Archive for June, 2008

butch/femme: flavours of strength
June 26, 2008

I had a conversation with my friend GT several months ago, and for some reason it just popped back into mind the other day. She’s a strongly butch-identified gal, and as we were enjoying a dinner in a loud pub somewhere, we got to talking about dyke genders. She expressed how much she admires the strength of femmes. I asked her what she meant by that, and I couldn’t help but grin when she explained.

She said – and I am paraphrasing, so please forgive me, GT, if I get this wrong – that she sees femme women as strong precisely because femininity is socially constructed as weak, and it takes strength of character to adopt or express one’s femininity in a visible way and constantly have to deal with people who misunderstand its meaning. Basically she admired the strength it takes to stand up to classic sexism at every turn in a simple effort to express one’s authentic gender. She extended this to admiring the strength it takes to live with being a target for men’s sexual harassment and assault, and additionally, the strength it takes to withstand the isolation and invisibility of being frequently read as straight both by the world at large and, at times, by fellow queers too. On top of all that, she specifically admired femme women who take up dominance and power, because society discourages those two things from ever coming together (unless it’s all about pleasing a man, of course). In essence she admired what she sees as the strength to live one’s gender without shame in a society that throws so much negativity on it.

The whole thing made me laugh because I have often expressed my admiration of butch women in extremely parallel ways. I’d never heard anyone speak about the mirror opposite version, but in a way it made sense that we’d each be sitting there looking across the table at the other and conveying completely complementary opinions. It sort of illustrated to me how it is that there remains such a consistent level of erotic tension between people who do the complementary genders of butch and femme. Don’t get me wrong – I totally understand that there are many other gender combinations that have their own delicious eroticism. In no way am I trying to construct butch/femme as the One True Way to experience an erotic connection. (It’s certainly not the only way I experience them.) But it tickled me to see us both waxing poetic about our reasons for loving the other’s gender, and in such similar terms.

My admiration of butch goes along similar lines. I see butch women as strong because every time they do something or wear something that expresses their gender, they’re flying in the face of everything society tells them they, as women, should be doing. Every buzz of a razor against their scalp, every purchase of boxer briefs, every adjustment of a tie, every way they can conceive of to accurately convey “this is who I am,” is a fuck-you to a world that creates an extremely rigid model of what women can and cannot look like. That world constructs any hint of masculinity in a woman – body hair, facial hair, fat, swagger, square shoulders, physical strength, wide jaw, short hair, and all the clothing and other markers that accentuate those characteristics – to be horrendously ugly, the antithesis of attractive, the worst kind of shameful. To adopt butch gender and still manage to find oneself sexy despite all the messages out there that scream the contrary – to me this is courage.

Butch women walk around in bodies and genders that are excruciatingly visible, whether they’re in a safe place or not. This makes them the easiest target for homophobia. While I, as a usually-fairly-femme woman, pass as straight whether I want to or not, butch women are seen as dykes whether they want to be or not, and that means that anyone who has a hate-on for queers will notice them first. I don’t often get noticed unless I’m holding hands with such a delightful creature (and that invisibility presents its own form of oppression, as GT pointed out, but I digress). Among the butch women I know, many have been disproportionately targeted for homophobic violence, whether verbal or physical.

On top of all that, when butch women spend time among queers – and straight folks too, no doubt – they’re expected to be invulnerable because of the way our culture constructs masculinity. So in addition to dealing with all the bullshit aimed at them because of how bad it is to be masculine and female, the world wants to pile all society’s expectations of classic sexist masculinity on them. They’re expected to carry heavy things and fix cars and never cry and never get fucked and never be vulnerable and so on, and so forth. Again, I’m well aware that lots of queers don’t attribute this sort of package deal to the butch… but it’s definitely there, and butches who explode those boundaries are at times met with disgust even among their own. So my particular admiration goes toward butch women who manage the hybrid existence of masculinity and vulnerability, strength and softness. In essence, I greatly admire the butch bottom (and all butch women who open up in one way or another) for having the courage to be exactly what she is in all its complexity.

What really got me about our conversation, though, was the moment when I realized that all we were doing was admiring one another for being ourselves, each in the best way we know how.

***

P.S. The CBC was on as I wrote this, a call-in show about people’s experiences with tools, specifically stories about “overcoming tool terror.” One of the guests, Lori Mitchell, is involved with a company called Tomboy Tools, which makes tools designed especially for women. (Some of them are pink, but thankfully not all of them are.) About three seconds after I posted it, a woman called into the show and identified herself as a butch lesbian. She went on to rant about how a man once made all sorts of assumptions about how she must know how to use power tools because she’s butch. “It’s not like I was born with this knowledge somehow ingrained!” she wailed. Mitchell said, “It’s all those stereotypes! Why didn’t he assume, I dunno, that you knew how to decorate cakes?!” What an à-propos illustration of exactly what I’m talking about!

predictions from the sex geek: checking in halfway through
June 22, 2008

More than six months ago, the lovely ladies on Montreal’s CKUT radio show AudioSmut asked me to write up a whole bunch of sex predictions for the year. I did so, with a general focus followed by some more Quebec- and Montreal-specific bits, and fired it off just before shutting down the ‘puter and packing it into a moving van to head to Toronto. I’d fully intended to post it here, but somehow I never got around to it. I just came across it in my records now, and it occurred to me that it might be fun to post it halfway through the year to see whether any of my predictions have come true. Fun times! Here it is, followed by a quick look at what’s actually happened. Enjoy!

***

2008 Predictions from the Sex Geek
by Andrea Zanin

When it comes to sex, 2008 will be a year of change. Bush will finally get booted out of office, so maybe our neighbours down south will regain some of that lost sanity around questions of sexual expression and education.

On this side of the border, I predict this year will be a big one when it comes to questions around sex workers’ rights – with rumblings about decriminalization starting to get louder, and new feminist groups forming to support those endeavours.

I also expect to see the ramifications start to play out from the groundbreaking case in Ontario in which a child now has three legal parents – two parents and a sperm donor. I can’t wait to see what this will do to shake up traditional definitions of family!

And I think we’ll start seeing interesting new discussions around safer sex, contraception, HIV/AIDS and teen STI rates – with shifts in provincial sex ed policy, increasingly comfortable and sex-positive condom advertising, growing complacency about AIDS as the third decade of the epidemic draws to a close, new STI vaccines available and more, shifts are bound to occur.

Last but not least, in terms of global predictions, I think 2008 will be the year of the tranny – transsexual and transgender rights are taking up an increasing amount of space and attention in the media and in community discourse, and it’s about time. I hope we’ll see positive developments that will increase access to medical services and decrease the hassles that most transfolk have to face in their everyday lives, whether we’re talking about school registration systems that won’t change someone’s name or general societal cluelessness about trans people’s needs and rights.

But to bring things down to the local, I expect to see intriguing developments and increasing sophistication in the world of alternative sexuality in Montreal.

Last summer’s Censored festival ushered in a new era of BDSM and kink in the city, bringing people together for workshops and parties in a surprisingly spicy blend of anglophones and francophones, straights and queers, players and partyers. I predict, and hope, that this year’s edition will capitalize on the successes of 2007 and learn from its failures… and that the professionalism and good energy of the organizers will have a ripple effect on Montreal’s BDSM world as a whole. Expect super-hot events from Isabeau at Le Fetiche Store among other things.

I predict that the two organizations making gay pride happen will continue to turn the cold shoulder to one another, and something ridiculous will occur. Couldn’t quite tell you what – media scandal, backstabbing, nasty competition, who knows. Factor in the radical queer underground’s own version of pride, and these are exciting times in the realm of the rainbow flag. Watch for it! The feather boas will fly.

On the downside, though, I predict a continued lull for the lesbians. The recent closing of Boutique Mad-Âme, lesbian clothing store extraordinaire, marks a major loss for the fashionable queers among us, but in no way do I feel that’s an indication of any failure in our sartorial skill – owner Amy is taking off for a great job opportunity in her chosen field, not because Montreal dykes stopped buying hot clothes. Nonetheless, it’s a damn shame to lose the store. Where am I gonna get my “I Love Vaginas” t-shirts now?

Also, if history is any indication, we’ve got about another year and a half to go before we can expect the next short-lived ladies’ bar to open up, and in the meantime we’ll bop around from place to place enjoying the occasional women’s night until someone decides to gamble yet again on our dyke drinking dollars. Will it ever work? Your guess is as good as mine, gals. Cross your fingers that at the very least, Le Boudoir will reappear this year… boy, did we ever miss it in 2007!

Now, despite all that despondency, put your ear to the ground… listen carefully… did you hear that? It’s the murmur of exciting things coming down the pipeline. Serge et Réal, the gay bookstore, may have closed, but somewhere in town, you’ll be able to find a wider selection of English-language queer books starting soon. Don’t hold your breath for a L’Androgyne revival, but do keep your eyes peeled for fuller shelves at an independent local bookseller. What else? Well, Come As You Are came and went, but you may start hearing of a new game in town in the queer-friendly sex-toy department. That’s all I can say for the moment! Oh, and if certain people slack off on their schoolwork a bit and devote some energy to a far sexier project, we may see Montreal’s first women-and-trans bathhouse… that might be a long shot, but a girl can hope, no?

As for me personally, as you hear this over the airwaves via the dulcet tones of the Audio Smut ladies, I’m in Toronto schlepping my furniture into my new apartment there. After 20 years of delightful debauchery in Montreal, I’m off to seek new adventures in Hogtown, starting by moving in with my sweetheart and entertaining a few lovers. I predict lots of good times! Of course I plan to spend a lot of time in Montreal – sort of like when you keep sleeping with your ex once you’ve broken up, I’m definitely intending to maintain good, ahem, relations.

As well as enjoying my new city and visiting my old one, I’ll be travelling all over North America to teach and speak about alternative sexuality, writing my first book, co-organizing the second edition of the women and trans BDSM event An Unholy Harvest in October, and blogging as usual at sexgeek.wordpress.com. Come visit me there anytime!

2008 is a leap year, folks – that means you have a whole extra 24 hours to get yourself into all kinds of trouble. Don’t waste a minute of it!

***

So, point by point.

Bush’s departure and renewed sanity in the US around questions of sexual expression and education

Too early to say. Besides, I quickly became very tired of the reductive and repetitive media attention to the race and gender politics of the current elections run, and have pretty much opted out of keeping track of what’s going on down there until we get the final results. American politics are such a frickin’ circus. Yick.

Sex workers’ rights, rumblings about decriminalization, new pro-sex-worker feminist groups

Yes, but for the moment they’re still at the “rumbling” and “new” stages. Perhaps by the end of the year we’ll see more interesting things take place.

Ramifications from the Ontario three-legal-parents case

Well, there’s been discussion here and there, but nobody’s pushing through any new cases that I’ve heard of. The potential effect of the Ontario case on poly family has definitely not been felt yet. This is not surprising, given that poly folks are generally slow to bring anything into the realm of courts-based activism. Non-monogamy is also fairly unpopular in the media eye these days because of the current big stink centred on non-consensual religious polygamy, with some of the discussion relentlessly anti-multiple-partner, some if it looking at child abuse, and the rare article considering the question of whether religious polygamy is actually non-consensual and abusive or just retrograde in its gender politics. None of this is exactly what I’d call conducive to a nuanced understanding of the potentials for healthy, happy, consensual non-monogamy, especially when kids are involved.

However, on a different but definitely related note, I’m definitely seeing a swelling of cultural interest in the queering of the queer family. In the last few weeks I’ve received at least three calls for submissions for anthologies both academic and popular, as well as notices about spoken word events, documentary films and other cultural productions on the topic of queer family outside the “gay men or lesbians having kids” box. I’m in the process of co-authoring a submission to an anthology (I’ve posted the CFS below) to be put out by a Canadian small press about the experience of creating queer family with my ex, T (now known as the Spuncle), the Lesbian Moms to whom he donated sperm, and the mutual friend/ex who introduced everyone, among others. This in addition to the Xtra article of this past spring where the Moms and I were interviewed on the topic of Ontario’s new Family Day.

New discussions around safer sex, contraception, HIV/AIDS and teen STI rates

Meh. Nothing much so far, but you never know. The HPV vaccine discussion is still around, but it’s getting a bit old; I haven’t heard much else recently that’s gotten me all excited, but I’ll keep ya posted if I do.

Positive developments in transsexual and transgender rights, including increased access to medical services

Yes! Well, in Ontario at least. Sex reassignment surgery has recently been re-listed, although activists are still facing a lot of work when it comes to pushing the government to update the standards it uses to judge people’s eligibility for the surgery, among other things. As for other Canadian initiatives, I’ll tell you more after the CPATH conference next week.

A new and better Censored festival in Montreal, plus hot kink events from Isabeau at Le Fetiche Store

Yup. The festival is on its way and has a partly-new management team and a new name: Le Festival Kinky de Montréal. It takes place August 7-10 and I’ll be teaching at it twice. Fun! And Isabeau is definitely doing cool events these days.

The two organizations making gay pride happen in Montreal will continue to turn the cold shoulder to one another, and something ridiculous will occur

Well, I don’t know if it counts as ridiculous, but the Fierté LGBTQ folks have moved the date of Pride to mid-August. When Divers/Cité ran Pride, Community Day and parade were held on the culminating weekend of the festival. Last year, the first that Divers/Cité dropped the organization of Pride, there was a bit of a fumble between several organizations to take it up; Fierté Montréal was born and quickly died, but Célébrations LGBTQ grew up in its place and took on the task of creating Community Day and the parade. They held it on the weekend just prior to Divers/Cité, which meant that we had a Saturday of tabling, a Sunday of marching, a couple days’ rest, and then D/C hit. Really, from a scheduling point of view, it wasn’t too bad.

This year, Divers/Cité will still be held on its usual dates – July 29 to August 3 – but Pride leaps back a full two weeks. Specifically, the renamed Célébrations de la Fierté is holding Community Day on Saturday, August 16, and the Pride parade on Sunday, August 17. For locals that may or may not have a serious effect on things, except maybe that people may have a harder time arranging their vacations so they don’t have to miss one or the other celebration. But this difference in dates means that out-of-towners who want to do both will need to travel twice. I can’t help but wonder how long the situation can sustain itself – what will the split do to the influx of tourist dollars? Will queer businesses suffer? Will they reap the benefits of twice the tourism? Will Montrealers get bored of the catfighting and opt out of celebrating gayness in big public ways altogether? Really, I’m not sure what to expect. I will definitely continue to report on further politics as I hear about them!

A continued lull for Montreal lesbians

Yep. Bang on. No more clothing store, no bar, a few scattered events (though doubtless fun ones), and no more Boudoir, probably ever. We will just have to find other places to wear our fedoras and fishnets. Miriam Ginestier is organizing a dyke bicycle rally event for later this summer, the details of which I haven’t yet heard, and because it’s Miriam it will doubtless be a good time. But beyond that – nada.

All in Montreal: queer books, sex shops and maybe even a bathhouse!

Sorry, folks. The possibilities I’d heard about at the time I wrote my predictions have one by one fallen through. As soon as I hear about any cool stuff in this realm for the Montrealers, I promise I’ll let you know. At the moment I see nothing on the horizon.

And there you have it. The half-point check-in. I’ll provide an update at the end of the year, which is now less than six months away! Jeebus. Time flies when you’re having fun.

***

CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS: PLEASE FORWARD WIDELY

Dyke Moms, Donor Dads, and Reconceiving the Queer Family: An Anthology

You’re an out dyke about town. You meet someone, shack up, get a cat. You survive the non-monogamy negotiations and a renovation, get jobs in your fields, do lots of therapy, and decide it’s time to expand beyond your twosome into the world of parenthood. Being enterprising women with a solid do-it-yourself streak, you decide to forgo the impersonality and expense of a sperm bank and ask Tony, your gay friend from college, to donate some sperm to the cause. What could be simpler? A few months, a few syringes, some egg white and folic acid, a bit of awkwardness, and baby will make three.

Uh, make that four. Or five. Or maybe six. Because Tony (who, oddly, didn’t just miraculously vaporize as soon as the child was conceived) has a mother and a partner, both of whom want a relationship to the child. Like it or not, baby’s made something a lot more than what you bargained for. But what?

This anthology, to be published in Spring 2009 by Toronto’s Insomniac Press, will explore, through personal essays and first-person accounts, the phenomenon of lesbian couples (and the occasional single dyke) who choose a male friend or acquaintance, rather than an anonymous sperm donor, to father their children.

Submit!

With no clear models to follow, this new version of the queer family is creating its own. That’s where this anthology comes in. We are seeking stories that are funny, touching, heartbreaking, provocative, thoughtful… and very, very relevant to the new queer (and queer-positive) family.

We are looking for creative non-fiction and first-person accounts by

* lesbian mothers who have chosen known sperm donors in order to conceive;
* gay and straight men who have become sperm donors to lesbian mothers;
* their partners, their children, and other invested parties.

Submissions might explore (but should not be limited to) the following issues and themes:

* When baby-making doesn’t take or takes too long; dealing with infertility, miscarriage, or even routine insemination is difficult enough for the average couple, so what happens when the donor also becomes emotionally involved? What happens when negotiations break down?
* Can his parents come to visit? Is it rude to insist they stay in a hotel? With new family configurations come new questions of etiquette. How to deal gracefully (or at least sanely) with an often unexpected extended family.
* The other mother: What happens to the experience of non-biological mothers when a biological “Dad” is also part of the picture? Non-biological mothers in lesbian partnerships have long had to deal with issues of belonging and recognition in a society that is slow to recognize them as parents. Non-biological moms talk about the processes and challenges of claiming their roles as primary parents.
* “Daddy” doesn’t mean what it used to … How does the choice to become a donor redefine circles of gay male friends and the identities of gay men? From sperm count and motility to number of children fathered, the “donor” phenomenon has sparked new concerns and conversations among gay men.
* My husband is sleeping with lesbians! What does it mean when your partner is the father of the new baby… but the baby isn’t yours? From straight women who never thought they wanted kids to gay men who must put up with their boyfriends’ new “focus,” the new “donor” family has far-reaching implications.
* What if the birth changes everything? The donor who didn’t want to be overly involved is smitten with “his” new son or daughter. On top of figuring out how to live with a newborn, the new moms must find a way to negotiate the demands of a relationship they didn’t realize they were entering into.
* Gay divorce: What happens to the donor if the moms split up? What happens when the relationship between moms and donor deteriorates?

To submit, send two double-spaced hard copies and an electronic copy on disc (in .rtf format) to the address below. Submissions should not exceed 15 pages or 7,500 words. Please left-justify your submission and use a serif font (e.g., Times New Roman) in 12-point size.

Please include your name, address, telephone number, email address, and a brief bio (100 words). Submissions will not be returned. Emailed submissions will not be considered.

Deadline for Submissions:  September 15, 2008

Contact us
Chloe Brushwood Rose & Susan Goldberg, Editors
Reconceiving Anthology
c/o Dr. Chloe Brushwood Rose
Assistant Professor, Faculty of Education
York University
4700 Keele Street
Toronto, Ontario  M3J 1P3
Canada
reconceivinganthology@gmail.com

red lights, black boots and sex parties, oh my
June 20, 2008

A slightly random collection of bits and pieces for you today: Amsterdam part 2 and some cool upcoming stuff in Toronto.

First, part 2 of the Amsterdam post. I didn’t intend for there to be a part 2, but when you post while half-asleep at 4 in the morning, you miss things… and some of those misses need to be rectified. So here we go.

I should note that several different friends on this side of the pond put me in touch with several different leatherdykes in and around Amsterdam, so leatherdykes do definitely exist there. Amsterdam in fact has a leatherdyke group called WildSide, and is home to Europe’s only leatherdyke conference, WALP (Women at Amsterdam Leather Pride), whose last-ever edition takes place in the fall of 2009 – now that’s a reason to go back! However, due to a combination of my own last-minute attempts at contact, the general busy-ness of said leatherdykes, and the unfortunate timing of our visit (we arrived and left a week before WildSide’s monthly munch), we did not encounter any of these wonderful gals in person. So I’m not saying there are no leatherdykes there, or that there are no dykes in general. They’re just, y’know, like Snufalupagus dykes. Better luck next time, I hope.

Now, while the dykes were invisible, the sex workers were quite noticeable. It feels important to mention the red-light district, because everyone seems to make a really big deal of it, but in all honesty it was pretty anticlimactic. I’ve seen lots of girls in underwear before, whether in person or (like most of us) in ads, porn, art, burlesque shows, strip clubs and so forth. Really – walking down a street and seeing girls in underwear hanging out in their doorways wasn’t all that terribly exciting. They were lovely, of course, but – meh. No biggie. It was interesting to note that the district is in fact demarcated from the rest of the city by literal red lights, as in, a post parked in the middle of the sidewalk with red lights shining all around it so you can’t possibly miss what you’re walking into.

A more striking difference between sex work in Amsterdam and here is that in Amsterdam, live sex shows are par for the course. We must have walked by at least half a dozen different clubs with billboards announcing live sex on stage. I kept wondering whether it would be an enjoyable show or if it would just really gross me out. I tend to find porn boring, but I tend to find watching real live people have sex compelling. The difference is that with the sorts of people I’m most likely to find myself watching in person, what intrigues me about the experience is seeing the way they connect with one another, the intimacy and energy and hotness they share. Those people are generally members of my community in one fashion or another – lovers, former lovers, potential lovers, friends; queers, trans folk, kinksters and so forth.

But what would it be like to watch (presumably) straight, gender-normative strangers fuck for a paying audience? I imagine that if the people had a good connection with one another, such a live show could have been really hot. If, on the other hand, it had felt like the equivalent of porn performed on stage, I’d probably have been just as bored as I am with the mechanical quality of most X-rated films, plus possibly extra grossed-out for seeing it and feeling it up close and personal. In the end, we didn’t find out. It just didn’t feel important enough to make a point of going, and we had fun dungeon equipment waiting for us at the Black Tulip so we went home instead.

And speaking of dungeon equipment… how could I forget to mention one of the bestest pieces of all? Our first room came equipped with a bootblacking chair! Yum, yum, yum. Boi L has been taking care of her own footwear for years, and even more so since joining the army. She even did my boots once while I was busy doing something else once a few months back. But Amsterdam marked the first time she’d ever knelt for me (or anyone else) and provided a shine while I actually had my feet in the shoes in question. She took a pair of my oldest, comfiest, most falling-apart walking shoes and brought them from “these should probably get tossed out” to downright natty. The operation provided the Black Tulip owners with yet another opportunity to prove how cool they were; Boi L had brought a full kit with her, but somehow managed to leave the brush at home. The guys were more than happy to lend us theirs. When we asked, the response was a smile and, “Black or brown?” Ahh. Again, can I say how much I enjoyed this hotel?

***

And speaking of bootblacking… I’ve been invited to be a judge for the Great Lakes Leather Alliance Bootblack Contest later this summer, August 22-24 to be precise. How frickin’ cool is that? Really. I’m already looking forward to it now. I can only imagine the eye candy… and of course, as a judge, I get to experience each contestant first-hand. I mean experience their bootblacking skills. Ahem.

***

And now, Toronto.

Midori asked if I could do a bit of local promo for her classes. Most particularly she wants to get a good-sized group out to the one she’s teaching for DevianToronto on Saturday, as in tomorrow. It happens to be one of my favourite of her classes, and it’s good one for the brainy/conceptual folks, who might be overrepresented in this particular readership… so I encourage you to attend. She’s also teaching at Come As You Are. Feel free to pass the word; I’ve posted the info below.

*

Saturday, June 21st, 2008 – 12:00 – 2:00
for DevianToronto – register here

“Beyond Twisted: Kink Outside the Box”

Ever feel boxed in by the definition and expectations of kinky sex? Find your self dissatisfied with scenes or frustrated at not having your desire accepted? Want to figure out how to create a multi person scene and with everyone happy? You’re not alone! Ever notice the expectation that sadist must of course be a dominant and a submissive must of course be a masochist? Is this right? Wrong! Come along as Midori explodes the standard definitions of kink roles and expands the idea of what kink is all about. In “Beyond Twisted,” she maps out a fine-tuned and flexible framework that anyone can use to help describe their deviant desires. And as we all know, that’s the first step to fulfilling them!

This is a class for those who don’t quite fit into the standard boxes… and for anyone who’s curious about their own possibly untapped potential!

*

Come As You Are workshops (register here)

- Sunday, June 22, 5:30pm: How to Eat a Peach (Cunnilingus – she gave it at IMsL and the dykes gave it rave reviews, which is a good sign!)
– Monday, June 23, 7:30pm: Hands-On Rope Bondage
– Tuesday, June 24, 7:30pm: Joystick Secrets
– Wednesday, June 25, 7:30pm: Improve Your Flogging Skills (This is a particularly good one, it’s very hands-on and her exercises work really well.)

***

Beyond kink workshops, it’s Pride time! Whee! I am very, very disappointed to note that Fight for Pride, an all-women’s boxing event that was supposed to take place on Wednesday of next week, has been cancelled due to lack of funding and issues with strict commission regulations. Argh. What a bummer! I have resolved to drown my sorrows in the CPATH conference – the Canadian Professional Association for Transgender Health, which takes place on Friday the 27 and Saturday the 28. Okay, so I know most people don’t get all excited about 9 a.m. keynote lectures on Pride weekend, but seriously, they have some excellent speakers lined up, including Aaron Devor of UBC, who, under his former name, authored the enormous book “FTM.” They’ve also got a cross-Canada review of the status of trans health in each province. Really, I’m pretty excited.

It also appears that everybody and their dog wants to hold a sex party for Pride. Boi M and I took in the Women and Trans Bathhouse night on Wednesday; this Saturday, one of Ishwar’s famed Ghandarva Creations parties is taking place (this one will be my first); the Saturday of Pride we’ve been invited to a private party and Goodhandy’s is having one of their I Love Sex parties, so we’ve got to hit two in one night. Jeezis. So many outfits! So much lube! How’s a girl to keep up? Well, by blogging I imagine…

black tulips, painful museums and invisible dykes
June 18, 2008

I am back in Canada after a week of adventures in Amsterdam with Boi L. So. Much. Fun. I travel a lot, but I rarely vacation, so this was a special treat indeed. And what a cool town to vacation in.

Let’s see, a few highlights. Be warned that this is going to be more of a fun travel post than a thoughtful intellectual one – entertaining I hope, but not necessarily brain food. Read on if you like candy. Oh, and I’m not going to bother talking about the hot black dress I bought (oh, I just did! darn), or the general art museums we visited, or what it was like to be present when the Netherlands won the soccer game (so much orange, so much yelling…), or the utterly headache-inducing weirdness of going to “coffee shops” that were actually public marijuana dens, or whatever. Let’s keep to topic, shall we?

***

First of all, Amsterdam is full of gorgeous people. Everyone looks healthy, everyone bikes around town instead of using cars, and everyone dresses extremely tastefully. Plus, they have great shoes. Wow! So good.

The odd thing, though, is that with a handful of exceptions, I didn’t see any queer people. Was this because queerness is so fully accepted that nobody feels the need to culturally identify via dress and hairstyle? Was it because we were in the wrong parts of town? (It’s really a tiny town.) Even the so-called lesbian bar was empty but for the grouchy-looking male bartender. I wasn’t convinced.

I’ve got nothing against the idea of widespread queer acceptance, but I have to admit I really like having enough of a queer culture that we have some recognizable visual signifiers with which to identify one another. Honestly, had I wanted to hit on anyone, I wouldn’t have known where to start, and the noticeable absence of anything resembling a butch or a trans person was nothing short of bewildering. Do they simply not exist there? Or is queerness just so banal that there’s no need for community identifiers? I’m stumped. All I know is that in one of the world’s most queer-friendly cities, we felt like the only dykes for miles around. If a little oppression is what it takes to build an interest in queer community and culture, maybe it’s not such a bad thing. Okay, I know that’s a sacrilegious thing to say, but really, I’m not that thrilled about our utopian queer future being populated exclusively by L-Word lesbians whom I can’t tell apart from straight girls. When we spotted a cute blonde gal with a funky haircut and a few facial piercings, Boi L suggested we tackle her and bring her home with us, and I actually gave the matter some thought before saying no. Good thing we were able to make our own fun one-on-one!

***

I must devote considerable space in this post to the Black Tulip, Amsterdam’s leather-themed hotel. Actually it’s more like a rather large bed-and-breakfast, and I hesitate to use the word “themed” because that makes it sound like a cheesy Disney park when really it’s a gorgeous and tastefully decorated space that just happens to include well-made dungeon equipment in every room. It also has glass cases in the breakfast room featuring products for sale, such as anal lube (they have a no-Crisco house rule, as apparently you can’t get the smell out of the sheets – who knew?), floggers, ball gags and various other cool accoutrements. I had to hold back from buying a sinister-looking posture collar with very elegant metal bits on it. The design was rather reminiscent of a medieval torture device I saw not long ago, and was quite gorgeous, but the cost was… well, rather reminiscent of medieval torture. Yowch.

Anyway, Boi L and I showed up at 6 p.m. and asked for a room for the night, not realizing how small the place would be. They gave us the only empty room in the place, which came complete with a multi-strap bondage chair, a sling over the bed with four removable restraints, a metal trapeze, a leather bedspread (now that was a first for me, very pleasantly heavy to sleep under), a jacuzzi, and a wonderfully designed desk chair – a leather-covered high-backed chair with O-rings embedded at the top of the back and at two points on each side of the (solid) bottom. In essence, if I’d had a collar and some rope or chain handy, I could have attached Boi L by the ankles and neck to the chair, leaving her completely able to perform desk-related tasks (with good posture no less) but unable to stand up and move. It was the one point in the weekend when I wished I’d brought work with me, just for the pleasure of having her do some of it for me thus bound. Ah well.

The best part is that we were conceiving of our stay as a one-night splurge, but for various reasons – renovations completed unexpectedly early, cash payment, general kindness on the part of the owners – we wound up getting such a good deal that we stayed for three nights. We switched rooms for the second two, so in addition to all the fun of the first room we also got to enjoy a second room with vaulted ceilings and lots of exposed brick, plus a large and extremely solid dog cage installed on the second “floor” of the room, basically the section above the bathroom. It was bolted into the ceiling and wall and accessible by a ladder, and it didn’t budge a millimetre even when I rattled it with all my strength. Yowza.

I couldn’t help but grin when I noted that the rooms each contained a little black leather-bound book that, in addition to information about breakfast and check-out times and how to access the wireless network, were full of very straightforward information about the local leather bars and the general hotel rules – keep the piss scenes to the bathroom, close the curtains when playing so you don’t scare the passersby, and so forth. To see this sort of information presented in an utterly nonchalant manner just made me happy.

Interestingly, the Black Tulip is reputed to be a gay-only hotel, but they’re not – certainly the bulk of their clientele is made up of leathermen, but they’re quite friendly with the dykes and the straight couples too. The owners were very happy to have rambling discussions over breakfast about the relative merits of poppers, the advantages of various types of butt lube, the local dyke scene and the state of affairs for in the kinky hotel business. I detected no fear of the vagina dentata on their part. Thoroughly charming.

***

Of course the shopping was much fun. There was something particularly enjoyable about having earnest Dutch leathermen run around to find us the right size of chest harness for Boi L in two stores. Or maybe I just enjoyed seeing her in leather chest harnesses. No, it was the running around too. Good service is lovely whether I’m paying for it, or someone else is, or we’re getting it for free. It was also much fun to spend time underwear shopping for Boi M – hey, we wanted to get a souvenir for him, all the better if it was one we could both enjoy too!

***

And then there was the Sex Museum. I’d been warned by several people that it’s not very well curated, and they were right – it’s not. But it was still a fascinating visit. On the downside, they’ve got some pretty cheesy stuff, such as a life-size model of a man that whispers “psssst!” when people walk by his little alcove and then proceeds to open his overcoat and flash them. Really – the real thing is irritating enough, I hardly need a robotic version.

In addition, their plaques are poorly translated into English at times to the point of absurdity; their collection is highly eclectic and inadequately laid out, such that you need to crane to see things at times; and their curatorial standards are definitely sub-par. I was unimpressed to see that, for example, some of their archival photographs were mounted on what appeared to be construction paper and framed in cheap dollar-store “frameless frames.” And I was utterly appalled to note that smoking is permitted inside the museum. I just about cried when I found myself coughing on someone’s cigarette smoke as I peered at a set of original prints of Bettie Page photos – the idea of the nicotine interacting with the objects and the art and slowly killing them was just awful.

On top of all that, some of their information contradicts even the most basic knowledge of sexological history. For example, in their “Marquis de Sade” room, a brass plate tells us that sadomasochism takes its origins in the United States, while blatantly ignoring the fact that the very room where this plaque is located is named after the Marquis, whose French (not American) name is at the root of the term “sadism” in the first place, just as Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s name (also not American) is at the root of “masochism.” De Sade was writing about sadism before the term was even coined – helloooo!? And I don’t even want to start talking about their brass plaques about transsexualism and interracial sex. Gak.

All that being said, I took great pleasure in spending a couple of hours wandering through a building that was so stuffed with historical objects dealing with the topic of sexuality. They really do hold some treasures there, including original erotic photographs from the very first days of photography, peep-slide machines from the early 1900s, and erotic objets-d’art dating back to the Roman Empire. They also have a section devoted to bestiality, with photos posted from modern-day bestiality porn – women (always women, no men) interacting with snakes, eels, pigs, horses and cows. Wild. Bestiality is really not my kink, but it was fascinating to see it presented in all its graphic glory right alongside pics of bondage and excessively large breasts, as though it were just one more facet of human sexuality. It made me realize that until that moment, I’d never actually seen real-life images depicting bestiality. The closest I’d come was seeing some of Michael Manning’s art featuring dogs and horses. Wild. (So to speak.)

We didn’t get the chance to check out the Amsterdam Dungeon or the Torture Museum, two other maybes on our list of fun and pain-themed things to do. Ah, just one more reason to go back again!

***

We also enjoyed the challenging experience of watching an Argentinian film (i.e. Spanish-language) with Dutch subtitles. The film was XXY, a recently released and highly acclaimed feature film about an intersex teenager – I’d seen part of it already for Inside Out, so knew the basic storyline, and I speak Spanish, and Dutch isn’t too hard to figure out, so we decided to give it a shot. It was definitely fun to try and decipher what was going on – the Argentinian accent is quite thick and the dialogue was rapidly spoken, but we managed to catch most of it. It’s an excellent film and I’d highly recommend it – doubtless it’s making the festival circuit right now. Very cool.

***

On our last day, Saturday, Boi L and I took a train to Brussels, since we were both flying out of there early Sunday morning. We decided to skip booking a place to stay, and just stay up all night instead. Somehow this led us to a 24-hour pub on the outskirts of a very sketchy area of downtown Brussels. At about 4:30 in the morning, a rather imposing and somewhat drunk woman marched up to our table, pointed a finger at Boi L, and demanded rather loudly (in French) to know, “Are you a girl?” Boi L said yes. She pointed at me and asked the same question; yes again. “Well, then, you come dance with me!” She grabbed my hand and yanked me off the bench, and proceeded to very skilfully lead me around the cramped floor of the pub in some form of Latin dance. By the time the song ended I was laughing so hard I could barely breathe, and so was Boi L. Really, it was a very fun evening, for all that I breathed more smoke in those five hours than I have in the last two years combined.

***

And now I am back in town and bringing you back to your regularly scheduled programming. Many posts are a-brewing, and doubtless the impending slew of Pride activities will inspire even more. Ah, summertime!

quickie!
June 8, 2008

No, not that kind.

This is just a quick post to send out a few bits of information before I take off to spend a week in Amsterdam, land of the live sex show, the sex museum and lots of bad puns about tulips. Will I come back with stories for you? I certainly will! In the meantime, a couple of tidbits to chew on…

1. An Unholy Harvest is back! Canada’s only weekend event for leatherdykes and transfolk was a major hit last year, and we fully expect it’ll sell out again this year. It takes place on Thanksgiving weekend (October 10-12) in Ottawa. The basic information is currently up at www.unholyharvest.ca, and the full information will be posted there (and here) as soon as my stellar co-organizer Jacqueline St-Urbain and I iron out the last little details. Whee! I’m very excited about this, and will likely remain that way until October, so get used to hearing about it a lot.

2. Remember that post I wrote a couple of weeks ago entitled The Five-Step Flirt? Well, it apparently made the rounds of the blogosphere and wound up on the lap of Cunning Minx, charming host of the PolyWeekly podcast. She most kindly devoted some of her most recent show to it. If you’re curious, take a listen. Even if you’re not, check it out for the pure pleasure of hearing to Minx’s velvety voice. Yum! A big thank-you to Minx for the very generous plug.

3. If you’re a female or trans Torontonian and you wanna get your freak on with some like-minded hotties, come to the Pride edition of the Women and Trans Bathhouse on June 18th. It’ll definitely make for a fun homecoming for me, I can tell ya! That is, of course, to be followed by Pride week in TO – loads of good stuff to do.

4. Speaking of good stuff to do, mark your calendars now for the first Festival Kinky in Montreal, August 7-10. I’ll be teaching two workshops (check out my Workshops tab for details and to register) and there are tons of other cool things going on.

Have a great week, everyone!

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