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Posts Tagged ‘feminism’

I recently did something I should have done ages ago, which is turn on Google alerts and make it tell me whenever certain key words or phrases are mentioned in the news. Doing this for “BDSM” has garnered some interesting results, not the least of which is a continuation of the trend that Bitchy has noticed of a rift between professional dominatrices (as she likes to say) and more ordinary folks doing kink. Her main beef was that the professionals seem to be creating the world of female dominance as it is seen by most people, and it is a world that she reviles. But another question is arising from my own reading: a question of elitism, of experience versus education, and the potential de-fanging of kink.

The story starts with Lera Gavin, a young dominatrix in Miami who writes a column called “Ask a Domme.” In an August 11 article called How to Enjoy Extreme Smothering Without Fatally Suffocating Your Boyfriend, she advises a man who would like for his girlfriend to try smothering with him to “con her” if she doesn’t agree at first:

You also said you’re unsure how to approach your girlfriend. There are two ways you can handle this matter: You can ask her or con her. If she says no to your request, don’t frown, just trick her into it. But start easy. You want her to be relaxed. The best way to get a woman into smothering is by worshipping her body, especially her ass.

So next time you see your beloved chickadee naked, compliment her gorgeous bottom. Most women go gaga for praise. Call her a goddess and then ask if you can admire her hot ass. She won’t be able to say no.

No question, this is phenomenally bad advice. Not just because breathplay can be extremely dangerous and should only be done with the full knowledge and consent of everyone involved, but because dude, consent! Trick her into it? “She won’t be able to say no”? Welcome to rape culture; here’s your complementary beer bong.

Theresa Ikard of Carnal Nation responded to this moron with some dismay. The angle she took, however, struck me as a bit oblique.

Her piece is titled Why It’s Important for Dommes to Go to Dominatrix School, and while it briefly addresses the consent and safety issues, in larger part I think it misses the point and comes off as condescending. In pertinent part:

BDSM is way more a mental game than a physical one. What I mean is that “hard skills” like flogging, caning, cock and ball torture, rope bondage, etc. are easier to learn than the “soft skills” like communication, awareness and responsibility for interpersonal dynamics, and respect for the power of their craft…

The only way to master these skills is to be educated properly and practice consistently. Just like a young therapist or doctor in training, a fresh Domme needs mentoring and feedback. The author of this article has a bio online in the form of a feature article and I gather from what she has written that her training to become a Domme centered primarily around financially driven motives. Now, don’t get me wrong: the business end of sex work training is essential, but is hardly sufficient knowledge or motivation in itself and it certainly does not foster development in either soft skills or hard skills.

Now granted. Lera Gavin is 21 years old, and in said feature article she says things like, “The mistress explained the client was a sad, older man still mourning his recently deceased wife. I knew it was a difficult time for him and that seeing a mistress was a way for him to cope with pain and loss. Of course, I put all of that out of my head. Sensitivity isn’t part of the job.” [emphasis mine] I would no sooner put myself in her hands than I would let my dog use the stove.

But suggesting that because this woman has for some reason been given an column in which to propogate bad kink advice that she should have gone to “dominatrix school” is a little off the mark. Suggesting, too, that experience as a pro domme does not foster the skills needed to be a good dominatrix is simple madness. When I was going into the business, I trained by reading books, throwing whips at willing stunt bottoms, playing with people I liked and watching others play. I barely knew anything when I had my first paying client except for how not to actually damage him. I was lucky to have some natural ability in the “soft skills” and a background in theatre and in healing, but I had to learn nearly everything on the job – how to use my voice and what words to choose, how to read a client’s reactions, how to establish rhythm and pace for maximum effect, and once, how to get a guy out of standing bondage when he’s fainted.

What’s wrong with this whip-wielding youngster is not that she didn’t go to dominatrix school – nor even that she didn’t receive mentoring. She seems to have had an older domme as a boss and guide; mentoring is no guarantee, especially in the less populated parts of the country. What’s wrong is that she never learned that the first rule of kink is consent, and without it, there can be no ethical BDSM play, or in fact sex play of any kind. What’s wrong is that she doesn’t seem to have learned that actually, sensitivity is 95% of the job; whipping and tying and torturing and having your feet worshipped is the rest.

She responded to Ms. Ikard’s article with a vicious and infantile rant full of ad hominem venom in which she calls Ikard “some humorless lipstick feminist,” refers to Carnal Nation as “an obscure online magazine about ‘sexuality,'” and derides the opinion of “a lowly bottom,” as if submissives were allowed no dignity or opinions even when they leave the dungeon. (She makes a further fool of herself by fluttering “Midori who?” when someone mentions Midori in the comments. At least do your homework.) Then she tries to back away from the criticism by suggesting that her column is meant to be humorous and the advice shouldn’t be taken seriously.

Yet later in the article she does raise an interesting point. “The true art of BDSM is all about power, fear, and suffering,” she writes, adding:

Scary? Well, it’s supposed to be. No professional dominatrix wants to seriously harm a client, but if you don’t see at least a hint of real fear in your submissive’s eyes, you’re not doing your job right. In a way, old school feminists were right, S&M does eroticize power and violence, and all the PC jargon such as “sex positive,” “personal empowerment,” and “energy exchange” are just a way of avoiding this inconvenient truth.

Don’t get me wrong; I still think she’s mostly talking out of the wrong end of her corset. Claiming that sex-positivity is simply PC jargon is wildly ignorant, and BDSM play isn’t always about fear. But what are we doing, exactly, when we seek to take the teeth out of kink by making it a subject of academic study? How are we bullshitting ourselves and our clients when we claim to be healers, priestesses or therapists rather than sex workers? I specifically took up training as a type of therapist and began seeing clients in a counseling capacity because I felt that the work I was doing was not healing work but bandaging work.

BDSM is dark – it has its ugly sides and its deranged desires. These things need to be acknowledged, not just because they are true but because our desire is so intimately linked to our freedom. Read Pat Califia’s introduction to Macho Sluts sometime, if you want an excellent breakdown of this topic, but the point is: we want what we want, and sometimes, it’s not pretty.

None of this, of course, removes from Ms. Gavin the responsibility to stop telling people to do nonconsensual BDSM with their partners. Like it or not, she is something of an authority, even at her age and level of experience, by virtue of having such a strong interest in this work and having a column in which to share her supposed expertise. Part of her ongoing education, hopefully, will be recognizing that she has a responsibility for the community she represents, and that passing off her column as humor after the fact is buck-passing of the cheapest sort.

Meanwhile, I look forward to the continuing marriage of intellect and heat that seems to be churning over at Carnal; pieces like this one on a potential parents-of-kinky-kids support group, and this thoughtful piece by Clarisse Thorn give me all kinds of hope.

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I’m still seeing clients here and there, if I meet someone I like and feel that the fantasy is something I can fulfill with integrity and a sense of fun. Plus, the money’s good. What can ya do.

The type of client I seem to keep coming back to is spankos. Not because spanking fantasies are particularly un-problematic to me; if anything, I often find the types of activities that spankos seek somewhat disturbing. But in the interest of being non-judgmental and promoting the sexual health of all individuals, I think I probably keep coming back to it because it’s problematic for me, and the problem inherent is one that is not the fault of the spankos themselves, nor even of the professionals they sometimes visit in order to indulge their fantasies. It’s a tweak I have about the rhetoric that often forms around the spanking roleplay.

The sexy idea of “I’ve been baaaad and need to be punished” is probably as old as time; the kinking of punishment into pleasure isn’t what troubles me (much, more on that later), though it’s not really what I go in for personally. Professionally, though, I’ve often found it to be a hoot to play the strict aunt or headmistress or Victorian lady doling out paddlings and canings to irrepressible “young boys.” It’s a chance to do some acting, to stretch my roleplay capacities and hone my quick responses, and often, it’s hilarious.

But what bugs me is what many of these men are wanting to be punished for. Sometimes it’s sassing an elder, sometimes it’s violating someone’s privacy, usually a girl or woman and usually involving a panty drawer or curtains carelessly left open of a summer evening. But more often than anything else, they want to be punished for masturbating.

As a staunch supporter of masturbation (stand tall and salute!), I find this a troubling trend. I think that the healthy habit of pleasuring yourself is the first step of exploring and loving your body, getting to know what you like, and being able to share a healthy sexuality with others. Granted, there are all kinds of things that people fantasize about and enact that would be horribly unhealthy in “real life,” things that they wouldn’t want to happen: rape fantasies are an excellent example, and many people fantasize about being kept as slaves in a cage in someone’s basement, but would hate it were it to really happen, even in an erotic context.

But the fetish for being spanked as a response to natural pubescent impulses troubles me because a lot of the time, it stems from true experience – an experience in which a child was punished for trying to know himself. This fantasy has the tendency to expand, too, into talk about the need for a strong female authority to control men’s wild sexual urges – which in turn recapitulates an irresponsible and misogynist narrative about how men are just beasts who can’t control themselves, and women are the moral, moderating influences who must rein them in, lest they go out and rape every woman they meet. (See also: maybe the way to prevent rape is not to stop women from wearing short skirts and drinking alcohol, but for men to STOP RAPING WOMEN.)

One of my favorite longstanding clients enacts multiple versions of this fantasy with me, and given our relationship and our lunches post-factum, I often have discussed this problem with him. Over time, his detailed fantasy letters began to shift: it wasn’t masturbation he was being punished for, but inappropriate, non-consensual attention to women, or being a cocky, misogynist 17-year-old asshole (one of his more entertaining incarnations), or the classic: going into a female classmate’s room and stealing panties from her drawer. We developed a story over several visits which wound up with the young man masturbating under the caring supervision of a slightly older female intern, which I thought was strangely sweet. In earlier versions of the fantasy, the boy’s ongoing discipline and recidivism ultimately ends in castration. In a later version, over lunch one day, he told me that he imagined that young man finally settling down with one of the imaginary young women we wove into our scenarios, having a healthy, female-led relationship with her. My sessions with him, to a certain extent, mirrored my own attitudes about my work – and, I like to think, began to heal that boy inside him.

I still have trouble with some of these punitive scenarios: for myself, in kink, punishment is a bad thing, so much so that it’s something I don’t really play with as a bottom. Punishment, as in the real world, is something to be avoided. For spankos and some others, the punishment is the kink, is the pleasure. There’s no teasing and denial, no finishing themselves off afterwards. It’s chastisement, smart-mouthing, face-slapping, and butt-reddening with fast, hard strokes meant to cause real pain. It’s something that I don’t fully grok, as it’s not about the pain being transformed into pleasure, or the pain being endured as part of a trial by fire, or even the pain as atonement, though I’m sure that’s part of it. And unlike a lot of kinky activity in the more leather side of the scene, it almost always seems to stem from childhood. As with foot fetishists, it’s something they knew about early and have sought for much of their lives (or began to kink on later in life).

As with the sessions with my old client, with this new client I chose to punish him for looking in his little neighbor girl’s window while she was dressing, rather than for masturbating. I always have this strange need to punish for something I feel is just, rather than for something I want to encourage. I just can’t reinforce that idea that masturbation is bad and sexuality is immoral and wrong – even in the context of a session that’s clearly sexual for the person receiving it!

There is, of course, the possibility, as with some kink, that enacting these scenarios is in part about re-framing and healing the wound. But I just never hear about that from spankos. It just always seems like a somewhat compulsive, likely ultimately harmless, and usually pretty playful thing that got kinked for them at an early age. And probably there’s nothing wrong with that. But I’m always bemused by my own reactions to these things.

What are your thoughts?

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Last night’s Diane Rehm Show was a panel discussion on France’s recently passed ban of the veil and the burqa. It included the voice of Asra Nomani, a journalist and American Muslim whose heritage stems from a strict Indian sect who forced women to veil their faces. She herself was raised a modern woman by her mother, whose own mother-in-law literally tore the veil from her face and thus began her liberation.

Nomani’s story is touching, and I can’t say I support the wearing of the veil or the burqa, though I don’t claim to fully understand the nuances of the practice. But more to the point: regardless of what I think of it, I cannot support the idea of state-mandated or -forbidden religious practices, no matter how oppressive we on the outside may believe they are to the women in question. As another panelist asked, what’s next? Is the state going to go into Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods and stop Hasidic women from shaving their heads?

Why am I writing about this here? Well, I couldn’t help but think of those well-meaning – but usually ultimately vitriolic – feminists who believe that all women who choose to be engaged in BDSM are simply brainwashed by the men they are with, and by extension, by the patriarchy. According to these folk, there is no way a woman could actually desire, or consent to, sexual submission or erotic pain. She is just the unwitting victim of a larger society that promotes and reinforces the supremacy of men and violence against women.

French Muslim women who wear the burqa – only a couple thousand in all, incidentally – couldn’t possibly be doing so because they want to as part of their personal religious beliefs. It must be and can only be an expression of the most radical political elements of Islam, which are seeking to oppress their women and will not stop until every Muslim woman is veiled and locked in the house. A sad story, to be sure – but unfortunately, it’s simply not the case. And even if it were – that is no call for a state to step in and punish the victims by forbidding them from appearing in public in the only mode of dress they know to be correct. Way to isolate, punish the victim, and further radicalize Islam. Thanks, France!

I was listening to Maymay’s podcast, Kink on Tap – and I’m several episodes behind, mind you – but it was the one where one of the panelists was discussing how Rhode Island was re-criminalizing prostitution. In that story, it was explained how the best way to stop the supposed horrible human trafficking that is going on is to punish prostitutes who are caught with hefty fines and even prison. This was so the heavy penalties could be used as a bargaining chip to get these women to testify against their awful human-trafficking pimps.

Does anyone else see anything wrong with this?

On going to Kink on Tap’s site, I found that naturally, Maymay got to this ahead of me. I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who has seen this connection. When are people going to stop trying to protect women by removing their freedoms and questioning their agency?

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So, after my advice the other day, I found this New York Times article, about how Google has begun a ban on advertising for cougar dating sites.

Cougars, for those of you who have been asleep, are older women who want to date younger men. Sites like Cougar Life promise to set up older, sexy, successful women with young hot studs. Google has decided that the whole concept isn’t “family-friendly,” and therefore is no longer allowing advertising from such sites on its content network – including sites like Ask.com, YoutTube and MySpace.

The kicker? Sugar daddy sites are still fine.

Mind you, I’m not all that thrilled with either concept – at least not as they are peddled by such dating sites. I’m not against May-December romances in either direction, but the commodification and objectification aspects bug me.

Nonetheless, this is flat-out discrimination. Cougar Life boasts that it “pairs women in their prime with younger men and ends the double standard!” The very language stating that such sites aren’t “family-friendly” brings bile to my mouth: it suggests pretty strongly that older men who cheat and have affairs with younger women are fine, but we mustn’t promote the idea that older women – who might even be MILFs! – might do the same thing. What about the CHILDREN??

Google has been on thin ice for a while when it comes to its motto of not being evil, but this sort of tears it for me. When Google starts trotting out the “family values” crap and applying different standards of “adult content” to women than they do to men, I start to become very afraid about how freaking huge Google is, and how much it owns.

Incidentally, though we know Facebook is evil, too, it should be noted that they’re still allowing the cougars to mate over there.

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It’s been a while since I’ve been answering questions here, but I got one recently and have been stewing on it a bit. Here’s my stab at it.

Dear Delilah:

I hope you had a delightfully kinky May Day! Maybe the change in season will inspire a fever of questions ;). I know I have one for you!

In my kinky relationships, I am primarily Mistress. Sometimes that aspect of the dynamic extends to financial and practical matters, in which I pay for the majority of meals, evenings on the town, and even household bills. I didn’t ask for anything sexual or otherwise in return, but it always felt nice and different on the rare occasions when the roles were reversed, and I was treated. When that happened, I found myself even hornier than usual.

Still, I never thought that the concept of actually having an “official” Sugar Daddy or Sugar Mama would seriously intrigue me and turn me on, but as I continue to explore the wide world of fetishes, it’s the one I keep coming back to. I am turned on by the idea of having someone, preferably someone older, provide support in exchange for companionship. I’m not interested in receiving things like jewelry or cars, but I want to make sure I know how to get my value.

I have joined related communities on Fet Life and conducted Internet research, but you are the guru when it comes to exploration. How do you suggest I pursue my interest and be taken seriously? Have you encountered any reliable resources for those searching for a Sugar Daddy or Sugar Mama?

Thanks in advance, and have a great day!

M.

Oh, my dear, I do appreciate your confidence in me, but having the word “guru” bandied about makes me just a tad uncomfortable. Still – let’s look at this, shall we?

Let me start with a disclaimer. Having been a sex worker for some time, I have a particular bias when it comes to kinks around money. I quit in part because I wasn’t comfortable monetizing my sexuality, and that discomfort gives me a little bit of a blind spot when it comes to people who kink on it. However, I also recognize that money is just another way to exchange energy, and a powerful one at that. Our society is almost as sick about money as it is about sex, and it’s not all that surprising that they frequently get snarled up together. I know a dominatrix who used to make her clients kneel at her feet and count the money out to her, because she wanted to highlight the humiliation of having to pay her to make her pay attention to them. I, conversely, used to have them leave it in an envelope on a desk on the way in, as I wanted to de-emphasize the monetary part of the exchange. Call it differences in style, call it differences in kink, or call it me perpetuating the denial about what was really going on. I was never comfortable doing blackmail or financial domination, either.

Part of my discomfort, though, also stems from the simple fact of how easy a monetary relationship is to abuse – from both directions. A person being given money for sexual favors can leverage his or her attentions, demanding more money for increased time, special activities, or even being nice. A person giving money is in an even greater position for abuse: just look at traditional patriarchal marriage. To many people’s minds (particularly men, unfortunately), the fact that they’re paying for something gives them carte blanche to treat it however they wish: it’s their car, they can crash it if they want.

I’m saying all of this by way of highlighting the peculiar dangers in what you’re looking for: tread carefully.

Before you go ahead and look into finding a sugar daddy or mommy, I’ll ask another question: do you need the money? It sounds like you don’t, as you have had some fun being something of a sugar mommy or “mistress” yourself. If you did need the money, I might caution you against engaging in this type of play, as you may find yourself being a sex worker when you don’t want to be.

Not that there’s anything wrong with being a sex worker. But if you’re not interested in being one, this is a slippery slope: you might wind up spending a lot of time with someone you don’t really care for because he or she is providing support that you need. If you’re not realistic about that, you can start feeling pretty icky, pretty fast. And you can start allowing someone to have power over you in ways that are uncomfortable and difficult to dislodge.

If you still feel comfortable going ahead, here’s what I’d recommend.

Start off just playing with this fetish. As with most things in kink, it’s a good idea to dip a toe in and do some role play first rather than diving in collar-first to a 24/7 arrangement. You might even try this with someone you’re already kinky with, who is willing and able to pamper you a bit financially. Go on a weekend with them, where they pay for everything, and in return, make yourself available to them in whatever ways they like (within reason).

Here’s where another caveat comes in. We all know how fun it is to play with power dynamics – that’s why we’re here. Sometimes it’s really fun and challenging to push yourself to do things you might not ordinarily do in order to please your dominant. Keep in mind that when money enters into these kinds of dynamics, it can get really blurry: women especially are burdened in this society with a lot of guilt telling them that they have to do or put up with certain things because after all, the guy is paying for everything. This goes back to my original caution: be sure you don’t need the money too much.

If you can’t find someone to experiment with, and/or if the experiment is successful and you want to dive in, you’ll need some resources – which is what you asked for to begin with. (Gods, Delilah, yap much?)

The hottest site for this right now is called Seeking Arrangement, and it puts together rich older folks with “ambitious” younger folks. It’s free to join if you’re the “sugar baby” (which term gives me the heebs, for some reason). Also, the guy in the picture on the front page of the site is smokin’. Unfortunately, the site is a bit creepy in terms of condoning extra-marital affairs and citing “human nature” and historical references about concubines. It seems much more focussed on the monetary aspect than it is on any potential fetish, and it sounds like you are more interested in playing with how “dirty” the whole sugar daddy thing is than you are with doing it seriously. Also, are you 19?

If you search for “sugar daddy” on Google, you’ll get a bunch of sites like this. A search on “sugar daddy fetish” turned up Alt Sugar Daddy, which focuses on people who are kinky but “also appreciate the finer things in life.” This might be closer to what you’re looking for, but I definitely wouldn’t discount the potential creep factor here, either. You’ll probably be a hot commodity there, though, if you’re already someone who has her freak on; this site is more likely populated with sugar daddies who have odd tastes than with kinky people with a sugar fetish, if that makes sense. My bet is that here you’ll find guys who want women who will let them piss on them or suck their toes, or who will want you to wear particular clothes, or whatever.

Something you have to decide is whether you’re wanting to play with the sugar daddy/mommy idea in a kinky context, with the self-awareness and slight irony that that implies, or whether you want to enter into a real arrangement like this with someone who may or may not be kinky in other ways, or be able to see the potentially problematic nature of such an arrangement. If it’s the former, you may want to stay within the circle of people you already know; if it’s the latter, go to town, keeping all the caveats I’ve put out there in mind.

***
Got a question? Email me!

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I saw The Slutcracker a couple of weeks back, for its second annual run. For those of you unfamiliar or reading from your RSS feeder at work (naughty, naughty; I love it), The Slutcracker is a burlesque version of the classic Nutcracker ballet; a filthy fantasia of dirty old grandmothers, vibrator princes, stripper queen fairies and Bacchanalian beauties.

Burlesque has seen a massive revival in the past ten or so years, and has been widely hailed as a celebration of sex-positivity and expressive sexuality on women’s terms. In its original days, burlesque was home to women of all shapes and sizes, and big girls were all the rage. These days, the nouveau-burlesque troupes are tooting that horn again: the women in this production are thin and flat chested, fat and curvy, athletic and supple, and everything in between. The big things they have in common are talent, and an enthusiastic engagement with the work they’re doing that you’ll rarely see on a stripper bar stage. One of my favorite moments was watching a bevy of women do a Busby Berkeley move, forming a circle facing outward and spinning. I could not believe the incredible variety of breasts that passed my eyes, all wearing identical pasties. Not to mention the massive, genuine smiles.

All this being said, I find myself somewhat discouraged by the burlesque revival as I’ve so far experienced it. I’ve not seen many shows, but the ones I’ve seen have a major thing in common that I find distressing, and yet which largely explains the revival’s mainstream success: male sexuality is still wildly underrepresented, and the female sexuality presented is largely for the benefit of the male gaze.

It must be difficult, I imagine, reviving an old form, comedic and sexy as it is, and changing too many of the rules. But I couldn’t help but notice that in The Slutcracker, the first year I saw it, the few men involved either kept all their clothes on, or, if they stripped at all, did so only to comedic effect. This year, there was a nice concession to those of us who might want to see something different: two tango couples emerged, then switched partners so that the men danced together and so did the women. This, to me, was the sexy highlight of the show this year: the two men were both masculine and beautiful, shirtless with pasties (fairness!), and their plain sexual tension in the dance was not played for comedy. (It is notable, however, that they also put a female dancing couple on the stage so that the straights wouldn’t be too put off.)

Every other moment involving a man, though, was: even the romantic Slutcracker Prince – essentially a life-size Rabbit Pearl vibrator in a tacky pink tuxedo, complete with ruffles – never got down to skivvies or did anything other than present Clara as the object of the gaze, just as in classical ballet. And the other men were basically buffoonish – if very funny – stereotypes of straight guys ogling the women.

Now, granted, these stereotypical characters are shown as insensitive, and only are rewarded in the end when they are able to open up to their women’s broadened sexuality. But as yummy as the huge pile of women of all sizes and shapes (with a few guys) at the orgiastic curtain-call was, it was still frustrating to see the same tropes play out as they have for centuries: women are for looking at, men are there to look. (Men who are there to be looked at, of course, are meant to be looked at by men.)

The few moments of queerness in burlesque that I’ve seen, other than the tango described above, have been disappointing: I was very put off when I watched an apparently butch/femme duo perform in a Boston showcase not long ago, and they both stripped down to identical femme underwear. Why not a jock for the butch, and bound breasts or pasties matching her butch attire? Or, why not flip the femme as well – have her strip to butch nethers? Something, please, other than defaulting them both to the endless burlesque finale of the frilly breast reveal.

I know that this is one of Maymay’s big hobbyhorses, and it’s one of mine, too: I want to see men’s bodies sexualized more. I want to see real queer sexuality, and I want to see the variants on straight sexuality, too. It’s rather unsurprising that the burlesque revival is so successful under these circumstances: for the most part, it’s entirely unthreatening to the status quo. It’s likely I’m showing my ignorance, though, of the larger picture: can anyone point me to burlesque that showcases more than heteronormative sexuality as a matter of course, or that showcases male artists without being directed specifically at gay men?

Do TraniWreck and All the King’s Men count as burlesque?

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I just know I’m going to get it for this, but here goes.

The ever-erudite and thought-provoking Orlando has got me thinking again. In an ongoing series of posts, he is examining privilege, entitlement, and the concept of slumming in the context of sexual power dynamics.

I recommend reading the series (though he charmingly and inaccurately calls them “tedious”), but the short version goes something like this. “Susie,” a traditional housewife profiled in the 1970’s conservative Baptist psychology book Sexual Sanity, is having a libido mismatch with her husband that is distracting her to the point of neglecting her duties in the home. The prescription is, of course, giving up the romance novels, soap operas, and masturbation, focusing on her marital duties, reading the Bible, oh, and maybe incidentally the husband should think about paying more attention to her.

Orlando points out that while these are people whose options were limited by their culture, lifestyle, beliefs, economics, and so on, he and Murre enact a kind of reversal of that traditional dynamic deliberately – in essence, slumming in a traditional provider/housewife arrangement. One of the going critiques of BDSM is, in essence, that we are performing a parody of relationships and power dynamics in which people have no choice: Orlando is at the laundromat writing his post while doing the household laundry because it is part of an elaborately negotiated D/s agreement; his neighbor, Rosa, is doing the laundry because that’s what’s expected of her by her husband, and what is simply done.

While these musings were interesting to me, it was really his last post that got me going. In it, he brings up the above point and adds commentary that he has collected from some radical feminist blogs: to wit, Nine Deuce’s tongue in cheek but extreme comment that males into BDSM dominance should kill themselves, and FactCheckMe’s analysis of MtF transexuals as merely men slumming as women.
(Don’t read that post, by the way, unless you want your head to explode. You have been warned.)

Orlando quite rightly points out that the telling people to renounce their privilege is pointless at best, dangerous at worst, if you give them no other options:

Radicals in general (I am not just speaking of radfems)…have focused on creating an elaborate critical literature to uncover the ways that privileged classes abuse their power in concealed ways, including the “inverted” abuse of slumming. Sheila Jeffries, to take a local example, is not simply critical of male dominance and male submission, she is critical of all male sexuality. Usually these sets of critiques are deployed to make people who deny that they are privileged realize that they are. But once someone acknowledges this privilege, the analyses remain underfoot, blocking any sort of coherent suggestion for further behavior.

At least, that’s the best version. In a darker version of things, the condemnation of all options becomes the suggestion. When 9/2 suggests that kinky men should kill themselves, she is sort of joking. When FCM tells MtF transexuals to “ke[ep] your dick and STFU,” she is not joking at all. But both authors arrive at their conclusion by systematically invalidating everything that the target class might do, either as entitlement or slumming or both. Behind 9/2’s suicide hyperbole is a genuine void left by her critiques: there is no course of action left for those men that she considers acceptable, and yet it is clearly important to her that they take her advice.

And this is where my frustration really sets in with the entire discussion – not with Orlando’s continued analysis, which you should totally read. But with what we talk about when we talk about privilege.

I am a white, Western, middle class bisexual cis-female. As such, I benefit from white privilege, cis privilege and class privilege, but not from male or heterosexual privilege. Honestly, I don’t think about that lack very much – not because it’s not important, but because I largely don’t feel my lack of that privilege in my day to day life.

I do frequently feel my own privilege, though: the ways I’m able to spend my days, the people I spend them with, the things I spend money on, hell, the money I even have. My education, my freedom, my ability, in short, to make choices.

In the endless and horrific comments to that made-of-fail post by FactCheckMe, she points out that what makes privilege privilege is the ability make choices.

I want to know exactly what’s wrong with that.

Hear me out. It seems to me that the radical movements that seek the destruction of the patriarchy and the liberation of women, minorities, and other oppressed people are missing the goddamn point, which is this: privilege is good. Power, for that matter, is good. Orlando writes, “We absolutely do not want the most privileged classes of humanity to exercise their power to its full, raw, extent.” And that is where he and I part ways.

You know what I want? I want everyone to be able to exercise their power to its full, raw extent. I don’t think that the way to empower some people is to take power away from others. I agree that pointing out privilege and making people aware of it such that they gain a greater understanding of the positions of oppressed people is an essential step for breaking down the monstrous inequalities that exist.

However. There is, as Orlando points out, nothing you can do once you’ve been made aware of your privilege. All you can do is understand that you can never understand.

So what next? Am I to go through life feeling constantly guilty that I can enjoy power dynamics and physical violence in a consensual way when there are so many people in the world who are abused? Am I, like some radical feminists, to give up penetrative sex entirely, even if I love it, because some women are raped? If part of male privilege, as FactCheckMe says, is being raised to believe that whatever you want or desire, however trivial, you can have it – does that mean I must never follow my own desires, especially not the frivolous ones?

People, this is backwards. The path to addressing privilege and ending oppression is not to remove even more choice from oppressed people. It’s to work to ensure choice for everybody.

Now, it’s facile and privilege-soaked to say such a thing, I know. But seriously? The only way to make sure that the subsistence farmer really wants to be there is to give him the opportunity to go to college and do something else. The only way to know that a woman is truly choosing stay-at-home-mom-hood is to open other possibilities through education and at-work childcare.

Which brings me to my next point, which is about the values we place on various types of life work.

Looking at, say, the subsistence farmer above and saying, oh, look how much better his life would be if he could go to college – that’s class privilege talking. But turning around and telling that college-educated person that he’s not allowed to become a subsistence farmer himself because that’s slumming – that’s ridiculous.

The problem here is partly one of choice, yes: in order for equality to truly exist, the presence of choice is paramount. But it’s also partly a problem of values: as a society, we automatically place a college education, a career in business, law or medicine, and the “earning” of vast amounts of money above learning a trade, raising children, keeping house, telling stories and growing food.

Which is to say: it is deeply problematic to pity a farmer because she never got a college education and became a doctor – even if that person had every opportunity to do so. Seeing someone’s lack of choice in the world and seeking to help correct it is a good thing. Seeing someone’s deliberate choice and deciding it’s wrong because of some misguided idea of wasted potential or perceived insult to those who do not have that choice available – that’s insanity.

Of course, if everyone had privilege, we couldn’t call it “privilege” anymore, as the word implies privilege above someone else. But “power”? There’s an entire philosophy around that. To borrow a phrase from Starhawk, what is desirable in this world is to increase everyone’s power-with rather than power-over. To help others, as best we can, to come into their own power – and express it in the ways that make the most sense to them.

The way to do this is not to take power away from others – power is not a zero-sum game, any more than love is. I submit to you that it is impossible to smash the patriarchy, to destroy white power, or to crush heterosexism. These are systems that are so entrenched, and belong so much to the majority, that they cannot be destroyed using force. But they can be phased out, little by little, if we fight to increase the power and agency of all people. The more people know, the more people are aware of and have access to all the opportunities and possibilities available in the human experience – the fewer people can be recruited to the dark side, brainwashed, or swept under by the tide.

I’m not saying that people won’t make bad choices, or be manipulated, or even – dare we say it – not be smart enough or strong enough to do the right thing. But that’s not the point. If we don’t allow people to choose – if we don’t even give them the benefit of the doubt that they have agency – then we’re totally screwed. If the patriarchy or whatever cultural force that’s like the water the fish are swimming in is so pervasive that we can’t trust human beings to have free will, then it’s going to just be one paternalistic ruling class after another telling us what’s right.

I don’t know about you, but that’s not the world I want to live in, however imperfect my current world is. Here’s what I’m working on: being the change I want to see in the world. I’ll skip the post-patriarchy and take a world where a poor man can choose to be a doctor, an orphan girl can grow up to be president, a university-educated person can choose to become a dairy farmer without ridicule or judgment, people across the gender spectrum can choose to play with power dynamics in intimate relationship to another person if that’s what turns them on, and in short – anyone can pursue their kind of happiness in peace, so long as it harms no one. (And by “harm” I mean “non-consensual harm,” not some goddamn cane marks.)

Maybe I’m just an idealist. Or soaking in privilege. I don’t know. Have at.

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