tgstonebutch: (reality check)

About content: this post speaks openly (and in some detail) about trans oppression in queer communities (with a focus on the ways trans men are targeted), gender border wars, purging, and gender-based coercion and abuse in relationships. Most of that discussion is in the first section, so if you want to avoid it, skip to the section titled My Response to Grandmother-nei-Leylit’s Cloth of Winds.

My Own Context for Reading Rose Lemberg's Grandmother-nai-Leylit’s Cloth of Winds

I remember the hardness of the chairs in the auditorium. I remember the buzz of the fluorescent lights. I remember trembling in my seat, my stomach in knots. I remember the energy in the room feeling dangerous to me, like if I moved I might get noticed, get hit by the violent storm.

I don’t remember what exactly people said at that queer town hall meeting. I have tried, today, as I write this, to recall those kinds of details. But I can’t access them. I don’t know how I ended up in that room. I don’t know who I came with.

It was 1996, probably. I think. Twenty years ago. And it was the first time I heard queer cis women speaking openly about the reality that some of their partners, some folks in queer women’s community, were transitioning.

I say speaking openly, but that is too measured a description, and a bit too kind. Because what they actually were doing was debating. Debating whether to allow this. Whether to purge these men from their lives and their community. Whether they could possibly bring themselves to ever date someone trans. Articulating their feelings of betrayal. Naming the ways they felt hurt and victimized that lesbians were disappearing. Describing the ways they felt trans men were erasing their queer cis womanhood, making them even more invisible than they already were. The ways their identity and community felt so intensely threatened by the existence of trans men.

They told proud stories about how they tried to convince, manipulate, and coerce their partners into not transitioning. They offered advice to each other, describing the emotional blackmail that was most effective in preventing their partner from discussing transition. They had this intense righteousness in talking about dumping long-time partners who pursued medical transition options. They consistently named the trans men they talked about as women, as lesbians, using she/her pronouns the entire time.

I knew purges well. Knew how this could turn in an instant from venting to something even more ominous. Recognized the danger electric in the air. Held the clear knowledge in my body that my ability to dance carefully on the margins of queer women’s communities could twist into a brick wall in my face. That really it was just a matter of time before that happened. I held very very still, sick and trembling, and waited for it to be over.

It wasn’t over when I left that night. Instead, it got worse. These conversations were everywhere, and sparked like flash fires any time I was in queer women’s spaces. There was no escaping them. They didn’t stay in those spaces either. Groups of cis lesbians would show up at the tiny trickle of trans men’s events that began to happen, in order to stand up and demand the conversation center on them and the ways that trans men’s existence hurt them.

I quietly attended a trans men’s open support group (one that welcomed allies), month after month after month, not telling anyone in my life that I was going. I never said a word in the group. Continued to present as and be read as a femme cis dyke. The men in the group all thought I was an ally. They were confused why I kept going. No one else went that wasn’t openly trans, even though they were technically welcome. At least not after accompanying their trans partner the first time. I didn’t have a trans partner, had not begun talking about my own gender with anyone. At the time, I didn’t even really know why I was going. My experience of gender did not match the experiences described in that room. But it was urgent inside me. I needed to go. It hurt to miss a meeting.

That time, those memories, are intertwined with my first moments of recognition of my own transness. That feeling of being deeply afraid, stuck still and trembling, dreading being recognized. That feeling of sickness in my stomach and shards in my throat as I listened to people I thought were my community, and even people I thought were my friends and family, debate my welcome and the welcome of people like me. That certainty, yet again, that who I was meant that I would be rejected, would not find love or sex or wholeness in relationship.

I was a late queer (and trans) bloomer, was part of queer community and doing queer activism without dating pretty much at all (after one terrible disaster). I had never had a romantic relationship with anyone, had pretty much only had casual sex with cis straight men (and one queer man). I identified as bisexual, but hadn’t had sex in a few years at that point. I’d spent most of my out queer life having unrequited unspoken crushes on cis women friends and friends who were queer cis men. This realization that letting myself be trans meant accepting that I would lose community, lose friends, lose my queer family, be treated like an enemy, and never find a partner, was a central part of my sense of myself as a trans person, from pretty much the beginning.

It seemed inevitable, that I could not be trans and be loved or even welcomed by queer cis women. That they would see me as the enemy, if they thought of my transness as real. That if they did love me, or welcome me, it was because they didn’t actually think my gender was real. Those were my choices, my only options as far as it went with queer cis women. To be rejected as enemy or accepted and loved not as myself. I literally could not imagine anything else outside of that framework. It seemed like nobody could, that we were all stuck and spinning and hurting with no way out.

It took several years before I could step enough outside my own trans reality and pain to recognize the ways trans women were (and still are) erased in queer women’s community. The ways transmisogyny was operating in those conversations. The ways that as women, to be rejected and erased from women’s communities was (and still is) an intensely harmful act of cissexism and transmisogyny.

It took many more years before I considered pursuing any sort of medical transition options. At one point, I was asked by my primary partner to promise that I would never go on testosterone. And I agreed.

It took longer before I recognized that attempting to coerce, convince, or manipulate your partner into making particular decisions about their gender or attempting to limit your partner's gender expression is abusive behavior.

From pretty much the beginning, I imagined not letting myself be trans. Hiding, so I could stay in dyke community, so I could keep relationships, so I might possibly be able to find a girlfriend someday. It took a long time for me to choose something else. It felt like such a huge risk to do so, a leap into a future I could barely imagine as anything but bleak and lonely.

My Personal Response to Grandmother nai-Leylit’s Cloth of Winds

I brought this personal history to my reading of Rose Lemberg’s Nebula nominated Grandmother-nai-Leylit’s Cloth of Winds.

Quite literally. After reading it, I relived the visceral memory of what it felt like to be in that room at that town hall meeting twenty years ago, lay in bed frozen and trembling. That feeling rolling round and round in my head, of stuckness, of being caught, of deep fear at being recognized. I saw myself, a future I could have lived, almost did live, in Bashri.

It hurt to read a story from the point of view of a cis woman who sounded so much like those women in that meeting, who struggled so much to hold the reality of her grandparent’s transness, and her sibling’s non binary identity.

It hurt, and it healed at the same time.

This story felt like such an emphatic clear answer to the framework that had taken me about a decade to think my way out of. Not an easy answer, not a simple answer, but such an insistent one.

My first cogent reaction to this story was: I wish I’d read this 20 years ago. I needed this story when I was first coming into my transness and trying to imagine my own future and what it could be.

This story, written by a trans writer, that centers two trans characters with very different genders. This story that works against a cis gaze even as it is told from the point of view of a cis woman. This story that broke open old wounds and helped them breathe. This story that insists on the reality that our transness cannot be muted without cost, and will need to be faced eventually. This story that offers a vision of queer family that cannot hold stubbornly tight to rejection of trans family, that instead needs to figure out how to hold us, perhaps a bit more loosely than before.

Considering Grandmother nai-Leylit’s Cloth of Winds as a Trans Writer

When trans authors write trans characters in a complex nuanced way, there are folks who won't get it. Especially cis folks.

It won't fit the prescribed form that cis people are told they need to follow in order not to be fucked up in their representation. It will be more complicated than that.

Because the prescribed form is written in a simplified way, that assumes that cis people have less nuanced analysis of and experience with trans oppression, transmisogyny, cissexism, dysphoria, and internalized trans oppression.

Because trans writers choosing to engage with the trans oppression of cis people that we know so intimately from having been targeted by it in so many ways and internalizing it in so many ways…we are going to engage with it differently. We bring a different lens, the complexity of our personal history, an on-the-ground analysis of oppression that comes from being targeted by it relentlessly. We tell different stories about it, because we are writing from deeper lived experience, because we have different reasons for telling them, and are often writing for different audiences.

Lemberg discusses this in their recent post about this story:





“The viewpoint of Aviya was difficult for me. It is a viewpoint that begins from a place of both love and at the same time rejection of our truest selves, which is so familiar and so incredibly hurtful for many of us with cis and/or straight family members. When I am writing a viewpoint of a cisgender family member who is loving, but only conditionally accepting I am both writing the other, and writing from a perspective which is excruciatingly and deeply familiar to me. Like many trans people, I have been pressured to learn this perspective, to internalize it, to center it before my own.”




This is a story that lives in the tension of holding firm in trans perspective and reality, and engaging and connecting with the internality of a cis perspective that deeply struggles to honor and accept trans reality. Connecting with cis perspective is something that is a common experience for trans people, as Lemberg points out. To engage with it while holding firm on a trans lens for the story itself is a nuanced balancing act that trans writers are much better placed to do. We have a lot more practice.

If this story were written by a cis person, it wouldn’t work.

I would never advise a cis person to write a story about trans people and tell it from a cis character’s point of view. I would especially advise cis writers not to describe the ways cis characters struggle to accept and love and be decent to trans people in their lives. Those stories mean something really different when told by cis people. Those stories are told in really different ways when they are written by cis people.

In Cheryl Morgan's article for cis writers, on “Writing Better Trans Characters,” she talks about the cis gaze:





"There is such a thing as "cis gaze"; that is, a book can be written because cis people are fascinated by trans people. They want to see us doing those weird trans things that they think we do. Or they want to see us as victims that they can feel sorry for and rescue."




That is what cis gaze does in a story. It sets trans people up as Other, as objects, as "fascinating", "interesting", "strange", sources of learning. It sets us up as objects of pity and rescue and study, far from the assumed cis readership. It does that in the structure of the story. This isn't about the POV character's gender, but about what the story does, how it frames the trans characters, what information it decides to share about the trans characters, what language it uses, what questions it grapples with.

This is about stories that turn trans people into objects for cis people to learn from, pity, manipulate, and use. Where trans characters are empty vehicles, not complex nuanced people.

It is important to distinguish the cis gaze in a story from the POV of the story. They are different things. You can write a story that is deeply entrenched in a cis gaze from the POV of a trans character. I've read a lot of those. You can also write a story from the POV of a cis character that is not written from a cis gaze.

Of course, it is possible for trans people to write stories from a cis gaze, because we can internalize it.

But it is also possible for trans writers (like Lemberg) to write stories from a cis character's POV that do something else, something different. Stories that do not come from a cis gaze. In my read of this story, it does something different, and powerful. Something that felt deeply needed for me personally as a trans reader.

This story is told from the POV of a cis person mired in the same framework I described in the first section, a framework that can’t imagine how to do relationship with trans people, can’t conceive how she as a lesbian might grapple with a trans man partner, or how to hold the trans and non-binary realities of her family members. Aviya is stuck in that framework I knew so well twenty years ago, a framework that purges trans people from queer women’s lives because it cannot figure out how to hold onto relationship with them. She is stuck in her own ableism and cannot fathom honoring the non-binary identity of her autistic sibling.

But the story is told from a different framework. A trans and non-binary framework. A framework that holds trans and non-binary realities in their complexities. That insists that Aviya recognize her love for her family and partner is critically important and worth struggling to hold onto, even when she is freaking out and can’t figure out how. That textually challenges trans oppression and cissexism. That illuminates the ways language structures can be hugely important barriers for trans and non-binary people. That insists on honoring the trans reality of a non-verbal autistic character.

This story engages actively with internalized trans oppression, ableism and misogyny. It does that in a way I found quite deft and careful. These things are textually challenged, again and again. It doesn't use unnecessary hurtful language. It works to slowly shift perspective over time. It's not overly blatant or didactic. That's part of what makes it work.

This story shows how stuck all these characters are in trans oppression, ableism and misogyny, both interpersonally and especially structurally. It shows the pain of trans oppression, from the POV of someone who realizes that she has been hurting her loved ones.

It's a hard story.

And, I think, a critically important one.

Final Thoughts

Grandmother nai-Leylit’s Cloth of Winds” has been nominated for a Nebula, and I find that to be a very good thing.

I am awed by the fact that a story centering a queer family, focused on queer love (both familial and romantic), is honored in this way. I am awed by the fact that a story grappling with the limitations of gender and language, told by a trans author, is honored in this way. I am awed by the fact that a story which insists that the reader hold the complex realities of trans and nonbinary characters is honored in this way. I am awed by the fact that a story by an autistic trans author centering an autistic trans character with powerful and beautiful magic is honored in this way.

Grandmother-nai-Leylit’s Cloth of Winds” has so much in it that moves me, so much that feels important and necessary and full of the kind of respite that I ache for.

I urge you to read it. To let this story in. To hold it in its complexity and nuance. To consider what it has to say.

Read Grandmother-nai-Leylit’s Cloth of Winds" for free.

(cross posted on WordPress, Tumblr & LiveJournal)

tgstonebutch: (boot)
A few weeks ago I posted something about the tipping point into D/s.

Last week I posted something about erotica anthology covers.

I've begun a
series of posts for erotica and erotic romance writers on writing characters who have experienced trauma on my website

The first 2 posts are up.

In
Writing Characters Who Are Trauma Survivors, Part 1, I discuss the reasons why erotica and erotic romance writers might include characters who experience trauma and who have PTSD in our stories, and give some (hopefully) clear and concise definitions of trauma and PTSD.

In
When Trauma Survivors Get Triggered, I talk about what happens when trauma survivors get triggered, name common types of triggers and walk through an example of what might happen if your character got triggered.

I also just posted this: In Support of the Practice of Discerning Abusive Dynamics and Behaviors It's my response to recent events on tumblr.
 
tgstonebutch: (Default)

I devoured Sassafras Lowrey’s debut novel, Roving Pack. (I pre-ordered, so I got it before the official October release.) I tried to savor it, but it was not a small bites book, not a go slow on the first read experience.

The prose is achingly simple, stripped down and transparent, with an intensely compelling central character and a universe drawn in immense detail. The kind of prose I love. The kind of prose that makes me think—I can do that; writing doesn’t have to be fancy and confusing, it can be approachable, it can be real. The kind of prose that carries me away on the story.

I fell for Click and felt for Click—or rather, felt with Click. Sometimes so intensely it was too much, and I needed to put the book down for a bit. Click and I come from different cultural contexts, in so many ways. (Click exists in a straight-edge queer leather gutter punk community in PDX in the early 2000’s.) And, yet...some of this novel hit very close to home, reached into sore places for me. And it wasn’t gentle about it.

Roving Pack is precisely detailed in the way it weaves in some painful realities of queer leather life. For that in particular, it is so deeply needed, in so many ways. It gives you a visceral feel for very specific experiences that are not often discussed at all, much less there on the page in a novel that is steeped in the reality of them. It gets right to the gut of them, and so I’m going to speak from that gut as I write about it. I’m about to get specific about a few threads in the novel. So if you are the sort that avoids spoilers, stop reading now.

For us genderqueer folks who don’t fit the traditional trans narrative and are struggling with/against community norms, pressures and expectations around what makes you “legitimately” trans, us veterans of gender border wars…this book will break your heart in the ways it illuminates this reality. It left me in shards, not wrapped up nice and neat, not hopeful, but oh so raw, and that bold choice was so frustrating and real…and I’m not sure what I think of it yet. I will tell you that it sucked to leave Click in that moment. Beyond that, I’m still thinking about the way it ends, and don’t know where I will land on that.

For those of us who know what it’s like to want abusive and neglectful parents and family members to just leave you the fuck alone, and who grapple with the fear that comes from being stalked by those who were supposed to protect you but instead inflicted harm that still is unending with the stalking…this thread is woven very tightly into this book. It is part of the context, and part of the story, but doesn’t take center stage much of the time, in a way that I found eerily familiar. This aspect of the novel haunts me. Because that’s the reality of this experience; it is part of the every day, and then it flares up and takes over, and then it fades again into just part of life. If you know this experience, this thread may trigger the hell out of you. And it may feel like someone finally got it right, put it down the way it is. Probably both.

For those of us who came to leather so deeply hungry to submit and be wanted that our hunger drove our choices to some hard and traumatic places…this book savors the details of that experience, with all of its erotic charge and real danger, the intense vulnerability and need, and the exploitation, heartbreak, and abuse that can and often does happen in those circumstances. It illustrates how complicated abusive Ds dynamics can be, how much they can feel normal and even valued in kink communities, how intensely they can include love and desire. Click doesn’t simplify hir experiences with these two Daddies that left hir broken and orphaned. Ze insists we hold hir yearning and desire, hir pain and confusion, the way hir life and sense of self intertwined with both the care and the abuse ze experienced in these relationships. The boot shaped bruises on hir heart are bared for us to see in sharp detail, and they don’t let us distance ourselves from them in easy ways—we can’t just call it abuse and leave it at that. We are forced to hold the complexity.

It is this last thread that I am especially grateful for. Most writing about leather is how to, or intended to get you off. It is rare to see anything that focuses on leather relationships in the real world, and these are at the center of this novel, both Click’s relationships with hir Pack, as well as hir Daddies and casual lovers. I treasure that. But I particularly treasure the way that Lowrey unflinchingly describes the complexity of abusive and neglectful D/s relationships, from the inside, particularly Daddy dynamics with their specific intensity and play with identity and dependence.

I can only imagine how hard it was to write this. I know it was hard as fuck to read it. And. As a survivor of this kind of D/s relationship, it was invaluable to see it reflected in print in a real and complex way. It felt affirming to have this be part of Click’s reality, and have it be as big as it was, and yet not the whole story. Because that’s the thing about trauma—it is huge and ripples all the way through our lives, and it also is not the entirety of our lives, or our consciousness about them, it’s not the only priority or the only story, does not take over everything, even if it sometimes feels like it will.

We don’t talk about abuse in leather communities very often. I know, because I have felt the backlash and the desperate welcome that comes with being someone who does talk about it. It is so important to have these conversations from a complex and compassionate place, and Roving Pack is a vital voice in that endeavor.

In Roving Pack, Lowrey does what I need from queer literature; ze unflinchingly tells an insider story, one rife with specificity, that documents a very particular queer leather culture in a very particular setting. I am very glad that this book is out in the world, doing its essential work.

(cross posted on tumblr)

tgstonebutch: (Default)

Catharsis: Trans Women’s Stories of Sexual Violence is seeking written submissions from trans women who are willing to share their experiences of sexual violence and assault. The goal is to create a book-length collection of personal essays and stories from trans women about their individual experiences. Through compiling these stories, we hope to counteract the tendency of broader feminist dialog to deal with the subject of violence against trans women as hypothetical, ethereal, and comparatively minimal. We also hope that such a compilation would reinforce the place of trans women among all women and help to bring support and healing to our often overlooked communities.

DEADLINE FOR SUBMISSIONS IS JULY 31ST, 2012!  For Submission Form Please go to: http://catharsisproject.wufoo.com/forms/catharsis-submission-form/

What We’re Looking For: Stories of personal experience from self-identified trans women who are survivors of rape, sexual assault, or other sexual violence. Submissions should be roughly 2-5 pages in length and focus primarily on individual experiences and feelings. Because every individual processes these experiences in different ways, the “tone” of the collection will be left to the contributors. Anger, humor, grief, healing, indifference, etc. are all welcome themes. Those wishing to remain anonymous will have that wish respected and not be named in the final publication. Anonymity will be granted to the degree at which it’s requested, so please make your needs clear with your submissions.

Why Trans Women Only? The perception that trans women are less often targets of sexual violence is incredibly pervasive, even among allies to the trans community. This erroneous assumption is deeply rooted in cissexism, transphobia, and transmisogyny. While sexual violence affects many communities and is often taboo or “invisible” in those communities, trans women’s experiences are uniquely derided and ignored. This results in the isolation of trans women survivors, a culture of silence within broader trans communities, and a false pretense for the exclusion of trans women from feminist conversations about rape and assault. The purpose of this collection is to give voice to and encourage dialog around the specific reality of sexual violence against trans women. We are interested in work by trans women of all backgrounds, regardless of transition status, race, class, education, ability, age, orientation, or occupation. Any survivor of sexual violence that self-identifies as a trans woman is encouraged to contribute. To send submit your story, go to: http://catharsisproject.wufoo.com/forms/catharsis-submission-form/

Anyone wishing to assist this project is encouraged to **forward this call for submissions widely.**

If you want to help further or have any questions please contact reddurkin@gmail.com

tgstonebutch: (Default)

I know this to be true, it is often particularly true in the work I do—writing, activism, education, victim assistance. I don’t (and cannot) know the ways my work impacts others.

I just heard that a workshop I did for a local university on fat activism inspired one of the participants to do their senior thesis on fat studies—something they learned about from me. What a lovely reminder that I cannot perceive the way my work affects others, the ripples I cause, the positive ways my work can impact others.

tgstonebutch: (Default)

A wider context for gender dysphoria

 

(Originally posted on my tumblr)

 

I've often felt that common trans narratives of gender dysphoria are limiting and don't reflect my experience, partly because of this sense that gender dysphoria is completely separate and other from similar experiences—I can't decouple my gender dysphoria from my sense of body dysphoria that I connect to fatness, or to disability (especially in the context of capitalism); I can't tease it out from the impact of violence and trauma on my relationship to my body, from the legacy of intense misogyny that I've been targeted by most of my life. I can’t tease any of that out of my experience of being stone. In my body and experience and self-understanding, these things are all intertwined with each other. And I don’t want to break myself into pieces to try to figure out cause or cure.

 

Gender dysphoria makes more sense to me when it is placed in a context of body dysphoria in general, and of body disconnection and dissociation, when I don't try to keep it separate. When I examine it as one of many ways that I feel disconnected from my body, feel struggles in my body, it makes more sense to me. Especially when I connect it to of a broader analysis of the ways that ableism, trans oppression, misogyny, racism, capitalism, violence and fat oppression (to name the ones that spring most intensely to my mind) impact our connection to and experience of our bodies, create intense feelings of alienation, wrongness, pain, loss, and disconnection, and create conditions where in order to manage the ongoing onslaught we disconnect from our bodies, change our relationship to our bodies, change our bodies. If I look at a wider context of dysphoria narratives, beyond traditional trans narratives of gender dysphoria, I can find myself more easily.

 

When I place dysphoria in that wider context, I also have a different sense of what to do about it, how I want to respond to it, where the battle is, and what needs changing.

 

I have been struggling toward embodiment for most of my life. It is one of the central struggles in my life. I know I tend to want to “get it right” and “fix it” or “get there”, and sometimes get into perfectionist ideas about my own sense of self-worth or embodiment…like “getting it right” is a pre-requisite for my being the kind of activist, being the kind of person that I want to be. Like I have failed if I struggle in my embodiment, if I have pain or disconnection in my relationship with my body. I get trapped in a spiral of that, of feeling like I’ve failed and none of my internal work has stuck, cuz here I am again, will I ever get there? That’s what happens to me when I think of it as an endpoint to reach. It feels like that paradigm is a trap, and when I’m in it, I can’t figure out a way out, a way around, a way to perceive it any other way. I’m stuck, and it increases my sense of self-loathing…I beat myself up for not feeling better about myself and my body.

 

And, the other thing about seeking it as an endpoint, for me, is that I get into a way of thinking that’s about putting off what I want to do, what I desire, until I get there. And seeing the getting there, getting “cured” of dysphoria, as a pre-requisite for what I want to do (have sex, wear clothes that I want, be the gender/body/person I want, have relationships, do the work I want to do)…that I need to get “fixed” first and then I can have the life I want. This feels so deeply about entrenched fat oppression and ableism for me—that’s where it resonates in my experience—the need to “cure”, to “fix”, to “get healthy”, and then you get to start living.  This is part of how oppression that is intensely tied to medical narratives operates (because medical systems are premised on curing acute disease or injury): they say that you cannot live until we have cured your fatness, your cancer, your crazy...so just wait. Wait to figure out how to do the work you need to do in the world. Wait to have the body you “should” have, to wear that, do that, be that. Wait to have sex, have relationships, have kids, perform, eat delicious things, seek what you desire. Wait. Your job is to be “cured” first, to be “healthy” first. Then maybe you can do that other stuff.

 

Of course, medical systems based on the paradigm of curing an acute disease or injury has not come close to figuring out how to engage with chronic diseases or conditions. They may be able to address a broken leg, but they are pretty close to clueless and simply are not built to address MS, or schizophrenia, or autism, or addiction, or diabetes, or PTSD. So that kind of thinking around things that are ongoing, long term, chronic…does not work. These things (like fatness, chronic medical conditions, psychological conditions, disabilities) rarely actually have a cure, a fix it, an end point. Engaging in the “cure” pathway is likely to take as long as you’ve got, and require constant maintenance, and make you feel at war with yourself and your body and constantly helpless. You never get to live, you just get to keep on seeking the cure, maintaining the remission, being constantly vigilant.  That’s one of the reasons why fat activists, and mad activists, and disability activists alike have often rejected the concept of “cure”, even as we engage in a variety of different strategies to manage our experiences and our bodies and our “health”.

 

Many transsexual narratives have embraced the idea dysphoria=disease with a cure. And with that comes a concept of dysphoria as the main symptom of that disease…that we then can be “cured” by, with medical options that are supposed to end up “fixing” the dysphoria. There are a lot of reasons for this, and many of them are about access to medical options. And, this adoption of a “disease” with a “cure” has deeply impacted the ways that we understand our own experience of dysphoria, something I am deeply challenged by in grappling with and understanding my own dysphoria.

 

Perfectionism, and waiting for the “cure” feel like they are right smack in the core of the ways systems of oppression work, especially the ways they feed self-hatred and alienation and disembodiment. Because of that, it feels like they are not useful in addressing disembodiment or grappling with dysphoria, that they take me right back into the frameworks that feed those things in the first place.

 

So, at this point, I try to change my framework. I don’t want think of embodiment as an end point I reach…a perfect place to wind up, a cure for my dysphoria or dissociation, a thing I need to wait for to seek and do the kind of life I yearn for. I strive to think of seeking embodiment, honoring embodiment, celebrating where my body is even as I wish it were different, as an ongoing priority, an ongoing seeking, as a key part of the way I want to live. And, simultaneously, as something that is not going to stop being challenging. I have reached periods of varying comfort and connection to my body…and they change, they don’t stay static. My body doesn’t stop changing, I don’t get free of the oppression that impacts my relationship to my body…so it makes sense that my embodiment keeps changing too. And it doesn’t make sense to wait…but instead, no matter the pain (psychological or physical), whatever the condition of my body right now, I want to stop waiting for it to change, for me to change. To seek the life I yearn for, to live my life the way I want it to be, to embody what I need and want, right now, as much as I can, and to know that there is no perfect way to do it, that it is about bringing as much intention, compassion, and care as I can.

 

(This post is partly in response to boygirlboigrrrl's recent post,  Some Honesty About My Body Image)

 


tgstonebutch: (Default)

(Spoiler warning, in case you have not seen My So Called Life, the “Self Esteem” episode, I discuss major plot points)

 

 

(Spoiler warning, in case you have not seen My So Called Life, the “Self Esteem” episode, I discuss major plot points) )

 

I had this yearning today for the analysis of this to be more complicated even in this show, for an imaginary of “treated well” to be bigger than not “treated badly”, bigger than the absence of exploitation or dehumanization…for there to be an imagined possibility of a mutually caring, careful, intentional, respectful, and consensual relationship which includes attending to each other’s needs. So that self esteem was conceived of intertwining not just into resistance toward being “treated badly” but insistence on striving toward that imagined possibility.

 

I work in the field of intimate violence (and have for about 18 years), and the imagined opposite of violence (being “treated badly”) in much of that field is usually named as equality. That paradigm doesn’t work for me (equality is not my focus as an activist either). In this context it feels too simple, it makes no sense in a relationship involving BDSM, and it tries to imagine a relationship where there is no power differential, which I see as unrealistic.

 

I see focusing on the absence of being “treated badly” as being tied to what a close friend would call “a failure of imagination”. As a survivor of intimate violence, I can get stuck this way, where what I focus on is the absence of danger, as a litmus test for a relationship that works for me. (Don’t get me wrong, physical, emotional, spiritual sexual and financial safety is deeply important to me and needs to be part of my relationships. And, safe is not the end or even the baseline I want, I want more.) When I get stuck this way, I am not imagining the possibility that I could insist on more, dream of more, experience more, evaluate my relationships differently. I'm working from a paradigm of scarcity, where abundance doesn't feel possible.

 

What I am certain of, is that there is a space, a substantial distance, between absence of “bad treatment” and presence of the kind of treatment we want/need/yearn for. And that it’s not enough to insist on not being “treated badly”, and to set that as the baseline for our lives and relationships. I’ve done it, and I’m pretty clear that it does not feed the kind of self esteem I want fed in my life and my relationships. Starting from that baseline is diminishing, and building relationships without investing in an imagined possibility of more than that, whatever kind of relationship, will not actually get me (or, I would argue, any of us) what we need or want. And will not actually feed the kind of self esteem I want for myself and the folks I care about.

 

Insisting on more is similar to the kind of sexual and play consent I invest in…where it’s not enough for me to want an absence of no, I want a presence of yes. I want to honor desire, yearning, need, want…and to push us all to imagine the kind of sex we may not even think we could get but deeply want, the kind of play that we deeply desire, the kind of relationships that may seem like over-reaching, but could really meet our needs, the kind of community/society/world that we intensely yearn for, even if we aren’t sure how to get there.

 

If you were to name what you desire, yearn for, want, need, beyond not being “treated badly”, what would it look like? What shape would it take? How would you recognize it? How would you know if it were missing?


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Thinking about my lens, how I see things.

I was surfing the twitter tonight, ran across a tweet that was likely supposed to be hot and kinky. And I read it as about violence.

This is not the only time such things have happened. It occurs frequently, especially when I am not looking at something that is specifically marked as kinky, and sometimes when I am.

I am a kink and sex educator and smut writer and a dominant sadist; these identities are core to my life and central to my connections and communities and my lens. And, I work in the field of interpersonal violence, and am a survivor of violence, including violence within a kinky relationship; this work, that I have done for close to two decades, is also central to my daily existence and how I see things. These lenses are not in tension with each other, they are integrated.

Unless something is specifically coded as kinky, I am not likely to read it as kink but as violence. I have definitely met folks that will read kink onto things that are not explicitly coded as kinky; I cannot and do not do that. Sometimes when something is explicitly coded as kinky, but it is about getting off on the appearance of or resemblance to real world violence, I am just as likely to read it as violence. 

I engage daily with violence, so that's not surprising, I suppose; I'm not looking to translate things otherwise or pretend violence is not there. I also know how violence and abusive power operates interpersonally, really well; it is one of the places of my deep awareness and knowledge, one that I know has deeply impacted how I see things and what I'm willing to let myself see and know. I know that alone makes me fairly unusual. Hey, even my willingness to see and sit with stuff thats hard and not pretend its not hard or not there or cooperate with hiding it or denying it's reality is unusual enough...that I do that around violence and abusive power...pretty damn unusual.

Here is another part of the picture. Because I am a survivor of abuse within a kinky relationship, because I teach classes for survivors and hear story after story about abusive kinky relationships, I don't witness kink and assume it is free from abuse.

What I find particularly interesting about my lens around this  is that much of my kink might look like real world violence to other people. That it disturbs kinky people in a kink context to witness it. For them, the context may not be key to how they see what I do.

Part of the core of why I experience my kink as not identical to real world violence is not just the presence of deep consent from all parties (which is crucial) but also consciousness around power and intentionality around power and it's relationship to real world violence and oppression.

I get off on making someone cry in the context of a kink dynamic, not on tears absent a context of kink and consent, even if I caused them. If I hurt someone's feelings that I love and that makes them cry, or if someone I care about is in so much physical pain from a disability or health related issue that they are crying, those tears don't get my dick hard. Context is meaningful, incredibly meaningful to me and the way my lenses work, my eroticism works.

What's interesting about the way things work these days in terms of social media is that we often see things outside of context, we often communicate without context. One of the most useful things I have ever realized is how important it is for me to use media carefully in recognition of that, and to try to frame things as much as I can.

I write and teach this way too. I talk about the context of what I'm teaching, some people feel like I spend too much time on that. I place kink between my characters in context, will lead in quite a bit, and make sure that the reader knows the context between the characters, knows this is consensual. I do that because of how my kink works, how my eroticism operates. For me, context is crucial, the thing that makes it real and complex. The thing that makes this erotic connection specific, that lets the part of my brain that reads violence easily know that there are good reasons to read something else here.
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It feels like I'm on one side of a wall. It's a wall that sometimes I don't notice, until there it is. Between us. Because trauma hasn't deeply informed your life, as it has mine. On your side of the wall, at most trauma is an awful thing that happens to other people, or an intellectual problem, or even a community issue that you think is important, something that impacts other people, perhaps people you care about, perhaps clients, perhaps unknown strangers. Your caring is, at most, sympathetic or political. You cannot reach empathy, or compassion, or even real connection, because you are so invested in being different from folks that are impacted by trauma. 

On my side of this wall, trauma seeps into everything, is part of everything, including every day life. On my side of the wall, trauma informs small and large choices on a daily basis, impacts my capacity, impacts my experiences, is core and central to both my lived experience and my analysis of the world,

This wall is false, this wall is based on a binary that isn't real. And yet, when I see it erect between us, it feels real, has real effects. We don't know how to talk to each other. Or more accurately, you don't know how to talk, or to listen to me. Because I have become adept at talking as if it is not me we are talking about. I have become adept at translating for you, at only owning part of my expertise, the part that is safe to share. I have become adept at disavowing a core truth of who I am. I have become adept at seeming as if I am not passionately and particularly invested and personally impacted by our conversation. I do it all the time, that dance of disavowal, that translation, that collusion with my own closets. And I can switch on a dime to doing that, with the slightest cue, before we segue into another conversation that makes you a lot more comfortable, and doesn't feel quite as much like I'm betraying the core of my knowledge and experience.

This wall works similarly, in my experience, as the TAB/disabled wall, except that wall is one that I rarely tolerate in people that I let close to me. This wall, I have been tolerating a very long time.

To be clear, I'm not talking about privilege; I don't see privilege as necessarily creating a wall. Privilege informs this wall, but doesn't have to work this way. We can do something different. This wall is the place where your investment in privilege and/or denial of your own relationship with trauma and your investment in the idea that you are fundamentally different from trauma victims meets up with my closets and emotional armor and they collude together. You don't do this alone. We both let this wall happen.

It's just that I'm the one this wall betrays, and I'm the one that it really hurts. It may hurt you in that it creates insurmountable distance from me, but it hurts me differently, and probably more deeply.

I support this wall every day I go to work. I help keep it up, help make it feel real and protective to you, help you think that this can't, won't and doesn't already really touch you in real and fundamental ways. I go to work and I am closeted about being a survivor, because I have to be, to have credibility in victim assistance, because I have to be, to have the armor to (barely) survive my job. My closet and my armor don't just create a wall that protects you. They also protect me, most importantly because they protect my job, and therefore my livelihood and health insurance.

They aren't working, though, not really, not in protecting me. I am not as protected on the job as I need to be, And they come with a lot of risk, mostly to myself.

I dream of a job without closets. I dream that I can find a workplace where I can have financial security and that all important and necessary health insurance, and also bring my whole self to work, not constantly be stuffing my self down, hiding myself, not need to. Where my choices about revealing myself are just personal ones related to my own personal boundaries, not ones deeply orchestrated on an institutional level. I dream of that kind of privilege, to do work that is meaningful to me, where I can use all of myself and be all of myself, and where I am still able to go to the doctor and pay my rent, and eat. Hell, I’d settle for a job where I did not have to so actively and intensely support this wall, and my closets, where it just didn’t fucking matter because it never came up and no one felt hurt because they didn’t know me, even if my work was meaningless to me and the world and just a fucking job to pay bills and get health insurance. At this point, I’d trade meaningful work for less need to intensely armor all the fucking time.

This closet is the hardest of them all, for me, at my particular job, that I'm a survivor of trauma. Because I am constantly facing this wall that I see and experience that others are oblivious to, literally do not know is there, except that they sense that I'm not connecting with them, and so assume I'm judging them, or a know it all (if I hear guru used to describe me one more time this month at work I'm going to fucking scream) expert. This closet is the hardest because it is directly related to the center of my job, because it needs so much structural support and constantly comes up all the time every day.

I am not closeted about this in the rest of my life; I talk about it fairly frequently, and let my trauma informed analysis show even more frequently. And you know what hurts more than the daily self betrayal and denial and destruction of this closet at this job? That we still hit up against this wall, when I'm not closeted with you. That, in fact, you don't really want to connect with me around this, it's too hard, maybe, or too painful, or scary, or feels impossible.

I treasure the connections where I can trust that the wall won't go up, or know that you are on my side of it. Where I can trust that we will carefully and consensually actually let it breathe between us and be spoken. They are rare, They are relationships where I can be realer, more myself, more complicated, and potentially more vulnerable. Where I have more trust, and more openness, even with my armor.

This is more than about getting it, though that is a huge part, and more than about listening skills, though that is also a large part of it. And let me be real, I have seen that wall go up between me and many trauma survivors, so it's not even about lived experiences. It’s about capacity to sit with things that are uncomfortable and scary. And trust, that I will not dump or spill all over you. That I know you are taking a risk, and I will maintain boundaries with you. And, most importantly, it's about intent, and analysis, and willingness to choose to connect.

That wall coming up between us doesn’t really serve you in the long run, or me. It definitely doesn’t serve our relationship. It creates more distance between us every time it goes up, because I remember how much it hurts, and I pull back a bit more each time. I invest a bit less, as I realize that you can’t actually meet me where I am, or listen to me, or hold space with me. I eventually decide that you may simply not be capable of this, and pull back even more, seeing this as a likely unchanging limitation of our intimacy.

That wall draws my attention to how alone I am behind it much of the time, that most of my daily life is spent behind it. Survivors feel isolated, in general, and there are a number of reasons for that. I think that this is one of them, it marks the ways we can feel alone and isolated even in connection that may otherwise be supportive and caring.

I spent some time yesterday teaching a workshop on emotional armor, and was awed by the openness in that space, by the things that people said, by the ways people showed up, were present and careful in the space with themselves and each other. One of the things we spent time talking about was both the challenges of our armor and the ways it has been good to us and for us. I talked about how one of the ways my armor is challenging for me is that it isolates me, and I think that it is absolutely true that I feel isolated a lot, even with the wonderful and intense connections I have in my life. And I think part of that is about my armor. I also think that part of that is about this wall that keeps coming up between us. This wall that I spend my entire work life behind.

I am hesitant to name this wall to you, that’s the other piece of it. Because part of me thinks that your investment in it is self protective, and I want to support you in protecting yourself, self protection is vital. See, I have compassion for the need for this wall; I’ve got armor of my own that is really important to me. And I know that sometimes drawing attention to things that protect us strips the armor away and we feel exposed when we need it most. And I don’t want to do that to you.

And, I want to connect with you. I want intimacy with you. I want safety with you. I want us to be real with each other. I don’t want this wall between us. It hurts.


wow.

Aug. 28th, 2010 11:40 am
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I recently got a copy of The Marrow's Telling, by Eli Clare. I have not yet read it. What I did do, however, was open it. And what I saw inside touched me. There is a trigger warning at the beginning of the book, listing the pieces in it that discuss abuse in detail, with a note saying "Please take as much care as you need." These same pieces are also starred in the table of contents, with a note at the bottom indicating the meaning of the star.

I am so moved by this. This is the first time I have seen a book attempt to be more accessible to folks with PTSD.

roundup

Jul. 7th, 2010 09:40 pm
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tgstonebutch: (Default)
I am planning my proposal to the Butch Voices regional conference in NYC, which is on September 25, and means I will stay in NYC instead of going to Folsom Street Fair this year (Don't worry Bay Area, I am planning to visit in the fall, just not that weekend). I need to pick a few workshops to offer to them, but as it is a day only, it is likely they will only select one or two, if at all.  (It won't be like the first conference where I did 4 workshops; that one was a three day conference.)

Here are the workshops I was pondering. I am definitely going to propose these two:

Butch Survivors: A Sex Workshop for Survivors of Abuse and our Partners
As butches, and as queers, we sometimes come to our lovers battle-bruised, weary from fighting. Some of us are survivors, who may put on armor to get through life, and find sex risky (as well as hot), partly because it may mean letting our lovers in, lowering our guard. If that sounds familiar, this may be a workshop for you. This workshop is geared specifically towards survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse, and queer-hating violence, and their partners. It is focused on providing practical tools that enable hot sex, exploration of desire and sex, and pushing limits and edges. We will talk about how we get the kind of sex we want and need, how we talk about sex, how we set boundaries, how we navigate sex if we are stone, how we cope when things get hard, or we get triggered. This is a workshop based discussion, where tools will be offered, but participants will also have the opportunity to raise questions and discuss difficulties with each other. 

Doing Relationships with Emotional Armor: For Stones and our Partners
One thing many stones have in common is emotional armor. We are often expected to be tough, to not show our insides, to gut it out. We protect our butch hearts, show ourselves to the world as granite, unshakeable, stoic. Armor is often valued, admired, and seen as attractive; at the same time, we are often criticized for our armor, for not opening up to our partners. This workshop focuses on honoring our armor, however thick it may be, even if we are also exploring ways to open up. We will talk about how we do relationships and intimacy, how we take care of ourselves and our partners, how we take risks. We will also create space to talk about the challenges of armor and what we need from our partners when we do show what’s inside. This is a workshop based discussion, where tools will be offered, but participants will also have the opportunity to raise questions and discuss difficulties with each other.

The question is, which of the other more general workshops would you suggest I propose?

BDSM Skills for New Tops
This interactive workshop will offer a toolbox for those who are starting out in kink. One of the challenges for new tops is in accepting your desires for dominance, cruelty, or control; we will talk about ways to give yourself permission to do what you desire. We will also talk about figuring out what you want, deciding who to do it with, planning out how to do it. We will offer resources and ideas for learning skills, getting toys, dealing with nervousness and fear, and staying connected to your partner(s) while the action is going on. This is a workshop based discussion, where tools will be offered, but participants will also have the opportunity to raise questions and discuss difficulties with each other. 

Hands-On Play
Ever cruise hands and forearms, looking for strength and size? Find yourself ready to cause pain, with no tools in sight? Want to get up close and personal, and feel exactly what you are doing to torment someone? This class focuses on the multiple creative ways you can use your hands in play: punching, pinching, slapping, spanking, grabbing, groping, fisting, fucking, stroking, scratching, breathplay, and bondage, to name a few. You will never be lost without your toybag again. 

Full Body BDSM: When Size Is an Advantage
Full body BDSM play is about using your whole body as a tool to inflict sensation on willing victims. The bigger the body, the more options you have. The sting of a slap on the cheek. The slam of a boot in the thigh. The intense thud of a punch to the pecs. The bite of a pinch on the nipple. The invasion of teeth on the neck. Body slams. Light strokes. Tonguing skin. Nails on the back. Your whole body can be a sex toy. No preparation needed, and no heavy toybags. This is a size-positive workshop open to everyone. 

You Don’t Just do It Once: Ongoing Relationship Negotiation in Polyamory
Initial negotiations are challenging enough, how do you continue to negotiate polyamorous relationships as they develop and shift? This class will offer tools for figuring out what you need, what has changed, what you want to change, and how to go about talking about that with your parter(s). It will also offer you specific tips for negotiating poly relationships as a non-primary partner, dealing with common conflicts in polyamory negotiation, addressing broken agreements and difficulties with trust, and adjusting your relationships as (all of) you change. This is a workshop based discussion, where tools will be offered, but participants will also have the opportunity to raise questions and discuss difficulties with each other. 

Your Secret Map to the World of Kink Ethics
This highly interactive workshop offers participants a set of tools that they can use to build/articulate their own personal ethical system. It offers a starter pack of 5 pillars of kink ethics, offers an array of ethical systems examples, and real world kink ethics questions to consider, and gives participants the opportunity to discuss and discover their own kink ethics. This class takes what could be a dry topic and makes it interactive and exciting.

Reading Your Partner Using All Six Senses
Ever struggle to know how best to please your partner(s)? Ever wish you could tell what your partner(s) really want? Ever wish you could figure out whether it was too much or not enough? One of our most prized assets (in sex and in life) is information. This workshop will offer specific tools to increase your ability to gather information--to read your partner(s)--in sex, in play, and in life.


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Here is the poem for today. It is one that I have had a deep relationship to for about 15 years.  I had meditated to it, made art about it, dreamed about it.

Diving into the Wreck
by Adrienne Rich

Read more... )

tgstonebutch: (Default)
Here is the flyer. It starts Tuesday. There has never been a group like this in NYC before, and as resources are so hard to find for trans folks in particular, but definitely also for queer folks, I am very glad that AVP is doing this.
tgstonebutch: (Default)
St Lukes-Roosevelt Crime Victim's Treatment Center is offering a Seeking Safety Group for women trauma survivors.

This group method is one of the best, in My opinion; I highly recommend it.
tgstonebutch: (Default)

I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be a “good” patient, a “good” sick or disabled person, and in general, a “good” recipient of services (whatever sort). I have been thinking about this, partially because I’m not always (or even often) a “good” patient, and I sure do get punished for it. I’ve also been thinking about it because that’s My job. I tell victim service providers how to help victims of crime, what way to help them meets the standards…and I set the standards for that. It is quite literally, what I get paid for. And often, we have this image of “good” victims, in terms of the ones we want to help, the ones the service systems were built for, the ones that cops and prosecutors wish all victims were like. It does not look that different from the model of the “good” patient…or for that matter, the model of the “good” prisoner, or the “good” student, or…really any person who is embedded in a system that is supposed to change them in some way for the “better”.

 

If you sum up the “good” recipient of services/participant in a system into one word, it would be a combination of docile and obedient…perhaps “compliant” is the best word.

 

So, I find Myself having conversations (with colleagues and with friends in hospice) about “good” cancer patients, and “good” victims, and how we can shift people’s thinking about healthcare/victim services so that it can support patient/victim self determination. (A great idea most agree upon in theory…but it’s the practice that gets sticky.)

 

It’s really an exchange, no? In exchange for being a “good” patient, we may not get blamed for being sick (or staying sick). And in exchange for being a “good” victim, we may not get blamed for being victimized. And that's just a start...because in exchange for being a "good" victim, we get services...services we do not get if we are "bad" victims.

 

Jill Davies, in her groundbreaking position paper about why we need services for domestic violence victims that decide to stay with their abusers, describes this very problem, as leaving abusive relationships is one of the primary ways to be a “good” domestic violence victim: “The view that leaving is the answer to domestic violence is so strong that it has become the standard by which victims are judged. Leave and you are worthy of the full range of services and protection. Stay and the resources may be limited, the consequences sometimes severe. Victims who don’t leave are often unfairly judged to be making poor decisions, viewed as “not being serious” about stopping the violence, or as somehow responsible for not preventing it.”

 

Lesley on Fatshionista.com talks about this in terms of current debates on health insurance, and her essay “On Health and Personal Responsibility” is well worth a read. Smart, precise, and asks really good questions.

 

Now, to be clear, I think that the concept of “good” disabled or sick person is not equivalent to that of the “good” patient…but I do think that one aspect of being a “good” disabled or sick person is being a “good” patient (it’s just not the only aspect). We are supposed to be compliant with medical providers, do what they say, let them poke and prod us in all the ways that they choose, not advocate for our emotional and physical needs. There is more that we get in exchange than less blame. We are supposed to be “good” patients, and in exchange, they may (if we are lucky) share the information we need, help us access the care we need, sign off on paperwork we need, and not get quite as hostile or arrogant (partly because they are not being challenged).

 

Yesterday, I was a “bad” patient. I self advocated for a medicine I wanted prescribed, for information I wanted explained, and for a test I wanted the doctor to do. After he agreed to the test, I said thank you, that it would make Me feel better to know. And he said, “that’s my job”. I’ve been thinking about that ever since…the idea that his job might be to address My emotional and physical needs as I see them, within his capacity to do so. It was literally the first time I had ever heard a doctor articulate that as part of his job. It was so radical that I have been marveling over it ever since. I was a "bad" patient, and I got what I needed...how amazing!

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