Pure As the Driven Slush: Heather Corinna's Journal and Diary, Online since 1999

Archive for the 'sex/life' Category

Monday, November 15th, 2010

Anyone who knows me or who knows anything about me usually knows that my pre-teen and teen years were incredibly difficult. I dealt with neglect and abuse in my family, starting from about the time I was 10. I was sexually assaulted twice before I even became a teenager. I was queer. I was suicidal and was a self-injurer. I struggled to find safe shelter sometimes. Few people seemed to notice, even though after I gave up trying to use my words, I still used my eyes to try and tell them constantly. The one adult I could count on over time to be unilaterally supportive of me had (still has) serious mental illness. I had to take more adult responsibility at the end of my teen years than anyone else I knew. Like many adolescents, I constantly heard directly or got indirect messages from adults who talked about how awful teenagers were, how awful I was, how difficult, how impossible, how loathesome. Four days after my sixteenth birthday, the first real-deal big-love-me-lover I had, who treated me with all the care, support and respect I could have asked for, very violently committed suicide, having scars of his own from a lifetime of his own sexual and emotional abuse. Four days after my sixteenth birthday, with just a few days of freedom under my belt, I looked at brain matter spread over a wall from someone I deeply cared about. And that was after things had started getting better. I’m 40 now, and in a whole lot of ways, I felt older at 16 than I feel now. Some days, I am truly gobsmacked that I survived at all, let alone with my heart and mind intact and rich.

A lot of why I survived is about having gotten support. Without it, I’m fairly sure I would not have, because the times I didn’t have it are when I was so perilously close to either taking myself out or just numbing out; to staying alive, but not really being alive.

I can identify a few different lifelines I lucked into. That love affair was a biggie, despite the way it ended. I had a couple of good friends. My father did the best he could, even with contact made limited and his own limitations from his own traumas.I had a couple wonderful teachers who never really talked to me about what I suspect they knew, but who gave me some support and tools to help me value and care for myself. Having and knowing I had creative talents and being supported in those by some of the people around me was a godsend. I had also started seeing a counselor when I was 15, Barb, who was wonderful, sensitive and kind. However, she was so supportive of me, and so vocally nonsupportive of how I was being treated at home — even though I’d only disclosed some of the picture — that my stepparent axed her and wouldn’t allow me to see her anymore. Unbenownst to him, she’d still kept seeing me pro-bono, and continued to do so for another two years.  When my boyfriend died, she slept on the ratty couch in the ratty apartment my dad and I lived in to help get me through the night. She was the first adult to help me even get started on sorting out my sexual assaults, and was completely accepting of the person that I was and wanted to become.

But there was someone else very unexpected who made an incredible difference. I wish I knew his name. If I did, I’d send him a thank you note every day of my life in an envelope full of cupcakes and stars and love and guts; all the best tears of the joy and wonderful agony I’ve found in living and all the best sweat I’ve cultivated in surviving and thriving.

Throughout most of middle school and the start of high school, I was post-traumatic much of the time, holding hard secrets inside myself and deep in abusive dynamics, quite successfully abused and controlled. Not to the satisfaction of the person putting me there mind, because can you ever be controlled enough by someone who wants to control you? But I was mostly just not there: I checked out a whole lot. I sometimes playacted at what seemed like was supposed to be normal life, pantomiming what I observed my peers doing and saying, typing snippets of my own truth between the lines on the old typewriter that hurt my hands to use and which was missing two vowels I had to write in by hand. I often went to bed early so that I could wake up earlier still and leave the house unnoticed for a safe place where I could cry without worry of opening myself up to more abuses and write without fear of discovery.  I’d then sort myself out, walk to school, and arrive with a manufactured calm that allowed me to at least be able to spend my days feeling like, and being treated like, I was living a completely different life.

Somewhere around the time I was 14 or 15, something inside of me spoke the truth of my own circumstances and the way that I felt. I was able to slowly stop internalizing the abuse and neglect, and know it wasn’t about what was wrong with me. That change in my mindset, however small and seedling, and a few other changes started to give me some strength to resist, to try and survive, rather than trying to disappear, hide or check myself out altogether. This change did not go over well in my household, at all. The sad, suicidal, lost kid turning into the rebellious, resilient kid is not a change an abuser appreciates. But for a little while, I remember feeling strong, like I perhaps could go to battle in this, go to battle for myself, and just might be able to win.

But it quickly seemed I was going to get bested, in a really terrible way. My stepparent came up with a “last resort” of many abuses-disguised-as-therapies to deal with me; to have the control he clearly wanted, and the family he wanted, which did not include me. He was apparently going to utilize his counseling connections to get me institutionalized out of state. This threat, coupled with some escalating abuse, sapped my spirit, and made it feel like my idea I could get out of there and survive was a total delusion. It’s always so hard to look back on how I felt then because in hindsight I can see that this person had very little power at all, over me, in the spheres he claimed to, save the power I and my mother gave him.  In my adult eyes, I can see him as the pathetic pretender he was, and see that it was, in fact, my power he was so reactive to. But that’s not how he looked and seemed then. Then, he looked and seemed, particularly with this new plan, like a very potent overlord with the capacity to make my whole life whatever he wanted.

In actuality, his connections were only so good and he still had to work within the system. To make an institutionalization like that happen, an outside counselor needed to recommend it. It was a given that my previous counselor would not make that recommendation. Before I’d started seeing that counselor, though, there was another counselor we’d met with, who I strongly disliked. My stepfather really liked him. I remember thinking he seemed cold, but the fact that my stepfather thought he was awesome was all I needed to know I wanted to stay the hell away from him. I can’t remember how I managed to win the battle to not see that person and see Barb instead, but somehow I swung it.

So, of course, this was the counselor they wanted to try and get that recommendation so I could be sent away, sent away for good, I was told (which was a lie, obviously, but I didn’t know that at the time). I figured I was doomed and defeated. All I saw in the few days before this appointment in the life ahead of me was no windows and no future. I saw myself losing the few good connections I had in the world, to my father, to my few friends, to my plans for my life which I’d only recently felt the desire to even have again, having stopped wanting to die. I saw myself doped up and locked up forever. I snuck out of the house in the middle of the night to say painful goodbyes. My boyfriend and my friends tried to help me come up with any possible out, but I felt so beat down that though I think there were things I could have done to make that happen, I believed in my stepparent’s claimed omnipotence, I had started to believe that I was just nuts and broken, I believed again that I was powerless.

My stepfather, my mother and I drove a long way to see this guy. As ever, I had my giant bag I panhandled with packed with my own version of survival goods (loose change, some clothes, a couple pieces of fruit and bread, my journal, a mix tape or two, Sylvia Plath’s Ariel, my teddy bear, eyeliner, sleeping pills, caffeine pills and an ever-present can of Aqua Net, extra-strength) in case I got the opportunity to run. But they seemed pretty prepared for that possibility by that point, and it didn’t seem likely I’d get the chance. To boot, where we were heading was so far outside the city, I had no idea how I’d even get anywhere if I could get away.

I went in to be assessed. I held back a lot, not feeling safe to disclose, especially in a system where my stepparent had made himself seem like Napoleon. But I did disclose some of what was going on with me, some of what was going on in my house, some of how I felt, and certainly how powerless I felt. I voiced feeling my own life was being taken out of my hands, and a hard, tired acceptance of that. In spite of myself, I did share how awful it felt to live in a house where no one liked you, seemed to care about you, or recognized how much pain you were in and how badly you needed help, and how much I wanted to be with people who cared for me and where I could do all I knew I was capable of. Because I was madly in love and loved back in the same way for the first time, I of course couldn’t keep from talking about that, too. I left his office, then, and went into the waiting room, silent and scared to death.

Then he took a turn seeing the two of them. They were in there for a long time: every minute felt like an hour. Then he called me back in again. I went back in. I sat down, awaiting doom. He was quiet, contained, and his face didn’t give anything away. And then he said something like this:

“I talked to you. I talked to your mother and your stepfather. I do think there are mentally unwell people in your family. I do not think you are one of those people. I think it’s amazing you’re doing as well as you are, I’m so sorry you’ve had to go through what you have, and I’m sorry I didn’t see what was going on the first time I saw you. I think if you are unwell or in trouble, it’s not because of who you are or because something is wrong with you, but because you are living in a very unhealthy environment and there is something very wrong with that environment.  I am not going to recommend you be sent to Kentucky. I am going to recommend you live with your father, or in some other placement, because if we want you to be and feel a lot better, it seems to me we need to get you out of that house. I am going to call them back in and tell them this, too, but I wanted to tell you alone first.”

I think I still have a bruise on my thighs from my jaw falling so hard unto them in that moment 25 years ago.

I had so not seen that coming, even though my existing counselor had voiced similar sentiments (which is why I wasn’t supposed to be seeing her). I know and remember that I trusted and valued her words, and felt similarly relieved when she’d said them, but this was something different that had a much bigger impact on me. For starters, this guy had just effectively saved my life when it felt moments away from being a total loss: in some ways literally, since I no doubt would have gone back to trying to off myself in an institution, but it was bigger than that. He’d helped save and secure the possibility of my both having the life that I wanted, outside a lockdown, outside abuse, and helped me save my own sense of self, because I’d heard enough to squelch it that the lines had started to become blurry. I’d started to believe what I was told in abuse, and what I felt in neglect: that I was awful, worthless, ugly, defective, wrong and broken from birth, crazy and would always be all of those things at my very core.

In a string of words that didn’t even take a minute for him to voice, he’d done so much. When my stepfather came back in the room, I got to watch his face twist and then hang defeated when this guy voiced similar words to him, and I got a whole new wave of feeling empowered and brave. For a minute, it seemed like even my mother wasn’t convinced he had all the power anymore. Back in the car, as we drove to a friend’s house of his, I was told, from between gritted teeth, that if I could manage to get myself back to the city alone AND gather whatever of mine I could out of the house AND be gone by the time they got back AND if I accepted that I “should never ask either of them for anything again” (a deal I had to think about for all of a nanosecond, since some of my most basic needs hadn’t been met for years, so I couldn’t figure what exactly it was I would have gotten from them if I did ask) THEN I would be left to live with my father IF he would take me. Long story short, I managed to do it with the one phone call I was allotted, some expertly nimble window-scrambling, a sympathetic taxi driver and a whole lot of courage and confidence that counselor had provided me. If that had been an Olympic sport, I’d probably still hold the world record. That day ended in my father’s apartment, with my Dad on one side of me, my boyfriend on the other, a pizza, and all of us crying and laughing and hugging with relief and joy and gratitude for hours and being able to fall asleep in the company of two people who I knew loved me immensely. It wound up being one of the most happiest nights of my life.

This did not fix everything for me. Six days later, my boyfriend took too many ludes too near his idiot housemate’s loaded rifle. My father and I lived in deep poverty over the next couple years. I still had years (and do still) to work on trauma from all my abuses and assaults, to accept myself, to repair deep wounds that usually feel pretty well healed, but sometimes still feel raw and seeping.But it’s okay. I’m okay. I’m really excellent, when it all comes down to it. It’s kind of a miracle, and no small amount of it has to do with an hour of time and an ounce of compassion someone who didn’t even know me gave.

That guy supported me. He listened, and he trusted my words. He was clear, he was calm, he was centered when I couldn’t be. He gave me information I needed and dismantled misinformation that was hurting me and would continue to hurt me. He validated my feelings. He showed me I had and could find more allies. He watered my strength and courage. He gave me hope. He believed in me and helped me get back to believing in myself. He showed me that however scary disclosing is, you have to risk it sometimes because you have to risk being supported, not just being unsupported. He did something and said things that would make it a million times easier for me to really start talking to other people about what I had been through, would still later go through, what I was feeling and how I needed to be helped. And he was one of the rare and wonderful adults during that time of my life who demonstrated that someone like him, who did for me what he did, even though it may have felt smaller to him than to me, is a vital lifesaver.

The older I get, the more my memories of all of those years get blurrier, but this particular moment is deeply etched. Every time I call it back up, I wind up weeping with a revisited relief and gratitude; not just because he helped save my life, my self, my goddamn soul, but because he modeled something for me that very clearly took root and has allowed me to be able to do something a little like what he did for me for many, many young people who, however different or similar their circumstances, need that now just as bad as I did then.

* * *

Lately, there’s been some growing awareness of, and attention given to, young people who have killed themselves or been killed due to isolation, harassment and other abuse; around or related to gender, sexual orientation, sexual abuse or assault, interpersonal or interfamilial abuse or assault. There are always the omnipresent news stories about kids who shoot other kids, kids who die from overdoses or drunk driving or kill or harm other kids that way. But these stories, however important they are to tell — and they absolutely are — are about when the absolute worst has happened: when some young person simply can’t take living anymore, or decides no one else should; when young people implode or explode. This is already a limited scope, and who knows how long even this level of awareness that young people often have it very hard will last. Unless something in the world has radically changed around young people, and I’m not seeing any evidence that it has, this will likely be a moment in time that passes, as many have before.

What doesn’t often make the news, and what most folks so rarely see, are the young people who have been traumatized, challenged, squashed, mistreated, neglected, dismissed or just have been poorly served who turn it around. They don’t implode or explode, they survive, thrive, endure, inspire. Those who slog on and pull through, even if all they can manage at first is to just get from one day to the next. But I see these young people all the time at Scarleteen, in other work that I do and in other work and environments like this (which sadly remain few and far between). That’s because the young people that pull through tend to because they get some ongoing, reliable and compassionate information, help and support.  That’s because one of the biggest and most important parts of what my work is to be a person that’s there for them to get those things from.

At Scarleteen, we see the young person who comes in making sexual choices that are simply not at all right for them, that they don’t feel good about, don’t like, or where they’re taking risks they don’t need to be or don’t want to be. We see the young person who knows or suspects — and is usually deeply afraid — that they are lesbian, gay, bisexual or queer, and/or that they are trans or otherwise gender nonconforming and has no one safe to talk to. We see the young person who’s had an unintended pregnancy, and in all sorts of circumstances; who may need help finding or being supported in abortion, or being supported in pregnancy and parenting, including after they’ve given birth when the folks who were so invested in them making that choice stop giving a damn because them making that “right choice” was all they cared about. We see the young person who’s been sexually assaulted or abused; we see the young person who is currently being abused, who feels trapped in abuse and does not know how to get out. We see the young person who’s only ever had abusive models of relationships and so has no idea that the abuse they’re in is not okay and is not healthy. We see the young person who wants so badly to connect to others, but who just does not know how or who has a disability that makes it even harder for them to connect than it is for abled teens. We see the religiously conservative young person who has so many questions, or has even had something terrible happen to them and isn’t their fault, but who’s gotten the clear message that they can’t bring those questions or needs to their community without being scorned.

We see the young person who grew up with so much shame around their sexuality that the mere fact of its growing existence, whatever it’s like, has them terrified and desperately trying to crush it any way they can. We see the young person whose hatred of their body is so profound they are asking how they can literally cut certain parts off or starve certain parts away. We see the young person who’s being told, endlessly, everywhere they look, how incapable they are. We see the young person so desperate to try and redo their own lousy childhood that they’re trying to get pregnant at 14 in the hopes that creating their own family will give them love they never found and still don’t have. At Scarleteen and every time I do the in-person work via CONNECT (the in-person outreach I do at youth shelters which is now part of Scarleteen) we see young people who have been rejected and cast out by the adults who were supposed to be the ones they could trust and rely upon most, the young person who is, with myself and/or other volunteers and staff, having the very first supportive and caring exchange with an adult they have had in their whole lives. We see the young person whose esteem and self-worth is so low that they simply do not care that their sexual partners are treating them like garbage, or who welcome being treated like garbage because it at least gives them some momentary sense of worth. Some of these young people are in times in their lives like I was in mine. Some of them have different challenges, and some of them are far less or far more challenged than others. Our world as a whole is highly unsupportive of young people, even in the best of circumstances. Our world as a whole is highly fearful of sexuality. Those worlds collide for me and for the people I serve every day.

But what we see in all of these kinds of scenarios and more are young people who have identified a place to be supported and helped, a place to utilize to try and make things better for themselves; a place to try and get even a little of what they need to care for themselves. If and when we interact with them directly, as we do with around 20-50 of them each day, we also see young people who are willing to take a risk and ask for help directly, often fully expecting that they will be denied, teased or shut down. And what we also see every single day are young people who often have those terrible expectations and don’t have them met: who DO get the help and support they are asking for. Who DO get the information they need and are asking for.

What is it we do for them? It’s often both as small and as potentially big as what that guy did for me. We give them information: information they ask for within the scope of what we do and what we know. We give them compassion and care.  We listen. We respond to what they say and ask for, not what we want to hear and say. We support them. We always try and tell them the truth and to do so with kindness and care. We have and demonstrate faith in them. We work hard not to judge or project our own stuff on them. We treat them with respect, accept and embrace who they uniquely are and encourage them to do the same. We connect them with other systems of support and coach them in reaching out. We help them in steps that can improve their lives over time — sometimes immediately, but more often it takes some time — but we don’t blow off that if we’re they’re at right now hurts like hell, it’s painful and uncomfortable. We sit with them in that. We give them hope. We create and hold a space where we work to make it as safe as possible to take a risk and open up, and where they can also learn how to interact with others in safe, supportive ways, even when voicing things that hurt or are scary or uncomfortable.

For millions of young people around the world for around twelve years now, we are and have been that guy. We’re not the only place to find that, but for many of teens and twentysomethings we are the only place at first, or the first place. Some have voiced that at a given time, we are, literally, the only place they feel able to talk and ask questions and the only place or people they know they can count on to be available for that, year after year.

I rarely get letters from a person we helped with taking a pill on time or working through a standard-issue breakup. Who I do get letters from, often years later, are the young people in places a lot more like I was. Usually, there’s a lovely thank you, but the very best part is that they’ll usually fill me in on how they’re doing, what they’re doing, and on how wonderful their lives are becoming, which is all the thanks I need, and what I always hope I’ll hear in time, especially when I go to bed some nights having sat with someone through something terribly painful. I can let them go, both for my sake and for theirs, but some part of me always wonders and worries and hopes and hopes and hopes. Knowing that when I hoped for the best for them that the best is what happened is an incredible gift. And I’m very certain that there are many letters we don’t get but would otherwise, because a lot like me, those now-adults remember the help they got and the impact it had on them, but for the life of them they can’t even remember the name of the person who helped them. (Which is maybe how it should be when we do it right.)

Obviously, not every young person who comes to Scarleteen is dealing with the toughest-of-the-tough-stuff. I don’t highlight our toughest interactions all the time because to do that paints an unrealistic picture of young people’s diverse lives and the work that we do, which sometimes is about work that’s much easier and less meaty than this. I do believe that a lot of what we do helps prevent the a lot of tough stuff in the first place; whether it’s teaching someone about healthy and unhealthy relationship models, helping someone avoid infection or an unwanted pregnancy, or helping people set up a healthy sexuality before they can get solidified in typical, unhealthy and unhappy patterns. But I think it’s important to also give visibility to young people’s lives and stories like mine, and to make clear that one of the biggest things we do is to help some of the most vulnerable people, for whom good support and information — often a challenge to even find — really can be the difference between life and death, or between living and barely being alive at all.

* * *

I’m directly asking for your support right now, like I do once each year. Scarleteen is very undersupported financially. We always need more financial support and I would very much appreciate having yours. I think we do a fantastic, important job, think we have for many years, and I intend to do all I can for us to keep doing that job for many more to come so we can remain a place young people know they can come back to, and don’t have to worry about passing in the night when a media or cultural tide shifts. I think Scarleteen and all that happens at Scarleteen is very worthy of being supported and sustained. To make that happen, we need more than just my own stubborn and dogged commitment and that of our volunteers: it also takes some dollars (and possibly a can or of Aqua Net, a mix tape and most certainly a teddy bear). In the last month we have been fundraising, and unfortunately, it’s been very unsuccessful this year, even though we’ve provided the same level, quality and scope of service we have for the last twelve years, and the young people who need us keep on coming in droves. From today through the 18th, a small team will be matching funds raised up to $1,000, so if you haven’t given yet this year, now would be a great time, and your gift would be deeply appreciated.

I felt a little strange that when I went to write a blog entry asking for support, this story is what came out. I wondered if it was appropriate or gauche to ask for financial support while also telling this story. But then I realized not only was it okay, it was actually ideal.

I grew up having plenty of things and people I wanted to be when I was grownup. I wanted to be the musician and artist I had all those talents for. I wanted to be a writer. I wanted to be a lawyer, a doctor, a firefighter, an activist, a muckracker, a lion tamer. I wanted to be Emma Goldman, Patti Smith, Jane Addams, Judy Blume and the doctor who worked with my Mom I called Dr. Harry, who had webbed feet (he was really nice, but also, unlike the nurses who gossiped about it, I thought webbed feet must be the most awesome thing to have in the world, especially in the pool at the Y).

But most days, I wake up and jump energetically into my work even if the day before wiped me out, and I realize that who and what I most wanted to be, and clearly still want to be, was that guy who kind of gave me my whole life back in but one hour and a short string of words. For someone. For anyone who needs me to be and for whom I can be. I don’t even remember that guy’s name, but I know that most days, most of the time, he’s who I want to be; he’s who I try to be. He’s better than my hero: he gave me access to what I needed to be able to be my own hero, and gave me something core I needed to keep trying to do the same turn for others every day, probably for the rest of my life.

When I ask for support for Scarleteen, one of the things I’m doing is taking some of what this guy gave to me and trying to keep it going. Because so much of Scarleteen is made of my personal time and effort, I’m asking for your help and support for my own aspirations to be like that guy, and for our staff and volunteers to do the same. But I’m also asking for help and support for a kind of intention, service and sustained space that I think, in the biggest of all possible big pictures, helps and supports every single person we help and support to be that guy, if not for a whole bunch of people, for at least one or two other people and most certainly for themselves.

That’s a different end result to aim for than a reduction in unwanted pregnancy, lower rates of STIs, less abuse and more love and pleasure, better body image or people just being more informed so that their sexuality and sex life can be as good for them and any partners they have as it can be. You won’t find a grant to fund sex education that wants a logic model for way bigger pictures than those, and I don’t know that we can build something evidence-based on the grandest goals. You won’t tend to hear people presenting this much-bigger-picture as part of sex education, even though I think it’s implicit in all quality sex education, and some part of what every thoughtful sex educator is doing and aims to do. Teaching and modeling compassion, care, responsiveness and support, in everything, but especially in the stuff that’s most loaded, is no small part of any good sex education because it’s such a large part of any good sexual life and healthy sexuality and relationships.

I think — and that’s hopefully obvious — that all of those kinds of less lofty goals are crucially important, at the end of my day, what I want to have seen and done is this bigger stuff that lies underneath it all. I want to go to bed knowing it was at the heart of everything I did, that in ways great or small, I was able to teach or model something for everyone I interacted with that’s all about being that guy for yourself and that guy for others, which I believe would be world-changing and also believe is absolutely attainable and should be as supported by all of us in all of the ways that we can.

UPDATE A generous ongoing donor has just agreed to throw an extra $1,000 in the kitty for matching through the 20th!  So, now, up to $2,000 in donations will be matched for donations made from now until Saturday!

Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010

Last week, this eloquent missive arrived in the Scarleteen general email box:

From: na@aol.com
Subject: [General Contact] Heather Corinna
Date: July 29, 2010 8:50:10 AM PDT

bob sent a message using the contact form at http://www.scarleteen.com/contact.

her advice comes from fact that Heather Corinna is a SLUT

I don’t know Bob. I also have never slept with anyone named Bob as far as I recall — I have a near-exclusive partiality to lovers or partners with names that start with the letter J or M, followed by A, C and D. The two lone B’s I can recall have both been Brians. This begs the question of how, exactly, Bob knows I’m a slut in the first place. Bob’s agenda is also a mystery. Maybe he thought I had some kind of supervisor who would see this…actually, I don’t know what on earth Bob’s intent was here. No sense trying to suss it out. All I know is that it came in, I read it, and I said, “Umm, okay. It just might. And?” Perhaps obviously, I cannot ask Bob what sort of actionable response he wanted from this very important piece of news, because he, demonstrating exceptional courage, did not use a real email address.

There’s been a lot of talk about sluthood on the interwebs this week, mostly stemming from Jaclyn Friedman’s fantastic piece here and a couple patronizing, backlashy replies. I hesitate to link to them because I hate to send them traffic, but it’s never fair to call someone’s words idiotic without sharing the evidence you’re basing that judgment on.

When Jaclyn’s piece came out, I read it, thought it was great, so real of her, and clearly something that resonated with a lot of women. Jaclyn and I are friends, so I also had a little more inside scoop on what a big deal putting that out there was for her. While I very much appreciated the piece, it didn’t resonate with me on a personal level all that much. I’m quite certain this is not because it wasn’t a powerfully-written and important piece, because I think it was.

I just got off the phone with Jaclyn, in part because some I wanted to try and figure out WHY it didn’t resonate with me, and make sure that in figuring that out, I wasn’t making any assumptions about Jaclyn and her experiences or thoughts.

(By the way, an etiquette tip it appears some people never learned? When someone puts out something exceptionally personal, no matter who they put it out to or where, if you want to have anything resembling manners, you at least try and engage with them directly before you psychoanalyze them for the whole world, and probably mostly for your own benefit. No, no one HAS to do that, but anyone arguing for “values” or “respect” is going to lose an awful lot of face if they have the social graces of a mosquito.)

Back to that email. I got it, had that reaction to it, which was pretty much no reaction. That was followed with momentary amusement at the idea either I, or my mystery supervisor (oh, if only!), was supposed to have some kind of reaction.

See, to me, a statement like that is about as powerful and about as true as statements like:
• her advice comes from fact that Heather Corinna has a BIG NOSE
• her advice comes from fact that Heather Corinna is SHORT
• her advice comes from fact that Heather Corinna was RAPED
• her advice comes from fact that Heather Corinna ENJOYS HULA-HOOPING
• her advice comes from fact that Heather Corinna likes giving and getting HEAD
• her advice comes from fact that Heather Corinna has a PUG
• her advice comes from fact that Heather Corinna is A BIG QUEERO
• her advice comes from fact that Heather Corinna STUDIES SEXUALITY
• her advice comes from fact that Heather Corinna is IRISH-ITALIAN
• her advice comes from fact that Heather Corinna has been a TEACHER FOR 20 YEARS
• her advice comes from fact that Heather Corinna HAS RENT TO PAY

All true, all part of who I am and what life I live and have lived, and likely all part of what influences the advice that I give to others. Etymologically, being a slut means being untidy and/or being someone with a twat who has either bonked a lot of people or, as the awesome Kelly Huegel pointed out, is a female person who has had sex with more people than any one person calling them a slut considers acceptable. One supposes you can add in the frequent implication that being a slut means being someone of “loose” or questionable character or values.

So, am I a slut? Sure, okay. I am untidy. I have had sex with more people than some people consider acceptable, and on the bell curve of what folks report with a lifetime number of partners, I have had more than most. Since I have routinely questioned both my own values and character for myself all my life as a regular practice, and try to keep flexible, I suppose it’s also true to say mine are both questionable and loose. When you tell me or others something that is true about myself, I’m not likely to get my feelings hurt or be offended, particularly when we’re talking about things that have been my choice, like my sex life.

Jaclyn is getting some of the negative reactions she is just because some people are just idiots. But Jaclyn is also probably getting that kind of reaction because some of what she said is exactly what those people want to hear if they read very, very selectively. She’s a solid writer, which makes it easy to take her statements out of context.

In the piece, one thing she voiced was that what she most wants right now is a long-term relationship; that she has been able to have casual sex of late, and that it has been positive, but what she really wants and does not have is an LTR. While she did not voice a causal relationship between the two (quite the opposite), what she said allowed people who are seeking out such things to cling on to that notion, one they desperately want to believe and want others to believe. She also voiced she had feelings about casual sex that were not unilaterally positive, something else they want to hear and spotlight. And because she said what they wanted to hear and because it resonated with some other women, she’s a great sort of poster child for a carnival show where people pretend to be showing others the poor, broken girl who just doesn’t know any better so that they can avoid her same, terrible fate.

She also disclosed she survived sexual trauma. As I’ve said about a million times, if and when any of us do that, while it’s important we do do that, both politically and because being able to be honest about any part of our lives is major, we become very easy marks.  Almost anything we do or experience ever-after, anything that is anything less than perfect, will often be attributed not even to our rape, but to us being a person who has been raped. I’ve decided my new comeback to this when I get hit with it, by the way, is going to be “Okay, let’s say everything wrong with me or that I’m unhappy about sexually or interpersonally IS because I was raped.  So… what the fuck happened to YOU that made you this screwed up?”

Anyway, in thinking about my non-reaction to that email since last week, to my less-than-super-pow reaction to Jaclyn’s post and to the responses to it, positive and negative, I’ve come to some conclusions.

Jaclyn was considered “the good girl” in her family. In mine, that was my sister, not me. Her good girl distinction and my bad girl one were affixed before either of us engaged in any kind of sexual behavior or even thought about it. Mind, my family was not a unified front in this. One of my parents was extraordinarily sex-positive and very strongly and loudly against slut-shaming and against the whole good girl/bad girl epoch, while my other parent — raised in a very religiously-oppressive household where this stuff was a staple — and particularly my stepparent (an abuser, so no surprises there), slut-crowned me pretty much on the basis of having a first kiss and on trying so hard to meet gender presentations that didn’t feel authentic to me, but that they required. It appears I erred on the side of presenting that way too well. Talk about a backfire. Not girly enough? You’re a dyke. Too girly? You’re a slut. It’s a tough game to win, and one I perpetually lost. It’s also why when I was assaulted at 11 and 12, after one attempt to tell my mother, I didn’t tell anyone for years. I knew my stepparent would feel proved right and I knew it would be used against me in his abuse. I couldn’t bear the thought of giving him any more ammo.

That consistent verbal slur or implication was also based in homophobia: I knew about my feelings for girls, or experienced them, anyway, before I knew about my feelings for boys. I didn’t recognize those feelings for what they were very clearly until high school, but in hindsight, it’s obvious my family did. That may be part of why, while the word “slut” doesn’t hold particular power with me, either as a slur or as something to reclaim, the word dyke very much did and has. I think that has to do with my own journey in getting right with other women and with my gender. Mostly, though, I think it’s about been called a dyke and not being far enough in those journeys that I did internalize it as a slur — something I never did with slut because when it was hurled at my in my pre-teens and early teens, I knew it wasn’t true. About feeling bad about something I wished I’d instead felt good about and had had the strength to refuse to internalize as bad.

Jaclyn and I talked about what our differences in some of this might be, and some of what came up was privilege. While we have or have had some similarities (the self-defense, the communication skills, the fact that we’re both white), we’re also a bit different in that arena. The trajectory of our lives and sexualities have been different: with each decade, for instance, my number of sexual partners has declined: in the last ten years, I’ve only been outside LTRs and single with casual partners for around 2. I have had my work or the credibility of my work impacted by my actual or perceived sexual behaviour. But I also tend to experience a weird kind of privilege in often having little privilege. I figure if it isn’t going to be one thing, it’ll be another, so I may as well just be who I am and put who I am on the table. Like Janis sang, freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.

Like Jaclyn, I have had times in my life when I have wanted an ongoing, intimate relationship and have not had one, though with me that’s rarely abstract. When I want one of those, it tends to be about wanting one with someone specific (or, let’s be frank: about wanting relationships where I can get some privilege and be spared some of the judgment we get while in other models). It’s fair to say I’ve usually been far more cautious about getting into romantic relationships than I have been about getting into bed with someone.

The first person I deeply romantically loved and wanted a lifelong relationship with died, and I had a while in my teens and early 20’s where I struggled with the idea that I had my shot with romantic love; I met My One Person and since apparently there was but The One, I had had mine and was shit out of luck because that person was dead. I got over that, but it took a while, and all the bullshit about there being only one big love people shove down everyone’s throat did not help at all. Given the fact that in many ways, the people closest to me growing up turned out to be who I could trust the least, I absolutely have had intimacy issues because getting close has always equaled a fear of not just being hurt, but the fear-via-experience of being abused and seriously neglected. I could go on, but the point is I have a very good idea about the why of that (and have already had and enjoyed the psychoanalysis to help me get there, thanks), and it’s simply What Is: don’t see it as anything broken I need to fix, but the person I am based on the life I’ve lived, a person I like, love and respect.

I’ve had a handful of long-term relationships in my life, most of which I’d class as successful: I had good experiences in them and got good things from them, so did the other person or people. Sparing the death of my sweetheart in high school, the person who has left or adjusted almost every one of them? That’s usually been me. Why? It depends, really, but more times than not it’s just been because various needs or wants I had weren’t being met in those relationships or the relationship had morphed from something romantic into a different kind of relationship that felt a better fit for everyone. First time at bat with my current partner, I skeedaddled because of PTSD whacking me in the face without warning or preparation and I dealt with it very badly as a result.

However, I’ve also had just as many times when I wanted more casual sex partners or experiences than I had. Like most parts of life and like many people, I’ve had both feast and famine, and have been delighted about the feast and distressed about the famine. In what things or areas there was bounty or drought strikes me as irrelevant. Bounty almost always feels great while drought pretty much always sucks, for everyone, with everything. Rocket science, this ain’t.

I even miss casual sex when I’m not having it. I can’t always say that so plainly when I’m with someone long-term. But blessedly, my partner (who’s known me on and off for 20 years, a relationship that began in 1989 with a three-night-stand) knows with certainty that I very much enjoy the sex that we have as a currently monogamous couple and also understands that while there are plenty of common threads between sex we have in LTRs and casual sex, also groks the differences and doesn’t see them as being in a cagematch.

When I miss it, what I miss is the adventure, the uncertainty, the dance of the thing. I miss sudden, often unexpected connectivity. For me, there was always something spiritually very cool in experiencing sex as one of the many ways people who aren’t deeply connected can wind up very deeply connecting quickly, be that with the sex itself or with the conversation before or after. While I’m all for taking the cultural unacceptability out of casual sex for those who still cling to it or are very impacted by it, at the same time, there’s this sort of partners-in-crime thing I’ve sometimes had with casual sex partners, where you’re both doing this thing you know some people think is not okay, which can make it all the more playful.

There’s a kind of abandon that I experience in sex period, but which for me has been particularly strong with casual sex. There’s that thing where it’s really very much up for grabs as to whether or not you’ll have sex that day or night or not that’s a lot tougher to come by with sex in ongoing relationships, long or short-term. There’s a lack of expectation I appreciate. Heck, I miss being able to blog more about the sex I have: that’s a lot more tricky when you’re having it outside casual situations. As well, given some of my history, it’s often been easier for me to say what I want when there are no strings attached than when there are. I can either way, it’s just that doing so with someone who knows me very well is more of a challenge, and feels much more vulnerable to me, so it’s scarier at first than in casual sex.

I clearly prefer ongoing or long-term relationships that start with casual sex. Not that I honestly know much about the alternative, since I’ve almost unilaterally had that thing happen that so many of us are told will NEVER happen with casual sex. Almost all of my ongoing romantic relationships have started with casual sex. Many of my friendships have, too. One of the things I miss when I’m missing casual sex are the friendships that I have found stem from it. Casual sex has rarely meant a lack of love for me. I’ve given and received a lot of love and care in most of my sexual relationships of all sorts; the casual ones have been no exception.

I know a lot of people are very scared of STIs with casual sex, but this is one of those areas where I know too much. Coming of age with a parent working in some of the earliest AIDS care meant I got and saw facts, not fictions. My personal life and those around me have reflected the reality that it’s lack of barrier use and lack of sexual healthcare most responsible for STIs, not what kind of sex we have. Having more partners certainly increases the risks, but only having one or two and not using barriers and having everyone regularly tested presents even larger ones. If I didn’t know this before I went into working in sexual health, including in clinical work, I sure know it now. Someone can tell me all they want STIs are about casual sex, but they’re usually not people working in these fields because we know better. When I hear someone say “she’s risking her life for casual sex!” I tend to wish I could require compulsory volunteering in domestic/intimate partner violence.

I’m aware, especially after going on 13 years of sex and relationships being my full-time work, that there is NO human interaction in which we cannot get hurt; NO one way of having sex or sexual relationships that removes the risk of heartbreak or abuse. There are some bare basics — consent, communication, self-awareness — and then each of us doing our best to make choices and interrelate in the ways that feel a best fit for us and anyone else involved at any given time of our lives.

I know that for people like the two I linked to shredding Jaclyn, of course, there’s also a gender script pretty much running the show. However, it’s not even worth addressing here because it’s absolutely meaningless and irrelevant for those of us who are queer and who aren’t gendernormative. (You also can’t make it meaningful by trying to change the facts of someone’s orientation and partnerships, calling them all male or hetero when they haven’t been. Just a tip.)  I’d posit that even for those who are, much of the time it’s only relevant because they’re so susceptible to those messages, not because there’s some sort of biological or sociological essentialism that rule all.

With both casual and non-casual sex I have not had radically different dynamics when it comes to my partners and their/our gender. In fact, some of the most pervasive messages about gender in the hetero scripts about casual sex sound like science fiction through the lens of my own experiences. For example, in my own sex life, it’s not usually been men who were hardest to hold onto when holding on is what I wanted, but women. It’s not been women who have expressed feelings hurt by casual sex the few times that’s happened, but men. Whoever these “all men” are that fuck and run? I’m not sure I’ve slept with any of them, and if I have, I must have just run through the finish line myself before I saw them start their own sprint.

There’s another difference Jaclyn and I talked about this morning, which is that being slut-shamed is new for her, whereas it’s something I grew up with and which has been pervasive for me for a long time.

I think it’s safe to say I haven’t ever been hurt by my own actual sluttery, per what that word actually means and per how it’s most often colloquially defined. Even being called one when I was young mostly hurt within the context of every name I got called and every way I was intentionally isolated and abused. There’s even a flip side to that, though, which is that being called a slut also gave me permission to go and be one: after all, if you’re going to get called something that involves doing things you may enjoy, it feels silly not to do those things. Maybe if I hadn’t gotten called one, it would have been harder for me to explore that part of my nature, which has involved some of the best parts of my whole life.

The personal disrespect to me in slut-shaming isn’t really what has stung, since it’s generally been clear people who throw that word at others don’t have much respect for anyone, not just me. They also most often seem to be most strongly reacting to women having sex outside the system of sex-for-goods, be those goods marriage, shelter, children, social status, hat have you. That’s a big reality for many women in the world I acknowledge and understand, for sure, and also acknowledge and understand is inescapable for some, but I also feel is nothing close to ideal. I’m lucky to have been able to live outside that system for most of my life with only a few brief exceptions. This is usually also clearly why so many of the folks so attached to that way of codifying sex are so anti-prostitution: it’s critically important their sexual exchanges be seen as radically different, even though I don’t see the big diff myself.

The few times I have felt deeply hurt by being a “slut,” wasn’t in any of the sex (or untidiness) I was having or had, but in the way people who call me or other people sluts; in the way “being a slut” is presented, something Jaclyn spoke so aptly about. It was the verbal abuse — like any verbal abuse — that hurt, not my own sexual life used as a vehicle for that abuse. That’s probably a big duh for those past the 101 of abusive dynamics, interpersonal relationships and sexuality. But for some strange reason, it escapes people’s minds who think that they can say the issue isn’t THEIR chosen words or actions, but what WE did to CAUSE their words and actions to burst forward from their mouths and fingers, which they apparently have no control over because of how our own lives, of which they often have been no part. It’s amazing that the same people who tell women they should just shut their legs don’t seem to have the same standards for their own mouths.

The times I’ve been attacked and nonconsensually deconstructed per what a slut/whore/insert-your-fave-sexual-chick-shame-here I am and it has hurt, the hurt was centrally about something different than I think the folks doling out that epithet imagine it to be. It’s not been about my feeling ashamed of myself or my choices. It’s instead been about profound disappointment and weariness that we still, at this point in history, can’t all be real about who we are in our sex lives and have our divergence simply recognized as the diversity human sexuality and life is, with the understanding that none of our lives is everyone’s right answer. That so many people still just cannot get that because they put themselves and their lives out there as prescriptions doesn’t mean we all do. When those attacks are about you having casual sex and about how much that sex shows how little self-respect you have or how little respect you’re getting, the ironic icing on that cake is that I’ve been very respected and cared for, as have my partners, in most of the sex — casual and not — that I have had. Where I’m not getting that respect isn’t from the people everyone says didn’t or won’t respect me, but from the people presenting themselves as experts on respect who clearly know nothing about it at all.

As someone who has worked many years and long hours to try and repair some of this stuff culturally, it’s particularly frustrating and tiresome and makes me feel like Don Quixote all too often. Which is really no fun at all without a Sancho Panza to have witty, existential banter with or without getting your very own musical.

There’s also a subtext to all of this that has to do with who is perceived as redeemable and who isn’t. If YOU, yourself, are seen as potentially redeemable, you get talked to one way: often with what is presented as gentleness, but tends to feel an awful lot like being patronized.  If you are NOT seen as redeemable, the language tends to be more angry and rough. If who might be influenced by you or what you voice is seen as redeemable and YOU also are, you all get talked to like you’re stupid little lambs.  If you are NOT seen as redeemeable, but who hears or sees you is, you’re really in the shit. And if you get so lucky, you and anyone you might influence are all seen as unredeemable, because that usually nets you a complete and blissful silence where you can just support one another and enjoy your private lives in peace.

I was accused by Walsh yesterday of having “many young women drinking my Kool-aid” who “were unhappy about it.” I’m not sure who these young women are or what my Kool-Aid is exactly. I asked, I got silence. Thus far, in the work I do, I have yet to see reports about how upset someone is that they did something Heather Corinna told them to do, sparing a few people I’ve told to get a GYN exam or a test for something and who got poor care from healthcare providers when doing so. Since I don’t tell anyone to have this kind of sex or that kind of sex at all — on the contrary — I’m not sure what that was all about.

Lest dumb assumptions be made, the reason this is here and not at Scarleteen isn’t because I feel ashamed of myself or my friends or that I think my sex life is de facto inappropriate.  It’s because as much as possible, especially when the young people there don’t ask me for it, I limit what I share anecdotally.  I have these funny things we call boundaries on my planet. I’d do the same even if — maybe even especially, since it’s SO different than where they’re at — I had only had one partner, married them and was with them for 25 years exclusively. The young people I provide sexuality education to usually know precious little about my sex life and sexual history, because they come wanting to talk about themselves, and also because my own sex life often has little to do with them or what they’re asking. How my sexual history would be pertinent to how they can use their birth control method or to where their own clitoris is beyond me. Adults who assume I sit and talk turkey about what’s going on in my bedroom with young people usually do because that’s what they do, not because it’s what I do. Young people also tend to voice to me that older people’s anecdotes about their own sexual experiences can feel like pressure, no matter WHAT those anecdotes are. Just a few weeks ago, a few of them were talking about how they feel pressured by a lot of abstinence-messaging TO have intercourse because it presents it as the only REAL sex. Go figure.

Some of the reaction to Jaclyn’s piece, or this business about my Kool-Aid clearly was about the poor, vulnerable young women we are perceived as having corrupted or may corrupt. Often evidence for this is stated in that wild, crazy “hookup culture” all the cool kids are purportedly part of. Beyond the fact that I’m not sure how people like myself or Jaclyn can be held responsible for any casual sex young women may be having now, I also want to make clear that I feel quite certain most of the hookup-culture stuff is pretty much exactly what happened to me when I was young.  It’s calling people sluts who often haven’t engaged in any sexual behaviour, or if they have, haven’t been doing anything different than what generations before them have developmentally.

Sparing a few limited populations, as far as I can tell and based on what young people talk about in droves in my work, this “hookup culture” where they’re apparently having ALL this sex or ALL this casual sex is mostly adultist sex panic.  (The funny thing is, the only interaction I had with Susan Walsh before this was on a panel where if I recall correctly, Logan Levkoff and I were calling her and another panelist out on exactly that issue.) From what I can tell, they’re considerably more sexually conservative than my generation and a lot of my parent’s generation was, and are having around the same or fewer sexual partners than we were, not more.  Which also makes them a lot more vulnerable to messaging about sluts, whether they’re going to do the name-calling or are going to get name-called; whether they are or are not sluts at all.

In fact, it’s entirely possible Bob is a 15 year-old kid who sees me as a slut simply because I’m a woman who is talking about sex, which he has been told, in umpteen different places, means I must be a slut and means he must try to shame me accordingly.  Hopefully, Bob will grow up, which is more than I can say for many adults talking this way.

P.S. Some other entries have come up today around some of the fracas I wanted to point out:

• From Amanda Marcotte: http://pandagon.net/index.php/site/comments/no_laughing_no_screwing_no_learning_how_to_read/
• From The Sexademic: http://sexademic.wordpress.com/2010/08/03/girl-fight-sluts-vs-prudes/ (who also wrote about Oxytocin, oddly enough, as I’m trying to finish a piece on it I keep putting off)

• From Jessica Valenti:  http://jessicavalenti.com/?p=592

Saturday, January 23rd, 2010

I’d like a little help with something.

Due to popular demand from some of our Scarleteen users, I need to write a piece for them about casual sex: how to figure out if it’s right for you and someone else, how to negotiate it, how to work it all out.  Certainly, much of our material can be applied to sex in casual or committed/ongoing relationship contexts, but there are definitely some differences with brand new partnerships or casual ones that could stand to be discussed.

Initially, I thought that this was so no problem, and absolutely something I can write for them…

…well, wait.

Initially, what I actually thought was that I was bummed to need to do this because I know I am going to have to deal with a level of crap about it that is just plain going to suck.  I take enough shit from neocons (and all kinds of other folks) as it is for nearly anything I say about young people and sex that is anything more than “Just wait,” but putting something like this right out there and up front is likely to result in my taking more crap than usual.

So, I thought that.  Then I got over it. They tell me they need it, so it’s my job to provide it, that’s how I do things.  Plus, I’ve always liked casual sex and managed it exceptionally well, so it’s certainly something I can write about, and it’s not like I’ve ever pretended, to the young folks or anyone else, that my life and sex life has been made up of traditionally or morally-sanctioned relationships.

But I’m hitting a bit of a snag, which is the worry I’ve actually been TOO good at casual sex in my life to do this piece well all by myself.  That in some sense, it’s been too easy for me, so I may be overlooking some management and negotiation skills, or some potential pitfalls, that should be included. I tend to be a sex-on-the-first-date (or, sex-in-lieu-of-date) person almost unilaterally from near minute one of my sexual development, with me being the person nearly always initiating that. I spent many years of my life as a frequent one-night-stander and found that was usually a great fit for me: I felt very free in that, I’ve had a lot of fun, and I tend to be able to be sexually open really fast with people when the chemistry is there. I also came of age without feeling any major moral judgments around casual sex from my peers or even most of the adults around me, so I think I came into it with less fears and doubts and baggage than other people, and certainly a generation of young people told casual sex is the stuff of death and moral and emotional destruction, have.

In some ways, casual sex has posed less challenges for me than sex has in ongoing or committed relationships. I’m also, in general, a risk-taker by nature, so there’s that to contend with, too.

Now, maybe I’m just being a dope and underestimating myself, or maybe I’m even unconsciously buying into messages that casual sex is so much more emotionally risky than other kinds of sex, something which I know hasn’t been true at all for me, but I’ve always gotten strong messages I’m weird that way, messages which may or may not actually be true.

All the same, I’m asking for help: might any of you want to share with me some of your issues/tips/helpful hints when it comes to casual sex that I can look at and potentially include in this in the case that I might see this as far easier or more manageable than other folks do?  Pretty please?

Tuesday, January 19th, 2010

This post, about this post and some of the comments in it, brought some things up for me this week, so I’m going to unpack  some things.

Through most of my life, the majority of my long-term partners have not been porn users or those who have used porn with any regularity. That’s nothing I purposefully screened for, asked for or did intentionally, it’s just been the way it worked out, which has been pretty surprising to me, since you hear all the time how unlikely that is, particularly if you’re dating men. And yet. To boot, in my own sexual history, it’s been more common for my female sexual partners to be porn users than my male ones.

“Porn user” is a common but weird phrase, mind, and it carries negative implications. So let me be clear: they have not been people who generally or habitually utilized/perused pornography in our sex life or in their own masturbation. With my casual partners, I really couldn’t tell you. It’s something I just don’t know about some of them because it just never came up in the brief hours or days we were schtupping. My sense is that it’s been pretty all over the map.

In general, I’ve never been someone who has a preference when it comes to whether or not a sexual/romantic partner uses pornography. It’s a fluke that most of my long-terms have not been into porn much in the same way that it’s been a bit of a fluke that most of my long-term partners wanted to be monogamous with me: both things I often don’t have any strong preferences about and have a lot of flexibility with.

Mind, I was a written erotica author and publisher for many years, I have and still do work in erotic art and fine art nudes with my photography. More than once, I’ve had staples in my own navel. So, if someone else wanted to be with someone who had little or nothing to do with pornography or erotica, I’d have been a poor choice for them. However, personally, I’ve never really been much of a visual pornography user myself, though. Lord knows I had the chance: for a handful of years, I got sent a lot of porn to review for Scarlet Letters.

My own lack of porn use has not really been about ethical objections so much as the fact that I find most porn either a) grossly comedic (in a bad and not so-bad-it’s-good B-movie kind of way) b) really un-sexy (especially when you bear in mind that I don’t find most cisgender men attractive and I also don’t find myself attracted to femmes) c) full of dynamics, language or approaches that either gross me out or make me depressed or d) downright boring. In other words, so much of it has been either a turn-off or felt so nonsexual to me that I’ve rarely had the chance to even get to the part where I make personal ethical considerations. The visual porn that I actually have found sexy and stimulating has generally been made in such a way that I don’t have ethical issues with it, though I don’t think that’s the big reason why I liked it. I know that Shar and Jackie and Nan made and make their material in a way that works with my ethics, but while that’s a big plus, I think why I like their work has more to do with the content, style and vibe of it all (which yeah, okay is probably also about ethics: clearly compartmentalizing this stuff is only so doable).

I think I’m also influenced by being a visual artist and finding that what I see visually in my head when I fantasize is a lot more interesting, complex and purty to look at than what has been committed to film or video or because it’s possible that some of what I see in my head just isn’t possible with the limitations of those mediums (or the limitations of physics, for that matter).  And when I’m photographing other people, it’s not a sexual experience for me (even if it is for them, which it often isn’t), it’s not really about erotica so much as body image, and when I photograph myself, unless a partner was involved, it’s the same story. Not always, but most of the time.

Written erotica? That’s offered me a lot more, and was something I far more often have found arousing, but I stopped reading erotica for the most part years ago because I just lost interest.  Editing and publishing it for such a long time probably played a part in that. My porn these days, if you can call it that, tends to be things more like cooking or music. Toss a porn vid at me and you’ll probably get a 0 on the Richter scale. Make an ungodly good and beautiful cake or pick just the right batch of tunes and then you get the quivering thighs.  Maybe I’m just getting old. Maybe I’m bloody boring. Who knows. Who cares?

Because I work in sex, I also often feel like I’m probably a bit off-the-grid with any of this stuff.  When sexuality is your job, you’re just in a different mindset with all of this in my experience, than people are for whom it isn’t or has never been work. I see and hear enough about sex all day, and often not things that are sexy either, that when it comes time for sex I just want the physical contact, pronto. I want to get right to it.  Perhaps impatience is part of all this for me, too. I’m not often an “I need to be finessed” type: I’m more a “Stop fucking around and get on with it!” gal.

Anyway, on the whole, I don’t know how much difference a partner using or not using pornography has really made in the vast majority of my relationships. I’m inclined to say little to none, in either direction.

Of course, I also find it tough to even define that criteria. For instance, one longtime partner of mine didn’t have any purchased porn of any kind (and this was pre-internet), but often, as an illustrator, illustrated erotic images were something we sometimes made part of our sex life or our general sexual consciousness: that’s porn. And like I said, some of the art I made has been about erotic experiences, even though the arousing part for me was the-making-of (and the sex that often continued after) rather than looking at anything later.  But then, I’m also a process-not-product person in most things.

The one way issues have come up that have been problematic for me hasn’t been about porn or no-porn, but about attitudes around or about porn.

In other words, the one time a partner’s porn use really was a problem for me was when that person’s attitudes about the people in porn framed them as less-than-human, as commodities, objectified them in a way that I just wasn’t comfortable with. And sometimes those attitudes bled over into our sex life, particularly if that pornography had been used very recently. I did put a kibbosh in that relationship on having porn be used as foreplay (either with me or alone) in our sex life because when it was, I did experience a bleed-over of those dynamics in our sex that created a dynamic I really wasn’t comfortable with, and made me feel like I was in some way also kind of nonconsensually being made part of the sexual dehumanizing of someone else.  And that’s neither okay with me nor was it sexy to me: it was a really big turn-off.

If someone wants to bring sexual fantasy of someone else into sex with me, I’m totally down with that (and as someone who has enjoyed sex with more than one partner at a time far more than once, that’s a goodie for me, and plays a part in my own sexual fantasy life a’plenty), but not if that fantasy involves framing others as products or goods, not people. Mind you, I would never have asked that partner to change their porn use that had nothing to do with me and that I walked into the relationship knowing about, even if I didn’t know some of the flavor of it. And setting that limit with it did seem to put an end to the dynamic I experienced coming into our bed sometimes.

I’ve also not done very well with sexual partners who don’t use porn and have strongly negative or objectivist attitudes about people in porn or sex work. I don’t know how much that really impacted my sex life with those folks, but it certainly impacted the relationship as a whole, mostly due to my own history, to the fact that some of my friends are “those people,” and the fact that I just don’t connect well with people who hate on other people as a whole, or who feel very insecure about their sexual selves.

I’ll be honest and also say that — in my experience, which isn’t to  say jack about anyone else’s — with my partnerships, when I think hard and try and find any differences, I’ve found my partners who are not big with the porn tend to be a bit more imaginative, full-sensory oriented lovers who I experience as a bit more tuned-in to the present sexual moment. There have been exceptions, but on the whole, for me, that’s one commonality I’ve found, though it usually hasn’t been a chasm of difference, but something more often more subtle. That personal experience may well bear no reflection on regular porn users as a whole, and I don’t know of any broad, credible study that has been done with that kind of criteria to make any kind of statement on if that holds true for others or most people or not. In my experience, partners who are not frequent users of very mainstream porn also tend to bring a bit less of some porny conventions or norms to the sexual table.  Given how gendernormative and heteronormative most porn is, so much of the attitudes there just don’t fit me or what I want in a sex life that’s rally about me or the kind of people I partner with.

I’m also not a fan of things being secreted away, so if and when I have had a partner (which has been rare rare) who came into the relationship with a pre-existing pattern of being very sneaky and secretive about porn or masturbation, that also hasn’t worked out for me. I wound up feeling like I was living in my Irish-Catholic grandmother’s house, which was not at all sexy and deeply unpleasant.  I just don’t do sex-sneaky of any variety or find that jibes with my sexual ethos or the kind of vibe around sex I want and need.  Unfortunately, I also don’t find that simply saying “Hey, you don’t have to hide that, in fact, I’d really prefer you didn’t, it’s no biggie,” fixes it.  Same goes with expressing that we can make room for privacy without anyone having to hide things.  Most people have learned those kinds of patterns in childhood and they’re often pretty darn cemented by adulthood (and sometimes the hiding and sneaking is part of the allure: you take that out, and you take the excitement out for them).

People who really need or want porn during partnersex also hasn’t worked for me. But that’s mostly about the fact that I don’t dig TV or computer screens being in my sexual or relaxation spaces in general. Having a monster TV screen nearby (even in my house at all, frankly) is a total buzzkill for my own libido. Plus, I don’t have any interest in acting out most porn scenarios, since most of them bore the living crap out of me. Watching women fake orgasm also just reminds me of the depressing parts of my day job.

So, all that said, how do I feel about what the pattern has turned out to be?  I really think I’d be copacetic either way, honestly, and that what was fine and what wasn’t would be unlikely to be as simple as porn or no porn.

But here’s the thing: I’m me, and someone else who writes in with an issue like this is someone else.

Even if someone who writes in on this is someone very much like me, I don’t advise people my age or people like me: I advise young people, and they’re almost always very, very different from me.

There’s no one right preference or set of preferences here, and while I feel just fine most of the time having partners who utilize pornography (or don’t) that doesn’t mean everyone else is fine with that. While I have not found that pornography use, on the whole, or a lack of same, has made any huge differences in my relationships or my sex life, not only may that not be true for someone else, anyone else is just as entitled to whatever their process is of finding out what works and doesn’t for them as I have been.  While I haven’t had strong preferences here, that doesn’t mean someone else isn’t entitled to them.

I’m not on board with some of the reasons young people, mainly young women, are uncomfortable with porn. For instance, with a lot of the young hetero women, it often seems to do with them hating on other women and seeing other women as sexual competition instead of as allies.  Something else that seems to loom large is that porn tells the truth about the fact that no, most people, including those who choose to be sexually exclusive with one, are not only attracted to one person. Young people of all genders often really, really want to think that they are the ONLY person a partner or love interest is attracted to, rather than acknowledging that no, that’s rarely so. Even when I gently explain that if they find monogamy to have a value, that value must surely have root in the fact that even though they and their partners are attracted to others they are still choosing to be with but one, that tends to go over their heads and not be what they want to hear.  As well, there clearly is a certain virtue they attach to the idea that only that one person in the world is found attractive, even when I explain that that kind of fully-single minded attraction is actually often pathological and leads to stalking, not love.

If in doubt they idolize this mightily, please reference sales figures for the Twilight books.

But despite the things like this that I’m not okay with, and think they do need to work through in order to feel good about themselves and have healthy relationships,  I don’t see any reason it’s not okay for someone to choose to date or become intimately involved with only partners who do or don’t use porn or based on what they think is going to create a relationship that makes them feel best and works best with who they are and what they want right now.

And this is a particularly big issue since I’m me at almost 40, and most of the people I advise are just starting their sex lives and just starting when it comes to intimate relationships.  They haven’t had the decades-long learning process I have yet, the kind of vast sexual history or even the opportunity yet to have a relatively diverse dating pool to choose from and figure out what their preferences really are.  And a lot of them also — be the constraints internal or external — haven’t had a lot of the kinds of freedoms I have had to explore all of this. Even something as seemingly small as my never having felt pressured in my life, by a partner or culture, TO have a given stance on porn, to look at it or not, to be okay with it or not, is a pretty critical difference.  Young people right now have grown up with a very different environment when it comes to porn than someone my age or older did: young women right now often express feeling very strong pressure to both be okay with porn, to include it in their sex lives or even to create it of themselves for partners.  Young people today also often didn’t find porn after searching high and low for it, led by their own curiosity: many see it accidentally before that curiosity ever happens.

If what any of them need in their process with porn or sexual relationships is to try to only be in environments sans porn, then they get to decide that and find out whatever they learn doing that.  I don’t think telling a young person it’s okay for them to have that criteria is sex-negative, shames anyone who uses or creates porn, or enables a culture of shame. I also don’t think telling a young person they can choose not to enter or stay in relationships where there is porn use is telling them they can or should regulate a partner’s solo sexual behavior (something I unilaterally tell them all the time isn’t okay). More to the point,  I think it’s really vital that all young people hear that they ALWAYS have the right to choose only the kinds of relationships they want based on their own criteria, especially since so many of them (and more female than any other gender) express that they do not feel entitled to that freedom.

* * * * *

Some of my reactivity to this piece and some of the comments is also about this thing that happens all the time when you’re a person who does what I do for a living.

That’s the common assumption that because I said X to this person, my personal sex life must be driving the car.  And often, they’re really not.  In fact, part of doing my job well (which is why sex educators do things like SARs) is doing my level best to be mindful of what my own experiences have been, what my own sexuality is, what my own biases are, and to take them into account, then try and screen them out while still also bringing the person I am to the table so that I can still connect with someone well.  That’s sometimes very hard to do, but I always try.

When I answer people’s questions, what I try and do is put myself into their shoes and their heads as the share the contents with me and suggest what I think seems would be best for them, based on what they are telling me about their values, their wants, their ideals and experiences in their sexuality or sex life. I also have to bear in mind everything I have learned more broadly about this generation in the time I’ve worked with them. I certainly can’t leave myself at the door in that wholesale, and sometimes I feel like my own ideas might help them think a bit differently if it seems the way they’re thinking is problematic for them or limited, but what I say is mostly about them and my estimation of where they’re at.

The assumptions people make in public about my sex life who clearly know zip about my sex life get very tiresome, especially after more than a decade of hearing them.  And it’s adults who usually go there: the young people I work with tend to ask me questions more often than just making assumptions if and when they really want to know what my deal is (and they usually don’t). Same goes for the assumptions adults make who a) don’t work with young people and b) haven’t spent a lot of time working with a lot of young people and their sexuality.  It’s not the same as children and it’s not the same as full-stock adults, and the rare few of us who do this full-time for a long time as our job understand that in a way other people who don’t do not.

Plus, I’d by lyin’ if I didn’t say I always get a hot streak of irritation when I see long written responses to sexuality information and education to/for young adults, so people can take the time to discuss it, and how well they’d do it, amongst their adult pals, but don’t show up to volunteer to actually do the work with young people themselves, something all of us who do could really, really use some extra hands with. Seriously: if you could do it so much better, and feel you know exactly the right thing to say, please send me an email to start volunteering, because I could really use the extra help.

Back to those assumptions. For example, based on some of the angry email I sometimes get from men who resent what I say about female-bodied people and intercourse, it’s common for people to figure that the reason I say that the majority of women can’t orgasm from intercourse so often is because I don’t get off that way, and want to keep other people from doing so in my horrible bitterness about the ways I can’t get off. “You frigid old bitch” is not a phrase which I am unfamiliar with as a greeting in some of these responses.  I get that enough that I’ve even considered signing my correspondence with Heather Corinna, FoB.

The fact of the matter is that I AM someone who can come that way and always have been. I’m a very multi-orgasmic and easily orgasmic person, and I reach orgasm from fucking all the time, always have, be the member-in-question attached to someone’s body with sinew or with straps and D-rings.

But I also know from talking to many, many female-bodied people over many years, from anatomy, and from doing my homework on actual study around this that I am a minority in that: just because that works for me isn’t going to incline me to discount what’s clear for vagina-toting folks as a group.

One of my fave assumptions I get from some conservatives is the idea that because I give information on anal sex, and don’t say it’s icky or gross or dirty or always painful for women, I must be having receptive anal sex nonstop. Possibly TMI, but alas, no. Unfortunately — and I say unfortunately, because ideally I’d like to be able to have every single spot on my body have the potential for pleasure — due to one of my sexual assaults, receptive anal sex is simply not something I can do.  It is physically and emotionally intensely painful and triggering for me, and that seems unlikely to ever change. I very much enjoy providing anal sex and play for partners who dig it, to be sure, but I can’t ever be a catcher.  But again, that doesn’t mean I’m going to project that and state that my experience is everyone’s experience: I know better, and I study more than my own sex life for my work.

The assumptions about Heather and BDSM have always abounded, like that one that I have “condescension and hostility” for sexually submissive women, an interesting theory considering that for a few years in Chicago in the 90’s I was thick in the BDSM scene as a switch. While I moved away from BDSM in my sex life, it had squat to do with…well, not what I think that person seems to assume it did. I moved away from that per my Buddhism and where I was/am at with it, and I also have had some issues with how many BDSM communities present those communities as automatically immune from any abuse occurring there, as if there is any community in the world anyone could say that about.  In the early 2000’s,  I was also overwhelmingly awash in several years of submissive women as friends, friends of friends or anonymous emails coming to me — I really don’t know why– who were unilaterally a hot freaking mess. Either a mess because their partnerships really were not negotiated, because those women were not understanding that being sexually submissive as a woman was an option, not a requirement, or a mess because abuse was going on. I had a very close friend at the time where a BDSM community was knowingly and actively hiding the abuse that had gone on in her very visible relationship to protect the abuser.  My expressing somewhere at the time, which I did, that I still had yet to personally meet a female sub (I have since, by the by) who truly had her shit together was absolutely true for me at the time, and I had been asked for a personal opinion/experience in that post. Then, that was mine. I qualified it, though perhaps not as well as I could have. On the other hand, silence on that may have been my only other best option, since otherwise, I would have had to have lied about what my experiences had been. Maybe silence would have been better: I don’t know. It’s tough to make these kinds of calls, and in a space where I constantly tell people they can tell their truths, I don’t know how I feel about any of mine being somehow totally unacceptable (inappropriate is one thing: unspeakable is so something else).

What Vinnie who commented on Greta’s post first linked to, though, was a post way back when from a user who, likely unbenownst to him (as he probably didn’t take the time to look through her post history), was in a pattern of rotten relationships where she said yes to all kinds of things she later expressed she really didn’t want to, but was basically scared to death to be single or alone. She was in a space where she postured a lot, kind of setting herself up as “the girl who would do anything for love,” to prove she was worthy to herself and to partners. That particular post was her asking about a pretty 24/7 situation that, based on what we knew about her and this guy from her past posts, was not at all likely to be healthy for her, specifically.  While I thought it was possible she was a kinky person in general, this particular scenario wasn’t a good one, particularly in her headspace at the time. I did my best with it, with the knowledge I had at the time personally and professionally, and with what I knew of her to date.

You won’t find that original post now because Vinnie came into the community without any history there and made a reply in it that she felt very uncomfortable with — and in general, often when older adults come out of nowhere to talk to our users they feel understandably uncomfy, especially if they come in with a beef  that’s really more about themselves or me than the teens –  and which led her to finding his journal where he talked about her some more. She asked me to make her post at ST go poof from public eyes because of that and because she was basically being assigned a sexual identity from unknown adults she wasn’t sure was hers, so I did. The idea I had “disdain” for her was bollocks and a clear projection.

In that journal entry of his, Vinnie said, “I think you will not see Heather say [that intercourse poses no issues per consent and gender role pressure] because Heather has had pleasurable and fulfilling heterosex…what I enjoy is what’s good for everybody.”  Yet, I’ve actually had fulfilling all kinds of sex, and have also frequently discussed (including in one of the old posts he linked to) that consent and assumed/assigned gender roles are a potential issue in ALL kinds of sex, those I enjoy or have enjoyed, and those I have not or do not.  This is exactly the skewed root assumption I’m talking about.  That motivation — what I sexually like or don’t myself — doesn’t lead how I advise people.  If what I liked and enjoyed sexually led how I advised people, Scarleteen would be a very, very different place than it is, I assure you. It also very much would not have the broad appeal that it does, and would serve a far smaller portion of the populace, particularly since one of the big things I have never done/been is heterosexual. I’ve been queer since I’ve been sexual. And when it all comes down to it, Heather has had a whole lot of different kinds of sex with a whole lot of different people in her lifetime, and Heather has tended to like the vast majority of that sex, be it kinky or vanilla (not distinctions I use, but other people tend to, so), queer or less-so, genital or otherwise, whatever.  If I have any strong bias in the sexuality work that I do, my bias is that I like sex.

By all means, if I — or any other person giving sexual advice — am not doing my job well, as can happen, but hopefully infrequently — then my own preferences and experiences may wind up being more of the picture than they should be.  Many sex advice columnists and writers are legendarily bad at that, though that’s likely less about sex work specifically and more about the fact that people in general often aren’t so great about awareness and management our their own biases. There is a learning curve here, mind: we all tend to get better the longer we do this when we’re trying to get better.  We all have a process: none of us are born fully-formed from the head of Zeus, after all.

Of course some people will tend to simplify things. A couple years back, I wrote an entry about how I felt like my own efforts in sexuality activism were best made outside of trying to change or make better pornography or erotica, which got translated by a bunch of people into “Heather is totally anti-porn.” Not true (and pretty strange if a person has any idea about the scope of what I do and have done in all my sexuality work), and those making the assumptions didn’t usually engage with me in any way to flat-out ask me that, either.

I’m not saying, for the record, that Greta is making these assumptions. I’d be surprised if she did, even though I do think she misrepresented my response.  I think I was very clear that I did NOT think it was okay to try and “regulate” a partner’s porn use.  Rather, what I said was that anyone gets to make a choice about who they date and get involved with, and if someone, as this user was, felt very uncomfortable with porn, she got to choose to only date people who didn’t use it if she wanted. Mind, I also made some strong suggestions that porn may not even be her issue here at all, as I suspect, when it comes to the heart of the matter, it probably isn’t. But if she wants to find out by only dating folks who don’t use porn, she gets to do that, just like if I only wanted to date other vegans or other Buddhists, I’d get to do that, too.

I was on the fence about whether or not to cross-post this at Scarleteen, but have landed on the best-not-to side. Why? Because, again, one thing I think older people don’t realize is how much pressure is put on young women to be okay with pornography and things like strip clubs. When I did some surveys for S.E.X. years back when I was writing it,  was pretty surprised to see how many young people, of all genders, had some pretty negative feelings about pornography, and how many of them really were strongly anti-porn and felt very strongly unsupported.

Those who felt that way tended to describe feeling pressured to like it when they didn’t.  Because of the respect young people tend to give me, statements I make like I have in this entry can be interpreted by young people, correctly or not, as “Well, if Heather is okay with it, then I should be,” or “Heather says it makes no difference to her, so I must be a prude because it does for me. I want to be more like Heather, so I need to just suck it up.”  They tend to feel similarly about those of us who have had a lot of sexual partners: talking about a big sexual history can make them feel pressured, even if that’s not what we intend. I also really pick and choose carefully when I make statements about my observations around my own sex life, because sound boundaries are important and essential, especially between older people and younger people when talking about sex.

Ultimately, I want them to feel as supported in their own sexual life and ethos as possible, and am always trying to be very mindful per how what I say may or may not really be supportive in whatever their own journey or process is.  That’s the foot I try very hard to lead with.  I think I get better and better at it as the years go by, and I think some of my reactivity to a crit like Greta’s comes from hearing that critique at times when I think I’ve actually done exceptionally well, and had to work very hard to bypass my own experiences and my own feelings in order to address and try to understand hers.

Had it just been my guts talking, my guts would have said that I don’t personally get the big whoop with feeling insecure about porn like she does, especially since porn is so often so freaking dumb, and that while she was 100% entitled to choosing partners who didn’t use it (and on that, Greta and I may actually disagree), I highly doubted porn was her real issue.  But my guts in that regard would not likely have been helpful to her, acknowledged who she is now and where she’s at now, or made her feel at all comforted.  My guts probably would have gotten in the way of her process, and probably would have cemented her negative feelings even more, especially since my guts aren’t her guts, and I’m supposed to be looking mostly at hers, not at mine. My guts usually say, “Eh, porn, whatever.”  But that’s not what hers say to her, and I think someone like her can find ways to have relationships in alignment with her wants that don’t also trample, dismiss or exclude someone else’s.

Friday, July 31st, 2009

This is the twentieth time or so I’ve tried to write here in the last month and a half.  I’m determined to succeed this time, despite my fear of doing so.  I got a few notes from people starting to earnestly worry about me: I certainly didn’t need to make anyone worry, but do appreciate the concern.  Given my time lapse, and how complex everything is, there’s going to be a lot to read here today, and it’s going to read a whole lot like a confession, even though I’d prefer it didn’t.  I don’t really know how to do this: I expect to be clumsy, which feels like my default these days.

A lot of my silence has had to do with waiting for a very, very big shoe to drop.  The long and the short of it is that the once-primary relationship — a marriage — Blue has been in for over a decade has been troubled and deteriorating for quite some time: years before we even started talking again, let alone renewed our romantic and sexual relationship last winter.  And it has now led to his taking the first steps of a divorce.  I haven’t felt comfortable sharing that aspect of all of this until now because…well, wait.

I still don’t feel comfortable sharing, but I feel even more uncomfortable not doing so.  I don’t like keeping secrets, especially big, nasty ones.  I don’t like being secrets, either. All the same, I haven’t felt okay about even thinking about disclosing that until this point.  Both knowing (which I have for some months) what choices Blue wanted to make, and having those choices begin to be enacted was something I needed before I talked about it publicly, for everyone’s sake.

Let me get this out of the way: in general, I don’t care if someone is married, so long as it isn’t me.  However, I have always had a hard and fast rule about dating or sleeping with anyone who is married, even if it’s an open marriage by full and glad agreement: I don’t do it. The one time I was with someone who I found out wasn’t truthful with me about the status of a marriage, I put an immediate end to the relationship, even though it was an important one I didn’t want to sever.  If I went into all my reasoning around why that’s been my rule, I’d have too easy a distraction, but the crux of it is my feelings about marriage, honesty, honoring people’s existing agreements (and dating people who honor their relationship agreements), emotional availability, how much drama I’m up for and what I want and need in my life. I also have been close to too many messy, ugly divorces in my life, with family, with friends, and I want to be as far from divorce — always a possibility with any marriage — as humanly possible.

I made an exception this time, which I’ve had mixed feelings about. Because I did go outside my own ethics, ethics I tend to broadcast, I feel a need to explain why. I made that exception because of the nature of both my and Blue’s relationship, now and in the past, because of my understanding of Blue’s relationship with his wife, because of existing nonmonogamy over there for years before I was back on the scene, and because my feelings for Blue and vice-versa are very strong and enduring.  I’ll also be honest: given our long and complex history and how we have always been when together, beyond my usual bristling at the idea of anyone having ownership of someone else, the idea that Blue is “someone else’s” just isn’t how this feels or has felt.  Not to me, not to him. I made an exception because we both felt gypped at not having another chance to be together at a time in our lives when we could finally handle it. I made an exception because a lot of this — most of this — just felt right, and because in weighing my options, not pursuing this as we have felt like a choice I’d regret more than I would in pursuing it.  I don’t intend to absolve myself of any responsibility for my choices, but in terms of how it has felt and it feels, this hasn’t been one of those things where I’ve been all, “I’m not proud of what I’ve done, but….”  I’m neither proud nor not proud.  In making my choices, I consulted at great length with my heart and head, and with people close to me who I know care about me a lot, understand me, and hold me to the same kinds of standards I hold myself to. I also made an exception because we both intended the way things have been to be temporary.

The end of this marriage isn’t about me: it’s been creeping towards this for some years now after efforts to repair problems for a very long time, and also has not been a sexually active relationship for a long time. Both for longer than I’ve ever even been in a romantic relationship, which is an odd perspective to have.  As far as nonomonogamy over there has gone, they have had is what I describe as a passive agreement to active ignorance (and not the pejorative meaning).  There’s essentially an agreement to denial, rather than to an open relationship, and some interpersonal structures built to provide certain freedoms for nonmonogamy while keeping a strongly padlocked silence about it.

It has not been something workable for me in anything but the short-term, if that.  Even in that limited way, I don’t see my ever agreeing to this with anyone but Blue.  I’m not down with multiple partnership like that where everyone isn’t talking and negotiating as a collective, especially with relationships as serious and loaded as these.  I also feel conflicted with anything — even when it’s a choice one woman has made — that keeps women from connecting with one another.

However, it’s not my relationship, so I’ve tried to be a grownup and not project what I think is kosher for me or in general unto them. Suffice it to say, I can have a certain arrogance about things like this as an occupational hazard, especially if I’m not mindful about it. I’ve tried to deal only with my and Blue’s relationship and how their stuff involves me.  What I could address, obviously, is our relationship, and both what I can live with and want to live with.  I had my ducks in a row over here on my end, and my agreements with Mark sorted already; I had from the get-go.

So, back in March, Blue and I made an agreement that by fall, he would either a) create an open and fully honest agreement per he and I within his marriage — which included the honesty that he wasn’t with some random person, but with me, as well as that he wanted me to become a primary partner — b) for that relationship to switch to a fully acknowledged platonic relationship and/or for the legal marriage to be dissolved, or c) for the model of our relationship to change so that it became a platonic friendship, either permanently or until one of the other options was wanted and chosen.

It wasn’t an ultimatum.  In fact, if his marriage wasn’t in disrepair already, and it was meeting Blue’s needs, in many ways I’d have preferred the first of the three options.

The why of that is complex, but I know part of it is that I just hate any a situation where one person is chosen “over” another or perceives things that way no matter who it is getting chosen, even when it’s me.  (Maybe in some ways especially when it’s me.)  My internal sense of fairness revolts at it, as does my core feeling that we all have room for infinite love in our hearts; room for far more than one person we love in life, and I don’t understand why we accept that as a culture with friends and family, but not with sexual or romantic relationships.  This “pick one” thing just doesn’t sit well with me when it’s about people.  I also know that Blue has a lot of love for the person he’s married to, and has valued many aspects of their relationship.  I hate to see love lost.  However, this is another area in which I’ve needed to work on being an adult when it comes to what other people choose and what they want.  I didn’t have a say in their relationship, to how they structured and lived it: that was all about their choices, choices made a long time before Blue and I reconnected and renewed our relationship.

In any event, Blue wound up choosing door #2.  At this point, discussion of he and I has not yet happened between he and his wife.  I sit on that precipice very, very nervously, the same way I’d sit in the open maw of a lion.  I don’t know what’s going to happen when they get to that point, especially since it’ll mean his breaking an enforced silence on a bunch of things she/they clearly just has/have not wanted to face or address.  His disclosures around nonmonogamy are going to be one thing when talking about other partners, but most likely something else when it comes to me.

I’m not entirely sure if it’s okay for me to talk about this here, but it’s really heavy for me and no small part of all this, so I’m going to say it for now and hope I don’t trespass. I’m a very loaded person in that relationship, and that’s age-old: in many ways I’ve been the most loaded person in that relationship since it began. I started out the bad guy (or rather, girl) for them both: I was the terrible person who broke Blue’s heart, who in some ways he was treated as needing nursing from.  In some ways I’m sure that he did, of course, but there was a lot of demonization there, some of which I understand now, but still don’t like.  I, or the history of myself and Blue, seems to have been a foil for some of their problematic dynamics.  Mind, I don’t think that was fair.  I was 22 years old when I left Blue and in the middle of very terrifying, overwhelming and unanticipated PTSD that took some things away from me (or seemed like it did) that I deeply cherished and felt utterly lost without.  As well, Blue and I had some shared issues, and he had his own missteps. I had a fight-or-flight impulse, and I flew. I handled it all badly, without question, and only after finally really working through all of it together last year did I stop feeling horrible about some of what I did which I know was awful.  However, I didn’t mean to hurt him: I was trying to protect and guard myself with limited skills and a mind that was in total disarray.  So, not fair, but that’s not all that relevant: a lot isn’t fair in life and love, and it’s very clear at this point that they were probably more hurt, and will be more hurt, in creating that dynamic around me than I was or will be.

It’s a bit tough not to feel like something of a homewrecker, though, even though I know that’s not what went on, nor what is going on, and not at all what anyone intended or wanted. But I anticipate it may be perceived or presented that way, especially since it’ll probably be more comfortable in some ways to point at me rather than acknowledging tougher or more painful truths.  If it is, if I am, presented that way, I don’t know how I’ll deal with it.  If I’m honest, I have to acknowledge that I have equal parts sympathy and a total lack of sympathy in that department.  I feel some guilt around this, particularly because I know that there has always been a good deal of jealousy in terms of the strong feelings he has had for me, as well as a (obviously valid) fear he’d choose to be with me instead of her.  I would never want anyone to feel like they were in or lost some kind of competition to me for someone else’s heart: that just sounds abhorrent to me.  I don’t even want to be even a tangential cause of someone’s pain. Suffice it to say, I have a lot of sympathy for anyone losing Blue in any way: I know too well how painful that can be. On the other hand, I have to be kind to myself and cut myself a break knowing that this is not a dynamic I set up: that was someone else’s choice, not mine.   I made clear what I felt and wanted a long time ago, and that last time around, in Act II of all of this, I stepped aside without argument to allow Blue to choose to go to her when a “choose one” was their deal, even though it was the last thing I wanted to do, it hurt like hell and I was the walking wounded for a couple years afterward.

It still sucks that this dynamic exists, regardless, and I still don’t look forward to facing it, but expect I will have to.  That everyone will have to.  But maybe we’ve all needed to, perhaps for longer than any of us have realized.

Okay, taking a breath.  Now another one.  One more.

I realize there’s another reason why this has been so tough for me to voice here, even once I had the criteria I thought I needed, we all needed, for me to do so.

It makes me feel small to admit it, but one benefit of having and living very stringent ethics is that it allows you a certain lack of vulnerability. In some ways, a perception of you being superhuman and perhaps not as flawed and fallible as everyone else.  Even if it’s not why you choose your ethics, certain standards of living and thinking do put you on a pedestal to some degree.  They can protect you from some measure of judgment. Of course, if that is the case, however rough some of this is, that’s very important for me to ditch, especially since it may well be part of some treatment or perception of me in life I don’t actually like and which can feel very isolating.

Let’s also face it, I’m hardly anonymous, and putting this out there does make me nervous in terms of my job and position in the world.  I know all too well that there are some individuals and groups who will relish evidence that I am the immoral, skanky harlot who is out to wreck families and traditional relationships it’s been sometimes suggested I am.  I’ve joked about it among friends sometimes, that that’s my easy out, my being everything some have said or implied I was in the first place. But my jesting there comes out of guarding how vulnerable it makes me feel and my desire not to be that person.

I’d be remiss to leave out that disclosing all of this means that if I wind up with egg on my face I can’t hide it.  (I was so close to typing “…then the yolk’s on me” instead.  I’m very sorry that I still did it.)

And that’d all be some of why I was so quiet.  Believe it or not, that is only some.

It’s been rough to figure out how to talk about Mark and I, too.  Some of what came out in all the communication around the poly agreement last winter was a level of honesty Mark had withheld from me –  and himself, really — that was so rough for me.  It wasn’t anything malicious, cruel or purposefully deceptive.  At worst, I’d say it was careless, but at the same time Mark and I have had very different lives, very different levels of experience with relationships and very different personal growth experiences. All the same, what came out hurt me deeply in some ways, and was a dealbreaker for me when it came to us having the kind of relationship we had been building, or that I thought we had.  I don’t mean to be obtuse, but it’s not my right to spill Mark’s guts for him on the Internet, so what I’ll just say is that I want and need certain things in a relationship of this depth and level of commitment that just didn’t mesh with how Mark was feeling, thinking and constructing his own frameworks.

It’s not an honesty I regret, and it was a brave one on Mark’s part that I’m exceptionally grateful for.  I think when this kind of stuff comes out of poly — as it tends to since you’re usually deepening communication a lot — it’s so convenient for people to blame the poly, and this just isn’t poly’s fault.  A lot of good things have come out of us opening the relationship up at the end of last year: I’d number those tough truths among them, even though the outcome of that truth led to a split.  I think, though, it’s probably also going to lead us both in directions that will result in both of us getting what we really want and also coming to whatever our best relationship is.  Mark still feels like my family: I have a hard time imagining Mark will ever feel like, or be, anything but. Mark’s family feels like my family, and they’ve made that clear on their end, too. Mark also remains, however sticky some things are right this second, one of my very best friends in the world.  Visualizing a life without him in it makes no sense to me.  And some of all that is why it’s been tricky to talk about what went down with us: I’m a ferociously loyal person with those near and dear to me, and can be very protective.

Over the years, I have kept finding that one area where it gets tough to write here about my personal life is all about loyalty.  Sometimes, it’s hard to be truthful about the not-nice stuff interpersonally, not just around protecting the privacy of other people, but because I also know that how I talk about someone, how I present someone or a situation with them creates a representation of them a lot of people read here.  I never want anyone I care for and love to be disliked by anyone — heck, even if and when I dislike them, which isn’t the case here, but certainly has been in a couple previous relationships of mine I’ve journaled about.  I absolutely don’t want anyone to think someone in my life is a jerk because of what I say, or because people who know or read me feel a loyalty to me, rather than to that other person.  Talk about unfair.  I can see how, over the years, from an outsider’s view it probably looks like I’m with someone and with someone and then BOOM: I’m not.  I can see how it probably presents a lot of my relationships as a bit one-dimensional, since I tend to talk more about their strengths than their flaws.  But again, I’m not anonymous here, and often, neither are the people I’m involved with.  I think being responsible around that inevitably means presentations that are often fair-weather.

That’s played a part in both of these relationships and my silence around them of late.  That loyalty made me want to withhold that Blue was married because I felt protective about anyone leaping to cliched notions about him and thinking he’s a bad person: I know he’s not and I have loved him dearly for nearly all of my adult life.  That made me want to withhold some things about what has been going on with Mark and myself because I love and care for him deeply and hate the idea of even someone he’d never meet having a fleeting thought that he’s a jerk because it’s so easy to do with only slices of a picture or only my own words.

To keep you in the loop with more practical stuff, Mark and I have stayed living together throughout, which has been okay sometimes; not so okay at other times.  It’s come to the point where we both clearly need some more space.  That means one of us leaving the big old house that we rent, and based on a bunch of issues (I’ve done much of the work to it, it has things I need or like but Mark doesn’t, it’s trickier for me to find a good place because I don’t have a car, etc.) we’ve decided I’m going to stay here.  I still intend to try and move to the islands, so Mark may even come back here and take over when I can do that (probably not until next summer, mostly due to the health stuff and its expenses).  And Blue is planning to move to Seattle to be with me in the next few months, which most likely means moving in here.

I keep going on tangents which I know are coming out of left-field — a very defensive left-field, no less — but I’m going on them all the same.  I feel the need to say that this is probably, from an outside perspective, seeming a bit fast.  From the inside track, though, it feels like something we have both waited for for close to two decades. We were also Olympic Gold U-Haulers when we got together in college.  Our first “date” lasted three solid days and we moved in together right on its heels.   It’s probably the most stereotypically dykey thing I have ever done, and I did it with a guy.  Figures.  All the same, we loved living together, it never felt too fast, and we lived very harmoniously for a few years at a time in our lives when we barely knew how to live alone.  We figure we’re probably better at it now. To boot, when we were together the first time we always basically headed these small collective households.  They were lovely — I often miss our shared house with Becky and Thai and all the kittens a ton.  However, the idea of actually being able to live by ourselves for the first time is pretty exciting.

Where things will go from there, where we’ll want to take them, we don’t know. We’re not there yet and don’t feel a need to be there yet. It’s been one of those things where you just jump.  You don’t have to, but you so want to and you can, so jump you do.  We’re still mid-air, so who the heck knows where we’ll find ourselves when we land.

The timing of all of this has been seriously rough, or maybe perfect, depending on how you look at it.  If Mark had not shared with me what he did, and our relationship hadn’t changed markedly because of it, then we’d still probably have been negotiating switching from primaries to secondaries a few months back.  We’d probably also still have been doing that even if Blue had wanted to choose for he and I to stick to a friendship, or if Blue was going to stay in his marriage.  Hell, the this of this has been rough.  Even from when Blue and I first just started talking again, I was endlessly checking in with Mark because he knew how I felt about Blue: he knew in the first six months we were dating, as I told him about the relationship way back then, before we got to Act III of it.  But of course, I didn’t tell him about it with any expectation that that relationship was anything but over. (In hindsight I’m glad of that: I never had to wonder if I was honest about my feelings.) I never thought any of this was going to be easy, but I do think all three of us thought it wasn’t going to be this hard.  We’ve all been clumsy, we’ve all had our moments of thinking and feeling we have loused everything up or taken missteps.  Maybe we have, any of us, all of us, but all things considered, I think we’ve all done alarmingly well in caring for everyone involved.  And that’s not something I’m simply saying out of loyalty, either.

On a strangely bright note, my parents, who got along for five whole minutes of my life and have agreed on things less often than the fingers I have on one hand (the one without all its original fingers, no less), have both been incredibly supportive.  Oddly enough, my father was the one with some issues at first — usually, it’d be my mother with the finger-wags — but at this point, they’ve both been great. And that’s been a real and unexpected source of comfort.  My friends have also been totally amazing.

On the health front, for the last two weeks, I have finally gotten feeling in my left arm and hand 100% back.  I also have been almost entirely without the constant pain in that arm and shoulder.  I cannot begin to tell you how amazing it is to have months of that be over, even though I am still enormously behind in everything from the months it went on for.  I’m still having weekly therapies for that and some of my other symptoms and issues — muscle work, acupuncture, nasty-tasting herbs — and we still don’t know why it happened, or why I have some other things going on.  But to be plain, the pain and numbness being gone, having full use of that hand back, is enough for me for right now.  I can live without that question answered at the moment.

However, in a lot of ways, all this health business has been a bit of a straw breaking the proverbial camel’s back.

I need to accept, I’ve been trying to accept, that I simply can’t do 60+ hour workweeks anymore. I need eight hours of sleep a night. I need to take plenty of breaks during the day, especially breaks to play outside where I can move my body around and turn off the incessant furnace of my brain.  I need downtime in the evening, and I need something close to two days off a week, not two hours.  I turn 40 next year, not 20.  I need time for my freaking art, including creating things I have no intention of showing or selling.  I also need more flexibility to call it a day when I’ve worked with someone in any given day who has just emotionally tapped me out: the longer I work in the fields I do, the more easily people very deeply connect to me, the more rough stuff they disclose and ask me to help them hold.  Sometimes I can hold it and move through the rest of my day, able to hold more.  Sometimes I just can’t.  That needs to be okay: I need room for that to be okay.

And on top of all of that, with as much diplomacy as I can muster, have to say that I want to be able to have the time when all of the preexisting context of all this is sorted (which may be a seriously long haul) to simply enjoy Blue and being with Blue.  Without attaching any sort of hierarchy to any of the relationships in my life, including my relationship with Mark, I am on the precipice of being able to spend a lot of time with someone I have loved for an age, and to be with him in a way that it seems we are both finally ready for.  In so many ways, there was an unwieldy enormity to our relationship and chemistry the first time around, and for us individually in terms of dealing with very difficult issues in our own lives.  It was a LOT of relationship, a crazy-quick depth of connectivity, some very strange fateful details, and no small measure of drama; a lot of for two relatively young and very passionate people with poor relationship modeling growing up to handle. At this stage in our lives, we are much more capable of both handling it and appreciating it for the rare, mighty thing that it is and always was.  Then, it felt like trying to be out in a thunderstorm holding nothing but an umbrella, more likely to get you electrocuted than it was to offer any shelter. Now I think we’ve both got handfuls of thunderbolts and a far greater strength, care and power to use them wisely and without so much fear.

The both of us, albeit in different sorts of ways and on different schedules until the last year, have been hoping for a chance again for a long time. The only things I’ve waited for this long in my life have been health insurance, world peace, the passage of the ERA and a perfect vegan donut (I at least got the last when I moved here). That it seems we’re going to have it feels pretty miraculous and incredibly unlikely.  I get to find out what happens when you get, and take, the second chance you never thought you’d get but always wanted.  Strangely, this is one of the few times in my life where I find I am not worried about what happens after, not even thinking about what happens after.  I don’t know why I’m feeling that way, especially about something so huge and potentially disastrous, but I don’t particularly care.  I’m just delighted TO be feeling that way for a change.  It’s very freeing.

So, sometime soon, I need to sit down and figure out what has to go in my life: which projects, which jobs, which way I use my time.  Some things simply have to go or get cut back to make room for everything else or I’m either going to lose my mind or do myself in with sheer exhaustion.

Okay.  So, that’s what I’ve got for now.  It’s a lot, I know.  Believe me, I know.  The funny thing is, it feels like I’ve only addressed a little, just kind of opened the door a sliver.  But I had to open it: the longer it sat closed, the more uncomfortable and dishonest it felt, and the more was going to bust out of it when I finally did open it.

I have some silly, light stuff to tell, but putting that here before I just spit out some of the other stuff felt disingenuous, so I can get to that stuff soon now.  Writing those trifles is easy as pie.  The other stuff?  Not easy.  And perhaps not graceful either, but at least it’s done.  I’ve got trembly fingers, but I’m going to push that button that says publish, even though “save” seems more fitting.

P.S. I think the most gracious way to handle this per saying so much, including about other people’s private lives as well as my own, is to password this entry in a little while.  So, I’ll leave it up for all for around a week, then it’s going somewhere more protected.

Saturday, March 28th, 2009

I know that of late I’ve been talking much more work than the rest of my life (and I’m still due to blog about sex::tech), but the work stuff is a lot less complicated.  Given what I do, that’s seriously saying something.

The thing is, there is a lot of limbo right now, and it’s not just my own.  Since I accepted that no, I’m not digging Seattle and I seriously doubt it’s ever going to feel like a home for me, I’ve started looking more at elsewheres.  My feeling right now is that I’m in no way ready for an out-of-state move yet, for a whole lot of reasons: financial limitations, because that’d also mean moving far away from Mark (he wants to stay here, and it’s also more complicated than that), and because I’m also not sure I dislike Washington state yet.  Just sure that I dislike most of Seattle-proper.

Of late, I’ve been thinking about trying life on one of the islands here.  The rents are about the same if not better than in the city, there is water everywhere, loads of trees and green stuff, beach and, in general, a slower, more quiet life. The social dynamics also seem to be less chilly, cliquish and painfully hip, which is my primary complaint about Seattle. That’s sounding very nice to me, more like a life I have wanted to head towards for a while, but didn’t think would be able to happen until much later.  It also sounds like a much more suitable place to write a second book.  Oddly, just as I was starting to think that early in the week (I haven’t known when I’d get going on another since I finished the last), an editor from an imprint I like wrote me asking about something else, but we also may start batting around ideas, since apparently they’d love to publish me. I need to spend some time later today, in fact, creating my writing wishlist for her, then hop to more photo editing: it’s been great to have whittled out time to get back to my artwork.

Next week, I’m heading to a cabin on Bainbridge island for a few days to feel life there out some more, and to get some serious downtime, solace, creative inspiration and a visit with Blue.  I figure that’s one of several little minibreaks-with-purpose I’ll do over the next few months, trying a new island each time.  I’m just going to make-believe I live there and see how I feel about it.

Lord knows I could use the downtime anyway. There has been so much travel, so much work of late with both Scarleteen and the clinic.  I’ve also been putting so much of myself out there in life and work in a way that does take a lot of energy, and is a bit more than even I’m used to.  I can do all of this for the rest of the year, I think, but I’m going to need more downtime than I usually take to manage it.

The relationship limbos are even tougher than the locational ones or the work ones.  Well, tougher in some ways, anyway.

I find I’m frequently inarticulate about what’s all been going on in my love life, despite babbling like a brook about it with both my partners and with some friends.  Things are tricky and sometimes tough, though I don’t know if I’d say they’re capital-H hard.  There have been some moments of sadness, but in so many ways, things are also really good with everyone, too.  Where some aspects of the relationship Mark and I are in have been seeming to be stagnant or go on the back-burner, over the last year or so, other parts have been growing; they’re just not the parts either of us expected to be at the forefront of everything, especially when our relationship was new.  There’s not really anything hugely wrong, per se, with our relationship right now, it’s just been transitioning over the last year or two as it is, and us getting to adding other partners — and the deeper communication involved with that — seems to have amped up or illuminated some of those changes more over the last six months.  Even just in talking more and more deeply, some things have come to light coming from both Mark and myself about our relationship, not about anything outside of it, which have made many things more clear which were murkier before.

The quick-and-dirty on all things interpersonal right now is that both of my most intimate relationships have been changing, and both have their own kind of intensity.  While some of the changes are certainly challenging, I also think that things are all moving in the direction that is likely most right for everyone, even if it’s not what any of us expected, even if sometimes it’s been a bit rough and bittersweet and scary.  There’s a whole lot of surprise in everything, really, whether we’re talking about Mark and myself per how we saw this at the onset four years ago and how we see things and interrelate now, or talking about Blue and I: heck, after Act II of our relationship in ‘96, we were both absolutely sure (actually, I more than he, as he tells it) that we’d never even see one another again, let alone be involved like this.

I know I’m being annoyingly obtuse. It’s so damn tricky to write much about this or Blue and I here, despite there being a whole lot to say, and a whole lot I want to say. Mark and I’s courtship was so all over this journal that, understandably, he feels some sense of ownership with this space and it feels uncomfortable for him to not have that same ownership or, more accurately, that singular focus.  I get it completely, and want to honor that because I love him and want him to feel good, but that doesn’t mean I can easily figure out quite how to walk the line here.  It’s just as tough to talk or write about new-old relationship energy (still haven’t figured out if you can have NRE in a relationship with this much history) at the same time our relationship is in transition.  And it’s always tricky to write publicly about the parts of any relationship when it’s not just mushy-gushy stuff: I think it’s safe to say that no one wants to read about the tough parts of their relationship online. We’re all three of us (Mark’s other partners have so far all been very casual, one-time folks, so none of them are involved in the big stuff yet) pretty tender-hearted about everything lately, and sometimes it feels like everyone is getting the shaft in some way, but that may just be my own guilt talking; my own need to have everyone taken care of all of the time.

A month ago, in a wonderful but very intense therapy session I had in Austin, I came to some conclusions about how I have been living my life and some things I really need to work on changing.  Some of these led me to a desire to have this be the year I worked on learning how to be more… well, self-centered.

The therapist talked a lot about my nature to be a caretaker — in work, in my interpersonal relationships, even just in my worldview at large — which also made me think about parts of how I grew up, and how often I parented my parents more than they ever parented me: it’s crazy in how much of my life I’ve felt like an orphan, even as a child.  My last couple moves, for example, have been about what was most convenient for others rather than for me, about making sure the other person was comfortable, even if that meant I wasn’t.  What I’ve said to myself about them in the past was that I had the ability to be more flexible than others. But when I take a long, hard look at it, that’s just not true: it’s that I was willing to be flexible when others were not. I have to take responsibility for some of that, too, because I often don’t even ask for concessions to be made for me. And I often see myself as more flexible and able to give than everyone else, in work, in my personal life, in a ton of even just simple, daily interactions: as the person who needs to provide comfort, to help and aid others, who needs to step aside or yield, who needs to fight for so-and-so’s rights, with my own stuff second.

Long story short: I need to seriously knock it the fuck off, because I’m at an age where if I don’t soon, it’s likely to stay a pattern through the whole of my life.  So, I’ve proclaimed 2009 as The Year of Being Selfish.  We’ll see how well I do with that, and obviously, there are limits to it beyond being just not being a total asshole.  I have no desire to do different work than I have been doing: I just may need to deal with the doing of some of it differently. I want to be yielding, flexible and giving with the people I love, I just need to require more mutuality in all of that, and step into these things with more already intact in the first place. I need, I think, to recognize, that everyone has the ability to be just as adaptive as I have been, it’s just a matter of whether or not they want to, and also a matter of whether or not I keep shouldering everything by default.

(As an aside, I did manage to do this even with my father lately, who is the toughest person for me to do it with, since I am his lifeline in so many ways, and the only person he’s really got.  I also love him to bits, and his opinion of me very much matters.  But he’s been very strongly judgmental with me lately, especially about my relationships, and was kind of going to the place where it’s my job to take care of everyone and give everyone what they all want, even if it isn’t in alignment with my own wants and needs. I was able to draw a very serious boundary about this with him, which included making clear that I’ve clearly shown myself to be more capable of managing my relationships, and having healthy ones, than not just both of my parents, but than most of the people on either side of my extended family.  I was also able to make clear that he gave me the message loud and clear growing up to create my own models, so it was a little late now to have a problem with my doing that.  He’s still a bit pissy with me about my refusing to talk with him about certain things, and my insistence that I am making the best choices I can despite his feelings to the contrary, but I think we’ll work it out in time.)

I also have been thinking about how much of my life has been about fighting for survival.  Mind, much of that was unavoidable if I was going to survive, or others — like my father — were going to.  However, it’s so easy to kind of get stuck in that place, and be fighting and struggling even at times when you don’t need to anymore, or don’t need to be fighting quite so hard anymore.  I also find myself in the position, now, of having some more resources than I have during much of my life, and thus, have the ability to restructure so that I do that less, especially when we’re talking about the ways I do it so unconsciously. Heck, I fight enough with my work: needless struggle or needless battles elsewhere is just freaking silly.

… and as I hear myself say that, while struggling with writing about this when I’m really not required to, one supposes I’d best heed my own advice, figure I did the best I could so far, and get on with the rest of the day as I want it to be.

Sunday, March 1st, 2009

I’m posting most of the text of the lecture I just gave at UT last week, because a bunch of people asked for it, and because it was a great experience (and how awesome was it to be in a room full of current and potential sex educators?  VERY).  So much of what I said really sums up where I’m at with work right now and have been going.  I say “most of,” because some of the text here were points I knew I’d riff on some more casually, which I did, but this is still the meat of the thing.  My riffs are where I tend to be funnier, so my apologies for not remembering what the hell else I said.  I’ve gotten a lot better with my comfort level with more formal public speaking over the last year or two, but am still uncomfortable enough that when I’m done, I feel like I’ve just come out of some kind of hypnotic trance.

You might also notice that some of this lecture borrows some bits from a couple other pieces I’ve written recently, namely this one.

My name is Heather. I’m turning 39 this spring, and I’m a full-time sex educator.

I was asked to come talk to you to about how to be both innovative and inclusive with sex education.

In many ways, sex education often seems to get stuck in two big places.  Plenty of people seem to think that if you’re talking about sex to young people at all — no matter how you’re talking about it, no matter why you’re talking about it — that’s progressive enough, and for some, that in and of itself is too progressive.  Despite Americans having over 100 years to get used to sex education at this point, for many it still seems an innovation, and not a particularly welcome one.  Hopefully I don’t need to tell this group too much about how so many ideas about inclusivity in young adult sex education — when the notion exists at all — often come from a place more concerned with political correctness than real equity.

We infrequently seem to even address either of these issues, in part because American sex education seems to be stuck at the world’s longest red light: the discussion about it starts and ends with if abstinence-based sex education is best or comprehensive sex education is.  Progressive sex educators will always — validly –  tend to strongly voice that comprehensive sex education is best and that’s what needs to be provided.  For sure, medically-accurate, secular sex education is vital.  However, I think all too often progressives don’t realize how little difference there can be between the two, and how limited so much current sex ed of all types is.

To get us all started on the same foot, I want to address what those three terms usually mean.

Abstinence-only sex education is no kind of sex education at all, ultimately: it’s about why NOT to have sex until (heterosexual) marriage, and based around unwanted pregnancy, STIs, and ideology about how sex before or without marriage is bad news.  Most of it makes no effort to be medically accurate — quite the opposite — but instead relies on fear tactics like the notion that condoms have microscopically-small holes which sperm and infections can swim right through, or that people who have more than one sexual partner lose the ability to emotionally bond with others.  That education does not usually give instructions on using birth control methods or safer sex — it often furthers that any of this education would encourage sex (and that these things are not needed in marriages), though I can’t help but wonder sometimes if that also isn’t just about the fact that many abstinence educators also just don’t know how to use these things themselves.  It focuses almost entirely on refusals of sex, if it teaches any usable skills at all. Abstinence-based sex education also is by nature heterosexist and not merely gendernormative, but relies strongly on binary and traditional notions of gender and sexuality.

Abstinence-plus education does tend to include practical information, and much of it is medically-accurate, and may also be evidence-based, however its supposition is still that it is best for teens not to be sexually active or sexual in any way. It, too, also tends to be very gendernormative and not very inclusive.

Comprehensive sex education is medically-accurate, does (or is supposed to) include instruction on birth control and safer sex and may also include address of topics like anatomy, sexual orientation, masturbation, relationships, sexual abuses, pregnancy options and more, and should come from a place where no one set of sexual choices is privileged as best or right.

But in a recent study of comprehensive sex education in the state of Illinois, of 17 possible topics, emergency contraception was mentioned least, taught by only 30 percent of teachers. Only 32 percent of teachers brought up homosexuality or sexual orientation, 34 percent taught how to use condoms, 37 percent taught how to use other forms of birth control, 39 percent discussed abortion and 47 percent taught students where to access contraception and sexual-health services.  So, even when sex education is comprehensive…well, it’s often not comprehensive at all.

Most of the sex education available to young people right now is either abstinence-only OR abstinence-plus.  Very few curricula or programs are without some kind of abstinence ideology.

Despite thousands of years of young adults being sexual people in any number of ways, and every evidence possible that this is totally natural to them, many adults and sex educators  — even plenty we’d think of as progressive — have in some sense become apologists for sexuality, particularly that of young people.  We’ll talk about it because we have to, because many are going to try “it” and be sexual, but more and more, in sex ed, sex is discussed a lot like the common cold: fairly inevitable, but something you’d probably be best to avoid, which is a pretty wacky way to talk about something that is primarily about pleasure.

The vast majority of sex education available today is also centered around reduction or management of risks of unwanted to negative outcomes, giving the message that the best sex has to offer is nothing bad happening to you because of it.

I had a wake-up call a little while back when I spent some time reviewing some of the top comprehensive sex education curricula.  I, too — when it came to sex ed provided in schools — had made a lot of presumptions about the comprehensive curricula.  I knew they were medically-accurate and often also evidence-based, but I had made a bunch of other assumptions.  I assumed most, if not all, would have detailed address of sexual and whole-body anatomy, that they’d discuss or even masturbation, that they were inclusive — when it came to sexual orientation and gender identity, to race, to class, to relationship models and a variety of sexual choices –  I expected at least some address, though perhaps minimal or watered-down, of desire, of pleasure, of the sexual response cycle.

Yet most of those curricula have little to none of those things.  In fact, at a meeting to review a few of them, sure that I had merely overlooked or wasn’t seeing inclusion, in four of these curricula, I asked where the inclusion of gay, lesbian and bisexual youth was and was told that one of the curricula had a scenario listed in which both teens in the story where named Joe.

Hopefully, I don’t have to tell you that inclusion is a lot bigger than two people named Joe  — which doesn’t even assure those two people are the same gender or sex in the first place — on one page.  Nor do I likely have to tell you that sex is about a whole lot more than merely avoiding — or winding up with — unwanted or negative outcomes: if we get pregnant or don’t, get a sexually transmitted infection or don’t, are or are not sexually assaulted.

There are a few reasons all of this is the case.  A lock on funding for comprehensive sex ed since the end of the Clinton administration, and hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars pumped into abstinence-only through the Bush administration is certainly is one of them.  A general discomfort with sexuality as a whole among teachers, school administrators, parents, healthcare providers — and, by proxy, teens themselves — is obviously another. It’s no newsflash that we continue to have big problems — far bigger than many people like to admit — with sexism, racism, homophobia, classism, ableism, ageism, xenophobia, sizeism.  And all of these issues have certainly impacted sexology as a whole, a field of study which has always been highly male-dominated, very white, very heteronormative and gendernormative.  Sexology has certainly been becoming more diverse over the last twenty years or so, but it still has a long way to go.

So, what informs sex education?  These cultural attitudes, the limits of what has been studied when it comes to sexuality, which is also often informed by these cultural attitudes and blind spots.  The medicalization of sex is also a factor, as is the fact that America is far less sexually liberated than she likes to think.  Toss in an age-old fear of young adult sexuality — hell, a fear of teens and young people, period — then try and stuff it all into formats which can fit into mainstream models of public education, pass a parent and a school board, work in the often toxic social environment of high schools and junior highs and you get an idea of what we wind up with, and how, even if medically-accurate, even if it’s comprehensive, most sex ed is still woefully substandard.

I haven’t chosen to try and provide sex education in schools, but instead, have done so through an online medium to a widely diverse, international userbase for just over ten years, as well as with some in-person outreach and through print publication.  I don’t have to write a curriculum that passes anyone’s muster but that of the young people who choose to utlilize it, and I don’t do any sex ed that isn’t 100% opt-in on the part of young people.  I’m an anarchist by nature, an alternative educator by trade, and that is the way that I do sex ed.  As a young person, I was massively helped by alternative education environments — it’s even safe to say my experimental arts high school saved my life, and certainly my sanity and sense of self –  and before I worked in sex education, I spent several years as a Montessori teacher, a model which informs a lot of how I have done things right from the start with Scarleteen.

To give you a little history in a nutshell, in 1997, I was still teaching in Montessori, but had never stopped writing.  (A lot of my background is in the creative and performing arts, and I started publishing early, in my teens.) Much of my written and artistic work always had a whole lot to do with sexuality and sensuality, and other than bruising my head any more from banging it against the walls and doors of what existed in terms of publishing opportunities for that work, in 1998 — when the web was still very new and all of our web design skills were atrocious –  I rolled out a website called Scarlet Letters, which was the ‘nets first site which focused on female sexuality and eroticism.  Why the net?  Because it was dirt cheap, mostly, and because something about the newness of it: the pioneering nature of being on there seemed a great fit for pioneering ideas.

Within just a matter of months, I began to find letters in my inbox from younger people — Scarlet Letters was intended for adults — with questions about sexuality, stating they just didn’t know where else to go.  My first impulse was to look for somewhere for them to go, and when I did, I — as they clearly had — found nothing.  So, for a little while, I’d just answer the questions in email.  Most of them were pretty rudimentary — Am I pregnant?  Am I gay?  Where the hell is my clitoris and why do I care? — and as the go-to girl for sex in high school and college, the daughter of a public health nurse and and activist and, well…someone who liked sex a whole lot and had done more than her share of field research, they were relatively easy to answer.

And they kept on coming.

By the end of that year, I added a section of pages  of these questions and answers to Scarlet Letters which would later become Scarleteen. I hadn’t kept up with young adult sex education since I had it, I was only aware of how it played out in the ECE and elementary environments I’d taught in.  Naively, I had figured that sex ed had pushed off from many of the progressive efforts of the seventies and early eighties and must — I thought — be pretty okay by that point.  It didn’t take more than a few big batches on the constant influx of letters for me to do some research and find out how completely mistaken I was.

Let me fill you in a little on the Montessori model: Maria Montessori is a fantastic example of  being an innovator.  The first female doctor in Italy, during the first World War she was assigned to care for children in the ghettos.  Those children were intensely independent, used to caring as much for their families and self-care as their parents, and traditional notions of containing children, having them sit in neat rows and be directed by an adult just didn’t suit them.  So, Montessori, very organically, and based on the unique needs and stages of her students, developed her own method.

The primary way Montessori works is this: as educators, we are primarily observers.  Based on our observations of our students self-directed interests, skills (or lack thereof), unique needs and questions, we choose what materials to make or find and what to present to them. In doing this, we’re also trying to help students learn to be observers, as well as working to empower them when it comes to trusting their own interests and instincts and to be self-motivated and self-directed, rather than reliant on — or vulnerable to — others to give them directives. Montessori teachers see ourselves more as helpers, as guides, than as directors or teachers. We see our students as the real directors, not us: it’s our job to follow their cues, not to teach them to obediently follow ours. Questioning is not discouraged, but intensely encouraged. The principles of Montessori are all about independence, liberty and freedom, without which one cannot achieve, develop or experience self-discipline or learning, or live a life of any real quality. Montessori wrote that, “Discipline must come through liberty. . . . We do not consider an individual disciplined only when he has been rendered as artificially silent as a mute and as immovable as a paralytic. He is an individual annihilated, not disciplined.” 

(This is also a particularly pertinent notion when we’re talking about sexuality, and says — I think — quite a lot about what we can expect when we come to sex education or sexuality from a standpoint of sex and sexuality being something we and others must control.)

Particular areas of what we call absorbency — times during which a person is most able to learn something and can most easily and enthusiastically absorb information — is also something we pay close attention to and bear in mind. The big deal that identifies a time of absorbency is when a person is both expressing a strong interest in a subject or area of development and is just starting to use and hone those skills: ages 1-3, for instance, as children are learning to speak and are fascinated with language, is usually the time of the greatest absorbency for language. If we help children be exposed to and learn language then, not only is their mastery best, they usually can also learn more than one language, more easily and ably than they will be able to during other times in life.

It doesn’t take someone with Montessori training or keen observational talents to identify the fact that when it comes to sexuality, the minds of adolescents and pre-adolescents are greatly absorbent. Because part of identifying what and when to present certain things has to do with when a person is starting to use what they learn, we can easily spot adolescence as a great time for sex education. In working with young adults, while I’m not really getting in on the ground floor since so many sexual attitudes are learned in childhood, I’m still in early enough so that our readers can get help forming healthy habits and attitudes at a dawn in their sexuality and during a time when they are very absorbent. I’m not just working with them just so that they can use this information and these skills now — after all, some of them want the information now, but don’t intend to, or are not, putting all of it to practical use, while others are becoming or already sexually active — but so that they can have them early, available to them for the whole of their lives.

Using the models — or really, the un-models — of education I liked best, like Montessori, like ideas from John Holt and A.S. Neill, the first thing I did was assess my students, not based only or mostly on statistics or standardized testing, but based on who they really were and what they were telling me.  I had needs clearly expressed to me by young people.  They had important questions about sex and sexuality which were not being answered, and they needed and wanted answers.  Clearly, they also felt comfortable asking via the new terrain of new media, and also felt comfortable approaching me, personally, likely due to both my openness about sex, my casual tone and probably also because they were so desperate for anyone willing to answer their questions who seemed likely to have answers, and also likely not to be able to hold them accountable for asking,  that they were not being particularly selective about who they asked in the first place.

What were my tools and materials? I had what felt like the perfect fit for their needs with the Internet.  It was anonymous.  It was relatively cheap (and while my costs have certainly grown with our traffic, compared to print media, it’s still peanuts).  I was not going to have to try and slog through endless beaurocracies to provide what the teens were asking me for, wasn’t going to have to argue with parents and administrators — though later I did have to argue with the federal government, but we won that argument.  I would be able not only to build what I felt was best based on their expressed needs, I’d also have the freedom  — should I need or want to — to knock it all down and try something completely different on a whim, a flexibility and whimsy which often had not exactly been appreciated the few times I’d tried teaching in pre-established systems with administrators, but which is central to student-based and directed education.

I had me, someone who had been a teacher for some time and loved teaching, who had had an incredibly challenging adolescence and an easy and intense compassion for children and teenagers.  I had a set of diverse skills I could draw on which helped: I had writing skills, design skills, and the great gift of a sense of humor, which tends to be a godsend when talking with people about sex.  I had  the ability to camp out at the library and further my education as much as I liked with sexuality and related issues, a field of study I had already gotten into in college.  I had a love of anarchy, and of pioneering: I preferred to start with my imagination, rather than with pre-existing systems.  I brought my own diversity to the table: I grew up very marginalized in a handful of ways, had some views and experiences that were often outside of what many teens were exposed to.  I was queer, I wasn’t on the marriage-and-baby track, I came of age in the 80’s and made the absolute most of it, I was comfortable with the provocative, but not all that impressed with it, either. I was beyond comfortable — and quite happy — with sex and sexuality.  And I was impressed with that plenty.

That’s the way Scarleteen started, and at more than ten years since, that is still much of the way I direct it.  By all means, we are monstrously larger than I ever imagined we’d be: I certainly did not forsee this becoming my full-time job and my life’s work with those first letters, nor did I imagine we’d have 20 - 30,000 readers every day.

But I still stick to the same model I had at the start: the content we have is almost entirely based  — with some unavoidable but relatively minor limitations — on the content our users have asked for, which, as it turns out, has tended to result in an incredibly comprehensive, inclusive and holistic body of work. When you have this many people to work with, from this many places in the world, with this kind of diversity, in a medium with this much openness and an aversion to control, and you let them lead what you do, it is going to tend to result in a body of work and a community which is highly diverse, inclusive and holistic.

I rarely, if ever, have to think about what to teach, and what information to give: my users and clients — when I do in-person outreach — tell me that, and I trust them to know what they need.  More times than not, what it is I have to figure out is HOW to provide it for them, and I do that most by asking just as many questions of them as they ask of me, and by being open to what they tell me, willing to adjust my thinking at any time.

It might sound simplistic to posit that coming to sex education not through what we as adults deem important for young people to know, but by starting — and primarily staying with — what young people themselves tell us they want and need to know seems to solve many of the typical and current pitfalls of sex education.  But that has been my experience.

I also very strongly believe that  when we move past risk management, and address sexuality more holistically, not only do we better equip young people — any people — to have a happy, healthy sexuality that is self-designed rather than conformist, we also tend to also help young people build skills and a knowledge base which easily includes risk management and provides them with additional context and tools to make reducing and managing risks easier for them.  If a young person can talk to a sexual partner, for instance, about something as loaded as pleasure and desire, as perhaps not reaching orgasm through intercourse or even finding it all that compelling, or can openly show a partner where to find a clitoris or prostate gland, to discuss what dynamics they do and do not want in the relationship, negotiating condom use or discussing birth control can tend to be a piece of cake, and inclusivity also gets a lot easier.  This information also tends to come about pretty organically and in a way that makes a lot more sense, and is a lot less scary or intimidating.

For instance, if a young person does ask what a clitoris is, what it’s for and where it’s at, once you answer them, they might then ask how it is someone might experience pleasure that way.  In giving them that answer, you’re going to address sexual activities that aren’t for one given kind of couple, and which will likely challenge some heteronormative ideas, and likely ALSO wind up talking about how certain activities with the clitoris do or do not pose risks of pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections.

If we teach young people about things like how incredibly diverse sexuality is, because it is, if we model active and compassionate listening when it comes to sexual pleasure and creating agreements in a relationship, not only can they use that knowledge and those tools with their own sexual lives, and in the way they think about sexuality as a whole,  they can also apply those skills even more broadly, such as for conflict resolution and understanding in other tough or loaded places.  Honestly, all I have to do to know that most of the members of our last administration didn’t have a really good sex education is to look at how they handled international diplomacy.

I feel like sex education in and of itself is still revolutionary, to be sure, but I also feel like most sex education at best is not very revolutionary, and at worst, is about devolution.  But real-deal sex education — that is open, that is honest, that is a lot more fearless, that is human and comes from who it’s being given to, that nurtures inclusivity and diversity of thought and experience — is seriously revolutionary stuff.  And I think it’s totally doable.

I want to leave you with a strong sense of how doable that is, and — hopefully — a desire to do so.   On the note, I’ve a few helpful hints I’ve picked up over the years I want to toss out at you about how to be — in my book — a totally fantastic sex educator.

• Be yourself and be honest. You do get to have boundaries — and limits and boundaries are vital with any relationship between teens and adults, and all people, and setting them is certainly one of those things that gives them some great tools for their sex lives. So, if a student asks you something you’re not comfortable answering, or it feels like an invasion of a privacy you need, you get to tell them that, though I’d advise really telling them that.  In other words, rather than saying “I can’t talk about that,” you say “You know, that makes me uncomfortable,” or “Actually, that for me is something I like to keep private.”  But ultimately, they’re looking to you as the person to be candid with them, and you can benefit them by repping you and sex as it is, in all its diversity, silliness, awesomeness, awkwardness, complexity and joy.

• Assume yours might be the only formal sex ed that they get.  Hopefully, that will NOT be the case: ideally, everyone should get sex ed from multiple sources and perspectives.  But all too many people really don’t, including well into adulthood.  So, don’t put undue pressure on yourself, but bear in mind this may well be a one-shot deal, and it’s best to make the most of it.

• Ask as many questions as you give answers.

• Recognize that no matter how protected an environment teenagers will inevitably feel vulnerable when discussing sex, meet them in that space.  If they’re vulnerable, but you don’t allow yourself to also be vulnerable, that creates an imbalanced dynamic that asks a lot more of them than it does of you.

• Peer educator training: any time you are doing sex ed, you are also effectively doing peer sex educator training.  More than anything else, teens get their sex information and education from each other.  So, when you educate one of them, you’re always educating more than one of them.  Teens having accurate information isn’t just about their own sex lives, but about the sex lives of all the teens they may wind up talking with about sex and sexuality.

• Take risks.  Know that if you take a risk and find yourself in a pickle, you’ve always got the ACLU.  I’ll give you their number.  Seriously.  They love sex educators.  A lot.

• Consider that an unhappy sex life or sexual self is just as dire an outcome as an unwanted pregnancy or a serious sexually transmitted infection.  I think we need to accept that it is, especially if we’re serious when we say that sexuality is huge and important.  Plus, from everything I have observed over the years, people at peace with their sexuality and in healthy sexual relationships tend to make smarter choices when it comes to things like contraception, safe relationships and safer sex.

• Lastly, don’t stop educating yourself.  As you probably already know, sex and sexual health information changes constantly and sometimes quickly.  What you learned in med school five years ago can quickly become archaic.  And that education includes your own personal field research. I’m talking about your own sex life. If you aren’t honest about your own areas of growth and doing your best to have a sex life and sexuality that is healthy and enriching — alone or with partners, and whatever that means to you — I’m just not sure how great a sex educator you can be, just like I can’t imagine that an English teacher who hated to read or only read the Cliff’s Notes would be very inspiring and effective.  Be an aspirational sexual demographic.

Wednesday, August 13th, 2008

Antichoice, bible-thumping, sex-only-okay-for straight-marrieds-and-only-for-procreation trolls are really funny when they suggest Plato or Socrates as a suitable defense for their agenda and as in alignment with them when it comes to sexuality. Especially when they were serious.

Know what’s even funnier than that?

When it’s that day you need to tidy up the toys. So you go to head downstairs, your hands so overfull with dildos that you drop them and — bOINg! BOing! boING! — they all go down the stairs.

It’s peppy penises! A prancing phallus! A jouncing Johnson! Springing Schongs! Ding dong!

It’s almost as funny when after the Great Dildo Circus of 2008 is over (wah!), after you’ve gathered them all back up and are going to the dishwasher, tears still on your cheeks from amusing yourself so, you look up to see your neighbor crossing the lane, stopping dead in her tracks and looking at you as if…well, as if you were a woman laughing and crying all by herself loading an armload of dildos into the dishwaher.

Almost, but not quite.

P.S. The San Francisco trip was very brief, but very nice. Having lots of time with Robert & Carol is always a treat, I was able to spend time with Melissa twice (and I do not know what it is about us, but we have the coolest thing that happens when both our brains are in the same space), met a lot of very lovely people, had a productive meeting, and spent a ridiculous amount of money on too many cups of impossible-to-resist Blue Bottle coffee, which was — unfortunately for my wallet — stumbling distance from Robert and Carol’s pad.

Honestly, I have had a lot of good coffee in my life, have even trained people to make it as a gig way back when, but I do think I can say I have never had better. And they do vegan mochas with gorgeous shaved dark chocolate which you get a thick mouthful of at the end of the cup. Heaven.

I thought the reception on Friday was a good time and the presentation/discussion Sunday went well. I wish, for the latter, that I hadn’t had to abbreviate answers to VERY big questions due to time, since it made me feel like I was almost diminishing some issues I thought were big’uns, but one does what one can.

Thursday, April 5th, 2007

To provide some needed levity and lightness following the last entry, Mark and I found ourselves in the great conundrum last night of not having a simple name for the sort of sex we wound up having at the end of an extended at-home date last night.

You’ve got your makeup sex and your breakup sex, but what’s it called when you have the-reasons-we-both-were-reluctant-to-have-sex-even-though-we-both-wanted-to-because-we-were-worried-about-resolving-issues-the-wrong-way-no-longer-matter-because-we-both-resolved-them-and-suprisingly-bridged-gaps-we-didn’t-even-know-we-had-and-sweet-jesus-do-I-freaking-love-you-baby sex?

Because that’s kinda unwieldly, I think.

It really was an entirely unplanned, unexpected and remarkable date here last night. Initially, I was just happy to be able to have Mark come home to someone other than a complete invalid and not have to play nursemaid to me for another night. Not that he complained at all: if there were an award for being the best Tender of the Incoherent Sickie, he’d win, hands down. While I was particularly thankful for the care and patience, and I have over time discovered he may be the one person, ever, who I can feel okay about allowing to care for me when ill (my usual tactic is to tell whomever to leave the soup at the damn door and get the freaking hell away from me: yeah, I’m a wonderful patient), I still want that care to be limited, for everyone’s sake.

As it turned out, we had this date that was kind of like the best dates you had in college or your first apartment, where you sit on the floor with takeaway for dinner and a bottle of hooch, shared favorite music playing (Over the Rhine albums, in this case), and you just share and share and share as the night turns into morning, talking without there ever being any pauses or silences, learning new things about the other person throughout, waxing existential at times — Isn’t beauty beautiful in the first place because it is relative, momentary, and un-ownable? Or, why is it that you had these similar experiences to me, and yet, we processed and internalized them completely differently? — to the silly, but seemingly important at the time — Where the heck has that highfalutin, flimflam, lollygaggin’, fuddy-duddy, ol’timey slang of yore gone, and why can’t we have it back? — becoming a bit more vulnerable than before just because it feels so right at others. And this when it all started with talking about some tricky, uncomfortable stuff, with me already feeling a bit emotionally drained from the day: quite unexpected and heartily welcomed, to say the least, especially in a year when both of our creative work lives are full-throttle, and time together is at a real premium.

Times like these, I’m reminded of the profound closeness that I experience between us, how exceptional it is in my life experience, and how very dearly I treasure it.

Plus, the whatever-the-heck-you-call-it kind of sex, which resulted in one of those brain ’splody orgasms where you can’t remember what you even call yourself, let alone anything else, was a particularly fine finish to the evening, as was us waking up today crushing particularly hard on the other a fine start to a new day.

Thursday, February 15th, 2007

A brief break (and thank christ, it really does look like tomorrow I’ll get that day off after all, though given my workday today started out with shared orgasms before either of us were even fully awake this morning, I can’t complain overmuch), to highlight a couple more Scarleteen fundrasing bloggy bits out and about I’ve enjoyed reading, and am grateful for:

Peter has some cool reflections here, Zingerella shares some sound sex ed memories here, and I know I linked to Sarah Monette’s entry yesterday, but I like it so much I’m doing it again. Here’s Hanne’s awesome offer to sweeten the deal, Seska’s reflections on her sex ed experiences, Candy on hers, and AGA blogger and longtime Scarleteen user Emily here.

On a related note, this letter from the Religious Institute makes me very, very happy. A favorite passage?

Faith communities must recognize, however, that many adolescents will become involved in sexual relationships during their teenage years. Adolescent intimate relationships, like those of adults, should be based on shared personal values, and should be consensual, non-exploitative and non-coercive, honest, mutually pleasurable, and protected against unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. All persons, including adolescents, have the right and responsibility to lead lives that express love, justice, mutuality, commitment, consent, and pleasure.

Preach it.

(I likely won’t find all the blog entries people are doing in the logs, so if anyone blogging wants to bring my attention to what they’ve done, by all means, shoot me an email. And if you haven’t blogged yet, and support what we do, please do! Everybody’s bit helps, and besides, it’s always cool and needed to talk and read about sex ed. This is dialogue we need culturally, no matter what.)

Wednesday, February 14th, 2007

When I was a teenager, having sex wasn’t really part of my rebellion.

Having GOOD sex was.

Now, I know that I’m kind of not supposed to even say this stuff out loud, especially within earshot of anyone under 18…or 21 or 29 or whatever this week’s proper age for sexual activity issued forth from our oh-so-moral government is per being an unrepentant tramp. Don’t suppose age matters here: it’s pretty clear there’s not any age or station at which it’s acceptable per the Bushies to be a woman who enjoys sex on her own terms and happily has plenty of it.

I know that admissions like that sometimes have the effect of diminishing my credibility in the eyes of some as a young adult sex educator. As I understand it, if you had really great sex as a teen (or a grown woman, or a lesbian or a gay man or anyone not over 50, heterosexual and married), and worse still, lots of it, you somehow lose (or never had) the ability to think critically and soundly, to have any sort of objectivity whatsoever, and thus, would obviously advise every teenager you meet to go do exactly what you did, covering them with your icky, infectious slut-bugs. You are one dangerous, contagious harlot from whom all good children who would become good adults should keep their distance.

To perhaps the surprise of exactly no one, if you were one of the ten people who held off on sex until you married at the now-average age of 27, or had really lousy teenage sex with catastrophic results, that gives you extra credibility if you’re the kind of sex educator that is telling them to stay the heck away from sex and their sexuality at all costs.

But I wasn’t ashamed of it then, and I work hard to keep any other teenager from being ashamed, so I’m certainly not going to be ashamed of it now.

Being sexually active in my teens wasn’t about pissing my parents off, or gaining social status, or meeting some sort of status quo (especially considering that while I wasn’t out for a few years, my partners were not simply male, and this was the early-mid-eighties, before anyone gave you points for macking down with other girls, to say the least). The sex I was having wasn’t merely two-minute intercourse, I wasn’t in partnerships where my body or self was dismissed or treated like a receptacle, I wasn’t feeling ashamed of how I or my genitals looked, being coerced into one-sided sex I didn’t want, or only wanted the emotional or social benefits of, and figuring that getting little to nothing physically out of sex was worth the other benefits it might have offered, or that the sex would eventually net me care from partners I wasn’t already getting.

Instead, I was almost always having sex that made me feel really good, where I had lots of good orgasms, where I could laugh with my partners at our fumbling when we fumbled, where my morning-afters left a perpetual grin on my face, rather than the look-away-I’m-hideous grimace of ashamed regret. I did a darn good job in choosing sexual partners who were kind, caring people that earnestly liked me — and vice-versa — and who had mutual pleasure and care in mind.

Mind, it was the 80’s, and I also did plenty of things that I wouldn’t encourage other teens to do, both sexually and in conjunction with sex, but in many ways, I feel I have positive sexual experiences to thank for not only getting me through the awfulness of much of my teen years, but for setting me up to continue to have great sex throughout my life, and to feel really good about my sexuality and the self it’s a part of.

Due to the negative parts of how I came of age in the house I was living in, due to the sexual abuses and harassment I dealt with, due to simply being a smart, sensitive gal who engaged in cultural analysis in her head a lot I got the message loud and clear that I was sexualized like nobody’s business, but that that sexuality wasn’t supposed to be something I owned. It was supposed to be something used against me (and I was just supposed to take it like a girl), or used to gender, commodify, devalue or objectify me. Thankfully, I also got a few opposing messages that all of that was completely screwed up, and thankfully, the context of my life as a whole equipped me with the tools to know how messed up those attitudes and cultural edicts were.

I didn’t have sex — with guys, with girls, with myself — to make anyone else mad or uncomfortable, or to follow somesome’s orders that I should. I had sex to claim and reclaim my own body and sexuality, to remind myself of all the good stuff about it, including that sex was supposed to make me feel good and be something I wanted and initiated. I had sex to find out what sex was, the ways I liked it, what part it played in my life and my identity. I had sex because I was a poor kid with a lot of pans in the fire and it’s a totally affordable vacation where you can fit in an awful lot of relaxation and de-stressing in very limited periods of time. I had sex because I wanted to have sex and I liked having sex. I had sex because it felt great, it was one hell of an adventure, and I discovered ways to be assertive in the rest of my life though the sex I was having. I had sex because in the romances and friendships in which I had it, it felt right, it increased intimacy, and it was one of many ways to get to know someone else and myself better.

In a word, I had sex for all of the reasons people have sex. Fancy that.

I know a big turning point for me in my sexual development, odd as it may sound, was the assault that happened at 12. Despite having to live in silence about it, despite it not being managed at all well, or even acknowledged as the hardcore trauma it was, despite having to work all of it out only in my own head until many years later when I found some support, I knew full well that it, and another abuse a year before, was NOT sex. I’m not even sure how I knew that, but I did.

I’m down with being a statistic: is it likely that some of why I had sex at an earlier age than many was because of abuse? Yes, I think it was. On the other hand, while there were also a whole lot of other reasons I did as well, even when we’re talking about the parts of my motivation to do so that likely came from abuse. And for those aspects that were motivated by abuse, it wasn’t primarily about my thinking my only use or was sexual, or about reenacting my abuse.

It was about rebelling against it: if I was going to be having any kind of sex with someone else, and they with me, it was going to be about pleasure, it was going to be about freedom in my body and theirs, it was going to be about joy and communion and natural curiosity, it was going to be something we liked doing on all levels; something which was emotionally, intellectually and physically satisfying for me and whomever else was involved.

And it was.

The older I get, the more aware I become that I had really good sex as a teen and young adult. In fact, now having spent many years talking with and listening to teens about their sex lives — even when their only partner is themselves — I know that by comparison, I had astonishingly good sex. Perhaps even more depressingly, I know from also doing work with adults that I had better sex as a teen than a lot of people have as full-fledged adults.

Mind, even with my burdens and my traumas, I grew up in a different time and place and environment than a lot of teens today.

I was primarily urban. My community was diverse, and no one viewpoint about anything (or looked any one way), including about sexuality, was dominant. No teacher or guest speaker in my school ever came in to tell me that I would die if I had sex, or become an unsavory, unsticky piece of tape who couldn’t properly bond to other people because I was having sex. I had a level of confidence, reslience and self-assurance that resulted in any of my peers calling me a dyke or a whore or a slut (which didn’t often happen) being told to get stuffed, and my not taking any such jibes to heart.

I left one home early on (and spent the last year barely there no matter what it took to avoid it), and had a measure of autonomy and responsibility to manage a lot of teens even then didn’t, and now still often don’t. I had jobs from an early age, I made many of my own clothes, I fed myself, I got myself around the city on my own on public transportation, I paid for much of my own basic care, including some of my schooling, and in general, the frivolities of my teenage life were balanced out by an awful lot of responsbility, so sex wasn’t the first place I needed to be accountable and in the driver’s seat.

I knew where the sexual health clinics were, and I used them vigilantly, and with community support in using them. I very rarely took risks in terms of protecting myself from pregnancy and infection, and no one was trying to scare me away from those protections. Because I spent much of my youth in the hospital my mother worked in, very comfortable around doctors and nurses, I was always fine with asking my sexual healthcare providers questions, and I had the benefit of knowing the right language to ask them in — and a comfort with that language — so I could net real answers. There was sound sexuality information on bookshelves at both my mother and father’s apartments, in my school libraries, in my public libraries.

I had one parent who was 100% fine with the fact that I wasn’t heterosexual, who was wonderful to any girlfriends I brought home, and who never gave me any idea there was anything wrong (or even unusual), at all, with being queer. That same parent also sent really strong messages about my claiming ownership and responsibility for my sexual choices autonomously. I was never the girl who’d have to ask a partner if they had a condom or birth control, and be at anyone else’s mercy as to what they’d try and get me to go without using. I was the girl who simply pulled whatever it was out of my purse, handed it over, gave no indication to the recipient whatsoever that sex without was optional, and in meeting any resistance to being safe, tended to merely shrug and voice that no sex was going to happen then, and that was cool with me.

I also had no illusions about the fact that sexual violence and abuse was widespread, and that bad things absolutely could happen to me, and — having a more cynical view in many respects than many my age — with my luck, probably would, especially if I didn’t walk in every door already standing up for myself. I had a defiance and an anger about a lot of my life that was a very real gift in this regard, as it was — and still is — in many others.

I also had some measure of comprehensive sex education growing up.

Given, it wasn’t exactly queer-inclusive, but it sure wasn’t queer-negative, either. It didn’t quite tell me how to enjoy myself during sex and didn’t address any of my abuse, but it also didn’t tell me sex would kill me on first contact, even if I protected myself, that I needed to get married to have it, that birth control (safer sex wasn’t an issue yet: thank heaven for having a parent working in AIDS care before most of the world even knew AIDS existed so I knew about that) being effective was just a myth or that if I did become or was sexually active, I was the human equivalent of an overused kleenex. The cultural sentiment was such that I could even ask a teacher I respected for help or advice, and that adult could give me support and information without fear of losing their job.

* * *
Imagine, if you will, how things might have been for me in different circumstances. In say, the circumstances of many teens today.

It would have been very easy for me, and far more typical, for instance, to have developed a profound sexual shame and low self-esteem that would have been easy for others to exploit given some of the abuses I lived through, had I only heard opinions and information which enabled or encouraged those results. It would have been very typical for a girl like me, survivor at an early age, who grew up with one strong set of very negative messages about my terrible, awful growing-into-womanhood body, to not be so resilient and defiant, especially with the pervasive messages of the media, the Girls Gone Wild commercials, the capitalizing upon teenage sexuality while at the same time denying it outright, the en masse weight loss mania, the commodification of girl-girl relationships, the endless hard-sell of heterosexism and that one right man as the answer to everything. Even if I hadn’t have been a survivor, all this crap would have had a profoundly negative impact on me.

With the continued suppression of, and resistance to, a lot of feminist politics and the cultural revisitations of the ideal woman-as-eunuch, or woman-as-property, imagine how much more difficult it would have been for me to assert myself when it came to my sexuality: both in simply honoring its totally healthy, normal desires and in negotiating sex with partners. Imagine how doggone ashamed I might have been with myself, even for the sex I was only having WITH myself. Imagine what I might have thought of the men and the women I had sex with. Imagine how I might have felt as a sexual abuse survivor. Imagine how on earth I could have managed to be that girl holding out the condom and holding her own.

Being a low-income teen, had I not had — as a majority of teens right now do not — access to affordable, accessible and nonjudgmental sexual health services, I’d have had a lot of questions that went unanswered that very much needed answering. I may well have gone without the birth control and safer sex I needed, the annual screens and exams, and I may not have had access to medically accurate sex information at all. No sense in pussyfooting around: if I had been even half as sexually active as I was then just without that one thing, chances are quite excellent I’d have been long dead by now.

Once I switched over to my arts high school, I was in a completely GLB-friendly environment, to the degree that I’d call it GLB-celebratory: had I stayed in public high school, had all my immediate community been wary of queerness at best, and homophobic at worse, things would not have gone so well for me. Had I not had some good role models around me, some awesomely strong, outspoken women and some fantastic old queens, that made clear that my sex, gender, orientation or desires didn’t make me inferior, sullied or shameful, I would not only have been a very different person then, I would be a very different person now, someone who loved and accepted herself and everyone around her a whole lot less.

In a less diverse environment, without a wide spectrum of beliefs and attitudes available to me, try and figure out how I could have really found out what I really thought and felt about my sexuality and my sexual life, explored freely enough to find out what identity was authentic to me, and what it was I really wanted for myself, to fulfill my needs, not just the needs and wants of others. Had I not had at least one family member where I could be completely honest about my sexuality and sexual life, who supported my choices and helped me learn to make them responsibly AND had I been reared in an environment where other support wasn’t anywhere to be found, where would I have turned to to find it? (P.S. This is also a good wonder to have if you’re wondering how it is so many younger teen girls get hooked into iffy relationships with older men, because guess who has NO problem endorsing and supporting their sexual maturation?) When I did just plain screw up, how might I have dealt with it and learned from my errors if there wasn’t at least one person who I knew loved me who could also tell me that it was okay to screw up sometimes?

What if I had not been reared with my inquisitive spirit nurtured? Without it being a given that I was not only allowed to, but encouraged to, ask questions about anything and everything, including my own body, any aspect of sex, sexual politics and mores? Had I instead been raised with much of that purposefully stifled, unless what I thought fit someone’s agenda, who might I have become?

Hell, how might I have been able to have the focus, confidence, energy and time to devote to all my awesome achievements of my teen and young adult years that had nothing to do with sex if I’d been a teenager today, just trying to navigate my way through the jungle of sexuality?

* * *
See, all of the things I had going for me are things that many teens right now do not now have. Plenty of them have exactly none of these things.

My challenges aside, let’s take a real look at all of those benefits I had, and bear in mind that even with them, I was still left wanting when it came to sex education and to sexuality support. If I still felt I needed more, if I could have benefitted from better, then you’ve got to ask yourself how on earth we or anyone else expects a lot of teens and young adults right now to come out healthy and whole with how little support so many of them have to be healthy and whole, sexually and otherwise.

I seriously don’t want Scarleteen and my work to be the only thing out there for them, and thankfully, it isn’t, even though sex education like this remains in serious danger of extinction. There are parents out there who rock it with sexuality support, information, and providing great environments for their kids when it comes to sex. There are other organizations which support and distribute sound, comprehensive sex ed. There are schools bucking the system, and there are communities stepping up to the plate. Not enough of them, if you ask me, but they are out there.

But I like to think that over the years, myself, the volunteers and the users have figured out a way to provide something that is quite unique and very sorely needed: something bigger, even, than just a good sex ed class or one supportive person. Basic, accurate sexuality, sex and sexual health information is critical. But so is a positive, wide, diverse and shameless context for it.

I think it’s vital to have an environment for sex education which feels comfortable, personable and also respectful; which answers questions but also asks them, making clear that sexuality isn’t simple and that its influence on us as individuals, in our relationships and in our communities and culture is vast. I think it’s essential to have sex education which dares youth to take very real ownership of their sexuality, as individuals and as a collective — perhaps in a way we don’t even know to exist yet in our world — and busts its ass to give them the tools and support to do so.

When I did the acknowledgments for the book — which, suffice it to say, went on for an age, like everything out of my mouth tends to — the very last sentence is this: “To that girl I once was, here’s that book you wanted. Sorry it took me so long.”

In many ways, this can also be said for Scarleteen.

I didn’t really mean to make something for who I was: in many ways, there is plenty at Scarleteen I did have, and which would have been superfluous for me. On the other hand, there’s plenty there I really could have used, such as opportunities to process my sexual abuse and what it meant to me to be a survivor, or having other peers around in different places to talk to who were queer, without worry of my conversations about those issues quickly finding their way through the gossip mill of my immediate queer community. Gender was also a real issue for me: it wasn’t until college, and many years of trying to fit a very femme mold that just wasn’t me, that it was ever strongly suggested to me that gender was about choice, not biology or what ideals were pushed on me. That’s one I’m still working my way through, and feel I have wasted an awful lot of time struggling with, that I could have used to a much better end. Had someone let me know earlier on that I had more choices than ingenue or femme fatale, it would have been pretty life-altering.

During the times when I had trouble rectifying my enjoyment of sex with the occasional feeling that that’s all I would be seen as sometimes, having someone to talk to about changing some of my choices or the way I made them, and about how to analyze the real root of those feelings would have been a real gift. As one of the only teens I knew as sexually active as I, having others around who were more expert, who could talk me through a pregnancy scare, scenarios when I wasn’t sure what I wanted my boundaries to be, some of my conflicting feelings about my female body or my queerness? This would have been seriously nice. Having someone with some distance from me, who I didn’t have to worry about disappointing, to call me on my shit when I did do things sexually that were just plain stupid, or put too much stock in my sexual life or identity also would have been a real bonus. And I’ll tell you right now, that as the primary sexual advisor to most of my friends, they sure would have benefitted if I had had a source like Scarleteen to send them to, especially on those days when I was so damn sure I knew all there was to know, and on the days when they believed me.

If a teenager like I was could have found these benefits in this and more, it should be painfully obvious that a majority of teenagers today need it more than ever: especially if they’re going to be having any sort of sex (and most are), and all the more if we have any care about the sex they’re having actually being any good, in every way it can — and should — be for everyone, at any age.

(Super-duper thanks to everyone who has blogged today for Scarleteen, to those donating, and in advance for those whose entries are forthcoming: not only is it a great big help to us, but now that things have started winding down for me this week, I’ve really been enjoying reading some of what’s out there.)

Monday, January 22nd, 2007

I’ve recently been unable to put down The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade by Ann Fessler. (It’s a tough month for my bedside table, which has had to bear the physical and emotional weight of that book, as well as bell hooks’ All About Love: New Visions, Jackson Katz’s The Macho Paradox: Why Some Men Hurt Women and How All Men Can Help, and Susan Griffin’s Woman and Nature.)

Even though every single first-person story in it makes my heart hang heavy, even though if I read it at night, I have to fight off the urge to allow myself to cry myself to sleep. It’s important. So important.

I was just mentioning today to one of the amazing young women at the All Girl Army, blogging for choice today, that while it is, absolutely, positively vital to talk about backalley abortions, to talk about what abortion was like before Roe vs. Wade (and what it still is like in areas where abortion is illegal or inaccessible), it’s equally important to talk about what choice as a whole was like and still IS like, even with the help of Roe and other supports. I think many often forget or simply don’t know the combined impact Roe vs. Wade,Title X and other feminist initiatives had when it came to reproductive choice no matter the choice a woman made. More accurately, no matter what a woman did or what was done TO her when she became pregnant before she had any sort of choice.

Before (and in some cases, still well into) the mid-seventies, we all too often forget that most women simply didn’t have any real choice. We all too often forget that decisions like Roe vs. Wade protect us because of the choices many of us still don’t have, and the world we live in which still threatens or refuses us all or some of those choices.

No choice for a safe, legal abortion.
If a woman was able to access abortion and got very lucky (or was simply very privileged), then she could contact, get to, and pay for a private — albeit illegal –abortion, done in sanitary conditions, by a doctor or nurse, under great secrecy. Those women were few and far between, to say the least. And even those women, in the “luckiest” conditions, often had to go back home, do all their grieving alone, suffer any side effects in secrecy and silence, and if they became ill due to the abortion, often did not or could not seek out care.

As for the rest who wanted or needed abortions, but who didn’t have the connections or the means for a safer illegal abortion, I think by now most of us — especially those who read women like me — have a pretty good idea as to what backalley abortions or self-attempted abortions were like. The tools of these abortions were knitting needles, coathangers, scissors, sticks; bleach, whiskey, turpentine or gunpowder douches. Women who got backalley abortions were often blindfolded so as not to be able to identify their abortionist, driven to remote areas, passed person to person. Many women who died from illegal, unsafe abortions slowly bled to death, in terrible physical and emotional pain, utterly alone: many were silently, slowly and painfully dying or becoming seriously ill while going to school, working their jobs, or sitting at the dinner tables with their families. That’s pre-Roe abortion history about as condensed as it gets, friends: that’s the light summary.

No matter the type of abortion, before Roe, as many as 1.2 million illegally induced abortions occurred annually in the United States and as many as 5,000 to 10,000 women died every single year following illegal abortions. Nearly four times as many women of color died as white women. That figure doesn’t account for injuries, physical as well as psychological, both of which were vast. No matter the type of abortion or the type of woman, nearly ALL of those women still suffered alone. They did not have support groups for abortion, nor any cultural sentiment which allowed them to feel any grief (rather than guilt), they did not have sound (if any) aftercare, they did not have any context to talk about their feelings or experiences, they often did not even have the allowance to say, out loud, to anyone, that they had an abortion or had been pregnant.

No choice to safely abort, but also no choice to parent, or no choice not to.
For those who either did not want to or simply could not access any means of abortion… Just in the few decades before Roe, around one and a half million women were sent away to maternity homes and tricked, coerced or outright forced into giving their babies up for adoption.

Some of these homes were okay enough places to stay (however much a place can be “okay” which robs you of a child you gave birth to and wanted), but some were not a far cry from — nearly identical to — the Magdalene Launderies. Women staying in them were hidden and isolated from everyone but the other women in the homes, shunned by their families (and sometimes the men who got them pregnant in the first place) and often during the rare times they could leave the home, they would be easily identified and harassed in the streets: insults and/or vegetables hurled, the works.

Like women who aborted during this time — and in my eyes, this is all the more painful — these women had to leave the homes after giving birth and pretend they had never been pregnant, that they were never mothers. Some of them would have contact with their infants for months in the home before having them ripped away from them. Women with postpartum depression had zero support. Women whose whole lives had been shattered were totally unacknowledged. Open adoptions arrangements (however flawed they can sometimes be) were not available: the rights of birth mothers were preciscely nil. If and when they were at all visible, these women were often disdained by their families and communities. But for the most part, they were and are often still, invisible mothers, invisible women. Too, we have plenty of history of mothers giving birth and being forced to give up their children to other women in their families: married sisters or aunts, even their own mothers, after which the mother of the child would be forced to spend her life pretending that she was sibling or cousin to her own child.

Of course, we also have the myriad women who did not want to remain pregnant and parent, but who found themselves forced into parenting, and often, unwanted marriages as well. For whom having to get married, bear a child and parent was ordered as punishment for being wayward (for as well all know, much like HIV is Gods punishment for being a deviant — even if you get it as the straightest, most vanilla person there is — pregnancy and parenting is Gods punishment to women for not keeping themselves chaste).

My mother was one of those women. Abused, lambasted, shamed by her family and told she had no other option but this to even attempt to redeem herself in their eyes, that of God and those of the whole world. (As one of “those” children, let me tell you from a child’s perspective how much fun it wasn’t to grow up looked at by a strict Irish Catholic family as the accidental, half-blood-Dego bastard child who carries the shame of her mother in every pore of her being: to be told, quite incessantly, that you were an accident, a punishment, an extension of sin. Or to reach an age where you’re well aware that your mother is working double and sometimes triple shifts, and you’re all barely scraping by, all because of you, a fact which the family who PUT her in that position reminds you of frequently.) This is some of what happens when choice is thought to stop at sex alone, if choice was even an issue WITH sex, especially when you consider how very many of these women were raised with the mutually-exclusive notion that they were both supposed to police men AND somehow also defer to them.

There are vast and varied tales of these scenarios. For women of color, while there were a scant few homes that catered exclusively to them, they just plain weren’t white enough for the maternity homes, so however horrendous an option that was, even that one wasn’t available; both per finances and connections (as well as due to racism from providers) private, safer illegal abortions weren’t optional, either. For the most part, women of color were those whose choices were the most terrifying sort of backalley abortions or forced parenting, ready or not, wanting or not. Bear in mind, too, given rates of incest, how many women were forced to parent the children of their fathers, brothers, uncles, and how many children grew up in these scenarios.

So, we then also had millions of “fallen” women forced to be mothers, often without the means for prenatal care for themselves or their babies, often pushed into greater poverty than they already lived with, often pushed into marriages that were unwanted, unhealthy or abusive.

And no choice to become pregnant or not.
I feel like what also often gets lost in abortion and choice debates is any address of how much sexual responsibility is and always has been put, disproportionately, on women. This is particularly of import for the youngest women, who obviously, I have great personal concern with. Teen women are incessantly blamed for not properly policing their male partners: especially when those male partners are same-age, but even when those partners are full-fledged adults, even sometimes when they are far older and predatory. Abstinence-based sex education makes this girl-blaming a critical part of their curriculum. Last I checked (which was very recently) at least 25% of the youngest teen women report that their first sexual experiences were coerced. The greatest rates of rape are — and generally always have been — to women under 18. And in many cases, as with sexual crimes so much of the time, these young women are held partially or even entirely responsible for being victimized. Bear in mind that many of these young women are reared with the same-old antiquated ideas about whose fault it is when they’re coerced into sex (theirs), or become pregnant (theirs), and pushed into one choice or another that they wouldn’t choose if they really had all the options available to them — including access to EC, thank you very much — and told that the person fully responsible for living with whatever “choice” they get is, guess who, them.

Let’s also remember that around 32,000 pregnancies as a result of rape occur every year just in the United States right now: I do not know what the rates were in the decades before Roe. Assuming the rates were at least the same or similar, though they were probably higher, that’s at least 32,000 women a year — more than die from breast cancer every year; only about half that many people die from drunk driving accidents annually, so where’s our PSA and OUR special fundraising wristband, right? — with NO choice as to whether or not they became pregnant, and no choice as to what to do about it. That’s tens of thousands of women every year with NO real reproductive choices whatsoever, and yet, often held responsible, in part if not in full.

Even when we’re not talking about rape or strong coercion, let’s not pussyfoot: women have intercourse they do not want to have ALL the time, every day. Out of feelings of obligation, out of a need to keep the peace, out of a need to feel, or assure a partner is feeling, “normal” per heteroseixst or gendernormative dictates and ideals, out of a need to keep a partner around so that they and/or their children have some means of survival and shelter.

Often, these same women cave when it comes to birth control due to a partner’s urging — it’s okay, you don’t have to use the condoms tonight, or okay, you’re so sure withdrawal works and you’ve worn me down arguing, or okay, you want to have intercourse RIGHT THIS MINUTE so I won’t go put the cervical cap on, or okay, I ran out of pills because the pharmacist didn’t have any this week, but we can do this anyway. Often, these women become pregnant, and these scenarios do not constitute full choice, no matter what spin you put on it.

Mothers STILL tell daughters that it is their duty to acquiesce to their husbands with all things sexual, and to service their “male needs,” whatever those may be. I have users at Scarleteen who have been reared with these attitudes with some regularity, and they are incredibly difficult to unlearn, especially when they continue to be surrounded by them in their communities and closest relationships.

Access to birth control, too, we often forget, was still incredibly limited pre Roe, and is a major factor in choice issues. When the pill came into circulation in the 60’s, half the states in the US only provided it for married women. Well before then, the Comstock laws made access to other birth control methods illegal. Before 1960, the vast majority of citizens had only condoms — which, without the male partners support, were useless — and withdrawal, which we know to be about as close to useless as it gets, and which also relies on male cooperation. And yet, when pregnancy occurred, it was often still thought to be the woman’s fault: her fault if she couldn’t “control” her male partner’s sexual advances, her fault if her male partner refused to use a birth control method, or she couldn’t access one that worked for her. This is history that is insanely pertinent right now, as things like the Global Gag Rule, Title X cuts (my clinic here sadly is shutting down this month), limiting access to EC and attacks on choice persist. The same people and forces who seek to limit or remove access to safe legal abortion, and thusly regress all the choices we have, are most often the same people seeking to limit access to contraception or contraception education, especially to those most at risk and with the least agency: the youngest women, the poorest women, the most marginalized women. Access to birth control is STILL a serious issue and a serious problem in this regard: the increased access we see has not by any means fully extended itself — or anything close — to the women who need it the most, and for whom even with legal abortion, even with changes in adoption, even with better welfare and treatment of single mothers, have far more limited choices than women with greater privilege.

Let’s not forget…
That tied up into all of this is also access to reliable, accurate and unbiased information about birth control, reproduction and sexuality as a whole. That’s not just a women’s issue, by any means, but I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that while lack of that information does everyone harm, men and women alike, it ultimately harms women the most. Everyone is harmed by sexual shame, by a lack of understanding of their own bodies and health — and that of sexual partners — by purposeful misinformation about sexuality and sexual and reproductive health. NOT everyone will become pregnant because of it, get cervical cancer because of it, wind up in rape or coercion scenarios because they don’t know the warning signs or are told to disregard them, or be unable to make a sound reproductive choice when pregnancy occurs that is best for them. (And that’s not even touching on issues of intercourse or other sex under obligation, sound counsel, prevention and address of sexual abuse, understanding of how women’s sexuality even works, the whole bag.) These things will happen to women, who even just by sheer biology, whether we’re talking about pregnancy or cervical cells, bear the greatest burdens when it comes to sex and the opposite sex.

In a culture/community/relationship or under a system which does not support an equality of full reproductive autonomy and agency, it is a given that sexuality and reproductive information will follow suit, and either protest that full autonomy or undermine it, and often quite intentionally.

Choice isn’t just about abortion.
Reproductive choice is an octopus of an issue. It’s not only an issue of sex and gender, but also one that strongly involves race and class.

Real reproductive choice includes a woman’s inarguable right to abort, parent or give a child up for adoption 100% informed, willing and able, as well as support for any and all of those choices, the choice to prevent pregnancy with safe, easily accessible and affordable birth control, the choice to have sex at all, and, by extension, the ability to obtain reproductive healthcare and sound information on reproduction and sexuality and most of all, to be held to sexual responsibility which is fair, sexual mores which are realistic, inclusive and not laden with sexism, and to live in an overarching environment which honors and safeguards a woman’s right to real and complete ownership and care of her own body and everything within it.

What you see here is about as abbreviated a take on these issues as it gets. However thick this text, it’s a serious condensation of this issue. What Roe vs. Wade did and does, what all the additional laws, policies and initiatives which support its principle do, is far, far greater than allowing access to merely abortion. We allow anyone to take Roe and everything related to it away — we even give an inch when it comes to this — we aren’t just removing access to abortion: we are removing a critical element of the whole of reproductive choice. Roe is foundational in many, many respects (when you really start to look at how much was built off of it, or arose because of it, it’s truly dizzying). You remove that row of bricks at the bottom of a building, you remove the stability and integrity of the building entire, and it will crumble in time. This is an absolute given, not theory or hyperbole.

This is the case whether you have never had an abortion or never intend to have one. This is the case whether you have had or do have the agency to make whatever choices you want, and may even still with regressions to choice policies, be it due to your sex, color or class. This is the case no matter which of those women above your mother was, or even if she was none of those women at all: this is the case no matter how it is you’re rearing your daughters. No matter how affected or unaffected you think you’ll be if that building built on Roe ever crumbles, you and your sisters will be buried alive in it, most likely just as we were before.

And as far as I’m concerned, if there’s even just one woman in the world who doesn’t have ALL of these choices, all of these aspects of choice? Then there’s no woman in the world who’s really got’em. Considering that even with Roe, even with policies that support choice there are still myriad women without them, both globally and right here at home, the fact that anyone still needs to defend or explain the importance of and need for Roe, today or any other day, to anyone at all, boggles the bloody mind.


Blog for Choice Day - January 22, 2007

: Lots of people are doing it today, however. I’d encourage you to do so, or to avail yourself of their words, and by all means, as ever, to do all you can to work for choice in every way you can.

Thursday, January 4th, 2007

Every now and then, when Mark and I settle into bed with the idea of having sex… something completely different happens. Like, in the Monty Python way. On crack.

Often, it’s when he’s anxious about things — right now, he’s getting ready to direct his first paying freelance gig — or overtired or a little loopy or I’m not entirely in it yet myself. Now and then, I see it coming. Sometimes, like last night, I don’t.

There we are, all naked or half-naked, in or around bed, we’ve got sex on the brain or as a plan, and then it’s like — POW! Boy mysteriously and immediately regresses to half his age and has this sort of spaztastic “Gadzooks! Cowabunga! AIE! It’s a naked GIRL — right next to ME!”

This reaction is generally demonstrated with what I can only describe as interpretive dance. Last night, it began with a strange sort of Robert Crumb-esque cling to my lower body and sheet-spelunking and evolved into what I could only presume was Mark’s best impression of a jellyfish: arms flailing, wiggling on the bed like a lunatic nonstop, the making of squiggly-face. Usually then, too, as was the case last night, some series of one-liners or funny face-making comes into play, and it all only gets worse the more I laugh.

(At some point too, I always feel I should check in with Mark to be sure he absolutely didn’t want to have sex, because there comes a degree of silly which, while I quite enjoy it, goes past the point of no return when it comes to my getting turned on. I usually try and ask this when either in my head or outta my lips issues the first “Oy gavalt, we’re going to go HERE.”)

These episodes always, always end in some ginormous gigglefest where neither one of us can stop laughing and breathing becomes a serious issue.

Oddly enough, it ends up serving the same purposes sex does, just via a different route: it’s pretty darn intimate to make a total arse of yourself naked in front of someone else, and to have someone else feel free enough to do that with you. If you’re all stressed out, pent up, all that laughing is one helluva release. You get your ednorphins, you get your dopamine. And quite in spite of myself, I have to admit, it’s fun as all hell and always an unexpected surprise. Sure, you have your moment where you’re all “Oh damn, that orgasm I was looking forward to so isn’t happening.” On the other hand, there’s always another day, and while it’s pretty doable to plan to have sex, it’s nigh unto impossible to plan to be an all-out naked goofball. I mean, you can’t exactly say, “Hey sugar, you wanna get silly tomorrow night?” I mean, we all have our things we can do to get in the mood to have sex, especially when we’re with a partner we know and who knows us well, but there’s a pretty specific space you have to be in and can’t make happen to be a giant freaky spaz.

That said? Um. I’d like to cash in my raincheck for that orgasm now, please.

Wednesday, December 6th, 2006

(This one’s for Andrea, who asked. Slight swerve form the ongoing topic, but only barely.)

Why I Stopped Putting All (or most) of My Efforts into Erotica and Decided the Revolution Didn’t Hinge on That, Groovy as That Would Have Been. (I really wanted to work “On My Summer Vacation” into that, but alas, it just wouldn’t happen.)

So, Scarlet Letters has just been sitting for a really long time now. (And I haven’t been able to actually touch it or have it forward elsewhere in part because it was important it stayed as-is during the ACLU/COPA case.) I’ve okayed a couple of reprints on some of my photographic and written erotica, but per the written, I haven’t done anything new or particularly wanted to. With the photography…well, I’ll get to that.

I also haven’t done the constant networking I used to do with other women working in erotica and pornography, in part because there are fewer of them (when we’re really talking women-owned, women-centered, women-directed) than ever. And yes, I know that some younger women think there’s a surge of it online these days, but I assure you, it ain’t nuthin’ compared to what we had going around 2000/2001.

I’ve declined, over the past couple of years, a lot of offers for features/joint projects in the arenas of porn and erotica. I’ve even gotten to the point with features on my photography where if the approach is, at all, to have me presented as a pinup or a babe, it’s just not workable for me.

In a word, I’m outta much of this arena, or, what is generally defined as this arena. How it’s defined and how limited I feel that is an entry or twelve for another day.

Now. There are first some secondary reasons for this.

• Some of the why of this is simply that Scarleteen just took the heck off (ST gets a minimum of twenty times the traffic anything else I ever did did, even during the best years), and because I’m an activist at heart, so when a need expresses itself very loud and clear, that’s where I’m going to go. And that one shouted out way louder than any “needs” anyone ever had for women-centered erotica/porn.

• Another part of why is that set a standard at SL that we would not publish crap. That even if it meant skipping deadlines, or publishing less, that what we did publish needed to be exceptional, original, and of real quality. And as the years went on, we found that we just kept using the same artists and writers again and again because (and any erotica publisher or editor worth their salt, and being honest, will tell you this) the vast majority of what we got in was mediocre at best, and the Worst Shit You Ever Read/Saw at worst. And it gets really, really depressing (or, at a minimum, bloody boring) seeing what even the smarter, more creative eschelons of the populace define as sexy or erotic.

(It’s amazing, really, how sex can make everyone so stupid. Even really good authors and artists sometimes, who rock any other subject, can suddenly turn into the worst hacks on the planet when they tackle sex in their art.)

• USC 2257 didn’t help. While I often prefer suggestion to explicit work, our editorial policy had always been to really look at things artistically, and judge them on that merit, so that included all kinds of work. A big, big deal to me when it came to working in women’s sexuality is, was and has always been that privacy for women is a huge issue. So, the last thing on earth I would do is cooperate in compromising the privacy of female subjects in any photographic work.

• It also stopped paying even its own meager bills. After the first year or so, for a good, what, four years? Something like that… we did pretty well with CPM banner ad contracts for Scarlet. Between 2000 and 2002, for a woman-owned and run business that did not compromise itself in any way, or get into bed with anyone it didn’t want to 100%, I did pretty darn well. Again, at the time, there were enough other people and companies with the same aims, so while finding harmonious adverts wasn’t easy — bear in mind that woman-centered and focused means that 99.9% of the types of ads available to sexuality publications were big fat nos to us, because we didn’t want to have misogyny or male-directed sexuality on the site — but I worked it well enough for a while there. Then there were less of us. Then the bottom dropped out of the web, period. Then there were less still. Then, just not enough to have it be workable at all.

• We could probably have paid more bills — obviously — if both the publication and myself as its editor were willing to play something close to the more acceptable part when it comes to marketing sexuality. If I/we had been willing to talk like porn stars, to have less personal privacy, to hold the poses, always wear the heels and lipstick, “oh baby” somebody, set politics aside, care less about quality and more about quantity, and get seriously into bed with the male-run or driven affiliates and publications. But I wasn’t, and we weren’t. For me, I’d always said when I started doing work in sexual media that if it didn’t feel true to me, I wasn’t going to do it. If it conflicted with my personal/political ethics, I wasn’t going to do it. And if I just plain did not feel 100% okay about something, I wasn’t going to do it. And in time, part of what has happened is that it was that or let Scarlet and most of erotica period sit on the shelf until we could figure out a different way. Those pressures got greater, while at the same time, I began to feel like in some respects, I needed to be more cautious about what I/we were cavalier about, even considering that I was rarely calavier about anything. At this point, even with my own site here, I’ve since accepted that to do what I want to do with writing and art, I have to have zero reliance on the small funds it generates anymore, and NOT try to have it make more money, because pretty much anything that would guarantee better subscription sales would also guarantee lesser creativity and authenticity, and it’s just not worth it for a few hundred extra bucks a month.

I’ve also since worked on accepting that the comfort and security of any one “camp” is a luxury which someone who aspires to be a truthful revolutionary cannot afford.

You just can’t be authentic or nurture authenticity and autonomy in your life and your work when you always have to check in with someone else’s agenda — even if it’s the same as, or similar to, yours. I need room to be critical of any given media or issue, in whatever ways I feel critical and want to express that, and I don’t have enough room if I have to worry about betraying one camp or another.

Which is part of why it’s sitting. I’ve been thinking about it, and I’m still thinking about it. I think I know a good way it can go at this point, but I want to do it right, so I’m taking my time.

Those, believe it or not, are but the smaller issues. Here’s the big one, and it’s no happy ending.

Ultimately, this is the conclusion I’ve reached, which of course seems way more obvious in hindsight, as most things do.

Women can’t possibly reclaim pornography — which is an expression of sexuality — before we’ve reclaimed sexuality, period.

That is a logical given. And we have NOT, in my mind, “come a long way, baby.” We’re a long, long way off.

(Before you go there, I don’t think porn/erotica of any type cannot make the same kinds of strides TOWARDS women reclaiming/owning our sexuality the way something can like, say, Hanne’s upcoming book on the cultural history of virginity, the cessation of rape or getting EC freely and easily available to everyone. Entertainment of any type is obviously powerful in many ways, but unless it accomplished aims like that through it as a channel, it’s power — however far its reach may be, and however much it enthralls — is far more limited. Most of what is produced as sexual entertainment, as compared to even mediocre films in every other genre, is what Olson Twins films are to Thirteen.)

While I think we can absolutely take steps, and while I think that some of us can get decently far with this individually (especially women who can have the most distance/respite from the usurpers of their sexuality, individual and collective), I’m afraid I think that at this point, most of what we can do is to provide band-aids until we’re just plain not living under patriarchy anymore. Not just in sex: full-stop.

(While I’m going off like a rocket and probably pissing people off anyway, I may as well say that I’m of the mind right now that anyone who thinks we’re even close to reclaiming or discovering our sexuality is either naive — as I was — delusional, or pretty self-absorbed. The assumption or assertion that a given women’s sexual behaviour must be 100% authentic to her just because she’s female — which oddly, usually also comes from people who will talk a bluew streak about how men are sexually conditioned, something I guess somehow women are immune to? — is as intellectually anorexic as the assumption or assertion that any choice any of us women make is feminist because we’re female.)

That isn’t so say that band-aids aren’t a good or needed thing. Much in the same way that Affirmative Action is a band-aid until (oh, salty optimism abounds) people aren’t racist anymore, I absolutely think all the reclaiming and rediscovering (and in the case of women’s sexuality, so much of it isn’t re-anything so much as trying to really find it for the first time) one can do is a Very Good Thing, and is really, really important. By all means, I think that we and women before us working in this arena have actually made some incredible strides that I wouldn’t ever dream of dismissing or discounting: even if it’s just individually rather than collectively. But even when those strides are made, they still often can’t benefit a great many women — a majority of women — because there isn’t an allowance made for them in their/our lives and world.

I mean, even if we reduce things to a lowest common denominator – okay? — it’s only so useful to know where your clitoris is and what it does if a) you weren’t reared with and/or aren’t still surrounded with a culture, community or relationships that shame the hell out of you (or cut your clit off, or stone you, or rape you) for touching it and/or b) partners who will be all that interested in it beyond figuring it might be a good way to get you to say yes to the sex they want if they pay a minimum of attention to it.

(Some time back, there was this new miracle cream — right here in the states where apparently everyone knows all about the clitoris now and thinks it’s the shit — that came out for women designed to increase arousal, right? It apparently had these totally amazing ingredients that would just drive every woman wild and make her a wailing walrus of love. The instructions explained that for the cream to work, it had to be, I kid you not, “rubbed on the clitoris for ten to twenty minutes.” I don’t think I need to expand on that one, do I?)

Maybe in my case some of it is that focusing primarily on YA sex education feels like I can accomplish this better, since most of my “students” aren’t set in their socio-sexual conditioning or attitudes yet, and if so, certainly not as solidly as people older than them are, just because of the passing of time spent under seige. That makes me feel kind of lousy sometimes, like I abandoned women of my generation or older, but I’m often pragmatic in my activism: above all else, I just want it to be effective.

I got tired of watching people come into this genre anew saying they had the best of intentions, asking for my help, getting it much of the time, and then either jumping ship when it didn’t make them oodles of dough, or selling myself and other women out to net the cash. I got tired of seeing male-owned orgs give their sites a female face or front and saying they were women-run or about women because some male pornographers/venture capitalists figured out that they could benefit off of the backs of women this shiny, new way, while the guys were setting the direction and making the big cash. I got tired of listening to men and women alike talk trash about women in porn or sex work, and either treat them like commodities or speak on their behalf — discussing negatives OR positives about the experiences they haven’t actually had themselves — without invite to do so. I got tired of listening to women outright bullshit about doing things for other women in their porn/erotica when it was so freaking obvious that that was not their concern: it was just popular to say, got you more approval from women, and made it easier to sleep at night.

I am still so goddamn tired of reading comments from men at women’s sites/blogs who work in sex and ID as feminist where the men cannot shut the hell up about what GREAT feminists they are, ever telling a woman who is questioning her feminism or choices not to…

…because their feminism does not challenge these men at all, it benefits them, and only for that reason.

Note to Guys Masquerading as Pro-Feminist Men: it is NOT feminist or pro-feminist to aim to silence the thoughts in a woman’s head. Just sayin.’

I got tired of some of us working so effing hard for so damn little and getting shit from all sides for it. I’ve talked about this before, but it is seriously draining to have porn-people and male culture demonize you because you’re apparently in bed with radical feminists, while radical feminists won’t quit with how in bed you are with the guys. Hell, in high school and college, when everyone accused me of being in bed with absolutely everyone, at least they they were right AND I got to get very well-laid all the time. I got tired of people trying to manipulate me into doing something for their ventures — work they’d sometimes, without informing me, put in a context that was totally abhorrent to me — by playing on how I “owed” something to women, because they knew I actually gave a shit, when they really just wanted to use my name (something which a few people seriously overestimated the power of, big time) to make some cash or feel important.

I got tired of noticing that when I really pushed the envelope, and really did what I felt was challenging, original and outside-the-box (as it were) work when it came to photography, people sometimes got angry with me, and when I did light and fun or…well, let’s be honest, work that was fluff or just fell short of what I’d hoped, people loved it. If I’m really reclaiming — and people really want that — and I’m really expressing my sexuality as a multi-dimensional whole, then when work I do didn’t/doesn’t meet someone’s ideas of what they want to see or are comfortable seeing that should NOT be a conflict. And if — as this has happened — I decide to shoot a series in the shower where I am processing a rape flashback, or share actual sex I am having with the actual latex barriers I use to avoid chlamydia of the throat, or shoot subjects I think are beautiful who don’t fit a certain body ideal, or the sex I have with a girlfriend doesn’t look or sound like girl-on-girl porn people should NOT be sending me angry or whiny letters or cancelling subscriptions if, in fact, they support reclaiming and earnestly exploring women’s sexuality, because ladies and germs, stuff like this is part of that gig.

I got really tired of seeing what I was told was reclaiming which looked so incredibly similar to how men have presented sexuality or women’s sexuality (hate to say it and sound like a straight-girl basher, but when I did see what seemed like successful reclaiming, it nearly always came from dykes. You know, the kind who learned to have sex with each other from each other, rather than from porn).

I’m not immune from that either: some of the reason I shoot and publish a bit less than I used to is that I found even for myself that reclaiming is a lot of work. If I didn’t put a good deal of thought into it, if I rushed it out, if I didn’t try really hard to see/think/feel differently (or make a point of questioning what seemed different on first glance/imagine), if I couldn’t view my own work really critically, I discovered on second glance that even what I thought was my reclaiming sometimes looked quite alarmingly, frustratingly, like rehash. And this even coming from me, who’s done her dyke-time, who seriously could give two shits what men think of her, her body or her sexuality, and who had all kinds of diverse sexual conditioning and counterculture and blah blah blah. You get it.

(I also got tired of feeling so damn bitter all of the time and feeling so alone in it. If you’ve gotten this far into this entry, you may also have some idea of how tired I was of the way I was making some of my friends and colleagues feel when I went on about this stuff.)

Point is, women reclaiming sexuality under patriarchy is exactly akin to people of color reclaiming their culture and identity under white supremacy: you are incredibly limited, at best, in what you can do, and that really is just that.

Not a very hopeful sentiment, I know. And it’s some of why I feel like a real asshole sometimes, and let me tell you why.

I HAD some older feminists almost telling me this almost verbatim when I started working in that arena. I’m stubborn, sure, but generally I really am very good at listening to a wealth of perspectives, and to respecting those of people who have done longer time on this earth than I have. I was never one of those folks who thought that if every woman could have a really good orgasm, the whole world and all of culture would change: I can be daft sometimes, but I’m not THAT daft. But for whatever reason, I really, really, truly thought that not only could we forge some really important cultural changes by getting our sexual expression out there, by all sisters-doin-it-for-themselves-ness when it came to sexual media, I just for the life of me could not wrap my head around the fact that a LOT of other things needed to happen first before we could not only forge those changes, but before we could even do the kind of work that could possibly create them.

Lemme tell you something: eight years of sex advice letters en masse, mostly from hetero women, and sometimes from men, will teach you a thing or two about what state of affairs we’re really in when it comes to this.

I think some of the rift created between myself and some other feminist women years back had to do with two misunderstandings: one theirs, one mine.

• Theirs was that I did not think every other aspect of women’s equality and work for that equality was important (and that some of them just didn’t really get what I was trying to do, or didn’t think my efforts were especially valuable). I did, I always have: it’s just that I earnestly thought — and given the caveats above, still think to a degree — that women’s sexual equality and identity was ALSO important, and that I could do the most effective work there, and make real strides doing that.

• Mine was that I thought I/we could do a lot more in that arena than I now think we can, and also that what some of them were trying to tell me — that I couldn’t hear — was that making changes in those other areas of equity was ALSO work for sexual autonomy and ownership; that it’s a lot more likely for larger, more tangible, basic changes to create improvements in women’s sexuality and the room all of sexuality makes for it than the other way around.

I think that is most likely correct. (And, of course, that hardly means you can’t still have your orgasms while you’re doing that other work.)

None of this is to say I plan to stop the work that I’m doing right now and have been for the last few years. I think that everything I do right now is important, and I’m feeling very good about the new projects — like the AGA — which I’ve added to the roster in the last year. I think my direction right now is a bit more sound and well-rounded than it was at other times. But that also means that I have to be careful about easy distractions and careful about not undoing my own work with other work.

It means that all of the work I do in sexuality, women’s sexuality and feminism is a lot harder than I’d like, hurts my brain and heart a lot more, and demands a LOT more of me. It means that I have to come at this stuff from both angles: I have to find ways to work on the sexuality aspects while also still working on the bigger context our sexuality lives within. I have to remind myself incessantly that if any of this seems like a no-brainer, it’s probably just me being lazy or wanting to take the easy way out.

But, more challenging as that is, it feels better to me. It feels more right, it feels more productive, it feels more truthful.

That’s probably more than you wanted to know, Andrea, and others of you who have asked over the last year or so, and likely way more than anyone who didn’t ask me about it wanted to know, but there it is: ashamedly, that’s the short version. Would that it were the streamlined one. Per usual, when there aren’t easy answers, there are rarely easy explanations, either.

P.S. For the Greek/Latin scholars out there, or other words of wordsmiths, I still need a word to replace pornography to better describe what I aim for in visual work: I need a word for sex and women, and I need a word which describes not visual entertainment or the intent to create arousal, but visual art/exploration of sexuality and women.

Tuesday, November 21st, 2006

I really don’t know if it gets any better than a solid hour of morning snuggles with your sweetheart, especially when you’re just awake enough to really appreciate them.

There’s something about slightly-more-than-barely-awake snugglefests, when you’re both naked and warm, when it’s so easy to just melt into the other person because your limbs are still all relaxed and heavy.

For two insanely creative people, Mr. Price and myself are awfully utilitarian in our naming of snuggle/sleep poses. There’s Position A (head-in-underarm), Position B (spooning, which for us, more often than not, is him behind me, because of the…erm, rather opportune places it provides certain convex and concave appendages), Position C (which if I recall right is face-to-face scissoring) and Position D (which is how we often fall asleep, side by side, holding hands). I’m always a bit fuzzy on C and D because we tend to revert to A and B.

We lucked out in the snuggle department. Sparing Mark being a handful of inches taller than I am, we’re basically the same size and we fit more nicely together than almost anyone else I’ve been with. (And I have to say that one advantage — silly as it sounds — to having a male partner versus a female one is that while with any couple, you always have that one extra arm, you at least don’t have two sets of breasts that can sometimes make very tight snuggling a little more tricky, especially when both sets are substantial.) But more importantly, we’re both insanely demonstrative snugglers together.

In my long slew of casual and serious partnerships in my life, somehow, more often than not, I always managed to wind up with people who were less demonstrative than I. Sometimes this was a bummer, other times it wasn’t: my claustrophobia has often been profound with many people, especially considering that for all the bodies I’ve put mine next to, I’d guestimate that I’ve only felt 100% close and trusting of a small handful of them. And I confess that in many (maybe even most, I’m on my first cup of coffee and not inclined right now to try very hard to count back) of my intimate encounters, I’m that jerk who wanted everyone to get up right away all abruptly in the morning and get back to their own lives and their own skin, if sleeping overnight was even something I made an option. Having a cup of coffee and talking was usually okay: endless snuggles? Not so much. More sex? Maybe. After all, morning sex is the serious good stuff.

If I could only pick one time of day to have sex, it’d be in the morning. Of course, if I could pick only one time of day to do anything, it’d be in the morning. I’m one of those annoying morning people, as we all know by now.

I have real objections to these strange divisions made with physical intimacy: as in, this is sex, this is snuggling, or the ever heterosexist (and sexist, really, if you think about it) this is sex, this is “foreplay.” The morning snuggles are strongly intimate: sometimes far more so than when one or both parties are chasing the orgasm dragon, and you’ve got to think a little more, rather than just melt in, be a pack animal, and babble the sweet nothings as you please. It’s hardly asexual: I’m turned on throughout, and when it manifests itself as genital sex, I don’t decline, and I usually come in three minutes flat.

But it’s not a highway, it’s an old, misty, quirky side road. You’re delighted to take the long way, stop here and there, enjoy the drive, and sometimes you enjoy it so much that even if you had a particular destination, it’s become unimportant. Maybe you’ll get there, maybe you won’t: just enjoying the drive is the real order of the day.

I’m really glad it’s not just me in this partnership who can’t figure out why 99% of the time, this is all still so easy for us, still so exciting, still so freaking fantastic after all this time. I’m glad it’s not just me who can’t figure how things that have been big problems in nearly all our other relationships don’t even rear their ugly heads in this one: even the fact that I am cohabitating with someone and not panicking about it 24/7 is nothing short of miraculous.

And I’m really glad it’s not just me who could while a whole morning away just wrapped up in warm skin and blankets, whispers and grins, because I always have loved those side roads best.

* * *
P.S. I keep seeing about 2G in errors on my site logs since the switch to wordpress. Doing the math, I’m wondering if some users aren’t having an issue with the navigation bar loading? Can you tell me if you’re missing things on the page, or getting errors? Cheers.