Crushes

This week, after putting some serious time into considering the possibility, I decided I had a crush on a friend of mine. On three separate occasions I told each of my partners and this friend about my discovery.

“… and today is different from before how?”
“Well… yeah.”
“I knew… and I thought I was oblivious.”

Each of these people found this hilarious, because of course I have a crush on her. Everyone knows this!

I used to get lots of crushes. And for a while there I pursued pretty much all of them. At one point I was dating four people. That, for me, is a lot. Then one of them moved (and eventually decided to let me know they’d done so). Another one was self-medicating way too much, and we amicably parted, not being terribly good for one another at that point. The remaining two relationships flourished, and are still flourishing. It’s been amazing.

After that point I still had a crush here and there. Every once in a while I’d flirt with them, or more. But far less often than before. My energy went into my existing relationships. Building them, strengthening them. Proceeding deliberately (or as deliberately as we could manage). The last time I had a crush… and I don’t mean merely finding someone hot, or enjoying their company. I mean that kind of thing where your legs feel a little wobbly and your entire torso feels full of butterflies whenever you really pay attention to them. The last time I had a crush on someone who wasn’t one of my partners, and pursued it, we had a great time together. We clicked, emotionally and physically. It was awesome. But what she needed from me was something I didn’t have the resources to give. Because of that we had to stop seeing each other, even as friends, for a good long while.

That hurt. And with that hurt I just… stopped having crushes. I placed a moratorium on those feelings for anyone with whom I wasn’t already in a committed relationship. It made sense at the time, and still does, really.

The thing about doing that, though, is that it was the start of my losing awareness of part of my inner life. I mean, I’ve always been oblivious to other people, but not to myself. It got easier for people close to me to figure out what was going on with me than it was for me to figure it out myself. Now, writing this, I wonder if that’s why it took me so long to figure out that my depression and anxiety had gotten the better of me. My partners knew.

But with help, I’ve been recovering from the worst of the depression and anxiety. And I think that in doing so I’ve started to re-open my eyes to myself. I’m not cutting any part of me off from any other part, or at least not doing it as often or as strongly. Parts of me that I hadn’t given light in quite a while have started to get light again.

Probably the first sign of this change was when I started getting to know a new friend, and wasn’t sure if I was just excited to be making a new friend, or if I was experiencing that “crush” thing that I’d pretty much forgotten about. I didn’t pick up on it at the time, but I was in the process of recovering access to parts of myself from which I didn’t even know I was cut off.

And that was a whole lot of heavy stuff just to come back around to where I started.

That friend, way up above? The one who thought she was the oblivious one? I’ve known her since way back when I was still dating four people at once. And I’ve never exactly been secretive about my thinking she’s one of the most gorgeous people I’ve known. Slowly over the years we’ve gotten to know each other better. We started hanging out more often recently, just the two of us, and I’d come away with my mind lingering on this thing she said, or that thing. Or the way her hair fell in her face when she shook her head. Or this, or that, or this other thing, or all of them at once. Using my slowly-returning self-awareness and self-examination skills, I sat and paid attention to these phenomena in me.

“What’s going on here?” I asked myself in all seriousness. “Is this actually different from any other set of interactions with any other people?”

Yes, these are the kind of conversations I have with myself instead of just thinking “She’s pretty. We should do things together.”

No, really. I sat there and recounted to myself different times we’d seen each other or talked over the years, asking what I felt and thought for each of them. That’s probably where I became consciously aware that I’d deprived myself of access to parts of myself for who knows how long.

I came to a conclusion. Yes. Absolutely. This is totally a crush.

Luckily, before I had the chance to start freaking myself out over this (something I can be really, really good at, because have you met my anxiety?) I shared my startling revelation with the people who would have the most investment in this situation.

And what I got it return was kind-hearted, incredulous laughter and gentle pats on the head over this being a new revelation, or at least it being an unexpected development. People know I’m oblivious to other people’s interest in me, but oblivious to my own interest in other people? That’s a whole new level of absurd lack of self awareness.

But, as it often does, my own awkwardness seems to work to my advantage, because this friend said I was adorable. And now we have plans to make out sometime.

Self-awareness, however slow it may be in coming, absolutely rules.

Sometimes your kink is NOT okay

Originally posted on Tumblr

Sometimes I think a lot of kinksters just expect everyone to drop whatever critical lens they may have upon entering the public scene. “Your kink is okay” is drilled into people as a way of making room for the wide variety of things that fall under the kink/fetish/BDSM umbrella. It’s a useful thing to remember when you encounter things that squick you, or that just hold no appeal. Just because it’s not your kink doesn’t mean it’s bad.

But what about when you’re pretty sure that someone’s kink is *not* okay? Are we supposed to drop our ethics or our ideologies? Are we supposed to behave like once the leather and latex come out then we’ve entered a critique-free zone? Is BDSM the key to a mythical, objective, ideology-free world? That what some folks seem to think.

“If you don’t like it, then don’t participate,” they’ll say. “It’s not your place to judge.” As if scenes, fetishes, and relationships existed in a void, neither affected by nor affecting anything not directly connected to them.

But sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, patriarchy, misogyny and all the systems of oppression within which we live don’t miraculously disintegrate once you enter the dungeon. We can still engage in problematic behaviors under the guise of BDSM.

That race play scene may have been the best thing ever for the people involved, but it could still bring up very real memories and fears for the people who saw or heard it. And even if race play is your kink, that doesn’t mean that it’s not fair game for analysis, for wondering how actual racism interacts with it.

You may have a fetish for corrupting young girls, but your swooping down on every young woman who is a newcomer still reeks of rape culture.

“Forced bi” activities might get you hard as a rock, but they still interact with, and possibly reinforce, homophobia and biphobia.

Sissification may be where you feel most at peace, but it still plays off of misogyny, transphobia and transmisogyny.

You might buy into a kink fandom built on the idea that women should be submissive and men dominant, but the fact that it’s your kink doesn’t make it not sexist.

And you’re right. People who have problems with these things don’t have to play with those people. It’s true. But the effects of the prejudices that are interwoven with these kinks don’t dissipate just because they happen to turn someone on. They still work to create an environment that’s often not welcoming to the people most affected by types of oppressions that inform the kinks. And as long as that’s happening, then “Don’t judge. It’s just not your kink,” doesn’t cut it for me. I will critique. I will criticize. I will bring my full self, ethics, ideology, and all, to any situation. I may take my glasses off to fuck, but my critical lens stays in place.

And maybe you don’t like that. Maybe you think I’m harshing your mellow judgment free zone. And that’s fine. But critique is my kink. And my kink is okay, right?

Stuck in Trafficking

For some time now I’ve been suspicious of the anti-trafficking movement, and especially that segment of it that’s specifically Christian. It’s long struck me as sensationalist, focusing on sex work to the exclusion of other forms of forced labor (Hi there, Nike and the US Agriculture industry!), as well as overly broad. It seemed there was a reluctance among anti-(sex-)trafficking groups to precisely define trafficking in a way that avoided lumping consensual sex work in with forced sex work. The idea that no one really wants to do sex work seems to run deep, with Slave Free Earth stating: “We have a broad definition of Sex Trafficking and will work from the philosophy that the vast majority of prostitutes are not there by choice.” (Side note: Homebrewed Christianity being sponsored by that organization is one of many things that put me off of that podcast and blog, despite its hosting so many interesting thinkers. But that could be a whole other blog post.)

The feminism I came into is one that is concerned with the rights, voices and safety of sex workers. That includes the right to and practice of self-determination. Yeah, a slave-owning pimp infringes upon those rights, silences those voice and provides no real safety. The idea that sex-workers need some sort of rescuing (almost always by affluent white folks) can do the same.

It was with great satisfaction that I saw some of my concerns being reflected and expanded in Are Evangelicals Monopolizing, Misleading US Anti-Trafficking Efforts?, an interview with professor of Christian Ethics, Yvonne Zimmerman, as well as in Chink in the Evangelical wall: Sex trafficking, colonialism and Christian ethics from “The Naked Anthropologist,” Dr. Laura Agustín. They are both worth your time, and deserve to be read widely in evangelical circles.

A Radical Reading of Galatians 3:25:29

Galatians 3:25-29

25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. 27 As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.

I have seen the assertion that the identities so important in identity politics are subsumed by our identity in Christ. Someone is not a Jew, they are a child of God who is Jewish. Someone is not a slave, they are a child of God who is in bondage. Someone is not a woman, they are a child of God who is female. Someone is not black, they are a child of God who is of African descent. Someone is not gay, they are a child of God who is attracted to the same gender.

In the Kingdom of God, the ways in which we divide ourselves are overridden because we are in Christ who unites us.

But telling someone “there is no longer Jew nor Greek” does not lift the Roman boot sandal from the necks of the oppressed. Saying “there is no longer slave nor free” does nothing to change the fact that “Abraham’s offspring” is still held in the violence of slavery. Saying “there is no longer male nor female” does not erase the ways in which women are oppressed, othered and systematically devalued. Telling each of these “I don’t give credence to this class division” means that you don’t take seriously the ways in which the members of each class are oppressed.

Likewise, “There is no longer gay nor straight, there is no longer trans nor cis” doesn’t erase the experiences of the queer person whose life is at risk for simply being who they are. They cannot simply say “I’m not gay, I belong to Christ” and suddenly have the reality of their oppression disappeared.

The tendency amongst some to say that in Christ we move past our (previous) identities creates room to erase the experience of the oppressed and hides the need to work on the racism, sexism, heterosexism, transphobia that is at the root of the exclusion of many from having a voice in the Body of Christ. When straight, cis, white men appeal to “There is no longer,” then they run the risk of furthering violence against those who still are.

Paul can be read here as preaching the other side of Jesus’ first recorded sermon in Luke 4:18-19. Walter Brueggemann writes in The Prophetic Imagination (p. 84):

In Luke 4:18-19 he announces that a new age was beginning, but that announcement carries within it a harsh criticism of all those powers and agents of the present order. His message was to the poor, but others kept them poor and benefitted from their poverty. He addressed the captives (which means bonded slaves), but others surely wanted that arrangement unchanged. He named the oppressed, but there are never oppressed without oppressors.

His ministry carried out the threat implicit in these two fundamental announcements. The ministry of Jesus is, of course, criticism that leads to radical dismantling.

If he came to “let the oppressed go free” then he has also come to oppose the oppressor. If Jesus is setting the tone of his entire ministry by speaking to the oppressed, then Paul is speaking to those in the oppressing classes of their participation in the Kingdom of God. Paul is removing the ability of the oppressors to other the oppressed.

The voice of Paul here must be directed at the oppressor, not the oppressed. He must be saying to the men that they can no longer exclude and other women. He must be saying to the slave owner that the category of slave cannot exist in Christ, for if he is speaking to the oppressed, then he is simply allowing for the erasure of their oppression in the eyes of their oppressors. When straight or cis people say “I don’t see you as gay, I see you as my sister. I don’t see you as trans, I see you as my brother,” they don’t do anything to stand with the oppressed, rather they erase the oppressed, saying “The way you fit into my framework is more important than your lived experience.” If Paul is telling the slave “You are no longer a slave,” and not addressing the reality that this offspring of Abraham is held as property of another human, then Paul is not preaching a gospel of freedom for the oppressed, but a perverted gospel that ignores cries for freedom.

I have a consent fetish

A couple of the fetishes on my FetLife fetish list are things like consent, yes means yes and only yes means yes. These are big deals to me. In fact, they’re probably my only dealbreaker fetishes. I suppose that makes consent the only true fetish I’ve got. It is the one thing I absolutely must have in order to play with someone.

Because of this consent fetish, there may be a long time between expressing interest in someone and actually playing with them. Before I can do anything, I have to feel comfortable that the consent that’s given is fully informed and enthusiastic. That means talking about what consent means to us, talking about what exactly we do and do not want to do, talking about values, desires, expectations, demands. It means making sure that consent is not just an absence of “no,” but the enthusiastic presence of “yes.”

This can make things complicated. It means I won’t play with anyone who can’t or won’t have an open, direct conversation about what they want and need. It means that if someone prefers to communicate in hints and flirtations to the exclusion of directness, we’re not going to be able to do anything together.

Consent, to me, is so much more than negotiating and honoring safewords. It’s about getting to a point where I trust the negotiations are free from coercion. It’s about trusting that if consent changes or is revoked in the midst of a scene, that such will be communicated.

I see a world around me in which consent is not valued. Some people are socialized to accept that things are taken from them and others are socialized to take. Some are told to never say “No” and others are told to never take “no” for an answer. Women are often expected to, among other things, rebuff sexual advances even if they welcome them, and to welcome them even if they do not want them. We’re surrounded by a million cultural forces telling us what we should do, bending our will. Because of this, consent is a goal to reach under quite strained circumstances. If I’m going to tie you up, spank you, set you on fire, fuck you or engage in any other such delights, I need to know that the “Yes” I get from you is a yes that you mean, not one that you have given under duress, or because you’re expected to, or because you just figure you oughta. That’s what I mean by “Only yes means yes.”

It often feels to me that, despite all the focus kinksters put on consent and negotiation, there’s very little addressing how to do those things without coercion. Kinky settings can often lead to an expectation of availability. Just look at how many submissive women have to say things like “I’m a submissive, not your submissive.” There’s an expectation amongst enough folks that if you’re at a party, at a munch, on FetLife, open about being kinky, that you’re fair game because, hey, you can always say “No,” right? None of that takes into account social pressures, the conditioning that some people have to say “Yes,” the subtle ways that people can be coerced, or the effects of an expectation of availability. That’s why I like “only yes means yes” as a starting point. It’s not enough that someone can say no, that they can reject advances, that they can use their safeword if they need to. A panic button isn’t enough for me to call a situation consensual.

So I may go slow. I’ll likely ask very specific questions. I’ll assume that if we come to a consensual arrangement, that the consent is specific to that time, that place and those specified activities. Instead of saying “If you’re not comfortable tell me, and we’ll stop,” I’ll say something like “Are you comfortable with insert specific thing?” and I’ll stop unless I get a clearly affirmative answer.

Some folks think that asking for permission isn’t sexy. I think that it’s what makes what comes next sexy. You know how many times I’ve asked “Can I kiss you?” I’ve not yet had anyone who didn’t appreciate being asked. You think it’s not sexy to get a bottom’s permission before each new thing? You whisper in someone’s ear “I want to do X to you. Do you want that?” and have them repeat back to you what they want you to do and then tell me that’s not hot.

I spent most of my formative young adult years in an emotionally abusive relationship. I had to learn a lot of this shit the hard way, and I know I hurt some folks along the way in doing so. This is what it takes for me to be happy. This is what it takes for me to trust that someone’s yes is undoubtedly a yes. This is the best understanding I can get of what it means to negotiate the things we do when we live in a world infused at every turn by patriarchy, by kyriarchy. I love playing with power, but when power is so unbalanced in the world, and so abused, it takes a very serious, deep approach to consent for me to play with power in a safe, useful, respectful and feminist way.