Are You Kinky? The Anniversary Edition

Happy Birthday to me! Happy Birthday to me! It’s been a whole year since I started this blog! I am so proud of myself for sticking with it. Yay me. And thank you so much all you lovely readers who share your thoughts and let me know when you like my posts 😀

I don’t know why I started this blog. I guess it was the overwhelming urge to get my writing out there, because I have stuff to say and I think people should listen GODDAMMIT! My most popular post, by far, has been ‘I Don’t Want To Have Sex’ and I have found that very encouraging. It seems that I am not the only one to feel the queer community still privileges one way of being sexual over another.

One year later and I am still – surprise! – really annoyed about this. So I decided to post this. Let’s call it the ‘I Don’t Want To Have Sex Anniversary Rant.’ In which I examine further the assumption that all queers are kinky, poly and into public sex. Read on:

Emailing an acquaintance recently to get the queer lowdown on the new city, I got a quick reply. “Are you kinky?” was the opening sentence. The message proceeded to list some sex and play parties that weekend, as well as some Halloween themed events. (Yay lesbian wiccans!). While I appreciate, so much, this stranger’s willingness to connect, this casual reply immediately got my (feminist) goat. It brought up so many questions for me: Why do we assume that all queers are kinky? Is this an appropriate question to ask another, queer, stranger? Why was I so annoyed? Am I just jealous because I’m not getting any? And, challengingly, am I just a prude?

I felt that answering ‘yes’ to this question would allow me to jump straight into the Montreal queer scene, no holds barred. Answering no would immediately exclude me from all the queer events I had just been invited to. As it is, I politely answered yes, I am kinky, but no, I’m not interested in the parties.

“Is this what being queer is all about?”

You could argue that, given the super sexual parameters of the queer communitythis is an appropriate question to ask. In this case, it’s not so much the question itself I want to challenge, rather the assumption a certain shared sexual behaviour that makes the question socially acceptable in the first place. I am not sure what to call this assumption. Sexual privilege? I’m-a-better-queer-because-I-do-it-in-dungeons?

Kink seems to be an access-all-areas pass to the queer community. For me, the queer community’s emphasis on sex doesn’t only come from its history as a group united by our alternative sexualities. It also comes from a misinterpretation of sex positive feminism. At its core, sex positivity is about being OK with your own sexuality. It’s about behaving in sexual ways that feel healthy to you. Yes, sex positivity does recognise that consensual practices of BDSM and other marginalised sexual practices can be healthy. Yes, sex positivity knows that some porn is feminist and empowering. But sex positivity does not entail promoting one type of sexual behaviour over another. And this is exactly what I see happening in the queer community, to the detriment of the sexual health of its members.

Image courtesy of Dinosaur Comics

Sex positivity is too often mistranslated as an assumption that all sex is good, and that traditionally marginalised sexual practices are better. This just isn’t true for everyone. Once again, in embracing the underdog we have pushed other people to the margins, simply for not having the ‘right’ sexual practices. Sex positivity has to recognise that sex and play parties are not safe spaces for all queers. That some queers don’t want to have kinky sex, or any sex at all. Some queers don’t want to hear about your fisting practices while they’re trying to eat their vegan potluck. As one commentator on my blog said, “there’s a difference between sex positive and sex dominant!” (thanks Nat R!).

As many of you know, while working out my own shit I have decided to not date for a while. I don’t want to go to play or sex parties and I am not interested in talking in detail about other people’s sex lives. Relationships, sexuality and sex remain fascinating to me. I just don’t want to talk about who you are going to fuck tonight or my own sexual adventures. For me, this is a profoundly healthy choice. It recognises that there are things in my life I need to examine and I need to take time out to do that. However, this choice is not recognised by the queer community. The fact that nearly all queer spaces are super sexed means that I feel uncomfortable in many of them. Sure, it’s great that we have DIY sex toy workshops and sex parties at our feminist festivals, but is this what being queer is all about?

“There’s a difference between being sex positive and sex dominant”

For me, a sex-positive environment would be one which recognises that the choice to not have sex can be healthy and feminist. For me, a sex positive environment would be one that doesn’t confuse queerness with kinkiness. It would be a space in which I feel safe and supported while I choose to be less sexual. This isn’t the environment I have experienced in queer spaces.

gratuitous cat image

Sex positivity should encourage us to engage in sexual behaviours and practises that work for us, rather than feel pressured, like so many of us do, to present ‘cool’ sexual behaviours. It should support us when we opt out of sex temporarily or permanently. Sex positivity is about cultivating and adopting sexual practices that feel healthy for us.  It’s not about falling into a way of having sex that is about the cool way to be queer.

How can we say queer is an umbrella term, when so many of our allies and friends are left outside in the rain?

Personally, I am not at all interested in proscribing what ‘queer’ or feminist sexuality should look like. It disappoints me that queer is.

I don’t want a queer community that gets its superiority kicks from putting other people down. I don’t want a community that pitches poly against monogamy and marriage. I don’t want a community that says kinky people are breaking social taboos and adventuring into new sexual fields, while so-called ‘vanilla’ folk are blinded by tradition. I don’t want a queer community that says heterosexuality and anything that looks like it is sexist and that homos are here to save straights from the limits of their own imaginations. I want a community that has space for the expression and sexual (or not) behaviours of a plethora of people. I really want all the freaks.

This privileging of one way of having sex and assigning sex a leading role in the queer community strikes me as a bit stupid. It ignores the fact that there are asexual people in the community. It ignores the fact that nearly every sexual person goes through times in their lives when they are less sexual. How can we set ourselves up as the vanguard of sexual acceptance when we intentionally exclude people from our groups for their sexual expressions? How dare we say our history lies in the development of queer as an umbrella term, when so many of our allies and friends are left outside in the rain?

Sometimes I think that us queers are so concerned with making ourselves look good that we engage in I’m-cooler-than-you-so-there kink contests. Loud conversations about how much sex where going to have and how reek to me of playground posturing. It’s as if we’re a bunch of peacocks strutting around trying to attract a mate. Actually, I guess that’s EXACTLY what we’re doing! But, again, it’s not just about getting laid. It’s also about proving how cool we are. I am sick of it. When are we going to grow up?

When I published my first post that critiqued the hypersexuality of the queer community one year ago, I got some very defensive reactions. Some people seemed offended by my critique of queer as a hypersexual space and ran to defend the status quo by suggesting that, hey, that’s just the way queers are and implying that I am the odd-one-out for not being the same. But others, the majority in fact, thanked me for talking about a huge aspect of living in the queer community that goes largely unchallenged.

If we were all super sexual beings then this norm would be just fine. If we all enjoyed going to play parties and having public sex then there wouldn’t be a need for this article. But the fact is that queers are – shock horror! – different. In fact, the right to express and live one’s sexuality how one wants, in a way that is true to oneself, might be called the founding rock of the queer community. As my imaginary Queer Charter puts it, the freedom to express one’s sexuality is a fundamental human right.

I would appreciate knowing what the rest of you think about this. Do you agree there is a tendency to privilege poly and kinky sexual expressions in the queer community? How do you imagine different sexual expressions such as asexuality and BDSM can share queer spaces? What would your ideal queer community look like? I would also like to thank all the lovely commentators on my first article about this, one whole year ago. It’s nice to hear your voices and I have learnt a lot from you.

Related posts:

I don’t want to have sex

Polyamorous is Not a Noun

Queers are Slutty, Lesbians are Boring

Queer vs. Radical Feminism: the Hoedown

Queers are Slutty, Lesbians are Boring

Why queer feminism is sexist, queer snobbery and, somehow, the Grand Prix.

Well, that was a bit ugly wasn’t it? All that fighting about the Berlin Femme Show. Meow, meow. I admit, swearing publicly on my blog wasn’t the best move, but it was the accumulation of years of femme hatred and misunderstanding and I was just sick of it and lost my temper. However, just like Nina Simone, I am a fluffy little kitten on the inside and I don’t want to be misunderstood. Oh well, on to the next topic.

Earlier this week I wrote a review of queer porno Mommy is Coming. It’s a pretty straightforward film with lots of sex and solid, quite funny, storyline. If you feel so inclined, I think you should go see it. However, something about it irked me a bit, and I’d like to talk about it more here.

The popularity of my post on hypersexualisation within the queer community obviously touched a raw nerve for many of you. A lot of you agreed that you felt pressure to want to and to have a lot of sex in order to fit in the queer scene. It seems, that in order to be a hip queer in the 21st century, you need to be very sexual and sexual in a certain way. I know that I’ve talked about the hypersexualisation of queer and the privileging of polyamory a fair bit already, but what can I say? I’m still not over it.

“Queer is an ideal that none of us feel we can reach”

Last year I attended a zine workshop run by a friend. Each participant was asked to make a page for a collaborative zine for Lad.i.y.fest Berlin. We weren’t asked to focus on a particular topic, but given that this was a group of mostly queers at a feminist festival, nearly all of us wrote about our queer identities, which, of course, we probably all see as feminist. It was really fascinating to see a group of people, with hardly any prior guidance, all create pieces about their struggle to fit in the queer community and coming out as queer. One person wrote about feeling outcast as a bisexual, another a celebration of polyamory. I, of course, went on an angry femme rant. Diverse as they were, it took my friend’s perspective to see what all of these pieces had in common. She summarised – lifting her hand above her head – it seems that queer is an idea we think of as up here, and we – she moved her hand down to her waist – feel that we can’t get at it and are stuck down here. Queer is an ideal that none of us feel we can reach.

This idea has stuck with me over the past year and come up again and again as I keep hitting wall upon wall within the queer community: femmephobia, the privileging of polyamory over monogamy, queer masculinities over queer femininities and BDSM over so-called ‘vanilla’ sex. Although we queers congratulate ourselves on living by radical ideas that eliminate sexist and patriarchal hierarchies, we too create hierarchies that cause us to push away individuals who don’t conform to our standards.

Can any of us, as queers, say that we feel 100% comfortable in the queer community? I certainly don’t.

Of course, I know that many of you lovely readers are super intelligent. I know that many queers understand that the queer community can never be a happy patriarchy-free bubble, because this is the world we live in. And the trouble with the patriarchy is that it gets everywhere. But I do think we rest on our laurels too much. We are a bit too self-congratulatory and too quick to exclude anyone who doesn’t fit the queer bill.

Over the past few months I have come to distrust the phrase ‘queer feminism.’ In fact, when I hear an event described as queer feminist, I am most likely to grumble and not want to go. This is because the values I see queer feminism representing here in Berlin are actually ones that I find sexist. Queer feminism, has, for me, come to mean a party where I will be the only femme and I will be ignored. No one will hit on me and I will struggle to find anyone who looks like me. I’ll smile if I see anyone wearing a bit of make-up, a hint of colour. The only trans represented at these parties will be transmasculinities.

 “I started to notice that calling myself a lesbian was distinctly uncool”

When I came out for the second time as bisexual (I had come out as a lesbian before, and then promptly fallen in love with a guy), I did so not because I really felt bisexual (I thought of the guy moment as a freak accident rather than a possibly recurring event) but because it was the cool thing to say. As a girl, it was OK for me to come out as bisexual because that wasn’t seen as threatening to the heterosexist status quo. As a bisexual woman, I still had one foot in the hetero pond, and everyone knows that girls can’t really fuck each other anyway. It took a lot of courage, and it was a very slow process, for me to later come out as lesbian, an identity that I found fitted me better.

Later, moving to Montreal and getting my first taste of living within a queer community, I started to notice that calling myself a lesbian was distinctly uncool here too. Real queers have fluid sexualities and don’t focus on such unimportant things as gender. Real queers love the person, not the gender. It became very fashionable to say, “Man, I experience my sexuality as fluid” (except without the ‘Man’, because actually if you were cool you wouldn’t sound like someone trying to imitate a rap star from the 90s, like I do). I get the whole sexuality is fluid idea. My own sexuality has changed faster than a tyre in the Grand Prix and I don’t think it’s my job to dictate someone else’s desires for them. However, I don’t like snobbery and such statements, with their implied I’m-a-better-queer-than-you, really piss me off.

So, how does all this relate to Mommy is Coming and queer porn? In my review of the film, I noted that although it showed some fine butch-femme and butch-butch sex, its view of what ‘queer sex’ is still felt pretty limited to me.

As queers and/or lesbians, what you will, we are starved for representation in film. There are still very few films out there about us, and even fewer that don’t pathologise us completely in order to ease heterosexist angst about queers taking over the world. Mainstream films about us portray us as fucked-up power lesbians who have non-penetrative sex on flowery beds next to our teddy bears. So it’s not surprising that our community-made queer films tend to go in the opposite direction. BDSM, dildos, public sex and leather. However, just like being a lesbian is uncool, it feels to me like the prevalence of these types of sex and relationships in queer films show a one-sided view of queer life. They seem to be saying that this is the epitome of what it means to fuck and love as a queer. If you’re a cool queer, this is what you’ll be doing in your bed/dungeon/swing tonight.

As a reader commented on my latest article:

“In the same way rad fem lesbian separatism did a fine job of ostracising certain women based on an essentialist reading of bodies, I find that far too much ‘queer’ culture and porn is doing exactly this again under a different banner”

Thanks, supernaut, for summarising so well. It seems that, instead of living in a happy-go-lucky world free of sexism and social norms, we queers are enforcing social norms in exactly the same way as the big evil Patriarchy Dude does ‘out there.’ Queer films promote polyamorous relationships, public sex and BDSM as a privileged viewpoint.

Contrast this with the fluffy-bunny-rabbit version of lesbianism we see in mainstream L-films, and you get a kind of kinky devil versus innocent angel version of gay life. Queers are leather-touting bois, lesbians are asexual little girls. It’s pretty interesting that these two images mirror the virgin/whore dichotomy, (not to mention masculinities vs. femininities) right?

My point here isn’t to slate Mommy is Coming, or to write a harsh critique of the few queer and mainstream lesbian films we have. I just want to point out that, yes, we do put too much pressure on each film to represent how we live our lives, and, yes, there aren’t enough films about us. So, budding queer filmmakers, who’s ready to take up the challenge?

Did you like this article? Then stay tuned for: Radical vs. Queer feminism; the showdown, next week.

Mommy is Coming…

…to Berlin. Europe’s ‘queer capital’ hosts a new film that is definitely not your average porno. Mommy is Coming is showing at Moviemiento Kino until Monday 26th March.

I know, I know, I’ve been a bit awol recently. I blame all the amazing femme organising I’ve been doing. But, not to worry, I am now back in cyber world with a review of an awesome new queer film. Plus, expect updates on the Berlin Femme Show and pics soon! Now, without further ado, let’s talk about porn…

Last week I went to see a new queer porn film at local Berlin cinema Moviemiento. First aired at the 62th Berlinale this February, last week saw its official German premiere.  Mommy is Coming isn’t your average porno. It feels more like a story-based film, which happens to have a lot of hot sex in it.

To be quite honest, my expectations of queer films aren’t that high. I watch them for the affirmation I get from seeing my way of life up there on the big screen. I watch them because, finally, I can enjoy sex scenes without the dissonance of having to imagine a hot butch in the role of the guy on the screen. I also enjoy spotting the queers I have met in real-life on the silver screen (Gaymous!). But it is a familiar complaint among dykes that I know that films about us are often not very good.

Our community is starved for attention and representation. It’s a long-running joke among lesbians that films about our lives are generally below standard. If they’re a mainstream film they generally feature slim, white, feminine lesbians exchanging chaste kisses and having oral, non-penetrative sex. Sometimes a finger or two works its way into the lover’s vagina, but God forbid that sex between women involve anything as exciting as a dildo or other sex toy! While, of course, lots of women do enjoy this dynamic, it’s certainly not the whole word in queer eroticism.

U.S. Comedienne Margaret Cho on her first time with a woman

Watching lesbian movies as a baby dyke I was seriously unimpressed. Is this what my sex life as a lesbian was going to be like? Was I supposed to roll around in not-very-excessive ecstasy while another girl went down on me to bad indie pop? Maybe it would be better to be straight after all? At least then I would get some motherfucking penetration!

When I think of the mainstream, accepted representation of lesbian sex it makes me pretty mad. I am convinced that the cutesie, ‘oh look they’re really just kittens’ (it’s all that rubbing) sex scenes serve to ease cultural anxiety that women might not need a guy to fulfil their erotic needs. If there’s no cock involved, then it’s OK. Because we all know that what a woman really needs is a good fucking. I remember one of my friends saying to me that she would be a lesbian if she wouldn’t miss cock too much. And you know what, at the time I thought she had a point! Who wants to be a dyke when it means all you get is some light kissing and frottage?

I know it’s been said to death, but 2010’s The Kids Are All Right is a perfect example of ‘it ain’t sex unless there’s a – biological – cock’. This romantic comedy about a lesbian couple’s relationship to the sperm-donor father of their children was portrayed in mainstream media as the pro-gay film of the year. At last, a positive portrayal of ‘normal’ lesbian love. Erm, no! The only hot sex scenes in the film are when Julianne Moore cheats on her partner with the sexy, irresponsible sperm donor. I mean, who wouldn’t choose Mark Ruffalo on a motorcycle over neurotic Annette Benning in a sweatshirt? Juli gets to do it doggy style several times with Mark, but the only time her and Annette even vaguely get jiggy with it, it’s a fumble under the covers with a vibrator while watching gay porn. Even this ‘happy’ couple need to spice up their boring sex life with some good old cock. The fact that the lesbians in this apparently pro-lesbo film need to watch gay porn in order to get off says everything you need to know about what we think of lesbians and sex.

But maybe there’s another way of looking at The Kids Are All Right.  It’s no coincidence that Mark Ruffalo on his vintage BMW bike looks like more of a dyke than businesswoman Annette Benning. Annette portrays your mainstream, trouser suit-wearing lesbian who can’t really get her girl off in bed, while Mark emanates the raw sexuality of James Dean in Rebel Without A Cause. And what does James Dean look like? Why, of course, a butch dyke!

Dykes on Bikes: James Dean vs. Mark Ruffalo

I remember watching a film about butch masculinity a few years ago which made a pretty convincing argument that famous Hollywood stars like Dean and Marlon Brando have the same kind of masculinity as butch dykes. Unfortunately I can’t remember its name, but its message (and the homoeroticism of Elvis in Jailhouse Rock) really stuck with me. As a teenager I was obsessed with the young Leonardo DiCaprio and I have since noticed that a lot of our Hollywood heartthrobs look like boyish girls. Think of the babyfaced beauty of Robert Pattinson in Twilight with his pouty red lips and smooth skin. It’s exactly the kind of beauty I see in butch women.

So maybe virile Mark Ruffalo with his cheeky charm and motorcycle is some kind of unconscious representation of butch cock? Without wanting to get too queer film theory on you, this idea leads me back to Mommy is Coming. Mommy is Coming is definitely not your average queer film. Its actors are ‘real-life’ queers and have pretty varied genders. Not only do I, lucky girl, get to see some butch-femme sex, but there’s also a pretty hot butch/transmasculine threesome and the whole film is permeated with the kinky dynamics of BDSM. This queer porno definitely doesn’t buy into mainstream ideas about lesbian sex, thank God, and manages to combine romance, hotness and sexual exploration in one fiction film/porno bundle.

It’s true that Mommy is Coming is made for a relatively small audience. I can’t imagine it getting the relatively mainstream distribution of romantic comedy Kissing Jessica Stein or the ‘lesbians are psychopaths’ Hollywood hit Monster. And maybe the fact that it is aimed at a specifically queer audience gives it more freedom. It’s not trying to appease cultural anxiety about queers, in fact, it’s probably trying to do the opposite. But it is a relief to walk into a cinema and see some sexy queer sex on the big screen for a change.

So, maybe we should make Mommy is Coming required viewing for all the closeted teenagers out there. We can show them that being a lesbian, or trans, or queer, isn’t always about gentle patting between floral sheets, but can involve some pretty mind-blowing sexual adventures. I know that I would have appreciated someone telling teenage me that there was more than one way of having queer sex. It would have saved me a lot of anxiety about my future sex life and maybe I would have jumped into my new queer life with more sexual abandon. Seriously, someone needs to destroy these stereotypes and Mommy is Coming is a step in the right direction.

Mommy is Coming is showing in Berlin for one more week only. Go see it at Moviemiento, Kottbusser Damm 22, Berlin-Kreuzberg. You won’t be sorry!

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Stills from the film

‘welcome to our world’

‘Every person who works in the sex industry has a different story, has come to this profession for different reasons and lives it in a different way. Owing to this, all generalisations made about prostitution are necessarily false and do not do justice to those who live this reality day to day.’

– ‘Le prix des toutes choses’ excerpt, Bains des Plaisirs, author unknown

As I walk back from the freezing pier, I notice a dark doorway framed by a string of bright yellow lights. Red velvet curtains hang around the square, as though this were the entrance to a circus show. I walk past, stop. Go back. I guess, from one point of view, my association wasn’t that far off the mark.

I go down some steps and through the doorway. In the dark hallway is a row of cabins, which I later realise are the old changing rooms for the public baths. On the left the same string lights vaguely illuminate bunches of flyers laid on a wood shelf. On the right, the cabin doors are open. A triad of fluorescent green strip lights shine at the  end of the hallway. They look very far away. I peek into the first cabin on my right. It is tiny; barely large enough to get changed. In it is a small gold mirror with a neon pink bra dangling from the shelf below. On the walls are framed pictures of women’s grooming products; a comb, more underwear. Each is hot pink. The plaque on the doorway starts ‘Chaque personne qui travaille dans l’industrie du sexe... [Every person who works in the sex industry…].’

A pleasant surprise. I have stumbled into an exhibition on sex work created by those who actually work in it.

Les Pâquis in Geneva is, historically, home to the city’s sex trade. At nighttime sex workers share the streets with the punters of gay night clubs. The area is called the bohemian quarter of Geneva. I wonder about this historical connection between sex workers and queers. Haven’t the two communities mixed, shared the same oppression? Isn’t this still the case? Walking from my hotel to the lake, I notice a couple of organisations for gay youth and smile at the street art that says ‘Respect means treating someone well, even when you don’t like them.’

This exhibition has been organised by artists, sex-workers and Les Bains des Pâquis, Geneva’s public baths, in collaboration with Aspasie, a Swiss organisation that works to promote the rights of and educate sex workers. It comprises the work of 25 different artists, some sex workers, some sex photographers, and seeks to represent the associations mainstream society has with sex work as well as to give some of the sex workers’ points of view. On each advent day in December, a cabin was unlocked and the work of one artist revealed to the general public. By the time I wandered in at the beginning of January, the exhibition was about to close. But that meant I got to see all 25 cabins.

“the exhibition suggests that the respectable and those who are disrespected are not as far apart as we like to think”

It was probably intentional to put the exhibition in a place frequented at daytime by ‘respectable’ families, but which is only 100 metres away from the boulevard where sex workers walk at night. It is, after all, the city’s tourists, diplomats and the well-to-do daytime visitors who form the sex workers’ clientele. I like the shock-factor of the exhibition, its blunt suggestion that these two worlds – the respectable and those who are disrespected– are not as far apart as we like to think. Like all other social categorisations which sustain the status quo and power of a few, these social classes are co-dependent.

Returning a few times over that day and the next, I see a few families, both Swiss and tourists, wandering through the exhibit. Children – ‘Dad, look! What is that?’ – pointing at the blown-up condoms which surround an open letter from sex workers to their clients (‘wear one and keep us all safer’) and their fathers’ nervous responses. Some viewers laughed openly, some took the photos of women in underwear for pure titillation, others wandered through slowly, like I. Despite the fact that not all the visitors I observed really seemed to appreciate the exhibition’s politics, the show was politically effective in itself. It would be hard to walk through that exhibition without gathering that it was about sex workers and without recognising that these workers have a voice. Even if you didn’t stop to listen for long.

While also erotic, the exhibition manages to suggest to the average punter (let’s face it, as a feminist activist, I’m not that average) that, perhaps, these women aren’t just for looking at. Not just for consumption. They, too, have something to say. I imagine that most visitors would have been challenged on some level by the artwork, and I appreciated this confrontation.

The cabins suggests circus cages and glory holes; the voyeurism of the freakshow and the collaboration involved in cottaging”

The exhibition was excellently curated. Walking down the steps into a dark hallway lit only by lamps, fairy lights and the strip lights at the end, gave the impression of entering a dark, seedy underworld. The dark corridor, the use of red lighting, water dripping onto our heads. Walking through the red curtains reminded me of what I had learnt about turn-of-the-century freakshows. People with physical ‘anomalies’ such as bearded women, intersex people, were exhibited alongside the strong man and sword swallower. The cabins on one side with their naughty invitation to peek in suggested circus cages and glory holes. Both the voyeurism of the freakshow and the collaboration involved in cottaging. Come, stranger, to our exhibition of worldy wonderments and natural curiosities. Whores and dwarves. Meet the underworld. In the late 1900s, New Yorkers used to call this slumming. Rich men and women would pay a guide to show them the working-class tenements of the slums. They would get the thrill of living a bohemian life while still having the comforts of a richer life to return to. Of course, this still exists today, in various forms. Tourism in third-world countries. The Berlin art scene, anyone?!

The halfway point of the exhibition’s unfolding was also marked by the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers on 17th December. Perfect timing.

I wander further down the dripping hallway. Free cartons of condoms, their contents long gone. I am glad someone has used them. In one cabin is a lighthouse. The silhouette of a man goes round and round chasing a clockwork woman. He is crouching; the evil wolf; she runs away, arms thrown up mouth open. A cartoon scene of danger and a play on the idea of the sexual predator. I smile.

Another cabin is wholly covered by partially inflated condoms. Some of the condoms are filled with small plastic pipes. On the far wall is a pink poster, hard to read. It is an open letter from Geneva’s sex workers to their clients. Please, agree to wear condoms. In this time of HIV, we all need to be safe. The condom-balloons remind me of my own, more-light-hearted burlesque performance with its related safer sex message.

I walk past the strip lights and emerge into the light. I pass blue painted doors and stand at the end of the pier, looking at Geneva’s old town across the lake. Seagulls are in a feeding frenzy on the water. Cold, I go to the cafe, buy a tea and sit by the log fire. I am safe and warm, looking out at the water.

dating, sexy consent and a question…

I have been so happy with readers’ responses to posts on this blog. When I don’t want to have sex went off the wall, with, like, a million hits in one day (ok, that’s an exaggeration) it became clear to me that lots of other people feel pressured to be sexual or be sexual in a certain way, in order to try and fit into the queer community. Thank you so much for all your comments. You have given me much food for feminist thought. Now I would like to broaden the topic and think about pressures around sexuality which exist in every aspect of society, even if they play out in slightly different ways. And one thing that has really been getting my goat recently (great expression), is other people’s expectations of me in the context of dating.

My slight feminist obsession with gender, sex and sexuality has led me to do a lot of outreach work on these subjects with young people. In Montreal I worked with both a sexual assault centre and an LGBT organisation along the lines of Berlin’s ABqueer to talk to first-year university students about sexual consent and intimacy. I used the same workshops to adapt the government’s qualification on sexual health in the UK. Discussing sex and dating with young people in London and Canada has given me a lot of insight into the expectations we are taught to have when we go on a date or bring someone back to our place. I believe that both men and women feel an excessive pressure to have sex, to follow a dating ‘script,’ which leads them to act out of peer pressure rather than to listen to and follow their own desires.

“Kisses in the movies will lead to beautifully choreographed missionary position sex without so much as an ‘is this OK for you?'”

In the workshops I lead with teenagers, we discuss an imaginary encounter between two people in order to think about what sexual expectations we have of others. The scenario goes something like this: two people meet at a party. They are either opposite or same-sex depending on the group, and of course the gender of the two people often leads the group to interpret their behaviour accordingly. These two imaginary teenagers like each other and they go back to one of their, say the guy’s, apartment. After a little while, the other person, say the woman, says that she doesn’t want to stay the night and wants to go home. She gives the guy a goodnight kiss, which he interprets as a sign that she has changed her mind and starts to remove her clothing. One thing leads to another and they end up having sex. The next day she feels really uncomfortable. What went wrong?

The groups’ response to this scenario can vary surprisingly, but generally the following ideas come up. The group will often jump to the defense of the man, saying it’s not his fault that this happened, that she should have said ‘no.’ Or that she is ‘leading him on’ by kissing him. This immediate defensive reaction is interesting, because it implies that we, the facilitators, are trying to blame someone for what happened. In fact, the purpose of this exercise is to find out how this scenario could have been avoided. How could these two people have negotiated the situation in order to make sure this misunderstanding didn’t happen?

“What if the guy thought he should have sex because his friends would call him gay?”

I have run similar workshops with LGBT youth groups, Muslim boy groups and Jewish girl groups, from private schools to council estates in East London. With a pretty varied bunch of people, really. And the same ideas always come up. This idea that a woman should be the defender of her sexuality falls in with the stereotype of the man as the sexual actor and the woman as the sexual receiver. A man’s role is to try and get as much sex as possible, and a woman’s role is to try and defend her virginity, ‘purity,’ not be a slut, whatever. There is the assumption that the man will, naturally, want to have as much sex as possible. Even in LGBT groups, there is the assumption that we all, men, women or queers, want to have as much sex as possible and if you don’t, then it is your responsibility to say no. It’s not very often that someone in the group will bring up the possibility that maybe neither of these people wanted to have sex at all. That maybe the guy, or girl, proceeded to remove the other person’s clothing because s/he thought s/he should. Because that’s just what you do in these situations. Flirting leads to kissing and kissing leads to sex. Naturally.

I love it when some wonderful person says, but what if the guy didn’t want to have sex? What if he thought he should have sex because otherwise his friends would call him a loser, a pussy, gay? A classic example of how sexism hurts men too. Depending on the level of the group, we try to discuss why people feel a pressure to have sex, where this pressure comes from, and what we can do to make communication between lovers more clear. Because our sexual interactions rely on a lot of assumptions. There’s a script. Literally. Look at lovers on the silver screen and their kisses will lead to beautifully choreographed missionary position sex without so much as an ‘is this OK for you?’. And when we get our ideas about romance from movies is it such a surprise that our sexual communication is so fucked up? Looking at Hollywood couples you would assume that they can communicate telepathically, their kisses and moves are so in tune. And do you know why this is? It’s because they are choreographed by a team of film makers whose job is to maintain this illusion of romantic perfection.

No matter how feminist, or ‘liberated’ we think we are, we still try to follow this ideal. This Hollywood dream. No wonder our sex lives are so hard, so full of miscommunications, because we, actually, don’t really communicate. If only we did have psychic insight into our lovers’ desires. I’ll stare into your eyes and I will magically know that now you want me to kiss your neck, suck your toes, whatever… It would make this whole sex thing a lot easier!

It’s not only teenagers who feel the pressure to follow a sexual script. This idea that ‘one thing leads to another’ came up in my life quite recently, much to my surprise. It turns out even super awesome feminist youth workers like myself aren’t immune to breakdowns in sexual communication! A few months ago, I was flirting at a party with a cute person and I kissed her, in a spirit of spontaneity. I didn’t want to go home with her, I didn’t want to see her again, I just wanted to kiss her. So I did (And I asked first). I was criticised the next day by someone else for leading the other person on. Sending mixed signals. Being a bitch, because I had told this cute person that I didn’t want to see her again. And this really hurt me. It turned out that, apparently, I wasn’t allowed to be in control of my sexuality. I wasn’t allowed to do what I wanted. I had to follow someone else’s idea of what a kiss means, and ignore my own desires. I had deviated from the sexual script, and boy was I punished for it.

“Would you like to step into my boudoir…?”

Worried whether my behaviour really had been all that bad, I asked the girl I kissed if that had been OK for her. And she said, yeah, it was totally fine. No problem. So, neither of the two people involved in ‘the kiss’ had any problem with it all just stopping there. It was actually an observer who had nothing to do with it at all who found the whole sexual interaction offensive.

So, it’s not just the teenagers in the scenario who feel peer pressure to have sex, it’s queers like myself too. It’s pretty much everyone, actually.

These days I am exploring how I can communicate with my lovers to reduce the number of miscommunications that happen. The workshops I run always finish with a discussion about consent. How you have to talk with a lover in order to express what you want, ask what the other person wants, and to negotiate something that you are both happy with. That relying on telepathic Hollywood brainwaves really doesn’t work. Now this might all be a bit Sexual Consent 101 to some of you readers out there, but as my own experiences have shown me, consent is necessary in every actively sexual person’s lives (unless you’re having sex with yourself, in which case you can communicate telepathically what you want!).

And now, in the interest of improving all our sex lives, I have a question. Who can think of some sexy consent questions? I am always trying to think of cute new ways to ask for a kiss, a fuck etc. and sometimes my attempts are called sweet or endearing, but rarely hot. It would be awesome if you could leave your ideas in the comments below. Maybe together we’ll be able to think of some awesome new phrases… Can I jiggle your schizzle (I have no idea what this means)? Would you like to step into my boudoir and check out my awesome new selection of ticklers? See, I’m not very good at this… Help me!

happy xxxmas: i’ve been a very bad girl…

So Santa please won’t you get me something naughty? Erm, I blame catching the xxx-mas bug on being on Oxford Street in London right now. BIG NEWS guys! Copies of the Dressed Like That zine are now up for sale in Berlin at my friends’ awesome sex shop Other Nature. So now you can go buy eco, vegan sex toys and pick up some fine literature along the way. What more could you want? Zines cost €5, which isn’t bad for 44 pages of fem(me)inism. Christmas presents anyone?

more fun than xmas dinner

Don’t forget, a fully translated (German/English) edition of Dressed Like That will be out next year, just in time for the release party. To find out more, sign up for email updates using the button on the right!

polyamorous is not a noun

A couple of years ago I had a polyamorous relationship with someone who is just about as geeky as me. We would have long conversations about cocks and sex and polyamory. This was my first poly experience and I had a bit of trouble with it. I continually struggled with the question of whether or not I was jealous of their existing relationship and how I felt about having sex with someone who had just been with their other lover. It was an experiment. After we broke up, I thought that it hadn’t worked because I was a monogamous person.

When I said to a friend that I wanted to talk to her about my relationship because she is a polyamorous person, she said, well, I’m not polyamorous, I prefer to be in polyamorous relationships. Which made me realise that I had been using polyamorous and monogamous as nouns. As though to be polyamorous or monogamous are faits accomplis; something inherent to who you are.

“I find the assumption that someone else knows more about my sexuality than I do offensive”

This idea of polyamorous as something definite and fixed scared me away from exploring poly relationships after our break-up. I assumed that polyamory was just something that some people were, a fixed identity. And how can I challenge that?  This concept of poly as something inherent made me feel like I wasn’t allowed to explore relationships on an individual basis. It made it sound like people have a singular sexuality, relationships have fixed dynamics and this is just how it is. Another opposition for me to deal with. Male/female, straight/queer, polyamorous/monogamous.

I have a bit of a problem with binaries.

As I said in the comments on last week’s post, I have got the very strong impression from fellow queers that my desire to be monogamous means there there is something wrong with me. That I haven’t worked out my issues. Some of the zines and books I have read on poly suggest the same thing; jealousy comes from insecurities and our natural sexual state as humans is to be polyamorous. If you just worked your shit out then you would be happy being poly. And while I acknowledge that some people are happiest being poly, I find the assumption that someone else knows more about my sexuality than I do a little bit offensive. A friend of mine recently said to me, ‘I really want to be in a monogamous relationship but I know that’s because I’ve been brainwashed. I know it’s my problem.’ Actually, no, wanting to be monogamous is not a problem. It doesn’t make you, her or me any less feminist, sane or intelligent. It is a legitimate desire.

“Why would I want to change myself in order to live up to someone else’s sexual standard?”

I have begun to notice that when I meet people they assume things about me. A lot of people think that I will be into BDSM, even though I’ve never had a conversation with them about this. ‘Did I see you at the Easter Conference? Were you at that sex party? Want to come to my bondage class?’ Even as a kinky person who is into BDSM, this assumption jars with me. Because it seems to come from this idea that kinky is the cool thing to be. It equates being queer with being kinky in the same way as some people call poly ‘natural.’ Queers are kinky, queers are poly. In fact, I wonder if my recent exploration of my attraction to hetero cis men comes from an assumption that as straight dudes they will not want to be poly!

I have this problem where I try to please other people, even at the cost of putting my own needs second. I want to fit in with the crowd and I want people to like me. People assume I will want to go to sex parties, that I will be into BDSM and polyamorous. I think that I am most comfortable in monogamous relationships. These are the kinds of relationships that I have always wanted. Why would I want to change myself in order to live up to someone else’s sexual standard? Surely the right to own our sexuality has to include the right to not have sex, the right to be vanilla and the right to be in monogamous relationships. As a group that consciously explores questions around gender, sex and relationships, we queers think a lot about the implications of our sexual behaviour and the relationships we form. And as a feminist and someone who is a little bit obsessed with gender, I find this exciting and important. However, we can’t dictate what is right for other people. My understanding of queer has always been that it is an ‘umbrella’ term that includes various genders and sexualities. Maybe it’s human nature to form group norms, to decide what is and isn’t cool and judge people accordingly. But I would like us to go back to this old school meaning: queer is whatever you want it to be. I don’t want to be cool anymore.

Coming soon: ‘tits and tassles part 2: i’ll show you mine’