What even is consent?

As kind of a follow-up to my last writing, and maybe for those who aren’t drowning in the ocean/sea/river of consent: what is it?

In its briefest, consent is permission/agreement to do something.

That’s it. It’s not inherently sexual in nature–which is actually pretty awesome, since not everything done in kink-land is sexual in nature, and so we need it to cover a lot of territory.

It also means that someone’s consent can be violated without that person having been raped, and it means that someone can be a consent violator without being a rapist.

This is part of why we need to talk about it–because right now, there’s a lot of “but if X violated consent, X is a rapist,” or “but I don’t see rape there, so it’s not consent,” and neither of those statements actually follow a logical progression. I understand the reason why so many have gotten there–because one of the most egregious forms of consent violation is rape, and so it’s pretty easy to equate consent violation with rape. But consent and consent violation cover much more territory than rape, and that’s actually a good thing.

It means we can talk about being touched in ways we don’t like to be touched that aren’t inherently sexual, and point out those consent/consent violation boundaries. For example, hugging: not everyone is a hugger. I love hugs. My best friend only hugs people with whom she’s super close. She really appreciates people who ask before assuming, because then she doesn’t have to be a stiff, awkward body stuck in someone’s arms when they’ve swooped in for a ‘genial’ hug.

My spouse is a pretty private person about her computer, her notebooks, or anywhere she writes. It took a really long time before she was okay with me seeing her screen or anywhere she’d written–years after we were married–and that was a privacy boundary for her. It had nothing to do with sex. I needed her consent first.

I am in the process of learning that I can’t be in the middle of my mom and grandma anymore as their go-between messenger (and that really, I shouldn’t be doing that for anyone who is capable of doing their own messengering). I’ve consented to it in the past, but I am setting up new boundaries now, because that gets messy fast. They need my consent for that.

All three of these examples are about consent. None are about sex. All three can be violated, and the people violating would be consent violators but not rapists.

To summarize: Consent is permission/agreement to do something. Consent violation is breaking a boundary set. Rape falls under the heading of consent violation, but is not the only form of consent violation.

Consent and Silence

Consent.

It’s a hot topic around here lately.

Sometimes it seems like it’s not talked about at all, and sometimes it seems like it’s the only thing being talked about. Some people seem to read or write about it all the time, others seem to never have encountered the concept, and others are only just realizing it exists as a Thing.

There are lots of ways to talk about consent, from sexual to non-sexual, from kinky to vanilla, from boundaries to negotiation, from safewords/gestures to none at all.

These are all important things.

But I think the most troubling thing is when I hear people say, “We need to stop talking about consent.”

Why? Why would we need to stop?

I understand the feeling of swimming in that river of C O N S E N T, being near-drowned in arguments about it. I understand feeling like I’m beginning to have a good grip on consent–what it means, what it looks like, what some good models and practices are around consent–and to therefore maybe feel like Idon’t need to be educated about it much.

But.

There’s always a but.

Just because I am educated about it doesn’t mean the next person is–or even that I actually am. I may actually have quite a bit to learn on the topic and just not realize it. Either way, my feeling of being deluged in consent topics doesn’t mean we should stop talking about consent. Stopping the talk about consent would mean not educating people about consent. Not educating people about consent will more than likely lead to more cases of harm, assault, broken boundaries, breached trust (however intentional or unintentional, however ‘gray’ these cases may be).

When I feel drenched in consent topics, I take a step back. I take a breather. I spell myself. I go find another topic to read or write about. And then, when I’m ready, I come back. Because this is an important topic, one that is not well understood in any of our communities and not well-taught in most places. I come back, because I’m a survivor, and too many of my loved ones are survivors, and too many of theirs are survivors.

Silence isn’t the answer here.

Gender, Sex, and Genitals

Cis people, we have work to do. I’m calling you in with me to do this work of dismantling the systems that hold us all down, and I want us to do this by starting with educating one another.

Today, let’s talk about gender, sex, and genitals–what they are and what they aren’t. I know a lot of us are confused, because we’ve been taught by our binary-loving system that gender and sex and genitals are all the same things. We’ve been taught that genitals come in exactly two forms–either penis or vagina–and that sex and gender necessarily follow that format, as well.

We’re wrong. We’ve been taught wrong.

Don’t panic.

We can fix this.

Let’s start with genitals. This probably seems both the most and least confusing all at once–because of course it’s always penis or vagina, right? Except no. Intersex people exist. And some intersex people have genitals that aren’t clearly ‘penis’ or ‘vagina’. (This is not the case for all intersex people.) And even when a person’s outer genitals look a certain way, their inner anatomy may not match. Or their chromosomes may not match. Their hormones may not match. So–even our genitalia doesn’t fall on a strict binary.

Okay, so what about sex, then? Isn’t sex a biological thing? Yes, and no. Mostly, we assign sex based on genitals. We ‘sex’ people and animals based on what we observe their outward genitals to be. So this can only be as biological as our constructed categories. That is: we’ve made some categories to describe what we’ve observed. And what we’ve observed is that biology–genitalia–doesn’t follow a strict binary. It follows a continuum. So sex can’t be a strict binary, either. If we are going to insist that sex be assigned based upon genitalia, then we must allow that sex exist as a continuum, as well–and recognize that it is a category we’ve made up to describe something we’ve observed.

Moving on to gender, then. Gender has two parts: identity and expression.

Gender identity is a person’s inward self-definition. You can try this yourself, at home, on the bus, or wherever you’re reading: I am ________. A woman? A trans man? Non-binary? Agender? Genderfluid? All of these, and many others, are valid answers here. This is completely detached from anything else about a person–what genitals a person possesses, what sex/gender a person was assigned at birth, etc.

Gender expression is a person’s outer presentation of self. This could include clothing, hair style, make-up or lack thereof, shaving or not, handbags or briefcases or none at all, bow ties or hair ties, or just about any other thing one might use to outwardly indicate a sense of self. Gender expression may or may not hinge upon one’s self-defined gender identity, one’s sex, and/or one’s genitalia. For example, I am a cisgender (identifying as the gender I was assigned at birth) cissex (identifying as the sex I was assigned at birth) woman who often presents in a feminine manner, but who often presented quite masculinely in my undergrad days. I’ve always self-identified female regardless of how I’ve expressed.

Figuring out that these things are all actually separate things is huge. Realizing how much of our lives exist on continuums as opposed to in strict binaries is amazing.

If we start here, educating one another with this information, we can begin to set ourselves and our transgender siblings free.

Lila Perry is a Girl. Deal With It.

CW: I’m discussing the continuing harassment of Lila Perry, a transgender girl in Missouri–my current home state. She has been using the girls’ locker room and bathrooms since school started this year, and many students (many of them female) have walked out in protest. In this post, I am addressing TERF (trans-exclusive radical feminist) comments regarding this issue. I’m putting the rest of this post below a cut so that trans people do not need to read this and be triggered. Cis people, I am a cis person talking to you. Please do read this post.

Continue reading

Communication and the Soft No

We have a communication problem. Or, more precisely, we have a problem with reaction to certain communication: the ‘soft no.’

A lot of people profess to be confused about it–to the point that Dr. Nerdlove has written about it multiple times. Gavin de Becker writes about it in The Gift of Fear. What is it? It’s a way to say ‘no’ without being direct or harsh about it.

Wait, but what’s wrong with a direct no? Shouldn’t a direct no clear up any confusion?

The thing is, there’s nothing wrong with a direct no. Some people are lucky enough to be educated to give a direct no. But most women are not socialized in such a manner. Most of us are socialized to give indirect no’s:

There are plenty of reasons why someone (females in particular) would present a ‘Smiley-No’ when they seriously mean ‘No’. In fact, it’s totally natural to smile and laugh when afraid as a form of appeasement. There’s even a catchy name for this behavior; its called ‘tend and befriend‘. Additionally, females are socialized from a young age to suppress their voices, to be soft- spoken, and not-be-forceful in general.

And sometimes even a hard, direct no leads to unpleasantness at the least. But sometimes–sometimes, it can lead to far, far worse, as as some of the examples from the Dr. Nerdlove columns. Sometimes we give a ‘soft no’ because we’re afraid of becoming a part of stats like these:

violence-against-women

Sometimes we give a ‘soft no’ because we’re already a part of stats like these:

graph-4-fear-race-gender-sexuality

We have fear, and we’ve been socialized to appease rather than offend. Many of us would like to use direct scripts for saying no, but it’s not that we’re being ill-mannered when we don’t–it’s that we’re afraid of what will happen if we don’t.

And we are not making this up. In Mythcommunication: It’s Not That They Don’t Understand, They Just Don’t Like The Answer, the author shows how women’s refusals are understood and ignored depending on the men in question, and shows some of the men’s rather disturbing responses to women’s refusals. And from this piece:

Women know this is happening! We know we don’t feel safe! And sometimes we may be comfortable to start changing the norm here, but this is still NOT the demographic that you should be calling out. You should be calling out the men and boys who perpetuate this. The ‘journalists’ who need to report that a girl had a boyfriend when she was stabbed to death for a hard no. The culture that teaches boys you should try as hard as you can to win a girl’s heart, unless she has a boyfriend (or sometimes still then). The world that does not respect women’s claims about their own feelings and opinions. Not the women who operate within that system and have to use patriarchy to their advantage to feel socially and physically safe.

The thing is, having to use ‘lines’ and ‘soft nos’ is a very patriarchal thing. Having to appease, to tend and befriend? It’s kyriarchal and partriarchal and it needs to stop. But we cannot put this blame on those who are at risk of violence for not engaging in this behavior–because often, this is a matter of survival.

Instead, we need to query the culture that allows for pushing past the soft no. What is it that allows for ignoring when someone says no in any way they have available (when it’s not been pre-negotiated)? I think this is part of the rigid construction of masculinity in our culture–that it is part of the construction of the ‘macho man,’ that he gets to have sex whenever he wants it, from whomever he wants it (always someone feminized to him), and that if someone refuses him, it is a denigration of his masculinity.

Except–that’s a very harmful concept, isn’t it? Of course it is. What if someone ignores his no, and takes from him what they want despite his no? What if he said a very forceful no, and they did that anyway? What if all he could manage was a soft no? Does it matter? No.

The point is: everyone’s ‘no’ should be respected, however that ‘no’ comes out. It is chilling that ‘soft no’ gets used as an excuse to blow past boundaries, and even further–to assault, rape, and murder. It happens to people of all races, all genders–but least often to those with the most power in our society, and as such, we need to start our query there, with the most powerful, who are the ones blowing past the ‘soft nos’ the most often. This is how we take down kyriarchy.

Is Premarital Sex a Sin?

A friend asked me recently whether I thought premarital sex is sinful.

I answered simply, “No.”

But more deeply, my answer is: what makes some sex premarital? What defines something as premarital? And why are we so worried about that here in America?

My friend was worried about a biblical basis for the answer–and the thing is, the Bible has a diverse amount of things to say about sex. It has about as much to say about marriage:

Biblical marriage models
Some of the many models of marriage depicted in the Bible, courtesy of http://images.elephantjournal.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/09/marriage.jpg

A lot has been made about the Bible’s negative views of sex and marriage and relationships–but it has also modeled some positive views. The entire book of Song of Songs, for example, can be read straight as the love poem it is–about two lovers meeting, trysting, having sex with one another, all without being married. Interestingly, this was the most-translated book by monks in the Middle Ages–mostly to say that it was a metaphor of God’s love, of course–but it does leave one to wonder what else the monks may have been thinking. (Or maybe that’s just me.)

A lot of people who put forth that two people must wait until marriage to have sex will try to claim that such views come from an Adam-and-Eve model of sexuality (which is very cissexist and heteronormative of them, to say the least). And while starting with creation sounds like a great foundation for laying claim to something–because what better way to stake a claim to power?–it doesn’t really hold up on examination.

If we read the creation stories in Genesis–and yes, there’s more than one! even in the first two chapters!–we can very quickly realize that not only is marriage never mentioned, but in at least the first creation story canonically (which is probably the later-written story,  chronologically) the first beings can be read as intersex/transgender/non-binary/non-gendered.

So, not only do Adam and Eve not get married before they have sex and have children, but also–at least one creation story doesn’t seem to require human beings to be heteronormatively paired (and thus biologically capable of reproducing together) in order to have children, thereby destroying another common argument: that sex is for procreation, and that’s why two people should wait until marriage (because all children ‘obviously’ need two [heterosexual] parents–neveryoumind cases of abuse, incest, and the like, or people who consciously choose to be single parents, or people who choose to partner but cannot procreate or do not want to procreate…..).

Ahem. Anyway.

So, no, the argument that sex-waits comes from Adam and Eve doesn’t hold up, because hey: Adam and Eve didn’t get married. And–even if they had–their marriage likely wouldn’t have looked like what we consider marriage to look like today.

So where does it come from? I argue that it comes from the pseudo-Pauline epistles. What are those? These are the letters after the seven likely letters of Paul. Most people I know raised in the Christian Church think of Paul as an anti-LGBTQI, anti-woman, anti-sex, prudish, non-inclusive, exclusive ass. I used to agree.

But.

It turns out that Paul has only 7 likely epistles, with 6 more attributed to him by admirers and one undoubtedly not by him at all. The 7 likely letters by Paul show Paul to be a pretty inclusive person–he wanted everyone to be on equal standing with one another, with no one above or below. All were to be a part of the body of Christ, with no ‘body part’ functioning in a superior manner to any other body part–because all were needed. And Paul utilized women in his ministry in very important roles, which may have angered those who came after him. 1 Timothy in particular, as well as the other Pastoral epistles, turns these verses of inclusion on their heads. Where Paul preaches for women to be cared for, the Pastoral epistles preach that the church should not provide for women unless they reach a certain age and are widows–thereby ruining many women’s chances to enter the ministry in an effective way. And where Paul taught that all were a part of the body, with no body part superior, the pseudo-Pauline epistles taught that man was the head of the woman, ruling over her, in the ‘body of Christ.’ Superiority was put in place.

The church had been providing for women’s livelihoods under Paul’s instructions, allowing some women to remain unmarried and therefore able to be ministers. But in marriages, they had duties to perform, customs to follow, and usually could not stray from those duties in order to be ministers like the men of their communities could. Thus, with women suborned through a twisting of Paul’s teachings, men could retain power.

I think this is where our ‘modern’ ideas about heteronormative, cisgender sex-waits marriage ideals comes from. And I think this is the sin. I think it twists because it unnaturally binds, shaming people who do not deserve to be shamed.

Such a model doesn’t allow for same-sex unions, doesn’t allow for polyamorous families, doesn’t allow for the fact that rape happens. Such a model often leads to purity culture, wherein most often young women are shamed for their sexuality (though sometimes young men are, too, particularly if they sway from the strict hyper-masculine, heterosexual line set for them).  Such a model leads to a need for SlutWalks, because it cannot understand that rape and sex are not the same thing and it creates rape culture by assuming that women’s bodies are for men’s consumption. Such a model does not allow that some sex workers do choose sex work and enjoy it, even while human trafficking remains a problem. Such a model doesn’t allow for women to enjoy sex even while we expect men to do so. And it certainly doesn’t allow for us to be  kinky, even when that correlates with better mental health–because everything has to be about procreation and cisgender, heterosexual marriage. (Even when, as the title of Stephanie Coontz’s book says, that’s The Way We Never Were.)

I don’t think this is what God intended. I don’t think God ever intends for us to shame one another about how and who we love, and how and with whom we have sex–so long as we’re doing so honestly and openly, with integrity. Even casual sex–that much maligned predator of all our young people!–can be healing. Just as importantly, choosing not to have sex–if we don’t want to (maybe we’re demisexual, for example)–is awesome, too. The point is that all of us get to choose, and it doesn’t have to be dependent on some arbitrary line drawn in the sand by society or by a legal body. So long as we are able to consent, then we are able to make our own choices about our sexualities and our bodies–and I think that’s how God intended it when God made such a diverse array of human beings.

So, no, I don’t think premarital sex is a sin. I think sex that is forced–rape, coercion (without it being consensual non-consent)–is sin. I think that forcing people into unnatural unions just to get their needs met is sin. I think oppressing people for power is sin. And I think we’ve been doing all of these things for centuries, while gaslighting one another and ourselves into believing the opposite–which is why there’s so much cognitive dissonance surrounding sex in our culture.

Misogyny and Racism Kill

In the wake of the Charleston Mother AME Church shooting, I’ve done a lot of reading. I’ve watched the events unfold of #WhoIsBurningBlackChurches, black female pastors receiving death threats, and the Confederate flag debates.

Two articles stuck out to me, personally, as they dealt with the ways that gender and race intersect, particularly in relation to this recent and the ongoing violence perpetrated against Black (and mostly female) bodies in the name of White female bodies.

The first challenged me to review my own self, as I am a white woman. Titled “I Don’t Want to Be an Excuse for Racist Violence Anymore,” the article explores Dylann Roof’s self-proclaimed motive in murdering Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Tywanza Sanders, Rev. Daniel Simmons, Sr., Rev. Sharonda Singleton, and Myra Thompson in their church after he sat with them in Bible study for an hour in their welcome. As he shot them, Roof claimed, “You rape our women and you’re taking over our country.” This article–and I–focus on the ‘our women’ part of the statement. Whose women? Which women? Most of the people Roof killed were women, after all–but they were black women, and thus beneath consideration to him. To Roof, ‘women’ means ‘white women.’

From the article:
There is a centuries-old notion that white men must defend, with lethal violence at times, the sexual purity of white women from allegedly predatory black men. And, as we saw yet again after this shooting, it is not merely a relic of America’s hideous racial past. American racism is always gendered; racism and sexism are mutually dependent, and cannot be unstitched.

The article goes on to point out that this isn’t only a black-and-white problem–that it’s a problem of white and all non-white bodies, as shown by Donald Trump’s recent hideous remarks.

Again from the article: Trump failed to mention that 80 percent of girls and women crossing that border are raped as they make the journey. Those girls and women aren’t white. Gender is always raced, and race is always gendered.

Whiteness, then–the ‘purity’ of white womanhood–is being ‘protected’ violently by white men at the expense of non-white bodies, of all genders. This puts non-white women in a place of non-humanity and non-white men in a place of monstrosity. The problem isn’t non-whiteness; the problem is whiteness and how we live it out.

I refuse to stand by idly while white men try to protect me from a non-existent threat. I refuse to be made to sit on a pedestal. I reject the comfort of that position, even as I recognize that I cannot opt out of a system that subjugates and oppresses without question. None of us are free until all of us are free. 

The second article comes not from my own experience. It challenges me by coming from outside my own experience. Titled “On the Pole for Freedom: Bree Newsome’s Politics, Theory, and Theology of Resistance,” it focuses on heroine Bree Newsome’s now-famous take-down of the Confederate flag.

From the article:So I’mma say that the pole here – flagpole though it were – still marks a liminal space of possibility for what Black resistance beyond respectability looks like. Bree Newsome’s Black girl body climbed a pole, quoting scripture, to take down a flag that is emblematic of so much violence enacted on the Black body by the U.S. nation-state. Her act exploded every simple discourse we are currently having about what faith demands, about what decorum dictates that we should accept, about what are acceptable forms of resistance for (cis) Black women’s bodies.

Respectability politics would have the marginalized–women, non-white people, non-cis folks, non-hetero folks, etc–behave exactly like cisgender, heterosexual, white men in order to have the ‘benefits’ of existing. Bree Newsome took this notion and turned it on its head. As she scaled a pole, she recited Scripture. As she ripped down a symbol of violence, she claimed no fear. In the face of police–in the face of far too much police brutality against non-white bodies–she peaceably resisted and gave herself over.

Having read both this article and the one above it, I am struck afresh by the violence against non-white bodies, by the supposed protection of white women, by our (white women’s) complicity-via-silence.

From the first article again: It was, and remains, necessary for white women to decry the violence that is done in our name. It is on us to dismantle racism with just as much commitment as we dismantle sexism, for one cannot happen without the other.

We have work to do. We must break our silence. We must not sit passively by while our white womanhood is ‘defended’ from a threat that does not exist. We must uplift the very real threats that do exist–of racism, of sexism, of the kyriarchy.

Two ways to start: A reading list called the #Charlestonsyllabus. And a way to donate to help the churches that are burning, via the Rebuild the Churches Fund.

A brief note on sex

I don’t have a lot of time to write today, but I wanted to make sure to say: if you haven’t read this piece by Pervocracy, drop everything you’re doing and read it now.

It’s a couple of years old, but it’s still wonderful and accurate and perfect, I think. The points are spot-on. It discusses sex, consent, poly, kink, BDSM, and relationships. It’s well worth the time to read and ponder and store away and utilize.

Mental & Chronic Illness & Sex & Poly; Trigger Warnings should abound

Taking a cue from both TheBloggess and my own life currently, I will address mental and chronic illness and sex and love.

TheBloggess challenged:

HOW HAS MENTAL ILLNESS AFFECTED YOU PERSONALLY?  WHAT DID YOU LEARN FROM IT THAT MIGHT HELP OTHERS?

My answers:

I didn’t start to define myself as chronically ill until a couple of months ago. The term floated in and out of my consciousness a few times–my migraines has been worsening over the last few years, to the point that I had more migraines than days without–but I resisted. I’ve done the same with terms like depression and anxiety–embracing them as descriptors sometimes and rejecting them at others.

I deal with depression and anxiety, with migraines, high blood pressure, and early-onset arthritis. Sometimes these things feed into one another. The migraines apparently caused the high blood pressure, which caused more migraines, and so on. Being made to stay in bed upped both my depression and anxiety. I think the arthritis wanted to come hang out with my early gray hair (that showed up in my teens!), but stuck around to pile on with the migraine party (it settled in my neck).

For me, depression has come in waves. There have been points in my life when I’ve been fine. There have been other points when I have been paralyzed, almost, from the inside out. I’m in one of those points now. I find it difficult to actually leave my apartment. I can think about it, I can make plans to do it–but the actual doing terrifies me sometimes. Depression and anxiety lie: they tell me that even my closest friends sneer at me, think terrible things of me, hate me–even though those same friends have never been anything but happy to see me, kind and loving and full of laughter and support.  And when I drop one thing, I often feel like I’ve dropped everything–even when that’s not true. It can lead to me dropping everything, though. And that can very easily, very quickly spiral into the deepest, darkest pit.

I’m fortunate that I have the community I do around me. I didn’t realize it when I started building it, but I have been working toward what polyamorous comic KimchiCuddles calls Kitchen Table Poly:

SAMSUNG CSC

I have a fantastic wife. I have a fantastic boyfriend/Daddy. I have a fantastic lover. My wife has a wonderful girlfriend, and another flirty friend who is dating one of our best friends–someone we consider part of our polycule as a chosen sibling, because we’ve been friends that long and that closely.

I have learned that when the darkest darkness shows up, I not only can but also should call my wife home from work. I have only done that once–but she came, and that was enough, and she held me. I have learned that a cat’s purr is magic, and that it can be recreated online for free. I have learned that crying can be healing, and that sitting in the sunlight–just sitting, even for 20 minutes, even if I’m in my pajamas with my hair unbrushed–really can help. I have learned to just walk away from Facebook, politics, e-mail when they start to overwhelm–and I’ve learned to say when I’m feeling overwhelmed.

Every area of my life has been affected by both my mental and chronic illnesses. Where I used to deal with my depression and social anxiety by talking with people online/having lots of sex online, I have for the past year or two had almost zero energy for either. I’ve had very little social interaction with anyone not living with me, which has severely limited my world. I’m incredibly grateful to the few people who take the time out of their lives to reach out to me on social media or e-mail (though the phone ringing still scares the bejeezus out of me), even when I’m avoiding those platforms for other things. I’m grateful to the people who find me on Skype, who will come find me in my chosen MMO when I have the energy to get into it. I’m thankful for the days I can load the dishwasher, for the patience of my wife and boyfriend/Daddy as I find myself in a really disabled spot, and of my lover as he has to figure me out from a distance.

When I started to get some energy back, I found out that I couldn’t always have online sex with my long-distance lover–because of the arthritis in my neck. Or, more accurately, I could–but it would result in days of pain afterward in my shoulder. Using my dominant arm/hand means pain for days, even for masturbation. My wife, wonder that she is, offered to help in that department, but I pointed out that a) she’s not always home/awake when lover and I might want to play and b) it’s not necessarily fair to all involved to make her be involved in such a way–though it was very sweet of her to offer. This has been a huge adjustment for my lover and I to make. It can be very very frustrating to want and be unable.

I’ve had to learn that for me, right now, solid plans are nearly a no-go. I’ve got plans to get my grandma to see her nephew in another state–something that’s been in the works for years now and needs to happen before she dies (she was diagnosed as terminally ill with cancer a year ago and is somehow, miraculously less cancer-cell-ridden now than she was then, though not cured)–and that’s the most solid plan I have made right now. Everything else is soft, because even with medication, I don’t know when the next migraine will come. The preventative helps–but leaves me exhausted. I can take one that will help kill the pain in 2-4 hours as well once the first signs of migraine show up–but will also leave me nauseated. Choices, choices. Either way, not great for plans. I’m re-learning how to live my life.

I have dreams–dreams that involve being able to hold down a solid schedule. I don’t know if those dreams will have to change. I had hoped to create an interfaith center focused on sexuality and gender, but that seems ever more distant a dream right now. I may need to stick to research, to papers, to hinge on books and independent academia–dicey at best. But then, all academia is a dicey prospect, whether attached to an institution or not.

At the very least, I have options. And I do have hopes, dreams. If I cannot do what I first intended, perhaps I can inspire others in that path. And perhaps I can still do it. Perhaps I will become stronger, I will get out of this current low point, I will strengthen my neck and shoulder somehow, I will find a drug that doesn’t tire/nauseate me, I will find good therapy. My lover will move here, my kitchen table poly will be stronger, my sex life will get better, my boyfriend/Daddy’s arms will always be there, my wife will always hold me. These are the things I hold onto.

A look at 50 Shades

Fifty Shades has a lot of elements to it that I want to explore. Most of those are external cultural elements.

On the one hand, there’s the ‘porn’ aspect of it–that it’s just trashy entertainment that ultimately doesn’t harm anyone. For a certain part of the population, this can hold true. Those lucky enough never to have been through rape, sexual assault, and stalking at the hands of a partner or prospective partner probably aren’t terribly triggered by a trilogy that is, at its best, poorly-written porn.

As well, because of its quick rise to popularity and the ease of getting it in digital format early on, it has been and continues to be an introduction to BDSM–which can be good, as long as it serves as only an introduction and not the complete manual on What It Is We Do (not that there is any one complete manual–but this would be a pretty poor one). For those who get turned on by some of the sexier play bits in the books and movies–awesome.

But on another hand, I think it’s irresponsible to ignore the massive culture into which these trilogies come, as well as those things they enable in their wake. Not only are the books and movies heteronormative and cisnormative both in characters and in the roles they take on, but they promote rape and stalking and ignoring safe words as sexy. They equate Dominance with stalking and rape (not rape play, not consensual nonconsent, but actual rape), equate submission/submissiveness with being vapid/devoid of self, and sensationalizethe violent aspects of BDSM without giving any nuance or context to the types of play we consensually desire and do.

I can’t see these books and movies as ‘harmless entertainment,’ because too many of us, across gender lines, have experienced stalking, rape, sexual assault, harassment, and more. Too many of our communities still protect predators at the expense of victims and survivors. Too many are disbelieved when we try to report our rapists and assailants, and few of us ever see any support or justice for experiences of domestic violence, assault, rape, stalking, and harassment. These books and movies play into a culture that prefers to see BDSM as harmful and the stuff of severely damaged people, rather than something that is a play preference that may lead to better mental health. They play into the cultural stereotypes that men know women’s bodies better than women, that female Dominants are evil, that female submissives are lost vessels just waiting to be broken and remade in the male Dominant’s image (and heaven forbid there be same-sex or same-gender pairings, or pairings involving sexes and genders other than binary genders and sexes), that BDSM is the same as sexual assault/rape/harassment/stalking, that ignoring safewords is just fine, that ‘the rules’ set in advance don’t apply to one half of the slash, that rape isn’t rape if it doesn’t fit a certain mold….

So, sure. On the one hand, there’s trashy entertainment that will probably help some people broaden their sexual horizons. But on the other, far weightier hand, there are huge issues with these books and movies that we cannot safely ignore. We need to be ready to have these conversations with people just as much as the ‘Hi, welcome, come on in!’ types of conversations, or the ‘What’s your kink?’ conversations, the comparisons of marks and paddles and costumes and collars. We need to see the harm in these ‘entertainment’ pieces and look to our own communities to make them better, to roust out predators and support survivors, to work to make it as difficult as possible for abusers to hide behind the mask of kink.


Edited to add: This made me laugh a bit. What a reimagining.

Previously posted on my FetLife profile.