Tag Archive: Queer


Queer Fam… of Origin

A few years ago, when I was an outreach worker for a province-wide Q/T health organization, I got to spend an afternoon with my wife and a bunch of other out-of-town (mostly) adults hanging out in Renfrew County for the local queer youth support/social group’s Big Day Out. THere were safer sex workshops. There was a drag workshop. And there was a dance-party (at which a friend of mine paid the party a surprise visit in her Elvis Gear, thus putting the king in The King, and the kids went nuts and wanted pictures. It was a good time.
BUT (or, more accurately,AND): I met a youngster who needed to talk about Stuff with someone who wasn’t an immediate part of her microscopic dating pool. Long story short: We emailed, she told me about feeling like The Only Queer in the Family, I mentioned some statistical probabilitiess, and she wrote me back to tell me she’d asked her Dad and he’d pointed out the small but significant group of homos amongst her cousins.
“I’m not the only one!” her email crowed.
 
Sometimes it’s a surprise, is what I’m saying.
 
In my case… it wasn’t entirely a surprise.
We were all just really, reeeeeeeeeeeally clueless.
But it still kind of floors me when I’m visiting my (bio) aunt, my (married-in) aunt, my masculine-presenting cousin + her super-femme lady-love[1], and my Big Gay Honourary Uncle… because it’s like: I don’t have to flag! They all KNOW!
It’s like some part of my brain forgets that they’re my relatives, that one of them has known me since I was born, and most of the rest have known me since high-school, and all I see is a house full of hippie-ass creative queers (MAH PEOPLE!) whom I don’t see every day… and I suddenly want to be all “So, my wife and I went to this queer slow-dance thing last weekend…” while re-applying my hot-pink lipstick and talking-with-my-hands so much that my shoulders are getting in on the action.
I feel like those kids in Renfrew, going a little hay-wire just because there are Other Queers Around… even though 90% of who I hang out with, these days, are big ol’ homos.
It’s a bit bizzarre, to tell you the truth.
And yet.
I’m not the only one!
 
 
TTFN,
Ms Syren.
 
 
[1] Who totally gave me the Femme Dazzling Smile when she met me, because we do actually recognize each other, but I wasn’t expecting it, and it was really nice when she did it. 😉

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 there’s this JAKEtalk (like a TEDtalk, but really gay) and I haven’t listened to it all the way through, because he opened his talk with a quotation about Gay Assimilation into the Het world, and then spoke briefly about the Queer Bubble, about increasing (ish?) acceptance of The Gay[1] in mainstream[2] society, and what that means, or could mean, when it comes to maintaining a Queer Identity when that identity is no-longer based on, or reliant upon, being The Other or being an Outsider.
 
Which seems very strange to me, at first blush, so I thought I’d ramble a bit and see if I can parse it out. (The JAKEtalk intro is being used as a jumping-off-point here, rather than this post being an actual response to anything in the JAKEtalk).
Onwards!
 
So, look. I’m a weirdo. I spent my teens and early 20s wearing All The Velvet and All The Eyeliner because (a) PRETTY!, but also because (b) I figured out fairly early on that, at 6’4”, there is no protective colouration that will make e look “normal”, so I might as well (i) wear what I actually like, and/or (ii) give them something to fucking stare at.
So I’m fairly well-versed in Identity As Defined By Otherness, even if it’s on the relatively shallow level of being an unusually shaped/sized cis chick. I’m pagan – in the “Bioregional Animism” and “Ancestor Veneration” senses of the word, rather than the more widely recognized “Wiccan Offshoots” sense of the word (thank you gods, for a country where we have “Freedom TO”-based freedom of religion), and I’m a poly, kinky bi-dyke femme. A lot of my personal identities/labels/shorthands-for-what-I-am are frequently explained by highlighting the ways that they contrast with more mainstream/normative/normalized identities.
BUT that doesn’t mean that my identities can’t exist without that opposition.
Being married to my wife doesn’t make me Not Queer. Or “not queer enough” for that matter.
One of my poly-leather family members once said (gods, lifetimes ago now, back when my wife and I hadn’t even been dating for six months yet) that being a “married queer” didn’t change the way that she built family, that she didn’t stop being poly (or kinky, or anti-o, or a TIFD) just because she was also a Nice Jewish Girl with a ring on her left finger.
This has stuck with me for years now.
 
I love my Bubble. My kinky, poly, trans-inclusive dyke bubble is awesome. But, specifically because it’s so awesome, I kind of wish 100% of humanity was in here with me. Not in here diluting the awesomeness with their hetcis-normative expectations, with their “stay out of my bathroom” and their “I don’t understand how that kind of relationship could be anything but abusive”, their “porn is the theory” and their “multiple concurrent relationships are a sign of emotional immaturity[3]”, their “you’re in love with your own oppression” and their “you just haven’t found the right man yet”… No. I mean I want 100% of humanity in here with our norms and ideals and social expectations[4] which, largely, boil down to “Your kink[5] is okay, whether or not it’s mine” and that the more options we have, and can put words around, the better.
 
I don’t think that we stop having our identities just because more people accept, normalize, and celebrate them.
 
My wife is not “less poly” just because her mother is happy to meet her many partners, and to have us in attendance for her 65th birthday. I’m not “less queer” just because my own gay auntie paved the way for me in our family, or because her parents responded with absolute love (I know, because she read the letter from them, responding to her coming-out letter, at my wedding) when she came out decades ago. My friends are not “less trans” because zir mom took zir shopping for more gender-appropriate clothing, or because her nieces call her their favourite auntie; and they’re not “less kinky” because they can talk about their desires and relationships with their vanilla friends.
We do not stop being what we are just because the Normal People still love us, or let us on the PTA, or look to us as part of our faith community. Being unwanted is not a prerequisite for being us.
 
It’s sucks beyond all possible measure that any of my poly friends have to keep coming out to their families-of-origin, have to worry about how said relatives are going to handle it when they bring their multiple people home for the holidays. It sucks beyond all possible measure that my family members have fam-of-o or (extended-community-members, for that matter – get with the program, y’all…) who keep getting their pronouns wrong even though it’s been YEARS since they came out. It sucks beyond all possible measure that any of my dyke Fam has to deal with out and out hatred as part of “being a good daughter”.
I know that we face this stuff, that our bubble is (our bubbles are) how we protect each other, hold each other up, keep each other safe, help each other heal. And I don’t want to lose the love that comes with building our own families in spite of the Charmed Circle wishing that we weren’t around being our fabulous, unapologetic selves “at” them. But we don’t have to lose it.
We don’t have to stop being big-hearted and open-hearted with each other just because we’re gaining the chance to be open-hearted with the people we came from, too.
 
 
TTFN,
Ms. Syren.
 
 
[1] Less-so The Trans, so let’s keep pushing for that one, shall we?
 
[2] Meaning heteronormative, cisnormative.
 
[3] TRY IT SOME TIME, I DARE YOU, KIDDO.
 
[4] Which, full disclosure: I ain’t perfect yet. None of us are. But I know where I’m going.
 
[5] Gender / family-structure / body / employment situation / sexual identity / etc – Choose your own adventure(s).

So someone on Twitter asked who-all was going to attend this evening’s Day Of Pink Gala (hosted by the CCGSD, formerly Jer’s Vision), and I responded, this morning, with one word: Nope.
While the sentiment was definitely clear, I did feel like I was being a bit misleading. So, as is my wont, I wrote a blog post to talk about this a little bit more.
 
Look. The truth of the matter is that I’ve never gone to a Day of Pink Gala. Even though it’s a free (iirc) party, and even though there’s a good chance that there’s free food at said free party, and even though I am exactly the kind of broke artist who will show up at a stranger’s vernisage specifically to eat the free cheese while trying to get a modeling job… I never went to DoP. For Reasons. Put it down to my being a home-body and big crowds making me nervous.
 
In previous years, this wasn’t anything to Make A Statement about, so I never did. At most, I’d shrug and go “Meh. I think I’ve got something else on that night” and not mention that “something else” was probably “youtube videos”. But then this happened: The CCGSD appointed Laureen Harper as their Day Of Pink ambassador. Now, on her own, Laureen Harper is just… some chick. Google her, and pretty-much all you’ll find is her connection to her husband, the current leader of the governing party of Canada.
You know, the biggest bully in the country.
(Okay, he might be tied with Don Plett, but every slime-ball needs a wingman, amirite?)
 
So here’s the thing. It is (technically) possible to have a lasting, loving relationship with a partner whose politics differ radically from your own. At least in theory[1]. So this would be a completely different situation if Laureen Harper’s youth-advocacy work involved being vocally and publically supportive of the rights of specifically queer and trans students to a harassment-free learning environment.
But, as far as I can tell, she’s not doing that. Sure, she talks about how it’s important to support diversity in schools, but in Ottawa, and in Ontario more generally, we’ve been watching state-sponsored English-language Catholic schools insist on the term “diversity” as a way to specifically refuse to support, or even recognize, their queer and trans students. “Diversity” in and of itself is great – the Pagans have a saying, “Strength in Diversity”, that references how much healthier a tall-grass prairie is to a monocrop, for example, how many voices singing in harmony with each other are way more powerful, more moving, than one voice shouting all alone – but “diversity” isn’t great when it’s co-opted by people who are actively trying to force you back into a closet.
 
Also, something worth noting: Pink Shirt Day was originally a campaign started by two rural Nova Scotia 12th-graders in support of a ninth-grade student who was hit with specifically homophobic slurs when he wore a pink shirt to school one day. Day Of Pink is a national upshot of youth-for-youth solidarity and, importantly, of youth standing with peers who face violence specifically because their gender presentation and/or sexual orientation is, or is perceived to be, outside of what’s considered “normal”.
So here’s a story from my own childhood:
I didn’t know “bisexual” was a thing until I was sixteen, and it took another year for me to figure out that “bixsexual” was a term that applied to me. But I didn’t need to be “out and proud” or even just “visibly queer” (as a cis, femme, little girl, the only things that marked me as “other” were my height, my music, and – unexpectedly? – my insistence on wearing dresses) to face homophobic bullying. Nobody beat me up, but my fifth grade was all about getting swarmed by mobs of classmates jeering “Are you a lesbian? Are you a lesbian???” (if you were wondering about where that fear of crowds came from…), stealing my shoes, being told that people being “different” was fine just “Not when they’re different like you”. It was my teachers being deeply unsettled to see me doing a Fred and Ginger dance routine with another girl in my grade.
I know damn well that I was not the only turned-out-to-be-queer kid in my class. Not just statistically, either (Ottawa’s a small town, for a place with a million people). Given that none of our teachers were saying “there’s nothing wrong with this, stop being a douche-canoe”, I can’t say I blame them for letting me draw the fire, if they’d even figured themselves out yet, which isn’t necessarily the case. But if they knew? If nine and ten year old kids knew they were One Of Us, and knew that to keep themselves safe they had to laugh at the (other) faggot right along with the Normal People… do you really think they wouldn’t?
I’m not typically one to quote Ivan Coyote, but they said something on facebook a while back, after having seen a high school teacher wearing a pink t-shirt that read “The Pink Shirt Says It All”. What they said on facebook was (I’m paraphrasing, I think) “The pink shirt means fuck-all if it’s not backed up with action”.
 
Look. There are things that CCGSD does that I really, really like. I love that they hold national conferences where high school students can learn how to advocate for themselves and their peers with a specific focus on gender and/or sexuality minorities and youth of colour. I love that they run Rainbow Write, locally, which is a program that bring queer and/or trans writers and, frequently, specifically queer and/or trans writers of colour, to Ottawa to do writing workshops with queer and trans teens[2] (and, if space allows, Rainbow Brights of all ages). But Day Of Pink is supposed to be about stopping specifically homophobic and transphobic bullying; about making schools and, more broadly, the world safer for our children; for sending the message (and backing it up with action, folks!) that this particular type of cruelty – which is used to police gender and sexuality at every age and regardless of what a given targeted-person’s gender and sexual orientation actually are, but which always, always hurts OUR kids, no matter whom its directed at – is absolutely not okay. Deciding that the appropriate ambassador for this message is someone who will actively dilute it, who is someone with deep and personal ties to a party that is clearly dead set against all of us who live outside of that tiny, narrow charmed circle? My dears, that was the wrong decision.
 
Those feelings of rage and betrayal that are flying all over twitter right now? Those feelings are real. Some of us believed you had our backs. But getting popular with the powerful crowd by betraying those who are already getting stomped on?
Honey… that’s what bullies do.
 
 
Ms Syren.
 
 
[1] Although, I’ll be honest, I’m not sure how. That is a hell of a hard road to walk, even when your partner’s hateful, fear-mongering politics aren’t routinely being rammed into actual federal laws.
 
[2] The second time I came out – as kinky and poly and queer-femme – as an adult with my own place to live, it was queer (and frequently kinky and poly) femme poets who got me through my divorce, helped me see my reflection on paper, and helped me find my voice as a writer. I can’t imagine how much more of a huge fucking relief it would be for a queer and/or trans kid, a teenager who might be afraid of getting kicked out of their home if they’re open about who they are, to meet and be mentored by adults who are just like them and who get it.

The idea of Stone, the idea of Femme. I’ve heard descriptions of “stone femme” wherein the femme in question is The Queen of Cups – receptive, reactive, responsive, the partner whose moan, shiver, arch, pushes the energy back, completes the emotional/energetic/erotic loop so that it can cycle through again. In this context (in any context?) Femme Bottom (any bottom?) is all appetite.
But so am I.
I read Xan West’s writing about Stone, about the gaze, about desire and how a partner’s responses can make them come, just with breath, with sound, with need. And this is so familiar to me.
I’m not stone. My clothes can come off when I fuck, am maybe at my most powerful, most “toppy”, when I’m in nothing by sweat-slicked skin and high heeled shoes; I crave touch, hunger for it, too, but it’s scary as fuck and hard to stay in my body to accept it, let alone welcome it, without overthinking everything or flinching/freezing pre-emptively. I’m seven years (twenty years? thirty?) into trying to navigate my way through this minefield of fear, body, and performativity, towards the pleasure, openness, sincerity, the offering that I want to give in vulnerability, in desire, but also towards my own ability to accept the offering I want to receive, crave receiving, as a dominant bottom.
I’m femme.
When Tara Hardy writes “I, too, have a mouth”, about wanting to taste the world; when Leah Lakshmi Piepzna Samarasinha writes about femme hunger and needing to be cautious when it comes to sharing the gulf of that ravenous need… That’s me.
As a femme top, as someone who is all appetite, who is all mouth, I am not the Queen of Cups. Following you with hungry eyes, I want you to see, and respond to, my desire. At my purest, I am the Great Devourer: I want to eat you alive. I want you to like it. To offer yourself up to my hunger, to the tongue that would taste every quivering, shuddering inch of you.
Xan writes, in “Where Pleasure Resides” (same link as above), a lot about cocks. I don’t have one of those. It’s not a word that fits me. But I deeply understand the yearning to get energetically inside someone, to find her mouth of fire, coax it open with the red, red pulse of my tongue – physical, energetic, or both – until I am so deep inside that I can lap at her heart and coax that open, too.
This is what I want.
This is also what I dread.
I don’t know how much of it is conditioning – my mother telling me, in my teens, that once you’ve fucked someone your heart goes with them, too – versus how much of this is true to the actual connection between touch and trust, between sexual vulnerability and emotional vulnerability, that exists in my body. But, yes, if I let someone fuck me, get inside me, even just feed me – though it’s easier to avoid when I’m topping (“less direct” is the wrong way to say it, but… riding a response is not the same as generating that response, and there’s an emotional buffer in that difference) – the chances that I’ll fall in love with them, want a deep, lasting emotional connection with them, rise dramatically. And that’s scary. Terrifying. And also yearned for.
I’m hungry and afraid to eat.
What a damn silly place to be.
 
 
TTFN,
Ms Syren.

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…

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. 🙂

So… I was originally thinking of writing “V is for Vampire” and talk about (other people’s) energy as food, manipulating (other people’s, or my own) energy during S/M scenes, and other stuff like that there. And I may yet do this. But today I’m writing “V is for Vamp” because it lets me look at the connection between “femme” and “femme fatale”.
There’s this whole, huge cultural narrative – one that I can trace back through Christendom and into Judaism via the religious texts we share that have shaped a LOT of European (And thus, a lot of European colonies’) cultures – about how women with sexual agency are dangerous.
 
While I tend to think of “femme” as, specifically, a queer-as-in-dyke form of hyperbolic femininity (and, thus, will mostly be using “she” and “her” to talk about femmes in this post), I do have a couple of broader definitions, like:
“Fem” as in male, frequently though not always gay, femininity; or
“Femme” as in “queered” (meaning “twisted” or “rendered non-normative”) women’s femininity, regardless of sexual orientation.
 
In its broades sense, Femme is “queered femininity” because its femininity that’s done (a) for the feminine person herself (or himself, or theirself) rather than for the “gaze” of anyone in particular; and (b) is, one way or another, an expression of personal power.
 
I find that “traditional femininity” is often read/cued as “powerless”. The Masculine does stuff to The Feminine. The Feminine waits in the tower to be rescued. The Feminine is the (exclusively) sexually receptive partner. The Feminine “lets the boy win” or does the unackowleded emotional labour of supporting The Masculine and centering the experiences, needs, and – particularly apt within the context of this post – desires thereof. And Femme doesn’t do that. Not as a matter of course. Some femmes do any or all of those things, as and when they’re inclined to do so. Sure. But it’s not a requirement, or a “yur doin’ it rong” situation if we don’t[1]. By that token, “femme” is femininity with agency; The Feminine subjectified, rather than objectified.
But that’s not only what I mean when I say “femme” is an expression of personal power.
I also mean that a Femme is someone who expresses/finds/claims her personal power through the (visual – or other?) expression of (frequently over-the-top) femininty. When I’m feeling on top of the world, I dress more impresively than I might do otherwise. Sure. But I also do that when I’m trying to access or activate my own power.
 
You’ve heard the phrase “lipstick as warpaint”? It’s like that, albeit maybe a little bit more nuanced.
When I get All Femmed Up – When I wear the velvet, the leather, the satin, the corset, the big heels, the fancy jewelry; when I bother with lip stain and perfume[2] – I am accessing a particularly powerful, giantess/glamazon part of myself that doesn’t necessarily come out when I’m, say, shlumping around in my bathrobe[3]. When I need to access that part of myself, I put on a little mascara, and it works. I stand taller. I stride, strut, and sashay rather than scurrying with my head down. Just with little mascara. Who knew?
 
And so I come back to the Vamp. The femme fatale who is dangerous, but who is recognizeable because of her cupid’s bow lipstick, her thick eyelashes, the deliberate slit up the side of her skirt. She’s the aloof, vampiric Angelina Jolie to Jennifer Aniston’s “girl next door”; the much-married, hypnotic-eyed Elizabeth Taylor to Grace Kelly’s tragic/fairytale princess. She is “glamourous” (in the sense of “entrancing” and “sorcery” as much as “fancy/fabulous”) as opposed to just “pretty“. The kind of woman who leaves broken hearts in her wake rather than settling down (“Safe in a house and a husband“[4]) the way that women are expected to do.
 
And, no, femmes aren’t necessarily looking to be heartbreakers or home-wreakers or “high maintenance” or any of the other things that we get read as or coded as. On my more cynical days, I suspect that we get coded as these things specifically because we’re not doing this Femininity Thing for the benefit of someone else. Not the guys on the corner, not the butches in the coffee shop, not our dates. Just for us. And that goes against what “feminine” is “supposed to be” (or who it’s supposed to be for).
 
I read an anecdote ones about a femme who’d bring a satin clutch out to the bar, and you could clearly see the outline of a particular dildo inside the clutch. And the gal relating the anecdote said something like “You can’t tell me that’s being ‘sexually passive’.” And I wonder if it’s that clear (if visual, in this case) statement of “this is what I want, and this is how I want it” is what makes the femme, the vamp, the femme fatale so intimidating.
 
Anyway.
I think I’m getting to the point where I’m starting to talk in circles, so I think I’ll stop there.
Ruminate Ruminate Ruminate.
 
 
TTFN,
Ms Syren.
 
 
[1] Although I’m aware that this has not always been the case. Amber Dawn, for example, talks about being Stone Femme and how, ten-15 years ago, that was a really unheard-of thing: A femme-identified person who exclusively tops. Likewise, if you look at earlier femme-focussed writing – I’m thinking specifically of the pieces in Femme: Feminists, Lesbians and Bad Girls – you find the “femme defined by butch” and “femme as specifically sexually receptive feminine lesbian” tropes/ideas/identities far more frequently than you will in more recent work.
 
[2] “Blood Kiss” by BPAL is a favourite of mine, but I’ve also mixed up my own concoctions – mhyrr, clove, and vanilla, is a nice starting-point for a perfume. 😉
 
[3] Shlumping around in a negligee, on the other hand… 😉
 
[4] That book has a character who is a Vila, and a sorceress, and she teaches the MC a thing or two about the magic – the sorcery – of makeup and glamour.

Poly 201 – Some Thoughts

So, a while back, I went to a Poly 201 workshop held at Venus Envy and run by the fabulous Andrea Zanin. It was a neat discussion and, while I didn’t learn anything new, I did get a lot of things confirmed in terms of what problems people get hit with, and how people deal with them. Which was helpful. 🙂
 
It was… “funny” isn’t the right word. I found that, by and large, what we were looking for was not that much farther beyond “Poly 101”. There was a lot of discussion about managing fears, navigating boundaries, and negotiating (scheduling; balancing) time with one’s People. But the thing is, it was a discussion. A lot of Poly 101 boils down to “I have no idea what I’m getting into. Someone tell me how to avoid the worst of the potential problems. Someone tell me how to do make this (possibly) work”. And, eventually, when you’ve been doing it for a while, you don’t need the “telling” anymore. You don’t need the “theory”, if I can put it like that. You need a place to talk about the practice.
And that, I think, may be why the workshop went the way it did.
 
It’s interesting, as someone who’s part of a heavily-poly, heavily-kinky, predominantly-dyke-identified part of QueerGirlWorld, to see who turns up at workshops like this. I was almost the only person who came solo[1] and I found that most of the partnered people who came were either male-female open couples or male-female-female (or female-male-female) trios wherein one or both of the women involved were bi/queer/pan but the guy… not necessarily het, but was attending with only women partner(s). What I’m saying is that it was a heavily pansexual crowd, one that predominantly used hierarchical-poly terms (primary, secondary) to talk about the people in their lives.
 
Now, I used the term “primary” to describe my wife. I do this because she’s my only “partner” (currently). Everyone else is a friend with occasional benefits, or a buddy who did a scene with me, or a non-romantic phamily-member, or whatever. I don’t use the term “secondary” to describe my wife’s other partners because I know they don’t matter less to her than I do. In my own little spot in the queer-poly-dyke-o-sphere, it’s fairly rare to hear someone talk about “my secondary” at all. It doesn’t seem like language that we use. At least not like that. (Maybe other points in the queer-poly-dyke-o-sphere do?) So it was a little bit weird to hear people throwing those terms around in the sense of “my spouse is my primary because they’re my spouse” and “my SO is my secondary because they’re *not* my spouse” and such-like.
I’m wondering if the reason (or one of the reasons) that the majority of what we talked about boiled down to relief at having a space to talk at all (swap tips, exchange ideas, share information) was because (am I making assumptions here?) the pansexual community is a lot more “normative” than the queer community (although not necessarily the “Capital L Lesbian” community?) in terms of how much it’s affected by the whole Charmed Circle thing.
What I mean is: When I need a space in which to talk about, say, polyamoury and multi-level power dynamics , I just call up my friends and have them all in for coffee and chatter. But (I gather) a lot of folks in the pan/het community… don’t really have that option. A lot of them seem to feel very isolated, like they can’t just bring this stuff up (“My wife’s girlfriend is coming over on Tuesday, so there will be three of us for dinner” or “My boyfriend’s other boyfriend came over last night and we all watched Harry Potter together”) in normal conversation. Wheras me? I have a queer-ass day-job where poly, while not necessarily expected, isn’t all that unusual either. I have a social circle where “mono” is the unexpected relationship style and “poly” (as a personal identification) is the norm. Consequently, I don’t risk losing a heap of social acceptance (aka: losing the valued relationships I have with a heap of friends, relatives, and maybe coleagues) if I’m open about what my personal life looks, like the way someone else – someone whose life, on the outside, looks fairly heteronormative (or homo-normative?) – might.
 
I think that brought a particular flavour to the workshop, and I’m curious to know what it would be like if more of the participants had actively identified as members of the queer community.
 
Anyway.
 
Beyond that, the workshop felt a little weird – not because “it felt a little weird”, but because I left feeling like I was more “on the ball” or “knowlegeable” or whatever than I had really expected. Sicne when do I have “helpful tips”? (Who knew?)
 
I don’t have a problem with this, of course, but it does mean that I Still Have Questions. Questions like:
 
1) If I visit my long-distance long-term partner’s place in Toronto, like I do every six months, and hir live-in long-term partner (whom I’ve known for half a decade, but am not romantically involved with) is having Angst about something in a way that affects their relationship… How much of Other Partner’s angst is my problem to deal with? How much of it is my privilege to deal with? Where are the appropriate boundaries for something that (a) is happening in my presence, (b) involves two people that I care about, (c) may or may not affect me in the short/long term, but (d) doesn’t (officially) have anything to do with me right now? What do I do in that situation?
 
2) How do we, as a poly constelation, negotiate the long-term elder care of my sweetheart who is twenty years my senior? Or, for that matter, the elder-care of five sets of aging parents, some of whom may not acknowledge the relationships I have with their children?
 
3) Suggestions for how to negotiate a change in living arrangment (“honey, we need a bigger house”) wherein another arm of the V (or the X or the B or whatever) is moving in? What are things that have come up for others in this situation, and how did they navigate it?
 
And, yeah, those are all fairly specific questions (none of which are explicitely about me and my particular Phamily, but all of which are at least slightly familiar to – probably – anyone whose been doing this long enough to have become involved with more than one “presumed-permanent” romantic relationship at a time), but they all go quite a bit beyond “How do you deal with jealousy?” and they are all questions for-which I’d really like to find answers. Someone else might want to ask about:
 
“Okay, how do you handle the grandparents (or parent-teacher interviews) when you have kids with a variety of different partners?”
OR
“Suggestions for how to balance who I bring to which Office Event, if I bring anyone to any of them.”
OR
“How do I allow my submissive the freedom to explore polyamoury while making sure that (a) he still fulfills his duties to me (read: I still feel well-served), and (b) he still feels well-held? What systems can I put in place to mitigate the ways in-which his NRE (and/or my insecurities/jealousy/fear) might affect our pre-existing 24/7 power-exchange dynamic and romance?”
 
 
What Andrea said, when she was doing her intro, was that she basically had two options for doing a Poly 201 workshop. One of them was the one she went with: To get everybody together to chat with each other and get some connections going. The other was to “specialize” and do a workshop on “poly with kids” or “navigating secondary health insurance plans for non-incorporated groups” or “long-term, long-distance constelationships” or… whatever. I think, under those circumstances, the “shared wisdom” approach is the right one to take.
I appreciate the conversation starters: She put a bunch of different pictures – everything from [multi-adult families eating dinner together] to [mushroom clouds] to [people dancing naked around a fire] – and asked people to talk (in small groups) about which pictures really jumped out at them, and why. We then rotated people a little bit and talked about the Biggest Challenge, and then Most Rewarding Aspect, of polyamoury for ourselves, personally. They were good exercises and good places to start a larger discussion (it’s the kind of workshop where it could go on all afternoon and we’d still only just scratch the surface). None the less, I’m really glad that I’ve got my own network of kinky, queer, poly chicks to talk this stuff out with at greater length. 🙂
 
 
TTFN,
Ms Syren.
 
 
[1] I think there was one other attendee who didn’t bring their partner… and I’m pretty sure what they were doing didn’t qualify as “consensual non-monogamy” for a variety of reasons. :-\

I wrote a little bit about my experience at Reading Out Loud over on my writer blog. But, for those who were wondering, I thought I’d post this information here:
 
When I introduced my pieces, I explained that I came out twice. Once as bisexual, while being a goth chickie in my teens (seriously, no big thing), and again, about ten years later, as a het-married gal who was poly, kinky, and still bisexual but a lot gayer than I’d originally thought. The pieces I performed were all from books that I read during 2007-2008, books that gave me language to talk about myself, and books that showed my my own reflection at a time when I badly needed to see my own face in the pages.
I read from works by two authors, both of whom are also bisexual, kinky, poly, and femme. Like me.
 
Here’s what I read at Reading Out Loud:
 
Femme: Feminists, Lesbians and Bad Girls
“On Being a Bisexual Femme” By Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha – under the name Leah Lilith Albrecht-Samarasinha
(Femme hunger; “I must choose who I lie down with very carefully”)
 
Brazen Femme: Queering Femininity
“Whores and Bitches Who Sleep with Women” by Kathryn Payne
(“Do you know your lineage?”)
AND
“Gonna Get my Girl Body Back” This is a Work in Progress” by Leah Lakshmi
(“I take one step past what I know”)
 
Longing at Least Is Constant by Kathryn Payne (poetry)
“Bi-Nary”
(“Why do I have to write it? / […] / To laugh, yell, and taste it all”)