Xan West @ Kink Praxis plans a series of posts discussing what the term “stone” (as in, for example, “stone butch”) means as (part of) a sexual identity. The first post in the series asks, What Is Stone?
My purpose in this post is to explore for myself, and for the reader, the various ways in which I feel resonance with, and distinction from, the concepts covered in West’s piece, and thus explore some of my own identity.
The first element to discuss is that I do not identify as stone. In this, the distinctions from it feel stronger than the resonances with it; I also feel as though the term belongs to a community of which I am not really a part, and that to claim it, rather than be welcomed into it, would therefore be inappropriate. At the same time, I hope it is illuminating to look at how a person with my identities might find the term useful or helpful as an identity.
To set this in context: I pass in the world as essentially cis male. Internally, I am genderfluid, and my About page explains further. I also get read as heterosexual; although there are many men whom I find sexually attractive, I more often lean towards female-identified persons, which means that I enjoy a certain amount of straight privilege at the cost of denying my bi-ness.
One more bit of context that isn’t covered on the About page (maybe it should be), is the body I most wish to have. I would like to have slightly bigger, and more feminine, breasts and probably a smaller belly. I dislike my facial and body hair intensely, with the exception of pubes (although I wouldn’t mind losing them either). The end result that I imagine from a transformation would probably resemble something like the stereotype of a butch lesbian, except with a biocock (most people would never see that part, I suppose).
Although I don’t identify as stone, I certainly feel drawn towards it. My writing shows some of this, perhaps as a reaction against sexualised characters in novels and television/movies. While my current WIP is about a BDSM couple who are pretty heteronormative (even in the way that the female sub asks for a threesome), for various reasons the other ideas for my next project both have female leads who could easily fit a stone identity (although they might not choose to identify with that term). Even the idea with a male lead has the working title “Not Having Sex” and is about a guy who won’t do PiV.
I wouldn’t want to be with a stone partner, but feel parallels with some aspects of stone-ness, and a warmth of familiarity with the way I see stone folks describe themselves and their experience.
West provides a non-exhaustive list of meanings or identities associated with “stone”: having “emotional armour”; limits on touch/penetration/nakedness; being a sexual top (“the one who runs the fuck”, or “does the fucking”); end of the spectrum masculinity/butchness; “body experience of violation with [certain kinds of] touch”; sexual orientation – pleasure is centred on another.
The element where I feel the greatest distance from “stone” is when it represents the concept of extreme masculinity/butchness. As my About page explains, from everything I’ve been told about men, I don’t believe I can be one. I certainly don’t want to be one! And, as my description of my “dream body” explains, I want to tend to the middle – or rather, to balancing elements from both ends of the spectrum as well as the middle. I have from time to time toyed with the idea of “femme”, or “fem”, to describe where I am, or want to be; and thought about how that might intersect with stone-ness, male-bodiedness, and so on.
“Stone” as “the one who runs the fuck”, that is, the “sexual top”, seems redundant in heteronormative masculinity. “Be the man” is explicitly related to these concepts, from the very first meeting with a potential partner through to the sexual encounter, wherever you see pick-up advice. Women are also advised to let the man run the show when it comes to dating.
By contrast, although I identify as Dominant, I also want to explore being Submissive, being the bottom, I’m masochist as well as sadist, and so on. So this aspect or association of “stone” is not something that attaches to my identity. As noted above, I want to escape from “be the man”, I don’t want to identify with it.
Another divergence is that I place few limits on touch, penetration or nakedness as regards myself. Again, at odds with heteronormative masculinity, the idea of being penetrated is attractive to me, and to this extent “stone” seems like the opposite of me. However, I identify strongly with the later meaning, “Body experience of violation with [certain kinds of] touch”:
a visceral experience of violation with certain kinds of touch, any touch at all, being touched in certain places. This is about what it feels like to be touched, and can be separate from and sometimes the opposite of our desire for touch. (For example, I might really want to have a lover rub my belly, but might have a physical reaction to that kind of touch, where I instinctively pull away or tense up or it just makes my skin crawl, because even though one part of me wants to be touched, my body experiences that touch as violation.)
This is definitely a part of where I am. I want to be touched, I want a partner to touch me. But that means finding enough trust and desire to push past the physical and instinctive reactions against being touched. I want to do that, and a big thing for me would be to find someone I could bondage bottom to, because I imagine a huge thrill from pushing past those boundaries to that extent – but the trust required would be enormous.
The strongest way in which I feel linked to stone-ness is in the last of the meanings West explains:
Sexual orientation– pleasure is centered on another: this is about a primary way we get off (though we may sometimes get off in other ways), where we get pleasure from creating intense responses in our lovers, and riding the waves of their experience.
West later adds,
In my classes on stone sexuality, I concentrate on the idea of stone as a sexual orientation where pleasure/desire is centered on another person’s body and experience. I understand stone to be a sexual orientation much like queer, straight, bisexual, asexual, boot fetishist, exhibitionist, etc. can be sexual orientations. I find this framework to be incredibly useful as a way to talk about what is present, instead of solely focusing on what is absent or not allowed.
For various reasons, including the relatively low pleasure I take from it, and the previous effects of depression and the SSRIs I used to have to take for it, I do not particularly place my own orgasm as a goal or objective in sexual behaviour. Yes, I do like it, I do enjoy it, and if it happens then yay, but it’s a minor part of the proceedings rather than the climax. I get my thrills from making stuff happen for the other person. That’s where it’s at. There’s a reason most of my preferred porn is told from a bottom’s perspective: it’s because that’s the shortest route to access what effect the top is having on the bottom, and that’s what the pay-off is: it’s what happens for my partner.
I have felt a lot of pressure (often societal, and not at all related to what my partner actually felt or expressed) in sexual encounters to be orgasmic, and to be focussed on my genitalia, even when it isn’t what I want from it. It frustrates me that a lot of male submission porn involves a focus on the genitals, because that (tying in also with the boundaries around touching, etc) just turns me off completely. As noted, “Tucked Away” was an attempt to talk about a way that such a focus could work for me. It’s a tacit assumption in heteronormativity that men are all about teh cock.
The meaning of stone referring to other-focussed sexuality is therefore a powerful one for me, and is one that runs counter to the received heteronormative masculinity, which teaches a selfish, male-pleasure oriented sexuality that ends as soon as the man orgasms (just watch mainstream porn – the cumshot is the end of the scene, every time).
In a comment on West’s post, commenter eboniorchid asks, “Why would straight cis men need stone identity?” on the basis that the traits associated with stone are considered normal anyway for that group. This non-genital, other-focussed sexuality is one way in which a straight cis man would find stone a useful identity to have. When eboniorchid writes:
Most straight cis guys having these sorts of emotional and sexual boundaries is seen as NORMAL, typical, not even requiring speech but theorized as implicitly understood, not as aberrations to be scrutinized, negotiated away, or otherwise “corrected”.
It is true that boundaries against being the fuckee, the penetrated, the touched (as opposed to touching) are implicit within heteronormative masculinity. But there are other boundaries that aren’t – as I noted above, there is huge pressure to be sexual, orgasm-focussed and genital-focussed so that a man who says no to sex is seen as rejecting a partner – all manner of dating advice for women says, “If he won’t fuck you, he doesn’t want you” (or words to that effect). More importantly, a man who turns down the opportunity is then likely to be perceived as less masculine by his male peers (cue: homophobia and misogyny). A man who is seen as insufficiently interested in sex (with women) is absolutely regarded as someone who must be corrected, or at least, ridiculed. (There is also the continued misperception that an erection indicates consent to sex.)
This leads into the “emotional armour” element. Eboniorchid opens with, “Societally, straight cis men are presumed, as part of heteronormativity, to be emotionally contained and non-receptive partners, for example.”
To an extent, this is true. Men are expected to be unemotional, unresponsive, to channel negative feelings into anger or violence. But my understanding of what stone involves, particularly based on the language used in West’s piece, is strongly distinct from the emotional stoicism that men are expected to exhibit.
Having emotional armor: being emotionally guarded, being emotionally self-protective, emotional stoicism, not sharing our emotions, not wanting our emotions recognized or discussed. Emotional armor is a range of protective strategies around emotions (showing them and feeling them), and can range in thickness and levels of stoicism.
There are two strands here, pulling in different directions. Masculine emotional coldness is about not sharing emotions and not discussing them. In heteronormative scripts, to be emotional is to be feminine, which is to be lesser.
But what about “emotionally guarded”, or “being emotionally self-protective”? West says that, “Emotional armor is a range of protective strategies around emotions (showing them and feeling them)” – the very idea of emotional armour implies feelings that exist and need to be defended. From an early age, a male-bodied person is taught to “suck it up”, “take it on the chin”, “grow a pair”, “be tough”. He doesn’t need protection, he’s tough, he can take it! The emotional distance men display is supposed to go right to the core.
But I am deeply emotional. I am deeply emotional, and also very guarded and emotionally self-protective about it as a result. I’ve talked before about being a typical Cancerian, and that image of the soft, sensitive Crab inside its tough outer shell is a very potent and apposite one in my self-understanding. It also gives a way to talk about what stone could mean for me, and why it could be a useful identity as a counter or anchor against heteronormativity. As a way to acknowledge that emotions are legitimate, but that they can be protected or guarded, it’s a route towards self-acknowledgement.
For me, personally, I want my emotions recognised, I want to be able to show them. I have to be guarded and self-protective because I can be easily hurt, and feel I have to choose carefully whom I trust. This idea of emotional armour not as a denial of emotion, but a recognition of the self and one’s own vulnerability, is something that I have found useful, though I haven’t connected it with “stone” before.
In general, therefore, there are various ways in which a stone identity could be powerful in allowing a cis het male person to put a name on the ways in which they deviate from performative masculinity, and heteronormativity. Most notably in terms of rejecting the phallocentric view of male sexuality, the male-pleasure orientation of heteronormative scripts, and in finding a site for permission to feel one’s emotions by acknowledging them and protecting them.
If I identify so strongly with the physical touch violation, the emotional armour, and especially with West’s “stone as sexual orientation” thesis, then why do I still say that I don’t feel that “stone” is for me?
As I mentioned at the start, “stone” is a term that belongs to a community that is somewhat distant from my identity: for instance, West notes that, “Stone butch and stone femme are terms that are rooted in dyke history, particularly working class dyke history.” To claim a label whose connotations are defined in relation to experiences and a community that I don’t know seems foolhardy and certain to lead to mistaken understandings (for instance, I could have looked superficially and thought “male stone femme” was where I fit in the spectrum, but reading West’s remarks about how “stone femme” is used, I conclude this would have been most unwise).
Mistaken understandings is the other reason I feel that stone is not for me. Even if the term were in common usage for cis het men (or even cis-ish genderqueer bi-ish men like me) there are still too many associations and connotations of “stone” that don’t fit with what I would offer a partner and what I would like them to share with me, and simply using the term without explaining what it means to me would then discourage potential partners (and might encourage people whom I would not want as a partner). It is simpler to negotiate the meanings without using the term, and linking those meanings to my other identities as sadist, Dom, genderfluid, etc.
While I may not find the identity useful in terms of communicating about my sexuality, and I feel conflicted or cautious about taking a label that doesn’t belong to me, I hope that this afternoon of navel-gazing in type has demonstrated that the concepts and themes in stone identity do have a value in terms of self-recognition and identification, even if I don’t choose to use the term. I certainly look forwards to reading the rest of the blog series.