My mind works like a broken record, sinking into a groove and spinning on it incessantly until it cracks open in revelation and stills. For a lot of 2012, that groove was family: Nic and I broke up while Andy was deported for eight months, and when she got back I realized I didn’t recognize what we were anymore. Without the reassurance of being constantly in each other’s homes and quotidian lives, without the moorings of our polygon’s relationship lines, I spent months I’d expected to feel happy at her homecoming feeling displaced. It might be more accurate to say 2012’s obsessive groove was loss of family.
A few days before Christmas, my paternal grandpa passed away. I grew up knowing that my family line through him had escaped Hitler’s Germany with no deaths, that his father had been a Jew, and that he shed his Jewishness along with his name when they arrived in the United States. When I was growing up, my grandpa did not talk about his childhood before immigrating. I remember my dad telling me that Grandpa once mentioned the pet goat he’d had as a kid, but when they started asking questions, he clammed up. I am not Jewish; my fascination with this part of my heritage feels almost appropriative. But then I wonder what must have happened to make the first fourteen years of my grandpa’s life off-limits, and I think about what I know about his relationship with my dad, and it matters.
In his last conversation with my dad, my grandpa’s strongest message was that the most important thing is family. Any psychotherapist would agree: our familial relationships are our formative relationships. They shape how we will relate to other people, to friends and partners, for our whole lives. Even as our ways of relating evolve, by conscious will or the simple passage of time and experience, our change is in reference to the strong patterns of those formative relationships. So when there is trauma that makes a childhood unspeakable, when there is mental illness (diagnosed or not), it is part of our lineage. By lineage, I don’t mean blood, though it seems depression flows in ours. I mean the lineage of relationships, the ways that my grandpa related to my dad and the ways that my dad echoed or discarded his dad’s ways to relate to me and my sister. This is the cracking open: on its millionth spin around the turntable, my plaintive refrain of loss was interrupted.
The triad was a trial by fire. All of us had been non-monogamous, but none of us had been truly, functionally poly. For me, Andy and Nic exploded the rules and constraints of their slow and cautious wading into polyamory: one on each side, they grasped my hands and cliff-jumped into unimaginably deep tides and giant waves. They were simultaneously the first people I actually dated, and they became my first partners. Their relationship has survived two relationships with me, during which time I went insane, was diagnosed borderline, and began to manage it. We all survived somehow, stayed friends.
Almost three and a half years after that Labor Day weekend in New York when Andy and I first flirted, I see with no doubt that our relationships have been formative for all three of us. Each of us is unique, of course. We do not date identically; compare Andy’s relationship with Aurora to Nic’s relationships since our breakup to mine since then, and it’s very clear. But our style of polyamory is distinct and recognizable: we have shaped each other, and the echoes of our ethics, values, and norms reverberate through all of our individual relationships now. This revelation of family stills the record.
Poly people seem to have a lot more to say about what we let our partners do than what we let our partners tell us. Aside from a mention of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” open relationship model and the obvious exhortation to be honest, the how of communicating about one partner to another isn’t really emphasized. I know my ex-triad spent plenty of time considering and talking about what was allowed–ultimately, anything, since we ended up with “no-rules” poly–but we didn’t consider the fact that being allowed to do, feel, and have anything does not necessarily mean your partners should hear about everything. The norms that developed permitted, if not demanded, full disclosure of every detail and development in a partner’s other relationships. By the time Nic and I broke up, compulsive honesty had become a way to abdicate responsibility. She was being excruciatingly honest about her growing flirtation with the new girl, but because everything was allowed, I was supposed to be able to hear everything without any emotional fallout. Both of us were incredibly disappointed and sometimes angry at my inability to do so, but in retrospect, our disclosure norms had set us up to fail.
I want to advocate for disclosure norms that are compassionate and intentional. Our norms at the time weren’t; they developed accidentally, a seemingly natural corollary to no-rules poly, and they made compassion very difficult. In one fight we had about the new girl, I remember pleading for Nic to “take care of me,” but under these norms, neither of us could see a way for her to do that without artificially restricting her new relationship or lying about it. Clearly the latter wasn’t an option, and while the former is an option in some forms of polyamory, it wasn’t in ours. I found myself asking for it, but as an INFJ, it broke my heart to want something I didn’t believe was right. Nic was my man and my butch and becoming my daddy; not having any tenable way to take care of me was equally heartbreaking for her.
In relationships, I like to feel that anything can be shared and anything is fair game for a question, that honesty is expected and safe. This is a solid foundation, but for it to be meaningful, partners need to build structures that encourage other dimensions of safety. Today, I suggest that it is our responsibility to think before we speak. We can and should process our own desires and feelings for one partner before telling another partner about them. We should do this in a timely manner, but we should also take our own time. Knowing and loving our partners well, we should consider what they need to know about others and why, rather than routinely sharing every detail. Knowing and loving our partners well, we should consider when and how they will be most equipped to be their best selves, by their own definitions, as they hear us.
It is also our responsibility to consider what we ourselves need to know and why. We can and should communicate with our partners about what makes us feel strong and sweet and ready to support developments in their other relationships. We should be clear about our limits, and be unafraid to help our partners care for us by reminding them of those limits when their excitement or their stress overwhelms them. In these ways, we can be compassionate and intentional.
Andrea Zanin, sex geek extraordinaire, asked if I’d be interested in participating in this auto-interview/chain letter thing, and of course I said yes! I was really stoked to read about her book plans, and flattered by her recommendation of Cuntext, alongside some other sweet blogs that I’ve been checking out. I’m answering the questions about a recent story, because I’m not writing a book (yet).
What is the working title of your story?
“Ash,” because it’s a Cinderella adaptation.
Where did the idea come from for the story?
I wrote it as a submission for Leather Ever After, but it wasn’t accepted. I was playing with a few other ideas for this callout, but having trouble with each of them. Eventually I realized that in order to complete something by the deadline, I needed to write about what was currently real to me. I’m just coming back into writing [anything but a personal journal] ten years after ruling it out because as a teenager, I decided I was hopeless, so I’m out of practice and not as disciplined or versatile as I’d like. I was thinking a lot about embodiment and mental illness/health, and the idea of the body as fairy godmother: wise, kind, and powerfully transformative.
What genre does your story fall under?
Fairytales retold, queer fiction, kinky smut
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
For the butch, maybe Jenny Shimizu? She’s incredibly hot, and her vibe seems right. Azmarie from ANTM could also work. Trying to figure out who’d play Ash, all I realized was that there is no top hot femmes list to reference–kind of a catch-22 because the idea of such a thing existing is kind of gross, too.
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Femme goes out dancing to get into her body; gets fucked in the bathroom by butch.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
This is too long to be a blog post, so I’m keeping an eye out for a good home for it–an anthology, a magazine, something of that sort.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
A few weeks, but I’ve been editing it on and off for months since then, and won’t submit it again until I’ve worked on it more.
What other stories would you compare this to within your genre?
I’m really inspired by the way Xan West brings careful thought, intention, and identity into stories like “Strong”. I don’t know that we compare as writers, but I’m also trying to bring “full selves” into what I write.
Who or what inspired you to write this story?
The underground tech house scene in Montréal, and an ex or three of mine.
What else about your story might pique the reader’s interest?
I don’t usually see sexy stories about characters who are crazy, but we fuck, too. Sex, as a way to connect with my body and as a way to be cared for, is really valuable in managing my mental health.
Here are the writers whose work you can check out next:
Hey, just like elementary school! I definitely don’t have many writerly acquaintances whose content would be appropriate and who would be up for participating. So, I present just one recommendation:
Flexibeast writes about gender, trans-ness, genderqueerness, kink, sex, and more on Dreamwidth. Recently I’ve enjoyed this excellent guide on figuring out whether someone’s “debating” you in good faith.
I enlisted a femme friend to help me with my Halloween costume this year. On top of the pink fence-net tights and the short-short pink dress with sequins and the long pink wig, I wanted to wear pink-striped false eyelashes and a full face of makeup, and I have not the faintest idea how to put on makeup other than mascara. This is what happens when you’re raised by a staunch feminist who came of age in the 1970s, and unlike your baby sister, you don’t come around to girly-girl princessing until you’re 24. Lucky for me, the best possible candidate for makeup-momming was in town, and she stuck on my lashes and applied fuschia powder and paste and gloss, and I became Princess Bubblegum.
As soon as I left the house, I felt long fingers of anxiety reaching under my ribs. I suddenly realized just how short my dress was, how bright my wig was: how conspicuous a girl I was. I’ve never worn a “slutty” Halloween costume before. I’ve never in my life worn that much pink before, not even as an infant, and certainly not in such an obnoxiously glorious shade. Grateful to have my best butches with me on the métro and bus, I realized there was no way I was trekking home by myself that night. I had known that wearing this costume in public would be out of the ordinary, but I hadn’t realized it would kind of be solo edgeplay.
Continue reading »
Continue reading »
I stopped writing when I was maybe fifteen, paralyzed by the self-doubt of puberty and the disgust I felt at my first attempts at poetry, humiliatingly melodramatic and trite. Until recently, I’d forgotten that writing–other than journaling–was something I used to do, had started doing when I wrote my first “book” in first grade. These days my desire swelters needy under my skin. I’ve been at work, I’ve been at yoga, I’ve been bickering with my (now ex-)girlfriend, I’ve been trying to process why I was always bickering with my (now ex-)girlfriend. Any spare time I spent on easy things, mindless things: scrolling through Tumblr, listening to pop music. That’s all I’ve had energy for. I’m not writing, and I’m definitely not writing this bird-heart out of my body, this bird-heart beneath my own that keeps beating its wings insistently against my lungs and stomach, knocking out my breath, twisting what I eat in my guts.
My friend Mimi visited a few weekends ago. Mimi was my first friend in Montréal, a sharp thinker and extremely talented writer with whom I’ve had some of the most interesting conversations of my life. It was in a conversation with her and our other then-roommates that I began to think about the value and importance of pop culture and the sexism, classism, and racism inherent in literary or musical snobbishness. Sunday night, Mimi was talking about how lately she’s been reading exclusively literary fiction, choosing to consume writing crafted with skill rather than writing intended for mass sales and appeal. I started to realize that in my determination to accord pop culture its due importance, to recognize that we who consume and enjoy it are not stupid or necessarily passive, I haven’t been registering the difference between commercial production and craftsmanship when it comes to music and writing, and that this oversight might have something to do with my inability to write.
It’s kind of like fast food. I don’t think it needs to be eradicated, and I don’t think eating it, whether out of choice or necessity, should invite a value judgement. However, I still wish that fresh produce and unprocessed meat were as universally accessible as a Big Mac. We can still wish that everyone had a true choice between The Waves and When Strangers Marry*. While both have their place, and while a Big Mac or When Strangers Marry might be just the right nourishment sometimes, neither provides what you need to live, in the fullest sense of the word, rather than simply survive. It’s a given that kids who don’t have enough to eat have trouble in school. It’s hard for the body to think when a growling stomach demands attention, and it’s hard to create when you haven’t fed on inspiration.
The week after Mimi’s visit, I heard that Taylor Swift was cast as Joni Mitchell in an upcoming film adaptation of Girls Like Us, and I was appalled. But who wants to guess how many times in these recent months of multiple breakups I’ve listened to “You Belong With Me” and “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” instead of “A Case of You” or “Blue Boy”? That week, I launched iTunes for the first time in ages and started listening to the music I dissected on page upon journal page, in hour after hour of boring class in high school, compelled by the flawless timbre and placement of every word in her lyrics to learn from her.
You shit what you eat: eating tons of fast food provides constipation and farts; listening to tons of T-Swift provides writer’s block and empty ideas that fail to inspire tangible creativity.
*When Strangers Marry, the tale of an innocent girl’s rescue from her ugly abusive betrothed by a rich hot dude, was a romance novel that got me off few times in 8th or 9th grade.
(The idea that one’s yoga practice keeps happening, keeps being relevant, keeps affecting one’s body and emotions, even once they step off their mat can be heard in studios near and far. In my experience, it’s often true. Off the Mat posts are where I talk about it.)
There is a moment in a headstand when you become weightless, skeleton aligned from skull to phalanges to perfectly support your body’s weight. Ideally this moment stretches, becomes your full expression of the pose, an infinite moment of balance in which everything is right and everything is easy. This moment is, for me, also the scariest moment. Ease in this posture, weightlessness, comes from being suspended equally between falling forwards and falling backwards, and it doesn’t feel so safe to fall into what you can’t see. It doesn’t feel safe to fall into the unknown.
I can almost always find this moment now, when I do headstand. Last week I lifted into headstand with straight legs for the first time ever, which feels riskier than folding the femurs close to the chest and then extending the legs. Lifting with straight legs moves the center of gravity backwards to counterbalance the length and weight of the biggest bones in your body, so it feels like falling into what you can’t see. The potentially infinite moment arrived faster, but was no less fleeting than usual. My gut pulled me forward onto my elbows; my arms and shoulders and back began to work to hold me upright. I didn’t fall, but I was no longer floating. I wondered why it is so hard for me to just let it be easy.
Red is easy, and I don’t mean she’s a slut. I mean she’s predictable, simple, and flexible. She’s an optimist. She usually wants to see me and when she sees me she usually wants to fuck me. She loves me constantly and visibly, even in the middle of arguments, when she tries to hold my hand while I’m bewildered or fuming in stiff silence. Though we’re poly, she’s monogamish in her heart; though she goes on dates with other people, being with her doesn’t mean adapting life to anyone but her. This confuses me.
I was a textbook “difficult” child and I’ve grown up into a pretty difficult adult. Call it my borderline personality disorder or call it my Myers-Briggs personality type or call it my feminism; it’s true. T’es vraiment exigeante is one of Red’s most common affectionate observations. I grew up trying to read my volatile dad’s moods so I’d know how to behave that day. My first “real” relationship was two simultaneously, a polyamorous triad. I never do things the easy way. When things feel easy, they feel wrong, which makes me anxious, which makes things more difficult, both for me and for everyone around me. Ease feels unpredictable and unknown, and it doesn’t feel safe to fall into the unknown.
In a headstand, falling into the unknown means falling backwards, but what is behind me isn’t really unknown. Last week, it was my kitchen counter, tall white cabinets above and below, dishes drying in the rack next to the sink. By the time I do headstand, I’ve seen what’s behind me a thousand times, in sun salutation forward bends and foundational postures that face the back wall and closing series backbends. It’s not that scary. I’ve seen Red try to hold my hand in a fight a thousand times. Her ease does not have to be that scary, either.
It’s been over a year since the question of whether or not I was femme took over my life, prompting relentless conversations with every single person I know and culminating in a three-part series on femme as more than aesthetics. It felt really fucking good to be at the Femme Conference in Baltimore last weekend after all that, after coming into this solid confidence that femme is mine, despite any scrutiny or insecurity I might feel in such an aesthetics-focused and potentially competitive environment. It also felt really fucking good to be there with some experience of this type of event under my belt after Unholy Harvest last year, to know better how to take care of myself as an extreme introvert with social anxiety and BPD-caused thin skin. The conference was both intense and incredible in equal measure, and since I have SO MANY FEELS about it, I’m going to use them to group the highlights!
Pretty much every single femme I talked to agreed: packing for FemmeCon was seriously anxiety inducing. As I’ve decried repeatedly, femmeness is often reduced to aesthetics, which means when you’re going to be surrounded by femmes (at the adult equivalent of sleepaway camp, with all the same potential for hijinks, no less), it feels really fucking important to look hot. Despite that, I felt pretty chill about it, and might be brave enough in 2014 to fully ladybro-down without fear of being read as an ally instead of a femme. This conference went to great lengths to be accessible and comfortable, and while the organizers weren’t perfect, it seemed like they did a pretty good job. They also seemed quite receptive to feedback; there’s already discussion on the Facebook event about how to organize caucuses better next time, for example. Aside from one really obnoxious exchange with an older femme at the play party, I didn’t generally feel that other femmes were dissecting me or my outfits, or placing me in proximity to a high femme ideal. It felt like most people there valued and respect the vast range of femme style and gender expression, though of course I’m in favor of the request that we start complimenting each other on more than our clothes, from the Mean Girls workshop on femme competition. Also on the topic of comfort, my hotel bed was perfect, and so were my roommates for the weekend. It was so nice to have a few full days to get to know these two friends-of-friends femmes from Boston, and to meet one of their friends who crashed with us for a night!
Particularly appropriate, since I missed Fierté (including a dyke march) to be at FemmeCon! There were three main reasons I was proud of myself this weekend. The first is that I think I did a really good job of managing my mental health: taking plenty of time alone when I could, talking myself down when I started getting anxious or agitated, and using the medication I’ve been prescribed pre-emptively instead of mid-crisis. The second is that my Cuntext-related work got some props! Two of my roommates inadvertently quoted me: one, my comment on the fingernail flagging post at Bossy Femme and the other, my submission to the Beyond Lipstick project. Also, Kim Crosby included a quote from Femme Post III in her presentation on deconstructing and resisting femmephobia, which is so flattering because she is so goddamn brilliant!
The third reason to be proud was that I went balls-out and, for the first time I can remember, avoided a potential missed connection situation! I’d been eying this stud with a killer smile all night while we were out dancing at Grand Central on Friday. Neither my roommate nor I could tell if she was there alone or not, and no one made a move beyond her asking if I was having a good night at one point. When my group was leaving, I went up to her and told her I thought she was really attractive and wanted to kiss her good night, if she was there alone. She said she wasn’t alone; I said “Aw, have a good night, then!” and we left. I was already really excited that I’d managed to say what I had to say, but then while a few of us were standing near the coat check, one of our group came out and told me someone was asking for me inside. When I went back in, a femme in a cute, short, floral dress came up to me and said, “My partner wants to kiss you good night! Go ahead, it’s okay,” so I said thank you and went back to the dance floor. I walked up to the stud and said, “Hey,” and she said, “Hey,” and I wrapped my right arm around her neck and kissed her, feeling her left hand slide around my waist and then down over my ass as we added a little tongue. It was like a teenage dyke TV dream (I mean, if TV ever portrayed healthy nonmonogamy), and a perfect way to end my first FemmeCon day.
I really, really like to think. FemmeCon gave me a hell of a lot to think about, in terms of both femme community and my own positioning within it, and that’s the main thing for which I’m grateful. The huge discussion on Saturday about femme competition, attended by more than 60 femmes, was really effective at opening a lot of boxes whose contents I look forward to sorting through more. I went to a workshop on racism and colonialism in femme communities that was aimed at white allies, which gave me a lot to check in with myself about: how to work on my socially anxious tendency to avoid eye contact so I don’t passively make people of color feel fucking invisible, how not to just screech at fellow white people who do racist shit and instead offer support, how and why it’s happened that every single one of my girlfriends has been a masculine of center queer person of color, and also Friday night’s avoided missed connection, since we talked about white people cruising queer people of color in various contexts, and both the stud and femme from Friday night were black.
The panel discussion featuring working class femmes was a huge highlight of the weekend. I mostly just feel incredibly privileged to have gotten to listen to three panelists (Arti Mehta, Kirya Traber, and Blyth Barnow), a moderator (Chanelle Gallant), and many participants who were so smart and open and articulate, and so incredibly strong and vulnerable. My background is solidly middle-class, and I know it sounds a bit cheesy, but it was truly an honor to get to hear these femmes speak. Though this was an exhausting final event, it’s probably reverberated through my mind the most over the past few days, perhaps because class is kind of hard to figure out, or perhaps because the panelists were just so mindblowingly good. A roommate and I talked about growing up where we both did after this panel, and both wish there were more resources and venues for middle-class people to grapple with their placement within this stuff, so if you have any suggestions, let us know!
One major development for which I’m grateful came out of the “intergenerational dialogue” on Saturday–a group of femmes based in New York with whom I’ll be forming a mentorship group on relationships, sex, and kink. We already have our first meet-up set for early September! Though I didn’t quite end up with the grandma-aged femme mentor of my dreams, this group spans about a decade and I think we’ll learn a lot from each other. And also have a sweet time hanging out.
It goes without saying that I’m incredibly grateful to every single femme who was there that weekend, for making us 400 strong, for effectively taking over the entire hotel, and for engaging so fully and working so hard to make it good. I saw more individual acts of human kindness this weekend than I normally see in a year, from the couple who picked my travel buddy and I up at the train station and drove us to the hotel for free, to people letting each other crash in their hotel rooms when situations changed, to femmes who didn’t even know each other ensuring each other’s safe rides home.
I’ve been up since the asscrack of dawn, watching the Olympic women’s football bronze medal match between Canada and France and let me just say, this is pretty much the only time you will see me up that early with not a word of complaint. I am not generally a sports fan. Nevertheless, two years after getting pulled into watching soccer by Nic (a lifelong Spain fan) during the 2010 World Cup, I have to say that if you aren’t watching women’s football, you’re missing out.
Since watching that first tournament, I was looking for a team that would make me a genuine fan. I love watching Spain’s men, but their tendency to play perfect, skilled possession without scoring until the last possible second can be irritating. I tried supporting Germany’s guys on the basis of my nearly all-German heritage in both the World Cup and this year’s Euro, but I just don’t find them particularly inspiring, though I did like watching them beat Andy’s Argentinians in 2010. Brazil was big and dynamic and impressive at times, but as a team they lacked that group spirit and strategy that make team sports what they are. I loved Robben and Sneijder and the Netherlands during the World Cup, but found them petulant, unprofessional, and dirty players in this year’s Euro. Alas, none of the men’s teams quite managed to grab me in the gut and heart. They don’t make me want to throw up, they don’t make me scream, and they don’t make me cry.
Continue reading »
Continue reading »
- No public Twitter messages.