‘I wore a corset; he wore jeans’ A.K.A. Why do men assume I’m dressed for their entertainment?

Hey guys! So, some of you may know this already, but I have a one year working visa for Canadia! Woop, woop! This means that I will sadly be leaving Berlin in 10 days, forever and ever and ever. Until I come to visit at least. It’s truly been a blast being here. Truly. I think I will blog about all the things I have learnt over my past 2 years here and post it soon. However, first things first. If you haven’t seen me perform and you want to, next Saturday is your last chance! I will be doing a solo at Berlin’s Trash-Deluxe. Sneaky sneak preview: I will be doing something involving oil and condoms. Oh, yeah.

Now, back to business. In this, the first of two posts on sexual norms at parties, I describe my adventures at an erotic salon. I ask, what dynamics do we agree to when we go to erotic spaces? Who is doing the looking at these events and how do we negotiate consent?

Last night I went to an erotic performance party. All in all, I am really glad I went. I got to see beautiful women doing bondage play and hang out in a small studio, where they showed silent porn films from the twenties in the cellar downstairs (so tempting to make silly voiceovers). I drank absinthe with flaming sugar dropped into the glass and chilled with an ice cube, and ate poached wild peaches with whipped cream. All of these things were great. However, as the night progressed, increasingly more men came into the private party. I was irritating by the increasing inequality of the gender ratio and couldn’t quite put my finger on why this bothered me, until my friend observed that none of these men were dressed up. This despite the fact that the event was promoted with a specific dress code, and the majority of the early party comers were dressed in extravagant, salon wear.

The kind of canape you might expect at an erotic salon

The erotic salon dress code had inspired all the early comers to wear clothes that suggested fantasies of 1920s Paris: flapper dresses, braces and white shirts, large kohled eyes and sculpted hair. Yet, nearly all the men that arrived after midnight were dressed in normal, casual Berlin wear: jeans, t-shirts, business suits and black shirts. One man even wore a beanie (not sexy!). Increasingly, the earlier participants were pushed to the walls while drunken men laughed and gestured raucously in the middle. The atmosphere of erotic tension and decadence that the organisers had been so careful to cultivate was destroyed as I gradually felt less comfortable and more angry at the shift in the dynamic.

My friend’s observation made me realise that I wasn’t just angry because a mixed queer-straight party had turned into an average Friday night heterosexual party, but also because the gender shift reinforced a really sexist dynamic of observer and observed.

As a promoter of themed parties, I know the importance of dress codes. Encouraging people to consider their outfits and dress especially for the occasion is an invitation to participate in the event. The sophisticated and sexy dress code for this party suggested that attendees would help to create the atmosphere of decadence, and were expected to participate in a respectful way, much in the same way as attendees of a sex party. Dress codes at sex and play parties are specifically necessary: tailoring your outfit to fit the event is a declaration that I am one of you, I am participating in this event; I am not merely an observer.

“the gender shift reinforced a really sexist dynamic of observer and observed”

Now, to be clear, this was not a sex party. This was a salon for erotic performers to network amongst ourselves, while enjoying an atmosphere of decadence and some subtle titillation from the performances. Making out was OK, however any bondage or more intense sexual encounters that weren’t part of a performance would have to wait for a less public space. It was a guest-list only event, and the dress code suggested sophisticated and sexy with a hint of smuttiness. Corsets and feathers and top hats were great; complete nudity would have been inappropriate.

Although it is normal to pay to get into erotic parties, this one was free and was promoted as a networking event for erotic performers. To me, this reinforced the idea that it was a participatory event. It was not as if we were paying money to watch performers on a stage. The canapés were free, and the drinks were cheap. The performers weren’t paid, and we therefore owed them respect. Of course, you should respect any sex performer that you see. But I kept thinking about London and how expensive a salon like this would be there and I realised that when you pay a lot of money for an event, you do expect the performers to perform for you. The cigarette girls walking around selling something, and the burlesque women and MCs in their expensive outfits are, then, there to be looked at (but not touched). You are paying for that experience of titillation; an erotic service. But as an attendee at a private party I had not bargained for performing for a group of drunken heterosexual men. I would have liked to flirt gently with a respectful man in a top hat, but I was not up for being the exotic treat on a straight lads’ night out.

The theme of the night was ‘don’t take a fucking picture of me, you jerk.’ I had to put my hand in front of the lens three times to stop a guy from photographing me eating. Another man sitting right next to us stared unblinkingly at my friend, as though she wasn’t really there, as if she were on a screen and he had paid to watch her. When he angled his camera at her face (he was close enough to touch her), I leaned forward and suggested, ‘maybe you should ask her before you take a photograph of her.’ It was only when I repeated myself that his eyes focused on me and realised that he was talking to a real-live human being and wasn’t going to get away with pure observation. He guiltily mumbled that he would delete the photo and soon afterwards disappeared into the crowd. The fact that he didn’t respond with a respectful, ‘I’m sorry, can I take a photo of you?’ but reacted as though I had shut him down, caught him in the act of doing something illicit, showed that he knew he had done something wrong.

“I would have liked to flirt gently, but I was not up for being the exotic treat on a straight lads’ night out”

At queer parties, or mixed parties where queers feel safe, I often don’t mind women taking photo of me. But every time a man tries to photograph me, especially when he doesn’t ask and assumes that it will be fine by me – that I have agreed to be there for his sexual entertainment – I, understandably, get really pissed off.

My friends and I concluded that what we was needed, as well as a stricter door policy, was an awesome detector. Like a metal detector, but which could detect awesomeness in straight men and admit them accordingly. I, personally, hope that one of you guys can invent this for me. At least, at the next party I organise, I am going to make damn sure that I enforce the dress code!

Check in next week for part two on the norms in straight vs. queer spaces, how to create a safer atmosphere and is there such a thing as unspoken consent? 

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Trans-misogyny: the (mini) round-up

Trans-misogyny is “the unique and particular form of misogyny that targets trans women” – Natalie Reed

So, I have been doing a lot of research on trans-misogyny and have found out that I am not the only person out there who thinks that some of the privileges trans men have need to be examined.

After I tentatively dipped my toes into the murky pool that is trans-misogyny, I wanted to share some of my reading with you.

I have selected a couple of the articles that I found the most thought-provoking and well-written. I especially like the videos, which are kinda tongue-in-cheek.

1. Funkyfest On Trans Men and the Word “Tranny,” or: Cut Your Entitled Bullshit Out.’

“Just because you’re trans does not exempt you from the patriarchal binary gender system. You’re still a dude in a very dude-positive/lady-negative culture, and the queer community is no more immune to that than you are.”

However, I wasn’t sure about this:

“Generally speaking, for a body marked as female to embody masculinity is less shameful than for a body marked as male to have a feminine or embodiment.”

What do you guys think about this statement? Can we really quantify oppression (say minority 1 + minority 2 = more oppressed body)? And how useful is this argument? Things are so complicated, I am not sure we can calculate such things. However, I do strongly believe that bodies read as male are privileged over bodies that are read as female. But can we really say that one type of trans gender identity experiences more oppression than another?

2. Hands up if you have ever downplayed your femininity to get laid more?

Morgan M. Page, a Canadian trans activist, really struck home with me when she said this:

“I’ve recently been seriously talking about changing my identity to trans man, because it makes way more sense in terms of who I hang out with and the politics I have and it also gets me hit on more.”

Yup, my hand’s up. I’ve totally changed my gender presentation to less feminine in order to be seen more in the queer community in Berlin. It’s pretty sad.

She also made this hilarious performance which highlights our collective adulation of trans guys. To be viewed with a pinch of salt.

3. Jack Radish has noticed that he gets a lot more cred as a trans man for saying exactly the same thing that trans women have been saying for, like, EVER. However, I can’t help but thank him for saying this:

“When the same people start saying, “our group is open to trans women, but I guess there are just no trans women who want to come,” I have to get up, walk away … and join the ranks of the trans women who don’t want to come to their stupid events. I leave them scratching their heads, still wondering (but not too hard) why everyone who comes to their events looks just like they do.”

Sound familiar Berliners? Oh, yeah.

4. Lastly, let’s finish this with a bit of man-hating. Red Durkin, vlogger extraordinaire, tells us all why she just HATES men. I think this is half-joking, kinda, sorta…

Queer vs. radical feminism, the hoedown

Honey, I’m hooome! Well, there’s no better way to kill your blog stats than by wandering off for spontaneous spots of meditating in the woods. Oh well, I’m sure all that good karma will mean I get famous in another life. So, where were we? Oh yes, ranting about queer feminism. Here it goes:

Is this really a hoedown? No it’s not, because a hoedown is a country dance, and no matter how many wonderful things you can do on the internet, you can’t dance on it (unless you jump up and down on your laptop, but maybe that’s taking things too literally). I just like using the word because it has ‘ho’ in it, and we all know how queer feminism has practically become synonymous with sex positivity, perhaps even too much. Anyways.

A coupla months ago someone misread my blog as an attack on radical feminism (it’s the subtitle). I was shocked, truly, because I have always identified as a radical feminist. What? I hear you cry? You? But you’re not a lesbian separatist into non-penetrative sex living in a commune in London! To which I reply, not I’m not. And do you know why I call myself a radical feminist? Because I always thought it meant just that; radical feminism.

I don’t know how I managed to miss this, but watching documentaries about the 70s Women’s Rights movement and reading all that feminist theory, I still never associated the term radical feminism with that movement. I always called those guys Second Wavers, or lesbian separatists (tongue-in-cheek with love and appreciation). I mean, yeah, they were radical feminists but so am I! Talking to my friends however, it seems I am the only feminist in the world who doesn’t have this association. Oh well. I always did have my head in the clouds.

Following this shockhorror moment I looked up radical feminism on Wikipedia, to try and sort out my confusion. The opening definition of radical feminism reads:

“[Radical feminism] focuses on the theory of patriarchy as a system of power that organizes society into a complex of relationships based on an assumption that male supremacy oppresses women”

And I’m like, yeah, I can dig that! I think patriarchy produces male supremacy which in turn oppresses women. Go radical feminists! Yeah! But then talking with a friend, they point out a general feeling from the queer feminist side that radical feminism is too hard on men and blames them for a fucked-up system which isn’t entirely their fault. And I think, yes that’s true, patriarchy isn’t wholly the fault of men, but by God do they participate in it and enjoy it! Then my friend suggests that queer feminists are so down on radical feminism because the latter is seen as a movement which fails to recognise plural gender identities. And I think, yeah, I guess I have this association too. I think of the failure of Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival to allow transwomen to attend, and how respected Aussie feminist Germaine Greer is so nutty when it comes to trans rights.

But then we come to queer feminism and my feeling that queer feminism, at least in Berlin, stands for values which end up reproducing really fucking sexist dynamics. I think of the vast femmephobia here, or the valorisation of transmasculinities at transfeminities’ cost and the fact that very few queers will stick up for women when we are sexually harassed. I used to call myself a queer feminist, but I don’t anymore, because I now associate it with traditional masculinity-is-better-than-femininity sexism. This is quite sad really, when you think about it.

The main problem I have with queer feminism is that it seems to think of ‘woman’ as an outdated category. That we are so beyond the boring realities of people being ‘men’ and ‘women’ and now live in a multiple-gendered world which makes these categories obsolete. But I wonder, why can’t some of the old stories about sex and the new ones about gender both be true? Why can’t both women and men exist, as well as other gender identities? Why can’t some people have an experience of being a man or woman which aligns with mainstream ideas about what they are, and some not? Some men really are fucking male and masculine and heterosexual. Some women are inherently feminine and attracted to masculinity. It doesn’t mean he or she is brainwashed. There are so many realities in this world that we can’t even begin to understand. And none of this, none of this, changes the fact that we live in a sexist world in which women are daily harassed, abused and murdered.

Queer feminists spends so much time fighting for the rights of transmasculine folks, that we end up acting out the same rejection of women that happens everyday, all over the world. Guys, WOMEN STILL EXIST! And our reality sucks.

Radical feminism also needs to remember that sexism doesn’t only affect women and to acknowledge that there are more than 2 sexes and genders in the world.

I guess in terms of my politics I have a foot in both camps. Like many ‘old-school’ feminists, I think there are inherent differences between maleness and femaleness that can’t be accounted for by cultural conditioning. I also think that maleness and femaleness aren’t determined exclusively by biology. We know very little about gender and it seems obvious there are more than two genders and sexes (aside: I remember with fondness a very special former colleague who instead of generally accepting that there are multiple gender identities, insisted that we can count them and that there are 58!).

I would like to find a feminist language that includes and argues for the rights and needs of everybody, even when those rights and needs are different. Feminism has to mean that we will recognise the different positions of women and men (queer or straight, trans or cis), queers, transmasculine folks, transfeminine folks, people of colour and from different economic backgrounds, religions plus many other positionings that I can’t even think of!

Ah, I guess this is what meditating does to you. It make you go all mushy inside and say, Guys, why can’t we all just love each other? Come on, let’s have a big group hug.

I know we’re very busy reclaiming a lot of words are the moment like, prude (yes I am fighting for that one) and slut and queer, but I want to add two more to the list: ‘radical’ followed by ‘feminism’ pronounced in a sincere, celebratory, non-derisive way. As a feminist I appreciate all former movements and see the flaws in my own. I know that my own feminism has some massive gaping holes, and I trust that we mostly all just have good intentions and are doing our best. I am also a perfectionist, and I want us to do even better. Yay radical feminism! Yay queers! Yay us!

Oops!

I know, whoops, I haven’t posted for a while, have I? I left Berlin and went to earn some money by brainwashing kids into learning English. And now I’m about to do it again, for 3 weeks. Oh, well, life’s an adventure. In case you are panicking, ‘Oh my God she’s never going to write anything ever again!’, don’t worry, I am. I have plenty of subjects I want to tackle, and feminist bitching I want to do, so no worries, I’ll be back mid-May.

In the meantime, here is some of the stuff I’ve been up to. The Berlin Femme Show raised €500 for Dressed LIke That zine. Amazing! You can therefore buy it for a below cost price (€3.50) at Silver Future bar, Weserstr 206, Berlin. If you don’t live in Berlin, no fears you can order it or read / download it online for free. Yes, I am that nice. I am also using some of the funds raised to make sure local queer charities and zine archives all over the world have the zine. I am still looking for archives to submit it to, or distros to sell it, so if you know one, contact me!

Ooh, and don’t forget to check out the beautiful pictures of The Berlin Femme Show on the Berlin Femme Mafia blog. Big thanks to photographers Simson Petrol and Sara Svärtan Persson.

OK that’s all for now lovelies. I’ll be back in 4 weeks with some of that writing you’ve been missing 🙂

Call for Action Today!

Hey guys. I wanted to let y’all know about a really awful breach of human rights happening in Berlin right now. A father of an 11-year-old transgender girl has the authorities’ support to remove her from her mother’s home and place her in therapy (yup, that’s a mad house to you and I) until she returns to ‘normality.’ They will force her to grow up as a boy. I can’t imagine the psychological and physical damage to this child that will result from this action.

What you can do:

Sign this petition.

Go to this rally today.

Get informed by reading this article in English. I find it shocking, sad and depressing that these kinds of things *still* happen in so-called developed countries. Bleurgh.

On a happier note, I am very proud to be quoted in next month’s Hugs & Kisses magazine. This queer German mag contains an article about asexuality written by the amazing author of that zine on asexuality I wrote about. In fact, my most popular post on not wanting to have sex will be reprinted in the next edition of the zine. Yay for me! The article will also be featured in a new zine for queer youth in Berlin. More details to come sooooon!

Your sad and happy news for the day. Over and out. LTx

 

Trolls Attack the Berlin Femme Show

Sometimes I get so angry at the sexism I see in the world that it makes me just want to scream. This is the feeling I got when I read the sexist comments on Berlin queer mag Siegessäule‘s review of The Berlin Femme Show. The night was such a success with over 600 guests and 25 amazing performers. It really made me hope, just a little bit, that things might be looking up for femmes here in Berlin. The review was very appreciative and I was so proud of the amazing range of feminist statements our performers made: from body image, to trans identities, queer homogeneity to sex work. But no, apparently when you get a bunch of mostly feminine women performing burlesque, all we are doing is taking our tits out and being pornographic. Of course.

I mean, there is nothing political about a woman desperately breaking her diet by eating her cosmetics and then celebrating her fatness by dancing to Fat Bottomed Girls. There is nothing political about seeing fat burlesque at all, in a world which tells us we only have sexual power as women when we starve ourselves into thinness. There is nothing political about taking the stereotype of the housewife and using it to bake dreams of a different queer world and to celebrate all the feminists who have gone before us. There is nothing political about showing the thoughts of a sex worker as she strips and comes for a client, or standing up on stage as a transsexual woman and talking about the exclusion of transfemininities in the queer community. There is nothing political about standing on stage in front of a community who has done everything in its power to ignore you, discount you and keep you out and demand to be seen as sexual and queer.

Of course, all we girls are doing is taking our tits out and disappointing our queer feminist sisters, who obviously know a lot more about what it means to be queer and feminist than we do. Boo hoo fucking hoo.

So, I encourage all of you to read my zine which is now fully translated and consists of 80 pages of art about why, exactly, these kinds of attitudes are bullshit.

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