stigma

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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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Sex worker sob story totally misses the point

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

Forget the voices of sex workers who genuinely enjoy their jobs and are tired of being cut out of the discourse on the sex industry. Forget arguments about how the Craigslist shutdown will end up harming sex workers who are genuinely trafficked or abused. No, let’s focus on Phoebe Kay, who’s mad because Craigslist made it easy for her to sell sex, and she didn’t like doing it. Therefore, she argues in a recent Salon piece, it is entirely right and proper that Craigslist has been pressured into removing its “erotic services” ads.

Wait, what?

Ms. Kay’s experience does sound unpleasant — just as any job a person doesn’t want to do will be unpleasant. And I do sympathize. She writes that before she even started working, she “felt like vomiting” and adds, “There was no question this gig didn’t come naturally to me.” Hey, I’ve felt like that about jobs before. Usually those feelings are a strong hint that I shouldn’t take the job! Ms. Kay, on the other hand, went right ahead — but it’s not her own fault, it’s Craigslist’s fault.

She notes that she’d sent out “hundreds” of cover letters to other jobs before trying her hand at escorting, but one wonders if she tried McDonald’s. Or was that too degrading to contemplate? What about selling the car she mentions in the article, or asking the parents she mentions for support? I’m not trying to mock the “desperation” Ms. Kay says she felt, but it’s hard to believe that a woman with such an obvious safety net truly felt that she had no choice at all. Not to mention, there are plenty of escorts who got into the business because they were strapped for cash, but who don’t disown the choice they made, even if they had a bad experience in the end.

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[storytime] My worst moment of hypocrisy

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

“Do you have anything that you’re hypocritical about in your own life?”

My mother just asked me this question. We’d been chatting angrily about the latest conservative homosexual coming-out, Ken Mehlman, “the most powerful Republican in history to identify as gay.” I’d mentioned this other conservative leader, a Baptist minister exposed hiring a rent boy, who claimed that “I needed to explore the psyche of a real live gay and witness first-hand what the lifestyle is all about so I could finally find the cure.”

“What do these people tell themselves? How can they justify themselves?” I cried, at which point my mother gently asked about hypocrisy.



I try really hard not to be hypocritical about things. But, like everyone, I’ve had my moments. It seems to me that hypocrisy almost always arises from conflicted emotions, rather than a straightforward intent to lie. The bigger the emotional conflict, the nastier the hypocrisy can get. For this reason, I think I have some understanding of people like Ken Mehlman, who clearly had a really difficult coming-out process, and whose sexuality drastically contradicts his perceived values. (I still think he should at least apologize, though.)

So here’s my biggest moment of hypocrisy. I’m writing about it to remind myself that sex and romance can be terribly difficult, that they bump up against nearly everyone’s morals at some point, and that when you’re really hurt and confused it can be legitimately difficult to know what you yourself are thinking.

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Love Bites: An S&M Coming-Out Story (mirror)

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

My coming-out story was first published in February by "Time Out Chicago". I am grateful to them for the publication, but the license with them is not exclusive, and so I've decided to mirror the story here on my blog. Because this version is under my direct control, it will have the most up-to-date links and other followup information. If you would like to mirror my story on your own site or blog, please let me know -- I'm always available at [ clarisse.thorn at gmail dot com ].



I was very drunk. My perceptions had a frame-by-frame quality, and the evening didn't seem immediate: pieces of it were foreign, disconnected as a dream. I was being bitten very hard on the arm. It would leave marks the next day.

I was so muddled by assorted things that even now I can't sort out how I felt at that moment. When Richard's nails scored my skin I gasped, but I didn't ask him to stop. I flinched away, but he kept a firm grip on me. "Beg for mercy," he said softly.

Frame. Skip. I discovered that a mutual friend of ours had seen us, stopped, and was sitting on the grass across from Richard. "Hey," he said. "You shouldn't do that."

"It's okay," Richard said, "she likes it," and pulled my hair hard enough to force me to bow my head. I do? I managed to think, before thought vanished back into the blur of alcohol and pain. Our friend's face loomed over me, concern sketched vividly on his features.

I closed my eyes.

"Mercy," I whispered.

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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.

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Anti-BDSMers pretending to look out for us are dangerous

Maymay, the brilliant BDSM activist who was recently attacked and labeled a pedophile on the Salvation Army’s human trafficking email list, has drawn my attention to another lovely little initiative from Citizens Against Trafficking: BDSM: A Case of Human Trafficking (PDF file), by Donna M. Hughes and Melanie Shapiro.

Firstly, the title. “BDSM: A Case of Human Trafficking”. What the paper actually outlines is one single abusive BDSM relationship — the famous Glenn Marcus case — that is, a sadist who seriously mistreated, raped, and threatened the family of a female submissive. So why does the paper’s title imply that BDSM is one huge crazy orgy of human trafficking? If the authors aren’t trying to convince us that S&M is dangerous and scary in itself, then why is the paper full of blanket statements like “A sadist’s goal is the progressive destruction of a victim”?

And what the hell is going on with bits like this:

:::::::::::::::
One of Marcus’ other sex slaves testified in his defense saying that Jodi was a willing participant in sex games. She said that Marcus was harmless. When prosecutors showed a photograph of this woman’s breasts punctured with dozens of pins, she still insisted it was consensual: “I love being around Glenn. He’s a lot of fun.”
:::::::::::::::

Well, the “sex slave” probably “insisted it was consensual” because it was, you know, actually consensual. I have consensually had pins stuck in me as well, so I can see how someone might “insist”. In fact, the first time I ever did piercing, I purchased the needles myself and explicitly propositioned my partner … then handed him the box.

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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.

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Salvation Army attacks sex-positive activist through its human trafficking email list

Sometimes people try to tell me that no one has a problem with S&M; that all stigma against S&M is in our heads and that if we BDSMers would just get over our victim complex, we’d discover that society has no real problem with us. I’ve got tons of counterexamples, but today I’m only going to talk about one: my friend maymay, a sex-positive activist and kinkster who has now been painted as a child molester, starting with an attack from the Salvation Army (specifically, two women named Margaret Brooks and Donna M. Hughes).

I admire maymay; he’s done some incredible sex-positive activism. He created the sex-positive unconference model KinkForAll, which swiftly went viral, and co-created Kink On Tap, a smart sexuality netcast with tons of audience participation. Maymay is also out of the closet under his real name, which is an incredibly ballsy and badass move on his part, but one that puts him in all the more danger when absurd and libelous personal attacks like these are launched.

What I find most notable about the Salvation Army attack is that — although maymay’s events and activism focus on general sex-positivity more than BDSM in particular — it’s BDSM that got up their noses. When the Salvation Army’s Initiative Against Sexual Trafficking jumped on maymay, they implied that the “The specific goal of the event [KinkForAll] was to foster an acceptance of bondage, discipline and sadomasochism.” Well, I attended and presented at the first KinkForAll in New York City, and while there was a lot of BDSM information shared, the specific goal of the event was definitely to be generally sex-positive.

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