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Posts Tagged ‘insanity’

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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Recently, Maymay, my favorite young sexuality warrior, was attacked by two women named Donna M. Hughes and Margaret Brooks, who are affiliated with the branch of the Salvation Army that deals with sex trafficking. They set about to defame him, name him a pedophile and a generally disgusting human being, and make out his KinkForAll unconferences to be recruitment centers for children to become involved in “violent and unhealthy sexual practices.”

Anyone who knows Maymay knows what an earnest, intelligent, caring and free person he is. His recent post, where he responds to the woman who alerted him to the bulletin by first writing a ranty post, then gracefully apologizing for her anger, is nothing short of inspiring.

As one commenter said, I want to be like him when I grow up.

At the moment, he’s looking for support, which is why I’m making this post to begin with. If you have a moment and care about the cause of sexual freedom and education, please check out his post and signal boost it.

In specific, he asks that you follow these guidelines:

* Refer to me as maymay.
* Name Donna M. Hughes and Margaret Brooks as the sources of attacks.
* Do express your opinion, but do so civilly. Do not use hateful language when you refer to Donna M. Hughes, Margaret Brooks, or their affiliates.
* Link to my blog post(s) about this[0][1] and the posts of my friends,[2][3] but NOT to Donna M. Hughes’ or Margaret Brooks’ writings; linking there merely amplifies their damage.
* Link to your friends’ blog posts who have written about this when they do.
* Quote my blog if you feel tongue-tied or inarticulate.

It is my hope that all of us can rise to his example in this fight. We’ve all been Ranty McRantypants from time to time; in the blogosphere, it’s easy to do so. Attempting rational discourse and bridge-building is just incredible in this sphere, but it looks like it has begun.

Let’s go.

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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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Hey, Delilah,

So, just wanted to follow up and say that I’ve moved, and now I’m in my new place unpacking and it’s just so much more awesome than packing was.

So what can you tell me about the process?

Yours,
Sees Evidence of Light, Finally

Dear SELF,

Nice to hear from you again. Here’s the story of my last few weeks, in a top 10 list.

The Top Ten Things You Hoped You’d Never Have to Do When You Were Already Undergoing the Stress of Moving

10. Having your friends come over with circular saws and cut your good bedroom furniture into bits so that nobody would take it from the curb and spread bedbugs.

9. Spraying the component parts of a Violet Wand with 91% isopropyl alcohol.

8. Driving an hour each way to rent a vapor steamer.

7. Cooking your leather corset and most of your shoe collection in a 200 degree oven for half an hour per item. Again.

6. Finally tossing out your old vinyl ballgown, which you ruined anyway during the first wave of the infestation by spraying it with Steri-Fab.

5. Spending at least $100 in quarters to put your entire wardrobe through the dryer in your basement.

4. Ruining your perfectly good Merrell sandals by baking them in your new oven (which is too hot) after wearing them at the old place.

3. Worrying absently that any of the hundreds of books, which were not in the infested room but You Never Know, might be infested, not to mention that they’re all standing in cardboard boxes in the living room, where one bug or egg might have gotten, and and and…

2. Putting your Bose alarm clock/radio/CD player in the oven.

1. Invoking Kali in a pagan ritual in an attempt to get her to eat some of her beloved children and send them back to potentiality.

So, the worst is over. The new place is awesome. And Monday Advice will be back next Monday, 9/14. Comment here or email me with your kinky questions!

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Okay, so I’ve had an account on Niteflirt for some time, but I must admit that I’ve rarely used it. If live domming was frequently uncomfortable for me, phone domming was even worse: without the human element of physical connection, I felt even more objectified than before. And bargaining for more time and thus more money always felt rather sleazy.

Nonetheless, many women seem to do really well with it. And most of those who do fall into one of two camps:

1. Women who will act like bitches and treat you like shit, and

2. Women who pick up the phone and then ignore you.

When I first found this second one out, I was flabbergasted. I mean, I know about the whole bitch-goddess thing; I don’t do it and never did, because I think it’s ridiculous and kind of horrible to charge someone for your abuse.

But to charge someone to be ignored?? I mean, if I wanted that I’d call customer care at my credit card company.

What I wonder is: what do these women do while the men are on the other end ignoring them? Stay quiet? Do nothing? Go about their TV-watching or chatting on another phone with someone else? True, real ignoring can’t be the complete fantasy can it? I mean, maybe she’s masturbating or something and he can hear the sounds??

Talk to me, internets. What the fuck is going on with this ignoring fetish?

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I’ve been loving on Trinity’s blog enough that I’ve been reading the back issues. Yesterday I took a look at this post on the commonalities she draws between some radical feminist camps’ views on BDSM, and the rhetoric of ex-gay movements. In a nutshell: while both are careful to say up-front that they’re not interested in forcing anyone to not be gay or not be kinky, both are also sure to point out that if you are either of those things you are broken and need fixing, and even if you think you’re happy you can’t possibly really be, because it was your mother/your abuse history/the patriarchy that made you that way.

She goes on to quote a previous post of hers, citing her own experience, not with either of these groups, but with standard-issue mental health professionals:

The people I relied on for mental health care told me that my fantasies came from my trauma, and that once I’d really healed, I’d not have them any more.

I spent so much time worrying about my sexuality not changing…that I didn’t allow myself for years to take pride in the actual progress I was making toward healing. I became obsessed with the idea that my sexuality wasn’t changing and therefore there was something wrong with me, even as I slowly felt better about myself, less inclined to self-harming (again, maybe to you the desire to do SM and to self-harm are the same, but in my experience they are very different), etc.

I think promoting the idea that SM fantasies are *always* scars from trauma is harmful.

I have to agree with this, and I want to go it one better: I think that even if a desire for BDSM comes from trauma scars, that BDSM may be a path to healing.

I’m not even necessarily talking about the obvious one, where someone decides to ritually relive their trauma in the safe, sane and consensual setting of a BDSM scene in order to reclaim it and heal. I think there are subtler things at work, and I’ve seen examples of it.

Trinity’s own example, of being less inclined to self-harm over time while still wanting to do BDSM, strikes me as important: I don’t know if this has been her experience of it, but it seems like it could be an example of self-harming behavior being replaced with healthy behavior that fills some of the same needs for intensity and focus. The film Secretary provides an excellent example of this as well: when under stress, Maggie Gyllenhaal’s character is prone to cutting and sometimes burning herself. Once she finds a relationship in which she can safely experience intensity of sensation as a loving act, she is able to stop. The dominant character, too, has issues: he exercises compulsively whenever he has sexual thoughts, of which he is clearly ashamed. The relationships he does engage in are short, compartmentalized, and dysfunctional. Once he’s able to embrace his desires and take responsibility for the person he engages in those desires, he is able to live fully in himself.

I had a conversation with a friend yesterday who was reveling in the bruises on her upper arms for a few days after playing with someone who loves to bite. She went to her job wearing longer sleeves to hide the bruises, and was having fun secretly enjoying them beneath her clothes. Once they faded, she joked that she’d never been more disappointed to put on a tank top.

After reading some of the material I’ve been linking to lately, she and her equally super-smart husband decided to have some fun coming up with really good arguments against BDSM. During that game, she called up her own abuse history, and found herself going, “Oh, shit.”

The abuse she received was entirely mental, and when she was a kid she wished her abuser would hit her, so she would have something to show the authorities.

So there’s a link. And yeah, finding that can be disconcerting; I had a similar experience where I realized that the games I was playing with my top weren’t as innocent and without basis as I thought. And yet, I realized in myself at the time, and as I pointed out to my friend: these things that we’re doing now are healing us from those traumas. Even if that’s why we’re doing them. It’s not that we’re unable to have normal relationships because we’re damaged. It’s that we’re repairing the damage by re-writing our histories.

In her present, she’s experiencing the joy of having bruises that she doesn’t have to show anyone. They’re there for her enjoyment and remembrance of a fun time with someone who cares for her. If she shows them to people, it’s not because of her relief that she finally has evidence that someone is hurting her. It’s because she’s proud that now, someone cares for her the right way, and the bruises she carries are her choice.

In my present, I sometimes regress to being a little girl who is held and cared for by a loving Daddy. Maybe it’s because my dad was never there when I was young, and my mother didn’t know how to show affection. But is enacting this re-traumatizing me? No. It’s allowing me to write over the parts of my brain that tell me I’m not worthy of love.

It all goes back to Trinity’s question about “asking why.” I.e., is it ever a good idea to delve into the reasons why you like the things you like, sexually? Having thought about it a bit more, I think it’s still valuable to examine one’s own navel a bit on this one. But out of all the possible results of this venture, the results mostly seem anywhere from bleak to pointless. Here are the possibilities I see:

1. You question your kink, and discover a strong link to abuse or trauma in your past. You realize that you’re miserable in part because you keep re-enacting that abuse or trauma in your relationships, which are generally abusive and end badly. You get help, and either a) you find a way to fulfill your desires in a safe, sane and consensual manner with someone who loves you, b) you stop doing kink entirely and you’re miserable, or c) you stop doing kink entirely and you’re happy.

2. You question your kink, and discover a link to abuse or trauma in your past. But your present life is healthy and happy, and the kinky activities you do turn you on and fulfill you. But now you’re worried that your kink is not okay.

3. You question your kink, and can’t find anything from your past that links to it. But now you’re worried that maybe you have repressed memories from a childhood trauma and all your crazy kinks are about it.

4. You question your kink, and can’t come up with anything. You smile and go about your day.

In the first result, there are several possible outcomes, some good and some not. In the others, the question is either meaningless, or brings problematic meaning where previously there was none. I think it’s extremely valuable to question your patterns if you keep finding yourself in abusive relationships, not just kinky ones. Notice that even in that eventuality, a person might continue to enjoy BDSM activities (as Trinity does, as Lee in Secretary does) once they have dealt with their traumas. So in a sense, what that person is asking themselves is not “What draws me to kink” but “What draws me to people who want to harm me?”

I think it’s true that abuse can masquerade as BDSM. Just as abuse can masquerade as possessive love, just as alcoholism can masquerade as a simple fondness for drinking, just as a wolf can masquerade as a goddamn sheep. That doesn’t mean that a sheep is always a wolf.

There is value in searching for answers when your life seems out of control and you can’t figure out how to change it. There is very little value in seeking to pathologize behavior that fulfills you and others in your life.

Question yourselves, by all means, yes. But if you’re happy and not doing others true harm, stop trying to figure out what’s wrong with you that you like something that other people think is wrong. We are large. We contain multitudes, for the love of Bob. Go out there and grow.

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