10 Jun 2015

Queering Time

I got to thinking about time when I read Helen Stuhr-Rommereim’s excellent essay “A Delicate Time: Queer Temporality in Torpor” (from You Must Make Your Death Public: A Collection of Texts and Media on the Work of Chris Kraus, ed. Mira Mattar). In it, she suggests that the socially constructed view of time as both linear and goal-oriented is both harmful and potentially false, referring to “teleologies of happiness…in which one’s relationship with the self is defined by speculative investment towards a point of future pay off which is necessarily never going to arrive.” This really struck a chord with me. I’ve always loved the exchange in the film Dazed and Confused, where slightly dorky high schoolers Cynthia, Mike and Tony question the social structures that push them towards endlessly regressing future goals.

Cynthia: Don’t you ever feel like everything we do and everything we’ve been taught is just to service the future?

Tony: Yeah, I know. Like it’s all preparation.

Cynthia: Right. But what are we preparing ourselves for?

Mike: Death.

Tony: Life of the party!

Cynthia:You know, but that’s valid. Because if we’re all going to die anyway, shouldn’t we be enjoying ourselves now? I’d like to quit thinking of the present as some minor, insignificant preamble to something else.

And yet, that’s exactly how it’s set up. School, university, work – it’s all presented to you as something you do in order to secure a better future for yourself. Or, as Philip Larkin puts it in his excellent poem “Next, Please,”

Always too eager for the future, we
Pick up bad habits of expectancy.
Something is always approaching; every day
Till then we say

It’s not just careers, either – it’s material acquisition. Unless you’re upper middle class or just upper class and are presented with a brand new car on your 17th birthday, it’s pretty much a rite of passage in UK society that your first car will be secondhand, thirdhand, “an old banger,” a hunk of junk that you proudly drive around, secure in the knowledge that one day you’ll be able to afford something better. Because you’ll be earning more, because that’s how time works – everything’s supposed to get better. You’re supposed to get more successful, more wealthy, and have the possessions to show for it. If your first property is a shoebox or in a grotty area, never mind – the next one will be bigger and in a nicer area. As Struhr-Rommereim writes, this kind of “normative becoming” underpins all our Western “conceptions of success and achievement – getting an education, having a job that leads to a better job, having a house, even reaching certain thresholds of health and beauty.”

Or, as Larkin puts it, in awaiting the future, we are effectively watching the horizon, as
the tiny, clear
Sparkling armada of promises draw near.

But as Larkin and Struhr-Rommereim point out, therein lies the problem. Expectation can be exactly what prevents us enjoying the things we desire when they finally arrive. Because it’s not just possessing the thing – the car, the house, the job, the relationship – that we imagine, it’s how it’s going to feel. And hapless optimists that we are, we expect that it’s going to feel nothing less than amazing.

So if it doesn’t, we feel wrong-footed. Ashamed. We feel like we have to lie, overcompensate for our lack of appropriate reaction. We feel like there’s something wrong with us for not being able to experience the emotion we’re expected to experience in line with the acquisition of the things that are supposed to make us happy. Or, as Struhr-Rommereim writes, “happiness, by guiding us towards certain objects, is restrictive in requiring us not to be unhappy with the acquisition of those objects, making unhappiness a failure or a deviance.” Larkin adds:

they leave us holding wretched stalks
Of disappointment, for, though nothing balks
Each big approach… 
Arching our way, it never anchors; it's
No sooner present than it turns to past.

I’m lucky enough to call myself a homeowner. And I do love my house; I say I love it so much I could marry it, and it’s not much of an exaggeration. I love the physical reality of my own space to do with as I please, But I also love what it represents. No more renting. No more rent rises every six months, no more letting agents asking for £200 “admin fees” to sort out a few pieces of paper, no more having to ask permission to put a hook in a wall, no more paying someone else’s mortgage. And security. I’m a believer in what Douglas Coupland wrote in Eleanor Rigby, that a rich man is always just a rich man, whereas a rich woman is only ever a poor woman who happens to have money. My purple-painted, Hindu-god populated corner of the world represents something I might need to fall back on later in life – and since I’m not having children, I’m aware that it’s down to me to look after me.

But in the first few weeks when everyone was asking me if I loved my house? It was sometimes hard to come up with the required response. I loved the fact that the weeks of tedious waiting for solicitors and estate agents to get their act together was over. I loved the fact that I could (for the second time) move out of my parents’ house and this time believe it was permanent. But how did I actually feel? Knackered, skint, covered in paint and sawdust, and like I could sleep for a month. The expected “happiness” wouldn’t materialise until some time later, such as during the winter months, when I’d lay on my sofa, look up at the ceilings I painted with my own hands, and think “all this is mine.” I still get those moments, and it’s great. But I expect I’ll get them less as I get used to the fact the house is mine and start to take it for granted. And there, as Larkin says, is the fleeting nature of happiness, contentment, satisfaction. It’s no sooner present than it’s past. And then we’re on to the next thing. Or as Struhr-Rommereim writes, "cruel optimism occurs when the act of waiting for those boats to arrive is what makes it impossible to have what those boats should bring."

Enjoying the now is so hard to do, especially when we live in a goal-oriented society that frowns upon any standing still. We’re told we should always be moving, moving on to the next thing, that inertia isn’t just death, it's a sin, it’s laziness. People put framed copies of William Henry Davies' poem Leisure - which asks “What is this life, if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare?” - in their bathrooms and then never stop to read it or think about what it means because their lives don’t allow them that luxury. Earn, produce, consume, never stop. Then when we start melting down, suffering from stress, depression, mental illness, we go for therapy and we’re told to be mindful. To be in the moment. To breathe, to smell the flowers, watch the clouds. And we find we don’t know how, because we were never taught. We were taught that to be in the moment is a crime. From every teacher rapping knuckles telling us to work faster, to every micromanaging boss breathing down your neck and tut-tutting if you dare to lean back in your chair and take a moment to just be. 

Right now, I’m in a coffee shop on my laptop, with my phone by my side. There’s music playing, there’s the hiss of the milk steamer, the crackle of the guy eating crisps five feet to my left, the chatter of the other customers, the breeze coming in from the open back door, the light breaking through the clouds on the high street…and I’ve probably got at least 6 different things on my mind, (that's just the conscious part, anyway) and trying to stop my brain from multi-tasking or perpetually living in the future is more trouble than it’s worth right now. I’ve got to collect my car from where it’s being fixed for a fee I need to find more work to pay for, so I’m worrying about that. I’ve got to post that letter, answer that email, go and do a care shift because freelance writing currently doesn’t pay enough for me to do that full time, get stuff ready for tomorrow because I’m having a day out, go and do my hobby that I love. And I’m not complaining about any of this, because I recognise I’m ridiculously privileged and live an insanely comfortable life. I’m just saying that the way we live doesn’t equip us, nor enable us, to live in the moment or appreciate the present.

Returning to Cynthia’s point, the need to keep our lives so frantically busy does point to an avoidance of the truth that none of us want to face – that we’re all going to die, we’re unlikely to be remembered or make much of a mark upon the world beyond our immediate family, and if, like me, you’re an atheist, there ain’t no afterlife or any vindication or justification for the running around we’ve been doing on this anthill for the 80 years or so we managed it. Larkin says that we believe our ship will come in, that it will bring with it  all we are owed
For waiting so devoutly and so long.
But we are wrong.

He ends on the distinctly unsettling but, to me, utterly accurate verse:

Only one ship is seeking us, a black-
Sailed unfamiliar, towing at her back
A huge and birdless silence. In her wake
No waters breed or break.

The realisation that death is coming for us all one day can either depress you or mobilise you. I suppose for me it does a bit of both. Fighting against the tide of social pressures that would rather have me mindless than mindful, doing a job I dislike just to acquire money I don’t need in order to own things I’ll soon grow bored of and a property I leave empty all day in order to do said job, can be exhausting. I’m lucky to be able to reject that pressure – although I bowed to it for many years and ended up depressed, three stone heavier and ready to walk out into traffic, I loathed my life so much – and lucky to be able to freelance, working from home, enjoying my home, my time, my work. But it takes guts and nerves. Not cracking and going back to full time employment when funds get low takes a steely disposition. So does living my life on my terms when it comes to relationships. Rejecting the narrative of long term monogamy, because I know it’s not right for me, takes intense self-knowledge and conviction, a thick skin against the judgmental bullshit of others, and the ability to reassure oneself, in the lonely 4am moments of panic that we all get, that it’s OK to have occasions of doubt, but better to have those while happily and honestly polyamorous, rather than experiencing them after having surrendered to marriage and suddenly realising it doesn’t suit you. And as for not having kids? Again, you’ve got to know yourself and develop a duck’s oily sheen in order to let all the obnoxious and predictable comments slide off you, but it’s not that tricky once you’ve looked around at your peaceful home, full bank account and unmarked body to remember you love your life the way it is.

People do make the choice to get married and have kids, and that’s great for them – as long as it’s what they really want. But I have a strong suspicion that a lot of people are lulled into one or both of these things by the destructive social narratives that make us think our lives are a) lacking without them and b) will be automatically fulfilled once we gain them. I think those people also experience great distress when the promised happiness that these things are meant to deliver doesn’t materialise. The woman currently ignoring her child while she plays on her phone and he runs around the coffee shop annoying other patrons doesn’t seem to be experiencing much, if any, joy from her offspring. And yes, I’m being overly simplistic to imply that means having kids brings no joy at all, but from what I can tell, a lot of this joy comes retrospectively rather than in the moment. That’s what no one is told until it’s too late. That’s why you have countless anonymous parents posting in terms of deep shame on Reddit that they wish they’d never had their kids and they wish someone had told them how tiring, stressful, boring and destructive to their relationship it was going to be. Yes, you’re allowed to jokingly say “Oh, I could strangle them sometimes!” but actually admitting that the thing everyone tells you will fulfil you has just turned out to be a massive, sticky-faced, screaming, tedious disappointment remains taboo.

This is where a queering of time and a rejection of goal-oriented society – or at least more honesty about the true nature of these goals we are told to work towards - might serve us well. Writing about one of Chris Kraus' characters, Sylvie, who leaves behind her marriage and desperation for a baby to have casual sex with strangers, Struhr-Rommereim writes "Sylvie finds solace and satisfaction in sex that bears no suggestion of a future, no shadow of a narrative. . . The point is not that casual sex is more favourable than long-term, committed relationships or children, only that for Sylvie it offered a way out of what became a limiting and damaging relationship with the future." The reason this is so liberating is because it's a refusal to bow to the aggressive demand that we all be perpetually in motion towards socially sanctioned goals, and is instead an affirmation of one's choice to engage in things for their own sake, as ends in themselves, to seek pleasure without purpose. It's a rejection of the idea that "happiness can be found in perpetual improvement, in a constant orientation towards the future as the place where things will be better, and better in a very specific way." Radically reframing our conception of time away from this might take some brain-bending, but it's a very interesting prospect.

I'll leave the last word to Mike, the loveable dork from Dazed and Confused, who, when he admits he's having second thoughts about becoming a lawyer, is asked by his friends "What do you want to do then?"

Mike's response? An impassioned "I wanna dance."
Brilliant.

27 May 2015

Women on Leashes: Kink In The Public Eye

Ah, women being walked on leashes. One may have thought that since Snoop Dogg announced he is now going to respect women (having claimed that he only called them bitches and whores in the past because he didn't know any better, bless him) there'd be no more public displays of such imagery for anyone to get up in arms about. Yet this past week I ended up seeing two stories about this within a few days of each other, and since I've like, written a book on how BDSM is portrayed in pop culture and its implications for feminism, I thought it behooved me to take a closer look at these tales and how they're framed.
The first, a story on Complex.com, a pop culture news site, kicked off with the headline "Australian Playboy Calls Himself Candyman and Walks Women on Leashes." I have to say, before I encountered this story I had never heard of Travers Beynon, who is apparently "known as Australia's Hugh Hefner", so I'm immediately wondering if this piece is going to actually provide more of the oxygen of publicity to someone relatively unknown outside their native country. 

In somewhat prurient and scandalised tones, the article goes on to say "On Instagram, Beynon frequently posts photos from his multimillion-dollar "Candy Shop Mansion," where women who've auditioned to be his "angels" pose for photos, sometimes as furniture. There's this photo where women serve as chairs and tables for a game of chess. (How civilized!)" There follows a video where we can see plenty more exposed female flesh on show in Beynon's flashy mansion, including sushi being eaten off a naked woman's body, and a man (not Beynon, perhaps one of his staff?) walking two bikini-clad women on leashes, one of whom is apparently Beynon's wife. The reporter mentions that the grandparents of his wife are concerned that this is a 'toxic' environment for her two children. Beynon's defence is that he's a hardworking family man, and the imagery he's posting on Instagram are merely promotion for his tobacco company.

The reporter says "This is arguably not OK, and I'm glad that Beynon is coming under fire for posting pictures of human beings on leashes. While he claims that his wife is impressed by his lifestyle and is laughing her head off at all the media attention that his home is receiving, I still have to wonder if everyone in this photo [shows photo of three men sitting on the backs of women who are on all fours] is comfortable with what's going on."

There's a lot going on here, but as often seems to be the case, there's still a fairly predictable template being followed:
1) Get outraged at the treatment of women by X, while simultaneously giving more publicity to X and also showing as many pictures as possible of the supposedly degrading treatment and exposed butts, boobs, thighs, cracks and cleavages.
2) Dismiss the possibility that any of the women involved have agency and/or free choice.
3) Play the "THINK OF THE CHILDREN!!" card
4) Impose own values on to the behaviour of consenting adults

If this seems like lazy 'choice' feminism to you, I think it's worth adding that I would love to live in a world where I never had to be assaulted by another bronzed female butt crack or cleavage on my TV, computer or in a magazine or on a billboard, ever, ever again. The commodification of the female form both sickens and exhausts me. I would love it if music videos were about music, adverts were about the products they were trying to sell, and that the biggest ripples in global news were caused by genuinely amazing events that indicated progress for the human race, rather than the fact that Kacey Cuomo has dyed her eyebrows pink. However, as a pop culture commentator, I know that's not the world we live in. Under capitalism, everyone's trying to hustle, and earn money the quickest way they can. For Travers Beynon, that way is apparently by running a tobacco company, buffing up his body til he resembles a condom full of walnuts, building a kitsch, gilded bubblegum palace of bling and babes, and showing it to the world. Apparently, it's working. There are still many men out there who secretly think Hugh Hefner has got it made, even though plenty more of us consider him a pretty sad and creepy old man unable to deal with women as equals. Beynon is apparently appealing to the first category through his Instagram account, and if he gets some public criticism along the way, well, it's just more exposure, right?

Then there's the women who participate in the supposedly oh-so-shocking pictures. We need to stop to consider that they may also be hustling the best way they see fit. Are we to assume they are in those pictures under duress? That they are coerced into the lifestyle they enjoy in the big blinging mansion? FFS, there are plenty of women who consent to be walked on leashes or serve as human furniture out in the real world, and if you go into a BDSM club or look on Fetlife you'll soon meet them. You'll find they're regular women with jobs, children, partners, bills to pay, and you'll find that they all choose to do what they're doing. They just don't turn up on Instagram for pop culture commentators to disapprove of in the name of feminism, but they remain adults in control of their own lives and I believe Beynon's female companions do too, even if the former group's actions may be more about private pleasure and the latter more about creating public ripples to ultimately generate more income.  

This brings me onto the second story which I saw on Jezebel a few days later, which tells a bit of a non-story about a couple who were asked to leave a New York mall because the man was walking his female companion on a leash. There's an accompanying photo of the woman, wearing a thick collar with large spikes, kneeling on the pavement. You can only see the legs of her male companion. She's fully clothed and smiling. I found it hard to know how to feel about the story because I generally fell between two stools - I couldn't fully agree with the outraged commentators who wrote "Keep it in the bedroom, assholes," or sarcastically referred to "the public degradation of another human, shockingly, and soo unexpectedly, a woman," or went straight for the "What about children who saw this?!" line (see how it keeps coming up? How much time and energy is expended on fretting about what kids might actually think when kids spend so little time thinking about anything than the Frozen song?), but nor could I get totally on board with the writer's groovy, laid-back, "I'm from San Francisco where anything goes," attitude which adds up to: what they were doing isn't inherently sexual, kids who saw the couple will understand it was just make-believe, and it's not as bad as some weird stuff she's seen in public, including a man defecating on her porch. Hmmmm.

Both stories raise the questions, which has reared its head again and again in my writing on kink, on how far it's acceptable to inflict BDSM play on a viewing public. In the case of the first story, I doubt that the instance of the women being walked on leashes has nearly as much to do with BDSM, as it does with getting as many hits as possible on Instagram. Maybe the man and two women in the picture are genuinely playing a kinky game that they all find pleasurable, but I somehow doubt it - it just comes across as too staged. The couple in the second story do seem more like they are enjoying the thrill of public play, inadvertently yet crucially showing how the hottest kink scenes can take place when everyone is fully clothed and there's not a bikini or bum crack in sight, but as someone points out in the comments, there's no way to get the consent of everyone who has to view them, and if some people find it offensive or upsetting, that goes against the SSC (safe, sane, consensual) or RACK (risk aware consensual kink) mantras that are the foundation of the BDSM community.

However, I think it's important to ask ourselves why these images are potentially offensive. In response to the commenter who calls the mall couple's act degrading, another commenter immediately calls them on their assumption that the leashed woman feels degraded rather than empowered. This simplistic statement also obscures the fact that there can be empowerment/pleasure/erotic thrills found in that which we are supposed to find degrading, precisely because they are roles which are considered humiliating and which we are therefore not supposed to desire. One wonders if there would have been similar outcry if the gender roles had been reversed, if a woman had been thrown out of a mall for walking a man on a leash (would that even have happened?), or if Travers Beynon was a female feathering her nest with a bevy of thong-clad men on leashes? I understand that it's not as simple as that, because we're not talking about a simple and equal switch of positions. There is no equivalent history to that of male violence against and oppression of women. There is no equivalent culture of objectification and dehumanisation of the male form. It's just not the same. People get uncomfortable seeing women in positions of sexual submission to men because it's too close to what is still sadly really going on out there at times - rape, sexual violence, sexual harassment, sexual coercion, enslavement, trafficking. But what is really, really important to remember is that the existence of the latter should not lead to the censorship or condemnation of the former. That does not help any of us. Treating content, consenting adult women like they need to be protected does not help protect the women who really are in danger. Assuming that women don't know what they really want or like and sneering oh my god how could they really be comfortable doing such a thing merely echoes the voices of misogynists who want to portray us as brainless playthings and then use that to excuse their violence against their female form. 

It's tricky, though. I'd still probably be on the side of the mall cop who thew the couple out, because I do believe in a time and a place for things, and I think it's disingenuous to imply that there isn't at least some kind of sexual element to collar/leash play. Even if it's not sexual for that particular couple, it's undeniably BDSM-themed, and definitely originates from a place that's going to be tricky to explain to kids - or, for that matter, a lot of older people (trying to explain the BDSM acronym to my mum, who's in her 60s, has been fun - she's asked me on about 6 occasions to remind her what it stands for and what it actually means). I don't subscribe to the argument that "Kids are going to see it and think that's how it's OK to treat women," because that kind of epistemic leap involves enough mental gymnastics when you're an adult, let alone for a child. Listening to The Prodigy's Firestarter at age 12 didn't make me believe that arson was a great idea, reading The Story of O at age 19 didn't make me think that it was normal or expected that a woman should run off and submit to a palace full of perverts, and no one or ten or hundred images makes a child think it's OK to treat a woman like crap. With regards to the mall couple, I do generally agree that it runs counter to BDSM ethics to inflict kink play on an unsuspecting public, although I wonder if Travers Beynon's Instagram feed comes with any kind of warning. I'd guess that the type of people who want to follow him are probably used to, ready for, or actively seeking the kind of images he puts out there. I probably have more truck with those criticising him, who are happy to reproduce his images with no kind of warning just so they can add a disapproving commentary, therefore giving more exposure to depictions of women that they claim to find demeaning.

***To read more essays on BDSM, feminism and pop culture, check out my new book "Thinking Kink," which is now out in the US, and is coming soon in the UK. Available in both paperback and eBook***

6 May 2015

BDSM and feminism: Kink-shaming and victim-blaming

Defending BDSM is a fraught process for feminists. On the one hand, you have misogynists and rape apologists telling you that women are just 'asking' to be assaulted, coerced, violated, beaten and raped, an insidious culture that makes any woman who enjoys consensual kink feel like she is a traitor all female victims of violence. On the other, you have (some) feminists telling you that while they support your right to choose whatever sexual practices you find pleasurable, if you like BDSM (especially as a submissive/masochist) it's probably just due to toxic patriarchal social conditioning and you should probably "work to change that" (genuine quote from a feminist discussing BDSM).

Then you have stories like the awful Jian Ghomeshi allegations that continue to emerge, whereby an alleged abuser is trying to mitigate the charges against him by claiming they took place under the umbrella of consensual kink. His accusers say differently. Rape apologists say "well, it's their word against his." Feminists say #IBelieverHer but suspect that these women are merely going to be dragged through the mill of being disbelieved, scrutinised and publicly attacked and possibly not see any justice at the end of it, because we know that's what happens to the majority of sexual assault victims. Radical feminists say What do you expect? and That's what happens when you say BDSM is OK, it becomes a cover for assault. Of course, there are quite a few radfems out there who believe that all BDSM is assault anyway, and that any woman who claims she consents to it is just brainwashed by the patriarchy into believing she actually wants to participate in this activity. 

This is where I encounter a particular logic fail with feminist criticism of BDSM. Does it not seem paradoxical to anyone else to be part of a movement that fights for women's right to be seen as full, autonomous, intelligent beings with agency while claiming that women who make sexual choices you don't agree with are too stupid to know what they're doing? As Margaret Hunt writes in her excellent "Report on a Conference on Feminism, Sexuality and Power: The Elect Clash with the Perverse," "leaps of logic like these only make sense if one really believes that adult women who choose to be the bottom in an S/M exchange are equivalent to children, while their tops are equivalent to pathological murderers." Yet it's not just the obvious corners of anti-sex work, anti-pornography, radical feminism that such viewpoints emerge. I was seriously disappointed to read this recent article by Emer O' Toole "This murder in Ireland has made me rethink my sexual practices," (The Guardian, 31st March 2015) where O' Toole claims that, despite having happily participated in BDSM previously, she now finds it difficult to reconcile with the fact a woman was murdered by a man she was in a BDSM relationship with. The tagline is "I wonder if we can continue to deny any links between kinky sex and wider societal abuse of women," the accompanying picture is a still from F**** S**** o* G*** and the caption to that claims that in that movie "a reluctant, inexperienced and infatuated young girl is controlled and beaten by a rich sadist" - read here to see why I believe that's a total mischaracterisation of that particular storyline.

From the outset of O' Toole's piece I got the sense that this was going to be yet another anti-kink article, this time more cleverly concealed than the usual feminist condemnation by the fact the author claims she is a BDSM practitioner. Sadly, I wasn't wrong. She starts by demanding that we examine "the social context that allowed a man to convince a woman that his sexual desire to stab and kill her was within the bounds of the acceptable," as if it's somehow a foregone conclusion that "social context" was what drove Graham Dwyer to murder his partner. This is followed by an epistemic leap so vast it requires a parachute to accompany it, when O' Toole says that this means we also need to pay "attention to the cultural mainstreaming of BDSM."

I probably should have stopped reading there, because my responses were already descending into teenage grunts. My response to that particular sentence was Why? and Says who? After the Columbine killings, hysterical hand-wringers told us to look to Marilyn Manson and violent films/video games for the source of the senseless violence that two 15 year-olds visited upon their classmates and teachers. Anyone with half a brain said no, I will not resort to such blind, simplistic scapegoating. Music doesn't kill people, video games don't kill people. And consensual play with ropes, floggers, gags and cuffs doesn't cause the rape and murder of women, Whenever we blame anything but the rapist for the rape, the murderer for the murder, we shift responsibility from the criminal and to something else (sadly, as happens far too often in the case of sexual assault, we shift it on to the victim). If you're a feminist, you know that short skirts, drinking and flirting don't cause rape. So why are you suddenly training your sights on PVC outfits and erotic power play and claiming that they are responsible for domestic violence and murder?

Partly because it's an interesting and trendy thing to be talking about, I guess, in light of *that film* and *that book*'s popularity, otherwise I doubt The Guardian would have commissioned O' Toole's piece, But her supposedly kink-friendly feminism is just woman-shaming and kink-shaming in a leather disguise. She says "I’m making this critique not as a kink-shamer, but as a challenge to myself: what are my reasons and justifications for inviting or accepting male sexual violence?" Again, the teenager in me responds WHO CARES? Not because I'm being rude or dismissive, but because funnily enough, as a feminist, I don't think we should be asking women to put a disproportionate amount of weight and stress upon themselves by interrogating their desires any more than anyone else does in this society. Why is it always on us as women to analyse ourselves, to scrutinise ourselves, and, according to the great Radical Feminist Handbook of How Acceptable Egalitarian Sex should be done, probably find ourselves wanting? Wherefore the privilege of the unexamined life, the unapologised-for libido? Isn't that something men enjoy? So why are we demanding that women give that up and instead flagellate ourselves (pun so very intended) for the things that give us pleasure in this so-often thankless and joyless life?

Citing one study about self-proclaimed porn addicts as evidence that porn creates a desire for violence (if you read the article, it actually only states that people who are predisposed to already enjoy looking at violent porn tend to seek it out - shocker), O' Toole accepts on one hand that kink gives people a safe space to enjoy desires that are not acceptable to release in everyday life, but then demands that we never forget that a racist, sexist, transphobic, ableist society is still sitting in the kink club with us. Does she really think that any one, apart from those in the most privileged social groups, can ever forget that fact? So why is she asking that we continue to beat ourselves over the head with guilt about the fact our BDSM practices may resemble sexist, racist, transphobic or ableist violence (I remember reading about a disabled man who liked to be called 'cripple' and dragged out of his chair and abused during kink scenes - his play may shock me and many people, but that itself is not reason enough for me to tell him he should not be doing it). What reason is there, apart from the fact that this one horrible murder has clearly made O' Toole feel guilty about her own sexual practices, to demand that we start "conscientiously examining a) the social conditions that have led to our fetishisation of female pain and submission, and b) the ways in which our sexual practices strengthen and reinforce those social conditions?" These very statements imply to me that despite claiming to be a BDSM practitioner, O'Toole has not thought very long or hard about kink or feminism. She assumes there must be a social basis for the desires of any woman who enjoys pain or submission, yet that assumption pretty much at one fell swoop disregards all female sexual agency, the existence of female switches and male submissives, and women who feel their submissive desires exist in spite of, not because of, their upbringing (quote Mollena Williams: "I was taught that being strong was the first thing you had to be, especially ... as a black woman. To be submissive, to be obedient, was NOT acceptable.")  There is also, of course, the underlying assumption that O' Toole's own viewpoint is objective and neutral, rather than coloured, as everyone's must be, by their own experiences and background. As Margaret Hunt writes, in a statement that could be applied to every radical feminist condemnation of women's sexual practices, "The argument that there is no free choice in the world is never all-inclusive. It always admits the existence of a small group which is morally superior to the corrupt mass." And that is where the logic fail happens. If O' Toole believes we are all so easily brainwashed, then how come she has magically managed to avoid the same fate as the rest of us? What exactly is it about her that makes her qualified to say that women's choice to participate in BDSM is somehow linked to, possibly even partially responsible for, one terrible murder? 

If we really want to look at things that have left women likely to be murdered by partners, we could look at: cuts to domestic violence services, slow legal machinery that mean getting injunctions and getting a violent partner removed from the family home could take days or even weeks (now thankfully much improved), victim-blaming narratives ("Why didn't she leave?" "She must have provoked him") and a culture of silence around domestic violence - the very term implies a "private matter" or "just a domestic," a language that seriously needs to change. BDSM did not kill Elaine O' Hara, and I take massive offence at O' Toole's last statement, that O' Hara's "submissive desires left her vulnerable to male aggression in the most tragic way possible." The only thing Elaine O'Hara's submissive desires left her open to, it would seem, was having her sexual preferences blamed for her death rather than her murdering partner. I'll say it again - if you wouldn't blame a short skirt for rape, then don't blame BDSM for a murder. BLAME THE MURDERER. O' Toole is criticising BDSM for somehow making it easier for abuse to go undetected - even though plenty of abuse goes undetected, excused or apologised for in the vanilla world - yet she is playing by the same rulebook of rape apologists by implying that Elaine O'Hara "left herself open" to getting murdered just because she was a submissive.

This is pretty disgusting. It's also ignorant - it disregards the many lengths submissives and masochists go to to protect themselves, precautions that many vanilla people don't bother to take when meeting someone for a date (arranging a 'check-in' call with a friend, letting someone know the name, online username, address of the person you're meeting), it assumes that "submissive as part of kink" = "weak in everyday life" (and anyone making that assumption will get a big, rude shock when they meet some actual subs) and, as I've pointed out above, it presumes that there are things women can and should be doing to protect themselves from male violence. But what could Elaine O' Hara have done? Not been married to this man? Right, well, perhaps it's marriage we should be protesting against, not BDSM. But then she might still have met this man, or dated him, or worked with him, or just walked past him one night in the street. And he still might have violently murdered her. So the best she could do is move to a remote island with no men on, right? Funnily enough, no one ever suggests that. Because that would be silly, that would be extreme. But saying that enjoying a spanking from your partner means you contributed to your own murder? That's fine to say. Even from someone who claims to be feminist, who claims to be pro-kink.

So, no, I'm not going to accept that I am obliged to examine my sexual practices and consider how they contribute to a society that blames rape and murder victims for their own violations, because I think the only thing which contributes to such a society is the belief that it's always down to women to change, behave differently and re-wire ourselves, because that belief is predicated on the mistaken idea that there's anything we can do to avoid violation, and that belief in turn - however well-meant - comes from a solid landscape of victim-blaming. So I let (read: asked) a guy to pull my hair, put his hand round my throat, slam me against a wall - so the fuck what? Does it make feminists like O'Toole feel better if they know that this took place with my full consent and enthusiastic desire, while in my own home, wearing clothes of my own choice, that the wall I got slammed against belongs to me, and I paid for it with my own money, that the guy and I laughed and chatted and drank Um Bongo before and after it took place? Does it help if I add that I've never experienced any coercive sexual behaviour from any of the men I've practised BDSM with, whereas I know plenty of women who've experienced the same in vanilla relationships? Do you know, I don't care if it does - because I shouldn't be obliged to state these things just to make my preferences sound 'acceptable' to the feminist anti-kink police. Because what I do in my sex life, however unpalatable or odd it may seem to others, is not hurting anyone, and is bringing me freedom and pleasure. Fuck anyone who tries to shame me for that by using a woman's horrific death as their excuse.

***To read more essays on BDSM, feminism and pop culture, check out my new book "Thinking Kink," which is now out in the US, and is coming soon in the UK.***

17 Apr 2015

Gender and roller derby - are we as progressive as we think we are?

There's been a lot of conversation in the roller derby community about transgender skaters this week, some of it extremely sombre in light of the suicide of a trans junior skater, Sam Taub, in the States. There has been other, more positive news regarding the acceptance and accommodation of non-gender-conforming skaters, and following the awful, needless death of Sam/Casper #57 (believed to be as a result of transphobic bullying) a lot of people vowing to create a roller derby community that is free of bullying and supportive of trans skaters.

I think this is absolutely a vow that everyone in the community needs to take - not to mention anyone in any community - but I think people need to go further than just making pledges. It's important that we really think about how assumptions about gender, and accompanying, often hidden sexism, underpin so much casual talk and thoughtless humour that take place in our sporting scene. Even in roller derby, a community that is considered more progressive than most when it comes to gender, sexuality and self-expression, I've witnessed or heard about the following:

- femaleness being used as in insult - "I'm going to treat you like a girl." "You're just a woman with a beard"
- women being criticised/mocked by other women for having body hair
- women's sexual behaviour being judged by other women
- sex between men joked about, with the implication that it's degrading (especially for the receptive partner)
- trans skaters being told they could do with some 'tips' on 'how to pass'
- a woman joking that she was going to check another skater's genitalia to make sure she was female

It can be hard to draw a line between what's an acceptable amount of twatting about in a sport that by its very nature requires a developed sense of humour and an ability to brush off insults - this is, after all, a game in which you will spend much of your time falling over, being hit and having to laugh about it. You will encounter trash talk from other teams. You will hear off-colour jokes. You'll hear a lot of smut talked, and you'll accidentally touch more bums, boobs and crotches than even an overworked healthcare professional. I can't claim that every joke, comment or action I've ever made while participating in this sport will have been devoid of the potential to offend someone. But thinking about how to create a community that makes people feel able to express their gender identity without being harassed about it, the thought occurs that maybe we all need to be pulled up sharp.

Because it's not just about outright bullying, although obviously that needs to be stamped on. But it's easy to pride ourselves on not being part of the problem if we only target the blatant types of harassment. It's too easy to pat yourself on the back and say "Well, I never call anyone 'fag', 'bulldyke' or 'tranny,' so I'm cool," or "Well I use X's correct pronouns, so I'm obviously not transphobic," but I think what really needs to happen is a deep - and potentially uncomfortable - examination of our underlying prejudices. And it's not easy. For example, several of my teen years were spent laughing at The League of Gentleman, a deeply dark UK comedy from the late 90s/early 2000s in which most of the women characters were played by men in drag. The comedy wasn't derived from this fact as such, but there was one transgender character 'Barbara the taxi driver', and pretty much all the laughs at her scenes were based around her deep voice, her chest hair and total failure to 'pass' as a woman. You never saw Barbara's face and never found out anything about her other than the fact she was trans. Some of the laughs were more directed at her passengers' obvious discomfort as Babs described the details of her transition in colourful language - "Me nipples are like bullets" - but looking back on it, it's hard to really defend the show as it was pretty much ticking every "Let's laugh at the man in a dress," box imaginable. Babs was a caricature, not a person. So, you might say, were most other characters on TLOG - a paedophile school teacher, a cursed vet, a vile Job Centre Officer, a corrupt butcher, the inbred owners of the Local Shop - but it's disingenuous to deny that the portrayal of trans people in popular culture is something of a mirror to how we view them in real life. Not long ago it was OK to make the brown-skinned person the butt of the joke in UK comedy, or the gay person. Ceasing to take the piss out of trans people has been a bit of an afterthought, and a stage we're still in the process of reaching.

I love the fact that in roller derby there are people willing to challenge the idea that a man wearing brightly coloured leggings is degrading. I like the fact that enough guys do things like this that it no longer becomes about "He might be gay" "He might be a cross dresser," or "That makes him feminine," and it just simply becomes a fact of "He has chosen to wear those leggings, and that is all that matters." (Obviously, if any of the other three statements are true, that also shouldn't be an issue - but my point is that we need to start uncoupling styles of dress from assumptions about gender or sexuality) However, there still remains, to an extent, the idea that to make a man dress like a woman is degrading. At one recent game there was a bout where, to raise money for charity, you could pay for 'extras' such as silly rule additions to the game, or forfeits for skaters. At one point, a group paid for a male skater to wear a tutu for several jams. Now, you could say that this was more about fun and fancy dress - if you're trying to look dead serious in no-nonsense black, a bright red tutu is going to shit up your game look whether you're male or female. And also, unless you are a ballet dancer or one of those women who wears fantastic 50s frocks with layers of netting underneath, you're probably going to be pretty uncomfortable wearing a tutu, whoever you are. But I would also say that it's being deliberately obtuse to say there's absolutely no connection to gender whatsoever. Roller derby started out all-female. It also, in its current incarnation (2006 or so onwards) did start with a lot of girls wearing tutus as part of the brightly coloured, fun, fishnets-n-hotpants aesthetic that the sport still retains to some extent. For a guy to don that clothing is certainly to flip the script, but what's actually meant to be funny about it? Why's it something people pay money to see? I can only think that it's because a guy having to dress as a woman is seen as degrading. And why do we think that, unless we think that being a woman is degrading? Sexism and transphobia, they're more closely linked than you might think.

My team trains co-ed and I generally really like that fact, as I think it does encourage us to see each other simply as 'skaters' rather than 'guys' and 'gals', it allows everyone to challenge themselves in different ways, and it puts paid to blanket assumptions about one gender being 'better' at any particular skill than the other. I love the fact that our skaters look and dress however they're most comfortable both at training and on bout day, that I feel comfortable say, wearing no bra on a hot training day, or changing shorts in front of a room full of people, knowing that no one is going to comment or lech or stare in a way that sadly, as a woman, you come to expect in the outside world. But sexism can appear in more subtle ways. If you believe - and I kind of do - that homophobia is the fear that men will treat you the way you treat women, then you realise that every act of anti-gay aggression isn't just about guys, it's about women too. It's about straight men saying to gay men "You act like a woman, and that is shameful." 

Put a group of guys together and you will inevitably encounter jokes about each others' sexuality. Add some close physical contact - which is unavoidable in roller derby - and it's only a matter of time before the gay jokes start. Some men, mindful of the notion that only a man truly comfortable with his heterosexuality won't mind being called gay, like to defuse this by playing 'gay chicken', a bit like the scene in Philadelphia when Denzel Washington's lawyer character, asked if the fact he's defending a gay man means he's now getting "light in the loafers" himself, responds "Yeah. I'm changing. I'm on the prowl for a man, a man like you," to the dismay of his terrified, homophobic questioner. And I've seen this employed by male skaters, and I think it's both a brave and funny way to deal with homophobes (see also "What are you, gay or something?" "Give us a kiss and I'll tell you.") And not all gay-related humour in the roller derby community that I've seen is about demeaning homosexuality, but rather challenging the discomfort of the homophobic heterosexual - such as the guy I saw caressing his own nipples in order to psyche out another male player. But I've also seen the standard gay-is-degrading, a-man-who-lets-another-man-penetrate-him-is-a-figure-of-fun jokes, and that disappoints me. And if I were a gay or trans player, it'd make me think twice about being out amongst such people. 

I think the roller derby community is still light years ahead of mainstream culture in many ways. It will never be perfect, because you can't achieve a perfect microcosm that's removed from the real world - it's just not possible. Most people seem to accept, or don't know or don't care that I'm polyamorous, kinky and highly sexed, but there'll always be the odd sniffy comment, cos that's people and that's life. Fortunately, most of it is sufficiently removed from me that I feel able to carry on being my sweet self. I'd like to think that other people whose modus operandi differs from what's demanded of them by narrow cultural expectations - be that being female and having hairy pits, or being male and enjoying wearing skirts, or being fat, or extremely skinny, or being a butch woman, a femme guy, an androgynous, gender fluid individual, wearing no make-up, wearing loads of make-up, having tattoos, piercings and crazy coloured hair - feel similarly free and safe to be themselves in the derby community in a way that they might not elsewhere in society. I just think that there's always more to do, always aspects of our beliefs, prejudices and narratives that we can be examining. Because culture never stops evolving, and the fact that the comedy I enjoyed as a teen would now be viewed as transphobic is not a sign of 'political correctness gone mad', it's a sign that people are learning to be less dickheaded. We are pretty damn good at this in the roller derby community, but we must never stop trying to be better.

1 Apr 2015

Some things not to say to an author awaiting the release of their book*

When you're a creative person about to release a significant piece of work, the people in your life will be very interested in it and will want to be supportive of your endeavours. This is lovely and cannot be overvalued. However, often without meaning to, people will come out with phrases that will make you want to stab yourself in the eye with the very red pen with which you've been painstakingly proofreading 80,000 words. Here are the ones I would absolutely recommend avoiding:

  • So, what's your next book going to be about?
Erm, I dunno. I might write a tome pondering the phenomenon that causes people to disregard the fact you've just poured your heart, soul and energy into writing, editing, rewriting, proofing and promoting a work, to assume that you'll have had any time or motivation to even think about embarking upon the massive undertaking that is writing another book, and to proceed to ask you questions like that one.

Would you look at an amazing piece of architecture and say "Wow, nice design, dude. So what's the next building you create going to look like?" No? Then don't do it to any other creative person. Someone who's waiting for a book to come out has already spent a great deal of time having to live in the future. Don't demand that they fast-forward even further in to the future and in so doing, force them to skip over the very moment of triumph they've been waiting for - that's just sadistic.

  • I've always thought I could write a book.
That's nice. Would you like to go off and do that, then, instead of faking interest in my literary endeavours when really you're just looking for an excuse to talk about your own frustrated authorly ambitions?

Quite apart from the fact that the above statement takes my work and makes it all about you, it's frustrating and obnoxious in another way. There's a reason it's considered rude to walk up to a teacher, a nurse or a plumber and say "Yeah, I could do what you do." That's because it is rude. Yet that's basically what you're doing when you casually say "Oh yes, I've always thought I have a book in me." Also, it's de facto untrue. If you could be doing it, you would be doing it. Unless you've already done that job yourself and actually really did consider it easy, you have no authority to speak on that subject. In the unlikely event that you have done any of these jobs and found them easy, it's still pretty shoddy behaviour to belittle someone else's hard work by breezily stating that to their face. If in doubt, just don't say it.

If you want advice or mentoring on how to start writing, by all means ask for it directly. Don't insult someone who's sweated blood over their career by implying it's something you could just pick up in an instant if you really wanted to.

  • Can I have a free copy?
Did you contribute to my book in terms of providing mentoring/advice, proofreading, photographs, interviews or other forms of support? Then sure.
If not, and you're just banking on the fact you know me to try and blag a free book, I have two words for you, and one of them's "get".

  • Oooh, here's something really interesting that could've gone in your book.
Fantastic. Please climb into a DeLorean and go tell it to me 12 months ago. Otherwise, I must admit to being frankly a little exhausted of the topic I've just written 80,000 words about, and could do with some down time to look at silly memes on Pinterest, rather than encounter yet another recommendation for a book/article/TV show/movie/song/music video relating to my topic of choice. Remember- it's OK to talk to me about other things, and at this point, it's actively preferred.


Instead, here are some things you can say that will always be well received.

"I can't wait to read it."
"I'm so excited for you."
"I'm telling everyone I know about it."
"Let me know if I can help promote it in any way."
"Here's some Um Bongo/red velvet cake/wine."

*With love and thanks to everyone in my life who has supported me in creating this book - even if it was by saying any of the above, I know it was always well-meant - I promise I'll stop being so caustic when it's released.
Maybe.

24 Feb 2015

Burlesque - empowering or problematic for feminists?

I got to thinking about cultural phenemona that regularly get condemned as anti-feminist yet are largely supported by women, when I went to see *that film* recently in order to review it. Sitting in the cinema on a freezing, windy, wet British Friday morning, I noticed that I was surrounded by women. Some couples, but the audience was at least 85% female, if not more. Women of all ages, from 18 to at least 65. Women of all races, all shapes and sizes, varying socioeconomic backgrounds, all united in a desire to see the film of *that book* and find out what all the fuss was about. Some might have been there for that sole reason, others because they genuinely enjoyed the book and thought they would enjoy the film. Those who were there with their partners may have expected the film to enhance their erotic life, or simply give them something to laugh about as a couple. Others, like myself, may have been there as cultural commentators (with admittedly a little personal curiosity thrown in), trying to report on *that film* in a way that avoided lazy condemnation, pearl-clutching or snobbery. I saw very quickly that it was going to be women who made or broke this film, and if this audience - plus the opening weekend stats - were anything to go by, women were going to make it a roaring success.

This made me think about how, despite their strength as a consumer group, women are still strangely often treated as a minority group, or a "special interest". When they do come out in force and make a book or a film a huge success, it's given a patronising label ("chick flick" "mommy porn" anyone?) and treated as a trivial, fluffy, empty-headed preoccupation. And, perhaps more disappointingly (because we at least expect sexist dismissal from the mainstream media), it's sometimes treated with disdain or outright hostility by feminists too. 

I talk at length in my review of *that film* about how I feel there is an elitist and prejudiced element at work in the feminist condemnation of F**** S**** O* G***, so I won't go on about it here. But I started thinking about the parallels when I went to a burlesque fair this weekend. There are a lot of conflicting feminist opinions about the modern revival of burlesque culture; some women consider it body-positive, sex-positive, empowering and female-focused, others consider it simply more sexist objectification in cuter clothes, and of course some view it as just a bit of fun. At the fair, though, what struck me was what a female-dominated culture this was. The stallholders were majority female, as were the attendees (I went with three other women). Interestingly, not all the performances were by women - I was pleasantly surprised to see a male pole dancer and a male aerial hoop performer in the pictures afterwards. But what the whole experience made me think was that anyone condemning this as women being objectified for male pleasure would be so off-base it would be laughable. This was very much a female-oriented event, run by, enjoyed by, and supported by women. 

Now, of course there are those who will claim that women have just been so brainwashed into objectifying other women that we don't even realise we're doing it - we are Ariel Levy's Female Chauvinist Pigs made flesh, and are no better than the women who accompany their male friends to strip clubs in the spirit of "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em." But when I was watching a size 16 woman in her 30s gyrate onstage in a spangly costume, I didn't feel like I was treating her like a piece of meat. I was aware of her as a person with a mind as well as a body, and very much aware that her performance was artifice - because it was so clearly intended this way. I was also aware that her performance was intended to be fun and humorous, and that the smile on her face wasn't trying to emulate sexual ecstasy, but was simply a cheeky grin. It certainly beat the furrowed brows, pouts and icy seriousness of other supposedly "erotic" performances I've seen, and reminded me of why I always liked the pin-up pictures one can find in the Taschen books filled with magazine covers called 'Wink' 'Titter' and so on - because the girls look like they're having fun. As someone who proudly owns a sailor playsuit and has been compared to a pin-up myself when I've posted pictures of myself in it, I can attest that it's not just a look either. It is fun to feel cute, to dress up, to feel colourful and sexy in a way that one still feels like one owns that sexuality. Yet as a feminist, you sometimes wonder whether it's OK to feel that way, or whether you should be trying to condition yourself out of it.

Burlesque performances are generally pretty tame compared to what you'll see in a modern strip club - I've not seen a burlesque performer strip below knickers and nipple tassles, although I'm sure some do, but the point is generally that it's about the art of suggestion so there's still likely to be some giant feathers or balloons in the way. Therein lies the fun - everyone in the room knows they're not going to actually see any pubic hair, or labia, or probably even a nipple, but we're enjoying the fiction that we might, and enjoying the tension that the performer is building up by teasing us with what's behind the sequins. Women and men stood and watched the performers, whooped, clapped and encouraged. It didn't feel sleazy or objectifying. It's also often forgotten that the art of burlesque didn't just use to mean 'stripping' - it also included acrobatics, tumbling, cross-dressing, skits and all manner of entertainment. The immediate tendency to focus on the nekkid-lady part of burlesque is a sad sign of the modern insistence on reducing everything to sex. I once saw a female burlesque performer dress up in a tux and do a Bruce Forsyth impression to Rizzle Kicks' Mama Do The Hump - how often does that aspect of burlesque get mentioned?

Still, as I put my pin-up-lady-themed mirror up in my bedroom, and my lady-in-nipple-tassles-and-knickers toothbrush holder up in my bathroom, I experience a twinge of feminist concern. Am I no better than the man slavering over Page 3, or leering at the women in Zoo? Am I just fooling myself that I'm more enlightened because I didn't mind the fact that the women I watched onstage the other day had rolls of flesh on their bodies, and parts other than boobs that wobbled when they moved - whereas those raised on a diet of airbrushed female bodies and porn would probably consider them unattractive and inferior? Who can say. It bothers me that there exists, in a movement supposedly supportive of female freedom to look, act and spend our money in whichever ways we wish, a faction that makes me have this very argument with myself. I also think this faction is operating on the often-mistaken premise that cultures such as burlesque only exist because of a (automatically evil) male desire to objectify and sexualise women. Based on my experience on Saturday, my answer would be - BOLLOCKS DOES IT. Some feminists will tell us that we've internalised male objectification of our bodies so much that we're now convincing ourselves that we're buying corsets or jiggling our nipple tassles onstage for ourselves or for fun, but that is, of course, just self-deception. We must be doing it because men told us or made us. 

Well, I don't know where those evil men were hiding on Saturday but they sure must have been well-concealed. Was one of them the very camp guy wearing make-up and dressed as a sailor: was he forcing my friend to alter her body when he laced her into one of the corsets he was selling, and is it worth mentioning he was also wearing a corset, as were several other men that day? Was another of them the petite, topless guy with a locked collar around his neck who was helping his much taller female partner run her stall? Were the dutiful partners following their girlfriends around as they excitedly scanned the stalls really calculating sexists waiting to reap the rewards of all this underwear their unsuspecting female partners had been duped into buying...and were they going to be disappointed if their girlfriends instead only chose to buy a necklace that said "FUCK YOU" (one of my friends' purchases from the day) or a cruet set that said "METH" and "COKE" (another friend's purchase that day)? Were the male performers onstage also victims of the patriarchy in some roundabout way, or interlopers here only to spy on all that exposed female flesh...even if it meant exposing most of their flesh too? 

I just didn't see anything to get one's spangly knickers in a twist about. I saw women running businesses, and other women supporting those businesses. I saw female friendships being formed and strengthened. I saw bodies being presented in a sexual yet fun way, and real bodies, bodies that made me feel good and less self-conscious about my own pale skin, my wobbly bits, my average-sized boobs, the rolls on my stomach. I saw a lack of fake tan, a lack of perfectly round breasts that stick straight out instead of being shaped more like half-moons and actually responding to gravity, a lack of underwear so groin-slicingly skimpy that retaining any of one's pubes would be an impossibility, and as a result of this, I felt at home. I felt comfortable. I felt like I saw my body and my sexuality more accurately represented here than I ever would see in the world of mainstream porn.

And next time I go, I'm wearing that sailor suit. ;)