Thursday, April 28, 2011

Activist Ambition (Skip this if you don't want to read about ALL MY FEELINGS.)

I was going to write a long post about how my finally being in a position to undertake the kind of community work I've always wanted to do has affected me. I feel like it's a subject I need to talk about at this point.

One particular group I'm working with right now has thus far been an amazing experience, but also difficult in certain ways. It's forced me to face my "shortcomings" (I use the quotation marks for a reason which will hopefully become clear shortly) in a way that is very uncomfortable for me. Specifically, I volunteered to be a "facilitator" for one of the committees involved in the project. I feel like I'm falling far short of what I should be doing in that role. I have very little experience in this area, and one of the other women involved with the project (who is the facilitator/coordinator for a separate committee) has been doing a lot of what I feel like should be my responsibilities. I feel like I'm letting people down. On bad days, I feel almost like a "placeholder," so the same person's name doesn't have to be at the top of two different committee lists.

To be clear: this isn't about my ego, or about wanting recognition for anything. This is about feeling like I volunteered for responsibilities that I'm horribly failing to meet, feeling like I'm letting everyone down and forcing someone who already has enough on her plate to pick up my slack.

Now, before you all start shaking your heads at me and bemoaning my attention whoring, self-deprecating, whiny bullshit, finish reading. I've been giving a lot of thought to why I feel this way. (Because it's not enough for me to have too many feelings, I also have to overanalyse all my feelings. It's what I do.) The way I phrased it to a friend a couple of weeks ago is still the most accurate: I feel like an imposter. I'm working with people who have all kinds of experience in this area, and I just don't have that. I'm surrounded by people who have a grip on the more academic or technical aspects of activist work, and all I am is a single mom who's spent the past ten years (while the rest of the group has been getting educations and experience in this type of work) busting my ass to survive and raise my son on my own. I have an absurd amount of intellectual potential, but actually knowing how to do shit like grant writing? HA. It's been a struggle every minute.

Right as I was opening this browser tab, getting ready to write a long, whiny post about how shitty I feel about myself, I saw something on a friend's Facebook that I think I really needed. She said, "Raising kind boys is also a political act, yes?"

That's when it hit me. I haven't been doing this kind of work for the last decade because I've been doing an entirely different kind: raising a son who will carry on my ideals. My son is intelligent, talented, passionate and caring. He is becoming the kind of person I would want the whole world to be. I've been living the situations that my colleagues have been trying to fix: poverty, single (teen) parenthood, surviving sexual assault, living with mental illness. My activism has been in my survival, in my refusal to "fall in line." My intelligence and strength show in my personal growth, in the woman that I've become against all odds. My feminism is not academic: it's lived.

There are things I don't know. That is a difficult thing for me to admit: I hate not being good at everything I do the first time I do it. I have some weird hangups about the learning process. But I am aware that I do have something valuable to contribute to social causes: I have passion, intelligence, and a willingness to learn. And with the rest of it, I hope the people who matter can understand that we've had a different set of opportunities and experiences, and continue to be patient with me.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Body Stuff (TW for weight, inclucing gains/losses, ED and exercise issues)

So, yeah, trigger warning. And also, there's some TMI in here. Just so ya know.

Those of you who have known me for a while may know (or may have not noticed, which is actually awesome) that I weight cycle. I weight cycle a lot. I know that this is in part caused by the fact that my body has only very recently been allowed to just do its thing.

I developed extremely disordered eating habits at a very young age, and spent the first half of my teen years in that pattern. Then I got pregnant before my body had fully finished developing. I gained so much weight so fast that I have glanced at photos from the last months of my pregnancy and not recognised myself. I never had a visible belly-I simply ballooned all over. I gained over 90 lbs in 20 weeks. (Between finding out I was pregnant around 10 weeks, and Ronin's birth just past 30.)

Once I stopped breastfeeding, I immediately started fighting my body again. I didn't just want to be thin, I wanted to look like the thin girls at my school. You know, the ones who hadn't had babies. None of them had that little fatty deposit just below their belly buttons. When they wore halter tops with no bra, you really couldn't tell-their breasts were perky and firm. They didn't have any "extra" jiggly bits on the insides of their thighs that made their tiny little shorts ride up and look awkward and inappropriate. When their low-rise jeans slid just a tiny bit lower, you could see the curve of their hipbones; when mine did that all you could see was belly fat and a c-section scar. I spent the first half of my grade 12 year starving myself down to a size 5. By the time my 18th birthday rolled around, I had made it. But soon even that wasn't enough. By 19, I was down to a size 2. When the man I had (against pretty much everyone's better judgment) fallen horribly and irrationally in love with the summer I was 18 broke my heart, I decided that it was because I was too fat. By 20, I weighed 100 lbs.

A month before my 21st birthday, I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. That was the same year I got married and divorced in rapid succession, as well as finally breaking all ties with my mother. Needless to say, 21 was a rough year for me, and all the stress and medical issues (in addition to my continued disordered eating) contributed to me going from just over 100 lbs to near 160 and back to about 115 by my 22nd birthday.

A few times in the last five years, I have realised that I had problems surrounding food and weight and tried to start eating normally and taking better care of myself. Every time, I start to gain weight, panic and start restricting food/overexercising again. It's a terrible cycle. But finally, this most recent time around, it seems to be sticking. I don't weigh myself anymore. I slipped once over Christmas holidays-the scale said 180, and I spent weeks feeling terrible about it. But other than that, I haven't stepped on a scale voluntarily in over a year, and if I have to be weighed at the doctor's office I close my eyes and ask them to not tell me the number. I'm learning to listen to my body's hunger cues-I mostly eat when I'm hungry. I try to eat what I'm actually hungry for-I've learned that when I want grilled cheese on white bread, trying to placate myself with tuna on a whole wheat pita does absolutely nothing and will result in my eating more than I want and feeling worse. I try to just eat the damn grilled cheese, because if I do that one sandwich is more likely to satisfy me. I also try to stop when I'm full, which has definitely reduced my desire to purge. I'm developing a healthy relationship with food, a little bit at a time.

Exercise has been harder. I like working out; I like feeling strong in general, and the endorphin rush that immediately follows a good workout is great. The problem is that I've found exercise to be a "slippery slope." I start by going to the gym a couple of times, and before I know it I'm spending an hour at a stretch on the treadmill and another hour with weights, six days a week. Not only that, but something about intentional exercise triggers me to start thinking about what foods I could eat or stop eating to get "better results." Then I'm back to restricting, and so on. So I have to try to make exercise an "organic" thing-walking more often, dancing, stuff like that. That's great and all, but I do still enjoy gym time. I like lifting weights. So there's this struggle for me to incorporate healthy physical activity in a way that is enjoyable.

The point of all this rambling is that my body, having been so badly abused for so many years, is suddenly out of my control, and that's scary. First, I'm worried that I may have done permanent damage to myself. But I realise that if I have, there's nothing I can do now other than just try to live as healthfully as possible and deal with any problems that arise as they come. The more immediate issue is this: I am bigger than I have ever been, and I am terrified.

That is hard for me to admit. I feel like it's a betrayal of the Fat Acceptance attitudes I've embraced in the last couple of years. And I realise that any fat people reading this could very well be offended by that statement. I also realise that I'm not really all that fat-hell, I'm probably still under 200 lbs. But here's the thing: accepting the idea of fat and loving fat bodies in general is completely different than learning the reality of living in a fat body. This is an accepted concept in FA, and something that has recently been a hot topic, what with the inbetweenie drama on Tumblr. (That link was just the beginning-there's a whole pile of other stuff related to that which I can't be arsed to track down and link to.) You can be a fat ally, you can wholeheartedly embrace the ideals of FA, but until you actually live in a fat body you don't know what it's like to be fat. Well, I'm suddenly learning that. And for me, this is scary.

For one thing, suddenly clothes are this huge issue. I can't afford to buy a whole new wardrobe, even from a thrift store, so I've basically just recently bought a couple of items so that I have something to cover myself with when I have to leave the house. But I don't have clothes that I really like, or that make me feel attractive at all. And even the stuff that more or less fits me doesn't fit me the way I'd like. And the whole leaving the house thing? It's exponentially harder than it was a year ago. Even if I can work past the anxiety that comes with going out and being around people at the best of times, I have to find something to wear, and if I've spilled coffee on the one pair of pants that more or less fit me, I literally have NOTHING. Dressing myself becomes this massive panic-inducing thing, and I have cancelled plans in recent weeks because I couldn't zip up my jeans. It's not a fun thing, and something I can't even effectively describe. If you haven't dealt with the experience of suddenly having a body you don't know how to dress, you probably don't understand.

For another thing, there is fat on parts of my body that I didn't even know could get fat. An example: my pussy is fat. The first time I realised this, I had a bit of a freakout-I was kind of like, "oh my god, what is going on with my body, how is this even a thing?" Every time I've gained weight, I've gotten a bit of a spare tire-I tend to carry a lot of weight around the middle, and having had a c-section means that the way that weight sits gives me a bit of a belly overhang situation. I'm getting used to that. But suddenly when I put on tight pants or a tight dress, there's that fat roll that is my belly, and then below that there is a whole other roll which is actually the fat on my mons pubis. And then there's the fat on my thighs, and all in all it just creates a topography that I've never seen before on my body.

I don't even know where I'm going with all this rambling. I just know that my body is changing, and it's freaking me out a bit. I feel like a character in some horrible cartoon health class video about puberty. And I feel like I need to get this out, because trying to muscle through and be all, "blah blah rad fatties everything is awesome" is not fucking working.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

This Week In "People Not Getting It..."

Racism. It is everywhere. I don't want to get into too much detail about the crap I've been seeing on my Facebook feed, but a couple of things need to be said:

White males ages 18-45: it is not a hard-knock life for you. Get over it.*

Other white people, even (especially?) other mixed-race folk with passing privilege, or those of you in interracial relationships: racism exists. If a person of colour points out that they have experienced racism, details slurs that have been used against them, states that there is a possibility of other people of colour/mixed race people experiencing the same thing, wants to discuss ways to prevent or work through these problems-that does not make them racist. Saying "I have been called/some people of my race get called/this particular person of this race in this scenario may be called (insert rude name here)" does not equate to calling said specific or hypothetical person that name. If a person of colour responds to your assertions that you have never seen or participated in such behaviour by pointing out that you are white (or at least appear to be so) and therefore have a different experience than they do on a pretty major scale, do not just keep yelling. Listen. Educate yourself in regard to your privilege. Grow up.

*Speaking in broad generalisations here. I know individual white men don't necessarily have an easy time of things. I'm just saying that in terms of large scale or systematic oppressions, this demographic doesn't really "get it."

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

In Which Scott Adams Is Desperately Screaming, "WHAT ABOUT THE MENZ!?!?!"

Talk of a blog post by Dilbert creator Scott Adams is not quite all over the internet yet, but likely will be in the morning. Here's a link to a Reddit thread in which the post is quoted.

Adams starts by talking about what his readers have told him the problem is:

"...examples of unfair treatment of men include many elements of the legal system, the military draft in some cases, the lower life expectancies of men, the higher suicide rates for men, circumcision, and the growing number of government agencies that are primarily for women. You might add to this list the entire area of manners. We take for granted that men should hold doors for women, and women should be served first in restaurants. Can you even imagine that situation in reverse?
Generally speaking, society discourages male behavior whereas female behavior is celebrated. Exceptions are the fields of sports, humor, and war. Men are allowed to do what they want in those areas.
Add to our list of inequities the fact that women have overtaken men in college attendance. If the situation were reversed it would be considered a national emergency.
How about the higher rates for car insurance that young men pay compared to young women? Statistics support this inequity, but I don't think anyone believes the situation would be legal if women were charged more for car insurance, no matter what the statistics said."

Here is a thing of which you are evidently not aware, Scott Adams-"feminism" as a whole is not about reversing existing inequity and putting women in the place that men have been in for pretty much all of human history, which is to say being the Grand High Poobah Dictators For Life. It is, in fact, about ensuring true equality for all people, rather than the currently pervasive attitude of "Look, you can vote and have a job! Now please stop bothering us and go put on some lipstick!"  But since you have such overwhelming evidence that we lady types are trying to take over the world and repress you with our lady parts, let's discuss this point by point.

"...many elements of the legal system"

Which elements might those be? It would help this conversation if you would be more specific. Just for the sake of covering all bases, though, I'll assume that you're at least partially referring to the Father's Rights Movement and other groups who are insisting that men are being unfairly denied custody of their children and falsely accused of certain types of crime, specifically domestic and sexual violence. Those seem to be the most common points raised by Men's Rights Activists (MRAs).

First, it is estimated that 95% of divorces in the United States and upwards of 81% of divorces in Canada are uncontested, meaning that all property and custodial issues have either been resolved by the involved parties, or the conditions submitted to the court in the original filing are agreed to without argument by the party being served. Of the remaining cases, 25 to 50% involve some kind of abuse. And for those who claim that mothers are making false allegations in order to intentionally and unreasonably deprive fathers of custodial or visitation rights, it's useful to note that studies on the subject have shown the majority of abuse allegations in divorce proceedings to be true, with a tiny percentage (less than 2% in one Australian study) believed to be intentionally misleading or false. And of intentionally false allegations in one study, 1.3% were initiated by the woman, while 21% were initiated by the man. Precise statistics vary globally, but remain in similar ranges and consistently show the same thing: the majority of abuse allegations are true. Of false allegations, the majority are based on reasonable belief of their legitimacy. A small percentage are blatantly false, and those are more likely to be brought by men than by women. Considering the material and emotional expense involved with extended divorce proceedings and defending oneself from such allegations, as well as the fact that manipulating and controlling financial matters is a kind of abuse, it makes sense that false child abuse allegations in order to further one's own cause or simply make things more difficult for a former spouse would be an appealing tactic for an abuser.

None of this is meant to denigrate fathers or men in general. There are certainly people of all genders, on all sides of these arguments doing reprehensible things, and I do not believe that men are naturally more inclined to perpretrate violence than are women. I believe that these statistics reflect learned behaviour and social trends, but we still must face their reality.

As an extension of this argument, consider the many cases that can be found with a simple web search where a parent previously accused of abuse has then kidnapped, severely harmed or killed either the children or the other parent during or shortly after a custody battle. Abuse allegations must be taken seriously in all cases, following the principle of "innocent until proven guilty" but still taking precautions to protect potential victims. Yes, there is a risk of false allegations being found to be truthful, but frankly I believe that the risks to the lives of the partner or children of an abuser who is not investigated outweigh the risk of someone being falsely imprisoned. Convictions can be appealed and overturned; murder cannot.

In cases where primary custody is awarded to the mother without an extended battle, it is frequently due to the fact that she has been the one performing the majority of parental duties. Status quo is a significant determinant in custody disputes where there are no exceptional circumstances. Most judges see no reason to greatly disrupt a child's life by forcing them to live with the parent who has not been their primary caregiver.

As for the argument about the prevalence of false rape allegations, I will simply refer you to RAINN for statistics on the reporting and prosecution of rape, as well as this analysis of a study performed about false allegations.

"...the military draft in some cases"

And this is the fault of women how? Remember, Mr. Adams, it was men who made these laws. But ok, I'll bite.

Besides the fact that a large part of feminist thought is also in line with a pacifist philosophy, wherein the draft is regarded as a bad thing all around, this is an example of patriarchal ideas being damaging to men, too. An all-male military draft is based upon an ideal of women as purely "nurturing" beings who are inherently weaker than men. This is an idea against which feminists actively fight. Additionally, the Universal National Service Act would require compulsory service for men and women in the US. And let's not forget that when the draft ended and all-volunteer service began, the percentage of women in the US military went up considerably. Women do not, by and large, see exclusion from military draft and combat positions as a "privilege." It is a remnant of a paternalistic, condescending ideology, and many women want to see that gone.

 "...the lower life expectancies of men, the higher suicide rates for men"

This has nothing to do with "rights." In fact, it may well be another function of patriarchal ideals and expectations damaging men. Men frequently engage in more risky behaviours, for one thing. In a society that polices behaviour with phrases like "man up" or "take it like a man," or even "don't be a pussy," is it surprising that men are raised feeling obligated to engage at a higher rate with things that are likely to kill them?


First, the roots of circumcision come in large part from the dictates of a male god and patriarchal religion. Also, feminists want to stop routine male circumcision.

"...the growing number of government agencies that are primarily for women."

These agencies exist primarily as a means of beginning to rectify the historical injustices against women. When you consider how much of human history consisted of all male government and voting bodies, a government department existing to help half the population "catch up" and be treated as equals doesn't seem so ridiculous.

"We take for granted that men should hold doors for women, and women should be served first in restaurants."

Do we? You'll have to clarify for me: by "we" do you mean "everyone in the whole world ever," or do you mean "those of us who support archaic gender roles based on the frailty of women and the assumption that all (or at least most) women are whiny princesses who expect constant service?" Because I open my own damn doors, I hold doors open for people behind me regardless of their gender, and I expect that whoever's plate is most convenient to set down first will be served in a restaurant. "Chivalry" is a system in which women are assumed to be inherently weaker than and dependent upon men. Politeness is one thing, treating women like children is another.

"Generally speaking, society discourages male behavior whereas female behavior is celebrated. Exceptions are the fields of sports, humor, and war. Men are allowed to do what they want in those areas."

Gender essentialist, evo-psych, "women aren't funny" bullshit that I don't even have the patience to respond to. Next?

"Add to our list of inequities the fact that women have overtaken men in college attendance. If the situation were reversed it would be considered a national emergency."

I have exciting news for you! A number of sources are treating this as a national emergency! Don't you feel better knowing that?

Oh, wait, your point wasn't that people aren't panicking enough? Your point was that average college populations in the US are now about 57% female? Huh. Well, would it help to know that at your nation's top rated colleges, the student body is anywhere between 51 and 65% male? Honestly, I don't know what to say to this. Are colleges supposed to be fully fifty-fifty with regard to gender division? There are issues in the academic system to consider, yes. But believers in the "boy crisis" have created a false dichotomy where for women to succeed academically, men must fail, and that's just not the case.

"How about the higher rates for car insurance that young men pay compared to young women? Statistics support this inequity, but I don't think anyone believes the situation would be legal if women were charged more for car insurance, no matter what the statistics said."

You don't think so? Well I think you're wrong. In any system where something such as insurance rates are based on statistical averages, certain people will necessarily be unfairly lumped in with their demographic group. That's a broken system, not large-scale discrimination against men. Where I live, we have government auto insurance where the cost is determined by the type of vehicle you drive and your personal driving record. Most Americans would never agree to such a system, because it has its grounding in socialist ideals, which we all know are bad, right? Capitalism is the way of the future! Oh, except for the part where you have issues like this one, with statistical averages used to calculate your insurance costs.

After a couple of paragraphs where he pays lip service to the existence of pay inequity but then brushes it off with typical privileged tripe about women "opting out," Adams has this to say:

"Now I would like to speak directly to my male readers who feel unjustly treated by the widespread suppression of men's rights:
Get over it, you bunch of pussies."
 I SEE WUT U DID THAR. Clever, Scott Adams, clever indeed. Use a term for female genitalia as an insult to men who are complaining about women being treated better than they are. Because we all know that a pussy is the worst thing in the world, right? These men should man up and start acting like dicks instead of pussies. That's what you were going for, right?

In any case, what follows is truly the most amazing piece of writing ever to flow forth from the clearly superior brain of a man, advice for the ages on just what we are to do about the scourge of bitches thinking they're people and shit:

"The reality is that women are treated differently by society for exactly the same reason that children and the mentally handicapped are treated differently. It's just easier this way for everyone. You don't argue with a four-year old about why he shouldn't eat candy for dinner. You don't punch a mentally handicapped guy even if he punches you first. And you don't argue when a women tells you she's only making 80 cents to your dollar. It's the path of least resistance. You save your energy for more important battles."

 That's right, folks. Ableism, sexism and, we might argue, a touch of ageism all in one brilliantly crafted paragraph. Let's take a moment to vomit let the genius sink in.

Are we ready for more? Do you think you can handle further brilliance?

"How many times do we men suppress our natural instincts for sex and aggression just to get something better in the long run? It's called a strategy. Sometimes you sacrifice a pawn to nail the queen. If you're still crying about your pawn when you're having your way with the queen, there's something wrong with you and it isn't men's rights."

OH MY GOD YOU GUYS this is genius. It's all so simple! Let the bitches whine and then you can put your dick in them! If you argue with them, they may not let you fuck them! I UNDERSTAND EVERYTHING NOW.

In case you haven't noticed, it gets more difficult to remain reasonably coherent the further you read into this article. Not helping that is the fact that reading it over more than once in order to effectively rebut it necessitates large amounts of alcohol to keep the rage at bay.

"I realize I might take some heat for lumping women, children and the mentally handicapped in the same group. So I want to be perfectly clear. I'm not saying women are similar to either group. I'm saying that a man's best strategy for dealing with each group is disturbingly similar."

Or you could do something crazy like talk to adult women as though they are adult humans. I KNOW IT IS INSANE. Me with my radical ideas.

Seriously, at this point there's no reason for me to even have to continue rationally arguing my point. Scott Adams is saying that men should placate women, with their silly demands for equality that are equivalent to a child wanting to eat enough candy to make themselves sick. He is saying that adult men are to adult women what mental health caregivers are to their patients who may lash out for various reasons and hurt people around them. This is disgusting and unacceptable.

Adams took this post down fairly quickly once the backlash started. Links to it now go to this:

"I deleted today's post. My regular readers have the capacity to deal with this sort of topic but it gained a bit too much attention from outside my normal reading circle.

Knowledge is a dangerous thing."

That's right. People who find this offensive and disgusting when read on the public blog of a syndicated cartoonist with a huge readership just lack the "capacity to deal with this sort of topic." Too much knowledge has just addled the brains of the silly women and our allies.

I suppose it's for the best that this came that we know what the creator of Dilbert really thinks of us, we don't have to strain our pretty little heads trying to read it.

Friday, February 25, 2011

I Think About Consent At 4 AM.

 As seems to be the case with everything I write lately, I want to be extra cautious and throw a trigger warning on here. I'm talking about consent and agency, and respect thereof. Also, there is discussion of sexytimes in a potentially sexy manner. Additionally, all persons and events in this blog post are composites of several case studies (because I think it's fun to call my hookups "case studies," shut up) and details have been changed to protect identities.

I have distinct memories of nearly every single time a person I was maybe-considering-doing-something-physical-with stopped when I said stop. Seriously, I don't have clear memories of every sexual encounter I've ever had, nor even every enjoyable one, but memories of every time in my life when I've been so much as kissing someone, and have decided that this is not something I can/want to do right now, and have voiced that, and that has been immediately respected? Those are permanently imprinted on my brain.

I can remember plenty of times when I have said "stop" or "wait" or "*incoherent mumbling that was supposed to be 'I am too drunk to make this decision'*" or "*safeword*" and the other person has kept touching me, or tried to talk me into continuing, or stopped and not really immediately said anything, but then gone on to make little comments about it in what seemed like an effort to wear me down. But there have been exactly five times (prior to my current relationship, in which I have always felt listened to and respected, thanks honey!) where I have said something similar and the other person has immediately stopped kissing me, touching me, whatever, moved out of my personal space, and either said nothing (as I continued talking) or asked "are you ok," or "do you need to talk about this" or hell, even "did I do something wrong?" Which is totally an ok thing to say when the person you are half-naked with is suddenly in full on panic mode, going rigid and starting to cry! Thanks for being so cool about that, guy that I was half naked with!

To put this into perspective, five occasions of respected non-consent may seem like a lot, if you've only had sex with a couple of people, or have so thoroughly thought through every single move before it happens and are so self-aware that you never have cause to second guess yourself. If such applies to you, I say hooray! Good for you, and your personal decision to not have sex with lots of people, and your self-awareness and sobriety. I mean that sincerely. However, that has not been my experience. I have been promiscuous for the majority of the last decade. I have had drunken hookups. I have started to fool around with friends and realised as I was unzipping their pants that maybe this is not the best move for the friendship. In terms of percentages, for me, five occasions where my lack of continuing consent was immediately respected is downright shitty.

Now, for those of you who may be reading this and thinking, "Maybe if you were less slutty/drank less/had more foresight, this wouldn't be an issue," on some level you are probably right. If I had only ever had sex with one person, while completely sober, under ideal conditions where everything was well-discussed before it happened, I would possibly (probably?) never have had cause to think about whether my continuing consent would ever be an important issue. You know, assuming that the other person was totally on board with the same definitions of consent that I use, and totally committed to establishing said consent. But that is not my point.

My point is that consent is not the absence of no, but the presence of an enthusiastic yes. And if you're saying to yourself, "but I don't want to have to get my partner to fill out paperwork before sex," or something similar, you should either stop being an idiot/smartass/rape apologist (if you are being sarcastic/thinking that I should stop being such a Humourless Feminist and bake you a pie while giving you a blowjob) or read on and maybe learn something fun (if you are genuinely unsure of what I mean and concerned that I may want sex to be less fun).

Consent is sexy. SO SEXY. Seriously, it's not about formal agreements and initialing Nipple Clauses (though if that's what turns your crank, I'm not here to judge). Some of the hottest sex I have ever had (and by "sex" I don't just mean intercourse, I'm using the term in a fairly broad sense, as I usually do) was when consent was obtained at nearly every step.

Okay, story time. Before I continue, I'd like to point out that none of what I say here is intended as ideal models of consent, or a script to which you should adhere. I'm just going to talk a bit about times when I felt that I honestly had the option to continue with the sex or not, that the other person would have accepted my answer either way, but continued "check-ins" were made as things progressed in a way that felt like it made the experience more pleasurable rather than making it weird and legalistic.

Many moons ago, because I am SO OLD YOU GUYS, I was at a party at this guy's house. I was pretty sure he had actually invited me with the express purpose of getting me naked, which was cool with me because I had more or less accepted the invitation with the express purpose of getting him naked. We ended up alone in his room, under the pretense of me "looking at his guitar" or some shit (this is why musicians get laid, you can totally use "guitar" as a euphemism for "genitals") and were sitting next to each other on the bed, doing the semi-awkward sexual tension thing. Excuses were made to brush against each other, one thing led to another, and I was leaning in close to him with his arm around my waist. We looked each other in the eye, he nodded slightly with this sexy half smile, and we started kissing. Fast forward through much making out, including several half-hearted motions on both sides to return to the party which were swiftly terminated with "well, just one more kiss..." because we all know how that goes when you're young and horny. We were taking a smoke break, because making out is hard work or something. He was looking at me appreciatively, idly running a hand across my stomach, and "suddenly noticed" that my pants had laces on each side of the waistband, almost corset-style. (Hot damn I miss the wardrobe I had at 18, but anyway...) He said something terribly smooth like, "do these actually come apart?" while looking me in the eye, taking note of my reactions. I informed him that they did, and what's more, the similar lacing on my shirt (I like grommets, okay, don't be so judgy) also came unlaced quite neatly.

See what he did there? He asked "can I undo your pants" in a way that was still sexy (ish, shut up, we were young and awkward) and allowed me the opportunity to move things forward or not. I also took the opportunity to be an active participant in this sexual adventure rather than just lying there and getting fucked (see how passive that is?) by saying "why yes, and you may also take off my shirt." Once we had finished smoking and resumed our fevered mashing together of faces, I asked him in a semi-teasing voice if he should get back to his party. He replied with something to the effect of, "I maybe should, but I'd rather just spend the rest of the night in here." I said that I agreed, that staying in his bedroom sounded much more fun than going back out. Again, see what we did there? Gave each other a perfectly respectable "out" with mention of returning to the group in the living room. We both said that we would rather stay where we were and continue with the undressing.

Another story. Hot guy at an event, eye-humping the shit out of each other all night. (In fact, I think that is the exact phrase I used to explain to a friend why I was leaving Denny's in such a hurry... "That guy? The one I've been eye-humping the shit out of all night? Yeah, I might go get naked with him.") The actual physical contact between us began with a "goodnight hug" that turned into a kiss. A hot, spontaneous kiss with me backed up against the door of my car, hands all over each other.

Frequently the "consent is complicated, this is too hard" crowd worry that a model of enthusiastic consent will end spontaneity. It really doesn't have to! Here is an important thing-body language. If the other person is doing their best to wrap their legs around you while standing awkwardly on a curb, grabbing on to your belt loops and pulling you against them, they're probably into it. If you move in for a kiss and they go stiff, or are half-heartedly kissing back while turning their pelvis away from you and fiddling with their keys? Maybe not so much. In either case, if in doubt, ask. Seriously, just ask. Hot Spontaneous Kiss Guy said something to the effect of, "would you like to spend the night?" Asking something straight up does not have to be clinical, or weird, or a mood killer. Maybe try to avoid a Beavis and Butthead-esque, "Heh, heh, so, are we gonna it?" unless that's what turns you and your partner on, in which case go nuts. But a simple "would you like to go somewhere more private?" or similar is HOT. And face it, if you can't discuss what you're about to do, you probably shouldn't be doing it.

Everything that happened that night was consensually hot. We both laid our boundaries right out from the get-go, with regard to specific things we were not willing to do. At every step, we were checking in with each other to be sure we were both still on board with the way things were going, and making the check-in part of the sexy fun. To paraphrase...

"Your legs are beautiful. I'd love to see them without your stockings on."
"I want to bite your neck."
"Would you please stroke my cock?"
"Do you like it when I lick you there?"

Always waiting for the other person to actually respond in the affirmative. That's sexy. "Yes" is a sexy word.

A model of enthusiastic consent, where "no means no" is not enough but must be accompanied by an understanding that "yes means yes," is only possible if every person is empowered to make their own sexual decisions. Each person must be free to learn and express what turns them on, what they don't like, what lines they absolutely will not cross. Women must be able to be active participants in their own sexuality, rather than passive objects of desire. The current cultural model of a woman who always appears to be available for sex, while only actually performing (I use that word for a reason) the act under certain conditions, who has effortless, vocal orgasms every time and finds no greater pleasure than when being penetrated with a penis, has to end. Slut shaming has to stop-in order to be able to fully enjoy and participate in their sexuality and that of their partner, women must not be demeaned for making decisions in this area. (I have a whole other blog post about what I call the "illusion of availability" which I'll save for another time.)

I hate to make this clinical now, but in sex, as in medicine, informed consent is key. Accurate information must be available to allow risk assessment of sexual activity. People must be able to protect themselves from STIs and unwanted pregnancy. So-called "education" that teaches teenagers that condoms don't protect you from disease (rather than giving truthful information about failure rates and allowing people to make their own decisions about what percentage of risk is acceptable) will not help them make sensible decisions. Regardless of how often you tell your kids not to have sex, or how much you think they've internalised that message, there will always be a certain number of people who get caught up in the moment and decide to proceed with sexual activity anyway. If they have been taught that condoms won't do them any good, do you think they're likely to use them?

Anyway, it's late (early?) and I've been rambling for a while. I just wanted to get this down.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

In Which I Use Run-On Sentences

A close friend is going through a horrible divorce. The marriage has been over and they have been legally separated for...oh, I don't know, like two and a half years now? But the property division and child custody issues are just now being hashed out, and it is awful.

Here's the thing that gets me: if marital property has been divided equitably (assets sold and proceeds divided) and both parties agree that at this point, the main focus should be on providing the best life possible for their child, what is the point of dragging things out and trying to "get" as much as you can out of your former spouse? Really, there is no good reason for it.

I want to tell my friend's ex to stop being such a miserable person. If you still have any caring feelings for someone to whom you were married, it would make sense to just let go of the situation that has caused you both pain and hope that they can find peace and happiness in their life, because 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, morons, I'm pretty sure it says something that could apply here, and that you can both heal and grow from this.  Then get over yourselves and try your best to resolve the situation peacefully, for the sake of your child. If you are full of hate and anger toward your former partner and the end of the marriage has caused you immeasurable misery, it would make sense to try to get past the hurtful situation and heal and grow on your own terms, rather than clinging to every last scrap of connection to the other person and trying to exact your revenge by dragging out court proceedings and accusing them, with really no evidence, of violating various (really insignificant in the big picture) aspects of your separation agreement just so that you can get more money than the six figure sum you have already gotten from the sale of your combined assets, because regardless of whether every single detail has gone the way YOU wanted it to, you are both grownups and the end result of everything has been really pretty alright, so just deal and move on.

Also, there are other friends of this couple who I know have been not only taking sides (not gonna judge you there, I've totally picked my side) but "sneakily" trying to obtain information about one party to feed to the other to stoke the flames of hate and bitterness. Like asking mutual friends "oh what was that thing that I suddenly remembered you were saying six months ago about what Bob said to Susan?" in what they seem to think is a totally subtle way but is not at all. I am on to you, and IMO you should probably butt out. Seriously, this is a horrible enough experience without you "helping."

Really, regardless of how two people feel about each other at this point in time, isn't there something to be said for having once shared a deep love, and for trying to raise a child together without traumatizing them excessively? What is the actual purpose of dragging someone into court to say "I think that you probably did (x) two weeks before the date that was officially written in our separation agreement two years ago, and even though whether or not you did had absolutely no bearing on how anything was accomplished and I have no evidence, I am going to have your bank accounts frozen and try to get an extra twenty grand out of our shared assets because I am bitter and angry?" Is there any possible motivation for this other than hate, control issues and being a rotten, money grubbing asshole? Grow up, dood.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Terrible Things I Think About (TW for Everything Being Terrible)

If I could go back in time, would it be good or bad for me to tell Younger Me how I turn out?

13-year-old Me- "I'm totally gonna be a famous singer. Or maybe a writer. Or a psychologist. Anyway, I'm gonna do something AWESOME with my life because my scary family is really scary and treats me like crap, and I'm SO MUCH BETTER THAN THAT, and then I'm gonna start a charity or something where I help girls who get raped by their mom's boyfriends and beaten up by their mom, because that happened to me but I'm gonna rise above it and be a shining example of awesome for the whole world!!!!" Wears ridiculous outfits and too much burgundy lipstick ALL THE TIME because there is nothing cooler than burgundy lipstick, because it is 1997. Awkward and full of body image issues, self-harm and suicidal thoughts, but pretty sure that there is something fantastic on the other side of all this horrible, because there HAS TO BE or it wouldn't be worth it.

26-year-old Me- Constantly terrified of human contact/the outside world. Usually wearing a coffee-stained tank top and granny panties, wrapped up in a blanket. Frequently sits in the bathtub with the shower running and the radio turned up, attempting to hide the sound of hysterical sobbing induced by everything being terrible. Has a ten year old son who wants nothing to do with his insane mother and would rather live in his grandparents' basement with his father, who he doesn't know is basically a horrible human being. Has accomplished nothing and is in fact barely recognisable as an adult human.

Yeah...the inside of my head is a terrifying place.