Archive for June, 2009

four things bdsm has taught me about being a good ally
June 29, 2009

First, for your entertainment, a fun interview I did with Midori a couple of weeks ago for Capital Xtra.

Second, a brief note to say that I’m jetting off to Australia in a coupla days to spend two and a half weeks with Boi L, and I’m not sure how much blogging I’ll get done while I’m there, but I’ll try to post a fun trip report when I get back. Whee!

And next, as a follow-up to last week’s post about ally work, here’s my list of four things that BDSM has taught me about being a good ally.

1. Respect boundaries.

In an SM scene, when someone says, “I’m okay with you flogging my butt and playing with my breasts, but please don’t touch my belly,” that’s just the way it is. Sure, I can ask questions about that, either to better understand the nature of the limit – “Do your sides count? Above the belly button, below, or both?” – or to get a better sense of what it means to the person so I know what I’m dealing with – “Is that a source of emotional trauma, or you just don’t like the sensation?”

It would, of course, be completely inappropriate for me to say, “What the heck is wrong with you, that you don’t want your belly touched? Are you fucked up? What if I want to touch your belly? You gonna stop me? I play with people all the time who like to have their bellies touched.” Why? Because that would be calling into question the legitimacy of a boundary that is not mine to set, that is being clearly established by another person in what’s supposed to be an exploration of mutual trust. The rights to those boundaries belong to them, not to me. They are not mine.

People who cross over other people’s boundaries in an SM scene – barring the occasional genuine human error – are dangerous players. They are not to be trusted. If we’re engaging in an intensification of trust, then it makes no sense at all to deliberately breach it. We all lose out in the end – the limit-setter, be they top or bottom, whose trust has been damaged; the limit-breaker, whose connection with the limit-setter has been severed and whose reputation has been damaged; and the community, whose atmosphere is less trusting and safe than it was before. If enough people break trust often enough, it poisons a community, and hostilities and misunderstandings begin to erupt all over the place.

I see distinct parallels with ally work here. One of the places I see it most clearly is when it comes to the question of exclusive spaces. Lately, I keep seeing writing that calls for “everyone welcome” space, particularly around gender – space where everyone, regardless of gender, and in many cases orientation, is welcome. Which is totally fair, of course – I love mixed spaces, I love spending time with people of many genders and orientations. In fact I live most of my life in mixed-gender space, and I would have it no other way – a lesbian utopian separatist I am not. But rather than lambasting groups that create exclusive space, if you want (more) mixed space, create it! I simply don’t understand the impetus to forcefully tear down the boundaries that someone, or a group, has clearly set based on what they wish to get out of a certain experience.

That’s not to say that all exclusive space has the same value. In my mind, value depends on purpose, and according to my value system, banding together or purposes of hurting or disrespecting others is of very low value indeed. Same with creating exclusive spaces that shut people out on the basis of stereotypes, bad faith or negative assumptions, especially if those spaces are the locus of goings-on that would otherwise be of direct interest to the shut-out group. If an exclusive space is being created for the purpose of disempowering others, that sucks.

So, for example, it’s really not cool to hold a men’s-only golf tournament during which male business leaders come together to make decisions that affect their work – decisions in which, by all rights, their female colleagues should have a say. And it’s not cool to create a women-only space whose purpose is to man-bash (or to trans-bash, for that matter), or whose premise is based on a false or arbitrary line dividing people who “count” from those who don’t – self-definition is a key concept here. (Though I gotta say, I’ve not once encountered a women-only space whose purpose was to trash talk about cis-men, no matter how many times I’ve heard the phrase “man-hating” tossed around when the topic of feminists or lesbians comes up. Man-bashing comes up way more among straight women, in my experience – dykes just don’t focus on men that much. Patriarchy is another story, of course…)

I do see a huge range of extremely legitimate purposes that may come into play around the question of exclusive space. A youth group for kids aged 12-16 is exclusive so that kids can connect with others in their peer group likely to be experiencing similar challenges. A group for pregnant people might be exclusive so that its members could engage in-depth with pregnancy-related issues. A 24/7 BDSM dominants’ discussion group might be restricted to full-time dominants so that focused talks about dominance can happen without those dominants simultaneously splitting their focus to their submissives, and in a space where they’re free to speak openly without fear of misunderstanding based on role. A group for peple of colour might be exclusive so that POCs could network among themselves and share their experiences based on a shared set of basic premises without having to put their energy toward educating white people about race and racism. (Don’t misunderstand me – racism certainly exists between various non-white groups as much as it does between whites and people of colour – but all POCs, in most places in North America at least, face the same reality of a white “majority.”) And so on, and so forth.

So, for instance, if people of colour within Toronto’s queer women and trans community decide that they would like to hold a bathhouse event only for people of colour, my job as an anti-racist ally is to respect that boundary, and stay away from the event. I don’t have to like it; I don’t have to understand it. But if I am going to be an ally, I do have to respect it.

If I want to understand it, there’s (in theory at least) no reason not to ask questions, much the same as in BDSM, to better understand the nature of the limit and to get a better sense of what it means (all with the intention, of course, of better respecting it).

For the former, it might look like, “Is this a mixed event with a focus on people of colour? Or is it an event only for people of colour? How do you define the concept of ‘people of colour’ in this context? Do you welcome the volunteer help of non-POCs in setting up the event, or is it intended to be a ‘by and for’ thing?” and so forth.

For the latter, it might be something like, “What has your experience been like as people of colour in mixed-race sexualized spaces? What causes you to desire a space that’s exclusive? Is this because of emotional trauma, or simply because you prefer to be among people who share your experience in some way that non-POCs don’t?”

This doesn’t necessarily assume that every person of colour is going to want to answer those questions, especially not if they’re asked in a confrontational manner – it does, after all, cost time and considerable energy to respond to queries from a person who may or may not be ignorant of how privilege works; education is not a job everyone relishes or should be expected to perform based solely on their status, and if I’m asking the questions at all, I need to remember that getting answers is a privilege, not a right.

It would, of course, be completely inappropriate for me to say, “What the heck is wrong with you, that you don’t want white people around? Are you racist, like, do you hate white people? What if I want to show up? You gonna stop me? I have lots of black/Asian/Middle Eastern friends who have no problem being in sexualized space with white people!”

See what I mean? Not exactly a trust-building approach.

If I choose not to respect the stated limits, I’m being a pretty poor ally. For starters, I would be causing the people in question to have to waste their time and energy on guarding their boundaries – taking that time and energy away from the work they’re aiming to do. Defending boundaries is exhausting and upsetting – it sucks to feel like you’re under attack. If I become that “attacker,” if I wish to take up space that is not meant for me, if I feel that indeed I am entitled to take up space that is not meant for me, I am effectively becoming the very oppressor that fucked it all up in the first place.

The key here is to remember that other people’s boundaries are about them, not about me. They may do me the kindness, if I ask in genuine interest, of explaining what those boundaries are about – in which case I should be thankful for their generosity and time. But they don’t need to justify those boundaries to me, or seek my approval, because fundamentally I’m pretty irrelevant to the equation. They have decided what works for them, and that is entirely their decision to make.

2. Acknowledge power differentials, and use them for good.

In BDSM, if I enter into a deliberately polarized power differential with someone, we do it because it feels good and we like it. What’s good about it? Among many things, erotic arousal and orgasm; physical (not necessarily sexual) pleasure; emotional engagement, openness; exploration and adventure; the learning experience of handling the “currency” of power responsibly; the quest for deeper self-knowledge; spiritual growth; the experience of commitment and trust in relationship (however brief); the intensification of intimacy; the positive and beneficial experience of discipline and self-discipline; the opportunity to care and be cared for; and many others.

If a bottom puts their trust in me and hands me power to use, it’s my job to use it well, for mutual benefit (and all the better if it’s also for community benefit). If I were to fail to acknowledge the power dynamic, if I were to pretend it’s not really there, the purpose of our whole interaction is confused, and so is the bottom. If I’m so uncomfortable with my power in that situation that I can’t use it. Worse, if I pretend it’s not there, I can’t possibly learn how to manage it responsibly.

Definite parallel. I don’t wish to compare oppressed people to “bottoms” in the sexual sense, that’s for certain; unlike in BDSM, oppressed people generally don’t choose to be oppressed, and don’t get off on it when it occurs. This is not an entrance into the nature/nurture debate; what I mean is that no matter how much choice the oppressed person has over their life and identity, the choice to oppress someone lies solely in the hands of the oppressor. Nonetheless, power differentials do exist, and we can at least take a page from the book of BDSM by acknowledging them.

I gave a lecture once at U of T about trans issues, and it segued into a larger discussion of oppression. One student said, “I’d really like to get rid of my privilege. I didn’t ask for it, and it’s bad. What can I do?”

I am glad she voiced the question, because it allowed me to point out how that sort of thinking is highly problematic. With some minor exceptions, privilege just is – you can’t opt out of it. That’s not to say that a situation of privilege or lack thereof never changes, but most privilege is not simply a bodily reality – looks, ability, weight or body type, gender or sex, skin colour, health, age. Rather, it’s a reality that’s imprinted on a person’s history and psyche as well. If there were a magic pill that could turn white people a lovely shade of brown, that wouldn’t erase the world’s history of race relations, it wouldn’t do away with cultural patterns, it wouldn’t remove our individual histories and lived experiences and all the conditioned assumptions that come from that. In short, being white, or being able-bodied, or being cisgendered (etc.) are not things one can simply choose to opt out of in order to avoid having to deal with the potentially guilt-inducing reality of moving through the world with privilege that not everyone else has. For the most part, when you’re privileged, that’s how you stay – sometimes even if reality no longer matches. For example, an upper-class person who does badly on the stock market and loses their home is still an upper-class homeless person; they don’t all of a sudden become working class.

The guilt of the privileged is beyond useless. Guilt is all about “me” – how terrible I am, how badly I deserve to be punished for it, and so forth. Guilt does absolutely nothing to improve the state of the world, and it certainly does nothing to help the oppressed. In fact, the majority of the time, it prevents privileged people from even listening to the issues at hand – they’re too focused on their own indulgent self-pity. Likewise, a privileged individual’s project to become less white, less able-bodied, less middle-class (etc.) serves only to feed a questionable end goal – that of making the privileged person feel better – and does nothing to help those who could potentially use a good ally.

Here’s where ally work is extremely relevant, and where the idea mentioned above about BDSM – that power differentials should be used for good – works into the discussion. Again, the rest of the situation does not lie parallel, but when a power differential exists and is acknowledged, then you can move into an action phase that may actually produce positive results. If, as a top, I pretended I wasn’t really a top, and behaved with my partners as though they were vanilla lovers, and neglected to use the power at my disposal to make enjoyable things happen, we’d have a pretty boring scene. If, as a white or otherwise privileged person, I pretended I wasn’t really privileged, and behaved as though I were actually subject to oppression I have not in fact experienced, and neglected to use my privilege in situations to which oppressed people may not have access, I’d be pretty unhelpful in changing anything for the better.

On the flip side, if I’ve got privilege, I should use it. I’m sure you can imagine what that might look like in BDSM. In the realm of oppression, that might take many forms. If  my whiteness gives implicit permission to someone to express their racism to me, I should call them on it. If I have access to political work where no trans people are present, I should lobby for their inclusion. If my appearance, language skills, or level of education make it more likely that people in power will listen to me and take me seriously, I should use that advantage to raise issues of concern to people who aren’t being listened to. I should bear some of the burden, and expend some of the energy, to change the world for the better, rather than leaving that all on the backs of the people who are already loaded down by that world’s demands upon them. This is the responsible use of privilege – not to work toward the lessening of my own privilege per se but rather toward increasing others’.

3. Your kink is not my kink, but your kink is okay.

Okay, so the BDSM community is definitely populated with the occasional dork who really feels their kink is the “best” and others’ are gross, wrong, bad, disgusting, whatever. But the community’s ethic is one of open-mindedness – some might say to a fault – when it comes to others’ sexual proclivities. The balloon fetishist might not have a lot in common, practically speaking, with the piss-drinker who in turn might have no clue where to even start with the pain-craving masochist, but they’re all deviants, and they know it.

The sheer simplicity of this one is its greatest advantage: not tolerance (I do not wish to be “tolerated” and I do not wish to “tolerate” anyone else – ick!) but warmth and acceptance and perhaps benign curiosity about those who are different than me. I don’t have to love a certain musical style to respect and appreciate that it’s part of someone’s culture. I don’t have to understand a person’s religion to realize that it’s an important part of how they may view the world. I don’t have to be a person of colour to understand that for someone who is, that reality informs their everyday life in a way I will never experience. Likewise, I’m not a blank slate or a neutral majority – my own cultural conditioning, skin colour, able-bodiedness and so forth inform my reality and my worldviews in multiple ways of which I may not even be aware. There’s lots of room for variation in the world, and as an ally, it’s good to remember that I’m actually surrounded by people who are different than me all the time, whether I can see those differences or not. Unless those differences are outright harming someone, there’s simply no call to judge, especially based on cursory knowledge.

4. Do your homework.

The kink community publishes blogs, books, magazines. We hold conferences – several hundred a year in North America alone – and weekend events. We give and attend workshops of every description. We do demos, hold show-and-tells, screen films, have discussion groups, maintain e-mail lists. Some of us provide mentorship. In other words, a staggering amount of information is readily available, to one degree or another, for the enjoyment and edification of the curious kinkster. Wanna learn how to safely use piercing needles, create Japanese rope bondage harnesses, bring your spirituality into your BDSM play? It’s all there.

The trick is, nobody’s going to hand it to you. You have to go after it. And there’s no use in whining that it’s all so complicated – nobody’s born knowing how to use a urethral sound or light someone’s skin on fire without hurting them. We all had to learn. And it’s not the responsibility of the first leather-clad person who walks by to take you under their wing. Nobody’s in charge of teaching you just because you happen to be kinky. Progress in kink is a largely self-directed process with largely individual results; with the exception of the occasional BDSM 101 orientation session for new members of a given group, the rest is entirely up to you. And that’s exactly as it should be. We’re responsible for our own education, because, after all, we’re all grown-ups here.

Likewise, as allies when we encounter a situation in which we realize that we’re uninformed, unprepared, in which our knowledge is insufficient to the task at hand, we have to do our homework. That doesn’t mean turning to the nearest person of colour and saying, “Can you educate me about racism?” as though somehow, educating you was their job, a service to which you are entitled. No – educating you is your job. Don’t foist that on someone else because of who they are. Plenty of resources exist. Go buy a book. Get online. Read up on anti-racist politics, trans issues, critical dis/ability perspectives, whatever it might be. Take a workshop with someone who’s putting themselves out there as an educator (and, I hope, getting paid for it). Do some self-analysis so that you know what internal barriers you need to break through. Unpack your conditioning, figure out what scares you and what you’re ashamed of, and forge ahead. Don’t assume that the nearest convenient oppressed person has a vested interest in educating you. In fact, they may have a vested interest in staying as far away from you as they can so as not to become a target for your ignorance. Educating others is a lot of work, especially when they’re resistant to the message at hand; people don’t, and shouldn’t, undertake it lightly.

The aim here is not to find out what the right answer is so that you can regurgitate it back when someone asks – that might work once or twice, but not in the long run, not for real change. The point of doing your homework is actually learning, and that learning is a painful, slow, challenging process that may show you things you don’t like about yourself. Deal with it, and keep going.

no safeword for oppression, or, thoughts on being an ally
June 24, 2009

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of being an ally. I spoke on a panel not long ago in which a fellow panelist said she doesn’t like the term “ally” as applied to herself because that makes it sound as though the struggle in question (whatever that may be – we weren’t specifying at the time though by context I might guess trans issues) was somehow not her own as well.

I totally appreciated her point. Even if we just take the question of trans issues, as an ally to trans people, the struggle for trans rights is in many ways my own, too. When the world at large makes assumptions, builds policies, enforces laws, maintains social structures and so forth that all reinforce a rigid formulation of gender, that affects me, and not in a small way. Gender is the whole reason I became a feminist, and why feminist politics spoke to me so strongly when I first discovered them in so many words. (Hello, Rosie the Riveter!) Gender policing has real, everyday effects on me, and the policing of trans people’s lives, bodies, rights, dignity ripples out and affects my own life, body, rights, dignity. Or perhaps it’s the other way around – the struggles of trans people are, in some ways, the condensed and concentrated version of the struggles I, we all, face as gendered human beings in a binary society.

Now, extrapolate that idea to the other ways in which I am an ally. As a white anti-racist, I consider myself an ally to people of colour, but not because racism is somehow “their problem” and I’m all sympathetic to it. Racism affects me.

For example, when I sit in a room and listen to a speaker who makes racist statements – as happened recently, at the Guelph sexuality conference – I get an awful, gut-twisting feeling, that sense that things are not right, this is not the world I want to live in, this is wrong wrong wrong. I feel ashamed of the person who’s exhibiting the behaviour in question, and perhaps more so ashamed of myself, as though somehow, if I were doing a better job as an anti-racist human being, these things wouldn’t happen anymore (never mind how illogical that may be).

I feel a wrenching sense of anger that anyone of any colour or heritage is subjected to the indignity and disrespect of racism, because I know what disrespect feels like and I know exactly how it can wither the soul. I feel a sense of searing offense that any white person (in this case, as in so many, the speaker was white) should feel comfortable speaking this way in my presence, as though somehow they expected I, as another white-skinned person, would be complicit, would understand how they feel, would of course be just like them. I am not just like them. Which is not to say I don’t have my own shit to work on – that would be just plain naïve – but I feel slapped in the face that anyone would make the assumption about me that my politics must be like theirs because my skin is like theirs. It’s akin to being presumed a liar, which never fails to feel like the highest form of insult – a direct challenge to my honour (I know, archaic term, but it works) as a thinking, feeling, political human being.

I feel fear that other anti-racist people in that setting, skin colour irrelevant, might perhaps percieve me as complicit in racism that’s displayed nearby me – I fear that judgment, I fear that those I wish to support, those with whom I stand, will misunderstand me and lump me in with those whose position I so strongly wish to distance myself from. When I see an audience applaud without seeming to have noticed such racism, I feel a sense of drowning, sinking in a sea of ignorance. It feels like… hmm… like being a queer gal at a cocktail party full of gay men, and all of a sudden realizing they’re actually not gay men, and you’re in the wrong place, and you’re in fact at a Promise Keepers’ meeting. All of a sudden the same people, the ones sitting to your left and right, the ones who held the door for you and smiled moments ago, go from comfortable community to potential (and actual) oppressors, at the drop of a hat. It’s terrifying, and lonely, and it sucks. Racism affects me.

That being said, I also felt I needed to qualify my agreement with the point my fellow panelist made. Because no matter how much I can understand that these struggles are mine as well as belonging to the people who are members of the oppressed group in question – trans people, people of colour, and many more – it would be wrong to try to lump myself in with them as though we were one and the same. We are not one and the same. I will never have to face the real, lived, everyday challenges of moving through the world and negotiating life as a trans person. I will never have to depend on the whims of a messed-up government to get surgery that would make me whole in my bodily experience of my gender, or constantly correct the pronouns people mistakenly assign to me based on a cursory examination of my physical appearance. I will never be assaulted or denied a job or housing or suffer rude and reductive stereotypes because I’m dark-skinned. These things will not happen to me, because I am white, because (for all that my gender is complex and people do make mistaken assumptions about me) I am not trans.

It would be disrespectful of me to appropriate trans people’s struggles, or the struggles of people of colour, as though somehow I, too, was a direct recipient of the oppression they experience. I’m not. I hold privilege that they do not, and trying to pretend that’s not true would be a disservice to all of us. To do that would be to ignore a very real power differential that sets our experiences apart. To appropriate their struggles as my own would itself be an act of oppression, the exact sort of oppression I wish to challenge.

This all brings me to sadomasochism.

No, seriously. It really does. These thoughts have been percolating for a few weeks now, and part of the reason is that I’ve been seeing parallels between my experience of being an ally and my experience of moving through the BDSM/leather scene.

(As per your kind requests, folks, I’ve split this post in two… read on for the next half.)

send me your poly art (and/or send bear and kate your gender outlaw writing)
June 15, 2009

So a lovely lady who happens to work at one of the sex shops where I regularly present just recently made a very intriguing suggestion to me. She said it might be cool if I were to turn my “10 Realistic Rules for Good Non-Monogamous Relationships” into a zine that she could stock and sell at her fine establishment. I will admit that I’ve been sitting on those 10 rules for quite some time now, with vague aspirations of turning them into a book, but the recent glut of non-monogamy books on the market, in combination with the fact that as a newly minted grad student I’m about to spend the next two years of my life writing a wholly different kind of book, sorta put the kibbosh on that plan for the near future. But zines are short and cute and don’t require a ton of beefing up or editing or the whole tracking-down-a-publisher thing, so I think this little idea has lots of potential.

Now this is where you come in, dear reader. Zines are not just about words. They are also about visuals. And while I’ve got a penchant for creating artwork myself, the one thing I’m currently lacking is the time to invest in making art for a project like this one.

But you! Perhaps you are artistically inclined. Perhaps you would like to submit a piece of your artwork for minimal financial gain but for the maximum enjoyment of seeing it published in a little zine along with a few words of sex geeky non-monogamy advice. Perhaps, if you were so inclined, you would send me a note at veryqueer3 at yahoo dot ca stating your interest – even better if you have gleaned inspiration from a specific rule, so’s I can match art up with text! – and let me know what you have in mind! Perhaps, if I were to receive a sufficient number of such e-mails (or comments here, for that matter) by June 30, I would decide to either go ahead with this plan and request that you send me your actual artwork (format TBD; along with your nom d’artiste and other details for proper credit); or I would realize that I need to get all artsy and do it myself; or I would give up entirely and bury myself in Judith Butler and thesis proposals for the forseeable future.

The fate of this possible-project is in your hands, ladies and gentlefolk! Let me know what you think! Again: a comment here or a quick e-mail to veryqueer3 at yahoo dot ca would be the way to go.

(Now why do I feel like the girl sitting by the phone on Saturday night, hoping to get a date? Hm…)

While we’re on the topic of calling for submissions, the gender outlaws among you might be intrigued by the following very exciting project from my good friend Bear and the lovely Kate Bornstein…

***

Call For Submissions
GENDER OUTLAWS: THE NEXT GENERATION
Kate Bornstein & S Bear Bergman, eds

Deadline: 1 September 2009

In the fifteen years since the release of Gender Outlaw, transgender narratives have made their way into cultural locations from the margins to the mainstream and back again. Today’s trannies and other sex/gender radicals are writing a radically new world into being. GENDER OUTLAWS: THE NEXT GENERATION (Seal Press) will collect and contextualize the work of this generation’s most forward-thinking trans/genderqueer voices—new voices from the stage, on the streets, in the workplace, in the bedroom, and on the pages and websites of the world’s most respected mainstream news sources. Edited by that ol’ original Gender Outlaw herself, Kate Bornstein and writer, raconteur, and theater artist S. Bear Bergman, GENDER OUTLAWS: THE NEXT GENERATION will include essays, commentary, comic art and conversation from a diverse a group of trans-spectrum people who live and believe in barrier-breaking lives.

*What we’re looking for*

GENDER OUTLAWS: THE NEXT GENERATION wants to collect work that represents a quantum leap forward in thinking and talking about gender and the gender binary, in the same way Gender Outlaw did almost twenty years ago. So blow us away. Bring the smart, bring the sexy, blind us with science, break the gender barrier, shine a bright light (or a disco ball) on the whole gender situation. Tell us about your future, what you imagine, how you want things to go and what you (and your friends) intend to do about it. Think big.

We’ll look at whatever you have for us – essays, graphic art, interviews/conversations, haiku, rants – as long as you’re thinking smart and fresh about sex and gender (and being an outlaw, of course).

People of any identity are encouraged to submit work. This means you – yes, you!

We intend to privilege non-normatively gendered/sexed voices in the book but will include all the good stuff we can, regardless of current identifiers of the author.

*The Details*

Deadline: Sept 1 (early submissions are encouraged). Submissions should be unpublished; query if you have a reprint that you think we’ll swoon for. While we hesitate to list a maximum, please query first for pieces over 4,000 words. If you have an idea and need help writing it out, contact us to discuss an interview-style piece or other accommodations.

Submit as a Word document or black/white JPEG (no files over 2MB). Please include a cover letter with a brief bio and full contact information (mailing address, phone number, pseudonym if appropriate) when you submit. Submissions without complete contact information will be deleted unread. Payment will be $50 and 2 copies of the book upon publication in Fall 2010. Contributors retain the rights to their pieces. Send your submission as an attachment to genderoutlawsnextgeneration@gmail.com.

~please forward/repost lots and lots, as appropriate~

conclusions! (or, thanks for your advice!)
June 8, 2009

So here I am with some follow-up to all your awesome feedback a couple of posts back. Thanks to everyone who got in touch!

With that very un-scientific survey of your desires and preferences in mind, I’ve come to a few conclusions.

1. Product reviews.

Not gonna do ‘em. Honestly, I was already pretty sure about this one, but your strong “no!” clinches it. In response to the couple of people who said an occasional review would be fine, or that if I had a strong reaction to a product there’s no harm in posting that, I agree… problem is, generally speaking, the way product reviews work is that a sex toy company sends you (the blogger) free toys in return for a review spot. So you can’t just wait until you like one, or hate one – you gotta post about whatever they send. For me, in addition to your apparent dislike of regular posts on sex toys, this poses a bit of a problem because for all that I love sex and enjoy certain toys, I’ve been loving sex and enjoy toys for a sufficient number of years that I’ve amassed pretty much the appropriate collection to meet my needs already. I don’t really want boxes full of freebies that I might or might not like but would be obliged to play with at least once each anyway and be obliged to write about. Meh. So there it is. I will remain free of excess merchandise, and you will remain free of excess marketing.

2. Newsletter.

I get the feeling I wasn’t entirely clear in my question about this one. So, just to clarify: the purpose of a newsletter would be to give interested parties a monthly update about where I’ll be teaching or speaking, what I’ve written about lately, where I’ll be travelling and other such stuff. It would likely be most relevant to people who a) aren’t regular readers here so might miss that info if I just post it, b) don’t get too fancy with their feed filters (though, as Pierre pointed out, if you do like specific feeds you can check out http://sexgeek.wordpress.com/category/sex-geek-teachings-speakings/feed/), c) want access to the info without having to read a whole post, or d) just feel like getting a fun little note from me every month in their inbox.

Anyway, you seem to think this is a good idea, and I’ve been thinking that for quite a while now too. So I did it. Interested? Sign up by sending an e-mail to SexGeekNews-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Monthly newsletter, 100% spam-free and sex-positive. Guaranteed high-quality verbiage and zero Viagra. It’ll be short and sweet and maybe a little sexy, and I will not, under any circumstances, share your e-mail address.

3. Advertising.

I really appreciate all the advice, particularly from the turbo-nerds among you! I wish it were a simple thing to just take advertising from people and companies whose products I really like and feel good standing behind, but to be honest, I get the feeling that’ll be more work than it’s worth at this point in time. Besides, the whole fuckin’ world is a commercial these days, and much like I refused to wear clothing with logos starting in childhood (“Mom, I don’t wanna be a billboard!”), I think I’m gonna maintain that refusal in my online wardrobe too. If I change my mind at some point in the future, I’ll be sure to ask your advice again. (Thanks to the reader who posted the Steve Pavlina link, by the way. I don’t know if I’d have quite as easy a time as he did turning down $100K in “free money” a year, but luckily (?) I’m not in that position!)

4. Advice columns.

Well, this one got a great big maybe from you—everything from “yes please!” to “that’s not what I come here for.” Fair enough. So let’s put it this way: you send me interesting questions (veryqueer3 at yahoo dot ca) and I’ll do my best to put out interesting answers. Once in a while. But I won’t make this into a major feature here—just something to add some novelty once in a while.

5. Additional feedback.

I know, I know… I’m a bit, um, prolific. As Blaise Pascal once famously wrote, “Je n’ai fait celle-ci plus longue que parce que je n’ai pas eu le loisir de la faire plus courte”—in his context, that would mean “This letter is longer than usual because I did not have time to make it shorter.” Basically, it takes waaaay longer to edit writing down to its pithy essence than it does to wax poetic. Anyway, because I doubt I’m going to have a lot more time to devote to blogging in the next, oh, four to ten years or so (yeah, I expect a PhD will follow on the heels of the MA), I have begun to think more carefully about post-splitting and other such strategies to make sure I can hold onto your kind attention spans. However, rest assured, fellow geeks, I will not sacrifice depth—this will not be turning into a sound-bite blog. I spend enough time doing journalism (“500 words max!”) and marketing (“can you put that in 200 characters, spaces included?”) writing already, and I’m not keen to remove the brainy here in favour of brevity.

In any case, you readers rock. I really appreciate your engagement, your thoughtfulness and all the supportive comments you’ve left me, both for these questions and over the past several years in general.

And now, I am off to read Monique Wittig (queer theory class starts tomorrow night… wish me luck!) and meet up with a friend who somehow managed to get his hands on a pair of vintage Fluevog swordfish-toe boots in my size for 20 bucks at Value Village. Suh-weet!

the truth of fiction: canadian queers
June 2, 2009

Could somebody please turn on the summer? I mean seriously. I’m sitting here wearing jeans, a shirt, a polar fleece and a pair of fuzzy slippers, with a mug of steaming tea, a huge polar fleece blanket wrapped around me, and a pashmina artfully draped around my head and shoulders because silly me, I forgot to pack my tuque. It’s June! What the bloody hell is going on? My fingers are so cold I can barely type! To make matters worse, I just got off the phone with Boi L, who’s sweating in the desert, and before that with Kona, the powerhouse behind the Vancouver women and trans bathhouse events, who had me thinking sweat and steam and nakedness. But no, right now I can practically see my breath.

Anyway, this post will be short and sweet. Inspired by some of your comments, I’m going to be trying to post interesting bits as they come to me, rather than mashing them together in a single post. I used to do that – I have no idea if I’ll be successful at doing it again, but hey, I can try.

In tonight’s post, I give you literature. A brief literary review, that is – of an intriguing collection of stories entitled This One’s Going to Last Forever, by Montreal-based novelist Nairne Holtz.

The first time she impressed was with her co-edited anthology of Canadian lesbian literature, No Margins: Writing Canadian Fiction in Lesbian, a natural next step from her ongoing pet project, canadianlesbianliterature.ca. Next, she put out her debut novel, The Skin Beneath, a work of literary fiction with resolutely queer characters, a twisted conspiracy-theory plot and plenty of highly believable relationship drama. (Take a look here for an interview I did with her a couple of years back right after the novel was launched.)

Well, Nairne has done it again. With This One’s Going to Last Forever, a novella sandwiched between two sets of short stories, she gives us a wry, observant take on Canadian queers that goes down like a dry wine – a bit bitter at first, with a pleasantly complex flavour that blooms on the palate and leaves a rich finish on the tongue. Her work never fails to be both cynical and hopeful, incisive and vulnerable. And not to overwork a cliché, but she keeps getting better as she ages. This is definitely her best effort yet.

Speaking of clichés, she inserts nary a one into her narratives, even when her characters include such figures as an Elvis impersonator, a house-buying lesbian couple, or a young university student who’s questioning her sexual orientation. In Nairne’s capable hands, your Elvis impersonator is a gay man who runs a drive-through wedding chapel in Sudbury, and for whom the closest thing he’s got to a life partner is his aging, Alzheimer’s-suffering father. Her house-buying dykes are an interracial couple in Halifax, a dreadlocked manicurist and a butch paramedic whose greatest on-the-job trauma comes when she sees people’s pets killed in their car accidents. (In a wonderfully sharp twist, they’re one of the only couples in the book that actually seems happy!) And despite, or perhaps in some ways because of, her naiveté, the late-1980s McGill student levers some devastating criticism at radical politics of all sorts, lesbian included.

I think what I like about Nairne’s book is that it resonates as real to me. Rather than the tiresome repetition of New York City, her stories are set in Vancouver, Montreal, and other cities that form the flawed tapestry of Canada. They reflect the realities of queerness here – with some stories set at times when same-sex couples couldn’t marry, and others set in such a resolutely contemporary period that her characters are already jaded about our hard-won right.

In her stories, lesbians don’t live in a womyn-only utopia; they hang out with, and live with, and work with – and yes, even occasionally sleep with – men. The word “bisexual”  is used frequently and realistically. Some characters are alcoholics or junkies. Others are amputees or single mothers or self-hating hockey dykes or hypocritical activists or frumpy fetishists or beautiful fey goth boys with long hair and swaying hips. Really, I feel like I’ve met all these people, and who knows, maybe I have. (Okay, probably not the Elvis impersonator.) Regardless, they come alive through Nairne’s words, and they move through the tragedies and triumphs of everyday life without ever behaving like “characters” that some writer came up with to make a point. These people live and breathe, and they’re well worth meeting.

If you are so fortunate as to be in Toronto the evening of Tuesday, June 2, I encourage you to attend Nairne’s launch and reading. 6:30 p.m. at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, free entrance.

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