this one’s for the femme who wanted to know where to go dancing in montréal.

the first time i did afterhours–not, like, the silver door, but like underground tech-house, bouncers at the door, bar selling energy drinks and Gatorade but not booze–i was wearing thigh-high boots and a sheer navy collared dress with white polka dots. i didn’t call myself a femme yet. this was right around the time i met the two butches who first said i was the kinda “femme” they liked, the kind who was pretty and chill and kept pliers in the house to get rid of too-cutesy charms on her winter gloves. the kinda girl who’d leave her friend’s awkward birthday party full of straight people and wander over to hang out with them at this possibly illegal afterhours on lower st-laurent, wrestling down her extreme social anxiety because she’d noticed that these kinda butches, with that kinda relationship and that kinda poly and that kinda taste, were the kinda thing she wanted in her life, and there was nothing that could possibly be more fun or interesting than checking out their scene.

i’d gone out dancing maybe five times in the three years i’d lived in the city, the first couple times surrounded by straights and Gays in village clubs like unity and then a few faggitys with the slightly older queer best bros i’d finally, finally found earlier that year. those parties always made me uncomfortable, probably because they were overrun with the same people who ruled the union for gender empowerment and queer mcgill and every fucking university radqueer scene: skinny white “androgynous” [lahem, masculine] queers with asymmetrical haircuts and plaid shirts, i.e. the same fuckers who helped make sure it took years before i realized i was legit a massive dyke because every time they walked into the uge when i was on shift, my ass-length hair and knee-length skirt and kitten heels seemed to completely obscure the “staffer” pin on my cardigan. that is to say, by the time i’d ended up at this afterhours, i knew i loved going brain off, body on, surrounded by music, and i also knew that parties like faggity (and really back then it was mostly just faggity; the spate of spinoff queer parties started by up yours! was just starting to roll out, and the phoenix was years away) weren’t the place to do that. way too many awkward elbows and furtive, insecure, jealous eyes. if they don’t know who you are, you’re nothing; if they know who you are, they’re gonna know everyone you’ve fucked and how and they’re gonna be watching to judge your next hookup. also when you scan the dance floor it’s full of individual arms and legs flailing and jerking, no groove, no cohesion.

so when i realized that on that dance floor at this tiny afterhours no one was gonna hit on me and no one was gonna look me up and down like they were judging whether my clothes were on-trend enough, despite the fact that i definitely looked like a girl, i knew i’d found something good. i danced a little and leaned a lot, that first time, leaned against the dark mirrors that ran down the side of the club. if i got up the nerve to dance facing them, i could sneak glances at the bois behind me: andy in the heavy eyeliner she wore every day back then, shoulders and ass and feet swinging in her trademark, quick little side-to-side, nic watching himself in the mirror as he danced girl then boy and back, feet close together with her hips and shoulders shaking, then feet planted wide, pelvis hanging low, leading with his cock. this tiny upstairs club was full of straights, but i had two hella queer butches by my side and their stud friend behind the decks that night, and no one was there to hook up. and even if they were, they were also there for the same reason as everyone else: to face forward and get into it, completely alone and completely together. because when you’re at afterhours, the music is big enough for that.

the music is big enough at stereo, on that word-famous system where nic is long overdue to be booked again. the music is big enough in the living room-cum-venue of a basement apartment on maisonneuve that was home to our party fam for a couple years. it’s big enough in a loft in the east plateau, or a trendy candlelit dungeon-style club in the old port, or in a warehouse in the pointe. it’s not always afterhours; the music is still big enough the first thursday of the month at salon daomé, or on the canal next to those random volleyball courts on sunday afternoon after piknic.

the music is big enough that in this scene, i learned how to turn around and look a guy in the eye and say “i don’t wanna dance with you,” no apologies. the music is big enough that usually he shrugs and sometimes even apologizes himself, goes back to dancing alone. the music is big enough that i look around and am surrounded by hair and skirts and makeup and nails and sometimes heels, but also tanks and sweats and tees and jeans, and sweaty, slick skin of a lot of different shades. where women are comfortable, femmes are more likely to be comfortable.

(it’s time we queer femmes learned that straight women, especially straight women who are broke and of color and trans and sex-working, are our fucking closest people, not our enemies. it’s time we stopped shitting on them the same way masc queers shit on us, for being frivolous or too much or patriarchal dupes or attention-whores. it’s time we went into parties and used our confidence, our tenderness, our empathy, our steel strength, to take up space and hold it with them. and i mean that literally, our bodies and our attitudes take up a lot of room when we want them to. our bodies can hold a dance floor. our bodies can pull a crowd together better than anything else i’ve ever seen. our bodies can rearrange and redistribute space.)

this music is big enough that even in my bedroom the bass vibrates into my cunt. the music is big enough that i smile and talk to strangers when i’m out in it. the music is big enough that i take everyone i love at least once, and usually they make it a point to come back. the music is big enough that i can handle anything even my ex’s new girlfriend’s former makeout buddy whom i just stopped fucking showing up while everyone’s on drugs. the music is big enough that i go alone when i feel like it. events in this scene are never gonna write a blurb hitting every anti-o party buzzword and they’re never gonna have active listeners. they’re never gonna be sober spaces and they’re always gonna support sketchy-ass drug-dealing gangsters. but in this big music, over the years, i’ve found that this scene is gonna hold my femme body like i want it to be held better than any other.

(originally written for a zine that never got published, august 2013)

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(tw: passing mention of suicidal feelings)

This has been week of wondering what’s ours.

When we first got together, we were brave and bold. We ran out on the sand chasing the waves, not minding the way the sand sunk beneath us, differently beneath each of our feet. (Mine are long and narrow, sharp bones. Yours are short, wide, steady.) We held hands and jumped over wave tongues lapping at our toes, let the salt splash up our thighs. You were the Seeker of Bottles, falling and certain and sweet enough to say so, and I was Six of Bones, smug fox taking what you gave because I knew I’d worked for it and I deserved it. We chased and jumped, and when a wave came in bigger and deeper than expected and we went under instead of landing, we came up laughing.

You retreated onto safer ground. Everything in your life changed: new apartment, new roommates, new job, new testosterone. I was new, too, new to you, new this way, new every week even after four years orbiting the same queer holiday potlucks and brunches. You felt your toes sinking, sand washing up over metatarsals, sucking down your ankles. It felt unsteady. You scrambled up onto a jetty, scrambled up somewhere secure, put your hand around my throat and held me down. You dug your dick in me deep and I wrapped my legs around your waist and pulled more out of you, slapped you across the face and told you to hit me again. We know this. We know how this works. We know we don’t need sealegs to stand here, a butch like you and a femme like me. Here we’re certain and sexy, showing off. This is dry land.

But before, our bedrock felt different. When it was new, bedrock was you doing the dishes, you refilling my water glass so it was never empty, you opening my door, you making breakfast, you wearing clothes I chose, you jerking off in public bathrooms and sending me the audio, you asking, “May I?”. Bedrock was me catching you every time, noticing and smiling and smoothing my fingers down the side of your face, nodding “yes”. It was easy and natural, and then we tried to look directly at it, see where our feet stood, do it on purpose, and as we looked down it grew huge, began to loom over us. Once you stayed up all night suicidal to make me something sweet, because nothing you made was good enough for the me (you?) in your head. Once I tried to make you beg and when you couldn’t, I scrambled up out of the water myself. I keep wanting to get my feet wet again but lately when I try, it doesn’t feel like we’re laughing and jumping waves. It feels like I’m cliff diving into water I didn’t know was shallow, just managing to belly-flop instead of spilling my brains all over the seafloor.

This week, here with you, I’m having a hard time keeping my mind my own. Instead I am winging off wildly, swirling circling yours like a carrion-bird, picking over the familiar sweet-rotting carcasses of your depression, your anxiety, your perfectionism, flaring and feeding each other. I keep thinking I don’t know how to top you, too many things uncertain and off-limits. (The first time with you, four years ago, I fucked you hard, my first time learning the alignment of elbow and wrist and fingers to fuck forever, the fuck flowing smooth through the alignment of my bones. I didn’t know until last week that lately you’re usually stone. Oh.) I keep falling into that script of crazy people can’t be trusted, can’t fuck, can’t love, can’t find their own edges. I’ve been overconfident, forgetting that new cities, new places, new people stoke my own anxiety, forgetting that not having all my usual foods and spices and spaces is hard. Forgetting that being with you doesn’t mean fixing everything for you or forgetting myself for you. We have both felt that desire to decide it all together, to let a person be our last line of defense. But that is not ours.

Ours is body awareness, efficiency of movement, you punching my feet with fist curled back towards your bicep, massage flowing smooth through the alignment of your bones. Ours is knowing our own strengths. Ours is seeing our own patterns, the outlines of our bare feet in the sand, water silvering in pools at the heels and big toe mounds. Ours is we don’t know, not yet. Ours is curiosity, what happened, did you like it when? (I thought so.)

The kinds of boys I want right now are the kind that fit effortlessly. I used to tag things “rare domesticity,” making cookies or comfort food, hanging lace lingerie out to dry, finding a lull to notice my own caretaking. But these days, domesticity isn’t rare; it’s just routine. It’s how I am, how I live with myself, how I create ease. My therapist might call it hygiene, but I like to call it domesticity: traditionally feminine and therefore traditionally devalued, yet essential, powerful. Domesticity is about home, about family, about the cultivation of space to fit your own body and its rhythms.

But I digress; the point is: you must fit.

All that matters is listening to my own body. All that matters is making as much time as I can to write, and listening to my own body. I want you. I want you when your body wants what I want, when my body makes room for you. I don’t want to try. I don’t want to bend over backwards. I don’t want to drop the ball for you. I don’t want to wait on you or be kept up too late by you. I don’t want to wonder about you. I don’t want to try. I want you. I want you easy and sweet, simple and direct. I want you like a dusting of pink across cheekbones, over smooth skin that’s already perfect by virtue of the fact that it is mine. I want you like an apple (firm, tart) wants ripening. I want a blush of you, pretty femme boy, cutie skater boy, sulky angsty boy, stone butch boy who lets me. I want as many of you as fits.

Maybe I want you to come over after work and give me a foot massage. Maybe if it’s done well, you can kiss them while I read or write, and if you do that nicely I might even watch you jerk yourself, your face beneath my foot, your face pressed to the floor, my ball to your cheek. If you get that red lipstick on my floor, you don’t get to come tonight. Maybe I want to meet you out walking some sunny afternoon, push you up against brick in the alley with a leather-gloved hand over your mouth, our boots crunching leaves underfoot. Maybe I want you doing your thing at my kitchen table while I do mine; maybe in my bed you’ll push your ass up against me and maybe I’ll grab your junk, push your head down and pull you up on your knees so I can fuck you from behind. Maybe I won’t. Maybe I just want you in my arms when I go to sleep tonight.

Maybe this weekend I want you cuffed to my bed with your hand on your cock while I put away my laundry and pick out an outfit. Chores are so much less boring with company, after all, and you look so good, sleeves of your white tee rolled up, fairytale Shakespeare tattoo curling up the inside of your left forearm. When I’m dressed to go out, I’ll straddle you and make you stop touching yourself, my cunt just brushing the back of your hand. You know I want you to beg, and you know I’m watching your choice: are you gonna beg to fuck me, or are you gonna beg to get back to fucking yourself? It doesn’t matter which you beg for; you don’t get to. You already know what I’m going to do with you when we get home. Anyone at this party who’s paying any attention will know because you are flagging navy right for me, and we all know I mean it. Tonight, you’ll make sure you have permission before you touch me in public. I’ll touch you whenever I want. Tomorrow morning, you’ll make breakfast before I get out of bed. Next month, I’ll fly out to New York. I’ll spend a week writing, seeing the best ballet company in the world, networking with other queer bodyworkers, checking out that play party that’s been on my to-do list for years. And yes, my love, yes, I’ll spend a week sleeping in your arms.

In spring, in struggle, I was wed. In summer, I fell, sun arcing high, our skins breathing heat against each other. This autumn, I harvest.

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Days in bed with you, broken and breaking down harder, splintering around you at the slightest touch. One of those days, one of those days after we split and so I was half-healed, half-whole, half-strong, half-resilient and half-returned to being my own person, one of those days you told me the girl after me had called you Daddy. And, crushed, I asked, I must have asked, do you think I will ever get to have a Daddy? Or maybe I accused, you don’t think I can ever have a Daddy. And you said, no, I think you can, but they’ll have to be so strong. They’ll have to be so, so strong.

When I come home from work, I put all my groceries away. I answer emails at my kitchen table, spooning soup to my lips, summer squash and kale, one orange vegetable and one green vegetable a day, like the Canada Food Guide says. I do my dishes. I walk out on my back porch and take a few puffs of a joint rolled the way you taught me (these days mine are smooth and tight around the filter), until the telephone wires and the moon-silvered clouds and the herb leaves wave a little more prettily. I go inside, put on the German minimal album that’s making me swoon all over again this week, and start playing dress-up.

I take off my denim cut-offs, faded almost to white, fabric warping when it’s not stretched tight across my ass. I try on the delicate chains my boy gave me when I visited last weekend over my black-cotton V-neck, snug myself into my tight black leather miniskirt and consider it a lady bro little girl princess femme top fetishwear win. I strip everything off, hang the necklace and the skirt, throw the shirt on top of the massive pile that spills out of the hamper. The sweet words of the vocal sample fade out, the next track is bubbling, night frog voices, swirling celestial winds, rising percussive hits that break with snare and then settle insistently and my feet find their steps, my hips move precisely and progressively looser, and I try on a summer top, backless but for a bow, a sundress, skater boy Vans, gold and silver ropes with keys and pocketwatches and gems, twist my hair into Medusa’s snakes. I get sleepy before I finish putting everything away, but good girls go to bed when they’re sleepy, so that’s what I do.

It’s been months of too much at my real job; you know how it goes. My closest colleague left so I’m doing double work while rewriting job descriptions and sitting on a hiring committee that received nearly 60% more applications than we’ve ever received for that kind of job before. I’m launching a community project and organizing with people who aren’t getting paid, and you know how it goes. Cat-herding and trying hard not to kick unreliable kittens, and you know what? I haven’t.

I am frustrated. All I want to do is write and writing has to be my last priority right now, and it has been this way for months. But month after month, I accept that reality and I am a good girl. I use sick hours when I hit a wall with my sanity. I cook every week and make sure I eat enough every day. I sleep eight hours a night, no matter what. I go to yoga, but if I can’t go to yoga, I remember that yoga is also about adaptability and flexibility and non-attachment. When I have to let things go, I let them go without drowning in regret or if-only or shame. When I have to let you go (again), I cry the whole way home and ask a Facebook group for back-pocket poetry, the kind that keeps you strong while you do something hard, and when I wake up in the morning after my eight hours of sleep, I know it’ll be okay.

There’s a blue moon one night, and I want to call you and ask you to meet me halfway between our houses, wander through the summer streets and sit on a park bench getting stoned, riffing off each other and laughing the way only you and I can. My favorite night at my favorite club is this week, and I wish I could ask you what you think of the international the resident’s booked. I hear you have a gig this weekend, and I wish I could be there. The VMAs were last weekend, and we would have rolled our eyes over Miley and then moved on to discovering or rediscovering Rihanna’s “Stay” video, her in neutral makeup, beautiful skin and features the star of the show. I know you probably swoon harder over her in that video than you ever have over Rihanna before.

I fucking miss you. But I can’t stop wondering why you haven’t noticed how strong I am, why you wouldn’t say, “of course you’ll have a Daddy, look how strong you are: so, so strong. Strong enough to love that hard and strong enough to be held that hard”.

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P1000235

I quote directly from the poems by Warsan Shire and Mary Oliver that were my wedding vows throughout this post. Please recognize their words within mine.

The Strength card is facing down your own beasties. They slide their tentacles out from underneath your bed, creep up towards you, roar in your face. And you wrap firm fingers around the backs of their necks and pull them to your breast. You say to yourself, “I know, baby,” and take a step forward anyways: you let go, you show up, you forgive, you dig out your own rot and you reach out and you ask, do you want to be my friend? You forgive yourself for birthing your own beasties. You look into their beastie eyes that roll and blink, trying to hypnotize you into a stillness that will make you easy to strangle. When you breathe your chest against theirs, it is they who still, who lull, who curl up kitten-like in your palm.

The Artist of Bones is the moment in anxiety when you stop. When you look at yourself in the mirror and you notice the shape of your lips, the angle of your collarbone, the texture of your hair, and as you see yourself, you breathe slowly. You bring oxygen to every cell that creates your features, and you say to yourself, here I am. I am here. And so all is well. The Artist of Bones is recognition of the inherent power and sweetness of embodiment, seeing your body, your mouth, your heart, made specifically for loving. It is a consolidation of everything beautiful and everything soothing in only yourself. It is wearing leather every day if you want to, dressing your hair high like a coronet, trying on red lipstick even though it feels like commanding attention and admiration you don’t deserve, buying yourself a jade green silk nightgown for the sole purpose of feeling like a mermaid in bed.

And then there is the Hermit. The Hermit is the mornings you wake up and instead of reaching for another warm body that isn’t there, you hug your fingers into the spaces between your own ribs and smile at the perfect fit. Your hands rise, your ribs rise, your lungs rise, the bellows that breathe you. This is you alone, learning how much you like it, learning to illuminate your way forward with your own fierce certainty. The Hermit is walking to your favorite club on your favorite night, watching the smoke from the joint you rolled yourself curl in the night air, facing forward breaking it down in the same spot on the dance floor all night, sleeping exhausted, waking up to wrap your arms around yourself all over again, again and again and again.

(tw: mention of suicidal feelings)

“I deserve to be all for which I yearn.”

The night I decided to marry myself, that was how my journal entry ended. And so I ordered myself an amethyst ring fit for a princess and soft black lace lingerie and put them on the altar with the High Priestess and Liberation as the moon waxed towards the equinox, hoping to turn inward in preparation, to find a path out or up or through. I decided the infinite intimate intrinsic wisdom of my body deserved reverence, stopped having lazy, efficacious orgasms and started building towards something better to celebrate my commitment to myself. I paused and then pulled back from something that could have been sweet because I couldn’t trust the boy to respect my words or answer honestly, and I’d already learned that relationships where I find myself trying to do the emotional labor of two people fuck me up good. I was frustrated at the still-volatile plateau of my crazy, starting to wonder if I would ever be able to do more than basics without ending up on the well-worn trail to kill-yourself town, treading those ruts deeper each time my feet traced them.

I was desperate, and decided I needed to indulge that desperation in order to nourish myself, instead of minimizing and it and risking myself. Too many months too lonely and too isolated; too many days crushed under the certainty that my crazy would always be too much; too many years-long relationships ending [changing] because it was too hard, too hard to know which desires and emotions were mine and which were someone else’s, too hard to know which ethics were hers and which were mine. And because anxiety is embodied, because hurt and disappointment are embodied, it is exhausting for a body to live ethics that are questionably or not at all one’s own. I was frustrated by my inability to make time and space for the things that make me feel brilliant and beautiful. I was frustrated by how much energy it took to treat myself like I deserved to live even though sometimes I didn’t believe that at all. I was frustrated by feeling like surviving took so much energy I didn’t have room to be alive.

And yet I was feeling pulled and prompted to do more. In March my daily cards were nearly always keys, inspiration and passion and action, especially the 3 keys that I drew three times that month. I was excited about projects and conversations at my real job for the first time in forever, and I was thinking all the time. I was thinking about gender and power, in relationships and individuals, thoughts interesting and complex and developed enough that I wanted to write them. I was beginning to feel called in my teaching practice as my understanding of embodied emotion deepened in my personal yoga practice. But every time I tried to act on inspiration, it backfired: a panic attack, an angry anxious outburst, a dropped ball.

It seemed that there must be an answer, and it seemed that I was beginning to figure out what it was, thinking about femininity and tenderness and the ways that second-wave feminism and sexism collaborate to denigrate fragility and vulnerability, feeling kindled and gentled towards being gentle with myself by Warsan Shire’s beautiful and revolutionary writing about love, especially self-love. And the answer was myself. The answer was finding the discipline to transform those things I theoretically knew into deep, embodied belief, the discipline to trust my body’s knowledge of what I need, of what I can and cannot do, of what will keep me happy and healthy, the discipline to trust myself, always, above anything and anyone else. And so I decided to marry myself for the season of spring, to commit to deepening and consolidating my own resources, to commit to contentment with my skin’s own contents.

The ceremony was the day after I’d spent twelve hours having breakdown after breakdown, all day in one room with Nic. I needed to learn solitude without sadness, self-love without anxiety, and fear-facing without force, the Hermit and the Artist of Bones and Strength, and so I placed them on my altar to alter my deck, and every morning’s guidance for the duration of this marriage. When I read my vows, I cried. Yesterday was the summer solstice, and this time when I re-read my vows I didn’t cry because I could see that I had kept them. I spent this spring surrounded by sweetness, sweetness as my language, especially when speaking to myself, sweetness as my polestar, my guide, my reigning ethic, sweetness as the solution to every problem including my own fuck-ups, sweetness as inspiration for my writing and my work, and sweetness as my wellspring, the source of more sweetness, more sweetness for even those most difficult to be sweet to, in my own jealousy and hurt, and also sweetness as nourishment, as a way to hear my body’s guidance, to replace the rot I was digging out. Sweetness as an invitation to those people I wanted closer to me, an invitation to myself when sweetness felt hard. Sweetness from my family, chosen and blood, finally sunk deep enough under my skin to feel real most of the time. Sweetness finally real enough that I can find it in myself and reflect it back to them.

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Mornings with the boy, I nearly always want to fuck him. I feel his solid limbs heavy with sleep, and there’s something about the trust implicit in him begging for it while still half-dreaming that makes it impossible not to pull his ass back into me and wrap an arm around his throat. Years ago, someone I was falling for told me, “You convince me from scratch every time”. I knew what she meant back then, but feeling the other side of a sweet bottom’s effortless convincing is a whole other kind of knowing.

Since this boy first gave me his ass a few months ago, I’ve been thinking about the relative ease of topping versus bottoming. What’s easy? In derisive references to pillow princesses, defensive assertions that we can top even if we aren’t right now, and disproportionate resources and education for kinky tops, I hear from queers and pervs that topping is harder and more valuable. Topping requires skill, strength, and endurance; bottoming just requires lazy acceptance. Flipping a top is an achievement, but for some reason flipping a submissive little girl like me isn’t.

I once saw a long-haired white-man hippie flopping like a boneless fish out of water on the floor of a yoga studio. Instructing future yoga teachers on the paradox of masculine/feminine duality, he was demonstrating what women [his word choice] would look like during sex if being receptive required no strength, intention, or effort. To hold yourself in place and open so that another person can drive into you requires all those things; otherwise instead of getting fucked, we’d be slithering away like so many boneless fish. As the Collective Tarot highlights with the Reception card that replaces The Empress in the major arcana, the receptive role is traditionally coded feminine; therefore, it’s no surprise that it is devalued in this sexist world (which, yes, includes the queers and pervs):

Receiving has often been associated with weakness. It is actually the sturdiest of endeavors.

Dualities are interdependent. When I think about the strength it takes to bottom, I think about how a top’s strength relies on it. I think about passive resistance, the way a body gone limp and uncooperative hinders or prevents another from exerting physical power on it. A little while ago, Nic wanted to pick me up, so I wrapped my arms around her neck and curled up into her arms, and she said:

Femmes have all the strength. Bottoms have all the strength. I could carry you to your room right now and all I’d have to do is…not crumble.

I love bottoming. When I put myself in a top’s hands, I’m deep and safe in my own skin. It’s what comes most naturally to me and it’s how I identify. Yet with the boy, topping feels most natural. Fucking him, power wells from the depths of my body, surging huge and strong and protective against my skin, and this is easy because it feels so good, but it’s also hard. It’s hard because I feel so exposed: every kiss, touch, or slap is a public test of whether I read my bottom’s desire and consent accurately. It’s hard because it’s outside my comfort zone.

Easy and hard are meaningless as generalizations. Sometimes it’s easier to take on the role expected of your gender or your gender presentation. Sometimes it’s easier to be in control because you can’t trust people to see and touch your body in ways that make you feel right and good and hot. Sometimes it’s easier to be in control because you’ve had so many experiences where you weren’t permitted to be. Sometimes it’s easier to be in control because the straight dude you brought home is painfully clueless.  It depends so much on the person and the situation, and for so many people, bottoming is what’s hard, what feels vulnerable. And even if you’re fucking a bottom for whom it’s easy, we are still vulnerable. If you’re a top who believes in pillow princesses, all that says about you is that you consider us just holes to fuck or flesh to beat, and if you don’t appreciate what we do–the way we feel, the way we look at you, the way we sound–then you don’t deserve to fuck us.

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.

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