Frangipani

Polyamory, bisexuality and maybe even some atheism

“Kinky” February 19, 2011

Filed under: Definitions,Kink,Sex,Sexuality — Araliya @ 10:55 pm
Tags: , , ,

I have a confession. I’m profoundly uncomfortable with the word ‘kinky’. I’m just not sure what it means. I admit, the word elicits some immediate images: leather, bondage, sharp things, etc., but I also know that they are the result of the media’s representation of the term, as well as what some (but not all) self-identifying kinky people like to do.

The word itself seems to mean ‘twisted’ or ‘perverted’ and though, by extension, that can be taken positively to imply something exciting, I have a knee-jerk negative reaction to the word because it sounds pejorative. I realize this in no way bothers the vast numbers of kinky folk out there, and it really shouldn’t. It’s just a label and as such cannot fully encompass every individual’s experience.

My problem is I don’t really get why anything anyone likes to do should be labeled as more or less ‘kinky’.

There are things I personally don’t like or that simply don’t pique my interest, but the fact that someone else likes to do them with other consenting adults doesn’t make that person, to my mind, any weirder than me or anyone else. I personally don’t like eating escargots, but I don’t find people who do like to snack on snails disgusting. People’s palates are different, right? So what’s wrong with having varying tastes when it comes to sex?

A similar problem I have is the concept of sex as something ‘naughty’ or ‘dirty’. There seems to be some sort of social code that requires us to cast things that are perfectly natural as ‘bad’, so that we can ‘protect the children’ or some such nonsense. I think kink falls under the same category. You have to believe that there is such a thing as ‘ordinary’ or ‘normal’ before you can call yourself – or anyone else – abnormal and I think that’s what I have a problem with. After the kind of life I’ve had, I have a profound mistrust of the idea that some things are ‘normal’ and others aren’t. We’re all ultimately trying to get to the same place, sure, but I don’t think anyone’s way of getting there is any more or less ‘normal’ than anyone else’s.

I’m not, by the way, arguing that there is no such thing as kink. There are clearly demarcated sexual practices that fall into that category. The analogy that works best for me is that kink is the extreme sports of sex. A reasonably large number of people are happy with a jog or a walk in the park, but another lot of people like to throw themselves off tall buildings with varying levels of frequency. I get that.

I guess where I get unsure is not the ‘clearly kink’ stuff but the stuff that one person would find ‘kinky’ and another would take as par for the course.  By the same token, I don’t get ‘vanilla’ either. Again, I get the mechanics of it, but I don’t get the value judgment that seems to go along with it. Depending on the context of the conversation, either kinky or vanilla will be used pejoratively, and that really bugs me.

The more I think – and write – about it, the more I realize that what really bothers me is the concept of shame in all this. Somewhere along the way, I seem to have broken the connection between shame and sex in my head, (I can’t remember when it was ever there, but it would be hard to grow up without some sort of negative association with sex, so I’m assuming it must have been there at some point.) but I live in a world that will either shame you for being kinky or will be open and accepting of all kinks but turn around and shame you for being vanilla instead. In both cases, shaming what you’re not seems to be a very basic way to establish that you belong in one group or the other.

Shaming people for their desires, not to put to fine a point on it, is an incredibly shitty thing to do. It damn near broke my heart when my girlfriend thanked me the other day for not making fun of what she wanted to do in bed. The way she put it, clearly someone had made fun of her and had made her feel horrible for both knowing what she wanted and articulating it. Both of which should get you praise and gratitude, not shame.

So yeah, to sum up this ramble: The word ‘kinky’ (and ‘vanilla’) sits badly with me because of the value judgment it seems to contain, particularly when it’s used as a means of shaming other people. I think that kinky and vanilla are terms that, while useful for organizing interest groups and negotiating partnerships, are best left out of actual sex.

Unless, I suppose, transgression gets you off.

Oh dear.

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Why Pride? February 7, 2011

Today I overheard a comment I’ve heard a few times before about the concept of Pride March. It is basically: “it’s so weird to have people cheer you for just walking down the street.”

This comment always rocks me back on my heels.

Seriously?

Just walking down the street?

I don’t know which kind of privilege it demonstrates more: the straight privilege of people who claim the queer label but who haven’t really understood how far their apparent heterosexuality gets them, or the privilege of queer folk who have inherited a world made safe for them by the generation(s) of queer people before them who took the brunt of the bashings, hate and discrimination – those who would have marched – if they had the opportunity in the first place – in an environment where doing so would have been tantamount to being sentenced to jail, a mental asylum, or the gallows.

I actually think it’s a combination of the two. Although there are some places in the world where it is mostly safe for GLBTIQ people to be visible and live as they choose freely under the same kind of legal protection afforded to straight citizens, these places are few and far between. Even in the US, in Canada, in Europe, in Australia – the ‘first’ world, or the ‘western’ world, or ‘the world that thinks itself enlightened’ – GLBTIQ people cannot assume such freedom or protection. If they do, it is usually in defiance or the norm, rather than in compliance with it. And it is usually, still, dangerous. Look at how few places allow same-sex or otherwise queer couples to marry or to adopt children or even to visit each other in hospital if one is incapacitated. Is this a world where we ever just ‘walk down the street’?

It’s not like we haven’t gained some ground. Around the developed world – and even in some places in the developing world – queer visibility means a degree of acceptance, or at the very least, tolerance. This doesn’t mean we won’t be discriminated against or that we won’t have violence done to us or our property, but it does mean that more straight people will be angry about it and that more of their number will actually attempt to help us, stand by us as allies, or at least be sympathetic to us. This is a massive move forward, even if it isn’t full equality.

I think a lot of us on the borderline of queerness – by which I mean people who still present as heterosexual no matter what our actual orientation may be – take the general increase in the social acceptability of queerness (or, let’s be honest here, the increased acceptability of gays and lesbians – the ‘BITQ’ bit of the spectrum seems to become invisible when it’s convenient – but that’s another rant for another day)and combine it with the heterosexual privilege we have access to whether we like it or not, and conclude that everything is just peachy.

It isn’t.

Every time there is a Pride march anywhere in the world, people are coming out and saying that they belong to or support a group of people who are routinely marginalized by the mainstream population and the government. They are saying, yes we know you think we are less than you, but fuck you and your privilege. Not only have we survived your hate, we’ve done it in style and we have every right to be proud of it and to be cheered in the streets for it.

Yes, Pride is a celebration of queer culture, but it has a serious side too. People today are still taking risks. What for some people may just be a fun little stroll down the street is still a big deal to many. There are still people who don’t or won’t or can’t participate because of their work or their friends or their family or their community. There are those that participate because they have a cause to promote, or because they want others like them to see them and know they’re not alone. There are those who participate because they want to be seen and counted, who participate because they want to honor the memory and work of those who have marched before as well as those who will never get the chance or will be harassed, discriminated against, attacked, bashed, and murdered for being who they are in the face of hate.

That is what those people in the crowd are cheering.

 

Safety February 2, 2011

Filed under: Bisexuality,Fear,Sexuality — Araliya @ 12:28 am
Tags: , ,

A thought has been bugging me lately. It first came to me when I was walking down a dark, deserted street with a female lover. I live in a fairly safe area and have walked down many dark streets in the company of women (and by myself) without a second thought. The only thing that was out of the ordinary was that the date in question is a butch lesbian, not a generally feminine-spectrum bisexual like me, my partner, or any of the other women I’ve been in that situation with.

For the first time ever, I was apprehensive. I looked up and down the street for movement and listened for footfalls or any signs that someone was approaching us. I saw and heard nothing and we eventually got to a better-lit section of town and onto the bus we were looking for without incident. I deliberately didn’t raise the issue with her because I recognized the source of my discomfort and I felt bad – almost guilty – about it.

Almost as soon as I felt that initial tendril of apprehension, I realized why I felt that way. It wasn’t just that she was a woman – I’m often out with women. It was the fact that she was a lesbian and in a primary relationship with another woman, and looked it. I understood in that moment both my own privilege as a feminine bisexual woman married to a man, and the formerly unconscious assumption that underpinned that privilege.

Because I have a male partner and because my female partner, S, has two male partners, all of whom are able-bodied and large, I (and S) move around in the world under a cloak of protection I had not realized I had. Obviously, their physical presence means that it is highly unlikely that I will be catcalled, harassed, or otherwise attacked except in extremely unusual circumstances. But the weird thing is that they don’t actually have to be there for that feeling of safety to persist. The fact that they exist and that my extended family includes even more men of their general type somehow confers a kind of protection on me that I only noticed when it was removed – if only in theory – that night.

The other reason I can assume that protection is that I present as heterosexual. Or rather, I don’t ‘look’ like a lesbian. My hair, my clothes, the small amount of jewelry I wear all signal ‘female’ and ‘straight’ to most heterosexuals. (Lesbians, I’m told, can spot me, but then they’re not the demographic that tends to do most of the gay bashing.) That doesn’t mean I’m immune to attack, obviously, but that combined with the way I carry myself certainly suggests that I have backup. People tend to leave me alone.

It’s not like I’ve never felt uneasy when walking home at night. It happens sometimes. But the way I deal with it is call either H or a partner or a friend and keep them on the phone with me till I get home. Even if something were to happen, I know I have people – male-type people – who will help me out one way or another, even if it is after the fact, and that gives me a sense of safety beyond the idea of police or the law or female friends.

Which is why, when walking down that street that night, I felt scared. Because had we been attacked, the fact that my date has a female partner and presents as butch means that we weren’t ‘protected’. That I present as generally feminine means something when I am alone or with a man, or even with S who presents the same way. But put me next to someone who looks like my date did and I don’t look so straight any more. And that frightened me because that meant that I had stepped outside the socially constructed roles that I had not even realized I’d swallowed whole. Men look like men and do the protecting. Women look like women and are protected by men as a result. But if a woman looks like a man and is caught in the company of another woman who looks like she too could be gay, all bets are off. I would not be surprised if, had we been attacked, someone would have pointed out that we shouldn’t have been walking around while visibly gay, and many people would have agreed that yes, that’s what ‘flaunting your sexuality’ gets you.

While I’ve considered talking to my date about it, I never have. I don’t know what good it would do to point out that I feel like I am less safe when she and I are out together. Because even though it is true that members of marginalized groups are more likely to be attacked or mistreated by the majority, I have realized that I would rather risk it than lie about who I am. I have also understood that while I cannot erase my privilege entirely, now that I know it exists, I can at least acknowledge it and, when possible, step outside my safe little box.