IDEVASW: another year, the same struggle

Today, 17th December, is International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. I have a few moments that I didn’t expect to have spare, and I do not like to let the day go past without at least a short post to acknowledge it, so here’s a few thoughts near the top of my mind on the topic:

The past year has seen yet another attempt to introduce the so-called “Swedish Model” into English law (thankfully, unsuccessful), and a successful attempt to introduce it, ad worse, in Canada. We have had the reality admitted that, despite the rhetoric, the criminalisation of the client is not about ending demand, it is about making life for sex workers sufficiently dangerous that they will choose poverty rather than sex work.

Laws against sex work are laws against sex workers, regardless of the exact form the laws take. They strip away from sex workers the protections that other people take for granted. Laws against the client force sex workers to hide so clients are able to come to them – and, being hidden, they do not enjoy protection from violent clients.

And laws against sex work, regardless of the form those laws take, mark out sex work as lower. Such laws promote the view that a woman who has (lots of) sex (particularly for money) is of lower value and in some way has “brought it on herself” if violence should be perpetrated against her.

Only decriminalisation of sex work allows sex workers the protections they need to live their lives. Only ending stigma will end the violence, but that takes ending the bad laws first. And then, we can hope that there will come a year when there is no need for an International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers.

Vive la revolution d’Elust 65!

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Photo courtesy of SassyCat

Welcome to Elust #65 -

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 #66? Start with the rules, come back January 1st to submit something and subscribe to the RSS feed for updates!

For our UK readers, we would like to make a special request that you take a moment and fill out this petition to repeal the new censorship laws.

~ This Month’s Top Three Posts ~

“Does this look sexual to you?”
Submission Can Be Hard
You can have a secret sex blog and be ethical

 

~ Featured Post (Molly’s Picks) ~

On Writing and Self Doubt

Online porn: the canary in the coalmine

~ Readers Choice from Sexbytes ~

*You really should consider adding your popular posts here too*

The Pendulum: Why Americans Should Care that British Porn is Fucked

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!

 

Erotic Fiction

Blades
Dark Desires
This Is How You Use Her
“Office Santa”—A Free Story for the Holidays!
Feral
Justin’s Rope
Santa Sutra & the Rebellious Rein-Girl
Dirty
I Want You, My Way
Caught In The Act
The Smile

Sex News, Opinion, Interviews, Politics & Humor

Feminist Rape
The Sex I Like
Erased
Post-Revolution Kink: What kinds of kink?
Why MakeLoveNotPorn Has It Wrong

Blogging

I Do It My Way

Erotic Non-Fiction

Slave Olive’s Ongoing Chastity Experience
Coast to Coast Traveling Panties.
My Headshaving – During
Tell me…..(want versus need)
flip fucking a punk boy but good

Thoughts & Advice on Sex & Relationships

To Avoid Street Harassment, Dress Slutty!
Touch
“You’re not a Domme, you’re a hooker”
We Don’t Do That: On Vulnerability
He suspects something’s up…
Aust Sex Survey: Triumph, Trouble & Tragedy
Erections, Erections, Erections
Am I queer enough for you?

Poetry

Quandary – A Lusty Limerick
Used

Writing About Writing

A Sticky Vocabulary Situation

Thoughts & Advice on Kink & Fetish

Tickling, consent violations, and violence
Sniffy
A Few Things I Wish I’d Known About Sex, Dati

 

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In defence of face-sitting protest

(Bumping this call to the top – if you care about the porn laws, then care about International Day To End Violence Against Sex Workers too: 17th December)

~ ~ ~

It seems every time there is a new leftie cause to be fought, or a new impetus given to an old one, there are disagreement over how best to fight the fight. The various ways of protesting are proposed and shot down by those proposing other methods and too often, it ends up that nobody does anything because nobody can agree on a “strategy” that they will all get behind.

For that reason, when someone bypasses the “debate” stage and goes directly to “I’m doing this; wanna come with?” I’ll hop on board – if it’s within my means to do so.

The ATVOD regulations are not a “leftie” cause as such, because the permissive left (that opposes sexual censorship) is distinct from the communal-law left, which tends to promote conformity and generally takes the anti-porn feminist argument. All the same, with the protest today in London, I am seeing many of the same disagreements surfacing, with some people I respect, and would have expected to be supportive of actions to protest the laws, choosing to criticise and, in effect, say, “No, you’re doing protest wrong!”

The criticisms, I think, do highlight some of the problems with the type of “stunt-based” protest that the London demonstration (referred to as “face-sitting protest” from now on) quickly seems to have become. I don’t know for sure if it was originally intended as a stunt, or if someone set the date and time, and then someone else said, “we should do this on our demonstration!” What I do know is that it seems to have become very quickly, if it didn’t start out that way, a “showy” event of a “mass face-sitting”, coupled with, “Let’s all dress up as Dominatrices” (as if all BDSM Dominant women have a uniform, and as if they would want to be stereotyped any further). (Mister Gryphon reports that it did change over time, and makes points about (a) losing attendees as a result, and (b) it still being an important part of the overall campaign.)

Criticisms I’ve seen include:

“What good will protesting outside an empty Parliament building do? You should be writing to your MP instead!”

“Reporters will just write about the freaks in funny clothes and ignore the real issues”

“You’re protesting about the wrong things, what you just said is inaccurate/your placard is wrong”

All of these are familiar from just about every protest I’ve ever seen, about any issue. All of them are valid criticisms and concerns, and express the very real weaknesses of the “stunt” protest tactic. But other tactics also have their weaknesses.

I am not a fan, personally, of the “stunt” protest, and feel ambivalent about the face-sitting protest overall. I am particularly concerned about dressing up in stereotypical clothing as a tactic, and several people who are otherwise “pro” the protest expressed their concerns over this as well on Twitter. I am also worried that by starting with a “stunt”, the public campaign may quickly lose momentum because of the “ooh, look at the freaks” aspect, and because while it’s good to have fun protesting, if you start on that note people may quickly drop out when it comes to the harder parts. Nevertheless, if I had been able to get to London today, I would have made the trip to join in.

I find it an uncomfortable position, therefore, to be defending the face-sitting protest choice of tactics against the people criticising it, because to some extent I agree with the criticisms. Nevertheless, I also feel that there are problems or worrying aspects about the criticisms, and that in general, it is better to do something instead of getting bogged down in a “Right, this calls for immediate discussion!” scenario. I watched on iPlayer the other night, AJP Taylor’s 25 minute lecture about Winston Churchill, and recall one phrase in particular: “If it wasn’t possible to do something effective, he would rather do something ineffective.” That was a criticism of Churchill, whose decisions on that basis led to many lives being wasted in pointless military misadventures. Nevertheless, I sometimes think that when it comes to a protest movement it is better to do something (even if it isn’t particularly effective) than to do nothing, so long as resources are kept back for when an effective protest becomes possible.

Besides which, it seems to me that effective protest usually has people working in different ways and on different fronts. It used to be the case that centralised committees could dictate and direct a campaign in a very coordinated way between these various fronts; it seems to me that the modern form, while much more democratic, lacks this coordination and ends up with people telling each other to stop because they each perceive the other approaches as undermining their own efforts. It seems to me to be better to have a variety of tactics, even if they are not entirely synchronised or fitting together well, rather than one, or, as often seems to happen, none.

All of which goes to say, yes: we need to write to our MPs. Heck, that’s what I’m best at. I love sitting down to compose a short persuasive essay with specific requests and demands for my MP to act upon, and sending that to my elected representative in government. I’m good at that sort of thing. But not everyone has the talents that I have, and I lack some of the talents that others possess. Not everyone has the time or mental energy to sit down and write out a coherent protest email. Some people, I suppose more extraverted than Yours Truly, have much better energy for making placards or for doing showy stunts. Some with time and/or energy for neither, can still help by signing petitions, doing social media, or whatever else. Some like the “let’s get together to demonstrate”, but prefer a more sober style of gathering.

As for what good the gathering does, it attracts attention. What the second criticism says is that it attracts the wrong kind of attention. The debate here is between bad publicity or no publicity – defenders of the “stunt” can argue that if no one hears about the protest, then it has no effect and better they laugh than that they ignore totally. As Oscar Wilde is quoted as saying, “The only thing worse than being talked about, is not being talked about.”

I’ve had a look at some of the reports on the face-sitting protest on various newspaper websites already: the Guardian, Independent and the Telegraph (the last because someone linked the piece on Twitter – I am not a Telegraph reader). While the “weird-looking people” angle certainly gives the journalists their headlines and images, most have used it as a way to get their readers hooked, and then feed in the censorship issues. As far as “showing the normals who like porn”, my favourite quote comes from the Telegraph:

Around 200 men and women turned up to make their opposition to this censorship known – many of them middle-aged and none of them ashamed to be publicly defending a type of porn others might prefer to express their appreciation of privately, behind closed doors and curtains.

(Emphasis added)

In terms of what I would hope for in coverage of the issues and protest, I would be disappointed. At the same time, I think the reporting is much better than the critics of the face-sitting protest seemed to predict.

However, I am reminded of the problematic language that surrounds a lot of gay rights protests: “Keep away the freaky-looking gays until after the vote, we don’t want to scare of the straights from voting for us!” The fact is, some people don’t need to “dress up” as Dommes because it’s how they like to dress anyway. Complaining that the press will “just focus on the freaks in funny clothes” is a way of saying that people who happen to be “freaks” who like to wear “funny clothes” should sit down, shut up, and not try to be included when people are debating their rights and freedom of expression. And yes, I’ve been on the wrong side of that, in the past, and had people make this point at me.

The point about inaccurate or mistaken protesters I think is more problematic. On the face of it, the criticism is correct. People claiming that female ejaculation was being classed as “dangerous” have conflated two different parts of the regulations: while some things are banned because the BBFC assumes them to be dangerous, the female ejaculation (or “squirting”) ban is because in the view of the BBFC (and therefore now ATVOD) female ejaculate is indistinguishable from urine, and if it lands on someone then that’s deemed “degrading”. It is also true that, strictly speaking, face-sitting as such is not banned; the justification for such a ban rests on it appearing to block the airways, and face-sitting is only referenced in that context, and not as a thing in itself.

This criticism is entirely accurate. It is, however, also hugely problematic. Firstly, on an “expert qualification” implication, and secondly, on a “effect rather than wording” point.

The “expert qualification” point takes two forms, basically both concerned about nuance versus communication. As indicated in the previous paragraph, there are some quite fine points to present an accurate picture of what is or is not likely to be affected by the new regulations. The proper place for those points is in a longer, written, protest – and that’s why it’s important to get people writing to their MPs if they can.

My biggest concern about pointing out inaccuracies by protesters, is that it seems to send the message that only those who understand to an expert, or at least, highly nuanced, level, have the right to protest against a law that they understand to be bad. Where that understanding might change substantially their view of the law, then perhaps there is a valid argument to be made here, but in this case, we are not talking about such fine points. The argument is that censorship of adult sexual material is by-and-large wrong, and any extension thereof should be fought. The exact details of what is or is not being banned at this particular moment, is less significant than that any ban is damaging. Some may be hanging their protest more on the “it’s sexist” than the “it’s censorship” argument, and it may be more significant for them, but on those grounds the distinction is still clearly made by the protest wording.

Overall, the idea that, “You can only protest if you get it exactly right,” is a worrying one to me. Given that some of those I’ve seen using this are people who are generally against elitist access/restriction to political engagement, I found it quite hard to understand. I’m a pretty erudite, educated and literate person; nevertheless, I missed the distinction between “face-sitting as a form of breathplay” and “face-sitting is a form of breathplay” (which is to say, I had understood that all face-sitting was banned because the BBFC/ATVOD assumed that all face-sitting would involve blocking the airways; whereas in fact it is supposedly only banned if it does). For someone without the benefits and privileges that go with my education and command of language, how much more difficult might it be to get it exactly right? How much harder for them to participate in political debate if they are forever being told, “No, your opinion doesn’t count because you can’t express it so well/don’t really understand the issues”? At a public demonstration, if anywhere, there should be room for the un-nuanced generally-supportive protester (also, they surely make up the bulk of a successful petition).

At the face-sitting protest, there are several very intelligent people (some, I feel, must be being misquoted or paraphrased or taken out of context in the press reports linked earlier). It can’t be that all these people are just misunderstanding the precise nature of what’s being banned. That leads me to the next reason why the criticism seems to be poorly aimed.

It can be quite hard to convey in 140 characters a nuanced argument or situation. When you’ve got a placard, and need a pithy soundbite or slogan to put on it, nuance pretty much goes out the window. Wit and memorability matter far more. And when you’re going for a stunt-based protest, then you want to find something that you can (a) get away with, and (b) conveys the nature of your issue. “Face-sitting” as such may not be being banned, but most of the things that are being banned could not reasonably be simulated without fear of arrest. It is close enough to the subject matter, and creates enough of a spectacle, to make the point. As it happens, at the face-sitting protest, the “breathplay” aspect was signalled by the use of “colour charts” to check whether the face-sittees were suffocating (a pretty bad way of actually telling if someone’s in trouble, but as a visual aid to making the point, quite effective – and reported in at least one newspaper’s article).

So the point is to convey to an audience that in general is not going to care so much for nuance and precise definitions, but wants easy hooks for their angle. That goes both for the reporters, and for the readers the reporters write for. It’s to drum up support and, hopefully, get some people to want to find out more, or at the very least add their names to the petitions. A lecture on the details is not going to be effective. Using the broad categories and headline activities affected in some way, gets more people to pay attention and, perhaps, get involved. It may not be “accurate”, but it’s effective.

Finally, there comes the question of whether the wording, or the effect, is what’s being protested. First off, the information provided by OscenityLawyer is in some ways confusing. The main part of the piece is based on a seminar held by ATVOD and BBFC, and that’s where the most nuanced information is available; but the wording of the R18 regulations (and the OPA), which ObscentityLawyer provides at the bottom of the piece, is much less precise (as he goes on to explain below).

Having had the opportunity to compare (thanks to mail-order, and non-UK suppliers/internet not being affected as easily by UK censorship) uncut porn videos with the information the BBFC gave on their website about why they were cut, I am very much not satisfied that the BBFC (or ATVOD) censors have any ability to distinguish between what does and does not constitute breathplay or airway restriction. I would anticipate that ATVOD would tend to err on the side of saying that a face-sitting scene does involve airway restriction than that it doesn’t. I would not like to be in the place of a porn producer int eh UK, having filmed a face-sitting scene, then having to decide whether or not I can show it because I can’t tell whether ATVOD will agree that I have made sure the model’s airways are clear. Therefore, despite what the nuanced information from the seminar says, I would tend to argue that the effect of the regulations, as worded, would almost certainly prohibit the use of face-sitting in UK fetish porn.

Similarly, the upshot of the “female ejaculate is indistinguishable from urine” ruling, while not ruling out solo masturbation squirting, if a woman on camera has sex with a partner and ends up squirting, then for most sexual positions that would seem to preclude showing her orgasm. While not strictly accurate to say that female ejaculation is banned, the overall impact is very similar. I’m not sure people would make that distinction if it were ruled that the only male ejaculations allowed in porn were from solo masturbation.

Therefore, the protesters may very well be more accurate in terms or protesting the “chilling effect” of anti-porn censorship, than might appear from looking at the nuanced interpretations would suggest. A great deal of this protest seems to be about the ways in which people feel threatened by the censorship of sexual material, and how they – and women especially – feel a creeping sense of being ignored or silenced. The specifics may not be precise, but the emotions and impact felt, are.

~ ~ ~

In conclusion: yes, there are problems with the way the face-sitting protest ended up being presented. Nevertheless, I am convinced that is better that this protest happened, than that it didn’t happen. The criticisms, while valid, also seem to me to be not sufficient reason to say this was a bad way to do protesting.

But the best way to do protesting is to keep at it. Don’t just show up for the fun things; show up for the rest, too. And show up for other, related, issues. A lot of people are asking, “Will the same protesters be there on 17th December?” because that’s International Day To End Violence Against Sex Workers. I really hope they will.

Anti-ATVOD songs & civil disobedience

I’ve had some songs going round what I advisedly call my brain recently. There’s a theme to them.

Here they are:

Yep. They’re songs about defying censorship, and/or enjoying or experiencing pain or non-standard (sexual) pleasures. They are songs that seem to me to be relevant to the ATVOD regulations, and opposing them. (Rachel Stamp’s “Spank” is also among them, but Spotify don’t seem to have that track.)

Listen to the lyrics, they’re relevant. The gender-flipped second verse of Bowling For Soup’s version of “Hit Me Baby One More Time” in particular sounds like a criticism of the ban on facesitting!

Pandora Blake has been defiant, insisting she will not comply, though that comes at a cost. With it, she made one of the clearest and most succinct explanations of how sexual censorship is political censorship, the political and personal are intimately connected:

The porn I make is me doing my kink, my art, my feminism. This is how I do my activism and politics. I will not give it up. It’s who I am.

I commented (on a different twitter thread) that I admired her civil disobedience, and pledged solidarity as far as I could.

Then I thought about what civil disobedience on a mass scale might involve. I recalled from earlier this year that Blake had written a piece, Empower Yourself Through Porn, about how to set yourself up as a DIY porn producer. What if, I thought, dozens, hundreds, maybe even THOUSANDS of us who believe in freedom of speech set out to make short porn clips (say, a minute or 5 minutes, or whatever you’re comfortable with) featuring things banned by the BBFC guidelines now applied by ATVOD? What if we all put them on our own blogs or websites (behind age-restriction warnings, obviously)? What if every video had, somewhere, a message opposing the new regulations (I’m fantasising about having the message written upside down on someone’s forehead while their partner facesits them – and that someone might or might not be me)? I suppose people who didn’t want their faces on camera could angle the camera or use editing software to blur themselves out, too.

The power of civil disobedience is that we break the unjust law en masse to draw attention to it, or just overload the system, like the organised mass trespasses to protest private property on what had been public land and so on. Blake already has people trying to overload the ATVOD complaints system by complaining about ATVOD itself. What if there happened to be a “mass trespass” of sexual material?

All of the above is, of course, purely speculative – a “what if” scenario. I’m not advocating breaking the law, you understand. I’m just saying, “what if…?”

I’m really hoping that the Government will find they’ve misjudged this: that, perhaps thanks to tumblr (where you will find many many pervy blogs maintained by deeply kinky women and men), admitting to liking deeply kinky porn is no longer the stigma it once was, and people are going to feel able to say something about this being a bad law. The press response, from the Independent to the Daily Mirror, seems to suggest that this might be the case.

4 months and a few quid later

In amongst the furore this week over the ATVOD regulations being changed to match the BBFC guidelines (and thereby potentially putting excellent feminist fetish porn producers out of business), something significant has occurred for me in a related area.

Those who are new followers, friends or fans may not be aware that since July I have been offering to sell IM sex roleplay via AdultWork.com.

It turns out that the middle of summer is a bad time to start an adult services business and while I had occasional interest expressed in my free chat mode, buyers were conspicuously non-existent.

Up until this week. I have now earned money as a sex worker!

The IM paid chat lasted all of 5 minutes, and I have no idea if he disliked the service, ran out of prepaid credits, or I’m just That Good (in which case, not to self: dial it back a bit, make them last longer next time = more money!)

I would love to be able to report that it was no different than sucking off some random stranger in a chatroom, but the truth is, for me at least, it felt very different. Maybe with more experience of paid IM work, my feelings will change, but for now at least, the fact of being paid had an effect.

The biggest thing was I was much more anxious to “get it right”. My client told me what he wanted (crossdressed, blowjob) and then went straight to paid “private” chat, so I had to get right into it: hot description, down on my knees and go… While I’ve certainly had people act with far worse entitlement in the chatrooms, once clients have established I will do what they want they tend to become quite determined; the only difference is this time, he paid up so he had in some respects a right to be. I felt, as a result, more vulnerable than I do in the chatroom situations.

The money tilted the power relationship: when it was just about getting mutual jollies in the chatroom, there was no cost in withdrawing from a situation; but now, I wanted his money, I wanted him to want another session in future, or leave positive feedback. Withdrawing if I felt uncomfortable would be more of a risk: even if the whole thing is largely virtual, the money isn’t. (Well, of course, there’s a whole debate about the economics and philosophy of currency that says money is, essentially, virtual – but that’s another issue for another day.)

At the same time, I still believe I’m bloody good at giving virtual blowjobs (I have no r/l experience, to say if I’d be that good at giving meatspace blowjobs) and there was nothing at all that was wrong or bad for me. It just had this extra emotional layer over the top.

Afterwards, I felt disappointed that he hadn’t stayed longer for the full virtual experience (and of course, thereby paid me more), but also accomplished: I’ve crossed that bridge and proved that I can sell my sexy brainpower. This also carries a sense of vindication: I’m no longer a wannabe; I actually am a sex worker, with the pay to prove it.

Looking forwards, the chief thing is the feeling that yes, I can do this. I want to do more of it. I think I’m worth your money when I do, and the emotional costs are minor compared to the rewards. And if that isn’t an endorsement of a job, I don’t know what is!

My letter against ATVOD censorship regs

As it turns out, although I have written to my MP, Andrew Lansley, about several matters of censorship and of sex work or sex legislation in general, the particular issue of the ATVOD regulations had slipped through the net. So, belatedly, I have rectified that matter.

Presented below is the letter/email I’ve now sent via Write To Them (you can too, but use your own letter, because they don’t allow copy-pasted form letters). I don’t know if it’s particularly good, and the best bits are probably the turns of phrase or points that I’ve plagiarised from @waitinggirl3 and especially, Pandora Blake.

- * -

Dear Andrew Lansley MP:

I am writing to you today to protest in the strongest terms against the continuing encroachment of censorship on the internet, and in particular of sexual content made by consenting adults. This email is occasioned by the coming into effect of new regulations that require ATVOD to censor Video on Demand services in the same way that the BBFC censors film and video releases, and my main aim is to ask that you act in whatever ways will be most effective to persuade the government to rescind these unnecessary and harmful restrictions on sexual expression, and on freedom of speech.

In my view, the most important point is that, as has frequently been stated by others, “porn is the canary in the coal mine for free speech.” Restrictions of freedom of expression are almost always tested first by seeking to restrict access to adult, sexual, material first, because there will always be people whose response of disgust allows a “moral panic” support of the measures, despite the eventual inevitable harm done. But once the principle has been allowed to fall by the wayside to outlaw sexual material on the grounds of disgust, then it becomes that much easier to use the same measures to outlaw other things that certain people find “disgusting”. Censorship of sexual expression, and of the internet, must be opposed in order to preserve the freedoms and democracy that we pride ourselves on in this country.

The BBFC regulations send a disgraceful message about sexuality to our young people. It is as though they were written specifically for the mainstream producers, who cater only to the male market and regard women as mere receptacles. Anything that displays powerful, female, sexual pleasure seems to be outlawed, while equivalent acts that focus on male pleasure are permitted. Furthermore, acts that are predominantly associated with “queer”, homosexual, or sexual minority groups are also disproportionately targeted. The new regulations are anti-women, homophobic and anti-kink. Some might argue that it should be made stricter to censor male pleasure, too; but these should not be heeded; it is banning female pleasure that is harmful, not the permitting of male pleasure.

The most direct effect will be to force the UK’s independent, feminist, “fair-trade” producers of sexual material out of business, meaning that representations of mutual sexual pleasure, positive informed consent, and negotiation, and which embody the values we should be teaching young people about sex and how to behave towards one another, will be harder to find. Meanwhile, the juggernaut of male-dominated, exploitative sexual oppression will roll on unaffected.

The Backlash UK campaign states that:

“The EU AVMS directive states that content that “might seriously impair minors” should be restricted in order to protect those under 18. However, when considering the research of 20 European States(3), Ofcom found that: ‘No country found conclusive evidence that sexually explicit material harms minors. As a result, the regulations have been introduced under the aegis of “child protection’, without any evidence that the regulation will contribute to child welfare. It will, however, have an adverse impact on the sexual choices of consenting adults and on the British media industry. “

I would go further: by enforcing regulations that enforce and prescribe a narrow focus on male pleasure over female pleasure, of heterosexual practice over “queer” sexuality, and ignore the importance of free and self-aware sexual expression, this government is creating a toxic environment in which young people learning about their own bodies and sexual desires will be harmed because the language is denied them to choose something better than the mainstream, sexist, model. This will trickle down into sex and relationship education in a harmful way and send precisely the wrong messages about sex and negotiation to our young people. While they may not see the material directly, the social environment they inhabit will still be affected, and in turn, affect them.

This legislation is wrong-headed, sexist, unworkable – and it strikes a huge blow to equality and sexual freedom. I close by asking you again to do all you can to bring about the end of pointless and harmful censorship of British sexual expression, and specifically to ensure that the BBFC guidelines are removed from ATVOD’s regulations.

Yours sincerely,

[Valery North]

Damaging censorship: BBFC, ATVOD and the web

I was 16 in 1994, the year the World Wide Web came into being.

I had been aware of myself as a sexual being for about two years, and for a similar amount of time had been plagued by worries about the types of sexual fantasies I had. Sexual dominance, torture, and sadism that, in the media available to me, were only ever associated with serial killers and evil people.

In my developing sexuality, I looked for media to show me sex, and inspire sexual thoughts. I suppose a lot of young male-bodied types, like me, started with lingerie models in mail-order catalogues (not something you’d assume today, of course, but back then it was harder to find proper porn when you were considered “too young”). I graduated quickly to wank mags such as Razzle and Escort, but couldn’t find what I needed, because what I needed was hard, BDSM porn.

I saw my first porn videos while at university, and it was exciting but only when I overlaid some BDSM elements with my imagination. Even the “kinky” stuff I could find turned out to be astonishingly mild and of no relevance. But the internet? The internet was my saviour! Here, at last, were images and narratives, and personal accounts, of people enjoying sex the way I imagined it. The way I needed it.

I learned about Spanner, and I learned about the BBFC guidelines that clearly told me that I could not buy videos that worked for me (although mail-order from Europe, it turns out, neatly gets around that problem).

For the past two or three years at least, the Daily Mail has been whipping up a moral panic about porn, using ludicrous “statistics”, the whole “Won’t somebody think of the children?” line, and typical “legislate from disgust” headlines (I only know the headlines, I don’t read the paper itself). David Cameron responded favourably to the Mail and has created new laws more or less at their behest to create one of the most restrictive sexual censorship regimes in Western Europe.

The latest step is to apply the BBFC guidelines to UK-based online porn producers and providers, though the instrument of ATVOD, which oversees online “video on demand” services, which are described as “TV-like”. I recall a few years ago, UK porn companies asking for the BBFC restriction on R18 content being sold by mail order to be lifted, because they were losing out to their European competitors who could sell much harder material by mail order. It seems obvious that in general, ATVOD will also not stop porn reaching UK consumers, but only where it comes from.

I’ve seen a variety of opinions on just how badly this will affect Britain’s independent porn producers. I am no expert, but I strongly hope that some of the great fetish and feminist kink porn producers I follow online, and occasionally support by buying some of their stuff, will survive: they’ve all vowed not to self-censor in the light of the new law, and to fight it every step of the way.

Here’s three of the best posts on the subject:

The legal expert – ObscenityLawyer: The Following Content Is Not Acceptable

The porn producer – Pandora Blake: Online porn: the canary in the coalmine

The feminist anarchist – Stavvers: The new online porn regulations and how they disproportionately affect women

That last one is particularly worth noting: the BBFC regulations particularly stigmatise female pleasure and female-dominant sexual activities. As Blake (quoting Stavvers and other sources) explains:

It’s interesting that for the most part, femdom sites have been the ones targeted. The restrictions on facesitting and squirting disproportionately censor female sexual expression, female pleasure and female dominance

facefucking is permitted, but facesitting is not; likewise consuming male ejaculate is permitted, but consuming female ejaculate is not. The new legislation props up patriarchal models of male sexual dominance and criminalises femdom and feminist producers whose work provides alternative models of sexual interaction.

Similarly, the restriction against fisting – an important part of authentic queer sexuality – will disproportionately affect producers of queer, lesbian and gay porn. This is undeniably a blow against women and queers, with a transparently sexist emphasis on restricting acts of female sexual power.

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This needs to be fought. I’ve written to my MP, and so should you; Backlash UK campaign against censorship, and run a legal defence fund, so could really use donations to help with that.

Censorship is how we teach young people (teenagers and young adults) they are SICK and WRONG and DISGUSTING for having sexual thoughts, particularly sexual thoughts outside of heteronormative, vanilla, PiV-male-orgasm-oriented sex.

Rejecting gendered smartness

I have always felt that putting on a smart suit felt like a disguise.

For a long time, I’ve assumed that this is because I’m basically a slob and the suit just involves pretending not to be. But in the last year or so I have developed a sharper casual style that is just as comfy as joggers and t-shirt. I still gravitate towards the ultra-casual but less strongly, and I don’t feel like I’m disguised when I wear the sharper version.

Moreover, there are some situations in which being smart, even supersmart, feels natural, too. Going to Glyndebourne to see the opera is one such. But these occasions are occasions, and it is most certainly a case of playing “dress-up”.

This leads to an intriguing conclusion. Looking smart is not the problem, so much as the expectation of looking smart.

Expectations of dress and appearance are intrinsically gendered in modern society. Recently, thinking these things through for the umpteenth time, I thought about the “slobby” look towards which I gravitate, and just why I might do that, and I thought about it specifically in terms of my gender identity and the gendered significance of clothing.

What I realised is that, if all you know about a person is that they wore joggers and a t-shirt, there are no clues as to their gender. A skirt could be worn by a man, but the balance of probabilities is that the wearer identifies as female; and the smarter the skirt suit or dress, the more likely it is. Similarly, describe a “suit and tie” and, it could be a woman but it’s a safer bet to guess “man”. Smart clothes are gendered, much more than casual clothes, and slobby clothes seem to be gendered least plainly. One reason a smart suit feels like a disguise, is that I am disguising myself as “man”.

To be uncomfortable with maleness, but also not fully attracted to femaleness, and to float in-between and back-and-forth; to avoid being automatically gendered by clothing alone: what is the most comfortable and versatile clothing to wear? The simplest answer is to be as casual as possible, to reject smartness.

There are ways in which gendered smartness is challenged: the trouser suit appears to level the field, for example. But the specification of “trousers”, and the fact that it isn’t a “suit and tie”, retains a gendered distinction.

But what if a “trouser suit” and a shirt designed to be worn without a tie (as opposed to the casual open neck, “I’m-not-wearing-a-tie-I’m-too-important-to-have-to” look) were cut specifically for men, with a similar eye for the aesthetic that is brought to women’s clothing? That would be an outfit I could wear happily. Does it exist? Not that I’m aware of. Typing “Unisex trouser suit” into Duckduckgo showed a range of outdoor wear, medical “scrubs”, and African-style clothing (which, being White and European, I’m thinking “not my culture to appropriate!”).

I’m not a fashion designer. I look at the outfits that came up under the image search for “trouser suit” and imagine a low-cut shirt, or blouse, designed to complement and fit the male form. I want it to exist, so that “trouser suit” is a male alternative to “suit and tie”. I want to be a smartly-dressed male-bodied person, without having to be a man.

Post-Revolution Kink: Not Whether It Exists, But What Kind?

CONTENT NOTE: Discussion/speculation of “forced sex” fantasies.

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The title refers to a saying from an episode of Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda, from a “Wayist” teacher: “On the question of life after death: Not whether it exists, but what manner of life?”

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The other day, I saw a tweet that revisited the whole discussion about whether power-exchange kinks such as Domination/Submission and sadomasochism would continue to exist once the revolution has occurred and society radically reordered to eliminate Patriarchy and capitalism. A couple of days after that, someone I follow on Fetlife put into my timeline a comment on a post asking whether kink was “inherently right-wing”.

Being a good Leftie, these questions bothered me a lot when I first started to accept myself as a sadist and a Dominant. I made a sort of hand-wavey “from each as according to their ability, to each as according to their need” justification, with Subs and Doms having different abilities and needs,a nd each meeting the others’. As commanded by the radfems, we (I, and other bloggers who wrote about leftie kink questions) “examined our desires” and came up with nothing like what the KERF/SWERF/TERF brigade expected, but I for one didn’t come up with any solid answers.

While I could come up with a clear sex-economic reason why sex work would still be work within a post-capitalist, post-Patriarchy society (just, much more likely to be evenly distributed between men and women), I always felt that the belief that kink would persist was less well-grounded theoretically, and more of a conviction partly out of an “extinction fear” (i.e. fear not only of personal destruction but of one’s species or community’s destruction in some hypothetical future) and partly out of, “this feels so fundamental, how could it ever cease to be?”

All of which is old hat, for me. I believe kink will persist and there will be power-exchange sex in the post-Patriarchy, post-capitalist Utopia (hereafter, the PPPC because why not, and inverts CCCP as the Cyrillic USSR. I like wordplay). That’s a statement of belief. But it leads to a curious question:

What kind of kink?

It is a generally-accepted principle of Marxist revolutionary thought that the forms of society following the communist revolution cannot be predicted, since they will be formed by the workers in the white heat of the revolution and their collective awareness, to suit the needs of their time and conform with their newly-conscious appraisal. One can imagine a similar principle of revolutionary, radical, feminism being applied to the sexual economy, although once distinctions of male and female roles are removed, the idea of one sex as the “producer” or “proletariat” of sex seems absurd in a way that it does not for the working classes. But a new sexual economy is sure to develop, in which the idea of buying dinner and a movie to get to 2nd (or whatever) base, is just nonsensical as an implicit strategy. Even sex work would not be based on quite that transactional an approach, we might guess (though what it would be based on would be shaped by the same economic decisions that shape the overall revolution, and thus forged in the white heat blahblahblah). We can’t know what the sexual economy (dating, hooking up, etc) would look like.

But with sex itself, perhaps there is a doorway into what kinks might be (most) represented. There’s a lot of theories that, in one way or another, come back to the idea that very often what we find hottest and sexiest is also that which generates fear – or which confronts our image of ourself. While not convinced this gives a complete picture of what BDSM is and does (or indeed any other kink), I believe there is enough truth in it to provide a basis for a little bit of “let’s pretend”, and venture forth into the future…

After The Revolution

The turmoil of the revolution, we’ll pretend, is now distant past, three or four generations ago at least. Society has been reordered so there is no more inequality of life: the basic needs of all are met through collaborative effort and pooling the various resources of brain and brawn possessed by its members; democracy is radically participatory so that everyone is guaranteed a chance to be heard and decisions are by some form of consensus. We don’t know what gender looks like, but no one is judged for how much or how little sex they have, and no one is lauded for it either. Whether genders exist or are so blurred as to deny all thoughts of a binary, we don’t know; but no one’s genitalia or outward signs are a bar to their activity or advancement in whatever field.

Welcome to the PPPC: a Utopia forged in the Great Critical Revolution.

But, people are people. They still have fears. Even in Utopia, there are accidents, illness, and natural disasters. They aren’t as catastrophic as they were in the Bad Old Days of capital, of course: no need for fundraisers when everyone just pitches in and helps, and there are careers dedicated to making sure it all happens.

From what I understand of Marx, he seems to have in some ways anticipated Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in describing the hoped-for outcome of the revolution, talking about going from a society built around most people threatened at the Physiological orSafety level, to one designed to allow all people to achieve the highest, “Self-Actualisation” level. We can use this as a way of looking at what fears might remain in the PPPC.

The Physiological and Safety needs, that so often preoccupy people in capitalist society, are largely dealt with (as described). Illness and catastrophe can occur, but people will be confident both of care and support if it happens. The same visceral fear of destruction might not exist in a world where everyone stands ready to catch anyone who falls. (A sense of safety often described by Subs referring to the care their Doms give, even in the middle of a big SM scene.) The shadow/face the fear aspect of SM play, then, would be much less a factor in BDSM. Masochism for the sensations, or from the physical endurance, pay-offs, would be much more likely. The physiological and neurochemical boost, rather than the psychological boost, would remain.

Rejection and Overriding

It’s when we get to the higher levels of the hierarchy that we might find the focus of PPPC BDSM play. A society built around community, collective endeavour, and consensus is going to produce a lot of fears about being “out”: while love and belonging might seem guaranteed, in reality they still depend upon others, and on agreement. Thinking about the “shadow self”, and in terms of top roles, we might imagine a person who feels alarmed at the way that perhaps sometimes they want to override others’ opinions and views this as a defect in themselves that they seek to quash; sexually, in pursuing their shadow self, they may very well want to express that, not unlike the ways in which Dominants we know seek obedience, and perform a version of, “My way or the highway!”

Conversely, there would be a fear of being heard but not heeded, and of being rejected from the community in that way. Here, we see the potential pairing of kinks, as the person with this fear faces the fear of rejection or being overridden, by “submitting” to the person who fears their own tendency to reject. By negotiating a consensual sexual roleplay, they can live out their shadow selves.

Here, we might expect the scene to resemble “forced-sex”, or “ravishment”, fantasies familiar to today’s kinksters (and “romance” novel readers). In order to face those inner demons, the bottom has to be able to plead and be ignored, to say “no” and have it not be heard.

One curious aspect occurs to me because of this: gang-topping, or gang-bottoming, might be significant parts of the kink scene: The bottom who faces fears of societal rejection by processing them sexually, may prefer to have a group of tops who take what they want sexually regardless of her “protests” (and of course, with prior negotiation and enthusiastic consent; and safewords just in case). Likewise, the top who rejects hir desire to override others in the group, might find hir strongest expression in directing the actions of multiple bottoms collectively. I can see how self-fears of teaming up to override others in a group could work strongly for a top (or group of tops), giving the gang-topping role some purchase. I’m not clear how it works for gang-bottoming that the bottoms get their pay-off, although it may tie in with the next layer.

(I may or may not want to roleplay either or both of these scenes now!)

Humiliation

If the sense of community answers the love/belonging tier of the Hierarchy of Needs in general, then the extension of that into Esteem is where things start to get interesting for our future kinksters.

From the previously linked Wikipedia article:

The “lower” version of esteem is the need for respect from others. This may include a need for status, recognition, fame, prestige, and attention. The “higher” version manifests itself as the need for self-respect. For example, the person may have a need for strength, competence, mastery, self-confidence, independence, and freedom.

Staci Newmahr discusses in her study of a local BDSM Scene, “Playing On The Edge”, how strength, competence and mastery (of skills or one’s body) are rewarded in both topping and bottoming in SM play. As noted under the Physiological/Safety aspects, the endurance and potency payoffs are the strongest psychological causes remaining in the PPPC. But for people in our PPC society, one of the highest currencies will be recognition and status due to one’s efforts and competencies. Working as part of the collective effort, to be recognised as giving a high level, and of being bloody good at what you do, is likely to be the best way to take reward. Similarly, in the participatory democracy, being heard and recognised as having good idea or good points, will be the surest form of payment. Whether society would be ordered to advance wider dissemination of fame and prestige, or deliberately set up so that fame doesn’t spread beyond the local grouping (i.e. no attribution given when ideas are passed up the chain), we can’t be sure. But a person who saw that the idea they had adopted in one area, seems to have spread and become wider policy, might feel some sense of pride and recognition anyway.

For the PPPC bottom, then, humiliation play might turn out to be the strongest form of BDSM. If fears, or shadow-self aspects, of being seen as lesser, or of failing in some way, are potent then play that focusses on those fears could be a huge turn-on (and taboo) among our future kinksters. We might anticipate that those most likely to seek this sort of play are those who are generally used to receiving recognition and praise, but who are conscious that they are “only as good as your last project” and fear loss of recognition in the future. The converse topping role, I suspect, will come from people who might fear themselves as unfair or arbitrary in their assigning of prestige or recognition, and whose shadow self is thus insufficiently impartial. The person who feels bound to give all a fair trial, might wish to let loose their feelings of superiority or more strongly-worded criticism, by just telling another that they are no good for anything. The need in this society, and this kink, for a delineated scene, would if anything be more important: the bounds of what can or can’t be criticised, to what degree, and in what ways the bottom can “make amends”, would need to be very carefully drawn. In terms of wider social acceptance of the kink, I believe it would be the strongest taboo.

This is also where it is possible that “gang-bottoming” pays off for the bottom: by being part of a group-bottoming dynamic, the bottom can allow hir top to unfairly and negatively compare her to others in the group: the superior top might deliberately set each bottom a task at which zie is lesser than hir fellow-bottoms, thus allowing each to be “disciplined” verbally (and, perhaps, physically – though, again, the potency of such may not be as great as it is for us).

Models of Hierarchy

The argument of those who suggest kink would disappear in the post revolution society is generally that without concurrent modes of hierarchy on which to model the hierarchy of D/s or SM, then there would be no impetus to eroticise those dynamics within a sexual union. Without a form to copy, what would our PPPC kinksters do to produce kink?

But, as others have suggested, there remain power dynamics on a personal and micro-social level. Some of the strongest are based on competency. As much as we might posit a situation where “Doctor and patient work together to produce favourable outcomes”, when it comes down to it, the trained medic is more competent than the patient in diagnosis and care. The patient may determine what a favourable outcome looks like for them, but it is the doctor who can advise them how to achieve that. This produces an experience of power differential. Similarly, in other specialised professions, where years of training are necessary to produce a competent practitioner, there becomes an experience of power dynamic. Perhaps medical play and treatment roleplay would be common.

More interestingly, for our thought experiment, age and experience produce perceived hierarchies in most societies, with differences in competencies and knowledge on which deference and dependence can rest. While gendered, class and other distinctions might disappear in the PPPC, ageing will always be with us; even if not physically, then the fact of living longer and seeing (and learning) more.

It is possible to speculate that ageplay, either involving adults of differing ages, or adults of similar age roleplaying a difference in ages, might be a key source of fetish and kink dynamic. The power differential of adult to child may well also be a key element to consensual grown-ups roleplaying. While we can’t know how families would be structured (the modern “nuclear family” being determined more by capitalist economics than anything else), some variation on the “DaddyDom/babygirl” (but gender-non-specific) might be a popular kink dynamic.

There may also be perceived dynamics that lend themselves to kink, between those who work by brain, and those who work by brawn. These dynamics might play out either way (roleplaying unfairly treated brawn and not-impartial brain; or physical strength disrespecting and dismissive of brain competence).

Having speculated on “gang-topping” and “gang-bottoming” as potential kink scenes, the thought comes that perhaps there could be “double-ganging” – group scenarios with both multiple tops and multiple bottoms, as a collectivised kink experience. Most kink scenarios that we recognise are typified as one-on-one relations: the DD/lg dynamic mentioned above, for instance, refers to a relationship that is strictly hierarchical between two people. There are long-term polyamorous households within kink these days, and perhaps a PPPC society would encourage more poly households in general, and more multi-lateral cohabiting poly kink relationships might be the norm. Whether that’s true or not, finding roles or roleplays that suit “double-gang” scenes would depend on the new realities of the society.

Or, they might draw for inspiration on history, just as a lot of contemporary kink draws on history for examples of power imbalances to roleplay. Maybe a common sexual scene would be “capitalists vs proletariat”!

Conclusions

This is, of course, highly speculative. No one really knows what the future could hold, let alone a future 100 years beyond a complete upheaval and reordering of society. Maybe everything is done by robots, and kinksters will roleplay robot rebellion, or robot servants.

Nevertheless, the ideas we currently have about the psychological and emotional significance of sex and kink in terms of the relationship between fears and arousal, seem to suggest that some forms of kink would, after all, survive the end of hierarchical society as we know it. I would be interested to hear from kinksters whose kinks developed in more collectivist societies to see if any of the ideas I’ve mentioned resonate with them, too.

Some of the scenes I’ve described sound superhot to me. I especially like, from a Sub role point of view, the gang-top ignored/overriding dynamics (um, Pandora Blake, or any other feminist/ethical porn producers, if you’re reading this…); and as a top, the idea of roleplaying a totally arbitrary and unfair partner. Some would probably make no sense to me, personally.

Overall, I have great hope for post-revolutionary kink: as long as the ethics of negotiated and informed/enthusiastic consent hold firm, and of restoring the bottom afterwards, then it seems to me that there would be plenty of hot, kinky, BDSM sex in new, hot, kinky, communist forms. We might not find all of them turn-ons, and might find some of ours aren’t necessarily popular, but kink will survive.

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.