books

Clarisse Thorn's picture

[litquote] S&M stereotypes, parenting, and community action

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

 

The following quotation is from an essay that doesn’t just tear apart some awful BDSM stereotypes, but also makes a great case for coming together as a community and living our lives without shame … all in the context of parenting. It’s called “S/M Fetish People Who Choose To Parent”, and was printed in the anthology Speaking Sex To Power by one of my all-time heroes: the brilliant and inimitable Patrick Califia.

The state does seem to have a vested interest in preventing anyone who is sexually different from raising a child. Over the years, I’ve heard many stories of custody battles involving polyamorous people, pagans, transsexuals, sex workers, and members of the BDSM-fetish community, not just lesbians and gay men. The people who go through these battles usually do it alone, and they usually lose. But that story can change when there is enough publicity to generate community support.

In early 1995, members of the BDSM-fetish community in the US and Canada were appalled to learn that a couple in the scene had had their children taken away. The Canadian fetish magazine “Boudoir Noir” established a defense fund for the unlucky pair, known as the Houghtons. As we had for the Spanner defendants, the community banded together and raised enough money to allow Steve and Selina Houghton to hire a decent defense attorney. Selina ultimately pled guilty to a disorderly conduct charge, and her husband to one count of endangering the welfare of a minor, a Class E misdemeanor. They were also ordered to continue to receive family counseling …. Although they did not receive jail sentences, their privacy and home life had been badly damaged by the intrusive actions of the police. When the Houghtons got their kids back, they moved suddenly, disappearing from the scene, probably to protect themselves from further persecution.

Clarisse Thorn's picture

[litquote] Sex workers and whore stigma in southern Africa

I read a lot when I was in Africa. One of the most interesting books available was Catherine Campbell’s Letting Them Die. (Another of my favorite books, Elizabeth Pisani’s The Wisdom Of Whores, is available for free download during the month of December 2010. I encourage you to grab it while it’s available for free! But this post is about Campbell’s book, not Pisani’s book.)

Letting Them Die describes a community HIV/AIDS project that took place in a South African community called Summertown (not the community’s real name). It is really an exceptional description of the difficulties inherent in the promotion of sexual health. It’s also got a lot of interesting discussion and commentary on sex work and whore stigma, and the experience of sex workers who were interviewed for the study.

I want to emphasize right now that I don’t always agree with the writer’s approach, though I always find it interesting. This is a loaded topic, and I am very aware that there are issues with the following quotations. However, I think there is a lot of wisdom as well. Quotations follow:



A key reason why people agreed to discuss their stigmatized work so openly in the baseline interview study lay not only in their growing fear about the epidemic, but also because, in setting up the interviews, much emphasis was laid on the fact that the interviewers regarded sex work as a profession like any other, and had no desire to criticize or judge anyone for their choice of work. [page 81]



How do people deal with having a spoiled identity, the stigma of a shameful profession? … One way was through a series of justificatory discourses. Predominant among these was the discourse of “having no option”.

S: “I give my clients respect by telling them I don’t like doing this job. I tell them I only do it due to poverty.”

W: “This is a job that lowers our dignity. We discuss this often, that we should look for other jobs. But the truth is that there are no alternatives.”

Virtually every woman said she had been “tricked” into starting the job. They all spoke of having been recruited by friends, who tempted them away from their rural homes with stories about jobs in Johannesburg, without telling them the nature of the work. They spoke of arriving and initially refusing to sell sex. Eventually they had been forced into it by a combination of hunger and the lack of transport money to return home.

Clarisse Thorn's picture

News Flash, Pay Attention: HIV Is About Sex

Today is World AIDS Day. I don’t think about HIV as much as I did a few months ago, when I was still in Africa and my job was to help with the epidemic. But today, I’m thinking about it, and I have something very simple to say:

HIV is about sex.

One of the big lessons I learned about HIV in Africa is that many, many people will do amazing mental and rhetorical backflips to avoid talking about how HIV is actually spread. It’s astonishing. You’d think that when talking about HIV, you’d have to talk about sex; you’d be wrong.

In the areas where I worked, a massive percentage of people were infected with HIV. In a number of places it was about 25%. In some populations, it was more like 40%. Think about those numbers for a second — and remember that many people who had contracted HIV had already died. In other words, uncountable numbers of people had already died of AIDS-related causes, and among the people who remained alive, the percentages still got as high as 25% and 40%.

And yet I got the message over and over and over that we mustn’t talk about sex! For example, I was told by some school authorities that I could not give safer sex information to their students because that might “encourage the students to have sex”. In other words: God forbid we tell students where to get condoms and how to use them, because that might encourage them to think sex isn’t wrong and dirty. What the authorities were really telling me is that it’s more important that we continue to stigmatize sexuality, than it is to protect people from HIV.

Clarisse Thorn's picture

[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!

Clarisse Thorn's picture

[litquote] How being good in bed is most of all about attentiveness

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

I would never deny that certain inborn qualities or skills can make sex a lot better. It’s true that size does, generally, matter. But I really do believe that these things matter a hell of a lot less than open-hearted and open-minded attention to one’s partner. And that’s why I love this quotation from Haruki Murakami’s Sputnik Sweetheart.

The summer vacation of my freshman year in college, I took a random trip by myself around the Horuriku region, ran across a woman eight years older than me who was also traveling alone, and we spent one night together.

… She had a certain charm, which made it hard to figure out why she’d have any interest in someone like me — a quiet, skinny, eighteen-year-old college kid. Still, sitting across from me in the train, she seemed to enjoy our harmless banter. She laughed out loud a lot. And — atypically — I chattered away. We happened to get off at the same station, at Kanazawa. “Do you have a place to stay?” she asked me. No, I replied; I’d never made a hotel reservation in my life. I have a hotel room, she told me. You can stay if you’d like. “Don’t worry about it,” she went on, “it costs the same whether there’s one or two people.”

I was nervous the first time we made love, which made things awkward. I apologized to her.

“Aren’t we polite!” she said. “No need to apologize for every little thing.”

After her shower she threw on a bathrobe, grabbed two cold beers from the fridge, and handed one to me.

“Are you a good driver?” she asked.

“I just got my license, so I wouldn’t say so. Just average.”

Clarisse Thorn's picture

[litquote] Hot vanilla sex scene includes checking in

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

For a sex writer, I’m surprisingly indifferent to sex scenes. Predictably, I’m quoting this one from Kate Furnivall’s novel The Russian Concubine for a theoretical reason: because it gives not one, but two instances of checking in with one’s partner to ensure their continuing sexual consent … and the sex goes on afterwards just fine. One of the most frequently-heard complaints about ensuring consent is that it will supposedly “ruin the moment”. But if that were really true, then you’d never find check-ins being glorified in hot romance novel sex scenes!

Note: the main character has never had penis-in-vagina sex before.

It was as if her skin became something other than skin. It grew so alive it leaped out of her control, rubbed itself against his body, her hip pressing against his, her hands touching, searching, stroking, seeking out each bone of his back, his flat wide shoulder blades, the curve of his buttocks. Her lips opened to his and the unexpected sensation of their tongues entwining sent such a shiver of delicious shock through her body that it made him stop, lift his head, and gaze at her with concern.

But she laughed, almost a purr, and wrapped her arms around his neck, drawing him back to her once more. …

[make-outs, make-outs, make-outs]

jolie du pre's picture

GLBT Promo Book Giveaway - July 2010

GLBT Promo Book Giveaway. For the rest of 2010, enter for a chance to win one new book every month.

Clarisse Thorn's picture

Literary Quotation: Gay alcoholic heartbreak, breakup, and HIV

(Posted at Clarisse Thorn: Pro-Sex Outreach, Open-Minded Feminism)

I’m going to start posting literary quotations that strike me. This one is from Augusten Burroughs’ sweet memoir, Dry. I post it for no reason other than that it made me sigh.

On my bookcase at home, there’s a photo of Pighead trying on a leather jacket I bought him one Christmas. I can be seen behind him in the mirror taking the picture. I’m wearing a ridiculous red Santa hat and my wire-framed nerd glasses. In another picture, I’m swimming in some motel pool in Maine. It was the Lamp Lighter Motel, I remember. It was fall and the pool was freezing cold and had orange leaves floating in it. Leaves and beetles. This was one of our first road trips. We’d known each other for about a year. I remember that after getting out of the pool, we went back to the room and I took a hot shower. When I came out, we ended up fooling around on the bed. We stayed in bed for two full days, leaving only at night to get prime rib or spaghetti at the only restaurant in town that served water in glass instead of paper.

Back in Manhattan, I told him one night, “I think I’m in love with you.” We were leaning against the railing of the esplanade at Battery Park City, watching the planes circle in their holding patterns above us. For New Yorkers, planes circling above at night replace stars, in terms of romance.

Clarisse Thorn's picture

5 sources of assumptions and stereotypes about S&M

Why do BDSMers often feel bad about being into S&M? Why do so many of us freak out once we discover our BDSM identity, or live in secret and repress our desires, or write only under false names, or fear openly joining the S&M community, or ….

Well, here’s a particularly sad example of how bad some of us feel. A BDSMer friend works as a therapist who does couples counseling. He once told me about a couple who had some random argument in his office — the argument, apparently, wasn’t even about sex — during which the wife lost her temper and turned away from her husband. “You know what this freak likes?” she snapped, and proceeded to describe her husband’s biggest fetish. Her husband looked humiliated and was quiet.

Now, from the perspective of my kinky counselor friend and my kinky self, the husband’s fetish wasn’t particularly weird — in fact it seems much tamer than, say, my own desire to have needles slid through my skin — but I can see how the fetish would seem weird to the mainstream. More importantly, it was obvious that this poor kinkster’s wife had been using his fetish as her ace in the hole — her secret back-pocket weapon — for quite a long time. Whenever she wanted to shut him up or shame him, she just mentioned his Deep Dark Fetish and he was silenced and shamed.

So. Obviously, there are a lot of poisonous assumptions and stereotypes surrounding S&M. There are so many of them that lots of kinksters have taken them into ourselves: not only do we fear society’s judgment, but we also feel tons of anxiety from internalized social norms.

Olga Wolstenholme's picture

The Little Coochi Snorcher That Could

I’m watching The Vagina Monologues on HBO right now. I’ve read the book, but I never saw it being performed. It’s a good show, I like how this particular adaptation has mini interview with Eve Ensler and a group of women between each monologue. No matter how many times you hear these stories, they never lose their power to move.

The Little Coochi Snorcher That Could

Memory: December 1965: Five Years Old

My mama tells me in a scary, loud, life-threatening voice to stop scratching my coochi snorcher. I become terrified that I’ve scratched it off down there. I do not touch myself again, even in the bath. I am afraid of the water getting in and filling me up so I explode. I put Band-Aids over my coochi snorcher to the cover the hole, but they fall off in the water. I imagine a stopper, a bathtub plug up there to prevent things from entering me. I sleep with three pairs of happy heart-patterned cotton underpants underneath my snap-up pajamas. I still want to touch myself, but I don’t.

Memory: Seven Years Old

Edgar Montane, who is ten, gets angry at me and punches me with all his might between my legs. It feels like he breaks my entire self. I limp home. I can’t pee. My mama asks me what’s wrong with my coochi snorcher, and when I tell her what Edgar did to me she yells at me and says never to let anyone touch me down there again. I try to explain he didn’t touch it, Mama, he punched it.

Syndicate content
Powered by Drupal, an open source content management system