from top to bottom
Last night I attended a queer erotica reading at the pleasure chest in Chicago. It was hosted by Sinclair Sexsmith, editor of the BDSM queer erotica book “Say Please.” It was a lovely group of folks - and the readers (excluding Sinclair) were all femmes!
But the readings brought something up that I find mildly annoying. To be clear before I go off — this isn’t a critique on Sinclair’s writing (which is fantastic) or about the book “Say Please” (I haven’t read it). Here’s the rub: all the stories last night involved scenarios in which the femme (or more feminine presenting person) was the bottom and the butch (or more masculine presenting person) was the top.
Why queers why are we still setting up/eroticizing this often played-out dichotomy? Which isn’t to say that it can’t be done - but out of FOUR stories - not one of them even slightly toyed with any other power dynamic. And when I do come across a rare femme top photo or story online, it’s often portrayed as “hard femme” - which is fine, but just because a femme has strapped on and has you strapped down, does not necessarily make them HARD (ahem!)
(warning: this is a little ranty)
Been thinking about this type of ish lately. Just read this post from the Trans Queers: A Transfags Sex Journal (which I love) where the author talks about his frustrations as a self described “faggy trans boy” dating cis femme women, and it bummed me out. Not because I’m angry or upset at anything the author had to say—parts of that post hit very close to home, even though I’m not a guy and I pass as a cis femme woman—but because it reminded me of the disappointment I keep running into, or hearing from others.
Sometimes I feel like queer folks got lied to. Like, we hear all this rhetoric about how the various coming-out processes are valuable, how finding community is important, how we can, after all that work, finally be complete, fearless beings.
And yet, what happens? We can’t write scripts that exist outside of the mainstream. We don’t reinvent ourselves in a vacuum. We carry a bunch of the same tired mess that some of us observed in the folks we were running from, the places where our odd-puzzle-piece selves couldn’t find purchase. We borrow the tools that broke our hearts before, repaint them so they fit in with the vocabulary we use for ourselves, and then break our hearts all over again.
And so the masculine folks are supposed to go one way, and the feminine folks are supposed to go the other,* and even though there’s technically no “right” way to be [whatever], there’s always a Legit Right Way, and you’re either working towards it or Screwing Up Big Time. And no matter how persistent you are in knowing your own truth, no matter how much you rail inside your head against the stilted movements that feel like a monstrous offense to just living your life, at the end of everything, you find yourself standing in front of the same stupid sign.
It is boring and disappointing. For all the talk about communication and breaking down the old constructs, all too often folks let a couple of outward identifiers tell the whole story.
I don’t expect strangers to get it. I don’t care if they do. But isn’t there room for our private lives to be a little more creative, for our intimates to pay closer attention to who we really are? When I say I want you naked, honey, clothes are the least of my concerns.
* I refuse to front like people don’t treat androgyny differently based on how “kinda-masculine” or not the presentation is on a given body. The complexity of multiple genders and/or the refusal to favor any of them in presentation end up getting boiled down to “boy” or “girl” in really messed-up ways.
am writing to you
already falsifies what I
wanted to tell you.
how to explain to you that I
don’t belong to English
though I belong nowhere else Gustavo Pérez Firmat, Bilingual Blues: Poems, 1981-1994 (x)
Book-in-progress review: Not Quite White
[warning: history geek ramble ahead!]
So I’m reading Not Quite White for the heck of it (here’s a Google Books link for a preview of the text). I had to put the book down during my commute this morning, after reading about William Byrd II - plantation owner, diarist and historical schmuck.
He took trips to the borderlands of then-colonial Virginia and North Carolina and wrote about his experiences amongst the poor whites in the area. The descriptions are pretty familiar to anyone who’s read colonial descriptions of Native Americans and blacks - accusations of laziness, filthiness, low character. And gender transgression - Byrd and others criticized poor whites (and all non-whites) by noting that the women appeared to work harder than the men, a sign of cultural backwardness that was the inverse of wealthy white community structures (plantation wives as the stewards of their homes, though not engaged in any real domestic labor, while their husbands engaged with the outside world and their servants and slaves did all the work).
Not news, really. But this section got to me when I read it:
Whatever general conclusions one might reach about his sexual proclivities and appetites — that, in addition to conjugal relations with his different wives, included frequent visits with prostitutes, numerous liaisons with white servants, and the occasional interracial conquest of women he encountered on his travels and journeys — Byrd’s writings about his survey expedition make it clear that he and his men regarded Lubberland [NC/VA borderlands] as a kind of sexual frontier where boundaries regulating sexual behavior were more relaxed than those of the plantation.
Meaning, yup, you guessed it - regular, sanctioned sexual abuse of poor white women, in addition to black and brown women. Too “other” to be “real” white women, “Lubber women worked, a fact that placed them at cultural odds with the planter ideal, but their very exploitability eroticized them as sexual objects” [Wray 33]. Which in and of itself is already fucked up, but even more fucked up when one considers that the incentive programs offered to planters at the time (take in more white indentured servants, get more land, make more money) created this class of dispossessed white people in the first place; with less land to go around, freed indentured servants had to leave the main parts of the colonies for the frontiers, where they engaged in subsistence farming and mingled with free blacks and Native Americans. Basically, rich white people set up a system that knowingly created a class of powerless white men and sexually available white women.
And I haven’t even had a go-in on the “tainted blood” theory that came up later on, where Civil War era liberals and conservatives alike claimed that poor whites’ inferiority wasn’t because they got screwed over by the class system, but because they were helpless genetic fuckups, since their ancestors were derelicts and prisoners in Great Britain before coming to the States as indentured servants. (Even though 1. by that time there were plenty of folks descended from indentured servants who’d passed into respectable whiteness and 2. it’s bullshit when one looks at the immigration percentages of the period.)
If there is one group of people who ought to be pissed the fuck off at whiteness in the US, it’s poor white people. I’m not saying that the issues of poor whites are more important than those of people of color (and if you honestly believe that’s what I’m saying, you obviously haven’t read shit on my blog). But it’s one thing to be fucked over, historically and presently, by a group of which one is obviously not a member; it’s another to be regularly exploited and dehumanized by people who look like you (who then turn around and try to build false alliances based on phenotype when it suits them politically). Goddamn.
One of my high school teachers, with whom I was pretty close, once told me that learning is supposed to be a visceral process - that having a physical reaction to new information means that what’s being absorbed is really resonating. I don’t know how widespread that experience is, but it’s definitely true for me. And the stuff I’ve read thus far in this text isn’t anything that I wasn’t already somewhat aware of, but the primary sources and the stitching together of the race/class/liminality/abuse elements in the telling of this history was truly a punch in the gut.
In short, I’m loving this text thus far. I want to make photocopies of the chapters and pass them out at Tea Party meetings. If only.
REBLOG IF YOU ARE A QUEER FEMME OR A FEMME ALLY
I want to follow you!
somewhere between these two right now?
What dahlias-y-rosas said. ^_^
What other woman can we name who is rejected by everyone - until they need her? If you need a cook, a maid, a mammy, a wet nurse, a shoulder, a friend, a lover, an adviser, a partner, a supporter, a cheerleader, a worker bee, a queen bee - whatever you need, we are always there.
To be quite honest? I’m sick of it.
No one knows quite the horror, the shame, the sadness, the fight, the pride, the loss, or the win of being a black woman - other than a black woman. karnythia (via soydulcedeleche)
Don’t assume I have the luxury to not be angry all the time.
That’s not to say that I’m mean-mugging every day, that my life has no joy in it, that I don’t make a concerted effort to approach the world with faith and empathy as my guides. But between the news headlines and the stuff cropping up on my dash and my usual introspective stuff, I feel like it bears repeating.
I know how to smile just fine, thanks. If I didn’t know how to cry hard and rage loudly, I’d disappear. Anyone who can’t figure out why the latter is of such importance can go kick rocks in an avalanche zone.
“Why Do So Few Blacks Study Creative Writing?” by Cornelius Eady
Always the same, sweet hurt,
The understanding that settles in the eyes
Sooner or later, at the end of class,
In the silence pooling in the room.
Sooner or later it comes to this,
You stand face to face with your
Younger face and you have to answer
A student, a young woman this time,
And you’re alone in the class room
Or in your office, a day or so later,
And she has to know, if all music
Begins equal, why this poem of hers
Needed a passport, a glossary,
A disclaimer. It was as if I were…
What? Talking for the first time?
Giving yourself up? Away?
There are worlds, and there are worlds,
She reminds you. She needs to know
What’s wrong with me? and you want
To crowbar or spade her hurt
To the air. You want photosynthesis
To break it down to an organic language.
You want to shake I hear you
Into her ear, armor her life
With permission. Really, what
Can I say? That if she chooses
To remain here the term
Neighborhood will always have
A foreign stress, that there
Will always be the moment
The small, hard details
Of your life will be made
To circle their wagons?
In light of the previous link about depression
I’m thinking about health care practitioners, and my own experiences with them, and the experiences of those in my circle. I feel like there’s this common theme of intentional deception and distrust. Lying in response to any number of questions, from filling out intake forms to discussing sensitive physical/mental concerns, in order to feel safe or to avoid being judged too harshly (which I guess ties into feeling safe, when I consider it). This awareness of a “I’m only allowed to talk so much, and if I cross a certain line, I’ll be pathologized in a way that diminishes my humanity” type deal. This deep fear of alienation coupled with a need for real help.
I’ve come across this concept in several ways in conversation with others: being a person of color seeing white doctors, or being queer and seeing professionals who aren’t queer-friendly (or in some cases, even queer-aware beyond lesbogay stuff), or having to think about intersectional shit when all you want is to get your meds and go home. I know people who fall into one, several, all of these categories, and sure, those aren’t the only folks who are leery about seeking certain kinds of medical attention, but still. It makes treatment/maintenance of one’s physical/mental issues secondary to the efforts to not seem weird or disgusting to that random person in a white coat, or that person sitting with a notebook listening to your thoughts.
Hearing the deceit/distrust narrative so often, and having lived it myself, is a large part of why I’m so interested in becoming a mental health counselor. I don’t imagine that I’ll make some revolutionary change within the system, but I at least want to learn the tools used by those I’ve grown to fear/distrust, then hand them over to people who have felt betrayed and disempowered when seeking mental health services, and allow them to make informed, substantive choices in their own treatment.