I got an e-mail from a reader recently who said of this blog, “I love that you dare to express your naughty side.” The reader was super sweet, and the e-mail was clearly written with kind intentions. But for some reason it left a funny taste in my mouth.
Lemme unpack this for a minute. I think it’s hitting the wrong note in a few spots – well, two at least.
The first is the idea that I am “daring” to express something about sex. I don’t really think that talking about sex is a daring thing to do – for me, that is. There’s no particular frisson in it for me, no real sense of risk. I mean, sure, in theory I could I end up with a stalker, or right-wing zealots could track down my address and throw a firebomb at my apartment. But really, I just don’t think most of the world is that crazy, at least not the ones anywhere near me. The whole reason I am able to write this blog and be open and public about the kinds of sexuality that work for me and other people in my communities is precisely that I’m in a privileged position that makes it relatively easy to do so. I’m educated, white, and a Canadian citizen; I have no kids that can be taken away from me, and I’m self-employed so there’s no job I could be fired from. My family either already disapproves of me or likes me just fine, depending which one of them you’re talking to, and me writing about this kind of thing isn’t going to change that. I don’t have any standing in a religious organization that might excommunicate me, or any partisan political affiliation that would crumble if they found out about what I do, and I am not a member of an ethnic or cultural community to which I feel any allegiance or to which I must retreat for safety from a racist world, and thus whose love and protection I can’t afford to risk should some of them happen to be close-minded. I have no heterosexual monogamous marriage to protect, no conservative friends I want to hang onto – I let them all go a long time ago. Really, I’m risking basically nothing by doing what I do. So where’s the daring?
Don’t get me wrong – I am very impassioned by this work. Sex intrigues me, inspires me, thrills me. I think about it, talk about it, read about it, learn about it, and, well, practice makes perfect, too. But it doesn’t feel like an act of daring. If anything, writing and teaching about sex feels like an act of blunt straightforwardness, an act of impatience with all the bullshit out there, a desire to cut to the chase and skip all the crap. I just couldn’t be bothered with all the beating around the bush that so many people do. It tires me and bores me. So instead, lookie here at my pet obsession! If you’re interested, read on. If you’re not, have a great day anyway. Meh.
I think the idea that it might be daring to do this relies on the idea that there’s something forbidden about it in the first place, that I might be bravely transgressing some norm in order to write about sexual politics. I suppose in some people’s worlds, that’s precisely the case. But in my world, it’s not. My community is made up of sex radicals. Hundreds, even thousands of them. I do not feel alone. In every city I visit, across various continents, I find more perverts and the queers, and we speak the same language. My acquaintances, friends, partners, lovers, are leatherfolk, sex workers, perverts, dykes and fags, butches and femmes and bois and gyrls, trans people, poly folks, pierced and tattooed freaks, students of sexuality, genderqueers, feminists, weirdos. They’re people who explore, who challenge themselves, who educate and are educated, who write, who teach, who fuck in public places, who do porn, who take photos of naked people, who write erotic stories, who swing floggers, who run leather events and lick boots and get excited about queer theory and know the difference between “intersex” and “transsexual.” And if they don’t do these things themselves, they sure hang out with a lot of people who do. So really, in my world, I’m not terribly unusual. It’s hard for me to see myself as “daring” anything when I’m surrounded by people who are in far less privileged positions than me but who still bravely live their lives in all their glorious unacceptability.
If I go a little deeper, I guess what I’m saying is that a statement about daring assumes that I’m invested in a social paradigm in which my sexuality would actually horrify people, and so it really would be an act of daring to brazenly talk about it. But I’m more like an athlete who comes out as gay after they’ve already won their medal – there’s just not much to lose. And while I’m sure many people out there might very well be horrified about my sexuality, their opinions don’t have any power over me because I have very little invested in their world.
The second piece of what bothers me about the reader’s statement comes from the idea that I have a “naughty side.” I don’t.
First of all I don’t really divide myself into “sides.” My sexuality is a pretty holistic thing; I don’t climb into a special Bad Girl outfit and do terrible things that I then dissociate from my reality and go back to being “the rest of me.” I’m a pervert and a queer through and through. I’m a pervert when I’m heating up lentil soup for dinner as much as when I’m driving needles into someone’s skin for the pleasure of seeing them bleed. I’m a queer when I’m brushing my teeth in the morning with pillow marks on my face and my hair all mashed up on the side of my head as much as when I’m dressed to the nines and making out with my butch and trans partners. There are no sides here. There is a big ol’ pervy queer poly whole.
And that whole is not “naughty.” No sirree. “Naughty” is what tittering schoolgirls do behind their parents’ backs, like smoking or kissing boys or sneaking a short skirt and a lipstick into their backpack. “Naughty” is what boys do with girlie magazines when they steal ’em from the corner store along with a beer and a candy bar. “Naughty” is that thing that some married straight couples do that makes them feel all special and titillated and outside the norm, like, say, going to a sex shop and buying a mass-produced pre-packaged “Bondage for Beginners” kit, the one with the picture of the blonde with breast implants and too much lipstick on the package, like thousands of other similarly titillated straight married couples.
I don’t think I have a shred of “naughty” in me because, once again, I’m not invested in a social paradigm in which anything I do is forbidden, glamorous or disapproved of by some form of authority that actually holds any sway in my world such that keeping it secret is both exciting and necessary. Kissing women and trans people isn’t naughty to me any more than kissing one’s spouse is naughty to a heterosexual. Whipping someone isn’t naughty to me any more than reproductive married sex is naughty to a Catholic. In fact, most of what I do is dreadfully normal in my world. Which is not to say there’s no excitement or power or passion there – believe me, it’s there in spades. But what I do is not exciting or powerful or passionate because it’s cheeky and gasp-worthy and might upset the neighbours/parents/friends if they knew. There is no everyday paradigm that I get a kick out of transgressing, no secret I giggle about keeping. The thrill of my sexuality does not lie in its social unacceptability and in the self-importance of considering myself deliciously unusual. It simply lies in the depth of connection I experience via the intense methods of sexual encounter I prefer.
Sure, sex radicals and freaks might play with the idea of “naughty” in a scene once in a while – the nasty mommy disciplining the naughty schoolboi, for example. But when they’re finished playing, they revert to their everyday selves, which are probably something like “queer femme pro-domme and dis/ability activist” and “butch leather titleholder and philosophy student.” Or whatever. And even the sex radicals who are also soccer moms and lawyers and homeowners and experimental biologists and so forth aren’t generally invested in maintaining the status quo of heterosexual society; they just spend time with that status quo because it’s getting them somewhere, sort of like you might sit next to a stranger on a bus because you’re both heading north.
And sure, there might be a lot of forbidden stuff in my sexual practices. By no means am I trying to suggest that the whole world approves of what I do. It doesn’t. What I am saying is that I don’t find that lack of approval to be exciting. It’s just stupid and oppressive. I don’t eroticize it; I’d rather eliminate it.
So for all that I totally dig how this reader was trying to give me a compliment, I’m not sure I can accept it. I’m not daring to express my naughty side here. I’m just talking about my reality.