feminist issues

Dating while feminist

Relevant to some of y’all’s interests!

For those that enjoy my various and sundry social justice-y thoughts on dating, and especially online dating, check out datingwhilefeminist, which is written by past (and hopefully future) Valprehension guest blogger Spice.

You can also follow her general awesomeness on the Twitter @thepurplecoffee

On inclusive and exclusive spaces, and why actively cultivating “safe” exclusionary spaces is vital

I am inherently suspicious of any group of community or event that claims to be broadly inclusive. Or more specifically, I know that attempts to be equally inclusive of everyone will always, always result in exclusionary spaces where the least privileged perspectives are the most marginalized.

In speaking about why I distrust the very concept of ‘the GSM community’ (or ‘the LGBTQIA+ community’), I recently wrote:

I am far, far more interested in hearing from communities of black trans folk, or autistic queer people, or fat femmes, than in listening to anything that can be credited to ‘the GSM community’ at large.

This is in part because I acknowledge that it is important and vital for me to continue to listen to and make space for the voices of people who experience oppressions that I do not. I cannot help but be complicit in oppressions if I do not even know they exist, and so I feel a deep responsibility to be always learning about others’ experiences of marginalization.

It as also because I know the power of groups that are deliberately and mindfully exclusionary of relatively privileged people. I know the power of explicitly and actively centering and amplifying marginalized voices above all others.

There are things that marginalized people are reluctant to say in the presence of the privileged, in the presence of their oppressors. There are things that need to be said, truths that burn inside of hurting people, that cannot be adequately addressed when the perpetrators of that hurt are listening.

For example: most women experience varying forms of harassment, objectification, or other forms of dehumanization or humiliation on a fairly regular basis, simply for being in public where there are men. Women can, and do, talk about these things publicly of course, and it is important that all of us who see this happening refuse to be silent.

However, when a woman is processing the trauma of a new, particular, experience of dehumanization at the hands of a man, it is often important for her to find a space to do so where there are no men. The reason for this is simple and terrible: because we live in the kind of patriarchal world that teaches men to dehumanize women, woman can’t even speak out and describe their experiences without having men use those experiences as fodder for their own prurient dehumanizing interests.

I’m going to say that again, actually: any time a woman speaks out publicly against her own dehumanization, and especially when she describes in detail how she was dehumanized, there are people who will use that information to further dehumanize her. It is that fucking awful. It is that fucking inescapable.

The only way that many marginalized people can even begin to process their victimization without being actively re-victimized by their effort, is by doing so in a space that excludes their oppressors.

But it’s not just that, even.

In addition to allowing for healing and processing, smaller groups and communities focusing on particular oppressions, or better yet on particular intersecting oppressions are far and away more likely to be able to get shit done.

There is this thing about public conversation about oppression; I’m sure you’ve seen it many times. When someone tries to start a broadly public conversation about what might be done about some particular form of oppression they experience, that conversation will almost without fail be derailed into a conversation all about convincing those who don’t experience that form of oppression that it does actually exist, and that it is, in fact, a problem.

By simply excluding people who don’t experience that form of oppression, or by allowing them to attend only as long as they understand that their role is only to listen and support, we allow the conversation to move past proving the existence of oppression into actually planning movements to improve the lives of people facing that oppression.

Exclusive spaces are absolutely necessary because there are some things that oppressed people only learn to name and recognize in the safety of their own communities. Exclusive spaces are necessary to have the occasional opportunity to escape from our oppressors and process our experiences.

The converse of this a weird one, though: inclusive spaces that claim to value everyone equally are never truly inclusive; they will always alienate the people most in need of community. The only truly inclusive space is a space that works actively to undermine the power and voices of its privileged participants, and to bolster the power and voices of those who are traditionally silenced.

If you aren’t actively dismantling the existing power hierarchies, you will always wind up reproducing them.

Sexual agency and bafflement

I had some weird, not-really-the-point reactions to a recent Captain Awkward letter (TL;DR is that the letter writer is in a romantic and sexual relationship with a woman who does not engage in any kind of penetrative sex, and is averse to semen generally. Their sex life involves him getting her off usually without reciprocation.) The actual advice and comments provided to the letter writer are great (she gets to have her boundaries, but you also get to leave if you’re not happy and that’s ok) and I have nothing to add.

But.

But the thing that really strikes me, hard, when reading this letter (and I have read things like this before and had a similar reaction) is how completely impossible it seems to me that anyone could ever possibly have the wherewithal to express the kinds of preferences and boundaries this person’s girlfriend has put in place. If it was me, I would have never felt like I had the right to expect these kinds of needs or preferences to be respected. I would have assumed that I was the problem and compromised the shit out of my boundaries and suffered quietly and tried to suck it up.

Because I was raised to believe that there are certain things you just have to do if you are going to date a man. Because I was raised to believe that if you dared to ask for a compromise or to slow down on those things, and if the man involved was gracious enough to grant you their patience, they were going above and beyond the call of duty, and you probably owed them one to be honest.

This is a key part of rape culture, for the record, and it is something I was very clearly and explicitly indoctrinated into.

I was fortunate, therefore, that my first sexual relationship was with a woman, because that messaging didn’t come into play for me there. I am sure that foundation is part of what prevented me from being sexually traumatized by my relationship with my first boyfriend, to be honest.

Because that, as I have written about before, was something else. With him, it was all about the explicit pressure. But to be honest, he didn’t need to work all that hard – a little hinting was all it took for me feel like I was being unfair or unreasonable or that I was over-stepping my rights to agency. So when we made out for the first time, and didn’t go an further, and he said “You can’t keep doing this to me” (the *first time* we made out!), I didn’t run away or tell him off or anything. I just let him go further than I was ready to next time.

And thus was our pattern established.

It’s been a long time since then, of course, and it’s been a *very* long time since I had a partner who had also internalized these toxic ideas about what is simply required in a sexual relationship. It is intuitively obvious to me now that people get to have and express whatever boundaries they want. And I’ve learned to set my own boundaries somewhat, though I’ve also just had partners who are caring and attentive and able to read me well enough that those things haven’t always needed to be explicit.

I do still sometimes have to fight an uphill battle against myself, and the fact that I still instinctively respond to my own awareness of my partners’ desires with an internal pressure to perform. It is sometimes difficult to pull apart my genuine drive and desire to please other people because I enjoy it a fuck of a lot from the more damaging drive to self-obliterate against other people’s desires. I have to remember to stay in tune with myself, and that is easier some days than others, but I am honestly really good at it now.

But still, reading something like this letter, from a person whose attitude is so naturally “well, is the person I’m with doesn’t want the thing, then we don’t do the thing” that it doesn’t even need to be explicitly stated, when that attitude is just the way he seems to live and breathe his approach to relating sexually to other people, it actually kind of blows my mind a little.

Because, of course, that should be obvious. But to so many people, it really, really isn’t.

The real reason I love gender fuckery

Well, the 30-week genderqueer challenge is working for me! This post is inspired by last week’s prompt/post!

Really, the reason I love gender fuckery (and especially the reason why it’s so important to me sexually, sometimes) is as a means to an end.

I want for my body to just be my body, as it is. I want to be able to just be, without the pressure of all of the meanings and value that other people insist on putting on it, and on forcibly making me acknowledge those meanings and values (this is what sexual harassment usually is – not just objectifying a person, but actively making sure they know you are doing it, and trying to elicit a response from them, thus forcing them to participate. It’s disgusting.)

I hate that because I live in a world where this shit is so pervasive that it is is sometimes hard for me to see my own body without seeing it through the lens of cisheteropatriarchy. I hate how hard it is for me to be free of that.

What I really want it to see myself and my body on my own terms. But before I can do that, I need to fuck up the existing scripts I have for understanding my own body.

I need to take what I have been taught – both explicitly and implicitly – about my value and about what having certain body parts (or not) means about who I am as a person and how I am valued by others, and I need to twist it around, and shake it up and tear it to pieces and put it back together again, in every way I can think to. I need to pull the pieces apart and put them back together in impossible, unrecognizable configurations. I need to make new shapes out of the old meanings, over and over and over, until it all stops meaning anything at all, like a word repeated until it is nothing but a series of arbitrary sounds.

I need to fuck with gender, so that gender will stop fucking with me.

“Consent is sexy” is an insidious message

Look, I get the point of saying “consent is sexy”. I get that it became a thing in direct response to naysayers of the importance of consent who insist that asking before touching someone (especially sexually) is somehow inherently unsexy or a turn-off. I also get that we are living in a culture that seriously does sexualize and eroticize female non-consent and just violence against women generally, and that it is important to try to fight back against those forces as they continue to form so many people’s sexualities, sometimes in very dangerous ways.

“Consent is sexy” is and always has been at *best* a band-aid solution to some specific aspects of rape culture. And it has always been clear to me that we shouldn’t need to sell consent in this way, or call it anything other than right, or the only non-evil way to interact with other people. The fact that anyone thinks that the message is necessary tells us how much work still needs to be done, if nothing else.

But. It needs to stop now. We need to stop actively promoting the idea that consent is sexy. Because there are ways in which it is actively harmful and helps rapists.

I don’t think it’ll be surprising or revelatory to anyone if I point out that many people (read: most women) feel an awful lot of pressure to be “sexy” in accordance with what their culture tells them is sexy, regardless of whether they enjoy those things, or particularly want to have sex. Heck, women are told they need to be conventionally attractive in order to be perceived as professional (or, y’know, even just worthy of being treated with the most basic respect), as if those things have anything to do with one another.

Women are taught to model the behaviours that the culture they grow up in declares to be sexy. Naturally, as the idea that consent (and especially enthusiastic consent) is sexy gains more traction, this means that women are feeling and will feel more pressure to model the appearance of said enthusiastic consent regardless of their actual desires.

By framing consent as “sexy”, we are making it harder for people, and women especially, to feel like they have the freedom to decide whether to consent or not. Not because it’s bad to find consent sexy – I do still agree that finding consent sexy should be and will be a sign of the death of rape culture if that ever comes – but because we are still living in a misogynist world, and because we are still living in a rape culture, and this particular attempt at combating that culture is far too easily turned against itself.

Consent is necessary and important, regardless of whether it is sexy. It is mandatory even if it is inconvenient, even if it is a turn-off. And deciding not to consent to anything, at any time, is not unsexy, either.

“Rape isn’t about sex; it’s about power”… except for when it really is just about sex

[TRIGGER WARNING: discussion of rape, both in abstract generalities and of my own specific experiences]

I was amazed recently to see the responses to this article about rape, and the idea that for many rapists, the fact that they know their victim doesn’t want to have sex is the turn-on. Which, this just seems obvious to me.

But, on facebook where I saw it shared, comment after comment poured in to correct the author on their understanding, because obviously “Rape is NOT about sex it’s about power and control.” Some people couched this in somewhat more nuanced ways, such as claiming that “It’s a sexual crime that is not sexual in nature,” or that “It is very much sexual. But it has nothing to do with sexual pleasure.”

The message here is: rapists don’t rape because they enjoy it sexually, or because doing so turns them on. They do it to feel powerful and/or to enact the power that they already have in society. And the thing is, sometimes this is exactly what rape is: when it is used as a tool of violence in war, very often when it occurs in prison, and also very often in abusive interpersonal relationships, rape is a symbolic way of claiming ownership and control over another human being, and often a way of communicating that that the rapist doesn’t consider them to be human, and sometimes that is the primary motivation for rape. And it is important to acknowledge this aspect of sexual/sexualized violence.

But that doesn’t even begin to cover the full range of non-consensual sexual activities. It completely elides the fact that we live in a society that does actively sexualize violence against women, and that generations of men have grown being taught to be turned on by sexual violence, just as the Ms. Magazine article describes.

In fact, the description of rape as always about power doesn’t even remotely apply to my own experience of rape.

There are some things that I’ve only just recently put together in my head, that explain my own experience of rape and how it happened in a much more solid way than I have ever before been able to articulate.

The thing about my abusive ex? One of the main things that I led to things going the way they did with us? His primary sexual fantasy was for one person to start off not wanting to have sex, but to change their mind once things started and wind up enjoying it.

Like, he told me this at one point. And I’ve only just now realized just how strong a thing this was and how much it coloured so many of our sexual interactions.

Because the thing that this did, in our relationship? It meant that if he wanted to have sex and my initial position was a no, not just that he didn’t accept that answer (which is the first and most obvious problem), but that he was actually *more* turned on once I’d said no, because this was now a chance for him to enact his fantasy. From his perspective, when I said no, the stakes actually got higher.

I didn’t realize this at all at the time, but it makes his behaviour make way more sense to me now. Not in a way that makes it somehow less reprehensible, for the record; just in a way that makes it easier for me to remember things more clearly, because the motivation tying together his actions has made the narrative easier to hold in my head.

This also explains some other things that for years left me confused and unable to name my experiences as rape. The thing about it all is that my rapist isn’t a person who got off specifically on non-consent – he doesn’t quite fit the model described in the Ms. article that started me down the road to figuring this out. What he was looking for wasn’t violent all the way through. It was slightly murkier than that.

And so there are facts like, I learned how and when to vocalize fake enjoyment to make things go faster, and to get him to finish more quickly. Because, of course, his fantasy wouldn’t be complete without it.

Though, I also have to admit that it’s not as if me never coming around to vocal enjoyment ever stopped him, either. It just made things take longer, and often involved him tapping into his other major turn-ons, which were just generally more physically demanding for me – though I also knew to pull them out when I didn’t have the energy for play-acting (you see how I gave myself the illusion of choice and control, there?)

The truth is, my abuser was a deeply, overwhelmingly selfish person. He was entitled, in ways that pervaded all of his interactions with other people, and the ways he would push to get his way in all things. But his impulses were never intended to be violent. He didn’t really understand what he was doing to me, but that doesn’t make it any better for me that I went through it.

For him, it was definitely, unquestioningly, and always about sex. About his sexual fantasies, and turn-ons, and pleasure. And he failed to see the implications of his actions, and he failed to really care about my boundaries, ever. It wasn’t ever really about dehumanizing me, or anything remotely like that.

But it was definitely rape.

So, to the people who insist that rape is never about sex: you are allowing your political position and perhaps your personal experience to override and delegitimize the lived experiences of many rape survivors. Your shitty hard line stance made it harder for me to identify my experience as rape and has made my healing process unnecessarily difficult. Stop it.

First Dates, Hetero Dating, and Double Standards

I had a really depressing revelation about the hetero dating world today. I was thinking about the ridiculous double standard many straight men hold wherein they will happily have sex with someone they just met, but will harshly judge the women who have that sex with them, or who do the same with other men.

This attitude always particularly astonishes and confuses me because engaging in slut-shaming is precisely counter-productive to these men’s desires to have sex with women. And so I tossed a question about it into a dating-oriented facebook community I’m a member of. Among the many thoughtful and thought-provoking responses I got, one in particular is sticking with me.

A common theme in shaming women for having first-date sex is the idea that it displays poor judgment on their part, thus revealing to be lacking in long-term potential. Which, initially this seems an absurd judgment to make against someone without also making the same claim about men – it’s an obvious double standard.

Until you remember that women are, of course, at far greater risk of sexual violence, and that going back to a mostly strange man’s house is more likely to end badly for her than it would be for a man going to a strange woman’s house. For that matter, it is statistically more dangerous for a woman to invite a man back to her place, too.

To be clear, I don’t think that deciding to have sex with someone, on a first date or at any other time, tells you much about that person’s judgment – and I definitely don’t think it’s okay to chalk up women’s victimization at the hands of misogynists to their poor judgment. But it is interesting(?) to consider these men’s perspectives on the situation.

From the perspective of the kind of man who holds the kinds of attitudes that lead him to devalue women who actively seek out sex, there a number of additional things that might cause him to look down on a woman who slept with him on a first date, specifically. If we’re being totally honest, this dude is probably employing deliberate manipulation tactics to “seduce” his partners: he may lie to them about his long-term intentions/what he is looking for or wants from the relationship; he may pretend to be more compatible with her than he really is; he may pay compliments we doesn’t really mean.

Moreover, the kind of man who behaves this way usually has a peer group that shares his attitudes and behaviours toward women – which means that he believes this behaviour is even more common than it actually is. He may believe that it is just how all men are, making it *always* a bad idea for a woman to have sex with man pretty much, um, ever.

And then I realized that at some point, many misogynist men, when they do manage to get sex on the first date, might genuinely be left with the feeling that they can’t believe they got away with it. As in, they can’t believe she fell for it.

And that somehow, in their minds, that entire interaction reflects more poorly on her than it does on them.

Which, that is such an awful thing to realize about the way other people probably see the world. And it makes me feel exhausted and wonder how things will ever get better. I don’t know how to combat the self-fulfilling prophecy of actively and deliberately trying to get the better of a woman’s best intentions and judgment, and then blaming them when you succeed. I don’t know how to make this stop, except that I guess as the proportion of non-assholes to assholes among straight men increases, more straight women will become accustomed to being treated well and with respect, and it will be easier to spot the assholes as they stand out more?

Because holy fuck I hope so.