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

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.


Trinity said...

You should xpost this there. :)

One thing for me that's difficult is: well, I see all these kaleidoscopic possibilities too. So it made it a little hard for me, in my life adventure, to first recognize and then finally admit, okay

I'm butchfemaledominantsadisttop (and other things too but those are the relevant ones here) and I prefer, though I can crush on just about anyone ever, femmemalesubmissivemasochistbottom. It was hard for me to say, without feeling I'd failed at something, that yes, for me "butchdominanttop" doesn't come apart, the way it does for many, many people.

Or, well, I suppose it can a bit, but fundamentally it's blocky. And that made me feel for a while that I'd failed at something, insufficiently subverted the binary by not being femme enough (and perhaps not even woman enough, I'm still trying to figure out what "woman" means in a way that's relevant to me) to smash that dominance-masculinity connection. Even though I don't think that dominant people need be masculine (or need be tops, even) and actually think the world would be an impoverished place if not for femdoms and other kaleidoscopes of variation.

I think maybe it's similar in a way to the thing I hear a lot of transfolk say about how people hang "smashing the gender binary" on them, even if they're feminine women or masculine men who'd be quite happy not to go against that particular grain, thanks.

Sort of this feeling "well, if I like 'Sir' too much or get he'd in a scene, or admit that I'm not just a fan of pegging but actually much prefer being stone, it means I've been insufficiently feminist." I think part of my loooooooong slow break with femdom had to do with that.

Not that anyone was ever SAYING this, of course... but I think when you call attention to how these things can hang separate without "and, hey, sometimes they hang together, too" you end up in weirdland.

And get people like those who claim things like "well, BDSM is fine, it's those MALE DOM FEM SUB couples I can't abide," because people are looking FOR heroes, for smashers of every social convention, rather than looking AT people.

Dw3t-Hthr said...

This is one of the places where I kinda want to bounce up and down and go, "Yes! That too! All of the different ways they go together, isn't it all so shiny?!", but if I let myself do that sort of shit too much I start to sound completely fucking twee. ;)

I think part of what I'm driving at is -- look at all this shiny stuff, and how different people have all kinds of different parts of it. Some of them that go together, sweep together all in one place or are even all the same thing for that person, and some of them from ways that are counter to the assumptions about how it goes together, and some of them from way the fuck elsewhere.

People are pretty. Variety is pretty. (I'm clearly having a 'Yay! Pretty!' kind of day, or something.)

And yeah, you get the "BDSM okay, but male dom/female sub bad!" and you get "BDSM okay, so long as you don't do the SM part" and you get the "BDSM okay, so long as you don't do the DS part", and the "BDSM okay, so long as you do/don't have this particular combination of orientations" and all that stuff, and damnit, they're all feathers. Hook 'em up or don't depending on what sort of bird you are.

Flapflapflappityflap. Shake your fucking tail.

(No, I'm not actually on anything. I just seem to be sounding like I'm on something right now.)

Deoridhe said...

I love rainbows because it's a lot of variety, all at once, and even the variety has variety (have you SEEN how many shades of blue there are???). I like mixed binaries (and trinaries) for the same reason.

osmetimes, "Ooo, pretty!" is the best response, imo.

S.L. Bond said...

Those are amazing ideas/images. I had the realization at some point that it's not, say, a male/female binary that's inherently harmful, it's that that binary is bound to other binaries (good/bad, strong/weak, active/passive) that causes the trouble. The conclusion I drew was that dualistic thinking is overall bad, because once a worldview gets divided into dichotomies, it becomes "the X/Y binary exists, therefore everything is X or Y... so in the A/B binary, one of the two is X, and the other is Y" -- one binary inevitably gets equated with another, and then with another.

But this is a much lovelier, more productive way to look at it.

Lisa Harney said...

Those are great points about the spectrum of possibilities rather than binary options. I really wanted to say something about that, but the first article was 3k words and the second was 7k, and I just had too much stuff I wanted to say and some of it was forgotten.

A huge part of the whole thing is just how BDSM is stereotyped and the participants perceptually "forced" into a binary dichotomy that doesn't exist in real BDSM activity.

Great imagery. :)