Archive for September, 2009

a quick update
September 25, 2009

I just realized I’ve gotten all excited about the monthly newsletter I started putting out in late summer, SexGeekNews, but I’ve completely neglected to post it here when any of my speaking gigs are coming up or other cool shit happens. How silly of me.

So in the realm of cool shit, back in August, I was interviewed and quoted by supercool sex columnist Sasha on the question of insecurity when in a relationship with a bi person. Check it out here.

And in the realm of speaking gigs, of course I update the workshops section on this here blog, but just in case, here’s my fall speaking schedule. I’ve got some room for additional teaching/speaking/whatever in my visits to Montreal (Oct. 13-14), New York (Oct. 15-19) (Can I tell you how excited I am to be teaching for the Lesbian Sex Mafia? Seriously!) and Halifax (Nov. 4-9), so feel free to contact me at veryqueer3 at yahoo dot ca if you’re interested!

And if you want additional fun stuff in your inbox once a month, send an e-mail to SexGeekNews-subscribe@yahoogroups.com.

September (Ottawa)

  • Saturday, September 26, 10:00-11:30 a.m. The Dance of D/s: Cultivating Dominant and Submissive Body Language at Kapital Kink.
  • Saturday, September 26, 8:00-11:00 p.m. I’ll be tabling under an “Ask the Sex Geek” banner at Kapital Kink’s Xploratorium, prescription pad in hand!
  • Sunday, September 27, 7:00-9:00 p.m. Making an Impact for Wicked Wanda’s Wicked Eat & Beat at Club D&D in Gatineau. Look up “The Wicked Eat & Beat” on FetLife.com for sign-up details.

October (Toronto)

  • Sunday, October 4, 5:30-7:00 p.m. 10 Rules for Happy Non-Monogamy workshop at Come As You Are, 701 Queen St. West. Register here.

October (Ottawa)

  • Sunday, October 11, 4:00-5:30 p.m. The Dance of D/s: Cultivating Dominant and Submissive Body Language at An Unholy Harvest.

October (Montreal)

  • Wednesday, October 14, 3:30-4:30 p.m. The Ethics of Sadomasochism talk for Daniel Cere’s Sexual Ethics class at McGill University (Religious Studies Department). Location TBC.

October (New York)

  • Friday, October 16, 8:00-10:00 p.m. Topic TBC (either The Dance of D/s or Making an Impact) workshop for the Lesbian Sex Mafia. For members.

November (Halifax)

  • November 4: demo at the SheDogs women and trans bathhouse. Topic TBC.
  • November 5, 6 and 7: workshops at Venus Envy. Topics TBC.

Okay, that’s definitely enough shameless self-promotion for one day. Have a good weekend, folks!

good gays, bad gays and pdas
September 22, 2009

Not too long ago, I was asked to give a kick-off speech for the Ottawa Dyke March. The theme for Ottawa Pride this summer was “Public Displays of Affection,” so I put together a short speech that addressed the idea of PDAs along with a couple of queer-community beefs I thought might be worth bringing up. The day was chilled and rainy – yes, in mid-August, don’t ask, it’s fucking Canada – and as a result, a small, huddled crowd of brave dykes gathered in rain slickers near the Human Rights Monument in downtown Ottawa. The sound system wasn’t working and the passing traffic was making that awful white noise that happens when speeding car tires meet rainy streets, so I belted out a short version of this little speechy thing – partly to save my voice, and partly because it was clear that the crowd wanted to get moving before they got collective hypothermia. I’m posting a somewhat more complete version of the speech here.

***

I’ve noticed a strange tendency, in the LGBT community, to think in binaries. We come by it honestly, I suppose; North American society as a whole really likes its neatly paired up black and white concepts. Male/female, gay/straight, young/old, good/bad, right/wrong. It makes sense, on some level, in that the existence of any one concept implies its opposite, but what we seem to fail to notice is that an opposite is not the only thing implied by any given idea.

One of the binaries that seems to come up a whole lot among queers is the good gay / bad gay binary. Interestingly, there are two versions of it.

According to some people, the good gays are the ones who exercise their now-legal right to marry, buy a house, maybe have some kids, and fit into mainstream society; and the bad gays are the ones who cross-dress, who wear leather, who have multiple sex partners or fuck people of multiple genders, who do sex work, who have HIV, who gender-transgress, or who fuck in public parks.

According to other people, the bad gays are the ones who’ve sold out and bought into the heteronormative institution that is marriage, and the good gays are the ones who are still radical enough to transgress in any number of ways, such as fucking in public parks.

What I’ve noticed over the past few years, as the reality of legalized same-sex marriage has sunk in here in Canada, is that this equation is not so simple. The good gays and the bad gays are often one and the same.

My favourite example is that of Michael Hendricks. He and his partner, René Leboeuf, fought tooth and nail to force Quebec to legalize same-sex marriage in a protracted, and much-publicized, legal battle. When they finally won, of course, they went and got married. I invited Michael to speak at an event I organized in 2006 about the queer history of Montreal. Now Michael’s a crotchety old man, and he got up on stage and in his typical way said, “Okay, so now that we’ve finally got this stupid marriage thing out of the way, we can focus on the important stuff.” He went on to list what he felt should be four major priorities for queer activists in the coming years: rights for sex workers, rights for HIV-positive people, support for queer youth, and support for trans people. Not too long after that event, I saw him carrying a homemade sign at Pride, pushing for better health care for HIV-positive people suffering from lipodystrophy (the unsightly redistribution of fat on the body, such as in the form of a hump back, a side effect of certain HIV drugs). Not too long after that, I phoned Stella, Montreal’s major organization supporting sex workers, and Michael answered the phone – apparently he was volunteering there. Now this is a man who puts his money where his mouth is.

Michael is not the only person to personify both the “good gay” and the “bad gay.” They’re all over the place. The women who smile from the lesbian mothers’ group poster are the same women who regularly bring a third gal home for a fun Saturday-night romp. The married, home-owning university professor and government employee are the leaders of the local leather group. The Christian lesbian couple is raising a gender-variant child whose sperm donor is lovers with one of the moms. The respectable social worker does professional domination and sex work on the side.

In other words, just because you take advantage of the new rights we queers have won in Canada doesn’t mean you’re a sellout whose primary motivation is to conform at all costs. And, on the flip side, some of the people whose politics or practices are the most radical on the surface in fact hold deeply to some really conservative values or emotional patterns that pop up at the most unexpected times. For example, I can’t tell you how many people I’ve encountered who opt for non-monogamy because they think it’s politically progressive but who are terrified to admit they’d actually function much more happily in the security and comfort of an exclusive relationship. And don’t even get me started on the nationalistic, pro-military and misogynistic flavour of certain elements of the leather community, or the relentless racism, classism and educational elitism of so many so-called radical queer groups.

So if we can’t think in easy binaries, what can we look at instead? In a context where some public displays of affection have now been legalized and others are still most definitely not, what do we do? Do we deny ourselves the enjoyment of our rights? Or do we keep working, in whatever ways we know best, toward more rights and more support and toward creating a culture that makes room for much more? And above all, what does it mean to engage in a public display of affection in a context where there are no easy answers?

It means kissing both, or all three or four, of your partners, without feeling ashamed or scared, whether the government approves or not.

It means hugging and kissing the kids in your life, whether they’re ones you’ve birthed or ones you’ve been so fortunate as to find in your extended queer family – and claiming those relationships as real and valid whether they’re blessed by the government or not.

It means showing your love in the ways that suit you best – whether that looks like a collar and a leash, or a wedding ring, or a phone call once a month, or a nightly cuddle, or a manic make-out session right here on the Human Rights Monument, or nothing at all if that’s what best honours you and your boundaries.

It means doing all these things and more in a visible, public way so that the many people out there who are still thrown out of their homes, robbed of their children, denied employment, beaten in the streets, and tortured and shot have something to look to that gives them hope. And it means not expecting that their public displays of affection will necessarily look anything like yours. Same with the rights they choose to fight for, and the methods they choose for engaging in that fight.

Ultimately, your public display of affection can be a beacon that creates a sense of possibility for a full rainbow of other public displays of affection. But let’s recognize that the crowd standing here today is made up of people with incredible privilege… that we only represent the tiniest slice of queer life in the world… and that there is no one true way to work toward the betterment of our lives. Your public display of affection is a great way to show your pride, but I ask you to let it also be a way of showing your humility.

Now let’s go ahead and march for that!

what’s more degrading?
September 14, 2009

What’s more degrading: engaging in a sex act that some people think is gross, or being told that regardless of how you feel about it, someone else is qualified to tell you what that sex act means?

(Warning: if you’re not comfortable reading about some of the things I do in bed, stop here. I’m not worried about you garden-variety perverts; I put this disclaimer in because I do have family members who read this blog.)

Not too long ago, a friend of mine pointed me to a blog post at pandagon.net, entitled “If it’s so great we can be honest about it,” on the topic of semen facials. No, not the latest fancy beauty treatment – I’m talking about the standard porn-flick shot of a woman getting a shot of jizz in the face (generally at the conclusion of a blow job). The short version is, the writer, Amanda, objects to people (starting with another blogger, specifically) who feel that semen facials can be anything other than degrading to the person on the receiving end of the jizz. She argues that enjoying degradation is fine and dandy if you’re honest about it, but when you pretend something’s not degrading when in fact it is, you’re being intellectually dishonest and that pisses her off.

Needless to say, I find this pretty problematic. It’s a model that assigns exactly two options to the act: degradation and honesty, or degradation and dishonesty. No room for a variety of meanings to the act itself.

I personally don’t have any strong feelings about facials, and my experience in the realm has been minimal and, if memory serves, accidental, so hardly a strong basis from which to argue on any personal level about the relative degradation of such an act. Plus, I don’t much like the taste or feel of jizz (produced by people of any sex/gender) on its own merits, and I’m not personally into being degraded. So I really have no personal investment in this one as far as the act itself. But I do take issue with the general idea that anyone can decide what the universal meaning of a sexual act might be.

It’s been interesting to read the comments thread in which a number of very articulate people challenge Amanda on exactly this point—the idea that she, as a feminist, can dictate or judge the emotional qualities of people’s experiences within a given sexual act, and that if anyone disagrees with her classification system of what’s degrading and what’s not, that person is necessarily being dishonest with themselves (and by extension with the world at large) about what’s really going on.

One of the comments, in that vein, reads, “… it’s not that the association is wrong, it’s that it’s not necessarily universal, or even close to that.” In comments 37 and 38, Amanda reacts to that as follows:

“I’m skeptical of that, sorry. It’s not universal, because admitting that it is brings up a lot of uncomfortable questions that might involve men getting to do it less and think about it more. We don’t disagree that peeing in someone’s face has a very specific meaning, but mostly because women can do it to men, and so avoiding the issue isn’t an option. (Comment #37)

Which, by the way, I think peeing on someone is a fine way to spend your time. If it gets you off, go for it! But it’s interesting that people can be honest about the psychosexual issues being brought out by watersports. The honesty of it makes it a lot better all around, because you can say no with a clear conscience if being degraded isn’t your thing, and if someone asks for it, you’re allowed to acknowledge where they’re coming from.” (Comment #38)

Of course, this makes the whole thing even worse. Now, rather than just focusing on facials as unquestionably degrading, she’s adding piss play to the mix. I’m willing to believe that she’s got some first-hand experience of the facial, or has at least seen some porn that upset her, but as soon as she starts to wade into the murky waters of BDSM play, by her own implication—as in, I assume she isn’t a BDSM player or piss enthusiast herself or she’d have been (intellectually) honest and said so—she’s out of familiar territory and by all evidence she’s out of her depth.

For starters, her statement (in comment 37) assumes that we don’t disagree—when in fact “we,” by and large, do disagree on the meanings of peeing in someone’s face.

She seems to think there’s a universal view of what watersports are about, even just among enthused practitioners. I’m not sure where that idea comes from, but as a longtime BDSM player and as someone who enjoys watersports, I gotta say, the narratives through which players understand their play in this realm are incredibly diverse. For some, piss is degrading and that’s why they like it, with all the “intellectual honesty” Amanda praises them for—and, for the record, I am one such person. But for others (including me at certain times), that’s just not what’s going on, and I simply can’t buy that this makes them, or me, intellectually dishonest. Here are a few of the narratives I’ve heard:

For some, piss is a rich and flavourful bodily fluid and a person can feel intimately connected to their partner when they smell it, drink it or feel it on their bodies—like feeling the cooling of wet saliva on the skin, like tasting someone’s come or even menstrual blood, like smelling the sweat in someone’s armpit—as in, for some people it’s an intimate treat that signifies closeness. (People even play with the types of food and drink they ingest before piss play to make the taste sweeter and more enjoyable for their play partner. Pineapple good, asparagus bad.)

For some, it’s about age play, returning to an emotional state that’s reminiscent of childhood or infancy and peeing in their diapers—and this is often psychological play that’s not sexual, but rather, about playing with trust and care and vulnerability (baby/nurse infantilism scenarios, for example).

For some, it’s a way of mutually breaking social taboo in a “public but secret” way (potentially an extension of the “intimacy” paradigm but combined with some mild exhibitionism or the thrill of getting caught), such as someone I know who took her date to a restaurant, took a wine glass into the bathroom and filled it with piss, and then brought it back to table for her lover to enjoy without anyone else nearby knowing. This would be a similar thrill to using an under-the-clothing remote-control vibrator at a board meeting.

For some, it’s a solo pursuit that’s purely a sensual pleasure: the act of enjoying the smells and textures of the fluids our own bodies produce is forbidden in polite company, but some indulge in playing with their own urine for the sheer enjoyment of the human sensuality of it, as an act that’s about natural curiosity and self-love, much like basic masturbation.

So in addition to having no concept of the array of meanings—some degrading, some not—attached to piss play, Amanda also attempts to draw a false gender comparison. Basically she seems to be saying that patriarchy has us arguing about the potential for a non-degrading facial because it’s in men’s best interests to have women believe facials are not degrading so they can spray their girlfriends’ faces with jizz and get away with enjoying it as degrading. But, by her logic, because girls can pee on guys too, that equalizes the playing field, and so there’s no patriarchal motive for stating it’s non-degrading, and so we all agree it’s degrading. I’ve already argued this one. But this further element of the piss comparison fails to hold water (hah!) in that this implies that while men can ejaculate on women’s faces, women can’t ejaculate on men’s faces—which just isn’t true. The amount of ejaculate a woman can produce is staggering, and female ejaculation happens sometimes on purpose, sometimes not. I’ve certainly had the experience of accidentally shooting a half-cup of fluid straight up some poor cunnlinguist’s nose, not with any degradation in mind, but just because that’s what my body did. (I’ve also had the experience of using ejaculate to degrade, and of allowing someone to drink it as a treat—very different energies in each of those scenarios too!)

Now let’s insert all this into the larger context of BDSM play as a whole. Amanda also wrote, in the original post, “I don’t disagree that people can bracket off their sex life and otherwise be good to each other—S&M types swear they do it all the time, and I believe them. But what’s great about them is they admit that the degradation is the point.”

Again, Amanda demonstrates her lack of familiarity with the BDSM community and its mores. She once again assumes universal agreement—this time among BDSMers—about all of our acts, and that such a universal agreement is also all about degradation. And again, I beg to differ. For starters, BDSM isn’t necessarily a question of “bracketing off” a “degrading” sex life from everything else and otherwise behaving completely differently—that implies an awfully bipolar way of engaging in relationships and sexual acts, and the assumption that all BDSMers manage their lives and relationships this way simply isn’t accurate. Not to mention, every conceivable BDSM act has a vast array of meanings.

Take spanking. For some—many, in fact—it’s degrading, absolutely, and therefore hot. For others it’s the fastest way to get to a really great endorphin rush based purely on the physical sensation. For others it brings blood flow to the genitals and is a great route to sexual arousal. For others it’s only fun if the spanking is done with a specific fetish object, and in that case it’s the object, not the spanking per se, that’s really working for them. For still others, it’s a reciprocal thing—I’ll whack you, you whack me—and a form of competition. For others it’s about discipline, and isn’t hot as far as the act itself goes, but is satisfying as a consented-to form of punishment within a D/s dynamic. And so on, and so forth.

Or take toe-sucking. For some it’s degrading (and therefore hot) to be forced to take such a dirty, low-down body part into the mouth. But for others it’s a fun sensual pleasure with no big psychological explanation. For still others it’s an honour to be allowed so close to such a customarily hidden part of the body, much like they’d be honoured to be invited to go down on a gal—an intimate, private act. For some it’s something they will do as an act of service to please someone who really likes it—and pleasing is their kink, with no attachment to any inherent degradation (i.e. they might take as much pleasure in balancing her chequebook or cooking her dinner), and much like many vanilla lovers really get off on pleasing each other (whaddaya know!). For some, toe-sucking is an act of (consensual) dominance, with the dominant getting their tongue in places that make the submissive uncomfortable, whether physically or psychologically or both, and enjoying making him/her squirm—works especially well with submissives who are ticklish or hate having their feet touched.

One of the big reasons BDSMers do so much darned negotiating is precisely because our sexual and kink desires span such a vast spectrum of meanings. It’s never safe for us to assume that a given act holds the same meaning for all of us. Thus, extremely intensive communication about those acts, and the potential for extremely deep intimacy as a result. (Read clinical sex therapist Peggy Kleinplatz’s essay “Learning from Extraordinary Lovers: Lessons from the Edge” in the Powerful Pleasures anthology if you’re curious about that.)

So back to the facials. With this whole argument, it sounds to me like Amanda is really invested in a paradigm in which facials (and piss, and BDSM as a whole) mean only one thing—and you can choose to enjoy that thing if you want, but you have no option to script different meanings on it. I’d agree with many commenters in saying it’s just not that simple.

I definitely agree that porn scripts one really specific set of meanings onto the act of a facial, and that porn has far-reaching effects on everyday heterosexual sex scripts. But it’s awfully depressing to think that she believes our only options for cultural scripts come from porn—hetero porn, no less—and that if we choose to refuse that model and explore other ones it’s both intellectually dishonest and, as she argues in the original post, necessarily oppressive to the next gal that comes along as it sets up men’s expectations that all women will go for it. (You could also argue that it’s the other way around—rather than shaping people’s desires, porn shows us what people already want to see, which is why people buy it—which in this case is even more depressing.)

Either way, seems to me that way of universalizing the meanings of sex acts went out of style when mainstream feminists stopped believing that all penetration is rape à la Andrea Dworkin, or that dildos were a tool of the patriarchy and made one “male-identified” (we hear the echoes of Adrienne Rich’s 1980s lesbian separatist wisdom there).

Universalizing logic about the meanings of sex acts is dangerous. Sure, it’s easy to say that when feminists do it, it’s okay, but in truth that same logic is used by people and governments all over the place to oppress people who engage in “non-normative” acts that, by their outside logic, cannot be interpreted in any way other than “bad.” This is the same logic that has teens thrown in jail for “sexting” because obviously that’s degrading and should be punished, even when the teens do it for their own fun and not in a way that exploits anyone else at all (for all that it is pretty unwise from a privacy standpoint, in my humble opinion). It’s the same logic that has gay men sitting in jail in England, right now, for the crime of assault—in some cases against themselves—for engaging in BDSM even though they vehemently argued they fully consented (the famous Spanner case).

In this case, Amanda is saying that she thinks both options, good and bad, are fine as long as honestly stated, so there’s no question of punishment—but that’s about the only difference here. There’s still a false binary being created, and the narrow and value-laden judgement of one option in that binary still remains.

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