cool is it that there’s a whole lot of vagina art being made and enjoyed? I personally have seen enough euphemistic Georgia O’Keeffe flower art to last me a lifetime, and am much more interested in actual cunts. I mean, pictures of actual cunts. Yes. That’s it. Among other things, I recently purchased my very own cunt puppet (thank you to all those who pointed me to House O’ Chicks for this – fortunately they’re sold right here at Come As You Are so there was no need to order one and pay for shipping). She’s gorgeous… dark red velvet, a nice big knob of a clit, a pleasantly ribbed G-spot, and a place to stick your hand inside (behind the thing, I mean, not the usual place) that fits perfectly over one of my bedposts so she greets you when you walk into my bedroom. How lovely is that?

TORONTO

January 29: a panel discussion entitled “The Future of Queer Neighbourhoods in Toronto.” Really, for a freshly installed Toronto resident, what better way to get the lay of the land than to show up at a philosophical discussion about local queer neighbourhoods and gentrification? I’ve been looking forward to this for weeks. I intend to post something about it afterwards, possibly in conjunction with my review of former Toronto resident Karen X. Tulchinsky’s novel The Five Books of Moses Lapinsky. I’m sure I can tie ‘em together.

January 31 to February 10: Never Man’s Land, a play by director/writer Tristan R. Whiston featuring Anna Camilleri, among others. She’s the cool gal who was part of the much-loved Taste This book called Boys Like Her (as in, “boys of her type,” not as in “boys find her appealing,” though I suppose both interpretations could be accurate) for those who have it and treasure it as I do that should be reason enough to see her theatre work. She also edited the anthology Brazen Femme, and the co-edited the femme-penned erotica collection With a Rough Tongue. In other words: very very neat chick. I’ve never seen her live, so this will be fun. Plus, a play on a Peter Pan theme? My life is full of magical bois and boys these days, so this should be perfectly fitting.

February 5: “Looking Queer: Homophobia, Biphobia, Transphobia and Body Image.” A community discussion about all sorts of queer and trans-related body image stuff. I haven’t suffered radically from body image issues, but I know many who have, and the issues that are common to fat-phobia, transphobia and homophobia are fascinating to me. I expect this event to be a thought-provoking one; if it is, you can be sure I’ll blab about it here.

February 22: The Hobo Homos present Abnormals Anonymous, “A Celebration of Circus Freaks and Social Deviants.” For every cohort of gay folks who want to be as normal as possible, whatever that means, there’s a handful of relentlessly anarchistic queers who wants to fuck with the whole idea of normal. And what better way to do so than by celebrating queer and trans freakishness? Well, okay, so there are lots of ways to do that, but this looks like it’ll be one pretty awesome one. As a former employee of the world’s biggest circus, I have a certain fondness for the ancient performance art(s) as a medium of expression, so I will definitely be checking this one out. Plus, they’re serving popcorn and candy apples. Um, yes please!

Oh, and on a completely un-Toronto-or-Montreal-related note, there’s a massive sex workers’ conference taking place this June in Chicago called “Pulling Back the Sheets: Sex, Work, and Social Justice.” Check it out.

And now, for the details.

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MONTREAL

Vagina Monologues and related activities!

Feb. Sat. 2nd and Sun. 3rd
The Vagina Monologues
855 Sherbrooke West
Doors 7:30 pm, Play Start 8 pm.
Tickets: $12 Students, $15 Non-Students. (tix @ SNAX & Lola Rosas)
Come help us celebrate V-Day’s 10th anniversary with two amazing performances of “The Vagina Monolgues” by Eve Ensler.

Feb. Mon. 4th
Sexual Health Workshop
Shatner Bldg Rm 433A 
7-9 pm
donations welcome
Learn everything you wanted to know about protection, STIs and oral sex from
Chantal, a gynecological nurse, and Head and Hands.
 
Feb. Tues. 5th
Read My Lips: Body Talk
The Yellow Door 3625 Aylmer
8 pm
donations welcome
Feel inspired after seeing the monologues? Express yourself through spoken word or come support the Montreal Artistic Community.  All submissions by Feb. 3rd to: events.vdaymcgill@gmail.com

Feb. Wed. 6th
Gender and its Intersections
SSMU Bldg  Clubs Lounge
8:30 pm
donations welcome
Explore the multi-dimensional realms of gender issues today with Queer McGill, the UGE, SACOMSS, and the Harm-Reduction Centre.

Feb. Friday 8th
Screening of “Until the Violence Stops”
Shatner Bldg  Clubs Lounge
6 pm
donations welcome
Get motivated by Eve Ensler’s new activist documentary targeting gender-based issues. 
Popcorn and Soda served.

Feb. Sat. 9th
Write-Your-Own-Erotica
SSMU Bldg. Lev Bukhman Rm (2nd fl.)
5 pm
donations welcome.
Just in time for Valentine’s Day! Compile all your steamy thoughts onto paper to heat up from your winter blues.

Feb. Sun. 10th
Body Positive Movement and Dance
SSMU Bldg. Ballroom (2nd Floor)
10 am – 1 pm
donations welcome
Break a sweat doing modern dance, hosted by Inertia.   Get your breakdancing groove on, and release your stress through yoga. Dress comfortably, bring a towel and water.

Feb. Mon. 11th
Screening: Beautiful Daughters
3475 Peel. Cultural Screening Rm
donations welcome
The documentary chronicles Deep Stealth Productions’ V-Day LA 2004 event, which was the first-ever all-transgender cast performance of Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues.  Popcorn and Soda served.

Feb. Tues. 12th
Fetish and BDSM 101
SSMU Bldg. Clubs Lounge
7-9 pm
donations welcome
Round-table discussion introducing you to the fetish community and culture. Explore how fetishes interact with controversial issues.

Feb. Wed. 13th
Cunt Crafts!
Atelier Woodenapples 5319 Parc
6 pm
donations welcome
Come contribute material to V-day’s first zine! Arts and craft supplies will be
provided along with fun gender-friendly art projects.

Feb. Thurs. 14th
Lola Rosa Valentine’s Day Dinner
545 Milton
6 pm
donations welcome
Celebrate Valentine’s Day with a culinary treat at this famous vegetarian restaurant. 
Set menu with special prices for this special day.

Feb. Sun. 17th & Mon. 18th
A Memory, a Monologue, a Rant, and a Prayer.
Petit Cafe Campus 57 Prince Arthur E.
Doors 7:30, Play Starts 8 pm
Tickets: $10 Students, $12 Non-Students (Tix Sold Soon)
Following Eve Ensler’s successful Vagina monologues, the diverse voices from this play rise up in a collective roar to break open, expose, and examine the insidiousness of brutality, neglect, a punch, or a put-down. Including works from Jane Fonda, literati Dave Eggers and feminist Carol Gilligan along with many others.

***

Please join us February 7th, 2008 at 6pm for Condoms and HIV: A Cultural History, a lecture given by Paula Treichler.
 
FREE Admission: Everyone Welcome!
Paula Treichler teaches in the College of Medicine , Institute of Communications Research , and Women’s Studies Program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her most famous book is How To Have Theory in an Epidemic: Cultural Chronicles of AIDS (Duke UP 1999). She is now working on How To Use a Condom: A Cultural Analysis. This book entails the collection of cartoons, jokes, lore, legends, pop culture references, and personal histories on the subject of condoms in North America.

Lectures are held at Concordia University, 1455 de Maisonneuve W. H-110 (auditorium).
INFO: aids.concordia.ca

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The Drag Kings of King Size invite you to SELF LOVE, our all-new drag king show that will melt in your mouth AND in your hand!

Meow Mix and the Drag Kings of King Size present

“SELF LOVE”

A Valentines Dragstravaganza!

Hard centers, soft centers… we like ALL the chocolates in the box!

Featuring: Gary Dickinson, Bo Stallion, Johnny Cox, Mitch Mitcham, Rod Screwheart, and debut performances by 5 new drag kings! With guests Nat King Pole and The Mambo Drag Kings!

Emcee: Mitch Mitcham and friends!

Followed by an after-party with DJ Marie-H. B.

SELF LOVE DRAG KING SHOW & MEOW MIX
Saturday, February 9th
10:30 pm (doors open at 9 pm)
$10

La Sala Rossa, 4848 St-Laurent

***

Studio 303 presents :
Phobophilia
(arousal from fear)

A new transmedia creation by
2boys.tv
(Stephen Lawson & Aaron Pollard)

February 9th & 10th 2008
3 performances nightly at 20h, 21h & 22h
(places limited to 20 people maximum)
at Studio 303, 372 Ste-Catherine W., Montreal

Tickets: $12 regular or $10 VIP/students
sold online or at the door (cash only)
Infos: (514) 393-3771 or www.studio303.ca

Montreal, January 14th 2008 – Studio 303 is thrilled to present PHOBOPHILIA, the newest creation from Montreal transmedia duo 2boys.tv; a unique and intimate experience for small audiences of 20 people maximum!

2boys.tv (aka Stephen Lawson and Aaron Pollard) delve into the eroticization of terror, a deeply personal journey into the dark shadows of their own dreams. Asking the question “What is the role of the poet in an age characterised by fear?” this dynamic duo is back at Studio 303 with a new hybrid performance work, a contemporary chronicle that uses the life and art of Jean Cocteau as its palate and inspiration.

Together, Lawson and Pollard, under the moniker of 2boys.tv, and sometimes even as their alter-egos Gigi L’Amour and Pipi Douleur, create and tour multimedia performance pieces that often incorporate video projections, soundscapes, found and original music scores, transgendered apparitions, outrageous (sometimes sculptural) costume, props, vocal/textual works, and the art of lip-sync. Based in Montreal, the duo has also produced several video art pieces, installation works, performance interventions and a plethora of pithy political cabaret works. Their cross-disciplinary works have been presented in clubs, galleries, theatres, streets and cabarets across Canada, in the U.S.A., Europe and South America.

www.2boys.tv
http://www.youtube.com/profile?user=gigiETpipi

- 30 -
Source : Melissa Guay, Communications and Production Coordinator, Studio 303, (514) 393-3771


Studio 303
Danse et arts indisciplinés
Dance & Related Arts
372 Ste-Catherine Ouest
Montréal Qc H3B 1A2
Tel. : (514) 393-3771
http://www.studio303.ca/

***

Vaginal Vernissage, Vaginal Art Show and Silent Auction
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
Time: 5:00pm – 9:00pm
Le Social, 1445 Bishop

Vaginal Vernissage displays the creative talents of local artists and those inspired by the strength and delicacy of women. The works featured range from whimsical feminine expressions to fierce female representations. Selected works will be available by silent auction for private collections.

******************************************************************

TORONTO

Red Dress Productions presents
NEVER MAN’S LAND, Toronto Production
@ Alchemy Theatre
by director/writer Tristan R. Whiston
featuring Anna Camilleri, Christopher Cauley,
Canon Cook
January 31 – February 10, 2008

Peter is at the edge of a question that must be answered in order to grow up. Is he a man, a woman, or betwixt and between? Peter Pan runs away the day he is born in order to remain a boy forever. In Never Man’s Land, Peter and Peter come face to face with Captain Hook, Wendy, Mrs Darling, and ultimately, each other. The two Peters lock swords—and there’s only room for one on the island. Time is running out.

video art by Leslie Peters and Marcus Rak
movement by Kathleen Rea

Thursday January 31 to Sunday February 10, 2008
Alchemy Theatre,133 Tecumseth St. (one blk W of Bathurst, S of Queen)
Wednesday to Saturday 8pm with 2:30 pm Sunday matinees
Tickets: $12-$15 sliding scale and matinees PWYC
Box Office/Information: 416-629-8795|reddressproductions@gmail.com
Advance Ticket Locations:
Toronto Women’s Bookstore (73 Harbord Street @ Spadina)
9 PERFORMANCES ONLY!

Red Dress Productions (RDP) is a registered not-for-profit theatre company founded by Co-Directors Anna Camilleri and Tristan R. Whiston. Never Man’s Land is supported by the Toronto Arts Council, the Ontario Arts Council, Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, the Lesbian and Gay Community Appeal Foundation, and STAF (Small Theatre Administration Facility).

http://www.annacamilleri.com/

***

Tuesday January 29, 2008 – “The Future of Queer Neighbourhoods in Toronto” Panel Discussion” @ Gladstone Art Bar. Free – No Cover.

A special presentation of Java Knights Public Forum – Hosted Gay West & ACT Toronto

San Francisco’s Castro District to Provincetown to Toronto, the hard bodied and cool are displaced in favour of cold hard cash. Gentrification is having a dramatic impact on everything from the GLBT bar scene to politics. The question is, can the GLBT Community survive and thrive without the cocoon of the traditional gay ghetto?

As the ghetto becomes more exclusive, regular gay and lesbian Americans and Canadians are forced to search for new neighbourhoods that are inclusive. For gays who enjoyed living in the traditional gayborhood, moving dramatically changes their quality of life.
This will be a philosophical discussion on GLBTQ new homesteads in city. The Q & A discussion, is a serious look at finding out why this is happening, and is it a good thing or bad thing?

We will be showing one or two of “Queer In the City Video’s” ( 9 minutes each) recorded by the GLBT Historical Society. San Francisco CA in 2007 IV Clips 01, 14 and 15 of 15 – Queer Neighbourhoods of the Future. Panel Discussion and Q & A will follow videos.

http://gaywest.905host.net/files/javaknights.php

***

Looking Queer: Homophobia, Biphobia, Transphobia and Body Image

How does systemic and internalized homophobia impact the way we feel about our physical selves? What impact does transitioning have on body image?

Does coming out make a difference? Does gender? Does generation? Does community?

Please join us for a community discussion to mark Eating Disorder Awareness Week. The discussion will be facilitated by Nadia Bello and Anna Penner from T.E.A.C.H., a program of Planned Parenthood Toronto.

Tuesday February 5th
6.00 – 8.00 pm

Sherbourne Health Centre
333 Sherbourne Street
2nd Floor

For more information and to RSVP, please contact Michele Clarke at 416-324-4177 or mclarke@sherbourne.on.ca

Eating Disorder Awareness Week: Celebrating Our Natural Sizes
February 3 – 9, 2008
www.nedic.ca

***
THE HOBO HOMOS PRESENT – ABNORMALS ANONYMOUS

A Celebration of Circus Freaks and Social Deviants!

FRIDAY, FEB 22, 2008
9-2AM
$15
 
This is a never-before-seen autonomous night of queer political performance reclaiming the original notion of the “freak” in sideshow and circus!

The parallel drawn between the present social voyeuristic fascination with “difference” as experienced by international queer communities of various abilities, backgrounds and deviance.

http://www.dotanddribbleproductions.com/abnormals.htm

***************************************************

SEX WORKER CONFERENCE IN CHICAGO July 16-20, 2008
SAVE THE DATE: The 2008 Sex Worker Convergence is hitting Chi-Town!

On July 16-20 of 2008, hundreds of sex workers and sex worker activists will converge on Chicago at the Desiree Alliance Conference:

“Pulling Back the Sheets: Sex, Work, and Social Justice”

The Desiree Alliance is a diverse, volunteer-based, sex worker-led network of organizations, communities and individuals across the US working in harm reduction, direct services, political advocacy and health services for sex workers. They provide leadership development and create space for sex workers and supporters to come together to advocate for human, labour and civil rights for all workers in the sex industry.

The time is NOW to get active in the movement, so go to…

www.desireealliance.org

of kink and copy editing
January 21, 2008

You know, the statistics function in WordPress never fails to provide me with useful, and sometimes hilarious, information. Today’s gem: apparently someone found this blog by doing a search for the term “gay vomit.” Don’t ask me. 

Today, I give you a book review. I’ve got four more up my sleeve, but in keeping with the theme that seems to be of interest lately, I decided to write about the kinkiest one first, specifically The Master’s Manual: A Handbook of Erotic Dominance, by Jack Rinella.

And therein lies the first problem. This book is in fact not a manual, nor it is a handbook, nor is it for masters. What it is, in fact, is a collection of 40 of Jack Rinella’s columns about leather and kink from Gay Chicago Magazine, and while it does seem intended for a leather/kink-oriented readership (a gay male one, most particularly), it’s fairly general-interest in scope within that realm.

Needless to say, I was a little disappointed. Even the description on the back of the book didn’t make it clear that this was a collection of columns. In fact, the description calls it a “classic leather how-to book,” which is even more misleading because there is virtually zero how-to information in it.

Really, it’s unfortunate, because if the book were titled and packaged to accurately reflect its contents, I might still have purchased it, but my expectations would have been adjusted to what I might find inside, in which case my primary experience of reading it would not have been one of disappointment. As it is, I have a hard time separating my reactions to the actual contents from my grouchiness at the false advertising.

Well, okay, that’s not entirely true. I’ve got a pretty clear review regardless of the title and cover. Unfortunately, it’s a rather distinctly mixed one.

To start with the small details: the writing is very hit and miss. Sometimes Jack Rinella comes up with a clever turn of phrase, and he certainly has some strong ideas (more on that later), but he’s just not the smoothest of writers. The vast majority of the time I spent reading, I was distracted by poor sentence structure, awkward humour, choppy flow, repeated statements of the obvious (“the value of wisdom ought never be ignored”) and trite conclusions, not to mention some grammatical approaches that were downright confusing and had me re-reading sentences—sometimes full paragraphs—to make sure I understood what he was getting at.

And the copy editing… oh, the copy editing. It sucks. Just plain awful. I could count handfuls of the most basic, classic errors in grammar, punctuation and spelling on every page. It just about drove me ape-shit.

Let me be clear on this one point, though: this is not Jack Rinella’s fault. Okay, the writing might be, to a point, but not the copy editing. Please, indulge me in a momentary aside about the professional writing process. There are lots of writers out there who can’t spell for beans, and that’s totally fine because it’s not their job. A writer’s job is to have interesting ideas and convey them in an engaging fashion via the written word. All the better if they happen to have a strong command of the language with which to do so, but this is a bonus, not a requirement. This is not intended to dismiss the value of strong, skilled language masters; I have much respect for them and humbly aspire to be among their ranks. I’m talking about professional requirements. Think of it like this: when there’s a test in med school, some people pass with an A+, and some people pass with a B-. Both categories of people come out with the same medical license. Of course most people want to go to an A+ doctor, and most doctors probably want to be A+ doctors, but the fact of the matter is that there will always be some more naturally skilled than others, and most of them will end up treating patients in one way or another. In the writing world, this is generally less of a life-and-death issue, but the comparison stands.

That’s why we have editors. An editor’s job is to take a text and massage it until it’s in peak form, polish the points to their shining best, and smooth the rough bits until it all reads like a stroke of velvet across your skin. When I read an author who has great ideas and so-so style, I look next to the editor. In this case, that would be Joseph Bean, whose name I know but whose editorial work I do not. I’ll keep an eye out. Right now I’m not so impressed.

The next person on the finger-pointing list is the copy editor. It’s the copy editor’s job to look for errors in spacing, punctuation, minor grammar issues (assuming the editor already caught most of them), capitalization, spelling, and every other conceivable nitpicky detail you can imagine might be relevant to getting a text printed on a page. After that comes the proofreader, who goes over the whole thing in every last little detail once it’s set up in proofs for actual printing. 

Now here’s where I can offer some insight. A couple of years ago, Midori asked me to do some substantive editing work for her book Wild Side Sex: The Book of Kink. As requested, I did the substantive work—making sure ideas flowed, logic was clear, message was clean, and so forth. Big-picture stuff. I left all the grammar and spelling errors alone, and there were lots—let’s remember that Midori is a sophisticated thinker, but also that English is her third language after Japanese and German, and even a strong native English speaker is by no means guaranteed to have a solid command of the semicolon or the difference between “affect” and “effect.” I assumed that the publisher, Daedelus Publishing, would have a staff copy editor like most presses, and a pre-publication proofreader, such that the errors would be caught along the further stages the process.

Unfortunately, when the book came out, I was appalled to see that the errors were all still in it. This is most definitely the responsibility of a publisher, and Daedelus completely and utterly failed at fulfilling it. It almost made me cry (or maybe vomit… gay vomit?) to see her book, so full of insightful ideas and intriguing theses, buried under a pile of basic grammar mistakes. I was angry at Daedelus on her behalf, and on behalf of any other author who might entrust their work to such a completely irresponsible publisher. What a crock.

And guess who published The Master’s Manual? Yep. You got it. Add one to the list of authors on whose behalf I’m grumpy at Daedelus.

Now that I’ve trashed the packaging and the writing, I’ll engage with the meat of the book, the actual ideas. Here’s where things take a turn for the better.

As a leatherman, Jack Rinella does seem to know what he’s doing. He’s strongest when he’s talking about master/slave relationships, though his range runs to the snore-inducing when he gets into “list mode” – look what I have in my toy bag! Look what books about SM you should read! Gah. Those pieces could have been completely dropped, since in my humble opinion, one’s toy bag and bookshelf should reflect one’s specific and personal playtime interests rather than any outside expert’s advice, no matter how knowledgeable. That said, anytime I take real issue with what he’s saying, I can attribute it to the book itself being rather dated (it was originally published in 1995, so his information on, say, sterilizing a dildo is a little creaky), or to his tendency to make sweeping general statements—such as the aforementioned toy bag list—that aren’t necessarily applicable across the board in the world of kink but that aren’t particularly offensive either. They’re simply reflective of his own experience, and not many of us can truly step outside that, so I can hardly fault the guy.

I also found the male-centric approach a bit irritating at times, but he does indicate in the book’s introduction that he was adapting his columns (written for a gay publication, as mentioned) to a larger audience so the focus might be a little cock-heavy. At least I knew what I was getting into, and to be fair, he really did try to generalize in most pieces, and unlike some gay guys he’s not afraid of using the word “vagina.” Good on ya, Jack.

Aside from his good points about D/s relationships, I like Rinella’s writing the most when he’s making principled, political statements about the nature of sex and kink. Maybe that’s just because I agree with him… he really takes a firm stance that people’s kink is their own, there’s no one way to do things, that we should let people discover their own path, and that safety and respect are paramount no matter what. Good messages.

Here, let me point out a few of his stronger pieces. (I’ve left the copy editing more or less intact; thankfully these seem to be some of the better done bits.)

- Chapter 4, “What We Really Need Is an Education,” in which he explains the three principles of a good education in BDSM: technique, understanding and attitude. In other words, learn your play techniques so you can do it safely and happily; think about your motivations and expose yourself to outside stimuli to help you figure your shit out; and cultivate an attitude of openness, confidence and respect. Lastly, none of this is gonna be handed to you, so go out and work for it. Pretty solid advice.

- Chapter 14, “The Question of Equality,” in which he criticizes the idea that a top is somehow “better than” a bottom. I’ll quote a few bits I found particularly well done: “There is no ranking of real power or real service. Of itself power is neutral. The roles we play or the roles we live are neither better nor worse. Their goodness, their rightness springs from the intention, the purpose of our hearts. The real bench-mark is the standard of our souls. (…) For master and slave are not degrees on the scale of goodness. They are the same degree. They are both good in so far as they reflect the inner goodness and just desires of the doer. (…) … in reality the only comparison that matters is how we measure up to our own potential. Do I want to be equal? You bet I do. I want to be equal to the best me that I am.”

- Chapter 17, “The Thin Layer of Civilization.” Another couple of quotes: “Leather, in each of its various scenes, lets us get in touch with the primal issues of life and death, fear and bravery, violence and peace. It hearkens to a primitive, basic, corporal existence—almost (but not quite) the law of the jungle. The attraction, unspoken perhaps, that leather holds is both its contradiction to social norms and the primal impulses it satisfies. (…) (Ours) are passions too intense for a polite, law-abiding democracy, but they are real. To deny them is to deny our inner selves, to say we have no dark side. To express them wantonly is to court disaster. Society has pushed these primal urges to hung, conquer, dominate, to flee, surrender, serve, far from its respectable pretenses. Yet they lie not far below the board room table or the cafeteria lunch counter. Denied expression, they rear their ugly heads in spousal beating, child abuse, addictions, power plays and other forms of “acceptable” violence. Leather offers their release without the destruction they might otherwise cause.”

Do let me point out that I do not think BDSM is a last stop on the way to certain spousal abuse or addiction. I don’t think that’s what Rinella was getting at either, though I do think his statement could easily be misinterpreted as such.

- Chapter 18, “Power.” Definitely one of the strongest pieces in the book. A quote: “Fundamentally, those who aspire to be masters and mistresses must be comfortable with power. That means they need the ability to acquire it, use it, live with its consequences, to overcome the negative connotations inherent in being powerful, and to elude the corruption it ay bring and the conceit it is liable to engender.” Check that out – a white male (though gay) who can warn against the pitfalls of the dominant ego. Nicely done! He goes on: “To do so can be difficult. The Judaeo-Christian ethic that permeates our culture inculcates us with a great deal of negativity about power. We are taught that the meek shall inherit the earth, that modesty and humility are virtues, and to turn the other cheek. At the same time, our education fills us with ambivalence, for it reinforces in us the drive to compete, to win, to conquer, to gain fame and fortune by succeeding, while trying to insure that we are good, “law-abiding” citizens, i.e. that we do what we are told. It is kept a secret that success may be built on the backs of others who have failed.”

I will stop short of quoting the entire piece. Suffice it to say that Rinella does a great job of cutting straight to the heart of the ways power is constructed in our society and what a person needs to overcome in order to hold their power, whether from the top or the bottom, in the world of kink. Very, very good stuff.

- Chapter 38, “Fucking.” I absolutely love his first paragraph: “I suppose that for sensibility’s sake I ought to come up with a better title for this chapter. But as I sit here typing, I can’t. You see, not only do I like the activity of fucking, I like the word. I like it for its shock value, for the way it flies in the faces o those who want to sanitize, legitimatize, and civilize the wonderfully basic and primal event called sexual intercourse.” It’s truly a delicious chapter, and I thoroughly appreciate the way Rinella relishes his subject and provides absolutely no apology for it.

So that’s the positive.

The problem—and again, this isn’t much different from any other halfway decent kink book out there—is that Rinella never truly challenges much of the established wisdom out there about BDSM. He toes the party line. With the potential exception of his raw and eloquent sex-positive attitude and his unapologetic love of power play, he doesn’t say anything upsetting, or particularly critical. He makes lots of good points, but they’re in many ways the same points you’ll find in most other BDSM books. Be nice, play safe, be proud. There’s nothing wrong with any of this, but I’m sure I’m not the only person out there who’s really hankering for the next level, the 201 or 301 instead of the endless repetition of 101-level kink discussion. It’s not that I take great issue with any of his views, and in some ways the ones I mention above are meatier than your average 101 book. Still, I wish they were deeper, more nuanced, further along somehow.

Is this a flaw in the book itself? Not really. Perhaps it’s more like a flaw in the general state of kink literature these days, which seems to think it’s still addressing a population made up entirely of newbies at best and rabid political enemies at worst, whereas the population of seasoned and hungry sex-positive kinsters out there is ceaselessly multiplying, and it deserves some literature to sink its teeth into. And make that properly edited literature, please and thank you.

appetizers for the mind
January 17, 2008

I’ve been posting lots of these long, thoughtful things lately. My hits are skyrocketing and the comments are getting more and more engaged and numerous, so clearly this is a path to keep on following. However, I also think it’s high time to take a break and give you a bunch of little treats instead. I promise I’ll go right back to long and meaty (heh) soon – among other things I’ve got two books to review for you, just for starters. Yum. But for now, a few sex-geeky appetizers:

Did you know that the right-wing French president’s lover is a committed non-monogamist? She’s even got the lingo down. Any heiress/supermodel who can talk about polygamy and polyandry in a news interview and say completely unapologetic things like “monogamy bores me terribly” has my vote, even if her boyfriend’s a turd. Hee hee. (Thanks for the link, P.)

In other news, the Globe and Mail published a story today about a study that firmly recognizes bisexuality as a legitimate orientation (thanks, H). A brief quote from the article:

Bisexuality has not been the subject of much academic study over the years, Dr. Diamond said, and subjects who identify as bisexual are often excluded from studies of human sexuality because researchers do not know how to interpret their results.

“I’ve had journal editors say it would make for a much cleaner study if you just took them out,” she said. “And that’s exactly what keeps happening, so we know almost nothing.”

Neato. The study apparently followed 79 women for a ten-year period, to see if their orientation changed. I really, really appreciate how the study approached this as a question of identity and not of sexual practice – in other words, allowing the women to name their own orientation rather than the researchers looking exclusively at what the subjects did in bed over a given period of time and imposing their own ideas about orientation from there. Now here’s the really interesting bit:

Of the women who identified as bisexual in 1995, 92 per cent identified as bisexual or unlabelled in 2005. Of the women who identified as lesbian in 1995, 66 per cent identified as lesbian 10 years later, 19 per cent had switched to bisexual and 16 per cent to “unlabelled.” None of the women who identified as lesbians in 1995 switched to the heterosexual label.

Fascinating. If anything, that kind of figure points to the possibility that people tend to become more fluid over time rather than less – and that if you start out fluid you’re likely to stay that way. What a thought!

Speaking of sex, did you know that swinging is not about sex? No, really! At least, that’s what a new swingers’ magazine is trying to tell us.

“Most people hear the word ‘swinger’ and they immediately focus on the sex,” says Kasidie’s publishers, Scott and Nicoleta. “But the swinging lifestyle is really not about sex, it’s about sexuality and it’s about friendship.”

Aha, I get it. Swinging isn’t about sex, it’s about sexuality. Gotcha. I’m sure I get the difference… don’t you?

I will spare you my usual rant on people who try to pretend that whatever sexual things they’re doing aren’t about sex, as though sex were dirty and bad and they could redeem themselves to mainstream culture by disavowing them. But I won’t. I’ll just tell you that this is one more example of what I find so unappealing about swingers’ culture. I’m still slogging through Terry Gould’s book The Lifestyle: The Erotic Rites of Swingers, not because it’s poorly written or difficult to understand but because every page makes me want to scream in sheer frustration. But dammit, I’m going to finish this book if it kills me, so that I can provide a fully informed review here and not simply a rant on principle. Wait for it. It’s on the way, I promise!

In somewhat more personal news, I was interviewed yesterday by the Capital Xtra, Ottawa’s gay newspaper. As a freshly minted Ontario resident, I was happy to be informed by my interviewer that the third Monday in February (this year, the 18th) is a new statutory holiday in the province, and it’s called Family Day. It’s one of those things that could be interpreted in a thousand different ways depending on who’s looking, and a cursory Google search turned up nothing about Premier McGuinty’s definition of family, so I’m left to optimistically assume it’s a really wide-open concept for him. Right-wingers seem to really like throwing the concept of family into people’s faces as though it exclusively meant white, heterosexual, middle-class nuclear families with 2.5 children (more if you’re Catholic). But where I come from, family is one helluva larger concept than that – and that’s exactly what the CapX wanted to talk about. Poly family, queer family, leather family… neato. It was a lot of fun to be asked intelligent questions about my concept of family, and it definitely got me thinking about the various circles of people who are family to me each in their own way. The article appears on January 30 – if there’s a link I’ll post it, and perhaps use it as a jumping-off point for further musings on the topic. There’s no shortage of musings these days…

In definitely more personal news, I’m super-excited to note that BlogHer.com published an article entitled “Sex and Relationships: New Voices, New Viewpoints” in which they review a bunch of sexuality blogs, and Sex Geek made their list. Woo-hoo! I’m not entirely sure why it is that the reviewer said I chronicle my “life as a single” – not that there’s anything wrong with being single, but I’m about the furthest from single right now that I’ve ever been in my entire life. Though perhaps she’s talking about “single” as in the classic definition “unmarried,” in which case she’s entirely correct. Whatever. She got the rest right, and said really nice things too. And it’s really cute to be reviewed in an article right next to Freaksexual, the brilliant blog written by my most excellent friend/lover/colleague Pepper Mint (check my blogroll if you’re interested). Yay! Life is good.

And last but not least, I’ve been booked to teach two workshops at Venus Envy (Ottawa) in late May – non-monogamy and fisting, specifically. Check my Workshops page for details if you’re interested; registration isn’t open yet but I’ll post when it is. Also, I’ll be giving a BDSM 101 workshop at McGill (Montreal) during their V-Day week, on February 12 to be exact. Much fun! I hope to see you there!

new perspectives on dominance (or, lots of questions and a few answers)
January 16, 2008

“There is no such thing as a dominant or un-dominant activity. It’s all about the attitude.”

- Raven Kaldera in his workshop “Real Service” with Joshua Tenpenny, Fetish Fair Flea, Providence, RI, January 12, 2008, Westin Hotel, Narragansett Ballroom B

***

To continue with the theme of exploring dominance and submission via picking apart some of the ideas I encountered over this past weekend at the FFF, this next piece is about styles of dominance.

For starters, I wanted to take a look at Raven’s concept of styles of receiving service. He sees them as existing along a continuum of “parental” to “celebrity” and the attendant ideas of proactive vs. reactive service styles. Interestingly, a commenter brought this exact reference up just earlier today – prescient folks you are!

Raven illustrated his continuum with two examples on the extreme ends of it. He talked about two D/s couples going to a restaurant. A “parental” dominant would order the food for him/herself and the submissive, feed the submissive from his/her hand, decide when dinner was over and pay the tab. A “celebrity” dominant would have the submissive go in and get the best table while he/she smoked a cigarette outside; the submissive would order the food because he/she would already know exactly what the dominant’s preferences were; they would eat together, and when the dominant was finished, she/he would expect the submissive to take care of the bill while he/she went to the bathroom, and then wait for the submissive to get the car and drive them home.

It’s an interesting model. You might use the words “control” versus “expectation” to describe the same thing, or perhaps “active” versus “passive.” I feel like I’m trying to find other ways to frame this not because I disagree that there are differing styles of receiving service, but because I feel like neither end of that spectrum Raven described is particularly appealing. I know that Raven was in no way intending to paint dominants as either parent stand-ins or royalty wanna-bes, but I can’t help but find the two images pretty distasteful. I don’t want to be anyone’s parent. Mr. Man, the awful overstepping “master” of a couple posts back, talked about the submissives in the room as “beautiful children” over and over again, and it creeped me out every time – daddy role-play might be cool in some ways, don’t get me wrong, and if that’s the flavour of a given relationship I take no issue with it whatsoever, but from there to genuinely seeing your submissive as though they were a child and not a fully functioning adult? Icky! (Not to mention seeing all submissives as children whether they’re yours or not… even more icky.) I also don’t see much appeal in being a celebrity, at least not the way Raven described it. The implied arrogance and the idea that the dominant is actually pretty clueless about what the submissive does – “just make things happen for me” – just rubs me the wrong way.

Is this my desire for balance rearing its head again? Perhaps. Is this indicative of my own discomfort with a lot of what seems to come with the idea of dominance? Probably. Sure I’m a dominant, but I’m not a control freak and I don’t want to be a substitute parent, nor do I want to have slaves rolling out the red carpet and blaring trumpets for me and running around catering to my every silly whim. Maybe that’s because the picture this paints of the submissives is so unflattering – the counterpart to a parent is a dependent child, whereas I want to deal with intelligent, sexy, strong, competent, independent grown-ups; the counterpart to a celebrity is an adoring and probably undervalued hanger-on, and I want to deal with people who perceive me realistically (not fan-bois) and who also perceive their own value, not people who like being ignored and trod upon.

Don’t get me wrong. I know Raven wasn’t attaching all these negative ideas to his framework. I’m the one doing that, and to be honest, if I enter into the subtext of what he’s saying rather than engaging solely with the imagery and what it brings up for me, it makes a lot of sense.

On the “parental” end of things, well, part of the thrill of taking on dominance with someone is that they place their trust in me to make certain decisions. Sometimes that may well extend to what or how much someone eats, how they dress, the particulars of their manners and behaviour, when they get to go to the bathroom or be excused from serving me, and any number of other things that could (if you chose to see it that way) be reminiscent of parental control. That’s not how I see it and it’s not how my bois see it, but in the realm of objective comparisons, it’s not entirely inaccurate either.

On the “celebrity” end of things, there’s definitely a distinct appeal in having my submissives know my preferences and cater to them, whether it’s how I like my grapefruit served (in a bowl, halved but not pre-sliced, with a sprinkling of cane sugar and a serrated spoon), how hard I like my back massaged (very) or the precise folding and organizational system I use for my clothes (complex and picky). I suppose if you chose to look at that as though I were a celebrity wanna-be, you could see the resonance – but for me, the joy I take here is in shaping someone’s attentiveness and usefulness, not in sitting back and allowing myself to be pampered with blinders on as to how it happens. And I certainly don’t want my bois to see me as though I were up on my high horse expecting the entire world to bend to my whims with no thought as to the kind of work it requires to please me or how much it costs the submissive to provide their service. That kind of attitude just grosses me right out and I want no part in it.

Another workshop over the weekend gave me a further new perspective on the concept of receiving service and on what a dominant’s actual role can be. It was entitled “Dominant As Muse” and it was given by Mistress Max Rulz. She’s a down-to-earth, warm and no-nonsense sort of woman from what I can tell, and while our styles are pretty different in many ways, a lot of what she said really resonated for me. She defined a master as “someone who inspires and/or enables someone to grow emotionally, spiritually and intellectually in their own right.” She then went on to say that “a master is someone who has done just that themselves, who has self-confidence and self-esteem.” Fair enough. If D/s is no more than an erotic game, then it can happen between anyone, but if someone’s going to take on a role involving real-life decision-making and control in someone’s life that extends outside the bedroom, they’d better have their shit together.

She went on to say, “A master carries at least two leashes. One to put on their slave, and a very short one to keep on their ego. Master is no more synonymous with divine than submissive is with weak or stupid.”

Thank you, Max Rulz. As soon as someone speaks about humility within dominance, they’ve got my vote, and both Raven and she did so on numerous occasions – which brings the total number of dominant presenters I’ve heard mention this up to four, the other two being Midori and a Toronto-based dominant known as Goddess Lakshmi. I think there is no coincidence that three out of four are women (all three women of colour, no less) and the fourth is an intersex trans guy. Living on the margins, it would appear, is an excellent way to get a realistic perspective on your own humble humanity even if you choose a dominant role.

Max Rulz also said, “A muse is one who inspires another to do what they might otherwise do for themselves.” Her idea was that a dominant should be a muse for their submissive. Okay. When I think of a muse, I think of some semi-mythical creature with enormous emotional pull who provides something for an artist or other creative person to strive for. I don’t think that’s something a person can choose to be. I’m happy to hear it if I’ve inspired someone in whatever way, but I think that in order to take on the role of a muse in someone’s life, that person needs to put you there and it needs to be a fairly organic process; you can’t step in and decide to become that, and they can’t decide to put you there by an act of choice or will. Besides, being a muse is rather passive. The muse is an image in an artist’s head, a lustful or creative fantasy, not a person who takes up real decision-making power in their world. So. Inspiration as the role of the dominant? Okay, fair enough, but I see that as being a partial or optional role, not so much the be-all and end-all of it.

Or perhaps I just need to frame the idea of inspiration with a figure other than a muse – inspiration on its own is not the issue. As she said, “We don’t always realize what we do that inspires others. Imagine the effect we can have on someone we’re deliberately working on. We’re doing this on purpose!” Very true. Inspiration in its broader sense – in the sense of setting an example, providing encouragement and positive reinforcement, providing discipline and having high expectations of someone as a recognition of their potential – all these things are totally valid in a D/s dynamic.

But one particular piece of her presentation really stood out for me, and that was a question she threw out to all the dominants in the room. “As a top, what is it that you think you deserve? We often think of self-esteem as being a submissive or bottom issue, but not necessarily. How good do you want it? Let’s face it, we are creating our reality. (…) This person who is your charge is hanging on your every word. They are here to serve you. They volunteered for this!” (Yes, she really does speak with sufficient emphasis to merit that much italicizing.)

For some reason this concept of “deserving” really struck me. It made me think back to a workshop that Laura Antoniou gave on D/s a couple of years ago in Toronto, in which she tossed dozens of questions out to the audience to help the dominants frame the specifics of what they wanted. I remember frantically scribbling down notes because until that very moment when she started asking the questions, I had no idea how to frame who I was as a dominant or how to even begin explaining what my preferences were – as a firm believer in independence, individual choice and self-determination, I was still figuring out that it was okay to have preferences about another person’s behaviour or service to me, as opposed to simply accepting it as a kindness or favour. Holding power in a scene was easy for me, but taking it up in an ongoing fashion left me feeling completely baffled. I couldn’t quite wrap my head around what made it okay and why anyone would want a relationship like that, and yet at the same time, people had started to serve me whether I asked for it or not, and the experience was enormously compelling; I couldn’t deny that it called out a response from somewhere deep inside me, but I had no idea what to do with it. So Laura’s questions really helped me come up with ideas about the nitty-gritty everyday shape of service. However, she wasn’t able to answer the larger question which loomed for me: what’s the purpose of all this? What’s the point? What does a submissive get out of this, and how am I supposed to find the language to explain what I get out of it?

Raven expressed it really well in the “Real Service” workshop. He said, “As tops, we suffer from a lack of role models. We don’t know what we want, don’t know what to ask for, don’t know what it’s possible to ask for, and don’t know what’s appropriate to ask for.” And when speaking about his parent/celebrity continuum, he pointed out that depending on the gender demographics of a person’s specific corner of the leather community, that style can be very prescribed, to the point where an entire group of people may see it as wrong to do D/s in any way other than theirs. In his words, “Sometimes you need to fight outside society’s messages and your leather community’s messages and your sub’s messages about where you should be on that continuum.” Put that lack of fitting role models (clearly still a problem for me) together with strong messages from various outside forces (and inner ones), add my unanswered question about the larger purpose of ongoing D/s, and no wonder I couldn’t figure out what the heck to tell someone who asked me “What can I do for you, Ma’am?”

And Max Rulz says I need to answer the question “What do you think you deserve?” Wow, would I ever not have been ready to even consider that two years ago. Me? Deserve? I could barely bring myself to tell someone how I liked to have my socks folded when she asked explicitly and impatiently for the seventh time. What could it possibly mean to deserve that sort of service? To expect it and feel entitled to it? To shape it and guide it as though it were my right to do so? Good lord. Talk about cringe-inducing. I don’t think I have any particular issues with self-esteem, as Max Rulz framed it, but I do think my comfort level with anything that might smack of self-indulgence or ego-stroking is pretty minimal.

I’ve come to a few conclusions in the last couple of years that have really helped me gain a great deal more comfort. I think sitting in this weekend’s workshops really showed me how far I’ve come in my journey to figure out this part of myself. It was extremely satisfying to hear Raven express the big answer I came up with – he does it better than I do, so I’ll quote:

“Half of my job is to give this person a path that’s good for them. The other half is knowing that there is a chain of command here and I’m not at the top of it. As I treat him, so the Universe will treat me. What am I doing with the time he has freed up for me by serving me? I need to take it up and go out and make a difference. Doing D/s at home is not enough. Use that energy and time to go out and do your activist work, follow your calling. Whatever it is, have an impact outside your apartment. Have their service further whatever task you’ve been given. Ask yourself, now that I have the privilege of this service, what can I do with the time freed up by it? How am I becoming a better person rather than simply becoming more lazy?”

Now all of a sudden, if you take that concept of D/s – of the submissive as providing service (quite possibly as part of their own spiritual discipline, whether explicitly acknowledged as such or not) to make it possible for the dominant to further his or her work of making the world a better place – then it’s not so hard to see how there might be a question of deserving on the part of the dominant. I’m in a place, today, where I might be able to start taking up Max Rulz’s question and entertaining the notion that perhaps I do deserve what’s being given to me, rather than simply being lucky to have it.

If I’m taking up power in someone’s world to shape them, to balance them, to care for them, as far as I am able to do so and within my own limits as a human being, and that submissive is devoting their time and energy to making my life easier, then I’d better do something worthwhile with that service and the ease it creates in my world. And if I’m devoting my time and energy to making the world a better place – in my case through teaching and writing and volunteerism and activist work – then sure, I deserve that service. It has a larger purpose outside turning us both on. Yes, it means we provide really wonderful and intimate forms of care and love to one another – service on their part, caring authority on mine – but further than that, it’s contributing directly to goals we both feel are worthwhile.

Of course there is pleasure to be taken in the power exchange. I don’t kid myself that having my boi sit at my feet and feed me grapes is furthering the queer rights movement or saving small children from exploitative labour practices. But shaping a relationship that’s mutually satisfying and pleasurable, and that’s framed explicitly and always in terms of power exchange, means that when there is “real” work to be done it will get done quickly and well, and with mutually valued goals in mind.

Does this mean I think that D/s done purely and exclusively for pleasure is a bad thing? No. If it works for the people doing it, they’ve got my blessing. But for me, I don’t think I could even begin to believe myself to be deserving of the kinds of service I’ve been receiving these past few years if I didn’t feel I was doing something worthwhile in the world that was furthered by the energy and effort of the people who have been or are devoted to me in one way or another.

Does “deserving” mean that if my bois disappeared tomorrow, I would stamp my foot and whine about how I no longer had anyone to prepare my grapefruit and rub my back? Hardly. I’d take it as the Universe’s message that I needed to be doing those things for myself again for a while, and try to figure out what I needed to learn in the process.

Does it mean I feel so entitled to service that I’ll start demanding it from everyone I meet in inappropriate ways? Hardly. Service is a privilege. I might be able, now, to argue that it’s one I deserve, but it’s certainly not one I expect to always have at my disposal. My semi-Buddhist notions of universal impermanence dictate that nothing lasts forever; so while I have it, I’ll keep doing my best to receive service well, and to make my life’s work an attempt to be worthy of it.

striking the balance: the motivations to serve
January 14, 2008

“May you find balance between judgement and appetite.”

- Raven Kaldera, quoting from a ritual he wrote, in his workshop “The Invisible Toybox” presented with Josh Tenpenny at the Fetish Fair Flea in Providence, RI at the Westin Hotel, Narragansett Ballroom A

***

Wowee. I’m thrilled to see the responses to that last post about D/s and boundaries. Yay for good conversation! Thanks for all the excellent and well-thought-through comments, everyone.

That, plus my notes from the rest of the weekend, forms the basis for this post. I spent the vast majority of the weekend thinking about and doing D/s. You might argue that given how I’m in a full-time D/s relationship, I’m never not doing it, and rarely not thinking about it at least on a subliminal level… but this weekend was a particularly intensified example of all that. It’s fairly rare that I can put my boi in a collar and go out in public with him for an entire weekend among 3,000 (yep, I’m told that was the total attendance at the Flea) fellow perverts while spending the majority of my waking hours engaged in some form of active and direct discussion about D/s.

Originally, this post was going to be a rather random collection of musings, thoughts, conclusions and questions about D/s as it stands in my mind right now, some of it in the form of quotes and reactions, some of it in the form of anecdotes, and some of it in the form of workshop reviews. But I’m beginning to realize that I’m better off grouping my thoughts into themes and writing individual posts for each of them, or this will end up being a novel.

So here goes with the first one. More to follow.

***

One of the most interesting workshops I took all weekend – one of the top two, I’d say – was Raven and Josh’s session entitled “Real Service.” The two of them are in a full-time D/s relationship, and have been for the past six years; they’re both highly articulate trans guys, and Raven is a published writer and anthologist (among other things, he co-edited Circlet Press’s Best Transgender Erotica, currently out of print but an absolute treasure if you can get your paws on it). They are definitely the shamanistic woo-woo types but for all that, they’re incredibly grounded and accessible. And because they’re in a full-time service relationship, they have a lot of perspective about what service is, how it plays out in everyday reality, why people want to engage in that sort of behaviour, and so forth. Deeeelicious.

In the workshop, they each gave their perspectives and theories about their respective ends of the D/s dynamic in a wonderfully collaborative fashion; attending the workshop itself is probably the only way you’d get the full glory of their ideas, but I’ll convey what I took out of the workshop here as best I can, along with my own reactions.

For the moment, I’m particularly interested in Josh’s take on people’s motivations to serve. (There was a lot of meat in this workshop, and it inspired a few trains of thought, the others of which I’ll explore later.)

Josh laid out three general categories of motivation for service-oriented people: transactional, devotional and positional.

Transactional would be along the lines of Person A providing service, Person B providing reward, and cessation on either part leading directly and quickly to cessation on the other. The pros: it’s simple enough, it gets each party’s needs or interests met, and it’s fair. The cons: it works all right for part-time arrangements, but when you get into full-time relationships, as Josh put it, “the tally sheets get complicated.”

Devotional – in Josh’s words, “I’m doing this because I luuurve you, you’re great and I want to do great things for you.” The pros? It’s compelling, powerful, beautiful, emotionally satisfying. The cons? Well, as Raven put it, “On the days you hate me, will you still do it? And if so, why? What motivates you? Duty, honour, enlightened self-interest…?” I can imagine how devotional service alone could in fact become quite inconsistent depending on the ebb and flow of intensity in the feelings of devotion or love – not necessarily a bad thing if that’s what you’re expecting, but definitely a bad thing if you’re expecting your suit to be pressed and your lunch made for work the next day, but your submissive is feeling grouchy at you and doesn’t perform their service, so you go to work hungry and dressed for casual Friday on a Tuesday.

Positional is for “the ones who can’t help but do it.” Raven said, “Sometimes it’s safer for them to do it in contract to someone so they’re not giving it away on the street corner.” According to them, these are the people who are most likely to serve outside a BDSM context; service is a part of their identity. The drawbacks are that tops can be (or at least feel) interchangeable, and it can be easy to get stuck in a sense of “this is the way I serve” – for example, as Josh said with a tone of mock horror, “I can’t hit you! That would shatter my world!” To which Raven responded with a grin, “If I order you to do it, impress me.”

I would add another con – in my experience, a lot of the people I’ve seen whose motivations are largely positional are often the most frequently taken advantage of in the D/s world, whether by demanding dominants who don’t consider their submissives’ needs, or by event organizers who think that anyone service-oriented is their 24/7 volunteer, or by dominants with poor boundaries who impose their demands on people with whom they have no negotiated agreements. This isn’t to say that positional submissives are unable to stand up for themselves; but when a good chunk of a person’s identity rests on seeing themselves as useful, service-oriented and competent, sometimes that motivates them to accept behaviour or make decisions that are satisfying in the sense of identity validation but detrimental in other ways.

This reminds me of the big strong power-lifter who will lift your boxes even if he’s got a bad back because it makes him feel like he’s still as strong as ever. The psychological equivalent of a hernia or a slipped disc is no fun; it bugs the shit out of me when I see people causing it or allowing it to happen. In a sense, that’s where the dominant’s role in such a person’s world can come into play – much like a coach who decides to push a power-lifter to add another 5 pounds but not another 50, or insists that the lifter take a break from training to let an injury heal, a dominant in such a submissive’s world holds the responsibility of setting limits so that the submissive doesn’t overextend and suffer the consequences. Minus such a dominant, the onus is on the submissive, and that can be challenging. Of course it’s all the more valuable if the submissive learns to do it well. Raven’s quote, at the top of this post, applies in many ways to dominants, but in this sort of situation I think it applies equally to submissives. That balance between appetite and judgement is crucial for health no matter which side of the D/s coin you may be on.

This whole framework of course inspired quite a lot of thought on my part. I can look at the people who’ve served me, and whom I see serving others, and see a fascinating mix of motivations – which, of course, I can only in truth guess at from the outside. But it’s nonetheless intriguing to observe what people do and how they do it.

I’m thinking, for example, of someone very close to me who’s generally not motivated to serve anyone or anything – in fact, who grew up feeling that service was really a way of letting other people walk all over you, and so actively avoided it. But in relationship with certain really specific people, she is inspired to serve to incredible depths, going far out of her way to make other people’s lives easier and give the absolute best she has to offer, which is considerable in quality and impressive in scope. Devotional seems the appropriate word.

In contrast, I encountered someone this weekend who impressed the hell out of me. We didn’t even exchange names, which I regret, but I will remember the incident for a long time to come because it so perfectly illustrated what I’m talking about.

My boi and I were heading out of a workshop and my water bottle needed filling. Bottle in hand, he noticed a table laden with eight or ten water jugs and stacks of glasses at the back of the room. He picked up the closest jug, and it was empty. The next one too. It wasn’t until jug number 7 or so that he found one with water inside. He proceeded to fill our bottles with it. Then, another boi showed up and started to do the same thing – jug number one, empty. Jug number two, empty. We pointed him in the direction of the full ones and he said thanks. Water Boi then took two of the full jugs, walked to the accessible end of the table, and set them in the spot of the first few empty ones. He then moved the empty ones to the less accessible end of the table. Then he smiled at us, made a couple of friendly comments, filled his water glass and left. In other words: Water Boi’s first and foremost thought was, “how can I make life easier for the other people who will soon encounter this same problem,” followed by “I want to be friendly to these strangers,” followed by “and I want a drink.” In that order.

Positional? Holy cow yes. Clearly, Water Boi is of service whether he’s in contract to a specific person or not. And yet, he wasn’t doing that creepy thing of throwing himself at someone’s feet without permission; “positional” service, at least in his case, had nothing to do with bad boundaries or non-consensual submission, because there was nobody nearby to serve other than me and he clearly wasn’t aiming his action in my direction. Rather, this was simply his way of moving through the world and a reflection of the way he sees himself.

(I should make it clear here that my own boi, whose motivations definitely lean heavily toward the positional, was filling my bottle first because I was standing next to him thirsty and waiting for it, and Water Boi kinda beat him to the punch of the more general service. It wouldn’t do to misrepresent!)

Now, both Raven and Josh made it quite clear that they don’t believe any one of these motivations is inherently better or worse than any other. They also made lots of room for how these things can overlap. Even in just the two examples I gave here, there is definitely overlap; the devotional person I referred to has come to a place where she no longer sees service as a degrading or unfair thing to do in a general sense, and in fact provides all sorts of service in her everyday life with the community, friends and so forth. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it entirely positional service, but it definitely spills out from the confines of the devotional. And though I of course can’t say for sure, I have little doubt that Water Boi, when in a relationship with someone, takes on a fair bit of devotional energy himself. Plus, many of us play with D/s and service in transactional ways regardless of the way we might give or receive service in more established relationships; there’s no shame in finding a sense of complicité with someone and acting on it without any need to build a deep relationship or a core piece of self-identity around it.

What’s intriguing to me to observe in all of this is that I tend to gravitate toward submissives who are one thing, and try to encourage them to be at least a little bit of something else.

My boi M is overwhelmingly positional in his approach, and I find myself often setting limits on his service and encouraging him to see things as more transactional – not in a dismissive sense, but in the sense that if he’s going to provide service to someone I want him to do it in a way that the other person is capable of receiving and appreciating, rather than pouring out his soul and exhausting himself for someone who won’t notice or can’t take it up or won’t appreciate what he’s offering. And while he’s also got a solid dose of the devotional, there are times when I want more of it – for example, there are certain types of service and markers of relationship that we’ve agreed are exclusive to us, to prevent exactly that “interchangeable dominant” feeling. Not that either of us are worried we’re interchangeable to one another; it’s just a question of setting parameters that reflect that.

My boi L tends toward the devotional, and I’m thrilled and honoured to be on the receiving end of very focused and personalized service from her. When it comes to the question of “would you serve me even if you hated me that day,” the answer on her part would be yes, without question, and it’s because of her own extremely strong sense of duty and honour; I doubt she’d ever withdraw her service if she were feeling grumpy at me, and it’s nice to know that the question has been asked and answered. With all that in mind, there’s no question about whether I’m satisfied with her service; however, it’s somehow equally satisfying on the occasions where I see her widen her scope and do things to make life easier for other people around us as well, which seems to happen most often when she and I spend time with boi M and other people in my chosen family. It feels good to play a part in that, to encourage the positional to rise. It feels balanced somehow.

And perhaps I’ve just nailed something. Perhaps, if I were to try and name my role as a dominant, it would be as a balancing force. Does this mean I always know what’s best? No… but if someone’s submitting to me in the first place, it’s probably at least in part because they value my way of seeing things, which means they’re at least somewhat likely to agree if I point out a particular pattern in their behaviour or psychology. And if I’ve agreed to be a dominant to them, it’s probably at least in part because I value and care about them and want to see them happy and whole and healthy, and to me that means balance in all things. So all signs point to the likelihood that my balancing endeavours are welcomed.

Of course this whole triad of possibilities is only one framework to explain the motivations someone may have to serve, so your mileage may vary. It could be really interesting to come up with a whole bunch more motivations that sit outside these three – I’m not coming up with anything brilliant right now, but I’ll chew on it, and ideas are welcome. There is so little out there written about D/s that any perspective is intriguing to pick apart, and all the more so when it comes from people I respect who share values I hold dear.

Further picking-apart shall ensue in coming posts…

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