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

new queer feminism article

Hey lovely readers, just wanted to give you a heads up that I have a brand spanking new article up on awesome feminist website Feminists India. It is a summary of my arguments that question group norms in the queer community. What do you guys think? Have the assumptions of masculinity, hypersexualisation and polyamory in queer circles created a false hierarchy between the ideal queer and the realities of lived queer lives? Go check it out.

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

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’

i don’t want to have sex

This is the first part of 2 posts on hypersexualisation within the queer scene. This part outlines a general feeling that in order to be queer, you have to be sexual and the second explores specifically attitudes around polyamory. Look out for part 2 next week!

At the moment I am reading this wonderful zine I picked up at the Zinefest Berlin this weekend. It’s called ‘Wer ‘A’ sagt, muss nicht ‘B’ sagen‘ (‘B doesn’t automatically follow from A’) and it’s about asexuality. Asexuality. A word that I have been aware of for a while – it was always included in the breakdown of queer I used to do at high school workshops on homophobia (LGBTTSIQQA, phew!) – but, to be honest, we never really addressed it. Reading about asexuality, and asexual folks touched me because it reminded me of similar thoughts I have been having about socialising in the queer community.

I don’t want to have sex. I don’t want to have a lover. I am not an asexual person, but at the moment this is how it is.

“Deciding to be single for a while has been one of the most self-loving things I have done for myself this year”

A few weeks ago a friend asked me whether I have had a lover since moving to Berlin. When I said no, she said ‘oh, that’s tragic.’ And I thought, why would you assume that it’s tragic? It’s not. Deciding to be single for a while has actually been one of the most self-loving things I have done for myself this past year. She assumed that as a ‘normal healthy queer’ I will want to have a lover and I will want to have sex.

I have spent years trying to fit in. When I was at school I spent a lot of energy trying to become part of the crowd. To have the normal style and normal opinions. Then, when I was 14, fully a teenager, I realised I didn’t want to fit in anymore. I wanted to be one of the freaks. Where I belonged. And I worried, is it too late? Have I lost my own individuality? I think I am coming to the same place in the queer community.

At a queer festival I attended this summer I was excluded from ‘the most exciting party of the week’ because it was a sex party and I don’t want to go to sex parties. I had fun decorating the sex spaces with UV reflective string, but I ended up spending the evening by myself in my bedroom. There should have been another option.

“I would like us to examine the difference between sexpositivity and feeling obliged to have sex because it’s cool”

In a community which defines itself by alternative gender and sex expressions, not wanting to have sex makes me feel like an outcast.

There is a huge pressure to have, and to want, sex all the time. This pressure is not exclusive to the queer community. I have felt it ever since I was a kid; when am I going to get my first boyfriend, when am I going to lose my virginity, when am I going to fall in love? It is a truism that we live in a hyper-sexualised society and I would like us to examine the difference between sexpositivity and feeling obliged to want/have sex because it’s cool. The question of where sex belongs in the queer community is a really interesting one. The queer community as I see it has emerged from lesbian and gay communities which historically defined themselves by the sexual desires of their members. Although our queer community is now based on alternative gender as well as sexual expressions, I imagine, non-history-major that I am, that this sexual root is where our scene today comes from.

Living in a queer community whose members are mostly girls and guys who were assigned female at birth (cis guys are in the minority at the spaces I frequent), I totally get the feminism of asserting our right to own our sexuality. We have been told that as ‘women’ we are naturally frigid, naturally monogamous. All we want to do is settle down and have babies. Erm, actually, not everyone, no.

So we have asserted our right to fuck who we want, when we want, however we want. I get where the sex positive movement has come from and I love the fact that BDSM is out of the closet, as it were. However, poly and kink and sex have become undeniably cool. And that’s where the problems start. Because it creates a hierarchy. Many queers assume that poly and kink are inherent to being queer. If you’re not into them, then you’re not queer. Not cool.

Working against such stark cultural assumptions – women are naturally frigid and monogamous – leads us to take the opposite position – we are slutty and naturally polyamorous. However, I don’t think the answer to sexist assumptions is to just flip the coin. Things are always more grey, more nuanced than that.

Now, as someone who is working some shit out, I need to not have sex or a relationship for a while. This doesn’t mean that I have lost my sexuality, rather that I am prioritising finding out other stuff about myself. I am sure that my experience is not unique. People go through less sexual times in their lives and I think it’s important that we recognise this too. Sometimes sex is not okay.

An old colleague of mine from Canada has recently been involved in an art exhibition in London called ‘The Flipside: When Sex Is Not Okay.’ They define not okay experiences as

“times when someone has felt unsafe, unable to say no, threatened, misled, or pressured into something, as well as experiences of sexual abuse or assault.  It also includes times when people have had distressing emotions or states of mind during sex – which might mean feeling dirty, guilty or ashamed; having flashbacks; or disassociating.”

Although this group is more focused on survivors of sexual assault, it does highlight that sometimes people cannot or do not want to have sex.  That sex isn’t always a positive experience. I, still, feel pressured to have sex in the same way that I felt pressured to lose my virginity when I was a teenager. I still have a hard time saying no.

The friends and acquaintances I know in the queer community seem to be fairly aware of the fact that sexual assault exists and of the need for safer spaces. Although I do not want to appropriate other people’s experiences, maybe we can extend this understanding to an awareness that some people don’t want to have sex at times for whatever reason. I am not sure how to do this but let’s put our thinking caps on. Maybe just keeping this in mind next time you ask me which sex party I am going to on Friday (where you assume that I will of course want to go to a sex party) would help.

I would really like to live in a community which recognises that my decision to be single for the next while is actually a really positive thing. That celebrates the fact that I am able to do this for myself. It takes a lot of guts to sit down here and write my personal story. But I hope that in outing myself, other people will also feel able to say, actually, I don’t want to have sex today, this year, whatever. Not everything revolves around sex.

Don’t forget to check out part 2 on polyamory next week!