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Galen

February 5th, 2012 by

Chaos and I were arguing with a friend a few months ago about whether it’s possible to submit to someone without their consent. The (vanilla) friend didn’t see it; it seemed to him that if you act submissive to someone who’s not dominating, you are at worst a bad lay. I disagree with him on both counts. Submitting without consent to dominate doesn’t necessarily make you a bad lay, but being a bad lay isn’t necessarily the worst thing that happens, either. Here’s a story, for the second round of Kitty Stryker’s second Safe/Ward Blog Carnival. Decide for yourself.

(TW: There is no nonconsensual touch nor specific trauma in this story, but there are references to self-harm.)

 

I say that Galen was my first kiss. It’s not precisely true, but his was the first one that meant something, the one that came at the end of the sort of intimate cuddly evening where you’d expect to find a good first kiss. Immediately exposing the depth of my self-doubt, I asked him bluntly why he was doing this. I don’t blame him, in retrospect, for not having a good answer; who asks that?

He was certainly a lot of other firsts, over the next year and change. First time I slipped my hands down someone else’s pants; first person I went down on. First time I penetrated someone else or made them come. Several firsts I wouldn’t recognize as BDSM until much later: tying him up with a belt or a ribbon, using knives as sensation toys, and leaving bite marks on him that could last for weeks (savoring the pride and the intimacy).

I still had about eight years to go before someone would teach me the term “D/s,” but in hindsight the signs of it were delicious. He was beautifully responsive, arching his back and parting his lips when I traced my fingertips over just the right spots. When I sat behind him he sank back into my arms, and would sigh if I leaned down to kiss his neck before unbuttoning his shirt. He was beautiful and sweet–still is–and probably one of the defining influences on my taste in submissives.

When we finished, more often than not, I would pull away from him, curl up in a ball, and cry.

Nobody since has made me feel quite as undesirable as Galen did. With him I was awkward and shy and hesitant, nothing resembling the powerful dominant I found in myself years later. When he didn’t reach out to touch me, never looked for the places he could slide his fingertips and make me moan like I had looked for his, I didn’t know any conclusion to draw except that he didn’t want me. That he tolerated my attention because he was getting off on it, but felt no desire to reciprocate. And why would he? I already had a lifetime of social conditioning telling me my body could not be sexy; this was just more evidence. But he was so sweet, so caring and giving in other ways, that every new time he left me untouched, fully dressed and aching with desire, I didn’t know what to do or to think and instead I just cried.

We never talked about why I was hurting. We almost did, once, but then he had to be out of town again for a while and one thing led to another and he ended up breaking it off (for unrelated reasons) before the conversation ever happened. We never talked about sex. I never said “Will you finger me while I do this?” or even “Touch me. Here,” which I suspect would have gone over famously. But I couldn’t presume then that anyone would want to touch me, and couldn’t bear to hear that rejection or see it in his face.

We didn’t talk about boundaries. He never said “I enjoy being penetrated, but don’t really want to penetrate you.” I never said “It scares me to use a knife on you, when not that long ago I was using one on myself.” Yeah, that was happening around that time too. (The picture you’re getting of how happy and stable I was those days is pretty accurate.) He’d seen the marks on my wrists, though, and when we tried playing with the knife I trembled, then crumpled, and he held me reassuringly. I think he understood, but the most I remember exchanging by way of words about it was “You trust me with this; I don’t.” I had no confidence in myself, and without confidence had no foundation for dominance.

And that’s the point: we never talked about D/s. He never said “I want to submit to you” and if he had I wouldn’t have known what that meant. I never chose to step into the complementary role; I just fell into the vacuum left behind by his passiveness. Accepting exchanged power, without ever feeling in control, is not dominating. I couldn’t give informed consent to D/s because I wasn’t informed, either about what he intended and wanted or about its alternatives. Remember that this wasn’t just my introduction to kinky sex; this was my introduction to sex. For all I knew, touching someone who never touched back was all I could get.

This is why I have a special hatred for the “ice queen” stereotype–the dominant who gets all the satisfaction she needs from touching others. I’m not that dom, never was and never will be, but I have played the part unwillingly for someone I wanted to please because neither of us knew how to articulate what we’d rather have. To this day I don’t know if that’s what he genuinely wanted from me, or if he wasn’t comfortable asking for something else, or if he’d been looking at femdom porn and thought that what it showed was just how this was supposed to go.

Some of the effects of that relationship are still with me. It got easier, later, when I started having egalitarian sex with someone else, and then again much later than that when I started learning and talking about BDSM. But I’m still afraid, always, that no matter how much a lover likes me as a person they’re only putting up with my body. That no assertive touch means no desire. That asking for what I want is imposing. It makes it hard to find confidence when I want to dominate, and after a scene in which I don’t get physical attention it makes me feel used and angry.

My experience with Galen is why it means so much to me to hear and see clearly that my partner finds me sexy. It’s also probably one of the reasons I’ve really enjoyed playing with someone who is, on the whole, more dominant than I am. When I’m bottoming to Leon, his desire is unambiguous. It might not be for sex–he might want to tie me up, flog me, or frankly just get me to comply for its own sake–but whatever he wants, he wants me, this whole physical human in front of him, and when his attention is focused on getting what he wants from me, I can’t forget that.

 

It was a long time before I started to see what Galen’s perspective on our history might be. He was more experienced than I was but not by much; I honestly don’t know how much he knew about what we were doing either. He wasn’t an adult preying on an innocent teenager, he was a slightly older teenager who had a hard time talking about sex, and who, like me, had never been taught that those conversations are necessary or how to have them. I don’t regret my relationship with him, even if parts of it were flawed and hurtful, and I no longer blame him for the fact that they were.

We’re still in touch, and have been close on and off. A few years ago, after a lot of maturing but still before I knew much about BDSM, we wound up fooling around a bit at his place. The day after, he told me he was still feeling sore from something new I’d tried, and described how it had felt as “about a four.” When pressed, he clarified that it hurt enough that he didn’t enjoy it, but he would do it for his dom. (A five would have been what I’d now call a hard limit.) I was incensed. I couldn’t believe he wouldn’t tell me at the time if it was that bad, and then expect me to intuit the scale he was using as if there were a standard I should already know. It hit all the same buttons that our silence had in the past, and I threw up my hands and gave up on the idea of trying to connect with him honestly.

About a year later, I told that story to a mutual friend, venting some frustration that the memory brought back. “I just wish he would tell me these things, instead of expecting me to read his mind!”

“It sounds like he was trying to,” she said.

That stopped me cold. She was right, of course. When we’d talked the next day, he was giving me exactly the kind of feedback I wanted–just later and in a different format than I expected. And I’d yelled at him for it. No wonder it was so hard for him to talk to me about sex!

The next time I saw Galen, I brought it up. “I don’t know if you even remember that,” I said, “but I’m sorry for getting mad about it. I know you were trying.”

“I don’t,” he admitted, “but thank you.” I knew from his smile that he meant it. Words may be hard, but at least there are some ways I know that I can read him.

 

We’re getting better at the talking part, too. I woke up recently from a hot dream, enjoying the memory of it as it faded. I grabbed my phone and sent Galen a text:

“So I definitely just had a dream in which I asked if you wanted to make out some time. And the dream was pretty sexy, so what the hell. *Do* you want to?”

The reply came the next day: “Sure :)”

Such a simple thing, but that’s all that needs to happen: ask and answer. Maybe we’re finally figuring out how to do this thing right.

It’s important to tell the stories of when communication and consent are difficult and complicated–we need something to replace the pattern in people’s minds which says that the only two sides of the consent line are “both partners magically get what they want” and “a stranger leaps out of the bushes.” By the same token, it’s important to tell the stories of when clear communication results in great consensual sex, to replace the patterns which say that talking about it is a turnoff, or that everyone’s supposed to have sex the same way.

On that note, consider this the prologue to a upcoming series of short posts about communication gone right. They will be true, explicit stories of sex and BDSM scenes, including the parts where we talk about what we want and don’t want and the parts where everything isn’t magically easy but we make it work. I’m calling them Consent Culture Sex Stories (or “consent porn” for short), and the first one should be up within a couple of weeks.

Invisible Beautiful

July 6th, 2011 by

I’m a bit of a clotheshorse for someone on a thrift store budget. Just a few weeks ago, I found myself fretting about what to wear to a party—did I want to go more femme, or masculine? To follow the theme, or not? I got a sexy idea, put it together, tried it on … and frowned. It was exactly the outfit I’d intended, but the image in my head was nothing like the one in the mirror. My body type’s been roughly the same since puberty; why can’t I picture my own clothes on myself?

I am surrounded by examples of how skinny people can choose to look. They’re in magazines and advertisements, shop windows and clothing catalogues. Many of the brands they suggest I wear don’t offer anything in my size; when they do, many stores don’t sell them. And where they are sold, you certainly won’t see a mannequin shaped like me in the window. Plus-size models? Please. According to the LA Times, the average American woman is a size fourteen. From a Huffington Post interview:

At 5’9″ and a size 6, Katie Halchishick was deemed “plus sized” by the modeling industry and asked to “just shave two inches” off her bony hips.

For reference, this is me1. The skirt I’m wearing in that picture is a size twenty-two.

(Size numbering itself is a whole other can of worms, of course. It’s surreal to me that “plus sizes” begin at half my numerical size. Someone half my actual size would be tiny! A friend of mine who is that tiny has the complementary complaint: being labeled a “size 0” as if she were all but incorporeal.)

I’m not just angry about the dearth of sex-positive imagery because it makes clothes shopping a pain. We use our partners as status symbols in this society; if I am never depicted as desirable, I have no social value. That means not only that I’m ignored as a potential partner, but that the very idea that I might have one is a little gross. And of course, anyone who happens to genuinely like fat people is therefore a deviant. The Village Voice described Kevin N.’s experience growing up (emphasis mine):

Meanwhile, his “pretty” girlfriend was an all-state softball player—size 16, five feet nine inches tall, maybe 200 pounds—but could bench more than her scrawny boyfriend. A rumor spread that he was gay, which he didn’t bother to refute. Liking a fat girl was so much more of a preposterous scenario that he worried the truth would “make it snowball even more.”

Living with self-respect while surrounded by this bullshit requires constant attention and willpower. I’m lucky—I have good friends and lovers in my life who make it unambiguously clear how sexy they find my shape. And as much as the BDSM scene marginalizes those who don’t fit its favorite dynamics, it’s pretty size-positive; in a clothing-optional dungeon, there is neither the means nor the incentive to maintain the fiction that stick-thin, unblemished bodies are the norm. I feel confident in the dungeon, and that’s great. I need to, if I want to strut my deviant body proudly in a public space. But I still want something hot to wear while I do it, and then I’m struck once again by the frustrating lack of examples.

I know nobody looks like a mannequin. That’s what the dressing rooms are for. The difference is that I have to actively ignore what I’m seeing in order to imagine myself usefully close to accurately. That’s difficult, and tiring, and having to do it depresses me. If those mental gymnastics sound familiar, it might be because you’ve been listening to maymay.

As a sexually submissive guy myself, I look at a lot of BDSM porn, a lot of women bottoms, and I’ll change the genders around in my head. When I see a woman tied up, I think, “It’s okay, I’ll just imagine them as a guy, someone like me.” […]

And the more I looked at porn the more I realized I really wasn’t interested in seeing images of sexuality that aroused me, I was much more interested in seeing images of sexuality that reflected mine, so I could connect with them and see myself represented in that image and have a validation that I actually exist, that other people are like me there.

He reached it through sexuality, I through fashion, but the longing is the same: we both want to see people who are similar to ourselves portrayed as normal and desirable, and the images just aren’t there.

Neither of us is even holding the shortest end of the stick when it comes to having one’s attractiveness marginalized. Being female-assigned, I benefit from the trope of the curvy girl, and from the BBW and fat admirer communities. BHM appreciators exist, but in the mainstream, the assumption that fat men’s bodies are disgusting is so reliable that it can be used to sell advertising (if they’re acknowledged as objects of desire at all). Maymay’s gender/role identification is underrepresented at best and reviled at worst, but when you do find them in erotic images, most of the models are slender and pretty like him. People who are fat, male, and submissive are both kinds of invisible, no matter how sexy they really are.

I could go on, but a bunch of smart people have already done it for me. Professor Chaos wrote a post in this blog about the invisibility of disabled sexuality. For the 2006 film “A Girl Like Me,” filmmaker Kiri Davis interviewed young black women about their perceived standard of beauty, returning over and over to light skin and straight, fine hair. As the New York Times observed, even those who would reject that standard in favor of a “natural” look might not know how to maintain it—and then may have to endure unwanted rubbernecking and touching. Long, straight, shimmering locks are a mainstay of the beauty-magazine pages. When did you last see a shampoo ad feature someone with naturally kinky black hair?

Our shared concept of what a person looks like comes from the images we see around us—images which have already passed through the very narrow filters of the fashion and entertainment industries. This isn’t just dishonest, it’s dangerous. The link between unrealistic body image and adolescent eating disorders is so strong that the American Medical Association recently adopted policy to discourage digital alteration of advertising models. Such alteration is currently common practice, and its unambiguous message is that even the thinnest few percent of us aren’t thin enough.

When I mentally assembled my outfit for that party, I pictured it unthinkingly on my limited idea of that “normal” human—one who is white, able-bodied, female-assigned, and skinny. The difference between my real body and that image means that when I’m doing my damnedest to disprove the “fat people can’t be sexy” meme, to actively create a better example, I can still try on an outfit, look in the mirror, and for a moment before I catch myself, feel disappointed by what I see.

The day after I tried that outfit on, several hours before the party, I was telling a friend over coffee about my experience with mismatched self-image. We talked about fat-positivity, about frustrating invisibility, and about culture and desire and shame. Finally, she asked,

“… so what was the outfit, anyway?”

I told her: black jeans, a wifebeater, and black suspenders. She stared at me. “What?” I asked.

“Fizz, you have exactly the body type I would imagine that outfit on.”

“Wait, really?”

“Except for having boobs, I guess.”

We compared notes. The image in my head was tall and lanky. She was picturing a “big, working-class punk guy”—my type indeed, but for the boobs and the attitude. That take on it hadn’t occurred to me, but I trust my friend’s judgment; I wore it, chest bound, and packing a strapon. I went to the party, had a good time, and by the time the clothes came off again, it didn’t matter what they’d been; there was nothing to be ashamed of underneath them.

When the next party rolls around, I’ll be fretting once again about what to wear. I want the confidence boost, but I also need to be an example. I am fat. I am sexy. And I won’t let the world keep pretending I don’t exist.

  1. Photo by Myles Boisen. []

Do It

June 3rd, 2011 by

I had the conversation again today.

A woman passed me on the street and called out, “Man, I wanna do that to my hair!”

Without missing a beat, I called back, “Do it!”

We stopped and talked for a minute. She said she really wants a mohawk, even though her friends think it’ll look weird. I told her what I tell everybody: Do it! It’s the only way to know if you’ll like it. If you don’t, it’ll grow back. You’re a grownup, and it’s your hair! You can do whatever you want with it! We were going opposite ways, but I left her with an enthusiastic smile.

This happens often enough that I’ve had a chance to experiment with different responses. Once, after asking the person if she minded me taking a minute of her time, I actually tried explaining why I’m so encouraging, but I’m still not sure I got through. Here’s the whole story; maybe writing it will help me figure out how to convince people of its point.

There have always been people I admire when I see them in the street–which is to say, like anyone, I have tastes. I enjoy seeing people who are well-dressed and together-looking, people with big smiles or silly hats, people in bright colors or strange combinations of them, short skirts, cool socks, leather jackets, goths, punks, just about anybody who stands out. When I would invent characters or avatars for myself in games, I always tried for interesting-looking, much more than for conventional prettiness. I almost never tried to make them look like me.

In real life I wore shapeless black clothes. I never thought about taking care of myself. I didn’t talk to people who weren’t already good friends. I didn’t get a lot of compliments on my appearance, shockingly, but when I did I didn’t trust them. If you’d asked me then why I didn’t wear the short skirts and other sexy things that I liked, I’d have said “It wouldn’t look good on me,” or “I don’t want the attention,” or “They don’t make those clothes for fat girls.” In short, that I couldn’t pull it off. That’s the key to the underlying feeling–that some people can do it, but I can’t. That we are different things. I wasn’t conscious of this then, but looking back it seems so obvious.

The epiphany was a recent step in a long process of bootstrapping my self-esteem, which ranged from starting to have sex (apparently my body’s not horrifying!) to getting out of a long relationship that had been slowly been drained of respect (I’m worth something!) to mastering my Puppet (I can take control! And I like it!). It was helped along by getting to know some of the sorts of people I admire. (It turns out they’re just regular folks!) Someone lent me a copy of Nonviolent Communication. (I have agency!) And eventually, something clicked:

The only difference between me and the people I admire is that I have not yet chosen to do the things I admire them for.

I started doing them.

I shaved my head. After it grew out a bit, I asked a friend to trim it into a mohawk. I started wearing short skirts, when I felt like it, and at other times a leather jacket with skinny jeans or a vest and tie over a compression tank. It turns out they do make sexy clothes for fat girls, and I look hot in them. I started smiling more. I smile at strangers; a lot of them smile back. I talked to people more. I started learning to play the guitar. I went back to school. I was more open about my feelings, even when it was scary to do so, and I became a better friend.

I learned to take a compliment. I had to learn to take a compliment, because I can barely walk down the street these days without someone telling me I look good, or I’m beautiful, or they love my mohawk, and they’ve always wanted to try it but they can’t–or they’re scared to–or they would, but, well …

And I look them in the eye and say, you can.

Do it.