The year is 1720. The place is England.

A bestiary is being compiled. Dragons, unicorns, griffins; all are there. But why not add another creature even more fantastical than a griffin?

Someone proposes the following:

"Let us imagine something akin to a beaver. But this beaver has the bill and webbed feet of a duck. What makes it dangerous, however, is its poisonous hind foot, with the sting of a scorpion."

The idea is met with amusement. "Indeed, no-one has ever reported such a creature! The very idea is as nonsensical as that of a griffin. But it is novel. It shall be included."

The bestiary is finalised. The new monster is discussed. "There is no evidence whatsoever for such a creature. It is contrary to reason that such a creature could even exist. Those who imagine otherwise have succumbed to an irrationality that merely serves to demonstrate the smallness of their intellects."

How ignorant people can be!
Based on a series of tweets of mine beginning here.

Many people seem unaware of how the concept "gender is a social construct" - which many feminists believe to be axiomatic or unassailable dogma - has been used against trans people. Apart from the fact that it's a rather arrogantly totalising assertion1 - it's not, for example, typically paired with the phrase ".... which might have biological roots" - it has been, and still is, used to argue that trans people are at best psychologically confused, and at worst are furthering oppressive social relations based on gender.

For example: radfems use the bare concept "gender is a social construct" to argue that trans women only think we're women because of societal expectations around gender; basically, we're men who merely want to wear dresses, but the social construction of gender means that we feel we can only do that if we're women. We therefore claim we must be women2 Thus, radfems argue, those of us who think we're trans women need to accept we're really just men who don't fit social constructions of gender. i've witnessed this argument coming not only from radfems, but from people from other strands of feminism as well.

Another thing i've encountered from feminists is the argument that, since gender is a social construct, which has a hierarchy attached to it in which men are 'greater' than women, then, as it's socially constructed, it can, and indeed, should, be 'abolished' - a notion i've addressed here3.

i feel that, analogously to how radfem ideologies about sex work are quite prevalent in mainstream feminism, radfem ideas about 'transness', which are rooted in unsophisticated versions of the "gender is a social construct" meme, have "leaked out" of the radfem sphere into mainstream feminism, where they negatively affect how trans people, and trans women in particular, are treated.

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1. Which i find particularly interesting given that i have only rarely witnessed the same assertion being made about sexual orientation, i.e. i rarely see people who claim that "gender is a social construct" also claiming that "sexual orientation is a social construct". To me, there's at least as much reason to declare sexual orientation a social construct as there is gender.

2.. To be fair, there are a number of trans women who, whether under pressure from gatekeepers or otherwise, do indeed make such arguments (e.g. "I like sewing, that proves I'm really a woman!"). i'm not one of them.

3. And again, despite sexual orientation most definitely having a hierarchy attached to it, in which heterosexuals are 'greater' than non-heterosexuals, and homosexuals in particular, i've not often witnessed calls for sexual orientation to be 'abolished'.

The Centre for a Stateless Society yesterday published an article of mine: "Statism as Disempowerment".
 
i enjoy developing friendships with people who, like me, are highly sexual and open to the possibility of us having sex - whether once, semi-regularly, or regularly. One of the advantages of being in an open nonmonogamous relationship1 is not having to worry about sexual play with non-partners inherently endangering one's existing intimate/romantic relationships2.

What about the issue of sex hurting, or even destroying, the friendship between the people involved? Well, something that nonmonogamy has taught me is to be more open to letting interpersonal relationships "find their own level". Having detached the concept of "having sex with someone" from "being in an intimate/romantic relationship with someone", a universe of possibilities becomes apparent, possibilities which mononormative society tends to claim either don't exist, or aren't workable/sustainable. My lived experience is that this isn't necessarily the case. i have friends with whom i have had sex, and it hasn't altered the friendship one whit; it's just another good time we've had together. We might have sex again in the future, or we might not; either way, it's fine.

So it will come as no surprise that, increasingly, i'm seeking friendships with other nonmonogamous people who are open to sex with friends - because if there is sexual attraction, it doesn't have to be kept under wraps, or denied, thus creating a death-spiral of unresolved tension. Instead, it can be explored. If it works out, great; sexual play becomes just another thing that friends do together, like sharing a meal. If it doesn't work out, that's okay too. But what if one person is sexually attracted to the other, but the reverse isn't the case? That's also okay, at least for me; if i was sexually attracted to a friend, but the feeling wasn't mutual, i would accept it (with some disappointment!) and enjoy the friendship for what it is. And in the reverse situation, i would hope that the other person would take the same approach. Yes, it's possible that this issue might prove to be insurmountable obstacle, and cause the friendship to end. Yet friendships can end for all sorts of reasons; and of my friendships that are no longer extant, issues related to sex have only rarely been the cause.

i want to be friends with people i can relax with, people i can be myself with. i feel far more relaxed when i'm naked, and so want friends that don't mind me being naked around them. Similarly, i feel far more relaxed when issues of sexual attraction have to be avoided, or can be talked about but not acted upon. So i want to be friends with people with whom i can let the friendship "find its own level" - and if that level includes sex, that's a wonderful bonus. :-)


1. As distinct from closed nonmonogamous relationships, e.g. polyfidelity.

2. i say "inherently" because there are certainly situations where such play can, and does, negatively impact on one's intimate/romantic relationships. For example: having sex with someone in a way that breaks the safer-sex agreements one has with one's partners. In some relationships that might be something that can be apologised for and worked through; in others it might be a deal breaker. But either way, the issue isn't that someone has played with someone else, full stop; the issue is the specific person one has played with.


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Poem

2013-12-05 03:30
With apologies to J.R.R. Tolkien.

All that is queer does not glitter,
Not all those not fabulous are lost;
The old are not beauty's litter,
The unfashionable are not worthless dross.

From homogeneity a fire shall be woken,
Diversity from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be work for inclusiveness,
The marginalised shall be welcomed within.
 
Based on several tweets of mine, beginning here.

So, i've thought some more about why i don't really like the term 'TERF'.

It feels to me that the term 'TERF' implies that being 'Trans-Erasing' is the only problem with radfem politics, behaviours and attitudes. As though, if radfem politics were to stop being trans-erasing, that they would then basically no longer be problematic.

But there's so much more that's problematic (to say the least) about radfem politics, attitudes and behaviours.

There's radfem hostility to sex work and/or sex workers, treating the latter as fifth-columnists for patriarchy. There's radfem hostility to kink, and to kinky women, who are claimed to have "eroticised our own oppression". There's radfem hostility to porn, which they basically seem to define as any sexually explicit material, but which also involves hostility to any women who participate in creating it (cf. their attitudes to sex workers), and women who enjoy watching it. Then there's radfem hostility to polyamory, which i admit i'm not quite clear on the reasons for (but which i can speculate on). Then there's radfem willingness to tell women that their intimate relationships are "politically incorrect", e.g. that a given woman shouldn't be in a relationship with a certain person, because it's politically 'wrong'. (Here in Melbourne, radfem Sheila Jeffreys has been known to tell people point-blank that their intimate relationship is not PC.) There are probably more issues besides, but those are just some that immediately come to mind without effort.

i'm finding it disturbing that there seem to be increasing numbers of women, cis and trans, who seem comfortable with all this, as long as being 'Trans-Erasing' isn't added to the list. This is simply not acceptable to me.

Non-sexworker trans women, knowing what it's like to be attacked by radfems, should be showing solidarity with sexworkers attacked by radfems. Non-kinky trans women, knowing what it's like to be attacked by radfems, should be showing solidarity with kinky women attacked by radfems. Trans women, knowing what it's like to be attacked by radfems, should be showing solidarity with women attacked for having 'non-PC' relationships. And so on.

Radfem politics claims to be attacking the system of patriarchy, but in practice it seems predominantly interested in doing so by attacking individual women deemed to be traitors / fifth-columnists - sex workers, kinky women, trans women, women who shave, women who have sex with men, etc. - and expelling them from feminism and/or womanhood. We trans women are not the only women negatively impacted by radfem politics; let's not use terminology suggesting that hostility to trans women is radfem politics' primary (or perhaps even sole) problem.

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Satire, based on several tweets of mine, beginning here.

BREAKING: Cisgendered woman, Judith Butler, might not have said everything there ever is to say about gender!

"Until we force them into Butlerian theory, we should assume trans people don't exist, and not listen to phantoms," said one academic.

The Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Butlersition has said academics who "listen to so-called 'trans' people" would be severely punished.

"The common people rely on academics to explain gender to them," said a spokeswoman. "Deviations from Butler will only sow confusion."

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Play

2013-10-08 14:12
[ i posted the following in response to someone on FetLife seeking an 'ultrafeminine' trans woman to play with, as a sort of 'halfway house' to same-sex play. If you're on FetLife, the thread can be found here. ]
So, i'm a trans woman. That is, i was designated male at birth (DMAB), but have since transitioned to living as a woman. But i'm also genderqueer; i'm two-gendered, and live my life as - simultaneously - a woman and a man. The 'sex' listed on my passport is neither 'F' nor 'M' but 'X'. Since such an option is not available for most other 'official' documentation, i'm listed as 'F' on most things, with my birth certificate being the main exception: current Victorian law requires one to have had surgery as a prerequisite to having the 'sex' on one's birth cert changed.

i haven't had surgery to remove my cock because i don't want to[1]. (However, i *do* have body dysmorphia revolving around the fact that i lack a cunt *in addition to* my cock; an old blog post of mine on this issue can be found here.) Having been on 'female' hormones for several years means that, in addition to my cock, i do have a (small) pair of breasts (as my userpic shows). i *don't*, however, present as "ultrafeminine" - most people will tend to read me as a cisgendered[2] guy, albeit as a "crossdressing guy". i'm a woman *regardless* of how i look or how i dress; just as cisgendered woman shouldn't have to present in an 'ultrafeminine' way to 'prove' she's 'really' a woman, when she *knows* she is, i don't feel i should have to do so either. i'm a woman regardless of how i present.

Clearly, then, i don't meet all your criteria. But even if you didn't have "ultrafeminine" as a criterion, i probably still wouldn't be interested in playing with you. The issue for me is not getting terminology wrong - we're all new to it at some stage, and transgender/genderqueer language issues can be complex, as i describe in this blog post - but in the potential that:

(a) i'll not be treated as a 'real' woman. Which i know i am, after years of soul-searching and struggle.

(b) i'll be treated not as a human, but as a mere object for someone else's sexual exploration. i don't get off on this sort of objectification. When it comes to my 'transness' and 'genderqueerness', i expect to be treated as a human being, with my own needs and desires and preferences and feelings.

(c) i might have to deal with a play partner freaking out about their implied sexual orientation as a result of playing with me. As my profile says: "Since i'm two-gendered, anyone who plays with me might be implicitly queer / non-monosexual; thus, i'm not interested in playing with anyone for whom this would be an issue." i have three life partners, and occasionally lovers as well; my life is very full, and i don't want to unnecessarily add complications via possible sexual-orientation-related freakouts from sexual partners with whom i'm not in an emotional/romantic relationship.

i certainly don't represent all, or even most, trans and/or genderqueer people. Still, i know a number of other trans/genderqueer people share at least some of my perspectives on this issue. So in your search for potential play partners, it might be useful to keep what i've written here in mind.

--

[1] And there's no way i could afford it even if i did - prohibitive costs of surgery are an issue for many trans people.

[2] Someone is 'cisgendered' when their internal sense of their gender *exactly* matches the gender they were designated at birth.

[added as a separate comment]

(i should add, the list of potential issues for me is based not on theory, but on actual lived experiences. So my concerns aren't merely theoretical; they've been proven to be very real.)

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Marks

2013-09-08 20:05
i love marks on human flesh. Growing up, i enjoyed bruises and scars on my own skin; i didn't deliberately create such marks, but nevertheless liked them when they came about as a result of accidents, such as falling off a bike / motorbike.

For several years, i self-harmed by cutting my wrist and upper arm. A common meme claims that people do this for attention, but that certainly wasn't the case for me; i was primarily doing it to release some of the intense emotion i was experiencing. It was a way of expressing my anger and frustration without physically harming others. And although it wasn't driven by a desire to create permanent marks, i certainly wasn't complaining about the scars that resulted.

In the last year or so, i have begun identifying as a sadist. Part of that involves taking pleasure in physically hurting those who actively want me to do so. Not only do i enjoy inflicting physical pain in such situations, but i also hope to produce marks on my play partner as a result. The marks might be produced by biting; by a whip, such as a riding crop; by a sharp, such as a knife; by spanking, using my hand or a paddle; or by something else besides. Ideally i make such marks in a location where they would be visible even when my play partner is clothed, and last several days. Of course, this is sometimes not possible, for various reasons: the force required to make such marks might be too much for my play partner (either in general, or for a given play session); attitudes of family, friends or work colleagues might mean that such marks can only be made in low-visibility places on the body; my play partner might simply not want to be marked at all. But the desire to leave marks is still there in any case.

So, why do i have such a desire? i'm not entirely sure. Some of it is certainly that they're reminders of passion and lust, on the part of both myself and my play partner. i enjoy rough, animalistic sex - when my health-condition-limited body lets me! - and deep bruising can result from me biting someone's breasts or ass in the heat of the moment. But i also enjoy the idea of whipping someone until they noticeably welt, in a context where i am completely cool-headed. The scene that begins at roughly 69m45s in the 1975 movie version of The Story of O has always appealed to me; i get turned on by the look on actor Corinne Cléry's face as she abandons herself to the joy of giving someone a literal whipping. It's a look that suggests an inner joy i can identify with. But that's only about the joys of inflicting physical pain on someone. It doesn't speak to why i enjoy consensually inflicting pain that results in marks. Perhaps they serve as a reminder of the joy i experienced when inflicting such pain? Yet that doesn't explain why i enjoy inflicting pain in the first place. That's something i need to ponder on some more.

Whatever the psychological reasons, i love leaving marks on others, and am most glad that there are people who actively want me to leave my marks on them. :-)

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Free

2013-08-29 15:17
Now, she was unburdened.

Her socially acceptable façade: gone, unneeded. Her true self on display: flesh available for use.

Nothing but flesh fulfilling its function. Flesh providing the ground for pleasure, by both presence and absence. "Therefore, that which exists is used to create benefit. That which is empty is used to create functionality."

A body consumed by ecstasy, all other thought burned away. Pain, pleasure, painful pleasure, pleasurable pain - now distinct, now intermingling, all serving to intensify the ecstasy, to take the body to that place where it needed to stop yet needed more yet needed rest yet needed all this to never end ....

She could hear those around her talking, yelling. "Use that fucking slut!" "Yeah, get your hand in that asshole." "Why is that mouth empty? Someone bring a hard cock here, force it down its throat." Her ass throbbed eagerly in response; her cunt let down more of its milk, soaking her inner thighs once again. Her breasts were still pulsing from where they had been bitten hard, again and again. She could feel her ass glowing red, from the spankings.

She didn't how long this had been going on. It might have only been an hour. It might have been several. Not that it mattered. What mattered was that she was fulfilling her function - to be fuckmeat for others' pleasure and satisfaction. That she derived such pleasure and satisfaction from doing so was ongoing proof that this is what she was ultimately meant to be doing.

She was free.

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In my experience, one of the indicators of a potentially dangerous top is hostility toward the availability and use of safewords.

The main argument i typically observe used against safewords is that 'true' submissives 'shouldn't' require them. Supposedly, a 'true'/'real' submissive "has no limits", and will automatically and immediately 'prove' this by trusting a top utterly and without reservation.

There's not merely potential for abuse of power here; many people have direct or indirect experiences of such power actually being abused. The argument tries to convince bottoms that they are a 'failure' if they have boundaries, and want those boundaries respected (or at least not pushed without explicit permission). To me, this is manifestly ridiculous. People have all sorts of boundaries for all sorts of reasons, and unilaterally invalidating them is surely a recipe for significant psychological damage - even before taking into consideration the other physical, emotional and/or psychological damage that someone might accept being inflicted upon them in order to 'prove' that they're a 'real' submissive.

A second argument against safewords that i more recently observed is that the presence of safewords supposedly create a 'moral hazard'. At the time of writing, Wikipedia defines a 'moral hazard' as "a tendency to be more willing to take a risk, knowing that the potential costs or burdens of taking such risk will be borne, in whole or in part, by others". Insofar as i understand the logic of this, the idea is that the availability of a safeword will cause the top to go further than they otherwise would, because they're constrained solely by whether or not the bottom has safeworded; and this is particularly problematic given that many subs try to avoid safewording for as long as possible, for a variety of reasons1. Supposedly, without a safeword, the top is obliged to bear full responsibility for ensuring that things don't go too far and end up causing unwanted physical, emotional and/or psychological damage to the bottom. Consequently, the top will ensure that they don't go too far.

There are a few problems with this:

  • First and foremost, the issues re. abuse of power, as described above.

  • Secondly, it assumes the top is effectively a mind-reader, or exquisitely sensitive to what the bottom is feeling. It is highly unlikely that this is the case in early stages of a top/bottom relationship, and not necessarily inevitable even after the top and bottom have played together on many occasions. Even then, there are many other factors that can confound the top's ability to accurately 'read' what's going on for the bottom: the emotional, psychological and physical states of both the top and bottom, the environment in which play is taking place (visibility, noise etc.), interruptions, and so on.

  • Thirdly, it can actually serve to reduce the possibilities of both top and bottom getting their needs met, for reasons i'll elaborate on below.

Note that i'm not prescribing that a safeword is always necessary and/or appropriate; i'm simply arguing against the notion that, in a general sense, safewords shouldn't be available and/or used.

Which brings me to why, as a domme, i love the availability and use of safewords in play.

i've recently started identifying as a sadist, acknowledging that i can, and do, derive pleasure from others' pain. But there's a critical constraint on this: i don't derive such pleasure unless i know the person on whom i'm inflicting pain actively and fundamentally desires to have that pain inflicted upon them. So if a bottom says to me, "Please, go as hard as you want, until I safeword", that's very liberating for me: i can abandon myself to my sadism, and to a certain extent set aside that part of my mind which is constantly fretting about my play partner's needs and desires and feelings. i say "to a certain extent" because i don't rely purely on hearing the safeword in order to stop or restrain myself; i know from experience that there is a part of my mind that is monitoring the bottom's responses and 'vibes', and that can (and does) reassert restraint prior to safewording, should that appear necessary. Additionally, my preference is to have a two-stage safeword system, with one word used by the bottom to convey "I need for you to stop doing that particular thing, but I'm happy for the scene overall to continue", and the other to mean "I need the scene itself to stop immediately"2.

It's important to note that, in the preceding, i referred to the bottom actively requesting that i keep going until they feel they've reached a limit/boundary, which they then signal via a safeword. There are at least a few different reasons the bottom might do this: not only a desire to make the top happy, but also because, for example, they get turned on by the idea of being pushed to their limits, or by the idea of trying to learn if they can extend their current limits. In any case, the availability of safewords can facilitate any or all of this, by the possibility of making clear the point at which things go "too far".

Having said all that, it's also true that the mere availability of safewords doesn't guarantee risk-free play3. Whilst writing this post, Dee brought my attention to Stabbity's post "Safewords: they're just words", which discusses this issue. However, although i generally agree with the post overall, i have issues with (my understanding of) a couple of points. Firstly:
some people get nonverbal when they get into subspace, and may not be capable of any kind of safeword or signal. To be clear, that's neither better nor worse than being able to safeword no matter what’s going on, but it's a good thing to tell your top ahead of time.
The problem here is: what if you, as a bottom, don't yet know that you are unable to signal/safeword in certain situations? And it's not necessarily possible to learn this purely via self-analysis; sometimes one doesn't realise it can happen until the moment it's happening. i have, on several occasions, inadvertently hit (metaphorically speaking) an emotional / psychological sore spot that the person i was playing with didn't themselves know about. Not everyone has (or can have) perfect self-knowledge prior to going in to a play session.

Secondly:
I'm not knocking "red" as a convenient shorthand for "something is badly wrong and I need the scene to end right now this instant", but in general saying what you mean is clearer than using a code word.
i feel there's a false dichotomy being set up here, as though one either solely uses the safeword or explains specifically what's wrong. Whereas to me, a safeword can be used to immediately stop what's currently problematic and gives them a chance to compose themselves a bit and get their head together - after which they can elaborate to the top on what was going wrong.

In any case, what all the above suggests to me is that, at the very least, tops and bottoms should, prior to play, try to ensure that they have something of a shared understanding about safewords as a concept. That is: what assumptions/expectations do they both have regarding their use and/or non-use, and the effects their availability / non-availability might have on all parties' responsibilities? There's probably not going to be a one-size-fits-all approach to safewords, and recognising this might help to avoid, or at least minimise, some safeword-related problems.

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1. For example: desire to please and/or not disappoint the top; life experiences which have taught the bottom that quiet compliance regardless of personal cost is 'appropriate' or 'proper' (an issue affecting many women); a sense that safewording represents personal 'failure'.

2. An oft-used version of this is 'traffic lights', with the safeword for the first stage being 'yellow' or 'orange', and the safeword for the second being 'red'.

3. Indeed, for some people, the notion of risk-free bdsm/kink play is an active turnoff.

Porn

2013-07-31 18:42
There's a video clip currently doing the rounds called "Porn Sex vs Real Sex: The Differences Explained With Food". When i first watched it, i felt uneasy, but couldn't put my finger on why. i've now thought about it some more, and can identify a few issues:

  • It doesn't define what 'porn' is. This is a highly complex issue, to be sure, but it has significant implications in this specific context. To wit: It seems to be using 'porn' as shorthand for "professionally produced audiovisual sexually explicit material specifically aimed at heterosexual demographics". But:

    • There are increasing amounts of sexually explicit material that aren't professionally produced, e.g. the material often described as 'amateur' or 'homemade';

    • There are increasing amounts of written sexually explicit material; and

    • There are increasing amounts of non-heterosexual, non-cisgendered sexually explicit material available, both amateur and professional.

    This video clip essentially erases all this, and discusses 'porn' as a homogeneous entity.

  • It's cisnormative, implying that 'womanhood' and/or 'femaleness' necessarily involves having a cunt. How might this feel to trans women who don't have a cunt (and who might not be able to get surgery to construct one1), or to trans men who have a cunt and wish they didn't?

  • It's heteronormative, implying that there there is "too much" same-gender sexual interaction in porn, compared to such interaction in the general population. What message is conveyed to same-gender attracted people by reinforcing that we're in a minority; that same-gender sexual behaviour isn't statistically 'average'; that "too much" such behaviour is depicted in porn?

The whole thing reminds me of the "real women have curves" slogan. Although the intent of the slogan is to try to counter the representations of 'desirable' women's bodies in the media - which often involve pre-publication processing to make the depicted women look thinner than they actually are - in order to counter negative impacts on womens' body image, it fundamentally still involves body-policing. That is: it involves making an assertion about which body shapes should be respected and which aren't.

When i was at uni, i knew a couple of women, biological sisters, who were both ardent feminists and who were also both stick-thin - not due to ongoing dieting or regular exercise, but just because that's how their bodies were. They noted with frustration how they got subjected to comments like "You need a sammich!", quite rightly noting that such attitudes, even if favourable to women who "have curves", still involved making assertions about what a woman 'should' look like.

Similarly, the very title "Porn Sex vs Real Sex" is making assertions about what constitutes 'real' sex (not to mention assertions about what constitutes 'porn') via the use of statistics, an approach that is fundamentally hostile to acceptance (let alone celebration of) human sexual diversity. If two people film themselves engaged in consensual urine play, and then post it online, is it 'porn' that doesn't depict 'real sex' because it's something that most people don't do? And this issue arises for any consensual sexual activity that is a statistical outlier.

It seems to me that, rather than making claims about what constitutes 'real' sex - which can very easily dovetail into societal ideas about what's 'normal' - in opposition to the diversity of human sexuality, a different approach could be taken. We could, for example, be saying:
Porn shows lots of different things. Human sexuality comes in many different forms. But just because it's in porn, doesn't mean you're obliged to do it yourself! Neither does it mean you can cajole or force someone else into doing something they don't want to do just because 'It's done in porn!' Sexual interaction should involve people together negotiating sexual activity to engage in, based on respect for boundaries and the informed consent of all involved.

Think of porn like a recipe book: Not everyone is going to like every recipe in every recipe book, and people shouldn't be forced to eat the result of a recipe just because it appears in a cookbook. :-)
Surely this would be a better approach than using statistics to make some sexual activities more 'normal' and 'real' than others?

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1. e.g. someone such as myself.

So you've just referred to 'gender', perhaps in the phrase "gender is a social construct". Do you mean:

  1. 'sense of gender', i.e. the "gut feeling" one has about one's gender, or lack thereof?

  2. 'gender identity', i.e. the label(s) used to describe to others one's sense of gender / lack of gender?

  3. 'sociocultural gender roles', i.e. the roles that society tends to assign to people who publicly present as 'female', 'male', or other (non-)genders?

  4. ETA 2013.07.09: 'gender expression', i.e. the way that one 'does' gender behaviourally, visually etc. [Thanks to jessie-c for noting this.]

To me, as two-gendered transgenderqueer woman, it is critical that discussions about gender make at least these distinctions. Because in my experience, when these distinctions aren't made, discourse can quite quickly end up in places that have negative real-world impacts on trans and genderqueer people.

(Related: my blog post "So you've just said 'gender is fluid'".)

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Queer

2013-07-07 18:17
Nowadays i don't actively identify as 'queer'. If someone calls me 'queer', i'm usually fine with it; but otherwise, i tend to avoid using it to describe myself.

My first encounters with the word 'queer' in a positive sense were of people seeking to reclaim it as an umbrella term for all non-heterosexual identities1,2. This seemed to me to be a potentially useful approach to alliance-building - emphasising commonalities rather than differences, all the better to challenge het-supremacy - and so i happily started applying it to myself, alongside 'bisexual'.

Of late, however, i've come to the conclusion that 'queer' is becoming so broad as to be effectively useless.

Firstly, i recently learned that in New Zealand, 'queer' doesn't just refer to non-heterosexuality, but non-cisgender genders as well. In this usage, one could be heterosexual but transgender, and thus 'queer'. This differs from the usages i've encountered here in Australia, where 'queer' on its own - i.e. outside of constructs like 'genderqueer' - is taken to be a statement about sexual orientation/preference, not gender. That is: in an Australian context, if i labelled myself 'queer', i would expect people to understand that to mean i'm non-heterosexual in some way, without any implication about my gender. If i were to do so in a Kiwi context, however, it could mean i'm "heterosexual but non-cis" or "non-heterosexual but cis". To me, there's enough of an issue with people believing that 'trans' is a sexual identity3 as it is without a term that actively tries to elide the distinctions between sexual orientation/preference and gender.

Secondly, as i note in this tweet, "[a] difficulty with umbrella terms is that they often evolve to become synonymous with the group under the umbrella with the most #privilege." In my experience, a number of people use 'queer' as a synonym for 'homosexual'. So i've witnessed situations in which women gripe about a guy coming on to them "even though I've said I'm queer" - a usage of 'queer' which conflicts with the (in my experience, common) usage of 'queer' to mean 'non-heterosexual', i.e. to mean not only lesbians and gay men, but those who are bisexual, pansexual, omnisexual etc. as well.

Thirdly, though, and most critically, people seem to increasingly be using 'queer' to mean something along the lines of "differing from at least one societal norm". In this usage, one can, for example, be 'queer' by virtue of being disabled, even though one might be heterosexual and cisgender.

"But by that logic," i've said, "everyone is queer."
"Yes!" has been the happy reply, "Exactly!"

i assume what's being attempted here is a demonstration that, because we're all queer in some sense, society simply needs to stop being unpleasant to certain people on the basis that they differ from the (statistical or asserted) norm; instead, society should simply start happily proclaiming "Viva la difference!"

Uh huh.

i feel systematic privilege, discrimination and oppression can't be ended merely by presenting a sufficiently succinct and clever argument. To believe otherwise is to assume that it occurs primarily due to innocent ignorance, and that there is little to no material benefit for anyone involved. To me, this is manifestly not the case.

Moreover, by collapsing into a single term the wide variety of forms that privilege, discrimination and oppression can take, it becomes more difficult to witness the fact that one can be benefiting from one system of power differentials whilst at the same time being hindered and/or harmed by another. For example, having disabilities - CFS, major depression, fibromyalgia, OCD - doesn't give me some right to downplay my thin privilege on the basis that "Hey, i suffer from discrimination too!" And this is without taking into consideration the "umbrella term effect" i described above.

Still, this is the direction a number of people are taking the word 'queer' - to in practice make it synonymous with 'human'. In which case, calling myself 'queer' doesn't convey much information to anyone other than those who thought i was some form of AI.

i interact with people from multiple continents and nations on a daily basis. The variation in intended meanings of the word 'queer' now feels to me to be too great for me to want to actively use it to describe myself. No label is perfect, of course; but i feel there are many more precise labels to apply to myself than 'queer'.

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1. ETA, 2013.07.29: Cf. this piece on the word 'queer', by Yasmin Nair; i have been heavily influenced by the early-90s usages of the word 'queer' she describes therein.

2. i recently read an exchange where someone attempted to 'educate' someone else that the word 'queer' was offensive, apparently unaware that there are many thousands - if not millions! - of people who publicly proudly use the word to describe themselves.

3. So that, for example, i have on several occasions encountered forms where i have to specify whether i'm 'heterosexual', 'homosexual', 'bisexual' or 'transsexual'. :-/

i frequently observe people express concern that they're worried about getting language related to trans and genderqueer identities right. They don't want to offend or upset the person they're talking to, but they're not confident that they won't.

i certainly agree that language usage in this area can be particularly tricky. One significant reason for this is that trans and genderqueer people ourselves are usually having to work out appropriate language usages on the fly, because Western cultures, and certainly English languages in particular, haven't provided us with words and phrases to accurately describe our experiences. On the contrary: both Western culture and the English language have actively worked against us, imposing language on us that doesn't come from within our own communities, and which pathologises us.

Additionally, we can't, of course, completely control how people understand the language we create, and/or how it gets used in general. Terminology that had initially seemed good can turn out in practice to be problematic. Thus, for example, terminology like 'MtF' tends to be discouraged nowadays, and use of terminology like 'trans woman' is encouraged instead; this is because it became apparent that 'MtF' was (a) encouraging the idea that trans women are "really" men, and (b) keeping trans women in a state of "permanent transition", such that they would never be regarded as simply 'women'. Another example is the phrase 'trans woman' itself; many people don't like it being written as 'transwoman' (i.e. with no space between 'trans' and 'woman') because doing so encourages 'third-gendering', in which a trans woman isn't seen as an actual woman, but as a third gender that is 'really' neither woman nor man - a 'transwoman'1. So for a number of trans people, phrases like 'transperson' can feel like an invalidation of their sense of gender.

Finally, as much as it pains to say it, it's been my experience that many trans and genderqueer people totalise/universalise their experiences, together with the language related to it. This gets reflected in things like:

  • "You're 'cis[gendered]' if your genitals match the gender you were designated at birth", which incorrectly endorses the idea that gender is about one's genitals2, i.e. that having a cunt is what makes one a woman, and/or that having a cock is what makes one a man. The reality is, for many trans and/or genderqueer people, this is not the case. For example: i am happy having a cock, and don't see it as part of a putative "male/masculine side", but instead experience it as simply another part of being a woman3 (women's bodies are diverse, after all).

  • the phrase "gender reassignment surgery", which has the underlying implication that e.g. having a penectomy or orchiectomy inherently causes a change in one's gender. That might well be the case for some people; but for many others, it's simply modifying their body to better fit the gender they already know themselves to be. Consequently, a number of trans people use the phrase "gender confirmation surgery", to indicate that surgery is confirming their gender to themselves; but unfortunately, many non-trans people assume that it's about the trans person confirming their gender to society in general, i.e. 'proving' to society in general that they're 'serious' about their gender4.

It's also reflected in the idea that one isn't really trans unless one's life and experiences fits what i and others call "the standard trans narrative", or some variant thereof.

Fundamentally, however, trans and/or genderqueer people are people - and that, of course, means we're a diverse bunch. Although we might share a number of similarities, we also differ not only in our life experiences, but in our responses to those life experiences, and in how we think our life experiences as trans/genderqueer people might/can be improved. To me, this has several implications:

  • Those of us who are trans and/or genderqueer can only expect people who aren't trans/genderqueer to always get language right if there is a single, universal, eternally 'correct' language for all our lives and experiences and circumstances. i hope the preceding has demonstrated that this isn't the case, and indeed, can't be without erasing various trans/genderqueer people's lives, experiences and circumstances.

  • Given that it's not possible to "just know" whether or not a particular person is or isn't trans/genderqueer based solely on appearance, we generally need to move away from assuming/guessing the appropriate gender-related language for anyone, just as we need to be moving away from assuming/guessing whether or not someone is heterosexual / homosexual / bisexual / pansexual etc.

  • Those who aren't trans/genderqueer need to accept that trans/genderqueer people are typically in a difficult situation with respect to language; that it's something we're typically forced to wrestle with continually and that we don't have the luxury of avoiding; and that our diversity means that we are "trying on" a diversity of approaches to deal with this. Consequently, those who aren't trans/genderqueer need to accept that different trans/genderqueer people will have different thoughts and feelings about the applicability of various language usages to their own situations. Just because genderqueer person A is okay with, or advocates, language usage B, doesn't mean that trans person C will necessarily be okay with it also. (And i wish i didn't have to say this, but apparently i do: non-trans/non-genderqueer person D shouldn't demand that C accept language usage B on the basis that A does - at least if D wants to show respect to trans/genderqueer people in general, rather than a select few of D's own choosing.) This means, of course, keeping different language usages in mind when conversing with different people. Doing so might seem to some like a burden; but keep in mind the burdens faced by trans/genderqueer people in cisnormative/cissexist society, which regularly inflicts physical violence on trans/genderqueer people for not meeting cisnormative/cissexist expectations. Anyway, it's not like humans don't already typically keep individual-specific information in mind during conversations: not only information such as other people's names, but also things such as their social/biological connections with others, life experiences which have made them particularly sensitive about certain topics (e.g. death), and their personal beliefs (spiritual, ideological etc.). Using / avoiding specific language when talking to particular trans/genderqueer people is simply a new context for such behaviours.

So: trans/genderqueer people are individuals, and each of us has distinct personal experiences and preferences regarding language. Thus, one should minimise assumptions about appropriate language to use in discussions with a given trans/genderqueer person or group of people. But occasional mistakes (as distinct from ongoing disrespect) are probably inevitable; trans/genderqueer people need to remember that there's no 'obviously' universally eternally correct language that can be used. Non-trans/non-genderqueer people should try to accept corrections gracefully, rather than getting defensive and prioritising their own feelings/concerns/worries ("But I'm not a bad person!") over the feelings of trans and/or genderqueer people, who have to live, every day, with the associations and consequences of language used to describe us.

ETA, 2013.04.15: If you'd like a general introduction to trans-related language, I suggest Erin's Trans Glossary. But, further to what I've written above, this glossary should only be considered a starting point; I encourage non-trans/non-genderqueer people to explore the plethora of online writings by trans and genderqueer people about language issues, and not expect individual trans/genderqueer people to essentially function as private tutors on this (large) topic. Simply trying to survive in cisnormative / cissexist society can be draining enough without being forced to take on such a role!

ETA, 2013.05.17: A discussion with @redlightvoices on Twitter made me wish to note another relevant issue: people who are native speakers of English - whether trans/genderqueer or not - need to make allowances for NESB/ESL people. A good example is the Spanish word 'travesti'; a literal translation to English would be 'transvestite', but it has developed a more complex set of connotations in a number of Spanish-speaking regions. A Spanish speaker for whom English is a second language might thus try using the English word 'transvestite' in contexts where they want to convey the concepts they associate with 'travesti', not knowing that 'transvestite' does not necessarily convey those same concepts. Assuming the Spanish speaker is intending to be disrespectful would thus be both inappropriate and Anglocentric.

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1. Of course, some trans people do identify as a 'third [or fourth, or fifth etc.] gender'. And there are people such as myself, who identify not as a third gender, but as both woman and man simultaneously, all the time. But the point is, that's not the case for all trans people.

2. A better definition, in my opinion, would be "You're 'cis[gendered]' if your sense of your gender completely matches the gender you were designated at birth." Note i use "your sense of your gender" and not "gender identity". One might change the gender identity label(s) one uses for oneself without one's underlying sense of gender having changed; this blog post discusses this issue. Also note my use of the word "completely", which acknowledges that one might partially relate to the gender one was designated at birth (as is the case for me).

3. Nonetheless, i do experience body dysmorphia around not having a cunt.

4. The notion that one must 'prove' one's 'seriousness' about one's gender via bodily modification is problematic for several reasons. One of those reasons is that it's classist: the surgical procedures involved are often expensive, and in Australia at least, a shortage of suitable surgeons means that some Australian trans people have to fly to e.g. Thailand or the United States for surgery, which further adds to the cost. And all this is on top of trans people having much higher unemployment rates than average due to anti-trans discrimination.

In following discussions around critiques or criticisms of feminisms - e.g. for whorephobia, 'saviourism', transphobia etc. - i've noticed a number of techniques being used to downplay or dismiss these critiques and/or criticisms. Here are some of them:

  • "Anyone criticising feminism is obviously ignorant of what feminism is about."

  • It's pretty arrogant to assume that criticism of feminism can only come from a place of ignorance, rather than through e.g. extensive lived experiences of feminism and feminists.

  • "Anyone who is sexworker-hostile or trans-hostile isn't a real feminist."

  • "No True Scotsman" fallacy.

  • "Critical of feminism? You must be an MRA."

  • This assumes a dichotomy in which one is either (pro-) feminist/feminism or an MRA. Feminism doesn't own all opposition to patriarchy / sexism / misogyny.

  • "You're damaging the cause by promoting such infighting!" (Thanks to @r_x_nn_ for reminding me of this one.)

  • Which cause? One might say "Well, liberating women from patriarchy and oppression." Okay, but does that then translate into, for example, the specific cause of utilising the state to 'save' and 'protect' certain women, regardless of how those women themselves feel? Who gets to decide what constitutes The Cause? And who decides which concerns - dismissed as "mere infighting" - are inherently less important than The Cause?

    2013-04-03, ETA:

  • "You've internalised patriarchy and its hatred of feminists and feminism."

  • Right. You're an Independent Thinker who has managed to struggle free of all patriarchal/kyriarchal influences; I am merely a robot carrying out patriarchal/kyriarchal programming.


i'll probably come back to this and add more examples as i encounter them.

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Issue 5 of @ArielleLoren's Corset magazine is out, with an article written by me: "Group Masturbation: a trans woman's perspective".
Nb. This is a work of satire.

i am concerned about the intellectual health of fatphobes.

They spend all their time consuming ObesityEpidemic™-flavoured junk science. They're clearly lazy, not bothering to put in any effort to do any research that might actually challenge their poor intellectual health. It's not like there aren't many opportunities to improve this health if they really wanted to; not only are there lots of Health At Every Size and Fat Acceptance activists around, but they could make use of the Internet and World Wide Web to find information that would improve their intellectual fitness.

But no, that would be too much work. They would rather just take the lazy option, and consume the fatphobia of the mainstream media, and its violent propaganda about the 'need' for a WarOnObesity™. Apparently it's too much effort for them to turn off the television and visit a local library to read some critical commentary about the highly processed information they're being provided with - information that's so highly processed, it's often almost devoid of intellectual nutritional value.

And the burden they thus place on society! Because of this intellectual laziness, the mental health of society's fat people is regularly damaged as they are harrassed, discriminated against, marginalised, and treated as less-than-human. And more generally, intellectually lazy people are simply not prepared for the challenges of today's society. Our society needs people capable of rigorous intellectual debate - not people who can't be bothered to be active in seeking out a diversity of information, who just want to take the path of least effort, who are content being spoon-fed junk science.

The worst thing, though, is when parents don't do anything about the poor intellectual health of their children, and let them - sometimes encourage them! - to become fatphobes. It's irresponsible enough when people assume their own minds aren't public property, and thus let their intellectual health deteriorate, despite the impact doing so has on everyone else. But how much more irresponsible is it for one's children to go in that direction! They don't know any better; they need responsible adults around them who impress upon them the need for intellectual fitness, and who are willing to themselves engage in regular strenuous intellectual activity with those in their care.

It's common sense, really. If you take in so much garbage, you're going to need to do lots of work to process it, to burn it off. If you don't want to do that work, just stop consuming such junk science in the first place. It's that simple, that easy. If fatphobes had any moral fortitude, they'd get the bit between the teeth and do what needs to be done. Unfortunately, however, they don't care about anyone - least of all themselves, and their own intellectual health.

--

Want to know about the junk science behind the "obesity epidemic"? Check out Big Liberty's excellent "Truth Behind Fat: References" page.

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So you've just said "gender is fluid". Do you mean:

  1. Every person's sense of gender is fluid?

  2. Every person's gender identity is fluid?

  3. Every person's gender expression is fluid?

  4. Some people's sense of gender is fluid?

  5. Some people's gender identity is fluid?

  6. Some people's gender expression is fluid?

  7. Sociocultural ideas re. sense of gender are fluid?

  8. Sociocultural ideas re. gender identity are fluid?

  9. Sociocultural ideas re. gender expression are fluid?

To me, discussing the (possibly relative) truth / falsity of the statement "gender is fluid" requires that one specify which of the above statements one is intending to convey.

(i've previously written more generally about the concept of 'fluidity' in the context of gender and sexuality.)

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