Fabulous Finds For Fetish-y Fun

There are some perks to working in a charity shop, even if it is forced on me and driving me to distraction. I get to raid the rejects pile (books, clothes, etc that didn’t sell). I also get to see the nice stuff first and buy what I like best. Occasionally, that includes kinky (or kinky-looking) items. Here’s a couple of things that I managed to obtain this time around:

First up, what appears to be a double-ended leash. Was on display as a belt, didn’t sell. It’s mine now and so many potential kink uses for a thing like this…

Linking love?

Linking love?

Most intriguing, though, was a piece of jewellery that essentially was a malleable rather than flexible metal hoop, that can be twisted into all kinds of shapes and just LOOKS like a fantasy slave jewellery/collar/marker of some kind:

Metal collar-style

Metal collar-style

Double twisted

Double twisted

Doubled & twisted to fit a wrist

Doubled & twisted to fit a wrist

Now I just need to find a partner to enjoy them with. That project will have to wait until I have spoons again.

The Mundane Brutality of Gifts

Charity shops are brutal places.

They don’t set out to be, I don’t think. And I am sure from the outside, they seem much less so. After all, it’s about selling second hand stuff cheaply, which helps customers, to get money to help other disadvantaged people or cure horrible diseases or save animals from bad stuff happening to them and so on. What a kind, positive place that must be!

But the bottom line is crucial. The operative part is not “help people”, it’s “get money”. That’s what charity shops are about, just like any other business. That is what they are there to do.

I have been more out of work than in work for the past 15 years, which means that from time to time the government has decreed that I should be forced to work in a “voluntary sector” role for a few weeks or months, and as a result I have had several opportunities to see first-hand what they are like. Some of them have nice people working there, others are nasty or downright disturbing. But even the nice people still have to operate a brutal system. It is not a place I can function well.

A charity shop is two distinct entities: there is the customer-facing “shop” part, and then there is the backroom, where your donated clothes, toys and whatnots end up after you hand them to the assistant, who smiles and asks, “donations?”, you nod, maybe say a few words about what they are, and the assistant says, “Thank you! That’s Lovely!” and takes them off you. As I wrote last time, the “shop” part is the easy part. This is where happy things happen, this is where the good stuff comes, this is where people find stuff they like.

The backroom is pure, savage, brutal, target-focussed business.

You may or may not have seen Ade Adepitan’s excellent documentary “The Secret Life of Your Clothes”, in which he explores how the cast-offs from Western European and US end up in markets across Ghana and its neighbours in Africa (and consequently erode the market base for indigenous cultural clothing). It all starts in the backroom of a charity shop. Adepitan starts as the stuff you didn’t want emerges from the back doors of charity shops in a “rag bag”, sold by the shop for a pittance per kg and transported off to those African markets.

Inside the shop is where the story starts. Here, everything is assessed by the cruel, harsh criterion: “can we sell this?” If the answer’s no, it goes in the rag bag or the trash. A stain? A slight tear? Even the wrong make? “Rag it” – it won’t sell, it won’t make money. Even if something ends up in the shop, it will stay out there only a couple of weeks to a month at most before: “Didn’t sell. Rag it.” A few high-quality things, or things for the wrong season, go into storage. The rest – if it doesn’t sell, it’s gone, to make way for the latest batch of donated stock.

The same with books. These days, there are businesses that specialise in pricing and selling valuable books on Amazon for charity shops. I have been surprised this past week to see which things are valued by their system (scan the ISBN and see if it makes a “ping” or a rude klaxon); the rest are sorted by appearance: books with tatty or torn pages are sold for a penny each to the recycling depot to be pulped; and if a book doesn’t sell in its two weeks or so on the shop floor, the same thing happens to it. I love books, I love reading. It burns my soul every time this happens. I have limited space (and, let’s be fair, limited interest in some of the books) but still try to save a few.

It is, necessarily, a streamlined process. There are rules for everything: what can be accepted, what has to be junked, what prices go on what sort of items, what you check, how you hang clothes, how you treat them to be ready to go out on the shop floor (the steamer is much simpler than ironing, but also doing 100 garments will make your right shoulder ache). The objective is simply to get as much donated stock processed as possible, and get it sold. A volunteer (or someone coerced through the MWA scheme) is a means to that end, and currently still cheaper than a robot programmed with the instructions and fitted with scanning systems to check quality. It may feel different if you’re a volunteer and choose to do this. I only know that my experience is of a brutal, mechanical process of donations in, assess, reject, prepare, price, sell.

Seeing the collections brought in, as mentioned, I sometimes let my mind spin stories of what the person was like who owned them. That’s the human element I crave. A book with a dedication or autograph in the cover is always fascinating to me (especially if it’s a unique occasion dedication, e.g. “To my daughter on your graduation: may you save many lives.” on a book of doctor jokes – to make up a possible example). That’s what I meant about it being a nexus of human stories in my previous post. But the actual experience of charity shop work, for all there may be perfectly nice humans, and even human interactions, involved: that experience is primarily one of desperately dreary, soulless labour. It is a mill that takes in raw material (donations) and transforms them into profitable materials (things you can sell in the shop, or things you can sell to Ghanaians, or things you can sell to recyclers…).

It is a brutal place, driven by profit and efficiency.

BUT…

Also, the reason for the profit. The reasons why people would give their time freely. A charity shop is still there to provide the funding that isn’t currently forthcoming from other sources for people who are in need.

It may be a brutal place, but PLEASE do carry on supporting your local charity shops. And let me tell you, they always have good shit, and if it’s not what you want or need, try again a week later and you’ll find new stuff.

Struggles and stories, second-hand

Mandatory Work Activity can seem like a good idea from a certain perspective: give the unemployed person an up-to-date reference, evidence they can work a stable schedule, maybe even useful skills. But for me at least, it is an evil coercion with no obvious benefits apart from that fresh new reference. Even there, I feel like I question the value of the reference, since it is due to coercion, and in my mind anyway it feels like that devalues the meaning for an employer. And it gives me no reward but at the cost of being an ill-fitting figure and an introvert in a high-pressure team role (indeed, the most relaxing times are when I am on the till: there, I need only smile and handle customers!) without even the benefit of being paid a half-decent wage. It uses spoons at a prodigious rate.

Be that as it may, I find myself working in a charity shop again, in the same high-pressure, people-encroaching environment, and despite the people being very pleasant it is still exhausting. I tweeted on Monday that there would be no blogging for the foreseeable future. That remains true, but this is about something that came up and I need to get off my chest. I can’t actually write about it here, in a public space but I can write about why I can’t.

The thing about charity shops is that everything is something that someone once had, and everyone is seeking something they need or that they would enjoy if they could afford it. It is a nexus of human stories. And I am a writer.

Sometimes the stories have to be imagined (again, I’m a f’king writer, imagining stories is, like, my thing!) and sometimes you are privileged to be able to talk with people and learn something of them. But there is never the whole story, never enough to know how it ends.

Mostly it is fun to imagine how things came to be, or how they will be put to use. While donations may be made due to bereavement, the stories I imagine are about the life that collected them. When a customer buys something, you see how it adds something. But sometimes you see another side, or find a story that is less happy in amongst.

It is inappropriate for me to say what I saw or why it troubles me. That is someone else’s story and unlikely to be for public consumption, however much I may have seen and was unhidden. But still, it troubled me, for various layered reasons, but deep in them all is compassion and knowing it’s not my place.

I can say that whatever the story was of which I caught a glimpse, the story (or continuation of it) that had a charity shop purchase in it was a happy one, for and of the future.

I still suffer by having to do the work, but even in a bad situation there are positives. When I work the till, watchthe shop floor, I see how other people at least, find things that delight them. Sometimes when I shop in charity shops I find the same delight (like with my little black dresses, or books I couldn’t find anywhere else, or… anyway)

Anyway, I wanted to end on that positive note even though this post was all about feeling stressed, and troubled. I am glad of the good.

“Whip me!” “Nope!”

It’s a question that seems to be debated over and over again in BDSM circles: “Do sadists dislike masochists?” Yingtai, after reading what one of the many excellent books about BDSM had to say on the matter, asked the sadists she knows online for their views:

https://twitter.com/yingt_/status/508443223849975808

This being a perennially debated topic, the following is just my view today. I don’t think it varies much, but if I came at the topic from a different angle, I might come up with a different response. I shall drop in the responses of some of the others Yingtai asked as well, to illustrate my points or introduce new ones.

I initially wrote, “Yes and no. Two different kinds of pleasure. Need bottom to want it to be not fun, or, if fun, then looking for initial ‘ow’ reaction to make it fun for sadist.” Yingtai asked for that to be unpacked, which is the reason for writing a blog post about it.

To start with, some terminology.

A masochist is someone who gains (sexual) pleasure from pain stimuli; not all pain stimuli may be pleasurable, and the stimuli that give pleasure versus those that don’t, vary from masochist to masochist. I am a masochist who loves hitty things, some kinds of pinchy things, hot, and scratching. I am less keen on cold things, and cutting or needles are very much not pleasurable. Some people love needles, cutting and so on but hate certain types of hitty things or, say, hot wax.

A sadist is someone who likes causing pain. There is a commonly discussed distinction between (my terminology) “service-sadists” who only like to cause pain that they know is directly pleasurable, and “cruel-sadists” who also like to cause pain that is not directly pleasurable – they like to cause suffering as much as pain. In terms of BDSM, the cruel-sadist is only interested in pain they know is wanted, but it’s wanted by the bottom even if it causes suffering in the immediate term. I self-identify as a cruel-sadist. A service-sadist is not quite the same as a “service top”, and neither term should be viewed as derogatory.

The key terms I’ve introduced are “masochist”, “sadist”, “cruel”, and the distinction between “pain” and “suffering”. For clarity, a further distinction should also be made between “suffering” and “harm” – it is never the intention to cause harm, even when suffering is intended.

The perception that, in the words of Yingtai’s tweet, “a masochist is a sadist’s worst enemy” comes from the conception of “sadist” as being specifically a “cruel-sadist”. The reasoning is that someone who gains direct enjoyment from pain stimuli, will not suffer in the way that a cruel-sadist would enjoy.

At this point, it is worth taking a moment to look at what goes on for a bottom receiving pain in a BDSM scene. A masochist, we have declared, gains an immediate-term reward from the pain, in terms of arousal response. But why would a non-masochist agree to receive pain? Given that we are discussing consensual sadism only here, in order for a cruel-sadist to operate there must be a bottom who consents to suffering.

I was careful to describe masochistic pain as involving an “immediate-term” reward, or a “direct pleasure”. But it is possible for non-masochist bottoms, and Subs in particular, to derive other rewards that are indirect or delayed. For instance, there is the “endurance” reward: “I suffered, now I feel tough and strong because I could take it!” Almost as the flipside of that coin, there is a possible “vulnerability” reward: “You broke down my defences, and didn’t destroy me” or “You broke down my walls and saw me exposed”. There is the “gift” reward: “It pleases me to give you pleasure, even if I have to suffer to do so”. Each of these rewards can be delayed or can be achieved in the immediate aftermath; some can be achieved during a scene, between individual stimuli or changes in stimuli (for instance, nipple clamps that stay on can be processed as “you’re breaking down my walls!” or “I am enduring this and am tough”, or other reward-forms, even while they are in place). If you think these are somewhat ephemeral or nebulous rewards in comparison to the harsh, physical fact of pain and suffering, it is worth noting that outside of kink it is possible to find healthy and strong examples of each of these: a classic example would be physical sports – contact, or endurance.

A masochistic bottom, even when zie takes direct sexual pleasure from the pain stimuli, will not always experience that as the initial response. Some pain stimuli need to be “processed” first; others are of a nature that evinces an external reaction that combines conventional, instinctive, “suffering” response with sexual arousal. And some, of course, are such that the sexual arousal drowns out the instinctive response. Which is to say, you generally still get an “ow!” from a masochist, but it’s followed by “mmm, yes!”

The next question is to ask what goes on for a sadist (either consensual variety). It is easy to say that a service-sadist is out to cause pleasure, but why through that medium? I would guess that the answer (or at least, part of the answer) is common to both the service and the cruel: pain is one of the most visceral and deep-rooted responses we have. To key into that as a route into a partner’s responses and mind is a potent attractor. The service-sadist looks more for the pleasure response but the drive is similar, at least in these terms.

A cruel-sadist is seeking the core reaction. At least part of the reward is the converse experience for the non-masochistic bottom: wanting to break down those walls or defences, for example. Wanting to test you and prove you’re strong. Wanting the proof of your willingness to please. We get to that by witnessing the immediate moment of suffering, and extending that or repeating it to see your reactions. And above all, being proved effective by those responses.

But, a masochist will give those kinds of rewards as well, in different ways. Sexual arousal is another form of lowering defences or breaching walls. It is certainly proof of being effective. And, as mentioned, there is often the initial pain response as well as the arousal response when a masochist plays. It’s a different kind of access and a different way of receiving pleasure from a masochist than from a non-masochist bottom, but both are valuable and rewarding:

https://twitter.com/Ferns__/status/508445926646493184

https://twitter.com/yingt_/status/508449703877677056

The assumption on which the thesis is based, is that a cruel-sadist cannot also access the rewards that a service-sadist does. This, however, is false.

The truth is that the greatest enemy of a sadist is the person who is indifferent or unresponsive. As Yingtai’s correspondents put it:

https://twitter.com/GeekDomme/status/508447131242606593

https://twitter.com/Ferns__/status/508448665015308289

That seems to be an emphatic “NO!” to the thesis, so why did I say “yes and no” in my initial response?

In part, it’s the point expressed by Ferns:

https://twitter.com/Ferns__/status/508445157142712320

but her follow-up (quoted above) about still seeing conflict and struggle in a masochist counters this. On the other hand, I got a demo on my arm of a metal claw from a sadist Domme at a munch once. I went back and asked for another go, she said, “No, you enjoy it too much!” (It left welts that lasted for days – yum!)

There is, sometimes, a perception I have with a “whee!” kind of masochist (or, more accurately, a “whee!” kind of response) where the dynamic seems to shift. Initially, I wanted to cast this in terms of control: when a masochist says, “Harder!” I often feel an urge to ease off – even when, a moment earlier, I wanted to go harder. But I think it is less about “who’s in control” and “who gives the orders” than it is about the “giving” dynamic. In a curious twist, it can be hard to feel as though the pain I give to a masochist is a gift from me. If zie seems to demand more, then it feels as though it is no longer mine to give. (Asking or begging for more, is, however, quite hot.) This, in turn, challenges the feeling of potency or “effect-having”. (There’s a list of “un-safewords” that goes around every so often – it’s essentially words or phrases that a bottom can use to challenge or belittle the efficacy of the top, the implication being that using them will spur the top to greater and perhaps more vicious efforts.)

So, the “yes” is essentially the combination of ways in which control, or “giving”, and efficacy, can sometimes seem to be challenged by an enthusiastic masochist’s engagement. I like being asked or begged to go harder. Gasping or panting, “Please… harder…!” because you’re enjoying it a lot, will always be welcome (ideally with the appropriate honorific thrown in as well).

The “no” is the more substantial answer, because it’s based in desiring above all, a response. A masochist of any variety is going to respond, usually in deep and rewarding ways. The true enemy of the sadist is the person who won’t respond.

(Of course, there is also the old joke: “A sadist holds a cane, the masochist pleads ‘beat me!’ while the sadist shakes hir head, ‘Nope!'” Surprisingly accurate…)

I’m calling this a socialising win

Tuesday night was the Main Munch (or is it still Kinky Drinkies? I think there was a cake with a name change on it but people still use both names and I’m confused). Anyway, regardless of the name, it was on Tuesday.

I turned up too early, which led to worrying that I had forgotten what day it was. But it was the right day and the bar staff confirmed they were expecting the “meeting” so I got myself a drink and waited, trying not to worry because the bar staff had confirmed… you get the idea.

Then some people arrived so I knew I was right place, right day – just early. All good.

The adventure is always to see how much I, shy introvert, can manage to interact with others. I know a handful (as in, around about the fingers of one hand) out of the group as a whole, to talk to, and they tend to be the most connected people, with demands on their time from all and sundry. This leaves me with the challenge of trying to talk to Other People, who are Strangers.

Tuesday night, as usual, there were a few new faces and I made a point of trying to remember their names and face, and getting some conversation with as many as I could before the night ended. Usually, this fails and other people talk to them instead. This time, however, I succeeded and managed not to be hover creepily but actually approach with a modicum of confidence – it helped that I was present for initial introductions, had (mostly) remembered people’s names, and knew they were new. This provided a conversational excuse and a way to introduce myself. I chalked up conversations with two men and three women I had never seen before, and some words with people I knew as regulars but not really conversed with – making it a very successful night as far as socialising goes. Very tiring as far as introversion goes, but hey, if you want to succeed you generally have to work at it, and work means exhaustion, no?

I think I volunteered to be a greeter for the discussion/debate munch at the end of the month. This also is a way of setting myself in a role where I can talk to people one-on-one, establish myself as welcoming and friendly and happy to talk, without the pressure or problems associated with large groups. Hopefully, I will be able to use this to build on my other self-work and gain confidence in my social skills.

I managed a couple of cheeky lines with the women (and hit on a totally straight guy – but he was cool about it) and believe I managed flirty rather than awkward, although not too sure how close to the border I came there. Nobody seemed uncomfortable, so I’m counting that as a win.

Addendum:

On Thursday, a further “socialising win” when I managed to strike up a conversation at the bus stop – and yes, the women involved were equally invested (introducing topics as well as accepting my opening), it’s not a case of forcing myself on them. Also, very much not a “pick-up” type of script, though by the end I had the feeling it could have developed that way. No, the “win” is just managing to make open, and occasionally flirty-feeling, conversation with others. It’s a good sign, though as ever, I have to battle the feeling that it’s not repeatable. It clearly is.

Dreams of parenthood: why I want to be a mum

I always imagined that I would eventually be a parent, and pass on my genetic heritage to a new generation, bring up a child, teach hir the tales that have passed down in the family history, show hir the photos of family events before they were born, and raise hir as a great human being confident in hir body and choices. Well, maybe some of that is more recent: when I was very young I didn’t have the language or experiences to formulate all of those points clearly.

But I am now closer to 40 than 30 and as yet have not found a person to collaborate on this venture. It’s approaching the point where I may have to accept that this part of my life plan, as so many others, is going to have to be abandoned as no longer practical – even if I were to find a life-partner to share the role (and, perhaps, bankroll it – more on which, later). Supposing I did find a partner, tomorrow, and we developed a relationship, and eventually we decided to marry (or together as if married, regardless of the State’s nosiness and legislation about relationship status), it would still take a long time to get to that stability of situation that we might consider parenthood; and then we’d have to start from scratch if we wnated genetic offspring. So maybe I will find a partner who would support adopting a child.

Before I knew about the wealth and richness of gender (I plan another post on that question, though when or if I actually will write it is anyone’s guess) I imagined I would be a dad. My contribution to a geneticly related offspring would be sperm and, inasmuch as that means anything, I would be a father. But to my mind that does not define the appropriate parental term. If a trans man and a trans woman have a child together, and the trans woman donated the sperm while the trans man provides the ovum (and perhaps, the womb, as has happened already), then who is “daddy” and who is “mummy”? I would say that regardless of the gametes donated, the instinct is to look at the role they play.

I’m genderfluid, usually use male pronouns. But in connection with that fluidity is the idea that I would much prefer to be a mum than a dad. And that could well include being a stay-at-home-mum.

I feel it important to distinguish between on the one hand my willingness to play the “traditionally female” role of staying at home, caring for the child, dusting and hoovering, making dinner; and on the other hand my desire to be “mum”. A stay-at-home-dad does all the things that a stay-at-home-mum does, and is still dad. Moreover, I would still want to be mum if I was going out to work (whether both of us work, or my partner stays at home). That raises a question of what, in fact, does it mean to be a mum as opposed to a dad, and why I want to choose one rather than the other?

So far in this post, I’ve rejected definitions based on what genetic material, or whose body provides the incubation, or what domestic roles the parents take. What’s left?

One clue I think is in the way I see my femininity relating to my body. I’ve written before about wanting bigger, more feminine, breasts. I also have a deep yearning to breastfeed a loved one. The idea of myself as a breastfeeding parent is very atractive, even after researching the sensations and effects that go along with that, some of which sound pretty uncomfortable. One of my deepest romantic-sexual fantasies is to have a partner suck at my nipple as though zie were feeding and drinking milk from the source, and cuddling or cradling this partner in a caring fashion.

I don’t know for sure that this is practical. When I looked it up on the internet, I found pages that suggested it could be done only with relevant hormone therapy to induce lactation; other sources however suggested that a physiologically male body (such as mine appears to be) would start to lactate just from repeated “suckling” style stimulation. I don’t know whether that is possible, but would like the opportunity to try with a partner.

Again, I have to draw a distinction between “want to breastfeed” and “want to be a mum”. Many mums don’t breastfeed and are still mums. Many dads bottlefeed their children, and are not mums even though they provide the milk as a mother would.

Is it a relationship role, then? Does “mum” mean a distinct relationship from “dad”? I have had a BDSM relationship that evolved into “Daddy/girl” dynamic (she was twenty years older than I was, and yet I was Daddy) which involved nurturing discipline as a key element of how that felt to fit the archetype. Taking that from the archetypal, adopted, role and feeding back into family relationships, can I say that dad is the “discipline” and mum the “caring”? Well, as I said, plenty of dads bottlefeed and thus play the carer role; similarly, plenty of mums are stricter than dad. And anyway, in terms of a relationship with a child, while it would certainly not be anything like the role I play in a BDSM relationship, I still feel a need for order amidst the chaos, and setting boundaries – discipline, in other words. And I have roleplayed a BDSM “Mummy” figure indistinguishable from the BDSM “Daddy”. So again, that’s not it.

Is “dad” and “mum” just a way of presenting a role model figure of gender? When we point to “dad”, are we really just providing the young person with a portrait of “this is maleness”, and “mum” as a portrait of “this is femaleness”? Are they just ways of dividing men and women in the eyes of children so as to perpetuate gendered roles for another generation? If that’s that case, my frustratingly male-like body surely thwarts any attempt to be a female role model, and anyway, would I want to hold myself up as a model for either binary gender, when my own self-experience is of being neither or both (depending on perspective)? That can’t be what I mean when I say I want to be mum.

Could it be that being mum is a rejection of those ideas? Well, again, that sounds like a conscious, political, motivation and unrelated to the ideas that drive my instinct to call myself that.

What’s left? It seems as though I have rejected every explanation, every worthwhile definition. I am left only with the vague idea of “wanting to feel motherly”, with nothing to point to and say “this is the thing that, despite my being male-bodied, makes me mum, and motherly, instead of dad”. Surely, it cannot be that I want the name for itself? There is only one conclusion left.

“Mum” is not measurable, but an idea. As much as I have demonstrated that none of the criteria I suggested, either on its own or collectively as a whole, define “mum” or “dad”, yet they can still create an archetype or impression, one that perhaps I do want to be a part of, without buying into any “role model” crap, and yet having for myself that sense of a model on which to build my sense of a role. The role I would feel happiest in, relating to a child. Each of the criteria, without defining or requiring “mum”, nevertheless, in my mind carries a scrap of “motherliness” quality and, overlapping, they create a sense, without requiring or defining or constraining a person to be mum, unless they themselves feel that way, and feel motherly.

And yes, I think my genderfluid identity, and my association of femininity with my body, pulls me towards that as opposed to the other. The word, the name, the title, “mum”, means little. It is to feel like I am mum that matters.

Now I just need a woman** who wants to be my collaborator (regardless of whether we both are mum, or she wants to be dad).

- – -

**Although I identify as bisexual, I don’t really feel biromantic; I suppose the right man might change that, though. For now, I picture a family, parenting, situation as myself and a woman (or genderqueer/genderfluid person).

On stories for children and believing theirs

I doubted whether I had anything valuable to add on the Rotherham child abuse case.

Three posts @ Sometimes It’s Just A Cigar (here, here, and here) seem to me to be the very best commentary (at least, that I’ve seen) on the social, and media-reporting, aspects of the case, and I certainly have no qualification to talk about any of the rest of it. But there was one thing I did want to mention, because it’s been a thought in my mind concerning not just the most recent cases, but stories that have broken over the past 15 years or more, a common thread that links how the people who are supposed to care, somehow end up seeming not to.

One of my favourite story books as a child was “There’s No Such Thing As A Dragon” in which a kitten-sized dragon turns up one day in a boy’s bedroom. His mother insists, “There’s no such thing as a dragon”, and the dragon grows bigger, and bigger, and bigger until finally the boy asserts, “There IS a dragon. A very BIG dragon!” and mum is forced to concede that yes, there is a dragon. At which, the dragon shrinks back to the size of a kitten. “I don’t mind dragons this size,” says mum, “But why did it have to grow so big?” “Maybe it just wanted to be noticed”.

In the story, the dragon challenges mum’s comfortable, ordered perception of the world and how it works so she simply finds ways to pretend it doesn’t exist until finally the evidence is impossible to ignore and someone else has the courage to insist that actually, this thing is a problem, a real problem, and one that has already had terrible effects.

People seem to do this a lot in real life, when confronted by evidence of dreadful crimes happening in our midst. It is easier to disbelieve those reporting the crimes (which, initially at least, will be isolated victims) than to deal with the consequences of believing the report.

When people say “It’s unbelievable”, or, “I can’t believe this would happen” are more accurately saying that they don’t want to believe it, that they wish it not to be true so that they don’t have to. Many have noted that the implied message to the survivor is, “I think you’re a liar” and this disbelief is harmful.

If you read children’s stories, ranging in age group from the very young (like There’s No Such Thing As A Dragon) through to early teens, there is one common theme that comes up again and again and again: when weird, dangerous stuff starts happening, the adults are the last people to believe in it. Either they laugh it off, ignore the kids, or flat-out accuse the kids of lying – because Grownups Know Best (and, perhaps, “Children Have Such Wild Imaginations”). These themes are so prevalent because they are how children perceive the world, and grownups are big, powerful, and have hidden motives that are hard to fathom.

But what happens if you do believe it? There are two things. The first, is that you have to do something about it if you decide it’s true. Or else, be a bad person, in some way complicit with the criminal by virtue of covering it up. Doing something about it may be risky, or just require a bit of extra effort and there’s so much else to do with the humdrum of daily living.

The other thing that happens is you have to accept that the kind of evil discussed is something that happens not just in some far-off place, populated by strangers who are “Not Like Me”, but it happens to people you know, perhaps committed by people you know, and is a part of your immediate world, too. To some people, it implies “This can happen to me” or “This could have happened to me”. That’s an uncomfortable thought, and for some it is more uncomfortable than ignoring. It is easier, and less disturbing, to think, “Well, there’s no actual proof, so maybe it didn’t happen, or at least, not that way. Not so that I have to worry about it. This stuff doesn’t happen to people like me.”

I am usually worrying about something, and it takes effort for me to filter through and determine that the worry I am having today is not a serious problem, versus the worries that are about serious problems. I’m used to the idea of saying to myself, “It’s probably nothing” about things that are small, but I’m also familiar with the “Bystander Effect” and made a promise to myself to overcome the social impulse not to intervene is no one else is: if I see something that causes concern, I will take some action to determine whether it is a real issue, and if possible and necessary, to help. But I am a person whose experiences already lead me to perceive the world as a place where “these things can happen to me” so the fear is no longer a factor. It isn’t new, the only thing that changes when I believe the account, is to ask “what can I do?”

As much as I understand and sympathise with the desire to shield oneself, to plead doubt and lack of proof, to “know and yet not-know”, this instinct of people is no different from the mother in There’s No Such Thing As A Dragon. And in real life, it can be a lot more harmful. Problems grow until you notice them, and abusers in their myriad forms are the same, taking advantage of society’s and individuals’ instinct towards not-believing in order to get away with their crimes, building support systems and networks around themselves, either of unwitting people who “follow the rules” or of other abusers. Eventually, something happens to bring the proof unavoidably to light (the dragon gets too big to ignore) and people blame each other for following instincts common to most people, instead of recognising that (a) this is what people are like and (b) making the choice not to be like that in future.

As Jemima @ Sometimes It’s Just A Cigar writes, in her contribution to the posts linked at the top of this post:

We can instead though understand that all children want, need, to be loved, and some people will take that natural urge and misuse it for their own dark purposes. Once we accept that this is the world we live in we can then start to consider how we make this a world where children can speak out. We may never end child abuse, we can end a culture that turns its back on the abused.

All I add to that is that it doesn’t matter which circles, or which social world you live in, when it comes to these matters, we all live in the same world.

What I wish people would understand about my introversion

Well, there’s a lot of things that could fall into my category, but the one that really bothers me the most is the one where people assume that it’s a choice to sit in a quieter corner of the room. I’ve lost track of the times well-meaning people offer the comment, “You can’t just wait for people to come over, you have to join the group!” I’d love to, but I am never in the group, even if I “join” the group. This post is about how that works.

One social advice blogger (I forget which one) wrote that if you want people to think you’re a fun guy, you can’t have quiet conversations where everyone takes their turn, you have to have fun, high-energy conversations where people talk over each other, laugh over each other’s talking, low inhibitions. You know, party style instead of seminar style!

Maybe those conversations are “fun” for some people. They are the opposite of fun for me. They are often physically painful. And I am never a part of the conversation, in a large group. This is what every large group conversation sounds like, to me:

“mumblemumblemumble intriguing snippet mumblemumble interesting comment interesting commeANGRYBUZZANGRYBUZZANGRYBUZZ non sequitur comment mumblemumble BUZZBUZZBUZZ” There may or may not be laughter, background noise, and sudden movements.

Either, people are speaking too quietly and not in my direction, and are too far away on the group circle so I can’t make out what they are saying, or they are speaking loudly and over each other, which literally sounds to me like an angrily buzzing insect just outside my ear – and my hand gesture is instinctively one of trying to bat away the insect. Typically, someone starts to make a comment I can actually hear for once and someone cuts across it halfway through, just as I was starting to think I might learn something, and I lose completely the thread of it. If I can’t hear what people are saying, then it doesn’t matter if I m physically in the group or outside of it, I am not a part of the conversation.

I’ve wondered from time to time whether this is a hearing problem, maybe caused by the loud music I listened to since my mid-teens. But it’s been an issue since before then, or at least, hasn’t got any worse since then. And the whole experience is a factor: lights, movement, touch (if it happens).

I retreat into a corner because I can’t handle the bombardment and, as mentioned, sometimes it is physically painful. I simply can’t be a part of the big group for very long, even when I want to. Even when I believe I am going to be able to. (Which I mention just to refute the whole “If you believe you can, or you believe you can’t, you’re right” motivational PMA crap.)

The optimum group size for me (numbers given as me plus ‘x’ others) seems to be three. While my ideal is one-on-one long chats with comfortable pauses, this isn’t efficient when it comes to socialising. Add one or two more people to the group and you have a nice range of folks with views and news to catch up on. push it up to four others and I’m fine, often higher energy but manageable; five others is bearable but I start having to ask for people to repeat themselves more often than seems socially comfortable. Any more than five others plus myself and the sound breaks up completely.

I’m not sulking. I want you to come and talk so I can hear.

Be the best from the beginning: liking their all

Girl on the Net wrote at the weekend that the best partner is one who loves the “bad” bits of you. While there are some statements in that article that give me some significant quibbles, I’m not interested in digging into the flaws of the argument. I want to look at the strong element of value in the concept. Here’s the passages that I think sum it up:

It’s really important though, because if you can love my enthusiastic singing, you can love all the other bits of me that might be annoying or tricky or unphotogenic. The way I snore and talk in my sleep, the panicked way I run through the station to make sure we’re ten minutes early for a train, the way I come home late at night and fling my shoes across the room before lying face-down on the carpet.

The way I fuck.

If you want me to fuck you like I really really want to, I need to be comfortable that you’re going to embrace it. No ‘euurgh’s or ‘what the fuck?’s or ‘I don’t think you’re doing that right’s.

So, what’s the most important quality in a partner?

I think it’s enthusiasm. Enthusiasm for me and what I do, even when I do it wrong. Enthusiasm for trying again, and failing again, and laughing together on the sofa. Being as comfortable with someone’s quirks as you are with their successes. Let me sing in the kitchen, lie face-down on the carpet when I’m drunk, and whisper my weirdest fantasies in your ear.

As I said, there are ways I could find fault with the thesis, but there’s an underlying truth, which is that statement about enthusiasm. I once wrote an idea for a song with the title, “I want the bad things about you” which was about just this principle, the idea that someone’s bad singing, or snoring, or whatever, is as much a part of them as the other stuff and it’s not stuff you put up with to get the other stuff.

The thought that crossed my mind, and that is really the focus of this post (even if I don’t spend many actual words on it), was to think about how these ides fit into the process of meeting/finding/attracting a partner: the very start of the relationship, the first few bricks in the foundation that builds that atmosphere of acceptance and enthusiasm.

In the seduction community/PUA materials I’ve seen (I’m thinking especially of Hayley Quinn with this, but the same concept appears in various forms in different places) this is subcommunicated in the language of teasing, which they tell us is the most important part of flirting. IIRC the way Quinn says to do this is pick on something to comment on, smiling, make a mild “criticism” and conclude the remark with “I like that!” I have my doubts about my calibration to pull this off, but in the language described, “I like that” and non-verbally showing pleasure (voice, smiling, body language), communicates that what sounds like pointing out a flaw is in fact accepting the person. Dr Nerdlove counts himself outside of those communities (and is critical of them) but gives very similar advice about flirting.

I haven’t done well with trying to meet people with “cold” approaches, and am somewhat removed in most cases from a network to develop “warm” approaches. That leaves me with internet dating as my main option for approaching potential partners.

OKCupid sort of build this into their profile system with the section “What’s the most private thing you’re willing to admit?” and Charlie Nox’s “Babe Hack” ebook on how to use OKCupid emphasises that this is what you use it for. This is the point where you put the “counter-argument” to the thesis that “you should totally date me!” and then discredit it. In other words, you say, “this is my singing badly in the kitchen, what’s your reaction?” Too many people (and Nox specifically says not to do this) either don’t answer the question or put “If I told you that it wouldn’t be private” – ignoring the “willing to admit” part.

It can be hard to take the first step in showing the bad bits of you. My “most private thing” is a cop-out, but in the rest of my dating profile(s) (I use basically the same text on Plenty Of Fish and a couple of others) I mention being introverted, overuse of movie quotes, listening to bad (“ridiculous”) music and air guitar. If someone reckons I’m worth replying to in spite of, or because of, those things, then it’s got a much better chance of being a good match. Equally, I ask about unique features and a story about themselves, often talking about achievements and also embarrassing moments (again,. emphasising the “that you’re willing to share”) – it puts out (I hope) a message of enthusiasm and an opportunity for them to test my acceptance and enthusiasm based on the story. Again, acknowledging it’s hard to go first, I try to include in a message my own answers to any questions; which means telling a slightly embarrassing event from my own life to encourage the same in reply. I don’t yet know what’s the best way to compose a first email on these sites (annoyingly lots of people have different, and contradictory, advice on this matter).

Reid Mihalko put it more strongly: use your profile to scare off people you don’t want, and who don’t want you. “I sing badly while washing the dishes” should be right in there, so only those who are okay with bad dish-washing singing will bother. That’s tricky to negotiate if you aren’t getting many replies anyway, and there’s always the feeling that you can get used to stuff or introduce it gently later, after some attraction has started. It’s been a familiar discussion for at least ten years: when a kinky person puts a profile on ‘nilla websites such as POF or OKC, how soon do you introduce the “oh, by the way, I’m kinky?” Do you put it upfront, on the assumption that people who are likely to be interested will respond, and those who don’t respond never would have explored anyway; or do you leave it off, or drop subtle hints, and wait until a relationship starts to develop before talking about it, in the hope that the emotional connection inspires trust so that they are more likely to admit to their kinks? One option places “accept me” first, while the other risks rejection but opens the offer of “I accept you”. Each has its merits, but I’m inclined towards trust, then acceptance: for someone to admit to being kink-curious, or to break with a ‘nilla norm that they’re used to needs a safe environment. As Girl on the Net puts it:

Sometimes men ask me how they can find a woman who is kinky and imaginative and open to lots of new things in bed. I have a much much longer post coming on this at some point, but my initial gut reaction is to tell them this:

You may already know one, but it’s possible she doesn’t want to tell you about her passions. Maybe she wants to sing loudly in the kitchen. Maybe she wants to dance at that wedding. Maybe she wants to get naked and hump you with enthusiastic passion in the middle of the living room floor. But she’ll struggle to do any of these things if there’s an ‘ouch, please stop that’ look on your face, or if she’s heard you laugh when she’s fucked something up.

In building a relationship from the beginning, from that first point of contact (be it through friends, a cold approach, or internet dating) the exchange of trust and acceptance has to start somewhere, with little things. Then when you get to things like kinks, sex, and so on, there’s a foundation.

Thoughts on developing a cis heuristic

Title mostly because I like the word “heuristic”, but also because it’s relevant.

Jemima, of Sometimes It’s Just A Cigar, tweeted with the comment “thought provoking post” the link to an article by London Feminist called What is cis – and does it matter? It certainly is thought provoking, and for me raised a challenge.

LF starts with a principle of accepting the term: “It made perfect sense to me, then, when I learned that the opposite of ‘trans’ in the gender sense was also ‘cis.'” The difficulty starts when she starts to look more closely at what trans* covers, and whether she, herself, fits into the “cis” category.

But “trans” does not seem to mean dysphoric, or at least not exclusively. It also includes “genderqueer,” a sense of self which exists outside the gender binary of male / female. Again, perhaps, this doesn’t apply to terribly many of us. I have described myself, back in the dark ages of LiveJournal, as “gendermeh” – indifferent to gender identity. Having tried both, I discovered that I perform masculinity just as badly as I perform femininity, and so I tend to go with the path of least resistance, choosing elements of both as and when they suit me. My hobbies and my mode of dress for work are typically coded masculine; my current hairstyle and my mode of dress outside work are typically coded feminine.

LF then quotes some sources for definition of “transgender”, and that’s where it starts to get troublesome.

But according to some sources, including Practical Androgyny cited on GenderQueerID, that is enough to bring me within the “transgender umbrella.”

‘Transgender’ is an umbrella term that can potentially cover all people who transgress or transcend (go beyond the limits of) society’s rules and concepts of gender. People may be transgender due to their self expression, identity or personal history.

If that is correct, and to transcend or to transgress society’s gender expectations constitutes transgenderism, then that includes me. Yaygender defines gender as tripartite:

gender identity: one’s psychological sense of self; one’s identity; who someone is intrinsically
gender presentation or gender expression: how one presents oneself in society
gender role: the social role someone takes in society

These definitions as applied to trans*ness do not feel quite right to me, and I think it is possible for any group the edges of which are necessarily blurred, to have people defining it in various ways, and some of those ways will be problematic outliers. The question that LF raises is precisely the problem that allows TERFs and their transphobic ilk to reject the label “cis” – I really don’t have the energy to track down an example or links, but there was a whole twitter thing not long ago about someone with the initials CCP making precisely this claim: that because she, as a feminist, rejects societal norms, “don’t call me cis”.

LF’s piece restates the argument as an “outside observer” (not that anyone is an outside observer, of course) in the manner of someone trying to see where the other side is coming from, why they might hold whatever belief they have (regardless of whether it’s an accurate belief). I appreciate this kind of writing and thinking, as I try to achieve it myself from time to time.

The fact remains that the definitions are a dodgy place to start, and they give succour to the transphobic, particularly of the TERF variety, by legitimising the “TERF is a slur”, “don’t call me ‘cis'” responses. They also give weight to those (often men) who seek to police masculinity by defining as a “girl” or a “pussy” any male who does not conform perfectly to their perceptions of macho (it’s usually macho) maleness.

If the definitions are flawed, then it may make sense to have a look and see how they can be narrowed or tightened to be less flawed. As I mentioned, trans* is a category whose boundaries are necessarily blurred (it reminds me of my maths degree module on finding error margins, and discovering that in the calculation of an error margin, there is an error margin on the error margin…) You can cast a net so wide that the definition could also catch a lot of people who aren’t trans* under the same category (the issue with the quotes used by LF) or you can narrow it and risk not covering people who you think should be covered.

I am broadly in agreement with the Yaygender description of different ways of determining or defining gender – I might feel there are more ways of looking at it than just three, but in principle “identity, presentation/expression, social role” is a good starting point. But are all of these relevant to trans*ness?

Jemima last week wrote a piece inspired by a man who asked whether liking strap-on sex made him gay, and from the question of the curious coding that people put on various sex acts, discussing how performance and sexuality or gender are related:

This goes deeper however, as the kind of rad fems who say sexuality is nothing more than a performance of certain acts also say the same about gender. for them gender is a social construct with no real meaning outside of performance.

The most sexual contact I’ve had with a man is a quick snog (and it wasn’t consensual on my part, but put that to one side) – nevertheless, I find men sexually attractive (David Weston, for example, in recent promos for Pandora Blake’s Dreams of Spanking – phwoar!) as well as women, and therefore am bisexual, regardless of whether I’ve tried sex with a man (somewhere between 1 and 2 on the Kinsey scale, depending on the particular company…). That said, I’m pretty sure I would enjoy sex with a man.

A more telling question is whether drag artists and pantomime dames are typically considered to belong in the trans* category. Most people I’ve seen comment on the matter say no, and I am inclined to agree with them. While drag artists in particular may represent an accepted facet of “gender bending” (ugly term, but the best I can think of for this particular context, and the one often used in wider society), the identity of the performer typically remains cis. The performance is not relevant to the identity in these cases. But, we might say, drag is intended as a performance, or even parody, of gender, and nothing else. But if a performance of gender is not in itself enough, the point is already made. Gender cannot be purely performance and to be trans* there must be something else at work. It is also possible to be trans* without any element of performance.

Trans women who wish to undergo surgery are required by others’ (meaning, people in medical authority) conflation of performance and gender, to create a performance of gender that often is at odds with their preferences and internal desire for presentation. A cis woman can wear manly jeans and t-shirt and not have her gender questioned; a trans woman often can’t. Performance is neither a necessary nor a sufficient quality when it comes to determining trans*ness. There must be something else to go with it.

TF describes herself thus:

Personally I don’t see why I shouldn’t wear a three piece suit and brogues, wear my hair in a number 2 men’s cut and drink real ale (all things I do) whilst also being cis.

Perhaps a more important thing would be to argue that there’s no reason why a trans woman shouldn’t do all that, and still be trans (see above point re: medical authorities).

There is a distinction, and a clear one, between “dressing like a man” and “dressing as a man”, which is to say, one person dresses and acts the way TF describes just because it feels good and it’s their personal style. Another person dresses the same way in order to be perceived a certain way or to match their perception with their identity. Both those people could be trans or cis, or anywhere in the trans umbrella. But someone who dresses as a man is either a trans man or a cis man (or conceivably, genderqueer/genderfluid) whereas someone who dresses like a man can be man, woman, cis, trans, in any combination.

A similar point: trans folk tend to describe the act of dressing, and presenting themselves, as being taking off a mask rather than putting one on: they remove the disguise of their assigned-at-birth gender to reveal themselves. One person wearing the three piece suit etc thinks it’s a disguise; another thinks it’s the only time they aren’t disguised. So, again, there’s a distinction between “I dress as a man would dress” (disguise) and “As a man, I dress like this” (shedding the disguise).

Of course, “As a man, I dress like this” can be taken as permanent or temporary – either “I am a man. I dress like this,” or, “When I am a man, I dress like this” (i.e. at other times I dress differently) but both those cases fall under various trans* identities, whereas “I dress as a man would dress” would generally not. And that goes for the male friend I have who wears skirts (and sometimes a kilt) just as much: “I am a man. I wear a skirt” is still a statement of his cis masculinity (and if a trans man made the same statement, it would be a statement of his trans masculinity).

Jemima, again (from the same “Does it make me gay?” post):

Other cis women have performed the same thought experiment I did, to imagine having a penis, being male, in detail, and reported the same feelings of distress and even nausea. This is not to say that everyone who identifies as cis needs to have such a strong, almost dysphoric reaction, gender is no doubt a spectrum rather than a zero sum game.

I’m genderfluid, always never quite one or the other, outside the binary. I’ve tried the thought experiment. Sometimes I have fantasised about having a cunt, and even from my mid-teens have always said that if I was a woman, I would want to have het, PiV sex (I’d also want to have lots of lesbian sex too), and tried to imagine how that feels. Suffice to say, I don’t get the dysphoric reaction that Jemima reports. Or, rather, sometimes the reason I have these fantasies is because I sometimes feel dysphoric about my male genitalia, but not consistently (and certainly not consistently enough to make surgery an attractive option) – and sometimes I fantasise about having both a cunt and a cock at the same time. I’ve written before about some of the ways I would like my body to be different and more ambiguous – less hairy, slightly bigger boobs, etc.

While a sense of body-wrongness isn’t necessary as a part of the trans* umbrella terms (for instance, genderqueer/genderfluidity need not include any strong sense of dysphoria; there are also many trans men and women who feel no need to have genital surgery) it is a strong indicator.

When you’re at home, alone or with a (long-term) lover, who are you? When whatever you wore out into the world comes off (whether masculine work clothes or feminine relaxation clothes, to use LF’s example) what is left? When you put them on again, what do they mean to you about identity? How much do you have to do in order to feel like you?

These questions, I think, are where trans*ness occurs (at least, where there’s no dysphoria – and I think they would show up dysphoria where it occurs as well), and therefore where cisness occurs. Whatever the biological realities (and that’s a lot more complicated than people like to admit) and the doctor’s declaration at birth, how you relate to that is at the core of cisness. If you’re FAAB, and when you’re at home with your lover, you’re a woman; when you shed whatever clothes you wore out into the world and put on your joggers and t-shirt, or pyjamas, or whatever you wear when it doesn’t matter what you wear, and you’re a woman; when you put the outside clothes on again (regardless of what those clothes are) and you’re still a woman; when in order to feel like you, you don’t need to adjust anything (or you make your FAAB body more feminine, not less); then you’re a cis woman.

But me, MAAB, when I’m home alone or with a lover, I’m somewhere in between; when I shed my clothes and put on my joggers and t-shirt, I’m most often a tomboy-ish girl; when I put on my costumes for the world I can be (in my mind anyway; passing so others see me as female seems a long way off, and may be impossible, in the actual outside world) a woman or a man; in order to feel like me, I have to shave my body hair (and I still can’t reach all of it by myself) and sometimes wear a corset to get the right body shape, and it’s still not quite enough to feel like me.

Maybe this approach, this definition, this heuristic, will leave out people whom we might want to include under the trans* umbrella. Maybe some people we want to call cis can also belong under the trans* umbrella through some form of identity that is “cis-ish”, or have concerns that are related to those of trans* and genderqueer/fluid folks such that we have common cause, even if they are not trans* themselves. (As, for instance, the whole LGBT conflation.) I don’t know about that. As best I can manage, these questions seem to me to capture the elements any of which are sufficient to identifying trans*ness in various forms.

Thoughts/improvements/additions welcome.