A few thoughts for #TDOR

CONTENT NOTE: discussion of transphobic violence, and “justifications”.

Today is Trans Day of Remembrance, a day set aside by the transgender/transsexual community to commemorate the murders of trans folks in the past year, and to draw attention to the violence to which trans people are disproportionately subjected, with the hope of preventing future deaths and cruelty. I do not like to let the day go past unremarked, even though (as explained below) in my genderfluidity I have an “out”. When people are being murdered, all people of conscience should be motivated towards ending violence.

I’ve mentioned a few times that I simply do not express my genderfluidity in public (I still express it where I can, not just virtually but in the privacy of my room with feminine clothing etc). I opt to pass as cis rather than express those moments when I am in-between, or just really want to be female. I do so because of experiences of casual hatred directed towards me when I did choose to express my non-binary, non-heteronormative, aspects. I live in fear and hiding, and uncertainty. I make what choices I feel I have to, to navigate the world beyond my own.

To be trans is essentially not to have those choices; the hatred is, in the wider world, unavoidable and unpredictable in just where and when it will appear, and in what form. Which person who seems okay will turn out to react violently, a threat to life and limb? Who’s going to express in an unguarded moment their underlying belief that trans people should not be allowed to exist? (Some people, of course, make no secret of their hatred.)

The murders range from the supposedly spontaneous, violent expression of disgust (the so-called “trans panic” defence) to considered attempts to “rid the Earth” of those the perpetrator believes are a threat to society, or an abomination, or whatever. Some are just because the murderer knows that their target is not valued by society and they will almost certainly get away with it. There are plenty of other sources to explain just how disproportionate are the numbers of women of colour, and sex workers (and of course, the combination of all three axes) in the lists of those killed; the least protected, least valued, by White, het, cis middle-class society.

But anti-trans violence isn’t restricted to murder. Bullying, harassment, and other forms of aggression are common, and go unchecked. Protesting the murders means nothing, and achieves nothing, if these issues, from the basic verbal abuse through to brutality or sexual harassment, are left untouched. The permission granted by an indifferent society to these crimes, similarly creates the atmosphere where “trans panic” is considered a reasonable defence and in which the murder of someone for being trans is acceptable.

Trans Day of Remembrance is about mourning the victims. The other 364 days should be about working to ensure there are no more.

Gender, online roleplay and media

(This post follows on from the “bad chatroom messages” post at the weekend, in which I promised to writre about it being hard to find good online roleplay partners)

I’ve written before about my adventures back in BDSM web chatroom land, where I noted that, “A good cybersex partner, it seems, is hard to find.” This post, I’m going to look a bit more about what I’ve encountered so far.

I talked a lot in that post about needing description:

When all you have is the text on the screen, if you don’t describe it, it might as well be invisible. Obviously, the mantra, “show, don’t tell”, is useful here, although feedback (telling) is useful too. You need to use words to paint a picture for your partner, and I want them to paint me a picture in equally vivid detail so that I can add my next layer to it and vice versa.

I also mused about how often men (or people who identified themselves as male) seemed not to “get” what was important about it.

The online space is a liberating environment for my genderfluid self, and because my r/l body is strongly male-gendered it is often a realm where I am happiest to be identified as female, or feminine. I base my description on my actual body, but emphasise the traditionally female-coded parts (man-boobs become (fem-)boobs, describe the hips and arse, talk about “curves”… people get the coding pretty easily), so I get to feel embodied in the virtual space and translate my experience more easily as imagined. Sometimes I shrink myself a bit in order to adopt a specifically fem, Sub, identity for play but still keep features that I associate most strongly with myself (again, size of boobs and arse, and generally hair).

I do play as male roles, with gay men or straight women, because that’s still an important side of me (and reflects my r/l opportunities, which sometimes is what you want from a roleplay fantasy). But most of the time, I’m in a fem role, either top or bottom, and that’s the way I like it.

I have now done several roleplays with male and female partners (or at least, that’s how they self-identified), but the balance is definitely on the side of roleplaying lesbian scenes, because these are the scenes in which I am most likely to get the kind of textual service I expect (nay, demand!) from a partner when I’m doing it for fun rather than profit.

In fact, the quality of service in terms of the use of text to create the roleplay, looks something like this:

  1. Lesbian/bi women: exemplary
  2. Straight women: good
  3. Gay men: below average
  4. Straight/bi men: poor

Of course, there is a lot of variation: there are some straight men who are exemplary, and some lesbian or bi women who frankly leave far too much unsaid. This list describes the overall trend based on observations so far.

This leads me to be MUCH more willing to roleplay with women rather than men, and I have devised a simple way of finding out if a person propositioning me for roleplay is likely to live up to the standards I expect (and of course, I’m much more likely to challenge a man than a woman on it). A pretty good indicator of how well they will describe a scene, is how well they describe themselves in the first place. After all, if you don’t or can’t describe yourself, how am I supposed to see you?

Men, on average, turn out to be very bad at this. Women, on the other hand, seem to find it natural. (I hope people think I find it natural, too.)

There is a common canard that “men are more visual” and that is why men watch porn while women read “romance” novels. But looking at the way men versus women roleplay (in my experience), I would say that women think much more visually than men, whereas men think in terms of action or actions.

This is hardly surprising when we consider the ways that men and women are coded in popular culture and media. Women are presented and described as things to be looked at. Fashion, advertising, even reporting on “action” roles such as sports, politics or writing, tends to take time out to describe the appearance of women in those roles in a way they don’t for men. By chance, there’s a story just out about a male TV presenter who tried the experiment of wearing the same suit for a year to see if anyone noticed. No one did. (The experiment was occasioned by the sexist fashion-policing of his female colleague.)

I wrote before about sexual arousal, and my questioning the assumption that men are better at interoception than women, based on men’s ability to use an external sign (erection) as a substitute for internal awareness of their arousal. This assumption is also challenged by the experience of roleplaying with men versus women and receiving feedback in the roleplay scene.

I love describing arousal, particularly plateau and climax, and sometimes my imaginary orgasms are better than the real-life versions. I have even more material to work with now, after viewing the many excellent pictures in Girl On The Net’s Draw Your Orgasm competition (vote for me! vote for all of them!) and my entry came from one of the more unusual roleplays I’ve done. In my experience, women are much better at describing what’s going on in their (virtual) bodies as a cybersex scene draws to its close, whereas men tend to describe only how they act rather than how they feel (at best, you get what’s going on in their penis). In fact, when I am roleplaying a male role, it is tempting to rely on these behavioural signs; only because I know the value of the whole experience as part of the turn-on for a partner, I am able to keep that broader lens on the internal.

I am open about my genderfluid identity. Nevertheless, several lesbian (as in, exclusively so – again, going on their self-reported identities) and bisexual women have decided that I am female-assign-at-birth. One woman said, of my non-scening chat, “a man couldn’t fake it for this long” even after I told her I was genderfluid. I am tempted to go looking for “women-born-women only” lesbian chatrooms to see if I pass as female under the scrutiny of those who claim to be able to know. But that would still be a violation of consent and unethical, even as an experiment, so it’s not going to happen.

The ways in which my style and instincts for online roleplay match the ways in which women in general seem to play probably strengthen the impression they get. It feels genuinely liberating to be accepted as not-male, and to embrace the “other me(s)”, especially woman-me.

My take-away point from all this is the realisation that the way we feel ourselves, or people like us, presented in the wider social and cultural context really does affect the way we see and feel ourselves to be. The stark contrast between the visually detailed descriptions women give versus the sparse, functional versions men use, is a powerful reminder of the power these social influences have.

When I’m Elust 64

Cheeky minx
Photo courtesy of Cheeky Minx

Welcome to Elust #64 -

The only place where the smartest and hottest sex bloggers are featured under one roof every month. Whether you’re looking for sex journalism, erotic writing, relationship advice or kinky discussions it’ll be here at Elust. Want to be included in Elust #65? Start with the rules, come back December1st to submit something and subscribe to the RSS feed for updates!

On a special note I want to mention that the judges voting on Elust is often very close, this month more than most. You all do such fine work that it is very hard for us to come up with the final results.

~ This Month’s Top Three Posts ~

Ownership: On Sexuality & Feminine Relations

Tool Time

Seven – A Fairytale of Sorts

~ Featured Post (Molly’s Picks) ~

The Love Letter of O
To My Single Submissive Friends – Be Brave

~ Readers Choice from Sexbytes ~

*You really should consider adding your popular posts here too*
What S/He Said: Pressing Stop

All blogs that have a submission in this edition must re-post this digest from tip-to-toe on their blogs within 7 days. Re-posting the photo is optional and the use of the “read more…” tag is allowable after this point. Thank you, and enjoy!

 

Writing about Writing

How We Talk About Play

Erotic Fiction

The Warehouse
Taking Chance
The Little Mermaid
Trick or Treat
Bad Sex Turns Good
Shall We Dance?
Let’s Play a Game (Spuffy Erotica)
Firemen

Sex News, Opinion, Interviews, Politics & Humor

A MakeLoveNotPorn Reality Check
Pondering Dildos as Art
Where does bdsm come from? Other species/
A Females Perspective on Extreme Feminists

Erotic Non-Fiction

Fucking on Facebook
A lot of Patience
Hands Away
Tall Dark and Handsome Pleasant Surprise
Torture His Balls. Tease His Cock.
Caning Sometime?
I Took my Pony Slave Shopping
Private Dancer
Earning Pleasure The Hard Way
At the Movies

Thoughts & Advice on Kink & Fetish

Finding Shelter in the Shadows.
My First Scarification
Q: “What’s stopping me from reporting owner?”
Squirting…Fact Not Fiction-Part 3

Thoughts & Advice on Sex & Relationships

Shiny Lesbian Syndrome
Communicate!
Losing it, asking for it
Celebration
How I Handle Being A Parent & Sex Positive
Sex as the most intimate performance
The crowded mirror
Sex Hangover

Poetry

Penisaurus – a Lusty Limerick

Blogging

Sex toys are NOT required for fantastic sex
My paint brush is empty.

 

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Assumptions and privilege: tonight’s chatroom case studies

Content Note: entitled arseholes invading virtual personal space and denying non-binary gender status. And getting angry when I don’t like it.

- – -

I plan my Monday blogpost to be about a related topic (the difficulty of finding good partners in chatroom sexual roleplay), but this just happened and I felt it was worth sharing.

As a genderfluid person, web chatrooms that don’t require a declared binary gender are very valuable to me as ways of hanging out and, in the kinky ones, having the kinds of sexual roleplay, in ways that are denied to me by a gendered r/l body. In the chatroom mentioned below, I find that people frequently read me in my (gender-ambiguous) nickname, as being female more often than female, even though anyone who asks gender gets “genderfluid” as my answer, and I absolutely refuse to give way on what I “really” am or my r/l genitalia.

For instance, this example from tonight (took place after some lovely friendly chat and discussion of fantasies, and what a roleplay might be like):

[01:13:53] (Me) wondered how you were gendering me in your mind
[01:14:13] (Me) also, whether you’re straight, gay, bi, or what?
[01:14:50] (AverageCisGuy) haha well i assumed you were female. i’m straight but like being tied up by anyone.
[01:15:38] (Me) I’m genderfluid, but most people round here read me as fem. if I need to be male I can choose a different nick
[01:16:02] (AverageCisGuy) ah right, so what are you in real life?
[01:16:30] (AverageCisGuy) i assumed you were female from your writing
[01:16:32] (Me> ooh, bad move! in r/l I am genderfluid.
[01:17:01] (Me> what about my writing made you think female?
[01:17:06] (AverageCisGuy) sorry! i mean what were you born as then?
[01:17:12] Me is always interested in people’s assumptions about me
[01:17:27] (Me) even worse!
[01:17:48] (Me) that sort of question is really insulting
[01:18:04] (Me) and cis folks tend to do that a lot
[01:18:46] (Me) only people get to ask about my r/l genitals, are people I am going to r/l do the dirty with.
[01:18:58] (AverageCisGuy) is it? i’m only making conversation, you don’t need to be so defensive, i’m only being polite.
[01:19:22] (AverageCisGuy) i didn’t ask anything about your genitals
[01:19:25] (Me) no. it’s not polite, or “just conversation” to ask those things
[01:19:45] (Me) and I get that you don’t know that, which is why I’m still talking to you
[01:20:18] (Me) but, for the sake of myself and all the other trans*/genderqueer/genderfluid folks out there, I’m hoping to educate you on this
[01:20:30] (AverageCisGuy) well putting “genderfluid” is very vague so you are bound to get asked questions.
[01:21:10] (AverageCisGuy) plus it now sounds like you were trying to hide your gender from me from the start
[01:21:13] (Me) that’s fine, as long as they are questions like, “I’ve never heard that before, what does it mean?” or “what are you feeling like right now?”
[01:21:46] (Me) I haven’t hidden anything. my gender is genderfluid.
[01:22:10] (AverageCisGuy) i’m too tired for this now sorry, you’ve spolit a decent conversation.
[01:22:48] (Me) well, asking “what were you born as?” spoilt it for me
[01:23:11] (AverageCisGuy) good night, hope you get whatever you are looking for.

I’m particularly taken by the claim that asking “what were you born as?” isn’t an attempt to find out what genitalia I have. A trans* person asking that would obviously have a different connotation, but a random cis dude who’s already been told “genderfluid” twice? Not likely it meant anything else.

But down to the Private Message that I really wanted to quote for you all.

I frequently receive uninvited Private Message tabs opening up, usually from HNGs (Horny Net Guys) wanting to know “asl?” (Age, Sex, Location). The others just assume I’m female. Most behave badly and, in keeping with my principles, I try to teach them to view women as people. This is a classic example, from tonight:

[23:51:46] Common channels with RandomPMGuy: #FlirtyAndDirty

[23:51:46] (RandomPMGuy) how is u
[23:51:59] (Me) pretty good, ta. you?
[23:52:51] (RandomPMGuy) im good to
[23:53:11] (RandomPMGuy) so is a cute little thing like ur self looking to have some fun
[23:53:28] (Me) what makes you think I’m little?
[23:54:17] (RandomPMGuy) its just a saying
[23:54:59] (Me) quite an off-putting one.
[23:56:40] (RandomPMGuy) well im sorry what would u prefure me to say to u
[23:59:03] (Me) just treat me like a human being instead of your fantasy. calling someone a “cute little thing” is infantilising and that’s fine if that’s their kink, but if it isn’t it’s just insulting
[00:00:57] (RandomPMGuy) well im sorry personaly i call my gfs nicknames so i figured would be same here how woudl u liek to have fun
[00:01:15] (Me) am I your gf?
[00:02:17] (Me) if anything, assuming someone yopu’ve never talked to before will be okay with the same level of comfort and intimacy as a romantic partner, is even more insulting
[00:02:54] (RandomPMGuy) well we are in a chat room called flirty and dirty so i would concider some one in a privet chat with me a chat gf how bout u
[00:03:47] (Me) you PM’ed me without asking permission! frankly, you’re just making yourself sound even creepier. the analogy is going to a bar, dragging a stranger into the corner and groping them.
[00:05:15] (Me) if you take the time to ACTUALLY flirt, then maybe eventually you get to a comfort-attraction point where I’d be okay with pet names
[00:05:25] (Me) and who knows, even more
[00:05:44] (Me) but just assuming and grabbing what isn’t yours? not okay
[00:06:29] (RandomPMGuy) well then – pokes arm jokeingly – how about a question game
[00:07:03] (Me) after all that, you think it’s okay to TOUCH me without my permission?!
[00:07:33] (RandomPMGuy) i poked u
[00:07:57] (Me) and what makes you think I’m okay with being poked?
[00:09:26] (RandomPMGuy) it was a joke shesh im just trying to have a little fun in a non sexual way
[00:10:25] (Me) but you don’t seem to care whether I find it fun or annoying. and that’s the problem from the start
[00:11:28] (RandomPMGuy) well i cant see ur face so i cant judge weather or not u liked it in first place but now i know and so i tryed asking how about a question game
[00:13:03] (Me) and that’s why you don’t go piling in with assuming levels of intimacy that just aren’t there. you treat people with respect.
[00:13:21] (RandomPMGuy) so how about that game
[00:14:41] (Me) what on Earth makes you think I want to spend any time answering your questions now? you’ve done nothing but make assumptions and offensive remarks, and then try to excuse them when I call you on it
[00:15:54] (RandomPMGuy) it was a question game we ask eachother questions could be about anything or we could make rule shesh i did assume that cus u have talked to the this long i might make a friend
[00:18:59] (Me) I’m trying to help you not bother anyone else the same way. I’m trying to be nice, here. I gave youa chance to clean up your act and treat me like an actual person instead of fantasy fodder. You blew it.
[00:20:57] (RandomPMGuy) ok well it seemed to work for ALL THE OTHER PEOPLE IVE CHATED WITH GOOD LUCK ANGRY SLUT

Draw your own conclusions.

I wish this was rare. It isn’t. In a relatively quiet chatroom, I get one or other of the above conversations in my private message tabs (although often I cut them off a lot sooner than these examples) maybe once an hour.

I don’t always have the energy or time to try to educate people the way I did above. Sometimes they are clearly not worth it, but if I feel up to the task I try to get the message out there. These spaces are where I encounter the harsh reality of Patriarchy most directly. Most of the spaces I choose to be in are sex-positive or otherwise accepting of these things, or else these interactions don’t happen as much (and in r/l I don’t get gendered as female).

- * -

Oh yes. I feel a sense of Social Justice Warrior pride at being called an “ANGRY SLUT” for sticking to my boundaries there ;-)

2 years’ work in 2 days: what talent shows hide

I watch rather more talent-reality TV shows than perhaps I should, but it’s one way of turning off the higher faculties and just enjoying myself for however many minutes. I’ve watched them since the days of “Fame Academy” and “Popstars”. Also grouped in with these, via the “reality” part, are shows like Great British Bake-Off, The Apprentice, and so on. Not included are the celebrity-based versions such as Strictly Come Dancing, which I usually enjoy but this year have not started watching yet (I suspect I may just have had my fill for the time being after watching every previous season).

I used to wonder why the music contests are always singing. Why don’t they have other disciplines such as songwriting, guitar, keyboards, bass, drums?

I eventually got my answer not from the music shows but from watching The Apprentice, and researching what actually goes on in business to produce a new product. In particular, a few years ago I wanted to develop an idea for a new card game and a new board game (which was the task last night, as it happens…). It turns out that there are probably dozens released every day and it’s a hugely competitive market. But the important thing I discovered was how much work goes into it. And it turns out that similar amounts of time and work go into any business idea or product.

Back when The Apprentice was still about getting a job rather than an investment, Nick Hewitt (one of Alan Sugar’s “advisors” on the show) gave an interview and pointed out that of course the challenges aren’t anything to do with the real world of work, because nobody wants to see 14 candidates giving in-depth analysis of economic trends, theories and forecasts. It’s designed to appeal to the masses. In the same vein, a Mitchell And Webb sketch has two TV producers looking at footage and debating whether people wanted to see incompetence or expertise in the show.

The thing is, most of the tasks (with the exception of the “Scavenger Hunt” and the “Sell the Products” tasks) require that within the space of two or three days, the candidates should do what would normally take anywhere between 6 months and 2 years to complete: which is, design, test, and bring a product to market. So of course the process, and above all, the end result, is full of flaws and problems. People sit at home and say, “Hey! Even I could do better than that!” I would actually like to see a version of The Apprentice in which the extra candidates (like they had this time) was a third team made up of (long-term) unemployed people and just see how well they did compared to the yuppie pricks they usually have on (the BBC Wardrobe department might have to provide the expensive-looking suits for business presentations, but anyway).

And it’s that, “Hey! I could do (better than) that!” element that I think is the hook that talent shows and talent-reality shows, depend on as their draw. While most people wouldn’t imagine themselves as expert bakers, I am sure a lot of the audience comes from people who like to bake, and fancy themselves as pretty good, who are tempted by the idea that maybe I could do that.

After all, one reason I watch the talent shows is that I have not yet given up my dreams of rock stardom; I drag my guitar up to London each year for The Voice preliminary auditions (haven’t yet tried the X-Factor ones, and from what I hear they are nowhere near as nice to performers). I watch, and believe, “Hey, I could do that!”

And the “6 months in 2 days” aspect is probably why they don’t run talent shows for guitarists, bassists, drummers and keyboard players. The vast majority of people have some kind of singing voice. Too many are told they shouldn’t, and give up singing; many never take singing seriously, and that’s okay, too. But most feel as if they can sing, enjoy singing, and do so to some extent. A small minority actually put serious work into it, and treat it as a genuine vocation as a classical singer would have to, but more practice every day and get some level of vocal training to become better at controlling their voices. However, all of them feel good about their singing. All of them can feel they have a chance. They may very well feel they have a natural gift in their voice (Not always a good thing – links to a blogpost on a similar theme by Chris Brecheen).

Most people do not know how to play guitar. Even those who do, know they aren’t great at it. If you had a dozen talented young folk showing off their best licks, riffs and twiddly solo-y bits every week, you’d know whether you came close or not, and the answer would almost certainly be “not”. Instead of feeling accomplished, you would feel “conscious incompetence”. Even the rhythm section of bass and drums, on the surface look simple but in order to create a talent show out of them, you’re going to be judging it on skills that most people who dream of those instruments don’t imagine they will ever genuinely possess: drum solos, bass licks and fingering techniques, stuff with drums that I don’t even know about! And because I don’t know about them, that’s the point.

I mentioned as a separate genre things like “Strictly Come Dancing”, where celebrities train up at some challenging performance art outside their normal purview (see also the conducting one as a favourite). The draw for these, I think, is pure spectacle: “I wish I could come close to doing something like that!” Wonder, awe, that in just one week these celebrities have learned a whole dance routine. (Not to mention, they get to wear the most gorgeous outfits: I am so jealous of the dresses and the suits… but apparently they don’t get to keep them.) Perhaps the same draw would work for the musicians versions, but I think this would break the illusion of pop music as being “of the people”; The X-Factor presentation, for example, is all about creating the illusion of closeness between performer and audience. When the draw becomes “That’s incredible/unreachable”, it exposes the truth: even for the singers, it is a week of cramming: hours of practice, every day, trying to fine-tune the performance and have it perfected in time for the studio rehearsals. Most people do not imagine putting in the work, but when the skill is external (like playing an instrument) it becomes more obvious what is needed.

There is a certain amount of snobbery towards talent shows, in some circles. An attitude of, it seems, “You don’t get to be a real musician by going on those.” The assumption is that talent show competing is a substitute for doing the work and practising. I think this is an attitude that is produced by the way some contestants treat it, and some of them probably do take that approach. Watching The Voice, and taking part in the opening process, I can see that generally those who do well on talent shows have done as much work as those who are successful through “traditional” means. It’s just that people don’t imagine the work it takes.

Vote for orgasms! (in pictorial form)

I have been struggling to string words together in a presentable way all weekend to construct a proper blog post. Hasn’t worked yet.

BUT!

The big news to pass on is that Girl On The Net’s “Draw Your Orgasm” competition has closed, and voting has started.

The format is not “pick me! pick me!” but rather, rate all/as many of the pictures as you want to, 0 to 10, and the best overall scores will go through to the final judges’ decision. You use this link here to do that, but it’s best to click through to the main pages first to see the entries in all their glory, and then on from there to the voting.

I posted my entry last week, so you know which one to give 10/10 to (*wink*).

Seriously, there are some awesome entries with a variety of visualisations that to me hint at a wide range of physical and neurological experiences (the one with “on meds/off meds” is particularly revealing in that sense). It looks like being not just a fun competition but quite a valuable social-medical information source. Not rigorous enough to be called “research” or an “experiment” in its own right, I feel, but it would be great if someone academic somewhere took up the baton and set out to explore orgasm in this way.

So, once again, thanks to Girl On The Net for running it. Now, go vote! (for me ;-) )

What does YOUR orgasm look like?

Something different today: a visual post! With painting! Without the aid of numbers! And, despite the post title, it’s SFW…

Girl on the Net has a competition running to create visual representations of the experience of orgasm. There are many talented artists already in the competition. I am not a talented artist (and whatever I do artistically, music, pictures or words, it never comes out in r/l quite the way it sounded/looked in my mind). Nevertheless, GotN says in the competition rules:

the best thing is you don’t have to be amazing at drawing. I’m about as artistic as a donkey with a paintbrush in its arse, but the main criteria for winning should be that your pic is interesting and evocative. If we look at it and go ‘ooh, that’s a nice way to represent an orgasm’ then whether you can draw or not, you’re in with a chance

The challenge (and prize!) was tempting. After giving it some thought, to come up with a concept that represents how I experience orgasm and a way to put that into actual art, I sat down to produce the following watercolour:

It's NOT my penis. Honest!

My entry into Girl On The Net’s competition

If you turn it upside down, it looks like a mushroom cloud at dusk, which wasn’t really my intention but I think viewing it as “upside-down/backwards/reverse-mushroom-cloud” is actually another really good way of conceiving the big ‘O’. The column of cloud/smoke is the feeling of the whole body, drawing energy from the sky and the sea of cloud and smoke and run through with lightning/electricity.

Disclaimer: Not all my orgasms feel the same, but this is like, the best ones, when someone else is there and inspiring them.

Selection bias and #SamaritansRadar

There is a concept in statistics, and especially useful in social science when dealing with populations, of “selection bias”: that sometimes the way that you choose your sample affects the results you get, and may mean that what you find is not, in fact, representative of the population as a whole.

For instance, if you include a question in a questionnaire, “Are you the sort of person who responds to questionnaires?” you can expect to find close to 100% of respondents answer “yes” to that question. It would be a mistake to assume from that, that people in general like filling in questionnaires; it might make more sense to look at what proportion of those who received the questionnaire bothered to respond.

ITV.com reports that The Samaritans have claimed (the claims apparently come from the Updates page) that their Samaritans Radar app, the subject of much criticism on twitter and the blogosphere (included my article at the weekend):

was tested by “young people with mental health problems, Samaritans’ volunteers, social media platforms and other organisations”

Now, the more astute reader may have leapt ahead here and already drawn the connection between answering questionnaires, and testing the Samaritans’ new app.

That connection is, of course, that there may just possibly be a selection bias in the testing of a new app designed to spy on people. The questions unanswered are how the Samaritans recruited their “young people with mental health problems” to the testing of the app; how feedback from them was conducted; and how it was tested (who the users were, assuming the “young people with mental health problems” were the subjects).

One would assume that it would be considered unethical to test the app without informing the test subjects of the nature of the app being tested on them (subjects here as distinct from users: a person who signs up for the app is a “user”; a person the user spies on is a “subject”). If a person agrees to being part of such a test, and is aware that the test is for an app that will spy on their twitter account in the way that Samaritans Radar does, then it seems natural to assume that this is a person who has fewer concerns about how that spying affects them, than someone who on hearing what it’s about, declined to participate in the test.

Alternatively, if test subjects are not told what is being tested, then feedback is going to miss entirely the sorts of concerns that have been raised in terms of the “chilling effect” that many twitter users have described as a consequence of knowing that the Samaritans Radar app exists.

Similarly, if, when they say it’s tested by, “young people with mental health problems,” and “Samaritans’ volunteers,” they mean the test users were all Samaritans volunteers, then it follows that the test users were all well-trained in how to handle situations where a mental health crisis come to their attention, and how to help a person in need. None of their test users were people who are well-meaning but unhelpful, and none of them were likely to be exploitative or abusive people stalking the test subjects (except inasmuch as the app itself is a form of stalking).

There’s nowhere in that testing process for the problems to have been identified. It sounds as though the Samaritans only wanted to know if the app would do what they wanted it to; they didn’t set up their test to highlight problems or unintended consequences. Only now, after its launch, have these issues been brought to their attention, but because they’ve “tested” the app, they ignore them.

On the value of the label “Feminist”

I’m male-bodied and, despite being genderfluid, typically cis-presenting for the sake of (possibly over-) caution about non-binary/feminine presenting (although the experience of just having long, feminine hair and receiving abusive street harassment factors into my calculation of the risks). That puts me in the camp of privilege-having re: gender.

I have seen many different takes on the debate of whether men should use “feminist” as a name for themselves, from Jemima’s “Any men in the feminist movement calling themselves feminists would inevitably make the movement centre around male voices and male concerns,” to Amanda Marcotte’s “Men need to go about this the same way. Don’t like strict gender norms? Become a feminist.” These positions, and various ones in between, all being expressed by plenty of women who identify themselves as feminist (AIUI Jemima doesn’t ID as feminist, but I’ve read women who do use “feminist” to describe themselves use the same arguments and analysis). I find it hard to settle with either absolute declaration, but frankly, this is not my fight, and this post is all about why.

Men, too, have different takes on the matter. My favourite is perhaps summed up as, “some men have ‘feminist’ thrust upon them”. Chris @ Writing About Writing describes how his gender politics led to him being described by others as feminist:

However, whenever I started to bring up actual specifics, like pay discrepancies or gender portrayals or sexual assault or human trafficking or even the way traditional gender roles tend to disadvantage BOTH men and women in different ways, people would begin to use this word to describe me.

“Feminist.”

I would deny it, of course. “No no no…this is about equality.” But for some reason, they would not be convinced.

I realized that it pisses off exactly the sort of misogynists I like pissing off. It rocks the boat of exactly the mealy-mouthed, diplomatic, Ted Fucking Mosby, Me-From-2010, equalist, status quo lovers I wanted to shake up. It seemed to stand for all the things I actually, really, honestly stood for rather than just their unctuous homage. It went beyond platitudes and bumper stickers, and I liked it because of that.

It was what the world saw of me and what the world wouldn’t let me forget, and so now I wear it like armor.

I am a feminist.

I like this story a lot more than Drew Bowling’s version @ Role:Reboot about the same question, but in his version of “not claiming the name”, “feminist” is something to aspire to have applied to you: “And besides, it’s one thing to call myself a feminist, but it means a whole lot more when others label me as such.” A label to be earned from women. I shouldn’t have to explain why that is a deeply problematic position to be taking, in the context of women’s traditional roles under Patriarchy of (a) comforting and (b) validating men (by virtue of acting as gatekeepers – usually analysed with respect to “access to the fuck”, but applies to other validations of worth).

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Suppose we’ve got a man who wants to call himself feminist. What’s in it for him?

The suspicion is often that he’s a Nice Guy, and what he’s hoping is that all those cute leftie chicks will want to suck his cock if they know he “values” their “equality”. I’ll be honest, although I wasn’t quite that bad in my younger days, when I most vigorously wanted the name (or oscillated between that and Chris’s starting point) – yes, I was a bit of a Nice Guy back then. I hope I’ve got better now.

Then there’s the reasons Chris outlined in his article, when he came to accept the name being thrust upon him (more reasons are given than just the passages I quoted, btw).

Related to that, there is the “shield”, men who feel very vulnerable when they attempt to challenge other men on their sexist shit, and being able to claim identity with a movement rather than just being a single reed can give men the courage to stand up to that.

For some it is a badge of acceptability, the “feminist cookie” for being “not a jerk”. This is the “validation” problem I identified with Drew’s article on Role:Reboot.

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What’s in it for me?

At various stages in my life, as noted above, I have taken various positions on my claim to “feminism”, ranging from “I’m a feminist! Fuck me please!” through “I’m male & therefore unworthy of ‘full feminism’ but I can be an Ally!” to the “Equalism not Feminism!” on the minus column, and “Of course I’m a Feminist, I believe in gender equality!” through “Patriarchy hurts men, too! I’m an Ally!” to “Women get to choose, not me.” on the more positive side.

Where I’m at today is, “What the fuck use is this word to me anyway?” It’s the politics that matters, not the label I or anyone else applies to it, and there are an awful lot of feminists out there whose politics are quite disgusting to me (e.g. TERFs, SWERFs, KERFs, and their liberal feminist kin in exclusionism and/or paternalism); or women who claim “feminist” from a right-wing angle to account for their personal success as a virtue, but who piss on other women from a great height.

Few people have insisted on calling me feminist. Calling myself feminist, it turns out, didn’t give me that extra courage needed for those confrontations; I still feel the need to be cautious and not get beaten up. And plenty of people have awarded me the “not a jerk” cookie without using the word “feminist” to do so. (Also, I think everyone’s a jerk at times no matter what, we should just do our best not to be. So, again, not much use, and you can save the cookies.)

All-in-all, “feminist” is a word that does nothing to help me as a label for myself.

Engaging with feminist thinking and gender/sexual politics has been very useful. It is through these that I found the language and foundation through which to accept my non-binary gender ID and my non-hetero sexuality (I usually say “bisexual” but what that means for a genderfluid person is a bit too convoluted for me to parse easily, but I don’t like “pansexual” because I don’t lust for all genders, at least, not equally). It provided a framework through which I could conceptualise BDSM as Not A Bad Thing (because feminist women who are Submissives and/or masochists are real, and hearing how they centre BDSM on women’s desires helped). TERFs and their ilk aside, it gave me the language to accept and understand the diversity of gender, and how gender is constructed separate from physiology (i.e. primary and secondary sex characteristics vs all the social coding). And it showed how there are things that can and must be changed on a structural level.

Feminist thinking has helped me directly, and has shown me how to be a better revolutionary. But listening to women who for various reasons (usually to do with how established or Establishment feminists have treated them, on various axes of privilege) don’t identify as feminist, but are pro-gender liberation and anti- those other, negative, forms of feminism I mentioned above, also helped me in the same ways.

I think the best way for me to engage is to be a fellow-traveller rather than in any way claim membership (or even ally-ship) of their movement. Gender politics affect me as a male-bodied not-quite-cis, not-quite-man-enough, bisexual kinkster in ways that they don’t affect women, and they affect women in ways they don’t affect me (and usually those are worse than the ones that affect me). I believe the end goal of gender liberation (not merely equality, but that too) is a good one, and that even when something doesn’t affect me directly, if it is contrary to those goals then opposing it will end up making things better for every person.

If some people want to use “feminist” to describe my “fellow-travelling”, that’s fine by me. It doesn’t matter to me whether you call it a manually-operated excrement relocating tool (MOERT) or a shovel, as long as I’m using it to clear away the shitheap that is Patriarchy.

Doing better: Dunham and denial

Content Note (copy-pasted from Jemima’s post linked in the passage below): Be aware this post discusses child abuse, I am not linking to the claims by Dunham, be aware if you go looking they can be very triggering and are quite graphic.

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Spoiler warning for Avatar: Legend of Aang part 2. Also, The Nightmare Before Christmas.

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I’m not fully up to speed on the Lena Dunham controversy that’s emerged based on extracts from her recent memoir “Not That Kind Of Girl”. I’ve read a couple of bits of commentary, one of which presented a couple of the main extracts on which the problem is based.

The controversy is not about the things that Lena did when she was young. They are, frankly, quite dreadful and for that reason I’m neither going to link nor describe them in detail. They relate to improper conduct of a sexual nature by Lena Dunham towards her 6 years junior sister. The controversy is about the way that Dunham has related to these events, dismissing or minimising their significance by describing them as “normal childhood exploration”.

Jemima @ Sometimes It’s Just A Cigar wrote yesterday about the issue, using the (disputed) passage from John from which we get the phrase “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” And also, “Go now, and sin no more.” Her theme was adult responsibility, arguing that the deeds of a young child may not bear responsibility, but the adult has responsibility for how zie relates to their past deeds.

Since my last post, about Julie Bindel’s advice to “quash” sexual fantasies that are contradictory to one’s political or social justice values, I have naturally had on my mind Jung’s “shadow self” concept that I quoted from Doctor Nerdlove’s excellent piece. Bindel talks about sexual fantasy, which is, after all, the realm of the mind and not (necessarily) the physical world of interactions between embodied people. Dunham’s situation is about actual events and interactions in that physical world. More specifically, though, it is about memories of one’s previous actions.

That great work of literature, “Avatar: The Legend of Aang” has a passage in season 2 in which the (former) villain Prince Zuko falls ill after having allowed Aang (whom he had sworn to capture and destroy, so as to redeem his honour in his father’s eyes) to escape. His uncle, tending for him, speculates that it is a malaise of the soul rather than the body: “When he acted in a way that was so contrary to his image of himself, it brought an unbearable conflict within his spirit.” (I may be misremembering the exact wording, but this is the essence of the scene)

In the same way, people can have in their past actions memories of behaviour that runs contrary, even directly opposed to, their perception of themselves. A real-world version of the “shadow self” that is not just some hidden personality traits, but some real world events that must be in some way suppressed or rejected.

I do not know if this is what happens in Lena Dunham’s case. Carter (Jemima’s blogging mate) discusses the issue and suggests, “Reading Dunham’s accounts of herself I couldn’t avoid the feeling that Dunham is engaged in some kind of unpleasant, self-referencing kind of performance … Lena Dunham, by contrast, appears to see her offences and sins as anecdotes that embellish her account of herself as weird, or unusual.”

But it occurs to me that, when faced with the discomfort of recalling ones own actions that challenge or potentially destroy one’s self-perception, particularly of one’s self-perception as “a good person”, it can be difficult to address.

There is a strong train, particularly in Western thought/religion/belief (I’m less familiar with Eastern thought/religion/belief on the topic, but recalling a Buddhist monk who came to talk to school kids at my secondary school, I suspect it is different) that the soul or personality is inherently immutable: we are what we are, the “leopard cannot change his spots”, Jack Skellington should not try to emulate Santa Claus. If we are immutable, then our bad deeds must be a part of us now just as much as then. This is strongly seen in the way people tend to view (certain) crimes, but is equally strong in the way that people tend to view themselves.

Either “That deed was bad, therefore I am a despicable person”, or else, “I am not a bad person, therefore that deed wasn’t really bad at all.” There is also the “I was not myself” angle, saying that some temporary influence changed one’s culpability, or one’s personality.

Lena Dunham’s language is of the, “I am not a bad person, therefore this was not really a bad thing to have done” variety. To accept that, regardless of whether it is “normal” or not for a child to behave in such a way, it is wrong and caused harm for her to have done so, would challenge the essential “goodness” that Dunham might wish to believe she has.

Denial of self, or of responsibility, or of harm: the only options open to us if we believe that people cannot change, and evil deeds must come from some essential “evilness” within.

But people do change and can change, and can learn to do and be better than they were (it’s a big part of what literature is about, in many ways). We can meet with the shadow self and understand it without being governed by it. Similarly, we can meet with our “shadow past” without being defined forever by what we once did. In order to learn from our past wrongs, we must accept them for what they are, understand what was wrong about them, and commit to do otherwise in future. How we learn what was wrong may vary: for a child who grows up and learns more of consent and ethical boundaries, this gaining of adult responsibility is one way in which that learning can come about.

In a post I’ve been working on that I hope to publish later today, I discuss in passing the ways in which I have changed in my understanding of gender and feminist issues, and how as a teenager I was not good on these counts. I reconcile myself to the memories of cringeworthy deeds and remarks by acknowledging that I have learned to do better, to understand better (and often, to keep my mouth shut when I don’t know what I’m talking about – although still working on that one). I do not call my former self “good” or “bad”, but I was certainly in the wrong about a lot of things. People who know my beliefs and actions now, would not recognise the young me, and would probably be very cross indeed about some of the things he said, did and believed.

But to be sure of becoming better than we were, we must understand how and why we were wrong. Dunham’s behaviour and language now, as an adult, whatever her motivation, serves to deny or obscure these essential points of learning.