SEXTOY REVIEW: These nipple toys really suck (in a GOOD way)

[Apologies for the clichéd title but my brain was lazy!]

Once upon a time, this was meant to be a blog about writing, and kinky sex, and writing about kinky sex, and sexing about kinky writing (Wait, is that right? Seems legit, I’ll go with it.) I am bad at compartmentalising so it also became about the politics of kink, gender, sex and writing (because all censorship affects writing in one way or another). And then more generally about politics, and life, and, well, anything, really. So yeah, I fail at staying on-brand with just about anything.

But today, I am able to get back to those roots! Hurrah!

My favourite kinky sextoy store in Cambridge closed a few years back (boo!) so the main ones seem to be the big brand names Private and Ann Summers (yes, I know). These aren’t great for kink stuff, although Private is better, and has a range of items that look like they might do the job. (I’ve also bought enema equipment there that hasn’t caused me any problems in the time I’ve had it). I should also add I’ve bought insertibles for my own use at Ann Summers and for that sort of thing, they do have some decent-quality items.

Anyway, I recently went to the Private store to have a browse in their media section (mainly hoping to find written-word, but they didn’t stock any print, only glossy photo magazines) and noticed an item called “Nipple Suckers” and these intrigued me, because (as I wrote for Girl On The Net a few years ago) when it comes to nipple play with clamps and clothes pegs and the like, my body has sadly disappointed me in its performance.

So these toys offering a “soft touch” caught my interest and, for £10, I bought a pair to try. Which I have been doing for the past 2 weeks or so.

What they are:

Nipple Suckers in their box

As the name implies, these are small suction cups that are designed to fit over your nipples. The model from Black Velvets is made of silicone, and comes with ring attachments that would make anchors for lightweight chains to clip to, or for slipping a finger through.

The instructions on the back imply they are primarily intended for the purpose of making the nipples more prominent and erect. You squeeze the cup, place the cup over the nipple to create a vacuum effect, then use the ring to pull the cup away – instant erect nipple! And I can confirm that when used for this purpose, it has that effect on a male (or male-typical) body such as the one I live in. (The artwork on the box implies it is intended for use on female-typical bodies – I’m still struggling for properly trans/NB inclusive language to express what I mean in a shorthand way. Basically, people with boobs rather than moobs?)

But I was more interested in them as an experience in their own right, a much softer version of the clamps and clothes pegs that my poor tits seem no longer able to cope with.

For this, I reasoned that I probably wanted to up the ante when it came to the vacuum effect. The first thing I thought of was what you did as a child to make a suction cap work better – which is, you licked it, so the fluid would provide a more complete seal around the lip.

So, I did that with these toys, licking around the base – which was its own form of sensual play. The relatively tight opening and the stiffness made it a bit like giving cunnilingus to a robot or something, which was a pleasing concept to me, anyway. So I used my tongue to get the suction cups nice and wet for me.

A bit of experimentation revealed that in order to get the cups to stay in place and hold their own weight, I needed to give the cups between 5 and 10 squeezes to create a powerful enough vacuum.

What does it feel like?

Well, as it turns out, when used in the way I described above, it feels quite a lot like a very very soft version of wearing a nipple clamp or clothes peg. Which is basically, what I was aiming for. Result! It has the added bonus that because there is no pressure on the nipple, presumably blood flow is not restricted in the same way. (Although I am not an expert on how these things work, so don’t take unnecessary risks!)

The pinching effect is felt less on the nipple itself, and more around the base and the areola – the points where the cup meets the skin and the air pressure from outside pushes in. The nipple feels more of a tugging sensation as the stuff inside your body tries to fill the space left by all the air you squeezed out of the cup.

The best bit, though, is that you have those metal rings to play with. Not having anyone else to experiment with, I had to do my own self-Domming here by pulling the cups this way and that, trying out a chain attachment, and so on.

The chain I used was possibly too heavy for the cups, but I found if I took most of the weight with the hand holding the other end then the cup would hold it fine, and the problem was the perpendicular force inducing uneven pressures around the base that caused the suction to fail. And when used with just a finger hold on the ring, the cups would take a decent amount of force tugged in various directions.

The upshot of this is that they make a great toy for “control” based play – with a Dominant attaching lightweight chains or using finger holds to direct the movement of the wearer and using the pull and pressure on the nipples and areolae to steer them and give instruction. It couldn’t be used to compel or “force” a Submissive to go in a certain direction, the way the harsher pain from nipple clamps can (because resisting the tug is too painful, so following is necessary – and bearing in mind all the usual caveats about informed consent, RACK, and the ability to withdraw consent at any time through safewords or other means). If a sub stood their ground, the suction cups would pretty quickly give way – far sooner than clamps would under the same conditions, and with far less pain. But in the right Submissive headspace, it would be a very direct, very sensual and sensuous, means of establishing and communicating that control. Even just playing with myself and trying out these angles and pressures, I felt how easily I could slip into that “controlled, obedient” headspace under that sort of stimuli.

”They’re suction cups – so what about cupping?”

After experimenting with the D/s and ultra-mild SM uses, I wondered about other ways to use them. “Cupping” in this context is, I believe, the term for using glass cups and heating the air inside them, placing them on the skin and letting the air cool, creating a suction or vacuum effect as the gas volume decreases. Obviously, I’m not going to muck about with heating stuff in these things – I don’t know how they’d behave under those conditions and not keen to try that experiment! But they are designed to produce a suction effect and I thought it might be worth seeing if I could get an effect that was anything similar to what I’d seen in pictures shown me by exes who’d experimented with cupping as the bottom.

And the answer is, yes I could!

Using the same principle established for using them as surrogate nipple clamps, I placed a suction cup on a bare patch of skin on my torso and gave it several squeezes. It stayed in place, just like when I used it over my nipple.

The sensation was curious, and to be able to report it accurately, I am wearing one in the same way right now so I can describe what I’m feeling to you, dear reader. It feels like dozens of pinpricks, but as if they’re coming from under the skin and pricking outwards. As time goes by, I get more used to it, or the effect becomes lesser, though I can revive it if I tug the cup this way or that and increase the pressure on the outside ring where the cup meets the skin. I can also make it more pronounced if I tug on the ring outwards, pulling on my flesh with the suction effect.

It is, again, a very sensuous form of discomfort that definitely appeals to my masochist senses without being a full-on pain stimulus.

Removing the cup with a squeeze and pull to break the seal, I find I am left with a mark that looks very similar to what I’ve seen in photos of cupping – a raised, reddened patch in the centre, surrounded with a whiter, almost bruised, ring where the cup (glass or silicone) pressed against the skin. The last time I experimented with this use for the “nipple suckers” the rings lasted for a couple of days.

I can imagine how, lying on my front with someone else using these on my back and buttocks, could be a really intense form of sensation play, especially with the mystery of where they would place them next – or being blindfolded and having them used on your front – or blindfolded and standing, so they could place one anywhere. (Being made to provide your own saliva as the suction wetness seal for any of these types of play would be awesome, too.)

So was it worth it?

I have no idea what the going rate for nipple suction toys like these would be, so I can’t say whether I was ripped off or not on that score. What I can say is that there aren’t many purpose-made sex toys for £10 and under that are worth the box they come in when you can explore the options that household objects present.

And the fact is, these particular “suckers” do the job they’re designed to do, and offer some really fun and creative opportunities for D/s, mild SM, and sensation play, that mean I would very happily use them on a partner or have a partner use them on me, to enhance and excite a session. So overall I’m pretty happy with the happenstance that led me to buy them.

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Life at 40: Middle-aged and Not Dead Yet

CONTENT NOTE: Suicidal ideation; mention of BDSM

So last weekend was a big family party to celebrate my 40th birthday. My birthday was not actually this weekend, but close enough to make tacking on a party to a previously scheduled gathering seem like a good idea so we did it that way.

But, more-or-less officially, I am 40. Which, when I was growing up, seemed to be the point at which one became “middle-aged” and that makes this feel like a basis for a blog post about how I’m processing this event and the idea of myself as middle-aged now.

My first thought is simple.

I’ve made it this far, and I’m Not Dead Yet.

This is a pretty big deal for me. I don’t honestly know for sure quite how I did it but I somehow managed to not die for a whole 40 years. FUCK YOU, Depression. FUCK YOU, Anxiety. FUCK YOU Social awkwardness and anxiety. FUCK YOU to the people who have expressed a wish I die (usually, by my own hand) for being – male and into BDSM; for being on the trans spectrum; for being bisexual; for being different. FUCK THE LOT OF YOU.

I’m 40. I’m Not Dead Yet, despite the moments when I wished I was and thought seriously about how I could end it all. I’m Not Dead Yet despite the injuries and accidents and fuck-ups and clumsiness and “OMG just think what could have happened there”. I’m Not Dead Yet despite people telling me thats with my diet I would be by now. Somehow, by some feat of luck or skill or I don’t know what, I have managed to get this far and be Not Dead Yet.

Who could have a midlife crisis when they think in those terms? Not me! I had my “OMG what’s become of my life” moments ages ago. Screw that and screw the depression that fuelled it. I’m 40 and just the simple fact that I got to be is a huge fucking triumph.

I’ve actually done some shit with my life

Looking back over the memories and achievements that came in between all the not being dead that I managed to do, I can fairly and honestly say that I have done some decent shit.

I wrote a whole fucking novel (which is to say, a whole novel about faith, feminism and kinky fucks) – it’s available on Smashwords (and for the rest of July, it’s even half price so go grab yourself a bargain!) How many people can honestly say that they started a project like that and finished it?

I have been into music of all kinds for as long as I can remember and I have a collection of guitars and other stringed instruments that many would assume was some kind of midlife crisis compensating thing (I haven’t totally given up on being a rock star yet!) but I use them and I record my own songs and compositions. Some of them are really quite good.

I’ve auditioned for Fame Academy back when that was a thing, and more recently I auditioned to appear on The Voice. Those were nerve-racking experiences but I was one of those who actually had the guts to go along and stand in a room in front of casting directors and judges (and in the case of Fame Academy, an actual honest-to-goodness TV camera) and sing.

I was at the May Day 2001 protest where “kettling” began, and helped organise the legal challenge to the tactic. As a child I was part of CND protest marches, and I’ve campaigned and written to my MP on BDSM, sex, gender and LGBT issues. I’m an activist in my local CLP. I’ve protested against Tory Austerity measures and against Tony Blair introducing university tuition fees. I’ve got involved in the political life of my community.

I’ve seen cricket at Lord’s and Headingley; football at grounds from non-league all the way up to Premiership standard, and seen a Women’s FA Cup Final at Wembley – and England Women play Ukraine Women in a Euro qualifier. I’ve even played cricket in a Sunday league and tried out for a Sunday league pub football team. I even wrote reports for my local newspaper about the matches the local women’s football team played, and got them published. I ran the 800m race at my secondary school’s sports day and finished last (apart from the one who dropped out after a lap).

I’ve been on Dartmoor and the North Yorkshire Moors, and the Yorkshire Dales. I’ve been on the South Downs, and Beachy Head. I’ve been to Lynton and Lynmouth on the Exmoor coastline, and to the Dorset coast as well. I’ve been all the way to Solfest up near the Solway Firth. I’ve visited France and Germany, too. Along the way I’ve seen red kites and kingfishers and butterflies and birds of all kinds, and marvelled at the flora, fauna and landscapes both large and small.

And, I’ve had sex. I’ve had kinky, hot, BDSM sex with five women in different ways and different relationships. I’ve explored kinks with those more experienced than me, and I’ve been someone’s first ever BDSM relationship partner, opening new doors in her selfhood and paths for her to explore. I’ve played with some extreme/edgy types of play and I’ve enjoyed a good snuggle here and there. I’ve been spanked, tasted the violet wand, felt a Domme’s metal claw leave angry welts on my arm.

There are so many other memories and successes I could list, but these are enough to say I have had a full life in many ways, with experiences that others do not have.

The goals missed are not so bad

I had always expected when younger that by the time I reached this age, I would have found a life partner with complementary-compatible kinks, and maybe had a child with them; had a stable career (or become famous for my music); have a fairly stable circle of friends; and generally had some idea of the overall pattern for my life.

These things are, alas, absent in my life.

But on the other hand, they are things that I do not, as such, miss. While stability and a larger and current circle of friends would be helpful, I have more friends through my blogging and tweeting than I ever thought I would. While there may not be any overall pattern, I have managed to cope by creating smaller ones that keep me going and reasonably sure things won’t fall apart suddenly.

I would like to have someone who shares my kinks and who feels submissive to me (with room for switchery) and generally we want to spend our lives and sex-lives together. It is still my hope to find that someone and yes, I know it won’t start out like that and there’s a bunch of work to be done to build it – but I haven’t yet found the person to start on that with.

But at the same time, I don’t really experience it as a lack in my life. As much as I do put some time and effort into finding “a partner”, the lack of success doesn’t hurt my overall satisfaction with life. So I am “single and looking” but not despondent or desperate about it.

Career-wise, it has been more of a struggle. Being unemployed for long periods has had a serious impact on my mental health and the erosion of the Welfare State safety net into a tightrope walk for survival has left me with a stressful life for the most part. Being in work has often been just as stressful, but at least there has been some spending cash for the most part: and that has been useful. And some of the jobs I’ve done have been truly rewarding in that I have had a sense of what the people at the end get out of whatI have been doing. That’s a positive for me, and something I really need in a job.

And at the end of it

The main thing is, if I died now, have I had a positive impact on the world? Have I, in whatever ways, made life better for the people I’ve encountered? Where I have done harm, have I managed to at least undo most of it? And I genuinely believe that in most cases at least, the answer to all of these is yes.

In the final mix, just one thing remains:

NOT. DEAD. YET.

Posted in Body, Dating, Economics, Kink, Music, Philosophy, Politics, SCW, Sex, Social so-called life, Sport | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Are school uniforms any use?

So this week, a couple of stories crossed my twitter timeline about school uniforms, relating to gender. This led to a discussion over whether or not school uniforms are even a good idea at all, or should they be abolished?

My instinct was to come down in favour of school uniforms, at least in part because I felt that they did something to lessen the scope and impact of bullying, based on my own experience of trying unsuccessfully to navigate the social norms of my peers at school. But @stavvers referenced findings that suggest research doesn’t offer support for the idea that rates of bullying decrease with the imposition of uniforms.

I stuck to my position, but that led me to question why I was doing so. While this piece is meant to be quite broad in the issues around uniforms that I address, I do think it is incumbent on me to take a moment before I go on, to engage in some introspection. That is, to investigate the deeper reasons for the emotional desire to defend uniforms.

The point of emotional honesty I found is that I felt as my initial reaction a moment of panic at the idea of uniforms being abolished. That in itself meant I needed to think what the origin of that emotion might be, because it seems out of proportion (especially as it’s nearly 25 years since I had to wear one!) to the nature of the change being proposed.

I reflected on this, and came to the conclusion that school uniforms represent to me safety, security, anonymity and boundaries. (They also represent some negative things, but when investigating why I would feel panic about losing them, these seem to be the relevant associations.) Some of these clearly link directly into the experience of being bullied with the subject being non-conformity in clothing and fashion choices. Anonymity in particular seems to cover other areas of bullying as well. I cannot say confidently that these associations were contemporary with having to wear school uniforms, and in fact I believe looking back that my attitude changed as my experience of wearing them changed, so that these associations are not reliable indicators in themselves. What they do, is give some context in which to take the following remarks and thinking, and you can draw your own conclusions about where these associations tie in with the ideas I discuss below.

The other point of honesty is that I am in many ways quite small-‘c’ conservative in my instincts, tending to resist change from what I know and am comfortable with. I have written before about how this instinct sits in opposition to many of my other identities, but on this question it is fair to say that it comes into play as a weight on the side of supporting the status quo rather than changing things (by abolishing school uniforms).

Conformity, Rebellion and Class

My starting point is that there is no strong evidence supporting either position. The research mentioned above suggests that the argument that uniforms reduce bullying is based on anecdote rather than data. Equally, the argument that school uniforms stifle creativity, or are a tool to redirect or quash rebellion, seem to be unsupported given the number of highly creative individuals who have thrived even though they came through the uniformed school system, and by the (anecdotally supported) observation that there are plenty of rebellious and political young people who become active regardless of uniforms or not.

The argument that school uniforms are about creating a conformist mindset and teaching young people to accept control of their lives by others could carry some weight. But my response to that is that everything about schools as they exist in our modern capitalist hegemonic State is built to that end. Singling out uniforms for criticism on that basis seems like ignoring the bigger question of the purpose of schooling overall. Building a less conformist school system would do more to help and would get more directly to the core of the issue, if we want to argue along those lines.

The question of school uniforms has a class-based dimension as well: merchants know that the school population represents a captive market and can rack up prices on that basis, making the imposition of a uniform into a heavy cost for poorer families unless (as my parents had) there is a grant system for provision, or (as in the Simpsons episode) they are provided by the school when children enrol. On the other hand, it can be a way to mask class distinctions and signal that every student is deemed to be equally valuable because they start from the same material basis in school. The arguments either way interact in complicated ways which, again, make class an inconclusive basis on which to call the matter either way.

What would a uniform be for?

Historically, the role of a school uniform is much more problematic and the criticisms around enforced conformity listed above seem to carry some weight. Schools were very much about fitting children to their assigned roles in the capitalist hegemonic social structure – future captains of industry went to one kind of school while the future proletarians went to a different kind, and their uniforms and senses of unity and allegiance were structured accordingly (or at least, schools were structured in such a way as to do that).

If we reject such historical purposes for uniforms, then the question arises, “What purpose, if any, would a putative modern school uniform have, and how would we structure it to achieve that aim?”

One thing I find I do a lot is, as soon as I get in from paid employment, I change out of the clothes I wear to comply with their dress code (even if the dress code is very casual) and into something more casual and “comfortable”. If the dress code as literally t-shirt and tracksuit bottoms I would probably choose to spend the rest of the day topless or even naked, just to mark the difference between the time bought from me by the employer and the time that belongs to me exclusively.

School uniforms, I feel, allowed a similar demarcation of regimented time that is ruled by others, versus time I can claim for myself. Uniform = “education” so change out of uniform after homework is done, for example.

Of course, you don’t need a uniform for that-any dress code will do, and if it is personally useful, then it can be self-imposed (or parentally imposed) so there is no essential need for a central policy.

The question of creating a level playing field for the student population is a much stronger argument. If everyone starts from the same basis, then non-material elements can be brought more to the fore: personality becomes more important than wealth, fashion statements or other markers of in-crowd/out-crowd. As observed, there are many ways in which young people express themselves within the framework of a school uniform, and test the exact boundaries between what is and is not going to be allowed.

In this regard, we can perhaps talk about the weight of peer pressure and whether uniforms would simply be replaced by an unofficial dress code imposed by social pressure. More likely is that there would be some fragmentation as various cliques and groups formed their own in-crowd/out-crowd identities through the markers of fashion and clothing. Of course, in various ways these groups manage to find their own markers despite school uniforms but the idea here is that the uniform provides a bridge of unity with those outside the clique social groups as well as with those inside it. I’ve read a few studies of how children form identity and belonging both as individuals, members of peer groups, and members of a wider society. (One of the big problems with private schools and with segregation caused by middle-class parents seeking to get their kids into a particular catchment area, is the erosion of the cross-cultural interactions in school.) One possible intended purpose of a uniform might therefore be to create stronger community bonds between different classes or groups.

Another purpose or cluster of reasons, is to make it clear when children belong with a school group. This includes the idea of school branding in the sense of creating an identity for the school. The branding aspect is problematic when it comes to uniforms, because any built-in branding of the clothing makes them unique and the “captive market” costs become a factor again. On the other hand, being visibly from “school A” makes it easier for others interacting with the school to see who is where. On this question, when I discussed this with my parents, the idea of a transferable symbol for the branding came up – a badge or ID card on a lanyard that declares who you are and what place of education you should be at. (Rather like the one I have from Cambridge Regional College adult ed, in fact.)

Uniforms or dress codes?

The arguments and reasons one might find for having a school uniform are far from conclusive and certainly don’t definitively tip the balance that way. Therefore, any costs or negatives to having a school uniform should be reduced as much as possible. The questions therefore follow, “What are the alternatives to school uniforms, and if we choose a school uniform, what should it look like?”

The most obvious alternative is to have no policy at all. Children wear what they want, how they want.

In practice, though, some restrictions are bound to be necessary. That means, on some level, having a dress code that is enforced to a greater or lesser extent and with greater or lesser flexibility, in much the same way that workplaces have stricter or more relaxed dress codes, based around social concepts of smartness, neatness and presentability. (Any situation where I’m required to wear a tie, for example, I now refer to it as my “noose of conformity” and it’s the first thing I get rid of as soon as I am socially able to do so.)

So a school uniform is really just going to be about creating a very specific dress code and enforcing it.

If the aims are simply to create a level playing field, create commonality across social and clique-based divisions, and to aid identification of students with the school they’re from, then there is very little need for anything elaborate.

It is certainly desirable for the uniform to be unisex, or for there to be varied options that are not gender-based in the terms and requirements of the dress code. If a skirt option and trousers option are both permitted then we do not want there to be any grounds for discrimination in the dress code/uniform regulations if a MAAB student wears a skirt, or if a FAAB student wears trousers.

Beyond that, the aim should be to make it as simple, comfortable, and cheap to comply with as possible. So this, again, moves my conception of a school uniform more towards the stricter end of a dress code rather than a uniform as such.

And that, really, is the thought that this entire piece has been leading towards. Every supposed benefit of a uniform can be equally achieved by having some kind of dress code. Every benefit of doing without school uniforms will still require some kind of regulation which needs to be encoded in some way as a dress code or uniformity.

I would certainly therefore come down in favour of a much more relaxed approach to uniforms, but retaining some of the qualities in the form of a dress code that created some sense of uniformity without imposing restrictions that create hardship.

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REACTION: “How Not To Be A Boy” by Robert Webb

(This is not so much a review as a reaction to the book above, but I’ll file it under Reviews as well.)

This week, I read Robert Webb’s “How Not To Be A Boy”. The book is an autobiographical work written specifically to highlight the effects of society enforcing the “rules” of Masculinity and the destructive effects of Patriarchy on young boys (and the men they grow up to be), as manifested in the author’s own life and experiences.

The first thing to say is that many of the passages about being a boy surrounded by other boys and trying to be one of them, resonated so strongly with my own memories of trying to be a boy. Male-Assigned-At-Birth folks have a very strictly-enforced code that, regardless of whether or not their parents try to encourage broader prospects for their child, will be viciously and strictly imposed by every other boy they meet (and many of the men, too).

One thing that struck me was that, while Webb makes a point from time to time of describing how village life works, he missed this particular point when he raised the canard of “I gave my son Barbies and he tied them together as nunchuks” – because the saying goes, “It takes a village to raise a child”. In an otherwise very good (and properly referenced) passage about whether or not gender roles are somehow inate or actually created socially, this point seemed to slip past him.

Webb knows his feminist sources and theory well enough. But the theory is not what makes this book so valuable. The point of this is that it is an insider’s view of destructive masculinity. It’s about lived experience.

This is something that is needed in gender politics, and I do wish there could be more men talking openly about these experiences and how they are almost entirely down to male-assigned people enforcing masculinity on each other.

Feminism has the theory to explain this, and the idea that patriarchy harms men too is far from new to most feminists out there. But when women talk about it, there is something missing. Sometimes, even when so-called “male feminists” or “feminist men” talk about these points, it feels like lip-service rather than the visceral, embodied, lived experience that comes from an honest account like the one Webb gives. Because this isn’t theoretical. It is people’s lives, and it is practical and immediate.

There are many differences between my childhood and teenagerhood and Webb’s. For one thing, he had sex a lot sooner than I ever did, and was even thinking about it before it became a thing I was interested by. More directly, my parents were very different from his, although there were other challenges and different ways of still making the Norm seem like the only way, the way to “be a boy” and the Rules Webb usesas his chapter titles.

But the school playground is where so much gender is reinforced and imposed and regimented. The experiences Webb describes of early school life is sadly too similar.

In the end, though, the biggest difference is that Webb demonstrates that despite his certainty he was innoculated against toxic masculinity by his father’s example, he ended up enacting his own version of it. My own experience is that I was never able to fit in and obey the rules and eventually I just gave up trying.

The sentiment quoted in the above tweet resonates with me for this reason. I couldn’t be a man and, frankly, I was happier with my femininity anyway. Maybe I would have been happier sooner, if I could have learned of nonbinary gender when I was younger and just embraced that sooner, instead of for so many years trying to make myself be male (while in various ways acting out against that).

Would I still be enby if those rules of masculinity hadn’t been there or had been broad enough that I could actually manage to fit them? It’s impossible to say, but I think I always knew I needed the fluidity of gender, I always wanted to claim to be both. So I woud guess “yes” but the answer means little.

The other thing is, what do we do to get men working as a team against masculinity? What would a genuine male-liberation movement look like that aimed to make something better than the formative life experiences Webb (and I) had?

I don’t know the answer. The challenges are not the same as women’s liberation and feminism faced. They had a legal structure to change, and positions of power to wrest from the oppressors. There remains much of that still to do, of course. They also still have fights about bodily autonomy and sexuality, and changing attitudes around such matters.

Men have different challenges, and when Patriarchy works in part by having men be enforcers of each other’s masculinity, finding a point to push against is hard because pushing would look much the same as pulling if it just ends up as a different form of enforcement.

But the more men speak up about the life experiences where Patriarchy did them harm, the better our chances of figuring out a way.

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REVIEW: Confessions of a Gender Defender ( #TransDayofVisibility )

Today is Trans Day of Visibility and, with impeccable timing, I have just finished reading Confessions of a Gender Defender by Dr Randi Ettner. Dr Ettner is a psychologist in the USA who made her career in the field of transgender therapy, providing the gateway recommendations for trans people to be accepted for treatment (and where desired, surgery) to help them live as their true gender.

The book was published in 1996, which may explain why some of the language and usage would not stand up to modern accepted or discouraged uses – indeed, in an account of a conference for trans people that Dr Ettner attended, she describes being confronted by one trans woman over the clinical language used on her flyers. There is also very little recognition of nonbinary identity.

Nevertheless, there is a lot of value in a book like this today: the focus is on the personal stories of some of her patients, who have agreed to have their tales told in this way; interspersed in the early chapters especially are snippets of what the US legal process is (or was in 1996) of transition, the medical research and understanding of what transness is and what its origins might be, and sobering accounts of the general commonalities of social rejection when someone decided to come out and/or transition.

We meet through the psychiatrist’s eyes a variety of people with all manner of backgrounds, all of whom seek to change their body to match their gender; all of whom have made themselves vulnerable by seeking help; all of whom come across as people with a need and suffering, though sometimes that is resolved more happily than they hoped for. Sometimes, the struggle continues.

This book feels, today, like a snapshot of the past but there are far too many ways in which it seems as though society has not progressed or some people have even sought to drag it farther backwards. Too many of the stories match things I have heard far more recently. The prejudice and hatred or exclusion rings just as true today, for example. The risks the trans men and women whom Dr Ettner counselled and diagnosed for treatment, remain similar as a result.

We can do better and, today of all days, it is worth remembering that.

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#SoSS – ebook erotica recommendation

I feel a little guilty that I haven’t participated in the #SoSS tag events. It stands for Share Our Shit Saturday, and started because of how hard it is for people involved in sex work or sex blogging to reach new audiences, due to the practices of several of the main social media and blogging/micro-blogging platforms out there that try to hide us away.

Mostly it’s self-produced porn, webcam shows and the like. My own work is leaning towards the literary end of things: written word porn, effectively (although I would not classify Not To Choose as porn, it certainly has a lot of explicit sex scenes and is listed under Erotica at Smashwords, meaning it, too, is subject to all kinds of filters).

So I’m going to try to share some of the other erotic stories I’ve enjoyed from other authors on Smashwords.

This week, I got off to |In The Moment by Bishop Jones.

The short blurb says:

An unknown future and a long night, Inishi Mei must come to grips with her mortality while being stuck with a man she hates.

However, the story gives the heroine much more agency and potency than that description suggests. Yes, she hates him, but she needs a fuck before the enemy aliens break down the door of their bunker. What follows is deliciously dirty fucking and I will leave you to read it for yourselves.

The book is “name your own price”, which means you can choose to download for free, or pay any price above $0.99. I chose to pay for it, and I hope you will too!

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“You must be very wise, that you know what a woman is. Perhaps you can explain it to me?”

There’s been another round of awfulness from TERFs and their allies the TUMFs (Trans-Unaware Mainstream/Media Feminists – term coined by Julia Serano). To be honest, it feels like it never stops.

But the same old arguments that trans women are not women, are men, are not as they see themselves, keep getting hurled out with a venom that surely is out of proportion to the thing they are trying to defend.

The thing that strikes me most strongly is how confident TERFs seem to be that they know what a woman is. I feel as though it would be very entertaining to see them confronted with a Socratic dialogue on the subject. “It seems you know what a woman is. Perhaps you can explain it to me…”

But I was unsatisfied with the response I saw some people giving to the TERFs that, “A trans woman is a woman because she says she’s a woman”. To say one is a woman, that must mean something about what one is.

If a woman is defined by XX chromosomes, then almost no one we meet can be known to be a woman. I personally do not have the ability to test for chromosomes by sight or touch, so I can never know that a person I meet has XX, XY or any other configuration, unless they tell me. Heck, I don’t even know what my own chromosomes are (I would guess XY, but I have no direct knowledge to say that guess is accurate or not).

If a woman is defined by any particular phenotype or anatomical feature, then it is simple to render any cis woman no longer a woman by the means of surgery. Examples from real life can be found for most of these anatomical arguments, and it doesn’t take much to imagine situations for the others.

This is not the first time I’ve considered such questions, of course. I thought about building a lifeform and giving the new person a gender.

I’ve also thought about the “social” definitions about “experience” before: for example, when I considered what it means to me to call myself “mum” rather than “dad”. A similar process of questioning seems appropriate on the broader question of what it is to be a woman. With the simplistic “social roles” argument from TERFs and TUMFs that trans women somehow uphold social gender by seeking to transition rather than adopt “traditionally feminine” roles while living as men, this type of questioning (in which I directly rejected “motherly duties” as the definition on which I felt the pull to that identity) seems important to engage in.

In that post, I concluded that “mum” is not a fixed definition, but a concept (I called it an “idea” in my conclusions there) or conceptual space in which various aspects of “motherness” contribute but none is sufficient or necessary.

When it comes to womanhood, this still feels lacking in some way, and I think that this is because most descriptions of transness do encompass some sense of embodied reality: something relating to one’s physical expression in the world (which is why various forms of surgery to affirm gender are important). There is a sense of oneself in the world, and it is this sense that creates gender, including nonbinary, genderqueer and genderfluid selfhood.

There is no intrinsic physical quality that can be used to “prove” this subjective experience.

From there, the only way we can access the essence of a person’s womanhood (or manhood, or other gendered identity) is to listen to them when they express what it is they feel inside. It isn’t that “they are a woman because they say they are a woman”, but rather, “the only way we have to know whether they are a woman, is for them to tell us”.

Posted in Gender, Philosophy | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Free sample and 10% OFF over at GOTN!

So yesterday the awesome (and kind) Girl On The Net posted an extract from my novel “Not To Choose”. She totally loved it and I’m sure you will, too!

What’s more, as a special offer for those who head over and read it there, there is a 10% off coupon code to buy the full-length novel. So you should definitely do that next. The code is valid until February 8th, so hurry…

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New Project: “Humanity’s Diaspora”

I have several story ideas that revolve around societies that have developed different ways of organising themselves and what might happen if they came into contact with one another.

I actually know very little about anthropology or situations where this has happened in humanity’s past, and some of the ideas are not possible in the world as we currently know it (for instance, I am fascinated by collective consciousness such as Star Trek’s Borg, or Asimov’s “Gaia” in the later novels of his Foundation saga). Therefore, I thought about setting it in humanity’s future.

But I needed a way to split humans off from one another so that they could develop these vastly differing ways of organising themselves, and then come into contact with each other again.

The following is the introduction passage I want to use to link the stories together and explain where they come from in-story. Some may see hints in it of a concept in David Brin’s Glory Season. There is undoubtedly a dose of Star Trek as well. One curious thing is that I wrote out this passage a month or two ago and shortly after I composed it, I saw a review of Rivers Solomons’ An Unkindness of Ghosts in the New Scientist. The reviewer says, “It doesn’t really make sense that a spaceship hundreds of years in the future, even one in which racial prejudice holds such sway, would model its society so exactly on the slave-holding South”. I like to think that in the following passage and the conception of why generation ships (in my world-building, some are generation ships and some use suspended animation) were sent forth in the first place, gives an idea of how such a social structure might be plausible and even probable.

Legend of the Diaspora

There is a tale told throughout human space. A legend, an origin myth. It appears in many versions but the key elements are the same. It is told in one form or another on every planet where humans can be found.

In the beginning, it says, there was a world named Earth, or Velt, or Monde, or many other names from many other tongues. The name is not important. What matters is that there was in that time only one world. Only one sun. All the others had yet to be found.

And on this world, all of humanity lived, and they were numerous. They were too many, and too hungry. Some versions talk of always wanting more. Some talk of striving too hard for new learning. Some talk of being too fecund and unrestrained libido. After all, what is an origin story if there is no moral to teach to the next generation of how not to be? But all the stories agree that the world was dying because humans were too much and too many for it to cope.

So the greatest and wisest (so the story goes) built great vessels to carry humanity through space to find and found new worlds where humanity could thrive and learn the lessons of its past, and do better. Earth, it seemed, was dead.

So a thousand ships with a thousand people each, set forth each in a different direction, as the last hopes that Earth and its legacy might one day have a new home. They travelled for centuries through the stars searching for one that had a world they could call their own.

Each world where humans are found today, traces its ancestry back to one of those ships. Their origin story.

The story is true, or close enough to the truth. There is only one world where it is remembered differently. That world is Earth.

* * *

On Earth, the story is different. Yes, the world was facing ruin. Yes, humanity had bred so numerously as to threaten the survival of their species. Yes, they had plundered their world’s resources until there seemed nothing left could be wrung from its crust. Poisoned its air until it was barely breathable and the temperature threatened to run away catastrophically. All this is true.

But on Earth, it is remembered as not the greatest and wisest who created the arks to save humanity. On Earth, it is the richest and most selfish who had these ships built for them. They took with them servants and engineers – those whom they would need to do the tasks too menial or too technical for they themselves to accomplish, and that would be needed for their survival. They took with them vast resources and wealth in the form of technology and equipment to help them build comfortable, even luxurious, homes on the planets they expected to find.

They fled the destruction their own greed had wrought upon the Earth and tried to take their lifestyles with them.

The economy collapsed. Multinational and transglobal corporations were robbed of their capital and their decision makers, and many folded. The nations of the world crumbled into warring factions on every continent. Starvation and disease claimed many more lives but gradually, those who survived began to rebuild. They weren’t able to use as much as their predecessors, and had to rely on older, more traditional, sources for some things. For others, they scavenged the waste and refuse dumps left behind by the old ways. And they managed to make use of wind and tide and sun to power their technology.

Communities reached out and connected, those surviving were mostly not those who had fought so bitterly and were just thankful for contact and trade. From the nadir of the post-departure years, a new sense of togetherness and global society developed with better and faster communication devices. Sustainable ways of living and working together became more important and soon Earth, far from being dead, was a thriving economy with a vibrant population of all races, creeds and cultures shared together.

New ways of powering spaceflight were discovered and humanity once more reached out to exploit the wealth of resources in its own solar system until at last, a thousand years after those wise or selfish pioneers set out to seed new hope among the stars, a bold team of scientists developed a ship with the ability to travel faster than light.

Before long, humans ventured once more into the stars, and began to meet the societies built by the descendants of those who, a thousand years before, had left the old world behind.

Now, the government has sent new ships with a mission to trace Earth’s estranged offspring and, maybe, to welcome them as long lost family.

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So here we go then! Pledge me your money, sweet reader!

So after last Saturday’s fury at Patreon finding a way to trash my plans again, it turns out that I was far from the only one to be completely dismayed and distressed at their proposed changes to the fee structure, and in a rare instance of a business seeing sense and listening to its core support, Patreon have announced they will NOT roll out the changes after all!

That’s right, folks – Patreon are NOT going to be increasing the cost of a $1 pledge!

And that means…

MY PATREON IS NOW OFFICIALLY GO!

Support me here!

Because a make a thing about it also supporting music as well as writing, I’ll link a few of my demos on soundcloud:

90 Degrees Of Reality (punk/metal sounding version of a song I wrote aged 16 – I still think it’s f’ing awesome!)

Fear Of The Dark (working title – this is probably just the intro/riff section. Still working on lyrics & vocals)

Retail Work Songs playlist – 2 melodies I’ve been singing lyrics about my job at a major UK department store for the past 5 weeks.

Pledge at my $5 level and you get to hear far more of these “works in progress”, including advances of tracks I compose to go along with stories I’m working on.

* * *

I’m not going to lie: I’m REALLY excited to be launching this properly. I’ve dreamed for a long time of using my creative output to be more than a hobby and this year it’s happening. My novel is out there. I’m launching my Patreon at long last. If I can get 2018 to build this then I might finally get somewhere.

So, if you enjoy what I write – stories, this blog, my music, anything else – please do make a regular monthly payment and help me plan to make better stuff than ever!

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