taiWelcome! I’m Tai Scarlet Kulystin, the creatrix of Purveyor of Pleasure. I am a somatic sexuality educator, occultist, professional harlot, and gender & relationships coach. This blog is my personal exploration of gender, sexuality, spirituality, kink, and the pitfalls of an overanalytical nature.

I identify as a queer fat genderqueer polyamorous switch and prefer the pronouns ne/nem/nir or they/them. I spend a lot of my time thinking about sacred sexuality, sacred kink, relationships, the body, queer theory, depth psychology, erotic psychology, sexological bodywork, and so much more. I'm in a long-term live-in relationship with my partner Onyx, and I also have a few other relationships and lovers.
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Archive for the ‘Semantics’


12.06

2010

Sex-Positivity

I don’t think I’ve read a better description or example of sex positivity before. It’s clear and concise and isn’t hinged upon using “positive” speech despite the sex-positive name:

Although fewer people would say that “I think anal sex is amazing” is a sex-negative statement, I consider it to be just as problematic as “I think anal sex is gross.” What makes something like this sex-negative isn’t whether one uses a positive or negative adjective. It’s that saying these sorts of things neglects the diversity of sexual experiences and pleasures.

Simply put, these sorts of things aren’t true. Anal sex is gross for some people and amazing for some people and boring for some people and exciting for some people. No matter what word you use to finish the sentence, you’re leaving out many people’s experiences and that is what makes it sex-negative.

On the other hand, when you say something like “I enjoy/dislike/fill-in-the-blank anal sex,” you’re practicing mindful speech. You’re explicitly recognizing that your experience is your own. You’re not making a sweeping statement and you’re not claiming that anyone else should have the same response that you have. It doesn’t matter whether the word you use is positive or negative in this example, either.

Sex-positivity isn’t about enjoying every possible way to have sex. Sex-positivity isn’t about only using positive words when talking about sex.

Sex-positivity is about making room for different people to have wildly different experiences. And in order to do so, we can practice using language that makes room for that. One of the best (and most difficult) ways to do that is to own our experiences and try to not make sweeping statements. It’s simultaneously quite simple and incredibly difficult, which is why so many people seem to not understand it. Well, that and the fact that there aren’t a lot of examples of mindful speech in the media- it doesn’t make for good soundbites. [emphasis mine]

This is from a post by Charlie Glickman on Good Vibrations Magazine called Owning Your Words: Sex-Positivity, Mindful Speech, and Why Some People Don’t Get It. I highly encourage you to read the entire article to get all of it in context, though what I quoted above is the crux of it. He has other awesome points that are just as important, however, so go read. I’ll be here when you get back.

Why does this matter? I’ve considered myself sex-positive for quite some time and this distinction is an important one. I’ve heard people saying that “sex-positivity” is some sort of trend word, which in some ways I think is true. There seems to be a big trend in those who write about sex and sexuality1 to adopt the term “sex-positive” even when it’s clear they know nothing about what it means.

Of course, being sex-positive and confronting your own internalized sex-negativity2 is a continual process, it’s not something you earn like a merit badge that you can then flash at people to prove that you are sex-positive. Saying you’re sex-positive only gets you so far if you don’t walk the walk. I love his point that it’s not about always saying something positive either, despite “positive” being right in the term itself. I think this is something people get hung up on and a very important point to make.

It may be some sort of trendy word to some, but for others of us it is something we strive for.

  1. as opposed to “sex bloggers” since I don’t really like that term []
  2. let’s face it, we all have some []

Ever Changing

My life seems to be shifting in new directions all over the place, and with that comes the need for change in other areas. I have far too many things on my docket and I’ve mentioned before about needing to get organized, unfortunately I can’t seem to do that. It’s a common scenario, and I can blame the last week of non-accomplishment on my mother visiting and doing things with her, but even before that I wasn’t getting everything done that I wanted to.

It would be less of a big deal if I didn’t actually want to change. I’m trying to learn to focus with joy but I seem to not be prioritizing the way I would like to be. How does one get on top of this sort of thing?

On the flip side, I’m thinking about a new name for this blog. Something more androgynous, maybe, or something less identity based. I kind of like the idea of going back to The Feminist Fucktoy, except I’m having some weird feelings about the term feminist lately, mostly it’s connotations. While I think it’s important to reclaim a word I also don’t like the things carried out in the name of feminism that seem overtly non-feminist (in the way I understand it). There’s a longer post in there somewhere, and one I plan on writing… eventually.

What does that mean? The header might change, I might add another URL to the long list of ones that point to this blog, you’ll still be able to find me. My RSS feed will be the same. I just don’t know what I want to change it to. Cuntpet also has it’s draws, not to mention the added bonus of already having the domain, but I’m also currently and often in the mood to have someone call me Daddy, so that would be too limiting and narrow of a title. I want something that is all of me while also being flexible enough to incorporate new aspects as they develop, is that too much to ask? Well, yes.

In other words, don’t be surprised if you come to this blog one day only to discover it has moved to another domain, another phase in the blog complete, shifting in a new-yet-still-the-same direction, letting this blog evolve as I do. In some ways I’m tempted to start over, something new and different, shed this persona that is not separated from me in any way and do something more anonymous, more free. In others, I embrace the brand I’ve built up around myself and want to continue it. I just need a new phrase for this period.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask

More thinking about my post Tired from the beginning of the month has lead me to this: if you don’t know, ask. Don’t ever be afraid to ask. While it’s not always enjoyable to me to explain how I identify to someone that doesn’t mean it’s not highly appreciated. I would much rather have an hour long conversation (or even five-minute) about my identities than have my gender, sexuality, spirituality, or anything else assumed. You know what they say about to assume…

For the most part I’m pretty open when asked a question directly. I don’t skirt around things and I will take a question at face-value and answer exactly what was posed. I might not offer up additional information, but I am not shy about answering questions when asked directly. While I don’t always enjoy talking about myself (I know, that may be hard to believe considering that’s most of what I do on this blog) that doesn’t mean that I would rather not be asked about something. If I can clarify something or explain something I am always happy to, as long as I have the time. I also try not to assume that the other person will know what I’m talking about.

This doesn’t mean I think they are stupid, but because I use terms in mostly academic ways and since I don’t know if they have read something I’m referencing in my identity or explanation I try not to make assumptions either way and opt to ask questions myself. “Have you heard of…”” “Have you read…?” etc. If not I try to explain as fully as possible, and even if so I often will still mention some of the basic ideas of what I am referencing to make sure we are on the same page. I do not assume anyone is on the same page as I am, but that doesn’t mean they are not as smart as me or any other nonsense like that. Knowledge on one specific subject has nothing to do with intelligence.

Specifically what I was referencing in Tired had to do with two types of people. People with whom I have had conversations regarding identity who then turn around and seem to ignore everything I have expressed about my identity regardless. Or people assuming they know my identity without asking or having a conversation about it. It is difficult for me in either of these situations to come out and say “I don’t identify that way.” I’m just not a confrontational person and it is often difficult for me to assert my identities. I realize not being able to do that is my problem, but I do think that making assumptions about someone else’s identity is never a good idea. Similarly, disregarding a conversation about an identity is also not a good idea.

It’s hard work to have identity conversations in general. I realize this. It’s difficult to ask someone a question about their identity, you can’t always know how that question will be reacted to. Just keep in mind that when you ask make sure to ask something regarding identity rather than pinning an identity to it already such as “how do you identify?” versus “are you a [insert identity here]?” You can use specific terms such as “What is your gender identity?” “What pronoun do you prefer?” “What is your sexual identity?” as well, though the slightly more open-ended “how do you identify?” may get you the widest variety of options.

Please, ask questions, ask clearly, ask for definitions of things if I or someone else uses a term in a way that is unfamiliar to you. Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification. It is far better to ask than to assume. While there may be the occasional person who is offended that you would ask or who doesn’t think it is any of your business that doesn’t mean everyone would be. That said, also think about what you are asking and of whom. Should you be asking complete strangers about what genitals they have (though this isn’t the same as gender identity discussed previously) or who they like to fuck? Maybe it is, depending on the context of wherever you are at the moment, but maybe it’s not. Be smart about it, segue into it, make sure it is appropriate, but don’t be afraid to ask if you sincerely want to know and don’t.

Similarly, if you identify with something out of the norm please don’t scare people away from asking questions, if they’re asking that’s at least a step above assuming your identity and questions are an excellent time to educate them and open their minds. Who knows what kind of chain reaction you might set off. If they ask in an inappropriate way then tell them so politely and educate them as to how to ask in a better manner next time. I can’t say I’m perfect at this, but I’m trying.

It is not easy on either side of the conversation. Sometimes I just wish I could fit into societal standards in one way or another and not have to worry about things like this, not have to figure my identities out in order for me to enjoy them and understand them. I get tired of explaining the same thing over and over to the same people, sometimes I’m tired of explaining in general even to new people who are genuinely interested, but that doesn’t mean I would rather not be asked. I’m glad to challenge normalized ideas and maybe, just maybe, open a mind or two.

What I Don’t Need

At some point before I’ve talked about relationship needs, that is the needs of the relationship, but in the last few months something that has been extremely important for me to realize has been a different sort of relationship need, that is, a lack of need.

When I was younger a relationship or, more accurately, the absence of and desire for a relationship was always the focal point of my life, with other things often working to fill the void I felt without a partner. I think part of the reason why I left theatre life is because I was so focused on the need to be in a relationship, the need for a partner, and I thought theatre would distract from that. The reason I have recently been able to come back to it is because of this new lack of a need.

The word “need” is thrown about so much even though so often it is impossible to accurately separate needs from wants when in the moment, one must step outside and analyze and discern in order to figure out what is really necessary and what is a passing fancy, and even that is difficult without hindseight. Luckily life is much like the philosopher Jagger sang1, and often these things work out on their own. Needs aren’t bad things by any means, so long as we can distinguish between need and want.

So often are we told that in order to be a complete and true person we must be in a couple, we are only part of a whole, and when we are told something over and over again it becomes like a need. We do not need others to fulfill or complete ourselves, though we often feel like we do because we are told that we do for various reasons. We are told we are incomplete without the perfect partner, not to mention marketing strategies which tell us we are not complete without some product or another, but that is a whole other post. The point is we need to be able to be happy and complete without external influences.

This isn’t to say that we don’t need relationships. After all, humans are social creatures, as the cliché tells us, and I’ve studied enough psychology and sociology to know that is basically true2. While love is part of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs relationships in general aren’t the same as the idealized spend-all-of-your-time-together can’t-think-of-anyone-but-each-other completely emotionally dependent romantic relationships perpetuated by society. We grow up thinking that is what we need, to find someone to fill the void within ourselves, before realizing that no one can really fill that but ourselves.

Need indicates more than a desire. Saying that I need something is the same as saying that there is some fundamental part of me that requires something in order to survive, be complete, or be happy. I do need friends and relationships, but that doesn’t mean I need any one specific person. If that was true than no one would ever maintain friendships outside of romantic relationships.

Distinguishing the difference between the idealized relationship and a healthy independent relationship is something the triad taught me. While I knew in my head that it was best to have lives and friends and interests outside of the relationship I always had a difficult time engaging in anything like that aside from school. Once I graduated I lost my outside focus and my relationship with Onyx was strained ever since. He was also supporting me financially, he was basically providing me with the first three levels of my hierarchy of needs and neither of us was completely comfortable with that.

Spending time away from him really has done wonders for our relationship, for both of us. I’ve gotten to the point of embracing my autonomy and independence, enjoying time alone in a new way, which was truly necessary after the triad, which truly was a spend-all-of-your-time-together dependent romantic relationship. In addition to everything else I actually think rediscovering this independence has actually been a major catalyst for the rediscovery of my desire to be submissive for long periods of time rather than for short bursts during play. Now that I am not dependent on him my choice to be submissive is that much stronger. But I digress, that also is another post.

“I need you” now leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth. I don’t want to be needed or to need anyone else, it puts too much pressure on the relationship. I would rather everyone involved was coming to the relationship from a place of want and desire, a place where the relationship is fun, voluntary, and exciting rather than necessary or required. Thus I am officially striking the phrase “I need you” or any derivative thereof from my romantic repertoire. I choose instead to employ phrases such as “I want you” or “I crave you” which are equally as powerful but are less dependent.

edit

Brought to my attention by the wonderful Kristi, Amanda Palmer’s cover of “I Want You, But I Don’t Need You” is fabulously in the exact same vein as my post above, and therefore needed to be embedded and shared. Not to mention it’s Amanda Palmer which automatically makes it that much more awesome.

  1. Referencing both the pilot episode of House and The Rolling Stones, of course. []
  2. I do have a degree in Psychology, which basically just allows me to go “hmm” when presented with any personal information about a person. []

Polyamorous to Polyfidelitous

If there were a Venn-diagram for non-monogamous relationships it would probably start as a big circle for non-monogamy. Inside that would be polyamory and inside that would be polyfidelity. Each of these circles would be blurry or maybe dotted lines instead of hard ones. Each circle would overlap with multiple other relationship configurations and various other types of relationship orientations and… well, maybe a Venn-diagram isn’t the most helpful illustration.

When defining a term that has to do with relationships or personal identities in any manner there is always some level of fluidity and openness to take into account. You may know this already, but I’m starting with the basics.

In the book Opening Up Tristan Taormino defines polyfidelity as “a multipartner group of three or more people who have made a commitment to each other to be in a primary relationship.” This can be different or exactly the same as polyamory simply depending on the identification of those within the group. There are no hard and fast lines here, and the terms really just depend on what the people within the relationship are most comfortable with.

Despite the “fidelity” part of the term, which makes most people think of having closed sexual conduct polyfidelity does not always exclude other relationships outside of the polyfidelitous group. Fidelity essentially means “faithful” and doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with sexual faithfulness (though it can). Taormino describes two types of polyfidelitous groups: closed and open, meaning closed or open to new relationships outside of the primary. Not all members of a polyfidelitous group have to be sexually involved, either.

While I dislike the terms “primary” and “secondary” or so on and I think maybe a better way to describe it is that everyone in a polyfidelitous relationship is committed to everyone else. Even if there isn’t a sexual or romantic relationship between the individuals there is always an emotional one and a commitment to being with the other in some way shape or form.

As I mentioned, this could look identical to polyamory or it could look completely different, it just depends on how the individuals want to identify.

So, why am I writing all this about polyfidelity? I will probably be using it in the future and now I can reference this post whenever I mention it.

I posted a while ago about our transition from mono to poly to triad and Not long after that I brought this difference up to Marla and Onyx and we all agreed that the definition for polyfidelitous fit our relationship.

Generally speaking the term triad is used to describe a polyfidelitous relationship between three people, so we had already kind of figured that out but at the same time I’m a sucker for semantics and finding new terms and labels to describe myself so that I can add them on to the long list of labels I already embrace to make such a long string of labels I eventually essentially become label-less again, though that’s another post.

Another term Taormino mentions in Opening Up is “trilationship” which is fairly self-explanatory I think. I pronounce it similar to tree-lationship so it sounds similar to relationship only different–also because pronouncing it try-lationship is kind of awkward. This is another term I will be using in the future.

11.12

2008

Kinky vs. Queer vs. Straight Sex

Something I’ve been thinking of a lot lately has been the differences between “types” of sex and sexual intimacy and encounters. It’s something that both The Leather Daddy and the Femme and PoMoSexuals made me think about a lot, because they both talked about male-female sexual interaction in a non-straight or non-hetero way. They recognized that males and females can interact sexually with each other in a queer way.

One of the main purposes of queer theory is actually to highlight and embrace the fact that no sex is normal/vanilla/straight, or, really, the opposite is emphasized: that all sex is queer. Very little aside from heterosexual missionary for-procreation-only sex is considered acceptable by our fucked up society, while the majority of people have sex that could not be categorized within that extremely narrow social definition.

Granted, ideas of acceptable sexuality have been evolving lately, but I wouldn’t say other types of sex have become any more acceptable, they’re just recognized as “what everyone does” which isn’t exactly an endorsement, though I’ll admit that my vision on this may be skewed by the last two years living in Utah. However, I really don’t think it’s just Utah talking.

So what’s the big difference between queer sex and straight sex? Aside from the usual definition of the sex of the partners (but that also brings into question is it the sex or the gender that matters?) it’s subtle, and may have a lot to do with intention. Can queer hetero sex include missionary sex? I say of course! The wonderful thing about the orbit(/label) queer is that it is very open to interpretation.

Most often the participants of queer sex are queer people, but that brings into the question of what makes someone a queer person. I’d argue that anyone outside of the norm of society is queer in some way, although not everyone would see it that same way. Queer is an important label for same-sex/gender-loving people to embrace, definitely, but I also think queer moves beyond that label as well.

If we define queer as what it’s not, meaning not normal, just about everyone would be able to be labeled queer. I’m not sure if I’ve ever met a normal person in my life, society perpetuates this idea of normalcy, but that doesn’t mean it exists anywhere, and usually those who think they are normal would not be considered normal by others, so where does that leave us?

Personally I dislike the term ‘normal’ for a variety of reasons, including the fact I have a degree in Psychology, but also because I have never believed that normal exists. People are just too damn individualistic for anyone to fit into a stereotypically cookie cutter image of what we are told we should be. Granted, this is a very western concept.

Back to queer sex vs. straight sex: personally I believe there is a different feeling to queer sex than there is to straight sex (though I try not to have straight sex at all, but every once in a while my sex slips into the realm of less-queer). Queer sex just feels a little, well, queer. It feels subversive and non-normal, even if it is normal to us and our bodies and desires. That’s not to say that there is anything wrong with non-normal, quite the contrary, I think it’s necessary.

Queer sex, to me, can happen between people of any sex or gender. The times I feel my sex is slipping into less-queer territory are those instances when Onyx and I have had quickie sex in nearly missionary position (I say nearly because my legs are up and not flat) with little foreplay and sometimes little attention paid to me. This has only happened infrequently, and usually when we’re both tired but wanting sex. I consider it far from the queerer sex we have which includes toys, various positions, or me fucking him rather than him fucking me.

That’s not to say that just anyone who doesn’t have missionary sex is having queer sex, although that is one possible definition. As I mentioned above I believe there has to be some sort of queer intent, though that is a very broad topic and definition. Also, I think queer sex must also occur between queer people, though that definition is also very broad and open to interpretation.

Now to throw kinky sex into the mix. Kinky sex can be defined in a similar way to queer sex in that it can be defined by what it isn’t, and what it isn’t is vanilla, or normal, but see my dialogue about normalcy? Is there really any such thing? What do we consider to be not kinky?

Perhaps I should define kinky in a way other than exclusion, though I’m not sure how to do that because it is also subtle and it depends entirely on perspective and personal definition. I posit that just as most people could be deemed queer due to having anything other than narrowly-defined non-queer sex that most people could be deemed kinky for having anything other than narrowly-defined non-kinky sex.

That, or we just need to get rid of these labels all together, but that brings me to another theory on labels: that we must define them then broaden them in order to be able to abolish them, so perhaps that’s what I’m working on doing right now!

And what about the quote in the image above? Is anything you do really only kinky the first time, because after you do it that desensitizes you to it, making you think less of the kink factor of it and more of the enjoyment of it? That makes sense in some ways, and it’s been my experience that people tend to measure others against their own experiences rather than the so-called “normal” experience expectation.

However, what constitutes kinky sex? For some it would be using toys and props such as dildos, vibrators, restraints, or blindfolds; for others it would be engaging in “extreme” activities such as S&m, D/s, watersports, or enemas; for others threesomes, foursomes, and moresomes are kinky. Just like queer sex, there is a wide range of what could be considered kinky sex, and it all depends on the person putting that label on it. I do believe that kinky sex has an intention behind it, just like queer sex does, but it is also just as difficult to pin down.

What I’m trying to say is that there are definitely differences between these three “types” of sexual interaction, and none of them are better or worse than others as long as you are interacting the way you enjoy and desire to interact. I’m not saying that straight sex is bad, though I do wonder how many people actually have it. I am saying that more people have queer sex than most people may think, but I’m also saying that labels and definitions such as queer and kinky are difficult to pin-down, and perhaps shouldn’t be pinned down.

11.02

2008

Semantics: In General

Hello merry readers, guest blogger Onyx back with a small piece I’ve been meaning to write for a while on the subject of semantics.

Those of you who’ve followed this blog for a while knows that Semantics is something that Scarlet often brings up, both through her Semantic Sunday posts, as well as her many posts about labels and identity and the difficulty she often faces trying to explain herself and her ideas to others.

In a couple recent posts Scarlet has done an excellent job discussing labels, their use, their limitations and why she’s a fan of them. I’m going to expand on this and offer some reasons why I feel that labels so often are misused or downright abused and some ways I feel we can remediate this.

I do not claim to be the originator of the ideas and concepts I will discuss. They were thought up by greater minds than mine and all I can hope to do is to communicate them in a clear and understandable manner. My main influence comes from the school of General Semantics, originally espoused by Count Alfred Korzybski and elaborated upon by writers I respect greatly such as Robert Anton Wilson, as well as ones I hold in much lower regard such as L. Ron Hubbard.

To go into depth about all aspects of General Semantics would require a book, or perhaps a number of books. Briefly speaking it can be said to be a discipline dedicated to increasing awareness of how our use of language informs our thoughts and ideas, especially what one might call “common sense assumptions.” Korzybski taught that words always seem to fail to fully describe any situation, object or action and sought to help us avoid the linguistic traps and manipulations we’re all too often subjected to.

Perhaps this can best be described by one of General Semantics’ key phrases “The map is not the territory. The word is not the thing defined.” Our language is unable to ever describe anything in a comprehensive way; instead we describe various aspects of something, small bits and pieces of the whole.

One of the most dangerous aspects of language Korzybski warned is any variation of the verb to be, to say that anything is anything makes us to grossly oversimplify reality and leads us into dangerous thinking. To illustrate let’s look at stereotypes and prejudices that most of us will have observed at one point or another.

“Black people are criminals”
“The Irish are hard drinkers”
“Queers are immoral perverts.”

Feel free to exchange these for your favorite stereotypes if you wish. The point is that these stereotypes gain their power from the verb to be. Statements such as these assign labels to groups in an absolute manner that grossly oversimplifies reality. Sure we can find partial truths in such statements; we can’t deny that some black people commit Illegal acts, or that some queers violate SOME people’s standards of morality, but the oversimplification forced upon us by the verb to begets in the way of a more detailed and accurate understanding

Any description of an object will vary based on circumstance and time, and if we can train ourselves to recognize this we can avoid the largely emotional responses often triggered by this particular linguistic trap. If we can translate the phrase “Blacks are criminals” into the more abstracted phrase “A portion of blacks have at some point in their lives committed an act considered illegal at that point at that point in time and space” we will almost certainly have a far less emotional response and have a better understanding of the nebulous group known as “blacks”.

Of course, these concepts do not only apply to groups, but to anything we choose to describe. Any time we use any form of to beto describe something we run the risk of oversimplifying our thought process and make potentially very flawed assumptions. (Hopefully I haven’t lost you at this point with my simplistic explanation of General semantics, I do have a point, and I’m getting to it, I promise!)

This brings me back to labels. Most people I know seem to have an aversion to labels and will say they avoid them or don’t want labels applied to them. In my experience this seem a result of the how people fall into the to be trap. We often feel that if we accept a label we have to be whatever we think that label describes, and that we can’t be anything else.

If one adopts the label of “submissive” by saying “I am submissive” we oversimplify and limit our ability to fully express ourselves. If instead we adopt the label by saying “I feel submissive” or even “At this point in time I choose to explore and express myself in a submissive manner” we are no longer bound by the label although we can still use it as a means to communicate and express ourselves. Thus the label itself is not the problem, but rather the verb we use to tie the label to ourselves and our identities.

The mental discipline Korzybski sought to instill can be hard to attain in full. Most languages that I’m aware of, English among them make heavy use of to bein various permutations. Likewise our culture seems very devoted to these oversimplifications, perhaps because it seems easier, more convenient. It takes less effort and mental agility to think of things in fairly rigid absolutes. One might ask whether our cultural attitudes were shaped by our language or if our language was shaped by cultural attitudes. Korzybski believed that language at the very least reinforces these unhealthy thought patterns and that they key to overcoming them was to change the way we use language.

Some students of General Semantics such as D. David Bourland have sought to do this by creating a brand new form of English known as English Prime or more commonly E-prime which seeks to do away with the verb to beentirely. Others have argued that we do not need to eliminate to beentirely, but rather simply become more aware of how we use the verb and more careful with its application.

An interesting experiment I propose you try is to go for a day or even longer trying to avoid using to bein any of its forms or at least marking down every time you do it, and then give some thought as to how it oversimplified or even misrepresented the thing you were seeking to describe. I have found it to bea fun and useful exercise that helps me view the world in new and fascinating ways.

09.12

2008

On Being a Label Fetishist

After my stint with labels a while ago, it’s time for me to revisit them as they have been brought up a lot lately. While I did revisit my queer label more recently in a post about my queerness and I have been using my Semantics Sunday posts as a way for me to explore my individual labels, I want to go back to the more general subject of labels.

I want to start by saying this: I love labels. I would even go so far as to say I have a label fetish. This, in many ways, informs a lot of what I do, and there will be more on my label fetish later. As I’ve said before, basically any noun and most adjectives are labels. The problem with labels is that we need to realize that labels are useful tools but do not speak of us as a whole.

From my last post on labels:

An example: you order a burger at a restaurant. While this is a burger, it could be made of beef, turkey, chicken, soy, vegetables, black beans, or something else entirely. It could come with: lettuce, tomato, onion, mushrooms, pickles, garlic, pastrami, bacon, swiss cheese, cheddar, pepper jack, provolone, smoked gouda, or any number of toppings. It could also have: mayo, mustard, ketchup, ranch, hummus, barbecue sauce, or any number of sauces. It could be served on: whole wheat, white, sesame seed, rosetta… I think you get my point. These combinations create an almost infinite number of variations under the common label of “burger.” So it is with any label.

We call both garden burgers and buffalo burgers “burgers,” but they are radically different entities, and are often not (though sometimes are) consumed by the same people.

A lot of people dislike labels because they are limiting or because they believe if they choose to embrace a label it is then expected that they will never deviate from that label or appear in any way contradictory to it. This is part of the reason why I embrace a whole string of labels–femme and boi and faggette and genderqueer and drag queen to name a few… and those are just my gender labels–because if I present myself as a whole large group of labels it’s hard to push me into one box, because I’m already spreading myself across a thousand. By embracing a multitude of labels I am also trying to change the way we think about labels, because I can’t be pigeonholed into one label if I openly embrace multiple labels. How could someone choose just one label to put me into?

But I’m a rare case, though not as rare as some may think. Most people are not as comfortable straddling multiple labels, or orbiting multiple identities in the gender galaxy or any other galaxy. My multitude of labels enables me not to be shoved into one box, but how does that help those who don’t feel the pull of multiple identities, or who feel mostly one gender and a little another but who don’t want to embrace the second label fully?

That’s where realizing that while labels have the ability to box you in, they also have the ability to free you so that you have a better idea of yourself but also so that you can figure out the way you think of yourself, or what you think of yourself as, and then be able to move within or beyond that. Labels don’t have to be permanent nor do they have to inform who you are at every moment, just who you are at some moments or most moments or different transitive parts of you. The “problem” with labels can be “solved” by the realization of impermanence and fluidity, and that even if you embrace a label that does not mean you have to fit anyone’s definition of that label but your own.

I am aware that not everyone is obsessed labels in the same way I am (nor have they fetishized them). I don’t mean fetish in the sense of something that I need to get off, though it can in the right context, it’s more of an obsession or a desire. Perhaps more accurately it is actually a language fetish, theory fetish, or analyzation fetish… and there I go trying to nitpick my label of my fetish into something more precise).

Like I’ve said, I believe labels can be extremely useful when thought of in the right context. Labels are also extremely important, they can bring us together as much as they can tear us apart, the problem is so many focus on our differences instead of our similarities.

And I’ll leave you with a quote from The Leather Daddy and the Femme:

You want me to say I’m bisexual because you’re a woman, okay, I’ll say it. It’s no skin off my ass. But I don’t love women. I love you. Far as that goes, I don’t like most men all that much either. But I’d die for the guys in my tribe. Now are you beginning to get it? … See, it’s all well and good to call yourself whatever. I answer to faggot and gay male and leatherman and all those names, but if answering to a name means I can’t do something I decide I want to do, fuck it. And if someone wants to give me shit for what I decide to do, it’s their problem. … some rules exist just to prop up somebody’s prejudice, and they’re bullshit just like any other rule that’s meant to ensure conformity. … I’ve begun to wish more women were like you. Then maybe calling myself bisexual would make sense. Because believe me, if I had any objection to fucking pussy I never would have fucked yours, dear. I did not just screw you that first night to be polite. [bold emphasis added]

Semantics Sunday: Fagette

One of my new favorite words, one which I’m even considering adding to my long list of labels up on the masthead, I’ve already added it to my gender description. I first encountered the term in the Fagette video by Athens Boys Choir which is absolutely lovely, hilarious, wonderful, and perfect.

Doing a search on google for faggette brings up over 18,600 results which are a mixture of pages with the Athens Boys Choir video on them or linked, personal profiles like myspace or digg, information for people with the last name of Fagette, some is information about La Fagette, France, and random other things. Aside from the video I’m interested in the Urban Dictionary definition of fagette which reads:

A lesbian or a woman that displays either a masculine or feminine attitudes, mannerisms, and dress depending on their whim at the moment.
At the Lesbian Club, Cheri was such a fagette that she was receiving looks of interest from both the Butch and Femme crowd.

As opposed to the simple other definitions: 1. A gay frenchman. Derived from “faggot” and “baguette.” 2. A female homosexual/lesbian. I would say I prefer the first definition of fagette(s) from UD instead of the other for fagette.

Further, I would propose my own definition (as that’s what this post is all about, right?) which brings it slightly away from sexuality, though I would say queer is a necessity as I believe queerness and gender have some sort of link together but queer doesn’t always have to do with who one sleeps with. I really like the “depending on their whim at the moment” part of the definition, and I think that is key for my own feelings and adoption of this label.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my boi side, especially since reading The Leather Daddy and the Femme since it is so amazing and is a queer femme who also dresses as a boi, who has both aspects (genders) within her and plays with both and in between. I have been feeling more of my boi side lately, but also enjoying and analyzing my femme side, yet another “switch” label for me to inhabit, perhaps, switching from boi to femme and back again and everywhere in between.

It’s often difficult to not have a definite place in this gender galaxy, or to be circling around more than one sun. At the same time it’s very freeing, because through embracing these specific labels I am able to then open up my own gender expression to fit inside or outside of the gender lines as I see fit. Just like I feel it’s sometimes necessary to restrict something or go to one extreme in order to find where you really feel comfortable, and I’ve had to do that.

Back to my definition of fagette. Basically I think of it as a queer who mixes masculinity and fem(me)ininity and creates their own version of both, whether their biology is male or female. I know it’s a rather open-ended definition, but I think gender is open-ended in some ways, a lot more open-ended than society would like us to believe anyway. A fagette can look like Athens Boys Choir: a boy with a vagina, or a bio-female drag queen, or like Miranda/Randy of The Leather Daddy and the Femme, or all sorts of other configurations. There’s something about femme masculinity in it (not to be confused with female masculinity), which seems contradictory, in any way but I’m talking simply gender and not biological sex.

There’s a type of femme which can only be achieved by mixing a little masculinity in, I think, the drag queen is a drag queen because it’s putting a feminine gender on the socially “wrong” body, but a similar gender is difficult to achieve when you are putting a similar gender expression, drag queen, on the socially “correct” body. Fagette is recognizing that wrongness, that queerness, and embracing it.

It doesn’t come out as femme drag queen for everyone, that’s just my experience of fagette, having to map it onto my identity in order to have it fit. It’s similar to what I mean by “femme drag queen,” the purposeful combining of femmeininity and masculinity in order to create a new gender all my own, an androgyny that doesn’t come out looking primarily masculine as most androgyny does.

Fagette is not limited to the gender expression “drag queen” as some drag queens are not fagettes, but some fagettes are drag queens. Fagette can encompass any gender which is a mixture of femme and fag (I believe).

08.24

2008

Semantics Sunday: Femme

Yes, I know, it’s not Sunday (again) I’m getting bad at these, but at least I’m trying to stick to the posting schedule even if it is not the right day! And, that’s what backdating is for! My best excuse for being late is that our mama cat had her kittens yesterday! See all five kittens and the mama or just two kittens close-up. I’ll be posting pics on twitter as they progress.

Somethings I’ve been thinking a lot about since starting The Femme’s Guide (I start off too many posts that way, don’t I? Maybe I just think too much): What is femme? What does it mean to be femme? Who can be femme? Is there any sort of limitation on what femme means?

Something I came across a while ago here via The Femme Show was a definition of what femme is, or can be: “[the femme is] a betrayer of legibility itself. Seemingly “normal,” she responds to “normal” expectations with a sucker punch– she occupies normality abnormally.” – Lisa Duan and Kathleen McHugh from “A Fem(me)inist Manifesto” The abnormality in the normality of feminine can be caused by a number of different things, and in all cases conscious choice is the forerunner, but can also be accompanied by a deviant sexual orientation (queer, dyke, lesbian, bi, pan, etc. to which I also include queer heterosexual), biological sex-to-gender allignment (such as femme males), or etc.

My basic definition of a femme is someone who consciously chooses to embrace fem(me)ininity as a “deviant” identity. Femme is a conscious genderfuck in the rouse of traditional femininity. The major difference between a feminine woman and a femme is conscious gender performance, and anyone who consciously takes on the role of femininity as a deviant identity can be femme.

I don’t believe that femme is reserved for any type of person, there are femmes of all sexes, orientations, sizes, colors, etc. The only thing I believe must be present in order to embrace the identity of femme is just that: embracing the identity and consciously performing femmeininity.

This also doesn’t mean that they must be femme all the time, or that it has to be an all-or-nothing experience. I am an advocate (and practitioner) of gender fluidity, and I don’t believe that once an identity is embraced it must be the dominant identity at all times.

This brings me to the question of how is femme deviant? How is being femme any more deviant than being feminine? In a culture which considers femininity to be a counterpart to masculinity and therefore everything that masculinity isn’t: weak, vulnerable, emotional, etc. when a femme consciously chooses to be femme ze is choosing to take on this culturally slandered role. When we consciously choose marginalized roles while recognizing their marginalization we are, in a way, giving power to them. This is, in my mind, deviant and a small way of rebelling against social order.

The big issue with femme, in my opinion and experience, is visibility. It’s often difficult to be recognized as femme as opposed to feminine.