Pain: The Fuck Me and the Fuck You

I’m a masochist. A sadomasochist, technically, but today we’re not talking about my sadistic side. I recently started dating a vanilla (I know, horrors!) and a few months ago, in the “getting to know you” phase of things, he asked me about my relationship with S&M and what being a masochist is all about, for me.

I didn’t realize just how hard my desires are to explain until I had to explain them to someone for whom the answer to “you know what I mean?” will never be yes. With other kinky folk, I can say, “well, you know how blah blah blah makes you feel like so and so etc?” And they say “oh yeah totally and also blah blah blah.” But now I was starting from scratch, with no expectation that he would relate, or already know what I’m talking about before I put it into words.

I don’t think I did that great of a job explaining it to him.

Part of the trouble with explaining what it’s like being a masochist is that, for me, pain serves a lot of functions depending on what I want from the scene. Much in the way that people have sex for a lot of different reasons (for the physical pleasure, to feel loved by their partner(s), to feel forgiven after an argument, to vent frustration with each other, and on and on), I crave pain for a lot of different reasons.

It might also be useful to back up and clarify the definition of “pain.” My very favorite sex educator, Midori, doesn’t talk about pain when she talks about S&M. She refers to “intense sensation.” Her reasoning goes kind of like this: a person just finished a long scene, where s/he was bound to a cross and whipped bloody. Tears stream down his/her face, and s/he is floaty and exhausted. Then s/he steps down from the cross and stubs his/her toe. Suddenly s/he doesn’t love pain so much anymore. I don’t necessarily agree with her choice to nix the word pain, but I’d go with “controlled pain.” The stubbed toe is uncontrolled pain. Accidental pain is generally unwanted pain. It’s pretty rare that even the most thoroughgoing masochist will burn him/herself on the stove and be pleased about it.

So when I talk about pain in this post, I’m talking about controlled pain. I’m talking about getting tied up, beaten, stretched, shoved, crushed and pushed to my limits by someone who knows what s/he’s doing and has my consent.

Definition covered? Good! Moving on.

When I think about being a masochist, there are two big umbrella categories of pain I think of. I call them the “fuck me” and the “fuck you.” As in, when I’m in pain, I’ll be screaming either “fuck me,” or “fuck you.”

20121117_171330The first kind of pain, the “fuck me” kind, is pain that I like. This kind of pain is pretty straightforward if you have a basic understanding of body chemistry and endorphins and such. When I get aroused, the lines of pain and pleasure get pretty blurry. And that’s all there is to that. So that means that I enjoy things like having my hair pulled or getting bitten, or smacked, as a part of sex. It feels good, it makes me wet. The fact that it does that for me and not for everyone is, I suppose, simply a difference in body chemistry.

The second category of pain, the “fuck you” kind, is the kind I don’t like. This pain makes me cuss and scream and sometimes cry in pain and rage because I hate it. But I still want it, and I still ask for it, and I’m pleased and content afterwards. Explaining this process to someone who is neither sadist nor masochist is problematic. Why do I want something that I hate? What do I get out of it?

The easiest answer would be catharsis. The misery and the rage are a release of emotion, kind of a brain dump. In the same way that some people scream and throw things and commit acts of violence against inanimate objects as a safe release for their emotions, I like to be hurt. That answer is true, but incomplete. The drained feeling when I’ve screamed and cried and my body is aching and throbbing is cathartic. But there’s something else going on in my head as well.

When I play hard with someone, when s/he gives me the “fuck you” kind of pain, it has to be someone that I trust completely, because I’m asking this person to dig into all the nasty darkness inside me and make me feel it on the outside. I’m asking my top to make me feel misery and fear and pain and rage, and to expose all of it. I don’t like to display my negative emotions in front of anyone. I consider myself pretty emotionally honest, and I’ll tell a person how I’m feeling, but I don’t like to show it. I don’t like to cry where people can see, and if I show anger I will be comically hyperbolic so it’s made non-threatening. I am pretty emotionally fragile, and because of that my emotions scare me; I constantly worry that exposing my emotions to other people will scare them too. Thus will I be pegged as “that crazy girl,” and henceforth be unlikeable. Is this a rational fear? Probably not. But it’s one I suffer from constantly, and more so within a romantic relationship, because it comes with not only a higher expectation of emotional honesty, but higher stakes if I scare the person off.

However, if the reason I’m sobbing and screaming and crying is because I spent the last 30 minutes getting caned, no one could blame me for that. I can be as vulnerable and messy as I need to be, and trust that the person I’m with expects it, and knows how to handle it. And even better, I know that my partner won’t feel the guilt that often comes with seeing someone they love in pain. If the reason I’m crying is because I’m anxious, my partner feels the need to take some kind of responsibility, that they should be making me happier. And once my partner starts to be upset, I shut my own flow of feelings off and take care of them. During a scene, my partner is making my cry on purpose, because I asked for it. My extreme emotional reaction is not going to cause guilt or worry, because it was intentional and controlled.

At this point, I realize it’s starting to look like I use pain as therapy. I don’t know if it makes it any better to point out that I’m also in therapy, but I will also say that therapy helps me in a very different way. When I see my therapist, I speak candidly about my emotions, including the hurtful and irrational ones, and the parts of my life that are affecting them. Together, we develop strategies to more effectively deal with the parts of my life that cause anxiety and pain.

When I go into a scene where I want the “fuck you” pain, I’m not trying to fix anything. I’m not trying to resolve my anxiety, I’m just giving myself permission to display all the darkness and the madness that fly around my head all day. I can give up all semblance of the emotional control, and even sanity, that define my daily existence. Afterward, if it’s a good scene, the otherwise constant noise in my head is muffled for a little while. I’m exhausted, drained, and quiet. And my partner is there with me, to hold me until I come back to being myself. I’ve exposed everything about my mind that frightens me, and my partner has caused it, seen it, and is ready to keep loving me afterward. In much the same way that having sex with my partner reaffirms that they love me and find me attractive, being hurt by a partner reaffirms that I can trust them, and that they’re not afraid of my darkness.

Every time I’ve read and revised this post, it still aches of incompletion. I don’t think there are words for the kind of satisfaction that comes from being broken by someone I love. I don’t know that I can really properly explain how it makes me feel, and why I crave it. I do hope that I’ve at least chipped away at a little of the mystery.

Prom: Slut-Shaming and Teen Sexuality

I am asking for trouble. I am begging for the internet world at large to hate on me. Am I this much of a masochist? Am I really going to go here?

Yeah, yeah I am. I’m a 25-year-old with no children, about to write a post about parenting teenagers.

The only excuse I can offer is that I was a teenager myself less than a decade ago. Please don’t kill me.

Recently I read this article regarding high school prom dress codes, and the accusation that they are “slut-shaming” female attendees through tight restrictions on acceptable female apparel in an attempt to avoid creating a “distraction.”

This is a deeply complex issue, and being not a parent I can’t even hope to cover every aspect of what’s happening here. But I will try to break it down into as many cogent pieces as possible.

First, let’s look at the motivation behind restrictive dress codes for female students. For anyone who has never read a school dress code, “distraction” is public school code for “boners.” The goal of these rules – which usually include provisions for length of skirts/shorts, exposure of bellies and cleavage, and general skin coverage –  is to prevent teenage girls from looking too sexually provocative and giving boys boners. That reasoning in itself is problematic because of its assumption that an exposed body is inherently sexual, a concern I have posted on at length already. Girls are being taught that to expose their body is to provoke sexual responses. If A, then B, no mitigating factors. Even the people militating against the dress-codes as “slut-shaming” are buying into this argument, because if an exposed body is not sexual, then there is no slut to shame, just a girl in shorts.

The exposure of the body is not necessarily sexual, but it certainly can be. Working from a position where girls are specifically wearing revealing clothing to look sexy, we can see a lot of reasons why they might be prevented from doing so:

1) Adults don’t believe teenage girls are capable of understanding and controlling their own sexual availability. If a girl looks like she wants sex, that might mean that she does. Obviously she’s too young to make informed sexual opinions, so if we make it LOOK like she’s not interested in being sexually provocative, then she will no longer BE interested. This argument is clearly fallacious. If you put a girl in a nun’s habit, it won’t actually change her sexual interests, it will just create a false front.

This particular issue is complicated by the fact that many teenage girls aren’t actually interested in being sexually provocative out of any sense of desire, but merely because that’s what girls are “supposed to” look like. Female teen sexuality is deeply damaged by the fact that many girls feel the need to exude sexual desirability, but without sexual desire of their own that goes with it. In this regard, I absolutely understand the impulse to control what she wears, so that she can be forgiven for not putting on a sexual facade she may not want in the first place. However, that’s something to have a conversation with a girl about, instead of simply legislating her wardrobe. If she feels uncomfortable among her peers because of sexual expectations, discuss them and work to change the expectations.

2) Adults don’t believe teenage boys are capable of controlling their own sexual impulses. We have a wealth of news stories about teen boys sexually assaulting girls, and the classic knee-jerk response is to try to make girls less sexually interesting to boys so that boys will stop doing awful things to them. The trouble with this is that we’re placing the onus on the girls – as usual – to control boys’ impulses, instead of teaching boys to control those impulses. Instead of teaching young people about consent, we’re trying to shut off their urges by concealing temptation. That’s simply not going to happen – and, worse, we’re punishing girls for supposedly creating these urges if they don’t properly conceal themselves.

3) Adults are uncomfortable viewing teenage girls as sexually desirable. A high school girl is, physically, pretty much an adult. She may grow another inch or two, she may gain half a cup size in college, but her body is a grown-up body. How I feel about her emotional or sexual maturity is a question for another insanely long post, but because of their physical maturity, adult authority figures become uncomfortable seeing sexually appealing teenage girls. They are unavailable due to the difference in social stratum, but stir desire nonetheless. That’s a little scary for a lot of people. (I’m not talking here about parents. I’m talking about teachers, administrators, chaperones.)

4) If a teenage girl dresses in a sexually provocative manner, adults believe that she is sexually active and that is “icky.” This one is more about the parents than the other authority figures. Many parents want to live under the illusion that their teenagers are not having sex. Most people start their sexual lives as teenagers, so this is very much an illusion. But it’s much easier to maintain the illusion that my (hypothetical) daughter is not having sex if she does not look sexy.

In the end, I’ll say that teen sex is incredibly problematic. I don’t think that sexually objectifying dress codes fix anything. If a girl shows up to prom in an outfit that causes concern among the adults, maybe ask her about it instead of sending her home. If the problem is that we’re worried whether teens are having safe, joyful, consensual sex lives, the issue is not her dress, it’s why she’s wearing it. If, as I suspect, the issue is not that we’re concerned about teenagers having healthy sex lives but are, rather, attempting to prevent teenagers from having sex lives at all, well then stop it. Just stop it. Restrictive dress-codes are about as effective at controlling teen sexuality as abstinence-only education: which is to say, not at all.

One last thing, and I promise it will be brief: a lot of folks have commented on the gender disparity between explanations of “appropriate” prom attire. I don’t know what kind of proms these people were going to, but all the ones I’ve seen the guys wear approximately one thing: a tux. It comes in colors, vest or no vest, bowtie or straight tie, but it’s all the damn same. It just is. The difference in rules isn’t sexist, it’s a fact of men’s formalwear. Whether or not the difference between men’s and women’s formalwear is inherently sexist is a question for not right now.

Preferred Pronouns – Asking a Hard Question

One of my pet projects in my silly little queer poly feminist sex-positive life is to deconstruct ideas of politeness, and thereby better understand why we treat people the way we do, and whether some attempts to be “polite” are actually undermining our abilities to be better people.

As always, I’m leading in with a big grand statement rather than just telling you what’s on my mind. As the title suggests, what is on my mind tonight is preferred pronouns. Knowing which pronoun to apply to a particular person is primarily a relevant concern for the queer community, but it should be an issue for consideration among all American English speakers. (I don’t know a damn thing about etiquette or linguistics in any other cultures or languages, so I won’t even try to speak to them [Haha, speak to them! See what I did there?])

It’s becoming an increasingly accepted practice among the queer community that when you meet a person who is not blatantly masculine or feminine – or, in many circles, when you meet anyone at all – you ask him/her/ze/them for his/her/zir/their preferred pronoun. If you somehow got on my blog and don’t know what I mean by that, here’s a for-instance.

I’ve just met someone at a party. It appears to me that this person is biologically male, but this person is wearing a dress and makeup. The individual is introduced to me as Robin. Robin’s gender is ambiguous to me, so I say to Robin, “Hello Robin, it’s very nice to meet you. What are your preferred pronouns?” Robin then tells me he, she, ze, they, or some variation. Sometimes a person will even tell me “I don’t care.” This discloses to me Robin’s chosen gender identity, thus preventing me from making incorrect assumptions and being offensive.

With me so far? Good.

This is me from the summer after 8th grade. Most of the bullshit from my classmates happened in middle school, but this is the closest pic to that time period that I could find.

This is me from the summer after 8th grade. Most of the bullshit from my classmates happened in middle school, but this is the closest pic to that time period that I could find.

For a long time, I had trouble accepting this custom. When I was growing up, I would have people ask me (or ask my friends) “are you a boy or a girl?” as an insult. I was never particularly androgynous, even at my most pubescently awkward stages. Yes, I admit, I often wore men’s jeans, and by the end of 8th grade I had a short haircut. But my figure was never terribly angular, in the typically masculine way. So that means that “are you a boy or a girl?” really meant, “you’re a very ugly girl.” And I didn’t enjoy that.

Additionally, asking someone for their preferred pronoun made me uncomfortable because I was raised to understand that even if you aren’t trying to be mean, asking someone “are you a boy or a girl?” is rude. And the reason that it’s rude is because you’re telling this person that you can’t tell his/her/zir/their gender just by looking. And, here’s the payoff, not being able to judge a person’s gender by sight is a bad thing. Thus, you don’t ask.

Well, I’ve reached a point in my life where I understand that gender is not a binary, that people don’t have to fit into an either-or world, and that even if a person wants to live in a concrete male or female gender identity, it doesn’t have to present itself through typical masculine/feminine visuals. What that means is that to look at a person and not be able to judge gender right away is not a negative reflection on that person. When I see someone and I can’t tell if that person is a man, a woman, neither or both, it doesn’t mean that person is failing at his/her/zir/their gender by being visually ambiguous. And therefore, asking someone about preferred pronouns respects his/her/zir/their personal choice to select a gender identity, and expresses my willingness to accept that identity, no matter what it is.

The important difference, I think, is that I’ve developed the understanding that gender identity is a choice. And by that I am not trying to invoke nature/nurture arguments, but simply to say that it doesn’t matter what a person looks like, or what kind of genitalia that person has: whatever identity a person discloses to me, that’s the truth.

Edit: I was looking so hard for this image when I wrote this post last night, but wasn’t able to get my hands on it. This has been the best visual aid for gender identification that I’ve ever come across. No, I didn’t create it, and unfortunately I don’t know who did or I’d be happy to give appropriate credit.270873_168099213351707_1010752796_n