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Dating and Dominants and Dominance and Dating

August 24th, 2013 by

I’ve been single for well over a year now, and dating has been proving to be an exceedingly difficult and troublesome task. Part of this is because I’m not quite sure what I want; an unusual experience for me. My relationship with Shadow was my first real long-term D/s relationship, and while, in many ways, it was wonderful and everything I had ever dreamed about, its amicable but ultimately heart-breaking cessure left me a little skittish about D/s.

Part of me longs for a D/s relationship again, but I also want a relationship that is based on romance, not rules. I want someone who does the things I like, the things I want them to do–but not because they have to. Because they love me.

One thing remains certain: I am an unabashed sexual top. My realization of this has make vanilla dating difficult and awkward. I don’t know how to tell the boy who flirts with me at the coffee shop “Look, you’re really cute, but I’m just not interested unless I can drag you home, tie you to my bed, and make you my fucktoy.”

I feel aimless. Purposeless. I dither about. I start up an OkCupid profile, and then shut it down the next day. I go on a date and then don’t follow-through. I go to a munch and flirt and don’t make any plans to play. I feel simultaneously kink-starved and burned out. I’m not sure what I want, but I am sure that I want something. I don’t know if I want a full blown D/s relationship, but there’s something holding me back from getting into a vanilla one.

I guess the real question I’ve been asking myself is: can I still be dominant if I am not with a submissive? If I am in a vanilla relationship, am I still dominant?

The reason why I want to be in a D/s relationship, to do D/s, is not only so I can actualize my own desires, but because I want someone who can accept me, all of me, including my deviant desires, my kinkiness, my dominance. I want someone who I can really be myself around, someone who will accept and love me, all of me. I worry that if I date a vanilla person, I will end up having to hide or minimize my dominance, that it will fade into the background of my life. After all the self-exploration I’ve done, having to do that feels like having to deny who I really am. But at the same time, I have to ask myself if I am willing to live a life devoid of love in order to stay true to myself? I’m uncertain how to proceed with this question, and, unanswered, it continues to gnaw at my heart and fester in my mind.

Loudly and Happily Deviant (a post for National Coming Out Day)

October 11th, 2011 by

I’m kinky and agender, but you knew that.

I’m also queer and polyamorous. Specifically, I have a boyfriend and a girlfriend, who are also those things to each other. This situation is new (well, my addition to it is), and I’ve been meaning to write more about it ever since Rowdy posted a call for consent culture narratives on the Pervocracy. Coming from longtime friends to lovers to crushes to triad has been exciting and occasionally scary (especially those last two!), but every step of the way I have felt overwhelmingly respected and cared for. I trust them not because I think nothing will go wrong, but because I have seen how they handle it when things go wrong and it made me feel safe.

Fuck the rom-com bullshit, that’s the kind of love story that needs telling. Boy meets girl; boy and girl meet genderqueer; boy and girl and genderqueer communicate openly about desire and emotion, have a bunch of incredible sex, and then realize that they’re actually super into each other. They discuss time, touch, and talk–what they need, what they can offer–and use what they’ve learned to start building a relationship. And then, well, have a bunch more incredible sex. Bam. There’s my pitch. Think the studios will bite?

Me neither, and that’s why I need to post it. With all of our care and straightforwardness and outright joy, we are still the deviants. There are still people who think our relationship must be boring because we talk honestly about it, and others who think it’s sick just because there are three people in it (and that’s before I even get to the part about hitting each other with sticks). And as long as those people control the narrative, there will be others who would be so happy in a relationship like mine, but will be afraid to seek one out … if they even know they have that choice.

I will resist the urge to exhort everyone who has something to come out about to do so. I recognize the incredible privilege of knowing that I will still have a roof over my head, food to eat, as much of an income as I have anyway, and the continued respect of people that matter to me if the whole world knows that I’m poly, queer, genderqueer, and kinky. Not everyone has that privilege (so when I write more about my girlfriend and boyfriend, I’ll be using pseudonyms). But if you share that privilege with me, consider posting your own story in whatever corner of the internet you inhabit. Let’s be loudly and happily deviant–for all the ones who can’t.


July 30th, 2011 by

You know how when you’ve recently been in pain, the sudden absence of it feels better than if it had never been there? That’s how it felt to post Transplant. Letting go of my uncertainty brought a wave of relief I would never have gotten without questioning my gender in the first place. For the first time, my gender label was not just adequate-for-a-short-answer but actually right. It felt good–surprisingly good. After posting it, as promised, I updated my Diaspora and FetLife accounts with the new information, and then sat there looking at the “25GQ Dom” at the top of my profile and just grinned.

The biggest changes I’ve noticed in the weeks since then weren’t changes. They were ways things had always been which suddenly made a lot more sense. For example, people often refer to me with male pronouns or honorifics, especially online, and it’s never bothered me. On the contrary, I’ve usually been secretly pleased. What does bother me is when someone else corrects them–derailing the whole conversation just for the sake of planting a figurative “THIS ONE IS FEMALE” sticker on my face. The statement is that not only am I female, it’s that my femaleness is more important than what we’re talking about. I dislike everything about that, and it’s much clearer now why it gets so far under my skin.

On a related note, several people have politely asked me which pronouns I now prefer. The truth is that I’m not sure either, yet. If English had a widely accepted gender-neutral animate pronoun, I’d be all over that, but it doesn’t, so my options are gendered, plural, neologistic, or inanimate. Honestly, other than the last one, I don’t really care. I myself get to dodge the problem by using the first person, so pick whatever feels sensible to you and feel free to change it later. If I find I’m uncomfortable with your choice, I’ll let you know, but I won’t blame you for not being able to read my mind.

More problematic for me is the question of non-pro nouns. (Amateur nouns?) If I give up “female,” what does that mean for “girl”? “Woman”? What about “femdom”? Tentatively I’m avoiding them, to see if I feel the loss, and that last is particularly troubling. More than being an efficient descriptor of (in my case) anatomy and preferences, “femdom” as a label comes with some politics. It’s a one-word reminder that not all doms are male, and using it gives me the power to say “Look, I’m a femdom and I’m not a stereotype” to people who don’t yet realize that’s possible. That’s a power I’m reluctant to give up, even while I’m not certain it was rightfully mine in the first place. On the other hand, perhaps it’s just as valuable to do the same for “dom”–to be an example of something entirely unlike the stereotype, including but not only by not being male.

Setting aside vocabulary inquiries, I was surprised at how many of the responses to Transplant were along the lines of “This really got me thinking about myself,” or “I’ve been having similar thoughts.” It’s not just the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon; these were people I already knew, but neither of us had been aware the other was questioning their gender. When I settled on the term “agender” for myself, I felt like I was striking out alone in nearly empty territory (Google pulls up a few results from AVEN, but most of the rest are about a cross-platform scheduling tool). It turns out that I might have more neighbors here than I realized.

The conversation I was most nervous about having came a few days after publishing Transplant, when I got a chance to catch up with my mom (who lives in another time zone). I didn’t expect her to be upset, but I really had no idea what she would think. We didn’t have a lot of time to chat, but she told me she was proud of me both for being so thoughtful and for expressing it so well. Then she added (link mine),

“Not to switch focus, but you make me realize how un-introspective I am, mostly because I’m intellectually lazy and partly because I (and my generation perhaps) have never been comfortable stating — much less sharing — intimate issues. Understatement in my case. To me, you’re very brave, which must mean the same thing as very confident. A good thing.”

“Maybe,” I said. “You don’t see the part where I’m avoiding and ignoring it for ages before finally facing it down.”

“Nobody sees that part,” she pointed out. “That’s the beauty of having a skull.”

My mom is a smart lady.

Admittedly, I’ve had some uncomfortable realizations along with the relief. I’ve noticed for a long time that I can be a bit misogynistic, and that observation used to produce some cognitive dissonance. How could I not like women, if I am one and I don’t dislike myself? (Or, at the times in my life when I did dislike myself, that wasn’t why.) Now it makes–well, no, it doesn’t make sense, but it’s easier to understand, and that’s not necessarily a good thing. I don’t want to give myself an excuse for judging people prematurely. What’s going on, I think, is that there’s much about traditional femininity which I dislike (reasonable), and I’ve absorbed its tropes sufficiently to apply them as a template to women I don’t yet know well (not reasonable). I’m trying to catch myself on this consciously, now, so I can knock it the hell off.

Given how long I’ve been reading myself wrong, I was pleased to hear from maymay that Transplant “[is] also REALLY illuminating because it so perfectly matches how I read you, gender-wise. And it’s odd because that’s very rare. It’s NOT androgynous. It’s truly ‘not-a-gender.’ […] I’ve actually mentally been trying to remember to use ‘she’ and ‘female’ with you for a while, and I thought that was odd for a while, but now I get why I was stumbling over it in my head for so long.”

This raises an interesting question. The way he’s contrasting them, to seem androgynous is to have both masculine and feminine aspects, whereas to seem agender is to have neither. So where does that put me in the eyes of people who are attracted to a gender? Have I just removed from my dating pool anyone who identifies as a straight man or gay woman (that is, someone attracted to women), bisexual (attracted to men and women1), or just attracted to gender itself? If I have, that’s an awfully small sliver of potential suitors I’ve got left. This is a point of genuine insecurity which I haven’t really resolved yet. Just like I need to be sexy including my fat, not in spite of it–as Chaos has written too about her disability–I need to be attractive including my (lack of) gender, not in spite of that either.

On the other hand, why would anyone’s attraction to me have changed? All I’m adopting is a new word; inside, I’ve felt the same or similar gender-wise as long as I can remember. When I was in high school, a group of peer educators once came around to one of my classes to give a presentation about sexuality and gender identity. They needed a volunteer for a demonstration, and one of the presenters (a friend of mine) called me out, knowing I’d be an interesting participant. He drew four lines on the board, each marked M at one end and F at the other. I was to pick a point on each line; one was for my physical sex, one for my gender identity, one for my gender presentation, and one for my sexuality. I put my first point solidly on the F end of the scale, and the rest muddled about in the middle wherever they belonged. If I did the same exercise today, ten years later, it would look almost exactly the same2.

I’ve never felt or been treated like someone who fits neatly in the “female” pigeonhole. What’s new is just the realization that it might mean something. I was lucky to be born in a little magic bubble of time and space3 where I grew up surrounded by the idea that boys and girls can be whatever they want, so I didn’t think much of it when I didn’t take to ballet and ponies very much. I remember that the notion of a “tomboy” appealed to me, but I wasn’t actually any good at sports or tree-climbing either, so I reluctantly had to discard it. When I was a little older, I considered whether I might be trans, but I didn’t feel like a boy, so at the time (still stuck on the binary) I assumed that was the end of it. The majority of my friends, after puberty or so, were always male. I wasn’t exactly “one of the guys,” but I wasn’t one of the girls they got crushes on and dated, either. Hurt by that, I figured I was just a faulty girl. It never occurred to me that I was a perfectly good something else.

Getting ready for bed the night Transplant was published, I stopped to take a look in the mirror and had a startling realization. Gendered standards don’t apply to me any more. I’m no longer supposed to look like women, because I’m not one. All I have to look like is me. The shape I already am. The only shape, minor variations aside, that I can be. I set my own standards now, and that power is incredibly liberating. For what might be the first time, when I looked in the mirror that night, I didn’t compare what I saw to anything else I’d ever seen. I just looked and accepted. That’s who I am. That’s all I need to be. All the confusion, uncertainty, and anxiety may’ve been worth it just for that.

  1. Some people use “bisexual” the way I use “pansexual.” I don’t know how common this is, and given that the word “pansexual” exists, I find it confusing. So when it’s not otherwise specified, I interpret “bisexual” to mean “both,” not “any.” (Besides, the “it applies to the whole spectrum between two points” argument doesn’t include me anyway.) []
  2. With the possible exception of the first solid F for physical sex. Since then I’ve been diagnosed with PCOS, which among other things means I have higher level of androgens (male hormones) than is typical for someone with two X chromosomes. So I actually am, arguably, a little more physically male than the average cis woman. []
  3. Berkeley, California, 1985 []

A Socratic Gadfly on Public Deviance

June 24th, 2011 by

A friend of mine popped up on IM recently with a news story. It described a man who was allowed to travel on a commercial airline wearing little more than women’s lingerie, despite the complaints of his fellow passengers. It’s notable in the context of another recent incident in which the same airline kicked someone off a flight for not complying with a request to pull up his sagging pants, but I was more interested in my friend’s response to the first passenger’s choice of dress. If my friend were generally oblivious to social deviance issues, I might have dismissed it, but “Robin” is genderqueer and kinky; I was pretty sure that we agreed on the fundamental principles here (and if we didn’t, I wanted to know about it). So I started needling. This is a technique I don’t often use, and I was pleased with the result, so I asked for permission to post the conversation. (It’s edited to remove noise and digressions, and change the names, but little else.) For more examples, see maymay on doing this at play parties, or Rick Garlikov on teaching third graders.

<robin> http://news.yahoo.com…us_saggy_pants_arrest_panties
<robin> US Airways had a black man arrested for wearing his pants too low (you know, it’s a very common style these days), but then a few days later allowed a white man wearing little more than panties to fly
<robin> fucking racist double standards
<robin> I feel kinda sorry for the people who had to sit next to the old man in drag on the plane…. I mean drag is one thing, but he was dressed like a really skanky ho
<robin> I think most people would feel uncomfortable sitting next to a biological female on a plane, if she was dressed like that
<robin> Although not as many people would probably speak up about it
<fizz> and would it be wrong for her to dress that way?
<robin> I think that you need to take other people in to consideration when you’re going to be packed like sardines on a plane with them for a flight
<fizz> sure. but what makes it not okay to dress a certain way?
<robin> Just our uptight society
<robin> Oh, and it gets cold on airplanes.  What the hell was he thinking?
<fizz> haha
<fizz> they have blankets
<fizz> and, okay, but society aside, you said *you* felt sorry for those people
<robin> I feel sorry for them, because they must have been uncomfortable
<fizz> ah.
<robin> He kind of comes across as a pervert.  I mean, people dress usually that way so that people will stare at them, ya know?
<fizz> what’s wrong with wanting to be stared at?
<fizz> (would you think a woman dressing the same way was a pervert?)
<robin> The thought would totally cross my mind
<fizz> okay. but why?
<fizz> what’s perverted about it?
<robin> You got me.  The people who keep staring are probably the bigger perverts
* fizz grins
<fizz> ’cause it’s weird or unnatural to stare at something unusual?
<robin> Well it depends on which part of him they were staring at ;)
<fizz> how are you using the word pervert? just for reference.
<robin> I think a pervert is somebody who’s sexual behavior makes other people uncomfortable, AND who gets off on that discomfort
<robin> I suppose it’s hard to tell if he was getting off on dressing that way, or if he was trying to make some kind of a point
<fizz> or, of course, just likes dressing that way. could be neither. :)
<robin> yeah
<robin> He definitely made people uncomfortable though, and should have seen that coming
<robin> I dunno what to think about it now
<robin> I mean he has a right to dress how he wants, and people should just get over it….
<robin> But at the same time, is forcing it upon people really the right way to handle it?
<fizz> well, as opposed to what?
<fizz> if I’m happier dressing in a nonconforming way, can I express that without “forcing” it on people?
<robin> Well you can go out to a club where it’s accepted, or walk around certain neighborhoods
<robin> But there are all kinds of people with a variety of belief systems in airports
<robin> I wouldn’t dress like that in an airport out of fear for my own safety.  He’s lucky that nobody tried to beat him up.
<fizz> heh, well, yeah. that’s a separate thing.
<fizz> what happens if you only exhibit nonmainstream behavior in places where it’s accepted, though?
<fizz> what effect does that have on the mainstream?
<robin> I suppose nothing would ever change
* fizz nods
<robin> Maybe I’m just not brave enough -_-
<fizz> nobody is *all* the time
<robin> I hope I’m braver some day


June 10th, 2011 by

I crossdress. Sort of. Certainly I go out sometimes in a compression tank top, with an ace bandage binding my chest, under a men’s shirt and jeans and without earrings or makeup. I’m not trying to pass as a cis man or anything, but given that I’ve been mistaken for one while wearing women’s clothes and a bra, I expect that I sometimes do. I refer to this as “drag,” because it’s presenting as something contrary to my gender assignment, but it honestly doesn’t feel any more like an act than going out in a sexy skirt and top does. I don’t choose one of those options because I’m feeling “more girly” or “more boyish” that day. These are just some of the outfits I have in my wardrobe, and sometimes I’m in the mood for one, and sometimes another.

In sexual dreams and fantasies, It’s about 50/50 whether I have a penis. When I do, the other person in my imagination often doesn’t; when I don’t, the other person usually does. More often than either, I’m observing from outside and honestly couldn’t tell you which participant’s place I’d like to be in. I view porn that way too. (Am I agazing? Maybe gazecurious.) There are sex acts I find equally hot from either participant’s perspective, although some are frustratingly inaccessible to me; I’ve never longed for a bio cock more than while watching someone give exquisite head to my strapon.

So What?

None of that is inherently about gender, of course. It’s about presentation, body type, and sexual preferences. There’s nothing wrong with identifying female and presenting male, nor with identifying female and having a penis, but I don’t know that either of those is what I’m doing. Do I have a reason beyond chromosomes to think of myself as female? I’m not a trans man–I’m pretty sure of that–but there are other labels I could use: gender fluid, intergender, third gender, and more. The reality, though, is that none of these descriptions feels quite right to me. Including female.

It’s not that I reject the notion of labels outright. I’m a language nerd; I fully appreciate the utility of having words for things. But there are places I reach for in my own brain when I want to know my name, my preferences, my personality, or other parts of myself, and when I reach into the place where it feels like gender should be, I come up empty. I’m not even sure what having something there would mean. There are people out there who know their own gender so certainly that they make huge, difficult life changes to be perceived as what they are. I sincerely respect that, and intellectually I can understand it, but I don’t really comprehend the strength of that pull towards a point on the gender spectrum. What part of me would be different, if I knew I was male?

For a long time I dodged the question. “I’m female,” I would explain if someone asked, “but I’m not particularly attached to it.” Then, talking with a small group of friends a few weeks ago, I explained in more detail and wondered if I should call myself something else. Someone asked why I even cared what word I used, if I didn’t feel strongly about my gender. I gave the answer I thought of first: I want to communicate well, which means adopting the label that expresses my intent most clearly. But before I was done saying it, I knew it was a true reason but not the real one. I turned my mind from exploring vocabulary to answering my friend’s question. Why did I care so much about the label? Why did the topic agitate me so much?

And the realization came like a wrecking ball. Having a gender isn’t about aligning yourself with a definition; it’s caring about your label. All this time I’d been saying I wasn’t attached to my gender, I was attached so strongly that I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I cared so much that whenever it came up, I had to point out I didn’t care. I couldn’t let go of the question because I knew, deep down, that the label I’d been using was wrong for me. The hole I found when I reached for that part of my identity wasn’t an absence. The hole was the answer. In retrospect, the obviousness and ridiculousness of this made me laugh. And then I started to cry.

In the few months that I’ve been actively exploring kink, I’ve spent a lot of time in the uncomfortable situation of not knowing things. There’s a skill to being new–to accepting a period of inability and frustration, and persisting–which I’ve worked consciously to develop. I’m not afraid of talking to a stranger about my sexual desires. I’m not afraid of watching someone stick needles through my arm. But this? The gender thing? This terrifies me. I can stay calm while examining my core beliefs, needs, and expectations, because even the most important of those are just branches on the tree of me. I had thought gender was just another branch; it turned out that I was shaking the tree by its roots. Finding the right word wasn’t about explaining some things that I do. It was about knowing what I am. I had no precedent for changing my self-perception on that fundamental a level. I was really, honestly frightened.

In Good Company

But I wasn’t alone. One friend of mine told me recently about his similar feelings: Our culture models gender as a line, he explained, with male at one end and female as the other. When he wants to move away from male, people perceive him as moving towards female, but that’s not what he means to do at all. What he wants is to move orthogonally to the line itself. Another friend, Ian, wrote in a Fetlife post about his identity:

I am male. Sort of. Kinda. Mostly? While I am certainly male-bodied and identify most clearly as being male […] the act of dressing up isn’t arousing, but rather comforting. Sometimes I just feel more girly than others, and I have at this point built a number of feminine aspects into how I present myself […] I am not transsexual then, simply genderqueer, though not so strongly that I feel comfortable making it my main gender identity … yet.

Then there’s Storm, the baby who’s being raised without gender. Storm’s parents were inspired by Lois Gould’s lovely fable The Story of X. Kathy Witterick pleads on her child’s behalf:

Please can you just let Storm discover for him/herself what s(he) wants to be?!

A Swedish toddler whom the press call “Pop” hasn’t been assigned a gender either. Pop’s parents’ reasoning:

We want Pop to grow up more freely and avoid being forced into a specific gender mould from the outset. It’s cruel to bring a child into the world with a blue or pink stamp on their forehead.

Hanne Blank’s fantastic keynote at BECAUSE 2002 exhorts us to not settle for static labels. The talk is about bisexuality, but her language here is broad:

What I am here to do is to ask you to consider this: that having an identity which is constantly the subject of negotiation is a good thing, that not resting, not having a fixed dwelling place, keeps our queerness — and all queerness — vital and alive. I am here to ask you to consider that the cultural consolidation of identity limits one’s ability to become liberated from a culture whose practice is to only recognize consolidated, group identities. Consider for a moment that there are ways to establish identity and community without sacrificing mobility, flexibility, change, and challenge.


All this time, I’ve been afraid of jerking people around–asking of them the difficult task of changing their definition of me, and then having to do it all over again later because it didn’t turn out to be the right label after all. But maybe it’s not about being “right.” Maybe it’s about describing the place where I am now, about being a visible example of the complexity of gender experience. I resisted the idea of finding or making a different word for myself because I didn’t want to be seen as sophomoric, rejecting all previous thought on the subject so I could declare myself a unique snowflake. But I do get to choose what I am, and I am unique. So is everybody else! What if we started acknowledging that?

Blank suggests the word “sovereign” to describe a dynamic and self-directed identity. While that may be the true nature of the thing, it doesn’t satisfy my desire for clarity. The etymological best fit for me is, I think, “agender.” While it falls under the umbrella of genderqueer, it doesn’t mean between genders, nor alternating; it’s not a third gender or a mix. It just means “not”–a hole–a gap in self-concept at the place where I found one in mine. It’s not a fixed point for me to align to, it’s a description of what I already am. And that, for once, feels right.

I can tell it’s a good label because it changes almost nothing. I’ll keep wearing men’s and women’s clothes, often together, and daydreaming about bits I do and don’t have. On forms with only two choices, I’ll shrug and check “female,” or abstain. Where gender is a text field, I will reward that with a more thoughtful answer. And on my own blog, where I can answer in paragraphs if I want to, I have no need to compromise. My introduction currently describes me as “female. Mostly,” and it’s wrong. I’m not mostly female; I’m a feminine sort of agender. When I publish this post, I’ll update that text to say so.

I’m nervous about changing my label, and nervous about sharing so much. But if I feel exposed–uprooted–that’s just the move out of my planter box. Outside, I’ll have richer soil … and a lot more room to grow.


There’s now a followup to this, Post-Transplant, describing my first six weeks with a new gender label.