Sunday, September 10, 2017

Loving BDSM Series 4: Contracts

Today's Loving BDSM question is:

People read the word "negotiation" and imagine some sort of back and forth thing around a table in a formal way.  It can be that, sure, but mostly it's just the conversation you have to figure out what kind of D/s relationship you want for yourself.  Submissives have the right to, and should, ask why a rule/task/ritual is being put in place and both sides should have the freedom to disagree, suggest other things, and make sure their needs are being met.  Negotiations aren't a one time thing, either. You'll come back to this over and over again in your relationship. Will you have a contract? Do you need a checklist?  What exactly does a negotiation sound like?

This came topically because right now there's a Buzzfeed video going around that declared Fifty Shades of Grey's contract "Hollywood bullshit" despite being the exactly one realistic thing about that film series.

I am in a Dom/sub relationship that has a contract.  It took us days to write it, it was all ceremonial and everything, it involved a cute dog holding a collar key, and so on and so forth.  But we were together for like two years before this, so we clearly functioned without an official contract pretty well.  We did that by just talking to each other, either before or while it was happening.  I’ve introduced a lot of toys and activities right in the middle of it, with my sub’s reaction being the negotiation (either showing her typical body language of “I don’t like this, and not in a good way” or just saying “no” when it was brought up).

In fact, the contract itself more bound us to outside activities and some light protocol than it did actual sexual activities.  It codifies things that we already were doing (things like transportation, venue, etc.) as well as relationship stuff we should have been doing but weren't (for instance, we talk to each other over Skype or on the phone because we only see each other once or twice a month and needed to keep better contact with each other; that’s something we didn’t do before the contract).

The contract was also an excuse, in a way, to talk about things we wanted but didn’t have a good way to bring up, since we had sections that were like “Oh, here are toys we’re allowed to use!” and could put things on we maybe wanted to try but which are hard to bring up in a conversation, almost like a brainstorming session.

Contracts are at their most basic just a way of creating boundaries, and I think that's something vanilla relationships often sorely lack.  How many vanilla couples have a "go with the flow" way about them that just assumes that they're so compatible they will never disagree on anything so they don't need to talk about what they're into and definitely not into?

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Loving BDSM Series 3: Titles

Today's Loving BDSM question is:

Beyond the basic title of Dominant or submissive, are there other titles you prefer or are interested in exploring?  Are there any that turn you off or don't seem like a good fit for you?  Some titles for Dominants may include Master, Sir, Daddy, Mistress, Lady, etc.  Titles for submissives can be pet, babygirl, little one, boy, girl, etc.

You know, I didn’t think I’d be a fan of titles because in pornography I’ve found them really grating, but that pretty much changed the first time somebody called me "Daddy" and it turned out to be one of the fucking hottest things I'd at that time experienced.  Daddy as a title was actually the worst, grossest thing for me before that moment… I’d already kicked the association of Daddy with incest play after an excellent writing about the subject on FetLife (the gist of this was that it's no grosser than calling your partner "baby"), but didn’t think it’d be something I was into.  On the one hand, I really should have communicated that I thought it was gross terminology before he called me that, but you know, it did turn out well for me.  It’s also opened a whole new world of bad jokes to me, as I am voluntarily choosing never to be a father but am a fan of dad jokes.  I also like being called “Sir.”

Master I’m not a big fan of but nobody’s actually called me that during sex so who knows?  I associate this title with Master/slave relationships, which I have a lot of opinions about that folks in M/s relationships probably will hate.

I’m actually a big fan of being called my name in a sexual or D/s context.  This is kind of a trans thing, because it took a damn long time for me to get people to call me that name and so it makes me feel great to hear it, like it actively turns me on because it brings me right into my body... I tend to relate to my body as if I'm watching myself on a screen sometimes, so it makes me very present to hear my name.

I mostly use pretty typical pet names for submissives, things like “baby” or “honey,” “sweetie,” "pumpkin."  I’m open to other terms that are more specific to kink if I’m with a sub that likes them, but generally am not super into them and I still have a lot of the same discomfort I had with Daddy before I learned it was super hot

Friday, September 8, 2017

Loving BDSM Series 2: Submission

Today's Loving BDSM question is:

Does a submissive have certain behaviors?  Do submissives do specific tasks?  When you think of a submissive and submission, what thoughts come to mind?

The thing about submission and what I think makes a person submissive is that there are really two categories here… things I like in a sub and things that I think make a sub.

What I think makes a sub is a need or at least willingness to be directed.  And here’s where I talk about myself specifically… because I like a lot of things associated with submission, but am generally not a super submissive person, so in many cases I wind up basically directing what is being done, but from the bottom.

So I’m a switch, and have a submissive side that isn't fully explored, but for the most part even when I’m subbing I’m still ultimately Domming because I’m exercising a lot of control and basically directing the whole scene; I'm giving my sub commands that direct her to behave temporarily like a Dom.  It's hard to explain, but you know, it works great for us.

As far as responsibilities, well, subs have the extremely important responsibility of communication.  I remember once reading a work on FetLife that was called something like “Don’t Make Me An Abuser.”  It was poorly titled, but the point was that a non-abusive Dom really hates the idea of having put somebody through something they didn’t ultimately want, which is something that can happen if a sub doesn’t safeword when they want to or doesn’t say “this is triggering me” or “this is hurting too much.”  And a Dom who has worked with a sub for a long time may be able to tell without words when that sub needs them to stop (my own sub’s body language is essentially her safeword), but what if it’s a new relationship or a sub has a history of really enjoying looking like they need you to stop?  That sub has a responsibility to be very clear when things need to stop.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Loving BDSM Series 1: Dominance

Today I'm starting a series where I answer some BDSM related questions that my submissive is sending me from something called "Loving BDSM."  Today's question is:

What does dominance in a relationship mean to you? What traits will a Dominant have?  How should a Dominant behave?

I'm a switchy Dom who is super annoyed by the behavior of other Doms, not because I think I'm some awesome Dom but because there's a lot of sketchy behaviors out there, things like insisting everybody "in the lifestyle" treat them like their Dom or believing weird and gross things about their role.

Dominance is at its most basic about direction with the illusion of control.  I initially wanted to just say “control,” and I don’t think that that’s inaccurate, but the thing is, a submissive also has control in the form of safewords and other things like that.  As a Dom, you are directing a mutual fantasy to be beneficial to both of you and you are taking the responsibility to make it as safe as you can while still keeping the fantasy immersive.

Dominance is about responsibility.  Not that a sub has no responsibility (they definitely do), but the base responsibility is the Dom’s because they’re the one who is most likely to be doing the dangerous stuff.  So we’re in charge of maintaining the level of safety relevant to the activities being done and also being the kind of person who a sub can trust to listen to them.

Because of this, I’d say the number one important trait a Dom needs to have is responsibility, with honesty being a close second but related item.  A good Dom needs to be able to take responsibility when we mess up and be honest about things like experience levels, a thing I mention because I used to be really bad at that (there was a whole part of my life where my whole sexual history outside of like 5-10% was totally fabricated, although thankfully I had already stopped lying about that by the time I ever tried actually Dominating somebody.).  You need to be the kind of person your sub can trust is not going to do things like lie about what you’re actually experienced in to make yourself look like a good fuck... not just because it's disappointing, but because it takes away the informed part of informed consent.

As far as what traits a Dom should have… outside of the honesty and responsibility, that’s really up to the relationship.  The stereotype that we all need to be these harsh and stern individuals is really incorrect (I’m a cuddly Dom who likes to gush over my partners and give them cookies).  It's not that there's anything inherently wrong with being the stern, cold, disciplinarian Dom who acts like they loathe their subs (I'm sure lots of subs like that sort of thing) but it's just not my character.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Why I (Still) Reclaim Warlock


I wanted to share with you one of the best "I've been a Witch for over two decades but somebody just decided to treat me like a newbie and used the word 'muggle' while he did it" moments of the year:

Text: thing like a witch not a intellectual "muggle" a true witch would no use the word that to others intent is a not a slur--but a curse and a warning. Intention is important including other people's. Look here at all the other comments--that's what I meant by keep looking...because your ignorance is dangerous. You also insult the male witches. You should know the term applies to women as well. The term witch has never been a slur. As for research--in my page [redacted] there are several posts about the word--it's derivation and use.

That was the response to a comment I left about the word "Warlock" and the fact that I identify as one, from the admin of the group.  And I don't want to deal with this absurdity too much because I feel like most people who read my blog already will see the intense amount of ignorance in statements like this one (Caring about history makes you an "intellectual muggle?"  Oh, you think "Witch" has never been a slur?  Give me a fucking break.) but it did inspire me to go back to my piece on why I reclaimed Warlock that I wrote four years ago.

The thing is, I realized that it doesn't really explain well why I reclaimed Warlock... it just goes into how Witches are wrong about it being a uniquely bad term and especially wrong about its history.  The whole idea that a Warlock historically meant somebody who was a coven betrayer or a traitor to Witches?  Bullshit.  Total bullshit.  But understanding this doesn't mean that you have to like the word, and there are plenty of people out there who understand this history, leave those of us who use it alone, and just don't like it used for themselves.

So why do I like it so much?  Well, some things have changed since then (I consider myself a genderqueer trans man rather than a 100% male trans man), but the reason is largely the same:  I've reclaimed a lot of feminine elements and I reclaimed my estrogen, but male mysteries and masculine Witchcraft are extremely healing for me.  Example:  When I was at Pagan Spirit Gathering and trying to decide whether to go to the men's mysteries ritual or the all-gender ritual written by some great non-binary folks, it didn't take me too long at all to decide to go to the men's mysteries ritual.

Since I'm now genderqueer I'm more apt to use "Witch" than I would have been four years ago... but if I'm honest, I do still prefer "Warlock."  And it has a lot to do with why I pick words.

I like harsh, unsanitized words.  These carry a lot of personal power for me, the same reason I prefer "genderqueer" to "nonbinary" and a number of other terminology differences.  Although "Witch" doesn't feel wrong, there are a lot of people calling themselves "Witches" today who have lent to it a softer connotation than Warlock has.  This is somewhat unfair--there are plenty of badass Witches out there--but the number of Witches who do things like cast pathetic spells trying to get politicians to change their minds about being bigoted assholes... well, there's an association between "Witch" and "white-lighting" that grew over the two decades I've been practicing.

"Warlock" has a very different connotation.  This is a word that gives off multiple impressions that I really like.  A Warlock isn't the kind of person who is going to just cast a binding spell on someone genuinely harming him or his loved ones, a Warlock is somebody who is going to do what needs to be done, who is going to protect them as well as himself.  The word "Warlock" carries a connotation of a Warrior, but a particular type of Warrior.  This also gets white-lighter gourds for the same reason some of them refuse to use athames in ritual unless they can re-cast them as a kitchen knife and pull the teeth from the whole concept.

In fact, part of the reason I like it is because so many white-lighters hate it so much... the ahistoric, pearl-clutching fuckers who make claims that Witches they don't like are "Warlocks?"  They make it really appealing to be called a "Warlock," because the last thing I want to be is liked by somebody like that.

"Warlock" is also very masculine.  This is, in fact, one of the reasons (and a valid one at that) that some men reject this word... because they feel it is unnecessary gendering that separates Pagan women and men inappropriately.  I can understand that conceptually.  But for my own part, again, I am a masculine genderqueer person who is very focused on masculine mysteries work, and so the use of the term "Warlock" is--like I've said before--healing (it's the same reason I will always go to men's mysteries rituals when given a choice even with a non-gendered alternative available).  I like using terminology that is markedly masculine because that sort of terminology has been historically denied to me.  And I'd be fine if a woman wanted to call herself a Warlock, too, but for me, the general underlying masculinity of the term is a huge plus.

During my use of this word throughout the years, I developed a different reason to keep using it:  Using Warlock, I own that there are oaths that need to be broken.

I started thinking of this when I was reading Starhawk's "The Twelve Wild Swans."  There's a chapter in that book in which the wild swans--who were once twelve brothers--break a wicked oath they had made to kill the first girl they saw after becoming human.  And after that, I started noticing all sorts of great reasons to break oaths.
 
My own oaths were largely done by others on my behalf (as in the case of my infant baptism) or in the context of robotic mimicry (like the Pledge of Allegiance or one of the many other "pledges" I've been obligated to recite).  Am I bound by these "oaths" I made before I had the ability to understand them?  Christians of antiquity would have probably thought so.  Patriots today certainly think so.  Breaking those oaths is not just an option, but a right.  And a rite, come to think of it.  And my oaths were pathetic in comparison to other oaths that have been or should have been broken.

I think of my great grandma, who stayed with an abusive drunk of a partner her whole life, who smiled at his funeral, and how much happier she would have been if she would have gotten divorced.  When her son's wife divorced his ass, he whined and whined about how back in his mother's day marriage was forever.  But my aunt's decision to break that oath was probably one of the best damn decisions she ever made.  Leaving a cult is breaking an oath.  Being a whistleblower who exposes government abuses is oathbreaking.  I mean, Bruce Willis's character in Armageddon?  Fucking Warlock, and he saved the planet in doing so.

Again, I do not use "Warlock" as a generic term for male Witches.  I call male Witches "Witches," like other Pagans do.  But there are plenty of great reasons to use "Warlock" if that word speaks to you, so don't let some ill-educated Witch tell you otherwise.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Taking a Pagan Entitlement Fast

Recently I went on a hike on a trail that wound over and around a beautiful river with lots of bridges.   I sat on some rocks underneath one to watch the river, and saw what I believe to be a woodpecker feather.

I contemplated this a while, some old bad habits starting to itch at me.  See, when I was younger, I know I would have taken this feather.  I would have done, it even knowing that possessing this feather was illegal, telling myself I had a spiritual reason for it and therefore was morally in the clear.

I didn't take the feather.  I took a picture of it, although as I'll mention later, I may refrain from this for a while, too.  I haven't picked up a feather in years owing to understanding the legality of it, but in addition, I was deliberately avoiding taking anything natural out of those woods, no matter how innocuous I thought it was.

Paganism has an entitlement problem.  We feel that we have a spiritual right to take things, that when we encounter them they are being given to us.

Find a feather on the ground?  No matter it's probably illegal to pick up and possess, that was "given" to you by the Goddess.

Found some ghost pipe?  Who cares if its sensitive populations are being wrecked by hipsters picking it to make tinctures because they're purple and purple is cool?  Just ask the plant if it's OK.

Encounter a particularly pretty set of rocks?  Stack that shit up next to a trail, even if seventy people have done it before.  It's spiritual, right?

Read about an interesting rite of passage done by indigenous folks on a different continent?  Of course it relates to you somehow, go right ahead and re-write it to commemorate something totally different.

These are all real, fairly common examples of things spiritual people (not just Pagans, although Pagans are in my lane, so to speak) do that involve taking from a resource that we are not really connected to, or that is rare, or that is ethically dubious, under the premise that these things somehow "speak" to us or give us some unique spiritual benefit that other people don't get.

Well, hate to burst your bubble, but... you really aren't that special.

Not that you're not important, valid, a gleaming mirror image of the Divine and whatnot, but here's the thing:  All of us are.  And the environment that we're in is not one where there are a few spiritual seekers out there being given beautiful natural gifts as a reward for being the spiritually adept few, but one where lots and lots of people tell ourselves that we're doing something that makes our consumption of natural items, plantlife, and cultural practices more morally sound than other people's.  And outside of a few Pagans who lack confidence in their worthiness, we all think that way and come up with all sorts of excuses why we think that's right.

My favorite?  That we spoke with some spiritual entity who said it was OK.  The Goddess.  The Universe.  The spirit of a plant or animal.  Our ancestors.

Listen, I talk to these entities, too.  I've been a Pagan almost 20 years!  But even after that 20 years I can think of many, many times when I had to concede that what I was really talking to was... myself.  Separating the voice of a spirit and your own inner dialogue is not always easy, especially when your ego really, really wants something.  When you really, really want that woodpecker feather for your shrine.  When you really, really want that purple tincture.  When you really, really want to construct that stack of stones and post it on Instagram.  It's times like these when you have to consider most seriously that perhaps you, like most of us, are justifying your own entitlement.

Again, this is a natural thing, especially growing up in the culture most of my readers will have grown up in.

But it's something we need to contend with.

And that's why I suggest you take an entitlement fast.  This is a deliberate, long-term dedication to explicitly avoiding taking things and simply reflect on anything that gives you that tugging urge to acquire.  If you feel that your deities or spirits really do encourage you to take things, tell them about this exercise and request that they allow your mind to remain clear of their messages during this time.  Most of them will appreciate this, as it will help you learn to listen to them much better.

When I found the woodpecker feather, I sat for a while and pondered it.  I felt that addictive urge to pocket it, although I didn't... I thought to myself "Why would I need this feather on my shrine, when I can look out the window next to my shrine and see live woodpeckers practically all year round?"  "Why do I assume that this was placed here for me and not for everybody who passes it to ponder?"  "Why do I assume every beautiful thing is a spiritual message, anyway?"  "Why do I feel that possession of this feather is a spiritual need?"


Of course, there are plenty of times when you will have an actual need to have something in the physical (as herbalists know well), and there are plant and animal parts that are both legal to acquire and perfectly ethical due to their abundance (perhaps even invasiveness!), but this exercise is meant to help you kick the idea that everything is yours for the taking.

It just isn't.

Finally, although I haven't done this yet, my next project may in fact be a fast not only from taking things, but from photographing them, too.  There's nothing immoral about taking a picture, don't get me wrong, but this isn't just about leaving things be, but digging the entitlement out of your practice.  Are you more interested in getting Instagram likes than learning the messages these natural pieces have to offer you?  Of branding yourself spiritual?  I'd certainly rather you post pictures of ghost pipe happily growing than uproot whole stands of it to tincture, and I'm very much a fan of posting cool nature photographs--they help more people experience things--but it may help to fast from this too for awhile to help get to the whole heart of entitlement.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Nudity, Consent, and What I'd Have Said At The Skyclad Ritual

Modesty picture... to avoid my
boobs being posted on Facebook.
Content note that this post does contain a picture of my bare chest which may be triggering to some trans peopleSecondary note:  This is a mirrored post that appears on multiple blogs.

My partner and I went to a skyclad ritual at PSG (it happens every year, it's called "You Are Beautiful Skyclad").  The premise is that we collect for a brief ritual in a somewhat secluded area when it's dark and at a pivotal part of the ritual everyone takes their clothes off for as long as they want in a judgment-free zone.  In addition, most of the time I wasn't sunburnt I was going topless throughout the week, something I did not do last year aside from a couple rituals in the dark.  I, like most people, worry about how people look at me.

Anyway, the skyclad ritual.  There was a point where we could voluntarily offer why we were there.  I considered saying something--and am kicking myself a bit that I didn't, because I think the attendees could have benefited from the perspective--but the weather started to turn and so we were low-key rushed and I wound up not doing it.

First I'll explain why I went to this ritual (albeit more in-depth than I would have had I spoke there).  After the second page break, though, I'd like to talk to some of the consent issues that occurred, as this is a recurring problem that got worse this year (at least from my vantage point).



Picture of me featuring a comically tiny djembe.
I am somebody who is comically nervous about my own nudity.  I even, in a panic, cover my chest in a tizzy if it becomes partially exposed in my own home, even though this normally occurs in front of my roommates, both of whom have access to pictures of my nude body on FetLife and one of whom is an ex sexual partner who knows damn well what my body looks like.  I kind of wish I wasn't that way, because outside of other people's perceptions?  I'm very comfortable with my body.

As a non-op trans person I'm in the position where to the cis gaze I look like a particularly hairy woman if I am not wearing clothes.  I went on hormones for a few years to grow a beard and deepen my voice, but since I went off them a lot of the changes to my figure are going away, and I don't intend to try very hard to get them back.  I'm chubbier than I wish I was, but aside from that, I'm quite comfortable with my body as it is.

That comfort  makes a lot of people uncomfortable.  I'm not supposed to be comfortable.  Cis people don't like it.  Trans people don't like it.  There is literal medical literature defining me as being inherently uncomfortable with my body.

Cis people don't like it because they don't like when trans people do not seek to conform to their body norms.  There's a huge double standard here... they also hate it when we blend in well, because they pride themselves in being able to "read" transness in people, but to not even try puts cracks in the façade that looking like a cis person is the only way to be comfortable in a body.  No, I'm supposed to hate my breasts so much that I can't even bear to shower with the lights on, I'm supposed to hate my lack of a cis penis so much that I will not leave the house without a silicone replacement strapped to me or let a partner enter me.  I was supposed to want to be on testosterone forever because estrogen would make my body squishy, and Gods forbid a man be squishy.

Trans people also don't like it, although to be fair I am willing to use more nuance with them than I would with cis people's garbage opinions.  Trans people who are uncomfortable with my comfort with my body are dealing with the weight of the aforementioned cis opinions.  They're worried that visibility granted to bodies like mine will impact their access to lifetime hormones and surgery.  If I don't need them, after all, why should Aidan's parents believe he does?  I do, for the record, worry about things like that, and I also worry that my body is triggering to other trans people, but ultimately it is not my responsibility to make my body conform to a trans narrative for other people's comfort, including other trans people.

I increasingly go nude at clothing-optional events for this reason.  It's not a bravery thing, and the prospect of cis people calling me "brave" for showing my clearly-trans body kind of annoys me.  It's me making a statement that I can be comfortable and not culpable for either cis or trans people's feelings about that.  It's also a statement for trans people that you are not obligated to pretend to feel uncomfortable with your body (but if you aren't, of course).  Trans bodies deserve the right to be naked at these events just as cis bodies do, and that's something I want to advocate as loudly as possible.



So on that note, let's talk about consent and creepers.  I was somewhat uncomfortable topless at first, but I got used to it fairly quickly (at least until the sunburn kicked in; I'll be looking into more effective ways of preventing that next year, which alas may necessitate less nudity).  There were some stares, and some misgendering from behind (I don't blame them; I do have long hair and an estrogen-powered figure, so my ability to "pass" is concentrated in my beard!), etc. but it was otherwise uneventful.  Other than the skyclad ritual and a few short walks to the swim area and to the bathroom (always done either in the dark or kind of obscuring my crotch with pool noodles) I did not go bottomless.  Maybe next year, if I am feeling particularly bold, but probably not... full nudity is rare at Pagan festivals nowadays.

But... there's a reason for that.  Well, lots of reasons.  And you know what?  I already talked about that on Reclaiming Warlock a couple years ago. I want to instead talk about some consent-related issues that occurred.

First of all, I was kissed without my consent... twice.  One was somebody I knew.  The other was somebody I did not who was excited because my magickal gift exchange gift was super badass.  But it's still... ugh.  I'm becoming more and more personally comfortable with touch as I talk to people more and hang out in the in-person community more, so there was no lasting harm done to me other than annoyance, but I shudder anyway because there are so many people with histories of sexual abuse who are re-victimized by this behavior.  I know you're trying to be friendly.  I know you're expressing that you're glad to see me or excited.  But please, please, please start paying attention to this sort of thing.

Second, there was a bizarre consent incident I witnessed at a workshop where a presenter performed a fivefold kiss (which involves kissing the feet, knees, stomach, breasts, and mouth) on a volunteer without explaining first what a fivefold kiss was... at least I don't remember him explaining it first.  I asked my partner if she had detected any consent to this and she reported that she had not.  So basically this woman got her breasts kissed by a dude in front of everyone at a workshop without any pre-negotiation.  Side note:  I'm pretty sure this could have been verbally explained.

Third, my experience is heavily gendered.  I got a couple stares from people who were probably confused about my body (most probably ultimately were influenced by the fact that I am also fat; my breasts aren't cisnormative even for a fat guy, but there are lots of cis guys who come close).  But these dissipated in the first couple days.  My girlfriend, however, reported that she got a lot of stares while topless, like gross leering stares including objectifying grins.  In the article I linked earlier I talk about this phenomenon under the "creepers" header.  I'll copy the relevant passage here:
I'm surprised at how little the original article touched on the whole subject of creepers, because quite frankly there are a lot of them.  Then again, people are often unwilling to point out that these people are creepers due to the unfortunate association of open sexuality with being more socially evolved that plagues radical and alternative communities (I'll talk a bit about that later).  To use an example, the very first time I encountered nudity at a public Pagan gathering involved a woman who was minding her own business only to have some dude grovel at her feet thanking her and calling her things like "Goddess" because she was nude, as if her nudity was inherently something meant for him.  When nudity brings you this kind of attention, it makes sense that people would put their clothes back on.
For the record, this isn't about jealousy or anything like I'm somehow made insecure by other men looking at my partner; we are a polyamorous couple after all!  And I'm well aware she's beautiful as fuck and pleasant on the eyes.  But this is something that she was very uncomfortable with.  Men typically don't experience the kind of laser stares that women do, so maybe they assume that they're somehow not contributing to a toxic environment of sexual objectification, but I assure you... you are.

I saw less kilt harassment this year, but that was likely due to the absence of Celia Farran, whose "Men In Kilts" song caused a rash of women shouting inappropriate things to men last year.  I'm not saying that this is a problem equal in scope to harassment of women, because it isn't, but as somebody who would love to one day don a kilt, it makes me extremely nervous. Sidenote:  I love Celia Farran.  But seriously  Tone it down.

In short, I love public nudity, but we still have loads of consent issues we need to work out.

Monday, June 12, 2017

On Toxic Leftbook Culture

I just left a Leftbook group.  One I loved... like I really loved it.  I'd talk about shit I found on this group pretty much every day.  Called "why did you diy that???" it was hilarious, showcasing some of the worst DIY fails, useless DIYs, etc.

What is Leftbook?  I'm using it loosely, as I've seen some more narrow definitions, but generally it's used to describe pages, groups, and other areas on Facebook primarily frequented by leftists (anarchists, communists, greens, SJWs, etc.).  The themes vary, with a number of them being dedicated to something that isn't explicitly leftist, but with rules and conventions that are found in left and SJW communities.  Things like requiring trigger warnings, requiring textual descriptions of pictures for visually impaired folks, bans on oppressive content, or an expectation that there will be Discourse.

And that's great.  I love that there are places I can find interesting things that aren't political where people are actively trying not to be pieces of shit.

But I needed to talk about the shit that just happened at "why did you diy that???" because it's just not fucking OK.  And this is a long time coming.  I've already seen a couple groups I loved less wind up self-destructing over shitty rules, or rules that were applied on the whim of one or two outliers, to hell with what the actual community thinks.  Think things like demanding common in-community words be censored ("i regret to inform you that the cis are at it again" was demanding people censor the word "queer," a word that trans people fucking use).

So today is Monday, which at WDYDT??? means people post their own personal DIYs.  Everything was going fine until--if I remember right, you'll know why I might not remember later--a white teacher posted a picture of a tipi she had built as an educational tool.  And there was Discourse.  People had posted stuff like this before, stuff that wasn't in their lane, had discussions, realized they were wrong, and everything was fine.  White women posting skin and hair care DIYs to ridicule, finding they are meant for black women, apologizing, comments closed, lessons learned, done.  This is a thing that, despite our culture of disposability, happens.  We've all done something appropriative sometime.  If I was forced to make a bet over whether I will appropriate something without thinking in the future, I would bet "yes" to preserve my damn money, and I probably wouldn't even need to wait that long to get it.

But somewhere the planets were aligned just right that rather than having a real discussion on the subject, people hurled abuse at this woman.  There were even death threats.

Now think about what happens when you have a thread on Twitter or a Facebook post get popular, whether for good or bad reasons.  If you're like most people using these services, your phone is connected to them.  If you keep your volume or vibrate on, it's constant, like your phone is blowing up or malfunctioning, an endless cacophony constantly pestering you over this thing you posted.  If you're like me and are stressed out by your phone, maybe you keep your volume off all the time only to see a massive list of retweets, likes, faves, and comments every time you look at it.

It really fucking gnaws at you.  Hell, even when I post something I'm really proud of, and people are showering me with praise, it can be frustrating after a while.  But dozens of nasty comments speckled with death threats?  It doesn't matter if there was some good Discourse there.

The mods told her to keep the post up, because the rules of the group demand it.  "Accountability" they say.  Because in SJW world, you are not allowed to ever forget that you did a bad thing once.

She deleted it anyway.  She was then banned, although to be fair, the experience was so bad she was intending to leave anyway.  The mods then posted an explanation that they had asked her to keep it up, telling people that instead of deleting their posts they can ask for comments to be turned off.

And you know what?  That's abusive as fuck.  If people were blowing up my fucking phone commenting that I'm a terrible person because of some of the absolute shit I wrote in the past I would fucking delete that piece, regardless of if it were breaking a rule.

If your rules are resulting in abuse, they're shitty rules.

And there's more.  If people are sending death threats over this thing... what makes you think they're going to just stick with commenting?  You're forcing somebody to keep her name on something that's generating abuse under the misguided assumption that turning comments off is going to stop said abuse.  Are you like... new to the internet?  Seriously.  And that's not mentioning people taking screenshots to make sure if it ever leaves that part of Facebook it'll wind up on Twitter, Tumblr, or some other section of Facebook.

It's not that I don't want accountability.  To reiterate myself as a convenient example, there are plenty of total shit things I've done and especially written that I will own up to readily.  I wrote an incredibly racist (as in white savior racist) book.  I used to be a class-above-all communist and wrote ridiculous shit about that.  I engaged in seriously appropriative vegan activism.  These were all things that happened, parts of my history I will not erase.  But there's a huge difference between accountability and pillory, the latter of which I guess leftbook thinks is just fucking fine as long as it's not the State doing it.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Dear Loved Ones of Trans People: It's Not About You

I wanted to talk about a terrible Guardian article.  This was written by the ex-spouse of a trans woman, and is titled "A letter to... my transgender husband: Why did it have to be all about you?"  This comes right on the heels of that ridiculous thinkpiece by a woman insisting her child is not trans (insinuating that trans people are encouraging tomboys to transition).  I'm not going to talk about these cases individually, but I wanted to put something out there:

Cis people really, really love making our transitions about them.

And then get really angry--or, more appropriately, whiny--when we don't follow suit.

Let me tell a bit of my own story.  I came out at 18 years old.  The first three people that I told were my mom, my dad, and my boyfriend at the time, in that order.  And all three of them ostensibly supported me while making very little effort to... well, actually support me.  Constant misgendering (something I still experience from my parents--I don't keep in contact with my ex, but I assume he does as well--ten years later, calling me "she" even with an appearance that any stranger on the street would assume to be male).

After I broke up with my ex, I found a post from him on a video game forum where he was going on about what a huge ego deflation it was to find out that his very first girlfriend had turned out to be a man, as if it was somehow his love had been so faulty that it singlehandedly caused me to renounce womanhood.  The thing was, I spent an irrationally long time trying to make that relationship work after coming out, telling myself over and over again things about how he just needed time to learn how to handle it, if there was no chance of him understanding he would break up with me instead of jagging me around for months, right?

When it comes to romantic relationships, there's this popular perception out there that trans people come out to our partners and then ruin everything for our own selfish desires, like how dare we seek to end a particular form of misery in our lives if our partners don't like it.  The author of the Guardian letter makes a big deal about how she asked for time to come to terms with everything, but her transgender spouse "refused," even though it was a decision "affecting both of them."  While I would never say that somebody's transition didn't affect their loved ones, this is an extremely one-sided account of how transition works in a transphobic society.

Trans people don't just realize we're trans and immediately steamroll over our relationships.  The reality is that trans people--since we grow up understanding through the media that being trans is awful, weird, deviant, and sinister--have historically been highly likely to put off telling loved ones in order to preserve those relationships.  For many of us, we learn as children to just shut up about those feelings, and start building lives as if they don't exist, digging a hole of obligations and attachments that are harder and harder to get out of or modify with each passing year.  This, by the way, is why allowing kids to experiment with their gender identities is so important; if a child knows they are trans, and have constant medical and social barriers erected to discourage them at all points in their lives that transition is only a last resort for the truly, absolutely miserable, they bury those feelings and dig that aforementioned hole.

There is a not-insignificant number of trans people--especially but not limited to older trans women--who are so invested in preserving the relationships they've built during those closeted times that they either suppress their feelings, painfully, for years, or they resort to living double lives, with or without their partners' knowledge.  I know people whose spouses know full well they would prefer to be living as women, but are so uncomfortable with the idea that they work out a compromise, like "You can present as a woman in designated places, provided I never see you."

We put up with cis people's melodrama all the time.  I could shower in cis people tears over how allegedly mean we are, yet it is perfectly socially acceptable for them to be incredibly cruel to us.

And to reiterate:  I'm not saying it's not hard for their spouses.  I'm not even saying that it's somehow single-handedly a spouse's fault if somebody puts off transition, as there are many people creating this hellish structure.  I'm saying that, despite all the indignance and whining and pouting, most of the time any compromise made, cis people require more concession on the part of the trans person than they are willing to give.  In fact, the trans person may have been making concessions long before even telling their partner by choosing to pretend they were not trans for years, maybe decades.

Related note:  Every time somebody publishes another garbage article about how selfish trans people are with our poor helpless spouses, it is also culpable in encouraging trans people to stay miserable and in the closet, which contributes to more spouses being blindsided with the issue.

My personal experience with this, though, is mostly regarding parents, who are also highly likely to be melodramatic about their child's transition, even while trying to play the part of a supportive parent.  I see highly supportive parents more and more (an extreme relief for me), and I by no means expect immediate perfection, but there are so many things I wish I had asserted when I first came out to my parents.  I made a lot of concessions, and my silence and my tolerance of their misgivings early on is probably a part of why they put me in danger of being outed whenever we are out together in public.  I'd tell myself it was just a question of my appearance, that once I got on hormones it would be different, because I'd look so male they wouldn't be able to misgender me if they tried.  This naïveté seems silly to me now, but at the time I was really banking on my future beard and voice to try making things work out better.

This would be a thing my parents would low-key discourage for almost a decade, telling me I needed to be patient.  When I finally did make an appointment with a gender therapist, my father sternly lectured at me about how I needed to learn to wait for things because I was "always jumping into things."  This was after almost seven years of waiting, of having to hear the same people whine that it was too hard to call me the right  name--a name which itself was a concession, which I adopted from a nickname they literally gave me as a child, one I hated by the way--or the right pronouns.

Finally I went to therapy anyway, got on hormones, and this has caused me lasting relief I would not have gotten any other way.  Relief that could have come years earlier, were I not constantly being patient with and making sacrifices for the cis people in my life.

To my dad's credit, he did help me finish the therapy once I had started and my therapist abruptly increased the per-session cost.  I don't believe I have terrible parents by any means.  I certainly have friends who for all intents and purposes just don't have parents anymore, so in that respect I am extremely lucky and grateful.

But by waiting to transition, I gave up years of social development that could have (who am I kidding: would have) saved me around eight years (factoring in when I came out and when I transitioned) of being uncomfortable in my own skin, being emotionally unstable, having low self-confidence, and being stressed out, the same things my parents and school forced me into therapy for as a child, things that mostly went away after transition that were not going to be solved by a chat with a school counselor.  And I can think of so many bad things that would not have happened and so many milestones I would have reached sooner if I had sought out transition sooner.

And while this was all happening, my parents used the typical melodramatic language about how they were "mourning" the "loss" of their "daughter," how they'd "never get to see me in a wedding dress" (I was openly disinterested in marriage since I was a teenager); basically, they lost a shred of their ability to live vicariously through me and because of that this was all so very hard and they couldn't possibly use language to describe me that was respectful or understand things that are quite frankly obvious to anybody with a modicum of understanding of trans issues.

I don't have patience anymore for the idea that our transitions are markedly difficult for our cis loved ones while we're supposed to tolerate them treating us like trash.

My pity for cis people on this subject is extremely limited.  A cis person looks at a trans person who decides to transition despite the pleas of their spouse, their children, or their parents as "selfish."  I envy them for their resolve and, although I know it's not popular to say it, their courage.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

How To Have A Trans-Friendly Restroom

With bathrooms being one of the big hot buttons now (like it always has been) I wanted to bring up my own standards for what makes a trans friendly bathroom (partially inspired by a couple restaurants and bars whose stories are told here).  What follows are things that stick out to me as being common issues that make restrooms less safe or welcoming for transgender people, things that aren't necessarily brought up in the big media lowdowns on the subject.

Of course, not all trans people will agree with me on all these points (in particular, a number of trans men and trans women are decidedly not on "Team Gender Neutral," and those who are occasionally sneer at single-gender signs that have a trans symbol on them), so you should consult with local trans folks when you can.

Make sure your staff--all of them--are on the same page and understand that your restrooms are trans friendly.

A few years ago our local Pride wound up a huge cluster because although they had a policy on the books that was trans friendly, not all of their staff were explicitly told about this, leading to security asking people to use different bathrooms.  Even if you run a venue that you personally would expect a trans inclusive policy to be obvious, keep in mind that basically every single community out there--including lesbian and gay communities--have been pretty bad at this in the past, and there is a very vocal minority of people who are extremely transphobic.  So make sure they know so that any policies are actually followed.

Get signage that isn't insulting and shows inclusion.

The vast majority of bathrooms just say "men" and "women," maybe with some "person in dress" or "person in pants" images.  I am on team "go gender neutral," but there are other issues that my prevent you from going that route (based on legal issues and the structure of your building).  One of my personal favorite ways of handling restrooms--especially if you absolutely can't make your restrooms neutral--is to label them with easily-understood "men" and "women" signs with a transgender symbol included to indicate that you should use whichever one you're comfortable with (our local Unitarian Universalist Fellowship and a local Goodwill go this route).

If you do have gender-neutral restrooms, phrases like "all gender" and "gender neutral" are better than "unisex" (although honestly I wouldn't be bothered by the latter).

I hate when gender neutral restrooms are labeled "family."  Hate it.

Also, if you don't have neutral restrooms, can you not try and get "creative" with your signs?  Most of these rely on either some sort of constructed gender role or garment, or--even worse--a set of genitals.  A friend of mine and I were baffled one day to find a restroom that had the genders "olive" and "pimiento."  We literally had to ask the bartender what on earth restrooms we were supposed to use.  "Oh. Because you put pimientos in olives."  Gross.  Not to be outdone, my roommate found a worse one:
This isn't just insulting to trans people, but it's crude and insulting to other people, too.

Oh, once a long time ago I watched some TV special on cool bathrooms (yeah, that's the kind of person I am) and it went into a club bathroom that color-coded its bathrooms... but not in expected colors, so people were constantly walking into the wrong one, and it was supposed to be all cute and social and funny, and they even had this weird thing where there would be visual contact between the men's and women's restrooms (a slit above the sink, a weird window in a stall) and although I'm sure cis people don't really think about this sort of thing, that's a great way to get a trans person humiliated, beaten up, or worse.

Don't try to make "the trans restroom," and if you have three restrooms, don't police their use.

Again, I'm on Team Gender Neutral, and wish that all-gender restrooms were a widely available thing, but since they're not in wide use, I should mention that the last thing you should try doing is making a men's room, a women's room, and a "transgender" room.  This both has the potential to invalidate trans men and trans women and creates an environment where people can get outed very readily.  And it's not that trans men and women never want gender neutral restrooms (not all of us pass well, not all of us consider ourselves "binary," etc.), but forcing trans men and women to use gender neutral restrooms when we qualify as "men" or "women" is insulting and invalidating.

Avoid keys.

I get it, maybe your gas station or whatnot is constantly trashed and you need at least something to keep people from destroying it, but if possible avoid locking your restrooms.

If you must lock your restrooms, try to set it up so that people don't need to seek out or interact with a staff member to acquire it.  Try to avoid making it necessary for people to contact somebody over a bathroom at all.  I used to have to specify a "men's 8" when getting bowling rental shoes and having to do the same for a bathroom key or some other amenity would have been at least a dozen times more awkward than that.

Also, obey the same rules above regarding signage.  Don't be quirky at the expense of sensitivity.

Invest in good dividers.

One of the ridiculous things about bathrooms in the United States is that we tend to design bathrooms with massive gaps, leading to a lot of opportunities to see each other.  I can remember times when kids practically crawled into my stall with me, or peeked over the wall, or did a potty dance while seemingly pushing their whole eyeball into the crack between the door and stall.

Nobody likes these.  They're absurd.  But for trans people they're even more anxiety-inducing, for more reasons than you'd think.

For me it was never just the looming threat of somebody seeing my crotch that made these so unsafe.  When I used to bind my chest, I needed to take regular breaks to avoid hurting myself, and would regularly use bathrooms for this purpose.  I've given myself testosterone shots there in a pinch.  And having to do these things in an environment where people can see into the stall with ease is aggravating and makes me not want to go there.

Replace broken locks.

Lock issues are the bane of my bathroom existence.

Recently I went to a reasonably fancy sushi establishment only to find my worst nightmare:  There was one massive stall, with the toilet in the corner furthest from the door, and the lock was off-kilter and impossible to keep locked.  Basically, if somebody came in needing to use that stall, it would be difficult to see that I was in there and I wouldn't be able to reach the door to hold it closed.  And where I'm at, I could feel comfortable saying there's somebody in there, and even if somebody were to walk in I probably wouldn't be outed, but the same can't be said for every trans person.  Maybe somebody has a voice that will out them and is uncomfortable speaking, or is taking a rest from a binder without their shirt on, or the person coming in just flat out doesn't hear them.

And it's a cheap fix, too.  Practically any door can have a lock stuck on the inside for a couple bucks, so why do so many businesses just leave their doors with broken locks?

Replace missing doors.

Why do I even need to mention this?  There's a big disparity here, too, because when I was a woman I never saw businesses in the middle of goddamn downtown that neglected to replace missing doors on bathroom stalls, but as a man I've been places that had like four stalls and none of them with doors.  One time in an extreme emergency pre-testosterone I had to use one of those and it was one of the most nerve-wracking experiences of my life, and it was a packed restroom, too.  Ugh.


Anyway, these are just some suggestions for things to do and look for, and this is of course in combination with paying attention to overall accessibility.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

On Rallies And Allies (.......again)

I haven't written here in a while (for a wide variety of reasons), so it's fitting that I would write about something super uncomfortable, which is allies.  Again.  See, allies are a particularly uncomfortable subject for me, but for slightly different reasons than the usual controversies.  I have, just as many queer people do, gotten caught up in the act of ally-bashing, an activity I generally am pretty neutral about due to the catharsis it brings and the fact that, yes, there are a lot of garbage allies out there.  But the reasons people ally-bash often make me uncomfortable for reasons I'd like to go over today, now that it's topical and all.

Despite what it may look like, very few queer or trans people realistically "hate" allies.  Rather, there is a wide spectrum of ways we view allies, and we often take different stances based on the particular ally and just how frustrated we are that day.  There are queer people who are all about allies and who would hack our communities to bits for ally inclusion, there are those for whom despisal of allies is extreme to the point of being a competitive sport for them, and there are a myriad of points between those that a queer or trans person could fall upon on any given day.  There is also a lot of borderline-performative ally hate which is done because, again, it's cathartic when you're surrounded by garbage allies.

I'm somewhere in-between, as I often seethe over ally behaviors but also believe that a lot of queer and trans folk hold allies to an unfair standard, one that in some respects actually punishes allies who have been allies for the longest without recognizing that some of the worst ally behaviors aren't even limited to allies at all.  In addition, the standard we hold allies to also has the potential to harm queer and trans people.

So my roommates and I went to a trans rally over the weekend which brought a lot of this to light for me.  See, I'd been in the awkward position of both seriously looking forward to this rally (as I don't do enough in-person trans related things) and cringing because due to generational and philosophical differences I am prone to feeling serious alienation at things like this.  I'd even brought earbuds just in case there was a bad enough speech for me to need them, but luckily I didn't.  It went way better than expected, and I'm very proud that trans youth were able to put this together.

(We also were in the background on TV, which decided to
genericize the whole thing as an "LGBT Rally."  Sigh.)
That said, it did remind me of the issue with allies, because there were a couple of... well, issues with allies.  First, there was a sign held by the mother of a trans person that had a tomato on it, captioned "Born a Fruit, Identifies as a Vegetable."  Cringe.  I mean, seriously, criiiinge.  I'd seen the sign at the rally and cringed, only to find somebody on Twitter who I've never even met (I don't think) post a picture of it that incidentally had my roommates in it (I can only hope nobody mistakenly thinks they were involved with this sign).  The thing about it was that not only was this a cringey sign, a lot of people were unclear over whether or not this was even a supporter, to which I said in no uncertain terms she was, and based on everything I know about her she's overall a good ally who actually does real, tangible things for the local community.  But she was carrying something that made anybody who didn't know this about her think "Wait... is that a protester? In the middle of the crowd?"

So yes, I've been having a lot of fun trashing that terrible sign, but as far as this being an example of the inherent horribleness of allies, I think we need to look at this differently than we have been, because something I think is missing from a lot of ally-related discourse is the fact that they learn more from us than we think they do.  Like, it made me cringe seeing an ally hold this, but I almost swear I've seen this joke before, and it was probably some goofy comment made by a trans person and not an entitled attempt at wit by a cis person.  Seriously.  I've been around.  I've seen a lot of attempts at supportive humor within our community that in retrospect were terrible, so thinking it's a cis thing is factually incorrect.

The point is, I think our gauge for allies is set to assume they should know better about mistakes and flubs that most of us have also made.  This was driven home by the metaphoric smack to the gut that occurred when a trans person took the mic and immediately misgendered another trans person.  And this isn't uncommon... when I first came out there was only one other out trans person who almost immediately started using labels and other language that marked me as a straight woman (and ally) even though I repeatedly explained that this was not true, that I was a gay trans man.  Trans people screwing up each others' pronouns, orientations, and using wildly inappropriate language to talk about each other is not uncommon.  A trans woman who has been transitioning for over two years should definitely know better than to publicly misgender a trans boy on a damn stage, and a trans man should know better than to call a gay trans man a Kinsey Zero, but we spend an awful lot more time trashing allies for far less.

Which reminds me of another contributing factor:  As I've mentioned before, probably on many occasions, since I've been transitioning longer than most of the people I hang out with, some of my language is dated, and whether or not I change it (regarding myself, not others, of course) is based entirely on my own preference.  Sometimes I agree that the older way isn't great and change accordingly.  Sometimes I disagree and stubbornly refuse to change, complete with detailed analysis of why I hate the "new" way.  I stopped using certain slurs to describe myself, but still use terms like "FTM" and "born female."  There are still others I couldn't care less about, for instance I would call myself a "trans man" but am ambivalent when people write "transman," something that would have been considered normal not that long ago but which has since fallen out of favor.  We, as trans and queer people, do not have one universal list of acceptable vocabulary, acceptable things to joke about, acceptable metaphors.  All of these shift based on age, the general time period we started transitioning, region, gender, race, etc.

This is the same for trans folks as it is for queer folks in general.  A good overall example is the amount of ire people have for folks who think the A in LGBTQIA is for "ally," something I wrote about before.  It's not uncommon for people to act like even thinking the A is for "ally" is a misinterpretation by over-entitled cishet allies without even considering that maybe this was added by queer people or at least reinforced by us.

This is also a good example of how holding allies to a too-high standard punishes those who have been around the longest, because many of us forget that the language we use and what constitutes appropriate behavior in our spaces is something that didn't emerge from the discourse-womb fully formed, it developed over time.  So there are allies out there--just as there are queer and trans people--who learned these things differently because they were different five, ten, fifteen, or more years ago, and not all of them-slash-us are in the position to learn these things very quickly.  Not everybody uses Tumblr, lives on a college campus, reads a lot of blogs, or feels safe in LGBT groups.  The more my own language and conventions change or stubbornly stay the same the more I understand that believing this to be entitlement or whatever other labels people slap on allies just isn't the whole story.

On an important aside, I have grown to look at allies as "potential future queer people."  This is a perception I've developed over the years as more and more of my "cishet ally" friends turn out not to be so cishet after all, who either used the "ally" label to explore queerness in a way they were unable to before or who just incidentally learned a thing about themselves through exposure to queer people.  Trans people, especially, can easily be confused for cishet allies if we pass well enough.  So I'm not only trying to look at allies through the aforementioned benefit-of-the-doubt lens, I am trying to mitigate the fact that our treatment of allies may inadvertently be giving a closeted or questioning person an intensely alienating experience that could drive them away from community they need, over something that is quite often rather silly.

It's really important to recognize why so many queer and trans folks have an ally problem... there are a lot of behaviors we see concentrated in people who use the ally label that are harmful to us, require we use extra energy we need to survive day to day, are patronizing, and prevent us from feeling safe in our own spaces.  I would never say you shouldn't call that out, be angry about it, or pussy foot around it over some ally feelings.  And I do not have a problem with people using their own spaces to vent about garbage allies... I could go on for days about horrible behavior from allies and won't shame you for doing the same.  But we need to be accurate in that assessment, too, and realize that sometimes it's not entitled ally behavior, but the same regional and educational differences queer and trans people experience.