Friday, October 26, 2012

On Performative Sexuality

Encouraged by mainstream porn narratives and in our culture overall, there is a demand for performative sexuality (or at least attraction), telling folks, and predominantly women, that their sexuality is only valuable as a display, that their sexuality is only valuable in as much as it relates to the wants of others/men.

I didn't watch/view porn until I was in my twenties And I was STILL deeply affected by the messages of performative sexuality. It's my suspicion that many American women never get to a point where they can untangle their sexuality from the now-subconscious mandates of performative sexuality.

As much good work as sex positive communities are often doing, it's not uncommon for unquestioned messages of performative sexuality to be expressed and encouraged as "radical" and "liberated". In BDSM communities women who exclusively have sex as a submissives are often endlessly congratulated & publicized regardless of the fact that the role they choose comes from a history of oppression. 

If powerplay is not practiced with an awareness of the historical and current oppressions it is invoking it is not radical. Period. It actually might come from a place of learned performative sexuality, it might come from a place of preference. But without a critical eye towards social context you can't know. I am NOT saying that folks without an education in hsitorical and systematic oppressions should be barred from BDSM. What I am saying is that the engagement, praise, and commentary of those who do understand the social & historical context for powerplay needs to be more nuanced & critical. In conversations about BDSM, bringing up historical & social contexts of oppression should be encouraged rather than just easily dismissed as "sex-negative" or "hating".

My basic beef about performative sexuality is not with those that practice it without knowing, my beef is with those who know about the context of oppression it comes from and aren't furthering the conversation. Sometimes even stopping that conversation because it's "not hot" or "uncool". Merely being an enlightened practitioner of performative/role-centered sex is not enough. It's self empowering (because you understand and are willing to dig deep into your preferences), but it doesn't educate or make space for the empowerment of others. Personal progress toward more enlightened sexuality is personalty liberating and empowering but it is not revolutionary. Learning about the complex nature of your orgasms/pleasure is good for you, but those orgasms/pleasure aren't revolutionary unless you choose to bring what you've learned about them to your community. 

By inviting & defending such criticisms I don't mean to Yuck anybody's sexual Yum. I don't disparage or look down on anybody who finds it pleasurable to be wanted or pursued. I find these things pleasurable sometimes. But if you see being wanted or pursued as your whole sexuality it makes the value of your sexuality wholly dependent on the validation others give/don't give to it. This is the risk of accepting your sexuality as merely performative (for others). 

Engaging in performative sexuality CAN be erotic and enjoyable, but we should never stop at just that! We and our sexualities are so much bigger than what others can perceive and validate. If I want a sexuality that relates with others' sexualities in sustainable & more safe ways, I first need to relate to my sexuality in sustainable, supportive, & lovingly critical ways. I try to do this and I think we all can!

For anyone (the book is geared toward women but is a great read for anyone!) who wants to join me in this I'd suggest reading Jaclyn Friedman's "What You Really Really Want." I think it's a great vehicle for women looking to define their sexuality as their own.

Also this:

"I'm not the one you want babe." because I am the person I choose to be not who you want me to be.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Branding & Activism

Part 2: The "Sex" in "Sex Positive"

Mini intro for those of you who missed P.1:
In activist communities there are movements towards re-defining certain terms, then using those terms loaded with new meaning to talk to a public that has not been educated, consulted or even invited to accept these new definitions. This practice of re-definition mimics the use of language in academic communities. In this sense it is (unintentionally) exclusive. It creates communities of activists privileged with newer enlightened definitions and excludes those that aren't "in the know". The use of community-specific language can be alienating or confusing to a person who is using more traditional definitions. Ineffective and inconsiderate branding harms both the movement itself and those who're invited into an activist community under the banner of poorly branded terms.

I feel pangs of annoyance and resistance to certain branding efforts; for products whose names do not receive recognition in my neural net, campaigns that try so hard to seem natural that they lose their authenticity.  When I see Bing, with their sad product placement and blatant failure to complete with Google, I feel a familiar annoyance and resistance. It's the same awful feeling I get I when see the words "sex positivity" used in a way that demands displays of "pride" (aka performative sexuality) or excludes people based on their appearance or their preferred intensity of sexual expression. I can't stand under the banner of a "sex positive" movement because of the way it has ineptly tried and failed to force a re-branding of "sex".

I believe the sex positive moment is doing some damn fine work. Most sex-positive folks I know will tell you right off the bat that "sex" had a broad definition (this is good!). But In the past when I've dropped "I'm sex positive" in conversation, I always tended to find myself talking about how sex positivity is actually more about consent than about sex (these days I'm using consent-positive). Despite my efforts to the contrary, the people I've spoken with outside of the sex-positive community hear the words "sex-positive" and by and large still think I mean "I like penis in vagina action" or "I like to have sex". 

This is a fundamental yet unacknowledged semantic misunderstanding. Refusing to acknowledge it and make space for this misunderstanding is not only inconsiderate, it implies that whatever understanding a person does come to about "sex" is the one true "sex positive" principle. This is how you get men expressing sentiments like "I'm totally a sex-positive feminist! I love having sex with women!" Refusing to acknowledge the likelihood of misunderstanding stops those we're attempting to educate from taking accountability for their own understandings.

There are consequences to assuming the sex positive definitions of sex & consent are simple easily accepted or free from the effect of mainstreams assumptions about "sex". Folks who don't openly express their affinity for sex or certain types of sex often have their voices invalidated and excluded from visibility. Oppressive stereotypical roles can creep into sex positive spaces. The status quo is often disguised as radical. In the case of sex positive the branding has gotten away from it's original campaign and is being used to justify unquestioned objectification. Under the brand of "sex positive" those who express dislike, or refuse to comply are ridiculed and ostracized. Sexual availability and expressions of desire become compulsory.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

On Apologies & Boundaries

Dear Internet: 

I'm writing to tell you I got a job last month. It's part time, so I'll still be making time to blow things up with my words, but I am, at the moment, still trying to balance my life now that it has some paid work in it. I am happy to have to job and love going in to it every day (even if it means waking up @ 5:30 sometimes). It's been great, but the frequency of my writing has declined :(

While I figure all this adult life stuff out I'll leave y'all with an old hunk of writing to chew on. Hope it satisfies!

                                                    -Wendy R.M.

I vow that the space surrounding my body will no longer be an apology. I will no longer take responsibility for your discomfort. The way your face rumples when I say the word queer is not my fault.

By most of my friends and myself I am known as a "tough" girl. The kind of girl who bites back at assholes and jerks when they try to step on my agency. I wasn't born this way.
I was lucky. I learned it. I was well taught by my loving old fashioned father how to find a strength of stance and confidence rarely privileged to those who share my gender. He warned me about other men who would not care about my strength or my confidence. I readied and honed my “fuck you”s for just such men. I wrote myself so many templates for fighting against male aggression and oppression. 

But no one told me how to say no to women, and that it's not okay for anyone, not just men, to touch me when I don’t want it. When they banned hugs and hand holding in the hallways of my high school nobody stopped my best friend from touching my breasts. Especially not me. 

Anti-consent rape culture is alive in the actions of more than one gender. It is alive in the actions as innocuous as the "guess who" game. You know when you sneak up behind someone and cover over their eyes? We glorify, normalize and often erotocize the unasked for aggressions on the physical boundaries of others. We call it "romantic", "spontaneous" and so often for women it’s deemed "adorable" or even "confident". It's not confident it is creepy, it is disrespectful. I might even be assault. And I will not stand for it anymore. The space around my body will no longer be an apology.

When/if you ignore my boundaries or assume that my boundaries are the same as other women or other queers that you've met, you lose my respect & I will become less comfortable around you. I'm not sorry for this. I won't banish you forever. I know that our culture has taught you that surprises, spontaneity, & teasing are romantic, but what you are playing with is somebody's boundaries for feeling okay in the world. Next time, just ask.