Saturday, 24 May 2008

Kink Week: The Brutal Honesty Edition

(xposted from my personal blog)

Since Ren christened this week kink week, I wanted to talk a little bit about my own. I've spent a lot of time over the past few years getting deeply involved with feminism and writing academically, and a lot of that has involved defending BDSM as healthy and harmless. But I'm going to talk about stuff that, well, might just "come from patriarchy," and holy shit! Not care.

For as long as I can remember, the kind of sex that attracted me the most is the kind that felt like use. I want to penetrate people because I want to get inside them, possess them, claim them from the inside out. And there's plenty of theory that says that seeing penetration that way is all about patriarchy. Maybe it is. I have to say I really don't know, even after years of "examination", of reading MacKinnon and Dworkin, of listening to other female tops, like Bitchy Jones, talk about how penetration of the submissive partner is sold to us as the one true way of doing dominance, and how that's not "really" what "women" want.

But, and this is where I'm going to get in trouble with the people who don't like people who go with what feels "natural" rather than examining why things feel "natural" in fucked up cultures (or the people who think fucked up dynamics feel natural to survivors because they associate abuse with love):

I never really experienced it that way. I experienced the idea of me penetrating people as what seemed natural, what seemed right, what flowed easiest for my personal feelings. To try and think of myself getting penetrated meant thinking of myself distantly, disconnected from my body. It meant thinking abstractly, using my mind to reason about what certain bodies were "intended for."

And I'm a geek, but puzzling out body-purpose-thingies? SO NOT HOT.

It's not even that being penetrated is unpleasant for me. When done right it feels GOOD. It just also feels like being turned inside out -- like wearing your shirt backwards all day because that particular shirt looks cool that way, strangely enough, and then having people notice and get rabid about telling you you're supposed to do this all the time, because you have the sort of skin that goes with backward shirts, and everyone knows it. Even though wearing your shirt backwards feels wrongish because the damn thing is ON BACKWARDS.

It's not really that I'm uncomfortable with being female. It's that my clit's not big enough to fuck people with, and I don't like that. I don't care that it's a clit. I care that it's TINY. Autoandrophilia? Penis envy?

Sure, but I'm getting tired of almost all of the words for that sort of thing being demeaning ones.

I've wondered for a long time whether it had to do with something like testosterone levels. I remember in some years ago about freemartins, and having the thought "Everything makes sense now. Some female organisms are just like this. I'm not a mistake."

Granted, as far as I know freemartins are only interested in females, so it's not a one to one mapping, but it's, well… "Hey, that's me!" I'm not a "woman" in Bitchy's sense, so even if she's right about them (and I'd say she isn't, anyway) whatever they want has nothing to do with me anyway, even though my gender identity isn't "man" either.

Culture? Sure, the culture has told me what males are "supposed" to do in sex. But I really don't think it's the culture that told me I was supposed to be what a girl isn't. I always thought I was crazy, because I knew what girls were supposed to do: get fucked. Submit. Be sweet and soft.

And it really is something that can easily conform to that stereotypical idea of masculine and feminine roles in sex, just with the genders reversed. I strongly suspect that one reason I'm more attracted to men than to women is just because it's more exciting to dominate (including to feminize; yes, [info]weepingcock members, I am that supposedly mythical person who likes the word "boycunt") a man.

It may also be I'm just genetically "more straight" (if straight even has any meaning given how weird I am anyway…), but it may be just that it's more like use. It's taking someone who, given the culture, claims that I'm a usurper and I don't belong, and turning that on its head in a sexy, forceful, emotional and obvious way. It's more humiliating. It's more intense. It turns more on its head.

Tell that to the people who think women are desperate to please men.

If I'm a woman in any robust sense at all, that is.

But I like that. I like physically overpowering someone. I like ramming into them. I like digging into their skin with nails and teeth until it hurts. I like feeling their body open, hearing them gasp because I'm hurting them and they like it.

Funny how, while I totally see how that looks like patriarchy to some, it looks different from the dynamic they always pick on to fuss about.

And I like other things too, that don't make nearly as much sense. I like knives. I like hurting people with sharp things because, well, the blood is the life. I like the idea of digging in their body for treasure, bringing what they are out of the depths of them and into the light. Seeing it, claiming it, tasting it -- I don't much do these things in the era of HIV (though Monkey and I have been together a while so perhaps we will), but I certainly do things that mean the same thing to me symbolically.

And that's the idea. Digging through the prison of the body for the spirit, and making it mine.

No, it's not fair. It's not supposed to be.

Thursday, 22 May 2008

People keep being totally awesome... I keep linking them here:

It has been said, by some feminists-- and particularly, some feminists of my acquaintance of late-- that people who believe they can be kinky and feminists at the same time are simply dupes of the "sex-positive" turn in third-wave feminism. That we are mindless trend-followers. That asserting that feminism and BDSM are compatible-- just because we want them to be; just because we choose both-- is depoliticized "choice feminism" of the worst sort. That we are blithely, purposely ignorant of the ways in which the personal is political, and we don't want to examine the ways in which systems of oppression affect our sex practices, because then (obviously, of course) we would have to give up our precious kink.

None of this is true.

It may surprise some feminists to discover that I am actually quite critical of any argument that declares an act "feminist" just because a woman chooses it. A couple of years back, I was a member of an LJ community called [info]feminist_sub, which is precisely what it sounds like: a community of submissives-- predominantly women; predominantly, it seemed to me, heterosexual women-- asserting that their feminism and their kink were compatible. Actually, it was more like they were trying to reconcile the two, because there's not a lot of space for them in feminist communities, or in society at large, for them to try to do that. Time after time, women would post in the community, asking how they might reconcile their kink with their politics. And time after time, people would post comments to the effect of, "because you chose both."

I always disagreed. It is, and has always been, patently obvious to me that an act is never feminist just because a woman chooses it. One has to look at the context surrounding those choices: did she have a meaningful set of choices to consider in the first place? Does her decision benefit only her, does it actually curtail the choices of other minorities, or does it help open up the possible range of choices for other people? Clearly, the simple act of choice is not inherently feminist. But this does not mean that BDSM and feminism are incompatible.

When it comes to feminism and kink, I always come to two conclusions. First, BDSM is not inherently feminist, but it can only stand to benefit from feminist critique. I am not an anarchist; I don't believe that hierarchy and power are always already oppressive. But I do believe that some forms of hierarchy are abusive and oppressive, while others may not be. As such, I believe that feminist critique is an imporant tool in BDSM communities and relationships, because it can help community members distinguish between workable power dynamics, and oppressive ones.

Secondly, it has been my experience that BDSM, at its best, can help widen women's (and queers', and other sexual and gender minorities') range of possible choices in a systematic and meaningful way. Above all, what I have learned from my involvement with kink is how to negotiate my desires and limits in the context of play. All good scenes begin with negotiation. I think most vanilla people are, by now, familiar with the concept of the safeword. But it goes beyond that: it's a constant process of negotiation. I talk with potential play partners before scenes-- perhaps by e-mail, perhaps at coffee before a play date, perhaps briefly at a play party-- to make sure I feel safe around them, and so that we can talk out what we're willing to try, and what we absolutely won't do. And in most of the really good scenes I've been in, the safeword has been the absolute last resort: one that I generally haven't had to use, because our pre-scene negotiations were adequately thorough, and because most of the really good tops I've been with have been really good about checking in at fairly regular intervals and making sure the experience is still good for me.

In other words, BDSM has enabled me to assert my sexuality more-- to communicate what I do and don't want. It's taught me how to be verbally open about my desires. I think that true sexual negotiation and consent is more than just a matter of "no means no". It means being able to, and feeling comfortable, talking about what your limits are-- preferably before the proverbial heat of passion, before things get volatile and difficult. More than that, it means learning how to say "yes"-- how to communicate what you do want. I think that a lot of people-- perhaps especially women-- don't feel comfortable asserting their desires, and that learning to do so is at least as important, if not more so, then learning to say no. BDSM, then, is not inherently feminist, but certainly a lot of its tools and techniques can be adapted for feminist purposes.

Having actually thought about these things (QED), I hope it should be pretty understandable why I get blood-boilingly angry when I am told that I am only kinky-- and a kink apologist-- because I'm a brainless urban hipster unthinkingly pushing the sex-positive orthodoxy (is this an orthodoxy? and if it is, why do I know so damned many kinky feminists who feel the need to defend themselves?). Furthermore, it makes me angry when I am told that my interest in BDSM is part and parcel of my being a patriarchal dupe who has been tricked into glorifying violence, or that I must be an abuse victim who can't think of any constructive (read: vanilla) ways to work out my victimization....


....I would like to conclude here by asserting that I am not trying to argue that kinky people are sexually, politically, or in any other sense better than people whose tastes run to the strictly vanilla. I have no interest whatsoever in making those kinds of judgments; my only hope is that whatever you enjoy, you feel comfortable articulating your limits and desires, and that you have success in finding a lover (or lovers) who respect your limits and are more than happy to fulfill your fantasies-- whether your tastes are kinky, vanilla, asexual, or something else entirely. However, the reason I feel the need to conclude my post this way is because I am, in part, reacting to others' tendency to declare something oppressive simply because it has been problematic for them in the past. The second-wave feminist adage that the personal is political may be true (and I believe that it is), but this does not give any single feminist carte blanche to dismiss everything s/he doesn't like as oppressive. Certainly, it doesn't grant any one person the right to unilaterally decide what sex acts will and will not be okay from a feminist perspective. Choice feminism is just as problematic when it is used to prohibit, as it is when one employs it to justify one's own acts. That my tastes are different from yours, and that I assert the right to express them, does not make me an oppressor, insofar as I do not assume that all people should adopt my own desires. Asserting that I am an oppressor for those tastes, however, and arguing for a feminist utopia in which no one has such desires, might well be. From a feminist perspective, "utopian" solutions are always suspect, as they generally rely on the unilateral, one might even say magical, disappearance of all dissenters.

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

I lust after Harper Jean's spicy brains...

Not as relevant to feminism as to D/s in general, but I give you

Totally amazing musings on D/s from Harper Jean:
As Trin's post suggests, however, neither [the concept of play nor that of ritual] is quite adequate to describe D/s relationships where the power exchange permeates much or all of the relationship. I suggested the analogy of a religious order, but here's another way of thinking about it: positive cognitive dissonance.

(Leon Festinger coined the term "cognitive dissonance" in 1957 to describe how members of an apocalyptic sect reconciled their belief system with the failure of the world to "end on time," creatively reconciling logically incompatible information. As in that case, the term is generally used to describe a kind of active, irrational denial that is ultimately maladaptive. But I recall noting that in some modern mystical traditions the idea has been given a positive spin -- embracing paradox -- and that suggested my thinking here. Or for those who prefer to appropriate a different fancy phrase and use it way out of context and with a positive spin, we could redeploy Du Bois's concept of "double consciousness.")

It seems to me that by necessity individuals in D/s relationships view themselves and their relationship to one another through two very different, and seemingly opposed, lenses at the very same time: one in which the dominant partner has control and the submissive is not autonomous; and one in which both are fully autonomous individuals. The D/s reality depends, of course, upon the autonomous reality, which both circumscribes it and gives it life. And yet both partners must inhabit both realities at once for the relationship to work, must believe both that the submissive is free (to disobey, to renegotiate) and that he is bound. (One might say something similar about the tension between "one-ness" and "two-ness" in vanilla marriage, though obviously there are differences.)

In this way, D/s relationships neither "just" play (an explanation that many D/s folks would find inadequate and possibly insulting) nor "real" abuse (as is sometimes thought by outsiders). Rather, the power exchange is in a sense very real for the participants, even as they retain their autonomy.

Monday, 19 May 2008

Save the drama for your llama...

(xposted from my personal blog)

What I'm working on right now has to do with traditional defenses of SM as play. One of them is the idea that we can understand (some, at least; 24/7 isn't going to fit this model at all) SM in terms of drama. People are setting up scenes, creating roles, and acting them out. While they may be mimicking things that it would be bad to actually do, the pleasure they get out of it is some sort of pleasure intrinsic to simulation, not a pleasure that somehow flows from the reality of the action being mimicked.

So I can want to, for example, play the role of a kidnapper and rapist, but at the same time have no interest whatsoever in actually doing either of those things. If I did them, I would hate them, because I'm not actually interested in committing the violation. I'm interested in some sort of scripted dominance game that makes use of rape as a symbol.

Of course, I do think this is true. A lot of what SM people do is the fun of playing with being bad, being extremely powerful, being in subjection, being at the whim of the capricious and cruel authority.

But I also think there's something missing when we just talk about the pleasure of simulation. Whenever we simulate something, we choose what to simulate. If I'm going to play make-believe now, I can pretend to be the rapist, or I can pretend to be some gentle, skilled master of sexual technique who would never hurt anyone. There must be some reason that I choose the first (if I do.)

And I think we're frightened of allowing that to be the case. If that is the case, the people who don't like us have an opening. They can ask very real questions about why we choose to mimic what we choose to mimic. They can say that there's potentially something wrong with someone who chooses this role rather than that other, more innocuous one.

And I do think that we open ourselves to a vulnerability if we don't just say that what we're doing is getting some sort of freestanding "Pleasure in make-believe." But I think that we're selling ourselves short if we don't allow for sinister motivations, and actually argue that we can use those sinister motivations in the service of something good.

Let me now tell a personal story. Those of you who've read my personal blog know that I experienced some abusive treatment at the hands of a physical therapist when I was very young. You also might know that my parents didn't believe anything untoward was happening. I myself had been told so many times that it was for my own good and I should trust the adults around me that I didn't understand that I could stop it, or that she was not actually giving me the proper treatment anyway.

So, I was very angry at the abuse, but I didn't realize that I had reason to be angry. So far as I knew, someone was helping me out of the goodness of her own heart, and it happened to be painful, and my foolish brain was getting mad at the pain and taking it out on this angelic wonderful person who just happened to do things that I, because of emotional weakness, couldn't be strong enough to not experience as hurting me, humiliating me, and treating me badly.

So like many survivors, I had strong anger but felt my anger was inappropriate. Because I held it in and no one really understood that seriously bad things were happening to me, my temper seemed explosive sometimes. I never let myself rebel against her, because to do that would mean to stand up for myself, and I knew that I wasn't supposed to do that. So I just found myself free-floatingly angry. I felt like I had a black pit of rage at the center of me, like I was some warped version of a human, seething, a time bomb at the center of me. I didn't know why it was there, and that frightened not only me, but others around me who couldn't understand why this generally friendly girl would sometimes explode. My own mother told me many times during my adolescence that she outright feared my anger, and had never seen anything like it. Of course not -- she hadn't been as close to any survivor as she was to me.

And I know, just from the way it feels, that some of my sadism is about that anger. Some of what I'm doing is letting that part of me, the part I kept inside because I thought it was wrong, out of me. I know the part of the thrill of doing SM for me is letting that rageful part of me interact with someone, and reveling in the fact that rather than running away from me in fear, they exult in it, enjoy it, get off on it, love it. It's a place to feel, for the first time in my life, that I can still be a good person, a lovable person, even a fun person, and have that part of me exist. It lets me feel like there wasn't anything wrong with me for getting angry with being abused. Like I don't have to feel guilty, like I don't have to feel like a bad woman, female, child for being justifiably angry.

(This is, not incidentally, why one of the most wonderful things Monkey's ever said to me was "You can be angry with me.")

And just to say that what I like is pretending to be aggressive, some sort of specific pleasure in the aggression simulation, is not accurate. Yes, I'm taking pleasure in simulating something I would never do if I'm playing the role of a torturer and rapist, for example. But part of what the pleasure is, part of the cleansing, part of the delight is about allowing myself to access aggression. And yes, that aggression is morally neutral. But that aggression is not a facsimile of aggression. If I'm doing drama, the drama is the structure in which I engage the aggressive feelings. The pleasure is not just the pleasure of make-believe, but the pleasure of discharging feelings that I've learned to distrust and keep inside. It's the pleasure of knowing that it's all right for me to express myself fully within the safe framework in which I'm not actually going to do real harm. It's also the pleasure of knowing that that expression is welcomed, rather than shunned.

So while I think the reason why do SM scenes is in fact morally justified, I don't think it's morally justified because my feelings are the feelings of pleasure in make-believe. While that is part of it, I'm not actually big on role-playing, and usually find it silly. A major source of pleasure for me is the ability to access and act on emotions that I would otherwise fear would terrify others.

Saturday, 17 May 2008

Let's do the time warp again

I was just doing research and rediscovering a particularly icky anti-SM article from way back in 1993, "Sadomasochism and Exclusion" by Lorena Leigh Saxe.

Its topic: How best to go about, if possible, excluding leatherdykes from a festival whose identity she hides by abbreviating it, uh, what was that now?


I'm not sure, knowing now what I didn't know back in 2001 or so when I first read Saxe's article (that MWMF now allows leatherdykes but excludes transwomen), whether to laugh, cry, hit things, or just marvel at the fact that certain sorts of feminist never change.

One part of the article that sticks out at me is the way she describes subspace (at least, I think what she's doing is misreading people's reports of what subspace is like):
Masochists in these stories use the violence directed at them to escape their feelings of powerlessness in the world by being pushed so far by pain that they become disoriented, unable to think and unable to feel. This temporary inability to feel is often mentioned in these stories as the goal of sexual activity and is considered in many stories to be a positive way of escaping from the dreariness and pain of one's everyday life. (63)

1. Unable... to... feel?

*blink* *blink*



2. Emo dyke is emo. "Escaping from the dreariness and pain of one's everyday life?" Why is it that radical feminists are so excited about the idea that they understand how best to respect women and really hope for their flourishing (both mentioned in the article), yet always sound like they're writing gothic novels or long-lost, womon-centered NIN lyrics? Are you SURE your last name is "Hoagland" and not "Reznor"? :)

Oh wait, no, he was all about that ICKY SM STUFF. Nah, yer just emo. Cheer up, emo dyke!

Another fun quote from funland:
[F]eminism is considered by sadomasochists to be so tiring and complicated that feminism itself is one of the things that masochists used pain and humiliation to escape. One story, for example, involves a woman who is just returning from a National Women's Association conference, where she had to act respectfully and thoughtfully, and who now needs the numbing pain of sadistic abuse against her to free her from feminism's constraints. (65)
Okay, I no longer ID with the label, myself, so maybe I'm one of those irresponsible fun-loving harlots who would rather have fun than be serious OMG OMG. But really? Bullshit like this is why.

She "had to act respectfully and thoughtfully" and then ran away from it? How much more disrespect could you pack into one sentence, O Expert On Respecting Lesbians Properly? If you really think you've got the key to proper feminist respect, you might start by assuming that the women you're discussing (okay, so that one is a character in a work of fiction, but still) are adults.

And then you want us out of MWMF? (It gets weirder; she suggests stations to "help" masochists "physically separate themselves from sadists and the s/m community" (72) so that they can "escape" from SM if they want to.)

Gee, I wonder why I've never had anything remotely resembling a desire to go to MWMF ever even though there's a Zone for us evil troublemakers who must be cordoned off from the sensitive loving wimmin.

Yeah. Uh, no. Old article is old, but... well, wow.

And why does it not surprise me to now know that MWMF is still "dealing" with issues of who to exclude, rather than seeing the kind of thinking that leads to excluding some women as the problem?

Anyway, I've got work to do now, and I should allow you all to e-separate from me now in case you need safe space to convene without a top. ;)

Sunday, 11 May 2008

Polymorphous Perversity: On the UK's new pornography law

More on the UK law, this from a legal perspective (but by a USian as well)

Polymorphous Perversity: On the UK's new pornography law

The UK has now passed a law to criminalize the possession of "violent" and "extreme" pornography. A mother who blamed her daughter's murder on pornography involving strangulation campaigned for the law. You can read the language of the law here, you may also find of interest this website, of a group opposing the law. The most pertinent language is this: covered material includes material that "explicitly and realistically" depicts "an which which threatens a person's life," or "an act which results, or is likely to result, in serious injury to a person's anus, breasts or genitals."

It strikes me that the terms "threatens a person's life," "likely to result," and "serious injury" make it possible to interpret this law as criminalizing large chunks of BDSM pornography, i.e., material that is produced by and for consenting adults and that (though it may technically fit the above definition) when understood in context, is not intended to be viewed as depicting and does not otherwise promote actual violence. Examples: erotic knifeplay, simulated choking, and the ever-popular CBT (not cognitive-behavioral therapy - look it up).

Particularly remarkable is that, unlike U.S. obscenity laws, but like child pornography laws, the law criminalizes not only production and distribution but possession. Having forbidden images on your hard drive could land you in jail.

This raises in my mind the applicability of the UK Human Rights Act and through it the European Convention on Human Rights. These documents have not been consistently and broadly applied in the area of sexual privacy - witness the European Court's upholding of the Spanner convictions.

Interestingly and disturbingly, the UK Government cited the Spanner case in its justification of the law:

The material to be covered by this new offence is at the most extreme end of the spectrum of pornographic material which is likely to be thought abhorrent by most people. It is not possible at law to give consent to the type of activity covered by the offence, so it is therefore likely that a criminal offence is being committed where the activity which appears to be taking place is actually taking place. The House of Lords upheld convictions for offences of causing actual and grievous bodily harm in the case of
Brown [1994] 1 AC 212 which involved a group of sado-masochists who had engaged in consensual torture. The threshold that the clauses have set is very high, so while those taking part might argue that they had consented to it, such consent is not valid at law.

Once one concludes - as the House of Lords did a decade ago, that BDSM is itself a crime, criminalizing its depiction, and even possession of such depictions, becomes easy. The justification, vis a vis the right to freedom of speech, is identical to that regarding child pornography: the forbidden material is the record of a violent crime, and its dissemination furthers the harm to the victim of that crime, and feeds a market for further crimes. This is the rationale on which the US Supreme Court has upheld the child pornography laws, and without knowing the corresponding case law in the UK or the European Court of Human Rights, I would expect a similar result here when the law is, inevitably, challenged in court.

Renegade Evolution: It’s late, I can’t sleep, and I am obsessing over this new UK porn law…

Linking to Ren, because she said it (a couple days ago; I've been busy grading papers) better than I could. I usually don't quote entire posts, but I'm gonna quote all of this one. (There are images to go with it, follow the link if you want to see. But if you're in the UK, you might not want to *gnashing of teeth*)
Renegade Evolution: It’s late, I can’t sleep, and I am obsessing over this new UK porn law…

Seriously, I am. Even though it’s all the way over there in the UK, it’s freakin’ me out. The precedent it sets scares the shit out of me. FFS, I don’t even do BDSM porn, except for on the most rare of occasions…but yeah, Mr.E and I sat around looking at my shit playing the very chilling “Would we get arrested in the UK for having this on the PC?” game. Even though it’s consentingly made by adults stuff with me in it??? I mean, okay, I’m not gonna put up actual full on out all the bits showin’ porn, but…

I mean…a photo with an “endangering” looking chokehold? A photo with a knife, positioned menacingly? Good thing I respect some of y’all’s feelings and standards of decency and left the ones with the (unloaded, of course) gun out… Er…I’d need a good lawyer. And I don’t even want to get into “things which look like they might cause damage to the breasts, anus or genitals”…I mean, whose? And who gets to decide what looks like it might? Cause see, to me, fisting and dp/vag dp/anal dp and stuff…doesn’t hurt, wouldn’t damage, no big deal…but to someone who has never had a dick up their ass, it could look most damaging! Is that sort of thing even going to be taken into consideration? Things like “humm, BDSM enthusiasts and rough sex lovers and, well, porn people are more prepared, knowledgeable and experienced with this sort of thing than, oh, say, Constable Smith who pinches up his ass cheeks tighter than Fort Knox even thinking about anal sex or Concerned Citizen Sally who has never, or never even had the desire to get…ahem…pounded by more than one dick (real or synthetic) at the same time? My God, what would they make of the infamous foot? Who is going to set the standards for this shit? And seriously, if I, oh, free of charge or something want to send person X in the UK a photo of me getting railed up the ass while being choked, even though person X is an adult, and I’m an adult, and all are consenting…person X could get jailed and or fined for it…even though s/he’s not involved in the act itself…at all????

Talk about getting thrown over a barrel and royally fucked!

I honestly can’t believe the country that gave us the Stones, the Sex Pistols, Ozzy, Siouxsie and the Clash has passed this law.

Disbelief. Utter disbelief.