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“I Know You’re Smarter Than Me”: Clarisse Thorn’s Feminist Ideology

This was originally posted at Feministe  and Clarisse Thorn: Pro-Sex Outreach, Open-Minded Feminism.

I haven’t been on a lot of capital-D Dates. My relationships tend to develop through friendships and mutual interests, mostly because I am a huge nerd. My first on-purpose Date took place when I was seventeen; it was with a local boy who I barely knew — most of our contact was through brief chats on AOL Instant Messenger. (Am I showing my age?) He’d heard a lot about me, I guess, and for some reason he was impressed by my reputation for being smart and weird. He took me to a pool hall and gave me adorable lessons on how to hold the cue, how to break, etc. I don’t remember much of what we talked about … except for one exchange that is burned into my brain forevermore.

Prostitution had entered the conversation, and he said something about how it’s immoral.

“Immoral?” I asked. “What makes you say that?” I had not yet researched sex work or evolved the complex opinions that I have about it today, but I still knew there was something extremely weird about dismissing prostitution as “immoral”. I’d felt fairly bored by the conversation thus far, and was genuinely curious about how this would go; I remember smiling and thinking, hey, this could be interesting.

He was across the table from me, leaning over his pool cue, lining up a shot. He glanced up — looking surprised, like it was totally weird that I was challenging such a fundamental thing as prostitution being immoral (gasp!) — and he gave me a heart-melting smile. “Oh,” he said casually, “I know you’re smarter than me, so let’s not get into it.”

I blinked. I shut up. I think I might even have smiled, out of confusion if nothing else. We chatted about whatever he brought up next. He took me home and dropped me off without a kiss; there was no chemistry (at least not on my end, I certainly can’t speak for him). No second date. But “I know you’re smarter than me, so let’s not get into it” … that line, and the friendly way he said it, stuck in my head. It was an amazingly complimentary, amazingly condescending, amazingly effective way of shutting me down.

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[advice] A 16-yr-old kinkster who wants “a sense of personal integrity”

When I received the following email, I was sitting in my mother’s living room. I read the letter aloud to Mom where she was standing in the kitchen; she stopped what she was doing, came over and sat down across from me. When I was done, she said, “That’s heartbreaking. This girl sounds just like you.”

Yeah, I relate a lot to this one.

Dear Clarisse,

I’m sorry to email you out of the blue like this, but I’ve been reading your blog for a few months now and it’s been a great help to me. I’m also sorry if this is pretty personal, but I don’t know of anyone else with any relevant experience that I can turn to. You’ve always seemed friendly and open to discussion from what I’ve read, so I hope you won’t mind.

OK. Here goes. Basically, I’ve had what I now know to be BDSM leanings since an early age — tying up the Barbie dolls, bizarre childhood games, the works, gaining a more sexual edge in my teenage years. I never really thought about it, and if I did, I would just think, “Oh well, I can think and fantasise about what I like, it doesn’t hurt anyone, why should I be ashamed?” The difficulty for me has come in my first proper relationship. I’ve been with my boyfriend for 10 months and it’s not a secret between us. I mean, it surprised him, but he’s completely fine with it and he seems pretty enthusiastic (and has consistently over the past nine months or so, so I think it might be more than just to please me, though he’s not as into it as I am). Maybe I should specify. I don’t enjoy labelling myself, but I suppose you would call me a submissive. 

As I’m sure you can relate to, this poses some problems for me. I’ve always thought of myself as a strong, independent young woman. I endured bullying at school and I have always espoused — or tried to, to the best of my ability — a philosophy that can be neatly summed up as “Fuck ‘em.” It’s very difficult for me to come to terms with this other side of myself, that, while it was always there, never really intruded on my actual life, if you see what I mean. Now it does. I’m saying these things I’ve thought about a lot of my life, and doing some of them too. There’s a level — well, two, the rational level and the physical one — where I’m completely OK with it, but another part of me — I suppose the emotional part — is entirely disgusted. If it was just the pain, I could deal with that. It’s this desire for submission that makes me feel sick about myself. The thing is, rationally, I know that there’s no reason why I can’t be a strong woman in my relationships and my everyday life but play with a power dynamic during sex acts. I mean, from what I’ve read, you do it fine! I just don’t know how to make that leap. I’m sure you know the feeling I’m talking about.

I should also add that I’m 16 and a virgin, and the same with my boyfriend. This entire kaboodle is new to me and I don’t really know what I’m doing, and this is really causing me quite a lot of anguish. I don’t really know where to go for support. I can hardly ask at the regular sexual health clinic! I wouldn’t know where to start looking for kink-aware therapists, as you did. Besides that, I would have to talk to my parents about it. I’ve spoken to my mother about BDSM briefly in conversation without letting her know anything about myself, and she said she thought relationships like that were “unhealthy” and “destructive”. I’m sure that’s just ignorance on her part, but I don’t feel like I’m ready to come out to her, and explain why it’s OK, at least not until I’m sure about this myself. It still feels partly unreal, as though it’s something I’ve created in myself that will go away if I ignore it — even though I know that’s not the case. I share the feeling that you’ve written about before — I’ve never been in an “other-ed” minority before, being white and middle-class etc. My boyfriend is very supportive and caring, but to be honest, he doesn’t know what he’s doing any better than I do! So I hope that you will be able to offer me some reassurance and advice. Your blog, as I’ve said, has been a great help, but reading something like that, wonderful as it is, isn’t the same and doesn’t have the same power to reassure as a more personal dialogue. I hope you see what I mean and don’t just think that I’m seeking attention. That is not my goal here. All I’m after is a sense of personal integrity. Perhaps in the end that can only come from myself, but, it would be nice to be told I’m not completely mad!

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The S&M feminist

Originally posted at Clarisse Thorn: Pro-Sex Outreach, Open-Minded Feminism

Readers of my blog have told me that my actual feminist opinions are sort of unclear. So have people who know me in real life. I don’t blog about straight-up feminist issues here, at least not very often.

One reason for that is that I’m more interested in appealing to a general audience than to a specifically theory-oriented audience. To some extent I can’t help the fact that I have a very analytical mindset; that I often, instinctively, use big words; stuff like that. But still, in an ideal world, I’d like every post I write to be quite accessible to any smart newcomer. So I spend a lot of energy thinking about how to make my posts less jargon-y, and more interesting to random people. Sometimes I fail, but I like to think that most of the time I succeed.

Another reason is that other bloggers have already written about feminism, including the fraught topic of S&M and feminism. And they’ve done it so intelligently that I honestly don’t feel that I have much to add to the conversation. My introduction to the S&M blogosphere actually came about because I was Googling something-or-other and I came upon the blog SM-Feminist, at which point I was so filled with awe and delight and recognition that I sat and read the archives for hours upon hours upon hours. I’ve never been so enthralled by any other blog. (Just a note: the writers at SM-Feminist don’t, I think, share my concerns about being generally accessible. It’s possible that it won’t be easy for non-feminists to read, but I actually can’t tell.)

The major problem with SM-Feminist now, I think, is just that the easy posts went first, in 2007. So the more recent posts (the ones on top, and on the front page) tend to be a bit complex, and probably less exciting for newcomers to these debates. Of course, the other major problem is that almost all the writers have pretty much stopped writing, even the incredibly prolific Trinity — who gets a place in my personal Pantheon of Awesomeness — and who now focuses her efforts in other areas.

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Exciting new “Time Out” blog; reflections on blogrolls and blogospheres

I’ve been hired as a professional blogger! I’ll be keeping my personal blog here, but I’ll be posting quick links and even quicker commentary over at Time Out Chicago: Love Bites.

While setting up my Time Out blog, I found myself thinking about one of the more headache-inducing aspects of blogging: the Blogroll. You can see my blogroll on the right side of this page, and that’s where the Time Out editors put my Time Out blogroll as well. Blogrolls are sticky and interesting because there are definite social conventions surrounding them, but those social conventions are not well-defined, and different people use very different approaches.

* Some people just post links to whatever blogs they like or consider interesting. Some people work really hard to screen blogs for their blogrolls and figure out whether they really want to link them or not; others just glance over blogs and add them if they seem interesting. And others avoid the whole problem by not having a blogroll on their site at all.

* Some people are straightforwardly tit-for-tat about blogrolls: they do “link exchanges”, which means that you post a link to someone’s blog in your blogroll, and in exchange they post a link to you. This means that not only will people maybe find your blog through that other blog, but that hopefully your PageRank will improve. (PageRank is Google’s measurement of a given page’s importance. For example, my blog has okay PageRank, which is why it’s usually on the first or second page of Google results if you search for the name “Clarisse”, even though there are over two million total results for that name.) I’ve accepted offers for link exchanges occasionally, though I obviously only do it with sites that I appreciate.

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