Archive for April, 2009

titillating tidbits
April 23, 2009

Today’s post is a grab bag of interesting tidbits to titillate your brain. Yes, I know I’ve promised a new Powerful Pleasures review, but jeezis, I just got off a plane from Berlin three days ago and tomorrow I’m hopping on a bus to Ottawa – to emcee a leatherdyke wedding, no less! – so my intellectual faculties have been a bit jetlagged. Plus, somewhere in there, a gal’s gotta finish her taxes, pick up some new grown-up luggage (with wheels – cuz really, I’m not getting any younger) and write the odd article or two. (On a slightly belated note, I put out a piece a couple of weeks ago about LGBTQ Health Matters Week—the event itself is past, but if you’re curious, read about it here.)

In the realm of more up-to-date articles, I really think everyone will enjoy “How Male Bisexuality Got Cool” by Rachel Kramer Bussel – but maybe that’s just because I’ve always had a thing for bi guys. And while people posing as bisexual for the sake of media attention, or trying to cash in on the erotic allure of bisexual chic, doesn’t turn me on in the slightest, the cultural analysis of any new movement in sexual politics certainly does.

While we’re talking queer couplings and North American culture, check out this opinion piece in the New York Times, which justifiably pokes fun at one of the most painful anti-same-sex-marriage endeavours I’ve ever seen on the part of the American Christian Right—an advertisement posted on YouTube that’s nothing short of ridiculous. The good news is that if this is what the bigots are stooping to, they must be running out of steam.

Oh, and if you’re into interesting YouTube videos, watch this one on slug sex. Seriously. It’s bi-sexual in the truest possible sense, and it’s beautiful.

If you’re in Ottawa this coming weekend, check out the “Inked Kenny” exhibit at La Petite Mort gallery—this is its last weekend and I’m stoked that I’m going to get the chance to see it. The featured photo on the exhibit poster is of a guy whose naked torso is tattooed with the word FAGGOT and who’s got a handgun tucked into the waistband of his jeans. Provocative, yes. Should be interesting.

Speaking of Ottawa, in the days following the aforementioned leatherdyke wedding, I’ll be teaching on Monday and Tuesday nights at Venus Envy—my 10 Rules for Happy Non-Monogamy workshop on Monday, and on Tuesday my Body Play workshop, in which I talk about the energy centres of the body and how best to engage with them for seriously sexy play. Demo bottoms for that one are most enthusiastically welcomed, so drop me a line at veryqueer3 at yahoo dot ca if you’re in town and up for it!

In the realm of other cultural happenings, Toronto’s got some fun film stuff coming up. At the upcoming HotDocs festival, the film Graphic Sexual Horror will be shown. I’m totally looking forward to it, and this NYPress article is a good explanation of why. The festival is also screening Orgasm Inc., another don’t-miss for sex geeks who are interested in the way our culture frames—and diagnoses—women’s sexuality. (Read For Her Own Good: Two Centuries of the Experts’ Advice to Women by Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English if you want some excellent background on the matter.) For a rundown of the festival’s queer content, read this article—which informed me, to my great delight, that they’ll be screening Forbidden Love, an absolutely fantastic 1992 documentary about older Canadian lesbians. It’s absolutely worth seeing, if you haven’t, and seeing again, if you have. I’m a huge fan of this film, to the point where I actually have the poster on my wall. No joke. It’s awesome. (Intriguingly, one of its filmmakers went on to direct the Canadian documentary television series entitled KINK… I will leave you to your own conclusions on that one!)

Then, of course, we have Toronto’s Inside Out queer film festival, whose program is set to launch on Friday of this week at, of all delicious places, the Bata Shoe Museum. I was fortunate enough to write a few film reviews for the festival, and if the works I saw are any indication, it’s going to be a fine ten days of filmgoing indeed, May 14-24.

And on that happy note, I bid you a good weekend. More nerdiness next week!

deviance in deutschland
April 16, 2009

I don’t normally write extensive travel reports, but sometimes such things are worth it. If hearing about my Berlin adventures isn’t your thing, please come back in a week or so for something appropriately intellectual—I have another Powerful Pleasures post brewing. On the other hand, if you’re curious about what kink looks like in the coolest city in Germany, do read on…

I arrived in Berlin on Friday early morning at the airport after 13 hours in transit (following a 7-hour bus to Montreal and a work gig the day before…!). Felt surprisingly good. I was to be picked up by a “tall handsome butch top” and indeed she was—six feet or more and wearing a blue leather police shirt, holding a sign with my name on it. She hardly needed the sign. She dropped me off at my hostesses’ flat (see? I’m already speaking European!) where I was greeted by another kinky gal with whom I shared a lovely breakfast before showering, changing and heading off to the opening ceremonies of Colors of Kink, the 11th annual International Women’s SM Conference.

The conference felt like a somewhat bigger version of An Unholy Harvest—somewhat slicker in presentation but still very grassroots, and very much like us in that the vibe was friendly, open, not arrogant or status-oriented, and extremely respectful. Just great energy. There were women and trans people from all over the place—Sweden, Germany, Holland, the UK, Australia (!), Denmark, Portugal and more. I met tons of friendly people, it was amazing. Certainly enough to keep me very busy ever since the conference ended on Monday!

The workshops and daytime activities were held at the Gay Counselling Centre here, a big old building with lots of large, sunny rooms. I enjoyed workshops on ritual foot-washing and advanced topics in polyamory, among others. I think the language barrier had me convinced that things would be really difficult when it came to giving my own two workshops, but I slowed down (A LOT) and it seems the messages got through—people were really enthusiastic, and attendance was excellent at both. Of course now I want to learn to speak German! Yeah, I’ll just add it to the project list…

And the play parties… oh, the play parties. They were held at a place called Residenz Avalon, which is a huge brick building located on a waterfront in a business/industrial area of town a short walk from a U-Bahn station. A long, winding path leads from the road to the building, passing by other attached buildings along the way, but completely invisible from the street – which is one reason why it was easy for them to provide a pony taxi service from the first bend of the path to the building itself. And I’m not talking horses here… One of the women from the conference is a pony trainer, so she dressed her boys up in their gear, attached them to two carriages, and had them ferry leatherdykes from point to point for the first couple of hours of each party. Very fun.

The space itself is like nothing I have ever seen before. Absolutely enormous and gorgeously decorated. There’s a lobby where generous buffet tables were set up (featuring vegan food, yay!), followed by a hall with a string of rooms—a changing room with lockers and mirrors, a huge medical room, a fully tricked-out school room, and a luxurious bedroom with exposed brick walls and a latex-sheeted wrought-iron bed. The hall opens onto a large bar space, nicely lit and filled with little tables and comfy leather chairs and with a wall of windows looking out over the water. After that, there’s another play room, and from there, a door opens into a huge two-storey vaulted warehouse space with concrete floors, brick walls and tons of heavy metal play structures, with a plush lounge area to one side. You could easily park five school buses inside, maybe more.

And it goes on! If you take a short flight of stairs down from there, you head into the basement level, which runs back underneath all the rooms I just described. It’s a classic stone-floored cellar—low ceilings, but otherwise amazing. They’ve used every nook of space to its max: a confession booth, a closet-sized space with eyebolts and a cage door, a horse stall, a lounge with red leather couches, a bunch of jail cells (for those who’ve been, they’re like the ones at the Toronto Women and Trans Bathhouse), five or six large open play spaces flickering with strategically placed candles (and nary a fake brick or cheesy gargoyle in sight), and a fully equipped interrogation room, with bright lights, tables, and heavy orange-painted iron doors. The sheer size of the place is mind-boggling.

On Saturday night, there was no play party, but there was a Mob-themed kinky dinner at a buffet restaurant called Cum Laude. I know, brilliant. The organizers reserved the entire restaurant for the group and closed the doors to outsiders; the gay owner ensured that he scheduled “a bunch of tough lesbians” to staff the floor that night. We were patted down at the door by an acid-blonde leather-clad transdyke sporting bulging biceps, dark glasses and a mock AK-47 strapped to the back of her dress. Everyone was encouraged to dress up as a mobster, to form families with others, and to join in with a huge group role-play scene (like, with a pre-written script and a huge negotiation meeting that afternoon) that played out during the evening. Role play seems to be a really significant kink around these parts—people really got into it! As for me, a huge room packed with hot kinky dykes dressed like 1940s mobsters worked for me regardless of roles, so I was happy.

Plus, play was permitted inside the restaurant, so there was much fun to be had—interrogation scenes outside the bathroom, kidnappings in the main restaurant… it was quite the experience to watch the waitresses dodge the occasional mass brawl or flying chair with aplomb. Highlights of the evening also included seeing my six-foot butch chauffeur in full glamour-girl drag, complete with a floor-length gown and two-inch false eyelashes. Yowza! Much respect to the butches who can pull that sort of thing off. I don’t think I could! (False eyelashes… ouch.)

As a short aside, the attitude seems to be much more laissez-faire here than in Canada when it comes to the appropriate locations for sexual and kinky activity. People aren’t particularly worried about the “private” versus “public” distinction in terms of the legality of those activities, or about the cops walking in on their play or making inappropriate judgment calls about the nature of kinky activities. I’ve heard more than one story over the last week about cops showing up to knock on the door to investigate a noise or suspected kidnapping, and then apologizing for having interrupted a good scene. One guy told me about being stopped by the cops when he had his play partner tied up and gagged in the trunk of his car. The cop looked inside, closed the trunk, and handed the driver a ticket for carrying a passenger in the trunk—nothing more. Interesting place, this town…

I didn’t play at all on Friday night, probably because I didn’t know anyone yet, and on Saturday I had a bit of fun with my “Mob family” but nothing highly personal. So I really didn’t expect that at the Sunday night play party I would end up busy the entire night! I knew it would be a good night when I was approached by a group of three bois within moments of entering the party and one of them blurted out, “We have four bottoms for you, if you like. We know you like bois.” Um, wow! A rambunctious evening ensued, as that was one of three scenes I enjoyed. It was very interesting to negotiate a later play date with someone who barely spoke English. I suggested finding someone to help interpret but she insisted we didn’t need one, that our body language would be enough, and she was right. How lovely.

Monday morning there was a closing brunch, also at Cum Laude, and that evening the final play party was held at another play space, this one called L’Équipage (they seem to like equestrian themes in this town too). It’s a basement-level space in a funky area of town, not nearly as huge as the Residenz Avalon but equally well-appointed, with lots of interesting nooks and crannies along with a couple of open spaces perfect for a solid flogging. Like with many closing play parties, there were fewer people but greater intensity. Among other things I got to watch a gorgeous piercing scene with my friend X-Ray Aims from Boston, who also taught at the conference.

My first hostesses are totally sweet. They’re an poly leatherdyke couple that have been together for 16 years, and they still leave little love notes to each other all over the house, written in dry-erase marker on the tiles in the bathroom and kitchen. I have since moved to another leatherdyke’s place, equally sweet and much fun. Since the conference ended and I’m no longer in my first hostesses’ apartment, I’m still seeing them just about every day—we spent some relaxation time in a large public bathhouse yesterday (mmmm warm saltwater pool), had dinner out on the town, and today took a boat tour around the city together. Berlin apparently has as many bridges as Venice. Who knew? We also had drinks at a bar called Drama, so named because the owner broke up with his boyfriend and then opened the bar next door to the restaurant he owns. Very cute.

Tonight I enjoyed dress shopping and dinner with a very charming trans guy who was happy to tell me lots about how trans folks are treated in Germany. He explained that while surgery costs are covered, the cost of a name change is not—and the fees for that run several thousand Euros. Also, trans folks suffer from a similar problem as we do in Canada: uneven health care depending on what province you live in, and even in a small country like Germany, there are 16 such provinces, not to mention the added challenges when living outside the major cities. Some clinics still work with the hopelessly outdated Benjamin Standards, while others are much more easygoing.

Despite the backwardness of all this, the government has a fascinating way of  dealing with ID cards that don’t match up with biological gender (or with each other): they issue a trans ID card. The front of it shows a picture, the person’s original legal name, and their name of choice (in much larger type). The back of it, in the case of FTMs, reads as follows (it is somewhat poorly translated from the German that appears on the front):

“The designated person undergoes a sexual development of biologically woman to man. In the context of the laws of the Federal Republic of Germany and caused by the applied medical-psychological treatments it is necessary that the designated person appears in public as a man. This contains among other things also a wearing of manly clothing, as a necessary measure in the context of socialization process. All authorities and organizations within and outside the Federal Republic of Germany are asked to support this treatment within the boundaries of their authority while respecting the desired gender of the bearer. This document is intended as a supplement to existing passports. It is only valid in combination with a valid identity card. It has been issued by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Transidentität und Intersexualität.”

Fascinating.

Tomorrow I’m heading off to explore the gay museum in Kreuzberg with another friend, and to see if we can browse a fetish shop or two—they’re all over the place in this town, not confined to a specific area or street. With just over 48 hours to go before I hop on a plane back to Canada, I’m already panicking that I won’t get to see all my new conference friends one last time before I leave. Berlin rocks. I can’t wait to come back.

swimming against the current*
April 9, 2009

Today, I bought a European power outlet adapter. Tomorrow I hop on a plane to Berlin. I’ve never been there before, but I’m learning all about the depraved sexual history of Berliners via a most delicious book, Voluptuous Panic: The Erotic World of Weimar Berlin, by Mel Gordon. Part richly illustrated coffee-table book, part sharply written social history, it’s really quite a fascinating read – and because of the huge and occasionally quite shocking pictures included on every glossy 8 1/2 x 11 page, when I open the book on a bus or subway, I notice the odd looks I get from strangers when they happen to glance over my shoulder. Anyway, I hardly expect the place to be anything like it was back in the 1920s, when the city supported no fewer than 85 – 85! jeezis! – lesbian nightclubs, but at the same time, I am going to speak at an international leatherdyke conference, Colors of Kink, so I’m hoping I’ll get at least some taste of Berlin-style perversion. So far I’m slated to interrogate a couple of bois at or before the Saturday-night kinky-Mafia-themed dinner, which is to be held at a venue called Cum Laude. I know, what a great name. And you gotta love it when friends set you up for fun, sight unseen… Wish me luck!

I’m sure I’ll have tons to post about when the conference is over – well, I have tons to post about now, but limited time in which to do so. Perhaps the excruciating long flight tomorrow will provide me with writing opportunities…? Anyway, I will aim to regale you with tales of Berlin adventuring sometime next week. In the meantime, I am taking a quick trip back in time to recall some insights that came up for me at a conference much closer to home back in 2006. *I originally posted this on June 28, 2006, shortly after the International Conference on Bisexuality in Toronto.

Oh, and if any of you fine readers have advice about must-do or must-see stuff in Berlin, please don’t be shy to comment. I have been quite lax in doing my usual pre-trip research, so I have five days to fill with post-conference explorations starting next week. If you happen to be a friendly Berlin tour guide, with or without a penchant for service and masochistic delights, skip the comment and just come say hello at the conference!

***

“You don’t notice the current when you’re swimming with it. It’s only when you swim against it that you realize how strong it is.” – Nathaniel Rambukkana

During the bi conference, one of the workshops I co-presented was about polyamory. A bunch of people came together to create an international poly panel. There were seven of us in total – two people from the States (a kinky second-generation-poly guy from San Francisco and an “older” woman from Nashville), one from the UK, and four of us from Montreal – a longtime MF poly couple who were the founders of Montreal’s poly group, a very cool academic who’s doing his PhD thesis on monogamy and polyamory, and myself.

We called the panel “Ask Aunts Poly and the Amory Uncles” – our friend from the UK came up with that one, I believe, and we all loved it. The idea was to get a whole bunch of potentially different viewpoints together and host a 201-level Q&A session for people who were already at least somewhat experienced at doing poly. Not that there’s anything wrong with poly 101, but it’s rare (and thus precious) to find much discussion out there beyond the standard questions, like “How do you deal with jealousy?” and “How do you do time management?”

(There are, by the way, some truly excellent writings here on 101 topics and beyond. I go back and read them regularly because Franklin Veaux has articulated things so well, and I highly recommend them if you’re looking for some insight.)

Speaking of time management, I remember the first time I ever attended a poly workshop (at the 2003 bi conference), and the leader joked that the polyamorist’s mating call was, “Let me get out my agenda!” And y’know, he was right. But I digress.

Anyway, so we parked ourselves in a line at the front of the room and took questions from a room of about 25 or 30 people. It was so great. I don’t know that I’ve ever been in a room of so many poly people all at once from so many different places all at once. They were from all over Canada and the States, and other places too, some as far Australia. Wild! We went over a whole range of topics, and audience participation was really high. Totally cool.

One of the best questions of all, though, was the very last one. A woman who does not identify as poly herself asked if we could imagine a world where there was no social stigma attached to being polyamorous, and if in such a world, we would still choose to be this way or if the thrill would somehow be gone. In other words, are we poly because it’s a politically shit-disturbing thing to do and we like to get people’s backs up, or are we poly because it’s a relationship style that truly suits us? She asked it without rancour, just genuine curiosity.

I really had to think about my answer to that for a while, but I eventually did come up with one. Basically this: although I practiced it for many years quite faithfully, I have never really understood monogamy; it always felt like bending to someone else’s rules to please them even though they were full of contradictions and based on principles I didn’t really agree with. When I discovered that it was possible to have relationships in other ways that remained ethical, I took to it immediately, and I don’t think I’ll ever want to go back.

Polyamory is an intrinsic part of my personal value system, and it stretches way beyond the boundaries of the way I manage who I date or sleep with or play with. It’s a life philosophy that affects my ethics in just about every interpersonal situation I can imagine – my friendships, my family, the ways I do business, the ways I manage any human situation that requires ethical thought. With this in mind, I can’t think of a world in which I wouldn’t want to function this way.

That being said, there is a political challenge inherent in this way of doing relationships, and I do enjoy that. I’d be lying if I said otherwise. It’s sort of similar to my bisexuality, in a way. I don’t necessarily have any more attraction to women than to men in theory, but if I walk down the street holding hands with a guy, chances are nobody will blink. On the other hand, if I walk down the street holding hands with a woman, people look. They react. They may smile, or give us the “gay nod,” or ignore us, or gape, or become angry, or feel satisfied at queer political progress, or roll their eyes – but there’s almost always a reaction of some sort. Even the fact of taking it for granted that it’s cool or normal for two women to be holding hands on the street is a politically significant reaction in my books.

And because I’m an educator, I find that very appealing. I like having everyday opportunities to make people think, to challenge them – not to alienate or piss them off but to cause reflection. So there is a definite political appeal in dating women that’s absent when it comes to dating men.

(That said, I may have to write another post soon about the very odd and thought-provoking experiences I’ve had recently with people’s reactions to me walking hand-in-hand in public with very visibly queer or gender-different men – a whole other can of worms, that.)

So of course, poly is appealing because it makes people think too. It’s a personal choice with major political ramifications, and because I’m a political person that’s got personal appeal… Just to mix it all together a little bit. No, I don’t do poly because I’m a shit-disturber. I don’t really think of myself as a shit-disturber at all – my approach is generally a lot more gentle than that. But I don’t know if I’ll ever really be able to divorce my politics from my personal life, and I kinda like it that way.

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