Archive for July, 2008

entitlement again: this time, correction and punishment
July 30, 2008

A budding kinkster asked me recently how I see the idea of entitlement working with the concepts of correction and punishment in a D/s scenario or relationship. I’ve written in the past about the difference between play and punishment, but I didn’t really touch on the difference between correction and punishment, or the whys and wherefores of punishment itself, so this was a good opportunity for me to get some thoughts on paper.

There are two senses in which entitlement is relevant here. Let’s start out by assuming we’re talking about a D/s relationship or scenario in which there is a real-life power dynamics, as in either an ongoing D/s-based relationship or a one-time interaction that’s explicitly understood to be a time-bound version of such a relationship.

First, assuming a relationship or interaction has been negotiated within these parameters, as a dominant I hold the entitlement to beat, torture (etc.) a submissive purely because I wish to do so, and I need no excuse. In this framework, beating and torture are not the same thing as punishment, although dominants who don’t truly feel their entitlement will often use imagined or real transgressions as excuses for pleasurable play and frame it as punishment. Play is fun, and not at all an indication of displeasure, even if it is challenging for the bottom at times. (Again, feel free to read my post “Pain, Play, Pleasure, Punishment” if you want more on this idea.)

Some people call this first idea “discipline,” as in, the arbitrary use of physical experience (pain among other things) to reinforce the dominant/submissive nature of a relationship. Whatever floats yer boat, I guess, but I often find that use of the term to be misleading. Webster’s defines discipline as follows:

1: PUNISHMENT. 2: obs: INSTRUCTION. 3: a field of study. 4: training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character. 5a: control gained by enforcing obedience or order b: orderly or prescribed conduct or pattern of behaviour c: SELF-CONTROL 6: a rule or system of rules governing conduct or activity.

I’m not necessarily one to subscribe to dictionary definitions at all times, especially in the realm of kink and sexuality where we so often assign different meanings to commonly used words. But let’s face it: all six of these meanings are pretty useful both within and outside of kink, and they overlap with one another quite considerably. So the concept of defining discipline as narrowly as “randomly applied torture to reinforce a D/s dynamic” just doesn’t work for me. Torture is not always discipline, discipline is not always torture, and the conceptual overlap just gets too confusing for the word, in my humble opinion, to be all that useful when used in such a limited way.

The second place where entitlement is relevant, in that same scenario or relationship, is that I am also entitled to correct and shape the submissive’s behaviour and to punish the submissive in ways that are real, meaningful and clearly felt when an actual transgression is committed.

There is, of course, a major difference between correction and punishment. Correction I do all the time within my D/s relationships, with varying degrees of style and emphasis. A polite request for something to be done differently, a slap on the wrist for overstepping, a raised eyebrow, a suggestion that they rephrase a question, the tailoring of service or behaviour to my preferences, the adjustment of physical posture or manner, and so forth. That’s just practical and has to do with my own requirements, and the process of shaping the specifics of someone’s tone and behaviour to my liking. It’s not about transgression or displeasure or anything problematic at all; it’s just part of the ongoing process of aligning a submissive’s actions with my will, which we both want to see happen.

I think punishment, on the other hand, is to be used when a message needs to be reinforced very strongly because it has clearly not yet gotten through and is causing problems. For example, if the submissive directly disobeys my orders, deliberately conceals a transgression from me, exhibits gross disrespect or neglect, and so forth, these may be occasions for punishment.

But even in such scenarios, punishment is only one possible response. If every time someone made a massive error, my only response was to be to mete out a nasty caning, that doesn’t necessarily go very far towards understanding the reason for the fuck-up in the first place, or addressing the underlying issues that may have caused it. For example, have I not made my requirements clear enough? Are those requirements unreasonable? Is there a doubt on the submissive’s part as to the appropriateness of what I have asked for that caused them to act on their own judgment of a situation instead of on my orders? Was there a deterring circumstance? Are they upset about something within our relationship and acting out rather than communicating directly about it? All of these questions need to be asked, and satisfactory answers obtained, before I can decide whether a punishment is the right response. I’m a dominant, but I’m not infallible; and a submissive may wish to serve and please, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have their own doubts or misgivings that need to be dealt with. We’re complex human beings, and that means there’s no strict one-size-fits-all solution when their actions don’t match my expectations.

Sometimes even if there are underlying issues, a punishment is still an appropriate response. For example, we may resolve a communication issue, and I may still punish the submissive for neglecting to address it in due course when it came up, thus creating a situation where an avoidable fuck-up occurred. Or I may apply a punishment that simply re-balances a wrong that was committed.

For example, a submissive once ruined a couple of my shirts when ironing. The underlying issue was lack of knowledge about how to complete the task properly, so that was solved by explaining appropriate temperature settings and ironing speeds and talking about fabric. The punishment is that he’s required to purchase new shirts for me to replace the ruined ones, paid out of his pocket. There’s no anger or upset there, simply a desire to have my shirts back and a placement of responsibility on him to make that happen.

As for another example, a submissive once went against my orders to stop lifting heavy objects while we were packing my belongings into a moving truck. I told him to stop because I could see that he was exhausted and I didn’t want to drain his energy as I needed him to be in shape for more work the next day; also, we had other friends helping out who could pick up the slack. He continued to lift things, but only when I was out of the room and couldn’t see it happening. It came to my attention that he’d done this, and so once the move was over, we took some time one evening to talk about it. The transgression merited a stern talking-to with a clear explanation of my principles on the matter, and some pointed physical punishment. The rationale is that if he is my property, and I have decided how that property is best cared for, he has no business deciding otherwise, no matter how heroic his intentions. I was even less impressed that he hid it from me, because that cuts to the core of trust on which the entire relationship rests, which is just not something to fuck around with. It has never happened again since.

Punishment is only helpful when it comes from a place of fierce love and strong expectation for change that is in fact acheivable, not from a place of revenge or spite or hurt or anger or frustration. I do it rarely and carefully, as it is rarely needed (and should be) and must be done just right to have the intended effect. Punishment is very real, and sends very real messages that have very real consequences.

From this perspective it’s easy to see why I don’t like the idea of play punishment framed as the real thing. If it’s play, then sure, come up with whatever naughty little scenario really works for you, and go for it, but don’t pretend it’s real. Make it really clear that you’re doing some fun exciting role play and that it has nothing to do with anyone’s actual transgressions or actual displeasure. This particular sort of play isn’t my thing because I don’t like role play much – can’t really get into it, it feels too false – but if that’s your thing, more power to ya.

When it comes to my own relationships, I’m way too reality-based to enjoy the “play” aspect of taking on a role. In fact I think role-play could even be damaging to my D/s relationships unless it were framed very tightly indeed; when power is real, then entering a space where it’s reimagined as something pretend could just mess with the boundaries and confuse what’s actually going on. Perhaps if I had a fetish for role-playing, this area of potential risk would merit more time and attention, and in that case I’m sure I’d figure out some way to make it work, but as it stands I just don’t get off on the whole idea. Perhaps it would be less risky if role-play were actually completely not reflective of real-life power dynamics – then the “pretend” aspect could really be just fun, with no chance for confusion. But as it stands, numerous people have told me about scenes and relationships where the boundary between what’s real and what’s play has been unclear, and that sort of blurring really messes with people’s heads and creates many opportunities for hurt, betrayal, uncertainty and miscommunication.

My reaction is always, what’s so wrong with power and power-based actions (correction and punishment being only two, albeit two significant ones) that you need the protection of a role in order to do them? Why do you need to shield yourself that way? When I torture someone, or correct them or punish them, I’m doing it as Andrea Zanin, and that, to me, is a far safer thing than if I were pretending to be a monster to distance myself from the reality of my topping or dominance. I know that may sound judgmental, and I know not everyone does role-play with this rationale, but all too often I see people who confuse let’s-pretend with reality, or do things in play that they’d never do in “real life” but that still have real-life consequences, and it makes me distinctly uncomfortable. Role-play is not a get-out-of-jail-free card that allows you to mess with someone and pretend it never happened, so anytime I hear someone talk about their role-play in ways that sound like, “Well, in real life I’d never do that awful thing, but in role-play I can do whatever I want!” it gives me the willies.

Now, on the flip side, if punishment is real, then don’t fuck around and send mixed messages. Punishment is not an opportunity to beat someone for mutual satisfaction. If I am a person’s dominant, whether for a night or in an ongoing dynamic or whatever, then I am perfectly entitled to use their person in whatever manner I see fit (assuming we have negotiated as such), including torturing them if that’s my pleasure. I don’t need to come up with an imagined fault on their part to justify my desire to hurt them. I also don’t need to jump on a real fault and use that as an excuse to hurt them. I can just hurt them. There is no need for it to be about punishment at all. I can torture someone just because it amuses me, or pleasure them for the same reason, and either one is a good thing because it reinforces the existence of the dynamic that gives me that entitlement, which feels good to all concerned.

If they actually have committed a real fault, and I do wish to punish them, then meting out a punishment that in fact provides mutual pleasure messes up the whole equation. Real punishment is an indication of genuine displeasure, its form is carefully considered to ensure maximum effectiveness (i.e. the disapproval is clearly understood and the behaviour is not repeated, on pain of more dire consequences up to and including the suspension or termination of the relationship), and it is damn sure not exciting or enjoyable for the recipient, nor is it for the provider. It’s not erotic, it’s not fun, and it’s not something desired by anyone involved. It’s part of a D/s framework so in that sense it may bring positive feelings – reinforcement of the dynamic, clarity of purpose and expectation, confidence in the dominant’s entitlement, recognition that calling someone on bad behaviour is a form of love, confidence that the submissive is capable of doing a good job in the future, etc. – but those are secondary to the experience of “oh shit, I did something really wrong, I better not do it again.” Ideally punishment, or communication surrounding that punishment, leaves no question about what the specific transgression has been, and provides a clear path for how the submissive is to deal with a similar situation in the future – otherwise the submissive will surely repeat the bad behaviour because they do not clearly understand what needs to change and have not been equipped to do otherwise.

So there it is: my take on punishment, correction, and their relationship to entitlement. Is this take necessarily right for everyone? Hardly. I’m sure there are numerous people out there who’d disagree with me on any number of these points. With that in mind, I welcome respectful challenges – like anyone else, I’m always learning.

adventures in halifagia
July 22, 2008

Or is it Halifogia? No, maybe Haligonia. Okay, I’m kidding, it’s Halifax, but they call the locals Haligonians, which never made a helluva lot of sense to me, but this is Canada, home of places like Moose Jaw, so really, what grounds to I have to complain? And because it’s Pride season in these (very rainy and foggy) parts, everyone’s coming up with wierd word-plays on the whole thing, which makes it all the more confusing for us… mainlanders? I think that’s what they call folks like me.

This most recent trip started out as a visit home for Boi L, who wanted me and Boi M to meet all her extended family, including two sets of parents, two sets of grandparents, and assorted exes, friends, former teammates, brothers and local acquaintances. Somehow we managed to schedule this whole little excursion right on top of Pride, so not only are we meeting family left, right and centre – all of whom oddly seem way more upset about Boi L’s conversion to vegetarianism than about her newly announced status as a polyamorous dyke involved in a D/s triad with a femme(ish) dominant and a trans guy – but we are also attending such exciting events as the SheDogs women and trans bathhouse event tomorrow night, the Pride Paddle (not that kind – it’s kayaking, folks) Thursday night (assuming there are no further small hurricanes on the way), various film screenings and lectures, and the WetSpot party Saturday night. I think we might march in the parade Saturday afternoon, too. Boi M is keen to have us all do it on stilts, but I’m not sure those are compatible with a leather pencil skirt and red heels, so I might have to pass.

Interestingly, everyone and their dog seems to gravitate towards Halifax for Pride time, so I keep running into exes and lovers and friends on the street corners and in cafes around town. It’s really a bit perturbing to note just how many queers descend on this fine little town at this time of year – I feel like I’ve been missing out all these years. Never fear; I intend to experience it to its fullest and provide a full report. Right after I write up the CPATH conference and review some hottie-hot dyke/trans porn for ya, of course. Ahem. I forget sometimes that this blogging thing actually entails the occasional obligation. I’m on it, I swear.  

In the meantime, Boi M and I have celebrated our one-year anniversary, and this afternoon while we were at Venus Envy – Halifax’s queer epicentre extraordinaire – he reached out a finger towards a shelf and poked, of all things, a first-edition copy of Patrick Califia’s Macho Sluts, which just about made me wet my jeans right then and there. A fine anniversary gift indeed. 

Oh, and on our way out East we stopped in small-town Quebec to attend a queer wedding in which a lovely trans lady of my acquaintance and her butch/trans partner spoke vows of eternal devotion that were filled with poetic references to kink, leather and butch/femme. As I sat watching the ceremony with a gorgeous boi in a necktie on either side of me, holding hands with both of them, I realized that I have never felt so openly welcome at such an event. For all that I’m really not interested in the institution of marriage, I gotta say, I’m pretty damn happy to live in a country where two trans people can have a leather wedding with poly queers in the audience, the whole thing entirely legal and presided over by a minister who earnestly lectured the audience on the eroticism of butch/femme and never messed up a pronoun, even once. Quite an experience, that was.

All of this to say that following Toronto Pride, a load of work contracts and a few days of illness, life has been pretty busy, which is why I’ve been so damn quiet these past couple of weeks. I’m back though. Hope y’all have been enjoying your summer so far, eh?


And now, for a bit o’ shameless self-promotion…

My recent post about sex with trans people has been picked up by, an award-winning news website with a monthly readership of 2.3 million. I’m not sure when it’ll be up, but I’ll post here when it happens. How fucking exciting is that?

Also, I just finished writing up a rather in-depth piece on Toronto’s sex club and sex party scene, which should be coming out in a future issue of the Xtra. I’ll definitely link to that. I must say, the research work for that one was. ahem, intensive. I am telling you, the commitment I have to my journalistic integrity is nothing short of staggering. Hee hee.

And in the realm of exciting, I must also mention that I’ll be giving a short demo – not a full workshop, but a half-hour interactive thingie – of some hands-on SM play stuff at SheDogs, tomorrow night’s bathhouse. I’m muchly looking forward to it, especially since I’ll have both Boi M and Boi L with me as demo bottoms, which opens up some very intriguing possibilities. Should be a good time – if you’re in town, come say hi!

eroticizing vs exoticizing: sex with trans people
July 3, 2008

I just finished reading M. Christian’s anthology, Trans Figures: Transgender Erotica. And I’m sad to say I didn’t like it much.

This is definitely an example of how my politics are inextricably linked to my libido. I just can’t get turned on by stuff that’s politically questionable. There’s a vast difference between eroticizing the forbidden and exoticizing people for their gender (or any other feature) in ways that scream “I’m clueless and disrespectful.”

Unlike Best Transgender Erotica, edited by Raven Kaldera and Hanne Blank, Trans Figures seems to have been put together without much thought to actual trans people. Sure, the anthology features a couple of prominent trans writers – Kaldera himself, Patrick Califia, and Raven Gildea (I don’t know what it is with the Raven thing either) – but the vast majority of the writers are non-trans, or at least they don’t say anything in their bios that would lead one to understand they are trans. This in itself is not necessarily a bad thing; I know plenty of non-trans people who have a strong understanding of trans folks. But when the overwhelming bulk of the writers in an anthology on any topic are people who don’t have significant direct experience of the topic at hand… things just start to feel funny.

In this particular case, the thing that bugs me about a lot of the stories is the way the trans-ness of the protagonist is the punch line to the story. Over and over again, I read stories where someone “normal” is seduced by, or pursues, a person they think is also “normal,” and they get into an erotic situation, and – whoops! Turns out there’s a little surprise in those panties or boxers! And isn’t that hot and kinky and different and exotic! Reading repeated descriptions of tall, striking women with strong shoulders and somewhat short reedy-voiced men, not as descriptors of sexy trans people but rather as foreshadowing for the “Wow! Look at that, a trans person!” moment at the peak of the story… well, it got tiresome pretty quickly.

It reminds me of a conversation I had with a male-to-female trans friend of mine in which I groused about people who fetishize trans folks. She answered, “What’s wrong with fetishizing? Trans people are sexy!” I answered that of course trans people are sexy. Or at least, the chances of me personally finding a trans person to be sexy are at least as high as the chances of me finding a non-trans person to be sexy. But that’s not the same thing as fetishizing. If I find a trans person sexy, it’s because they’re a sexy person, not because I can’t wait to see what exotic treasures I’ll find in their pants and get all hot and bothered about how weird and unusual they are. The trans people whom I find sexy are primarily people, not vehicles for exciting hormone-altered body parts. Their gender journeys may (or may not) indicate that they’re comfortable with gender-bend, with various types of boundary-crossing and norm-challenging, in which case we’re probably pretty compatible because I’ve been doing that very thing most of my life and it’s pretty central to how I understand myself as a person and as a sexual being, even though I have not taken that to the point of formal gender transition myself. But from there to seeing trans-ness as an exciting form of freakishness that’s ripe for my ogling or consumption… no thanks. That’s just plain icky.

As a person who’s dated many trans folks over the last eight years, as well as counting many of them among my friends and acquaintances, I’m not blind to the differences of gender-altered bodies as compared to the rest of us mass-produced types. From experience and conversation, I’m privileged to have some fairly intimate knowledge about trans bodies. I know that new estrogen-inspired breasts sometimes react with more sensitivity and sometimes with less than they did pre-hormone, and are sometimes quite tender as they grow, much like my own were at puberty. I know that breast implants may cause nipples to react differently, and that you should generally not do heavy impact play on them. I know that some trans gals are quite comfortable in their bodies – one lovely tall lady I know happily refers to her gams as her “gorgeous long transsexual legs” and considers them a benefit of being trans – while others are ashamed of the parts of themselves that still appear masculine and struggle very much with their body image.

I know that pre- or non-op trans gals often have very different relationship to the organ that some people call a cock than guys do, and may call it a clit, or a girl-dick, or something else entirely; some like to use it for fucking, some like to get blow-jobs, and some (the majority, in my experience, but that’s subjective of course) really have no interest in using it for traditional purposes at all. I know that some still get hard-ons and some don’t, chicks-with-dicks porn notwithstanding. I know that post-op trans gals often have very sensitive clits and need lube in the places where non-trans gals self-lubricate. I know some post-op gals who ejaculate much in the way that some non-trans girls can squirt, and some pre- and non-op ones who don’t, thanks to estrogen. I know some post-op trans women who find penetration difficult, and others who kept dilating and dilating after surgery to the point where they can take a fist like a champ.

I know that some trans guys don’t want to get fucked in the hole that some people refer to as a cunt, and others like it a whole lot; and that some call it a cunt, and some call it a front hole or any number of other creative words, and some don’t call it much at all. I know some trans guys who lubricate way more than they did when female, and others who find that T dries them out and makes their inner skin more vulnerable to tearing. I know that some trans guys feel like their non-op chests are a barrier of flesh between them and the person they’d like to hold close, and would rather not be touched there because all it does is remind them of how their bodies don’t match their insides. I know that others are happy enough to bind, or who don’t even bother with that, and love having their nipples played with. I know that some take pride in a scarred post-op chest and others feel like they still can’t take their shirts off because it will show their difference. I know that some are hesitant to take their shirts off not because of the status of their chests, but because the hormone-induced acne has given them scars of a different kind or because stretch marks from previous pregnancy still mark them as female-bodied.

I know some trans guys who pack a softie and some who loudly, proudly sport a camel-toe. I know some trans guys who love to strap it on to fuck, and others for whom strap-ons feel too much like a marker of lesbian sex so they prefer to fuck in other ways. I know some trans guys who embrace the libido-surge of testosterone like it’s the best drug high they’ve ever had, and others who problematize the idea that T makes you horny because that implicitly devalues the strength of women’s libidos. I know some trans guys who’ll happily shuck off their clothes and jump into bed for hours of energetic romping, and others who will give the sweetest kisses and cuddles but who just aren’t comfortable enough in their bodies to have sex at all.

I know what it’s like to think someone’s beautiful even when they don’t think of themselves that way, and to see their gender as beautiful regardless of what their bodies look like. That beauty, to me, doesn’t fade as a person progresses deeper into transition or becomes more convincingly able to “pass” – passing itself being a problematic idea, as Julia Serano explains in her book Whipping Girl, in that it places the power to determine gender acceptability in the hands of non-trans onlookers rather than assigning those onlookers with the responsibility to question their own gender assumptions and be respectful in the first place. No, I don’t eroticize the in-betweenness per se, I eroticize the person, and people change over time whether they’re trans or not.

At the same time as I write all this, I recognize that we don’t always choose the features that turn us on. I know some people who often end up dating folks from a particular racial background, and it’s not because they exoticize and fetishize those people because of their perceived racially-inherent characteristics, they just often find certain physical features attractive that happen to be common to that group. I also know people who often date fat people, or short people, or people who look like their dads. I don’t begrudge anyone their tastes, and so in a way I can understand how if someone truly does find the specific feature of gender-hybrid bodies to be a turn-on, that’s not necessarily a form of exploitive objectification.

Still, there’s something about the prevalence of “hybrid is oh-so-exciting” stories in Trans Figures that really bugs me. A couple of stories where the non-trans protagonist switches pronouns as soon as the “real” sex of the trans character is “discovered”… a couple of stories where the trans character serves as a canvas upon which the non-trans character can paint all his or her own gender insecurities, or is clearly serving as the author’s own “girl for a day” fantasy material… Stir in a couple of stories where trans-ness is paired with drug-fuelled debauchery or violence or even murder, as though the presumably freakish nature of a trans person could only be understood in a context of generalized destructive frenzy, and you end up with a rather unsavoury meal that just doesn’t have the flavour of respect that I need to fully enjoy erotica about a marginalized group.

Unfortunately, even a couple of the writers from whom I’d like to expect better managed to disappoint.

M. Christian chose to republish Annie Sprinkle’s famous 1989 piece, “My First Female-to-Male Transsexual Lover,” which made me cringe when I first saw it in its docu-porn form and still makes me cringe in written form today. Little gems like Annie writing, “Sometimes he dropped little hints to let me know he was still a woman deep down,” or “Having sex with Les was a constant mind fuck. I could put my finger inside his pussy… his pussy? … and feel her balls.” And Les saying that it makes perfect sense for him to go from lesbian separatist to trans man: “a classic case of the ‘oppressed becoming the oppressor, with forced integration as radical therapy.’” Though I’m sure Annie had the best of intentions, and in the 20 years following may have developed a more nuanced and less awestruck and pronoun-hopping understanding of FTM identity, this piece is problematic in so many layers I barely know where to start. Just for starters I gotta say that most trans men I know don’t revel in the idea of becoming an oppressor, and are more likely to be highly critical of male privilege than joyfully accepting of it, unlike Les who quite simply loves it and seems to have no critique of it at all (at least at the time – again, this was nearly two decades ago). But to see a dated and politically painful piece like Annie’s in the first few pages of a trans erotica book published in 2006 did not bode well for the rest of the collection.

Another piece that showed lots of promise – much more recent, and written by well-known and politically astute FTM writer Raven Kaldera – also disappointed me, all the more so because it surprised me in its lack of strong political critique. Raven’s piece, “Defying Normal,” features some highly lucid observations about trans identity and MTF/FTM couples, of which he has lots of first-hand experience, but he says a few things that just about made me screech. Writing about MTF breasts, he says, “The breasts grow, the nipples become larger and more responsive. Playing with them often gets you a chance to see that open-mouthed, gasping, wide-eyed, entirely feminine response of surrender, complete with starfishing limbs and tossing hair.” And later, about MTF libido, “MTFs all report a definite drop in libido from the high doses of estrogen used to counter their native testosterone, and then usually another drop when the source of that testosterone is surgically removed. Some drop so far that they become nearly sexless except for that awfully feminine reason for having sex: intimacy and bonding with your partner.”

In both of these passages, Raven shocks me with his unquestioning ideas about femininity and female sexuality – he writes as though it were all about surrender and ditziness and wanting to have a hearts-and-flowers connection with a lover in which you don’t really want to get off. Don’t get me wrong, for some women (trans or otherwise) that’s exactly what it is. But there are plenty of us, again trans or otherwise, who have a very different experience of what it’s like to be female and to fuck or desire. First, not all trans women take estrogen or have bottom surgery, and those who do don’t universally experience it the way he describes. But beyond the physical specifics of MTF transition, it floors me that Raven would brazenly describe feminine sexuality in these terms without also leaving room for all the women for whom sex is raunchy, raw, hot and powerful, and for whom the “entirely feminine response of surrender” looks more like the entirely feminine wielding of drive or dominance, and a demanding appetite for pleasure and satisfaction. Raven is well known for his D/s relationship with his boy, Josh, also an FTM guy – so clearly he’s familiar with masculine expressions of surrender as well as masculine expressions of dominance. Why can’t he extend the same range of options to women? Talk about reinforcing the gender binary. Yeesh.

There are a few shining stories that stand out from the rest. Califia doesn’t fail to arouse body and mind with his piece “Holes,” a powerful tale about his pre-trans existence as a dyke in men’s leather bars, with a fantastic scene in which he fists a deaf male bottom and experiences this as a chance to transcend gender well before he ever physically transitions. Raven Gildea contributed the wrenching piece “The Perfect One-Night Stand,” about a dyke Daddy/boy scene that turns into a six-year long-distance relationship and ends as the boy goes through an abusive primary relationship and emerges as a girl instead. For all that the premise isn’t too believable, I also enjoyed Cait’s “Rebel Without a Cock,” a story about two trans people who cruise one another in a bar each without realizing the other is trans; it manages to be refreshingly genuine in its portrayal of FTM/MTF sex with really likeable characters you just want to see ride off into the sunset together.

R. Gay’s piece “Small Considerations” ends on a cheesy note but provides a satisfying conclusion to a very long build-up (of several years) between a character who starts out as a dyke and transitions to male, all while sharing a mutual unrequited lust with her male best friend. Kai Bayley’s “Overboard” is weirdly hot, a tale about a rather competitive threesome between a dyke/trans guy (not sure which), his/her male best friend, and the delicious woman they pick up à deux in a bar one night. Thomas S. Roche’s story “The Waters of Al Adra” is one of the stranger pieces, and not terribly erotic, but is a very compelling story, the kind that feels like it’ll stick in the mind for a long time. And last but not least, Simon Sheppard’s “How Queer?”, while too heady to feel particularly erotic to me, does a great job of showcasing the perspective of a gay man who fucks trans guys and doesn’t see this as making him any less than a Kinsey 6.

So that’s… what, seven stories out of 24 that were good and didn’t piss me off? Slightly less than one-third. I suppose the ratio isn’t too far off from what I might find in any other erotica anthology. It’s just that most of the time my reasons for disliking two-thirds of the erotica I read are located either in the realm of “that’s just not my thing” or in that of “jeebus, you can’t write,” whereas here, trans people often are my thing, and most of these writers can write just fine… they just come at the topic from an angle that leaves me feeling more uncomfortable than aroused.

the limp noodle
July 1, 2008

This is probably the only post you will ever read from me about soft dicks. Just so ya know.

It’s not that I have a problem with dicks, soft or otherwise. Sometimes they’re kinda cute; sometimes they’re fun to play with. It’s just that I get so annoyed with the way people locate penises as utterly central to the idea of sex, as though there were no such thing as Real Sex without a throbbing phallus in the room, that I often have limited patience for the topic.

But recently, someone wrote to me asking for some advice. He’d had a date with a hot girl, and – horror of horrors – he lost his hard-on and couldn’t get it back. He wanted to know what the heck to do in case it should happen again. He was so genuine in his distress, and so inoffensive in his manner of approaching the subject, that I couldn’t help but respond with a bit of thoughtfulness instead of just rolling my eyes. After all, the poor guy who’s internalized all of society’s obsessions with male performance and the absolute primacy of the erect member, as well as the writhing shame that comes with its occasional “failure” to, erm, stand up and be counted… well, it’s not his fault the world is fucked up and wants to take out its neuroses on his poor weenie.

So I wrote back to him with more or less the following thoughts…

I don’t know if I can give a ton of advice on the limp noodle question except to tell you two things from my own experience that may or may not be of use.

One: it’s pretty normal for a guy to go limp from the stress during the first one to three dates with a new gal – it’s just the fact of being with someone new, from what I can tell. With me, it’s happened with guys in their teens and men in their forties. Sometimes, if not stress, it’s about being distracted by other things, upset about something and not talking about it, tired, dehydrated, or any number of other factors. Happens all the time.

Two: the absolute best male lovers I’ve had have been the ones who aren’t penis-focused. So many heterosexual guys are cursed with this idea that the cock is the central apparatus to a sexual encounter… it’s really a shame. Even the most awesome, sweet guys can have this perception, and all it does is reinforce a really restrictive norm. Seriously, the best advice I’ve ever given guys about sex is, pretend you don’t have a cock, and take it from there. Really, I wouldn’t bother seeing the limp noodle as an issue at all, unless a guy is concerned that there might be a medical reason at the root of it, in which case by all means he should go get himself checked out. Beyond that, his perception of it as a problem will doubtless only serve to make the stress factor even worse. Imagine if women got all upset if they were having a “dry” day…

I don’t in any way mean to be dismissive of men’s concerns, just cautioning that there’s a cultural imperative that comes into play around penis “performance” that’s got nothing to do with the satisfaction of a guy’s lover, or her likelihood to come back for seconds. Or thirds. And so forth. In recent years, as though pop culture’s phallic obsession weren’t enough, we’ve seen the pharmaceutical companies jump all over the idea of “erectile dysfunction” as though the entire male half of the population were somehow a collective failure in need of medication… icky.

Even if it’s technically accurate in its broadest sense, it’s ludicrous to label someone with a disease-like sounding diagnosis because they occasionally sport a semi or go soft. It would be like telling someone they have a speech impediment because they sometimes stutter a bit when they’re nervous, slur when they’re drunk or trail off when they’re tired. Poor diet, lack of exercise, stress and related health issues are generally at the root of frequent erectile difficulties; genuine penis-specific medical issues are much more rare. And Viagra creeps me out. The medical industry would rather that men keep eating McCrap for breakfast, working 70-hour weeks and smoking cigarettes so they can keep selling little magic blue pills that provide that all-important (but false) boner, even if the exertion of using said boner might in fact be too much for a poorly-cared-for body to enjoyably or safely sustain. All this does is mask the health issues that may truly be present.

Worse yet, it might mask the emotional issues that may be present, such as genuine nervousness or lack of connection with a partner. I can’t speak for everyone, but I can definitely tell you that I’d prefer to go to bed with a sweet, open, attentive guy who happens to have a limp dick than with one who’s so worried about his penis that he forgets I’m there in the room with him. It wouldn’t flatter my ego to see a straining cock if in truth it’s inspired by a pill and I’m just an accessory to the operation. In addition, if a guy is nervous, I’d rather take the opportunity to connect with him while he’s in that vulnerable state, and in so doing deepen our relationship (even if it’s just for a night), than see him cover it up with the aid of a pill and put on a show of his manliness for me.

It might actually be a neat experiment for a guy to assume he’ll be limp on his next date, work on perceiving that as no big deal, and come up with a list of creative things he and his honey can do in bed together… then put ’em into practice whether he’s got a hard-on or not. He can and add cock-focused stuff in if it feels right in the moment, or if she comes after it specifically. Most gals who do guys very much enjoy the part where the guy gets off, so I doubt the average guy would go hungry if his body decided to cooperate.

Of course, no advice is complete without some sort of book reference. So here it is: I would recommend the book The Multi-Orgasmic Man: Sexual Secrets Every Man Should Know by Mantak Chia and Douglas Abrams. It contains excellent information on the way men’s bodies work, which is very cool for guys who want a stronger understanding of their own mechanics and how to control them to enjoyable ends.


There it is, folks. My first and likely last soft-dick rant. Happy Canada Day!


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