Are you a good sexual citizen?

With election season upon us, there is lots of talk of citizenship. Good citizens education themselves on the issues and the candidates. They vote. They share their opinions in a polite way.

However, the mainstream media isn’t talking about how to be a good sexual citizenship. Thankfully, Carnal Nation is. Check out the article “Random Acts of Sexual Citizenship.”

Do you follow any of their suggestions? What else should a good sexual citizen do?

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Femmenism

I’ve written over and over about femme identities; about femme invisibility, about my discomfort with a femme identity, about how I sometimes feel really femme, about how it’s how I’m perceived even if I don’t quite identify with it myself, etcetera etcetera.

The essay “Femmenism” by Jeannie Delombard in the collection “To Be Real” by Rebecca Walker explored a little bit of all of this through the lens of femmenism, which she defines as “where the third wave of Western feminism and the third wave of American lesbianism intersect.”

She writes:

“Femmenism is nothing if not contradictory. Femmenism is looking like a straight woman and living like a dyke. Femmenism is being attracted to someone of the same sex who is very much your opposite. Femmenism is calling yourself a girly-girl and insisting that others call you a woman. Femmenism is playing up your femininity even when you know it can be used against you. Femmenism is using that master’s tools to dismantle the master’s house. Femmenism is political but not correct.”

In a way, her story is also my store. Though I grew up a decade and a half later, I too wanted to spend my childhood in “pastel party dresses and Mary Janes.” My mom was not quite as politically correct as her mother, but then again, I was a child in the early 1990s, not the mid 1970s. While Delombard’s mother pushed “corduroys and hiking boots,” my mother merely suggested, “Don’t you think a pair of jeans would be more comfortable?” Art supplies were the ideal playthings in our household, and when I wanted Barbie dolls, I had to save up my allowance or take advantage of visiting grandparents.

Like Delombard, household duties were divided by ability, not gender roles. My dad loved to clean, and so he did. My mom liked to cook, but she hated getting up early, so dad cooked us breakfast and mom took care of dinner.

Unlike Delombard, I never felt like I had to fulfill a certain gender role due to parental expectations, lesbian community requirements, or anything else. Not to say I haven’t struggled with my sexual orientation or gender expression at times, but I’ve always been pretty comfortable in my own skin- or my own clothes: be that boys cargo shorts or a strapless polka-dotted dress.

Needless to say, I’m still uncomfortable with a femme identity. Is it because it is a label? Perhaps. Is it because it suggests that I am only attracted to its opposite [butch]? Perhaps also. Is it because I fear mirroring heterosexual society? Maybe a little.

Delombard writes:

“If lesbians see butch-femme as a capitulation to heterosexual norms, most of the straight world believes that butch-femme lurks at the core of every lesbian relationship, while the rest see it as a kinky, erotic sex game, better left in the bedroom along with the strap-on dildo, the handcuffs, and the edible underwear. Like pornography, everyone has an opinion about butch-femme, but no one seems very clear about what exactly it is.”

She talks about the feeling that her and her partner are “making up what it means to be butch and femme” as we go along. That, I can relate to. Whatever I am, I feel like I am constantly making it up.

I like this part:

“For me, being a femme means that I take pride in wearing just the right shade of lipstick (not true for me), drawing the perfect black line above my eyelashes (true for me), keeping my legs smooth (sometimes), and smelling good. Being a femmenist means knowing I am just as attractive when I don’t wear makeup, shave, or put on perfume (very true).

Being a femme also means that I want to be with a woman who appreciates it when I do these things; not silently, but openly and enthusiastically. A women who sends me flowers (yes), helps me out of cars (whatever); and know how to take care of all the details, like choosing the right wine, tipping the bartender, and calling a cab (eh). Being a femmenist means both making sure that I know to do all the things myself and getting an erotic charge out of having them done for me.”

To me, this last sentence is key. As politically incorrect as this may be, I fear the label femme because I feel it suggests that I am helpless. Delombard makes it make sense. I can do it myself, I have that power, but that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate romantic and caretaking gestures.

There is no great conclusion I’ll offer in this post, except that this essay made me feel a little less alone, though not neccessarily less confused. Still, it made me  laugh:

“The same thing happens when my love and I go out to dinner: no matter how we are dressed, invariably the server will take my order first, have my girlfriend taste the wine, and present her with the bill (even when I have requested it, credit card in hand).”

So true, so true.  As is this:

“On the one hand, being a femme increases exponentially my much-publicized invisibility as a lesbian. Almost every day, usually several time a day, all sorts of heterosexual men strike up conversations with me, comment on my appearance, or shout lewd remarks at me. Since to them I don’t look like a dyke or even a liberated woman, they automatically assume that I look the way I do to provoke male attention and approval. […] On the other hand, my lesbian invisibility is suddenly, dangerously, stripped away when I am with my lover.”

On this account, as well, Delombard couldn’t be more accurate.

I may be no closer to reconciling my identity with the femme label, but it’s nice to know I’m not alone in thinking about it. It’s also nice to read a well written personal essay. And it’s nice to remember that femme can still mean powerful, political, and capable.

Review: To Be Real

I always read at least two books at once. One is always a novel, and the other is more often than not a collection of feminist essays. Most of these collections read like a school assignment. There are a few interesting essays, and a lot of uninspiring rambling. In contrast, the collection “To Be Real: Telling the Truth and Changing the Face of Feminism” was a pure delight.

Now don’t get me wrong, as in any anthology, some pieces are better than others. However, this one had a much higher good read to tedious read ratio.

Published in 1995 and edited by Rebecca Walker, this collection seeks to break down notions of what makes a feminist, showing the “infinite number of moments and experiences that make up feminist empowerment.” This is a collection that goes beyond experiences of being a women in a sexist society, and explores contradictions and ambiguity. It’s about lesbians embracing a femme identity, it’s about fulfilling a white wedding fantasy, it’s about male dykes, rape fantasies, and creating a sexy bachelor parties without female strippers. It’s about coming to terms with your feminist “failures” and knowing that those makes you no less of a feminist.

Though published 15 years ago (Was 1995 really 15 years ago!?), these essays are as relevant as ever.

In the introduction, Rebecca Walker writes, “A year before  I started this book, my life was like a feminist ghetto. Every decision I made, person I spend time with, word I uttered, had to measure up to an image of what was morally and politically right according to my vision of female empowerment.” A decade and a half later, young feminists struggles with this same dilemma. (Or perhaps I should say, me and my peer circle struggle with this same dilemma- I don’t know for a fact that other worry about the same thing, though I have a sneaking suspicion that they do.) I wonder how my sexual desires fit with a feminist identity. I worry that I am buying into mainstream culture too much as I write a fashion blog. I question my ability to be a “good” feminist because I’m spoiled with white privilege. This book explores the array of ways that feminism manifested during the third wave.

Essays I particularly enjoyed include “Femmenism” by Jeannine Delombard on merging third wave feminism with third wave lesbianism, “Identity Politics” by Jennifer Allyn and David Allyn on merging names in marriage, and “Close, But No Banana” by Anna Bondoc on coming to terms with ones political “failures”. Seriously, this collection is worth having on your shelf, or at least worth checking out from your local library.

I Don’t Know What To Title This

First, I apologize for the absence. Between dealing with major life changes and preparing for more major life changes, blogging has taken a back seat. Coupled with thoughts about things I don’t even know how to begin thinking about, I’ve been reluctant to write and share.

But here I am.

We’ve all heard the statistics:

In the United States, a woman is raped every six minutes.

One in six American women has been the victim of attempted or completed rape in their lifetime. Globally, one in three women and girls has been beaten or sexually abused.

One in every four or five college aged women will experience attempted or completed rape during their college years.

The depressing statistics could go on and on, with only minor variations according to who is reporting in what year.

Until recently, none of this had ever hit close to home. Sure, I had an acquaintance in my 9th grade American History class that divulged that she had been raped. She was just a classmate though, and “it was a long time ago.”

Clearly there is a lot that could be said here about society and the culture of rape. I want to place that all aside. My question for you is: What someone reveals that they were sexually assaulted, what can you do as a supportive friend or lover? What if it was recent? What if it was in the distant past? What helps? What hurts? Personal anecdotes as well as scientific research are equally appreciated.

Hump Day Happiness #9

This week has seemed extra long. Now, as we are officially half way done, I can let out a sigh of relief.

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Through PRIDE month might be officially over, this comic from a softer world rings true.

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Someone on Genderfork shared this little gem:

“I can’t wait to button up your blazer over my breasts, slip on my slacks, spritz on some cologne, pin up my hair, and escort you to prom like a proper gentleman. You in your pink hat with the sparkles, both of us looking downright dapper as we each battle the binary, hand in hand. Can’t wait to dance with you.”

It’s sweet relief from all that lesbian-not-invited-to-prom-in-Mississippi business.

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After having her gender publicly scrutinized for the last 11 months, championship runner Caster Semenya is now cleared to return to competition.

Though the media is not reporting on this case in the most sensitive manner (I.E. “It is still unclear if the runner has undergone any medical procedure or treating during the lengthy layoff that has allowed her to keep running as a woman”) , at least Semenya can return to competing in the sport she loves.

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Finally, not only did Iceland legalize gay marriage, but their prime minister Johanna Sigurdardottir tied the knot with her longtime partner (as reported by the AP).

Reconciliation (addendum)

In the interest of full disclosure, I would like to say that began drafting my previous post several weeks ago. Between the time that I finished drafting it and found the nerve to post it, Sinclair Sexsmith of Sugarbutch Chronicles posted an article entitled “Reconciling Feminsim & Sadism.” Like all Sugarbutch posts, it’s amazing and way more articulate than my own thoughts.

I especially like this sentence, “So that’s my last prescription for reconciling feminism and sadism: Ask yourself what your definition of feminism is. If you start digging to discover that you think feminists never, ever hit someone, or humiliate someone, or call someone a bitch, or shove a cock down a girl’s throat, well then, you are going to have some trouble reconciling those two identities.”

I guess what it comes down to, for me, at this stage of my life, is this: I have to remember what feminism means to me. It’s not always clear and simple, but when I boil feminism down to it’s purest forms, reconciliation is a hella of a lot easier.

Reconciliation

The major reason my posts have been so few and far between is that I am seeing someone new. She is amazing, intelligent, sexy as hell…and lives five hours away. Between the time I set aside daily for communication in a long-distance relationship and frequent visits to see each other, this blog has taken a back seat. Additionally, I’ve been thinking about things with her that I have been wanting to express, but unsure where to begin.

Now, we are having amazing sex. I swear she has my body figured out better than I have it figured out. Sometimes she’ll discover something I love that I never knew I would love. Or, she’ll discover something I love that I thought I would love, but I would never have shared.

That said, as our sex leans towards the kinkier side, we’re both struggling a little with the “I shouldn’t like this.” For me, it is a “I shouldn’t like when she hurts me like that” or “I shouldn’t be okay giving up control like this.” For her, and I’m speaking from my understanding, it’s a “Why am I okay doing this to her?” or a “I shouldn’t be okay hurting someone I love.” I’ve always know that I’ve had a submissive side, and she’s tended to prefer being a “top,” but I feel like I’m watching her dominant side appear and evolve. (She might say I’m giving myself too much credit here.  Either way, it’s sexy as hell.)

I’ve always believed that sexual pleasure can come in many forms. With informed consent between adults, I think almost anything flies. I’ve explained this to her and she understands. Still, we both have two decades-plus of societal conditioning. You shouldn’t hurt another person. Especially a woman. Especially if you’re a feminist. Sex should be loving. People who want to experience pain have mental problems. As a student of Women’s Studies, I’ve read scathing criticism of BDSM, especially BDSM within the lesbian community. All of this has influenced how we express our sexuality.

She has explained that she feels more okay hurting me than past partners because I “like it for the right reasons.” In other words, I like varied sensations in sexual play. I do not feel I am a lesser human being that deserves to be hurt. I feel like there is a huge difference between rough sex and self-harm, and I’m coming to terms with the fact that just because I can be sexually masochistic, does not mean I must also be self-injurious. (And this suggested correlation is what made me most uncomfortable with the movie Secretary, but that is an entirely different blog post.)

I came across the Lesbian Sex Mafia’s guidelines entitled “BDSM is NOT Abuse” and they succinctly stated what I both believe to be true and am struggling to fully articulate.

The Difference Between SM and Abuse

A Statement from the Lesbian Sex Mafia

SM: An SM scene is a controlled situation.
ABUSE: Abuse is an out-of-control situation.

SM:  Negotiation occurs before an SM scene to determine what will and will not happen in that scene.
ABUSE: One person determines what will happen.

SM: Knowledgable consent is given to the scene by all parties.
ABUSE: No consent is asked for or given.

SM: The “bottom” has a safeword that allows them to stop the scene at any time should they need to for physical or emotional reasons.
ABUSE: The person being abused cannot stop what is happenning.

SM: Everyone involved in an SM scene is concerned about the needs, desires and limits of others.
ABUSE: No concern is given to the needs, desires and limits of the abused person.

SM: The people in an SM scene make sure that they are not impaired by alcohol or drug use during the scene.
ABUSE: Alcohol or drugs are often used before an episode of abuse.

SM: After an SM scene, the people involved feel good.
ABUSE: After an episode of abuse, the people involved feel bad.

Now Linds and I have not said “this is SM.” It might be leaning towards it, but we haven’t used that phrase. Still, our sex occurs in a controlled situation where we’ve discussed our limits and desires. Consent is always requested. We have a safeword. We’re aware of each others triggers and genuinely concerned about each other. And most of all, we feel great after. As our relationship progresses, I think we are becoming more and more comfortable with the fact that how we feel is what matters most. Not only do we feel good after sex, we feel great. And it keeps getting better and better. If feminism is about empowering women to make their own choices and have equal opportunities (as I believe it is), then there is nothing wrong with making choices that make us happy. In fact, it is totally right to make choices that make us happy.