Playing the hate: on being the top in a degradation scene

Content Note: Discussion of “forced fantasy”/”rape” roleplay, race play, body shaming play, slut shaming play and general topics of that nature that may be distressing to some readers.

So about a week ago, University of Abject Submission published a guest post from Cava Supernova asking, “Is Racism Sexy?” Cava wanted to know what it meant that in the middle of a threesome scene, her black partner wanted to be called all kinds of racist terms.

I gave the standard reply that is well-rehearsed from discussing things like rape fantasy (and is familiar from my own bottoming rape fantasy/roleplay stuff):

I suspect that it’s that concept of, “this thing that can destroy me in r/l, can’t destroy me here so it is hot.” Some people even find violent sex/roleplay to be therapeutic in terms of reliving in a controlled way some past trauma.

I roleplay a version of Vannie (with one or two twists to better reflect those sides of my personality that need this) as a victim on a rape fantasy website (where it’s very hard to find anyone who’ll violate you – the standards of consent negotiation are VERY high), and a similar discussion has been going on about the sorts of ultra-violent fantasies that I feel the urge to bottom in. Someone asked, “Is it a way of exerting control over an idea that is terrifying in real life?” and I replied:

Call it, the soul surviving intact even if the “body” (virtual/fantasy) doesn’t. It’s not “degradation”, but it is definitely violation and that’s an element as well.

It’s about coming out the other side.

All of which is preamble to the main point, which is about being the top in violent or humiliation-based scenes.

In my reply @ Univesity of Abject Submission, I cited (again) Pandora Blake’s piece on humiliation play with Nimue Allen, and was reminded (again) of Pandora’s response to being asked to play the abuse-hurler, by comparison with Cava’s discomfort with being asked to roleplay the racist for her partner (such discomfort that she needed to ask us what it all meant).

When Xiao Yingtai tweeted Stabbity’s piece @ Not Just Bitchy, “It’s okay to like intense play” I was struck by Stabbity’s point:

What pisses me off is when people refuse to admit they’re doing something problematic, or refuse to admit that people have a right to worry how someone’s play might reflect their actual attitudes toward women, or people of colour, or submissive men.

I was already questioning what it means that, when I top (at least, in online scenes), I find it so easy to slip into this role of expressing views that I really don’t have, in language that I never use, and express hatred that I don’t feel. Not hatred for the person, nor for the group they’re a member of. That point (which is valid, of course) made me think even more about what it means even more acutely.

Pandora Blake’s account of her feelings is informative:

I said I wasn’t sure I was comfortable using body-shaming language, but in the end, I did. When I started to insult Nimue, she held her head up and calmly returned my gaze. I verbally abused her, and I could see a smile playing on her lips as she absorbed the insults, claimed them as her own, and responded with nothing but pride. If she had reacted with shame or fear, I would have held back, but her self-acceptance made me feel safe. I ended up being far nastier and more insulting than I had expected to be – and she loved it.

The language we had negotiated I would use – insulting her for being a slut, a whore, telling her she was disgusting to be sexual and to enjoy kinky play – represented the opposite of my own point of view. My role was not to express my own opinions but to hold up a mirror, to play the part of the worst sort of conservative, whorephobic, misogynistic, slut-shaming, body-shaming prude so that Nimue could rise above it. I was fascinated by the power these words held to make me feel so uncomfortable – and even more fascinated to discover how aroused they made her.

She adds, “I got into the scene way more than I expected. The abuse was a role, a performance – I didn’t relate to the character I was playing … Once I got into the swing of it, my sadistic impulse kicked in.”

I’m likely to quote/steal a lot from Pandora’s piece because she writes so intelligently and insightfully about it. But again, Pandora reported being unsure and uncomfortable about doing it. My self-questioning is that I find it so easy to, as Blake puts it, “play the part of the worst sort of conservative, whorephobic, misogynistic, slut-shaming, body-shaming…” – or racist, or homophobic, or take your pick.

Of course, I need to know that it’s genuinely what the other person wants, that they need me to try to provoke those reactions. In one online roleplay in particular, my partner was a woman of mixed race who wanted to be raped by a racist cop (and of course, basing the “arrest” on racist profiling that she must be an illegal sex worker or something) and have her appearance absolutely shredded verbally. I basically demanded she say, “Do your worst!” And I did. I used every contemptuous, racist, degrading phrase I could to reflect back to her the photos she’d linked me, find whatever points I could to hurt her. It wasn’t until we did aftercare/debriefing that I knew I’d hit the right notes, but her feedback was those insults, the contempt and viciousness I expressed, had been the hottest and best part of it (I think her absolute favourite insult included the phrase “frizzy-haired half-breed” or something like that). The point of the anecdote being that as soon as I was confident she wanted it, I was ready to go, completely in-character.

As Stabbity says (by quoting Mollena), a top can’t really ask for such play: in fact, I don’t really want or seek it particularly, myself. But somehow I am very good at providing it, and slipping into the role of “hater” or “abuser” in a scene. Partly this may be down to the thanks and gratitude that bottoms have expressed once a scene is over and I’ve given them all they hoped for in terms of this verbal assault. It’s a positive reinforcement of the behaviour in context. And, top or bottom, there’s a strong element of service in my play even when I’m pretending to be the most selfish, self-obsessed, “it’s not your place to enjoy it, just to serve me!” type Dominant in the world.

Part of it may be that I go through life afraid I’m going to hurt someone by mistake or accident. As in, in a harmful way, not a consensual, fun way. But here’s all these ways where you desperately don’t want to hurt someone, and suddenly it’s not just okay, they actually want you to do your worst. I don’t have to be afraid any more, I can be the nightmare instead.

And part of it may be that, in despising the haters, and opposing them, I learn to imitate them (something about staring and the abyss, here?). Blake writes:

We can be advocates for slut pride, for sex worker rights, for body positivity and kink acceptance – and we can play with those taboos in private, in the safe container of a scene space. There’s no paradox there. It’s our genuine hatred of real-world abuse that gives play abuse its power.

To take on, for a moment, the role of what I hate is to confront the capacity to hate within myself; and to take on the role of a hater or abuser does the same thing. (Blake, again: “To mindfully explore our kinks is to turn to our shadow and accept it” – and of course I’ve referenced the “shadow self” concept a few times myself.)

* * *

Ultimately, I don’t know what it means that I am so readily able to take on these roles and play them out in a consensual, kink, setting. I am pretty sure it doesn’t mean that I am secretly any of the things that I play and that the social justice stuff is all a façade. I think it does mean that I am aware of the influences society has on all of us, regardless of our political convictions, and that living in a racist, or rape-culture, or homophobic, or whorephobic, society means that somewhere along the lines you’ll pick up something of those issues – we all have the capacity to hate. The operative word in the Blake quote is, “mindfully”. To enact the roles without engaging with where they come from is problematic.

Thoughts on porn in the classroom

This morning, I retweeted Girl on the Net because she felt that actually showing porn in the classroom as part of sex and relationship education was a very bad idea.

This afternoon, after mulling the question over, I have reached the opposite conclusion. I feel some strong ambivalence about the idea, because the arguments against that came up in GotN’s twitter thread were all valid and important ones.

However, it seems to me that, if we wish to teach teenagers to engage critically with porn and to understand what it is, then at some point you’re going to have to have some actual porn to talk about and view critically. One doesn’t attempt to teach English Literature without students reading some actual literature, for example. In essence, attempting to tell teenagers about porn seems to me to be ineffective and rather like trying to teach about sex in general without referring to the genitalia.

Part of the objection seems to be that “show porn in the classroom” seems to be taken without any context – as if the teacher just springs it on the class with no warning or preparation. While it might go that way, I would hope that a proper lesson plan would be somewhat different, and would be part of a broader curriculum. The “today, we’re watching porn” lesson would probably fall somewhere in the middle of a sequence of lessons discussing sexual media theoretically or as a concept. At the start of the sequence of lessons, the teacher’s going to give a heads-up that in lesson 5 (for example) there will be some porn clips shown, and to be aware of that.

I am not an educator of any kind, nor an expert in sex or media or porn or anything. So what follows is just me working from “first principles” to figure it out (one might also assume legitimately that this is the sex ed class I wish I’d been taught at 15/16). But it is a suggestion as to how the porn class might possibly go.

– – –

Teacher: Today, we’re going to watch some porn.

[plays a clip showing James Bond or similar action-adventure stunt sequence]

[plays a clip showing a Jackie Chan fight or stunt sequence]

Teacher: Alright, let’s have a discussion about what we’ve just seen. How realistic is it? How much “behind the scenes” work went on to produce those sequences? What is the intended effect on the viewer? How does the way it’s presented help the film maker produce that effect?

Class discussion – if needed, Teacher can play a clip of the closing credits outtakes from the Jackie Chan movie, to prompt discussion about what we don’t see behind the scenes

Teacher: Now, keeping all those ideas in mind, I want you to make some notes about the same questions while we watch some sexual porn: what effect is it intended to have, how do the film makers do this, how much behind the scenes work did it take to do that, and with all that in mind, how realistic do you think it is?

[plays a “mainstream porn” clip]

[plays a “feminist porn” clip]

Class discussion – teacher should try to guide observations to make comparisons with the previous “action”/”stunt” clips, and ask students to reference points in the porn clips to support any observations or conclusions. Teacher should ask students not to talk about their own reactions (e.g. turned on/grossed out/whatever – though making sure it’s understood all those reactions are valid and okay to have) but talk about the films generally. Also, encourage comparisons between the two clips.

Teacher concludes by reminding that in general it is okay to choose to watch or not watch porn, and others should respect that decision; that the purpose of the lesson was (a) to demonstrate the ways in which porn is constructed and not realistic, and (b) to give an idea of what porn involves so they can make informed decisions; and remind students that there will be more discussion in the next class about different types of porn.

– – –

(I thought about including a slasher/gore horror clip in the opening clips sequence, but felt more uneasy about the idea of showing that to under 18s than about showing porn to them. Also, maybe more clips should be shown of porn, to include at least one gay scene, for instance.)

Of course, these class discussions could take place without watching videos. My feeling is that they are more effective when there is an example to talk about. Some people learn well from the theoretical discussion, but in a class I often learn best from having a go (on a VAK learning styles test, I come out as much more Visual and Kinaesthetic than Auditory – talking and being told actually doesn’t help me learn so well – writing, reading, and trying it myself are more effective). As an author, I am always being told, “Show, don’t tell”, and I think if you want to teach young people to engage critically with porn, then you have to show, not just tell them, what you mean.

One thing that troubles me about the “No, that’s a bad idea” response is that it seems to imply that we don’t actually trust the adolescents to look at the clips analytically rather than emotionally. Which is to say, the thing we want to teach them to do, we don’t think they can (learn to) do. To be squeamish about the discussion seems to make it harder to have informed discussion about consent, as well.

On the other hand, suppose we have this class, and groups of students go away discussing the clips among themselves. While they might have been engaged with writing notes and thinking critically about the scenes while they’re in the class, afterwards, will the talk be about the analysis, or will it be about their personal reactions? If someone doesn’t have the same reaction as their peer group, what message will they take away from it? (And yes, again, these questions spring from personal experience of sex ed, and of peer discussions of sex/sexual material, at that age.)

Furthermore, it does raise questions about consent: if one wants to make the lesson optional, then it’s either opt-in or opt-out, and either way there’s going to be peer pressure: “pervy”/”slutty” if you opt in; “prudish” if you opt out. How do you handle involuntary erections, or other arousal signs? It would be good to think we could create a world where that would be seen as incidental and let it be without comment, or at least, have a sex ed class where that was the case. It is harder to see how to do it effectively.

Like I said, I’m ambivalent about the idea of showing porn clips in class to adolescents as part of sex and relationship education. There are very good arguments against the idea, and I admit to feeling uneasy with the idea myself, even though I’ve argued above that it’s better than not. Consider this piece not a position paper, but a prompt for further discussion of a difficult and challenging question.

Time for Elust 68

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Photo courtesy of Molly’s Daily Kiss

Welcome to Elust #68 -

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 #69? Start with the rules, come back April 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 ~

A Misunderstanding With My Clitoris
BDSM Doesn’t Magically Fix Your Life
Discussing Consent, Culture, and What We Do
 

 

~ Featured Post (Molly’s Picks) ~

Other people run. I fuck.
Frame by Frame
 

~ Readers Choice from Sexbytes ~

*You really should consider adding your popular posts here too*
Bad Men and Why Perfectly Intelligent, Independent, Sane Women Fantasize About Them

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!

 

Sex News, Opinion, Interviews, Politics & Humor

Erotica Challenge: The Euph-Off
Squirting: A Feminist Issue?
The Waaaambulance Race

Thoughts & Advice on Sex & Relationships

Sex and Depression – An Update
The Dating Game
Pussy Whispering
“Fuck You” Is the Best Revenge
Interviews & flirting

Erotic Non-Fiction

Doing As I’m Told
Possibilities to ponder
Sign Language
Today I’m Going to Share a Sad Story
Whispering To Him
Humiliation of an ex-Nazi submissive 37

Thoughts & Advice on Kink & Fetish

One Sadist’s Consent
Home Improvements
NSKQ 48: Cumming Kills the Party
The Fun, The Serious & the In Between in BDSM
Starting to feel human and kinky again
Do what you say you will do
Flux

Poetry

Flattery – A Lusty Limerick

Erotic Fiction

happy birthday
The Red Shoes
The Fuck Feast Fantasy
Unexpected
“Not Paid to Love You”
Unexpected
The belt

Writing About Writing

Resist the Erotic Euphemism
Lessons From Writing A Threesome
The Semantics of Sex
Sardax Breathes Life Into Venus in Furs

 

 

 

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Clarkson is not Top Gear’s Compo

By now, I doubt many of my readers will be unaware of the news that Jeremy Clarkson, part of the presenting team for BBC show Top Gear, has been suspended for throwing a punch at a producer on the show, in anger over a lack of hot food at the end of filming.

Another day, another Clarkson “incident”. Usually it has something to do with racism, or national stereotype, or something of that ilk. Folk may remember I had something to say about that sort of thing earlier this year. The Jeremy Clarkson who makes those types of incidents happen, however, has always seemed to me to be a character portrayed by an actor in a sitcom. I describe Top Gear as my one guilty pleasure, because I am laughing at how buffoonish the White middle-class cis het men can be.

Clarkson in front of a camera (or other media recording device) is a portrayal of something. It may or may not be close to the real person behind the portrayal, and it may or may not be on purpose (I believe it is, to a significant extent – there are some remarkably self-aware comments in some Top Gear episodes). But he does and says things that are part of a performance of buffoonish, boorish, privilege. We may find that portrayal offensive in the things it says and does, but it is a portrayal. Let’s call that character “Jeremy”, and the actor, “Clarkson”.

A punch thrown at a workplace colleague after filming has ended, off camera, is a different thing entirely. I have no way of knowing if the Clarkson who threw that punch is in any way related to the Jeremy we see on camera in terms of personality. But Clarkson the performer has been revealed by his actions as a person who throws punches at people in the workplace. Over things like not having the right food delivered. That’s not part of a performance, that’s who the man really is.

As it happens, I have just finished a course called “Level 1 Retail”, and one module was about employment contracts, and covered what an employee can do to address a grievance against the employer, and what an employer can do if an employee breaches contract (i.e. disciplinary action). We discussed Clarkson and decided that violence in the workplace (such as throwing a punch at someone) would usually fall under “gross misconduct” and should be a summary dismissal. Clarkson is apparently “consulting with his lawyer” but I can’t see how he has a leg to stand on in terms of employment law. (It’s also a criminal offence!)

A lot of talk has been about how popular Top Gear is, and how valuable to the BBC. A Guardian piece today suggests that the BBC could owe compensation to overseas broadcasters over the suspension.

Interestingly, there is a comparison to be made, and it was suggested (if I recall correctly) by Richard Hammond, one of the show’s other presenters: he tweeted something like, “They could put Last of the Summer Wine on, and no one could tell the difference”.

Last of the Summer Wine followed three West Yorkshire elderly men through their adventures in and around their home town, often walking in the dales. “Compo” was a scruffy, grizzled, layabout with a crush on fierce next-door-neighbour Nora; Norman Clegg his easy-going, stay-out-of-trouble friend; and the third role was filled by various other characters they knew, who usually were old friends who re-emerged as and when a replacement was required for the third role.

Can you see where my thinking is going?

The thing is, when Bill Owen died (the actor who played Compo), the makers hired his son Tom Owen to replace the Compo role as “Tom Simmonite” (son of Compo Simmonite) but the magic of the original format was lost. Eventually the show trailed off, despite retaining a loyal audience.

So the assumption displayed by broadcasters (including the BBC) is that Jeremy is Compo: lose that character, and the show starts to lose its defining character. If Clarkson goes, so does Top Gear.

But it may be that Jeremy is actually just a Blamire, Foggy, Seymour or “Truly of the Yard”. I tweeted yesterday, “They found a new Stig. They can find a new Clarkson” (meaning the character whom here I’m calling Jeremy). In fact, I believe the most accurate mapping is that James May is Cleggy, and Richard Hammond is Compo. The chemistry, if they can find someone for the job, would probably support the change. After all, James May’s “Man Lab” show demonstrates a lot of the characteristics of the Top Gear format (albeit a bit more earnest and less sitcom-y) and Hammond’s stint as presenter on Total Wipeout is similar evidence that the buffoonery will survive. All that is needed is a character (and performer) who can get on well with the other two.

If such a person is that hard to find, there’s an obvious joke fill-in until they do: The Stig. That joke would work for at least two or three episodes.

* * *

As a viewer, I find it hard to care one way or the other whether Clarkson “beats the rap” and is given “one more chance” for the umpteenth time, or not. The show is clearly going to survive if people want it enough. Lots of shows survive the death or departure of the lead character (Doctor Who has done it 11 times and counting!)

As a person with a passing interest in equality, political correctness, progressive/leftwing politics and all that stuff, I also find it hard to care that much what happens to Clarkson. If he survives it’s just more proof that the well-connected White cis het middle-class male is dripping with privilege and can get away with shit that most couldn’t dream of. If he’s sacked, then there will be plenty of other similarly White cis het middle-class men to take his place. (Or worse, a white cis het middle class woman who wants to be “one of the lads” and joins in the “banter”.)

Every time there’s a Clarkson Incident, I sigh, observe that this is what he plays for, and console myself that the debate is important regardless of what happens. Talking about how violence in the workplace is unacceptable (just as talking about how racist/national stereotypes are Not Okay) is an important conversation and we can at least use Clarkson as our springboard for that, just as we used Jeremy.

Pushing them away: why Cameron’s proposal may mean more cases are missed.

I don’t have a whole lot of analysis here. This is just the question that keeps rattling around my brain, while this week it has been struggling to cope with an adjusted sleep schedule and “Level 1 Retail”.

– ~ –

So David Cameron wants to lock up social workers who fail to identify or report suspected child sexual abuse.

I’m left wondering what effect this is intended to achieve.

Consider if we locked up doctors who made mistakes. Pretty soon, we would have no doctors. Either (a) they’re locked up or (b) they stop practising for fear of being locked up. This is because even the best doctors will make mistakes sometimes. Lord knows, I’ve seen enough stories of this type on local news programmes about mistakes of diagnosis and failing to take concerns seriously enough.

So, let’s apply that to social workers. Not only are social workers vastly overworked, underpaid, and undersupported in the current system, but they also invariably get heaps of blame regardless of whether they act or don’t act. There’s a lot of “push” away from being a social worker as it is. To choose that career, a person has to have a strong motivation to help others, which means they are likely to be what we would want to call a “good” person.

Right. Good people are trying to help, in circumstances where it’s almost inevitable that sometimes they will screw up.

Let’s lock some of them in prison.

What effect will that have on good people trying to choose a future for themselves? What career advisor is going to be able to sell social work as a career option to a kind, caring, young teenager and suggest this is how they should plan their education and future? How many good, conscientious, people are going to want to stick around in a career where one mistake could earn them a criminal record and a spell in prison? And if they do stick around, what is the impact on their mental health likely to be?

Pretty soon, you will have far fewer social workers, and no guarantee that the ones you do have are the most competent ones (more likely, they will be those who couldn’t find any other employment). And an ever greater strain on the service, meaning that more cases of abuse slip through the net and go unreported or undetected because there just aren’t the people available to do the job.

What’s needed is more money, and better support for the people on the front line.

SHORT STORY: “Not Paid To Like You”

The prompt for this story was the title. It conjured a couple of vignettes that I then stitched into this story. One or two points aren’t realistic, including the part with the main prompt! Specifically, in that a good sex worker would keep her thoughts well hidden, rather than discuss them as my central character does.

That said, I believe in the message about consent and compassion, and I hope the story entertains.

“Not Paid To Like You”

*

She found him repugnant.

Not his body. Despite the crude tattoos, the rough, calloused hands and coarse accent and manner, he always presented himself immaculately at her door. Always wore a good suit, clean, freshly shaved, a hint of aftershave and deodorant. The money folded neatly, ready in his hand. Even his cock seemed perfectly sculpted for her pleasure, she thought, those first few times. No, not his body.

It was his views, his beliefs, that offended. Gays were “alright as long as they kept it to themselves”, lesbians just “hadn’t met the right man yet.” She told him one time that she was a lesbian. “Try saying that with your mouth full of my cock,” he scoffed. She got on her knees and did it. He laughed, and she smiled up at him. Immigrants were “stealing the jobs of honest, hard-working Brits”; the unemployed were “scroungers”. He held his tongue about sex workers, and was nothing but courteous while with her, but all the same his language showed his contempt.

His sessions feel into a routine. He told her early on, bluntly, that he wanted a “whore” (again, spoken without any malice, but the word choice was plain) to do what his wife would not. Sometimes he only wanted one or the other, but it usually meant a blow job and anal sex. And, like so many, he would talk and she would listen. He would talk about his wife, how he loved her, how he worked hard to see her happy and taken care of. She never asked, but he volunteered the information: “She knows I see whores. She’s just glad it’s one night I won’t want her to put out for me.”

Eventually, he cottoned on that she didn’t share his beliefs about most things. As he lay beside her after buggering her, he suddenly mused, “You don’t like me very much, do you?” She rested her hand on his, “Honey, I’m not paid to like you. Just fuck you. And I’m happy to do that.” He laughed, and booked another session.

* * *

Once, her girlfriend Jane asked her why she would see someone like that.

“Because he’s a good client,” she said.

“But you don’t even like guys,” Jane protested.

“I like their money. And I could never work in a bank like you: one of us has to earn an honest living!” Jane insisted, so she explained, “I do it for the money, but I’m happy to do it even if I don’t like it. And he makes it easy to be happy. Don’t you have clients who are nasty, rude or hard to deal with? And clients who are really easy to deal with and make your job easy? Well, he’s a good client like that.”

* * *

She recognised his number, and answered with a cheerful, “Hi!”

His voice was different. Tearful.

“She left me. She’s fucking left me,” he blurted.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” she said, “Do you want to talk about it at our next session?”

“That’s just it. I don’t want to lose the kids. I can’t see you again. I’ve got to clean up my act. I’m sorry to cancel on you, but I… I just can’t.”

“That’s okay, honey,” she cooed, “I’ll see you again when this has all blown over, eh? My arse will be waiting for you!”

“No. I’m sorry, and thanks for everything you’ve done for me, but it’s over.” She let him hang up.

Jane said he deserved to be left. She disagreed, “I won’t gloat. However offensive his views, he’s heartbroken. I wasn’t paid to like him. And I’m not paid to hate him either.”

She cleared the slot in her calendar, and waited for a caller.

Thought Experiment: Giving Rocqui A Gender

I like thought experiments. I think they can be useful for expressing or exploring ideas in science (famously, a thought experiment about bouncing balls on trains is used to explain the theory of relativity, for example), philosophy, and ethics.

They can also be used to unravel the assumptions behind a position on social sciences, philosophy and ethics, where asking people to imagine scenarios that may or may not be possible (and may very well not be ethical) to reproduce in real life can prompt a deeper exploration of a person’s principles or motivations.

One area in which I find this especially intriguing is gender. From my real life perspective, I accept trans people as their experienced rather than assigned-at-birth gender (that is, trans women are women; trans men are men; genderqueer are in-between and genderfluid is a moving target). Likewise, cis people are their experienced gender, not defined by their assigned-at-birth (even though it matches).

However, to get to the root of what people think is important about gender, you can ask all sorts of hypotheticals. Usually these are posed with someone who is gendered one way or the other and say, “What if you change this, or that?”

I wonder, though, about something a bit more thought-experiment-y. A bit more science-fiction-y. A bit less possible (even if the other hypotheticals are unethical to try, some of them have been tried). Indeed, a bit Rocky Horror Picture Show…

Suppose I’ve created a new life form (let’s call hir “Rocqui” to honour the reference above) that is externally indistinguishable from a human, except that zie has no secondary sex characteristics, or genitals, or reproductive organs. My creation is absolutely without the features that would allow anyone to tell. Let’s even postulate that the skeleton is ambiguous, and other beneath-the-surface features are absent, that might lead one to conclude one way or the other. Being a completely new form of life, Rocqui also has no chromosomes as we would recognise them.

I’ve created this person in my Evil Mad Scientist (EMS) Lab. “It’s aliiiiive!” I cry as zie stirs (my excitement making me forget to use personal rather than impersonal pronouns). But, I have a chance as hir body becomes vivid and functional, to make alterations to the structures of the body and its functions. I could make changes later, if necessary, of course.

Now, picture the scene and answer the following:

  1. What pronouns would you use for Rocqui?
  2. If you were to choose a gender for Rocqui, how would you do so, and what would you change?
  3. What is the smallest amount of change would be sufficient for you to accept Rocqui as a particular gender? Are there multiple ways of producing a “minimum change” that would allow the same assumption (e.g. for male, perhaps only adding a penis, OR only adding testicles, would be enough, and nothing else would be needed)

My answers are simple: assuming that Rocqui has been imbued with knowledge of the concepts of gender and language, and understanding of the world, then I shall ask hir how zie wishes to be addressed, and ask hir what gender zie feels hirself to be – or that zie desires to be. The changes I would make would, again, be only those requested by Rocqui (who knows everything there is to know about gendered differences of the body, just as I, the Mad Scientist, would: zie learned it all from my knowledge). Rocqui’s body, Rocqui’s rules.

If Rocqui’s gender is based on what Rocqui says zie is, or believes hirself to be, then no changes need to be made to accept hir body as male or female, or whatever zie wishes it to be. That’s all there is to it.

This leads to a follow-up question. If Rocqui declares hirself to be one gender, does that declaration preclude requests for hir body to be given features associated with a different gender? What if zie declares hirself female and requests a completely masculinised body structure? What if zie declares hirself male but asks to be made completely feminine?

I confess to feeling uneasy about granting such a wish. I am less concerned about granting “I’m female, give me a man’s body” than I am the reverse. This realisation is challenging to me, and my self-perception as open-minded and accepting of trans rights. The fact that there is an asymmetry about the genders and the amount of unease they cause me is also a question that I should investigate in terms of my own assumptions and motivations.

Partly I think it is to do with perception of body variations: a flat-chested woman seems easier to accept than a man with a big, round, bosom (even though I want bigger and rounder breasts for my male body – huh). Part of it perhaps follows on from my own body vs identity issues and that I am in a male body and yet frustrated by feminine leanings as well. Part of the general unease with the idea may well be because I can imagine the difficulties Rocqui might then face (and if you can’t, then maybe this interactive story can help).

It’s unlikely that the people I really want to address these questions will bother, of course. I want them to, because I want to make explicit the assumptions they make about gender, and about gendered bodies. I’ve tried to discuss fearlessly my own assumptions and causes here, and have probably missed some anyway. But they are based intrinsically on Rocqui’s personhood and self-awareness. That’s what I hope to centre. Not bodies, but people.

Editing is a political act: changes to reply to Observer transphobe free speech letter

So, last week’s letter defending the right of transphobes and whorephobes to impose themselves on audiences at will received a response.

It turned out that the transphobes’ letter had been edited, and the same is true of the response. I am willing to believe now that the editing of both letters was done in the Observer’s offices, and that therefore the signatories of first letter didn’t know that its transphobic and whorephobic rant would be watered down; similarly, the sentiments of the reply have been watered down.

I thought it might be illuminating to go through the changes to the reply, and see what impact they have on the meaning.

Here’s the changes I noticed as I went through the letter in its original and published versions:

– – –

Opening & 2nd para rephrased.

Cut: concerned about politics, not just inaccuracies, in the transphobes’ letter.

Added: clarification of some of the inaccuracies, specifically of Greer and Smurthwaite incidents.

Cut:

We believe that this is part of a worrying pattern of misrepresentation and distortion that serves to benefit some of the most privileged and powerful outside of and within feminism at the expense of the most marginalised and excluded.

 

In the published version, para 3 is re-ordered to follow para 4 of the original. Also, the 3rd, 4th and 5th paras are combined into a single paragraph.

3rd para.

Cut: “The letter also works to obfuscate and distract from real and crucial struggles that are currently taking place on campuses around the issue of freedom of speech.”

Cut: “Many academic staff are deeply complicit in these processes; the signatories of the original letter would do well to reflect on this.”

4th para:

Altered:

“without being held accountable or challenged for their complicity in systems which are damaging to those whose lives they speak about.”

rephrased as

“without being held accountable or challenged for their complicity in oppressive systems”

Cut: “No one is entitled to disseminate their views on university campuses without opposition.”

Cut: “Decisions taken to exclude or counter some voices from some discussions at some specific times and places are democratically made, politically legitimate and do not amount to censorship.”

5th para:

Cut:

There is a long history of women positioned on the margins of feminist discourse engaging critically with mainstream feminist ideas and politics and the damage they can do.

Cut:

ideologies which not only perpetuate hateful myths about trans people and sex workers but also have the potential to influence policy precisely due to the platform(s) of those who advocate them. Some of these myths – the ‘toilet panic’ around trans people, the claim that all opposition to sex work abolition is funded by a ‘pimp lobby’-

Which leaves only the following,

It is disappointing to see so many people with institutional power and prominent platforms take sides against grassroots feminist organising, including transfeminisms and sex workers’ rights. There are some very harmful ideologies circulating under the banner of feminist “debate”, some aimed at removing vulnerable people from public space and discourse.

Final para:

Cut:

We will continue to organise against those debates and the politics they promote, and we call on other feminists to support us.

– – –

I noticed as I went through these cuts that almost all reference to the political concerns were removed, and similarly, all reference to the direct and indirect harms that transphobic and whorephobic politics and policies cause. Anything referring to actual people being harmed was trimmed away by the editor. Similarly, discussion of privilege and marginalisation disappeared.

Only when workers’ rights were compared with trans rights and sexworkers’ rights do we see a substantial passage remaining, and the key point of that (that academics and co-signatories of the original letter are complicit in the erosion of university workers’ rights) was also cut.

The effect of the Observer’s cuts is implicitly to keep this all in the realm of the theoretical, a “debate” between two more-or-less equal sides, rather than a struggle of a marginalised groups to survive against an assault on their existence and their presumed right to exist.

I am willing to accept that, if this letter is to be published in the print version as well as online, that it needs to be cut for space. The same no doubt was considered true of the transphobes’ letter last week.

However, the choice of what to cut, and how to cut it is down to the editor. The substance, and the core meaning, of the original version of the reply was, “This does actual harm to living people. Stop it.” It is precisely this message that the editor chose to remove or weaken, in deference to theoretical debate. The radical, even revolutionary, language is left out in favour of a sweet, liberal, middle-class acceptable “debate” over “free speech”.

No one who can be silenced gets to be no-platformed

Here’s something that puzzles me about the “No platform = Silencing” thing.

In order for a person to be subject to a “no platform” policy, their views must already be well-known.

It is a basic tenet that “No-one has a right to have an audience”, however, I am bound to say that everyone has a right to an audible voice. The thing is, the history of mass media, from the printing press onwards, has been a history of the ever-widening accessibility of audibility in public debate.

The printing press made possible the widespread leafleting by the Levellers and was the foundation of radical thought ever since (it’s no accident that Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky and more were all authors for journals, usually self-published). These days, we have not only the internet, but widespread free blogging platforms that, if you can be arsed to go and learn SEO, will make your voice audible far and wide and easily, if you have something to say.

Nobody is obliged, if they are disinclined to, to click on your link. If they choose not read, you aren’t silenced. You’re just not interesting enough.

But, in order to become a subject of a “no platform” policy, then someone somewhere has read what you wrote, or heard what you said, and repeated it to enough people that they can debate on whether that is something they want to hear more of. (Sort of like the Official Secrets Act: enough people have to know what the secret is to decide that it is officially a secret!) It is most certainly not a case of certain views not being made accessible: if people want to know what you have to say, and want to hear it, then by virtue of the fact that you have a high enough profile to attract such negative reactions, then they will be able to find it. Unless you decide you don’t want people to find it.

To be silenced is to be cut off from the means to be audible, and the typical methods of silencing are that the consequences of speaking up are intolerable. Perhaps to a middle-class, educated, media pundit, being told, “We don’t want to read your writing or hear you speak” is deemed intolerable: after all, public speaking and public writing is how they make their living. But we live in a world with a plurality of views, and for every group who says “No”, there will be others who like what you have to say.

Meanwhile, whorephobes say they want to arrest anyone who pays for a sex worker’s services. Transphobes say they want to refuse protection to trans women, and have attempted to have trans women fired from jobs.

Someone’s being silenced here, but it’s not the bigots who are no-platformed. In order to be no-platformed, you have to be important enough. You get to be that important because you are not silent, and people are well aware of what you believe already.

The non-binary of D/s

Last week, Jemima @ Sometimes It’s Just a Cigar wrote about the non-binary-ness of D/s: the false binaries of how D/s is presented. I had a few thoughts about ways in which that could be approached. She, of course, brought other ideas and created a great post about it.

Xiao Yingtai discussed D/s as containing koans (Buddhist spiritual conundrums) which also dissolves the duality or binary-ness of D/s. That post was part of an exchange of ideas and blog posts that developed looking into ideas of submissive power. The questions going back and forth are summed up in Jemima’s piece when she writes, “Its one of those false binaries again, as if power is in limited supply, and can only be held by one person ever.” (And references Yingtai’s piece already linked).

Jemima talks about how:

I don’t want to upset anyone, but spoiler, subs go online looking for Doms who will do the necessary to get them off. Yup, we use them, then cast them aside like a used condom, sad, lonely and no use to anyone.

If I am online looking for a Dom to play with I am exercising power, I am in control of my needs, my wants, and my sexuality. That in the moment of playing he has a role where he controls the play no more means I am powerless than when I get on a bus. I may not be the driver, but the driver is taking me where I want to go.

In my side of the Sub power blog exchange, I wrote:

Strip away the bondage, the SM, and look at what’s left.

You, as my Submissive, can choose how you respond to my expression of desire or need

the important stuff happens in your head, as the Submissive. My orders only mean something if they mean something to you.

But where is the Dominant in all this? I am a passive observer, providing the nudge to set it all in motion.

* * *

There is more to D/s than power, and there are more ways in which it is non-binary. As Jemima says, we don’t mean “switch” here, and the term is questionable anyway (for instance, I identify as a Dom who enjoys submitting from time to time; the “switch” label makes me uncomfortable).

One way in which D/s is not binary is just that there are so many different modes of being Dominant or Submissive. So many roles or relationships that can be described, and a plethora of terms to cover the nuances that we, as Doms or Subs, bring to the broad categories. “He’s a Daddy Dom”, “She’s a Mistress”, “He’s a Painslut”, “She’s a Service Sub”, and so on and so forth.

Any act can be Dom, Sub, or neither, depending on the dynamic, on the needs of that particular day, or a myriad other things. I brush my partner’s hair: is it an act of Submissive service, an act of Domly grooming and control, or just to get her ready for her presentation at work and no D/s at all? What if I feel it’s an act of service, but she feels it’s an act of controlling and grooming her? [EDIT TO ADD 18/02/15: On re-reading this, I realised “controlling and grooming” could have a double meaning here: I mean “grooming” as in “making look pretty” or “taking care of”, and NOT as in “psychologically manipulating”] Where then is this binary of Dominant or Submissive, if a simple act can mean so many different relationships?

I’ve discussed how the same elements of my personality that drive my Domly Domness are also present in the ways that I submit. It makes no sense to draw a clear, distinct, line between them (although I do use different names and even feel like a different person, when I’m online and choosing one over the other – see also the Vannie description). There is more variation and difference within Doms and Subs, than between the two: just like any division of humanity, really.

And that’s the point: D/s isn’t some special species (or two separate species) but people, being people, in their various chaotic and ordered ways. There’s no magic to it, no essential basis in the fabric of reality that produces it: it’s a thing that happens within us and between us, because we choose it and it answers something. D/s is as binary as humanity, and there’s literally billions of humans out there.

Besides: when you get two kinksters together, you will have a minimum of three definitions of kink in play. Binary? Impossible!