How to Acknowledge Privilege

As I have stated from the start in this blog, I find myself in a position of tenuous balance between privilege and otherness. On the one hand I am white, cis-gendered, educated, and middle class. On the other, I am a woman, queer, and poly. This means that I frequently find myself contemplating what privilege really means, and how to appropriately acknowledge the ways in which I view the world from a privileged position.

A lot of folks balk at the idea of privilege, reacting as though acknowledging their personal privilege means abandoning the value of their opinions. This is a common view among the MRA (men’s rights activist) people: they reject the notion of their own privilege because they believe acknowledgment will require them to always be wrong. Thus, they insist they are not privileged, and rather trot out all their personal insecurities as weak arguments against it.

On the opposite side, which is where I sometimes find myself sliding, there is the overreaction to one’s own privilege that results in a fear of expressing opinions outside of my personal purview. I will sometimes completely avoid weighing in on any subject which I can’t address from experience, because I believe that my personal privilege colors my opinion enough to be not only invalid but potentially insensitive. For example, I would be happy to absorb, but resist ever engaging in, a conversation about trans* visibility, because I believe my cis-gendered perspective is incapable of presenting a valid statement on the subject.

That fear is not actually legitimate. I can educate myself and participate in discourse on subjects that I do not personally experience. And I can do so without disowning my experience of privilege. The how is a little tricky for me.

For those just tuning in to the world of useful life knowledge, when I talk about privilege I am referring to the ingrained perspective on the world which a person gains when they are in a normative position for their culture. For example, here in the US, and particularly in the Midwest where I make my home, the perspective on gender of a person who is cis-gendered is a privileged perspective. Sexuality for a heterosexual, race for a white person, religion for a Christian, etc.

My mind both rails against and shudders at my personal experience of privilege. Sometimes I feel like I should be allowed to relate to all oppressed groups, because I fall into several categories of otherness myself. The pride in me says, “I’m not normative, I’m alternative in all these ways, there’s no way I’m privileged.” Other times I see all the ways in which my privilege blinds me, and I just want to apologize to everyone, or find some way to eliminate my privilege, which of course isn’t possible without completely chucking out all cultural norms.

There is a balance to be struck. The experience of privilege can’t be eliminated or ignored. Most of us live with it in one way or another. At the same time, we shouldn’t hide from any subject on which we have a privileged perspective, because increasing our understanding will allow us to participate in important issues, even if they’re not ones we ourselves experience. I want to be a positive force for things like trans* issues, but I can’t do that if I believe my privileged position makes me incapable of it.

The fact is, privilege is ok. It’s not something I chose – I didn’t one day decide which normative molds I was going to fit and which ones I wasn’t. Privilege is not something to treat with shame or fear. It’s something to acknowledge openly, and factor into my daily experiences, seeing the ways in which it colors my opinions without feeling the compulsion to immediately negate those opinions.

I’m sure that for anyone with a background in women’s studies, queer theory, gender studies, etc, this whole post has been a 101-level snore. Personally, I have no academic background on these subjects. I gather my knowledge through blogs, articles, and experience. So sometimes my revelations are really a little bit basic. But I hope that for some folks, what I have to say can be as helpful as it is for me to get it written down.

How to be Your Favorite Barista’s Favorite Customer

Yeah, I know, this has nothing to do with feminism, polyamory, queer culture, or anything deep and intellectually hip. But, I think it’s the sort of thing a lot of people might enjoy a free primer on, especially if you’re that person that thinks the barista is cute but has no idea how to chat him/her up.

There are a lot of great bloggers out there who have written a lot of great pieces on how not to be a douchebag in a restaurant or coffee shop. And those offer a fantastic baseline. But if you want to be the customer that the staff goes “Where’s so-and-so, I haven’t seen him/her in awhile?” (and says it with regret rather than celebration), there aren’t a ton of guides for it. So I’m writing one.

1: Tip Generously.

Yes, this seems incredibly obvious, but I’d also like to point out that everyone’s idea of “generously” is different. You don’t have to break the bank and drop a $5 tip every time you buy a $4 latte. But do it the first time. If you really want to, do it again once every month or two, but that first $5 bill in the jar is guaranteed to get the employee’s attention. Afterward, tip with paper money, every time. The people who think that only their change goes in the jar often leave $.08 tips on their $3.92 lattes, and those people suck. The ones that always put paper in the jar, we see you and we love you.

Note: this obviously also applies to the write-in credit card tips.

2: Speak Kindly

289481_10150267940462057_501617056_7987357_6947577_o

No, I don’t wear this to work every day. Yes, I did actually work in it.

Sometimes, things go wrong. Maybe it’s like an hour before our weekly delivery comes in and we’re out of all the things. That sucks. You’ve been denied the almond milk for your latte, the bacon for your breakfast sandwich, and we have no chocolate chip scones so you’re stuck with a blueberry muffin. These things are frustrating.

Here’s the thing. Chances are good that we’re just as frustrated as you are. My life runs most smoothly when a customer rattles of a list of things they want, and all I have to say is “I’ll bring it right out to you.” So, when you’re in a situation where you’re not getting what you want, think for a minute if the problem is likely to be the barista’s fault. If it isn’t don’t give him/her a hard time about it. It won’t make your bacon magically appear, and it will make the barista hate you forever. Seriously, one bad-mouthing and the staff WILL hate you FOREVER.

Additionally, I’m very happy to make whatever weird concoction you want to drink/eat, and am able and willing to work off-menu for you. But if you act like that’s something you’re entitled to, rather than a favor I’m gladly giving, I won’t want to do it any more. So, be kind.

And, you know what? Sometimes you’ve had a bad day. I get that. Sometimes I’ve had a bad day too, but I’m still kind to my customers because I’m obligated to be. You don’t have that obligation, but if you bring your bad day to my counter, I’ll remember you, and not fondly. If I didn’t cause your bad day, don’t take it out on me. The customer who always smiles back at me when I smile at him/her, that’s the one I love.

3: Jog My Memory

I really really want to remember the name and favorite beverage of every customer that enters my shop more than once a week. I don’t. And if I don’t remember what you order, it’s not because I don’t like you. It’s because there are many regulars, who all want different things, and especially if you like something complicated it takes me awhile to store it in the memory banks.

With that in mind, if I say “what can I get for you?” please don’t say “my usual.” If I remembered your “usual,” I wouldn’t be asking that question. I’d be saying something like “so, your usual mocha?” Instead, try “my usual ____(fill in the item).” That way, I will not only get a reminder of what you want, I’ll associate it in my head as what you will typically want in the future.

Pro tip: If you never tell me your name, I won’t know it. If you want me to remember you better, introduce yourself. If you’re shy, run a tab. I’ll have to write down your name and remember it until you close your tab. Next time I see you, it might stick.

4: Remember my Name

This rule doesn’t apply across the board, because addressing me by name comes with a little bit of protocol. There have been several people in my shop that are friends-of-friends, who come up and address me by name like we know each other, but I don’t know who they are. This puts me in the awkward position of saying “oh, hey, you, yeah, hi there you, how are you?” with no clue who you are. So, going back to my pro tip, introduce yourself. And after that, it’s totally encouraged to remember my name.

So! We have learned some rules, now let’s have some role-play (I know, getting kinky). Let’s say it’s your second or third time in the shop, and you introduced yourself on your first visit.

Me: Hey, (your name), how’s it going?

You: Hi (my name), I’m pretty good.

Me: Great, what can I get for you?

You: I’ll take my usual breakfast sandwich, and medium latte with skim.

Me: Oh, I’m really sorry, we just ran out of the wheat bagels you like – can we put your sandwich on a plain bagel instead?

You: Actually, I think I’ll try it on wheat toast today.

Me: We can totally do that. Your total is $9.69.

You: (hands me money, puts a couple of singles in the tip jar)

Ta-da, you were a model customer just now. And here’s another pro tip: if you work to be the customer the staff remembers and likes, you’ll get unexpected perks, I swear it. It might be an extra piece of bacon on your sandwich, it might be a little more generous side of chips, or it might be “hey I just came up with an awesome idea for a milkshake, you wanna try it?”

I love my job, and I love (most of) my regular customers. And going to a place where the staff is happy to see you, is never a bad thing.

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.

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

Ink

This is not a “here’s what I ate for breakfast,” daily life events kind of blog, and I like it that way. I really don’t think anyone cares about a snotty customer I had at work, or the weird conversations I have in bed with my boyfriend. That said, I recently had a pretty major life event that I want to share. Two days ago, I completed a full-back tattoo that I’ve been working on for over a year.

IMAG0533

The quote at the bottom, “existence precedes essence,” is an unrelated piece I had done several years ago. The quote is from Sartre’s “Existentialism is a Humanism.” The fact that it looks like a caption to the image is coincidental.

There she is. This is Tess, or to be more specific a depiction of the climactic scene from Thomas Hardy’s 1891 novel Tess of the d’Urbervilles. Yes, I’m a big literature geek. I find it very hard to share the reasons that this scene is so important to me – there are many, but they’re only loosely connected.

I suppose the simplest is that this novel was my first realization that literature is challenging. English class always came easy to me, not because it is an easy subject, but because it’s made into a throwaway in public school. If you can read a novel and name the characters and a few major plot points, you pass. A question like “what is the tone of this passage?” is about as deep into a book as most classes delve. However, in twelfth grade I had a blessing of an English teacher who made us really learn from what we read, instead of just learning about it. She was the one who taught me what a thesis statement was – that writing about books didn’t just mean knowing what the book said, it was making an argument about what the book means. It was in her class that I read Tess for the first time, her class that inspired me to major in literature, and that book that made me passionate about Victorian novels.

The longer reason is why this particular scene of the novel moves me. For anyone who isn’t a big reader of Hardy (which is most people), here’s the world’s shortest summary of the plot of Tess:

Tess comes from a poor family, and in her efforts to support herself and her loved ones, she goes through some serious shit. She gets raped, has a child (who dies), endures horrible poverty, falls in love (yay!) but then is abandoned on her wedding night when she confesses to her husband those things from earlier about the rape and the baby. She eventually marries her rapist out of desperation, but when her true love returns to her she murders the new husband and runs away with her love, only to be arrested and executed for her crime. (I’d feel bad about spoilers, but the book is over 100 years old.) The end.

I know, happy story. In case you’re wondering, almost all of Hardy’s novels are about that happy.

2013-04-03_11.46.46

“I like very much to be here,” she murmured. “It is so solemn and lonely – after my great happiness – with nothing but the sky above my face. It seems as if there were no folk in the world but we two […]”

So, why is Tess napping in the middle of Stonehenge, I hear you asking impatiently. This scene occurs only moments before Tess is found and arrested by the police. She has gone through incredible torments, but has finally freed herself from the awful man who manipulated her throughout her life, and is with the man she loves. They have spent the last few nights together in flurries of passion, knowing their time is short as she can’t run from justice forever. Now she wants to rest, she’s ready to be captured and even to die because she’s gotten everything she ever really wanted. When she lays down, it’s not because she’s giving up, it’s because she’s content. And because Hardy has to have her go out with a flourish, she and her love find themselves in the middle of Stonehenge as the sun is rising, and Tess lays on a sun-warmed stone to sleep. When she is surrounded upon waking, her last words are, “I am ready.”

That scene has always spoken to me, and so after a little over a year’s worth of investment with one of St Louis’ very best tattoo artists, Amanda Pepper, it’s complete. As I’ve mentioned before, I consider body modification to be an important part of my deliberate body. I believe there is no more powerful way to take control of my body, and to display my mind upon it, than through mods, and especially tattoos. My piercings might give you an impression about me, but my tattoos tell a story. I’ve got a lot more on the drawing board, so to speak, and I expect they will be a life-long project for me as I’ll never run out of stories to tell.

This is my copy of Tess. It's pretty well loved.

This is my copy of Tess. It’s pretty well loved.

Public Service Announcement

I’m taking a brief hiatus from my usual feminist ranting and polyamorous ramblings to talk about two very important trans men in my life.

My coworkers and I have formed a tight-knit family. We call the shop owners Mom and Dad, (or “Ma” and “Pops” on occasion), and we’re all brothers and sisters. Two of my brothers are wonderful men currently in the process of transition.

dylan

The first, my little brother Dylan, has been taking testosterone for almost a year, and has raised about $4000 toward his top surgery. We’re continuing to work hard to raise funds for him. His indiegogo campaign ended last month, but I’m still trying to support him in his efforts, as the surgery and recovery are a large financial burden to bear. He’s a little over half-way to his $7000 goal, so we’re hoping to put him on a plane to a fabulous surgeon soon.

421883_829177185830_1409703436_nThe other, my Irish-twin brother Eliot, is just starting down this road. He started testosterone supplements last month, and just started up an indiegogo campaign for his own top surgery. We’re hoping in another month or so that idiots will quit calling him “ma’am,” once he grows some stubble and his voice drops.

For a lot of trans-men, having to look in the mirror every day and see a man, but then see a pair of breasts, is a heavy psychological strain. I’ve known men who wouldn’t even remove their binders to have sex, because their breasts made them that uncomfortable. Top surgery can seem superficial, but it is a huge step toward allowing these men to look in the mirror and see a reflection of the men they really are.

So, help my brothers out.

You can donate for Eliot here.

Dylan’s indiegogo campaign has ended, but if you want to send a donation, you can email me at starontheswingset@gmail.com and I’ll get you some details.

Drinking and Kinking in Christina Aguilera’s “Not Myself Tonight”

I wrote this several years ago, and never really had anywhere to put it before now. And now, I have a venue where I get to write about WHATEVER I WANT. So, I tidied it up a bit, and now you’re getting a critique of a sexy music video.

If you haven’t seen the video I’m talking about, the song is “Not Myself Tonight” by Christina Aguilera.

This is an example of a surprisingly common phenomenon where the imagery of a music video has almost nothing to do with the content of the song. The song seems to be about a girl who’s getting drunk, grinding on the dance floor, and making out with strangers. Pretty standard fare, really, with the exception of Christina Aguilera employing the word “fuck” – something I don’t recall her ever doing.

notmyselftonightImage-wise, this video is PRETTY. It’s a bit of a kink clusterfuck, ranging from kitten-play-style crawling on the floor in a collar, with a bowl in front of her; to playing dance-floor dominatrix, pulling hair and making a room full of back up dancers kneel around her. You also see such costume gems as a high-fashion gimp and what appears to be a drag queen in a vinyl teddy and big big hair. Also, my personal favorite, the blinged-out ball-gag.

So, yeah, ok, I’m not telling you anything you wouldn’t know watching this video by yourself. However, there’s something else going on in there. Most of the song doesn’t match up with the imagery Christina is presenting, but what does align is lots and lots of kink with lines like “I’m feeling unusual,” “I’m out of character,” etc. The implication, of course, being that sometimes nice girls want to get naughty. As the type who likes to be naughty pretty much all the time, I’m not sure how much I like that message. I think Christina is trying to dance around kink, not quite embracing it, but showing it to us so we believe she’s edgy.

rihannasm

Say what you want about the much more popular Rihanna song “S&M” (which took a lot of judgment from the vanilla and kink communities alike when it came out), but she went all out with her message. She said, shamelessly, “Feels so good being bad, there’s no way I’m turning back.” Christina is saying “I’m out of character.”*

“If you really knew me you’d know it’s not the norm,” are Aguilera’s words. What I hear is, “If I don’t embrace this fully, then you can’t judge me.” She’s walking that fine line that appeals to the vanilla man: she’s a freak SOMETIMES. She thinks that vinyl is sexy SOMETIMES, but she won’t threaten your manhood by being a dominant woman. She likes to make out with girls SOMETIMES, but don’t worry, your manhood is not threatened because she’s still straight. “If you don’t like it fuck you,” she says, but she also says it’s just for tonight. In the long term, she’s safe, vanilla, heteronormative Christina.

I just stuck this photo in here because I have a shoe fetish. Ballet heels. Yum.

I just stuck this photo in here because I have a shoe fetish. Ballet heels. Yum.

It also plays to the more dangerous stereotype of the sexually uninhibited drunk woman. She says “I’m taking shots,” and “I’m normally in the corner just standing,” but because she’s drunk she’s “getting crazy.” Yes, alcohol does reduce inhibition. Obviously I’m not saying that it doesn’t. But perpetuating the image of the girl who acts wild because she’s drunk sucks for many reasons. First, is the problem of guys who intentionally get girls drunk to create this effect and thereby get laid. The logic is, it’s not that the girl doesn’t WANT to have sex, she’s just uptight and needs to get loosened up with some drink. Feminists and other people with brains call this acquaintance rape or, at best, coercion.

The second problem is that it feeds the idea that women AREN’T sexually free when they’re sober. A normal, sober, woman ought to be standing in the corner. And when you’re sober you shouldn’t want to kiss the boys and the girls. But when you’re drunk you get a pass. That both encourages permissiveness of bad behavior while drinking (“I didn’t mean to cheat on you, I was drunk”) and discourages sexual freedom while sober. Sexual uninhibited-ness, within the confines of safe, sane, consensual activity, is a GOOD THING. It’s not something to be excused away with drink.

After watching this video a few times, my feelings remain mixed. I do have all of the previously listed moral qualms with her message. At the same time, I think the costumes, the choreography, the whole production, are all breathtaking. I could watch her pour liquid latex on herself all day and never get tired of it. Freeze the video at 1:09. Thank me later. Aesthetically, I am in love with this video!

notmyselftonight2

You’re welcome.

So I am left ambivalent. Perhaps I’ll superimpose another song onto the video for this one, so my eyes can be happy while my ears are left unoffended. I wonder how “Hotel California” would line up?**

*Fun fact regarding timelines: Christina Aguilera’s “Not Myself Tonight” video was released in April 2010 (the full album “Bionic” was released in June). Rihanna’s “S&M” video was released in January 2011 (the album, “Loud,” was released the previous November). In every way, Christina’s song was first. So obviously Christina was not riding the coat-tails of Rihanna’s successful video. And “Not Myself Tonight” was nowhere NEAR the hit that “S&M” was, so we certainly can’t say the opposite. If the two influenced each other at all, maybe Rihanna saw Christina’s video and wanted to take it one step further? Who knows?

** The “Hotel California” thing was totally a joke, but if you play “S&M” over the video for “Not Myself Tonight,” it almost works. Sadly, “S&M” is almost a full minute longer, so that kinda fucks that up. But other than that, the music and choreography look uncannily good together.

It’s about time

After writing a blog for the ethical non-monogamy site Life on the Swingset for the last year, and recently starting to write for the community blog on Feministing, I’ve finally decided to strike out on my own. The name of my blog, A Certain Star, was drawn from my name (duh) and also the poem “My Star,” by Robert Browning. This is going to be a space for me to share…well, everything, really. I like to talk, about everything, all the time. I am a non-monogamous, queer, 20-something, educated, married, cis-woman living in the Midwest. To earn my bread I sling coffee, and run a human sexuality lending library in the cafe where said coffee is slung. I’ve got things to say: sometimes they’re silly, sometimes they’re sexy, sometimes they’re angry and soap-box-y.

Things you can expect to see:tumblr_lxe592hXS71r9foqc

I promise all writing will be my own, and all photos will be either of or by me. I’m not really interested in being one of those weird blogs that just re-posts things they find all over the internet. That’s not how I roll.

The real material will start rolling in tomorrow. For now, here’s Robert Browning’s poem, “My Star:”

            All that I know
            Of a certain star,
            Is, it can throw
            (Like the angled spar)
            Now a dart of red,
            Now a dart of blue,
            Till my friends have said
            They would fain see, too,
My star that dartles the red and the blue!
Then it stops like a bird; like a flower, hangs furled:
      They must solace themselves with the Saturn above it.
What matter to me if their star is a world?
      Mine has opened its soul to me; therefore I love it.