Archive for November, 2009

the many faces of thanks
November 30, 2009

Not too long ago, I spent part of a weekend with a group of leatherfolk. Part of the agreed-upon deal was that one person’s boy was in service to the entire group for the duration of our time together.

This boy was a master at his craft. His service was seamless. I had only to shiver, and a jacket would appear. Drinks were refilled as if by magic. He was respectful and yet warm, friendly but unobtrusive. And this wasn’t about any existing knowledge of our preferences or needs; he was just extremely observant and took initiative when appropriate. Really, I was thoroughly impressed. When our time together ended, I made a point of mentioning to him and to his dominant that I really appreciated the quality of his service.

The boy mentioned that none of the others had said anything about it. Nobody else had thanked him.

Now, he wasn’t bitter about it; in fact, he was quite philosophical. No grouchy-pants here. But his remark really got me thinking.

Sometimes, the whole point of good service is to be invisible. Many service-oriented types strive to anticipate, to meet needs before a dominant actually even knows those needs exist. And in many of those cases, the proof of having achieved the quality that they’re striving for is precisely that the dominant doesn’t notice what’s happening. They only see the results, and sometimes those results are simply as expected. “I’d like to wear my white shirt tomorrow” is a simple request. Sometimes that might mean taking the shirt out of the closet. Other times, that might mean laundering it in a complex ritual of products and timings to get that awful stain out, washing it, drying it, ironing it and sewing back on the button that popped off last week, and then crossing town to get it to the dominant’s door in time for work the next day. For some submissives, their satisfaction with their own work lies in the assurance that a request will be met regardless of whether it’s easy or hard. Sometimes, it’s the very the fact of a task being difficult or complex or exacting that makes it so satisfying. And the height of satisfaction sometimes occurs when the results are assumed (by the dominant) and delivered (by the submissive), no questions asked, no explanations given.

A dominant’s assumption of good service can be an indication of deep trust in the submissive’s abilities; a dominant’s lack of explicit verbal direction can in fact be a highly evolved form of non-verbal communication. A slight pause, a raised eyebrow, a glance – these things can convey eloquent messages and the submissive’s understanding and response is effectively their part of the fluid, beautiful, elegant and harmonious dance that is D/s. And even when that’s not happening, the sheer satisfaction of being so damn good that you know what someone needs before they even have time to think of it can be pretty powerful – as can the satisfaction of rendering a service to a community by means of easing the work of some of its members, even when there’s no direct interest in those members as individuals per se. In short, sometimes effectively taking a submissive for granted, or being taken for granted as a submissive, is the turn-on. It is the reward. It is, paradoxically, the thank-you and the recognition.

On the flip side, sometimes being taken for granted sucks. Sometimes it just means there’s an arrogant dominant (or two, or five, or ten) who assumes they’re entitled to being waited upon hand and foot and feels no need to say thanks or recognize a job well done. Sometimes it means the submissive pours out their energy and skill to make magic happen, and they go home drained and empty and dissatisfied because nobody noticed all their hard work or held up the dominant end of the “fluid, harmonious dance” bargain – they simply took the goodies and ignored the person behind them. And worse still, I know submissives who would feel guilty, who would feel like they were not “submissive enough” or not like a “real” or “true” submissive, simply for daring to want that recognition. Don’t make the mistake of thinking this makes them doormats; it doesn’t. It makes them people who operate on a service-oriented paradigm that simply does not line up with mainstream society’s understanding of how relationships work. That doesn’t mean such folks always operate in perfect emotional health; certainly destructive patterns can come along with this mindset. But it’s not unhealthy by definition. It’s just not a perfect pairing with someone who’s not willing or able to hold their part in the dance.

Ah, the question of pairing. In leather community, we know and interact with people who are openly and proudly service-oriented more than we’re likely to in mundane society. But many leatherfolk have personalities and relationship paradigms that have nothing to do with receiving or giving service or submission. In addition to that, there’s a numbers problem going on. To make a long story short, whereas I have yet to encounter someone who can explain the reasons for this to my satisfaction, it’s a fairly established fact that in most segments of the community, bottoms – including submissive and service-oriented folks – outnumber tops by a fairly large margin. So there aren’t enough dominants for all the submissives out there. And of the dominants that exist, not all of them have any inkling of how to appropriately respond to or receive service. So even though dominants who know what to do with service do exist, there aren’t enough of them to go around.  As a result, many service-oriented people have a hard time finding satisfying relationships, through the leather community, into which they can channel their desire for service.

So what do they do? They combine leather community (the community that is friendly to their kink) and service (the kink in question) the best way they know how: they volunteer.

And they volunteer, and volunteer, and volunteer. They’re the first in line to do the thankless clean-up shift after the party. They’ll get up at an ungodly hour to drive a visiting presenter to the airport, or shop for weeks for the most hard-to-find of party decorations, or lift heavy objects that nobody else will attempt to move. These people often end up being the backbone of the community – the people without whom shit just wouldn’t get done. But because they often operate in a mindset that precludes asking for thanks, and because not everyone realizes what’s going on or knows how to hold up their end of the paradigmatic bargain, these folks are often the ones we forget to thank.

In a sense, on a micro level we’ve got a problem with individual dominants or groups of dominants who don’t handle service well, and on the macro level we’ve got a problem with an entire community that doesn’t handle the service of its members well. We can blow this up well beyond the question of submission – all volunteering is a form of service, whether you’re a dominant or a submissive or a switch or a puppy or a fetishist or a sensation player or whatever else. Some groups and people do a great job of recognizing and rewarding or thanking volunteers; some, not so much. Some groups guilt their members into helping out, or criticize the volunteers without taking the time to understand what’s going on or offering to help out, or rely on the same people for eons without ever offering to pitch in and lighten the load.

Now, I’m an optimist, but I don’t expect this to change anytime soon across the board. I’d love to see a community populated exclusively by wonderful, self-aware, kind, appreciative people who don’t ever make drama or get bent out of shape about things, and who put their time and effort into community-building rather than being do-me queens who just expect to show up and be entertained. I hold no illusions that this community exists, at least not in perfect form. I do know from experience, however, that the proportion of “good” people to “bad” ones can radically shift depending on a variety of factors, not the least of which is the personality and principles of the leaders. This can make for some amazing and wonderful experiences, as much as it can make for frighteningly dysfunctional ones.

I think it’s just important to recognize, across the board, that nothing is given for free. Everyone has a motivation for what they do, and when we happen to benefit from the results of others’ efforts, the best thing we can do in return is figure out what form of recognition suits them best. Sometimes that means a fanfare and a plaque. Sometimes it means a faintly pleased nod. Sometimes it’s the inner satisfaction of anonymity and the knowledge of service well rendered or a good deed done. And it can run the gamut between the extremes, and many other places to boot. Let’s just not make the mistake of thinking those forms of reward are one and the same, or that anyone’s entitled to benefit without cost (however small or easy to pay), or that anyone truly wants nothing at all in return for what they do. So when we’re so lucky as to be on the receiving end of a benefit, whether it’s a magically filled drink or a fantastic weekend-long leather event, it behooves us to find out what would constitute fitting thanks, and to provide that thanks to the best of our abilities.

ten things
November 29, 2009

It’s late. I’m tired. I’m doubled booked this whole weekend with judging a leather contest and taking part in a D/s protocol intensive, both of which are wonderful but which, together, are exhausting. So this is a short one. Watch this vid of Mary Roach (author of Bonk) entitled “Ten Things You Didn’t Know About Orgasm.” It rocks! Very fun. Enjoy.

cruising past the line
November 28, 2009

Years ago, I went to a gay and lesbian singles night. There were a good thirty or forty people at the event, and the organizers had put together all sorts of very fun get-to-know-you games. It was a mixed-gender affair. I knew a few people there, but not many. And it wasn’t so much that I was keen to meet the love of my life while on a scavenger hunt, I just thought it’d be a fun way to get to know the community and happened to be single at the time.

One person there really caught my eye. He was a tall, soft-spoken gay guy, and I really liked his vibe. Um. A lot. He was smart and funny and engaging. As the night progressed I kept on thinking to myself that I should really keep my attraction to him concealed – not because I was in any way ashamed of my bisexuality, far from it. I just felt like flirting with a gay guy, as a woman, was somehow disrespectful of his orientation. The last thing I wanted to do was make him feel like even fellow queers couldn’t be trusted to actually take his orientation seriously. I mean, we’ve all heard the message from heteronormative society: “You’re not really gay/lesbian. All you need is to meet the right woman/man.” “It’s just a phase.” “You’ll get over it.” We certainly don’t need to get more of that from our own! Not to mention, for all that a lot of gay men love their fag hags, sometimes it’s clear that fag-haggery is about women wanting what they can’t have (romance) rather than appreciating what they do have (friendship), and I don’t want to be one of those women who loves gay men but just doesn’t get the message.

So I left it alone. But he came to me at the end of the night and asked for my phone number. And we went out for dinner the next week. And then we started having dinner once a week, walking hand-in-hand, talking about sex and books and the meaning of life, telling each other how gorgeous we found one another. I started to notice that people on the street would look at us wistfully, the way you look at people who are newly in love. We shared dessert. We laughed. We made snow angels.

I still left it alone. The topic of “us” didn’t come up. I just couldn’t be the one to mention it, I was too afraid I’d freak him out or hurt his feelings. All my instincts were screaming “Yes it is happening! Fuck the labels!” but I just wanted so badly to be respectful.

The months went by. One day I heard about a bisexual discussion group in town, and I brought it up to him. We talked about going together. The next meeting came along, and we attended. Everyone there was part of a male/female couple, mostly made up of straight guys and bi women. Everyone there assumed that’s exactly what we were too, and treated us as such. It was really uncomfortable. Like, not just a little. It was awful. I thought I’d be going to a place where we might be understood, where we might find kindred spirits – fellow outlaws who couldn’t quite figure out how to navigate the clashes of identity and attraction. But we were put in a box even there. Apparently “bisexual” meant this one thing, and it’s not what either of us were – a faggot and a dyke, starry-eyed for each other but not sure what to do next, and no place to fit in.

The next time we met for dinner, he arrived earlier than I did. When I got to the restaurant there was a single long-stemmed yellow rose on my plate – yellow, the colour of friendship. He said nothing about it, and I didn’t ask. We chatted about everything under the sun, but not about what was between us, never that. The conversation settled on something totally banal – some work situation or something – and he said to me, perfectly in context of that conversation, “I’m just not ready.” But he held my gaze and I understood that this was not about work and it was not banal. I got the message.

Our dinner dates went from weekly to bi-weekly and then to monthly. He met a guy. I met a gal. We kept in touch. Months turned to years. We still keep in touch, and run into each other on occasion. We’ve still never talked about it. For all I know he might read this blog post and know I’m talking about him, and he might have a totally different take on the whole experience – I don’t pretend to know what he was thinking that whole time. I just know what I heard, saw, noticed, felt. And it felt like identity got in the way of something that could have been… well, who knows what it could have been. Something more than it was.

I’m still not sure I did the right thing. I’m not sure I’ve done the right thing in other instances since then, either. The sweet little leatherman who kissed me one night in San Francisco after I beat him up for a while and the energy was high, but who moved back when his buddy noticed and gasped in shock. My friend’s former roommate, a tall, dark and handsome lad who said to me on more than one occasion, “If I weren’t gay, I’d totally be all over you,” and who in fact was all over me, but stopped short of kissing me every time. The older gay gentleman who became very attentive with me one night after we had a conversation about strap-ons and I explained that for me, my strap-on is a cock, no more and no less, and that yes, indeed, I am attracted to men. The gay man who came to a workshop I gave and asked a lot of detailed questions about female anatomy but who insisted – three or four times – “I’m gay, of course, you understand, I’m just curious.” The hot leatherman who told me, just recently, that he’d like to remove my stay-up stockings with his teeth and then find out whether or not he was still any good at orally pleasuring women, because he used to be way back when – but who then stepped away and coughed and said, “But I’m gay.”

I have no desire to “turn” anyone straight. I certainly don’t plan to become straight anytime soon, no matter how much I enjoy men, so I would resent anyone making such an attempt with me. But then, I’m not shy about identifying myself as a bisexual sort of queer – as in, not simply a queer who likes Foucault and wants to explode the gender binary, but also a queer who likes to play with male-bodied male-identified people as a queer, and with a strong preference for those men to be queer as all get-out too.

I don’t get some sort of fucked-up thrill out of messing with people’s identities, and there’s no ego trip in here for me about somehow being such a singularly exceptional woman that I can “even” get the fags interested. Really, all I’m after is the excitement and energy of an erotic connection with someone I find hot. And it just so happens that “hot,” for me, is deeply queer, and the versions of masculinity that get me hard and wet are the ones that tend to come packaged in the bodies of butch women, trans guys, bisexual/queer/effeminate/androgynous boys, and gay dudes. And for all of the above, all the better if they’re wrapped in leather. Which means that at least some of the time, I don’t find my own attractions problematic at all, but for the other people involved in the equation, their attraction to me, when present, might pose a bit of a dilemma. Our communities often pay lip service to including bisexuals and queers, as though bisexuals and queers were those folks over there whom we should welcome into our space. They’re not nearly as kind when it’s one of their own who’s stepping outside the magic circle to see what it’s like in the grey area.

I guess the question is, for a faggot-cruising dyke, what’s the most respectful thing to do when cruised back? Is it best to follow through on a flirt that challenges someone’s self-conception, or leave it hanging despite all the desire in the air, in favour of paying attention to the label? When there’s an open door and an enticing aroma, do you say “fuck it” and walk past the “do not enter” sign, or do you leave your curiosity unsatisfied in order to toe the line? When someone’s body language says one thing and their words say another, which one do you listen to?

I genuinely don’t know. All I know is that sometimes there are two hard dicks in the room, mine and his, and I’m a little bit tired of thinking with the head that’s on my shoulders.

a play and a panel
November 27, 2009

Queer tip of the week: go see My Mother’s Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding. Only in Canada, I tell ya, would you have a musical production made based on a true lesbian love story set on the Rideau Canal in Ottawa during the ice sculpture festival, with the two main characters being a Jewish psychology professor at Ottawa U and a Wiccan control freak who sings in a choir. Seriously hilarious. Songs include “Hot Lesbian Action,” “You Don’t Need a Penis” and “Straight White Male.” Oh my god.

Okay, it does get a bit tiresome in its equation of marriage and love, as though marriage is the only thing that legitimates love; and it’s also tiresome in its treatment of Hooters girls (“sluts!”). So it’s got its dose of garden-variety sexual conservatism, really, but it’s no worse than any other mainstream gay and lesbian cultural production. If you can get past that, and it’s not too hard, the rest of it is an absolute scream.

Oh, and is it a Canadian thing to watch that old movie Die Hard, with Bruce Willis, every year at Christmas? I didn’t think it was a common tradition, but my brothers and I have been doing it for, oh, jeez, over a decade now? And apparently the son in MMLJWW does it too.

***

On a totally unrelated note, I’m judging Mr. Leather Toronto this weekend, and there’s gonna be a Judges’ Panel on Saturday (tomorrow) from 1:30 to 3 on the topic of “Mentorship and the Leather Journey.” I’ll be speaking on said panel. I have no idea what I’ll be saying, but that’s probably because most of it will be Q&A, so it’s a bit up to you! The MLT seminar program details are here, and I believe you can sign up for them individually at a cost of ten bucks, so if you happen to be in Toronto, come on by. The line-up is pretty fantastic actually.

these are a few of my favourite things
November 25, 2009

Snakes. Snakes are damn sexy. Smooth, muscular, not human, fully prehensile. Heat-seeking creatures with heavy cultural symbolism and taboo built into every scale. The way they scent you with their forked tongues, slither and wrap themselves around you in a slow, dry, deliberate caress. The way they rear up when surprised, ready to strike but watching, watching, waiting before action, because they can take action any time they want, in a split second. Mm.

Leather. Not the kind that’s the victim of misguided design (quilting and pleats, anyone?), or dripping with studs and fringe, or ill-fitting. Rather, the kind that smoothly encases the body like a literal second skin, that gleams darkly in light, that’s soft and hard all at once, that smells rich and slides against the body when you move. It doesn’t have to be black to be beautiful, but that sure does help.

Boots. Classic design and quality material, natch. Boots with a heavy enough sole that they add noticeable weight to your step, that cause you to walk with just a hint of a swagger, that plant firmly and hold the foot with care. Boots that are dirty, because they beg to be cleaned. Boots that are gleaming, because they beg to be licked. Boots that are new, because they hold untold promise. Boots that are old, because they exude history.

Conversation. The kind that starts smoothly and surprises you with a bit of a flirt, and that turns into a mutual weaving of ideas and lasts well past the time you thought it would end when you first introduced yourself. Conversation that renders you breathless, that makes you laugh but not giggle, that challenges and affirms all at once, that connects and excites and leaves you with more questions than answers, one being, when can we do this again?

Dance music. I know many will disagree with me on this one, but hear me out. Dance music that’s exquisitely constructed to compel the body to move. Rich, deep bass that cradles the pelvic floor muscles and pushes the hips into motion, but not so loud as to reverberate or drown out the tune. A treble line that fills your lungs and tickles your shoulders, beckoning you to follow as it takes you spiraling up and around, a melody that makes you a little bit sad in the midst of the sheer joy of motion. A DJ who knows how to work with these things – a bit of suspense every once in a while, but only long enough to make you really want it, none of those long empty pauses where the body has time to lose its momentum and the mind has time to refocus. I don’t want focus when I’m dancing. I want to lose myself in the bodily experience of the beat.

Burlesque. But it has to be done right. I want to be teased, titillated, surprised, denied. Start with a gorgeous costume. I appreciate the humour and camp of burlesque, don’t get me wrong, but what I really want is a sweetly curved feminine body in clothes that push the curves out, pinch the waist in, flatter and slink and drip and veil. Don’t take them off too fast and spoil the surprise. Make me wait for it. Show me a little bit, and then take it away again. I want you to take your body from the realm of cheap and glittery spectacle into the world of luxurious, decadent art. I’m not actually here to see your breasts or your butt. I’m here for the enjoyment of being made to want to see those things, so make me want them.

Books. More specifically, books about sex. Lots of them. The words on their covers, the ideas inside, the crisp feel of pages, the scent of ink and paper and musty old glue, the knowledge that if I am surrounded by books about sex it means I am not the only one in the course of history who has spent this much time thinking about sex and all its many meanings and permutations. Proof positive that sex has inspired deep thought, intense creativity, broad theorizing, endless debate. All of this documented and catalogued and explicated and questioned and created. Bliss.

Blood. But not just any blood. It has to be done right. You have to do it voluntarily – accidents are just messy, and often tainted with the wrong smell. I want a dark-red jewel welling up from a single tiny hole, or perhaps several, or maybe a razor-sharp line that stings and gives me more. Salty, thick, delicious. Powerful. A bit of fear mixed in to heighten the scent, flavoured all the more sweetly with the intensity of your totally irrational, but utterly compelling, desire to feed me.

Clothes. Your clothes. The ones that you chose because they made you feel dressed up, groomed, beautiful, confident. A nicely ironed shirt that nestles just under the freshly shaved line at the nape of your neck. A casually knotted tie that just happens to match your socks. Pants that break on your instep and hug your hips just so. The look on your face that’s cocky and proud and a bit shy all at once, knowing you look good but not sure I’ve noticed yet.

And you? What are a few of your favourite things?

 

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