So Tell Me ... What's The Weather Like on YOUR Planet?

28 December, 2007

Advertising Futures

I saw this billboard when I was doing the mad holiday travel and relatives-placating thing:


I just want to ... take it apart. Look at all the subtexts of this. What the hell makes this a good message?

I mean, off the top of my head, the metamessages I pull out of this are:

  • "Sex" and "Your Future" are in direct opposition; pursuing one precludes the other.

  • People who are interested in sex are frivolously discarding their futures.

  • "Your future" requires constant vigilance and attention; letting your eyes get off it means it will surely get away.

  • Sex is not a part of your future. Or, if it is, it happens somewhere in the distant not-to-be-thought-of parts thereof, presumably after the Sex Pixie magically bestows upon you the knowledge of how it works so you don't have to actually develop any skill or comprehension experientially. (Presumably, this is similar to how the Beer Fairy bestows knowledge of how to drink responsibly on the twenty-first birthday, when the taboo lifts.)

  • Sex will ruin or destroy you and your future.

  • It doesn't matter how much you want sex. That interest should be set aside For Your Own Good.

  • It doesn't matter how responsible and mature you are and how capable of making choices and evaluating risks. Just don't, your nebulously-defined existence will be placed at risk.

Why is any of this shit a useful message?

25 December, 2007

For Your Ka

It's an interesting and complicated thing, being non-Christian but from a Christian background, this time of year. Not just because of the prevalence of the pop-Christmas stuff, starting earlier and earlier every year, but because living in a family context means that the family markings of the holiday keep coming up. Not really the religious aspects (the in-laws no longer ask if we want to attend Mass with them), the cultural-social ones.

And some of those are important to me, as part of the continuation of my ka, my family soul; there are traditions that are resonant for me, meaningful for me. The keeping of the names, some recipes handed down from my grandparents to my parents to me; these things matter, are a part of the flavor of meaning, are places that are where I came from.

Which means I'm coming around to the feeling that Christmastime is something I mark as a major ka festival, and an ancestor festival; it's undeniable that my ancestors for quite some time were, after all, Christian. And this time of year is resonant with established traditions, and a time that my family marks with family gatherings as it is.

So in that sort of mode, I went into the season with a round of making the traditional family dishes, and making a traditional Polish dish, and some Scottish gingerbread, all the old family lines. Building up my own tradition of family traditions, bloodlines, heritages, where I came from.

In ancient Egypt, a gift was presented with the phrase: for your ka. For your family-soul, your heritage-soul, your lifeline.

Merry Christmas.

23 December, 2007

Constructing Consent

Background: a call for submissions for a book proposal apparently about date/acquaintance rape (hard to tell because of the poor writing of the proposal) went out, and has sparked controversy. This is not about the controversy; for people who want context on that, a few people have written critiques of the proposal and its issues for discussion; perusing them and their links and so on will likely be informative. (I haven't kept track of all the links I've read on it; I think most of them can be found through there.) The gist of the anthology as I currently understand it is that it wants to envision a world in which enthusiasm and enjoyment is the standard for consensual sexual activity.

The thing I want to poke at, though, is the construction of consent.

Okay, yes, a world in which my first boyfriend was waiting for "Oh please do this to me" would probably be one where I didn't have flashbacks and dissociation issues around sex. Granted.

The root of the assault, or part of it, goes back before that. Back before "yes means yes" or even "no means no" -- there were failures there, but those weren't the points of first failure.

The first failure was a point of "How do I know whether I want to say 'yes' or 'no'?" The lack of clearly articulate consent or nonconsent was in significant part because I had no idea how to construct the concept. I wrote some about this for Blogging For Sex Education Day here and here.

And the irony is, I started wrestling with those questions, realised I needed to do the work to construct an understanding of consent, because of the assault. Because I was woefully unprepared, don't think well under pressure, uneducated, unprotected, and unwilling to be that vulnerable again.

Building consent was hard, in the culture I was surrounded with at the time, the Just Say No culture -- always refuse, refuse, even if you want to, even if you desperately want to, or are just curious, or think it might be nice: no is the answer. Especially if you're female; here are the consequences that you're risking: pregnancy, disease, death. Say no! You are the gatekeeper, the preserver of virtue, young woman: say no, and keep the world true on its course.

And the negation of consent was also present on the male side: men were presented as indiscriminate, hypersexual, defective if they turned down an opportunity to fuck. Their consent was invisible because it was assumed that they would be interested in sex now, with this person, at this time, under these conditions, no matter what; the concept of male consent was flatly laughable.

(For things I now know that I was utterly unaware of when younger: women of color are frequently framed in terms typically associated with (white?) men in these matters of consent construction: consent is irrelevant, due to insatiability.)

None of this is a context in which people are likely to easily be able to be secure in what their own boundaries are; the enorced nroms and expectations are a riptide of social expectation. In my teen years, sexual activity may have been status in some ways, an initiatory experience into the mysteries of adulthood, but that status was dangerous, a whispered one. Slut-shaming was a real factor, and the rumoured-promiscuous boys were read as much as potential predators as successful at the rites of manhood.

I had a friend have a hysterical fit at me, a complete meltdown, conviction that I was going to get myself killed or ruin my life, when she learned that I was sexually active (with the fellow I wound up marrying, I would note). Slut-shaming has some perverse manifestations.

The story of the guy I know who was raped is one full of myths: he's male, so of course he wants it, and besides, he's a nerd who wouldn't get laid otherwise, so I'm doing him a favor. The construction of his consent never seemed to come up in his rapist's mind.

But that comes after the problem of consent.

"What do I want?" is a critical question for consent: without answering it, neither 'yes' nor 'no' comes out with conviction. The steps to assault for me started with wanting love and attention, wanting to explore and understand my own sexuality; perfectly damned rational things for someone in mid-adolescence to be wrestling with.

The next step was getting on a slope too steep for my skill level. I was still in the bunny-slopes part of sex, trying to figure out how to turn without tumbling into a snowbank and how not to crash into trees, and wound up with the only available potential source of love-and-attention being seventeen, presumably well past the shallow hills and looking for someone to hit the black diamond with. So I got run down the bunny slope, didn't crash into anything, and that was taken as good enough reason to swing me around to the next grade. And the next, and the next, with no breathing space.

And most of the time I do believe that the guy was of good will, not trying to coerce, was genuinely horrified when he realised he had nearly raped me the bright afternoon he gave me the little tape loop of terror. Most of the time; I don't believe he was completely unconcerned with consent, entirely focused on getting what he wanted, just ... a dumb kid doing dumb kid things to a kid with even less experience and understanding and ability to articulate. Most of the time, I do believe this.

But I never got to really master the green circle slopes, whether he was a dumb kid or a predator with just enough human respect for his prey to not blatantly continue in the face of obvious nonconsent. I had no opportunity to explore, to get the feel of things, to learn what I liked about the terrain, to get the joy of the basics.

And the bunny slopes are part of healthily developing consent -- the exploration, the comparatively low-stress figuring things out, the, yes, occasionally tipping into a drift or hitting a rock or losing a ski halfway up the hill. Learning boundaries requires testing the boundaries, exploring within them and trying a little bit outside them every so often. Firming up the edges, or expanding the possible.

And going outside the boundaries is impossible to do with perfect consent. The problem with initiations -- and sex is one of them -- is that the result on the other side may not be knowable, which means it's hard to face up to the consequences and accept them in advance. But a good grounding in the possibilities, an intellectual understanding of what may happen, and all of those, those are part of making up consent. Going through the bunny slopes, learning the way it all goes together, makes it most possible to go through those transitions with the least likelihood of long-term harm. One can learn about the whole process, one's own reactions, without having to deal with the tricky hills right at the outset. Take a fall on a gentle hill a few times, so as to be able to survive one on a steep slope. That sort of thing.

Focusing on pleasure won't fix constructing consent. I got dragged down a lot of slopes without my consent, and a lot of them were pleasurable. (Others were kind of baffling.) In some ways, pleasure betrayed me, passing for consent, passing for acceptance, confusing me about whether or not I wanted a yes there, or a more, or anything else -- because it felt good, and how did that weigh against the sick twisting feeling of the growing dissociation, anyway? I didn't know how to find answers to these questions at the time.

I started to learn how to think about it when in traction from the consequences of being a green circle sexuality on a black diamond slope.

There are better ways to learn how to give consent.

Link Festivus

I'm running off for a frenetic couple of days with miscellaneous relatives and in-laws, and currently have the Seasonal Doom Cold, so a few links in lieu of anything of substance:

What do you get the socially-anxious Jewish lesbian in your life?

If Stairway to Heaven was done by the 1964-ish Beatles

And, special for the "OMG, wait, what, we have a religion to scream about?" season, Your God Is Too Small.

22 December, 2007

I'm Too Nerdy For My Love

maymay writes here about the strange dichotomy between sexiness and smarts.

And my comment over there (still in moderation as of this writing) is:

"I was too smart to ever be pretty. It shapes a lot of things."

It wasn't allowed, you know, for the likes of me to be attractive. I could be either attractive or smart, and smart was something I clearly was before the dichotomous choice came up as a visible fork in the road, so I was off down one branch before I realised I was well past the place I could maybe have decided about it.

Because it was forbidden for me to be pretty, it was forbidden for boys to like me (unless they were social rejects beyond the bounds of The Rules). It wasn't forbidden for them to treat me as some kind of sex toy, but kind attraction was forbidden. Crude comments, breast-grabbing and other unwelcome touch, and mockery were acceptable; those didn't depend on me being pretty, just on being female. Perhaps some of that was an outlet for taboo attraction. Perhaps they were just assholes who knew they could play with me with impunity. There's no way to know.

Because it was forbidden for me to be pretty, I spent a long time utterly unfocused and unable to focus on things relating to my own appearance. I had no idea how to attract the attention I wanted, how to construct myself in an appealing manner; I spent years with earnest intensty being the only thing I could offer to a potential partner with any intention. (Fortunately, my husband could handle it.) I had no sense of style, personal or otherwise. It would make no difference, after all, as I was not allowed to be pretty anyway, so why waste effort?

Oh, I was an intense kid, full of want, trying to figure out how to be human.

When I met someone who told me I was beautiful it broke me inside, a little. I didn't know how to deal with it, how to live with it, how to untangle the mess around this boy who broke the taboo for me. It rattled me, shook up my boundaries, left me even more uncertain than I might otherwise have been, and my terribly earnest self was utterly uncertain. Maybe that's part of why the assault ripped me up so much, why it took me completely to pieces, the fact that he was the first to break that rule. Broke a lot of other things with it, in the long run.

... there's more to this, but damned if I know how to write it. I've written in the past that it takes guts to be beautiful and whole and complete, and this is part of why: it breaks the rules. This is why it matters to know how to be beautiful to the people I want to see me as beautiful, why I want to hear it from them and nobody else. There's so much more, tangled up in the fallout from that one thing. I can gesture at it, but I can only trace the shapes with my hands, the curve of it, the way it flows.

I'm too nerdy for this post.

14 December, 2007

Ay Oh Way Oh

I'm sitting here after a godawful day (the high point was shovelling the half-foot of snow off the deck steps) and the music pops up "Walk like an Egyptian".

Which gets me thinking about E.

E was my best friend in elementary school, about a year older than I was. We were both in the 'awkward smart kids the school system can't afford to do anything meaningful with' group that were allowed into the chorus in fourth grade. She was a dancer and ice skater -- I never could manage to get through the third level of the intro classes (there were four) and she was learning how to do routines, maybe angling towards competition. She gave me a guppy once. About five generations of guppy; it was pregnant. She had a magic tricks set that I coveted, a sweet calico cat with a purr like a Mack truck, and an obnoxious older brother.

She was the only one who comforted me when I was crying my heart out the day after my grandfather's funeral. The teacher saw her in the corner, nearly scolded her for being out of class, and then saw me there and let us be.

I have this clear memory of her in my parents' living room, singing 'Walk Like an Egyptian' and dancing. I didn't know the song -- it was big at the time, but I was culturally illiterate -- and it was silly and real and very E.

I moved away when I was ten, and was not good at keeping track of my old friends.

She called me six, seven years later. She'd dropped out to take care of her baby. Talked about maybe getting married to the kid's father. And I felt like I'd fallen into a different universe, one where I didn't know the rules anymore. I was tangled up in awkwardness, with not knowing her world. I wished her well, wherever she was, wherever she wound up.

The past is sometimes as hard as the future.

10 December, 2007

08 December, 2007

Power Play

This is me trying to articulate some of what I was flailing at in my comment posted to Dev in this post titled 'Conversation with Friends'; if it's unclear due to context-lack, looking over there may be a help. Dunno.

Dev was talking with a non-d/sy friend about why she doesn't use her dominant position to enforce particular changes in Joscelin (her sub)'s life. And found most of the suggestions for things she could do notably non-sexy. maymay (of Maybe Maimed But Never Harmed) commented that he was surprised how often it is that people seem to dissociate d/s from sexuality.

(And I wonder, on a tangent, if that relates to the whole stereotype game of "Men think women are turned on by the dishes being clean, when it's more 'if the dishes are clean already I may have brainpower to think about sex'.")

And, y'know, back in the early stages of the formalising the d/s thing with my liege, I commented that I suspected a lot of the prurient kink-phobes would be disappointed at how much carpentry was in my d/s, compared to the levels of kinky sex. I do a lot of small service tasks, none of which are even remotely erotic, many of which don't even have the little touch of personal attention that comes of making him his tea when I know I'll be seeing him soon.

The only service I really get off on as it were is sexual. But I'm not a bedroom sub, where he's concern; we have an extensive ongoing power-charged relationship that extends out into all of the not terribly sexy service stuff I do like cleaning the wax off his ritual table (yesterday) or folding paper towels for cleaning up stain with (way back when). And all of that stuff matters to the kink, which is sexual, even if it's not in any way a matter of turning me on at the time -- not even in the transactional "If I do this task well I get laid" sense.

The thing is that the service in the mundane sense, all of the small things that I try to deal with, the responsiveness to suggestion and direction and all, all of it makes it clear that the interaction is whole. That it's not -- as he put it rather more bluntly than I was anticipating last night when we were trying to deal with a major issue in the structural stuff -- "just a game for when we fuck". The shapes of the thing are broader than the bedroom, and because of that the depth of the response from the d/s sexual play runs that much deeper, that much stronger, because it has all the weight of the engagement on that level in non-sexual circumstances. The whole of that energy of living can get behind it, not just the parts that are directed at sexplay.

Tangential to that central thought about why I do service stuff when I don't necessarily kink specifically for that sort of service, I had another response to that post that only came up while I was thinking about it and away from the computer. That being, using one's domly goodness to get someone to "get life together" may, well, be counterproductive.

And the thing I'm looking at is the thing that I was ranting about when I wrote Against Empowerment a few days ago -- if getting life together depends on the application of control, punishment, or whatever relevant bit of dominance is being applied, then in the absence of the active working, it's not gonna stay together. It's not power, it's just empowerment, bestowed by that outside force, contingent on its presence.

Which isn't to say that a dom can't be a positive force for the arrangement of someone's life. Trinity has written about that in various places, as a for example, how she enjoys being a positive shaping force. My liege consistently encourages me to face issues I'm avoiding, among many other things (that one's on my mind due to current events). But he doesn't take the burden of determine what has to be done onto himself, doesn't enforce discipline on it: there's the reminder of the issue, the support for dealing with it, and all that, but I have to develop and apply the power to do it myself. Otherwise, I'm not the one who's got my life in order -- he's got my life in order, and I'm dependent.

And it's not one-sided; I also am consistently prodding him to develop and apply capacity within himself, all kinds of things that don't depend on me though I helped them grow.

06 December, 2007

Sex Pixies

Because I couldn't resist the impulse.

(If you don't have the referent for the joke, just nod and smile, folks.)

(Sorry, fellow sex pixies, I just couldn't begin to bring to present myself with butterfly wings .... I tried! Couldn't make it look like me! I did go through all the shirts though, picking the sexpixiest thing I could find that I might actually wear. I kept the sparklies!)

(Sex Pixie Dw3t-Hthr doll created at Elouai.)

05 December, 2007

Claiming Iron

I am watching (and only very slightly participating in) a discussion hosted by a Feri witch I respect greatly on the subject of the differences between the Anderson Feri tradition and the Reclaiming tradition. (For a little background: the Anderson Feri tradition is an until-recently-fairly-obscure form of American-origin religious witchcraft -- superficially similar to the far-better known Wicca. The Reclaiming tradition, which is far better known in significant part due to the writings of its luminary, Starhawk, is a partial descendant of Feri, blending some of its techniques and liturgy with Z Budapest's goddess worship and a related branch of politically-activist second-wave feminism, and probably some other threads as well. I have seen people raise the theory that people mistaking Starhawk for a Wiccan author is part of why current-day pop paganism is such a confounding mess.)

The discussion of the differences between Feri and Reclaiming is one of those standing-wave arguments that one gets in fairly closely-related subcultures. It's an interesting one to me, as I have minimal resonance with Reclaiming as a tradition (though I have, over the past several years, gotten less knee-jerky about it and more able to deal with Reclaiming-influenced ritual in groups due to spending a great deal of time with a number of Reclaiming witches), but am interested in pursuing further studies of Feri (when I get my head straightened out a little).

One of the tools that Feri and Reclaiming share is something called the Iron Pentacle, a tool for contemplation, energy work, personal development, what have you: a five-pointed star with each point associated with a concept, a virtue, a manifestation of the center. The points of the star are often traced onto the body -- Sex at the head, drawn down to Pride at the right foot, Self in the left hand, Power in the right hand, Passion in the left foot, and then back up to Sex.

One of the things that Feri and Reclaiming do not share is an attitude towards power. Reclaiming's second-wave background includes the particular threads of egalitarian feminism that are deeply concerned about the concept of power-over, and thus the tradition as a whole strives for a non-heirarchical and communitarian perspective. Feri, traditionally taught as an oral tradition, with its essence being handed down from specific teachers to specific students, has an inescapable thread of heirarchy to it, along with its vehemence about developing one's own personal power and strength and freedom.

As I work with Iron, I explore the ways in which creative energy, living energy, sexual energy -- conceptualised in Feri as Sex -- are tightly intertwined with Power and Self, the adjacent points on the Pentacle. I cannot sever the connections between Sex and Power in myself any more than I am willing to tolerate having the connections between Sex and Self severed (been there, done that, trying to heal the damage). And one of the things that I've come to realise is that my understanding of the flow of power depends on difference; power is thermodynamic. Two identical forms of power just sit up against each other; if one supports the other, or if they have different goals or aptitudes or natures or flavors or any of the other peacock-fanning spreads of possible difference, there's a flow, an engagement, energy moves. From hot to cold, from black to red, from light to dark, from and around and through.

Which leads me around to understanding at a deep level why certain forms of feminist egalitarianism leave me cold. Or possibly tepid, in that kind of thermodynamically evened way. The emphasis on avoidance of the thing called 'power-over' frequently leads to a smoothing-over of the sort of differences in the sort of power people are expressing that drive my sense of power, and with it my energy investment, my enthusiasm, my sexuality, my life-force, whatever you want to call it; I feel sterilised in that kind of space, soaked in antibacterials and mummified in plastic.

03 December, 2007

Against Empowerment

Sometimes being a giant word nerd gets me in trouble.

Have a look at the dictionary definitions of 'empower', would you? Here's an indicative one, right up at the top.

1. to give power or authority to; authorize, esp. by legal or official means: I empowered my agent to make the deal for me. The local ordinance empowers the board of health to close unsanitary restaurants.
2. to enable or permit: Wealth empowered him to live a comfortable life.

There's a wee usage note a little bit down about usage of the word 'empower' in movements and as a political buzzword.

Every so often I see something going around -- how dare someone say such-and-such a thing is empowering. Do you really think you're empowered by that? This empowers me. Etc.

I don't get the appeal of empowerment.

The thing is, if you look at the word, 'empowerment' is all something that's granted by someone else. Delegated power, existing only on the whim of the authority figure that grants it. It's not genuine freedom, because it's entirely contingent on the powers that grant it choosing to continue to do so. It's a form of self-determination that depends entirely on buying into a particular power structure, accepting a particular authority, doing whatever it is that one does to win the 'empowering'.

Where's the finding genuine actual power that doesn't depend on someone or something else's stamp of approval? I want to see more people talking about real power, real decision-aking, the things that people do for themselves, the manifestation of their hearts, not the things that are granted to them by the mainstream world, or their political subcultures, or their social organisations and disorganisations, for the sake of their allegiance to those structures, for their conformity.

Yeah, it's nice to get the recognition that comes with someone else granting one power. Gods know it's a trip and a half to play that game; I can't say that I don't get a lot of kinky fun out of playing with it. But it's the deeper thing that isn't a game that matters there, the acting from the center and the heart; all the gameplaying empowerment toys that come of d/s wouldn't mean a damn thing if it weren't for the way I get my feet settled on something solid, a place to stand, to use this here lever from.

I'm not going to settle for empowerment when I can have the real power that comes of acting truly as myself, doing the things that matter to me, choosing what I think is best for me and mine, and working to make a world where those choices are easier to do. The Power Fairy can come and bestow on me all the empowering they fancy, but there's the real world to live in that suffers from an excess of getting along with an authority because keeping my head down provides bennies.

So long as I'm merely 'empowered', whoever or whatever gave me that can take it away again.

02 December, 2007

Sexes and Genders and Bears, Oh My

So I was reading some of the discussion on the Trans 101 thread on Feministe, and one of the things that came up in a number of comments there is about the intersections between transsexuality and genderqueerness. And I've written about related stuff before, most particularly in the Lamia piece, but not so much directly on that subject.

And so I want to poke a bit at that.

I'm cissexual. I'm also genderqueer. I'm not transgendered -- there is no 'over there' for me to go to, so I rattle around in the amorphous space between 'gender congruent' and 'gender incongruent', a sort of gender dilettante.

When I say "I'm cissexual" I don't mean that I am 100% down with the whole having a female body thing. I've slept on my side all my life; I still haven't adjusted well to what that does to my spine now that I'm not flat. I am so not in the "I love the profound spiritual experience of my moon time" camp. If there were a magic way to swap sexes freely, I would certainly try out being a man for a while to see what it's like -- I might even like it, who knows? -- but I'm pretty damn sure I'd want to swap back after I'd given that body a test drive for a while. (And some of the reasons for that swapping back, to note one of the standard hostile commentary directed at trans people, include particular sexual kinks that hook into this body configuration.) I don't mean that I don't have little dysphorias about my body, though none of the significant ones are sex trait linked.

But all of these are little minor things, comparatively tiny. I didn't used to wear glasses; I remember when I had really spectacular vision. The state of my eyes doesn't leave me with a feeling of wrongness, just mild annoyance at times. My body isn't wrong. It's out of warranty, sure, my skeleton could have done with a bit better engineering, an upgraded gastrointestinal system would be appreciated (but I'd give one to my brother first), but it's still my body. I greet menstruation with "Oh, this nonsense again", not, "This is wrong. It can't be happening to me. My body is making it clear that I don't belong." (Every trans man I know well enough to discuss this with has referred to menstruation as 'cognitive dissonance week'.) There isn't a sense of profound wrongness attached to these things, just aggravation. Inconvenience, perhaps. I'm not thrown out of my head by any of it.

I get thrown out of my head by gender stuff.

A couple of years ago I commissioned a custom NancyButton with the text: "Deborah Tannen thinks that I'm a man." (To be less pithy and more accurate about it, reading through the gendered-communication stuff she wrote about in her pop linguistics stuff, I probably come out to about 2/3 male conversational pattern, 1/3 female conversational pattern.)

There was one of those "What sex are you?" internet quizzies that went around a while back, with result options 'male', 'female', 'either', and 'neither', and I came out male on top ... and then neither. Female clocked in at 39% match.

I got told by a Radical Faerie (I think) once that I had 'a lot of male energy', and commented something in response about my self-perception of androgyny, the experience of an astral penis, though not mentioning that in most of my very few explicit sex dreams I'm male with a female partner.

On the one hand, there's the whole "Of course a woman can do this; I'm a woman, and I do this" thread of things. But at the same time there's this whole thing where I've always felt like a poser, a faker, someone with passing privilege who has to be sure to not be caught doing it wrong, or watching the other people surreptitiously for cues. The body things I don't have a problem with, but I don't seem to have a woman's mind. Or at least not what gets portrayed as one in any of the gender presentations and behaviours standardly allowed for women.

Or something. I've written about being much more comfortable with the trappings of femininity once I gave up on the whole female-gender thing as describing me, because then I could go at them with the same attitudes I did at the trappings of masculinity -- I can get out of this what I want, I don't have to fit a pattern.

I've noted that the only gender I've ever been comfortable with is "geek", but that's not right, it's merely not wrong. I once gave my gender as "music elemental" in response to a casual poll. I have a perfume that I wear when I want to keep myself mentally off-balance for some reason, because it makes me smell like a girl. I commented to Little Light a while back that my sort of ur-formalwear includes a frock coat and elbow-length opera gloves. The idea of having a single gender expression -- picking, say, the pseudo-Victorian look and attitude and priorities over the long-skirted long-haired hippie or the sleek, spiked goth or any of the other things that I pick up and put down depending on the tides and the weather -- or even a dominant one with little lapses into the others for special occasions -- is weird and uncomfortable and pinning me down somewhere I don't belong.

And it isn't that standard gender roles are oppressive -- which they are -- or that the alternate conceptions of gender strike me as similarly, if not as severely limiting -- which they do -- it's just that the whole damn thing is a mask-dance anyway. It's all drag, man. None of these are me -- or at least not all of me.

01 December, 2007

Bodies 4: The Footnote

Acting Surgeon General thinks Santa should lose weight.

Because even your mythologies need to bodyconform!

Bodies 4: Seeing Clearly (Is the Rain Gone?)

I've been thinking a lot about self-image, body image, stuff like that lately. The state of relationships to food and health and similar stuff.

I'm in a funny state about a lot of this stuff; I missed the adolescent indoctrination period into proper body image, partly by having the luck to mostly fall within the norms of the socially acceptable and thus not getting policed on it, partly by being a completely fucking oblivious nerd. When I was about twenty, I was introduced to the real world, and it stung.

What I first ran into was backlash. People who felt that the best way to support the heavier/curvier women they preferred was to proclaim them the only real women, capable of handling the affection of a real man without breaking. Women in particular who directed insults, hostility, and hatred at people with different body types, snide comments about what they were or were not eating, generalised cattiness. People who blew off people with my narrow build and slight breasts as only likely to be attractive to closeted gay men.

(The fact that I have a crazy ex who was, as far as I can tell, a closeted gay man, who was notably more attracted to me than his other partner at the time, who has a much more earth-mothery and thus overtly feminine build, and treated her even worse than he treated me, complete with, as I understand it, some level of insults to her attractiveness? Not helpful on that last one's front.)

I spent a little while -- when I wasn't busy cringeing -- familiarising myself with the size acceptance movement, sensitising myself to the issues around weight, developing a nice little head of annoyance about the way weight and health issues are treated. Expanding my awareness a little. Starting to actually pay attention to the cultural chaff that I had sort of ducked much of my life.

Large parts of it are still Bulletins From Outer Space for me, observing the way utterly ordinary-sized people go through the little ritual dance of the "mustn't have cookie, it's shameful" thing before eating, or who feel the need to reduce their weight. And so rarely talk about it in terms of body performance or needs -- not even a "When I weighed ten pounds less I felt better/more energetic/etc." The ritual declarations of hatred for people who aren't engaging in this process. I wind up uncomfortable in these discussions, the rattling off of Weight Watchers stuff, the obligatory offerings of shame, the ... sheer alienation of it all to me, this standard-feminine social ritual that I can't comprehend.

Mostly can't comprehend.

One of those times I was sort of torn and bleeding from being on the edges of one of these things, I had a terrifying moment, looking in the mirror, and going, "I see someone perfectly ordinary in size. And all these ordinary-sized people I know are desperately needing to diet, are concerned about their calorie intake, are doing all these things. What am I not seeing? Do I need to fix something? Do I need to change?" All of that social shame-programming and neuroticism that I missed suddenly manifesting, kicking in, chasing some illusory ideal that goes straight down the road to completely delusional body-image.

My hips finally finished broadening out in my mid-twenties, ish. And occasionally I'm struck with this sense that my body isn't the shape I expect it -- not the wrong shape, but broader, not the narrower sexless form that I had for so long. And I remember my parents telling me that they hit a point where they could gain weight at around thirty, and my breadth of hip is comparable, I think, to my mother's, a sensible place for it to be. It's all bone structure -- with it came a shifting about of flesh that means I'm inadequately padded in a couple of places, especially if I drop a pound or two -- and I recognise that with the rational mind.

The irrational mind looks at me in sweats and tee in the mirrors at the studio where I study tai chi and goes off on this railing panic about my goddamn size. Even when I know -- rationally -- that I could do with gaining a few pounds, at least if I could gain it in my ass. The shame machine is there, trying to make me crazy, hooking into the whole cultural edifice I missed out on having as an active part of my psyche and trying to connect it up to the driving horribleness of personal inadequacy. The irrational mind is convinced that this late-developing hips thing is some sort of crisis. The irrational mind cups a hand over the curve of my belly and says, "This thing didn't used to be round like this, right?"

And I sit here with the delusionality trying to take hold, trying to make me obsess, trying to get more focus than the fleeting and rationally dismissable bits of, "But! But!" that I can blow off by pointing out the pointy bits of discernable bone and other reasonable countermeasures, and I don't damn well know what to do about it. On the one hand, because I haven't been wrestling with this shit all my life, I'm fresh and have a much more developed rational facility for shooting the crazy little voices down and such; on the other hand, I spend a lot of time going "Where the hell did this come from? Makes no sense!" And getting even more uncomfortable around the ritual declarations of bad cookie or the discussions of diets or the evaluation of the caloric counts of various dishes, because rather than simply being outside my comprehension, it hits all those insidious buttons that in my head are the heads of that well-larded slope into complete fucking delusionality.

I can't say there's nothing wrong with my body, but what's wrong with my body has not a damn thing to do with my weight. And I can generally take the rational mind and point that out to myself, firm-like, and not get on the train to crazy about it.

But at the same time ... please don't talk to me about your diet.

Associated recommended reading: The Fantasy of Being Thin.

27 November, 2007

Intersection in the Bookstore

So I decided to make an attempt to redeem a really godawful day by wandering in a used bookstore for a bit. And while I was wandering, I decided that I wanted to see if I could find something by bell hooks, because a number of people I respect speak so highly of her work.

Intersectionality in action, there.

bell hooks has nothing in the feminist theory section, nor in the women in history section, nor, for that matter, in the race issues section; the three titles in the used bookstore were filed under 'African-Americans'.

And I found myself thinking about the discussion brownfemipower was hosting, about the work of women of color being sidelined, pushed to the back end of the semester as an if-we-have-time. And I'm wandering this bookstore going, "Wow. If I were just puttering about in the women's studies section, I'd never know bell hooks existed." Though there were a couple of titles in there about critiques of mainstream feminism from a POC perspective.

Intersectionality means that nobody knows where to shelve your damn books. It means that only people who are looking at whatever subissue the linear one-person-one-categorisation has lumped you into will see what you have to say, and the fact that you have more to say than fits neatly into the box is irrelevant. Procrustean shelving practices prevail, because there's no damn way of shelving the book in the five different places it goes.

I don't even know how to fix it. Looking at the world in a tangled mess of Venn diagrams doesn't help anyone find something in the damn bookstore. Not until we get VR bookstore interfaces and can shelve everything in all the places that it goes, so people can look in their boxes and find everything that belongs in the box.

Check your local bookstores. Where can you find bell hooks?

(But I now have a copy of Ain't I A Woman: black women and feminism.)

Hiding the Lion

The promised sequel to Hiding the Cow, which I got around to because of Renegade Evolution's latest nony, who fancies spewing about how women are all gentle and nurturing and how that shows what's wrong with people today.

A mythological interlude:

A long time ago, back when the world was forging legends, humankind got kind of pissy and uppity and disrespectful of the gods, as humans have done from before time immemorial. This time was sufficiently bad that Ra, who was having a sensitive day, asked His daughter, named Gold, to go explain to them the error of their ways and instruct them in proper respect.

And Gold gathered her power together, and went among the humans to apply proper chastisement, and was known as Sekhmet, Whose Name means "The Powerful One".

And after She had been explaining things for a wee bit, the other gods went to Ra and said, "You know, if She doesn't stop explaining, we're going to run out of humans." And Ra sent to His daughter and said, "I think they have the idea now, you can come home." And She said, "You can never be sure. And besides, I'm enjoying myself." And her enjoyment ran red across the land.

So the gods did as the gods will do in such circumstances, went to wise Djehwty (Who the Greeks called Thoth) and said, "Djehwwwwwwty, you're smaaaart. Fix it! Pleeeeeeeeaaaase?"

And Djehwty had many jars of beer brewed, vast numbers of them, and dyed them with red ochre. And He went to where Sekhmet, replete with the day's slaughter, was sleeping, and poured out the beer until the land ran red with it around Her. And when She woke, she saw the red liquid, and grinned, and dipped her head to drink, and got completely smashed, and ran away to Nubia.

And eventually that caused problems too, and Djehwty was sent to fix it, and bring Her home, and as She bathed in the Nile at the cataract of the border, the bloodlust washed out of her, staining the waters red, and She was again Gold, the beautiful daughter of Ra.

And these two ladies, Hetharu and Sekhmet, They have Their own lives, their own natures, and yet, if you dig deep enough down, you find that the lady Who loves and celebrates all that is good and beautiful has a rage in Her if that beauty is defiled; the lady Who avenges, purifies, and cleanses taint does so out of that same deep, profound love. The one slides into the other so easily when the balance is tipped. The Lady of Intoxication in both Her Names will share a draught of beer with you, especially if it's red, but there is also the madness of music and the madness of blood, and they are not so far apart as some would like to think. Ask your local maenad.

End mythological interlude.

When I wrote 'Hiding the Cow', I wrote about how I kept running into people who just couldn't imagine me as a Hathor kid, couldn't see me as someone who would revere Her first among goddesses. Too cranky, too abrasive, not nurturing enough, or something. But the face I show the world is much more Setian than rooted in Mother's sister-self; the outsider, the alien, the border-walker and challenger. Not the surgeon, not the plague-bringer, not the cauterising flame, Whose kindness can be so cruel.

I don't show that either, when I can help it.

And one can say that it's because it's not kind to perform brain surgery on random passers-by without getting proper consents first, or that it's not nice to be cruel and one should strive to not make other people's lives that much more difficult.

But really, mostly, I'm afraid of power.

Sekhmet, The Powerful One.

Who can get just as drunk on the joy of slaughter as She can on a shot of something. Who enjoys inflicting the pain and terror. Who ...

... if you live long enough with someone who hoards information, ideas, notions about a person, hones them to a point, to a razored, jagged edge ...

... it's hard to not get good at knowing where to put the knife.

... and now to twist it.

It's so easy.

It feels so satisfying. To take whatever is inside, all the pain at things not being right, at beauty defiled, whatever outrage I suffer or the world around me suffers, and turn it around, and drive it back into someone's gut.

And there are clean ways of doing the surgery, and there's the slide into dipping one's shaggy leonine head to drink the blood from the landscape, and it's not easy, and it's not clean, and there's a line somewhere but it's hard to know when one's crossing it.

And because I fear it, I fear myself, because I hold that potential within me, just as much as I do the potential to nurture and heal. They are not disparate things, cleanly separated, either; the surgeon is a healer, cutting out the cancerous. The mother must defend, and must not smother with overkindness. Joy can be marred. Rightness can be restored. It's all a seamless flow from colour to colour, red and gold mingled together, thread by thread.

Dua Sekhmet.

24 November, 2007

A Personal Note

Provoked somewhat by discussions on Bastante Already and in reference to Carol Hanisch's 'The Personal is Political', a personal note to the internet.

Those pesky personal problems that I drag into the public arena when I have the time and energy:

Mental health concerns being treated as strongly distinct from other health concerns. Shaming of people with depression and other mental health issues, treating those concerns as being moral failings rather than health matters. Frequent lack of coverage for extended therapy and other mental health concerns in American health care coverage. The dependence of adequate health care coverage on adequate employment in the United States. Attention to diagnosis depending on the sex, ethnicity, class, and other privilege status of the sufferer, such that a suburban kid may actually get the care they need while an inner-city kid may get kicked out of school for being 'disruptive' or something similar. Socially deranged attitudes towards body shape and health that encourage eating disorders, among other consequences.

Privilege-fraught access to education in general. Failure to put forward advancement of actual learning in the schools rather than constant grinding over the same topics repeatedly. Lack of care for students with special needs, whether those are remedial, medical, advancement, or something else. High costs of education. Lack of learning actual essential skills for living. Failure to teach how to evaluate and weigh evidence. The promulgation of misinformation about socially denigrated activities in the hope that fear will keep people from having sex, smoking pot, or whatever else is being discouraged by propaganda. Lack of informed status on such things as the basic beliefs of Islam, the principles of supply and demand, the mechanics of disease transmission, and any of a number of other matters that have worldwide import.

The equation in the United States of form of employment with selfhood. The shortest span of paid vacation in the supposedly civilised world. The expectation that employees, especially but not limited to men, will work overtime rather than have time to spend having their actual lives. The lack of childcare facilities available in most workplaces. The cultural prioritisation of financial gain as measure of success.

The shaming and fetishisation of rape and assault victims as Damaged People. The lack of adequate awareness of social coercion and date rape. Slut-shaming and other tools of oppressive normative sexuality. Seeking to diagnose and pathologise whatever is wrong with people who do not have normative sexuality on the assumption that nobody could be like that without having been abused. Treatment of people who do not constantly adhere to normative sexualities as being intrinsically dangerous, antisocial, abusing, or otherwise disruptive. The unpersoning of sex workers. Treatment of sexuality as something intrinsically unable to be approached with rational thought, commitment-keeping, or human respect. Treating personal sexuality as a political statement.

Lack of awareness and consideration for verbal and emotional abuse. Boys will be boys. Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words will never hurt you.

Lack of social and legal support for alternate family structures. The inability of same-sex partners to legally marry in most of the United States. The presumption that any non-monogamous family unit is polygynous.

The social presumption of Christianity. The fact that questioning the hegemonial status of someone else's holiday leads to accusations of hostility to Christianity, "War on Christmas", anti-religion sentiments, secularism, or whatever other deranged slanders crop up especially around this time of year. Generalised religion-bashing sentiments that only make sense if one assumes the axioms of a particular flavor of Abrahamic monotheism. Anti-Christian sentiments expressed in the assumption that nobody present could possibly object.

Sexism. Including anti-male sexism. Gender essentialism. Mystical frou-frou womb worship. Sexual reductionism. Transphobia. Ableism. Calling things "lame". Calling things "retarded". Calling things "gay". Homophobia. Anti-bisexual bigotry. Racism. Presumption that the customs of one's people are laws of the universe. Ethnic supremacy. Male supremacy. Female supremacy. Kink supremacy. Polyamorous supremacy. Reconstructionist supremacy. Imperialist treatment of non-Western nations and ethnicities.

And quite likely rather a few other things I can't think of right now.

They could sometimes admit that women were oppressed (but only by "the system") and said that we should have equal pay for equal work, and some other "rights." But they belittled us no end for trying to bring our so-called "personal problems" into the public arena - especially "all those body issues" like sex, appearance, and abortion. Our demands that men share the housework and childcare were likewise deemed a personal problem between a woman and her individual man.

From the new intro to "The Personal is Political", linked above.

23 November, 2007


So last night I called all my immediate family members -- both parents and my brother -- to wish them a happy Thanksgiving.

Talking with my brother is ... complicated, sometimes. It's like we grew up in slightly different worlds. He was never close to Dad, particularly, for reasons I understand, and maintains a closer relationship with Mom than I can imagine ever wanting. He asked me why I was finally in therapy, and I told him I'd hit rock bottom, and after a moment he said, "I'm happy for you", and ... it's a funny thing to say, though I know what he meant.

He apparently went to a Thanksgiving gathering with Mom and about a dozen (according to him) or twenty (according to her) other people. She had a great time. He felt alienated by all the strangers having their family togetherness holiday, pretty much.

And he said, "I hate holidays like this."

I asked him why.

"I don't have a family," he said.

The divorce and all its chaos happened while he was still living at home -- I was off to college, and then I went mad, and I stayed here rather than come back. Which I needed to do, and at the same time I wasn't there for him. I'm pretty sure he was upset by that, by not having my support, but I could barely keep myself together at the time.

I know he walked out somewhere in there, lived with friends for a few weeks, just didn't deal with them, because of something Mom said to him, trying to pull the coercion tricks on him because he wasn't bending to her will, because he was trying not to take sides.

I know he was a lot more scarred by the dissolution than I was. I don't know how to soothe that at all.

I just ....

"I don't have a family."

22 November, 2007

Please Wait, I Haven't Padded The Corners On That Yet

Remember, kids, Sesame Street is for grownups!

Not only does cookie cookie cookie start with C, but COMPLETELY CRAZY does too!


Catastrophically Cracked.

19 November, 2007

A Sufficiency Of The Evidence

"What do you want?"

"I have everything I want."

I have never in my life been enough.

When I was about twelve, I think, I started getting my mother chocolates for Christmas. Cherries, with the stems on, in dark chocolate, a half-dozen of them every year. Because I was certain she liked them, certain there would be no disappointment at receiving them, no pause, and then the little sigh, and then the muted, "Thank you" that made it clear that somehow, something had managed to fall short. There was a failure there, something unspoken, a perpetual wound.

And that's without getting into the dramatic spikes of failure at impossible standards, the betrayals by the incomprehensible. The messages I get occasionally, seesawing wildly between "we've got the bestest mother/daughter relationship evar" and "I don't know what to do with you, you shut me out, I'm uninvolved in your life, you reject me", the threat of the latter a now-fangless attempt at enforcing the former.

My father would tell me that he knew I could do better, sometimes, and I know he meant it in that encouraging way, look, the goal is a little further on, it's within your reach, just stretch a little. When I pointed out how poorly "you can do better than this" interacted with Mom's "nothing you do will ever be good enough", he nearly cried.

There is always the capacity to strive, the obligation to strive, and the knowledge that it will not suffice. Hamartia is the Greek word, often translated as "sin": missing the mark, missing the target, the arrow falls short. I grew up steeped in hamartia, leaving stains on my bones like tea left in the cup too long; any success was inadequate, any failure was proof of inadequacy. The moral qualities of failure, of sin, turned me into a newt, breathing in guilt and shame in the constant flood of hamartia.

Metamorphosis happens. As does hamartia. I cannot keep breathing the same thing as I did before I grew legs, but hamartia calls to me, a safe place to swim, even the toxins are familiar. Until I realise I'm choking, choking on shame and guilt that's just ... floating about ... and there's nothing here to breathe. Not a baby newt anymore, soaking in poison through my skin. I can drown, here, now, in hamartia and the things that flow in it.

"What do you want?"

"I have everything I want."

They're amazing things, the moments where the world coils in close and simplifies down into just us for a while, the shape of being me and being him and us being the two of us and setting down the outside for a while, his hand on the back of my neck, my face buried against his shoulder, the urge to please and serve told that it does well, that it is ... enough.

I have never in my life been enough, I told him, and I cried. Never been enough. Never been able to put down the striving to be better and more, or the knowledge that no striving will be sufficient.

And he said he had been sad, and I had given him happiness, and this was enough.

For a little there, curled up in his arms, settled into the glowy contentment of satiated service, I ...

... can almost believe it.

17 November, 2007

Twoness and Peacock Tails

A lot of people hate binaries, dualisms, that sort of thing. And I love them. And I often agree with the people who hate them, at that, because a lot of people misuse the concepts of duality in messy ways.

And I got a thought about this when I was responding to this post about transmisogyny and BDSM at Questioning Transphobia. Which relates to this post I made last month at Let Them Eat Pro-SM Feminist Safe Spaces, somewhat.

I wrote over at QT:

The other thing about the whole “there’s this binary (and implicitly gendered) thing going on here” is … okay, when I was a babykinkster and trying to find resources to understand whether there were people like me out there, people who might be the complement to the stuff in my head, I kept running into things that … made no sense to me. There isn’t one dualism there — there’s a myriad of complexly nuanced different dualisms, some of which line up pretty closely to each other some of the time. And most of the publically available material doesn’t speak to the stuff in my head.

Top and bottom; dominant and submissive; sadist and masochist; all different things, which spread out like a fan or a peacock tail and not everyone has all the feathers. And some people conflate these with male and female; active and passive; abuser and abused; perp and victim; subject and object; this vast tangle of presumed other meanings.

And "male and female" has its own fanning morass of dualisms -- active and passive shows up again; violent and nurturing, we get there; public and private; bunches of moral dualisms depending on political and social beliefs; friend and foe (or foe and friend, depending); sometimes 'abuser and victim' turn up again; butch and femme; active and passive, sometimes, at that. Great whirling varieties of dualisms.

And lots of people don't fan them out. They presume that the bunch of dualities that they're dealing with all line up tidily, so one can say "dominant and submissive" and mean "maledominantsadistabuserperpbutchviolentactive and femalesubmissivemasochistabusedvictimfemmenurturingpassive". There isn't space to pull out and say, look, submissive doesn't mean masochist, say -- as I want to do occasionally -- or have some sort of sensical discourse that doesn't involve discussing victimisation -- where the thread on SM-Feminists degenerated to -- or have space for a female top, or for that matter people for whom gender identity isn't particularly connected to their kink preferences at all, a completely disjoint axis from the mishegasmishmashmess.

There's this whole sense that having one thing in there means buying into the entire unfanned mess, sometimes even without knowing what's folded in there and hidden away under the top feather. It's found safe to presume that because some of these things tend to go together, they're all words for the same thing.

They're not.

And this is the gorgeous thing about dualities to me, the huge range of nuance one can get spreading out the feathers one has, combining all the different nuances that come of living on the spectrum between a thousand different this-or-thats -- and sometimes that's being all of one or another, sometimes living in the blended zone between them, sometimes not having any feather from that bird in the fan at all -- into this fractal of differentiated meaning. What does it mean to have 'submissive' fit but to have cognitive issues with 'bottom'? Here, there's someone with 'dominant' and 'masochist' both in the fan; there, there's someone with 'spanko' who doesn't fancy anything from the sadomasochistic duality at all; allĂ­, someone who had a couple of feathers from the whole dominant-submissive bird, but a couple of them are kind of chewed up from past experience and so they tend to hold it carefully so they don't show.

It's this amazing dance of possibility, not just left or right but the full range of rotating possibilities, spun around and around like an orrery. Today, these bits of gender possibility, these bits of sexual possibility, these bits of religious possibility, all these variety of the possibles that exist, some of them line up here, but time moves on, they spin, the planets will be in a different position tomorrow. The satellite doesn't exist in my whirling brass soular system, but maybe it does in yours, and don't they sparkle when they spin? How dull it would be if they all swept around in straight lines, all the time, identical in everyone, never forming conjunctions or transits or aspects with each other, never dancing.

I was once trying to talk about gender and writing and got a response something like "kids are given pink or blue blankets when they're still in the crib, you can't not do gender in this particular way."

The blankets I had in my crib were yellow and green.

14 November, 2007

This is starting to get silly.

So for a while in my tracking logs for here I had a google hit for "why are people into stuff like BDSM? is it evolutionary?" which led, of all places, to my blogging for sex education day post, rather than any of my, y'know, posts about why I'm into stuff like BDSM. This has dropped out of my cache.

Now my google hit for that post is for "teen sexuality is a chemical imbalance or by choice".

12 November, 2007

Tired Of My Mother

I am so tired of my mother.

Which is, of course, why I'm stuck writing about it, because my entire universe keeps collapsingto "Goddamn, am I tired of my mother."

Every glitch, every petty irrationality, everything I snap at or over, somewhere along the way I come across this moment of revelation: oh, right, I go completely nonlinear here because of a pattern from my mother. I am tired of this. I want to be a crazy freak for a different reason for a bit.

I was going to print out "Have you ever gone mad?" from this blog and my detailed writeup of the assault from my LJ to hand to the shrink tomorrow, to have something to talk about other than my mother, but that was before a dispute and revelation led to me sobbing in my husband's arms about how tired I am of my mother. Sobbing and wailing to the point of nausea (how I hate that emotional upset makes me want to vomit) about how everywhere I turn, she's there, the echoing voice in my head, the patterns, the irrationalities, every damn problem I try to tackle, every issue I want to resolve, oh look, there are mommy issues. So maybe I should talk about how tired I am of my mother.

There's no escape. She lives in my head and I don't know how to evict her. I live five hundred miles away from her for a goddamn reason, and I still have these small signs that light up saying "Please do not push this button again".

And who am I kidding, anyway? So much of the madness is tangled up in having no refuge, no way of recovering, becoming sane, her obsession with the condition of the filthy sheets over showing any concern over my pain-wracked mind, fighting to stay where I was rather than go back anywhere near her where I would have to face the buffeting of her towering contempt. I don't know how to chase down the origins of that break, either, though she's not uninvolved. So much of the aftermath of the assault is tied up in not having anywhere safe to turn to, because my mother was untrustworthy and my father was emotionally shut-in and ... there's no escaping her there either, just a diversion of other reasons to be quite crazy that are at least slightly separate from the all-consuming howling madness that she taught me.

And my liege just asked me, "Do you want some tea or something?"

I said, "I want an exorcism."

He said he'd look for his manual for Catholic priests.


I am so tired of my mother.

Therapy is hard. I don't see any way of getting free.

Slice of Life

A conversation I just had:

B peers dubiously at this catalog. It's a "for women!" pocketknife, containing "anything you might need for an emergency". This includes a mirror, nail clippers, needle and thread, and ... a little bitty perfume vial (perfume not included).
Dw3t-Hthr says, "..."
Dw3t-Hthr says, "Where are the needle-nose pliers? Back when I carried a purse, that's what *I* always had."
B says, "Heh. That does seem rather more useful."

(After hitting several overloaded links, he found it here, by the way, if other people want to point, laugh, and be kind of depressed. Amazingly, it comes in colours other than pink.)

Seriously, this is better than more ranting about my mother.

08 November, 2007

Hiding the Cow

The name I post under to these blogs, Dw3t-Hthr, is one of the standard transliterations of an ancient Egyptian temple position, which means "Adorer of Hathor". (I will note that I tend to use Egyptian names for Her rather than the better-known Greek, but since we don't know what vowels they used, I use a variety of transliterations at more or less random.)

It struck me as an interesting thing that I picked that handle to post under, a while back, because the parts of me that resonate with Hetharu are not things that I much bring out in public spaces. I have had people tell me that they saw no influence of Her in me, and it has occasionally taken me a bit aback, until I thought a bit about how little of the parts of me that are Hers I reveal to the world at large. My public persona, especially online (apparently), is brusque, short-tempered, occasionally argumentative, somewhat withdrawn, puts up with no nonsense, and is not femme.

Hethert ... Hethert is the daughter of Ra, sometimes seen as the personification of the hand He wanked Himself off with to create existence. She bears the title Eye of Ra, a title of some several goddesses of manifest solar power, protectors of the sun. Her name means "House of Horus", house of Her husband, Heru-Wer, Whose eyes are the sun and moon, the vault of the sky; she is called Mistress of Heaven. Gold, she is called, the shining golden one, governing beauty, femininity, motherhood, joy. Lady of Intoxication, dancing the ecstasy of drunkenness. Healer, shade tree, Lady of the Sycamore. Hers is the rejuvenating power of sexuality, capable even of turning back old age. Lover of precious stones, especially blue and green ones: Her titles give her specific dominion over lapis lazuli, turquoise, and malachite; as She Who Reigns in Punt She looks over imported wealth, incense, luxury. The Mistress of Music's son is the musician, and the sistrum is frequently shaped in part in Her cow-eared likeness. As the Mistress of the West She receives the dead and brings them to rebirth just as much as She brought them to birth.

And people look at me and wonder how I might claim to love Her so, because aside from a manic fondness for blue things and perhaps a little mythological mockery in reference to The Distant Goddess, Her title from when She had to be coaxed back to Egypt with flattery and trickery rather than remain brooding outside the borders and depriving the sun of its protector and the land of its manifestation.

But seeing the cow is an intimacy, truly, not something that I put forward so often -- reference, perhaps, occasionally, but Her reflection in me is not something I am always entirely comfortable sharing. So I laugh at my choice of names, adorer of Hathor that I am, and reflect on things.

Like the vast amount of wrestling I am doing with my mommy issues, and the secret thread of that which is making myself capable of motherhood, of reflecting Her image. Not just cleansing myself of the traumas of my past, but this trial of worship, of preparing, of making myself more capable of manifesting Her nature in this manner, making more space to embody this goddess in this fashion. And this is a madness, a religious fanaticism, but it is nonetheless there, in all my striving towards adulthood, responsibility, mastering myself so that I can endeavour to avoid failing at this calling. And twined in with all that the curled up in my husband's arms, shaking with the force of it, knowing where I need to go, fear to go, ....

Like the deeprooted urge towards healing, towards support, that touch and mending of the wounded, which has to be held close, not loosed too freely or too readily, or I will spend all my life mending the unmendable. But I remember talking a friend out of suicide, once. Or getting someone in horrible personal pain to call me at three in the morning (my time), because she so clearly needed someone to talk to and there was nobody else. Or one of my classmates, shaking with pain, rocking and sobbing, and Her hand in mine, knowing that there was something that I could give her when she could speak, and the wonder of the giving and the receiving. And one could, if one wanted, chase threads of this into kink, into service, into the offering of support and dedication; I do not think that would be incorrect.

Like being reminded -- as Cube mentioned when I was venting about toonspace -- every so often that I brighten people's worlds, reveal joys to them that might otherwise go missed. That I show the world as a wondrous place, full of wondrous things, at least when I am well and balanced and kept properly maintained. (I lose this too easily.)

Like the constant play of music in my life, played or sung or performed or just rattling along in my head. Like years of training on piano and voice, a few with the flute, dabbling with teaching myself drum and bagpipe. My liege has commented on how charming he finds it that I sing along to things, sometimes under my breath, sometimes without seeming to notice that I am doing it; and he was not surprised that I remembered the music that was playing the first time we had sex, either.

Like long hours spent watching the infinite vault of deep heaven, and finding it warm and present and loving.

And wile they weren't singing about Her, the Who put it well:

Listening to you I get the music.
Gazing at you I get the heat.
Following you I climb the mountain.
I get excitement at your feet!
Right behind you I see the millions.
On you I see the glory.
From you I get opinions.
From you I get the story.

Dua Hetharu.

(There will at some point be a followup to this, titled 'Hiding the Lion'.)

05 November, 2007

Just Drawn This Way

Back to the mommy issues, alas. But this one is at least interesting.

One of the things that I wrestle with when trying to deal with my mother, trying to explain things and express them, is that the more stories I tell, the more I feel like I'm trying to present a cartoon as reality, present toonspace and toonlogic as things that actually work in the real bound-by-physics world. Trying to explain this makes me look like the crazy one. Which is of course one of those mechanisms-of-control, if trying to explain how something is broken makes one look deranged, there's no way of escape, getting out, getting support. (UTBM has, as one of those things-kids-of-borderlines-say, "My friends all think she's great!")

Every so often I come up with a story about her, and think, "If I tell this one, nobody will believe me." It's just too implausible, too weird, too off the wall, too ... toonworld. Here's one: Back in 2002 when the snipers were causing panic around Washington, DC, she forgot to stop for gas one morning and barely made it to work. She was furious with herself over this, up until she learned that a woman had been shot that morning at that gas station. At which point she sent my father an email mock-apologising for not stopping for gas that day.

And, okay, maybe that one story can make sense, in the context of a just-finalised acrimonious divorce, but, y'know, stack that up with my 'How I horrified the Shrink' story, with the time she decided to stop washing her hair to see if anyone would notice, with all these other things, and we've got a character that might work in a particularly exaggerated webcomic or a nineteenth-century satire. Not someone who really exists.

But anyway, I pinned down some of my issues -- I grew up in the universe of "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" Some people are normal people and operate like normal people, with normal physics, and so on. And some people are toons, and operate on toonlogic and with toonphysics. And some people are toons who look just like normal people; presumably there are some normal people who look like toons. And I don't know if I'm 'normal' or 'toon', or somewhere on the spectrum between them, and some people have implausibly large mallets in their back pockets for delivering chastisements for the violation of one set of rules or the other. It doesn't matter how soundly defeated some people are, they just reinflate and keep coming. And so on.

Are you real? Are you a toon? Am I real? Or a toon? I don't know. Some of my discernment got swallowed up by that borderline-black-box long enough ago that I don't know how to get it out again.

My liege keeps telling me I'm not as crazy as I think I am -- that my functionality is higher than I constantly fear it is.

But if I look down, I might fall. That's one of the unbreakable laws of toonphysics, after all. Never look down.


Sometime back in September (yeah, I have a backlog of things I want to post about, and the only other thing in my head is more mommy issues and I'm tired of mommy issues right now), The Wild Hunt noticed a small group of Christian blogs posting entries about paganism, and I went to look at them.

The one that particularly struck me was "Following the Wild Goose" at Eternal Echoes.

Why did the Wild Goose speak to those ancient Celtic Christians? To begin with, wild geese aren't’t controllable. You can’t restrain a wild goose and bend it to your will. They’re raucous and loud. Unlike the sweet and calming cooing of a dove, a goose’s honk is strong, challenging, strident and unnerving – and just a bit scary.

She goes on to write about the extended community that encompasses more than the human -- the manifest world as an expression of the will of the divine, animals as part of that dialogue among human, divine, and world, the value of the world of spirit as a part of the world that one lives in rather than a disjoint thing that does not touch on the centre of living.

And while I'm no Celt -- I leave that to my liege -- that doesn't mean that I don't have a shrine that Brighid shares in my house, accepting my cool water libations and occasional offerings of scent, milk, and whiskey. Integrated, a part of the spirit and the living of the house; my house shrine honoring its Two Ladies also houses all the miscellanea of day-to-day living -- the box of envelopes, a drawer with pens, stamps, and in theory nail clippers (in practice, at the moment, not so much), because the smooth maintenance of the extended household is a thing of spirit and reverence and also a thing of sometimes needing a pair of scissors. It doesn't make sense to separate them out to me, to pray for household peace and security in one place, and to trail about looking for a tape measure elsewhere, when all of this is a part of living and maintaining that household.

There is listening to the world, and knowing down in the bone that it breathes the will of the divine. I live in New England now, land of the Three Sisters, the corn and beans and squash twined together, a holy trinity of vegetable nutrition, each supporting the other in its own way, and feeding people well at the end. This is one of the secrets of the land I live in; I fully expect that the surrounding world will reveal a cornucopia of truths about the interrelationships between lives if one only pays attention. In ancient Egypt, the system was stark and clear; it is perhaps harder here without the richness of the thousand dualities that they knew then and there, but it can still be found, written in flesh as much as in storm and stone.

And when one listens, sometimes one can hear the voice of God, in the cry of the goose or the stormwind through the trees or the moon falling behind shadow or the clear returning glory of the sunlight, reminding and demanding that one attend, be present, listen to what it has to say. Maybe today it speaks of the seasons turning, or the end of drought, or the sun triumphant after another treacherous night beset by dangers; maybe it speaks of something more personal, more private, more demanding, down in the secret places that are never confessable, not in mortal tongues.

Sometimes the wild goose demands more than is easy to give. And one can turn away and listen only to sweeter songs, more pleasant, more flattering, or one can take the buffeting of the wings and hear the glory of the divine in all its registers.

03 November, 2007

How I Horrified The Shrink

It was probably a couple of months after I broke up with my first boyfriend, the one who assaulted me. Maybe a year after, the following summer, I mean. I was still a little shellshocked about it all, was wanting to talk about it with someone, was finally coming into a place where maybe I could. It was a bright, sunny day; I remember the light coming in through the windows.

I was old enough to not trust my mother with information right out, but not so old that I didn't try to hope she might turn somehow motherly if I gave her the chance. And I can't remember the context of the conversation, whether we were having some dispute, whether I brought it up out of the blue, any of that.

I asked her, "Did you ever wonder why [the ex] never calls anymore?" I think it was relevant to the conversation, or something.

She shrugged. "I figured he'd forced himself on you," like it was just something to shrug about, like it was normal, expected, something completely unworthy of comment.

I had no idea how to deal with someone who thought I had been raped and could not bring herself to care.

I fled.

02 November, 2007

Tell It To Me Straight

So I continue with this therapy dealie. This past session was spent largely on stories about my mother, at least one of which visibly horrified the shrink. (I may not have told that one here. I'll tell it another time.)

One of the ones I told was when I learned I couldn't trust her. Which ... what almost horrifies me now as an adult was that I knew this from the age of seven or eight or so, whenever this story happened, and yet I kept trying. Kept offering her things to break to see if she was going to break them again, like she always did. Kept giving her opportunities and being hurt when it didn't work out well. (And the shrink says that that sort of faith is good and human, but that doesn't make it not feel like a horror movie in retrospect -- don't open that door, you know the monster is behind that door, can't you hear the cellists?)

Anyway. At seven or eight I was seriously considering running away from home. I planned it thoroughly, in the oddly myopic way that kids do things -- I didn't have plans on where to go, I figured I'd go to a friend's house and work from there, but I had charts and diagrams and lists and things plotted out in where I'd put my stuff in the little red wagon -- money in a particular corner under other things so nobody would steal it, this much space for clothes, these critical stuffed animals, and so on. Twenty or so pages of notes about this -- I was a meticulous kid about that sort of thing.

And in a fit of, I don't know, generosity or weakness or something, I confessed to my mother that I'd been thinking of this. And she comforted me, patted me, made all the right there-there-dear noises, and I thought that maybe I wouldn't need those pieces of paper after all, all those carefully laid plans.

That night at about eleven I decided I needed a drink, and crept downstairs to get one from the kitchen. I overheard my parents talking in the living room -- or rather, my mother declaiming and my father grunting. I slipped up towards the edge of the door to listen, and heard, in vicious, dismissing, sneering tones, "... gave me this bullshit about running away ..."

I stood there, shocked to the bone, and I don't remember anything else of the conversation. I considered, fleetingly, bursting in on them, defending myself; considered getting the evidence of all my planning and presenting it as proof; considered just vanishing that night, I think, or the next day, to show her. And then I crept back upstairs, full of the shock of my mother's support and gentleness being a veneer over that contempt, too afraid to make a noise of getting a drink and getting caught having potentially heard that savagery. If she had that much hatred in her when she thought I didn't know, what would she do if she thought I knew? What would she do if she knew I caught her lying to me, expressing care and sympathy, pretending to be a friend, while she harbored that level of disgust for what I confided?

It's one of those things that has reverberations down the line, echoing in the cavernous hollows of the spaces between people. I am not put at ease by the 'polite social lie', but rather quite the contrary; I also deflect the question rather than speak untruth, if answering it truthfully would be inappropriate. (I honestly have no idea whether this is related to my decision at about the same age to stop lying. They aren't related in my memory, but.) I am not capable of considering the misdirecting social corner-padding a kindness; it's just another way for me to doubt my senses, for me to find a reason to mistrust.

My liege and I had something of a fight this week, because he had the basic respect for me to tell it to me straight. And then we went and we damn well fixed it, because all the parts were laid out mostly in the clear. Which reminds me of back early on in our relationship, when I anxiously told him I had a temper and might blow up under stress, and got the response, "Good. Then we will fight efficiently." It was very efficient; he even held me for some of it, the bit where I got lost in the old mommy-issues tangle of what is real, whether memory can mean anything, all of that mess that's why I can't handle the pretending. Keeping the truth straight is plenty hard enough.

30 October, 2007

Finding the Hanged Man

I was having a conversation the other day with a friend who said she envied me the smoothness and integration of my faith -- including, y'know, the raving crazed mysticism -- with the rest of my life. Which is sort of one of those topics of conversation that's a going thing, given that I'm doing a boatload of ordeal work at the moment, and helping/challenging my liege with his boatload of ordeal work, and a variety of other subjects, so hey, what the hell.

A while back on a message board I read occasionally, someone started a thread saying, basically, "So, if I were going to choose a religion, which one do you guys think I should pick?" I suspect they were expecting a bunch of "Mine, of course" answers.

I answered, "Whichever one is most in accord with your experiences and understanding of the universe; failing that, whichever one helps you to be the best person you can be, mitigating your flaws and enabling your strengths to shine; failing that, whichever one you find most beautiful."

Nobody acknowledged that answer, of course; I'm used to my crazed polytheistic empirical mysticism getting a lot of blank stares and drifting off in search of someone closer-to-paradigm to argue with. I get similar lack-of-responses to, "You want a relationship with my gods, go ask them yourself. I'm not their pimp."

But really, that's the answer to how I do it, how I don't wind up conflicted, where it all twines together. I drifted a long way out of the sort of half-assed religion that my family did when I was a kid because it didn't speak to me or my understanding of the universe, flailed desperately at clinging at things that did not work for me because they were closer to something that made sense, got myself awfully tangled up in that, and finally stumbled almost by accident into something where the underlying structure, beliefs, cosmology, and theology all make perfect sense to me, include words and concepts that let me express things I've always felt to be true efficiently and thus actually get past that and into more practical development than articulation of axiom can allow on its own.

And 'almost by accident' is one of those moments of madness in motion: reading a book that was sound enough to be interesting but clearly flaky enough that anything it said wanted research corroboration; reading through a list of symbols and, upon one name and correlation, getting a profoundly vivid mental image, something truly striking and potent; going, 'okay, let's see if that's real' and stumbling on the way a bunch of organisations talking about the religion underlying the symbolset; looking at what they had to say, and recognising this sense of homecoming and familiarity there.

And maybe that was the goddess named in that list giving me a vision. And maybe it was my imagination sparked by an association and a symbol -- the relevant symbol, the sacred lotus, Nymphaea caerulea, the flower that in one myth opened to reveal the sun at the moment of creation, remains my preferred symbol of my faith, though I wear a winged scarab as an actually findable second choice -- in a fortuitous way that I happened to remember because it turned out well. Maybe it was many things, but more than anything else it does not matter what it was; it got me to where I am, whether it was a divine gift or a chance firing of neurons.

And then, again with the empiricism, saying, "So all this philosophy makes sense, how about the rest of it," taking up the basic ritual structure, testing it, and coming out of it with, "Wow, that's the most effective ground-and-center technique I have ever encountered." Which ritual structure is now a part of my controls on my depression -- something my current doctor recognises as valuable, which amuses me; the questionnaire for intake included 'do you have any regular meditative practice (including prayer)'. Which ritual structure was one of those things where ... I was amazed to find something I could do that didn't leave me feeling like a complete dork, frankly.

And I work hard within the structure of my faith, apostate though I may be in my own perverse way. I've written short theological essays and gotten told that those changed how people lived, which is a heady sort of madness, but if my theological ranting about shopping carts gets more people to put the damn things away rather than leaving them strewn in parking spaces, I'm certainly not going to object. I'm of a belief that the universe is basically good and requires active maintenance, after all; the more people maintaining, the easier it is for everyone.

Though I don't much believe in belief, when it comes down to it. What people do matters far more to me than what they think in the privacy of their own minds; the stuff in the privacy of their own minds is unverifiable. My level of hard agnosticism makes crazed mysticism actually very easy: I may refer to it as a god communicating with me, talking to me, sending me visions, but it does not matter whether it is a god, raw chance, my Jungian unconscious boiling up some interesting crack, encroaching madness -- I can only judge the worlds by my own perceptions, my own mind, and I don't claim to know what's in it or the nature of what I experience. I test out other theories sometimes, "Okay, if I'm crazy, then what does this set of choices mean", and mostly what it means that I've spent a fair amount of time and a bit of money pursuing things that have, as far as I can tell, made me into a better, stronger, more competent, more well-rounded and balanced person, and surrounded me with things and ideas that I happen to find beautiful.

I wish all my crazy were that useful.

And yes, sometimes this particular madness drives me to places I would rather not go, forces me to confront issues I would rather not face, demands effort from me that I would rather not spend, and maybe some of that is a futile wasting of effort against the indifferent face of an uncaring and unpersonified universe, and maybe some of that is real. I don't claim to know what proportions that might be.

But I reach for the dawn of the first time, that sacred beginning implicit in every moment of continued existence, that first breath, the moment the waterlily cracks open and spills sunlight, the clean perfection of being, and I find something there so beautiful that my heart returns there again and again, to the place it has never left.

21 October, 2007

Centres of Power

I was talking with a visiting friend the other day about the "Spoiling Feminism" post, and, after a bit of reflection, commented that if I could inject one bit of comprehension into the brains of people I argue with sometime, it's that people are most powerful when synched up with who they are. Then I read Trinity's frustration at the blogs over BDSM, and decided to write about this.

I have commented before that getting into a stable d/s relationship as a submissive has been the single strongest contribution to my development and maintenance of a sense of personal power and capacity. And I'm not going to use the "empowering" buzzword, because that's nonsense; I did not get this power as a gift from outside, handed to me by my liege, or from thumbing my nose at some orthodoxy or other -- I got it from being able to put my integrated self in motion. If, gods forbid, something were to happen to him and our relationship, it would not go away, because I know what it's like to have that power now.

And I know that this concept will get a bunch of little twitterbirds with the, "But DH, you're a submissive, and further you're in a relationship with a man, which means this is all about perpetrating the hegemonial status of patriarchy somewhere in your subconscious and Come The Revolution people like you will be heeeeeeeealed" like is suggested in some of the comments to the post that Trin gave up on, but, y'know, unfuck the twitterbirds. (I'm not gonna fuck 'em, for sure.) If you're one of those little birdies, shut up for a minute and actually listen to what I'm saying, okay?

One of the big ways that systems keep themselves in power is to keep people who might challenge them off-balance. I wrote a while back a piece about how crazy Western culture is about the core biological impulses colloquially referred to as "the four Fs" -- food, fighting, fleeing, and reproduction, as it was taught to me long ago in class. Everyone is kept offbalance by this shit. And people who are of their own selves outside of the parameters of the normal in whatever way get it worst of all, because there's this constant modelling of the boundaries of what is a real human that stops somewhere short of us freaks out in the desert.

And I read stuff like the comment thread at Amptoons and watch people scurrying around drawing their little personal lines of who's the monster off the edge of the map, and who needs to be corrected and cured. And I see sequences that go like this, in paraphrase:

"Sheyeah, right, like a couple with a male dominant and a female submissive is counter to social norms."
"What makes you assume that I'm a submissive? Huh? Isn't that kind of fucked up, that a feminist dealing with a kinky woman assumes that?"
"Well, okay, no, I didn't mean you specifically, but there are people like that out there, and their stuff is clearly just asking for the Evil to come in."

Maybe, grudgingly, Trin's allowed in the sandbox, but I'm presumed to be a concussed idiot led down the garden path by the patriarchy or some other such blitheringly offensive nonsense. If I were a top or a domme or something else, well, maybe I'd be allowed a model of power, but as it is, my stuff needs to be questioned more, examined more, evaluated in terms of well, really, is this what I really want, truly, even after I've had my goddamn consciousness raised?

I had this big revelation a while back, working with one of the tools of Feri witchcraft, the Iron Pentacle. If one traces the points of the star around in the standard 'drawing a star freehand' way, the Iron Pentacle starts with Sex, goes down to Pride, back up to Self, across to Power, and down to Passion, before returning to Sex. Tracing the pentacle that way, each point is the previous one in motion, the ripple of that point.

I learned how Pride emerges from Sex from watching a lover's orgasm, and then expanding the metaphor.

The big reveal for me, though, was how Power is Self in motion. The more centered in myself I am, the more whole and complete, the more manifest, the stronger I am, the more able to act, because each act is backed in the fact that I am real and whole and putting my whole self behind those actions. When I am dissolute, when I am off my center, when I am acting from a place where there is self-doubt, I have no power, I have no capacity to move, because I constantly question whether the action is legitimate, the choice meaningful, the motion well-chosen.

I used to have those moments of doubt, back before I had my relationship with my liege, about whether it was okay for me to be a submissive, if this part of my Self was something that I should accept or question, correct, and get heeeeeealed from. I held myself as incomplete, refusing to give that portion of me any legitimacy, and thereby sabotaging my capacity for self-worth, acceptance, and effective action. Even when I shook most of the conscious stuff, gave up on the question of whether or not it was okay to 'give up my power', I had this lingering offcentredness about whether or not it was okay. I had relationships where my kink didn't mesh well with a partner or caused issues of one sort or another. I wound up in doubt that the sort of interaction I wanted was possible, or whether, if possible, it was going to be welcome or acceptable to anyone.

Having a partner who not only connected extensively with that part of myself, not only loves and accepts it, but who gives me the support that those fragile and ill-assimilated portions of myself need to have to integrate and bring myself together -- this is something that has meant that it's been possible for me to get into therapy after years of mumbling that I need to do so, has gotten me to wrestling with personal demons and strong enough to face them, has not only revealed to me what power I have when I'm actually in possession of both a lever and a place to stand but gotten me able to start working on becoming more Self-possessed, so that I have even more real, genuine, making a difference to the world Power.

Because I'm in a place where it's okay for me to be who I am, to be my Self, I'm actually able to do the damn work of figuring out how to be a gods-be grownup, and learn how to bring to bear adult Power. And because I recognise the huge wellspring of strength that that centeredness is, that rooting myself in my Self has granted me, I find myself caught in a sort of strange baffled wonderment at the people who want to try to convince me that I should be something else, should conform to their political fetishes, should lobotomise my understanding of power to 'being bossed around' because they told me to. Do these people not realise they want me to be a child, and further to be consciously constrained to weakness? Do they think that this is appealing to someone who strives to live in a place of I-Am-In-Motion-Making-Ripples-Of-Power? Be someone else, be still, be frail?

I am many things, and there is not a place where one stops and another starts; I strive towards actual wholeness. Someone may come in and say, "Well, being a submissive may be one thing, but that creates a vulnerability to these kinds of abuses", but being a submissive in motion does not create different Power than not being willing to put up with bullshit in motion does -- both are me, both are the ripples of Power that come from Self. Being a submissive is not about allowing my Self to be diminished, as the handwringing twitterbirds would like to suggest: it is allowing my Self to move.