the stuff inside

October 20, 2015 - 9 Responses

In the past few years, I’ve undergone quite a number of medical tests and procedures, some highly invasive (spinal cord surgery), some much less so (Holter monitor). I started to notice that a kind of emotional exhaustion would occur after some of these procedures that I couldn’t explain only by the strain of having health troubles in general. Nor could I attribute it to the potential seriousness of whatever I was being tested for, nor the other factors involved in doctor visits (travel, time, waiting rooms and such).

As time went on, I discovered that the exhaustion was cumulative – not over broad stretches of time, but specifically over short spans. Recently I came up with a theory, or a metaphor, that I think explains what’s going on.

I think our bodies are kind of like gas tanks. There’s a kind of precious fuel inside, an amorphous emotional Stuff, within a shell that keeps it all in one place. You can do all sorts of things to the outside of the gas tank and it may have an effect, good or bad, on the overall mechanism. But there is a specific sort of experience that occurs when you physically puncture the tank. Stuff leaks out. Probably slowly, if it’s really just a puncture. Possibly faster, if it’s a bigger breach, like a slice, or many punctures.

It’s reparable, of course. You plug the leak, and then you fill up the tank again. But the filling may take a while. So if you puncture the tank several times at once, or over a relatively short period of time, more of that Stuff inside leaks out, and then it takes even longer to fill it back up. The breach itself doesn’t have to be physically big. But there is something about having a hole deliberately made in your skin that allows psychic Stuff to leak out in a way that’s somehow different from other bodily experiences.

Context is everything, of course. I think the intensity of the psychic leak caused by a physical “tank” breach – a needle, a scalpel, a dental drill – is affected by the emotional quality of how it happened in the first place. Medical procedures may have eventual positive effects, and we usually enter into them consensually. But for the most part, they aren’t what I’d call positive. Rather they are an unfortunate necessity. Sometimes we’re lucky and we get a medical practitioner with the right kind of touch – firm, gentle, attuned, present – who provides a substitute container to help limit the Stuff leak. But sometimes medical practitioners are brusque, detached, sloppy, inconsiderate, even cruel. The medical profession gets our consent before doing things, but we often get limited say in how it all goes down, skin to (gloved) skin. And sometimes we’re numbed against pain, or even knocked out completely. The breach still occurs, and our bodies and souls still know it even if our conscious mind doesn’t experience it directly. The Stuff still leaks out. We weren’t really there when it happened, but we sure do feel it later.

Other types of tank breach show us how this can go differently. Acupuncture, let’s say. The breach occurs, but the practitioner who’s doing it is actually doing it deliberately in order to interact with the Stuff – to move it around in a way that’s beneficial, sometimes immediately and perceptibly so. When done well, it’s the most minimal breach possible with the maximum possible substitute containment. So we might walk out feeling a little disturbed, but the leakage is minor compared to the immediate boost to our system function.

This raises the related idea of intention. Not overall intention, but intention in the moment. I think that in most cases with a breach, the human being who performs it “injects” something of their own Stuff into us. Imagine, for instance, the difference between having blood drawn by a nurse who’s clipped, cold and rude, versus by one who’s warm, friendly, who waits til you’re ready, who makes pleasant conversation or makes sure you’re seated comfortably. The same procedure – the same sharp needle entering the same vein with the same skill level – can feel really different depending on how you’re being treated while it happens. An acupuncturist’s practice is entirely focused on reaching into you to move your Stuff around in a beneficial way. A nurse’s or doctor’s isn’t, exactly; even if the overall end goal is to improve your health, their skill isn’t necessarily focused on providing an immediately positive energetic experience along the way, and certainly not via the precise means of the tank breach. You may luck out and get someone who understands how their own energy influences yours or leaks into you when they breach your flesh, but that awareness is not built into their practice.

Let’s take it in yet another direction. Let’s think about piercings or tattoos. In this case, the breach isn’t either an unfortunate necessity toward long-term healing, or a therapeutic intervention with immediate effect. The purpose here is (often) purely a pleasurable one. The breach itself might be challenging to undergo in the moment, but we actively seek it out, and for only positive (and elective!) reasons. Adornment, personal symbolism, ritual, the cultivation of a larger aesthetic, the desire to demonstrate membership in a culture or subculture – we get pierced and tattooed for many reasons, but not usually because we’re sick or hurting and need to fix it. As well, we choose our practitioners. We ask our friends, we look at portfolios, we make an appointment to consult. We go elsewhere if we don’t like the artist. We choose our own body art and where we’d like to have it applied.

A good tattoo or piercing experience is all about the positive. A good tattoo artist or piercer knows how to provide some of the substitute “Stuff containment” their client needs. They set the client at ease, check with the client about placement of the jewelry or art, talk them through the process, give them breaks to breathe or gather strength. A body artist who doesn’t do these things well will probably not get a lot of return business. Beyond the average person’s positive motivation to get tattooed or pierced, perhaps the capitalism inherent in much body art motivates good practice – nobody’s obliged to get a bicep band or a nose stud for health reasons, so to maintain a business, the practitioner needs to keep the process at least somewhat enjoyable.

If we go by the continuum I seem to be setting up here, it seems to be partly about lead-up – what is the emotional quality of the reason the breach is happening? how at choice are we about the process and the practitioner? – and partly about execution – assuming equal technical skill level, how well does the practitioner contain your tank breach to help limit your Stuff leakage, and what Stuff do they leave behind inside you as they work?

If we go to the far end of the spectrum, we can think about play piercing or cutting in the context of BDSM. In this case, the experience is perhaps the purest: there is no health-related obligation or need. There isn’t even a desire for an end goal of beautiful body art – though that can be part of the fun, for instance with decorative temporary piercing or image-based cutting. Usually the reason for purple-hanky play is to have the experience itself: a deliberately chosen tank breach with a practitioner picked for their skill at making that experience positive, or for the energetic connection you wish to feel with them. You get play-pierced because you trust the practitioner to breach your tank and to see and touch your Stuff, and perhaps because you want a little bit (or a lot) of that practitioner’s Stuff to enter you.

I’m not saying everyone who does play piercing would think of it this way, or that this is always the reason for it. But I do think for those of us who like blood play, which is often discussed as a technical or artistic skill set, it might be useful to think about the energetic implications of that play, and to consider them as part of why we do it.

I didn’t have this kind of metaphor to work with when I first play pierced another human being. I’m glad I had the very good first experience I did – because well over a decade later, I still carry a drop or two of her Stuff with me, and it is sweet and beautiful. I think that’s true, for me, of pretty much everyone I’ve pierced. It makes me see piercing as far less appropriate for casual play as compared to, say, a flogging. This perspective also helps me appreciate the value of universal precautions not just for blood safety and hygiene, but also as part of a containment ritual that’s energetically and symbolically appropriate. It’s no coincidence that blood play (at least in the circles I run in) is often done as part of ritual-based scenes with spiritual intentions or implications.

For those of us who undergo a lot of tank breaches as part of medical procedures, maybe having this framework in mind could help us come up with creative ways to contain our Stuff leaks. For instance, every time I go for an MRI, which involves a tracer injection, I sandwich the procedure between visits to my trusted piercer. He removes my permanent jewelry; we catch up. I put my metal in a small leather pouch and carry it with me. When I head into the MRI, I hand the pouch to my partner, who keeps it safe and hands it back right afterward. I put on as much of my metal as I can, and the day after, I go back to my piercer, who sterilizes everything else and reinstalls it. I bring him chocolate. He asks how the test went. The ritual creates a kind of safe pseudo-tank breach and repair on either side of the real tank breach and somehow, the process feels better overall.

Similarly, a couple of weeks before I went in for my second spinal cord surgery this spring, I got a small tattoo under my left collarbone, over my heart; my sweetheart got a matching one. It was an energetic thread that connected us when all my metal was out, and she couldn’t be right next to me, and my body-tank was cut open in a big way. And you know what? It worked. That extra Stuff containment helped. My recovery time was half as long as it was in my first surgery. I’m sure other factors were at play too, but I can’t help thinking that creating a deliberate, desired, beautifully marked opening so soon before the unfortunately needed one helped get my Stuff flowing the right way for healing.

Anyway, this metaphor clearly has its limits, and I’m sure it doesn’t work in all instances. Thanks for indulging my thought experiment. It’s been a long time since I last wrote, or theorized at all, about SM play and its related practices. My time, energy and body have been so consumed by medical concerns, and all the resulting Stuff leaks, that it’s been hard for me to even want to play, let alone actually do so. Maybe the fact that I can think about this at all means my tank is slowly filling up again. Maybe at some point I will feel like I have enough Stuff in there to fuel myself as I take the sharps in my own hand once more. Maybe I will once again feel like my Stuff is the kind of Stuff I don’t mind leaving a trace of inside someone else.


loving the body: a theoretical triptych

May 13, 2015 - 10 Responses

Having a body can be hard at times. If you look in any way non-normative, or identify as non-normative in some way even if you don’t look it, or if you experience your body in ways that are non-normative, the dominant narratives about how to have a body might not fit and might actively harm you. For that matter, even if you look and feel completely normative, heteropatriarchal capitalism still wants you to feel shitty about your body. It is not possible to live in a Western or Western-influenced context without absorbing the message that no matter how hard you try, it is fucking impossible to have a normative enough body. You must always be in the process of becoming a better version of yourself, or you’re doing it wrong. Whether it’s body hair management, keeping up with fashion trends and the “right” brands, making sure your face is perfect and your hair is perfect and you don’t have bad breath or body odour or thighs that touch or boobs that sag or muscles that aren’t sculpted or gawd forbid anything that makes you, y’know, FUCKING HUMAN – there’s always some entity trying to shame you into tasty, seductive, profitable self-hatred.

But let’s get back to the non-normative folks. Different sub-sets of people have different languages and frameworks for discussing the body. Communities and theories about people who are disabled, trans or genderqueer, queer, intersex, fat, Indigenous and/or racialized (and any number of other experiences that aren’t white, cis, able-bodied, slim and hetero) go into great detail on the particularities of what it’s like to live in those bodies. Progressive narratives generally arrive at the conclusion that loving our own and each other’s bodies, in all their differences, is a radical act.

How, exactly, to accomplish this body-loving project, though – that advice is harder to come by. It’s not that nobody’s talking about it. Far from it. It’s just that once you get that loving your body is a good plan, a lot of the instructions on the next steps get kinda prescriptive. Or proscriptive. Or both. As in, you MUST or maybe MUST NEVER cover up / reveal yourself / lose weight / gain weight / wear make-up / go bare-faced / have long hair / have short hair / use product / go product-free / have surgery / go without surgery, and so forth. Failing which, you’re a tool of the heterocapitalist white supremacist patriarchy. Thing is, progressive folks are often just as invested in controlling other people’s bodies and making them fit in as mainstream folks, we just have different ideas about how that control and belonging should happen. This shit is really, really hard to escape.

I don’t pretend to have a perfect solution to any of this. But as a lifelong sex-loving, gender-fluid queer poly sadomasochist, I’ve spent the last decade-plus living inside a body that’s been crippled (literally and metaphorically) by chronic pain and cancer, and gained and lost and gained 60 pounds. It used to be easy to love my body but that hasn’t been true in a long time. And yet, my body-loving politics never changed. It’s just that the easy routes to bodily self-love (have great sex! do yoga four days a week! look hawt in skinny jeans!) got really clogged up. Over time, I developed this theory I thought you might like to hear. I’m still white and I’ve never experienced a medical gender transition or any number of other body-related things, so I understand this might have holes in it that I can’t see from my perspective, but here goes.

I think the project of loving our bodies can be accomplished along three axes. I call them the three Fs: feeling, function and form.

Feeling is about sensation. We can love the way our bodies feel. That might include taste, smell, auditory stimulation like music, the joy of movement or exercise, pleasurable interpersonal touch such as massage or cuddling or SM play, non-personal touch such as the feeling of fabrics or other materials against the skin, temperature such as bracing cold snow or a hot shower or a sunbeam, sexual pleasure, and all manner of other physical sensations. Even if nothing else good is happening, body-wise, we can love the way our bodies feel and we can do things to deliberately enhance or increase that kind of positive experience. We can choose to eat foods that taste amazing and make us feel good, exchange touch with friends or partners, masturbate, take a bath – basically anything that’s about the pleasures of the senses.

Function is about what we can physically accomplish. We can appreciate the way our bodies get us places and let us do things. Maybe it’s your hands and their ability to create beautiful art or play music. Maybe it’s your muscles that let you lift heavy things, perform feats of athleticism, or dance with grace. Maybe it’s your eyes and their ability to catch tiny grammar mistakes or diagnose a mechanical problem.

In some cases, function is about competition against others, striving for a kind of externally recognized excellence in sports or performance or skill. But it doesn’t have to be. Function-love can also be about self-improvement and besting our own past accomplishments. That might look like trying to best our own score at a skill game, tackling a 5.9 climb when we’ve gone up to 5.8 so far, or managing a walk around the block when last week we had a hard time walking down the driveway. Competitive self-love might mean setting ourselves a task and succeeding at it, or perhaps challenging ourselves to try doing a new thing and learning over time to do that thing better. Learning to knit or bake, to fix our bikes or paint a wall, to touch-type, to unlock the next level of a video game, to meditate. As long as we’re doing it to build ourselves up and not cut ourselves down, let’s do what works best for us. This is about taking pride and pleasure in what we can do.

This isn’t about buying into ableist nonsense about what we should be able to do or what “normal” people do – it’s about appreciating what each of us uniquely can do. People who are “disabled” are still very able to do lots of things, just as people who are “able-bodied” can still be unable to do some things. There’s no room here for unreasonable or non-applicable standards.

Function can also be about appreciating what we can do without requiring it to be held up against what others can do or even what we ourselves have done in the past. That can be a pure thing – as in, self-appreciation independent of all comparison. For instance, I’m in awe of the way my hands work. They’re such incredible precision tools. It’s not about having better hands than anyone else, it’s just the wow factor of watching ten fingers at work, doing a zillion things a day.

Form is about the way we look. This can include things like learning to love the body we have, right now, even if it’s not the perfect body we wanted. But it’s not just an inner thing. Loving ourselves via form can also mean deciding that our bodies are worthy of care and adornment. Haircuts, grooming, fashion – these things are not (necessarily) tools of heteropatriarchal white supremacist capitalism, though like everything else in life we must both resist and navigate that system to gain access to the things we need to achieve the beauty we want to appreciate in ourselves. It can be dangerous to focus on form to the exclusion of all else. And of course it can be dangerous to buy into the beauty ideals foisted upon us by systems that don’t have our best interests at heart. But that doesn’t mean beauty is a bad thing. It’s deeply human to want to create and appreciate beauty. You get to define what that means to you, and then go make it happen. Express your gender, enjoy your own unique brand of gorgeousness, connect with your historic cultural symbolism and/or your subculture(s) of choice via your looks, do the things that make your physical self shine.

Of course these three axes can overlap or combine. Learning to distinguish wine varietals solely by taste is a function thing – but enjoying the wine is a feeling thing. If you enjoy a clothing or footwear fetish, or enjoy both the process and the result of getting tattooed or pierced, you’re engaging in form and feeling at the same time. Some kinds of exercise lead to visible changes in the body while also boosting things like flexibility and strength, so maybe your physical practice is about both function and form.

And surely other people out there would have brilliant ideas to add to this list, or brilliant challenges to it that arise from their own experiences of having a body that I might simply not be aware of or able to speak to authentically here. I welcome your comments, critiques and ideas.

All I can say is that, for me, it’s been really useful to realize that I don’t have to stop loving my body because it’s not behaving the way I want it to. I can shift the way I approach loving my body so that even if some aspects are working less well at a given moment, others can be called upon. If I’m hurting too much to exercise (function), I can still enjoy scouring the Internet for that perfect pair of second-hand shoes (form). If I’m unhappy that I can’t fit into a dress I used to love (form), I can still enjoy tasting chocolate (feeling). And so forth.

In a world that tries to shame and regulate the body in general, and in a specific physical body that sometimes makes daily life difficult, this little theoretical triptych has given me an extra tool or two to bring some gentleness and joy into my physical existence. Perhaps it’ll do the same for you.

on pain, writing and integration

April 13, 2015 - 13 Responses

Today, I shall make a slight departure from the usual fare. This is a highly personal post. In the past I’ve written mostly in passing about my health troubles. Here, I’m gonna dive right on in. Buckle up, friends!

As some of you know, I’ve been coping with chronic pain for over twenty years now. I first felt it when I was 14, and it gradually grew, so slowly that it felt oddly normal. It started on the left side of my sacrum, and I thought I’d worked out too hard. Over months, and eventually years, it shifted to my buttock, then my pelvic floor, then my leg, then both sides of my sacrum. Never quite the same place, but always in the same region of my body. My pain became progressively more debilitating starting in about 2007. It started to affect my ability to enjoy sex, to do SM play… to walk… to think. Eventually it got to the point where simply turning my head could cause my legs to spasm.

It took an absurdly long time to reach diagnosis. In retrospect I have lots of thoughts about why. But in May of 2012 an MRI showed that I had a tumour on my spinal cord that had been causing nerve pain as it slowly grew over many years. A rare form of cancer, not deadly or likely to metastasize, but very persistent. No known causes. Luck of the draw.

I had surgery to remove most of that tumour in the summer of 2012. They got about 80% of it, not wanting to dig too deep into the places where the tumour was embedded into the spinal cord itself. Recovery was a long process. I was numb in parts you *really* never want to be numb in. Basic bodily functions became major milestones in my days. For seven months I couldn’t orgasm. But things gradually came back online, and I felt better. I went from careful, shuffling walks around the block that first summer to indoor climbing, yoga and kayaking lessons the summer after. But even though I was able to be more active, weird things started to happen starting about six or eight months after surgery. The bottoms of my feet would cramp up mercilessly. My toes would twitch like little bunny noses for no good reason. My hip would persistently slip into sitting asymmetrically in a painful way. My sacrum started to ache.

Slowly, my pain began to come back to recognizable “there’s something wrong” levels. By the end of summer 2013, I was back in a state of constant hurting. And since then it has once again become quite debilitating. Bi-weekly nerve block injections and other treatments have helped alleviate my everyday pain, but only to a point, and only if I remain largely immobile. I sometimes need a cane for walking. I can’t stretch or exercise, or stand comfortably for more than a few minutes at a time.

Until recently my medical practitioners thought it was probably scar tissue from surgery adhering to my nerves, or biomechanical issues caused by many years of not walking quite right. I’ve been tested for what seems like everything. Ultrasounds, blood work, extra MRIs, electric-shock nerve tests… the works. And I’ve been working with a panoply of medical and para-medical practitioners to diagnose and treat my pain.

This month, a follow-up MRI showed that in fact the nub of tumour that was left behind after surgery has begun to re-grow – a full centimetre in the last year. I met with my neurosurgeon this week, and here’s the story: I’ll be having a second round of spinal cord surgery, deeper this time, probably within the next month, followed by radiation treatment to shrink whatever the surgeon can’t remove and to prevent any future growth.

Of course this is scary news. I’m really not looking forward to putting my poor body through more discomfort and difficulty. And the risks, while highly unlikely, are sobering: if something goes wrong, I could lose bladder or bowel function, or sexual sensation, or the use of my legs. But it’s also positive news: if all goes well, I will likely come out the other end of this in much better shape than I’ve been in for the past long while, and the relief from pain will likely last many years going forward. I can finally, maybe, envision a future that doesn’t require me to make pain management, medical testing and treatment a full-time job.

I don’t yet know my surgery date, and I don’t yet have details on the radiation treatment plan. That’s not really why I’m writing all this, though. Mostly I’m writing about this here because I’d like my realities to be better integrated.

For the longest time I didn’t identify as disabled, even though in practical terms I was, and could probably have benefited a lot from the services and accommodations that might have been available to me had I thought to ask. “Disabled,” to me, felt like a word that people got to use if they had a visible disability, something congenital, or at the very least something with a diagnosis and a name. Not this amorphous, it’s-probably-nothing kind of pain.

I also didn’t talk about or identify as a person with chronic pain. I didn’t qualify, I thought. I had an exercise injury, I thought for the longest time. I didn’t have pain 100% of the time, for the first many years – lots, yes, but not always. So clearly, I wasn’t disabled and I didn’t have chronic pain. Right? Wrong. I’m still trying to puzzle out why this was such a hard thing to understand, for me. Internalized ableism, sure, I’ll buy that. But that’s not all.

I think it was a mix of factors. Partly I didn’t want to appropriate an identity or terminology that I didn’t feel I had a right to – that was me being overly careful, really, but with the best of political intentions. Partly it was stoicism; my general approach to life has been one of surviving under duress and against odds, so complaining isn’t in my nature. I’m the strong one right? So I bear up.

Partly it’s the subjectivity of pain itself. When pain slowly becomes normal over the course of two decades, it’s really hard to tell when it crosses the line from “probably okay” to “something a human being shouldn’t have to live with.” It’s not like there’s a measuring stick. Nobody can see your pain and evaluate it. They can only see how you react, how you function, how distressed you look. And when you’ve spent a lifetime keeping your cool in the worst of situations, that skill can get in the way of a doctor recognizing what’s going on. When I first consulted with my neurosurgeon, I walked (carefully) into his office in sassy high heels. He told me with a tumour that size I shouldn’t have been able to walk at all. How should I have known?

It was the height of irony, for me, to come into a clearer political consciousness of disability, and a better understanding of what “chronic” pain is (jeezis fucking Christ, 20 years COUNTS already) just as I was about to have the source of that pain removed. Or so I thought. I would never have wished for it to come back as it has, but at least this time around I have better language and a better ability to self-advocate.

One thing I still didn’t own, though, was the idea of being a cancer survivor. Another thing I didn’t feel qualified to claim. Cancer survivors lose hair, breasts, lives. Cancer survivors go through terrible long treatments like chemo and radiation. Clearly I didn’t count – I just had an operation. The end.

Except that it wasn’t the end. It’s happening all over again. And this time around I’m coming at it from a different perspective. I think cancer stories need to get a lot broader. Cancer is a fucking epidemic, brought on, in my humble opinion, by the excessive and poorly controlled introduction of toxic petrochemicals and other poisonous substances into our environment over many decades combined with a range of other factors. Cancer affects far too many people, and far too fucking young compared to our parents’ generation. But the cancer stories we hear are the ones that have major mainstream marketing campaigns attached – pink ribbons and 5k runs for breast cancer, Movember moustaches against prostate cancer, giant lung cancer warnings on smokes. And we know how it goes: someone discovers a lump while putting on their bra one day, gets a mammogram, gets the bad news, gets a mastectomy, has the chemo and applies the corporate-supplied make-up and puts on the wig to feel like a Real Woman again. We don’t know about the weird cancers, the ones with different stories and pathways, different presentations and diagnostic processes. We don’t know about the people who survive without the standard narrative or the standard (read: straight, white, cis) identities. Cancer is a much bigger problem than ribbons and moustaches. We need more stories so we can recognize ourselves, help each other, maybe find treatment and heal faster.

Of course I’m saying this as I’m about to join the ranks of cancer survivors in a whole new way, what with my soon-to-be new venture into radiation treatment. Now I, too, will know the reality of daily hospital visits to get blasted with more toxic stuff in the hopes of killing off the toxic stuff that’s growing inside me. So… now I count? Now I feel I can claim the term “cancer survivor”? Ugh. I’m impatient with myself. I’m not proud that it once again took me this long to use the right words. But, well, here I am. And for all that I’m annoyed at my own reticence, I can also find softness in myself, compassion for my own process. There is no road map for cancer, or pain, or any of the other things our fallible, messy bodies can spring on us at any point in our lives. We are all vulnerable and there is nobody to tell us how to do it right. This having a body thing… it’s complicated. We do our best. I do my best. It’s good enough, because it must be.

I’m once again about to have the source of my pain removed. But I’m not as naïve about it this time around. I have high hopes, but I don’t know for sure that this will be the end of pain for me. I know I’m disabled, though I may not always be in the future, or perhaps I will be in different ways. I know I’m already a cancer survivor, and I plan to keep being one.

In the past couple of years, I’ve begun to write more about chronic pain, but only on Twitter, not here. (You may have noticed less long-form blogging in general in the past few years. Pain itself saps my ability to write a lot of the time, as it just eats too much of my focus.) I’d like that to change. I need better integration. I don’t want to make this blog a “pain blog” or a “cancer blog” – I like the focus here on Sex Geek as it already is. And I don’t plan to write a lot of pure personal disclosure posts like this one. I’ve never been shy to call upon personal experience for context and to provide examples in support of a point, but mostly I like to write analytically and politically here. I blog mostly about the politics of BDSM/Leather/kink, non-monogamy, queer sex, sexuality and gender, and that won’t change. Still, I may begin to integrate my perspectives as a person who lives with (or will have lived with) disability, a person who lives with (or will have lived with) chronic pain, and a cancer survivor when I write about sex and kink and relationships and politics, as for me they’re becoming really important parts of the lens through which I process and understand the world around me. And I know I am not the only one for whom this is true.

I’m also really aware that there’s not a lot out there written about chronic pain and kink, or disability and kink in general, though I see more all the time (and may eventually compile a link list). I do find the overlaps and intersections quite fascinating, so I may end up writing on these topics occasionally. And apart from blogging, I’m ever so slowly working on a memoir focused on the concept of pain, as I’ve experienced it from so many different angles in my own life. (You can get your fill of personal disclosure there, if ever it’s published!)

Anyway. Here’s what I ask of you, lovely readers. Please be in touch anytime you want. Invite me to teach or write or whatever else you were planning to invite me to do. I may need to say no, depending on how treatment goes, but I’m pretty hardy and I still need to make a living over here in freelancer-land – so please let me be the one to decide. If you follow me elsewhere on social media, know that I often read and post articles, analyses or funny things as a way of keeping my own spirits up. My social media activity isn’t necessarily a way to know how I’m doing, unless I’m posting directly about my health. And I’m not generally given to posting a lot about the daily details of my health situation. I need personal processing time before I tell the world about things, and some of it’s just not for public consumption.

I’ve been blogging for a good ten years. At age 27, I was just looking for a place to put all the thoughts that were brewing in my bright little head. I wasn’t really thinking about building a legacy of writing or creating a body of work that would serve as a community resource. That stuff happened thanks to the sheer passage of time. At 37, I feel ancient and tired – older and, I hope, a bit wiser. I can look back and say, wow, I’ve put a fuckton of words out there, and a fuckton of people have done me the honour of reading them. I plan to stick around. And I know that as I change, so too must my writing. I’m not young and carefree anymore. I’m limping toward 40 and I’m a bit jaded. But I have a lot of joy left to experience, a lot of perving left to perv, and a lot of thinking and writing left to do. I’m glad you’re reading it, and I hope you’ll stick around and see what comes next. I have no idea, myself, but I think it’ll be fun to find out.

review: more than two

March 26, 2015 - 3 Responses

More Than Two: A Practical Guide to Ethical Polyamory by Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickert

Janet Hardy and Dossie Easton did some of this work in The Ethical Slut, but the focus there was more sexual. Wendy-O-Matik did it in polemic form, beautifully if poorly edited, in her little self-published gem Redefining Our Relationships. But finally, finally, someone’s written a hefty, full-sized, guide-style book specifically on the concept of ethical polyamory. More Than Two may well be the best book on polyamory I’ve ever read. No joke, it’s really that fantastic.

(Full disclosure: Veaux and Rickert mention my writing in the book a couple of times, which was kinda sweet to see, but I promise I don’t give good reviews based on that sort of thing.)

You’d think, with all the hype about communication and ethical non-monogamy and all the rest, that poly folks would be the most ethical and considerate bunch on the planet. But so many of the concepts, habits and terminology quirks that have evolved over the admittedly short few decades that polyamory has existed as a more-than-just-fringe practice are in fact pretty toxic. In some ways this is all the more the case because these toxic ideas and practices are championed under the guise of open, honest and ethical relationships. At over 450 pages, Veaux and Rickert’s book is huge, yes, but I think that’s in part because they took the time to tease out all the little places where the “ethical” part of ethical polyamory gets lost or eclipsed, to really dig them up and drag them into the light, and then to discuss them gently and kindly. That shit takes time, or in this case, word count. It’s well worth reading the whole thing. Twice.

More Than Two isn’t perfect. The book’s discussion of solo poly, for instance, is overly brief and kinda makes it sounds like solo poly people are standoffish commitment-phobes, which doesn’t really do justice to the idea. I’d have liked to hear more explicit discussion of relationship anarchy as a philosophy or movement. I’m surprised that there’s so little discussion of the BDSM world and its gigantic overlap with the poly one, and why that might be the case, and the specific challenges that come up in that little section of the Venn diagram.

As well, their approach often fails to make a clear distinction between the practice of polyamory and “the poly community,” which is problematic for a couple of reasons. Poly communities (plural, because they exist in most major cities as well as online, and in many forms of overlap) are often made up predominantly of straight men and bisexual women, mostly cis with a sprinkling of trans folks, mostly white, etc etc. Poly people do not necessarily fit this description at all, but those who don’t may not circulate primarily in poly communities because it’s not where they best fit. Conflating the two makes for some odd logical burps, which become evident for someone like me who really doesn’t hang in “the poly community” at all, nice though those folks may be, except that 90% of the people in my rather vast social network are nevertheless poly because we’re primarily queer-identified leatherdyke types.

This leads me to a further criticism: More Than Two’s section on LGBTQ communities leaves much to be desired. While I appreciate their attempt, and I will give that it hits most of the basic notes, I would have appreciated a more nuanced dissection of the spectrum of LGBTQ opinions on polyamory. In reality it ranges from the arch-conservative “it’ll make us look bad to the mainstream” marriage-equality people to the “monogamy is oppressive” radical queers and everything in between, including radical poly queers who get married (!). In a good percentage of queer and LGBTQ communities, non-monogamy of some sort is so normalized that it doesn’t raise an eyebrow, but reading this section left me feeling like they think it’s a lot more widely frowned upon than I’ve ever observed. Their conclusion is sort of “YMMV,” but I think there’s a lot more to say than that. Maybe this points to the need for a different book? I’d love to read an analysis of ethical non-monogamy from a queer perspective, with a good-sized history section that takes into account everything from gay and lesbian communes in the 60s and 70s to feminism to sex work politics to leather communities to radical young queer movements today. (Hmm… I wonder who might write such a book… hmmm…)

Anyway. Those are my criticisms. They are real, but honestly, they pale in comparison to the overall high quality of this book. It’s thorough, it covers ethical situations from the most basic to the trickiest, and it articulates two very down-to-earth principles and then sticks to them throughout. In some ways it’s a crash course in how to do decent human relationships, period, but that’s not a bad thing. If anything it points up pretty starkly how a person-centred, kindness-focused, rigorously ethical framework is missing from a lot of what gets said about poly out there in the world. More Than Two is a welcome antidote to a lot of the glib advice that’s proliferated in the last five or ten years. I hope it gets as widely read as it deserves to be.

review: some gay fiction for a change!

February 12, 2015 - One Response

The book review blitz continues! I rarely get asked to review fiction, so this one was a treat for me.

The Medici Boy by John L’Heureux

There’s a particular sub-genre of historical fiction that attempts to imagine the inner worlds and intimate experiences of great real-life historical figures. In The Medici Boy, John L’Heureux has chosen Renaissance sculptor Donatello as the great central figure upon which to build a (mostly? entirely?) fictional tale of forbidden homosexual passion and the tension between Renaissance society’s quasi-worship of artistic genius and its vicious persecution of sexual deviance. Even the most homophobic society gives some leeway to the privileged deviant, whether that privilege is based on money, family connections or respected talent. But the space of permission is terribly conditional. L’Heureux’s novel spins its tale almost entirely in that liminal space between permission and punishment, lending an aching, urgent quality to even the most banal of everyday activities in its characters’ lives.

The Medici Boy tells the story of Donatello’s life through the eyes of one of his devoted assistants, Luca Mattei. This set-up creates yet another liminal space: the space where a man stands when he works closely with a genius for decades, knows his moods and preferences like his own flesh, sees all his terribly human flaws while still admiring his superhuman abilities, loves him with a multifaceted kind of love, and yet never quite touches or fully understands the artist’s inner experience. The story conveys a kind of intimacy between the two men, not exactly sexual but hardly lacking in erotic energy, and a kind of utterly unbridgeable distance all at once.

Donatello does turn his amorous attentions to Luca, once, as well as to other assistants, some for a long time, some fleetingly. But the object of his long-term affection is Luca’s younger step-brother, a shallow, shady layabout who uses his good looks as currency, and lives off the goodwill of his older admirers. Oscar Wilde can tell us how this goes – although in this version of the tragic tale, the backdrop is the Black Plague, the Italian Church, and rich families’ political battles for control of Italy’s major cities.

The rich historical detail is immersive, and a reader could get lost in the lush descriptions of Donatello’s artistic practice alone. The sweaty task of pouring boiling metal into moulds feels both hellish and heroic at once, with loyal assistants straining to complete the raw grunt work that makes the genius’s role possible. You can almost smell the sharp stink of effort and fear and liquid bronze. But the novel’s real strength lies in its ability to convey the nuance of a tale that’s in some ways heartbreakingly predictable and in other ways utterly unique to its time and its people. In this story of love and persecution, overflowing wealth and brute labour, adulation and imprisonment, L’Heureux succeeds in bringing us deep into the past and showing us just how far back our history of great injustice goes, showing us exactly what we expect to see while also demonstrating just how much we can’t know. While spinning his own kind of myth, he still conveys how different real people can be from the legends that grow up around them.



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