Tag Archive: leather


So, yesterday was Queering Power 2016.
It was, surprisingly, an easier day that QP usually is. Which isn’t to say it didn’t have its hard bits.
One of the workshops was on trauma-survival and kink and I was expecting that to be pretty hard. It… wasn’t. I mean, I had my knitting out and was basically listening with half an ear. I have to work at it to remember what people said in the small groups we broke into to talk about stuff. The main thing I remember about it was (a) getting colder and colder and colder during the workshop itself, and (b) This:
Apparently there’s a thing called “hyperarrousal”, which is a thing that happens (or can happen) when you’re Triggered. Hyperarrousal isn’t the same as “hypervigilance”, and it includes a whole bunch of things like a distorted sense of the passage of time, anxiety, irritability, & fatigue (among lots of others). It’s been described as a “chronic state of fight/flight/freeze”. (Particularly interesting to me is that decreased body temperature is – apparently – associated with PTSD. I’m cold ALL THE TIME – like, up to and including shivering in a hot room, under blankets – when I’m freaking out about something).
 
The things you learn.
 
The first workshop I went to was a Facilitated Discussion (we *love* those faciliated discussions in this crowd) about chronic illness – physical stuff or mental health stuff or both – and dominance. I talked a little bit about how (a) I have physical pain that doesn’t go away + a brain that tells me horrible, bullshit stories (that are so easy to believe), but that (b) my Owned Property is dealing with the same stuff, but several orders of magnitude worse than I’ve got it. In that situation, how much of this relationship, where she’s “supposed” to be taking care of me is really going to be like that? And what does that mean?
And, when the link between anxiety and vulnerability came up (again and again and again),the words I put around it were (paraphrasing here):
 

I’m not supposed to want. And I’m not supposed to need[1]. But, as someone’s owner, I am supposed to want. Actively and openly[2]. So what do I do here? The story I tell myself is that how this is Supposed To Go is that I pretend to want/demand only those things that my Person already wants to give/provide[3]. So when I have something I actually want, something that doesn’t fit the script I’m (secretly) assuming my Person is (secretly) following… It’s terrifying. Asking means admitting that I can’t just do it on my own. Because if I could thrive without X, or could provide X to myself without anyone’s help, I would already be doing it. Asking feels like danger. Like “this is me, putting my chips down, and asking”. And I feel so fucking powerless.

 
Which was hard, but good, to say out loud.
By the end of that workshop, I was having my usual reaction to having let myself be “seen”, which is equal parts “I need a hug”, “I need a good cry”, and “I need to remove myself from mixed company before I hit somebody non-consensually”. I don’t know if that’s a vulnerability hangover, or what, but there it is.
 
But the part of the day that was the hardest for me was the opening plenary.
The current Ms Leather Toronto, who ran the plenery, included an exercise that was done by a couple of volunteers… They could have been me and Ghost, but they weren’t. In spite of Ghost nudging me in the shoulder and trying to convince me to give it a go.
I didn’t want to.
 
The exercise was that the members of a given D/s dyad would take turns saying:
“I see the beauty of your [dominance/submission] in your [action/characteristic/etc]” + asking if the other person could accept that their beauty was seen and acknowledged. (Each person does this five times, and then they switch).
I did not want to do this. Not with an audience, and not with my wife. Not right then.
 
I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to come up with five things, off the top of my head, and that my inability to do so would reflect badly on me (because I’m clearly not focusing on the good things that my Person brings to our dynamic) and also on her (because what does it MEAN if your owner can’t praise you for specifics??)
I was afraid that, if I could come up with five things in-which I could see Ghost beauty as a submissive, that I would pick the wrong things. That I would spot her beauuty in the ways that I spot it, but that I would totally miss some aspect of her submission that is super-central to her identity and that she needs to have recognized and valued. I was afraid that I would screw it up and/or let her down like that.
And I was afraid of – and overtly hostile towards – having to hear Good Things about myself. The point was that I would have been supposed to accept those things, those “I see your beauty as a dominant in [XYZ]” and… I wasn’t sure that I could. In fact, right at that moment, I was absolutely certain that I couldn’t. That I’d have reacted (or at least wanted to react) with a snarling “Stay away from me!” if someone had tried to show me that much praise.
It’s… telling.
I’m not sure what my shame was, right then, but letting someone be gentle with you, letting yourself absorb that kindness… it means taking off your armour. And I deeply, deeply didn’t want to be unguarded.
Telling, indeed.
 
Someone once said to me that she found it hard to hear me tell her that she’s easy to love.
I think I understand a little bit better now what that was about.
 
 
Cheers,
Ms Syren.
 
 
[1] Which is very likely The Patriarchy talking in my head, but is also something that I have huge, vast, awful amounts of shame around. Wanting means I’m Too Demanding, Too Much, Too Pushy. Needing means I’m a burden. Asking, unless I’m considerably more than 90% sure the answer will be Yes, is basically putting social pressure on someone else to do what I want them to do which, in some cases, equates to assault inside my head.
 
[2] My much-neglected-of-late Cultivating Entitlement tag is all about my struggles with this.
 
[3] As if a 24/7 d/s personal relationship was supposed to play out like a paid, time-bound session with a pro-domme wherein all feminization is “forced”, and where one is “punished” with exactly the thing that will get one off. My brain is weird.

Hi, folks!
 
So, today, I’m taking part in a blog tour promoting a new erotica anthology – Show Yourself to Me – from author Xan West (You can find the whole tour at this link, yesterday’s stop can be found here, and tomorrows – which involves a time-difference – can be found here. The tour itself includes a number of reviews, but you can also find – and add – reviews at Good Reads and Amazon). I jumped at the chance to read a slew of stories from an author I respect and admire, as well as the opportunity to ask some writerly questions about the nuts, bolts, and decisions involved in writing an anthology like this.
 

Show Yourself To Me - Cover Art Close-up of a hand, holding a chain-leash, thumb brushing the lips of the person on the other end of the leash.

Show Yourself To Me – Cover Art
Close-up of a hand, holding a chain-leash, thumb brushing the lips of the person on the other end of the leash.


 
Before we get to the interview, here’s the blurb about the book itself:
 

In Show Yourself to Me: Queer Kink Erotica, Xan West introduces us to pretty boys and nervous boys, vulnerable tops and dominant sadists, good girls and fierce girls and scared little girls, mean Daddies and loving Daddies and Daddies that are terrifying in delicious ways.
 
Submissive queers go to alleys to suck cock, get bent over the bathroom sink by a handsome stranger, choose to face their fears, have their Daddy orchestrate a gang bang in the park, and get their dream gender-play scene—tied to a sling in an accessible dungeon.
 
Dominants find hope and take risks, fall hard and push edges, get fucked and devour the fear and tears that their sadist hearts desire.
 
Within these 24 stories, you will meet queers who build community together, who are careful about how they play with power, who care deeply about consent. You will meet trans and genderqueer folks who are hot for each other, who mentor each other, who do the kind of gender play that is only possible with other trans and genderqueer folks.
 
This is
Show Yourself to Me. Get ready for a very wild ride.

 

And now, on with the interview! 😀
 
 
~*~
 
1) Show Yourself to Me opens with a story that, fundamentally, is about belonging. Can you talk to me about that, and why you chose to open your anthology with this piece?
 
“Missing Daddy” sets the mood of the book in so many ways, and belonging is absolutely one of them. For me, as a queer writer who centers my fantasies and desires in my work, belonging is such a central aspect of that, of my queerness, of my kink, of my politic. Being connected, not just in the context of a romantic couple apart from the world, but being in the world, belonging to community and family, belonging to self, as well as being claimed and claiming in the context of D/s. They balance and match each other, all those belongings. Especially for a story that begins by speaking openly about abuse in the context of kink, and the legacy of that in kink life and community, it is so important to center this story of longing and nostalgia in a deep memory of belonging and care in the context of BDSM. This story wants the reader to hold all of that reality in queer kink life: abuse of power and also care with power, legacies of abuse that last long beyond abusive relationships, and legacies of leather that feel whole and beautiful that also come with us, belonging to self, giving self to a partner, belonging in community and family.
 
 
2) Pieces like “My Pretty Boy”, “The Tender, Sweet, Young Thing”, and “How He Likes It” touch on how it can be easier to accept cruelty than gentleness. Can you talk about that for a bit?
 
I’ve had a lifetime of experiencing sensory input in ways that didn’t match how people thought I should be experiencing it, how it was “supposed” to feel. It took me a long time to come to terms with and accept that reality, which has shaped so much of my daily life, especially play and sex. The simple truth is that people are different, and they experience sensations differently. Something that is intolerable for me might be pleasurable or neutral for you. Kink really helped me hold that reality, because although there were cultural expectations about how people would experience sensations, I kept finding, as a top, that the folks I played with would experience them so very differently from each other.
 
This theme in my work, of light touch and gentleness feeling close to or actually intolerable, where sharp, firm or intense touch, and pain in particular, feel welcome and desired, is my attempt to center and validate an experience that is so rarely acknowledged, even in kink life. It is an experience that often resonates for stone-identified folks, and that is definitely part of my motivation as well, to write stories where stone folks can see themselves reflected without judgment or pathologization, as those stories are incredibly rare.
 
It’s also a layered thing, one that gives opportunities for internal struggle within a scene, and pathways for sadism. In “My Pretty Boy,” they consensually play with the fact that Rickie hates gentleness. This created a wonderful way to shift perspective on what cruelty and sadism can look like, and illustrate that sometimes gentleness can be very cruel indeed.
 
 
3) This is a collection of your erotic writing, some of-which is forthcoming (I think… like the excerpt from Shocking Violet), and some of-which has been published elsewhere. A lot of them run to what I think of, accurately or not, as “standard anthology length”, but some are longer and some are much, much shorter (“This Boy”). I’m wondering how many of these pieces were written for specific calls (“Facing the Dark” seems like a likely example), how many just turned up in your head demanding to be written down, how many were born out of personal explorations or writing practice? (Yes, this is essentially a “where do you get your ideas” question).
 
You got it right, close to half of these stories were written for specific calls (including some of the shorter ones, for flash fiction collections). For a number of years, writing to a specific market was part of what drove my writing process. “Facing the Dark” was written because an editor asked me to write something for a gay fireman anthology. “Missing Daddy” was for a bear call, “Ready” for a gay motorcycle collection, “Falling for Essex” for a college boys call, “My Will” for a gay time travel anthology. “Please” was written as an exercise in writing to a tight editorial preference—for Violet Blue’s Best Women’s Erotica series. “The Tale of Jan and Tam” was written for a fairy tale retellings call.
 
When I’m contemplating writing for a call, or am solicited by an editor for a specific kind of story, I sit with it for a while, do some research if needed, see what wants to stick. I often go through a few ideas before I land on one that works for the call and feels doable to me. I’m especially looking for a spark, a beginning, a strong voice, or a moment in the story that I find so compelling I feel like I need to write it. My notebooks are filled with potential ideas like this, and there are some I will bring out years later, and try to write them.
 
The other times, I often find a spark in something else. “The Tender Sweet Young Thing” was sparked by a conversation I had at a regular queer gathering I go to. “Compersion” was sparked partly by a class I went to on the subject, that felt like it completely left out so much of my own experiences of compersion. “Nervous Boy” was written in response to a craigslist ad I saw, and answered, though I never got a response. I’ve also written fantasies and dreams that kept returning demanding to be told. I’ve written pieces for lovers, and potential lovers. I’ve written stories in response to scenes I’ve watched.
 
Often, it’s a mesh of things that drive my writing; the spark or the voice or the lines that come into my mind are just the beginning. There are often experiences and ideas I want to capture, and things I want to talk about in my stories. I’m fairly unabashed about having certain agendas in my work.
 
 
4) I know you make a point of showcase a lot of different bodies in your erotica – your characters don’t default to “able-bodied and thin”, for example, and you make sure your readers know it. With that in mind, when a character ends up being white or fat, fem/me or cis or disabled (or whatever cluster of identities a given character may have), how much of those intersecting privileges and oppressions are just “how the character showed up in my head” versus how much of it is an active decision on your part as an author about the kind of story you want to tell?
 
Much of the time, not defaulting takes conscious work. Sometimes I catch myself not having defined some aspects of a character’s identity and there I am, stuck in my usual defaults. I usually am stuck by the things I haven’t defined, a little ways in, not knowing where to go. Conscious work gets me unstuck, and a lot of the time that is at least partly about establishing specificities of identity.
 
Some aspects of a character’s identity will come to me with the character’s voice or the situation or the conflict I’m imagining at the beginning of the process. Sometimes those choices are driven by the way I puzzle out what I can bring to a specific call, how I can imagine bringing these people together.
 
One of the things that has become very clear to me is how much the specificities of identity of my characters are often shaped by my own identities and needs. When I think about the specifics of the queer genders that appear in this collection, it is clear that I’ve mostly been writing stories about my own gender experiences, or about genders that I have fantasized about being. Over the past 15 years of writing erotica, the body of work from which I drew the stories for this collection does not include the diversity of genders of the people in my life and my communities. Instead, my deep hunger for putting myself into a genre where I have mostly been erased or misrepresented has driven many of my choices about the genders of my characters. As a whole collection, those choices contribute to a deep erasure that mirrors the ways trans misogyny and misogyny often operate in queer communities. For me, this recognition is even more reason to work more on consciously considering the identities of my characters.
 
When I was pulling stories together for the collection, from the body of my existing work, one of the things I worked on was more clearly marking the identities of the characters, so that they weren’t just clear to me, but were clear to the reader. So the reader also was less likely to go to defaults while reading. I needed to do this much more with my earlier work than with my later work.
 
A few years ago I began a project of deliberately centering disabled characters in my work, one that coincided with my decision to live more deeply into my own disabilities. I wanted my creative work to hold the same intentions as my personal work, so they could feed each other. I have found writing these stories to be so powerful in my own life. Many of them are included in this collection; they are the ones written in the third person.
 
 
5) On a related note, you tell stories from a lot of different perspectives – both from story to story and sometimes within a single piece. Can you talk about the factors that determine whose PoV you’re writing from, which stories are going to involve “head hopping” versus which ones stay with a single narrator? I’m thinking, in particular, of stories like “My Precious Whore” where you’re dealing with some fairly heavy edges (for the characters but also for, um, me as a reader…) but also of “The Tender, Sweet, Young Thing” where the narration is bouncing between half a dozen heads. Can you talk a little bit about that?
 
Most of my early work was in the first person, though I played with that some by having POV characters sometimes imagine that they knew the perspective of other people (like in “Nervous Boy”). My recent work has been in third person. It was a conscious choice to shift that way, because I found it unblocked me. Until I tried third person, I kept hitting up against a wall, couldn’t figure out how to more clearly mark characters as disabled.
 
When I chose to shift my work, I embraced head hopping, something that is often frowned upon in erotica circles. I wanted to explore multiple interior experiences, see where that got me. In “The Tender Sweet Young Thing”, I wanted to stick with three perspectives—to stay inside the heads of the three queers that were central to plotting the fantasy scene, because they each were deeply invested in creating this scene from a different place. Dax, from a fantasy ze had held since childhood, Mikey partly as a gift of love and recognition for Dax, and partly for her own self, and Téo, who recognized a gender he wanted to play with. The story shifts from one to the other as the dynamics shift between the characters, that’s how it flowed out, so by the time you get to the actual scene, you hopefully have a stake in each of them getting what they need from it, and from each other.
 
With first person, often a voice comes to me as a story sparks. Point of view is one of the first things that solidifies in the story. In “My Precious Whore”, I was working on a few things in that story:
1. I was working to illuminate the edges inherent in playing with misogyny and whorephobia, to take the reader deep enough to really be able to see how deeply dangerous this kind of play is.
2. I was trying to illustrate how a structure of D/s and consciously chosen power play can create a container for this sort of intense and risky psychological edge play, make it possible to do it.
3. I wanted to capture something specific about orgasm control, how it can work in humiliation play scenes, how helplessness from forced orgasms can be particularly intense and beautiful.
4. I wanted to write a story that explored possessive top desire that wasn’t feral (which I’d mostly been writing), but went to colder places, wielded power differently, grappled with the edges of misogyny and deep psychological play.
5. I was attempting to illuminate the ways being the top in a scene centered on humiliation, objectification, and play with oppression can be incredibly edgy for the top and how the top can need support from the bottom.
 
Some of those things would be a good match for the bottom’s point of view, especially #3. (I want to write another story from a bottom’s point of view that can get me there more deeply.) #1 and #2 could work from either point of view. But for #4 and #5 I needed the top’s perspective to get me there.
 
I put that story in a drawer for a while after I wrote it. It felt too volatile to put out into the world, and too personally edgy. That’s how it has often worked for me with the stories that go deep into play with misogyny. (“Strong” is another example.) I was concerned about the damage they might do in the world, and worried about the ways they could be misinterpreted. This version of “My Precious Whore” illuminates top vulnerability much more than earlier versions, and it showcases the support of the bottom. Telling it from the top’s perspective really helps it get there, helps the reader touch those things.
 
 
6) In “The Ballad of Tam and Jan” (and I love that Carter Hall turns up in more than one story, by the way), you talk about transformative experiences for tops. In it, and also stories like “My Pretty Boy”, you talk about tops needing to remember and honour their own needs. There’s this pervasive (or maybe it’s just me?) thing where sadistic, and even just toppy, desires are framed as not okay – like it’s totally fine to want to be anonymously skull-fucked by a truck-load of random people, but wanting to turn someone into “just a hole” (to pick a theme that ran through a lot of your stories), to dehumanize them, is less okay. Wanting to beat someone to a pulp because it feels good to hit defenseless people is, well, monstrous. I find in a lot of Kink 101 stuff, the top is framed as facilitating the bottom’s experience, with the bottom being “really in charge” and the top being a provider in a lot of ways. Can you talk about that stuff in the context of the needs and vulnerabilities of tops?
 
The fear of top desires and needs that you describe is one of the most frustrating aspects of kink culture for me. I’ve written several essays about it. It’s a big problem, and can make navigating play so much harder for everyone, so much less likely to be mutual. This image of the top as facilitating the bottom’s experience and having no needs of their own is a huge contributing factor to ableism in kink communities. It’s been a challenge for me, personally, to find play partners that are up for considering and honoring my needs as a top, especially my needs for support around pushing my own edges.
 
My work, and in particular the stories in this book, are invested in creating different images of tops, different narratives about what tops need and desire, what bottoms do to support tops, what play that is mutual and honors the needs and desires of all parties can be like. Stories help create culture, and this book is one of the ways I’m trying to shift the way we think about top desires, top needs, and top vulnerabilities.
 
These stories openly celebrate sadistic and dominant desire, and that aspect of them alone is likely to make people uncomfortable. I’ve had stories rejected (with rather intense judgmental language) for openly describing sadistic desire. Once I had an editor suggest that I edit the story so that the dominant was not so clearly getting off on making the submissive cry during sex, because that felt inherently non-consensual. The editor suggested that I change the story so that the dominant was doing it to facilitate the experience the submissive needed.
 
In these stories, I am attempting to carve out room for the beauty and heat of unapologetically sadistic desire, and it is partly to meet my own needs. I need a kink culture that honors sadists who have their own desires, that supports tops to be vulnerable, that asks bottoms to support tops in play, that honors that everyone has needs. Not just because I’m human, but particularly as a disabled top.
 
 
7) Tell me something you love about this collection and want everybody to know.
 
I’ve talked about writing stories that center disabled and sick characters, how that was my project over the last few years. These stories often include disabled and chronically ill fat trans and genderqueer characters playing with each other, in community with each other, creating accessible spaces together. I’ve never read stories like that before, which is one of the reasons I needed to write them.
 
What I haven’t talked about is how impossible it has been to place these stories in anthologies. I’ve been aching to share these stories with the world, but have had no luck getting them published. I finally decided that I had to try to sell them as a group with my other work, in a collection like this, in order to get them printed.
 
Before I could seriously tackle that project, Go Deeper Press approached me to request a manuscript. They love these stories in particular, which makes me incredibly glad. And now these stories are out in the world, and I am so thrilled that people get to read them! I love that my first collection shows some of my oldest work, next to the new directions I’ve been going in as a writer.
 
 
Thank you, Xan. 🙂
 
 
~*~
 
 
You can pick up a copy of Show Yourself to Me from Go Deeper Press (print or digital), or as a e-book from Amazon.
 
You can find Xan’s thoughts about the praxis of sex, kink, queerness, power, and writing at xanwest.wordpress.com.

So, this morning, I tweeted this:
 

 
Family grows in a lot of ways. It makes me happy that my wife’s girlfriend/servant sourced the soil for my garden, that my wife/property arranged the delivery and built the bedframes in the first place. It makes me happy that our sweetheart is willing to come and move soil by the bucket-full, and that my metamour’s roommate is willing to do the same. (Admittedly, part of this is just that they are both avid gardeners and all of six blocks from my house, but still. They come. This is wonderful).
So. The garden where I will (fingers crossed, successfully) grow the food that will (partially – it’s only two beds so far) feed my people? Is being built by my people. How awesome is that?
 
I don’t know what I want to say about this. I want to write about find your quarto, which you’re only going to understand as a reference if you’re intimately familiar with Cathrynne M. Valente’s Palimpsest. I want to write about how all families grow, how my wife and I finding another person to share our lives with, in whatever shape that takes, isn’t all that different from my sister giving birth to her-&-her-fiance’s first child. I want to write about how Kinky Femme’s extended poly family, her leather fam, stepped up to help her father move, and that he’s starting to understand that there’s enough love to go around, that you don’t have to police it or ration it. That I’m learning this, too.
I want to write that Your heart is an organ the size of your fist a TARDIS: It’s bigger on the inside and able to grow, as required, to hold everything it needs.
 
Maybe this is just the NRE talking – I wouldn’t be the first to come over all twitterpated and rose-coloured-glasses under these circumstances. And maybe it’s the sunshine and the fact that I get to grow an actual, in-the-ground garden with food and edible flowers and perenial herbs and all the rest of it. That my soul is going to be fed this year in a way that it hasn’t been in a long, long time. And that definitely has an effect on one’s outlook, I don’t mind telling you.
But either way, I’m looking at my growing family with a tremendous amount of joy in my heart.
 

[…] we move
four cubic meters of trucked in soil
by bucket chain
hand to hand
grinning
in the fading evening
I scatter the seeds
of rainbow chard and kale
more than cold-tolerant
tender and hardy
both
the food of our people

 
From “Cultivation” (by me)

 
 
TTFN,
Ms Syren.

Kink of the Week – Belts (#KotW)

Rightio.
So “belts” is the topic for this half of February’s KotW challenge.
While I appreciate a good hobble belt as a way of flagging (and also hanging stuff upon one’s person), I don’t tend to reach for a belt when I want to give someone a taste of leather.
Part of that is just…. I don’t wear them.
I mean, my wife/property wears them, and I suppose I could take off her belt and smack her with it, but… Meh? I just don’t wanna.
Like I’ve said before, I’m a crops and quirts kind of gal. Single Tails are wonderful things, yes, and I’d love to take another workshop on how to use them. But, by and large, I’m not into long-range toys. I like to make things up close and personal. 😉
So that’s where I stand on belts.
 
Kink of the Week
 
 
TTFN,
Ms Syren.

Management Tips for Dominants Types

Hi folks.
So, from time to time, I post links to stuff written for the business-suit set because I find that they can be helpful for dominant folks in full-time power-exchanges.
 
With that in mind, here are two such articles. Some of you may find them handy. Some of you may find them kind of old hat. Either way, here we go:
 
10 Rules for Successful Delegation
AND
Giving Constructive Criticism
 
There you go. I hope they’re useful to at least some of you.
 
 
TTFN,
Ms Syren.

So February 10th marked four years in Dynamic for me and my wife/property.
We win! 😀
 
Given the title of this post, maybe I should point out that this doesn’t mark four years in collar (that’ll be May 7th, 2015), and we don’t actually have a contract, per se. The gyst of it is: “Ghost takes care of Ms Syren. And Vice Versa.” And we just sort of take it from there.
Regardless, she signed on for another 40 years, which sounds pretty good to me. 😀
 
So… other than going “Squee!” about the whole situation, why am I bringing this up? (Okay, I admit it, it was mostly about the Squee). My question is: what do you do with a dynamic like this? How do you deepen it? It still feels… weird? Presumptuous? To be thinking “How do I want to focus my property’s development this year?” but I’m still doing it. It’s still my responsibility to do it.
I look at people who’ve been in dynamic for twenty and thirty years, and I have no idea what that looks like from the inside. Do you just keep claiming more and more of your territory? I keep reaching for the metaphor of cultivation – rather than that of, say, teaching someone new tricks. Where do we go from here?
 
It would be so easy to finish right here, to say “I guess we’ll find out” as if that were some kind of a Really Profound Statement. And it’s not like we won’t find out, over time, as our dynamic continues to develop. But I’d like to have some kind of a concrete plan for what direction to take.
As it stands, I find myself casting around for a focus-point. Like, “This is the direction we’re going to work on this year”. Given how things are going already, I’m guessing that this is going to be a year of “spiritual stuff” (for lack of a more appropriate catch-all). And part of that’s me, because that’s where I want to focus my energies so, hey, why not focus hers there, too? But that’s not all of it. Where do we go from here? I guess we’ll find out. 😉

Okay, maybe this is a really bizarre title for a GGBP post, but work with me here. The other night (more than a week ago, now), I went to a dinner that included a number of people in what I think of as my extended poly family. I made the dessert.
 
It’s funny.
 
Maybe in a more conventially-structured family, I’d look at this kind of an evening as “getting together with friends”. But some of those friends are my wife’s other partners, which makes them more than friends. Some of them are related by leather ties rather than ties of “blood or alliance” (as we like to say in Anthropology Kinship Diagrams). Some are both.
 
In these small, fringe communities (the queers, the perverts) we are fairly used to (re-)building family from scratch, and – because our communities tend to be small – we frequently wind up being “exes in law” or whatever with just about everybody we know. Throw polyamoury and the amicable disolution/redefinition of power dynamics (like when someone goes from being So-and-So’s owner to being hir mentor, for example) into the mix, and you wind up with these intersecting familial-relationships that can make a community look like the cosmic web.
 
And the thing is, this isn’t all that unusual. Any small community – think tiny farming towns, for example – winds up with most families linked to most other families through marriage or cousins or what-have-you. It’s just that, when those interconnections are based around The Fucking (kinky stuff, power-exchanges, sex parties, multiple sweeties… you know, all those things that an up-bringing in Patriarchy doesn’t really prepare you for) rather than around weddings and grandkids[1], it’s like we forget that there was ever a map at all.
 
But it’s there.
 
I have a friend who loves Miss Manners and Emily Post. She loves etiquette books because they basically boil down to answering the question “What do I say if my son brings his gay trans leather-daddy home for the holidays” with “You say: It’s a pleasure to meet you”.
 
We don’t have to come up with a script from scratch. We just have to addapt what’s already there.
 
 
TTFN,
Ms Syren.
 
 
[1] Although those could argueably be grouped under The Fucking as well…

Management Techniques for Dominants?

I think a lot of us are the kind of people who either (a) were always that one member of the group-work team in high school who actually bothered to do the project, and/or (b) are creative/knowledge-hungry types who tend to self-start[1] on things that we’re passionate about or fascinated with.
It wouldn’t shock me a whole lot to find out that some of you folks who are reading this are the kind of people who really do believe that you can get something done faster and “the right way” (that being my way, of course) if you just do it yourself.
 
I’ve talked before about Service-Oriented Dominants, and I’m going to talk a little bit about a related topic.
 
Punishment.
 
I don’t “do” punishment.
To me, it feels like I’m rewarding bad behaviour with undeserved attention, whether that’s using my Very Disappointed Voice – a tone of voice that feels anything but sexy, but that I’ve learned is a bit of a turn-on… and thus backfires completely when I employ it – or doing something corporal that I’d really rather keep as something that’s enjoyable for both of us.
Likewise, having the give someone a punishment like writing lines where I then have to stand over their shoulder to make sure that they actually do it? Why am I wasting my time and energy on this?
Having the wheedle and badger and, let’s just drag that loaded, gendered term right out into the open, nag a servant to get shit done or behave appropriately… it feels incredibly demoralizing and disempowering.
 
So if I want to avoid using a “punishment model” (or a “carrot and stick” model where you punish for fuck-ups and it requires fucking bribery to get something done right), what can I do instead?
 
That’s the $64,000 question, isn’t it?
 
I’ve started reading “management” literature. Tips for small-scale entrepreneurs who have a couple of employees working for them, stuff about how to manage effectively, keep lines of communication open, work towards solutions for existing problems while avoiding The Swamp Of Shame and similar pitfalls.
 
Much as I’m embarrassed to admit it to The Entire Internet, I am a really terrible manager.
I put off bringing up Problems because I know what their sources are – meaning that if I know my managee is overwhelmed in X part of their life, or has emotional issues around Y situation, I’m more likely to cut them some slack when Task Q isn’t getting done to the standards, or with the frequency, that I would prefer – and this means that I wind up with these, just, laundry lists of “Things That Need Improvement” and no clue how to adress them effectively, efficiently, and in a successful fashion.
 
So I’ve started poking at the idea of seasonal performance reviews.
 
I know. I kind of loathe the whole idea, if only because “performance review” tends to translate in my head into “job security roulette” or “let’s find out who’s getting fired today”. And yet, I think if I made it just part of the routine, then I could use it as a way to wipe the slate clean a few times a year and, in another way, also track my Person’s progress through the year.
 
Of course, I’m not managing a business in this context – I’m managing a household. This may require some tweaking of traditional techniques. However, that doesn’t mean those techniques aren’t easy to addapt or incorporate into what I want to do.
 
For example, this handy list of tips for building and managing a team has a few things I’d like to work into my own house.
I particularly like Suggestion #5, which is Set a quarterly theme and vision.
A theme and vision might be as simple as “establish routines, train as necessary; goal: well-oiled machine” early on in a dynamic, so that the accomplishment of that goal then serves as a foundation for further themes like “increase luxury skills and incorporate into routine” or “find therapist, work on anxiety issues”.
 
Likewise, the “Recognition” section of this article suggests the (well-known) formula of (1) Highlight something good. (2) Point out what needs improving, and (3) Suggest how to improve. So one might opt for something like: “You’re really putting those cooking lessons to good use. Dinner has been amazing these past two weeks. Well done. I do want to turn your attention to the situation with the left-overs in the fridge. We’ll need to eat those up over the course of the next week. After that, if you can work to cut your recipe quantities in half, that will allow us to enjoy your new sills without having a left-overs pile-up in the fridge every week.”
…Or something. I don’t know.
Similarly, the suggestion to phrase/identify problems in ways that are measurable: Not “Jolene is lazy” but “Jolene typically lets her outerwear pile up in the front hallway rather than hanging them back up in the closet”; not “Frank is disorganized” but “Frank routinely misplaces important documents that need to be filled out and sent off by specific deadlines”. Addressing measurable specifics rather than generalities makes it much easier for Jolene or Frank to suggest solutions without (hopefully) feeling overwhelmed or beaten down by the magnitude and, well, vagueness of the stated problem.
 
Management Tips for Creative Folks offers a variety of management styles (I tend to fluctuate between “tell” and “involve”, and this may be causing confusion or something on the home front), suggests that successes or emplyee effectiveness be measured by achievement (what they are getting done) and not activity (how they spent their time). It also stresses the importance of measurable goals, targets, and stretch-challenges for employees. Their time-division chart is also handy to keep in mind:
 

My time is often split between I and IV, with not nearly enough focus put on II. How ’bout yours?


 
I may have to go and borrow myself a copy of The One Minute Manager, as it might be a handy thing to read.
 
 
TTFN,
Ms Syren.

At my Poly and Power salons, we’ve sometimes talked about roadmaps or the lack thereof. I find, these days, that I am standing on my carefully hewn path, staring at a Point B in the unbroken distance, and going “How the heck are we gonna get there from here??”
 
My wife says: “You know it’s Poly 201 when you’ve got multiple supportive, accepting families… and you need to negotiate how to manage all the Holiday Stuff without disapointing anyone”.
 
It’s funny, though, because there are roadmaps.
If Ghost and I were, say, a monogamous couple who had open-adopted a queer teenager who still had a good relationship with the parents-of-origin who weren’t well-equipt to take care of her… or if an older relative of mine (or hers) had moved into our (curently non-existant) secondary suite… there would be a road map for “How to NAvigate Christmas” (or Pass-Over, or whatever your High Holy Day of choice is). Maybe not a perfectly fitting one, but it’s there.
 
And so it’s still there when the New Family Member is somebody’s sweetheart.
 
My wife and I had a talk the other night, and I told her that, while I was worrying about things that probably wouldn’t be a problem, I was still worrying about things like “How are Kitty’s parents going to react to me (if they ever happen to meet me, that is)?” and “How are my relatives going to handle either the presence of one or more of your other partners – and the added “strain” of having extra gifts to find for extra people who they don’t really know – at their xmas festivities OR my absense from said festivities if we all go up to someone’s family cottage two years from now?”
 
And, of course, kids grow up. I know I’m carrying a lot of assumed/presumed responsibilities here for managing other people’s emotions and/or expectations, partly because I’m “The Stay-At-Home-Wife” in my poly family, and partly because I’m both the oldest and the geographically-closest-to-the-parent(s) child in my family-of-origin. I know that it wouldn’t really be the end of the world – I wouldn’t really be being a Bad Daughter – if I spent This or That holiday with family members who weren’t also blood-relatives. No-more than it was when my parents stopped “going home for Christmas” and started building their own traditions with the family they were building together.
 
But that baggage is hard to put down, and it makes those zig-zagging trails-in-potentia from Point A to Point B harder to find, the obstacles harder to field and ford.
 
I’m probably not the only person trying to navigate/integrate Poly Phamily with various other family events/obligations at this time of year, so I’m throwing this out there:
 
We can listen to the stories in our heads – the ones that say “So-and-so expects me to handle everybody’s social calendars” or “So-and-so assumes that Everyone’s Plans will revolve around what she wants to do” or “So-and-so is going to pitch a fit if he’s not included in All The Things” or “So-and-so doesn’t get how important X is to me, because zie doesn’t understand its/their place in my life or doesn’t want that for zirself”… or whatever – without recognizing that the tapes are playing…
Or we can recognize that those stories are there (over and over again, as may be the case – it’s rare than anyone figures this stuff out over night), acknowledge what they’re saying, and bring them out into the open: Not as outburst of “You don’t understand me!” or “What makes you think you’re so special?” or “Why doesn’t anybody care about what I need??” but as a gentle, honest voicing of the fears we hold and the vulnerabilities we often hide while we work through this stuff together.
 
It’s scary. But I think it will prove worth it, as well. 🙂

Something that came up at my last Poly and Power Salon was the idea of service-oriented dominance. This is something that, I think, gets ignored in a lot of writing on D/s and O/p. It’s… Okay. This is me talking, so you know I’m going to connect this stuff with gender norms and expectations in orver-arching/mainstream society and how they trickle-down to affect/infect kink and leather communities and subcultures as well.
 
I find that, even when the gender configurations of D/s dynamics and scenes aren’t pre-determined as man=dominant and woman=submissive all the time, the gender-roles and gendered-bahaviours still line up like that. Uhm… What I mean is:
Feminine is coded as “subservient to masculine”, it’s coded as “receptive”, “passive”, “obedient”, and “anticipatory”. It’s expected to manage social calendars, social niceties, and hospitality.
Masculine is coded as “firm”, “in control”, “giving orders”, “takes/states what it wants”, “pro-active”, and “managerial”. It’s expected to manage people, to take charge, but also to be served by (and expect to be served by) The Feminine.
If you take out “feminine” and put in “submissive”, take out “masculine” and put in “dominant”, you’ll find that the social expectations line up remarkably well.
 
And this has some very… Inconvenient? Unintentioned? Irritating?… repercussions.
See… Look. I may not be a huge fan of Raven Kaldera. But he got something really right when he talked about “rock star” dominants and “parental” dominants as two styles of dominance that line up with being “service oriented” and “control oriented”.
I think that the way we have, however accidentally, coded “dominant” so that it lines up with “masculine” gendered behaviour expectations, and coded “submissive” so that it lines up with “feminine” gendered behaviour expectations, has basically lead to an expectation that dominants are (or are supposed to be) control-oriented, and that submissives are (or are supposed to be) service-oriented.
 
And some of us fit those expectations to a tee. Fantastic!
But… most of us don’t. Most of us are somewhere between the poles of “control” and “service” in terms of what we want/crave/need/enjoy/desire in a D/s scene or dynamic, and some of us are firmly rooted at the end of the spectrum that we’re “not” supposed to occupy.
Control-oriented submissives who crave rules, rewards, punishments, consequences, orders, rituals, protocols, and even micromanagement. Who can’t do anticipatory service to save their lives, and who get frustrated all to hell with D-types who expect their properties to be “mind-readers” and do everything “auto-magically”.
Service-oriented dominants who crave self-starting subs, anticipatory service, the luxury of Having People To Do That so that they can concentrate on all the other stuff they need to get done. Who embody/experience their own power most of all when they are at the center of a well-run household and can beam with pride at how well and consistently their properties perform their assigned tasks. Who feel disempowered when they “have to” bribe (rewards) or threaten (punishments) in order to get anything done, and who are frustrated all to hell with s-types who need constant management and who ask, literally or figuratively, “which two eggs do you want me to scramble ma’am?”
 
I suspect that, in most dynamics (although maybe not most scenes, given the difference in time-requirements), you need to balance the desire for service with the desire for control, regardless of which part of the dyad wants what in which ratio.
But I think it’s extremely helpful to know where on that particular spectrum you (and your dynamic-partner) live most comfortably, so that you know best how to articulate what will feed you when you’re depleted, and so that you know where you need to throw extra energy/effort in order to keep your dynamic functioning well.
 
 
I am a service-oriented dominant. Some ways that this can manifest are:
 
Someone who shows up at my house and sweeps my floor uninvited is making a very rude comment on the state of my home. But someone who shows up at my house, unexpectedly, and sweeps my floor because they’re in a service arrangement with me or mine and this is part of it? They are wonderful and a gods-sent and make me extremely happy. Because they’re doing what they’ve been told, without having to be micro-managed, rather than making assumptions about appropriate social boundaries.
 
My “Inner Dominant” is a seven year old princess. Which basically means that (a) she’s a child and feels safest when she’s being reliably well-taken-care-of, (b) she’s royalty, and knows it’s her birthright to be obeyed, and (c) she’s royalty and, therefore, expects The Staff to just get on with it, rather than having to be looking over their shoulders all the time.
 
I enjoy bestowing the gift of Something I Know You’ll Like onto people in my care or in my community – whether that’s deciding to make a Nice Dinner for my phamily; opting to do a scene that will get us both hot and sweaty and happy rather than just diving in and biting my Person hard in a tender spot in order to hear her yelp; making a particular resource available to my community; or inviting someone into my home and granting them my hospitality. I like the giving. I like the making someone smile because I got it Exactly Right. But I also like being in charge of what gets given and when and why.
 
 
For someone else who orients the way I do, their orientation might manifest as:
Being an event-organizer;
Feeling confident, appreciated, and appreciative when someone offers to make dinner or do the laundry (and follows through) during a busy/stressful time;
If the person in question is an educator, they might be more inclined to facilitate discussion groups or run hands-on/experiential workshops (where the participants do most of the work) rather than offering lecture-style or chalk-and-talk-only workshops (where the educator/lecturer has a lot more control over what happens during the class);
They may interpret the work they do in their communities as organizers, educators, and volunteers as service to their communities even as the service they provide involves being in charge in some way;
Lots of other stuff, fill in your own blanks. 😉
 
 
Thoughts? Observations? What do you think?
 
 
TTFN,
Ms. Syren.