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The Broken Temple

January 29th, 2014 by
The Broken Column, Frieda Kahlo

The Broken Column, Frieda Kahlo

 

This is about my body. My body is many things. It houses my soul. It has caused me more suffering than possibly anything else in my life. And, also, it’s beautiful. Sometimes, I forget that. Too often, I forget that.

There is a conflict between how I view my body and how it is viewed by others. This follows from the fact that they don’t have to live there. My body is fairly normative in appearance, but that’s as far as it goes. I have a chronic illness, which is mostly invisible. I’ve heard so many well-meaning friends and acquaintances have uttered the phrase that every invisibly-disabled person knows well and hates deeply: “but you don’t seem sick. You look so healthy.” When your body doesn’t function the way it’s supposed to, and society confirms this by constantly reminding you how pitiable and worthless you are, your healthy-looking body becomes a hateful shell, shielding the dysfunction that lies beneath. You walk a line between wanting your illness to be acknowledged, and not wanting it to eclipse the rest of your identity. It can be hard to see value in your body, or yourself.

Body worship is one of my favorite types of play. It’s very meaningful to me for many reasons, with many layers. On the surface, there’s my dominance; I am a fairly stereotypical dominant in many ways, one of them being that I love having attention lavished upon me. But it goes deeper than that.

There’s really no way to look at my body’s defects in a positive way. There are positive things that have emerged from it, such as greater self-awareness, the connections I have made with others in the disabled community, and activism I have participated in that I likely wouldn’t have otherwise. I am grateful for these things. But, in addition to limiting me, my malfunctions cause debilitating physical pain in many parts of my body, as well as fatigue, seizures, and more. The secondary effects are also numerous: frustration at my doctors, who are not equipped to deal with an obscure and untreatable illness such as mine, frustration at society, which is not equipped to deal with a broken person such as myself. It is, at times, difficult not to turn these feelings inwards, and feel hatred towards my own body.

On a physical level, body worship reminds me that my body is capable of feeling pleasure. That’s one way in which it does function, and when you spend so much time in pain, pleasure becomes something of solace. When I go for long periods of time without sensual touch, it’s almost like a surprise, a feeling that I nearly forgot existed. I’m not a spiritual person, but the closest I have come to feeling spiritual is the intimate connection I experience with another person during sex.

In a deeper sense, an emotional sense, it’s empowering to have someone take pleasure in touching one’s body, and being shown that pleasure. Even though I know, on some level, that my body is beautiful, it can be very difficult for me to truly internalize that as love. Instead I externalize my feelings of hatred, convinced that no one would want something so useless, so broken. But touch that is both gentle and eager, murmuring of appreciative sounds, and tender and hungry kisses are all evidence to the contrary. It is proof. Undeniable proof that despite all that feels wrong, there is something right about my body. If I can step out of feeling resentful and broken, if I can see my body through the eyes of someone who loves it and get a small glimpse of their love, this is an affirmation that living in my body isn’t tantamount to being trapped in a cage. At times, it can be powerful perfection.

My body lies in ruins. Reverence can take many forms: sweeping my hair across my neck to kiss my shoulders, tracing my sides with fingertips, touching me, touching my body with an admiration approaching awe. These actions are transformative and I am reminded that, despite its broken columns and crumbling foundations, my body is still worthy of reverence and of love.

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.

Questioning

February 2nd, 2012 by
I have recently jumped back into the wonderful world of dating. I have to educate people in my personal life, which is incredibly emotionally exhausting.  Not only does it require me to be immediately vulnerable to them, but there’s nothing that makes me feel less sexy than talking about my health.  What invariably ends up happening is that I just decide to not have a social life, because it’s too much work.I had this idea of making a pamphlet–“So You Want To Date a Chronically Ill Person.”  Whenever somebody asks me out, I’ll hand it to them.  It’ll save us both a lot of time and energy–which, for me, is extremely important, as time and energy are my most limited resources.Few people are more outspoken than I am in defending the rights of people with disabilities to have an equal place in sexual or romantic relationships and in society as a whole, yet I can’t seem to finish my “Guide to Going Out with Gimps.”  It’s too hard for me while I’m struggling with my own feelings of inadequacy about being a worthwhile romantic partner.

I feel like such a fucking hypocrite. I feel needy, reduced to a mess of insecurity, brought down by my own internalized ableism.

I want to write up my guide.  Maybe, at some point, I’ll be able to.  But right now, the only things that come to mind are questions, the questions I want to ask someone when they start to fall in love with me.

Will you still love me?

Will you still love me when I am hunched over the toilet, throwing up for the fourteenth time because my stomach has decided it doesn’t want to work that day?

Will you still think I’m clever when I can’t speak because my brain has experienced an electric storm, ripping me away from consciousness?

Will you still consider me brave when I am curled in a ball in bed and crying from the pain because there are tiny rocks building up in my ureters, damming the flow from my kidneys?

Will you still think I’m beautiful when I’m in the hospital, in a gown that hides my curves but reveals my shame?

Will you be okay with the fact that you will almost certainly outlive me?

Will you be okay with the fact that we may never be able to have children together?

Will you be strong enough to hold me up when I cannot hold myself anymore?

Will you be patient enough to come with me to doctor’s appointments, to listen to me ranting about my health insurance, to help me deal with the inevitable mishaps with the pharmacy?

Will you be brave enough to face the inevitability of my situation and to let me grieve?  Will you be able to comfort me without platitudes, without empty words of a hope that doesn’t exist?

Can you accept the fact that I will always have to put my health first?

Can you learn to live with uncertainty?  Can you learn to live to see the beauty in the moment?

Can you still love me even though I am broken?  Further than this, can you learn to think beyond positive and negative judgments, can you accept that is part of who I am, and love that person as a whole?

Will you still love me?

Can you?

Corpus

October 19th, 2011 by

Today is Love Your Body day.

I feel like a fraud talking about loving my body today–I don’t particularly love it.  You see, my body and I have a complicated relationship.

Right now, as I’m writing this, I’m sitting in my hospital, in the midst of an extremely boring, 4-hour long medical test.  This sort of thing is routine for me.  Monday, I had another doctor’s appointment.  And I have more next week.  On a daily basis, I find myself in a lot of physical pain.  It’s hard not to turn that physical pain into emotional pain.

My body is high maintenance.  Good health is something most people my age take for granted.  I envy them.  I am constantly reminded that my body doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to.   Even on the good days, I have to remember to take all my many medications and schedule doctors appointments.

Sometimes I can love my body.  Even if I can’t forget its malfunctions, I can forgive them, and focus on the ways it can function, and revel in its beauty.

But it’s hard to love your body when it feels like it doesn’t love you.

There is a societal model of illness that is damaging.  When we think sick, we think cancer.  We think fighting.  We think this is something that has to be overcome, a war that must be fought and won, because losing would mean death.  When the illness is a part of your own body for so long, who is the enemy?  I cannot fight my body–that’s a war that I cannot win, the collateral damage would be too high.  Instead, I fight the voices I hear from society that tell me that healthy is beautiful, echoed by my own internal demons who whisper that if healthy is beautiful, I will always be ugly.

So today–Love Your Body Day–the day I am supposed to love and appreciate my body, I instead find myself feeling frustrated and resentful towards it.  I will try and put aside my resentment and remind myself something I wrote the other night.  Physical pleasure is deeply important to me.  I find it empowering to take pleasure in my body when it often causes me so much pain and I take pleasure in the pleasure others take from my body.  Here is what I wrote:

My body is broken. My body is beautiful. My body is perfect. No matter how badly it functions, no matter how much, at times, I hate the way it looks, no matter how much pain it causes me, after a night like tonight, after I’ve given myself countless orgasms, I can say, with certainty–my body is absolutely fucking perfect.

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.

The Cost of Devaluing Male Submission: One Token

August 9th, 2011 by

The BDSM blogosphere has been all aflutter lately about the devaluation of male submission. And it’s about fucking time. Because the kink scene treats male subs as if they are unwanted, uninvited guests, not recognizing the fact that they are real people with feelings of their own, that their dominant partners cherish them. Every time I see a Fetlife profile that reads “I’m not attracted to submissive men” (frequently, in my experience, on the profiles of female switches and occasionally other female dominants), my stomach clenches. They don’t seem to realize that such an attitude is linked to another problem in the scene: the tokenization of female dominants.

The public BDSM scene has a predilection towards the maledom femalesub dynamic. If you are female, you are presumed to be submissive unless stated otherwise, and if you are male, you are presumed to be dominant unless stated otherwise. (And if you are non-gender-normative, if you don’t fit in a nice little ticky-box, then the scene may accept you but not really know what to do with you.) As much as we would like to believe that the scene is a problem-free sexual utopia, it still suffers from many of the problems that mainstream society does. Straight male sexuality is prioritized, and thus straight male doms are the prevailing players in the scene. Straight male doms have no use for male subs, yet they still like female doms—they like us because we bring a certain energy to the scene and are fun to talk to and be around and because they hope that maybe we’ll co-top their girls with them and that they might be able to get into our pants.

So my sexuality is something that people in the scene can appreciate and sort of see the value in from afar. But the object of that sexuality is not accepted in the scene. While male subs are not seen as potential objects of desire, female doms are seen only as objects of desire. That’s how I feel sometimes as a femme dom in the public scene: they see me, but not my desires.

I feel like Geordi.

[Image: African-American man in a yellow Starfleet uniform, his eyes obscured by a “VISOR”, a piece of technology that allows him to see. Image source: Memory Alpha]

In Star Trek: the Next Generation, the character Geordi LaForge never got laid (this is where I out myself as a nerd, if the pseudonym and the lab coat and the giant boner for science weren’t already a dead giveaway). They had to have a character who was black and disabled, to show how progressive and inclusive they were. But they weren’t progressive enough to give him a sex life. Hollywood had this ridiculous idea about the primal, savage nature of black men, especially in relation to their sexuality. And so the closest poor Geordi ever gets to having a sexual relationship is with a holographic character, and even that is unconsummated–he gets blue-balled by his own fantasies, because oh no, if we show a black man in a sexual situation then the viewers will have to be reminded of the fact that he has a penis. We all know that there’s nothing scarier to mainstream 90’s American culture than a black man’s penis–the popularity of racist porn stemming from the eroticization of this fear belies it. (Not to mention the fact that Geordi falls right into the trope of “disabled characters don’t have a sexuality.”)  Geordi and I are both welcomed in our respective communities, as long as we keep our sexual desires silent—closeted—and to ourselves.

When I meet het male doms, I always try to make it abundantly clear to them from the beginning of our association that I am not a switch, I am not interested in playing, I am not interested in co-topping girls with them, I am not interested in anything beyond friendship with them.

And often, they continue to be friendly. And I like that because I am also friendly and I like to have friends, of all orientations. And I think to myself, “you know, we’re different, we get off on different things, but maybe he can appreciate me for who I am even though I’m not submissive and he knows we can’t have that type of interaction.”

“Maybe he can still respect me and the dynamic that I enjoy.” But then I hear language that refers to male submission as if it is something disgusting or shameful.

And that’s what bothers me.

A few months ago, maymay was referred to as “such a fucking weak-ass male submissive that he makes male submission look bad” by a dominant man who is well-known in the local community.

This writing has since been deleted. But the harmful words still ring in my ears. Maymay is not making male submissives look bad. The author is the one who is making male submissives look bad, because he is using the words “male submissive” as an insult. Would he have said “a fucking weak-ass gay”? I think not, at least, not in the San Francisco scene—such words have a clear underlying implication of homophobia. But somehow, using someone’s D/s status as a slur is acceptable.

While I don’t enjoy the maledom-femsub dynamic myself, I think it is a completely valid sexuality. I would never presume to tell someone otherwise. These het-male-doms who make up the mainstream of the subculture that we inhabit? I think they like me and respect me and think I’m hot, but I don’t know if they think my sexuality is valid.

And so I feel tokenized. It’s not fair to me, because where would I, a femme dom, be without my masculine sub? We are two sides of a coin. Today I am not beating my queer drum; today I am borrowing maymay’s drum: You cannot truly respect me without respecting my submissive as well. If you value me, you must value him.

There is a lot of male submissive-shaming in the public scene.  You’ll hear it all the time.  “Male subs are creepy,” “male subs spoil the atmosphere, so we don’t want to encourage them.” And while I have indeed encountered many male submissives who have acted in inappropriate ways, I have one question to ask: why do you suppose that male subs like maymay who do respect boundaries don’t feel welcome in the scene? It’s not because they are making male submission look bad, it’s because you are equating male submission with badness.

And by doing this, you are hurting me.

This is the reason I go to sleep alone every night. It’s not because there’s something wrong with me as a potential romantic/sexual partner. It’s because there’s no one for me to date. Because everyone’s been telling all the male submissives that they’re unwanted for so long that they won’t come out to play. So I’m sitting here in my kinky sandbox with my toys all by myself.

And it hurts.

If you respect me, if you respect my identity as a female dominant, then recognize that when you devalue male submission, you are devaluing the objects of my desire, and by doing so, you. are. hurting. me. too.

Wheelchair Worship

June 20th, 2011 by
Wheelchair Worship

Image: Close-up of legs and feet resting on a footrest and gray wheel of an electric wheelchair. Feet are clad in black patent-leather maryjanes with 4-inch heels, laced with ribbon.

 

When this picture was taken, I had barely begun adulthood and I thought my life was over.  I was twenty-one.  Many of my health conditions were undiagnosed or untreated.  I was sick.  I was tired.  I wanted to think of myself as strong, but I was just a kid who was lost and confused because my body was breaking.  I felt isolated from my friends, who couldn’t understand what I was going through.  I couldn’t take care of myself very well.  I was so tired that getting out of bed took a huge effort.  If I wanted to go somewhere farther than my apartment, I had to use a power chair.

I have never felt less sexy than when I was in my wheelchair.

My chair is not sexy.  It is upholstered in a color I can only describe as “medical gray,” a color that says “I have zero personality.”  It is a color that says “I am functional and not sexy, because why on earth would I need to be sexy?”  The plastic of the chair is red, but not a “fuck me” red.  It is not a red that evokes any sort of lust or hints at any secret desire.  It is a “we needed to make this a customizable, so you have a choice of red or blue, isn’t that nice” red.  The chair as a whole is bulky and not especially well-designed for comfort.  Form, I suspect, was not a factor in its design.  It is simple, but inelegant, minimalist only insofar as it has few features.  It is almost purely designed for the function of getting from point A to point B, and, truthfully, not very well even for that.

Disabled sexuality is virtually erased in our society.  People with disabilities are, at best, considered nonsexual, entirely lacking in sexual identity.  At worst, we are seen as perverts merely for having sexual desires.  And we are, above all, undesirable. The aesthetic of my power chair reflects this–why bother make something sexy when the person using it isn’t going to be having sex?

There is a difference between impairment and disability.  To borrow a definition from Stacey Milbern, “impairment is the reality of what your body is able to do, and disability is what society disallows your body to do because it has an impairment.”  I have a degenerative illness.  Whether I am in a wheelchair or not, my body is impaired.  Pain and fatigue are not perceivable by the naked eye.  But once I sit in my wheelchair, my disability becomes visible and I can no longer  “pass” for able-bodied.  When I sit in my wheelchair, the status of my disability does not change, but the way society views me does.  Suddenly I am an object of pity rather than desire.  When I roll down the street, people avert their eyes.

I don’t want people to see “past” my disability.  I want them to see me as a whole person, including my impairments.  I have fucked someone in my wheelchair.  (I have fucked a couple of someones in my wheelchair, actually, I mean, not to brag or anything.)  It was physically awkward and uncomfortable, and also? incredibly hot, because I was living out this idea, that my illness is a part of who I am, deserving of love, just like the rest of me.  I also tended to dress more provocatively when using my chair for a similar reason–I wanted to forcibly turn people’s eyes toward me, to demand from them the desire that I knew I deserved.

The photo at the beginning of this post is one of the oldest sexy pictures I have of myself.  I took it to make a point.  I wanted to confront people with their preconceptions about disability and desirability.  With this picture, I wanted to do what social norms prevented me from doing, to scream, “Look at me!  SEE me.  Recognize me as who I am, a sexual being!”

I no longer use my powerchair.  I still have it, but I am on a combination of medications that render it unnecessary, at least for the moment.  I do still use a manual wheelchair in certain circumstances.  I dream of the day when pushing my wheelchair is seen as a service, not a chore.  Some day sleek, sexy wheelchairs will be the norm.  Some day someone will worship my wheelchair, and me, in my wheelchair.  When that day comes, I will sit as in a throne, and I will be powerful and broken and beautiful and whole.

 

 

Transplant

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.

Transplant

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.

Dominance

June 3rd, 2011 by

I have been thinking a lot lately about what it means for me to identify as a dominant woman. I find it somewhat difficult to explain, as it’s rather subtle.

A friend once remarked that he thought it was surprising that I’m so dominant, because I’m so feminine. This struck me as completely nonsensical, as my femininity is intrinsically tied to my dominance. My power lies in my smile, my hips, turning heads as I walk down the street and knowing yes, you want me.

Certainly, I enjoy being bossy and sadistic; I’d like to tie you up and hit you with various objects and make you serve me. I love to do this, but that’s not the core of my dominance.

It is not that I am controlling you; rather, I am making you lose control of yourself.

It is when I am on top of you, and you lose yourself inside of me, and in that moment you are mine, mine, mine.

 

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.